or, How to Approach Newcomers With Care
Social media has recently been fraught with opinions on how to approach the dearth of “youth” participation in our society. I use the term “youth” loosely here, as this is how it is being presented in these discussions, but it applies to the under-30 demographic. Most of these folks are fully formed adults leading productive adult lives. As someone who was recruited from this demographic, I wanted to share the story of my first event and what brought me back – again and again. As this intends to be a bit longer than appropriate for a social media comment, I wanted to dedicate my very first post to the topic of my SCA origin story.
My first-first event
To back up all the way to the beginning, I am a second-generation Scadian. My parents played during the formative years of the Society, so my first-first event occurred when I was barely old enough to form lasting memories. I like to call it my first-first because in reality this event was the foundation of my medieval experiences. What I can remember is vague, but made a lasting impression.
This story begins when I was three or four years old, still “knee high to a grasshopper.” My parents brought my sister and me to Grand Outlandish. For the uninitiated, this is a week long “war” hosted over Memorial Day weekend in the Kingdom of the Outlands. The park at the time was in the middle of the New Mexico desert, held during the threshold between the wet spring storms and the heat of the summers.
I remember walking down dusty dirt roads, surrounded by ladies in gowns, knights in armor, and flags and canvas tents everywhere! I remember coming up to a cart full of wooden toys and games, and being allowed to play with them while I made new friends. I remember getting the chance to spend time turning the spit of the roasting goat we would have for dinner that night. I remember walking down the roads at night with my dad, who carried a magical staff – complete with mystical twinkling lights on top (little did I know it was drilled with wiring and a thumb switch on the handle). I remember the drums of Rolling Thunder echoing through the nights. Above all, I remember sitting around the campfire listening to stories being told of trolls and fairies, knights and dragons, and of ladies, of Kings, of Queens, of monsters. In my childhood mind, the Dream became immortalized.
Shortly after this event, my family moved to far outskirts of the Kingdom of the West, where local events were scarce and participation was next to nil. Our own participation ceased while the focus of the family shifted towards other things. I grew up hearing the name “Society for Creative Anachronism”, but my young mind never made the connection of these lofty words to the magical place full of medieval splendor. I grew up thinking this had to do with my mom’s creative writing circle. But the memories made at this event still fondly linger with me today.
My second-first event
Fast forward twenty something years, many homes, and over 400 miles away to my second-first event. In the months proceding it, I found myself yearning for something to do – some way to make new friends and give my life some sparkle. I had recently graduated from college, started a new job, and ended a long term relationship. I was living alone and had one or two close friends that, while dear to me, had started to settle down and shift their focus in life from socializing to home-making. I needed something more to fill my free hours.
One day after attending a Ren Faire with my sister to celebrate her birthday, and musing on the memories I had of medieval magic, I called my mother. I knew she would know the event that we had attended when I was so young, and I wanted to see if it still existed.
“Oh, that was the SCA.”
“The Society for Creative Anachronism.”
Cue the lightbulb.
Armed with this new revelation, I spent hours and days on the internet researching local chapters, rules, culture, clothing, heraldry, how to address people. I read every article I could find on how to participate. I found that in a month’s time, a local chapter would have an event at my alma mater! I came up with a name (having been warned to not introduce myself as “I’m new” and being forever stuck with the name New). I came up with several pages of possible armory. I borrowed garb from my sister. I made sure I had a belt pouch. And a tankard. And some semblance of medieval (or at least not overtly modern) footwear. I practiced speaking “forsoothly” and memorized a few appropriate terms to use. I was as ready as I could be.
To say I was nervous is an understatement. By nature, I am an introvert, though it might not appear that way. I am shy around people I don’t know and I have extreme trouble feeling qualified to introduce myself to strangers. I have trouble making small talk. I wanted to have a friend with me as a security blanket so that I wouldn’t feel like a complete stranger in a strange land – but no one was interested.
My desire for change outweighed my trepidations, so I mustered up my courage, and I showed up alone. I walked to the periphery of the event… and my courage failed me. I couldn’t bring myself closer than thirty feet from the bustle in front of me.
This was a pivotal moment. I was about to turn around and go home – never having spoken to a single person – when a woman approached me and asked if I was new. I let her know that I was “Ariana”, and this was my first event. From there, my host offered me a place to sit with her household and water to drink (and a cup if I hadn’t brought one). She had been clearly getting ready to participate in the day, but instead dropped what she was doing and took the time to ask me about what brought me to the event, what my interests were (heraldry, photography, and brewing), and where I was from (Bakersfield/UCSD). She took me around and introduced me to the Baron and Baroness, to a member who practiced brewing and photography, and to the alumni and students of my alma mater, among others. Mostly, she made sure to introduce me to my peers – people about my own age.
Without this, I would not have returned. Instead, I had a wonderful day getting to know people and finding more ways to be involved. Ten years later, I am still here.
Turns out, my host was Duchess Felinah Tifarah Arnvella Memo Hazara Khan-ad-Din (you may have heard of her) – twice Queen of Caid, previous Baroness of Calafia, a Pelican and Laurel of the Society, and one who boasts an extensive and impressive society resume beyond that. Yet, despite her lofty achievements and my humble relative puerility, she took the time to treat me as an equal with interest and kindness.
Their first-first event, and beyond
Unfortunately, my first events stories are less than typical. The social media commentary that has been shared recently is full of horror stories including:
- Being approached, their hem flipped up (and touched without permission!), scoffed at, and then exiting – all without any verbal exchange.
- Being the target of, or overhearing, disparaging remarks – from racism to agism to ablism, and pretty much any other ism out there.
- Wearing an attempt at pre-17th century clothing, but being told to “now go get dressed.”
What is more shocking is that this behavior extends past the first event. Some additional stories go on to include:
- Ridiculing comments that mock the under-30 demographic stereotypes for their interests.
- Dismissive behavior against suggestions by this demographic that might involve changing the way things are done.
- Refusing to embrace new technologies, venues, or social media for recruitment.
- Being told that any contributions before turning 18 are useless and “don’t count.”
These aren’t the only stories being shared, but are a good representation of more typical newcomer experiences the SCA today.
What’s the takeaway from this story? How we as individuals approach these participants reflects on our Society as a whole, and lays the cornerstone for their future engagement. Do we want their first engagement to be dismissive, or warm and welcoming? Do we want to foster inclusivity by encouraging their interests, or leave them to figure it out themselves? Do we want to criticize or inspire? What would it cost you, but fifteen minutes out of your day and a bottle of water, to follow Duchess Felinah’s example? It seems a small price to give someone for what could be a year or more (or in my case ten years and growing) of their volunteering in return.
And what about the second, and third, and future engagements – what kind of legacy would you want to leave behind? One where you become the person others warn newcomers against approaching for fear of being “ripped apart for unperfected garb,” or one who newcomers credit as the reason for which they gave it all a chance? What obstacles can you remove for these newcomers to increase the enjoyment of all – can you donate some garb, a cup, some water? What would have made your first event that much more enjoyable?
As a Society based on courtesy, we can do better. As people, we can do better. We can treat each other with the same equality and respect we ourselves demand, no matter our rank or age – or any other defining attribute. When it comes down to it, we are all equals. Period.