by Lady Margaret Campbell, October XIX
An interested mundane’s first few meetings/events are the basis on which s/he decides to ‘really get involved’, or to ‘get away from these crazies’. The mundane needs to learn more about the Society without becoming overwhelmed by an extreme influx of data, or turned off by petty politics, fanaticism, or a severe amount of criticism.
Courtesy, in theory, should side-step these problems, but there are times when overly enthusiastic anachronists need to be reminded of a neophyte’s difficulties, and that there are ways, and ways, and ways of letting a neo know that their garb/mannerisms/ fighting ability is not in Period.
I use, for example, my own rather distressing experience seven years ago when, as a neo, I was attempting to make my first court garb. I was sitting quietly, doing some last-minute hand-sewing on the dress, when a very rude and self-important lady came up to me and bluntly said that darts weren’t Period. How was I supposed to know that? I thought I was being very clever, adapting a mundane dress pattern for SCA usage. I had only been to one event, and had never really considered the role of darts and zippers in relation to the Middle Ages. The point is, I had a dress nearly complete which I certainly couldn’t afford to just throw out, so that although I certainly needed to know better for future reference, I didn’t need to be almost literally smacked down for ignorance. Simple courtesy and tact on the lady’s part would have left me a trifle chagrined at my naiveté, but not unduly upset. As it was, the lady made me feel rather hostile and resentful towards her.
Since then, I have seen neos struggle against such obstacles as an old-timer’s attempt to bring the fledgling up to date with all the current news/gossip/personalities of the entire kingdom—all in one sitting; or an impromptu lecture on everything they never wanted to learn about heraldry; and, let us not forget, the all-pervasive enthusiast who is so fascinated with the persona they have created that they insist on telling the newcomer every single myriad (and boring!) detail.
Seasoned anachronists need to be aware of these tendencies in themselves and others in their group, and to make sure that newcomers aren’t subjected to more than they can handle at one sitting. Sometimes it just takes a small hint to a neophyte to relieve their fears that they will be forced to learn every scholarly aspect of the Middle Ages or get out of the Society. (“The lady certainly knows her topic well, but she does tend to get overly enthusiastic about it, doesn’t she? Don’t let her bother you if you’re not interested.”). And sometimes it takes a bit more intervention. I have, on more than one occasion, politely broken in on a conversation/lecture between a glassy-eyed neo and an overly enthusiastic member, and requested the neo’s aid in fixing my dress/cooking a dish/setting up a game, etc., simply to give the neo an opportunity to break away from the other person. If they are truly interested, they can seek the person out later, but, for the most part, I’ve found them immensely grateful for the excuse to get away.
Lecturing on a favorite topic is the most difficult trait to break. Everyone, once they have learned a good bit on a subject, loves to find an interested audience to talk with about it. Unfortunately, there is a thin line between talking with someone about a topic, and talking at someone about a topic. You have to keep reminding yourself that not everyone is as thoroughly interested in it as you are, that it took you several months or even years to learn as much about it as you do, and that a newcomer can’t possibly absorb everything you’re saying the first time around. A certain awareness of your listener can either give them a great deal of respect for your knowledge, or a thorough distaste for your personality if you don’t break the lecture off when you see their eyes glazing over.
Overall, we all need to remember that the ways of the Society are learned in small doses, more by osmosis than by lectures. People are grateful for gentle hints that set them in the right direction, and rightfully resentful of unnecessarily harsh criticism. Save the lectures for university classes, or for meetings where your particular topic is the designated subject for discussion. Be very wary of severely criticizing anyone, whether or not they are a neo. It can only build resentment against yourself, and nobody needs more enemies. As I said earlier, there are ways, and ways, and ways to let people know that they’re doing something wrong. Tact and courtesy are far more effective ( and better for the Society in the long run) than lectures and put-downs.