Today’s Daily Stoic writing prompt: What are the few real goods?
Well, you can’t go wrong with the four today’s meditation mention: Wisdom, self-control, courage, and justice. But I like 5s, and I would add a fifth: Kindness. Without that Fifth Element, as it were, those other four things become almost impossible to truly attain.
Today, however, is a day for justice. The killer of George Floyd has been found guilty on all three counts. I will not say his name, as it deserves to be forgotten. I breathed a long sigh of relief when it was announced this afternoon. It certainly does not solve the problems of racism, but it does not pour salt into the wounds, either. It shows that convicting a “bad cop” is, indeed, possible. But, as has been pointed out, it’s not complete justice. It’s more accountability.
This is a milestone date for me, although it’s not quite what I imagined. it would be like Today, 25 years ago, I became a member of the SCA’s Order of the Laurel. I had, at the time, been part of the SCA for about 5 1/2 years. By today’s standards, that is stunningly early for a Peerage, and to be perfectly honest, it pushed my own boundaries of readiness to take on that kind of role. I would learn by trial and error over the next couple of years, though, and eventually emerge better able to live up to the ideals I held up as important.
The elevation came at an interesting point in my life. I had done my trip to England the preceding fall to pursue my PhD research, and was still in the very early stages of my work on my thesis. I was recognized for research; more properly, I think, I was one of the first SCA Laurels who was recognized for sharing work widely on the Internet; I don’t think any of my research was terribly profound or deep, but I shared it freely and local newsletter editors loved it. Not long after the elevation–in the midst of that trial and error period I mentioned–I hit a wall on my graduate work. To be perfectly honest, the Peerage had gone to my head a little bit, and I was feeling much more successful and loved in the SCA than I was in my doctoral program, where I had “aged out” of eligibility for TA positions (one was entitled to only three; I’d been lucky enough to get four). And then some things happened in the SCA to take me down a peg or two and to convince me that I had things yet to learn. Convinced that I was an Important Person, I acted impulsively–yes, motivated by a desire for justice, but rashly, convinced I needed to use my voice to stand up and lead, but not yet experienced enough to know quite how to do this. The final months of 1996 and into 1997 were a low point for me emotionally (not unlike what I would experience in 2005 and into 2006, and then to some extent again in 2017).
I can’t remember how long it took before I was able to take up the doctoral work again and push through and complete it–I believe it was early in 1998. And by then, with my mother’s health declining, I was starting to have qualms about the job search ahead that I assumed I would be starting–my heart was just not in it. I questioned my worth as a scholar. On the other hand, in the SCA, I was Someone. People knew my name. I felt valued. In a strange kind of way, the SCA derailed my academic career–because I realized I was finding the joy I assumed I would get in academia there instead. But for the first time in my life, I felt like an adult, just as I entered my 30s.
So now it’s been 25 years. Like a lot of Laurels, I think, I feel the bar has gone much higher than what I was recognized for. Of course, the niche I had found–sharing writing on the Internet for local newsletters–is completely gone. Everyone has blogs and websites now, and it’s much, much easier to access the kind of resources that my ability to use university libraries gave me. Still, the basic techniques of research and critical thinking that I have are the one thing that I think still stands up. I’ve also deepened skills in some new fields– calligraphy and illumination being the most obvious–that I think stand up as high-level work and demonstrate my love of continuous learning and curiosity. I’ve learned to write ceremonies, too–and the Laurel ceremony I created for myself was the start of that. The best part has been seeing my apprentices elevated (there have been five of them to date); here, I’ve been able to be the kind of mentor I’d always dreamed of being in academia–not so much a teacher, but a colleague to some enormously talented people to help guide them in their own progression towards peerage.
But it’s an odd time. I feel, for the first time in over 30 years, as if my SCA hobby could go away and life would still go on. That has been the lesson of the pandemic. At the same time, it’s been some of those SCA activities we have been able to do in lockdown that have kept me sane and that have opened up some interesting possibilities. But to use a relationship analogy, for years I have been mostly creatively monogamous with the SCA; almost everything I did creatively was for that context. And now, that’s changed; apparently I’m ready for a little more hobby polyamory. The pandemic didn’t start it, but it did accelerate it. I haven’t made SCA garb in over a year, but I have made vintage-style and modern garments. Some of my embroidery is medieval-inspired, but a lot of it is not, and I’ve embroidered far more in the last nine months than I ever have at any point in my life. I’m still interacting with SCA friends, but now it’s also for newer pursuits– online board games and roleplaying. I’m looking at things like Pennsic as if they’re now simply memories. I wonder if there will be a time again whether I feel like I’m missing out if I don’t attend every Coronation or Crown Tourney. It’s an odd feeling in an odd time. So I’m not quite sure what might lay around the corner; no one really does.
So there will be no special celebration today. But when I post today’s diary, I’ll pose the question: I am on vigil for the rest of my SCA career–and for the life that waits ahead of me. What advice would you give me?