BardLog

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Making and Sharing

My day job is as an Instructional Designer in the Learning Technologies division of a community college. We’re in the Rust Belt, in a suburban county with a LOT of small-to-medium manufacturing firms.  Among other things, this means I get paid to keep up with Cool New Stuff as it might relate to our mission of preparing our students to enter the 21st century workforce.

3D printing and the whole “Maker Community” concept is clearly Becoming A Thing, so lately I’ve been reading up on it. (I got a low-end 3D printer a couple of years ago as part of a grant, with the proviso that we “play with it see how it might be useful in the classroom.”  That apparently has made me the campus expert in 3D printing.) I’ve also visited some local public-access makerspaces.

The thing that gets me is that people are all jazzed about the Big Idea of Making and Sharing as though it was something new and revolutionary.  A couple of recently-published books go on at length about the incredible value of creating things, finding out what you need to know to get the job done, sharing with others what you learn, and how that creates community and growth and and and…

I quite literally shook my head as I read this, because for DECADES I’ve been surrounded by people who do EXACTLY this – and don’t think twice about it. “Learn-Make-Share” describes the SCA’s Arts and Sciences (A&S) community to a T.  It is What We Do, and How We Do It, and it’s been that way for as long as I’ve been around the group.

My old friend Lewys Blackmore recently posted this (reproduced with permission):

“I was asked recently what skills I had in making things to which I responded with this abbreviated list:  [LONG list of skills that reads like the table of contents of Theophilus, plus some.]

The important question is why?

I was taught first, to be curious, and second to do whatever I did to the best of my ability, no matter what. But the underlying factor was a compulsion to make, to do, to act. …

But more important than all of this is my earnest desire to help others acquire the skills and knowledge to make, to do, and to act. …  If I don’t know, I most certainly know someone who does.

Because … simply as a human being, it is the natural culmination of our existence to create.”

That’s the “maker culture” in a nutshell.  I don’t know whether to be amazed, amused, or deeply saddened that this combination of ethos and praxis is thought to be something new and revolutionary.  OK, so Modern Makers are creating things that have never existed before, using tools that didn’t exist ten years ago, while SCA artisans are re-creating ancient artifacts using ancient tools and methods.  But the only differences are the tools and desired output.  The mindset – I want to make this thing, so I need to learn how to use these tools, and I can learn from someone who has recently learned about them and is willing to teach – that mindset is EXACTLY the same!

I suppose that it’s just another proof of the truth of, “Plus ςa change, plus c’est la meme chose” – “The more that things change, the more they stay the same.”

Why?

At the recent Known World Cooks and Bards event, there were quite a few conversations about what I call the philosophy of the performing arts:  Why do we do this bardic thing?

I can’t speak for anyone but me, so I’ll put it this way:  Why do I do this bardic thing?

I mean, really.  Think about it:  I dress up in clothes that have been out of fashion for centuries, and tell stories, sing songs, and recite poetry for other people who are also wearing clothes that are centuries out of date.  What a strange thing to do!  And I’ve been doing it for quite literally decades.  Why?  It’s a reasonable question.

The answer, as with most things in my life, is a) somewhat complicated, and b) at the heart, really about serving others.

Let’s start with the funny clothes.  In case it’s not glaringly obvious, I’m a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism. Funny clothes are part and parcel of that experience.  The role I’ve carved out for myself is that of an early-period Irishman.  There’s been a fair amount of scholarship about what the early Irish wore – and it turns out that some things I thought were the case back when I got started are no longer valid.  Bottom line, I need to / get to learn some new things about my choice of historical clothing, and I need to / get to make some new kit, which will probably involve hand-sewing linen.  Because why not go the extra mile and enjoy knowing that my leine is as authentic and accurate as I could make it?

Then there’s the performing piece.  It’s said that most people are less afraid of dying than they are of public speaking.  Personally, I’ve never had a problem with stage fright unless I was unprepared.  (Years ago I got asked to be the opening act for a pretty well-known musician, and I was worried that I’d freeze up in front of a crowd of several hundred.  Didn’t happen.)

Anyway, aren’t performers all egocentric narcissists whose sense of self-worth is really microscopic, requiring them to constantly seek the limelight and the approval of others?

Sorry.  It’s not about the applause. (Although applause is very nice, don’t get me wrong.)  Most of what I do is for the sheer pleasure of making something lovely.  I enjoy making music, just because I can.  Most of my playing is for an audience of zero.  I get happy when I learn a new piece, or add an embellishment to an old standard.  Sometimes I’ll sing a song simply because I want to hear it.

Stories and poetry are a little different.  I don’t tell stories or recite poetry to myself unless I’m rehearsing. Why do I tell them to others?  A big motivation is that I get to make their world a bit better.  I entertain, sometimes educate, but again, it’s because I can.   Two cases in point:

Siverthorn’s Blue Fighting-tunic was an exercise in silliness.  From a one-line email (“I left my blue fighting tunic at practice.  Did anyone pick it up?”) I concocted a wild fantasy out of whole cloth (pardon the pun), and wrapped it in an entertaining package – just because I could.

In contrast, The Legacy of the Northshield Coronet was meant to inspire.  It was designed to remind not just the new Prince and Princess, but the populace as a whole, that this place we called home was special.  Northshield became a real place in large part thanks to Owen, Wyndreth, Chandler, and others whose stories, songs and poems made people realize that they live in a very special place – and that what makes it special is the people who live there.   The poem was based on an idea that my old friend Owen had been saying for years:  Fine words well spoken do not of themselves make an event important.  They simply force you to slow down so that you can realize that the event *is* important.   This event – the first Coronetting ceremony of a new Principality – was important.  It wanted some words to remind folks of that, and to remind them that they were part of it.  And so I wrote and performed them, because I could.

For the same reason, I’m writing a long poem about the history of Oathbinder, the Midrealm sword of state – and doing it in the style of the Chanson d’Roland.  It’s certainly not easy – that’s a challenging form in English – but it’s something that I can do, even if it stretches me.  And in being stretched, I learn and grow, and that’s A Very Good Thing.  And it’s not about me – when people understand that Oathbinder is no mere stage prop, but that it has a story, well, doesn’t that add a certain “something extra” to the oath taken upon it?  “Now I am part of This Great Thing.”  I can tell that story.

It’s the same reason I wash dishes at feasts.   It needs to be done, and I can do it.   Ok, so maybe washing dishes is a little more necessary than telling stories, singing songs, or writing poetry in archaic formats?   Maybe.  But washing dishes correctly just means that folks won’t get sick the next time a meal is cooked and served with them.

Stories, songs and poetry create reality and invite people into it.

This past weekend I was surrounded by people who do that.  And I can do it, too.  Wow.

That Guy*

*Male pronouns are here used in a gender-neutral sense.

That Guy.

You know him.  I know him.  Heck, some days I still see him in the mirror.  Back in the day, I used to see him in the mirror pretty much every day.  Funny thing, though – I didn’t recognize him at the time.

I’m sure others did.  But no one told me.  No one took me aside and said, “Hey, kid.  You’ve got some talent, and it’s clear to everyone that you’re well aware of the fact.  In other words, you come across like a pompous, egotistical jerk.  I just thought you should know.  Wanna talk?”

I really wish someone had.

But it takes a lot of … something (love, maybe?) to approach someone who is as totally self-involved as I was and say, “Dude.  We need to talk.”

An old mentor of mine used to say, “The first step of any procedure is to decide to use the procedure.”

Is it worth doing anything at all?   If the experience of people who’ve dealt with substance-abuse interventions is any guide, things may not go swimmingly.  The person who needs to hear the message is often not in a good place to hear the message. (There are a BUNCH of Bible verses that say exactly that.)

You’re certainly taking a risk by saying something to That Guy.  They could blow up on you.  But you’re also taking a risk by saying nothing, especially if you’re in a position to do something *koff Peers? koff*.  Because That Guy could blow up on everybody else and cause a lot of collateral damage.

So you have to ask yourself: What’s the risk?  What’s the potential upside of saying something? The downside?

And NO, it is NOT a horrible thing to think in those terms!  This is essentially a *parenting* task, folks. Every decent parent understands that you pick your battles – especially with adolescents, and That Guy is usually an emotional adolescent.

If That Guy appears utterly cast in concrete, with no hope of changing, then, well, you’re just going to have to deal with it and do what you can to avoid collateral damage.  Avoidance, containment, mitigation.  It’s like the rhino-hide fighter – if enough people decline to play with him, he either goes away or asks why no one wants to play.  (That of course begs the question of whether That Guy has enough talent that you’d want him around if he weren’t such a jerk.)

At the opposite end of the spectrum, if That Guy is simply young and talented but clueless, then saying something might do a great deal of good. (As with parenting teens, though, timing is everything.)

And then of course, there’s the Great Muddy Middle. (Isn’t it great that the correct answer to the most difficult questions of life is usually, “It depends”?)

So if you decide to “use the procedure”, what IS The Procedure for addressing That Guy?

You’re presumably in some position of influence, but you’re in no position to command.  (Laurels can drop a hammer on Apprentices.) You can only point out and suggest, and hope that That Guy has enough respect for you that your words carry some weight.

So start with not being your own edition of That Guy.  (When TWO of That Guy get together, things rarely end well.  There was a Pennsic once where, as an old friend who was there said, the kings of the East and Middle stood toe to toe punching the button each wore on his chest with the label, “Push Here to P!$$ Off”.  I had to write a satire about that one.)

Your job is not to Correct The Errant Miscreant.  It is to minimize further damage.  (Think about the difference….)

“B-b-b-but Brendan!  I don’t want to confront anyone!”  Or, “That Guy doesn’t even know me!  He won’t take a suggestion from me!”

Likely very true.  But that’s not an excuse to Do Nothing.  You can still Do Something, even if that Something is to Not Be That Guy.

How does that work? That Guy thrives on praise, but over time Not-That-Guy gets more praise.

We can at least hope that eventually he’ll notice.

This is a test post

Hello world. 

brendan-at-roundhouse-4