Double-booking the bard is apparently just becoming A Thing.
The day after I was playing a Shostakovitch concert in a thunderstorm, it was off to the premiere of Honor Among Thieves.
I didn’t really mind this, because I was considering it my little reward for working hard on getting the small stack of music to sound like something–vaguely musical.
Was I still tired?
Yes. Most definitely.
And we’ve crossed a threshold in my orchestral musician career, because on my “day off,” a fun outing when I could relax and wear whatever I wanted–
My brain fried at the prospect and I wore almost all black anyway
I kept feeling like I was forgetting something because I didn’t have the familiar weight of the violin case tugging on my spine.
Such is the life of a musician, I guess.
Something you should know about this screening is that it was a special fundraiser showing for my home Renaissance festival.
So whatever you expect from a premiere screening of the new D&D movie with a pack of nerds rising from their hermit crab hideaways en force–
I showed up in my black NaNoWriMo T-shirt and found my way to the right place inside by falling into line behind a gent in a kilt and a lady with elf ears.
We’re going to take a moment here to appreciate kilt lad and faerie girlfriend on their date. Bookmarkedone is wishing them every happiness in their relationship.
I haven’t been to a movie theater in…an uncomfortably long time due to Ye Olde Plague, making this night extra special.
It also meant when they said we were meeting in “the backlot” for raffle/pre-movie partying…bookmarkedone did not realize this was a specific room in the building and assumed a bunch of pirate hat and nerd-shirt wearing moviegoers would mass in the parking lot, and if someone got hit by a car, woop, casualties happen sometimes, we’ll miss you buddy–
This probably says more about me than it should.
(we pause for an extra moment of gratitude to Kilt Boyfriend and Faerie Girlfriend for inadvertently rescuing bookmarkedone from wandering lonely as a little cloud and finding an early death on someone’s bumper)
The next thing you should know about this adventure is that it was packed. Not only do We Nerds appreciate the film, but this Renaissance faire has some very attached patrons and crew.
A few snapshots for your imagination:
The packed Backlot room, bar on one side, glass windows on the other, table laden with raffle prizes down the middle,
colorful deck chairs outside
feathered pirate hats peeking above said deck chairs
minifigs, blown-glass dragon, squishmallow, jewelry, dice, books, and many other raffle-hoard treasures
little treasure-boxes at every theater seat with a dragon hatchling mini figurine, D20 die, and other goodies
the disbelieving bookmarked “what?” at actually winning a raffle prize
the disgustingly delicious smell of movie food everywhere
Small Friend coming in prepared with a blanket and stuffie (young sir. Young sir, you are my hero).
bookmarkedone pulling on black hoodie early on in the movie because theater air conditioning is fueled by the Ice From Mount Everest and further disappearing into surroundings
the jingly-jingling of coin belts
the slightly frazzled faire organizer
a faire vendor who leads a double life as a middle-grade teacher heading proudly to his seat because he is a D&D person to the core
theater staff whisking by with trays of food held high above their heads in one hand, entirely unencumbered by crowds, awing the not usually awed bookmarkedone
Full confession? I’m not the most well-versed in the world of D&D. There are probably lots of little references in the movie that went flying past my head. I wasn’t one of those people vibrating with excitement and buying tickets eons in advance. I knew the movie was coming out, watched the trailers. That ws about it.
But a night with the renfaire crew?
That was not to be missed.
Something you should know about Renfaire People is that we like to clap. We like to clap. When raffle winners are announced, we clap. When appropriate, we huzzah. When there is an especially good scene/at end of film, we clap. When announcer says “yes, thank you, please do clap when I hand someone their raffle prize because it does wonders for my ego,” we clap with extra delight. When we become distracted by our environment and announcer says, “What, no applause for this prize?” when it is bookmarkedone’s turn, we clap louder and send bookmarkedone scurrying happily back to her seat.
When movie character smashes sexist man’s face in…well, bookmarkedone is doing tiny happy claps alone, but we applaud a later important scene, so…okay.
It’s one of the things I really like about the experience at faire, the way everyone has to be involved for it to feel right, the way it’s so much more welcoming when you’re the one standing in front of them chatting and clapping instead of facing a cold, silent crowd.
Besides. It keeps the crowd interested if they’re looking for a place to applaud. Entertains them.
The rest of the evening? Amid costumes and familiar faces and quietly going “nooo!” because bookmarkedone may have finally been caught in the festival’s photo montage?
I won’t try to write an actual movie review. Like I said, I don’t think I’m the person for that job. I was already having too much fun to be perfectly critical, and besides, the thing is visually gorgeous.
Like yes, I know that isn’t a sparkly soap bubble tumbling down the street, but it looks magnificent.
The level and scale of the sets, the fabrics of the costumes (I am endlessly delighted that everyone has their own personal style and flair), the illuminated manuscript credits, the reanimated corpses–
…okay, maybe not that last one.
If I had to describe the movie, I’d say it’s found family…if everyone in the found family is the five-year-old in need of a juice box providing noisy commentary from the backseat. Snarky, funny, not the most mature ones on the car ride.
It should not come as a surprise here that bookmarkedone is firmly on Team Dragon, not Team Heroes, and is very concerned whenever Dragon is slightly inconvenienced.
It’s Tragic Backstory, the movie. And if this seems like a snide writerly thing to say, also understand that it makes every character unique, and everyone has a stake in the game.
It might break down on a more critical viewing, but the writer in me was delightfully shocked at how clever some of the threads were woven together.
And it might not.
At any rate, as is usual in any movie that has a musical instrument, let us have a moment of silence for the tragic experiences of the bard’s lute.
(sounds of bookmarkedone confusion because you started so well, made sure it was safe, had a reinforced gig bag/case thing, and then you got it in water I will find you I will shake you I will peel your eyelids back and–)
Um. Yes. Anyway.
A friend and I were chatting afterward about which characters were relatable–in an ensemble cast (one of bookmarkedone’s favorite tropes, if you’re keeping track), you’ll love them all, but there’s usually one that you pick out as your favorite. Someone like you, someone nothing like you, someone you admire.
So this time around, we have:
Small Girl (we love)
I-hate-people Forest Girl
I Do Not Understand This Reference/Paragon of Virtue Paladin
Hugh Grant (as Hugh Grant)
They’re all different, with their own virtues and vices and fashion styles and motivations. Barbarian Lady is tough, Forest Girl is the only braincell among them. Usually it’s easy for me to pick a favorite, but this time–
I told my friend I related to all of them, because at one point or another in life, I’ve felt and acted the way they do–although perhaps with less bloodshed. The wizard’s lack of confidence is all too familiar in the form of stage fright. The barbarian lady is tough, yes, but she’s soft on the inside and wants pretty cottagecore things. As for the others–well, you can draw your own conclusions.
It’s a fascinating thing to consider, and probably means the characters are written and acted very well–no one in the crew is really a “side character.” They all get love, all get their day in the sun.
Can I say more without spoiling a movie most of you have not yet seen?
We’ll stop here then, and if you go to see it, remember to add this to the list of Renfaire Culture Movies, and that the dragon is always right.
Technically yesterday, since it’s after midnight now, but we are still awake because post-concert-adrenaline rush/it’s been established that bookmarkedone’s sleep schedule is trash.
The first concert I played with this group, years ago, when it had another conductor and another name, was Shostakovitch 10.
I’m not squished in the back of the violins anymore. Due to unforeseen absences of…a lot of violinists, bookmarkedone was perched precariously close to the front.
Okay, fine. Due to absences and the fact that I can actually play more than a few notes.
It’s a habit of mine (and a lot of other musicians) not to give myself credit. I hear all the shades of flat and sharp, all the crooked notes, the half-broken phrases. Mistakes are made.
Lucky for me, I now have a conductor who is an unfairly lovely human being. She doesn’t want us to put enough pressure on our own shoulders to crush Atlas. To do our best, yes, certainly. But not to fear failing a thing so much that you cannot love it.
It’s–a tricky thing, performing. If I think about people listening, staring, disliking–it’s hard to find the next note. But if I’m there with my crew, the orchestra, all of us breathing in time, making mistakes and carrying on anyway, out to sea on a tide of sound–that’s different. That’s good. Maybe not easy, but–it can be thrilling.
I’m trying to remember that. Smell the roses. Live in the moment. Stop worrying about who cares.
Tonight was a good night.
The rest of the concert?
It started to rain.
We’re indoors, before you worry. No wedding party running for a canopy and being rightfully bowled down by a cellist fleeing instrument-damaging moisture. And since we weren’t (to my knowledge) recording any of it, we didn’t have to worry about white noise. If anything, it just added to the ambiance.
Shostakovitch’s music is–intense, if you haven’t heard it. It’s not exactly a walk in the park. It can be great fun to play, but don’t underestimate the energy demanded.
So a thunderstorm rolling in and lightning flashing faintly outside the windows?
You know, until the giant flash that blinded all of us, made the concertmaster almost jump out of his skin, and then crash thunder so loud both stand partner and I flinched–during the flute solo.
Full credit to the winds and brass. They didn’t stop playing. They didn’t even hesitate.
And when our cue came, neither did the rest of us. Storm would go on–we had a job to do.
Conductor continues to use glowstick for baton to fight ambient lighting. Green tonight. Still raining when I left, but not the white sheets of blowing water during the middle of the concert. Just a steady drizzling.
I turned my face to it, spread my arms in the dark.
We’ll return to your regularly scheduled bookish bloggery shortly. In the meantime, please excuse me. I have to go convince myself not to write a brand-new short story for a deadline in twenty-five hours.
My last con experience in October was, frankly, bizarre.
It was the last run of that particular convention, ever. And on a Friday afternoon, the place was empty.
This time, I could see the line spilling out the door and down the sidewalk. A wizard girl in mossy green was hiking from somewhere with friends at least a block away.
It was going to be packed.
How packed I wouldn’t know until I got into the main floor of the con itself, but I got a clue. Both the October con and this one were held in the same expo center. But where the little con had been set up, with vendors and gaming tables and a few cheerful cosplayers?
That was the entryway. This big room, and all they had in it was ticket-takers, security, and black partition curtains.
This was going to be big.
It was. There was the main floor, a second hall with the celebrities/special guests, an upstairs for panels, and a quieter hall with fewer booths where cosplayers were camped near the concessions, overlooked by a half-floor balcony.
And add to all that, the main convention floor had so many people in it, in the narrower aisles, we had to wait for each other to pass and sometimes just stand there, stock still, shoulder-to-shoulder, until traffic started to move again.
Don’t worry, the crowds didn’t get to me too badly.
It’s been a while since I’ve been around that many people at once, but everyone was pretty polite, even if we were squished a little closer than was comfortable.
And when a woman pushing a stroller needed to get through an aisle, the crowd parted for her, as was only right.
Still, it’s something to keep in mind.
I’m aware that my renfaire/adventure posts have persuaded people that these events are awesome (they are) and that they should attend one (good for you). But if you’re using this as your guide to ComicCons–you should know there are things I leave out.
Take renfaire for example. The people who do it, we do it because we’re a little crazy, and we love it. But it’s a long day outside in all types of weather–hot, cold, dust blowing in your face. ComicCon’s like that too. It’s terrific, really terrific, but if you’re heading in for your first time, there are a few things you need to be aware of. Population being only one of them.
I had a great experience at this one, but there were still a few moments I was like “Wow, the security here is kind of garbage, isn’t it?” And “yeah…wish this person wasn’t saying that…glad I didn’t bring a little kid over here.”
It happens. Pop a lot of people together, you’re bound to find some you wouldn’t hang out with normally. And some events are more family-friendly than others.
That said, I’ve never had anything really bad Go Down, so mostly I have slightly awkward and funny stories.
Case in point?
So night before the con, I was scrolling through the event’s webpage, picking out panels I wanted to go to, trying to gather information, take note of the guests, all that stuff, and I stumbled across this:
Clearly the “health & safety” concerns are understandable, in these Days of the Plague, but this happens so often that they made a rule for it?
Then writer brain kicked in, trying to think of a situation in which that would be plausible (and wholesome), and suddenly I’m imagining a Good Dad panelist going down a line, kissing the foreheads of all his little fans.
Well. That would be okay. In non-plague times.
Unfortunately, I told a friend about this clause and we proceeded to make jokes about it for the entire day.
Me pretending to kiss a stuffed cat plushie through a mask? Unacceptable. Receive hard stare. Cute couples sharing a kiss in the middle of the chaos that was the main floor (I mean, it was near Valentine’s)? Much raising of eyebrows and trying very hard not to laugh audibly.
So I know a lot of going to cons like this is sitting in on panels, meeting professionals in creative industries, and general nerdery.
It didn’t go quite like that.
As luck would have it, I picked out a panel with podcasters. I don’t recall the exact name now, but I assumed it would be crime/horror/etc. Fiction with knives. Exactly my sort of thing.
You’ve probably guessed by now I hadn’t listened to the podcast. I was in a hurry.
Turns out it wasn’t fiction. True Crime. Distinctly not my thing. No offense to anyone who likes it, of course, but not my cup of tea.
But that turned out not to matter, because the podcast boys never showed up.
No. There were a handful of us in a smaller, much stuffier room, waiting until a staff member came in, slightly wide-eyed, and explained that he had no idea where the panelists were or why they weren’t here.
There was some speculation that they had become involved in their own true crime.
He was nice enough. Ran a podcast himself, apparently. He chatted with the audience for a little while, but since fifteen, twenty minutes in, the panelists still showed no sign of actually coming, I slipped out.
There was another panel with a voice actor, but unfortunately, sitting on the back row as lurking bookworms tend to do, I couldn’t hear a word even with the amplification of the sound system.
Flaw in planning. The “Main Stage,” the one they used for the really important guests, was really the second half of that entry room, separated from the ticket-taking and security sweeps only by a curtain–meaning that in that uncarpeted, largely unfurnished space full of chatting, eating, walking, photo-taking and sword-wielding nerds, we could hear all the blurry chatter and almost none of the important stuff.
It’s a shame. He seemed like a cool panelist. He made everyone with a question tell him their name and favorite dessert, so they could be involved in the moment too. I thought it was a really nice idea, but when the first girl said her name and favorite sweet, he cheerfully replied, “That is incorrect!”
Maybe it was a little mean, but it charmed me. It can be really nerve-wracking to talk to your heroes, and the irony of it, the silliness (how could you possibly be wrong about facts only you know?), just made it feel like we could all relax and laugh a little, like we were already friends.
Hm? The sword fighting?
Well, before you worry too much about the security, nobody had sharpened blades. It was while I was sitting on that back row in the panel that I noticed three or four boys over against the wall, attacking each other like true best friends with their newly-bought treasures from one of the booths downstairs. Nothing that had a real blade on it, but experience warned me solid metal could hurt. They were swinging for the neck. One boy had nunchaku.
This is a weapon that I do not like to see in the hands of anyone not particularly experienced, because like a whip, it is all too easy to whack oneself in the eye and miss the intended target entirely.
Needless to say, I was poised between deep concern for their welfare and continued longevity and shouting “FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT!”
So since I didn’t spend a lot of time on panels or guests, this was more of a wanderabout. Honestly, I think that’s the best part of a con (unless, I don’t know, you’re going to meet Aragorn, son of Arathorn, and Arwen in the flesh). So much of the experience is just the energy you get from everyone there, so much passion and excitement, shyness and nerves, love for their characters and sense of fun in the same room.
There are no rules for cosplay. Your costume can be as elaborate or laid-back as you like. But whatever you choose, some people will treat you as if you are the character you’re playing.
SpiderDad (DadSpider? I don’t know his official title. Wears sweatpants and a coat. We like him.)
a petite lady Captain America (she was amazing)
various anime characters who I do not know, but am informed the shows from which they derive involve murder and must therefore be of quality,
Bee from Bee and Puppycat (fangirl screams)
Hogwarts robes and hogwarts robes
Professors McGonagall, Umbridge, and He Who Must Not be Named
Joker (a really good one. I almost asked for a photo, but…Joker…)
the character with the white mask from Black Bullet (I had to look this one up. Don’t be disappointed in me. Know nothing about the show but can definitely appreciate the aesthetic of the mask)
Belle from Beauty and the Beast
Esmeralda from The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Disney Version)
Funny story about Captains America and Carter here.
I’d spotted Captain Carter and had accordingly perked up, delighted to see her even if I haven’t watched Marvel’s What If…? yet. Peggy Carter is amazing, and no, I will not be listening to any arguments to the contrary.
It so happened that Captain Carter sat in the row in front of me during the panel, so I had the perfect vantage point to appreciate the detail she’d put into her costume. The uniform, the famous shield, the curled hair and lipstick (Peggy would approve. A lady must look her best while kicking villains down the stairs).
And who should stroll by, flanked by two dudefriends, but Captain America, in an equally detailed cosplay.
Here is where I discovered I had the perfect vantage point. I noticed both Captains before they noticed each other.
Behind me, one of Captain America’s friends said, “Oh, it’s Captain Carter.”
They scuttled away.
And this is when Captain Carter told the friend sitting next to her that her first instinct had been to hide behind the shield…which would have made her even more a target for Friendly Small Talk between Fellow Cosplayers.
She might not have used those exact words.
So whether the two had an instant rivalry or were just too shy, I don’t know, but I had the perfect seat to watch them studiously avoid each other.
And it’s kind of hilarious to say that Captain America ran away because he was too shy to meet Captain Carter…even if that wasn’t quite the case.
Other fun moments from the con?
The rest of it is a bit of a blur. So I’ll give you snapshots. My favorite moments.
Early on, I walked past a table with one of those animal fursuit heads sitting on it. Not the suit, just the head. And a slightly sweaty person manning the booth, who had apparently been wearing it.
Impossible to tell otherwise, as those sort of costumes completely hide the wearer’s face and identity.
He looked up. We made eye contact. Felt peculiarly like I was seeing that which I was not meant to see. I looked away.
Squishmallows. Squishmallows as far as the eye can see. One unicorn Hello Kitty easily the size of me if I squished down into a huddle sat high on a shelf looking down over us all. She was the True Queen of the Con.
There were two Pikachus (pikachu? pikachi? is there a grammatical plural for this creature?) in matching costume. The yellow was more of a brown. Heads bent, hoods deep, they shuffled down the aisles like eerie monks. I did not ask them questions.
There was a booth vendor/author who made jewelry based on his books. He had a dark complexion and green eyes, a shade of green I have never previously encountered. The effect was startling. I came to the conclusion this man might possibly be a wizard, and his eyes spoke of arcane knowledge I was perhaps not prepared to know.
Friend informed me later that seeing as we were at ComicCon and bloodred, orange, black, and various other shades of eyes tend to be very popular, it was not only possible but likely that he was wearing colored contacts for the fun of it.
I still refuse to rule out the possibility that he holds certain secrets of the universe.
Some of the booths brought their own music. So you’d be walking along, minding your own business, and then woop, this alley has a beat.
Waiting to go into a booth (crowds, revisited), and my friend chokes on a laugh and tells me to look.
On my right is a young man wearing cat ears. He is glaring. Hard.
On my left is another young man wearing cat ears. He is having fun. He is dancing in place. He is vibing. He feels the beat.
I am confused. I believe that the two cat-eared guardians are security for that set of booths (yeah, uniforms are not really a ComicCon thing), and Right Guard is glaring at Left Guard for goofing off on the job.
Friend had a better look at the situation and explained that this was not the case. Apparently they were both having a good time and were taking turns, like a conversation, vibing to EDM, a little dance party of two.
The booth is crowded. A mother and daughter are picking out jewelry. Another young woman and I are standing behind them, waiting our turn. She knows what she wants. I am just looking. She asks politely and reaches in for a pair of ceramic mushroom earrings. The situation is so ludicrous, all of us so close together, the quest so worthy, that I become silly.
“Yes! Go for the mushrooms!” I say.
I am not certain my encouragement is appreciated.
There was a booth with lots of manga and several swords set out on a table. These were not ordinary swords. They were The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movie replica swords.
Many extroverts got permission to lift and hold those swords that day. Mostly guys. Mostly guys larger and (one would expect) stronger than bookmarkedone.
I waited my turn. I had to ask a couple of times before the vendor heard me over the din of the con if I might hold Glamdring, if you please? No, not Théoden of Rohan’s sword, beautiful though it might be. Today we were looking for Gandalf’s.
I got to hold Glamdring.
I got to hold Glamdring.
It was a good day.
Especially so because the vendor had joked that (because of the cramped/awkward position of the booth) everyone pointed the blades at him. And discussed the weight as many were surprised upon trying to lift it.
Did not point the blade at him (courtesy of this style important in renfaire culture). Nor did tip of blade dip when placed in bookmarkedone’s hands.
I am particularly proud of this point considering the way the vendor was holding the sword, expecting its weight to be too much, as had happened with various other visitors.
Not so. I know my swords, good sir. This was a matter of pride.
How did it feel?
Well, it was heavy. I mean, the thing is almost four feet long and the blade is solid steel. The grip is a smooth, rich, blue leather. I’d been wearing gloves for the sake of cosplay, so the flat of the blade was cool against my skin when I returned it.
But gripping it in my hands?
It felt right. It felt good.
There was a vendor whose organizational skills almost frighten me. I wasn’t even working at the con and I was embarrassed for the lack of organization all the other booths displayed in comparison with his.
He was selling, along with flags and pins and necklaces, a variety of rings. The rings were tied down to his booth so they could be displayed but would not sprout legs.
Two people bought rings while I was standing near his booth. He asked which ring, then asked to see the hand. Both times, he was able to guess within one size what was needed only by looking at the buyer’s hand. No measurements. No questions. A brief glance and a dive behind the counter for the box of carefully categorized treasures.
This man is the Ringmaster. He may have learned a small piece of the author’s arcane secrets.
There was a rock booth near the back of the convention floor. I spent far too long and far too much of my paycheck at this booth.
She had carved dragon heads. Tiny fairies. Star shapes, crescent moons, skulls of various sizes, stone hearts (yes, I finally bought a stone heart after blundering in the rock shop and saying “No, I don’t need a heart,” to the amusement of at least three very helpful clerks).
I never knew that I needed to see a tiny Hello Kitty charm carved out of a piece of solid black crystal, but I did, I very much did.
There was a lucky cat carved out of solid rose quartz. I didn’t buy it, but it was very nice to feel its weight resting cool and heavy and smooth in the palm of my hand.
Shiny pebbles. Very important. If you do not yet understand the value of having small, polished rocks in your possession to clink together in your pockets or hands, I suggest you find your way to a shop with cubbies and jars and tubs full of them, appreciate their charm, and possibly welcome yourself to the wholesome side of goblincore.
The experience was made even better by two women hunting through the rocks at the same time I was, who knew far more about them than I did. Me, I like it, it shiny, it comes home with me. I know a few of their names.
They came asking for specifics. Poking through the dishes for just the right one. Coming for moss agate and claiming kambaba jasper instead because they were carved into the shape of tiny green mushrooms and they have spots!
One of the pair was having a hard time choosing her mushroom (she had perhaps four laid out in her palm at one point) and was asking the opinion of the second woman (whom, as far as I know, she had never met before this moment but was now getting along with as if they were the best of friends).
There was some conversation about, “Do I need them all? Do I need that? Just mushrooms of different sizes?”
One of said spotted mushrooms may also have made its way home with me.
Long-stemmed red roses. Where did they come from? No one knows. They are beautiful. They are plentiful. They are silently mysterious.
Went wild fangirl mode and chased a cosplayer through three blocks of booths for the chance to ask for a photo. Success, but now must live with the knowledge that I probably unnerved a few visitors who saw Carmen Sandiego enter Hunting Mode.
I got my photo.
Even though I had a friend with me for part of the con (buddies are great), I also had some time to myself.
I wandered. I didn’t have a panel to get to, I didn’t have anything in particular I hadn’t already seen. I stumbled into booths I’d somehow missed before.
If you leave the main floor the way you came in, you come to a quieter hall. Two flights of stairs lead down to it, very dramatic, with a balcony above.
I stood on the balcony, doing nothing, just watching the people go by below. So many people, so many colors, so many stories unfolding before my eyes. I leaned against the rail. I took off my gloves, risking dropping them all the way down to the floor.
It’s a busy place, the con. All that energy bottled up, like an orange soda with a good shake. But to be still, to absorb, that is something special also.
It’s funny, in all that, the things you see. The things you don’t. I was wearing bright red, so I was easy to spot. I didn’t see my friend walking below me until the aforementioned cat plushie was plopped upon friend’s head.
There was a plastic tree in the middle of that hall I looked down into. I don’t know why I remember that. I don’t know why I shouldn’t.
I mentioned this balcony to a friend later and some comments were made about my needing Carmen Sandiego’s grappling hook and kite wings.
I got perhaps too quiet considering this. Using one would have granted a very swift and easy way to circumnavigate crowds. Using either would probably have resulted in my expulsion from the con.
It might have been worth it.
And then I had a concert.
I thought a lot about performance over that weekend. What it means, what I want it to mean. How to make it something good, rather than a lot of stress in scratchy clothes under stage lights.
And depending on how you look at it, cosplay is a sort of performance, too. You play in orchestra, you go to a con, you’re never alone. But there’s that same edge, that kick of adrenaline. You want it to be good, but no matter what materials you have or how professional your final costume is, that doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’re playing the game, you’re part of it, part of something much larger, together. Strangers, and friends.
I’m sure I could get a lot more poetic about all this. Maybe sometime I will.
When I was planning this con trip, there was a possibility that I’d be going straight from the con to rehearsal…again.
Lucky me, it didn’t happen. I got the whole day to myself…and then promptly had three rehearsals and a concert the same week.
Hint: this is why we skipped a Tuesday in the posting schedule. Because bookmarkedone was tired.
Valentine’s concert. So the Romeo and Juliet overture. Full house at our tiny venue, which is always nice. It’s a good group I’m with now. Can’t think of anywhere else that the conductor uses a purple glowstick as a baton. And we’re not opposed to messing with the audience a little either…we had unannounced tango dancers emerge from the back of the audience this time in a way that was…quite satisfying.
Because having said nothing about it, we the orchestra were grinning because the audience (for a few seconds at least) had to wonder, “Is this planned, or are these just other people in the audience who decided to hop up and dance in the middle of the concert?”
ComicCon posts are always ginormous when I make them because there’s so much to see and do, and so many stories I want to tell that it’s hard to pack things in and choose what to leave out.
It’s a huge pain to edit. And I tend to procrastinate because of it.
So…I’m making the late-night decision to split this post into two parts!
Part I is going to about the cosplay, and Part II will be about all the other fun stories of the con. Because it’s already been like two weeks and I would like to publish this thing someday.
(cue bookmarkedone crashing out on her desk because that tea mug wasn’t the bottomless one. Whoops).
The last time I did a cosplay was before the Plague. And it was probably the laziest cosplay–cloak, boots, wizard hat, no specific character–because it’s one day you can wear a cloak and no one will look at you funny.
Arguably you can wear a cloak every other day of the calendar year as well, but we’re not here to discuss cloaks.
We’re here to talk about cosplaying my childhood hero.
Ah, yes. La Femme Rouge. The legendary thief. Once a protector of the world’s cultural treasures–until she found out that stealing is way more fun and pays the bills better.
Well. Netflix tells it differently.
I’ve learned over the course of the cons I’ve been to that there are certain characters I can cosplay and certain characters I really can’t.
Personality is what matters. Cosplay is a little like acting–for all intents and purposes, you are the character when you put on the costume.
So playing, say, an outgoing, chipper, friendly, extroverted character? Doesn’t work out too well. Especially when I forget what I’m doing and fall into my natural expression of caution in big crowds–which is much more like a cat in Hunting Mode than a smile.
The juxtaposition can be a little scary.
So I try to pick characters I think I can pull off, not just those that I like. Characters who glare? Excellent. Characters with part of face hidden by costume? Even better. Characters who do both and have the Murder Walk and possibly a weapon?
So Carmen. Sly thief with classy style. Hat pulled low. Worth a shot, right?
Besides. She’s iconic. Even if I fail to really fit the character, one glimpse of red is enough to make people wonder could that be–?
And although personality is more important than physical appearance most of the time (wigs and makeup brushes are amazing), I don’t look entirely unlike Carmen.
It’s not a “dead ringer,” as they say.
On a scale from Carmen Sandiego to Forest Nymph, I usually fall closer to Confused Changeling in Sweaters.
But for ComicCon, where a T-shirt with a logo or a pajama onezie will do, it’s close enough.
I tried to make my hair do the thing like hers. You know. The thing.
An attempt was made.
Otherwise, it was really easy to put together. Red trench coat I was lucky enough to nab on a thrift run, black top and black jeans (what are the odds of an orchestral musician having those, right?), the knee boots, and the crowning glory–the red fedora.
I stood in front of the mirror, scrutinizing the effect.
I plopped the hat on my head.
Nothing. I still looked like me.
And that’s not the point of cosplay. Not for me, anyway. I want to disappear into the character, be someone else for the day. See what it feels like to be them.
I may have made a face at the mirror.
And then a little voice in the back of my head told me, instinctively, to reach up and tilt the hat down and slightly to the left.
It’s funny. I’d forgotten how obsessed I was with Carmen as a kid until doing that. But that one little gesture, the hat tilt, it brought it all rushing back to me.
We move on as we grow older, get interested in other things. The fandoms we loved when we were younger we fold up and place in a dresser drawer, next to the scarves and lost puzzle pieces, buttons and games we invented on a summer’s day. As time passes, we reach for different stories, we crave things that speak to the emotion of that moment, the things we most need to hear.
Memories gather dust. Colors fade. They haven’t lost their value, and yet–
The tilt of a hat.
There are still probably photos somewhere of me doing that. Holidays, whatever occasion we had to be Dressed Up, if I was wearing a hat (and I usually was), I’d do the signature Carmen pose. Hat tilted slightly to the left, chin down, hand on the brim, so all you see is that smile.
Drove people crazy. You want to see your kid’s face in photos, not a hat squashed down over the eyes. Can’t tell you how many times I was told to put my hand down and smile for the camera.
For the record, I think the Carmen pose probably resulted in a lot of way better photos than the mugshots of these later days. My first uni ID photo was a crime.
It’s such a little thing, but that was all it took for me to remember–oh yes, this is how this feels. There she is.
That’s not to say it was all that easy. I was still–a little nervous, I guess? I mean, I wasn’t wearing a neon wig and carrying a sword three times my size, but it’s still a little weird until you’re around other people in cosplay (this from someone who has been wandering through grocery stores in a floor-length black dress looking forlornly for post-concert ice cream).
But walking into the main floor of the convention center–it went away.
That was my stage, between a Ghostbusters van and Captain America’s motorcycle. The game had begun, and I was there to play.
I stood taller. Straightened my shoulders. Started to walk differently. With a little of Carmen’s confidence.
There was a downside to this. I was wearing black gloves and a black mask, so there was a little wondering if vendors might actually be uncomfortable with me browsing their wares and leaving no fingerprints.
Everyone was lovely to me, in case you were worried. The only comment to that effect was someone guessing my character and saying he “had to be suspicious of a woman in a red coat.”
This was actually the most fun I’ve ever had doing cosplay. Just because of the reception, how excited people were to see me.
They don’t have ticket trolls at ComicCon like they do at Renaissance festivals, but you’ve still got to be a cool person to work there. I got someone who was trying to guess every character who walked through her line.
Not going to lie–I was kind of zoning out at that particular moment (did I mention I’d been in rehearsals for Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet overture that week? Also it was packed. Nothing like the last con where my buddy and I were unexpectedly the only VIP guests). But the delight on her face when she asked if I was Carmen–yeah, that brought me back to the moment pretty quick.
And that’s how it went for the rest of the day.
A few of my favorite interactions?
My Renaissance festival friends at the booth
As soon as I saw the familiar purple banners, I was like, “I gotta.” So I wove my way through the crowd and tried to catch The Boss’ attention to say hi. Got distracted by a fairy mushroom princess girl because her outfit was a work of art and–that’s when one of the ladies at the booth actually scared me.
Well, sorry, I’m sure she’s lovely, but having someone yell “YOU!”
…it’s a little unnerving.
But then she launched into an explanation of how she’d been looking for Carmen Sandiego for years, and now that she’d found me, had to get a photo for proof.
So…yeah. There’s now a photo of me and her and Mushroom Princess and I don’t have a copy of it (smashes keyboard because I’m sure it was really cool).
This actually happened a couple of times…
Tall beardy dudes wander by, see me, and say something along the lines of “Found you,” sometimes in slightly angry voices (as one does when you finally find the missing left sock in your backpack of all places) while I go into Frantic Mouse Caught under Kitchen Lights Mode because I do not know this person, and then realize oh, I’m Carmen. Right.
Tip the hat, take the photo, and we’re all grinning like idiots because it’s ComicCon.
My Renaissance festival friends not at the booth
What are the odds that renfaire people are also ComicCon people?
…yeah, we’re all a bunch of nerds.
I spotted a couple of friends strolling together and waved. One noticed. The other walked past me like he had no idea who I was or that I was even there.
Maybe I wouldn’t have thought as much about this if I hadn’t seen one of the mercenary steel fighters (one I’ve actually crossed practice swords with) later at the festival booth. Same pair before are standing a little behind him, probably also trying to say hi.
I wave. Get a squint-eyed stare.
Was it the hat? The coat? The lack of violin? It’s true that it’s been a while since we’ve seen each other, winter being the off-season for most faires, but really?
In their defense, I didn’t stick around. As I explained to friends, the goal was not to say hi so much as to leave a lingering impression of having seen someone unknowable and to allow that sensation to grow into an overwhelming sense of dread.
I believe that’s called having fun at your friends’ expense.
I should mention that the faire organizer had no problems recognizing me when I’d come by the first time. He didn’t even say my name or ask to be sure. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “I have a check for you.”
No greeting. No hello. Just that.
Well. Okay, then. Won’t say no to that.
Theme Song Guy
At one point the crowd was so thick I had to stop walking for people to move and a guy near me started singing “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego.”
This…has never quite happened to me before. Usually I’m the one doing spontaneous music behind people. So I didn’t really know what to do except laugh and hide under my hat. Sort of like when people start singing “Happy Birthday” to you and you don’t know what to do or who to look at? Still fun, though.
He tried to make a quick escape after that only to discover the crowd had shifted and he was also stuck.
And then–this was my favorite part of the whole interaction–he got shy. Asked if he could maybe have a photo.
Dude. You sang me my theme song. Of course you’re getting a photo.
He probably wins coolest interaction of the day.
This feels cheesy…
One guy got awkward after saying the “Found you!” line.
“I guess you’ve been hearing that all day.”
He said it like he’d been annoying me by his excitement.
Not so. Not so at all, and I told him as much.
While I was saying this, another guy popped up behind him and said, “Where in the world are you?”
This was one of the questions that had thrown me off the first time it was asked, but by now, I’d gotten comfortable answering, “Here–for the moment.”
“Well, no wonder nobody can find her, she’s in (the…smallish city where the con was being held).”
The first guy shook his head and said, “And there’s the other one.” The second cheesy joke I’d been getting all day.
“I don’t get tired of it,” I said. I mean, why would I? Sure, it’s the same joke every time, but it’s always told in a different voice. It’s always another person I get to see be excited with me.
I think he got the idea.
Various Hat Tips (tipping? tippéd?)
Because it was so crowded, I was shoulder-to-shoulder with other people for most of the day. And although it was noisy, well…
You know how if someone says your name when you’re chatting and not paying attention and you whip your head around because you hear it?
Several times I heard people elbowing their friends and saying “There’s Carmen Sandiego.”
And since they weren’t talking to me, I’d tip the hat down, smile, and go on my sneaky way.
One time this happened when someone was sitting on the floor as I was walking by.
Quick note here if you’re not familiar with how cons work–yeah, this is totally normal. Not in the vendor area, but in quieter spots, because there’s a lot of colors and noise in there, and sometimes you just need to chill.
Sure, there are chairs, but there are also open spaces where you can sit cross-legged in a circle like campers without a campfire, or walls you can put your back to and stare into space like a sad beggar haunted by the return from war–or a sweaty cosplayer waiting for a friend bringing pretzels and water from the concession stand like an angel of mercy.
I saw a girl hiding behind a pillar eating her lunch in between working a booth. We made eye contact. I moved along.
Because there were so many people, though, one of the cosplayers sitting at the wall was–yeah, pretty much at my elbow, and the hatbrim tends to catch echoes, so when they said “It’s Carmen Sandiego” to a friend…Hi. Hello. Yes, it is.
Anyway, that moment was when I realized the hat tip gesture was perfect because it was just close enough to the half-curtsey dip that I do at renfaire to feel comfortably familiar and just normal enough to not make people really confused why the tall child is curtseying (this is a problem. I’m aware).
I…don’t actually know how many people took photos with me. A few, anyway, besides the amazing Mushroom Girl.
I’m normally a little camera-shy (hmm zero photos of me on the blog, what are the odds), but I didn’t mind. Partly because it’s ComicCon and it’s just what you do, and partly because if my own renfaire buddies walk right past me as Carmen, well, what’s the harm?
And with one black-gloved hand on the hat brim and a mask covering the lower half of my face, there’s actually even less of my face visible than my bookmarkedone profile picture.
(which, now that I’ve had time to think of it, means my readers and Twitter friends are probably the people most likely to see one of those errant photos and know exactly who that is…uh…use this power wisely, okay?).
I really love the hat pose, though. One girl asked for a photo and we squished together next to a booth. I’m not sure what she did, but her friend taking the photo shook her head and said, “Look at you two with your model poses.”
The camera shy bookworm would like to say thank you, miss.
Most of the parking is across the street from the convention center (if you’re lucky). So I was across the street and up the hill, hiking to a car, when from the front of the con, I hear someone yelling. It’s a girl sitting out front with her friends, waving and screaming, “I’ve been looking for you!”
Normally this would require crossing the street to see what the problem was, if there was a missing wallet, long lost friend, mysterious curse, etc., etc.
Not for Carmen.
I waved to acknowledge attention recieved–
and kind of dove into the car.
…yeah, some of those sneaky thief things just come naturally.
I can’t express how much fun this was.
It was like being a celebrity. People were genuinely excited to see me. And while that’s pretty different from being the bookworm in the Strider corner of the library who’s so quiet you walk in and out without ever realizing they’re there–I could get used to this.
Yes, your book hunter returns victorious from the field of battle! No one died! At least…not that I know of!
For those who’ve forgotten (or are new–hello! How are you? How lovely of you to join us!) we’ll review the Rules of the Game.
Twice a year, once in spring and once in fall, bookmarkedone’s local library hosts an Epic Library Sale where books, games, puzzles, journals, ancient tomes, CDs, DVDs, and possibly ancient arcane knowledge muddled into the YA dragon book stack are spread out on tables in an enormous warehouse in the fairgrounds. Their prices are low enough to arouse suspicion. Etiquette is simple:
Opening night is welcome to Friends of the Library only.
The books from the Better Books are not allowed to mingle with books from Cheapside. If you browse in Cheapside, your selected Better Books must stay behind the lattice walls. In Book Parking. Pensive. Waiting. Safe. Until you return.
Think twice about bringing anything other than cash you’re willing to spend (you will spend it all. You will).
Be nice to the volunteers. They’re volunteers. They look like a loud sneeze could knock some of them over, but they could still probably take you out with a large encyclopedia or the arcane knowledge they have learned from wandering a lifetime among those shelves. Are they wizards, some of them? Maybe. We don’t know. We don’t ask.
Books are sorted by genre…more or less.
Don’t try to escape with a box. You will be found. You will be stopped.
You have three hours. Good luck.
The Epic Library sale is a holiday. Merry Christmas, Happy Birthday, Huzzah for Dragonfest, and Yey it’s Booksale.
We take this event very seriously. In other words? The game is on.
Now keep in mind that at 5:00 p.m. exactly, a queue has formed. The eroding parking lot is being recklessly filled. The bookworms are emerging from their nooks, crannies, bookshelves, dragon hoards, towers, garrets, hobbit holes, haunted manors, and corners of the Goblin Wood. We are here. In force. Today’s the day.
So while it’s great fun and we’re all friendly to each other (as friendly as a massive pack of nerdy introverts can be), the Game is On.
There’s a smidge of energy in the air.
Just a smidge.
Alternatively…I’m not sure exactly how this came about–some odd combination of overheard conversation on the floor and laughing later that night–
There’s an old superstition you’ve probably heard that you can predict the coming winter by the stripes on a woolly bear caterpillar’s coat. In the same tone of voice and nodding, cottage-mother confidence, a friend overheard two ladies chatting at the sale about how many people had turned out and how that many nerds scarfing books into their totes most assuredly must indicate a cold winter coming.
At this point in the story retelling, I was at home in comfy clothes eating pickles.
I started laughing. Tired brain made the connection and filled in the rest.
Because woolly bear caterpillars must buy books and puzzles for the long winter ahead.
(cue bookmarkedone begging any and all artsy friends to draw a fuzzy caterpillar happily pushing a cart full of books because I can’t draw but it’s too good a thought).
We don’t really talk to each other when we’re In the Mode searching for books, but there was one point when I was browsing the literature table, British gentleman with a couple of tote bags by his feet to my left, friendly lady across the way, and me the little book goblin wearing my hooded Vest of Many Pockets, that we started joking about getting extra points just for browsing the classics. I was listening and reading titles at the same time, so I’m not entirely clear on everything that was said, but I’m pretty sure I heard the woman ask “Is this highbrow?” “Don’t know…” “There’s a brow.”
And then I made off with a collection of Norwegian fairytales and the complete Andersen stories.
Don’t worry. I left some books for the two of them.
There were actually a lot of “sound bites” I caught myself smiling at.
I didn’t set out to eavesdrop.
But when a couple swings past right in front of you and the girl calls over her shoulder, “That was before I quit the math major,” well…that’s pretty hard to miss.
Especially since she sounded so happy about it. But I think the guy’s answer was even better.
He said, “I know.” There was a pause, and then, “I’m very proud of you, for quitting the math major.”
I’m just going to clarify two things here:
No offense is intended to successful math majors. You guys are wizards. Go. Be cool. You’re just wow.
If you’re going to not just any book sale, but an Epic Library Book Sale and facing the challenge it presents as a date night, you’re doing it right. There are some whose relationships would not survive that test.
But we didn’t go all the way to the sketchy side of town and under the creepy bridge to the fairgrounds just to people watch.
We went for books.
So look at my beauties!
Allow me to introduce you to:
The Complete Illustrated Stories of Hans Christian Andersen
Very heavy. Snatched from the aforementioned literature table. Did you know the Little Mermaid had a garden of red flowers? Did you? Of course I could have downloaded an eBook version for free online since it’s Very Public Domain.
But it wouldn’t be the same.
Norwegian Folktales, as told by Asbjørnsen and Moe
Already had East o’ the Sun, West o’ the Moon, so I am aware there might be some overlap…but when it comes to fairytales, I am weak.
Into the book buggy it went.
The Sagas of Icelanders, as prefaced by Jane Smiley
I’m having a hard time believing that Andersen’s is longer than this one. It’s gigantic. Goodreads claims it’s roughly 200 pages shorter…maybe it’s the subject matter that’s more intimidating. The lack of pictures? The Puffin Classics edition that so clearly means business?
It’s been a while since I read the Longest Lay of the Volsungs, but I’m not sure it’s ever completely left my mind. For a while, I was just bumping around the warehouse with those three books.
I may have alarmed my company at the literature table with my taste.
The crown jewel of the collection?
The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley
It is beautiful. It is sadly worn. It is floral print on the cover with gold flowers on the spine. It is disheveled and stained, gilded and yellowed just enough to be perfectly at home in my hands, tucked next to my heart.
Look at my book.
Yes, I’m going to have a time finding the exact edition on Goodreads. The daunting quest has already begun.
So while I was there for books, I also have to feed my worrying writing habit.
The journals were next.
It was packed on the aisle with the journals. Before I got there, one of the volunteers saw an abandoned stack of books and went into full hands-on-hips-I’m-laughing-but-also-if-I-find-the-person-who-made-extra-work-for-me-they-will-be-sorry.
One must question the type of person who abandons a stack of books. Mysterious circumstances? An emergency? A tragic falling out with your book-buying buddies? A natural villainy and desire to thwart the work of the volunteers?
We cannot know. We can only wonder, pull our little book cart away from the crime scene and chant softly in our minds do not annoy them we do not ask if they are wizards.
I buy too many journals. In my defense, I do use them.
I also have no idea what fandom this book is from. I feel a little like I’m posting a Missing Person ad–do you know this child? Does he belong to your fandom? Could you direct me toward the book series, please?
The decision process wasn’t difficult. Textured cover. Grey lined pages. Loops on the outside well suited for a padlock. Dragon on the front.
Into the buggy.
I also picked up The Unicorn Journal II, which is going to take me a while to actually use…it’s got beautiful illustrations faded into the background of every page. I feel like it needs to be fiction, a story draft that really suits it.
I’ll come up with one. It just might take some time.
Any other finds?
Really. I was just getting started.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo
Compared to Les Miserables, it looks small. I can do this, right? I can do this.
Gifts by Ursula K. LeGuin
(happy chanting LeGuin, LeGuin, LeGuin even though I still am missing the middle book in the trilogy)
Invictus by Ryan Graudin
…which I know nothing about and it might be rubbish but I saw time travel, gladiator, and futuristic sci-fi in the same blurb and had to take the risk…
Heartless by Marissa Meyer
Decided to take a chance on it after getting the entire plot of Cinder spoiled in SciFi Writers’ Week panels. She’s clever. Will it be too YA for my taste? Maybe. But it’s Wonderland. How could I refuse?
Reckless: The Golden Yarn by Cornelia Funke
Has silk bookmark. Hardcover. And it’s Cornelia’s label. Breathing Books.
Reckless: The Petrified Flesh by Cornelia Funke
(tries not to fangirl over Cornelia)
So the Reckless series has always been a little tricky for me to follow, and now I find this is the first book in the series, but revised and updated by Cornelia?
Cornelia. Cornelia, what did you do?
I sense a reread coming on. It’s been years. This is going to feel like a really serious case of déjà vu.
Am I looking forward to it?
The Traitor’s Game by Jennifer Nielsen
This woman deserves a bigger fandom. Have been hunting every one of her books since reading The False Prince.
The Deciever’s Heart by Jennifer Nielsen
It’s marked as an uncorrected proof, which would probably be illegal to buy under other circumstances?
Yes, it now has a place of honor on my main shelf. It’s my second proof copy.
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
Didn’t own a copy. Now I do. Problem solved.
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
Okorafor’s been on my list for a while, but this was the first time I got my grubby claws on one of her full-length works. I didn’t read the blurb until I got home–it might be too dark for me. We’ll see.
Fairies: Real Encounters With Little People by Janet Bord
As I told my book sale buddies, I’m going to read all of this with snacks.
It has been suggested that I take it out to the ring of trees behind where I live and read there. Just to mess with the neighbors. In case they aren’t baffled by me enough already.
Magician: Apprentice by Raymond E. Feist
Which, in case you didn’t know, is the same book as Feist’s Magician, which I picked up in hardcover at the book sale last spring because of the black and red with the dragon.
So I’ve now bought it twice.
In my defense, I was running out of time in the Magic Three Hours and wasn’t really paying attention when I (carefully) chucked those last three into the pile. And it is an updated version, so–
So now I’ll have to refrain from reading both of them and obsessively comparing if it turns out to be good.
The last book of the night is one I didn’t pick out. It’s The Spy’s Survival Handbook, and it’s black and spiral bound and every bit as cheesy as it sounds (Why is there a chicken? Why is there a chicken?).
It’s a selection by my dad, whom, as you may recall, missed the last sale. He’s happily returned in glory and scuttled off with a stack of his own.
It’s got good puzzles in the book. Codes, you know. I like them, and they’re hard to invent when you’re writing, so it’ll come in handy. He knows my taste. He’s aware I love it.
After I got back from Friends’ Night, someone asked me if I’d had enough time or if I’d been pried out as they were closing.
I said no, because I wouldn’t dare stay till the last minute and annoy the lovely volunteers. Yes, I love my books, but also…I have manners.
But…I didn’t just say no. Remember, this is at like 9:30 in the evening, after a long day of book hunting in a high-tension environment, and honestly, I got up tired.
So we entered the “tired-enough-to-spout-poetry” mode. Otherwise known as post-Comic Con adrenaline exhaustion when I’m much less careful about what comes out of my mouth.
(This is before the pickles, if you’re keeping track).
At which point as I start explaining that no, I started to leave before the 15 minute warning…
…I find myself cupping my hands over my mouth to imitate the sound of the speakers in the giant warehouse and mimicking the volunteer saying “Hello, we know that there are far more of you than there are of us, and if it came down to it, in a fight, we–we would lose, and we really don’t have any power in this situation if you decide to revolt as a unit, but we would–like to go home–soon–“
Like I said. I was tired.
But maybe I should be more concerned that the person I was telling the story to thought I was serious?
I managed to sneak back to see the rest of Cheapside (otherwise known as the dollar books section) the next afternoon.
And since this post is getting long (what are the odds when you pack me off to a fairground filled with books), let’s go:
The Snake Pit by Sigrid Undset
I broke my rule and bought a sequel. Norwegian literature. I had to.
Idylls of the King by Alfred Lord Tennyson
I have been informed that as this was a 50 cent paperback I bought it at market value, except with half the pages falling out into my hand.
You can clearly see I’m very sorry about this development
(cue sounds of bookmarkedone having no regrets)
Liebe ist ein wundersames Gefühl by Joan Walsh Anglund
It’s a picture book. There’s only about five or six words per page. Guys, I’m going to feel so smart when I read this.
The Art of Theft by Sherry Thomas
Lady Sherlock? Lady Sherlock. Lady Sherlock and a heist? Chocolate cake and strawberries, I’m spoiled over here.
Legend by Marie Lu
Spoilers–I’ve already devoured all of this. It’s marketed as a YA dystopia. What I was expecting was tones of thriller, street smarts, danger, and probably some flirting.
I got what I wanted.
Also it’s being adapted for the screen?
Is this even real right now? Am I beautifully hallucinating?
The Book of Runes by Ralph H. Blum
Tucked into the foreign language section. Which…isn’t wrong…but…isn’t right, either.
It’s taken its place on the same shelf as my other rune book, and since the meanings are so contentiously debated, I’ve joked that they’re now arguing with each other.
Skellig by David Almond
MG. Mysterious stranger. Looks like an overlooked gem.
Gnomes by Wil Huygen
I think I first saw this one in an antique shop? At first I thought it was the same trip that I stood reading half a Nancy Drew novel waiting for someone to decide if they were going to buy a table or not…but now I think it might have been a different occasion. Maybe even a different shop.
Anyway, twice is a coincidence, but I decided to bring it home since it crossed paths with me again. It’s huge and beautiful, and while half of it might be fluff made up by a modern author, I think there’s some old folklore hiding inside too.
Besides. Sometimes you just need a gnome.
And that’s it, everybody! Thank you for reading this long post and for tagging along to the fairgrounds with me. As always, if there’s a book on the list you know or want to see reviewed on the blog, comment away.
So it’s been two weeks since I promised I was back from Ye No-Blogging Land. In my defense, all that running off of matcha tea, music, and pure spite energy may have finally caught up with me.
I got sick. Yeah. It wasn’t fun.
Which is why I’ve been doing a lot of nothing. Drinking tea, sitting under a tree, and falling asleep again on the bench in the back garden. A robin actually perched on the back of it while I was there…I’ve yet to determine if this was a favorable greeting or if she was checking to see if I was dead.
I slept for almost two days straight. And for me, that’s utterly bizarre. I don’t sleep a lot, especially during the day. So it’s a pretty clear sign I was, in fact, very sick. I’m still not completely myself yet, so I’m taking it easy.
Hence the lack of posts.
It’s nice here, in early summer. Everything’s green. I keep watching for the first glint of fireflies.
So since my WOTF Vol. 38 review is obviously still in the works, I thought I’d post a little update, plus one of the book haul posts I’ve been promising. Then it’s back to getting back to normal (or something like it) for me and (dare I say it this time?) then a regular posting schedule.
By now, most of you probably know the Book Haul Drill, but since it’s been ages since I did one of these…it goes like this.
Twice upon a year, the local library district holds a fundraiser where they sell old books, battered books, collectible books, books with the covers half chewed, donated new-ish books, posters, puzzles, notebooks, paperbacks, hardbacks, pamphlets–all at very tempting prices, but don’t try to take the boxes out the door, because even though the clerks are mostly elderly, they will tackle you and fix you with the “I gave you my cookies, please respond” sad look and make you regret your heinous box-stealing career.
They do this clever thing where they fold the flaps in and use them as cute little shelf units because the warehouse doesn’t exactly come equipped. Good boxes are practically a form of currency while the sale is in session. Don’t touch Ms. Volunteer’s boxes. She’s braved the plague for this job. She has an apron. She probably has ninja stars in the pockets. She’s packed all your books in a nice bag for you and said have a nice day and smiled so the sun came out. Don’t steal a box.
I only did it once. Didn’t make it as far as the first set of doors. In my defense, it was my first sale, and I didn’t know the rules back then.
Twice a year, I grab a buddy, strap my violin case on my back and bolt out the door as soon as symphony rehearsal is over to get to the sale before all my fellow Book Hunters have snapped up the goodies.
I know the stretch of road between the concert hall and the fairgrounds by heart. The shady burrito place, the train tracks, the creepy bridge, the out-of-business hat shop in the old fire station that never actually sold hats, the house with the wind chimes, the dairy, the last big hill before the empty college that nobody’s had the money to buy, and then the gates to the fairgrounds.
With luck, we pick the right entrance on the first try. Without luck, we pull into the closed pedestrian ticket gate before pulling back out again and finally getting into the parking lot. Sometimes twice.
But then it’s just the building with the giant green star on it, a passel of bookworm cars, and the abandoned food stands clustered here and there as the sun starts to slant behind us and I have to remind myself not to outpace my buddy because I’m walking fast, standing up to my full height for a change, paying no attention to the petunias planted outside because they are only a minor attraction between me and countless perfect books.
…from back in September.
Yeah, I said I was sorry. But I got two degrees and the flu, so you know, be a little nice to me.
Anyway, the book haul this fall was particularly special because I wasn’t going on a Thursday night after two rounds of hunters had already ravaged through. I was getting in on presale night. Before everybody.
I am officially a Friend of my local library district.
(screams in bookmarkedone)
So what this means is that while everyone who doesn’t have membership had to wait until Wednesday night, I got to sashay my little self in a whole day early.
And I get a discount at the library gift shop, so…I’m on so many levels of euphoria I can’t even.
Okay. Enough gushing. You want to know what books I got, right?
The Runes by Horik Svensson, which I’ve already read because it’s short and I was curious. The cover is shiny. I have no regrets about this purchase.
Eternal by Michael Moorcock, because I’ve been snapping up Moorcock books and the cover design is so gorgeous on all of them ohh I want them to be good so badly I’m scared,
Magician by Raymond E. Feist, because it had a green dragon on the cover and it said Take me, so I did,
the telling by Ursula K. LeGuin, because it is my aim to snap up any and all of her books I can get my grubby claws on,
All seven of the Harry Potter books, plus Tales of Beedle the Bard and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. All of them. They’re mine now. I just managed carrying them all up a flight of stairs. Now the only question is where they’re going to fit on my shelves. I may need more bookshelves. Ha. I always need more bookshelves.
Phantastes by George MacDonald, no explanation necessary.
word power: 120 WORDS THAT ARE FUN TO SAY by pocket posh, because I’m building a fairy language and I need them all,
finally my own copy of The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. It’s so tiny compared to the gigantic hardcover of The Wise Man’s Fear. It looks like the sequel could eat it and still have room for more. I don’t care. I love this little book to pieces already.
King’s Man & Thief by Christie Golden, because it comes recommended by Katherine Kurtz and the cover is gorgeous and we know about my weakness for all thief books everywhere always, don’t we?
Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco
The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli (because my friend dared me when I was at the sale on the second night)
Medieval and Renaissance Poets, Langland to Spenser, edited by W.H. Auden and Norman Holmes Pearson
The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain, in a blue cover with the upper right corner torn off. I love this book. You must read this book. It’s wild.
The Haunted House by Charles Dickens
Coriolanus by William Shakespeare
The Robots of Dawn by Isaac Asimov
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (finally!)
The Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, hardcover, green, with gold lettering on the cover. It’s gorgeous. I never buy collector’s edition anything.
The Works of Chaucer.
the third Revenge of Magic book by James Riley to devour and share with a friend.
Two Harry Potter mini planners, a lovely Sherlock Holmes journal, and a periwinkle journal that I couldn’t resist. I mean, if we’re being real here, I’m going to fill them. All of them.
So that’s the book haul. I like to do these not only because it lets my inner librarian catalogue everything (very happy now), but because it previews what’s on my shelves.
Hint, friends. If you see a book you want to hear me book review/rant about, say so! That’s why I have a comments section, so you can tell me what you think is cool.
Also I have pictures.
Look at these beauties. The colors make me so happy. And I wasn’t kidding about the pocket edition of The Name of the Wind. Little tiny book. Imagine if I’d had that while I was reading it. That’s like what, seven pounds I carted around in my backpack because I had a library hardcover? It feels like more. I still loved the hardcover, of course.
Anyway, that’s probably enough for now.
As always, thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more bookmarkedone adventures…after I’ve had a few more cups of tea.
So teakettles and dragon scales! Off we go again on Part II of my incredibly belated Dragonfest 2021 recap. Let’s just pretend it’s going to be well worth the wait.
To set the scene (for those readers who have understandably forgotten):
It is October 31. I am at one of my favorite places in the known world, the grounds of a Renaissance festival. My violin is out, I’ve got my wool coat, my fingerless gloves, my fellow madcap heroes, and the second day of the festival is about to begin.
It’s also freezing.
It was cold enough most of the vendors and the Queen’s court huddled up in wool cloaks and scarves and hats and gloves, burrowing down into a burrito of fabric so only their eyes and the vague shape of a hoop skirt are visible. Everyone was lamenting the loss of the sun.
Except for me, of course, who was still out and about, even though there wasn’t enough blood in my cold fingers to play very nimbly. And the Frost Fairy, another wanderer character like me. I’m told that she was running away because everyone had been teasing and mock scolding her for how cold it was.
She wasn’t alone. One of the fire jugglers got booed because he was warm (handling live fire and all that) and his audience was shivering. So he ran off the stage and in front of the crowd at the end of his routine so they could warm their hands.
Still, I had a wool coat on, so it wasn’t too bad. I half thought it was a good thing, because I sunburned my neck pretty badly the day before. I was wearing a necklace on a ribbon, so when I took it off, I discovered a white stripe across the back of my neck.
Fun. But nothing a high collar and a steampunky dress couldn’t cover up.
It didn’t stay cold forever. After a couple of hours, just as I was wandering by the end of the tilting yard, playing away, the clouds parted and the sky opened up, honey-warm sunshine spilling back down on us again.
It was a good moment.
But since I’ve mentioned it twice already, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say a huge thank-you to Morale Fiber for her Elf Coat pattern. It was just the thing for the faire and I got so many compliments on it with the giant radish-shaped hood, the corset lacing, and the pointy skirt panels. It kept me nice and warm the second day.
The only downside was everyone asking how long it took to make. I didn’t have a clue, so I just said “About the duration of listening to Les Miserables,” because it’s probably true. I think that’s what I was listening to as I was crocheting away. Green wool and realizing how little I know about battle strategy and Gavroche–but that’s the story for another day.
All this to say I love my coat. Go check out Morale Fiber. She’s got patterns for Tiefling hats and mushrooms and cool ponchos–what’s not to like?
I don’t have any good pictures of my coat (although people took a few of me) because I’m not supposed to have my “magic fairy box” out while I’m working. Otherwise I would gush over it more.
Anyway, the first thing I did on Day II was stop by the Goblin King’s again. The Goblin King is a wonderful character with one of the best Scottish accents I heard at the faire and, like any good Fae, spent both days eagerly welcoming “the shiny humans,” giving kids little pebbles and dyed peacock feathers, playing his character to perfection.
It’s also kind of funny to me that the King’s court and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s were at opposite ends of the faire…
After visiting the king, I stopped by the Raven Wing musicians’ area again, since that was where my case was hiding out. There were a few other musicians there too, and one of them made a sort of hasty apology. The day before, I’d turned around to find an older gentleman behind me, apparently listening to me play.
And then he said “I’m just going to follow you around.”
Cue me being slightly alarmed. Probably he didn’t realize exactly how that sounded to a young lady fiddler. Even then he explained that he loved music and just wanted to listen…I was still a little creeped out. He didn’t stick around long, and I didn’t see him after that.
Jump to the next day, and one of the musicians is apologizing because the gentleman was his dad, and turns out he just really likes music. From his explanation, “Dad, you can’t just follow her around,” “But she has music!” I couldn’t get the idea out of my head that he tackled his dad while I was busy being uncomfortable. I couldn’t help laughing. It was all really very sweet and just another way that everyone looks out for everyone at the faire–even when we don’t know each other’s real names, we call ourselves family.
I should also probably mention that I’m not endorsing any of the Dragonfest vendors because anyone asked me to. If I say something, it’s just because I really, really like their stuff.
Like Lady Jillian’s.
I seriously don’t know how I survived without knowing about hair sticks. And hers are absolutely wonderful. Not only does she have hair sticks, like the one I bought with the sworly marble at the end like a tiny planet, she has these clasps I’ve been unable to find anywhere else. I was determined to buy one of her gaudy ones to wear at orchestra concerts, and picked out one that I can’t get yelled at for wearing, since the beads are concert black.
Even if I could, I doubt I’d buy the clasps from anyone but her. Lady Jillian not only has the best, but she’ll help you find what size you need and will style your hair for you so you can see what the clasp looks like before you buy it. She did that the very first year I went to Dragonfest, when I was just a shy girl gaping at contact jugglers and laughing when I should have talked.
There’s also the happy memory from three years ago when I was browsing and had a good laugh at the two guys trying out the clasps in their beards. Lady Jillian was, of course, appropriately encouraging and pointed them in the direction of the clasps with spiders and skull faces.
Pirates know their fashion, right?
I’m going to interrupt myself here just for a little PSA. I try not to tell people what to do or read on my blog because you have a beautiful brain of your own–but this bothers me.
There was a guy with a booth shaped like a Hobbit house this year. He had a dragon outside his shop taller than I was and lots of witty lines, the kind of bantering vendor that is simply the best of all (I think the dragon’s name was Lili. Hailed from the distant land of Home Depot, as delicate on the outside as most people are on the inside–you get the idea. This guy knew his game and had fun with it).
I strolled by the first morning. His booth was full of wire tiaras like nothing I’d ever seen. Colorful rock crystals knotted in place like rows of rainbow crayons–it’s the kind of goblin-y thing a lot of people go crazy over, and judging by how busy he was, did.
I say this so you know he had good stuff. They weren’t just cheap trinkets. Expensive? Probably. Most things at the faire are a little pricey. The vendors handmake a lot of their stuff. It takes time. And they travel all over the country and spend their time in the booths when they could be at home–it’s a lot of work.
So what happened that morning really, really, gets under my skin.
A patron came up to the hobbity booth and tried to haggle with the vendor. Not like one or two “How much is this?” or even “Would you take less for this?” or “I’m going to buy six, can you cut me a deal.”
No. He trashed his goods. As in the “You want how much? I could make that myself for less.”
I was stunned. The vendor kept his cool and even sounded cheerful through the whole thing, although it went on much longer than it should have. I had a sick feeling in my stomach. I don’t know if I thought it was going to escalate into something bigger, but really, it had gone far enough as it was. Why was this patron being so rude? It was embarrassing, and frankly, super insulting to the vendor. Eventually the patron left without buying anything, but I couldn’t get past it. First thing in the morning, on the first day of the faire, and we had an ugly reminder that we weren’t in the fairyland of our own creation after all.
Some vendors will give you a discount, usually if you buy a lot of something, if you come at the end of the day, etc. Some don’t put price tags on their things so you have to ask what they want for it. Some don’t. Pushing those that don’t want to play that game isn’t going to change their prices. And it’s really uncomfortable for everyone around you.
So please. Don’t haggle with the vendors. If something’s too expensive for your pocketbook (and sometimes it will be) and you’d rather make it yourself, sure. Go home. Do that.
Don’t be a jerk to the vendors. Don’t insult them for doing something you haven’t done, and for trying to make something good. We love this life, but it’s hard enough as it is.
Phew. Enough of me being grumpy. Back to the good stuff.
So the second day I avoided Lady Jillian’s booth reflexively, because my subconscious knew if I set foot in there again, I would buy more stuff because everything there is amazing. I didn’t even realize I was avoiding it until a friend asked me if I went back.
Where I did go was Lady Kiki’s booth. Lady Kiki sells handmade jewelry that is out of this world. Rings with clay roses. Earrings with pearls. Elf ears out of wire. And she makes the fastenings herself. I glimpsed it the first day, but someone always seemed to be there, so I didn’t have a chance to go in. And even though I showed up early on the second morning, most of her stuff was already sold.
I still made off with a beautiful green ring in coppery wire. Somehow I always manage to buy rings too big, even though it was the smallest size she had left. We both had a lovely time, noticing how it matched the color of my Elf coat perfectly. And she picked up a little green ear cuff which she just gave me.
I wore that ear cuff to the violin competition I went to, my recording session, and every day I was at university classes for the rest of that semester and most of this one. I’m not saying it’s lucky, but carrying a tiny piece of Dragonfest with me every day does make me feel more like myself.
I bought some beautiful earrings too, although I lamented the fact that I’d have to find an occasion other than violin-playing to wear them because they were so long and would go bonk against the instrument.
And here’s how amazing Lady Kiki is. She said she wished she’d brought more of her jewelry-making things since she saw how much I admired her pearl earrings.
Guys. Lady Kiki was ready to make custom earrings for me on the spot.
And did I mention she likes the 2CELLOS? Perhaps it’s unfair of me, but I find it hard to think ill of anybody who does.
I did go back to the rock booth. Because I, like all small children, corvids, magpies, and witches, have a great weakness for the shinies.
I’d almost missed it entirely the first day, and stumbled in to find little dishes full of semiprecious stones, all of them cut and polished to shine, smooth or sharp, little animals carved out of rock, pendulums, not for any jewelry, just to hold and enjoy.
In other words, goblincore paradise.
I picked out two, a little piece of pale green aventurine and one of jadeite, both just the size to nestle into my palm. And then I did a slightly cruel thing.
I asked the vendors what the particular stones I’d chosen meant and put them on the spot.
There’s a reason for this. What I didn’t tell them was that the two rocks I picked out already meant something to me. Regarding the first story I entered in the Writers of the Future contest to get an Honorable Mention. Since it’s unpublished, I won’t say much. But the two types of stone are both in that story, and when I saw they had them, I knew they had to come home with me.
I didn’t tell them that. I was going to say they reminded me of a friend (omitting the fact that this particular friend is fictional, eats Twizzlers, and recreationally jumps off rooftops), but I chickened out.
I also flustered the vendor. It was actually really cute, because she explained her husband was much better at remembering all the meanings, but she’d do her best, and then he reappeared in time to finish together, as if they’d planned it that way, and send me off well with my rocks in a little mesh bag.
I’m sure my fictional friend would be delighted by the entire adventure.
What else happened that day? Someone flirted with me, which frankly was a bold move when 80% of my face was hidden behind a mask and giant sunhat. I laughed for weeks about my “bewitching Elf eyes,” since that’s pretty much all that was visible.
In retrospect, he was probably crushing on my violin, not me specifically. That’s okay. I crush on my violin sometimes too.
Although I think I creeped him out by code switching to Ren faire dialect in the middle of the conversation. In my defense, there was an awesome Merida cosplayer walking by, and if you don’t shout “Milady Merida, good day to you!” what are you even doing with your life?
Yeah, hopefully I didn’t cause too much psychic damage.
After that I visited the wandmaker, who is exactly what you imagine him to be and who always invites me to “swish and flick,” when I come to his booth, and knows all the types of wood he uses in his wands. I was playing in the green after that when, lo and behold, I spotted another fiddler.
I didn’t chase her down, exactly. I was determined to meet her.
We had a delightful chat about violins. Hers was a lovely dark wood, very pretty. But after we parted ways again, the wandmaker, who had been apparently watching the exchange avidly, said “I thought I was going to see a violin duel.”
I grinned and admitted I’d wanted that too, but I also hadn’t wanted to scare the poor girl off–we had just met, after all. Next time, we agreed. Next time.
I should also mention that I didn’t just drag a pirate friend to the faire the first day. On the second day, Gandalf the Grey and a Hobbit lass tagged along as well. I dragged them to the jousts, asked what they’d seen, admired Gandalf’s purchase of yet another walking stick (he has several, and now one with a little owl carved in the top), and had any number of amusing situations arise from having Gandalf in my company.
Like when I thought he was walking straight into the LARP archery range and he didn’t hear me calling after him, so I just yelled “Gandalf! We will not follow you into Moria!”
And then at the end of the day, when I lost track of them in the crowd and wandered around half asking people, half mumbling under my breath, “Has anybody seen Gandalf around here? Gandalf–where is my Gandalf…”
You wouldn’t think it would be that easy to lose someone in a giant pointy hat, but no, I did it, several times, in fact…
But skipping over far too much, we come to the end of the day. The final joust. The best part. In every way. And I nearly missed it. Gandalf & Co. wanted to leave a little early, but I managed to persuade them to stay. Last joust, after all.
Per usual, I was squeezed in the back of the Queen’s tent, soaking in all the details. Someone started singing “We Will Rock You,” with everyone joining on the chorus and like two people who knew all the words and someone in all-black wizardy attire thumping a walking stick up and down on the bleachers to keep the beat. It was good. We were ready.
We were also really tired. So as Sir Charlie rode out, bantered with the crowd, he asked permission to skip the stabbing of the hay bales and the chopping of the pumpkin (Halloween, after all) off an innocent patron’s helmeted head, and get straight to what we came for. The jousting. Two grown men on horses trying to knock each other off with a stick.
We were more than happy to oblige.
But you should know I’ve left out a very important detail. Somehow we wound up short a squire for the last joust. And m’lady Fleur, the troublemaker, the most terrifying fighter in the gang of mercenary steel fighters, still in her full court dress and hoop skirt from waiting on Queen E., happily volunteered. Sir Giles was supposed to be French, and she was playing a French courtier for the day, so the French stuck together at once.
Fleur is an agent of chaos in the very best way. So when what happened, happened…I had a hunch it was because of her.
What am I referring to?
Sir Giles coming out of nowhere not with a lance but with the final pumpkin we didn’t use and hurling the thing at Sir Charlie’s head.
There was a lot of screaming from the crowd. Me included. Even if he missed.
And since Sir Charlie always has to one-up whatever happens, of course his squire retrieved the pumpkin and he smashed it straight into Giles.
It was beautiful, really, sun setting behind the darkening trees, almost poetic, two chargers with men in steel riding, the spew of golden pumpkin guts spraying across the field and catching the light.
Lords and ladies, friends and foes, I give you the pumpkin smash, which happened only once, which poor Lady Robyn had no idea how to calculate into the score, and which was totally Fleur’s fault.
Okay. Maybe not totally. But when she finally got back to the spectator side of the field and I was like “The pumpkin was you, wasn’t it?” she thought it over and said, “Well. I guess, a little.”
Story goes that she had been chatting with Sir Giles, regretted that we now had no use for the lonely pumpkin decorating the front of the field, he said he’d throw it, and the plan was hatched. So while all of us watched the action, Fleur returned to the very front of the field, before our eyes, stole a full-size jack-o-lantern pumpkin with a little face scribbled on in Sharpie, and smuggled it away by hiding it with her hoop skirt.
And then had to consider when I asked her about it if she really was the force of chaos behind it all.
And that, I reminded Gandalf & Co., was why you always stay for the last joust of the day. Because when faire people get tired, wonderful, weird things happen.
So…yeah. That’s Dragonfest 2021, everyone. And just to show the achievement levels of procrastination I’ve unlocked, the season is technically starting up for me again because I’m going to see my steel fighting buddies today. I have waited through all the snowy weather to finish posting about my adventures. Cower before my procrastination grandeur.
But really, I’m just super tired. It’s after midnight as I’m posting, again.
So for the sake of my health and sanity, thank you for waiting (I mean, as if you had a choice) and for putting up with my poor quality photos of the faire trinkets (because my camera isn’t great but I really wanted to include pictures of the Coin of the Realm) and most of all for reading this ginormous 3,500-word post.
I’ll have more adventures on the way soon. And who knows! Maybe I’ll even be really daring and get back to blogging about books.
So most of the time I think my life is pretty boring.
I get up in the morning, have tea and a bagel, classes, violin rehearsals, work, I read books, cry over Silmarillion fanart.
Okay, mostly boring. Except for the violin parts. Ordinary life is ordinary life. So I don’t post about it, because who cares?
Except when something happens and I realize how very different my everyday reality is from the rest of the world.
For example, I don’t use names. I’ll learn your name, if we meet face-to-face, and I’ll make sure to get it right because you’re important (and almost nobody in the history of ever has spelled mine right on the first try).
But if I’m with friends, telling a story about my day that you happen to be in?
Well, hello and welcome to the Storyteller’s Protection Agency! Where you are as close to you as my writerly self can remember, but you’re renamed for Protection of the Quirky and because my friends can’t keep track of all my orchestra buddies/fictional characters anyway!
I casually refer to people by their instruments instead of their names. “That’s the flute. She’s a violin. He’s the viola married to the girl who sits in front of me. Yes, they’re cute together.”
Sponge Cake Baker and Thrift Shop Girl. My writing buddy has somehow inherited the title Howl (from Howl’s Moving Castle).
I went to school with The Raisin Bread Gang, led by a redheaded violinist, Samwise Gamgee.
It’s a compliment. He led the second violin section and was nice to everybody no matter how long they’d been there. And shared snacks with his buddies, which led to a post-rehearsal Bugle chip claw building session.
It was also really hard not to call him Samwise to his face after everyone close to me had totally forgotten his real name.
What’s my point?
Life is sometimes boring. I have bad days like everybody else. Today, or at least this afternoon, was kind of one of them. People can be jerks.
But even on my worst days, I’m still weird.
I still translate conducting lingo into “swish and flick” Harry Potter wand class for my non-music friends. I still wear a chain around my neck with a little watch and the key to my violin case on it because I smash up wristwatches and can’t ever remember the battery. I still wear a knee-length, thrift shop duster jacket with my Dragonfest pin on the collar, knitted wool gauntlets when my hands freeze, and my Plague Dragon key ring on my violin case.
In other words, I look (and act) like a character from a book of indeterminate genre, I run a book blog under an alias, and if I’m not paying attention, it’s probably because I’m thinking about The Phantom of the Opera or because Twizzler Creature (yes, another nickname) has once again exerted his right to be written about–at the most impossibly inconvenient of times.
My life might be boring. I’m one-of-a-kind weird.
And when you put one weird thing in a bucketful of ordinary…well, I’m off to tell Howl how much chaos ensues.
Today was no exception.
bookmarked: In other news, I’m carrying a sword umbrella today.
bookmarked: The expressions are priceless.
howl: You’re living the dream.
I grin behind my mask, reading the text as Theatre Girl and Cool Boots chat next to me. There’s a reason I’m friends with Howl.
So far I’ve only walked from the parking lot up, up, up, the far-too-many-ostentatious-we’re-not-a-Greek-temple-are-we stairs, so I could be imagining the odd stares that I’m getting, a girl in a brown trenchcoat with a backpack and the hilt of what appears to be a Crusader-type broadsword peeking over her left shoulder. The hilt is tucked behind my pack now, so no one notices anything but the black umbrella stem.
I was persuaded not to take the swordbrella to my earlier appointment. I’m not an official member of the religious campus, and since I already don’t have a keycard to get in twice a week, meeting their security team on an exam day didn’t seem like the best option.
Sword on the campus of what I’ve fondly dubbed the “Convent School?” Probably going to get arrested.
Sword on the liberal arts campus a week after first quarter exams? Students will take a sip of death-strength coffee, say “Girl with giant sword. Heh. Seems about right,” and continue hating life.
You think I exaggerate. Less than a minute after sitting down in the little hallway alcove, a girl with pink eye shadow who I have never met in living memory, sees me juggling my stuff (nobody mentions how awkwardly big swordbrellas are), mistakes the umbrella for a real sword, and gut reaction is to tell me that she likes it.
I say thank-you, of course, because I also instantly like other people who like swords.
She says, “I didn’t realize that was an umbrella. I just thought you had a real sword and was like, ‘She’s ready.’”
I laugh, say something like “Yap. That’s campus for you,” but internally?
“She’s ready?” What am I ready for? Did I miss something? Am I ready to take on the Humans vs. Zombies Nerf gun gangsters that skulk through the smoggy corners of campus? Because I’d be up for that! They’re annoying, although I’ve never seen them shooting each other in daylight, just the colored bandanas on their backpacks, the slightly soggy foam shells in the grass after their battles.
A happy idea, me standing with a sword, facing half a dozen Nerf warriors, waiting until the last moment to open the umbrella and repel their own barrage back into their faces…
The previous class ends. I gather my stuff.
I haven’t shortened the strap on the swordbrella. So getting it on my shoulder takes a little more swing, more like a flourish, hair going the opposite direction, anime style, although I do it quick, I’m not a show-off, don’t intend to be–
Out of the corner of her eye, Cool Boots sees and squeals in delight.
She’s the only one to comment, although I leave the sword leaning against the wall for the whole of an hour. But she might be getting one of her own she liked it so much.
Had to be a reason I liked her.
Of course, it’s a little weird, carrying what everyone thinks is a sword around campus all day. Besides waiting for campus security to ask to see my umbrella, I mean. It’s hard to describe, because not everyone is a instrumental performance adrenaline junkie. You probably don’t know the feeling of being a little high and talking too much while eating ice cream in your pajamas after a good concert.
But that’s the feeling. It’s a sort of buzzy, static electricity, yellow-white-red bee storm inside your chest and someone laughing in the back of your head and someone invisible leaning down to whisper in your ear let’s do this. When you’re about to do something risky and you know, you know, you know it’s going to turn out right.
That’s the feeling I got the first time I slung the sword on my back and walked through campus.
But after a couple of hours of knowing people are staring at me…you could just say I feel jittery.
Some kind of sleet falls around lunchtime. I finally get to open the umbrella.
There’s a thin sheath over it, making it look like a real scabbard. And there’s no way to push it back without looking like you’re really drawing a sword two steps after exiting the English building. But behold! Pop! And there’s a gigantic black mushroom top of an umbrella sprouting out of a sword hilt. You’ve been betrayed! It was an umbrella all along!
So I’m no longer in danger of being tackled by the campus police while the umbrella is open. It’s windy, so I grip the hilt (is it a handle now? Can I still call it an umbrella hilt?) with both hands and hold on tight.
And it feels perfect again. Well, my hands are cold, fingers peeking out of my little gauntlet mitts, but I’m grinning again, wide enough to startle the Cheshire. I walk differently. It’s as if I’m saying go on, ask. Notice the hilt now. Just a girl in a duster coat with a sword hilt umbrella. Want to chat about cryptids over tea? Still think life is boring?
You know the Monty Python joke? “It’s just a flesh wound?”
I get pretty used to saying “It’s an umbrella.”
To a shy girl and one with those pointed manicured nails in twinkly pink that make me think of murder pixies when the swordbrella goes crashing to the floor from leaning against a desk–
“It’s an umbrella, I promise.”
Tiredly, at the end of the day–
“Got backpack, coat, laptop, sword, all the stuff I need,” not thinking about how that sounds.
To my violin professor at the end of the day, asking point blank, “Is that a sword?”
“It’s an umbrella.”
“It really looks like a sword.”
I know this. That’s the point. It’s like the coolest birthday gift ever, right? And it finally rained/sleeted/was sufficiently ugly weather for me to try it out.
But maybe it’s not the same, being the only one with the swordbrella, being the only weird one, instead of having a friend on each side of you at a Ren faire ready to make twice as much havoc as you could imagine. Maybe I’m tired after a long day, and it’s not buzzy, but pricky, feeling everyone staring at me. Maybe the liberal arts and the convent school aren’t that different, aren’t the right place.
For the record, he laughs, says it’s very “Don’t mess with me.”
Which I guess it is.
But it doesn’t seem that way when I’m talking to Cool Boots, or the random girl in the hall, or even when I’m walking by myself. I always have a little “Don’t mess with me” in the way I walk. Don’t poke the sleeping bard, I guess, or you might get your dignity rhymed to Candy Land and back.
It’s different with the sword. When I opened it, both hands on the hilt, grinning like a lunatic, I wasn’t saying don’t mess.
It was saying I dare.
I dare to do something utterly senseless. Utterly mad. I live. I do what I want regardless of the world around me. I carry a piece of the wildness, the chaos of the faire, of home, of adventure, with me.
So go on. Stare. Poke the bear. Because it’s a sword that looks like an umbrella, but the other way around, and I like nonsense rhymes, and if you look close, you’ll see a dozen little details that make up the chaos of me.
Because I hope, hand on the hilt of my swordbrella, as I give you a bard’s curtsy, that you too refuse to see only what is ordinary.
I know I said my next post would be Dragonfest Part II, but, well…chaos happened. Who am I not to oblige? Barring dragons visiting and further sword adventures, it should be the next one.
So I was in the news again. Not because I robbed a bank or anything, although I am wearing a mask that hides most of my face. A photographer happened to catch me and my violin in the company of a pirate. Sword-shopping, if you want to know.
It’s Dragonfest 2021 recap time, everyone.
So as you already know if you’re a regular around here, Dragonfest is one of my favorite Renaissance festivals. I’ve watched it grow from its very first season in a parking lot to the sprawling chaos it is now. I was devastated when Dragonfest 2020 had to be postponed for Ye Olde Plague. But this year was perfect–new location, not a drop of rain, two days instead of one, and everyone who had been cooped up practically exploding with energy because we got to see each other again.
And, of course, watch our favorite sport, where two grown men on horseback try to poke each other to the ground with a stick.
It’s not every day you get to hear one of the Knights of Mayhem bellow “Do you want to see some bloodshed?” and have the whole crowd scream yes at the top of their lungs.
Just so you know, I had a really hard time finishing this post because everything was so awesome how do I cut anything out, so you should settle into your nest of cushions for a long one. And it’s super chaotic because even though Dragonfest is small, well, I tried to tell someone where the D20 keyrings were and gave up, pointing up the hill and saying “I don’t know. I’ve lost all sense of direction.” Renaissance festivals are like a little tent city without any real order to their lanes and alleyways. Or at least that’s how I made it feel, even though ours wasn’t that big, going at it in little pieces, trying to make it feel endless, make it last forever until I was so successful I almost missed the rock booth entirely–
Okay. Enough preview. This year, from the top.
So Violin and I got to the new location on the morning of the 30th. Said hi to the organizer, who was, per usual, running in six different directions (and seemed to be talking to himself thanks to a new earpiece). Found a place to stash my stuff with the Raven Wing troupe. Greeted Her Majesty Queen E. And then I still had a few minutes before the faire officially opened, so I started playing.
It’s a weird feeling, the first notes of the faire. By the end of the day, when we’re all laughing and tired, it feels like I can do anything. But there’s always that first push, when my whole chest is full of butterflies and I wonder if all the notes will fly straight out of my head. I get so focused on sounding good for concert settings, sometimes I forget how to relax and just breathe.
Anyway, there I was warming up, and this photographer runs up and says “Don’t move.”
I am slightly confused. He goes into that Master Photographer crouch in front of me, explaining that the tree behind me is changing colors and matched the orange of my dress exactly.
Artist people are so fun to watch when they get excited. It was a good way to start the morning.
The photo that wound up in the news came later in the afternoon. I’m getting used to that kind of thing when I’m in costume, so I didn’t think much about it, but my pirate friend isn’t as fond of having her picture taken. But somewhere on the internet, there’s a picture floating around of the two of us mock fencing, me with my bow and her with her sword…which is the thing I beg my little students not to do with their bows…but I’m an adult…I know how to be careful…yes, I know I’m a bad example.
It wasn’t until after the photographer had wandered off that my pirate goes “Why did we give our real names?”
I stood there, dumbstruck. We could have said we were anyone we wanted, and the reporter would have printed it.
It’s a normal thing at faires, not to use your real name. I’ve never had an alias that stuck besides “the Fiddler,” but I really, really want one. Some of my friends have two or three and change what character they play to match.
Which means I still have no idea what some of their “real names” are because we were introduced once and the rest of the time has been in character.
I should mention that this wasn’t an official Order event with my mercenary steel fighting buddies because they were busy resting up and getting ready for a big event…but about half of them showed up anyway. Mostly disguised as fabulous pirates. One didn’t recognize me until I started playing “Rains of Castamere,”–I was providing “boss music” for the LARP roleplayers who were happily pummeling our younger patrons with foam swords–and my Order acquaintance came running over to poke me.
The exception to this was m’lady Fleur, one of the chief members of the Order and seen throughout the day running across the fields (in a hoopskirt no less), waiting on the queen, making everyone feel entertained and comfortable, and causing general havoc wherever she went.
Playing for the faires is fun. But playing for the faires and doing it with Fleur? That’s another thing altogether. She talks fast and I don’t talk at all if I can help it, so it’s great fun to shadow her and be my usual mischievous self with whatever happens next. The first day we met at an event, she started speaking French and I dropped into German and we carried on a conversation all the way up the path into a convention building.
So when Fleur suggested doing a little quest for visitors, you know I said yes almost before we knew what we were up to.
For those unfamiliar with Renaissance festivals, the “quest” challenge works like this. You visit one of the players or vendors, and they ask you to go solve a riddle or talk to someone else, based only on their description. It’s a little like a side quest in a video game. I played one where a friend and I had to go find a plague doctor…of which there happened to be several present and we hadn’t a clue which was the right one. Of course that means we walked up to a random stranger and asked them cryptically about a quest…which is embarrassing, but that’s part of the point. Quests make you part of the world, and they make you go meet and mingle with the crowd instead of just browsing the vendors’ shops. It’s the whole point of the faire, to let go, to have fun, to be a little crazy.
But sending people on a quest? That I’d never done before, and I was more than eager to try.
Our game was simple. Fleur would send people my way and say if they could guess the fiddler’s tune, I’d give them a token, which they’d bring back to her for a prize. In this case, candy, because Halloween and also it wasn’t like we’d put a lot of planning into this.
Sounds great, right?
There happened to be one little troll (I use the term fondly, as in He Who Dares to Troll Me), one of Queen E.’s guards, I think, who happened to overhear our plotting. And he thought it would be funny (because it was) to pretend he couldn’t guess a single one and name a completely wrong song every time he heard me play. I caught on pretty quick, but…then he said “Thunderstruck,” and…
I’m a diehard 2CELLOS fan. I have been plotting, actually at the request of two young faire patrons, premiering their version of “Thunderstruck” at Dragonfest.
As in two years of plotting because of the cancellation.
So when the little troll said it, I gave him a look and heard the wicked little voice in my head say Go on. This is it.
Once in a while, people stop to listen when I play. Sometimes parents dancing with their little kids, little knots of people on their way to something else.
I have never had a crowd like I did then. Like, really. I’m not even sure where they all came from. It was just after the joust, so probably they drifted up from there, but as focused as I was on what my fingers were doing it was like half a dozen people materialized and encircled me like they’d been blown there on the wind.
It was enough to make me nervous, like I was onstage again. I don’t know where the troll got off to. But I played. I’m not sure I breathed, but I played.
Time does funny things when you’re a musician. It probably took me less than a minute to get through the verse and chorus, but it felt so much longer because I felt every note, wanted each one to ring clear, to be beautiful, because it was finally here, finally out in the air.
And then it was over and I was curtsying and hiding under my hat a little because I still don’t know how to accept applause well and Lady Kiki ran out of her jewelry booth (I’m actually pretty sure she did materialize at my elbow) to gush over the 2CELLOS before darting back to business, and I was laughing.
The troll didn’t know what a gift he gave me.
And yes, I’m pretty sure he still teased me after that.
I played that piece at least one more time, as the Knights of Mayhem were entering the tilting field. It’s become a tradition that someone in the crowd starts chanting “We Will Rock You” before at least one joust. You need some kind of fanfare for what’s about to happen.
I was lucky enough, since I know Her Majesty and a few of the courtiers from previous faires, to sneak into her pavilion and watch the jousts from there. Everyone wants to see the jousts, so the benches were always packed. I had a good view and people to chat with, and nobody much minded I planted myself there.
I probably rubbed this in a little more than I should have when I parked some patron friends at the end of one bleacher and they asked where I was going.
Cue me grinning like the little imp I really am. I had the best view.
Argh, I’m sure there are so many other things I’m forgetting to mention. Playing for the Goblin King and Faerie Queen (they gave me a lovely green peacock feather. It’s one of the things you can’t help collecting if you stick around faires long enough, peacock feathers). The pet-a-unicorn booth. Wandering into the booth that had “cursed amulets” on their sign as an accepted form of payment (and glow-in-the-dark necklaces, seriously, could you be cooler?), so many things! And that’s only the first day of the faire!
But I want to keep this post a readable length, so it’s best I stop gushing here for now.
And in case you’ve caught on to me and are wondering why the festival was in October and I’m only getting around to publishing this in February…
Yes. I’m aware it’s embarrassing. Remember that part at the beginning when I said this post was chaotic? Fun fact! Chaotic little me is trying to get a diploma this May, and sometimes it’s hard just keeping my head above water. I’m at least good at pretending to be organized, but when it’s violin competitions and recordings and exit exams and my last solo recital blaaargh what am I doing, my chaos bubbles up.
When it’s a choice between write the blog post and run for the hills and climb a tree, I won’t lie. Sometimes the tree wins.
In the meantime, stay tuned for Part II of my Dragonfest adventures–I have more music and mischief coming.
I met the Goblin King today. And Queen Elizabeth I. And milady Fleur, whom we usually call the Squirrel. And the Knights of Mayhem, and at least four Plague doctors, and a giant crow (or was it a raven?), and a dragon named Lily and someone who looked like Robin Hood…
…there was also a unicorn accompanied by two camels…
Yep. It’s Renaissance faire season.
For those of you who don’t know, when I’m not reading a book or writing the next greatest unpublished novel, I play the violin. A lot. And one of my favorite gigs of the year is Dragonfest.
There is no possible way for me to explain my love of Renaissance faires. It’s an entire city of tents built overnight, a little piece of the world that doesn’t fit, it’s laughter, it’s nonsense, it’s all a whorl of color and sunshine and music, and somewhere inside the chaos, I’m there, in it.
There is also no possible way right now because I am very, very tired. And slightly sunburned. Wear your hats, kids. At least it didn’t rain.
And for the first year ever, Dragonfest is two days instead of one, so I’m going back tomorrow and posting about my adventures now would be a thing only half done.
I still couldn’t resist the lure of that list of things that are all impossibly true.
I hope at least once in your life you get to have magic and swords and gemstones and fighting and costumes and utter foolishness all on a sunny afternoon. I hope you get to feel what it’s like to step into a fairytale and live there for a while, next door to the mushroom house and three down from the dragon lair.