A word of warning, on this one. There’s a lot of passion behind the bigger themes of my novel project, and writing this post–it got a bit rantish.
What I’m saying is that you might want to move that cup of tea a little further away from your elbow so if there are any dramatic gasps, it doesn’t spill.
Spilled tea is a tragedy.
Today we’re discussing all things bardic, Renaissance festival culture, the cultural “other,” historical performance traditions–and somehow Oliver Twist and Sing 2 get referenced in the same blog post, please do not ask me questions, no, I will not answer.
If you just stumbled in the door and have no idea what’s going on,
Hi. Hello. Welcome to the blog. We’re doing a series on my latest novel project.
or you can just stumble along and do your best to keep up with what’s going on. Whichever strikes your fancy.
On to the post.
The themes and secret goals
On the surface?
There’s a lot of “coming of age” ideas in the novel. A lot about being yourself, time for D to struggle, to learn who he is and who he wants to be. There’s plenty about the beauty of the open road, the freedom that kind of life provides. Questions of where freedom ends and loneliness begins, if the two are even related, as we so often seem to assume they are.
And yes, I started this project as a book about bardic characters living a bardic life, making real music, and stuffing the spirit and community of renfaire culture in at every sneaky opportunity I could give myself.
People–really don’t have a clue what Renaissance festival-goers are like. Responses can vary from indulgent (oh, they dress up in costumes and pretend they can go back to the way things were, when no one can go back in time), to romantic (I–really don’t like this, but there’s a book floating around about a girl who crushes on a guy only when he’s in his faire persona. I could probably write a whole post on why this is really distressing. Just don’t), to thinking we’re weirdoes (bordering on the word freaks?) and why would anyone want to do that?
I’ve written many posts on my Renaissance festival adventures, and probably will continue to do so because I just can’t shut up about them. But the craving for stories that talk about us, about what we do, in a way that feels real–it hasn’t been satisfied.
Writers typically don’t know what to do with us. Maybe they think it’s too specific of an audience, or maybe we’re just too fabulous for anyone to believe in fiction. Whatever it is, here we are.
Nobody yet has been able to capture the community of that place. The way we look out for each other. The way we’re not so afraid to do things. The way we laugh and sing and cheer and wear silly hats, and just for one day, try to make something magical. Try to make something magical feel real.
But as all stories do, this one had other plans.
It’s still there, of course, my little band of traveling performers. Their “ride or die” friendship even when they haven’t known each other nearly long enough to warrant such devotion.
But the story started leaning another way, like a ship carried by the tide suddenly having its sails snap in the breeze.
The performing artist as the cultural other.
This is one of those moments where you turn around and yell at the backseat, “Whose idea was it that we write about this?” and then have no one but yourself to blame, because it’s me, I decided to write about this.
However that might have come to be.
Let me put this bluntly: there are particular expectations in performer culture. There are things that no one talks about and things that everyone knows.
I guess that probably is true for every social class/group/etc. But for performers, there’s a distinct sense of “the other.”
You aren’t like us. You’re different. You’re the one on stage. You stand while we sit in the seats and are comfortable. Here we are now, entertain us.
If you think I’m wrong, go dig up any Hollywood movie you please with a writer or a musician. Writers are quirky, right? They stand on their heads and wear only left socks! They inexplicably get writer’s block! Handle with care!
For musicians, I think it’s almost worse.
Not long ago, I watched the movie Copying Beethoven. All other aspects of the film aside, I was honestly appalled at how the writers tried to make Beethoven simultaneously endearing and emotionally abusive.
Nor is that an anomaly. When Sing 2 came out, what was supposed to be a happy, lighthearted little family picture, I found myself getting tense when faced with a choreographer who was determined to cut one of the main characters down to size.
It’s a trope. If you want to learn music/dance/performing arts, you must endure performers.
I wish I could say it’s a groundless caricature.
It shouldn’t exist. It shouldn’t be the norm. We shouldn’t accept it. Even when the abusive artistic teacher is villainized, that doesn’t erase how automatically everyone accepts their right to rule as tyrant over their own little domain, how sometimes, you simply have to endure it.
Nor does this “otherness,” this acceptance of things that would never be allowed elsewhere, exist only in fiction.
Think about it. A performer is expected, demanded, to look and act a certain way, to dress, to speak, to smile, all according to some set of unwritten rules.
It’s not something I could ignore in writing the story.
It wouldn’t be like the modern era. But it wouldn’t be perfect, all sunshine and roses, either.
Since that gave me a pretty clear of idea of what I didn’t want “performers as the other” to be, now all that was left was figuring out what I did.
Luckily, I had two historical reference points.
Don’t expect me to give you citations. This is a blog post, not an academic essay. You can find what I’m about to tell you with a few carefully worded Googles.
One of these comes from Charles Dickens. Oliver Twist. I love that book. Love it.
There’s a scene when Nancy is in the jail looking for someone that has stuck in my mind since the time I first read it. Dickens describes two people in jail, one who was arrested for begging (having no livelihood), and another for playing the flute for money on the street (exercising his livelihood). The one without the flute doesn’t answer when Nancy calls because he’s too distraught over the loss of his music–his everything.
If nothing else, Dickens knows how to stab us in the heart and twist to get his point across.
But the emotional impact of the scene isn’t what I’m after here. There were–and in many, many places, still are–laws against playing music, casually busking, in public places.
No, seriously. I have to be careful where I play and get permission if I’m going somewhere new because I don’t want to get kicked out or even arrested.
It’s part of that tradition, musician = beggar, beggar = trash.
Don’t believe me? Check the etymology. Nearly every word for an itinerant musician can or has been used as an insult. Even casual slang for Renaissance festival players can get nasty. Although there is another layer of unfair racial/cultural prejudice, you could compare with the struggles of the Roma people–another itinerant group, unfortunately perhaps most famous for the misuse and insult derived from their name.
When people don’t see a reflection of themselves, their humanity, but instead see “the other,” things can get very, very ugly.
There’s never much middle ground for musicians. It’s either the starving artist or the glitz and glamour, the king’s bard or sleeping in a haystack.
I’ve spent far too long griping about the dark side. Let me tell you a good story.
It is, if this won’t confuse you too deeply, about telling stories. In the old days in Europe, there was a tradition of hospitality. If a stranger came to your door and asked shelter for the night, you gave it to him. This wasn’t an inn, tavern, or hotel situation of any kind–this was a guest, your guest. No talk of paying.
There was talk of stories.
It wasn’t long ago now that I stumbled across it again–that tradition of everyone gathering to hear the tales the stranger brought. Yes, others who lived in that place would tell stories, but that was really how a visitor paid for the night’s stay–in stories. And as long as you had them, you could be welcome anywhere you went.
It’s a rather beautiful notion, isn’t it?
And so the NaNoWriMo project arises. Like musicians everywhere, my characters teeter on the edge of things, in society and outside it, but always more comfortable among themselves than with anyone else. Their reputation is slippery–in a world where anyone is welcome if they have a good story to pass along, trained storytellers are no exception. But it’s also impossible to completely shake that perception of the beggar, the “other.” Dust on their clothes, wildflowers in their hair–well, sometimes they perform for kings, sometimes they sleep under the stars.
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.
Fairies, bards, bags of buttons, mushroom hats and turkey legs–
She’s back from the Renaissance faire, with pocketfuls of trinkets and stories to share!
Yes, this has taken me almost a month to publish. NaNoWriMo22 has been stealing all my braincells and I had a few internet crashes that deleted parts of the drafted post from WordPress.
(devastated bookmarkedone noises)
And the usual struggle with my cryptid-stole-the-trail-camera blurry photo quality.
Or, y’know, we could just say good things come to those that wait and that this is such a brilliant post it required that much time and attention.
Let’s go with that.
A brief explanation of Renaissance festival recaps for the uninitiated:
bookmarkedone, among other unexpected odd jobs, works at Renaissance festivals. It is as fun as it sounds.
She’s a bard. Violin. Celtic, fiddle, classical, and anything else the situation calls for. It calls for a lot you wouldn’t expect.
Yes, she could just stay on the classical stage and be a “good violinist…” but it’s so much more fun to run away to the realm of folk musicians for a day and be ridiculously OP.
There will be no photos of said bard in character/costume because of modern technology restrictions at work (and because of the blurry “the cryptid realized it was on camera” quality of every picture I take. To the dandelion puff with six-foot scepter who got a good photo of us together…I’m a smidge jealous).
Because there are scandalously few renfaire blogs/almost nobody who writes about what it’s like to actually work at these events, you’re about to read the perspective from the inside…which is very different from being a casual patron.
…we do these recaps every year, so I don’t really remember what else I’m supposed to say here. If stuff doesn’t make sense, hey! Go read the recaps from the last couple of seasons. We skewer pumpkins and cheer for bloodshed. Great fun.
Having apologized to our regular readers for the delay, we now return to recounting the adventure.
By the time I got there on Saturday, there was already a line.
Not a line. There was a chain of people from the ticket booth through the little cut in the trees leading to the parking field, into the field itself and down a couple rows of cars.
It was long. Like a city block long. And I was getting there shortly after 10:00 a.m. The faire didn’t even open until ten.
I didn’t have time to stop and stare because I was in a hurry to get inside, but as I was hiking across the field, I did gawk.
I can remember the days when Dragonfest was a handful of tents in a parking lot. This was–a lot. I don’t have an official tally because no one bothered to tell me, but I’ve never seen this many people there.
And of course every one of them was going to hate me a little bit for slipping past without a ticket.
Normally I gloat about this (to my friends. Not to strangers. I’m not that rude). Violin gets me in places as I please. Concert halls. Renaissance faires. Museum fundraisers. No lines.
But that day…
They had these little wood stakes with cord at about waist height to keep people in the line, and after I was finally close enough to actually see the frazzled clerks in the ticket booth–
I realized I was on the wrong side of the line.
I’d hiked the whole way, chin up, consciously not looking to see if people were giving me the “doesn’t that girl know she has to wait in line like everyone else” looks, only to realize the entrance was on the left of the wall of people and I was on the right.
So I did the only sensible thing there was to do.
I ducked under the rope and stole into the faire I work at.
In front of about a hundred people.
So because I was only too aware everyone was watching me (it’s not like they had anything better to do; grass doesn’t grow fast in October and there was no paint to dry)
and I didn’t want everyone either
to hate me for apparently stealing my admission or
to go “well, she got away with it,” and follow me like a horde of too many petulant ducks–
I found someone taking tickets and waited until he had a breath so it was clear I wasn’t the miscreant everyone absolutely thought I was.
I know what you’re thinking at this point. “Why is she spending this long talking about the line?”
Because the character you’re about to meet pretty much made my faire experience this year, and I’m not skipping him.
Besides. It was an impressive line.
So there’s sort of a tradition among some ticket-takers at faires.
It’s the tradition of The Troll.
You’re here for the experience, right? Ordinary people don’t go to renfaires. Or if they do, they’re not ordinary by the time they leave. You’re here to have some fun. And we who work at the faire are going to give it to you–so why not make something boring (here’s your wristband, here’s your change, next), well, let’s say unexpectedly amusing.
Where do you meet trolls in fairytales, kiddos? Trying to cross a bridge. Gotta pay your toll. So if you meet “a troll” at the gates to renfaire?
I knew a lady once who said she’d make kids swordfight with her (they were blunt practice swords, not real blades, I repeat, we are not handing children real steel) before they could go through the gate. Sometimes it’s just banter, they’ll tease you a little, chat about your costumes, tell jokes, be a little mean, pretend they won’t let you in until you answer a question or a riddle–if you’re in the mood for it, gate trolls can be great fun.
You never know if there’s going to be one or not.
Up I walk, violin case on my back, to this gentleman in a hat with Dragonfest buttons,
and as politely as possible, I say, “I just want to let you know, I’m not sneaking in. I work here.”
Important note. They don’t brief the crew on who’s cast and who isn’t. Most of us don’t know each other before we meet there, on the grounds, that day. Oh, we fall together naturally enough, look after each other like family, but this clerk has no way of knowing I am what I say…and come to think of it, I have zilch way to prove it.
He looks at me, back at the ticket-counting he’s doing, then at me again.
And this is when I find out he’s The Troll.
“Do I believe that?” he says.
I stop. I think he’s serious. I’m just about to worry, when he says, “You know, I think I do.”
That’s it. Troll likes you, in you go.
I’m laughing by now, and I promise to come back to play him a tune later as my proof of employment. And since he’s a lovely person, he agreed to tell me a story, as a trade.
I love renfaire.
Argh. I put off writing this post for so long.
Because I have to decide what stories not to include or write such a huge post I can’t even muster the strength to proofread and finish it.
So much stuff happened.
You know I’m a writer, so I’ve honed my skills, paying attention to everything, remembering the details until I get a chance to write them down. But everything happened so much at Dragonfest that I started to feel like I was on a carousel, whirling around and around, the faces of people I met blurring together until I was left sitting on a porch swing clutching a pink rock and wondering where I’d gotten it.
The answer, by the way, is that a fabulous mushroom hat girl gave it to me. She asked if I’d like a token and offered me the rock or my choice from a bag of buttons. She wasn’t crew; she was just someone who wanted to share and be part of the fun. I played her a jig in trade, and she danced so the charms on her hat clinked together in the very best way.
And nearly stepped on her phone before a friend yoinked it almost out from under her heel and narrowly averted disaster, but that’s not the point.
She was actually one of two people I met like that at the faire. The other was a younger girl, probably the MG book author’s dream audience. She’d made what she called “spells,” and told us all about them–potion for strength, fairy dust–I can’t recall the others now, but she had a name and a gift for each.
Guys. Guys, this girl gave me fairy dust.
She was very serious about the whole thing, and so I reacted with proper respect. After she gave me the tiny bottle, she said, with utmost solemnity, that she’d only offered to give me fairy dust because I was very talented.
So, anyway, that girl is kind of my hero, and I’m keeping the fairy dust because it’s the coolest and I love it and yes, none of you stand a chance against me anymore.
You don’t say “Are we there yet?” at the faire. Munching your turkey leg, sticky and dusty and sweaty, pockets full of treasure, you say “When is the joust?”
It’s not like I have a watch. I don’t need one. When it’s time for the joust, the grounds empty to fill the stands, sit on the grass, perch on hay bales, crowd around too close to the tilting field and get cheerfully told off for entering “the blood zone.”
But there’s also that weird between-time while everyone is settling into seats and waiting for the knights to emerge on the field.
And that, friends, is exactly when I make my mischief.
A word of warning–there’s probably a very simple reason why I get on well with the gate trolls.
I played “Drunken Sailor” by the drink booth. Twice. The wandmaker got “Hedwig’s Theme.” Deadpool cosplayers (traditionally) get the theme from the Titanic (don’t…don’t ask). Most of the song choice thought process for me is, “Hey, wouldn’t it be funny if…”
There’s a tradition, with the joust.
Ever heard of a sweet little film called A Knight’s Tale?
(first of all, if you want to understand renfaire culture, go watch A Knight’s Tale, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail. When you’re utterly confused, come back. That’s right).
Okay, so in Knight’s Tale, the soundtrack is primarily Queen songs. And the opening is “We Will Rock You.”
I mean, it wasn’t so much needing to learn it as being scandalized that it wasn’t in my repertoire. It had to be done.
So when I happened to cross paths with the new court jester…
Great guy, by the way. Jigged for me. Orange and blue motley that most definitely did not get its dye from the Renaissance era and We Do Not Care.
I stopped him in the King’s Tent.
“Might I petition you for some mischief?” I asked.
Guys. This man was so excited he couldn’t speak properly. When he finally got the words out he said, “That is literally my job.”
I told him what I wanted. All he had to do was start the rhythm. Stomp-stomp, clap. The crowd knows it. The crowd always knows it. I’d do the rest.
We split in different directions. He went left. I went right. The crowd heard us coming.
You remember that troll I told you about earlier (henceforth he will only be referred to as “the Troll” because I never caught his name. His official title is bard because he’s quite a good storyteller, but I think you can see how that would be confusing)?
His hands appeared above the heads of the crowd, clapping. Somehow, he and I wound up walking in step through the crowd, clapping, playing, confusing everyone.
There were patrons on both sides of the tilting field, and by the time the knights entered, they’d only just caught wind of what was happening, and half the patrons were utterly lost, but the jester, the Troll, and I? We amused ourselves, if no one else. The Troll was quite pleased with having music follow him around (the sort of “I could get used to this” satisfaction).
I don’t have the words to tell you how I was grinning.
After officially adding “rabble-rousing” to my resume…
I’m pretty sure I played for my steel fighting friends’ rivals.
Maybe it’s not as bad as it sounds. I knew there was a split a few months ago (I think I was graduating at the time, so I’m not really clear what happened), but it wasn’t until Dragonfest that I learned they’d formed their own fighting group.
Drama? Eh. Not really.
You’ve got to remember, renfaire players are family. We look out for each other.
And I’ve never been one to care about the drama of who stepped on whose toes anyway. The boys can work out their squabbles without me being involved.
So when one of the former members said I could play for their fight, if I wanted…I wanted.
A crisp fall day, watching men in full steel armor slam each other over the head with swords and axes while “Thunderstruck” is going in the background–what more could one ask for?
This. One could ask for this.
What you are looking at is the keyring designed by one of the young ladies on the crew. And the story she told me is that each fighter has a specific design (there was an adorable cat asking for carnage sticker…unfortunately the fabulous lady fighter that one was based off of wasn’t at Dragonfest so we didn’t get to meet). The one I picked out belonged to the axe fighter–I think he’s called the Woodcutter. Story goes the designer presented this adorable cat to him and he said no.
Don’t like it. Too cute for me.
Lucky thing, the designer said yes, it’s cute, and yes, we’re using it, because people like cute things and they’ll buy it.
Yes, we do, and yes, I did.
I told her the dangerous kitty would be joining my Plague Doctor Dragon on my violin case (from the year Dragonfest had to be cancelled. Dragon in a top hat. It’s great. None of my orchestra mates have ever noticed it), so now the dragon key ring has a friend.
She was understandably delighted by the idea.
I joked later that if the two rival steel fighting groups wanted to fight over who got the fiddler, I wouldn’t mind.
Because if they never book the same events, then I get to go to twice as many renfaires with my friends. Behold my devious brilliance!
(I did say you wouldn’t stand a chance now that I have fairy dust)
In retrospect…one of the lieutenants from the original group did get in touch out of the blue this week…
(sounds of bookmarkedone hoping she hasn’t been too devious for her own good)
Anyway, more stories!
I’m running out of space in this post for everything that happened.
I went back to the line and strolled along it for a while, trying to give the people waiting something entertaining and wound up appearing at the same time that King Henry arrived to greet his guests and tell them the joust had been delayed so they wouldn’t miss it…so it looked a bit like I was a king’s bard.
There was a little man in a Hogwarts T-shirt, crown, and cape, so I played “Hedwig’s Theme” for him. There was a little Gandalf with his dad who looked understandably put out on hearing it (no Gandalf likes being mistaken for Dumbledore). So the Shire Theme followed, and I think they were both mollified.
I made fun of my friends (still waiting in line, ha, ha), full knowing that none of the other people in the line knew that I’d brought them and would probably be thinking I was just very comfortable striking up conversations with perfect strangers.
Met a couple of mushroom hat girls later who told me they’d stood in line for at least an hour.
I felt really bad about this for a while–it was nobody’s fault, of course, and the ticket trolls were doing their absolute best to get everyone through as fast as possible–but I heard we got nasty review about it online.
(cue bookmarkedone being slightly crushed)
I felt better after hearing about the lines at DragonCon. Someone told me the “line was part of the experience,” a way to meet other patrons, slow down, anticipate what’s to come. I hope that’s true and most of the patrons felt that way. The Troll and I agreed to come back and play the line together the second day (spoiler: I didn’t make it because I was physically exhausted and almost fell asleep in a hard kitchen chair. I’m sure if we had done it together, the line would have been an attraction in itself).
But enough about downsides.
I saw Lady Jillian of the Famously Amazing Hair Clasps (my bestowed title for her, not her official one) and bought more hair sticks because they’re pretty and make me feel like a little wizard,
The rock booth lady (whose name I do not know), but who happily sold me a chunk of carnelian and chided me for not playing closer to her booth (we’d been next-door neighbors at the last faire when I was with my mercenary buddies). I played Paganini 20 for her and chatted with her daughter, who is already an accomplished jewelry-maker herself. I poked through their rings (wire wrapped. All handmade. Gorgeous), and asked her if they were arranged by size.
She bit back a sigh. They were, at the beginning of the day–
I was already nodding, commiserating. After a hundred hands passing over the shiny baubles, any organization was quite undone.
And I saw Lady Kiki again, of the famous earrings (and 2Cellos fan). There was also a booth with little terrariums with wire trees (the wind was blasting the tents down, so the little globes didn’t stand a chance. Two were shattered, at least). The proprietor told me she has a video of last year’s performance in her phone.
This was…a somewhat odd announcement? I get a lot of comments working at faires, and you learn to roll with the weirdness of our lives and professions, but is there an appropriate response to a stranger saying she has a recording of your playing?
She was actually very nice and said she shows it to people when she’s persuading them to come to Dragonfest (you should come! see this cool fiddler? don’t you want to listen to her in person?). So that’s flattering. And considering the number of photos/videos people have taken of me performing with (or without) my permission…honestly I probably shouldn’t spend the time thinking about it.
There were also a few new vendors this year, so since I’ve been attending or performing at the faire every year since it started but one–
I had ample opportunity to spread my arms wide and say “Welcome to Dragonfest!” like that scene from the first How to Train Your Dragon film.
It’s every bit as satisfying as it seems.
And of course, one must visit the fairies.
I mean, what are you even doing if you don’t pay a visit to the Fae Court?
Or in my case, an empty tent with one slightly forlorn gentleman guarding it because the fairies were out making mischief and drinking tea.
We had a nice chat, anyway. He told me the fairies had flown, and I nodded a little to myself and said, “Yes. They tend to do that where I live, too.”
That’s not to say I didn’t see them. They were scattered across the faire, charming everyone with bubble wands.
Life always can use a bubble wand.
I’m sure I’m leaving out so many stories. The gymnast tumblers who were so good at their art. The kind lady who offered to let me stash my violin case with her instead of under a tree and made sure I would do so again on the second day so it wouldn’t sprout legs or get tampered with. Thistlegreen playing “John Ryan’s Polka” with me first thing in the morning on his pennywhistle. Listening to the Troll tell stories on the little stage at the end of the day, all of us cozy and tired out. Said Troll inviting me to have a stage set, even though I hadn’t been scheduled for one (I declined…but that’s not to say I wasn’ t very much touched at the offer). Losing the Tree of Life pendant I bought at my very first gig with the mercenary fighters (a little heartbroken, but I’m half hoping someone else picked it up and has a faerie treasure now. It’s what I get for running to greet my fighter friends and leaving it on a cord it could so easily slip off of). Trolling the Larp and HEMA fighters with song selections. Everything. Everything, everything, that I can’t put into words, all the sounds and smells and sights and friends that you simply have to be there to understand.
It’s all done for another year. Everyone’s packed up and gone home, cozying in for the winter season. Won’t see one another again until spring.
So we’re left with the frost on the windows and the trinkets and the memories.
And the plots. And the plans. And the practicing of repertoire for next faire. And the maps.
Because, you know, the world is full of faires. And what sort of people are we if we don’t daydream about seeing the very best of them?
Is it okay to say that I don’t know where to begin?
There comes a time when my chaos becomes too much for even me.
Let’s just set the scene, then. It’s a beautiful, sunny Friday afternoon, the glass reflecting off the curving front of the expo center, and the Ghostbusters van parked on the sidewalk. Caleb Widowgast and bookmarkedone are on their way to comic con.
What’s this? The bookmarked has given you a real name and broken the code of aliases?
Wrong again! It’s an alias upon an alias! You find your bookish blogger in the company of a Critical Role cosplayer.
(cue the maniacal laughter)
Normally I would have left this out entirely, just let you think I was conning solo, but it’s important to the story.
Because in cased you aren’t familiar with that particular D&D wizard, you should know that he has a cat. Accordingly, the cosplayer has a cat.
And accordingly, I have a small plush tabby cat multiple times through the day when my con buddy needed both hands to do something.
Somewhat awkward. Just holding a stuffie under one arm like that’s normal. Petting it like Michael Sheen pretending to be Blofeld the Bond villain with his very fake white cat.
Nerd cons, everyone.
You’re probably wondering at this point if bookmarkedone was in cosplay attire.
I was not. Planned on it, but things fell apart at the last minute. Sometimes that happens. I was pretty disappointed, since I originally planned this trip sheerly for the opportunity to show off my personal costume design and enjoy all the fun that comes with being your favorite character for a day.
But I was still determined to go and have my adventures. And maybe I dressed–a little more the way I wanted to, since I was salty about not going in costume? Fashion’s a funny thing. I remember reading some story–I can’t remember where now–about a tailor being magical because he can make a beggar look like a king and how that simple act of putting on a costume can make you not just look like something or believe it, but be what you pretend to be.
In a way, it’s true. You move differently when you’re in different dress. It can make you confident, it can make you comfortable, it can make you hate tulle skirt linings with an undying passion. There’s a power to what you wear.
If anybody can remember the book, please save me from wondering. I’m pretty sure it’s either Rothfuss or that strange dragon series that I read two volumes of like five years ago with a type of creature called a Roffle.
All that soliloquizing to say that on that particular Friday, I Did Not Care. I wasn’t trying to blend in or look normal or pretend to be human or any of those things. It was comic con. There would be far weirder people. So I wore what I wanted. Tall boots. Cool pants. Red crystal earrings.
It felt good.
Widowgast gave me a once-over and said I still looked like I was playing a character.
I said, “I am. I’m being myself.”
As we were walking up to the expo center, Widowgast said again how probable it was that somebody was going to try to guess my character.
I just said I honestly hoped it happened, because if there was a character out there that much like me, it was probably something I’d want to read.
Anyway, in we went to the con.
And this is the point that I should mention I was wearing an orange sweater.
I didn’t think it was a big deal. Halloween, autumn, pumpkins, spooky season.
Until we realized that the con’s logo and almost everything else about it was bright orange.
Widowgast told me I was cosplaying the con itself.
Happy accident. I was more than cool with that.
(except that the con closes permanently after three days, never to be seen again…perhaps better not to carry the idea that far).
Anyway. That’s more than long enough talking about clothes and colors.
You want to hear about the con.
So because this was the final run of this particular con, there wasn’t a lot to see.
Understatement: it was really, really small.
And because Widowgast and I were there on the first day…we almost had the place to ourselves.
Coming from cons where you have to inch your way through hallways because there’s always that one spot that jams up and is shoulder-to-shoulder packed with people and good manners are mildly scandalized because dear, dear–you really can’t avoid brushing shoulders with someone–
It was different. And at times a little creepy. Like, it wasn’t abandoned; the expo center room wasn’t big enough for that, but it was strange.
Probably would have been weirder if I’d actually been in cosplay. You want a crowd of fellow friendly weirdos when you’re doing something like that.
On the other hand–we also felt a little like VIPs. Entire con practically to ourselves. Sweet.
Of course, I think some of the vendors missed the memo that there were actually people who were going to be there on Friday–they weren’t well organized. More than a few were still setting up shop at one o’clock when it opened officially at ten in the morning, and several booths were vacant.
That said, everyone was super, super nice. Vendors, cosplayers, staff, someone doing security (awesome colored contacts for heterochromia. Please do not ask me what the character was because I have no idea), even ordinary gamers and visitors like your incognito blogger.
For the record…you do not know the crisis that went on in my mind when Widowgast and I were getting name badges at the door. I’m pretty sure the lovely clerk would have put down any name I gave her…but even not being in cosplay…giving my real name felt super weird. Official: I’ve been blogging under the bookmarkedone persona too long.
There was a life-size statue of a Ghostbusters monster right as we came in (to my Tolkien-fan eyes it looked like a slobbery Warg), and after I took a picture of Widowgast standing by it, a random friendly cosplayer in a cow-print outfit offered to take a picture of both of us.
I declined (much happier behind the camera), but I thought it was really sweet, since we wouldn’t have had a good way to take a photo together on our own.
The vendors were just as lovely. I’ve been some places where booths are…not so friendly. You get a “are you going to buy anything already” vibe, and honestly, I can’t blame them for that. There’s not a lot of money doing a gig like that, and it can be pretty exhausting.
Not so here. We stopped by one booth with a bunch of necklaces and I started trying to see how many fandoms I could recognize for Widowgast’s entertainment. Because we were the only ones there at the moment, the boothmaster (vendor. I mean vendor) started paying attention too and supplying the ones I couldn’t guess (only two, if you were keeping track. I have very different references for crossbows than The Walking Dead.). I didn’t buy anything from him, but he didn’t seem bothered in the least to have us admire his wares.
And most of the others were the same way. We must have strolled through the floor of the con three or four times, and everyone seemed perfectly cheerful to have us there (VIP energy again? We had our official orange lanyard badges at this point), directing us to what they thought we’d like, laughing as we bantered, complimenting Widowgast’s outfit (I mean, book holsters are pretty awesome, right?), and just being charming.
It could also have something to do with us.
I’ve picked up this habit, working the faires. I always stop in at the booths, but let’s face it, I don’t have the money to buy trinkets from every single one at faire prices (which can be quite steep, especially for a little peasant bard). So I try to tell them how cool everything they’ve made really is (because seriously? Chainmail jewelry? Crowns with squarish crystals that look like a box of stone Crayola met the perfect goblin princess?). It’s probably a habit that really concreted itself for me after I heard people being really rude to vendors at faires, trying to knock prices down by insulting the wares (don’t do this. Don’t make me avenge them). Every artist deserves to feel good about their craft, and well, maybe the spirit of my bardic flattery started rubbing off a little.
I should also explain that I was starting to feel a lot like I was at renfaire.
This is dangerous.
Well, darling, it’s a different version of myself that goes to renfaire than anywhere else. I’m not completely playing a character, but that’s about the closest explanation I’ve got. Mostly it’s just being really relaxed and comfortable with everybody–and getting into a lot of mischief wherever and whenever the opportunity arises.
You’re about to get to the crux of the double-booking problem. Hang on to this.
So because it’s the week before I’m going to Dragonfest, Widowgast and I are goofing around, the vibe is so familiar, and everyone is being so nice and making me feel right at home–
Yeah. I kind of went into renfaire mode.
This means two things.
At the faire, everyone on the crew is family. You can relax and have fun around your family. One might even say you can trust them.
I’m much less careful of what words I actually let escape my mouth.
Do we see how this might be dangerous yet?
So like I said, we’ve started playing this game to see how many fandoms I can recognize, and we wander into this art booth. These can be very simple–a few prints on the wall, a couple of books to flip through.
Widowgast starts chatting with the artist, and I let the two of them do the Human Social Thing, quietly paging through the demo drawings. He’d done an impressive full-color of Yennifer and Geralt from The Witcher (haven’t watched, but “Toss a Coin,” need I say more?). I wait until I have Widowgast’s attention and point it out. I keep flipping through, guessing some, missing others (Moon Knight, Skeletor, some I can’t remember now–there are a lot of fandoms out there), and then I turn the page to a gorgeous Sauron in full armor, Ring intact, wreathed in flames.
And in the fondest, most affectionate and proudest voice you can imagine, I said, “There’s my boy!”
(cue bookmarkedone realizing far too late that was out loud)
I don’t think I actually looked at the vendor after that. I doubled over so my head almost touched the table laughing, said thank-you, and ran away.
I would have scolded Widowgast for not stopping me from saying that, but not even I knew what I was saying until it happened, so…yeah.
Widowgast thought I made the artist’s day.
The truth is, even as small as the con was, I could keep telling stories.
The electronic gamers who looked suspiciously like the electronic gamers from a previous year, settled in the same formation at the back of the room.
The dice merchants who were running a two-for-one sale we didn’t notice so I told them they’d broken Widowgast by saying 5+5=8 (the dream is collapsing, but hey, it’s a good dream).
Listening to Widowgast’s Zemnian (German) accent and overcompensating not to absently start matching it and accidentally going Full Renfaire Voice Mode (I…can’t actually explain what this sounds like. It’s too subtle a change. It’s still my voice, my accent, but also…not. I did the voice switch later for my dad and he said something along the lines of “oh no,” so apparently I wasn’t imagining it).
Widowgast plunking money down to play Plinko since I’d never done it before and bookmarkedone going full analytical mode (which is not how the gamble is meant to be played…but I won Widowgast a poster, so…).
The minifig builder who brought an entire castle populated with tiny crows with knives, a pirate ship, surprisingly realistic trees, pumpkins, and a miniature lake that for a second I thought was actually liquid (yes, we went in while he was still setting up, and yes, he was absolutely lovely gushing about D&D and, as Widowgast informs me, being far too modest about his art).
The perfume blender who had a unique scent crafted for each D&D class (I freaked out a little over the genius of this. Yes, the bard one was amazing. I want to say it had pink grapefruit in it, but I’m honestly a little fuzzy at this point).
Amigurumi squid. In the same booth as the plague doctor masks and the D20 dice keyrings.
The ladies crocheting/knitting while waiting for unwary visitors to stumble into their booths.
The Renaissance-Star Wars cosplayer. Still floored by that one.
Looking Widowgast dead in the eye and saying “Con artist” (you’re cool if you get the joke).
Going thrift shopping afterward and finding a T-shirt that reads “That’s a horrible idea. What time?” I thought it sounded like a MG or YA character, same energy as “let’s go overthrow my evil uncle’s empire” as a pickup line/first date idea. My friends insisted I buy it. Am a little concerned about why exactly they think it’s so perfectly me?
But we don’t have time for all that!
Because this is a two-parter post!
Look, I couldn’t clickbait you with “Don’t double-book the bard” and then not explain myself, could I?
So the little con ran three days. I was originally planning to only go Day 1, Friday, with Widowgast, but I wound up stopping in for a bit on Saturday as well. Glimpsed SpiderGwen from Into the Spider-Verse sitting under the trees outside the expo center (would have asked for a photo, but she swung away to other adventures before I got there). Security had different colored eyes today. Dark red, the color of congealing blood.
But I couldn’t stay long, because I was on my way to a violin gig.
Yes. That does mean that I was in full concert black and heels as I brushed shoulders with Ghostbusters, Storm Troopers and gamers. I had the foresight to wear slacks at least, so it wasn’t like I was going to the grocery store in a floor-length black dress (again. I needed ice cream, what can I say?).
It’s always a little awkward, going in full-black somewhere it’s not expected. I knew it would be okay once I got to the con, since with as many anime and comic characters as I’d be around, who was going to notice a kid in all black?
But I still had to walk about a block and cross the street to get to the con looking like a formal ink smudge with a very orange lanyard in one hand.
I could have been uncomfortable about it. But I was still in almost the same mood as the day before. And in heels. Fun fact: you can’t slouch in heels.
So…I owned it.
Something to remember, everyone out there with Impostor Syndrome. Nobody out there has a clue what they’re doing. So you might as well go out and be comfortable in your own skin, because it’s going to make you the coolest person out there.
I still got some odd looks from a bunch of anime cosplayers crossing the street the same time I was leaving. Which is fair.
The really important event from the second day is going to sound trivial, because it was just an average nerd in a T-shirt. It was, however, a very specific fandom T-shirt, for the character I’d been planning to cosplay before the fandom blew up in my face. And while I didn’t want to get anywhere near the drama (bookmarkedone’s inner critic reminding me this is why we prefer dead author fandoms that have at least a few decades of dust on them instead of things that are new ahhh why did we get in a fandom where the creators are still alive?), it really meant everything to me to see someone just casually being a part of that story, that community, assuring me that everything’s going to be okay and whatever’s going on right now, the fandom’s going to rise from it unscathed, as strong and beautiful and strange as it ever was.
I didn’t say anything about it. We were both standing at the perfume table at the time and I did a double-take when I saw the logo on the T-shirt (probably stared and made him uncomfortable, if we’re honest about it), trying to make sure that was what I thought I was seeing.
And I did think about being all “Oi, is that an [xyz] fandom shirt?” But in the end, I started talking to a vendor and by the time it was over, the perfect stranger I’d been considering chatting with had wandered away.
Moral of the story. If you do something cool, if you’re part of something bigger, if you show your fandom colors and nobody says a word to you, remember that nerds are a quiet bunch and you may have secretly made someone’s day.
It really did catch me a little off guard, even though I think I was looking for something like that since the first day of the con. I was still thinking about it a long while later.
And it’s as much as a reminder for me as for anyone else. I’ve had a plague doctor dragon in a top hat keyring on my violin case for two years now, and no one has ever breathed a word about how awesome it is. Either I worked with a very shy or unobservant orchestra, or I’m wasted on them.
Speaking of which! The Concert!
(I know, I know, finally)
This was actually my first ensemble gig since last May, so–yeah. One of the longest breaks I’ve had in a while.
There was a little moment of “How do we do this again?” But all is well in bookmarkedone’s orchestra world.
Especially considering I think I had a week to prepare for this concert?
I know some people would probably say I shouldn’t tell that part of the story to the non-initiated…so don’t tell them.
It went like this. An old orchestra friend from uni messaged me out of the blue, something like, “How are you? Long time no see. Cool, cool. So are you up for playing a concert on the 15th, or–?”
I’m kidding. There was no chit-chat. He had someone drop out at the last minute and needed another violin. I got the music (had to prompt him for an address for the venue, though), and because I don’t ask a lot of questions…that was about it. This date, this music, concert black, this address. That’s it. I knew it was a fundraiser, but honestly, until I got there, I had no clue what for.
(sounds of bookmarkedone being the perfect spy intensify)
Anyway, you have to remember that I was still in comic con/renfaire mode for this next bit.
The organizer was really clever and put stickynotes with our names on all the chairs so we’d know where to sit–especially important since some people played different parts on different pieces. Two names on a chair mean you move. One means you don’t. So there’s an awkward shuffle of an entire largely introverted and uncomfortable orchestra, heads down, squinting at chair seats, trying to find our places.
Except for me.
I found my place pretty easily, and lucky, lucky me! I didn’t have to move.
And watching everyone else shuffle about, this little voice whispered in my head, it’s literally musical chairs.
It should go to my credit that I didn’t say that one out loud.
But when a young lady directly in front of me bent squinting, saying “Why are there two names on my chair?” having missed the prior explanation…
…well, there was this perfect silence, and I said, dead serious, “You have to share.”
She looked up, and I nodded, “Two people, one chair. Yes.”
And this is why they shouldn’t let me do a concert after comic con, everybody.
I could have been helpful and explained, but no! Snarky mode activate, snarky mode there to stay!
The concert itself went well, although I don’t know that my particular brand of humor was appreciated. It was one of those nice ones where the music is easy, the performers seasoned enough to relax, the pressure low–it felt good not to play for a grade or an audition or anyone’s approval. Just to play. You don’t always get that chance, in the violin world. It’s good to hang on to it when it comes.
And…yeah. That’s this week’s adventures. By the time you hear from me again, I will be one Dragonfest the wiser. My favorite faire of the year, I’m already anticipating the mayhem and mischief.
Musicians know that there are a few times of year that are really crazy for gigging. March is one if you’re involved in schools because of contests. December–because December (some of us still get a little twitchy if you mention “Sleigh Ride…” that wood block is…a lot. Especially if you sit near the back where it’s the loudest and you can’t see when it’s coming but you feel it there).
But when did October get added to the list?
Frankly, I have no idea, but things have gone from very quiet to “Hey, do you want to play this weekend?” all at once. If I make it to November 1 and can start my NaNoWriMo project from the cozy nook in the garrett, I’m going to be one very happy and sleepy little bard.
Speaking of which…
I’m off to Dragonfest 2022!
And since I’m cramming in the practice time, running off to do my first cosplay since before Ye Olde Plague descended on these lands and getting into a lot of other mischief I either can’t share yet or can’t think of because I am (yet again) editing a post after midnight–
Here’s my reactions right after submitting my Dragonfest performer applications back in the middle of August. I didn’t publish this until now because, well, just because you have a 99.99% confidence that you’ve got a gig, you don’t want to be wrong. I didn’t know for sure that I was going until the first week of September.
…yeah, I got no excuse for why I didn’t publish it in the intervening month.
It’s a bit of a ramble. I hope you can excuse that.
So I just submitted my applications for this year’s Dragonfest Renaissance Festival. Since I’ve been playing violin there…um…two or three years running (does this make four?), and they always seem to like me and invite me back, I was pretty sure the forms were just a formality.
Even if I can’t remember ever waiting quite this long to hear back from them before.
This particular festival gets a little more posh and polished every year. This time I actually had to send recordings of my music instead of just saying “I’m a bard. Can I come?” I mean, I can remember back when I just walked in and started playing and mocked my friends for having to wait in line and buy tickets.
Yeah. Probably better they upped the security since.
In case you don’t know (which most of you reading this probably do), Dragonfest is my favorite faire. It’s not the biggest. It’s simply the best.
No, I will not be accepting argument on this point. Unless you are offering me faire tickets to change my opinion. Bribery is great.
Back to the point.
I’ve been hanging around Dragonfest since it started, which just goes to show that it’s a very young faire that makes me feel weirdly old. Yes, I can remember the early days of contact juggling and pottery in the parking lot behind what I was informed was Elfindale.
No, seriously. That’s what it’s called. Brick manor, retirement home, and shopping center. Elfindale.
Like, I’m not saying this faire was destined for greatness, but…well, we’re here, aren’t we?
And we’ve moved out of the parking lot, by the way. In fact, Dragonfest officially has its own property now, instead of renting some field, and according to the updated website, they’ve named it Dragon’s Brook.
I am perhaps unreasonably happy about this development.
I mean, how many people can say, “Oh, I’ll be at Dragon’s Brook next weekend.” Seriously. With a straight face.
And I get to work there. How cool is that?
I won’t lie. I’ve had more than a few days this summer when I needed cheering up. Hard truth: sometimes life stinks. I get down; everyone does.
But then I get something like this. Call it an adventure. Search it out for ages, then it falls into my lap.
And I’m forced to remember how mad lovely my life really is.
I work with someone who owns a castle, guys. Dragon’s Brook, revisited. Joined a steel fighting gang. There’s a fencing club that meets down the street from the garrett–I don’t even know who they are. They’re just part of the landscape.
If I were writing myself as a fictional character, I’d have shelved it with all the other “unrealistic wish fulfillment fluff” a long time ago, because seriously, you’re probably sitting at home reading this and doubting me right now. Readers would shake their heads and say “unrealistic,” and that’s it for the story, game over. It’s fair. I don’t seem real. My chaotic bardic life does, I freely confess, sound a little too good to be true.
It is. For me, it is. And that’s why I love it.
And I think it’s especially interesting to remember now, right after I’ve gotten a glossy-gilded diploma in my claws. Remembering how ages ago, before all this started, everyone had a different idea about what I was going to be, what I was going to do, because they didn’t have a clue. You know–are you going to be a book editor, sweetie? An orchestral musician? Are you going to be–wow–even a smidgen–oh dear–at all normal?
While I can’t say it’s exactly the way I planned it–I think the argument’s settled that this wasn’t what anybody pictured me doing. Playing the local faires. Blogging the chaos. Getting narrowly out of trouble. Nobody, including me, has any idea what’s coming next.
It’s a delicious feeling, not knowing. You’d never realize how many castles there are around here, just out of view of the trees.
Anyway. We were talking about this year’s Dragonfest.
I know I was a little keyed up, submitting the application, getting nervous the way I always do for auditions and stuff like that. But I think what really got me was the new video trailer for Dragonfest 2022. We always have some fun little phrase, “Come make merry!” “Something something Shakespeare” (no, that’s not a direct quote), “Live the fantasy!” etc. Just something to fill out the page, most of the time.
But this one, Dragonfest’s. It caught my attention.
Near the end of the video, it reads “Once Upon a Time is Now.”
I know what they meant by it. Come spend an afternoon in the fairy meadow, eat a turkey leg, talk in a funny voice, buy a shiny pebble. Forget about your troubles.
But it’s so much more than that.
I think I’ve mentioned before the James Riley quote from his mind-boggling Story Thieves series. If I remember the context right, Kiel Gnomenfoot grabs Bethany by the shoulders and says “Be more fictional” (you doubted me when I called him a brilliant idiot. Doubt me no longer).
It’s something that sticks with me. Be more fictional. That’s why we read some fiction, right? To glory in someone doing all the things we never have the courage to do? Jump off a cliff, fall in love, battle to the death, waltz with a nemesis (step 1, acquire nemesis, proves difficult for some), sail the seven seas, kiss the cold stars before you fall asleep, use galvanization to create life from raided corpses instead of going to college classes–erm, maybe not that last one.
Be more fictional.
It’s true there are a million things in life we can’t even begin to change. But please, why is it we’re choosing to be so boring? Why don’t we wear the mismatched shoes, walk in the rain, stay out late to look at the stars? Why do we follow all these rules that don’t matter, don’t make us happy?
We can make our own fairytales. We can fight to keep them.
I’m aware this is a bit of a ramble. Like I said, after midnight post. But I didn’t want to miss another Tuesday, and I figure if you’ve hung out with me this long, you know what you’re in for.
The weird. That’s what you’re in for. The weird.
You can watch the Dragonfest trailer for yourself if you want, but I warn you, if you’re searching for a familiar bard among the crowd, you won’t catch a glimpse in the video. Per usual, I’m flitting too much to get caught on camera. That is, of course, how I prefer it. There’s too much to see at the faire to stay in one place for very long or to even think of sitting still. It’s fairyland come to life for a day, and I’m always out to see every turn in the path and adventure there is within it.
And before you get the wrong idea, it’s not for me.
And this is the point where I have to back up and confess that I’ve been keeping a lot of bardic adventures from the blog while you’re refreshing the page and wondering what’s keeping me.
Or forgetting that bookmarkedone.home.blog exists.
Okay. Deep breath.
Ladies and gentlemen, friend and foe, your attention please.
Because I’m composing a musical.
I am composing the soundtrack to a musical.
(cue muffled bookmarkedone screams because is this happening?)
So the short version of the story is that your very own little bard is working on a Rapunzel musical for production in 2023.
I am aware this does not explain the wedding dress. I’m getting to that.
So even though we’re almost a year out from the first show, the first cast read-through was scheduled for last Saturday. It was time to finalize our casting for Rapunzel (out of three lovely singers), have everyone meet everyone else (hi! This is the person you’re married to/fall in love with! Have fun!), and get down to plotting mayhem together.
It was also the first time the cast was going to hear the incomplete score that I’d been laboring over for the last–four months?
So it’s not like I was nervous or prepping everything, saving files, running in circles, and making a pile of prints.
Of course not. I was out thrifting.
And the great thing about thrift shops is that sometimes they will have the coolest dresses for next to nothing. There’s usually a rack that you have to inch past because the full skirts of a dozen prom dresses are poofing out into the aisle. It’s great fun to browse, since the fabrics are always pretty, even if the styles are sometimes a bit weird.
The Boss and I had talked about raiding thrift stores for material when it came to costumes, but nothing had come of it yet (too busy hiding in the garrett listening to the same melody replay in my headphones 500 times until satisfied). I wasn’t really thinking about it.
Until I walked in and saw the wedding dress.
It was right in front, as if it had been politely waiting for me to come and take notice. The perfect size. Puffy sleeves. A train. Satin bows. The most princess-y fairytale wedding dress one could ask for.
And this is the point that Sleepy Writer Brain and my linguistic skills joined hands and went on vacation together and verbal speech apparently failed me because I did not say what I intended.
I meant to say, “Hey, look! Rapunzel’s wedding dress! Isn’t it perfect? Don’t you think the playwright will love it?”
But what came out? No, no, no, no, no.
I wandered over to the dress like a tipsy moth, inspected it silently (confusing my shopping buddy), and then said, “What do you think?”
That’s it. Nothing else. One would think I’d have read the room and realized what that sounded like, but no, I was oblivious!
In her defense, my buddy handled it well. She told me later she was thinking do you have something to tell me? but at the time she just joined in admiring the dress, and agreeing yes, it was very nice, possibly my size–
This is probably the point my brain clicked back into focus from its tea break and I quickly said no, not my style. For Rapunzel.
I am abundantly aware that speech should have been in reverse order.
I took some photos of the dress, messaged the Boss, and asked her if she wanted me to pick it up. She said yes please, so it was back to the shop the next morning and off to the castle with an armload of wedding dress.
And frankly, I’m a little miffed I didn’t get more odd looks leaving the shop. As far as I’m aware, there isn’t a big call for buying wedding dresses at little thrift shops. The clerk didn’t ask. The people didn’t stare. Confusing a shopping buddy is one thing, but I would have enjoyed confounding the greater public.
Just a little.
Anyway, fast forward to the start of the read, and I’m standing outside the castle (yes, real castle, gargoyles and all) with an armful of wedding dress, hundreds of tiny sequins I didn’t see in the shop catching the light and glinting enough to hurt my eyes (just imagine how they’ll look under stage lighting), yelling across the courtyard and part of a field that I got the dress!!!
The playwright was pleased. I got to show it off to all three auditioning Rapunzels (Hi! Yes! Hello! This is your wedding dress? Do you like it? Look at the train!), but honestly I think I was the giddiest of all of us.
After all. It’s not every day you get the perfect wedding dress for a price that cheap.
I was a proud little bard, to say the least.
Hm? How was the final audition? The read?
All went well. We chose our Rapunzel, and the more she read, the more disbelieving I was at how good she is. How did we actually find someone with a voice that princess-y? Who can also sing?
And it’s hard to go too far wrong when you’re sitting at a little plastic card table in the middle of a Great Hall, cast down each side, Boss sitting at the head, me, the mini-boss, perched with my messy score to her right. Both of us struggling not to occasionally slip up and call someone by their character instead of their name.
The awkward bit?
I didn’t exactly think the soundtrack through.
I had the computer-generated recordings, of course, had the score, everyone had the lyrics in the script. But I thought (naïvely?), “Oh, I’ll just play segments on violin to give them some idea of the melodies and we’ll all be fine.”
We were not fine.
(cue bookmarkedone singing all but two of the numbers from the soundtrack alone)
(cue bookmarkedone trying to hide slightly shaky hands and not making eye contact with anyone)
Why? Because bookmarkedone has not sung in public for six years, that’s why. And bookmarkedone was not prepared to sing. Bookmarkedone did not warm up her voice before singing a high B flat.
…I didn’t die.
Much as I make fun of my own singing voice (hello? I’m a violinist?), I know it’s not as rough as I make it out to be. I’ve sung–a lot over the years and I’ve got a pretty good range.
There were some voice cracks. There were some squeaks. There was an awkward half-apologetic email to the playwright afterward (who assured me it was fine and I have a lovely voice, but she’s so sweet anyway…).
Six years is a long time not to sing.
Of course, in the end I’ll be in the ensemble, happy violinist watching the show from “the pit,” but in the meantime…
I have a feeling I might be singing a lot more in the days to come.
If nothing else, because the numbers I’ve written are just so catchy that they keep looping through my brain for hours at a time. I know, I’ve got no one but myself to blame. I keep hoping I’ll hear someone humming as they leave the show when it’s finally brought to the stage. That’ll be so satisfying as to make it all worth it, I think.
Stay tuned! More updates on the adventures of composing a musical coming soon.
This shouldn’t be so important. You know I leave the garrett. I don’t solely exist in front of the laptop screen, typing out mad blog prose for your enjoyment.
It just feels that way sometimes. And since I’d so much rather hang out with my fictionals, it usually takes something pretty significant to get me out of the garrett and among the living.
Except for groceries. I still go shopping for groceries.
Anyway. This isn’t a grocery story.
I still owe you the remaining tales of White Hart Renaissance Festival 2022.
So if you read my post about opening weekend at White Hart, you’ve got some idea of how this is going to go. And since I only made it out one more day to the faire, I honestly considered not posting about it at all. It was just a normal day, really.
But then I remind myself that there is no normal day at Ren faire and what is normal for me really isn’t for the rest of the world.
Right. So. What happened?
Set the stage. It’s hot under the oak trees. We all relish the breeze. There’s a little spindly tree outside the mercenary tent and we all cluster under it, me, the Piper, the fighters, a few friends, talking about music, gaming, opera, theater, ballet, and smacking stuff really hard with a sword. We have a swordfight earlier than scheduled just because we wanted to.
M’lady Fleur was there, running across the grounds in her full hoopskirt and being the life of court. I was chatting with one of the Queen’s Guard later in the afternoon and we were theorizing where she gets her energy. I proposed that she was hiding energy drinks under the bell shape of the hoopskirt (very good for smuggling). He suggested an IV of pure Red Bull or adrenaline. I think he was slightly envious and tired.
I actually ended up dancing with Fleur in the Queen’s Glen. Every faire, Queen E. and her courtiers teach the patrons a simple circle dance. I’ve wanted to do it for a while, but what with always having the violin in my hands…I managed to sneak in this time and Fleur was happy to teach me the steps. I wasn’t all that graceful about it, but it was quite fun.
And Fleur and friends were jigging later to my music. The court jester (fairly certain the same rogue who taunted me into playing Thunderstruck at Dragonfest last year) kept asking for things until I played him “Drunken Sailor.” I meant it as a taunt, especially since I went from a slow, slurring tempo to much faster–but I am forced to a begrudging respect.
He jigged to the whole piece. Even when I spiked up the tempo. While eating fries.
I want to still be annoyed by him (and to some degree I still am)–but I can’t. Well done, thou merry rascal. Don’t ask for country music again. We hates it.
And speaking of Thunderstruck…back by the mercenary camp, conversation turned to the 2Cellos. Namely, their famous video of Thunderstruck, in the white wigs and period costumes–
Nobody was exactly asking for it, but I couldn’t resist.
Yeah. I played Thunderstruck again. And it’s really great fun, because nobody has any idea how to respond to that. And just like when I did it before, a little crowd of patrons materialized–only since I was facing the gang and the woods–they were behind me and I could only guess about how many/what was happening by the reactions on my friends’ faces.
I didn’t…really turn around when I was done. Not at first. Lieutenant started chatting them up, telling them about the mercenary groups, advertising when the next fight would be. I laughed and shook out my arm (it gets an ache from that opening), but I still had manners enough to curtsy when he introduced me.
I played for the fight too, of course. Little themes in the background to make things more interesting. The fighters tell me sometimes that the rhythm helps, gives them an extra push.
And I wandered. I always wander. I made my way down to the children’s area (design flaw, guys. Why is it next door to the pub?), scuttled away from the pub because there were already musicians over there (banjo? Banjo.), and found my way to a nice tree behind the tilting yard. There are two of them there and they form a sort of entryway if you’re walking to the field. And it was a good spot, because I could see everyone and the joust.
I did eventually give in and go over to the Queen’s tent. It’s one of the perks of being a performer–I get a really good view of the joust anytime I want it. We had haybales set up behind her dais, so a couple of the Queen’s ladies and I sat there.
Or we started to, anyway. One of the ladies (I forget her character name, so we’ll call her Lady V), really has a heart of gold. She’s been doing the faires forever and knows better than any of us how fast the seating fills up for the joust. So while we were all looking forward, she was looking back and spotted a family with three or four little kids, probably not a single one of them older than nine, all standing in the sun and trying to see.
So she gives up her seat an invites them into the Queen’s tent. I wound up sitting next to them, thinking dizzyingly about my first faires, when I wasn’t much younger than them.
I mean, I doubt they’ll end up as mad and chaotic as I did, but one never knows.
It was a good joust. Sir Marcello, I noted, got a new title. Since Sir Charlie is the Queen’s Champion, I guess it only seemed fair that Marcello be the Prince of Spain.
Hmm, what else? Sir Charlie made fun of a Scotsman (in good fun, I think), and volunteered him for the beheading. And since he wasn’t as hot and exhausted as on opening day, he said his line of “Pet the knights, meet the horses,” properly this time. I think he was satisfied by that. But perhaps the best joke belonged to the Queen’s Guard.
Since I was perched right behind them with the three kids and their slurpees, I was in the perfect place to hear one of the guard say “So we’re going to say ‘blood, blood, blood,’ right?”
(cue bookmarkedone’s keen interest)
Of course I knew exactly what they were up to. But knowing it doesn’t change the jolt of surprise when half a dozen men start bellowing “BLOOD! BLOOD! BLOOD!” at the top of their lungs as the two knights start careening down the field.
I admit, I shouted with them. Not as much as I would have with the kids sitting next to me, but…well, I think fun was had by all.
Except when two of the kids declared that they didn’t have a clue where their parents were.
(cue bookmarkedone’s keen alarm)
So now I, the highly irresponsible bard, was the de facto guardian of three (or was it four?) kids.
Of course their parents were watching them from the shade behind the tents the entire time and came to claim their kiddos immediately, but I still kept them with me at the tent until I was sure they were all together again.
Then I ran off again. As bards do.
Near the end of the day, I was wandering the faire with Lady Fleur & Co. when I glanced over and saw someone I thought I recognized. Patrons, standing with their backs to me, in costumes cobbled together the way patron costumes always are–swords but also tennis shoes–you know.
I hesitated for a minute, because I was half a field away and it would be really kind of awkward if that’s not who I think it is guessing from the back of their heads. So I moseyed. Who’s going to pay attention to a little bard plucking at her violin and apparently taking no particular direction?
The patrons in question, that’s who. I got close enough that I was sure it was who I thought, a couple of violinists I’d played with back in high school, and just hung a few feet away, waiting to see if they’d say hello or walk right past me since I was in full costume.
No such luck. One of them said hello and called me by my actual name (doesn’t happen a lot at faire, where little miss bookmarkedone is just the fiddler except with a few fellow players. Is it fair that I was a little irked? Probably not). And really, while I get that I recognized the back of their heads because that’s the view I had every week in orchestra for a couple of years, I’m a little unnerved at how fast they recognized me.
I don’t talk about faire a lot at academic or more formal violin events. Like it comes up with my close friends, and I might mention it if it’s relevant in a lesson, but I couldn’t remember saying anything about it to either of these two.
It’s–different. I play a character when I’m at faire. In orchestra, in concert settings, I’m serious. At faire, I loosen up. I had a family member tell me once that I almost become a different person there, and to some degree, it’s true. I think you have to be, walking in that halfway fairyland. And besides. In a place where you have people introducing themselves as queens and princes, knights and Vikings, mercenaries, jesters, bards, and plague doctors, why would you want to be the same thing you are every day?
That being said, neither of these two patrons had ever seen me in Faire Mode.
Yeah. About that.
We said our hellos, chatted about the faire. I hadn’t seen one of them in what, five years? And I said they should meet Fleur. Because I’m happier when I’m not talking, and she’s good at talk, and really, if you want the faire experience, you’ve got to meet Fleur.
So I ran and got her.
And Fleur’s great because she stays in character. It’s easy to feed off her energy, to interact. So she’s doing a light accent and talking fast, and before you know it, I’ve code switched back to dialect, “Oh yes indeed,” “my good sirs,” “my lady,” chatting away with her–and then I glance at the violinists and realize what I’ve done.
“What brings you here?” Fleur asks.
There’s a pause. They gesture back to the fried food booth they were at when I found them, name the dish they were buying. One must wonder exactly how much Fleur and I threw them off by now.
I laugh. “That’s a start.” And I tell them they should visit the mercenary camp, since I can introduce them.
Fun fact. I didn’t.
It was near the end of the day, so I left maybe twenty minutes after that. Didn’t see the guys again. If they wound up at the mercenary camp, I don’t know. I may have caused them to doubt that they saw me in the first place.
(cue evil bookmarkedone laughter)
It’s not the first time I’ve pulled a disappearing act. I’m pretty certain it won’t be the last.
So that’s White Hart 2022! I’m sure there were probably some adventures that I’m just forgetting to include. If you like what you read, check back here next week. I’ve got more bardic adventures on the way, including one I’ve been keeping secret for a while.
And if you go to Ren faires, leave me a comment with one of your favorite memories! The more the merrier, hip, hip, huzzah!
So to say there has been chaos in my home lately is an understatement.
There has been chaos. Understatement made.
But it’s also June! And for those of you who don’t know, June is the month when I read far too much, hunt for fireflies, and watch the Days, hours, minutes and seconds until next faire counter on the White Hart website tick slowly down to zero.
I love faire sites with the countdown timer. Makes it all so much more exciting.
But with the whole graduation thing and crashing and being sick for a couple of weeks, it slipped my attention until the calendar flipped to June and suddenly the faire is ten days away? That’s it?
I haven’t been to a faire since October (yes, read the post please, read the post), so I was very ready for this. And I am sentimental for White Hart. It’s one of the faires I went to as a kid, so it has a special place in my heart.
And since I went last year with my mercenary steel fighting buddies, I popped a message to one of them asking if we were on the crew again this year.
(Cue sounds of bookmarkedone being emotionally crushed).
I hadn’t actually realized how excited I was for White Hart until I realized the gang wasn’t going.
But that’s alright. Just because I wasn’t working the faire didn’t mean I couldn’t go to the faire. As myself. Just for fun.
And I haven’t done that since…oh…
…(whispers) cancelled for Plague in 2020…Dragonfest the year before that…uh…I didn’t even realize I’ve been doing this for that long…
Let’s just say it’s been a few years, okay?
And my pirate buddy (yes, the same one from the Dragonfest 2021 post) wanted to tag along, so before you say “turkey leg,” we had a plan to go as patrons.
In costume, of course. Like, seriously. How could you not go in costume?
So I gathered my buddies and counted my crew, hauled the long dresses and leather pocket-bags out of the closet and waited.
And listened to the end of Portents of Chaos and waited.
And checked the weather forecast three times and waited.
And I think it’s just an unspoken tradition or some kind of innate instinct in my family that one simply must be working on costumes the night before.
Okay, so technically it was the afternoon before, and it wasn’t really a costume thing because I have a cool steampunky dress that needs no more tweaking! But yes, I was making water bottle holders (is there a name for that? It’s like a macrame plant hanger except for a bottle) the day before going. They turned out rather well. A lady stopped us in a booth to say I should make them to sell, so…that’s a nice compliment to get.
Anyway, Saturday morning finally arrived and we all trooped out, maps, playlists, snacks, sunhats at the ready–
–and had to make a quick stop at the auto place.
Here’s where I should stop to explain a little feature of Ren faire/cosplay/concert musician culture. If you finished an event and are absolutely starving, it’s totally okay to stop at a little all-hours, hole-in-the-wall restaurant in garb. Especially if it’s late at night and/or you’re there with the crew (because if you bring an army of cosplayers, really, nobody’s going to question your actions. Here’s your waffles. Please leave a tip). Going for ice cream at 10:30 at night in tuxedos and black formal gowns? Totally cool. Even later and you’re dropping into Village Inn wearing a ballgown? They won’t ask. Waffle House at three in the afternoon in combat armor? I personally know people who have done it and reported no reaction. Breakfast before ComicCon with the crew all squished into one booth? You’re probably going to have someone take a picture, but hey, they’ll be subtle about it. And you can’t blame them. You all look great, don’t you?
How did this start? I have no idea. I think to some degree it’s innate–the Must Have Waffles instinct kicking in. It is not to be denied.
And this isn’t just something I’ve observed. Cue the Reddit post, please!
Do I believe an immortal Greek god runs a restaurant chain and thus attracts Ye Weirdoes to his abode? No. Do I believe that a spirit of weirdness, what cares, waffles and chaos inhabits late-night diners?
Yeah. That sounds about right. It’s pretty normal to show up in garb to a place like that, if anything we do can really be called normal at all.
But does an auto shop have that energy?
Um. No. No, that’s just an awkward silence and standing halfway behind people not in garb and pretending not to care until you can bolt out the door again like startled jackrabbits.
I’ve gone shopping for ice cream in a floor-length black dress. I should be used to it by now.
Anyway, it was a quick stop, and we were soon on the road again, laughing at people’s careful lack of reactions.
We didn’t quite get lost.
Someone told me when I was small that you can’t have a good road trip without getting lost at least once, and it’s something I’ve repeated probably more than my fair share. It’d been a year since I headed up that way, and even with the maps, there’s a long stretch of country road that makes you bite your lip and think, “No, no, we really must have blinked and missed it somewhere back there.” You haven’t. You still haven’t.
It’s funny, the things I remember and the things I don’t. I remembered the sudden curve in the road (Go right. Yes, yes, yes, I’m sure. I remember this.), the shape of bramble thorns and brush bent into almost right angles by a fence or tree that is no longer there, the little white church (no, wait, there are two of them and you only see one if you really have gone the wrong way), even the shape of some of the hills, the way the oak trees shade the road a little no matter what time of day you swish past them.
I remembered where the drive was a second too late to turn into it, but hey. Nobody’s perfect, right?
And then it was just down the long, white-gravel drive to the wooden palisade, pennons fluttering in the breeze.
It was also really hot.
Renaissance festivals in June are their own kind of creature. You will burn. You will boil. You will sweat. You will swish your skirts to catch the breeze and buy fans from the vendors and grimly pity the jousting knights in full combat armor and yearn for the return of autumn and faires where you can wear a heavy cloak–and yet you will still have a fabulous time.
Maybe it’s the determination. Maybe it’s knowing that it’s so important to us to be there that we’ll come even in the heat to be together, to build this place, this thing, this moment.
Maybe we’re just crazy.
It’s like we all become family for the day, some strange sort of secret club, whether you’re in costume or you’re a patron coming for the first time. I hear it when people start telling me stories, a little haltingly as if realizing I’m a perfect stranger in a very nice sunhat, the way the vendors act as if they’ve known you for years even though you’ve never met. I hear it in my own voice, suddenly chirping and bright instead of burned-out tired, grinning before I run away again. It’s in the way we dress too, even if you didn’t come in costume. Little touches, a nerdy T-shirt, a bracelet with a Norse hammer amulet, the Elf ears with an otherwise normal outfit, earrings you just bought, a shimmer of this fairyland coating your skin–or maybe that’s just the sweat.
Whatever it is, it brings us together. One community, one group, one crowd, standing in the tents before the joust, screaming for blood.
That doesn’t sound–um–no, we actually do that. Hip, hip, huzzah, if it please the good sir to take the other man’s head off. Or, y’know, a cantaloupe.
Yeah, Sir Charlie and the Knights of Mayhem were back. I’ve been to a lot of their jousts by now (sometimes two or three times per faire), so I know the drill pretty well–two lances into a hay bale, a decapitation each, and then the full tilt, four lances (or as many as they have left at the end of the day) against each other until the painted wood is shattered to smithereens. I know Sir Charlie’s jokes, too, some of them funny, some of them bad puns, some even a little political or saucy.
I still go. Even if, I confess, I’d sometimes rather cheer for Sir Charlie’s opposition. And it’s fun this time too, because I know all the beats of their routines, it’s like I’m in on the joke. I can already be smirking at my friends, watching for their reactions by the time Sir Charlie delivers his punchline. And, I hope, bringing the crowd a little more to life.
We were all pretty limp fish in the heat by the one o’clock joust. There were even (amusingly) murmurs of dissent and revolution when Queen E. arrived to take her seat on the dais. Nobody curtsied.
But then in rode Sir Charlie, and, well. He knows how to play a crowd, in the way only a good performer can. One who can command his audience and amuse them at the same time. Before long, we were howling for both the nights, screaming as they charged, trying to keep track of who was ahead (as much as you can scream in a stuffy tent canopy, sweating so much you don’t even want to breathe).
Sometimes, I guess it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen a show, heard the same song. If it’s good, you can have a go again.
I know the pictures are kind of blurry, but I’m too giddily proud that I got the shot right as Sir Marcello was about to whack the melon. I’ve now seen the decapitation segment with cabbages, pumpkins, and now cantaloupes. Changes with the seasons, you know.
But of course, Ren faire isn’t all jousting and chugging cold water while lamenting the heat from the shade of the oak trees. It’s also turkey legs and funnel cake (in Ye Non-Plague-Infested-Times), fencing, music (um, hello? Did you forget my job description?), costuming, vendors, the Rat Puck games, putting your friends in the stocks, posing with wanted pictures–anything one’s heart could desire, more or less. Queen E. was teaching a dance when we arrived. And although she was red-faced and completely out of breath when we stopped to say hello afterward, I confess to being a little envious that we were too late to join in.
We also got a tea shop booth this year. The vendor looked almost exactly the way you would expect a slightly mad tea shop proprietor to look–thick, frizzy hair, full costume, with a bright copper kettle hanging from her belt so it tangled in her full skirts. Perfect, in other words. She had either checkers or a tak board inside. I wish I could have stayed longer than I did. I think it was the same booth I darted in years ago to get out of the rain, refurbished but still rough and a little dark inside. A slightly creepy tea shop, then.
Then there was the potter, with all his mugs, quietly working away at his wheel on another while his wife sold their wares. It’s always a pleasure to watch him work, somehow both peaceful and startling. I have artist friends, so I have to appreciate the potter and exactly how good he is at what he does.
The answer to that is very, very good.
Who else was there? Hmm, there were the pirates I didn’t hang around because–well, I think we’d come to bardic disagreements. And I, without my instrument, was at a disadvantage.
There was the girl at the information booth yelling “Get your food! Get your T-shirts! Get your rat on a stick!” And when my pirate buddy and I were musing over which T-shirts we liked, “Skip the choice! Buy one of each.”
There were the mushroom hat cosplayers. There was the girl with the pink fairy skirt and her gothy friend in all black. There were the chainmail jewelry-makers, dancers, I think a fire-eater, but honestly I’m not sure, the man who runs the forge but didn’t most of the day because it was just too hot.
There was the lady with the rock booth with earrings, pendants, keyrings, polished crystal balls a little smaller than a baseball–and not just white crystal, either. Rose quartz, tiger’s eye–they were gorgeous. I had to pick one up just to feel its weight in my hand. She was a good vendor. She understood perfectly and let us touch and admire all the wares.
Including these, which I’ve been informed were her little daughter’s creation:
You knew I’d have to gab about my goodies eventually, right? I try to pick up some little trinket every year to remember the adventure by. I think the stone is real amethyst, and they just might be short enough that I can play the violin while wearing them.
If you have too-long earrings they bump against the instrument and scratch and buzz so why do all you lovely vendors keep making the coolest earrings that are two inches or longer arrrgh!
Anyway, the rock-booth-lady also had some pretty crescent moon shapes, and of course the little pocket size stones. They were all so gorgeous it took me a while to pick out the earrings. As I and several others teased her, we’d have happily bought out her entire stock.
Next stop was a little booth that at first glance, only had posters, frames, and prints. That’s great if you’re into the visual arts…which I’m not. But the Keeper of the Booth politely invited us in, and I’m very pleased she did.
I fell hard for her necklace pendants.
Aren’t they beautiful? We both gushed over them as she was wrapping them up for me. There was another little one with the night sky that struck my fancy, but someone bought it before I had a chance to make up my mind. It’s really for the best–I didn’t need to buy three new necklaces. I hope they’re very happy with it, whoever they are.
There are some vendors who are charismatic in their talk, the way they tell you the stories of their wares, have a scripted store of jokes to spice up the long day. But then there are vendors like her, who are simply sweet and charming because they love what they do and they’re delighted their crafts have found a home. It’s hard to say which I prefer, but I’m glad to have met both. She blew us a kiss as we left her booth with our treasures.
Last stop (which really, by logic, should have been the first stop), was a booth with all sorts of odds and ends–shawl pins, beads, wooden swords, pendants, juggling balls, and fans. It was so hot I decided to get a fan I could carry around the faire. I’d always skipped it before since my hands were busy with the violin, but I take breaks to chat with people, and then a little pocket breeze would be just the thing.
My pirate friend picked up a fan while we were browsing and tried to snap it open without much success. I waited a beat, then said, “Here. It’s like this.”
I flicked the fan open with one hand and started the “I’m a fancy lady at a glittering Victorian ball who would like to dance with a handsome gentleman but is probably also trash talking you in the most graceful way possible” flutter. You know the one.
Cue my pirate staring at me as if I were some sort of wizard. I laughed a little. I hadn’t even done the flick-and-flutter that smoothly, but then again, I guess I did know what I was doing. You pick up little skills like that in eccentric professions like mine.
Anyway, when I picked up one of the plain wooden fans, the three vendors who were chilling in the back started trying to get my attention.
This being a somewhat odd request, I made an effort to comply. It was probably an aromatic wood like olive, which I could not smell through the mask I was wearing.
So I asked, “What is it?”
“You can’t tell what it is?”
(Cue visible signs of bookmarkedone confusion). I shook my head. “No, I can’t.”
So apparently it’s common knowledge among Ren faire patrons what the scent of sandalwood is? As in “we think you jest if you say you don’t know it?”
That’s…not the most implausible thing I could say about us.
I took my time picking this one out, because I didn’t really want one with glitter or sequins or obviously plastic–nothing wrong with any of that, but I guess there’s a certain character I’m building when I play at the faires. A story, if you will, that’s not quite there. You have your lords and ladies, your pirates and your knights, goths, fairies, monks, rangers, D&Ders, and crafters–
And then there’s me.
When I was first starting to work at the faires, someone called me a “traveler” character. Someone who sees the world and carries a bit of all those places inside them. I think I like that explanation the best, fitting together my odd manners (still going to curtsy and say “sir” and “my lady,” but is not above playing the Rat Puck, running in a skirt, or hanging out with mercenaries) and the history, creating a character that probably never existed before but most certainly does now. And of course the costume reflects that, never as glitzy as the ladies in waiting, but never without attention to detail, either.
It’s more fun than sitting with the court. I get to be out where things happen as a traveler. I get to watch mischief and make more of it.
And music, of course. My music.
How was it, going to the faire without my violin?
Interesting. Lighter, I guess. I joked that it would be a lot of fun having both hands free to do things, although I’ve gotten very deft at one-handed maneuvers while I’m holding the violin in the other.
And after working the faires this long, it was fun pointing out (and occasionally getting noted) by people I knew. Queen E., of course, but also one of her guards (who stared at me a little too hard but couldn’t seem to remember before I’d slipped away), the fiddler I met officially at last Dragonfest (I was singing Scarborough Fair while walking down the main street as she was performing it for the queen. Nobody outside of my little crew even seemed to notice. Bungled the lyrics, of course, because I’m an instrumentalist and we don’t know what those are.), the Knights of Mayhem, ladies-in-waiting and patrons. I said I was there incognito, and without the violin, I kind of was. Even in costume, there was nothing to notice about me more than any other patron. No reason for anyone to guess that I knew these grounds so well
Well–at least, that’s what I thought.
We do this thing at the faires, where we send kids on quests. You go from one booth to another and ask a cryptic question, get a little coin or pebble, solve a riddle, have some fun, and maybe win a prize. I’ve played both sides, as the “NPC” and the adventurer, but what I didn’t expect was for a little fair-haired girl to come up and ask “Do you have a favor for me?”
I sort of blinked, wondering why out of everyone she’d picked me, before smiling and telling her I was afraid I didn’t and she went off with her dad. Probably she was just asking anyone, trying to solve her riddle, but–
My pirate friend leaned over and said, “So you’ve got a doppelganger.”
Whether it was from the description of the costume or character, the assumption was that I looked like whoever she was supposed to find.
Or maybe it was something in my manner, the way that I flowed so easily into the way the faire runs that I couldn’t quite hold up the illusion that I was just a visitor, incognito, enjoying myself for the day.
So now I’m home, and very tired. Drinking cold lemonade and listening to the wind make the tree outside my window creak. But I can’t quite call the adventure finished.
Tuesday morning, I got a message from my steel fighting friends. Because guess who got a short-notice invitation to perform at White Hart the second two weekends?
Yup. We did.
I’m already hoping to have some fun when I show up again with the violin and have people remember the odd little patron from the first weekend. Or, with my luck, not remember me at all.
So stay tuned! More mirth and mayhem might be coming.
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.