Technically yesterday, since it’s after midnight now, but we are still awake because post-concert-adrenaline rush/it’s been established that bookmarkedone’s sleep schedule is trash.
The first concert I played with this group, years ago, when it had another conductor and another name, was Shostakovitch 10.
I’m not squished in the back of the violins anymore. Due to unforeseen absences of…a lot of violinists, bookmarkedone was perched precariously close to the front.
Okay, fine. Due to absences and the fact that I can actually play more than a few notes.
It’s a habit of mine (and a lot of other musicians) not to give myself credit. I hear all the shades of flat and sharp, all the crooked notes, the half-broken phrases. Mistakes are made.
Lucky for me, I now have a conductor who is an unfairly lovely human being. She doesn’t want us to put enough pressure on our own shoulders to crush Atlas. To do our best, yes, certainly. But not to fear failing a thing so much that you cannot love it.
It’s–a tricky thing, performing. If I think about people listening, staring, disliking–it’s hard to find the next note. But if I’m there with my crew, the orchestra, all of us breathing in time, making mistakes and carrying on anyway, out to sea on a tide of sound–that’s different. That’s good. Maybe not easy, but–it can be thrilling.
I’m trying to remember that. Smell the roses. Live in the moment. Stop worrying about who cares.
Tonight was a good night.
The rest of the concert?
It started to rain.
We’re indoors, before you worry. No wedding party running for a canopy and being rightfully bowled down by a cellist fleeing instrument-damaging moisture. And since we weren’t (to my knowledge) recording any of it, we didn’t have to worry about white noise. If anything, it just added to the ambiance.
Shostakovitch’s music is–intense, if you haven’t heard it. It’s not exactly a walk in the park. It can be great fun to play, but don’t underestimate the energy demanded.
So a thunderstorm rolling in and lightning flashing faintly outside the windows?
You know, until the giant flash that blinded all of us, made the concertmaster almost jump out of his skin, and then crash thunder so loud both stand partner and I flinched–during the flute solo.
Full credit to the winds and brass. They didn’t stop playing. They didn’t even hesitate.
And when our cue came, neither did the rest of us. Storm would go on–we had a job to do.
Conductor continues to use glowstick for baton to fight ambient lighting. Green tonight. Still raining when I left, but not the white sheets of blowing water during the middle of the concert. Just a steady drizzling.
I turned my face to it, spread my arms in the dark.
We’ll return to your regularly scheduled bookish bloggery shortly. In the meantime, please excuse me. I have to go convince myself not to write a brand-new short story for a deadline in twenty-five hours.
My last con experience in October was, frankly, bizarre.
It was the last run of that particular convention, ever. And on a Friday afternoon, the place was empty.
This time, I could see the line spilling out the door and down the sidewalk. A wizard girl in mossy green was hiking from somewhere with friends at least a block away.
It was going to be packed.
How packed I wouldn’t know until I got into the main floor of the con itself, but I got a clue. Both the October con and this one were held in the same expo center. But where the little con had been set up, with vendors and gaming tables and a few cheerful cosplayers?
That was the entryway. This big room, and all they had in it was ticket-takers, security, and black partition curtains.
This was going to be big.
It was. There was the main floor, a second hall with the celebrities/special guests, an upstairs for panels, and a quieter hall with fewer booths where cosplayers were camped near the concessions, overlooked by a half-floor balcony.
And add to all that, the main convention floor had so many people in it, in the narrower aisles, we had to wait for each other to pass and sometimes just stand there, stock still, shoulder-to-shoulder, until traffic started to move again.
Don’t worry, the crowds didn’t get to me too badly.
It’s been a while since I’ve been around that many people at once, but everyone was pretty polite, even if we were squished a little closer than was comfortable.
And when a woman pushing a stroller needed to get through an aisle, the crowd parted for her, as was only right.
Still, it’s something to keep in mind.
I’m aware that my renfaire/adventure posts have persuaded people that these events are awesome (they are) and that they should attend one (good for you). But if you’re using this as your guide to ComicCons–you should know there are things I leave out.
Take renfaire for example. The people who do it, we do it because we’re a little crazy, and we love it. But it’s a long day outside in all types of weather–hot, cold, dust blowing in your face. ComicCon’s like that too. It’s terrific, really terrific, but if you’re heading in for your first time, there are a few things you need to be aware of. Population being only one of them.
I had a great experience at this one, but there were still a few moments I was like “Wow, the security here is kind of garbage, isn’t it?” And “yeah…wish this person wasn’t saying that…glad I didn’t bring a little kid over here.”
It happens. Pop a lot of people together, you’re bound to find some you wouldn’t hang out with normally. And some events are more family-friendly than others.
That said, I’ve never had anything really bad Go Down, so mostly I have slightly awkward and funny stories.
Case in point?
So night before the con, I was scrolling through the event’s webpage, picking out panels I wanted to go to, trying to gather information, take note of the guests, all that stuff, and I stumbled across this:
Clearly the “health & safety” concerns are understandable, in these Days of the Plague, but this happens so often that they made a rule for it?
Then writer brain kicked in, trying to think of a situation in which that would be plausible (and wholesome), and suddenly I’m imagining a Good Dad panelist going down a line, kissing the foreheads of all his little fans.
Well. That would be okay. In non-plague times.
Unfortunately, I told a friend about this clause and we proceeded to make jokes about it for the entire day.
Me pretending to kiss a stuffed cat plushie through a mask? Unacceptable. Receive hard stare. Cute couples sharing a kiss in the middle of the chaos that was the main floor (I mean, it was near Valentine’s)? Much raising of eyebrows and trying very hard not to laugh audibly.
So I know a lot of going to cons like this is sitting in on panels, meeting professionals in creative industries, and general nerdery.
It didn’t go quite like that.
As luck would have it, I picked out a panel with podcasters. I don’t recall the exact name now, but I assumed it would be crime/horror/etc. Fiction with knives. Exactly my sort of thing.
You’ve probably guessed by now I hadn’t listened to the podcast. I was in a hurry.
Turns out it wasn’t fiction. True Crime. Distinctly not my thing. No offense to anyone who likes it, of course, but not my cup of tea.
But that turned out not to matter, because the podcast boys never showed up.
No. There were a handful of us in a smaller, much stuffier room, waiting until a staff member came in, slightly wide-eyed, and explained that he had no idea where the panelists were or why they weren’t here.
There was some speculation that they had become involved in their own true crime.
He was nice enough. Ran a podcast himself, apparently. He chatted with the audience for a little while, but since fifteen, twenty minutes in, the panelists still showed no sign of actually coming, I slipped out.
There was another panel with a voice actor, but unfortunately, sitting on the back row as lurking bookworms tend to do, I couldn’t hear a word even with the amplification of the sound system.
Flaw in planning. The “Main Stage,” the one they used for the really important guests, was really the second half of that entry room, separated from the ticket-taking and security sweeps only by a curtain–meaning that in that uncarpeted, largely unfurnished space full of chatting, eating, walking, photo-taking and sword-wielding nerds, we could hear all the blurry chatter and almost none of the important stuff.
It’s a shame. He seemed like a cool panelist. He made everyone with a question tell him their name and favorite dessert, so they could be involved in the moment too. I thought it was a really nice idea, but when the first girl said her name and favorite sweet, he cheerfully replied, “That is incorrect!”
Maybe it was a little mean, but it charmed me. It can be really nerve-wracking to talk to your heroes, and the irony of it, the silliness (how could you possibly be wrong about facts only you know?), just made it feel like we could all relax and laugh a little, like we were already friends.
Hm? The sword fighting?
Well, before you worry too much about the security, nobody had sharpened blades. It was while I was sitting on that back row in the panel that I noticed three or four boys over against the wall, attacking each other like true best friends with their newly-bought treasures from one of the booths downstairs. Nothing that had a real blade on it, but experience warned me solid metal could hurt. They were swinging for the neck. One boy had nunchaku.
This is a weapon that I do not like to see in the hands of anyone not particularly experienced, because like a whip, it is all too easy to whack oneself in the eye and miss the intended target entirely.
Needless to say, I was poised between deep concern for their welfare and continued longevity and shouting “FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT!”
So since I didn’t spend a lot of time on panels or guests, this was more of a wanderabout. Honestly, I think that’s the best part of a con (unless, I don’t know, you’re going to meet Aragorn, son of Arathorn, and Arwen in the flesh). So much of the experience is just the energy you get from everyone there, so much passion and excitement, shyness and nerves, love for their characters and sense of fun in the same room.
There are no rules for cosplay. Your costume can be as elaborate or laid-back as you like. But whatever you choose, some people will treat you as if you are the character you’re playing.
SpiderDad (DadSpider? I don’t know his official title. Wears sweatpants and a coat. We like him.)
a petite lady Captain America (she was amazing)
various anime characters who I do not know, but am informed the shows from which they derive involve murder and must therefore be of quality,
Bee from Bee and Puppycat (fangirl screams)
Hogwarts robes and hogwarts robes
Professors McGonagall, Umbridge, and He Who Must Not be Named
Joker (a really good one. I almost asked for a photo, but…Joker…)
the character with the white mask from Black Bullet (I had to look this one up. Don’t be disappointed in me. Know nothing about the show but can definitely appreciate the aesthetic of the mask)
Belle from Beauty and the Beast
Esmeralda from The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Disney Version)
Funny story about Captains America and Carter here.
I’d spotted Captain Carter and had accordingly perked up, delighted to see her even if I haven’t watched Marvel’s What If…? yet. Peggy Carter is amazing, and no, I will not be listening to any arguments to the contrary.
It so happened that Captain Carter sat in the row in front of me during the panel, so I had the perfect vantage point to appreciate the detail she’d put into her costume. The uniform, the famous shield, the curled hair and lipstick (Peggy would approve. A lady must look her best while kicking villains down the stairs).
And who should stroll by, flanked by two dudefriends, but Captain America, in an equally detailed cosplay.
Here is where I discovered I had the perfect vantage point. I noticed both Captains before they noticed each other.
Behind me, one of Captain America’s friends said, “Oh, it’s Captain Carter.”
They scuttled away.
And this is when Captain Carter told the friend sitting next to her that her first instinct had been to hide behind the shield…which would have made her even more a target for Friendly Small Talk between Fellow Cosplayers.
She might not have used those exact words.
So whether the two had an instant rivalry or were just too shy, I don’t know, but I had the perfect seat to watch them studiously avoid each other.
And it’s kind of hilarious to say that Captain America ran away because he was too shy to meet Captain Carter…even if that wasn’t quite the case.
Other fun moments from the con?
The rest of it is a bit of a blur. So I’ll give you snapshots. My favorite moments.
Early on, I walked past a table with one of those animal fursuit heads sitting on it. Not the suit, just the head. And a slightly sweaty person manning the booth, who had apparently been wearing it.
Impossible to tell otherwise, as those sort of costumes completely hide the wearer’s face and identity.
He looked up. We made eye contact. Felt peculiarly like I was seeing that which I was not meant to see. I looked away.
Squishmallows. Squishmallows as far as the eye can see. One unicorn Hello Kitty easily the size of me if I squished down into a huddle sat high on a shelf looking down over us all. She was the True Queen of the Con.
There were two Pikachus (pikachu? pikachi? is there a grammatical plural for this creature?) in matching costume. The yellow was more of a brown. Heads bent, hoods deep, they shuffled down the aisles like eerie monks. I did not ask them questions.
There was a booth vendor/author who made jewelry based on his books. He had a dark complexion and green eyes, a shade of green I have never previously encountered. The effect was startling. I came to the conclusion this man might possibly be a wizard, and his eyes spoke of arcane knowledge I was perhaps not prepared to know.
Friend informed me later that seeing as we were at ComicCon and bloodred, orange, black, and various other shades of eyes tend to be very popular, it was not only possible but likely that he was wearing colored contacts for the fun of it.
I still refuse to rule out the possibility that he holds certain secrets of the universe.
Some of the booths brought their own music. So you’d be walking along, minding your own business, and then woop, this alley has a beat.
Waiting to go into a booth (crowds, revisited), and my friend chokes on a laugh and tells me to look.
On my right is a young man wearing cat ears. He is glaring. Hard.
On my left is another young man wearing cat ears. He is having fun. He is dancing in place. He is vibing. He feels the beat.
I am confused. I believe that the two cat-eared guardians are security for that set of booths (yeah, uniforms are not really a ComicCon thing), and Right Guard is glaring at Left Guard for goofing off on the job.
Friend had a better look at the situation and explained that this was not the case. Apparently they were both having a good time and were taking turns, like a conversation, vibing to EDM, a little dance party of two.
The booth is crowded. A mother and daughter are picking out jewelry. Another young woman and I are standing behind them, waiting our turn. She knows what she wants. I am just looking. She asks politely and reaches in for a pair of ceramic mushroom earrings. The situation is so ludicrous, all of us so close together, the quest so worthy, that I become silly.
“Yes! Go for the mushrooms!” I say.
I am not certain my encouragement is appreciated.
There was a booth with lots of manga and several swords set out on a table. These were not ordinary swords. They were The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movie replica swords.
Many extroverts got permission to lift and hold those swords that day. Mostly guys. Mostly guys larger and (one would expect) stronger than bookmarkedone.
I waited my turn. I had to ask a couple of times before the vendor heard me over the din of the con if I might hold Glamdring, if you please? No, not Théoden of Rohan’s sword, beautiful though it might be. Today we were looking for Gandalf’s.
I got to hold Glamdring.
I got to hold Glamdring.
It was a good day.
Especially so because the vendor had joked that (because of the cramped/awkward position of the booth) everyone pointed the blades at him. And discussed the weight as many were surprised upon trying to lift it.
Did not point the blade at him (courtesy of this style important in renfaire culture). Nor did tip of blade dip when placed in bookmarkedone’s hands.
I am particularly proud of this point considering the way the vendor was holding the sword, expecting its weight to be too much, as had happened with various other visitors.
Not so. I know my swords, good sir. This was a matter of pride.
How did it feel?
Well, it was heavy. I mean, the thing is almost four feet long and the blade is solid steel. The grip is a smooth, rich, blue leather. I’d been wearing gloves for the sake of cosplay, so the flat of the blade was cool against my skin when I returned it.
But gripping it in my hands?
It felt right. It felt good.
There was a vendor whose organizational skills almost frighten me. I wasn’t even working at the con and I was embarrassed for the lack of organization all the other booths displayed in comparison with his.
He was selling, along with flags and pins and necklaces, a variety of rings. The rings were tied down to his booth so they could be displayed but would not sprout legs.
Two people bought rings while I was standing near his booth. He asked which ring, then asked to see the hand. Both times, he was able to guess within one size what was needed only by looking at the buyer’s hand. No measurements. No questions. A brief glance and a dive behind the counter for the box of carefully categorized treasures.
This man is the Ringmaster. He may have learned a small piece of the author’s arcane secrets.
There was a rock booth near the back of the convention floor. I spent far too long and far too much of my paycheck at this booth.
She had carved dragon heads. Tiny fairies. Star shapes, crescent moons, skulls of various sizes, stone hearts (yes, I finally bought a stone heart after blundering in the rock shop and saying “No, I don’t need a heart,” to the amusement of at least three very helpful clerks).
I never knew that I needed to see a tiny Hello Kitty charm carved out of a piece of solid black crystal, but I did, I very much did.
There was a lucky cat carved out of solid rose quartz. I didn’t buy it, but it was very nice to feel its weight resting cool and heavy and smooth in the palm of my hand.
Shiny pebbles. Very important. If you do not yet understand the value of having small, polished rocks in your possession to clink together in your pockets or hands, I suggest you find your way to a shop with cubbies and jars and tubs full of them, appreciate their charm, and possibly welcome yourself to the wholesome side of goblincore.
The experience was made even better by two women hunting through the rocks at the same time I was, who knew far more about them than I did. Me, I like it, it shiny, it comes home with me. I know a few of their names.
They came asking for specifics. Poking through the dishes for just the right one. Coming for moss agate and claiming kambaba jasper instead because they were carved into the shape of tiny green mushrooms and they have spots!
One of the pair was having a hard time choosing her mushroom (she had perhaps four laid out in her palm at one point) and was asking the opinion of the second woman (whom, as far as I know, she had never met before this moment but was now getting along with as if they were the best of friends).
There was some conversation about, “Do I need them all? Do I need that? Just mushrooms of different sizes?”
One of said spotted mushrooms may also have made its way home with me.
Long-stemmed red roses. Where did they come from? No one knows. They are beautiful. They are plentiful. They are silently mysterious.
Went wild fangirl mode and chased a cosplayer through three blocks of booths for the chance to ask for a photo. Success, but now must live with the knowledge that I probably unnerved a few visitors who saw Carmen Sandiego enter Hunting Mode.
I got my photo.
Even though I had a friend with me for part of the con (buddies are great), I also had some time to myself.
I wandered. I didn’t have a panel to get to, I didn’t have anything in particular I hadn’t already seen. I stumbled into booths I’d somehow missed before.
If you leave the main floor the way you came in, you come to a quieter hall. Two flights of stairs lead down to it, very dramatic, with a balcony above.
I stood on the balcony, doing nothing, just watching the people go by below. So many people, so many colors, so many stories unfolding before my eyes. I leaned against the rail. I took off my gloves, risking dropping them all the way down to the floor.
It’s a busy place, the con. All that energy bottled up, like an orange soda with a good shake. But to be still, to absorb, that is something special also.
It’s funny, in all that, the things you see. The things you don’t. I was wearing bright red, so I was easy to spot. I didn’t see my friend walking below me until the aforementioned cat plushie was plopped upon friend’s head.
There was a plastic tree in the middle of that hall I looked down into. I don’t know why I remember that. I don’t know why I shouldn’t.
I mentioned this balcony to a friend later and some comments were made about my needing Carmen Sandiego’s grappling hook and kite wings.
I got perhaps too quiet considering this. Using one would have granted a very swift and easy way to circumnavigate crowds. Using either would probably have resulted in my expulsion from the con.
It might have been worth it.
And then I had a concert.
I thought a lot about performance over that weekend. What it means, what I want it to mean. How to make it something good, rather than a lot of stress in scratchy clothes under stage lights.
And depending on how you look at it, cosplay is a sort of performance, too. You play in orchestra, you go to a con, you’re never alone. But there’s that same edge, that kick of adrenaline. You want it to be good, but no matter what materials you have or how professional your final costume is, that doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’re playing the game, you’re part of it, part of something much larger, together. Strangers, and friends.
I’m sure I could get a lot more poetic about all this. Maybe sometime I will.
When I was planning this con trip, there was a possibility that I’d be going straight from the con to rehearsal…again.
Lucky me, it didn’t happen. I got the whole day to myself…and then promptly had three rehearsals and a concert the same week.
Hint: this is why we skipped a Tuesday in the posting schedule. Because bookmarkedone was tired.
Valentine’s concert. So the Romeo and Juliet overture. Full house at our tiny venue, which is always nice. It’s a good group I’m with now. Can’t think of anywhere else that the conductor uses a purple glowstick as a baton. And we’re not opposed to messing with the audience a little either…we had unannounced tango dancers emerge from the back of the audience this time in a way that was…quite satisfying.
Because having said nothing about it, we the orchestra were grinning because the audience (for a few seconds at least) had to wonder, “Is this planned, or are these just other people in the audience who decided to hop up and dance in the middle of the concert?”
ComicCon posts are always ginormous when I make them because there’s so much to see and do, and so many stories I want to tell that it’s hard to pack things in and choose what to leave out.
It’s a huge pain to edit. And I tend to procrastinate because of it.
So…I’m making the late-night decision to split this post into two parts!
Part I is going to about the cosplay, and Part II will be about all the other fun stories of the con. Because it’s already been like two weeks and I would like to publish this thing someday.
(cue bookmarkedone crashing out on her desk because that tea mug wasn’t the bottomless one. Whoops).
The last time I did a cosplay was before the Plague. And it was probably the laziest cosplay–cloak, boots, wizard hat, no specific character–because it’s one day you can wear a cloak and no one will look at you funny.
Arguably you can wear a cloak every other day of the calendar year as well, but we’re not here to discuss cloaks.
We’re here to talk about cosplaying my childhood hero.
Ah, yes. La Femme Rouge. The legendary thief. Once a protector of the world’s cultural treasures–until she found out that stealing is way more fun and pays the bills better.
Well. Netflix tells it differently.
I’ve learned over the course of the cons I’ve been to that there are certain characters I can cosplay and certain characters I really can’t.
Personality is what matters. Cosplay is a little like acting–for all intents and purposes, you are the character when you put on the costume.
So playing, say, an outgoing, chipper, friendly, extroverted character? Doesn’t work out too well. Especially when I forget what I’m doing and fall into my natural expression of caution in big crowds–which is much more like a cat in Hunting Mode than a smile.
The juxtaposition can be a little scary.
So I try to pick characters I think I can pull off, not just those that I like. Characters who glare? Excellent. Characters with part of face hidden by costume? Even better. Characters who do both and have the Murder Walk and possibly a weapon?
So Carmen. Sly thief with classy style. Hat pulled low. Worth a shot, right?
Besides. She’s iconic. Even if I fail to really fit the character, one glimpse of red is enough to make people wonder could that be–?
And although personality is more important than physical appearance most of the time (wigs and makeup brushes are amazing), I don’t look entirely unlike Carmen.
It’s not a “dead ringer,” as they say.
On a scale from Carmen Sandiego to Forest Nymph, I usually fall closer to Confused Changeling in Sweaters.
But for ComicCon, where a T-shirt with a logo or a pajama onezie will do, it’s close enough.
I tried to make my hair do the thing like hers. You know. The thing.
An attempt was made.
Otherwise, it was really easy to put together. Red trench coat I was lucky enough to nab on a thrift run, black top and black jeans (what are the odds of an orchestral musician having those, right?), the knee boots, and the crowning glory–the red fedora.
I stood in front of the mirror, scrutinizing the effect.
I plopped the hat on my head.
Nothing. I still looked like me.
And that’s not the point of cosplay. Not for me, anyway. I want to disappear into the character, be someone else for the day. See what it feels like to be them.
I may have made a face at the mirror.
And then a little voice in the back of my head told me, instinctively, to reach up and tilt the hat down and slightly to the left.
It’s funny. I’d forgotten how obsessed I was with Carmen as a kid until doing that. But that one little gesture, the hat tilt, it brought it all rushing back to me.
We move on as we grow older, get interested in other things. The fandoms we loved when we were younger we fold up and place in a dresser drawer, next to the scarves and lost puzzle pieces, buttons and games we invented on a summer’s day. As time passes, we reach for different stories, we crave things that speak to the emotion of that moment, the things we most need to hear.
Memories gather dust. Colors fade. They haven’t lost their value, and yet–
The tilt of a hat.
There are still probably photos somewhere of me doing that. Holidays, whatever occasion we had to be Dressed Up, if I was wearing a hat (and I usually was), I’d do the signature Carmen pose. Hat tilted slightly to the left, chin down, hand on the brim, so all you see is that smile.
Drove people crazy. You want to see your kid’s face in photos, not a hat squashed down over the eyes. Can’t tell you how many times I was told to put my hand down and smile for the camera.
For the record, I think the Carmen pose probably resulted in a lot of way better photos than the mugshots of these later days. My first uni ID photo was a crime.
It’s such a little thing, but that was all it took for me to remember–oh yes, this is how this feels. There she is.
That’s not to say it was all that easy. I was still–a little nervous, I guess? I mean, I wasn’t wearing a neon wig and carrying a sword three times my size, but it’s still a little weird until you’re around other people in cosplay (this from someone who has been wandering through grocery stores in a floor-length black dress looking forlornly for post-concert ice cream).
But walking into the main floor of the convention center–it went away.
That was my stage, between a Ghostbusters van and Captain America’s motorcycle. The game had begun, and I was there to play.
I stood taller. Straightened my shoulders. Started to walk differently. With a little of Carmen’s confidence.
There was a downside to this. I was wearing black gloves and a black mask, so there was a little wondering if vendors might actually be uncomfortable with me browsing their wares and leaving no fingerprints.
Everyone was lovely to me, in case you were worried. The only comment to that effect was someone guessing my character and saying he “had to be suspicious of a woman in a red coat.”
This was actually the most fun I’ve ever had doing cosplay. Just because of the reception, how excited people were to see me.
They don’t have ticket trolls at ComicCon like they do at Renaissance festivals, but you’ve still got to be a cool person to work there. I got someone who was trying to guess every character who walked through her line.
Not going to lie–I was kind of zoning out at that particular moment (did I mention I’d been in rehearsals for Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet overture that week? Also it was packed. Nothing like the last con where my buddy and I were unexpectedly the only VIP guests). But the delight on her face when she asked if I was Carmen–yeah, that brought me back to the moment pretty quick.
And that’s how it went for the rest of the day.
A few of my favorite interactions?
My Renaissance festival friends at the booth
As soon as I saw the familiar purple banners, I was like, “I gotta.” So I wove my way through the crowd and tried to catch The Boss’ attention to say hi. Got distracted by a fairy mushroom princess girl because her outfit was a work of art and–that’s when one of the ladies at the booth actually scared me.
Well, sorry, I’m sure she’s lovely, but having someone yell “YOU!”
…it’s a little unnerving.
But then she launched into an explanation of how she’d been looking for Carmen Sandiego for years, and now that she’d found me, had to get a photo for proof.
So…yeah. There’s now a photo of me and her and Mushroom Princess and I don’t have a copy of it (smashes keyboard because I’m sure it was really cool).
This actually happened a couple of times…
Tall beardy dudes wander by, see me, and say something along the lines of “Found you,” sometimes in slightly angry voices (as one does when you finally find the missing left sock in your backpack of all places) while I go into Frantic Mouse Caught under Kitchen Lights Mode because I do not know this person, and then realize oh, I’m Carmen. Right.
Tip the hat, take the photo, and we’re all grinning like idiots because it’s ComicCon.
My Renaissance festival friends not at the booth
What are the odds that renfaire people are also ComicCon people?
…yeah, we’re all a bunch of nerds.
I spotted a couple of friends strolling together and waved. One noticed. The other walked past me like he had no idea who I was or that I was even there.
Maybe I wouldn’t have thought as much about this if I hadn’t seen one of the mercenary steel fighters (one I’ve actually crossed practice swords with) later at the festival booth. Same pair before are standing a little behind him, probably also trying to say hi.
I wave. Get a squint-eyed stare.
Was it the hat? The coat? The lack of violin? It’s true that it’s been a while since we’ve seen each other, winter being the off-season for most faires, but really?
In their defense, I didn’t stick around. As I explained to friends, the goal was not to say hi so much as to leave a lingering impression of having seen someone unknowable and to allow that sensation to grow into an overwhelming sense of dread.
I believe that’s called having fun at your friends’ expense.
I should mention that the faire organizer had no problems recognizing me when I’d come by the first time. He didn’t even say my name or ask to be sure. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “I have a check for you.”
No greeting. No hello. Just that.
Well. Okay, then. Won’t say no to that.
Theme Song Guy
At one point the crowd was so thick I had to stop walking for people to move and a guy near me started singing “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego.”
This…has never quite happened to me before. Usually I’m the one doing spontaneous music behind people. So I didn’t really know what to do except laugh and hide under my hat. Sort of like when people start singing “Happy Birthday” to you and you don’t know what to do or who to look at? Still fun, though.
He tried to make a quick escape after that only to discover the crowd had shifted and he was also stuck.
And then–this was my favorite part of the whole interaction–he got shy. Asked if he could maybe have a photo.
Dude. You sang me my theme song. Of course you’re getting a photo.
He probably wins coolest interaction of the day.
This feels cheesy…
One guy got awkward after saying the “Found you!” line.
“I guess you’ve been hearing that all day.”
He said it like he’d been annoying me by his excitement.
Not so. Not so at all, and I told him as much.
While I was saying this, another guy popped up behind him and said, “Where in the world are you?”
This was one of the questions that had thrown me off the first time it was asked, but by now, I’d gotten comfortable answering, “Here–for the moment.”
“Well, no wonder nobody can find her, she’s in (the…smallish city where the con was being held).”
The first guy shook his head and said, “And there’s the other one.” The second cheesy joke I’d been getting all day.
“I don’t get tired of it,” I said. I mean, why would I? Sure, it’s the same joke every time, but it’s always told in a different voice. It’s always another person I get to see be excited with me.
I think he got the idea.
Various Hat Tips (tipping? tippéd?)
Because it was so crowded, I was shoulder-to-shoulder with other people for most of the day. And although it was noisy, well…
You know how if someone says your name when you’re chatting and not paying attention and you whip your head around because you hear it?
Several times I heard people elbowing their friends and saying “There’s Carmen Sandiego.”
And since they weren’t talking to me, I’d tip the hat down, smile, and go on my sneaky way.
One time this happened when someone was sitting on the floor as I was walking by.
Quick note here if you’re not familiar with how cons work–yeah, this is totally normal. Not in the vendor area, but in quieter spots, because there’s a lot of colors and noise in there, and sometimes you just need to chill.
Sure, there are chairs, but there are also open spaces where you can sit cross-legged in a circle like campers without a campfire, or walls you can put your back to and stare into space like a sad beggar haunted by the return from war–or a sweaty cosplayer waiting for a friend bringing pretzels and water from the concession stand like an angel of mercy.
I saw a girl hiding behind a pillar eating her lunch in between working a booth. We made eye contact. I moved along.
Because there were so many people, though, one of the cosplayers sitting at the wall was–yeah, pretty much at my elbow, and the hatbrim tends to catch echoes, so when they said “It’s Carmen Sandiego” to a friend…Hi. Hello. Yes, it is.
Anyway, that moment was when I realized the hat tip gesture was perfect because it was just close enough to the half-curtsey dip that I do at renfaire to feel comfortably familiar and just normal enough to not make people really confused why the tall child is curtseying (this is a problem. I’m aware).
I…don’t actually know how many people took photos with me. A few, anyway, besides the amazing Mushroom Girl.
I’m normally a little camera-shy (hmm zero photos of me on the blog, what are the odds), but I didn’t mind. Partly because it’s ComicCon and it’s just what you do, and partly because if my own renfaire buddies walk right past me as Carmen, well, what’s the harm?
And with one black-gloved hand on the hat brim and a mask covering the lower half of my face, there’s actually even less of my face visible than my bookmarkedone profile picture.
(which, now that I’ve had time to think of it, means my readers and Twitter friends are probably the people most likely to see one of those errant photos and know exactly who that is…uh…use this power wisely, okay?).
I really love the hat pose, though. One girl asked for a photo and we squished together next to a booth. I’m not sure what she did, but her friend taking the photo shook her head and said, “Look at you two with your model poses.”
The camera shy bookworm would like to say thank you, miss.
Most of the parking is across the street from the convention center (if you’re lucky). So I was across the street and up the hill, hiking to a car, when from the front of the con, I hear someone yelling. It’s a girl sitting out front with her friends, waving and screaming, “I’ve been looking for you!”
Normally this would require crossing the street to see what the problem was, if there was a missing wallet, long lost friend, mysterious curse, etc., etc.
Not for Carmen.
I waved to acknowledge attention recieved–
and kind of dove into the car.
…yeah, some of those sneaky thief things just come naturally.
I can’t express how much fun this was.
It was like being a celebrity. People were genuinely excited to see me. And while that’s pretty different from being the bookworm in the Strider corner of the library who’s so quiet you walk in and out without ever realizing they’re there–I could get used to this.
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.
Hi all! Going on a book-buying rampage at the fairgrounds later today and therefore am regaling you with the titles of last time’s book haul to get you as hyped as I am…a list which hasn’t been posted earlier because bookmarkedone has been attending conventions and faceplanting into a pillow a lot.
As always, if you know a title on the list and a) love it or b) are super curious about it and want to see it reviewed on the blog, sharpen your quill and leave me a comment!
Without further ado! Prepare yourself to witness the glory of the latest additions to my book hoard:
Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer, because despite the hype I still haven’t read it, but after reading Colfer’s Airman I really want to,
Knight Prisoner: The Tale of Sir Thomas Malory and his King Arthur by Margaret Hodges because I am a King Arthur Nerd and please look at the cover:
Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend because if one more person has to tell me that I absolutely must read Morrigan Crow…it’s happened kind of a lot, okay?
Lintang and the Pirate Queen by Tamara Moss. Asian-inspired MG fantasy in hardcover with dragons, serpents, fireflies, and pirates. I am on the brink of forgetting how to English and just making inarticulate noises to express how excited I am about this book.
The Hatmakers by Tamzin Merchant and illustrated by Paola Escobar. It’s a family that does magic via hatmaking. Sophie Hatter and Howl Pendragon vibes, anyone?
The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts by Avi. It’s a historical fiction by Avi that I haven’t read? Coming home with me.
The Flying Sorcerers, edited by Peter Haining and including stories from Roald Dahl, C.S. Lewis, Terry Pratchett, and a bunch of other lovelies,
The Gnomewrench in the Peopleworks by Nick O’Donohoe. I had to get this one just because of the title. And by the way, the cover features this gorgeous background of golden clouds and blue sky–and a WWII fighter plane featuring two silver dragons along the wings. I really hope this one lives up to its name.
The Thousand Names by Django Wexler. From the cover, I’m guessing it’s a cheap, fast and dirty fantasy–think The Crown Tower and you’ve got the idea–but sometimes I’m in the mood for angsty little friends with swords and hoods (spoilers…this one has already been moved to the Probably Not For Me pile…yes, that is the sound of bookmarkedone sighing and looking plaintively out the window).
Storm Front by Jim Butcher–because again, if I hear about this before I’ve read it again, it’s almost embarrassing. I’ve heard about it a lot in the SF/F world and had it recommended personally after I casually used the word “weregild” in regular conversation–anyway. I think it will probably be grittier than my normal taste, but we’ll see. It’s hard to resist a hard-boiled detective who’s also a wizard. The premise, at least, is gorgeous.
The Sacrifice by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. I’m trying to remember if I’ve read anything by Rusch before, and I honestly can’t say without digging through my stacks…which I confess, it being a late afternoon and sitting in the sun with my pile of new books and a glass of lemonade as I write the first draft of this post, I am too lazy to do. Anyway, I don’t know anything else about it except that it’s the first book in “The Fey” series and I wanted it so here we are.
Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne. Would you believe I’ve never read it? Around the World in Eighty Days I read ages and ages ago, so I’m more than willing to give Verne another go. It’s about the ugliest supermarket paperback edition you can imagine. And it’s mine.
The Dreamer’s Dictionary by Lady Stearn Robinson & Tom Corbett. This one was just for fun. How much stock do I put in the interpretations? After skimming through a few entries, very, very little. But here we are. Should be amusing, anyway.
Storm Bringer by Michael Moorcock. You might remember my adventures tracking down most of the rest of the Elric saga, sitting cozily on my bookshelf until I can get up the courage to see if they’re as delicious as I think they are (brace yourselves. Book review is coming). But I didn’t have book six, so obviously it needed to come home with me. It’s a lot more worn than its companions–line down the paperback spine, little tear in the cover–but Elric looks as bored on the cover as he does on all the others.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo, translated by J.R.R. Tolkien. If you’ve read my blog for any time at all, this shouldn’t need an explanation. You know I’m very, very pleased.
A Storm Upon Ulster by Kenneth C. Flint. Irish myths retold? Yup. Yes. Please. It’s got the Hound of Culain and Queen Meave. And the cover, despite being from the era of fantasy pulp fiction that never got good illustrations, is actually kind of pretty. There’s a lot of blue, and the images flow into one another, spears and shields and seas and people…
A Celtic Miscellany, edited by Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson. Guys, it’s hardcover and it’s so new it doesn’t even want to open all the way. And it has all the stories. (cue muffled bookmarkedone screaming).
Heidi by Johanna Spyri, because you’ve got to love Heidi and I have a friend who hasn’t read it. It’s old, really old, with a blue cover and tinted illustrations.
Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by K.G. Campbell, another one nabbed for a friend. If you haven’t read Flora & Ulysses, please do. It’s so charming. I must have read it around when it came out in 2013, and I have not shut up about it since.
I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but my book sale buddy is usually my dad. He’s not–the biggest reader in the world? But he reads my stuff (and likes it and compares all the books I recommend for him to my said stuff in very sweet ways), and he reads James Riley, Joel Ross, the occasional book with time travel. And when I hatch a plot to sneak off to some adventure, well, he’s usually willing to at least listen to my elaborate schemes. He couldn’t go with me to the sale this time (crushing, I know), so when I got back with my haul, he asked “Did you get a book for me?”
At first, I was stumped. I hadn’t known what to look for while at the sale because he usually buys a lot of oldies/nonfiction. But then I dug through my stack and found Flora. He’s the only one in the family I have not foisted it on, and as soon as I saw it, I confirmed that yes, I did indeed have the perfect book for him.
But we both agreed he has to come to the next sale with me because it isn’t nearly as much fun without him.
The Complete Prophecies of Nostradamus, translated, edited and interpreted by Henry C. Roberts. Well, Machiavelli was last time, so it only seemed fair to add Nostradamus to the stack…I confess I’ve already started reading this one (around the time I may have been down with The Plague? That was…an experience), although I can tell it’s going to take a long time to finish.
The Other Wind by Ursula K. LeGuin. (inarticulate bookmarkedone screams for Earthsea).
It’s here, The Phntom of the Operaby Gaston Leroux! Argh, it’s so pretty. The cover looks like a playing card design with the red and black. And it’s hardcover. And it’s mine.
…and a blue and green journal because I couldn’t resist. It’s not like I don’t use them.
The Works of Rudyard Kipling, in hardcover with silver edging in the blue an gilded pages. You know, the type of collector’s edition gorgeousness that I would never buy firsthand.
Calligraphic Lettering with Wide Pen & Brush by Ralph Douglass. Girl’s got to feed her hobbies, right? Yes, I dabble in calligraphy too.
And finally, we have one last title. After stumbling into The Kalevala, I think I’ve started to consider after each haul which book would be the “crown jewel” of the new additions. It’s not always as easy to pick as it was with The Kalevala. But I think this one’s is clear enough.
Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott, hardbound, with illustrations, and a cover depicting four knights in all their glory, the volume just comfortably worn and with full-color illustrations.
I started reading Ivanhoe ages and ages ago and absolutely fell in love with it–with Tuck and Robin, Richard, and of course Ivanhoe himself. It has its flaws, as every book does, but I have been wanting ever since to finish it.
It’s hard to say quite what Ivanhoe means to me. I’ll save it for another day, I guess. For now you should only know that the half I have read of it I keep very close to my heart.
So…that’s it! Now I just have to find bookshelf space between these and my old tomes for the ones I’m inevitably bringing home with me tomorrow! Wish me luck, right?
That’s not the truth, not really. It’s not my tree. Never has been. It grew in a park, where it could have belonged to anyone, or no one at all. I don’t know who cut it down. Maybe nobody did and it died in a storm and fell when no one was looking.
The tree isn’t there. And I missed it.
They cut down my tree.
I went for a long walk on Saturday. Going home from somewhere, sun beating down on me, trying to let go of everything. I’ve walked that route to the park a lot. I know the trees along the way like good friends. There’s the funny evergreen by the edge of the campus parking lot where someone left a little ceramic donkey that looked like it belonged in a Nativity set, the wise trees with holes in the trunk by the university garden, the tunnel of spindlier trees along the walk by the house with more cats than even I know, the huge oaks in the park itself.
And then there is my tree.
I think it’s a cypress. That’s probably why it’s gone. Cypress don’t do well here. They grow for a while, tall and strong and slightly wonky, trunk with rounded bumps where branches once grew that make it look as if the bark is boiling, and then they stop. They’re so tall they could crush everything if they fell, so they get cut down.
I met this particular tree when I was ten or twelve. It was perfect in every way, with branches extending right at the height of my small shoulders, begging to be climbed. I did once, because someone said I couldn’t. Just as high as the first branch. I was dressed up that day, didn’t want to go to class covered in sap and needles, so that was as far as I went.
I vowed I’d climb it all the way to the top someday.
Somehow, something always seemed to stand in my way. One day I tried and I was wearing shoes worn too smooth on the bottom and couldn’t scrabble up the trunk. I had people with me that day and I was sweating a little because they were watching me and laughing as I failed. So I didn’t climb. Even if I made it up, it wouldn’t have felt right. I’d have carried that bad laughter up with me, and that’s not how I wanted to see the top of the tree.
Other times I came and walked a circle around it, following the way up with my eyes, heart beating a little faster, knowing just what it would feel like when I found my way up, when the ground was so far away.
Some days, I don’t know why I put it off. Why I didn’t climb the tree. Maybe it was because I was still scared I couldn’t do it. Maybe it was because I knew I’d only get to do it once. You only ever get to do anything the first time once.
I greeted that tree every time I went around that corner in the path. It’s funny, I guess. Greeting trees. I was thinking about it Saturday, when I was greeting the others, looking for mine.
Sometimes I run my fingertips across the bark, feeling the coolness, the silence. The way they feel like home. Just as often, I don’t.
You know when you walk through a crowd and your path changes, gets more weaving, not because you don’t want to bump into somebody, but because you can feel their gravity, the space around them that you don’t want to enter, the pull of their orbit, pushing you away like the poles of a magnet.
It’s like that, the trees.
One time a friend took me to the art museum and there was a guest exhibit on modern sculpture. They’d torn out the usual carpet and put in some fluffy dark green stuff that didn’t make you feel like you were outside, but reminded you of it, like you were in a children’s play area and you knew you stood in The Yard. They were funny statues, blobby and ceramic and smoothly uneven, white with tiny bits of colored pottery that ranged in color like a sunset from orange to pink, blue to green to purple. Some of them were as tall as my shoulder, others were short as a low stool.
It made me feel like I was in a Studio Ghibli movie.
When I thought no one was around, I walked up to the tallest one and gave it a little bow, so I was almost the same height it was, a little greeting that sent my scarf end swinging cheerfully, no need for a breeze.
It’s like that too, greeting the trees. It makes sense because it doesn’t.
I couldn’t find my tree. Sometimes I look for it at the wrong point in the path, miss it and feel my heart kick up a beat until I relax, because there it is, waiting, like always.
That day it wasn’t. Wasn’t there to greet me.
I left the path and went to sit on a bench, thinking I’d just missed it. Thinking it had to be there somewhere. It’s become a habit of mine, at that park. Finding an empty bench and watching the world go by. Families taking their kids to the swings, Ye Healthy Ones jogging (what even is jogging?), people walking their dogs, old couples leaning close together, strolling arm in arm. Usually I sit near the entrance to the park, by the tree that blooms and buzzes with honeybees in spring, but Saturday is a busy day for the park and my hideaway was already taken. I kept walking until I found a bench the rest of the park seemed to have forgotten.
It must have been an uneven patch of ground, the space that drinks up all the water. The only grass was tiny little two-leafed sprouts poking up out of the soft earth. The dirt was still shaped into scalloped waves from some recent torrent of rain, soft enough to hold the print from my light step. It was so dark under those trees, even at three o’clock in the afternoon, that I couldn’t be quite sure there really was a bench until I was there. I wondered if that was how it looked everywhere in the park, if I was half hidden from the world when I sat there, watching all from the heavy shade like something you can only glimpse from the corner of your eye.
I sat there for a while, trying to think about nothing, ending up thinking about everything instead. There was a party going under the pavilion at the other end of the park, I think, with loud music and a good beat. I listened, half listened. Studied the graffiti on the bench proclaiming some young Romeo and Juliet’s affections in a silver-purple ink.
I went looking for my tree, to see if it really wasn’t there.
I think I found the spot where it once grew. A place where the grass was different, a little dip and a little hill. There was no stump. I stood looking for it, alone in that corner of the park, but it wasn’t there to be found. Nothing, nothing to whisper about the tree’s memory.
I read the other day about a possible scientific link between fairy rings and dead trees. How the mushrooms spring up where the rotted roots once were, even long after any human memory of the tree has been lost.
I like thinking about that. Thinking that even when the tree is gone, some ghost, some memory, some magic remains.
I’m kicking myself for never climbing that tree. I don’t really have a point to this, I just–don’t like living with regrets. Not one.
I remember reading Tolkien’s “Leaf by Niggle” and “On Fairy-Stories,” how he said it was all because of a tree that grew outside his window that one day wasn’t there. If I were as eloquent as he was, maybe I’d make something out of this, something more than a rambling CNF piece, something that captures the beauty of a tree when it’s alive, instead of the hollowness when not a single branch is left.
I hope a fairy ring grows there. I hope that patch of sweet earth remembers the lost tree.
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!
It was sort of like getting your birthday twice in a year. I hadn’t expected to make it to any fair this year, and here I was, out of the blue, going to two, one after the other.
The week in between? I’ll admit it, there wasn’t the same giddy adrenaline shock of the first one. Of course, even I found that first fair a little ridiculous in terms of nerves. I’d completely forgotten I used to do this, but when I was a kid getting ready for performances, I’d hum or even just think “I Whistle A Happy Tune” from The King and I. Hoping some of Anna’s magic would rub off and I wouldn’t have so many butterflies. And there I was, years later, hands too jittery to tie back my hair, and it popped in my head.
I thought it was weird, since I hadn’t seen it in years…and then there was that moment of oh.That’s why I do that thing…
Honestly still not sure if it helps. Can’t hurt, right?
Anyway, waiting for the second fair was totally different. I knew I was going, so there wasn’t the should-I-dare-I-can-I-might-I tension. I had work to smash my way through so I could get the weekend off. I was tired. Some weeks are just like that.
But we had a family movie night before I headed out. Knight’s Tale. It’s pretty much what I would point to as a “That is renfaire,” movie, with maybe a few extra dashes of Monty Python in the background.
And before I get too far ahead of myself…
Please take a moment to appreciate this absolutely gorgeous Futhark rune box that I got at the first fair. I am of the opinion that you should always pick up a little trinket or two each year so when you’re wandering through your book lair on a rainy afternoon you can remember every adventure just by seeing them. I have so many little glass marbles and rings, leather-bound books…my hobby is slowly taking over my décor.
No complaints there.
The next morning, putting on the garb, getting on the road, sun above, squishing the violin case in the passenger seat with me–and everything was perfect. On to meet the steel fighters and play all the music I wanted!
Okay, a slight mishap. On our road trips, we all have our role to play regardless of how many people are in the car. I am, invariably, the navigator. If you get the reference to Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart, even better. I keep the map.
About half an hour down the road…
…yeah, we had no map.
Still, we’d been there before, so we made it without mishap. It’s more easy than you think to hide a modest castle in the woods. Although to be fair, we did get lost on the way back. My fault. I said we should go left, and left led us straight to a washed-out dead end that could probably have passed for a river tributary.
Yeah, sorry about that. Apparently we were supposed to go right.
Anyway, I wasn’t lying about there being a castle. There is. We adore it. It’s at the summit of a hill in the center of acres and acres of oak forest, set so you can’t see it until you’re on the drive going up the hill, and then, through a gap in the trees, there it is. Waiting for you. In all its white splendor.
Of course, with all the people there for the fair, we couldn’t just drive up like we had when it was just the gang. Another irreplaceable part of Renfaire: parking on the grass in slightly crooked lines of cars and trying not to bite your tongue in half over the bumps.
Then it was just a hayride up the hill and into the fair itself.
Fun fact, though. Of the three or four people on the haywagon with us, all of them were talking about my steel fighting gang. About seeing them before, when the fight was going to be, even who they liked to watch.
I had my badge on my belt. We all have them, the same colors and figures marking us out in the crowd. Gets you past the ticket booth in a hurry. But I sometimes have a gift of going unseen. And I hadn’t been there for a year, after all.
I didn’t say anything. Just bit my lip and grinned behind my mask. Listened to every word. Of course I told the steel fighters about their fans after I was up the hill, like the good little spy I always have been.
Another fun thing about the fairs you might not know–each one has its own nobility. Kansas City, last I was there, has King Henry VIII and Catherine (which one, I’m honestly not sure. Howard? Aragon? Parr?). Most fairs choose Queen Elizabeth, but this one had Spanish nobility. I didn’t catch the full title. I hope it doesn’t mean a war between the fairs to mirror history since the one we were at before is ruled by a lovely Queen E. Unless there’s a naval battle. I could have some fun playing sea shanties…
Anyway, I discovered this about the reigning majesty because the mercenary steel fighters were summoned to a ceremony inside the castle.
We didn’t really know that’s what was going on, but we bumbled through the side door like the obediently distracted herd of goats we are.
The hall of that castle. Ooh. The other musician and I were all but vibrating with the need to play music and feel the acoustics. I’d done it once before…but I was quite ready to do it again.
Perhaps I should have felt a little more guilty about how disorganized we were. The king formally thanked our lieutenant for our services (free entertainment of bashing each other’s faces in plus music), and we all stood and clasped fist over heart (or violin) as one (more or less) out of respect.
Yeah. Distracted herd of goats. It wasn’t like we’d rehearsed.
I lingered a little afterward, hoping the hall would clear out so I could play without getting scolded for it. The violin’s a loud instrument and…I’m a bookworm. I don’t really like yelling over everyone else’s conversations, and that’s about the volume level.
And then, what would you know, but the lieutenant called my name.
The castle’s proprietor had asked him to ask me if I would play.
Asked. If I would.
Ha. Ha ha ha ha ha!
Yes. I’d be happy to do that.
So I played “The Wellerman.” It’s super simple, and as everybody went perfectly quiet in the hall and my adrenaline spiked, I knew I’d probably chosen wisely not to pick something more complicated.
I never know what to do when they all applaud. What do I do? I just played–did what I do–every day–like breathing–I should be so much better–
So I curtsied. It’s fun to do in a good skirt and that way I don’t quite have to look anybody in the eyes. I still can’t express how awkward I feel when it happens. In a good way. I think.
A little while after that, half a dozen of the sword-fighters were standing in a little knot, singing to fill the whole hall. Me personally, I have a high girl’s voice. I can sing Christine Daae’s arias from The Phantom of the Opera without really trying. This was about the perfect opposite of that.
You know I had to ask.
Would they sing “Misty Mountains” from The Hobbit, please?
It was a gorgeous moment. I didn’t see exactly how it happened, but the king, who had been on the dais behind us, suddenly materialized beside me as if hearing the song had made him fling himself down the stairs in a straight line to join in.
Okay, so maybe we broke character a little bit. We made a new friend. And I got my wish. Unbeknownst to them, I am fully prepared to persuade the gang to sing again. Often.
I could go on. There are always a thousand little things at the fair that would take a lifetime to describe and a second to experience. The miniature sheep. Top hats with goggles. A little girl paying to put her dad in the stocks, the latter of which grinned and threw her over his shoulder and carried her, screaming aloud, on our entire march. The patron outside the ring of the final fight who somehow got a butterfly to land on his arm and stood there, very still, as if it were some kind of delicate, magical falcon on his wrist.
There are some things that just can’t be described.
And the longer I stay, the less afraid I feel. The more comfortable I am to just walk and play. Because there, it doesn’t matter if I mess up. I can make as many mistakes as I want, play the Sherlock theme because nobody’s going to stop me, experiment, turn one theme into another, make the heralds laugh at what I pick as they threaten those in the stocks with torture, I can talk, I can not say a word, I can just be.
You know I’m counting the days until the next time we meet.