I just realized its been awhile since I’ve posted about the SCA on this blog. There’s been a bit of a reason for that — have you ever heard the expression “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all?”

Well, it’s not actually as bad as all that: I’m still in the SCA (oh gods, am I ever in the SCA) but I’ve been dealing with some stuff lately that I’ve found frustrating so I haven’t been posting for fear of saying the wrong thing, and it’s been stewing for a while. I’ve also been very busy with the prep for Trillium War, being at Trillium War, the cleanup after Trillium War, my job, fight practices, helping new fighters get their kits together, and of course wedding preparations. Life is busy.

Before I go any further into discussing my frustrations, however, I need to get a couple of things on the record: I am not writing this post to be critical of anyone. I’m not mad at anyone. If you recognize yourself in what I’m about to write, I’m not writing it to piss you off or put you on the spot: I don’t want to cause drama, and in any case it might not actually be about you because I know a lot of SCAdians. This post is about me getting some difficult shit into words to work it out for myself, and I’m only putting it out in public because: a) it might help somebody else to read it; b) if you think maybe I am talking about you, you might pause and take stock for a bit; and c) I’m a something of an exhibitionist. But I have gotten a bit frustrated with the SCA lately, or rather with my place in the SCA and where that seems to be going, and I think it will help me to put stuff down on the screen and work through it.

Here’s my frustration: I never get to put myself first. Like, not ever.

When I go to fight practice, I have to bring the loaner armour for the newbies: I have to keep a couple of loaner kits in my workshop because during the summer we practice at various local parks for the exposure. Only myself and one other guy in the group keep loaner gear at home and he’s working full-time nights lately so he rarely gets to attend the evening practices. Going out to our weekly practice involves me loading two loaner kits plus my personal kit into a hatchback… plus a shitload of weapons, plus enough shields, plus my toolkit because loaner gear always needs a bit of work. Once at the practice, it always seems to be my job to armour-up the newbies… regardless of the fact that there’s any number of experienced fighters standing around and talking. Then I have to armour up myself, but by that point there’s usually a crowd of curious civilians watching us, so I have to put on my Castellan hat and hand out business cards and flyers… regardless of the fact that I’m in full armour and there’s any number of other SCAdians standing around and talking. I get to snatch a bout or two here and there between doing that, and then there’s getting the newbies de-armoured and their kits all back into my car… once again with little or no assistance, except from those self-same newbies. By then the light is gone, so I’m de-armouring and packing away my kit in a dark parking lot… whereupon I get to drive home, unload three kits (plus assorted armaments, etc), drag them down a flight of stairs into my workshop, and then open up all three so they can dry out.

Last week’s fight practice was pretty much the perfect example of how that works, with the fun addition of having to wander around a darkened, mosquito-infested park with my iPhone’s flashlight app helping someone look for a lost set of keys for half an hour after everybody else left. I’d been first at the park, first in armour, and had gotten so frustrated that I actually resorted to dropping some fairly passive-aggressive hints that “maybe newbie #1 could use some help with his straps” or “newbie #2 could use a refresher on the basics” or “are there any flyers handy, those folks look interested” only to be pretty much ignored. So I got to fight exactly three bouts that night… and then got out of the shower to find a Facebook message from another fighter telling me how disappointed he was that he hadn’t gotten to fight me and expressing his concern that I wasn’t taking my training seriously enough.

And you know what? Not even that is what frustrates me. What frustrates me is, aside from some of the fine details, that’s what my practices have been every week for months.

I’ve been an authorized fighter for almost four years now. There are a lot of guys locally who started fighting after I did, and they’ve surpassed me in prowess. And that’s not a surprising thing: fighting isn’t easy for me: I have to sweat for every incremental improvement. But then a couple of our guys went to Trillium War and covered themselves in glory on the field… and I found myself thinking “Yeah, I be that good a fighter if all I did was fight, too.”

Which is a really shitty thing for me to think, and I’m actually rather ashamed of myself for that reaction.

For one thing, with honest self-assessment, no I probably wouldn’t be that good a fighter. Maybe I’d be better, but not to the “winning a whole tournament” level. I’ve got a lot of work before I get to that point. For another thing, they’re my friends: I should be happy they’re doing well, especially when they do it with honour and chivalry, which they did. And finally, and most importantly, I know it’s not true: Those guys do a lot of other things than fighting; they’re just focussed on their own projects and households.

Years of experience at being me suggests that if my first reaction was resentment then the problem’s on my end, not theirs.

So that doesn’t make me feel all that good about myself… but that’s how I’m feeling. I feel like I’m busting my ass to make sure everybody else get to play the game… and they’re all passing me by because of it. I’m watching fighters who used to be newbies get squired and recruited into households, make connections, and get noticed by royalty and peers… and I’m not. There were a couple of incidents at Trillium War where I made the quarter-mile hike though the mud up to Trillium Town to be social… and then was roundly ignored when I finally arrived in favour of people with belts or hats or at least the potential to earn either or both. Yeah, I understand that I’m not the centre of the universe but increasingly I don’t even appear to be on the radar. I’m feeling like a nobody.

Objectively, I understand that the work needs to be done or the game doesn’t work… and somewhat less objectively I know that I volunteered to do a lot of that work: nobody forced me to store loaner gear in my shop; nobody forces me to help get the new guys armoured; certainly nobody forces me to put my training on hold in order to do my job as Castellan or Herald. And nobody’s forcing me to step up and become Canton Seneschal this summer. Nobody forces me to spend my shop time on the weekends fixing up loaner gear, or hosting armouring workshops. But those things need doing… and I don’t see anyone else who’s making doing them a priority.

There’s a long tradition in the SCA of working for the greater good — we even have a term for it: “Selfless Service.” I know several people who were elevated to the Order of the Pelican for their selfless service, and every one of them deserved it. Part of me wonders, though, if they ever felt this way: like they had to give that service whether they wanted to or not. I don’t mind doing the work, I really don’t: People did the work for me when I started out, and I understand that I need to pay it forward… but sometimes I feel like all I do is pay forward while a lot of other people don’t even seem to be chipping in. I don’t mind putting other people first; I don’t mind giving of my time to help a new person. I even understand that a lot of the experienced people in the SCA have other things on their plate, important priorities and responsibilties and so forth. But I’m really starting to feel like I’m being taken for granted.

I’m not writing this for sympathy, or to make anybody feel bad. But I really feel like I’ve gotten out of balance around giving my time versus taking time for myself. I need to figure out a way to get that equilibrium back, because I’m really not liking what it’s doing to me as a person or as a player in the SCA. I don’t want to end up resenting people just because I’m doing a job and they’re not, or because they’re doing well and some mythical, responsibility-free version of me might be standing in their place. And I need to get that sorted out soon, because if I’m not able to find that balance by the time I take over as Seneschal I’m worried I’m going to end up doing a lot of damage… not least of which to myself.