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Last night was our canton christmas potluck, an annual tradition for our SCA group which is always popular. It’s held in the beautiful “great room” of a friend’s farmhouse in front of her fieldstone fireplace, and it’s always a lovely way to spend an evening.

Unfortunately, it’s also in someone’s private home, and “great room” or not, there’s a finite amount of space, especially once we start putting tables and chairs into it. And, as a complicating factor, our canton is as large as it’s ever been, and it’s only going to continue to grow (we’re the victims of our own recruiting success, I suppose.) So this year, for the first time, we had to establish an attendance cap. And guess who got to enforce it?

That’s right: the canton seneschal. Or to put it more plainly: me.

I had to turn people away ahead of time and I felt miserable about it. I set it up as a first-come, first-served confirmation list, because I couldn’t see any other way to do it that wasn’t playing favourites. I was trying to be as fair as possible… and because of that I ended up with half a dozen canton members whom I had to turn away, and another half a dozen out-of-canton folks traditionally invited who decided not to come because of the space limitations (our Territorial Baron and Baroness, for example.) I found myself, in the last weeks before the event, hoping and praying that people on the “confirmed list” would cancel… and no one did. Nobody on the “waiting list” got contacted. I don’t like hoping that friends can’t make it to an SCA event, even as casual and unofficial an event as our annual potluck.

And the hell of it was that everyone at the potluck had a wonderful time last night… or rather, everyone but me. It was everything that I love about the canton potluck: food and fellowship and firelight, and I just couldn’t enjoy it. I spent the bulk of the evening miserably guilty, knowing there were people who wanted to be there for this magical night and whom I’d had to tell “no.” (And I was also kinda pissed off because there were a couple of people who weren’t on the confirmed list who crashed the party anyway, thus making all my efforts and anxiety completely pointless, but leave that aside.)

I hated planning this event. Hated it. I don’t know how we’re going to handle next year’s potluck, because the canton keeps growing and I absolutely can’t go through this again. No more attendance caps, no more “waiting lists”, no more regretful emails that I have to write to disappointed people. I just cannot stomach the kind of stress and anxiety and guilt that I went through planning this event. I tried to be fair, and when the dust settled this morning, I feel certain I hadn’t been.

The temptation to throw my hands in the air and say “somebody else can plan this next year” is very strong… but I’m not sure I can do that for a couple of reasons. First, it’s one of the responsibilities of the canton seneschal to organize this, and I knew that going into the job; and second I’m not sure it’s fair to dump this on someone else so that they can go through the stress of setting it up.

I don’t know how to handle this for next year. It’s 364 days away, and I’m already feeling some pretty serious anxiety about it. But I do know that we need to to this differently.

I’m open to suggestions, folks.