Bright Ideas and True Confessions: How and What to Do and Why


Plan for the Worst, Hope for the Best

Your mind may or may not operate enough like mine does for all this to work, but here's the way I plan an event. It's not secret—I've been telling people this for years. Some people hate it, some people had never thought of it and have now used it successfully, and it's yours if you want it. At such time as reading this section becomes too stressful for you, skip straight to the end, where there's a special message.

I imagine disasters. From the time I first know I'm autocrat of something, and when I have a site I can picture, I fantasize about it. I don't waste much fantastic energy on how wonderful it can be, because I figure its wonderfulness will be in direct proportion to the amount of disaster I think up and prepare for, and so far that's been true.

What could go wrong at an event? What has ever ruined an event anywhere that I've ever heard of? What's never happened before that could happen here for the first time ever? Where did I get this weird system?

I went to school for 15 years straight, and for summer sessions from 8th grade. Beginning in the 4th grade, I had a nightmare the night before the first day of school every single time, and I came to count on it as a checklist. The first few were small and kind of standard, like I got off the bus in only my slip, or I had my house shoes on, or I didn't know whose class I was supposed to be in. Over the years these dreams blossomed into extravaganzas of mishap, and they were always so real I'd wake up in a panic thinking I'd gotten off to such a horrible start the whole year would be a total disaster. Then I'd realize the whole year was still ahead of me and I'd get out of bed and do all the things right that had gone wrong in the dream.

The night before my first day as a classroom teacher I dreamed I didn't have a grade book or a pen. Next day I did. That one, my first checklist dream as an employed adult, made me start to wish for more.

Before my first big SCA event, Grand Outlandish IV, at which I was the "camp mom" for eight people, I dreamed we forgot the food. WONDERFUL dreams.

In the shower, in the car, at a meeting, picture your event. Picture it with wild uninvited drunks crashing, with rain storms, with insufficient toilet paper, with scheduling problems. [Warning: don't picture these all at once, or you may never make it through to the event.] What would help with each scenario? More gate personnel? Walkie talkies? Shifts of guards/constables on call? Will you need shovels and tarps you hadn't considered? Can you stash toilet paper supplies in two or three places rather than just one? Would little printed schedules given to principal officers and royalty help? If not, how about a system of messengers to go and remind each of them (especially the habitually late) that it's nearly time for something they're in on? Put these things on your checklist. A car trunk full of untouched and unneeded batteries, shovels, chemical lights, bandages and flares is better than 45 people grumbling about how the autocrat could possibly have been so unaware and unprepared.

Some people have said that it's best to imagine the event at all times as wonderful as it could be, and to float up there on a cloud of positive thinking. It has been expressed to me that all my negative thinking would drag down the event. That's nonsense.

  • When you're 40 miles from a phone and need some rope and duct tape, no amount of affirmation will produce them. You'll either go without or you'll beg them off of some person with a trunk full of batteries, shovels, chemical lights, bandages and flares—someone who's more paranoid and therefore better prepared, and will probably be a pelican before you are, you too-positive thinking autocrat. Don't think it was your magic wishing that filled up that trunk. It was full before you knew you needed that stuff.
  • I do go to the event with a positive attitude. My negative thinking is all done and over before I get to the site. My nightmare is finished and I'm awake, prepared for the worst and expecting the best.
  • An autocrat with nothing but a vision of perfection will be disappointed. If you hope that the event will be fairly enjoyable and that no disasters get through your nets, then any really wonderful results will seem as wonderful to you as to others. It's sad when the autocrat of a fine event is depressed Sunday night because not all his or her expectations were met. It's happened to me; not any more..

When a disaster comes to mind—for example, the thought of a forest fire—don't tell yourself "It probably won't happen" and write it off. Of course it probably won't happen. Just think through what you would need to know and do if it did happen, get the information on your list, and then don't worry about it one single bit. If you worry that the map or the publicity will fail, drive the road yourself, ask the highway people if there's going to be any construction on your weekend, check all the phone numbers and addresses and dates and times on the article, send out an extra batch, mail directly to seneschals. Then don't worry about that aspect any more. Everyone has a perfect map. I've never advocated working oneself into a depression over how horrible it could be. Just let these little disasters float through your mind, in and out, but be sure to add the antidotes to your checklist before you forget.

While I'm thinking about it, consider packing some neutral-looking mundane clothes in case you have to leave the event to go to the hospital, ranger station, or police station for some reason and don't want to antagonize them by wearing a "Do It in Chainmail" t-shirt.

Special Message
to those who find this whole business horrifying,
or are considering it a hysterical over reaction:
Don't feel bad if you don't want to be an autocrat.

It's not for everyone.

There are nearly 20,000 SCA members
(maybe more—depends when you're reading this),
and we certainly don't need that many events in any one year.
If you believe that serenity is all, it's a respectable attitude to have.
You can leave autocrating to the more anxious and paranoid members,
who weren't going to be serene anyway.


Copyright © by Sandra Dodd, 1991
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