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


The Fantasy of Starting Over

A folktale of the Society which has been played out in varying degrees in reality is this: A knight goes to a foreign kingdom, and goes to a fighter practice. He says "Gee that looks fun; can I try?" and proceeds to whup up on all the local hot shots and to revel in the astonished reactions. I've talked with a few who have done this, and with some to whom it was done. The beginning of the story is great; the end is not so great. It's a lie and a mockery, and a momentary thrill followed by embarrassment on the parts of those fooled. Even when the friendships are made and the "sorry; I'd always wanted to do that" is done, it leaves a bad taste. The people who have been fooled may become more guarded about talking to newcomers, and that harms the group.

It is the fantasy of nearly every peer I've discussed this with to be able to go somewhere and start over-not just pretend for a little while and then reveal the truth, but to be new again, to have the luxuries of innocence and ignorance and lack of responsibility. The memory of the time when one's skills and talents were first recognized by those higher up, the first time a baron or seneschal ever said "We could use someone like you," or "You really have a talent for this, you know," is precious to those who have become nearly too tired and busy to remember.

My personal version of the fantasy is that peerages would only last three years, and after that one couldn't be a peer for a year, during which time the peerage might (or might not) be earned again. It might take years, or it might never be accomplished; maybe some would be peers three years out of every four. This would cleanse the ranks of those who were elevated through a fluke of politics or whose goodness passed with the years. It would give the opportunity of honorable retirement to those who thought they wanted to be peers until they were and found out it was a serious and steady business and that their style of participation could never be the same.

I don't really expect or even want this to happen. I know many arguments against the idea, not the least of which is knights who get too old or battle-worn to fight well should retain the honor they earned in the strength of their youth. Occasionally it has happened that a person resigned a peerage in the hope of reliving the dramatic glory of having it offered again. Although it's been done, never (so far as I know) was there an adoring, appreciative crowd.

What do peers miss about being non-peers? Personal and second-hand knowledge provide these examples of fond memories:

  • receiving praise for everyday accomplishments
  • the thrill of being called into court the first few times
  • deciding which kingdom events to attend without fear of offending autocrats or royalty
  • walking around the site and meeting new people without intimidating anyone
  • going to events and having no responsibilities
  • considering peers' circle time to be a good time to clean up camp, or to rest in the shade
  • being able to accidently say something rude or stupid without having it quoted for a year
  • having a really basic little camp with no frills and no shame or explanations
  • going onto the field [or into a bardic circle or arts contest] and impressing people with such great skill after so short a time

That last one is the one that sparks the fantasy of presenting oneself as a non-peer. the ratio of years-in to skill-level cause the curve to level out eventually. [1] Someone who's a duke might not be much better than he was before he was knighted, but people just aren't as impressed with it now; dukes are supposed to be fast. A dynamite first costume on a newcomer draws much sincere praise and attention. A dynamite fifteenth costume on a Laurel is a more ho-hum situation. The first few times I sang ballads at events they were showstoppers. When I learn and present a new ballad nowadays, no WOW is to be expected. A great event by a newcomer might draw a high-class crowd and be written up in two kingdoms' newsletters. A tightly run, profitable, memorable event by that same person a few years later, when he's a ranking Pelican will be ordinary, commonplace, unremarkable behavior. [2] It's much more exciting to be a remarkable newcomer than a competent, dutiful peer.

The best hope peers have for recapturing this feeling without dishonestly posing as newbies is to be around people who are living with it. Hearing the elation in people's accounts of first big events, first good feasts, early successes and awards reminds us of the joy in our own early days. Talking with newcomers who are talented and enthusiastic can give the same vicarious pleasure as listening to someone's account of the feelings about their first true love. Those feelings can't keep coming back at every event we attend, but we can get a glimpse of ourselves in others.

If it's been a while since you felt that thrill of how wonderful the Society can be, manage to hang around with some people in their first year or two of participation. Don't bring them down; let them bring you up. Tell them the good things you know and forget the bad. They'll develop their own collections of disappointments over the years, and don't really need yours.



[1] "The ratio of time to grade" has been suggested as an alternate phrase here, by Lady Chantal Haraldsdottir.

[2] A reader has challenged my statement about pelicans putting on great events. I quote Tess of the Gardens: "I have heard the story of Kathryn of Iveragh taking over a major event with less than two weeks notice and pulling a terrific occasion out of disaster. I was impressed and so was the lady who told me the story." I amend my statement. A ranking pelican running a wonderful event under normal circumstances is not remarkable. A heroic last-minute save is remarkable. Other people (now pelicans) I have seen do this nearly as impressively as Kathryn has are Stefan of the Wanderers and Gunwaldt Gulbjorn.

Copyright © by Sandra Dodd, 1991
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