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Journey’s end

After four months on the Ren faire circuit, I’m finally home.

It’s been a while since my last post because, frankly, I haven’t had anything nice to say. Living in a tent at the Colorado faire was much harder and more frustrating than I could have imagined. Everything was inconvenient. Take the shower, for example. It was pretty far away from our camp. You could walk to it — but by the time you walked back, you’d be covered in dust from the road. Or you could drive to it — and risk losing your parking place. I kept making the same stupid mistake over and over again: once I arrived at the shower, I’d drop my loofah in the dirt. Or I’d realize I’d forgotten my shower shoes and have to stand barefoot in the slimy grey-green shower stall. And then I’d lose my temper and spend the rest of my day trying to make everyone else miserable.

I’m pretty small and usually sweet, so my family thinks it’s kind of funny when I lose my temper. They call it “Hannah SMASH!” because I basically transform into the Hulk and wreak havoc upon the streets of New York. I used to be proud of my temper, as if it were a mark of strength or something. I’d think, I may be small and weak-looking, but you sure as hell don’t want to make me mad! This summer, though, I realized how exhausting it is to hulk out all the time. It’s not funny or endearing. I got tired of being constantly angry over ultimately small things, like buying canned soup but no can opener. I realized that everything was going to suck and be difficult and inconvenient for the next two months, and I could choose to get righteously furious about it or try to make peace with it. It’s more fun and more gratifying to hulk out, but I learned I have to let that go if I want my life to be easier.

But before I get carried away recounting all of the different things I hated about living at the faire and how I learned to deal with them, let me tell you about one thing that kept pissing me off over and over again at my job at the costume booth. My job was to help women dress up in corsets and skirts and feel totally fabulous. So what made me mad? Here’s what would happen: the lady would get all dressed up, look in the mirror and fall in love with the outfit, and then step out of the dressing room to show her husband. She’d ask what he thought, and he’d invariably reply, “Um… I like it!”

Then she’d say, “That’s it? You like it?!”

And he’d say, “Yeah, it’s… great!”

“Well, what is it you don’t like about it?”

“What? I just said I liked it! I like the way it makes your waist… and your boobs…”

“Well, but you don’t love it. I can tell.”

You see where this is going. I got so mad at this whole situation. First, I got mad that so many grown women needed man-approval before they felt like they could buy something for themselves. I’m totally in favor of collaborating with your partner before dropping a bunch of money — but it was like these women thought the outfit was only worthwhile if it got their man really excited. As if it wasn’t enough to just love the outfit and buy it. And here’s the thing — the men always did get really excited. (I can tell because I speak Man.) They’re just not usually equipped with the vocabulary to express what they love about the corset. I could say something like, “I think the warm hues in the outfit make your skin tones look golden, and the cut of the corset frames your bust without compressing it.” But Average Joe just gets a little flabbergasted when he sees his woman walking around in a garment that looks like it belongs in the boudoir. Then, of course, she takes his hesitation to mean that he thinks it’s ugly or silly or something. And then none of his backtracking or explaining can change her mind — she’s convinced she’s made a fool of herself by even trying the damn thing on and we are certainly not buying it now!

[sigh]

I started asking the women, before letting them out of the dressing room, if they felt fabulous. Then I told them that if you feel fabulous, you’re going to act fabulous, and your man is going to love it, whether he knows anything about corsets or not.

Gents, am I wrong? Isn’t confidence the sexiest garment?

I got so mad at the women who wouldn’t let themselves feel fabulous, and the women who picked a fight with their man over their own insecurities, and the women who dug their heels in and told everyone that they look fat and stupid and no corset or salesgirl in the world can change their mind. Ladies, if you’re one of those people who does shit like this, let me be undeniably clear: being a strong woman doesn’t mean stubbornly beating yourself up, and it doesn’t mean passive-aggressively bullying men. Why don’t we try loving ourselves, and seeing if that makes it easier to love our partners.

Ahem. So that’s how I feel about that.

I spent most of my summer finding ways to deal with being angry, which amounted to spending all of my time daydreaming about how wonderful it would be to have a refrigerator again. Amidst the record-breaking heat, the bears wandering into camp, and the hippies sing-shouting into the wee hours, I would take a deep breath and remember that I’m going back home to live in civilization. And now that I’m back, I have to say, it’s glorious to have a bathroom that’s inside the house, and a stove that works, and a real bed and a vacuum cleaner…

After all of the adventures I’ve had this year, I’m not keen on going back on the road any time soon. I’ve had a lot of fun, seen some beautiful new places, and made new friends, but for the foreseeable future, Lacewing Costumes is going to be a stationary enterprise and I’ll adjust to my new role as a non-traveling seamstress. Farewell, Ren faire circuit, and thanks for teaching me all of these crappy lessons.

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Into the wild

After a hot, frustrating season, Scarborough finally ended.

I think I finally figured out exactly what to say to people and began to feel comfortable selling my wares at the very end of the faire. I learned how to be positive and flexible carrying on whatever strange conversations customers wanted to have. One guy asked to see my stomach to check for tattoos or piercings.  Two twins said that they weren’t surprised my name was Hannah because all the Hannahs they know are pretty. A family asked if they could take a picture of me with the “traveling monkey”, which, to my relief, ended up being a stuffed animal and not a real simian.

I learned to gauge whether a parent would give in to their child’s pleas to buy a costume, and to nip the interaction in the bud if the parent wouldn’t budge. One little boy cried when his mom told him he couldn’t have a costume, and I wanted so badly just to give it to him. But that wouldn’t teach anyone a lesson, and I was thankful they walked away quickly.

I learned that drunk college students buy a lot of things they don’t need, and thirteen-year-old boys don’t like anything. Oh, and if you are a kid and you want something expensive, ask your dad, not your mom.

Closing weekend was a much bigger success, both monetarily and emotionally, than all of the other weeks. I was glad to leave Scarborough on a high note.

Then we packed up and left Texas, because Travis’ next jousting stop is the Colorado Renaissance Festival. Unlike the other faires we’ve been at, we’re camping at this one, which means eight weeks of living in a tent. I don’t have a booth at this faire, so I found a job selling corsets on faire days, and I have the rest of the week to myself. It seems completely ideal, but I’m kind of like a border collie – I need to have something to do constantly or else I go a little crazy. I’m trying to fill my days at least somewhat productively with sewing, sketching, research, and exercise. My weekend job is easy and fun, but it barely pays anything. I’m beginning to realize how much I equate my self-worth with making money, and I’m trying to learn to let it go. I have made money before, and I will make money again, but right now is my time to focus on other things.

I definitely feel like I’m getting the authentic Ren faire experience here. The only running water is from a hose, and the showers are the kind where you see everybody naked. (Despite the many saggy booties and unfortunate tattoos I’ve seen so far, the facilities are at least nicer than the ones in my college dorm, where an unidentified culprit periodically smeared poo all over the stalls and mirrors.) There is a constant waft of… ahem… herbal remedy smoke coming from somewhere on site. There are also a lot more unshaven legs, missing teeth, and faded tie-dye here than I’m used to. And ugly beards! Can anyone explain to me the correlation between Ren faires and really, really bad beards?

I haven’t seen one yet, but I’ve been warned that bears live in the area and wander into camp every now and again, so we have to keep all food in a cooler in the car. I have seen a bunny that lives under a wooden platform one campsite over from ours, and I just hope that if the Adventure Dog kills it, he eats the whole thing so I don’t have to clean it up. There are lots of spiders, moths, wasps, and weird orange bugs I’ve never seen before, and they have no regard for your territory.

On the positive side, the Colorado Renaissance Festival is really pretty. It’s on the side of a mountain, and there are lots of trees and mountain flowers and outdoor things to do. You get plenty of exercise and fresh air walking around the grounds, and it’s amazing to watch giant clouds build up around the mountain. The nights are cool, the days are warm, and so far our tent has not been destroyed by hail. But I certainly wouldn’t complain if the rest of my life after this faire season is utterly luxurious. Or, if not utterly luxurious, then at least maybe it can have flushing toilets and fewer spiders in the bed.

Immediately after I wrote about how awful the beginning of Scarborough was, things started to get better. The very next day, we got invited to a steak dinner at the home of a swordsmith who works at the faire. We spent the evening making new friends, enjoying an excellent meal, watching fireflies, and taking a tour of the workshop where he forges the swords. That week, I got a little faster and better at making the kids’ knight costumes, and I started feeling a little more like I am where I belong.

But then of course a lot of boring, mundane crap got me down again. I got a bit disillusioned with the faire for several reasons. Last year I thought that everyone who works at the faire is doing what they love, but I’ve since met a lot of people who aren’t inspired by their work; they just feel like they’re trapped in the lifestyle because they don’t know how to do anything else. There’s not as much camaraderie among the folks at Scarborough as there is at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire. People keep to themselves a bit more, but rumors spread just as quickly. I hate gossip-mongering, but half of my brainpower is taken up with other folks’ interpersonal drama. And the faire bureaucracy is a bit of a downer, too. It seems like every decision, no matter how small, is a great political issue. Turns out Ren faires aren’t places of freedom, peace and love; they’re just corporations with costumes on.

Luckily, before I got too deep in existential crisis mode, Sunday happened.

On Sunday, I got hugs from two people I had never met before. The first one was from an artist who draws horses. She came to the faire to get some good source photos, and she liked the jousting knights’ costumes and started a conversation with me about costuming. She’s also a seamstress and wanted to know about costuming as a career and what life on the road was like, so I told her about how Travis and I met, my experience in school, and how we ended up back here. We only spoke for a few minutes, and she lives in Mexico, but we felt an affinity and when it was time for her to leave, she hugged me, said “God bless you”, and wished me well with my travels. I was so touched. I hope I’ll run into her again some day.

The second hug made me stop in my tracks and reevaluate everything.

Two boys came up to the booth after the joust to meet the knights. They were cheering for Sir Corwin (Travis), and they had gotten wooden swords and shields earlier that day at the faire. Travis signed the swords for them, and the older boy got a Sir Corwin costume. His mother told me that his birthday was this week, and he always gets to go to the faire and pick out a present for his birthday. I asked the boy, whose name was Brandon, if he went to the king’s knighting ceremony that was held that afternoon. With a stricken face, he looked up at me and said, “No, I missed it,” which may as well have meant, “and now I’ll never get to be a knight!”

Travis, without missing a beat, dashed backstage and grabbed an old broken lance piece, cut it down to size, and painted it is his colors. He returned with the lance and his sword, and asked Brandon and his younger cousin if they would like to be knighted. One by one, the boys knelt down and solemnly vowed to be honest, defend their family, stand up for those who are smaller than them. The ceremony ended with the accolade, a (very gentle) slap on the cheek to remind them that even if though it may be painful, a knight must always try to do what is right. As Travis described it, “I drew my sword and was overwhelmed with memories of seeing my father do this very thing when I was growing up. It is a strange alchemy to make a decision and when you act upon it to see your father’s hands carry it out. Thank you dad, for teaching me how to be a knight. I didn’t truly understand what that meant until today.” The family was so moved by the experience that when the boys rose as knights, Brandon’s mother cried and hugged us both and thanked us for giving her son such a meaningful birthday present.

The men of Noble Cause Productions pride themselves on being knights rather than just jousters. Anyone with enough physical strength, dexterity and a pinch of insanity can learn to fall off horses and fight with swords and shields, but it takes a person of extraordinary character to put aside his ego, pain, frustration, and exhaustion, and take the time to genuinely impact the life of a child. I am so proud and thankful to be married to a true knight.

On the drive home, I realized that all of the frustrations and doubts I had been harboring about the faire, the weather, the slow sales, and the depressing people pale in comparison to the impact we made on Sir Brandon’s family. I’m not in this to make a ton of money right away or to be comfortable all the time. I am slowly but surely building a business that will bring joy and magic to children and will remind adults of the value of play, and I’m learning a lot of important lessons in the meantime. This faire season is kind of like an internship: it’s a lot of work, all of the lessons are learned the hard way, and the pay isn’t great, but the experiences I’m gaining are the most valuable thing of all.

There are some days where I feel like I’m exactly where I want to be — doing positive work, building my career and my skills, connecting with family and friends, spending time outside.

Then there are days when I wonder what the hell I’m doing.

The opening of Scarborough is proving to be as much of an emotional challenge as the opening of the Pennsylvania Ren Faire was.

As it turns out, my costume booth is in possibly the worst location in the entire faire. It’s tucked away in the corner of the tilt yard, and no one walks past it. You can’t see it at all from the main path, and you can barely see it from the joust audience seats. It’s next to the petting zoo, so the bleating and braying of farm animals drown out all of the other sounds of the faire. It’s also next to a bush that spews pollen into your face every time the wind picks up.

We have had some pretty foul weather (including a tornado!), which means no one comes to the faire and I end up with mud all over my dress. On Saturday, fewer than two dozen people showed up to the first joust, the sheep got vociferously irritated at being wet, and I had to figure out how to use the port-a-potty without trailing my gown through any unsavory substances. At that point, I had a very strong desire to go home and rethink my life. I don’t know if I’m the type of person who can handle not knowing if the weather is going to completely sabotage my entire week’s income. Or, for that matter, if I can even handle being hot/cold/wet/windblown/dirty/stinky all the time. Why didn’t I choose a nice, clean, safe field like accounting or mail sorting? Why do I keep thinking this gypsy life is so rewarding and romantic anyway? I know I’m trying to use my passion and my skills to make the world a more magical place, but I have to wonder if sitting around in the rain with the sheep and the hippies is really the best way to accomplish that goal.

Selling my wares has been alternately rewarding and frustrating. Kids seem to really love the knight costumes. It’s great fun to watch them try on costumes and talk to them about the joust, the horses, the faire, Zombie Dice, dinosaurs, and whatever else their brains associate with polite conversation. I get really discouraged, though, when the sunburned, cigarette-smoking, bleach-blonde or buzz-cut parents snap, “You don’t need that!” (insert stereotypical NASCAR-crowd Texas accent* here) and drag the kid away by the wrist. I wonder why parents even take their kids to the Ren faire if they won’t let them get a souvenir. Isn’t that just a day-long cruel tease? But then there are the parents who walk into the booth saying, “My son loves the black knight. I want to buy EVERYTHING.” (Actual quote.) So I’m trying to focus on the customer interactions that end like this:

Another discouraging thing that I forgot about over the winter was the very odd, contentious communication style among the faire folk. A lot of people out here (not everyone, mind you) can’t have a conversation without trying to one-up you or belittle you. I walked in the first weekend carrying a big Rubbermaid tub of knight costumes, and one person asked me what was in the bin. When I told her it was full of costumes, she replied, “OH. I have THREE bins of costuming.” WTF? Lady, I’m not impressed. I’m not even the slightest bit interested in having a geek contest with you. I’m trying to sell these things because it’s my job. Yes, I’m proud of my work. Yes, I think what I do is pretty cool. But it’s just work — not my identity, not my insecurity-pacifier, and not something I’m trying to use to outdo anyone. And no matter what you do or how good you are at it — costuming, fencing, horseback riding, anything — somebody at the faire is going to try to prove that they’ve been doing it since before it was cool, and they’re much better than you’ll ever be. I’m just not interested in having that conversation. All I want is to make costumes and try to get along with everybody.

Last Sunday was more encouraging than the rest of the faire has been so far. The sun came out (symbolically!) and business picked up a bit. I finished the weekend by sending an awesome kid home dressed as his favorite knight, which, simple as it may be, reaffirmed my faith in my work and boosted my mood exponentially.

I think the two-week hump at the beginning of the faire is over, and I’m ready to see what the rest of the season will bring. It’s going to get better. I just have to keep going. Because:

*Texans, don’t get mad. I’m from Texas, and I illustrate this stereotype with all the bluebonnet, sweet tea, stars-at-night pride in my heart while acknowledging that most of us aren’t that way.

I am very excited right now.

This is because on Tuesday, Travis, Random and I will be heading to Scarborough Renaissance Festival in Waxahachie, Texas.

That was the first Renaissance faire I ever went to, and it’s where I met and fell in love with my knight in shining armor. And now I’ll be working there!

As a little kid, fantasy and magic ruled my world. I spent hours in my room drawing scenes from Robin Hood, fair maidens dancing around maypoles, feasts in great halls and wild mythical beasts. When I discovered The Lord of the Rings, orc ambushes lay around every corner and a neighborhood alley could lead you into the ethereal wood of Lorien. My CD collection consisted of Riverdance soundtracks and Enya albums, and I played “fairies” with my friends well into middle school. But when high school started, I decided that social adequacy was more important than fantasy, so I put aside my games and drawings and started buying rock CDs and wearing black nail polish. I remember being 17 years old and having the opinion that life was just one long string of calculus classes and anticlimactic breakups and that Chuck Palahniuk novels and Nirvana albums were really inspiring pieces of art.

Then one April day, my best friend Jackie invited me to Scarborough, where her choir had performed the week before. Suddenly my world exploded in a cacophony of brightly colored ribbons, fiddle music, smells of herbs and spices and roasted meat, clattering windchimes and glittering jewelry. I stood in amazement watching the parade of adults who were getting paid to dress up like fairies, knights, and gypsies and gallivant about the fairegrounds. I watched a man play Irish folk songs on a set of goblets filled with water, and another man use a whip to cut a pencil in half as his partner fearlessly pursed the pencil between his lips. Something turned over in my head that day: do some people really make a living out of playing?

I spent the rest of the year anxiously awaiting the opening of Scarborough. That fall, I took a semester of Shakespeare class, and we had a whole unit in Spanish about the gitanos (gypsies). All of the imagery and ideas filling my school curriculum made me pine for the freedom and wonder of the faire. When spring arrived, I bought season passes and cleared my weekend schedule, but I was not prepared for what I would find there.

My first faire day that year was sunny and glorious as expected. On our way out the gate that evening, Jackie and I walked past a tall, suntanned and strikingly handsome young man who locked eyes with us briefly as we passed. I’m still not sure why I did it, but I grabbed Jackie’s hand and insisted we turn around and talk to him. He asked us if we had seen the joust (we hadn’t) and then introduced himself as one of the knights. We promised to return the following weekend to see him joust, and then we walked out the gate. We paused in the parking lot, only to see the knight following us with a rose in each hand and a dazzling smile on his face. He asked us to forgive his manners as he should have given us the roses the moment he saw us, kissed our hands, and turned back into the faire.

On the one hand, I knew that it was all an act and part of his job. On the other hand, no boy had ever treated me that way before! I spent the rest of the week positively swooning.

The following weekend, we watched the joust and caught up with our knight afterward. His name was Travis, and he introduced us to his squire, who charmed Jackie instantly. The two escorted us around the faire, and we talked about books, music, traveling… and so began my spring romance with the man who would become my husband.

I wasn’t terribly interested in starting a relationship. I was about to go off to college for the first time, and besides, he lived in California and jousted for a living, for goodness’ sake! But he took me out dancing under the stars on a balmy May night, so I said, “What the hell!” and kissed him. And suddenly we found ourselves swept up in the kind of affair that made the whole world sparkle.

Then began the long-distance romance, the heartsick phone calls, and several moves back and forth between the two states until we both wound up in California and got married. Now we’re in the happily-ever-after part of the story, and six years later, we’ll be returning to Scarborough Faire. He’ll be jousting again, and I’ll be making and selling knight costumes. (Come check them out if you’re in town!) I can’t even express how thrilled I am to be going back, and this time I’ll get to create part of the magic. I hope Scarborough brings as much joy and wonder this year to others as it did to me.

If you’re in the North Texas area, you really do need to see this faire, and you can buy tickets here. My knight costumes will be for sale in the joust merchandise booth next to the tilt yard, so come send me some love!

For my birthday

Today is my birthday. It’s been pretty quiet so far, but I’m hoping to use it as an excuse for all kinds of misbehavior.

In the meantime, I’ve decided to do a handful of semi-productive things. I might make a tradition of doing these things every year.

1. Make something pretty.

I made a flower chain. It promptly wilted, which I suppose is poignant or symbolic or something for a birthday… But it was pretty while it lasted, and I guess that’s also meaningful. I used to make these all the time as a kid with my grandma. If you’ve never made one, it’s really easy and rewarding. Go pick a bunch of flowers (not protected ones!), and cut a small slit in the stem of each about an inch away from the base of the flower. Pass the stem of one flower through the slit of another, then pass the stem of a third flower through the slit of that one, and so on. Then you can put it on your head or your wrist or your dog.

2. Go outside.

I’m lucky to be in beautiful Half Moon Bay on my birthday. I took the Adventure Dog on a two-hour walk, and it was amazingly refreshing to disconnect from all of my devices and conversations and tasks and just look around at the scenery. It took me more than half an hour to get into that peaceful, positive mindset, and I was thankful to have the time to do it today.

3. Try something new.

I’ve always liked henna, but I’ve never done it before. When I lived in Abilene, Texas, about six years ago, I bought a henna kit, but I never tried it because I was afraid of messing it up. Never mind, of course, that henna is temporary and the designs are going on my feet. It’s the same reason I’ve never started the graphic novel that’s been percolating in my head for five years, or any number of art projects that wander through my mind. So I decided that this is the year that I err on the side of doing stuff, rather than being afraid to start.

4. And.. oh yes, drink!

I made some sangria. It’s got cheap Shiraz, watermelon, strawberries, orange, lemon, lime, sugar, a splash of Cointreau (because more booze!) and fresh mint. It is going to be delicious.

Can’t wait to see what this year will hold for me! All good things, I’m sure 😉

Let me open up my series of posts on badass women in history by bragging about my husband.

For Valentine’s Day, he got me a book called Women Who Run with the Wolves. It’s a collection of myths to help you get in touch with the Wild Woman archetype. Why, I asked, baffled and delighted, did he get me a book of feminist folktales instead of flowers and candy? He replied, in an isn’t-it-obvious kind of way, “I want my wife to be a powerful woman.”

So I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a powerful woman and doing some reading on warrior women, pirate princesses and other righteous historical babes. I’m going to show you some of my favorites over the next few weeks, starting with Joan of Arc.

Joan of Arc was born in Domremy during a period of conflict between the French crown and Burgundy, which had allied with longstanding enemy England. At age thirteen, Joan began experiencing visions of saints, who initially told her to do typical things that incorporeal saints might tell you, like, “go to church”. But before long, the saints urged her to go to the aid of the king. Reasonably uncertain, especially because she was not trained in combat of any sort, Joan presented herself to the French commander Baudricourt, who berated her until she went away. However, the conflict in France worsened, and the saintly voices continued imploring her to fight for her country, so she sought out the commander again. He eventually conceded to take her to King Charles, who put Joan through a bit of royal rigamarole including dressing in a disguise to fool her (it didn’t) and sending her to a bishop to verify the authenticity of her visions. Once he was confident in her sanity, the king accepted her into the French military. Before she could begin her service, though, Joan insisted on searching for and unearthing an ancient sword, which she found with the assistance of her ghosty saints.

Seventeen-year-old Joan opened her military career by confronting the English king himself and pleading for the withdrawal of English troops from Orléans. Naturally, the king refused, so Joan led a campaign that captured all of the English forts surrounding the city within a week. Following this victory, Joan led and advised upon a number of additional battles that resulted in the French crown gaining control of Reims. From there, though, things got worse, as the French attempt on Paris proved unsuccessful and Joan was seriously wounded by a crossbow bolt. Immediately following her recovery, Joan entered battle again, but was thwarted when one of her countrymen, either by mistake or suspected treason, raised a drawbridge with Joan and several others still on it. She was captured and sold as a prisoner to the English and then subjected to a trial on the grounds of heresy. By all accounts, she faced her inquisition with honor and sincerity, but was eventually convicted for wearing men’s clothes — a clear sign of heresy, of course. The following day, she was burned at the stake. Twenty-four years later, her sentence was reversed (not much help to Joan) and today she is venerated as a saint in her own right by the Catholic church and an inspiration to women who stand by their convictions.