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Traveling and the viking mystique

31 Dec

sigfrontGrowing up I never really liked vikings. I thought they were cliche and technologically uninteresting. I know that might sound weird, but in my medieval living history group we had a group that portrayed vikings and a group that portrayed the later middle ages. I was in that later camp and preferred the sleek design of the later period suits of armor and longswords to the viking’s  lower tech sword and shields. I realize this is absurd, two different regions, two different time periods, but for me it was just a matter of personal taste. I just found the knights and nation states more interesting than roving bands of raiders.

I associate this mindset with the time in my life when I planned to be more stationary. At that time I wanted to be a medieval archaeologist and have a house somewhere in Europe. Travel was an interest of mine, but not really something I wanted to make a main focus of my life. I wanted a more stable, predictable life, and I feel my tastes in medieval history reflected that.

Later, as my expectations and goals for what I wanted in life began to shift towards something more nomadic, I started to change my attitude towards the vikings. The fancy armor I loved and admired so much before (and I still love aesthetically) began to represent an entrenchment in a lifestyle I no longer wanted; a lifestyle of predictability, immobility, and captivity to material possessions.

The vikings, whom I had previously viewed as low tech hoodlums, now represented flexibility, exploration, and adventure. I began to see their lifestyle in a more romantic light and the allure, which had previously alluded me, began to make sense. The fact that I discounted them earlier because of material qualms was just symptomatic of the mindset I was in. Now it doesn’t matter to me that they didn’t have sexy suits of armor, what matters is the freedom of movement and the promise of discovery.  Those are the priorities I have now, and the vikings represent that in some way.

oseberg-viking-longship

Zombie apocalypse and swords

1 Jan

So I’ve been watching the Walking Dead episodes and rediscovering my love for the zombie genre, but one thing has always bugged me in every zombie movie: Why not swords? Now I know, I know, the films are always about the average person using mundane things found around the house to defend themselves from the hordes of zombies, but they rely so heavily on guns that always run out of ammo at the critical moment.

We have been killing one another for millennia, yet it is only recently that we have started using guns. There are plenty of other ways to kill someone without using a gun. You see melee in zombie movies quite frequently, but it is usually with some object not designed for that purpose, like a baseball bat or the lid of a toilet.

Ideally, if you were going to engage in melee combat with zombies, would it not be wise to use am instrument perfected for the task? An instrument that was at its height right before firearms made it obsolete?

It never runs out of ammo and can remove zombie heads and limbs with ease. Much faster and less unwieldy than a fire ax, and guaranteed to get the job done the first time, unlike a baseball bat that might require a second swing.

I know, I know, not many people have longswords just lying around the house, hence why they don’t show up in zombie movies.

“But GP! Melee is a last resort because that means the zombie horde is on top of you! You need to keep your distance! It doesn’t matter if you have a sword and they swarm you from all sides, you’ll still get bitten!”

True, but that’s why if you have the sword, you should also have the second bit of the equation:

Again, not your average household item, but man would you be set if you had it. (Mine’s not as shiny or nice looking as this one, but it would do the job) The human mouth cannot bite through steel. Zombies also wouldn’t have the fine motor skills needed to undo the straps. While it’s best not to get completely swamped by the horde, wearing a suit of armor would make you a walking tank. Wrap yourself up in some plastic trash bags underneath to prevent the infected blood from seeping in and oozing on you and you’re good to go.

I know this is just begging to get some nerd hatemail, but their is no way the zombies could hurt you if you were wearing a suit of armor. Deal with it. And don’t even bring up the idea that it would make it too hard for you to move or escape because that just shows how little you know about armor. I can move perfectly fine in mine. I can run, roll, fall down and get back up in a heartbeak; so no, it would not be a problem.

I would love to see a zombie movie where somebody in the full gear just waded through the horde in the street. They’re zombies, soft flesh and bone, not rhinoceri. It would be a piece of cake, though probably not as entertaining or heart-pounding as a bunch of people trying to defend themselves from zombies with the useless crap they found in the mall.

I wish I changed my major

13 Nov

Starting college I was a history nut. I loved doing historical reenactments, I loved reading history, I loved historical movies, everything. I remember consciously telling myself that I was going to major in something I love, regardless if it would make me money. I didn’t want to spend the next four years working at something I didn’t care about to get a job in a field I didn’t care about, so I majored in history. While at college I worked really hard. I skipped parties to study and was constantly working on my research papers. I ended up getting a 3.7 (out of 4) for my major related coursework, and a 3.2 for everything else (languages made me struggle).

While in college I hit upon the idea of being an archaeologist. My professors told me I needed to know at least Latin, French, English, and German fluently to be a medieval archaeologist, so I took language classes, much to the detriment of my grade point average. A favorite history professor got me an internship with a local archaeological dig and I spent two semesters getting up super early to go scan a backlog of slides or dig in the red clay earth. It was primarily 1800’s archaeology, which was not at all what I was interested in, but I liked the people and I needed contacts if I was to enter into archaeology as a field after undergrad.

I spent two of my summers at field schools, one at the local archaeological place outside my college, and the second in Newcastle, UK. I spent the summers getting up early and working long days. All of this because I wanted the experience and the contacts. Back at college I worked extensively on my senior thesis, taking it to history conferences around the region and presenting it. I even won a grant to do research at another university’s archives and was selected as a special scholar at a prestigious military school. As one of a handful of selected scholars at that school, I had to double the length of my thesis. All the other students at my college had much shorter thesis requirements, so there wasn’t as much stress on them. Still, I wanted the contacts and experience so I did it.

Then senior year everything changed.

My now ex helped me see that I wasn’t very happy every morning I came back from the dig, covered in dirt, sweaty and aching. “Maybe archaeology isn’t for you” she suggested. It scared me, but I thought she was right. I’m not sure if I was burned out because I disliked 1800’s archaeology so much and I would have been fine if I was working at a castle, but I decided not to be an archaeologist. Suddenly all those mornings getting up extra early, the hours spent in the field stooped over a patch of ground, the hours scanning slides, the money spent sending me overseas for a summer, all of it was for nothing. Yes they were valuable in the experiences they gave me, and the wonderful people I got to meet, but let’s be realistic: It was all for the goal of becoming an archaeologist. Suddenly I didn’t have that goal anymore.

Meanwhile on the history front, I was getting tired really fast. The extra work for that military school’s scholar program was really burning me out on history. My professors kept pushing me to go to gradschool, but I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in a dark archive looking over dusty old books. I also did not want to teach! Everybody keeps telling me “Oh you could teach!” and I want to hit them. I hate children and I hate the idea of standing up in front of a group of them trying to get them to care about Charlemagne. I became a history major because I loved history, not because I wanted to teach it. Well now I’ve lost the spark and I’m mildly indifferent to it.

At the same time all this was happening, I quit my living history group. I had been doing this hobby since I was twelve and I finally got fed up. My passions were collapsing across the board. Then my girlfriend of three years left me for an older man, my grandmother got pancreatic cancer, I graduated and left my home for four years, along with all my friends, to live with my parents in the conservative/religious deep south where I knew no one. Needless to say, I often contemplated suicide.

I can’t tell you how furious and frustrated I am. I worked hard. I played by the rules. And now it’s all for nothing. I’m stuck in the worst state in the country, in the middle of the worst economic collapse since the great depression, and my degree is worthless. All my hard work is worthless. You see, you can’t do shit with just a BA in history. Maybe if the economy was better and I was in a better state, it might be worth something, but unless you go to gradschool to get a higher degree, or teach, you can’t do shit. I have no applicable skills. I can write research papers and use MS word. Lovely. I don’t have any market specific skills like a computer science major, or a chemistry major might have.

“Oh, but college is not supposed to get you a job afterwards! You go there to learn!” I used to believe this wholeheartedly, but now I call bullshit. You see, college is so ridiculously expensive today, it’s prohibitive. Unless you’re rich, the only way you can get a college education is by taking on so many loans you become an indentured servant for the rest of your life. College has become so expensive it’s now an investment. Nobody but the independently rich go to college with the idea of “just learning.” You spend the money to get an education that will get you a higher paying job. Don’t get me wrong, I love the humanities and I think they are our collective soul. I am in no way saying funding for them should be cut. That would be disastrous. I just wish I majored in something else.

Towards the end of senior year, I really got interested in astronomy and chemistry, thanks to the help of one of the best professors I had. I really wish I majored in something like that. My friend, who was a chemistry major, has been able to find work easily, same with my biology major friend. I’m really fascinated by those subject, yet I hate math. (I know math is pretty important in science) I’m frustrated because at the start of college, I had no way of knowing my interests would dramatically shift right before I graduated. What would have happened had I majored in chemistry? At the time I would never had thought about it. At the start of college I loved history. I was so excited to be out of highschool and able to load up my schedule with all the history classes I could handle.

I really regret it now.

I want so desperately to move out of this state, to a more liberal, less religious part of the country, and then eventually to Canada. I’ve lived in the conservative religious south my entire life and it’s smothering me. I’m tired of constantly being the hated minority. I want to live somewhere that isn’t so repressive. Not to mention I hate the heat. Yet with no skills I find myself applying to make sandwiches, shelve books, or work as an office assistant. None of these are jobs I really want to do, and with a worthless degree I’m essentially starting four years later than everyone else. I feel I’m going to be stuck in South Carolina for years to come, trying to get a job that will give me the skills needed to move. I probably won’t escape and finally be able to start my life until I’m 30. It just makes me want to die…

Military Through the Ages, recap

22 Mar

So I’m finally home where I was able to soak in the shower and wash off all the dirt, sweat, and wood smoke smell that accumulated from this past weekend at MTA.

I had an ok time. The best part was getting to hang out with some readers and watch WW2 Germans charge a British Zulu encampment.

As for the rest of the weekend, I had some issues. They are not very coherent, so I will try and put them in bullet points.

  • Egos are really making living history in my group not fun:

I’m not sure how this is in other groups, but it seems that in my group and the other late medieval groups near us that everything is just a giant dick waving contest. The hierarchy in the group seems to be determined by “stuff”. Who has bought the most stuff? Who’s stuff is the best and most expensive? I’m at the bottom of the hierarchy despite being in the group for several years because I don’t have very much “stuff”.

  • My gear is never good enough:

If I make something, it’s rarely ok to use in camp, and everyone else wants to display their things over mine. I often run into the problem of making something under the direction of one of the other members in the group, or buying something, and then soon after I get the item, they decide that it’s not right for the period. This is so frustrating! The only things I can use in the camp tend to be things that other people make for me.

  • I am never physically comfortable:

This has been true of just about every event I’ve gone to, but it was really bad this event. My clothes are horrible. The shirt I have is too big and the pants are too small. It all just ends up being this hot sweaty mess. My feet also end up extremely sore at the end of every event.

  • I never have a space of my own:

In my old group I had my own tent. It was a nice little area where I could set my stuff down and hang out. In the group I’m currently in I have no space of my own. I always have to put my stuff in other people’s tents, and I hate that. (I don’t think they like it either)

  • I always have to borrow:

This ties into space, and my gear never being good enough. I always end up having to borrow items from one person or another. I hate having to borrow from them. I feel it puts me in a position of inferiority, which then ties into the whole “this is all about egos” thing.

  • I am not your servant!:

This is perhaps the biggest bone I have to pick. I might just be paranoid, and this could all just be in my head, but I feel like other people in camp think I’m their to serve them. Yes, I know it’s important to help out in camp, and I do, but I feel people expect me to constantly be doing all the chores while they stand around and talk. For example, I was asked a couple of times to run and fill up the water pitchers. Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal, but it was the way I was asked. “Hey, could you run and fill these up?” would be fine, but instead I got the “Since you’re just sitting around, could you go fill the water pitchers?” The tone doesn’t come over in text, but what I’m trying to get across is that in the second way the request was phrased was the hidden assertion that I need to be always doing work. Since I was not doing work at that time, they found some work for me to do in the form of filling the pitchers.

  • No one ever offers to help me setup/take down

For the longest time I’ve always put other people first. I show up as soon as I possibly can, and spend the rest of the daylight helping to put up other people’s tents, and then fill those tents with other people’s stuff. Does anyone offer to help me carry all my stuff in from the car? No. I end up making multiple trips, sometimes in the dark, to get my gear. The same thing happens when the event is over! I try to be one of the last to leave, helping everyone else take down their tents and pack their stuff. Does anyone offer to help carry my stuff back to the car? No. I end up having to do that by myself after I’m already exhausted from helping others. It’s all about them! (The ego and servant stuff ties back in)

  • Paying for food:

I got away with not paying for food this weekend, but in the past I have shelled out $20-30 to help pay for food stuffs. When the meals are cooked the food is just put out on tables for people to pick at. A little here, a little there. I end up feeling guilty about eating and so I buy extra food for myself on top of paying $20-30. If the cost of food was split evenly and everyone got an even split things would be fine, but it ends up that some pay a lot and others pay nothing. Some get a lot to eat, and others eat very little. I often end up in the “paying a lot, eating a little” category. Sure it helps cover the costs for the people who buy the food, but then I feel mooched off of.

  • I don’t feel like I belong

I grew up with my old group. I just joined this group a few years back. All the people in this group have been together for a while. They’re their own little click. They’re nice to me an all, but I just don’t get the feeling that I’m one of them. Most of them are friends outside of the group as well. (Or at least were, there is a lot of political infighting and passive aggressive bullshit going on between all of them now that luckily I’m not a part of) When I sit around the fire with them I’m usually very quiet, I don’t know what to say and I feel a bit like a stranger.

  • Is it worth it?

Well I was sitting there this weekend in the middle of the event and decided to analyze my situation and how I was feeling:

  1. I’m hot, sweaty, and very uncomfortable in shitty clothes that do not fit
  2. I feel like they want me to constantly be serving them while others sit around and do nothing
  3. I have no space of my own and I have to borrow almost everything because my stuff is never good enough
  4. I often end up paying for stuff for others

Basically it’s become a job that I go pay to spend my time at. While I’m there I feel alone, unappreciated, and uncomfortable. Because of this I’ve decided that I’m going to take a break from doing living history.

I think a lot of the problems I have stems from not having enough “stuff”. It’s not that I want to compete in their dick waving contests (I couldn’t care less about that) but it’s that I just do not have the time or money at this point in my life to keep up with the hobby. If I had more of both I could afford clothes that actually fit me and felt great. I could buy my own tent where I could put things. I could get really nice and expensive gear that they couldn’t bitch about. All this would elevate my status in the group and I don’t think they’d be asking me to run around doing bitch work for them while they sit on their beds in their big fancy tents. I don’t want to quit because there are aspects that can still be fun, but I need to step back until I’m on sounder economic footing.

Modern politics ruins living history

26 Feb

So lately I feel my hobby, the hobby I’ve had for 10 years, is being ruined for me. Every living history person I’ve come across, with the exception of like 3 or 4 are the complete political opposites of me. Now normally this wouldn’t even come up, and I would prefer for it to stay that way. Unfortunately, through facebook they’ve found out that I completely disagree with them. I post something up for all my like minded friends to see, and then they see this and start giving me shit.

I thought I had the settings right where they wouldn’t see such posts, but I guess not. And now they argue with me over facebook and sometimes make snide comments in camp. It’s ruining LH for me! I’m not friends with them because of politics, I’m friends with them because of a common interest in history, but now that’s being eroded. I’m starting to feel like I don’t belong in LH any more, which depresses me because it’s something I’ve done since I was 12!

It just seems like every re-enactor I come across is a conservative of some flavor. Not sure why exactly. I wish they could keep the modern politics to themselves. I know they feel the same way about my and my facebook posts, and I’ve apologized to them and fixed the settings, but it still makes it feel awkward when I go out for events. It’s even worse when one of them makes a quip in camp. I’m on the verge of quitting….

Dante’s inferno, a comparison

9 Feb

EA and Visceral games are putting out a new game, Dante’s Inferno, supposedly based on the work “Divine Comedy” by Dante Alighieri. In the game you play as Dante, on a mission through hell to rescue your hot wife Beatrice Portinari. So how does the game match up with the actual Dante’s Inferno?

Take Dante in the game:

He’s a hardcore soldier with a giant battle scythe, covered head to toe in stylized plate armor.

Dante in real life:

He’s a hardcore poet with a giant battle quill, covered head to toe in…well…pajamas.

What about hell?

In the game hell is an action packed demon strong hold, full of bad guys that stand between you and your love.

In Dante’s book, hell is more like a scary guided tour given at Disney on Halloween.

And your love, Beatrice?

In game:

In real life:

Lastly, what about story wise?

Well here the game and the book continue to radically differ. In the book Dante starts off in a forest and is given a tour of hell by Virgil. He goes down, sees the 9 circles of hell, sees various famous people, and then climbs out the other end and into the second book, Purgatorio. There is no fighting and no Beatrice. The most dramatic seat of you pants thing that happens to him is he faints. (Don’t go to hell if you have low blood sugar) She shows up in the second book. Also Beatrice was never Dante’s wife. He first meet her when she was 8 and fell in love with her, but she married some other dude and died at the age of 24.

Here is what the game has to say for itself:

“At the midpoint on the journey of life, I found myself in a dark forest, for the clear path was lost” (opening line of The Divine Comedy). In the game, Dante goes on a spectacular journey through the afterlife to save his beloved Beatrice from the clutches of evil. But what starts out as a rescue mission quickly changes into a redemption story, where Dante must confront his own dark past and the sins he carries with him into Hell. He faces the epic inhospitable terrain of the underworld, huge monsters and guardians, sinister demons, the people and sins of his past, and the ultimate traitor: Lucifer himself.”

Sounds cool. A little heavy on the “go save the helpless white woman”, but still cool none the less. The game developers also have this to say:

“Inspired by the real Dante Alighieri, but adapted for a new generation and a new medium, the hero of the game is a soldier who defies death and fights for love against impossible odds. The Italian mercenary Dante returns home from the wars to find that his beloved Beatrice has been murdered, and her soul pulled down into Hell by a dark force. He gives chase, and vows to get her back. For weapons, he wields Death’s soul-reaping scythe, and commands holy powers of the cross, given to him by Beatrice.”

If by “inspired” they mean “hey, we took his name” then yeah it’s inspired, because that’s about it. Everything else but the names is changed, including the plot and characters. As for the “for a new generation” yeah, we play video games much more than we read, but if you ever get the time, check out the books, they are pretty cool. Maybe Riddley Scott could make a movie about it :-p

Too many chiefs, not enough indians

30 Jan

Today I’m running around preparing to leave in the afternoon for a medieval immersion event. Myself, along with a couple of other buddies, will be camping out in the woods for 2 days in full 15th century kit. No public, just us.

One of the things that I love about these types of events is that the “hierarchy” is really reduced. Sure there are the event coordinators in charge, but everyone there is from mix-match groups.

One of the problems my current group has, and that I think a LOT of medieval living history groups have is “Too many chiefs, not enough indians”. Lets face it. Life back then sucked. The social hierarchy sucked. There was a reason for the French revolution, and the execution of all the nobles. It was just really awful to be lower class.

Well the problem for the later period groups is the social pyramid. Unlike more modern groups where only the military hierarchy is really rigid and the social is more loose, the medieval hierarchy is extremely stiff. “You are a peasant! And you will serve my table, polish my armor, and generally kiss my ass! This is your place in life determined by GOD!” Yeah, not much wiggle room there. Nobody likes being stuck with the crappy impressions. Everyone loves putting on the expensive armor, picking up polearms, and looking badass.

Ideally, the system should work a bit like a Ponzi scheme. As long as the base keeps getting bigger things are fine.

If the group kept adding new members, at the same rate that current members move up from one kit level to another, the pyramid stays stable and just grows. Entry level people move up to level 2, level 2 people to level 3, etc. This would make it so people who were in entry kit level, who had to play the shitty parts of being a peasant, could at least look forward to building their kit up and getting to play something cooler.

Unfortunately, this is never how it really works in reality. The above method requires everyone to be working on their kits equally, and assumes a steady supply of new members. In reality people have lots of other things that need their attention. They can’t spend all the time working on their kit, and as everybody knows, it’s hard to get new people that stick. So what ends up happening is this:

Without a steady flow of new members, the pyramid stagnates. People who have put in the time and effort to move up to the next level are forced to stay in their current level for the sake of preserving the historically correct pyramid. This in turn breads resentment and increases the chance someone will stop coming out to events, which only further exacerbates the problem.

Eventually people will get tired of having to spend money to go kiss someone else’s ass for a weekend. It becomes a job that you put everything into, and don’t get what you want out of. These people will inevitably either quit the hobby altogether, or break off into splinter groups with them at the top. (In the 10 years I’ve done living history, I’ve seen this happen a LOT)

In living history individuality can be a great thing and a horrible thing. On one had, it is awesome to have unique items in camp; anything that makes you stand out from the rest of the people out there who might be doing similar but different stuff. On the other hand, the individuality has a tendency to make everyone a one man/woman show. Yes they all have to work as a unit, but people love you show off their stuff. While some groups might not be overly affected by this, it can turn into dick waving contests in other groups. (Which in turn also fuels splintering of a group into smaller groups where other people want to take their cool “stuff” and be the center of their own group.
I really don’t see any other option than the continuous cycle of group forms, group eventually breaks, splinters of old group form new group, only for that one to splinter and break. That is unless the group is pulling in enough new members regularly. Thoughts?
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