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First Word

We went and finally saw the third installment of The Lord of the Rings trilogy last week. Needless to say, The Return of the King was everything I could have hoped for in a film. I have little doubt that all of you have seen it or, at least, will see it soon.

Throughout the movie, I was quite often moved to tears. Images of profound beauty often do that to me. It’s true! I can find things so achingly beautiful that they literally make me weep. When I first saw the Parthenon at age twelve, I wept. When I sat and watched a performance of Cirque de Soleil’s ‘O,’ I cried. I once even started to get all misty-eyed at an SCA event in Seareach where I looked at Duchess Seonaid just prior to a Court and she was just so beautiful that I had to turn away. I consider myself pretty lucky to be able to be moved by something as simple as a beautiful image.

But it was the images of battle that so stirred me while watching The Return of the King. It seems that, whenever I see people going in to battle, I find myself pulled along with them. It was no different as I cried my way through the Agincourt battle in Branagh’s Henry V, or the Two Towers’ battle at Helm’s Deep, or even recent trailers for the new movie, The Alamo. When men of good conscience march in to the fray, regardless of the odds, to fight for what’s right, I’m there. I feel the call to that battle.

It’s a feeling that colors much of what I do, both in the SCA and in life. And it’s certainly the reason I take on some of the particular, political battles I do. Doing the “right thing” is something I think I do automatically. At least I try. “Right” being a term that can sometimes be very subjective. But, other times, it’s not subjective at all. I truly believe that some things are inherently “right” and definitely “wrong.” In a world where people love to hide behind shades of gray, there sometimes stand issues that are clearly black and white.

Someone I know here in Houston recently said that being around me was “too exhausting.” The fact that I always have some sort of moral stance wearied him. “Everything’s an issue.” He simply couldn’t figure out why I wouldn’t just ignore some things; accept that people are “basically bad” and thus prone to behaving the way they do. I think he was actually trying to help me, in his own way, to be more forgiving and lead a less stressful existence.

Obviously, I didn’t take it well. For one thing, I truly do believe that people are good. I believe that people want to be good but merely get side-tracked occasionally by personal issues, be they fear, need, or simple shortsightedness. Thus, ignoring them, as he suggested, would not only be doing them a disservice, but it would also be tacit approval of their self-indulgence. It’s where my own personal mantra, “It’s the principle of the thing” stems from. I think people sometimes make the wrong choices because they just weren’t thinking about it. It’s the responsibility of everyone to tell people when they are behaving badly. That way, they can at least know whether they did the wrong thing by accident or by conscious choice.

Some people actually choose to be bad. Those are sad people and I pity them. It makes their lives and the lives of everyone around them ugly. And why someone would choose an ugly existence when a beautiful one is so readily available eludes me.

But most people make bad choices out of ignorance. Myself included. Sometimes we just “didn’t think about it.” How many times have I found myself on the wrong side of a situation because I didn’t have all the facts? It happens. It’s always a balancing act trying to act decisively but not too precipitously. Still and all, as you all well know(!), I’ll always choose to act than not act. In a way, to me, indifference is the greatest sin of all.

Even when “bad people” make choices I disrespect, I can appreciate that they took a stance. And eventually, I can be confident that they will reap the consequences of their choices. But, for people who take no position on anything, who let life happen to them rather than be shaped by them, I feel not so much sorrow as frustration. I guess I just can’t fathom why anyone would want to be a bystander when they can be a positive force for change in the world around them.

The latter is the very nature of my bond with the members of House Corvus. I consider us a positive force in the SCA. Moreover, I see us a good influence in each other’s lives. By setting an example to others (and each other) of just what a household can be and do in the Society, we have an effect on how others play the game. We’re a model (emphasis on ‘a” model, not ‘the’ model). Corvus sets a standard against which others can be judged, for better or ill. Though, I hope for better. It’s an interesting position to be in but it’s one I think we really do strive to live up to. But, as always, I feel we can do more: for the SCA and for each other.

There’s a line from the movie Vanilla Sky which I truly hold dear: “Every passing moment is a chance to turn it all around.” Let this new year be such a moment for us; as individuals, and as a household. Nothing is so full of promise as this time of year. Rededicating ourselves to our household ideals is a great way to begin it. And, I’d like to reiterate the promise I made to each and every one of you when you joined House Corvus: I’ll always strive to give you my best. And I’ll always expect your best in return. It’s the simplest of all formulas. Yet, it yields surprisingly astounding results when applied to our lives. --BRAN

Courtly Virtues

no•blesse o•blige
(nO-bles' O-blEzh'; Fr. nô-bles' ô-blEzh')

Literally, noblesse oblige refers to the moral obligation of those of high or noble birth to act with honor, kindliness, and generosity to those of a lower station. After all, in the Middle Ages, members of the aristocracy were noble, both in title and in character, because its members were born that way. They presumed that it was simply their nature to be noble. The peasantry toiled and paid taxes because the land and the fruits which came from it belonged to the nobility. It was simply their nature to be poor. The nobility provided protection, food, and succor not because it was just, but merely out of what they considered to be their generous spirit and sense of duty. It is a notion that is wholly offensive to our modern sensibilities. Why then, do we invoke the term so often in the SCA and make it something we strive to emulate in these Current Middle Ages?

On one level, it was the evolution of this medieval concept that gave rise to what we now refer to as common courtesy. Over time, noblesse oblige evolved into a more egalitarian ideal: that courtesy and respect were due everyone, regardless of class or rank. It’s the oil that lubricates civilization and allows us all to live together. And, when it fails, no good ever comes from it. In a land where all men are created equal, it seems a step backwards to invoke the concept of noblesse oblige. But, here in the SCA, we’ve resurrected this archaic concept for good reason and to very good effect.

As a medieval recreation society, noblesse oblige is one of the more romantic underpinnings of the courtesy and chivalry that we seek to emulate. Courtesy and etiquette played a huge role in the Middle Ages and, therefore, in our Society as well. And isn’t most of the fun in the SCA the pretense that we are medieval lords and ladies? In fact, every member of the SCA is considered to be of noble birth. It’s one of the tenets of the Society. That sense of nobility is only heightened upon receiving an Award, Grant, or Patent of Arms. With the achievement of rank in the SCA, though, skulks the easy allure of ego. It’s not too hard to become so enamored of an award or position, that one feels “it is their due.” Before you know it, you’ve done an excellent job of recreating a true medieval noble! In those cases, reminding our nobility that “to whom much is given, much will be expected” isn’t necessarily such a bad idea, is it?

In our modern existence, courtesy is something our parents teach us that we apply in varying degrees to our everyday encounters. In the SCA, though, due to our noble natures, courtesy is expected, even demanded. Simply put, anyone in the SCA who treats someone with discourtesy, disrespect, or dishonor is betraying the very ideals upon which our society is based. No position or rank excuses you from this. Moreover, the “higher” your position, the greater the obligation to behave in a courteous manner. Noblesse oblige indeed.

Applying this concept to our lives in the Society can be troublesome. Regardless of our medieval trappings, we are still modern people and we all know that common courtesy isn’t really all that common. But the chief allure of the SCA and the creation of our persona therein is that we can be the person we truly wish we were. No matter your mundane origin, in our Society you are a lord or lady, a count or a king. You can be the person you most want to be.

To achieve that Dream, we conjure visions of Camelot and men and women dedicated to the chivalric ideal. Honor, courtesy, and respect become more than mere buzzwords, but are the tools by which we transform our present day reality into the higher concepts that were the hallmark of the romanticized medieval court. As much as your garb or armor, courtesy needs to be something you put on and wield to make your medieval experience complete. This seems like a lofty notion. But the concept of noblesse oblige helps to bring it down and put it into a more achievable perspective. We act nobly because we are obliged to do so.

[“Courtly Virtues” was a proposed series of articles originally intended for Hidden Mountain’s baronial newsletter, The Mountain Mayhem. Her Excellency, Baroness Julianna had intended for various people to write articles for the newsletter monthly. Sadly, the very people who had volunteered to write articles bailed when the time came. This was my article for that planned series. I really like the idea though and, if you don’t mind, will be writing seven more articles (at least) to follow up this one. I’ll print them here and might also draw up accompanying illustrations based on the frescoes in the Arena Chapel in Padua, Italy. These are among the most celebrated works in the history of art and include cartoons of the seven virtues. Giotto di Bondone's work was a source of inspiration and instruction for generations of painters having been studied by Masaccio, da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?]

Coming to a Town Near You

With the advent of the new year, I’ve started subscriptions to the newsletters of every Kingdom in which House Corvus has members. Specifically, that means An Tir, Ansteorra, Atlantia, Caid, the Middle, and Trimaris. I’ve done this for a variety of reasons.

First and most obvious, I want to stay abreast of what’s going on in each of our respective Kingdoms. As you may have noticed, I’ve already started adding certain events from all of the Kingdoms we live in to the Corvus calendar. That way, we not only know what events some of our housemates might be attending, but also if we might be able to visit someone for an event. It’s never a bad thing to know what’s going on!

Second, I thought if I kept better track of events in all of our Kingdoms, I might be able to make more events personally. My calendar is always complicated, as you well know. But I’ve been having better and better luck with arranging little side-trips here and there due to more careful planning on my part. Right now, that’s been translating to about four airline flights a month. I’m not sure if I can really keep that sort of travel up (it’s surprisingly wearying), but I really would like to visit more people in Corvus over a wider range of geography this year. Most of you realize that I’m “there for you” in spirit. But I wouldn’t mind seeing some of you more often physically!

With that in mind, look over the Corvus calendar yourselves and see how I might be able to sneak a visit in to you around some event. I love going to events in other Kingdoms and seeing how they play. If you have an event coming up that you really want to attend and think I might enjoy, don’t hesitate to bounce it off me. You just never know, I might show up!

I’ve made a commitment that I’ll make extraordinary effort to be there for any House Corvus inductions, but you’d be surprised at how much fun a simple weekend visit can be just to hang out, take in a day event, and then visit with you.

At the same time, advance planning in your parts for bigger events would be appreciated. We have Gulf Wars and Pennsic on our agendas this year and I would love to see as many Corvites at both! Master Oshi and Mistress Rhiannon are heading up our efforts at both those events respectively. But there are plenty of other events that might attract a good Corvus contingent if someone wanted to take on coordinating (and inspiring) us to go!

For Your Consideration

I hate to sound like a broken record starting every section out with “Since it’s a new year...” but it really is a good time to make plans!

With various inductions and a bit of general house cleaning, the FYC list has gotten fairly light. This is a good thing in that it means it’s much easier to meet and keep up with potential new members to the Household. But I don’t want it to become a more subtle indicator implying that we’re no longer looking actively at other people whom we think might a be a good fit with House Corvus. No matter how many Corvites there may seem to be at any given time, there’s always room for more.

While, on the surface, House Corvus seems a large Household; like any household, the “active” membership waxes and wanes with the personal situations of individual members. Some previously active people might disappear for a bit while others return from an extended hiatus (welcome back, Miguel!). That’s natural and even expected in an organization like the SCA.

However, too complacent an attitude towards these coming and goings might also signal a general apathy towards our overall sustained health. We need to always be keeping an eye on those people who would benefit from being a member of Corvus and whose membership would benefit all of us as a group. Together, we make an even bigger impact.

At the same time, we also need to balance how we deal with current members who seem temporarily inactive. It’s one thing to respect a person’s need for private time and another thing for them to think we’ve just passed them by. Please, please, please don’t ever worry about that! I think everyone in Corvus knows that you sometimes just can’t be as involved as you want to be. Because we’re not one of those groups that pressures anyone in to playing beyond their means or desire, it might seem that we just don’t care about you anymore. THAT IS NEVER THE CASE.

Stay in touch, let us know how things are going and if there are things we can do to make your getting back involved easier. That’s what we’re here for.

Last modified on Wednesday, November 26, 2008
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