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August 8th, 2013


Posted on 2013.08.08 at 12:58
No, it is no secret that I do not like having Primaries and Secondaries in the Caidan laurel circle. And yes, I will admit, I am very strong-willed and unquestionably must come across to some of my cousins (or maybe even many) like a stubborn pit-bull with a pork-chop in his mouth. Ultimately, I respect the order and respect the fact that if the majority really believe it is better to do things this way, then I will respectfully comply. But I don’t have to like it. And sometimes I wonder – is it that we are seeing the same big picture, but just disagree about the issue? Or have I really just not properly communicated my issue? I don’t think I’ll ever know the answer, as I am not inside the heads of those sitting about the room.

In a nutshell, the Laurels in Caid long ago decided to create a system by which candidates up for discussion must have a Primary artform for which they are being considered, but also a Secondary artform in which he or she demonstrates competence. While I was not here at the time, my assumption based on discussions with those who were is that the system was created to basically build a better peer – one who is capable of looking at things from different angles and understanding different types of artforms. OK. I get that. And I applaud that desire and I see the value in that. But… is having a Primary and Secondary the only way to do that? Is it necessarily the best way to do that? Is it foolproof? If not, can it be improved upon?

In practice, I find the concept very off-putting because, like it or not, it has resulted in a lot of pigeonholing and also some bitterness – a significant amount, I believe. When I arrived in Caid as a Laurel elevated in another Kingdom, I was asked by lots of people – peers and non-peers alike, “what is your primary?” I really had no earthly idea what that meant, and it really made me feel like an outsider – almost as if I didn’t meet some sort of a bar that I had never even heard of. Now add on to this my own A.D.D.-nature. To the best of my knowledge, the Order of the Laurel in Trimaris did not all say that they were voting on me for my expertise in X. Different laurels told me different things in terms of what I was being elevated for. Heck, when I was trying to figure out what wording to have put on my laurel scroll, the final wording turned out to be “diverse arts” simply because I did different things then. At the time, I was most VISIBLE for my Italian Renaissance costuming, most KNOWN for teaching dance, but actually most ACCOMPLISHED at embroidery. Was I supposed to select from that list and determine a Primary versus a Secondary?

The problem that I see in using a Primary/Secondary system is that of the people that I see out there who really and truly are IMHO Laurel-quality, I think that most of them could be made to fit into a Primary/Secondary system – but not all. And sadly, I think that works to their detriment in Caid. In my own opinion, I would be more inclined to see someone made a laurel who does a high quality job at W and X and Y and Z than a person who does an outstanding job in one area, but practically nothing elsewhere. But our system really doesn’t address the jack-of-all-trades sort of person unless all those trades can be pigeonholed under one categorical umbrella. And while I understand that is just the way we do it here, I don’t really like it.

Then we have the concept of the Secondary. Sadly, I have seen Secondaries used and abused over the years to the point where I don’t see it as merely flawed, but as broken-beyond-repair. Too often, if a person just does an unrelated thing successfully once or twice, it is good enough to endorse that person as competent in that area. I really don’t agree with that because sometimes I have seen some individuals lord that secondary around as if it means something – it doesn’t. All a secondary means is that you did something totally outside of your primary and made a couple of functional items. By definition, it doesn’t mean one is really qualified to speak on that subject. That’s not to say that a laurel with a secondary in woodworking cannot speak to the artform. Who knows? Perhaps that individual has truly done a ton of woodworking projects that gives him or her the practical basis upon which to speak. But it is that practical knowledge that matters – not the fact that it was named as his or her secondary. Yet in other cases where a candidate does lots of other things, we have almost gotten into knock-down-drag-out arguments over whether that person is really “competent” in that particular area. Siiiiiigh.

Sadly, Primaries are no better. Too many times, we have discussed a candidate and the overall sense in the room is all of pep-pep, rah-rah, joy-joy, lovefest! We all love the candidate. We all love what that person does. We can’t wait to vote on that person. We all know that person is going to pass with flying colors. But… what do we name as the primary? Let’s call it a primary in flower-pot-painting. “NOOOOOOOOOOO!” yells the person from across the room. “I don’t think that person does enough with flower-pot-painting. But the way that he weaves sailcloth is stupendous. I think we should give him a laurel in sailcloth weaving.” “NOOOOOOOOOO!” screams the weavologist from the other side of the room. “Weaving sailcloth is just one type of weaving. And while he does it fabulously, I can’t see giving him a weaving primary. But I love his guillotine blades. Let’s vote on him for guillotine blade-making because he is the best.” “NOOOOOOOOOOO” scream the forgologists. Etc., etc., etc

Is it that we have a problem with the person? No.
Is it that the person doesn’t teach enough? No.
Is there a question about the person’s reputation in the Kingdom? No.
It is that we are having a problem with our own form of labeling. And that frustrates the crap out of me and I cannot seem to get across to enough of my cousins. The fact is, we aren’t recommending this person to be made a companion of the Order of the Laurel of Cloth or into the Order of the Laurel of Dance. Heck, we aren’t even recommending that person to be brought into the Order of the Laurel of Caid. Why? Because NO SUCH THING EXISTS! And I think sometimes we forget - we are recommending that person to be brought into the Order of the Laurel of the Society for Creative Anachronism – and that is a HUGE pool of very different people and concepts – the VAST majority of whom have never even heard of primaries or secondaries.

Instead, I believe – let’s not worry about what to call it. Let the candidate’s reputation speak for itself! If I, as a voting member of the Order don’t believe his sailcloth is impressive enough, but his blademaking is, I should be able to decide that in my own head when I cast my own personal ballot. And I believe the rest of my cousins should as well. That is why we don’t have a checklist and we all cast our own ballot based on our own opinion.

And here’s another thing to consider - over time, he might abandon all of those things and move on to other things – regardless of what his Primary/Secondary is or was. And is that bad? Using myself as an example, I used to be a dance-nut! I used to teach at every kingdom event in Trimaris from 9:00pm until sometimes 3:00 in the morning. Sadly, those days are gone. My knees are shot. My stamina isn’t there. And I just no longer do it – not in the least. I have pretty much completely abandoned that art-form. But I continue to do others that I used to do and have adopted some newer things that inspire me. I think of Mistress Eowyn who, over the decades, has reinvented herself radically. Elevated for, I believe, C&I and Stained Glass, she is now an embroidery goddess of dramatic proportion. But, but, but… that isn’t her primary or secondary! GASP! And to that I would say – so f$%$ing what? She’s a laurel. And she has a reputation of doing incredible things.

My darling Mistress Caterucia was improperly branded by this kingdom (and it was a JOKE if you ask me!) as a “Research Laurel”, yet I would hold her up against just about any costume laurel in the society because yah – she is Just That Good! And anybody in Caid and beyond who knows her probably assumes that she is a costume laurel. And ya know what? GOOD! They should! Because in my eyes, she is. And anybody who wants to know about early 16th century Italian costuming would be a fool not to go to her for advice!

Mistress Moirin is a music laurel with costume secondary. But if anyone comes to me and says, “I want to learn how to do early period illumination”, I’m going to spin them around and send them in her direction because she was clearly baptized in the well of Kells, being Just That Good at what she does.

Now please don’t get me wrong. I know people who really are mainly into one thing, always have been and always will be. If one was elevated 20 years ago for cooking and to this day still makes a point to cook – FABULOUS! (Hell, I WISH we had more of those here!) I’m not picking on a laurel being known for a thing or a couple of things. But in a way, that is actually my point – pigeonholing is far less important in my mind than recognizing an individual’s talent and ability to inspire and teach. And sometimes, when evaluating a candidate, I conclude in my own head, “That person is a Laurel!”

And if someone asks me what that person is a Laurel for, my general answer needs to be, “That person is a laurel for learning and teaching and accomplishing and inspiring and keeping alive the by-gone arts and sciences of history.”

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