when the weird get going

Dear Uma: Should you ever find yourself desirous of a life change, probably an unlikely scenario for you right now, I have discovered a couple of interesting ways to really, really change your life.

Dear Uma:

Should you ever find yourself desirous of a life change, probably an unlikely scenario for you right now, I have discovered a couple of interesting ways to really, really change your life. I am talking serious switching, the kind one may enjoy without surgery, a divorce or a lottery win.

It appears western culture is experiencing a movement towards what is called “participatory arts,” and like all things deemed western culture, this movement has an international following.

The Society for Creative Anachronism was started (in Berkley – where else?) in the 1960s and today numbers over 32,000 members worldwide. There are groups in the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, and the Panama Canal Zone. There is even a group in South Korea.

The SCA declares itself to be dedicated to the recreation of the Middle Ages “as they ought to have been,” studying and selectively recreating mainly Medieval European cultures and their histories before the 17th century.

Nineteen kingdoms comprise the SCA, with the Yukon included in the An Tir region. Each kingdom has its royalty; one can become a king or queen by winning major tournaments, which are required to be held as a “properly constituted armoured combat” tournament. The king and queen then can appoint dukes and duchesses, counts and countesses, etc. to fill the royal court.

Local and regional sub-groups are called “households” and are not part of the society’s formal organization, with the largest of these being the Mongol Empire-themed Great Dark Horde. There is no readily available information as to exactly how large this largest horde is, but given the current taste, I would guess they now outnumber the populations in the kingdoms.

Members of the SCA research and take part in activities such as combat and chivalry (the latter is probably not on the Dark Horde agenda), archery, heraldry, equestrian activities, costuming, cooking, metalwork, woodworking, music, dance, calligraphy, and fibre arts – all reminiscent of a good summer camp.

These endeavours mean there are people who have become very skilled in these old arts and are able to earn money making relevant things like chain mail, swords, court dresses, wigs, pennants, and all the other accessories of medieval life.

Each member is expected to take on a persona, an historically plausible character, and to then be that character as authentically as possible. Not in everyday life, you understand; just at SCA events.

“Creative” is the key word to this organization; the SCA events are more self-referential to individual members’ personas where several cultures and historic periods can be represented. Thus, a Roman may fight a 15th-century knight, then a Viking, and even an American Indian. This is why the SCA is referred to as a subculture rather than a re-enactment group.

The LARPers are live-action role players, coming together as a group in the late ‘70s and like the SCA, growing to include players from all over the world. Their action takes place in modern times, sometimes historical times, but most often in futuristic times. Those involved in larping have a taste for the dark side, leading me to wonder if they may not be agents of the Great Dark Horde.

Goth-punks, zombies, assassins, vampires and aliens; these are the majority of characters in LARP. No jousting or sword fights for this lot; they prefer laser guns, armed space ships, or deadly rays shot from the trained mind. And that namby-pamby princess stuff is definitely not for them.

Larping is about live character actions in imaginary settings, and it is generally filmed. It is improvisational theatre, with the events ranging from small private get-togethers to huge public happenings involving thousands of people. Many of whom, by the way, have no idea they are participating. Imagine, how many people may have larped at some time, all unknowing, playing their part with a total naturalness that must have delighted the producers. It is likely easy enough to set up; in these interesting times it isn’t all that remarkable to see Goths, or zombies among the crowd of a city street.

They would never get away with such a thing in Watson Lake, where the slightest oddity of dress or demeanour is noteworthy and startling. A woman wearing a dress, or a man in a shirt and tie are cause for attention and speculation. A Goth would be a real standout, though a zombie may be able to melt into the populace unnoticed.

I would guess the larpers have not ventured very far north; their success depends on masses of people and we simply cannot provide those masses. We couldn’t even come up with a horde, Dark or otherwise.

Not surprisingly, larping is on its way to becoming an industry. The increasing professionalism of their productions and their distribution has led to companies that manufacture weapons, armour, and costumes especially for larpers.

Then there is Second City, the mother of all alternate realities. I did the briefest of virtual tours and was as fascinated as I was disturbed by the wealth of detail, the range of possibilities presented in this ultimate game. Terms such as “augmented reality” and “neogeography” are marvellous to a writer, and the “digital urban” T shirts and messenger bags were great designs.

This is a world of avatars, each one created by someone and representing that person’s fantasies. One of the sites I visited was all about architecture; a video tour was a marvel of beauty and ingenuity, with the accompanying music wonderfully strange and haunting.

There are many different worlds in cyberspace, with more being created and others being expanded daily, but even in these virtual places there are politics, wars, and terrorism. Some things seem to belong to being human as intrinsically as having a prehensile digit.

Although I wasn’t inclined to go any deeper into these alternative life games after my little journey of exploration, I admit I was left feeling mildly discontent with my real life. Not enough to go larping, to apply for a position in SCA, or create an avatar, but enough to feel restless.

I satisfied my own modest and momentary desire for living another life by applying makeup, combing my hair, and wearing a rain cape and a broad-brimmed hat when I went to town to pick up our mail. It was a daring thing to do as there hasn’t been a drop of moisture in this area for two weeks. I prepared myself for scrutiny and speculation as I made my way through the lunchtime crowd in the post office.

The usual bunch of office workers, maybe five, picking up their post, did indeed notice me, but they were not at all mystified as to who this new person was in their midst. They greeted me nicely, as usual, and went about their business. Apparently the real me was shining through the disguise.

Cee was the only one who commented when I went to her place for tea, first asking me if I was cold, then saying she would like to borrow my hat when she went fishing with her husband this weekend.

It was when I took the hat off that she really understood my effort to be someone else for awhile.

“Omigod! What have you done? All you need is a moustache and you’d look like Charlie Chaplin!”

I guess a fantasy life is not for me, Uma; I am in the wrong place and it seems I lack the imagination.



AKA Charlie

Heather Bennett is a writer

who lives in Watson Lake.