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The first song I learned to play on the guitar is a love song.
A friend of mine wrote it for the wedding of some of her friends, and then recorded it on one of the five albums she has filled with mostly original songs over her life so far. And then, when I was 32 years old and decided that I wanted to learn to play the guitar–for real this time, not like when I was a kid–she sat me down in her living room, handed me her battered old backup guitar, and taught me to play four chords as her kids ran around us. I dutifully wrote them own in the little notebook I had selected for this purpose–A, E, D, and G. I wrote down the order. I wrote down their fingerings–not in tab, but in a jargony shorthand of my own devising, based on nothing but the general sense of how things make sense to me, developed over 32 years of learning who I am and how that differs from who other people are. I wrote down everything she said about how to hold the guitar, how to press my fingers to the frets, how to hold the pick, how to strum. I wrote down the order of the strings, making a crude diagram where one side said “I am here” and the other said “this is my lap,” as if I am distinct from my lap.
I went home with her old guitar and I practiced diligently. At some point I started to hear an arrangement wanting to come out, and sitting on my bed in my peaceful bedroom with the blinds open to let in the light, I started to write it down on a piece of purple paper with a purple owl in the upper left corner. My notes are probably meaningless to anyone else; I don’t know, nobody else is allowed in here while I’m playing.
I’ve been making music since I was barely old enough to read. I started singing in a choir before my eight birthday. I took piano, I played the handbells and the flute all through school. I taught lessons for a hot minute (I was bad at it). I’ve sung professionally and semi-professionally, in college and in the community, on stage and on the street and in homes and in concert halls, with operas and sacred choirs and folk singers and theatre troupes, solos, duets, trios, quartets, sextets, ensembles. I even did karaoke. I hate karaoke, but that’s neither here nor there. Singing is as easy to me as breathing nowadays, but it wasn’t always–I struggled and worked and paid buckets of money to train to get where I am. I fought raging allergies, asthma (undiagnosed until my 20s), stage fright, bad technique learned from a bad director, attention problems (still undiagnosed, but I have my suspicions), crippling anxiety and depression, a world that wants everyone to belt for some godforsaken reason. I still fight those things, but they no longer stop me opening my mouth. I’m good at it.
But I don’t consider myself a musician. A singer, yes, sure, but that’s different somehow. Over the sixish months I’ve been playing guitar, I have explicitly invited mr. biscuit in to hear me play a song maybe twice. I have spent the rest of the time pretending he can’t hear me on the other side of the wall. Over Christmas my parents came to visit, and both they and my husband, the three most supportive people in my very supportive circle of loved ones, begged me to play something for them. I refused. Flat out. No. Don’t ask me to play music for you. I’m not good enough to show anyone. I will not be one of those youtubers making a video in their living room and earning pity likes. I will be amazing or I will sit in my room and cry over this battered old guitar while I try to play loud enough to drown out the voice telling me I am so bad at this, I’ll never be any good, I started too late, I have terrible technique, my hands aren’t strong enough, I don’t practice enough, I have no work ethic, I still have zero idea what to do with my strumming hand–how even do you strum pattern?–just shut up, shut up SHUT UP.
A few months ago, I played the first song I learned for the friend who wrote it and tauht it to me. I arranged it differently than she did–at first to cover the fact that I couldn’t quite wrap my brain around the strum pattern, but then after a while I realized I had taken a beautiful song and added beauty to it. When I played it for her my hands shook so hard I almost lost my grip on the guitar. “This is the lowest stakes environment imaginable,” she said to me, as we sat in plastic chairs in her backyard while her kids played on the swing set. I got through it. She smiled. She said she loved my arrangement. She said I was doing well.
mr. biscuit says I am doing well, but he’s biased–of all people he has spent the most time picking up the pieces of my depressive spirals, he probably just wants to make me feel better (a wretchedly unfair assessment, both to him and to me and our trusting, loving partnership). Intellectually I know that I have progressed, but is “better than when began” really something to be proud of? It would be difficult to be worse at guitar than I was when I began. I came to it with some advantages: two decades of musical training; long fingers with all the strength and dexterity of two decades of typing; muscle memory and ear training from playing the flute (half forgotten, but only half); hunger to create music that I hear in my head and my heart. But still. I’m better than I was–so fucking what. Spare me the “compare yourself to the artist you were” sentiments–they only apply to other people. People who are hard working, persistent, diligent, who didn’t waste all their talents and opportunities when they were younger. People I like. People who are worthy of being liked.
There is a moment in any given guitar practice when my heart breaks and I start to cry, my head sagging over the body of this battered old guitar as I struggle to keep moving my hands against the tide of doubt and self-hatred that is choking me. It doesn’t always happen. It happens enough, though.
I’ve started practicing with the door open*, though, and that’s something.
*not today. Today it’s 30 degrees outside and the central heat is borked, so I’ve got the bedroom door closed to help the space heater along. It’s toasty warm and bright in here; mr. biscuit is happily ensconced in the dark, cold living room. He is at least 30% cave bear.
I’m going on hiatus. This season of CRF will be my last faire season.
I don’t know how long this hiatus will go on. I’ve sworn to wait the entirety of 2016 before I make any decisions, and in the meantime I am trying to focus on the here and now and get healthy.
The last fiveish years have been really difficult. At some point in late 2013 I wrote “I am burned the fuck out” in a post I never finished, and that feeling never went away; it only got worse. I began seeing a therapist after finishing Scarborough this year, and I’ve been diagnosed with depression and general anxiety disorder. I need a break from travel, stage fright, homesickness, post-show depression, worrying about money, being sick, and the physical and emotional demands of performance, the venue, and juggling two or three jobs. I’ve got a full time job that is enjoyable enough and pays well enough to keep at for the foreseeable future. mr. biscuit and I are working on getting our debt paid off, and I’m working on getting healthy.
I attended my first renaissance festival in the fall of 1992 or 1993. My friend’s family took me and my sister. The next 7 or 8 years my family went to the Georgia Renaissance Festival for a weekend every year. I loved it. I would cry when it was time to leave at the end of the day. In 2004, as a college sophomore, I auditioned for and got hired to be on the cast. It was a dream come true, and this is what I said about opening day (courtesy my livejournal):
“Ren Fest was the absolute shit, I’m tired beyond all reason, my poor breasts are sunburned, and I haven’t stopped smiling in about 3 hours.”
I spent six years on the cast of the Georgia Renaissance Festival, and for the most part they were excellent years. How many things happened there? I can’t even begin to tell you. I met mr. biscuit, and any number of my closest friends. I discovered within myself a talent and affinity for this very particular type of performance. I made a lot of people smile. And I had a shit load of fun. Leaving was one of the hardest decisions I had made up to that point, but I left to pursue other opportunities. When I told the entertainment director that I would not be returning for the coming season, I already had plans to go after the Scarborough Renaissance Festival. I got in. And after years of trying, I got into the Carolina Renaissance Festival. And I did really well. I met more dear friends, and developed a funny, tight, high-energy, educational, empowering act that can be as intimate or broad as the situation warrants. And I made money, and I had the time of my life, and I learned how to sew.
Esperanza began as a Spanish pirate who was in England trying to track down King Henry VIII in revenge for the death of her mother. She evolved into a Recruitment Officer for the Spanish Army, building an army on English soil. This is how the costume looked my first year:
And this is how the costume looks now:
In between, we had this:
And somewhere along the line I wore myself out.
I don’t know where I’m going from here. My goal is to get healthy—to manage my allergies/asthma, my IBS, my increasingly difficult periods, and my anxiety and depression to a better degree than I am currently managing. I just want to have more good days than bad days. We want to get to a better financial place, to pay off our credit card and student loans so that we can take care of our aging cats and get a new car when we need to and afford to move again when our lease is up, and rebuild our retirement savings after the huge hit they’ve taken in the last few years, and maybe save to buy a place. We want to continue the progress we’ve made towards making our living space pleasant, beautiful, and well-organized(ish). I want to celebrate Halloween and Easter in a way that doesn’t mean working.
This decision was mine and mine alone. I consulted my most trusted advisors over and over again, but ultimately the only person I have to thank/blame is myself. It’s hard to walk away from something I worked to get for years. In pursuit of this dream I spent years going all over the country on my own dime to try and convince entertainment directors to hire me. I cried and struggled and swore and panicked and learned to sew, and eventually I succeeded, and then…I stopped. I know I made the right decision—when I sent the emails to my entertainment directors, I felt a huge sense of relief. But if there is one thing that art students hear over and over again, it’s “don’t give up;” it’s hard to feel like I’m not giving up.
Then again, maybe I am. Maybe I’m just not cut out for this. I love this work, but the things that go with it—travel, shitty working conditions, illness, iffy income, anxiety, homesickness—are just so hard to manage. Maybe I’m just not cut out for those things. Maybe the joy of the work—and there is so much joy in it for me, so that I sometimes feel like I’m going to explode from it—is not enough to carry me through the attendant trials and tribulations. Maybe I’ll never do this again.
Then again, maybe it is, and maybe I will.
I don’t know.
And I’m ok with that.
As of about 2:30 in the morning on Saturday, the grape fairies are done.
TruthL had another person not been involved, I would have given up on this shit a long time ago. I was so exhausted and stressed from the final weekend of Scarborough and the trip home (during which I awesomely lost my wallet in Mississippi) that I seriously only wanted to sleep next to mr. biscuit and maybe play some video games, BUT. a friend of mine was counting on me, so I whined quite a lot, but I persevered.
Things I don’t have include a full-body picture of me as the red grape fairy, any good closeups of our makeup, and another petit four (unrelated to this post).
Please note the lack of fail in this update! That’s because the fairies are going well!
To be quite specific, the Red Grape Fairy is going well. I’m using it as the experimental costume and taking copious notes on what works, so that when I’m finished I can bang out the White Grape Fairy in the day or two left to me at that point. For those keeping track at home, there are 13 days before these costumes need to be finished. Three of those are performance days, at least one day must be packing and cleaning day, one day is Driving Home All Day day, one day is set aside for the Wing Making Party, and one day I’m going to the GA faire in civvies. I also lost a great deal of today to being miserable in a distinctly feminine way, and before I leave Texas I have a lot of friends I’d like to spend at least a little time with. SO THAT BEING SAID, I should stop thinking up flimsy excuses to watch 30 Rock and really buckle down, right? Right.
So let’s talk about the work I’ve been doing.
The only thing I’ve finished is the undertunic:
I use the word “finished” loosely, in that it still needs trim (to line the neckline), but that is waiting ’till I get home. Of my two sewing machines, I only brought the Battlestar Galactica (the workhorse) to Texas, and I want to use decorative stitches, which I only have on the other machine, which I’ve tentatively christened the Delicate Fucking Flower.
Since this picture, taken on Thursday, I’ve dropped the neckline about an inch, and removed the measuring tape from around my neck. I have not, however, changed my jeans.
The undertunic is made from the Elizabethan Smock Pattern Generator, slightly modified. To wit, I shortened the sleeves and made the side gores smaller, and obviously modified the neckline, using a complicated process I liked to call I Drew Some Random Measurements On Tissue Paper And Then Prayed It Would Work When I Cut It Out Of Fabric:
Now I’m working on the sheer overskirt. My first attempt was a four-panel skirt of rectangles, which didn’t have the swoosh and drape I wanted and bunched at the waist, so I tore it apart and am remaking it into a six-panel skirt of trapezoids. I’m going to leave the panels unconnected on the sides and finish the edges with ribbon in the contrast color. It will go under a simple belt/waist cincher of cotton canvas covered in the matte and sheer fabric, with a bit of boning at the sides, front, and back to help it keep its shape, and some grommets at the back once I figure out where I put the Bodice/Corset Supply Box.
I’ve just finished stuffing my face with Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and perhaps because of this, I’m feeling pretty optimistic. We shall see.
First of all, I love you guys. I woke up this morning to a flood of encouragement and warm fuzzies, here and on my Facebook, that I really needed to be able to get back on the horse. You are all the best.
On the suggestion of many people, I showered, slept, went out for sushi and frozen yogurt, and then tried my hand at belting the faulty gown. You were all right; it looks much better with a belt. I just…still don’t like it. I spent quite a bit of time actively not thinking about it before I came back to try it again, the better to come to it with a clean slate, and I just…I don’t like it. It’s not what I thought it would be, and I don’t like how it fits anywhere, not just at the waist. Specifically I’m unhappy with the arm holes, the way the bodice crosses (badly. It crosses badly), and the just general bulkiness of it. Even with serious belting, the fabric pools and pulls and puffs weirdly and makes me look pregnant. I would have to construct a belt a LOT wider than what I had planned–what basically amounts to an underbust corset–to make it work about half of what I want it to work, and I don’t have the time or energy to make two of those.
Eventually, perhaps this summer, I will take it apart and see if I can figure out what went wrong. I don’t have the time to do that now, though, so I’m starting over, with a pattern I’ve proven I can use and alter accurately and quickly. I’ve got today, part of tomorrow, and part of Friday. I got a little more fabric this morning, and I’m going to make one costume at a time lest I mess up again. I’m starting with mine, the Fairy of Red Grapes. I’ll keep you up to date.
Some time ago I decided I had to sit down and finalize my Dragon*Con plans early this year, and then not add anything. I think I’ve done that, though I reserve the right to attempt a Keymaster/Gatekeeper ensemble.
Anyway, the winning four are:
- Grape fairy duo
- Carmen Sandiego and Dick Tracy improvements
- Post-Apocalyptic Avengers improvements
- Rococopunk group
I’ve been thinking about this shit for months now, and I’m so glad I finally get to start talking about (and let’s be honest shopping for) it. Wall o’text below!