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It has come to our notice here at the Attack Laurel Academy that the SCA Knowne Worlde Handebooke (Free E With Every Purchase!) is updating its bad olde self, and the editors are soliciting articles for the newe editione.

This seems a perfect time to address the sticky issue of Persona Stories. While the personae of all our Attack Laurel alumni (deceased) and faculty (badly maimed, but still more dangerous than a pit viper in cargo pants) are varied and exciting, encompassing all four corners of our inexplicably round world, and rife with pirates, gypsies, courtesans and vampire ninja Cossacks*, in reality, most people in the ridiculously generous period the SCA covers would live lives of quiet, boring desperation. Throughout this article, we will be quoting the life stories of actual real people of the period, that we totally made up so as to prove our point.

For instance, women often seem to be entranced by the idea of their persona travelling the world, meeting important people, and marrying them, by way of capture/kidnapping, or being sold into slave caravans.

"I was born in Scotland, on the coast, where I grew up in a small village until I was captured by pirates, and killed." - Flora McUnfortunate

"I became a courtesan in Venice at age 13, and died, insane and disfigured by syphillis sores at 27." - Isabella d'Contagioso

"I was captured by a slaver caravan and taken to the Middle East, where I was sold to a harem. I was strangled on my third night." - Espania Clueless

Men, it must be admitted, are not much better when it comes to making up romantic life stories that involve marginalized cultures which were widely reviled in the Middle Ages, even though they are fashionably exotic today. Many is the SCA member who has concoted elaborate reasons to tie together their penchant for wearing colourful scarves and their interest in obscure German militaria, mostly as an excuse to pick up girls.

"I was part of a gypsy clan who tried to join a Landskenecht regiment at 14. They laughed at me and then killed me." - Roberto the Gutted

"My parents left me with the Jesuits when I was a baby, because they couldn't afford to keep me. I lived my life in a monastery, and never left." - Antonio Dullest

"I had my hands cut off for stealing, and lived the rest of my short life as a beggar on the streets of Milan." - Enrique the Stubby

In truth, even when people stick to one country for their persona, they cling to the idea that they, unlike 99% of their countrymen, were cosmopolitan, had money, travelled a lot, and could read in several languages.

"I spent my entire life in one village, and died without ever going more than one mile from my home." - Robert the Homebody

"I was a subsistence farmer who barely had enough money to feed my family and cow." - Robert the Cowherd

"You had a cow?! My family starved, and I died with them in the great famine of 15-something." - Robert the Skeletal

"Moo" - Robert the Cow

This kind of thing applies to all countries, with only slight variations in clothing and language - most people lived lives of the most unimaginable toil and futility. Not to mention all the different names the Heralds insist on - no-one cared if they had the same name as someone else; it's not like any of them travelled further than the next village. But do SCA people care? Nooooooo. Everyone's gotta be special. Sheesh.

"Je etais un Fermier de subsistance; je suis morte." - Robert le Berger

"Vous aviez des aliments? J'étais juste mort." - Robert le Morte

"Meugler" - Robert le Vache**

And even if you actually agree with the idea that everyone in the SCA is nobility (despite the protests of a small but vocal minority who claim that "peasants is where it's at", but refuse to allow the "nobility" to engage in the very period practice of spitting on them every chance they get), there's still a huge discrepancy between the tales of persona that most of these special snowflakes come up with and the lives of most of the minor nobility in the SCA period.

"I was a Baron, until the neighbouring Baron took all my lands and killed me." - Robert the Landless

"I was his wife; I'm now another Baron's wife.  It's not like I really had any choice in the matter." - Suzette the Kidnapped

"I lived a life of total obscurity on my lands until I went to the Crusades; after that, I spent the rest of my life in prison, because no-one was willing to ransom me." - Robert the Bored and Itchy

"You got ransomed?  I just died on the battlefield.  See that rotting head over there?  That's me." - Robert the Slain

"At least you got to grow up - I got sent on the Children's Crusade when I was five years old."  - Robert the Young

"Did you make it to Jerusalem?"

"No - we made it as far as Italy, and we were captured by pirates and killed."


But - let's say everyone in the SCA is high nobility - we're all Kings and Queens, and life is a glittering whirl of court activities and debauchery.  Since you're all intermarrying, you're all insane.  And that Hapsburg lip looks really nice on you.  I swear.

"I am King of all Roumania, and I bathe in the blood of my enemies every Thursday.  Birds fly over trees and cake." - Robert the Utterly, Utterly Mad

As much as it pains most people to admit, lives back then were as boring and humdrum as our lives now, only with poorer hygeine, bad breath, and no Wikipedia.  So, if you need to inject some interest into your persona story to make up for the fact that your real life story sends people to sleep faster than Diazepam, go ahead, we can't stop you.

But we're going to laugh.


*The Author must admit that her first persona story involved Scotland, pirates, Russian merchant travellers, and a short stint in Italy as a Courtesan.  She has since grown the fuck up.

**Translation courtesy of PROMPT online.
Edit:  I am being remiss; Bob came up with some of the "real-life persona" responses.


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Apr. 22nd, 2009 12:37 pm (UTC)
*giggling* reminds me of fluffly pagans who want to be regressed..."i was cleopatra! i was napoleon! i was caesar!"

you know, NO one i know (other than me cause i had it done...and....) was just A Person. me, i was a person. born, married, had kids, died. yay, go me.

besides, other than the gorgeous clothing that the people who CARE get themselves dressed in (or the people who make the effort, i should say) arent we all pretty much....people getting to have a little fun? i loved this post!
Apr. 22nd, 2009 01:02 pm (UTC)
Penn and Teller did a great episode touching on past-life regression - of course the person being regressed was the Empress Josephine's best friend, of course! Her fake "Franche" accent was a wonder to behold.
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Apr. 22nd, 2009 12:50 pm (UTC)
I started off originally with the "Dirty filthy 12th Century English peasant" persona. But then I was reminded by a whole lot of people that dirty filthy peasants didn't get called into court.
Apr. 22nd, 2009 12:54 pm (UTC)
Well, except for amusing and ultimately humiliating practices better left unsaid... *whistle*
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Apr. 22nd, 2009 12:53 pm (UTC)
This is the same as when people engage in speculation about their past lives. They overestimate the degree to which life was interesting in the past. It's almost like they've never even seen Our Town.

Edited at 2009-04-22 12:54 pm (UTC)
Apr. 22nd, 2009 01:01 pm (UTC)
True story: I fell asleep during a production of Our Town. I hope Thornton Wilder would have understood.
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Apr. 22nd, 2009 12:53 pm (UTC)
The gypsy thing is a personal pet peeve of mine and will get me much hatred amongst the middle eastern folks AND get me branded as a racist if...er...when I burst into hysterical laughter during any persona story that has the words "gypsy" or "roma" AND "silk road" in it.
Apr. 22nd, 2009 12:59 pm (UTC)
Whereas I have a real problem with people who claim "gypsy" (without understanding that's a derogatory term) and want all the exotic romance without ever educating themselves about the historical nature of being Rom.

Even today, where "Gypsy" is a fun Halloween costume to most people, the surviving Romany clans face bitter and unrelenting bigotry and racism. It's not swirly scarves and fortune-telling with no consequences - and it's this that I always flash on when people don't "get" cultural appropriation*, and why it might not be a good thing.

*As opposed to true multiculturalism, which accords equal respect to elements of all cultures, and often seems like a myth - certainly, I've never actually run into it.
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Apr. 22nd, 2009 01:01 pm (UTC)
Sweet jumping monkeys! They're updating it? Wow. *blinks*

Is this where we share our persona stories? Cuz I have a connection to pirates pre-emptive mercantile salvage operators! ;D
Apr. 22nd, 2009 01:04 pm (UTC)
I saw an ad in The Acorn (for out of Kingdom readers, our Kingdom newsletter).

Share away. :)
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Apr. 22nd, 2009 01:03 pm (UTC)
Check the cartoon of Herald's Point:

Apr. 22nd, 2009 01:07 pm (UTC)
You crack me up. :)

...though my hubby is a "noble Rus merchant traveller" (ca. 900 Novgorod)....d'oh.
Apr. 22nd, 2009 01:11 pm (UTC)
My persona story is way more boring than my real ancestors, one of whom had a writ from the Queen to attack Spanish ships. When you have real life pirates (albeit "legal" ones) in your background, you don't need to pretend to be one.
Apr. 22nd, 2009 01:12 pm (UTC)

I'm an 'umble Hinnkeeper in the thriving (cos Good King 'Enery 'asn't dissoluted the monasteries yet) town of Walsingham.

My only claim to fame is that I brew good mead and cider and feed my guests well.

God I'm bored. Here I am, brain the size of a planet, and all they let me do is watch the mead ferment. Life... Don't talk to me about life!
Apr. 22nd, 2009 01:29 pm (UTC)
...except for the 19th century Cockney accent, you're getting there. *evil grin* Think more Midlands. "Well, oi be buggerrred dohwn dead!"
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Apr. 22nd, 2009 01:34 pm (UTC)
OhMyGod, you have me laughing out loud and trying to explain why to my faculty this morning :) :) :).

Hits home for the local renfaire too, all the fairies were bad enough but the whole entertainment staff, and then some, have gone gypsy. Yeah. Right. Let me show you what that maypole would also have been used for..............
(no subject) - greeneyedtengu - Apr. 22nd, 2009 02:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 22nd, 2009 01:46 pm (UTC)
You have to have a name to go with your persona, and for preference it should include at least two wildly disapparate places and time periods and the wrong gender, so that you have to explain it along the lines of 'my mother was one of Queen Elizabeth's ladies in waiting, and my father was a Viking raider who got lost in a wormhole, and I had to dress as a boy to avoid being ravished by the pirates/gypsies/elves/Jesuits. You get extra points for bad grammatical construction.

I particularly like it when someone has a mundane name like Joan Tanner but chooses to call herself Aurora Dawn de l' Misty Unicorn Valley (tm). (Names made up to protect the guilty.)
Apr. 22nd, 2009 01:57 pm (UTC)
Amber Mountainside of the Dawn Fairyspeaker - I knew her well. :)
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Apr. 22nd, 2009 01:59 pm (UTC)
Allow me to play devil's advocate a little.
There's nothing wrong with being a trader, or a merchant, they did exist. Just try to be a believable trader or merchant. And that requires just a little research . Most of the folks who have the outrageous persona stories are, by in large in my experience, also the folks who are a little fuzzy on that whole "historical" part of the SCA to start with.
Apr. 22nd, 2009 02:08 pm (UTC)
My point. :)
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Apr. 22nd, 2009 02:23 pm (UTC)
I was never able to come up with a persona story that could reconcile all of my interests. So I picked one of those interests to use as an anchor point for my persona. When I do things that my persona wouldn't have done, I chalk it up to part of the fun of the SCA, and I don't try to fit it into my persona story.
Apr. 22nd, 2009 02:39 pm (UTC)
I do this as well. Although my persona is pretty vague.. I'm an English minor noble woman who's been widowed (and had most of the other men in her family, and a good bunch of the females and servants also killed off) by the plague , therefore leaving her to try and keep the manor from going under. Lots of work!
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Apr. 22nd, 2009 03:21 pm (UTC)
Don't forget Multiple Persona disorder where one feels they need five hundred different personae for every activity they pursue ;)
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