attack_laurel (attack_laurel) wrote,

Cheerful (it are documentable!)

The rain has stopped; the sun has come out.

My doctor's appointment yesterday was very hopeful; her first theory about why the nerves in my arms might be so screwed up is a possibility. I have to get some tests done, so we'll see, but for now I have a scrip for Lidocaine patches, and a more positive outlook on things.

Mind you, nothing happens fast, but at least this course of action doesn't involve injections into my spine. In fact, she agrees with me that it is very unlikely this is at all neck related, whereas my previous doctor would not consider anything else. It's a universal truth that people will always insist that your problem is always solved by whatever they are an expert in.

Years of research has shown me that this is often not the case - with my arms, or with historical work.

Speaking of which, I had promised I would put up some links to good approaches to the thorny question of writing good documentation, so here you go:

This links page will lead you to a number of articles on how to write documentation; this article on documentation and material culture is one I particularly recommend for Pentathlon beginners, and this one is one of my favourites for people who consider "documentation required" a death sentence.  :)

As always, I only have direct experience of my kingdom of residence - Atlantia.  I know what happens here, as I've been a resident for the last 20 years, but anyone from any other kingdom will neccessarily filter everything I write through their own experiences.  What I write is geared towards the culture I know - where we have been trying very hard for the past few years to make the artistic experience as rewarding as possible, and trying to weed out bad judges who are in it for the "thrill of the kill".  (I keeel them!  Stabbity!)

One thing I've seen throughout my life in the SCA is the "documentation not required" note on A&S displays, with the excuse (and I used it myself, when I was new, and suddenly the local MOAS) that "more people will want to enter if we don't".  Anecdotal evidence has not borne out this theory over the years; if anything, more serious artisans won't enter because they know their research work will not be appreciated.  When more experienced artisans won't enter, novices feel like it's not worth entering either, and even displays get fewer entries.

One of the things that I'm hearing is people saying "I'm not good enough/ my work isn't at a good enough level for me to compete".  This is I think a result of the sheer skill level of a lot of our displaying artisans - everyone seems so good!  However, there are always novice categories/notations for beginners, and I, for one, get really excited when I see someone entering for the first time.  Novices are judged against their own skill level, not the best thing on the table, so you don't need to worry that anyone is sneering at your work.  And I'd bet dollars to doughnuts there's someone looking at your work and going "Oh, I can't put my work on display - it's not nearly as good as that!".  

I have particularly enjoyed some of the novice documentation I've read over the years - and I have no problem with someone putting a note in (as someone did) that this is their "very first try, so please be gentle!".  I'd rather know, really, honestly, truly.  I can still find something useful to say, and because I know you're new, I can gear it to your level.

I think the problem with "no documentation required" lies in the idea that documentation is too much like schoolwork, and most people don't associate their school years with fun.  Sure, everyone wants to have fun, but authenticity, learning, and fun are not mutually exclusive concepts, even for people who hate writing.  Really, documentation at a basic level is just the notes you took as you made the project - where you got your inspiration, what you learned, and how you made it.  Like the articles I linked to point out, it doesn't have to be a dissertation.  The further you go into a subject, the more documentation you will gather, but that happens over time.

Now, you are always going to get judges who don't read your documentation properly - until we pay (please?) and train our judges, we are dependent on whomever is willing to show up.  However, there are quite a few judges like me out there who really believe in what they do, and try their best to give good advice and an objective assessment of the work on display.  There are more of us than most people would think, and they really appreciate the quality of good documentation.  

While we do have issues with judges and documentation, the more people take their documentation seriously, the more judges will take it seriously (especially when the competition organizers keep hammering it into their heads before they start judging, hint, hint).  We've made such leaps and bounds in our movement towards more historical work (in the last twenty years in this kingdom we've gone from director's chairs and blue tarp dayshades as an event norm to pavilions and wooden furniture, and let's not even start on the clothes/fiber research!), it seems a natural progression of our advancement to appreciate documentation beyond a 3x5" card saying "Viking" as the sole documentation on the table.

(Yes, we're nowhere near the historical level of more authentic groups out there, but we are much better than we used to be.  Besides, if you don't think the SCA is worth a damn, why are you reading this?  I mean, you're very welcome here, but aren't you bored?  I'm not that interesting.)

The best thing I can recommend for beginners is to look at the documentation other artisans put out - what impresses you?  How much of it is really essay-style writing, and how much is commentary on books and pictures, and extant objects?  How much is "this is what I did", and how much is historical background?  A novice is not required to put out perfect documentation, but any real effort to talk about what you did, what you found, and what you learned is really exciting, since I now know, as a judge, that you made an effort to make something true to your chosen historical period.

Some of us judges really dig that stuff.  With a concerted effort, we can help everyone to appreciate it.

Caveat:  When I suggest all this stuff, it is geared towards the people who want to do it.  No-one is obligated to do anything they don't want - this is, after all, our precious free time, which should be spent on things we like to do.   I happen to like judging, and try to do my best for my entrants.  I think there are rewarding aspects to the competition structure (though it can always be tweaked), even though it is not in the least bit period.  As always, you are free to politely disagree - some of my best friends do, and we get along fine.  :)
Tags: documentation, medical, sca
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