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So, the seekrit project of great cuteness is proceeding apace. I finished one of the bits last night, held it up to Bob, and said "Now this - this is almost fatal levels of cute".

"I'm feeling a tightness in my chest even as we speak", he replied.

He went on to explain further effects of the cute, and declared the only remedy was Jack on the rocks with water.

Smartass.

It is very cute. I will slay you all with it sometime in the next two weeks, I think.

I have a bunch of things on my plate - I'm trying to get my act together on shop stuff (consulting time with my computer-savvy protege is imminent), I have things to make for the Sheep and Wool Festival demo, Gardiner's stuff to arrange, a website update to make, house stuff to do, and oh, yeah, a party at the end of the month.

I will not be at MTA this weekend. I will, however, be alone all that weekend and next week as Bob will be at the house, supervising the creation of our garage. I need to get the bedroom curtains re-done before he leaves, so he doesn't have to sleep with no curtains.

That all being said, what am I doing? Writing about SCA stuff. More judging.

No, wait. This is different (but related).

Bob, at his very first event, wore an ensemble consisting of a leather jerkin, a shirt, and (I think - he might have to correct me) a pair of spandex leggings. Very Renfest, but perfectly acceptable for a first event for someone who discovered us through the Maryland Renaissance Festival, right? Well, during the event, someone walked up to him (I swear it wasn't me) and turned back the shoulder of the jerkin, said "Hmm, machine sewn", and walked away again.

His very natural reaction (WTF?) was the same as mine would have been. And yours, I imagine. In fact, pretty much anyone who experienced the same thing would have a negative reaction of some sort, ranging from Bob's (a mild WTF? and a funny story later) to foaming offense and a vow to never play SCA again. I saw something similar (but worse) happen about five years later, with another new Rennie type - she turned up in her Renfest gear, which was sort of barbarian-ish, but it was her first event. She was snarked so hard by the "ladies" (and I use that term very loosely) that she never came back.

That's the bad kind of judging - it has nothing but malice at heart. Don't do it (and please don't come to me and boast of what you did to get rid of that awful person - I will not give you the approval you so clearly crave) (not that any of my delightful readers would ever do such a thing). Keep the snark for the locked lists. No, you don't have to pretend you never do it (most of us, including me, do it at some time or another), but don't do it where the person will hear - it's mean and unworthy.

Obviously, that's an easy one - Don't Be A Dick is my rule for all things (like all rules, it can be broken, but you'd better have a damned good reason). The harder one is when someone really wants to help, but help has not been requested. I have been guilty of this myself - when I was younger, if I heard someone snarking on someone else, I would then try to "help" the person being snarked on. Sadly, this was sometimes not out of an altruistic desire to see them escape from the snark, but because I had the mistaken idea that if I fixed the object of the snark, the snarkees would like me for it. I was a problem solver!

In my naivete, I had not realized that the snark does not welcome problem-solving - the snark is a way to feel superior. I bumped my nose into that a few times (I'm a slow learner), and finally realized I was causing more pain than progress (see: Slow Learner. My face is next to the definition in the dictionary) , and stopped.  These days, I will only offer advice if it is very clearly requested, and even then, I will question you closely to see what kind of feedback you really need from me.  I am very skittish about saying the wrong thing, because I know how much it hurts.  

(I will be honest if you want me to - but you had better be serious about it.  I will respect your wishes and refrain from soft soap if you want, but brace yourself.  Alternatively, you may be so good, I have nothing bad to say.) 

Now, don't get me wrong - snark has its place. It is a useful venting tool for saying what you cannot in person, especially when it is deserved (and sometimes?  Yes, yes it is).  Some people pull the snark hard down upon themselves (mostly on e-bay, I'm not sure why), and hey, if you're going to be an idiot, there will be consequences.  Snark is nature's way of saying:

   

And serves a valuable purpose in that it means I don't just kill people who achieve truly monumental levels of stupidity.

 What I don't like is the snark that attacks new people and creates an artificial hierarchy of "worth".  If a person is too insecure to appreciate that everyone was new once, then they need to get over themselves, not make the newbie feel bad for being less than perfect.  They're really not doing it to offend anyone, and they'll pick the right stuff up as they go along.  Jump on them from the outset, and you may have just created another "authenticity isn't fun!" advocate, and who can blame them?  Authenticity isn't fun when you're being beaten over the head with how much you fail at it.  

On the other hand, if the person is twenty years in, still wearing two bath towels pinned at the shoulders, and telling everyone "if they'd had it, they'd have used it"? Oh, be my guest. But be discreet.  There's no point in being a bitch.

A reminder (yes, you've seen these pictures before, most of you, but it bears repeating); you never know how someone will turn out:   

 

The first one is me in 1988 at my third event, the second is me at Henricus in 2004(?-ish). When I started, no-one thought I would turn out the way I have, least of all me. I liked princess dresses, and the Renaissance Festival, and just wanted to dress up and look pretty.

I've had a lot of "help" along the way - some well-meaning, some just mean. I can say from experience that unsolicited advice always hurts, and rarely (actually, pretty much never) helps.  Even if you try to help with the best, most unselfish intentions in the world, the person may not be in a space where they can hear what you have to say.  Unless someone specifically says "Tell me what you think I can improve on this outfit", hold your tongue. 

No, "how do I look?" is not an invitation to detail the flaws in an outfit. Nor is "hi, how are you?". I have seen too many people utterly crushed when some "well-meaning" (we'll give them some benefit of the doubt, but only a little) busybody bustles up to them and starts telling them that their outfit is all wrong, and they need to do this, this, and especially this to fix it.

Think of it this way - if you see a person in the street in a colour that doesn't suit them, do you walk up and tell them they look bad, and they'd look much better in green? You'd deserve a punch in the nose for being so rude.

(If you think this is an acceptable thing to do, leave this journal. I do not want to know you.)

It is just as rude to walk up to a stranger at an event and start critiquing their costuming efforts. It's almost as bad to do it to a friend, but at least the friend has the option of poisoning your drink at feast later. The stranger may be completely new, or not ready to make something else yet. Or they may have no spare time, no money, no resources, and did their best while managing three kids and a sick cat. The point is, you do not know. Making assumptions makes an ass out of you and Umptions, and Umptions resents your effrontery (as do I, and the person you're so hell-bent on "helping").

What I know is that you can permanently put someone off the SCA by doing so. I'm stubborn, and have a driving (some would say pathological) need to prove people wrong, but other, more tender, people will choose to leave permanently. I liked the "barbarian" girl - and the guys were all very disappointed when she never returned (she was very nicely shaped). The satisfaction gained from a cold-shoulder snarking of someone "not good enough" was simply not worth the cost of a member who might have been great.

I swear to you by all that I hold sacred (Cadbury's Creme Eggs and the 21st Amendment), it doesn't help. While it may be annoying to wait, you have to hold off until the person you're itching to improve wants to improve, and comes to ask you. For all you know, they may not want your advice; they may have someone else in mind that they would like to ask. People who want to improve will let you know. Don't go hog wild at the first sign of interest, either; let them lead you at their speed. Like seedlings, beginning students need tender care at first. When they are a little more sure of themselves they can handle more stern treatment, but at the beginning, they bruise easily.

(I'm making them sound like tomatoes. Not quite the analogy I intended, but it will do. Fragile, thin-skinned, and easily harmed beyond repair.)

Enthusiasm for teaching is a good thing, but like all good things, it can be taken too far. Run a newcomer too hard, too fast, and you'll drive them away. Be gentle.

I have made these mistakes; I am not some perfect being passing judgement on the masses, I am telling you this from direct experience of being on both sides of the coin. I still burn with shame at my tactlessness, even though I know I mostly meant to do good. I cannot be grateful to the people who felt the burning need to slam me, but I can say that the experience spurred my work to greater heights, if only to prove them all wrong (and, you know, pass them all by so I could grind their skulls into dust under my feet).

Let us distill this overly wordy post down to one pure sentence, full of laurelly goodness.

Do not ever, under any circumstances, offer a critique if someone has not specifically asked you for one, other than "You look nice".

If you've ever wondered why I don't walk around offering my opinion on all and sundry, and avoid going up to people and telling them how they fail at costuming and life, now you know. I get my snark worked out in private where no-one will get hurt.

Besides, I have Attack Laurels to do my work for me.

Comments

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thatpotteryguy
Mar. 11th, 2008 02:18 pm (UTC)
Hm. This is good stuff. Perhaps I might quote portions of it, have it etched onto a lens, and use a laser to BURN IT INTO THE BRAIN of a few people I know?

I see a lot of newcomers. I sell newcomers a lot of feast gear (usually seconds - they feel better making an investment of $5, and they almost always come back later to but first-rate stuff). Often I ask what their persona is (usually "I don't have one yet"), and either try to suggest something within that area of interest, or something adequately generic that won't offend any but the strictest of the period polizei.

But there's often someone else hanging around who feels it neccessary to stage an intervention. "Oh, well, with that outfit, you could be 11th C Scandinaivian by way of Polynesia and the Mayan Empire. All you have to do is blah blah blah, then yammer yammer yammer, cut sew glue burn blah blah blah blah helpercakes."

I deperately want to smack this person (they almost always look different - sometimes short, sometimes tall, sometimes male, sometimes female, but they almost always have one thing in common - rarely a peer, but a burning desire to be one). I'm trying to help someone make a purchase decision they'll be happy with, I'm not trying advise them on proper garb construction. Yeah, it makes me warm inside knowing that they'll be using a proper drinking utensil rather than a spun-aluminum mug with a plastic bottom. But I'm not pushing them, I'm letting them come to me.

On another note...

Too bad you're not coming to Jamestown this weekend. I've made some repros of some of the pottery from the fort - the drinking jug, for one, and a couple of the type B olive jars (the smaller, three-gallon ones). I'm also futsing with a couple of fuming pots (just not ready yet), and I'm going to be making a set of alembics and curcurbits. Those won't be ready this weekend, I'm afraid. Oh, well.

Thanks for another good post, as usual.
attack_laurel
Mar. 11th, 2008 02:29 pm (UTC)
"Helpercakes" is my new favourite word. I plan to use it until everyone around me wants to beat my skull in. Then I will giggle madly and use it some more.
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thatpotteryguy
Mar. 11th, 2008 02:22 pm (UTC)
Oh, and, for Bob

Jack and water, rocks? Dude, John Daniels is a mixer only. If you're down this weekend, I will offer you somthing a little more refined. A bit of Georgie Blanton's finest single-barrel bourbon is so much nicer than that other fellow's product.
attack_laurel
Mar. 11th, 2008 02:31 pm (UTC)
It's cheap, and he likes it (like I like cheap sweet Liebfraumilch). Unfortunately, he won't be at Jamestown either - framing, don'tcha know. :)
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elfsea_escapee
Mar. 11th, 2008 02:33 pm (UTC)
I came to this position a very long time ago. Even people who flounce up to you, saying "What do you think of my new dress?" are NOT looking for an in-depth critique. And there are lots of things you can find that are right enough to come up with a compliment, even if it's only "What nice fabric." (A phrase I have used innumerable times.)

The very hardest trial for me has been when a student of mine approaches me with something truly hideous, which bears little or no relation to what I have taught them, looking to be validated for that work. Fortunately this has only happened to me once or twice, and I managed to extricate myself diplomatically. But especially when someone is a student, it can be very hard to pull back and realize that this person is looking for validation, not for an honest evaluation or further instruction.
mstra_margarita
Mar. 12th, 2008 05:33 am (UTC)
sometimes the right answer is "Isn't it a lovely day to have a new dress!" (Thank you,Elizabeth Talbot)
gwacie
Mar. 11th, 2008 02:34 pm (UTC)
I still remember acutely the first time someone asked me for advice on an award scroll blank they had made. Stupid gwacie! She didn't want advice, she wanted "ooo pretty" and I figured that out shortly after some well meaning words about types of brushes and paint or other crap passed my lips and I saw her face just collapse. Argh! No!!! I take it back! It's pretty! it's good! You're a good scribe! Don't hate me!

Yeah, good advice. I still have trouble finding out if someone wants advice or just props, but after that first painful moment I err on the side of "ooo! Pretty!" as much as possible.
attack_laurel
Mar. 11th, 2008 02:38 pm (UTC)
...then they yell at us because they're not getting "useful feedback".

No, I'm not bitter. 8)
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maricelt
Mar. 11th, 2008 02:45 pm (UTC)
I've made my share of mistakes, and wanted to rip my tongue out and then melt into the floor for them. One thing I have started to do is to praise the effort that folks have put into their craft. "This must have taken you forever!" with suitable awe is a great neutral response. And encourages them to tell me about their work. It gives me a chance to gauge what they are looking for. Now I'm working on getting my brain to engage before my mouth starts running.
*head desk*
czina
Mar. 11th, 2008 04:00 pm (UTC)
It's interesting: saying 'you tried hard on this' is what parents are encouraged to tell their children, instead of 'you're so smart'. Trying hard is a goal that they can continue to work on, but if you tell them they're smart, they will often NOT work harder, or try new things, for fear of falling off the 'smart' pedestal.

The parallels are interesting - people learning new skills, no matter what age, get more from the encouragement to work hard, rather than just confirming something (and 'you're so smart' seems very similar to 'it's so pretty' when it comes down to it.)
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isabelladangelo
Mar. 11th, 2008 02:47 pm (UTC)
But I'm a good lil snark! :-) Okay okay...I try and behave but ... If someone is wearing a chainmail bikini in the middle of summer...with no padding...they are snark bait...as well as probably having multiple 2nd degree burns where ever the metal touches. (Would I go up to them and say so? No. But I would totally dare random people to give them the blue aleo burn relief. Also, Ebay is a treasure trove of snarkiness if there ever was one.)

I once had a "discussion" about a tangent of this on a board I use to visit. Even when people ask for your opinion, they fall into two classes. There are people out there who really, truly, want help to make their outfit "better". There are also those whom I call "Pretty Pretty Princesses" who want nothing more than "You're so pretty" and nothing more. Sometimes, the pretty pretty princesses start off sounding like "I want to make this more authentic" but once their eyes glaze over and they start on there "I want to throw all my garb away" rant...well, you know what you are dealing with then. The people that really want help with ask more questions as you tell 'em stuff..well, typically. Or at least they will come back to you later on with a ton more questions.

albreda
Mar. 12th, 2008 01:32 pm (UTC)
Sometimes I DO want feedback, just not a metric ton of it all at once - one piece of advice to work on at a time fits me best. Then, when I want feedback on how I applied that advice, I can go back and ask for both feedback on my progress, and the next step I should take. YMMV.
patrikia
Mar. 11th, 2008 03:01 pm (UTC)
What I love (NOT) is when someone will drag said new person over to me, hoping that The Mean Ole Authenticity/Research Laurel will pounce on said new person on their behalf.

Sigh. I know, I am such a disappointment sometimes, really.
the_celestia
Mar. 11th, 2008 04:41 pm (UTC)
Arrrgh, I feel your pain (though I am not a peer)...I've been on the receiving end of this. It wasn't the Peer's fault, but it still stung and it was a long time before I'd attend another event after it happened.

Now, I wouldn't ever ask for help at an event, I'd do it privately. I NEVER ask anyone what they think of my outfit or my kit in public. I learned this the hard way...the friend who took me to my first few events when I moved into a new area marched me up to a certain Peer (who comments here), and (without my request or permission) asked HER what she thought of my outfit...and she gave me QUITE the dressing down.

It wasn't HER fault, because he DID ask and there was no way she could know that I hadn't asked him to ask...but it's been over 15 years and I still instinctively avoid this Peer whenever I see her.

But it isn't really the Peer's fault, I think it can be very hard to know whether you're being set up or not.
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grnvixen
Mar. 11th, 2008 03:03 pm (UTC)
I know I've put my foot in my mouth a couple of times when I thought someone was actually asking for advice. I've gotten better but still have to watch out for unconcious, if well-meaning, setups by friends who are trying to be helpful (oh yeah? To whom!???). It can be particularly challenging when doing one-on-one juding. Yeah, you would think this would be a time someone was expecting some honest critique but, well, you've been over this ground before :).

And I used to think some of the apocryphal storys were slightly exaggerated until a friend I had dressed for an event a couple of years ago related how some had walked right up to her and told her that her veil arrangement was not period. From her description I recognized one of our royal peers, sigh.

Project of great cuteness???? You tease! You are a cruel evil woman!!!! (or not :) ).
zarhooie
Mar. 11th, 2008 03:05 pm (UTC)
My friend fibergeek posted this this morning:
Stop making snarky comments about people at events! They can hear you. That newby you just snarked is a poor little college girl, who's going to be afraid of peers because of you! 6 months later I have to reasure her that it's o.k., and the Peer that just voulenteerd (via e-mail) to teach her a new A&S is a nice person (not a vile, evil, snarky person) who just likes making period sutff and that she'll have a great time! She almost backed out of going to the next event, and learning an A&S she really wants to learn all because you're sitting there w/in earshot of people making horrible comments about them and now she's scared of peers! If her garb is that bad, introduce your self, talk to her about it, encourage her to be more period because it's fun. She's new, your early garb probably wasn't much better. I haven't met you, don't know you, Hell I've never even been to the Kingdom you're in, and yet you've managed to completely PISS ME OFF!!!! Stop behaving badly! Learn to play nice with others or STFU!!
acanthusleaf
Mar. 11th, 2008 03:36 pm (UTC)
Your friend is right.

Peers take a vow at their elevation to treat courteously with those of every degree.

Well, some of us made a vow, and some other people made mouth noises.
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malvoisine
Mar. 11th, 2008 03:31 pm (UTC)
Some of the best advice I'd ever been given as regards to judging was to leave a positive comment, no matter what, especially if you left a lot of critical comments. So, my stock in trade verbal comment is 'that's a lovely color on you, you should wear that color more often' and 'that style is really flattering on you'. And that's about it. I live in horror of being 'that Laurel'. And because I do a lot of hand-sewing, I have people who are immediately defensive upon talking to me and automatically begin the litany of why they can't/won't/don't handsew, like I need to know and didn't ask.....
Even when asked for criticism, I rarely comply, because most people really don't want an honest answer. They want to be told they look pretty and/or that they did a good job. In most cases, I can do that without guilt - I try to consider the SCA age of a person and their skill level and compliment accordingly. At the very least, I can usually at least compliment their button choice, or something innocuous.....
(Deleted comment)
attack_laurel
Mar. 11th, 2008 03:45 pm (UTC)
You may. Credit me, and all is good. :)
cathgrace
Mar. 11th, 2008 03:42 pm (UTC)
I love Cadbury's Creme Eggs........they are the bomb.
peteyfrogboy
Mar. 11th, 2008 03:43 pm (UTC)
I usually try to find something positive to say about their construction. Any talk of overall design is usually better done in depth, and I'm not a good enough judge of fabrics to feel comfortable making any comments in that area.
attack_laurel
Mar. 11th, 2008 03:47 pm (UTC)
More to the point, I bet you don't walk up to unsuspecting people and start telling them what's wrong with their outfit, do you? :)
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(Deleted comment)
attack_laurel
Mar. 11th, 2008 04:54 pm (UTC)
Re: "Tell me what you think I can improve on this outfit"
I personally *love* it (loveitloveitloveit) when someone asks for something specific I can comment on - "what can you suggest to improve *blank*?" "Do you think I can do *blank* another way for a better result?", and even "How do you get *blank* to do that?".

I'm happy to divulge secrets (such as, if you want the lace to lay flat on something, sew it on both sides - that came up recently), and happy to work on specifics. Even a general idea as to what area someone wants feedback on will be useful. :)

I just won't do it without being asked directly. Even hints don't work too well, since I'm terrified of misinterpreting someone's hints. Just ask! :)
luciab
Mar. 11th, 2008 05:04 pm (UTC)
I just remembered that one of the reasons I didn't play in the SCA for years (we had SCAdian friends in Kentucky but never played there) was because of one woman in the group who was constantly snarking about garb that wasn't exactly right. All I knew was that if I was going to embark on something so time consuming as SCA I wanted to hang out with my friends and have fun, and right then, doing research into correct garb construction wasn't my idea of a good time. And really, there are still a lot of other things that come WAY before that on my personal "having fun" list.

And when I did finally start playing, I made an "Italian Ren" outfit that one woman "complimented" by saying, "Nice dress. I covered my sofa in that fabric." Ummmm.... thanks? At least I'd been playing long enough to know she was well-known for her lack of tact, and not known for her great garb, either.
czina
Mar. 11th, 2008 05:14 pm (UTC)
The answer to the 'covered the couch' comment: "Don't you think Eleanor of Toledo's dress would make an exquisite chair upholstery?" Just to see if they've actually SEEN said picture, or have noticed the similarity of modern upholstery and historical haute couture.
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