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--"Izzy, how did you start dancing?"

--"What got you into martial arts?"

--"What kind of dancer/martial artist/writer are you?

--"How do you deal with brain damage, bodily injury and 

     C-PTSD, yet still dance, write, train, live the way you do?"

--"How do you still find joy and beauty amidst pain and loss?"

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  • Bella Dancer

SAVAGE DAUGHTER: Heraldry, Heartland, Home & Howl

Updated: Nov 23

Okay, we're back at it. I needed a bit of a break after the monstrous website overhaul.


I also needed a break after I started telling you about my discovery of the Society for Creative Anachronism. If you're new around here, that's the the medieval reenactment group I started playing with in college. (1) It started out as such a wonderland. A writey-dancey history nerd walks into a lecture hall. Seated at the bar are a professor, a siege machine, and a Viking...


In full armor.


Aroooh????


Before I knew it, I had been tossed into armor myself, then discovered the style of belly dancing around the campfires that would alter my dance career forever. I dove into the SCA head-first. By day, I learned how to be a shield-maiden; by night I put on the frillies and danced my heart out beneath the moon and stars.


But my entrance into the Society sparked three of the most turbulent months of my life. It began in May with the shocking death of my dear friend Hal, that very Viking who had introduced me to the SCA. Although it was as magical as he had promised it would be, only a week after my first event I escaped being raped by the guy who'd helped me build my first set of armor. Then I tried to help another SCA friend leave her abusive boyfriend and was menaced with more rape and death threats. At that point, my stability--okay, let's just call it--my sanity cracked a bit. Last came the devastating end of my engagement to my fiancé.


The only thing that kept my boat afloat was an immersion in my passions. Sewing garb, learning how to fight, writing and dancing like a fiend, and preparing for Pennsic, the huge War event out in Pennsylvania that was coming up in August. (2) I threw myself into the SCA as though it contained my ability to breathe.


In truth, it did.


And the SCA noticed.


SCA Newb 1995:

Flamin' Bonehead

between Northshield's compass rose and the Midrealm's dragon

They call it a “device.” It’s your SCA heraldry. Your coat-of-arms. When you’re awarded the first level of honor for arts, sciences, combat, or service, you are allowed to take the title of Lady, Lord, or one of the alternate options of equivalent rank. You’re also allowed to choose your personal heraldry. This is something you register with the College of Heralds, who do extensive research to ensure that your device could never be confused with anyone else’s. (3)


I was presented with an Award of Arms about two months after attending my first event. I…um…I tend to make a bit of an entrance and I don’t do anything halfway when my obsessive--I mean passionate, dedicated nature is invoked.


Upon hearing my name called out in court at Pennsic XXIV, I was hanging out in the back of the hall with the collection of rowdy fighters who were destined to become my household after that event. They were a mercenary company and their device was a flaming horned skull.


Shocking that this is where I’d wind up. Mercenary? Skulls? Horns? Flames?!


I know.


If you’re not familiar with the SCA, the best way I can explain this to you is to paint the picture thusly: it was like the shy Catholic schoolgirl-gone-naughty being adopted by that gang of loud, roaring, beer-swigging bikers who were also super sweet and had a deep code of loyalty and honor. This household’s fealty code had nothing to do with which shiny hat or what color belt somebody wore, but rather, how they treated people.


This appealed to me greatly, as I've never had any sort of ability to bow and kiss tushie just because someone has a fancy title or an expensive something or a famous name or a rank of yada. Trends, popularity contests, and pecking orders mean nothing to me either. In fact, they usually get on my nerves, so as I listened to the members of this household speaking about being SCA mercenaries, I knew that my Northshielder compass rose had just pointed me in the right direction.


They called us the Flamin’ Boneheads, which we sort of liked, even when it was uttered derisively. More often it was said affectionately (at least in our proximity), and sometimes we even used it ourselves. I quickly learned that the derisiveness often came from people with scepters up their asses who enjoyed grinding everyone they considered "beneath them" under their heels because they--or their husbands--knew how to club people gooood. As such, I took it as a compliment to be looked at down snooty noses like theirs.


So, no shit, there I was. In the back of the great hall at Pennsic XXIV, trying to sit-pretty like a proper Milady Nobody and pay attention to the awards ceremony going on at the front, while two of my soon-to-be brothers-in-arms made jackasses of themselves with a very large drinking horn. I was really enjoying the jackassery and yearned to take part, but I also believe in being respectful at court, because whatever the people being called up there had done to deserve these awards must have taken a lot of diligence, skill, time, devotion--


“Arabella of the Shire of the Inner Sea is summoned into this court!”


BING?!


My spine snapped upright. My eyes went huge. I suspect I resembled a freshly authorized melee newb huddled in the pile of “dead” boneheads while a hoard of “enemies” trampled overhead. Which was…you know…precisely what I’d been that morning while fighting in the town battle. And the morning before during the bridge battle. Definitely during my first field battle on--


Everybody in close proximity was staring at me. And grinning. The Boneheads all chuckled. They shooed me into the aisle. The knowing smile on my new boyfriend’s face showed that he had been fully aware that this moment was coming. The clump of Inner Sea denizens from my home Shire all wore the same smiles as I passed by them on my final approach to the platform, where I curtseyed and took a knee before the Royals and their attendants.


I was so new that I have no idea who stepped up to speak about me before handing me an illuminated scroll. Alas, my beautiful Award of Arms has been lost to one of my many time-crunch moves and to Dain Bramage. I suspect it got left in the house of an ex-husband and…well, if that's the case, no doubt it was burned or slowly, meticulously, gleefully shredded.


Anyway, it was the reign of King Osis (R.I.P), whom I would later come to casually know, and his Queen Valthiona, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't Her Royal Majesty who handed me that scroll. This lady didn’t wear the emblem of our kingdom--the Midrealm's dragon. She wore the compass rose of my home territory, Northshield. (1)


Perhaps the Crown Princess had done so to honor the announcement that we had just been made an official Principality? She definitely wasn’t the Princess of Northshield, for we were still months away from holding our first Coronet Tournament. My overwhelmed baby-SCAdian mind has no idea who stood above me. The Pennsic War, the largest event in the Knowne World with its nearly 10,000 attendees and innumerable demographics (1-2), was only my third event.


Like I said, I do very little halfway.


Which was precisely why I was kneeling before that platform, about to be rewarded for my fervent Fire Sign, all-in, hyperfixater’s nature.


The two photos I have of that moment are from the back of the room, over a myriad heads, and they’re so dark that I can’t make out who the Royal Personage above me is. But her face and the warmth of her smile has been branded into my mind's eye. I remember how beautiful, graceful, and regal she was, with hair nearly as dark as the gown she wore. It was a sideless black surcoat with a huge, white compass rose emblazoned across the front. White fur outlined the swooping sides.



I also remember the look in her eyes when she spoke of the things she’d heard about me--about my artistic passion and skills, the enthusiastic way I had thrown myself into the Society, my willingness to help out even though I was a newcomer. I was grateful to be wearing a face veil, because my throat closed and my eyes misted up.


After the applause broke out and I bowed my way out of Their Royal Presences, my Inner Sea friends jumped up to hug me. In the eyes of the two lords who headed our Shire, I could have no doubt who had recommended me for such an honor.


To top it all off, later that night, my boyfriend and I were invited to become official members of our mercenary friends’ household.


Being recognized so early as a valuable member of this Society that nurtured every one of my deepest passions, and then being invited into a household that espoused my unorthodox interpersonal values gave me some much needed validation. It helped combat all the "you're coo-coo" looks I received whenever I told people about all this medieval playacting I'd been up to since spring.


For the Theater Major turned History Major, it was...just sort of a "duh." But I was surrounded by a sea of people who just didn't get it.


Not for long.


The SCA also put some much needed stable ground under my feet. And I don't only mean my introduction to learning how to protect myself. I don't only mean obtaining some more instruction in my favorite dance form that I was getting paid to perform on way too little training.


I mean in my heart, especially where social atmospheres were concerned.


After all the turmoil I'd been through since Hal's death, I needed people who got it, and I needed stabilization. Desperately. I needed a solid place within the shield wall, elbow-to-elbow with people I could count on. I needed the welcome of my dance sisters and the mentorship of earthy, more experienced women. I needed an outlet for my abandoned Theater Major--the career I'd thought I would pursue since adults had begun asking me, "And what do you want to be when you grow up, little girl?" (Grow up...hahahaha...)


In the wake of what had happened with Satyr and Theo, I needed to stop fearing and suspecting the men around me as badly as I needed to be held gently and kissed passionately after two years in a long-distance relationship. Yes, I was falling in rebound-love with Stan, and I knew it.


But more so, I was falling in love with that for which I had always longed--to be an inspired, integral part of something greater than myself.


As I strolled those dusty campground roads with a train sweeping behind me...as I crashed and bashed among the armored bodies of laughing, goodnatured foes...as the campfire drums pounded into my flesh and made my bones hum...as I nerded out with friends and strangers about countless historical and geeky topics...as I curled up safely in a dark tent, wrapped in big, strong, affectionate arms, sharing wine-laden kisses to the soundtrack of far-off revelry and the cricket chorus, all the magic I had experienced at my first event came rushing back, and then tripled.


If you've been around here for awhile, you already know that this idyll wouldn't last. But for that brief moment at Pennsic, everything calmed down, allowing a foreign sensation to seep into me.


Belonging.


Dare I say...home?


I'd never felt anything like it.



This stabilization and inspiration followed me back home where I settled into the rhythm of finishing my History degree, working as an assistant to the head of an HR department, and dancing at the Greek restaurant on the weekends. The free time I had left over was filled with sewing new garb, writing sweeping fictional adventures, attending weekly SCA meetings at the tavern, going to fighter practices, and traveling to events.


After being awarded the title of "Lady" I set to work with our local herald, designing my personal coat-of-arms. Eventually, we came up with a red sun surrounded by a wall of alternating blue-and-gold checkies. Knowing myself as I do--Sagittarius is the Mutable Fire Sign, after all--I drew the device out and put it on my refrigerator so that I would have to look at it multiple times every day. I decided that, if after a year, I still loved it just as much, I could begin the process of officially registering it with the College of Heralds, under my official persona name. I just had to decide what that name was.


So far I had "Arabella," but that was as far as I had gotten. When they'd called me up in court, they used what they had--my home Shire of Inner Sea. I loved that, but I felt compelled to flesh out my persona more historically.


I knew that the rest of my name needed some sort of fiery flare to it, and I was pretty sure she would be Spanish, specifically, Andalusian. (I was just coming out of that awkward Undecided transition between dropping my Spanish Major for History.) I toyed with the notion of having pirate parentage or being raised among nomads, traders, explorers...something unfettered and wandersome that could explain how I was a European belly dancer who was also a fighter-chick. Alas, that identity continued to remain elusive.


I was in no hurry. It had only been four months since I'd walked into that trebuchet demonstration and met Hal.


Truth be told, I was far more excited about wearing the heraldry that designated me as a Midrealm dragon, a Northshield griffin, an Inner Sea denizen, and a Flamin' Bonehead. I’d never been part of such an international group before, and I'd certainly never belonged to a community as welcoming as our Shire. Neither had I ever been invited into a tight clique of people who were loyal to each other the way my new household was.


Being twenty-two, I was only a few years out from high school, so I was mostly used to groups of people working together because they’d been thrust into the same classroom or activity, whether or not they liked each other. I was used to seeing people band together against a common enemy, which never lasted and usually disintegrated in flames. I was used to being alone or hunkering down in the trenches with the other misfits whether or not we had anything else in common.


But even the big group of Northshielders felt like home at my introduction to Pennsic, as well as Pennsic XXV where we rallied for the first time under the banners of our new Prince and Princess. We hailed from as many opposite poles as our compass rose had points, but at War, when we all got to put on that gold-and-black griffin or wear the compass rose, we converged into One for a heavenly moment.


And within that Whole, a motley crew of fiery horns and fangs poked out. You had to treat us right to entice us into fighting at your side, but if you had us, you had us. And when you didn't, well...we had each other.


NorthShield-Maiden, Flamin' Bonehead:


That was something else I needed--rallying to colors and battle-cries that I had chosen to wear by the inspiration of my heart. For years, I had poured out my everything for the ole orange-and-black--my sweat, skills, gifts, sometimes even my blood on the bleacher seats when I saved a volleyball gone wild--only to be set up and stabbed in the back over and over by my own teammates.


I had been branded a traitor when I started wearing my boyfriend's blue-and-white letter jacket--the colors of our rival school. "Traitor" was a label I had no problem wearing, because I knew what was in my heart and mind. Besides, could you truly be a traitor to people who had already betrayed you? If I'd been able to change schools, I would have done so in a heartbeat. As it was, I took as many AP classes over there as possible and I performed in our rival school's annual musical.


Not that this did me any favors either, because I was still technically One of the Enemy.


So by the time I got to the SCA, I was in desperate need of devoting my loyal service and skills where I wanted to. Where it was reciprocated--not because we lived in the same area, therefore we sat in tidy rows besides each other every day, then wore the same insignia and colors every evening at activities--but because I had chosen my Tribe and they had chosen me.


I needed to be among people who believed just as strongly in this type of camaraderie. That's why I chose a mercenary household, not one sworn to a banner, kneeling and giving all to an ever-rotating lineage determined by one's ability to club one's rivals into the grass.


You never knew who was going to wind up sitting on that cushioned throne. It changed every six months, and I loved being in a house that could, at any given moment without breaking a single code of what we had sworn, decide to take our shields, our spears, and our services elsewhere if we didn't like the way said cushion-sitters conducted themselves.


That's a different type of honor than devotion to a place, remaining true to one's homeland, one's heartland, no matter that its leaders are behaving badly this rotation.


I'm too much of a wanderer for that. I'm a nomad. My home is wherever I set my ass and wherever my feet are taking me today. Sometimes my home exists solely inside my heart because my butt and feet are currently on inhospitable ground.


There have been many times in my life that I have moved once a year, for many years in a row. I have made two split-second decisions to move across the country. The second time, it took a month from decision to new doorstep. The first time, it took a week.


BOOM. Gone.


That's the deal with me. When I finally reach the point of being gone, I am fucking GONE. Any time I've tried to fight that rhythm out of a formerly established loyalty, I've paid for it. So have the people I've tried to stay for.


Staying when I'm not whole-heartedly All In...that's not what I'm built for.


So even though I was avidly, joyously a part of the formation of Northshield Principality, I knew deep in my flamin' bones that I wouldn't stay in the area. I'm a cold-wuss, and I only like the picturesque idea of the snow (for about two days, and then I'm done with it). My system thrives best on sunlight and year-round warmth. Most of all, the face of Minnesota Nice with its emotional stunting and its choke-chaining under a smile that may or may not be true has always been damaging to me.


As such, my deepest loyalty became attached to--not Northshield. That was too big, too sprawling, and too political an entity to invoke my primary devotion. Certainly not the Midrealm. Northshield was almost a separate entity even then. (It is now its own kingdom.) Much to my woe and many blunders, the back-to-back loss of Hal and the Satyr Incident had shaken my connections with my closest Shire-mates. All jacked up in the head, I then drove in the final wedge with how I handled that.


Besides, they played the game more formally than I did. From the very beginning, I had always felt coarse and obnoxious among such noble lords. As I grew into my SCAdian chops, I began to chafe at how smoothly they navigated the reenactment of that historical medieval pecking order based on titles, ranks, and sumptuary laws. Go figure I would choose a societal fringe-element for my persona.


Thus I started wandering. Searching. Eventually finding. My fealty became up for grabs by whoever vibed with my values and played the SCAdian game the way I wanted to play it. Toldja, I'm a mercenary to my marrow.


Not because I'm bribable with baubles and barrels of ale. I'm not. I do love the shiny, but Gift-Giving ranks at the bottom of my Love Language pool alongside Words of Affirmation that are not pre-proven by action.


Nope, I'm a Physical Touch and especially a Quality Time girl. I chose the merc code of honor because, the moment you stop treating the people around you well, the moment you start betraying the principles and values you once swore we shared along with that big drinking flagon, the moment you stop treating me well...


I'm out.


Oh, I'll give you plenty of warning, unless it's a transgression that warrants immediate snipping of bonds. In fact, I have a long history of giving too many warnings, too many chances, making too many adjustments and compromises so we can continue collaborating.


I'm a lot more cutthroat these days. I don't mind wearing that label either. It was a necessary change.


Becoming a martial artist, learning that I'm an HSP neurodivergent, and finally gaining access to trauma therapy after decades of failed attempts allows me to implement that change more and more comfortably with every year.


My mercenary nature is why marriage doesn't work for me either. It takes too much time, money, entanglements, life-upheaval, arguing over mutual belongings, shared pets, and involvement of other people to wade through before I can finally get around to dealing with the heart-render of the breakup itself. Or in the case of abusive fucks, before I can finally slash ties and get free.


I told you a long time ago, my ability to bond with humans in the ways in which many would consider loyal, honorable, upstanding, trustworthy--that was shattered back in elementary school. Being the kind of neurodivergent I am, it was shaky to begin with. (4) Trauma as a toddler started me out with a crack in the foundation of my ability to learn this type of social bonding. Then too many acts of backstabbery and cruelty, both experienced and witnessed, severed it once and for all.


Severed my willingness to learn it, too.


When you treat your "best friends" worse than I treat my most reviled enemies? When you sacrifice yourself, your principles, the misfits around you, your own friends, your passions and your ability to succeed--when you sacrifice giving your all and doing your best at something just so some group of people will pretend to like you and include you in their reindeer games?


Not interested in learning those social skills. I'd rather hang out on the fringes with the other rebels and play with my toys alone, thanks.



Finally, Covid happened. For the first time in my life, I got to experience living without the perpetual mask I had instinctually and subconsciously adopted as a child. Heh...just as the world was putting masks on, I was learning how to take mine off.


One of the many silver linings our microscopic badass gave me.


This was an astronomical unburdening I never could have imagined. Because for all my rebel princess, black sheep notoriety in WHAT I did, I had barely understood the depth and degree to which I had been mimicking the most foundational operating procedures of WHO society had been telling me that I "should be," that I "needed to be"--that I had better be, or else--if I wanted to operate in public, stave off attack, and have relationships.


All my life.


Only in the past three or four years of medical and societal ah-hahs have I been able to finally make sense of my experiences on this planet. (4)


Because I value different things than many people I've encountered. I have an alternative perception of what I consider rude, appropriate, intolerable, admirable. Obviously not everything. But some very important things that make group interaction and interpersonal collaboration really difficult unless I'm with a rare and cherished type of open-minded person who is as willing to learn my languages as I've done for half a century of living in a world that was not designed for me.


Otherwise, I have to operate under neurotypical modes, which means it's all going to eventually fracture or even break down completely. When I'm tired. When my blood sugar is low. When I'm distracted. When I run out of Spoons. When I'm on sensory overload. When some emotional reaction or baffling social norm glitches the circuits or fully shorts them out. For sure when I've finally had e-fucking-nough of reindeer games that are anathema to my being and violate my code of honor.


So...you know...


Every SCA event I ever attended.


👆All of that.👆 On steroids. Especially on fighting days. Or in the marketplace. Or at big parties where I couldn't cocoon myself inside the music while I zoned out, dancing around the campfire.


Then add a fresh layer of sexual trauma and repeated exposure to my abuser on top of my 20 years of c-PTSD? Mmmmph.


Not like I, my family, or society knew these things about me back then. Heck, society barely knows now. Even scads of the medical, mental health, and disability world aren't up-to-date. (4) I certainly didn't know, so how I could I tell anybody what I needed? And we all know what happened when I did ask for what I needed. So by around six years old, I stopped.


All along, I'd been living under the impression that I was just a slightly eccentric, "gifted" child who'd somehow managed to grow up into a sprawling failure on every level in which it's possible to fail. It was always inexplicable to me the way everything broke down just at the height of my greatest successes. Time after time after time, I would work so hard, I would achieve everything I had set out to create, and then--


gif

Now I understand why. Because DOING THE THING was never the problem. It was always the breakdown between me and other people. Me and my environment. Me and neurotypical expectations. Especially in groups where I did not have ultimate authority over its rules, sensory stimuli, and codes of conduct, like in the classes I taught or the troupes I directed. It was better when I was in charge, but even my ability to sustain those ultimately collapsed from sheer burnout.


This rhythm was exacerbated a hundredfold by Traumatic Brain Injury. You can't mask this degree of alien-freakitude on a broken frontal lobe--not for long, at least. Especially when your inborn sensory overload symptoms are blown up to seizure proportions by having your brains scrambled and bashed around inside your skull.


Now that I've learned why I have never been able to make countless relationships and any long-term group dynamics work, so much of my SCA experience finally makes sense. So does the erratic build-and-collapse...build-and-collapse...build-explode-and-collapse rhythm of my whole life.


As such, I won't ever go back to living masked again.


I pay a hefty price for that decision. It's the same price that's always come due. Attacks, rejection, blacklisting. The only difference now is me. Being thrust into 99% social isolation during the height of the pandemic was like relearning how to breathe. Some aspects of it were hard and awkward, a little scary. But once I got the hang of it, my entire being got to relax in ways I'd never experienced.


Visiting the SCA to play for a weekend or a war is now a vastly different experience from when I called myself a SCAdian. In many ways, it's a far more fulfilling experience, like most things in my life are. Re-wiring my brain from its trauma patterns eases even more of my glitchy system. So does altering my expectations of myself, other people, and especially the neurotypicals around me.


So now I'm more mercenary than I ever was. My bargaining price is the same as always--being kind, up-front, open, honest, trustworthy--now with one very important addition.


If you think you want something from me, if you think you want to connect with me, heaven help you if you think you want to have some sort of intimate bond with me, then take me or leave me. Because now, if you want access to all the shiny stuff I can DO, you have to take me as I fully, truly AM.


And I am...

Sing it with us now!

The voice, the face, the ancient feminine grrrowwwwl that sparked fire in my NorthShield-Maiden heart and taught me how to RAWR like a grrrrl growing into a woman. She who first taught me this song. The unforgettable, incomparable Wyndreth Berginsdottir.


This is one of my favorite songs of all time. For me, no other renditions, no matter how awesome, can ever compare to hers.


CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE

--UP NEXT: Campfires, costumes, belly dance, and...furtive glance around...covering my mouth to whisper: SEX! (Noooo, not that! YES.) Also more of those horns and flames.

--OR: I AM: 32 Flavors (and then some)

--OR: I've already written about all those tales of my earliest SCA days before that first Pennsic

--OR: IN THE TRENCHES - the way I had experienced groups and banding together before I discovered the SCA

--THE NAVIGATION TABLE OF CONTENTS



GEEKING LINKS


1) My First Camps in the SCA

--Society for Creative Anachronism

--Shire of the Inner Sea

--Northshield

--History of Northshield

--Origins of the Midrealm

--The Map of SCA Kingdoms


2) The Pennsic War

--Pennsic By Day

--Pennsic By Night


3) SCA Heraldry

--Alternate titles


4) Being Unknowingly on the Spectrum

--"Onnnnnnn the Spectrummmmmm - da-da-dummmm" - Outdated information, professional bickering about labels, diagnoses, and the ever-fluctuating attempt to make sense of all this. Spectrum vs. gradient. High- vs. low-functioning. Mild vs. severe. More autistic vs. different needs. "...so is the problem really that some autistic people can't work? Is the problem that they are not useful under capitalism? Is this what makes their autism 'severe?'"

--The DSM-5 with its "detrimental, disordered, deficient" language 🖕 - Why I won't seek an official diagnosis to what My Team and I are pretty sure is going on. (Some of us laugh hysterically over "there's a question?") I won't let anybody test me until they change the language to talk about my superpowers as enthusiastically as they talk about my problem areas. And not until I can find a tester who is up-to-date on presentations that don't fall under "Sheldon & Rainman" stereotypes.

--Masking: How do we do it and should we stop?

--At University - which for me simultaneously applies to SCA events

--Why Does She Seem So Two-Faced? - Although I have places where I exhibit black-and-white thinking (almost always around trauma, where in truth, I cerebrally know I'm being stubbornly full of shit but I'm just not ready to trust again), I actually see the world in a gazillion--often too many--shades of gray, as well as the whole rainbow. I also find it very easy to hold two (or more) completely contradictory opinions about someone or a situation at the same time. Two equal and opposite truths. In fact, it's almost impossible for me not to do this.

--Aspionage - Why Does She Seem So Weird Sometimes? - but then other times she seems perfectly "normal."

--Why Does She Seem So Selfish? - because she is in survival mode all day.

--TEDx - The Neurodiversity Paradigm: the Medical vs. the Social Models. “I’m not disabled by my autism {my neurodiversity, my TBI}. I’m disabled by my environment.”

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