It’s Educational

by Crystal Torres on April 17, 2012

A friend and I working faire (photo by L. Scott, 1988)

I was in seventh grade, a year older than my daughter is now, when I started, “working,” faire. “Work,” being rather euphemistic as it was largely just playing dress up with a theme and food tickets were the closest I got to being paid. The next year I was fortunate to have friends from school not just visiting me, I had them working along side me. It occurred to me that my daughter has friends who would probably enjoy the madness too. I am not as brave as my uncle was. I can’t imagine taking responsibility for someone else’s child like that, not at faire.

I talked parents into it easily enough then. It’s educational. Parents are suckers for words like, “educational.” At the time the faire was owned and run by the non-profit Living History Center. I used to tell parents all the neat stuff I’d learned during workshops about English history. I told them about Henry VIII and the forming of the Church of England, the changes in national religion as his older children each took their turns as monarch and how the religious instability of the time led to things like the puritans, who led to our own country’s pilgrims, et cetera. See, I could even turn it patriotic, in a single run-on sentence. I did not tell parents about related things like the Adamites. I spoke instead, of my detailed knowledge of the sinking of the Spanish Armada, and the guild system in 16th century Europe. These things sound very impressive coming from a junior high kid. None of those things are why my friends wanted to work faire with me.

The bigger lessons tended to sneak up on a person. I learned that playing is not something you have to outgrow and that in improv a quick answer is often better than a right answer. I learned that I can fail an audition and still survive, and even be brave enough to pass the next year. You don’t have to know where you’re going to commit to it completely and often commitment is worth a whole lot more than control. I learned that I really like singing along, even when I’m not very good at it and especially when I’m encouraged to participate fully. Faire is very much about participating fully. The fine line between being a spaz and being an entertainer is focus. I am not very good at focus, but I learned to be better. I learned that audiences are easily entertained by watching people in costume do ordinary things like sleep and eat.

I learned that having an uncle who answers to, “Fang,” no matter how permissive, can come in handy, but it is not a limitless protection. I learned that landsknecht women I’ve never met before will rescue me from drunken strangers, even if I started the trouble I was in. I learned that the gap between my teeth is perfect for spitting through. I learned that Maudie Mumblecrust’s homemade facial can be eaten entirely by another group, if left in the wrong cooler, and that that is far more legendary than the bit for which it was intended. I learned that beautiful women are just as insecure as plain, sometimes more so. I learned that sometimes the best shows are backstage and/or after hours. I learned that an entire faire can turn itself inside out looking for a little girl named Tabitha and that when it turns out to be more of a misunderstanding than a missing child the collective sigh of relief can turn to laughter very quickly, and for years to come. I learned that laughter really is the best medicine. I learned that flirting, for its own sake, is not just a delight but a primal need, imbedded in every one of us, from nine-month-old babies to ninety-year-old retirees. I learned that wool cloaks are best when shared and that the most fascinating conversations happened at Mullah’s at night. I learned how much there was to be learned by just shutting up and listening to the amazing people around me. I learned that I can dream the best daydreams beneath a burlap sky.

I learned that friendships are formed in the trenches, you love people different after you’ve been pressed to your limits together. I learned that a patient woman willing to let me make a mess of her spinning can be carried in my heart forever and felt in every bit of yarn I’ve spun ever since. I learned that a mud pit can be a stage and that there are few things as gleefully, terrifyingly, exhilarating as realizing that an audience, packed deeper than my eyes can see, is hanging on my every word and laughing exactly when I want them too. I learned that if a grown-up whom I love and respect is foolish enough to tell me that I am a responsible person I will push myself harder than I thought I could, just to keep from disappointing them, just from hoping to make them proud. I am thirty-eight and still hoping to make some of those grown-ups proud. I learned that you should probably know where you live before you go off on an adventure, just in case a different person is charged with taking you home. I learned that getting very lost, very late, and for a very long time can bring some of the most wonderful people into my life and heart for years to come. Sometimes it doesn’t matter where you’re going nearly as much as it matters who you are going with. I learned that some feelings are definitely worth traveling more than 500 miles, each way, just to be a part of. I learned that growing up in one of the biggest metropolitan areas in the whole wide world does not preclude the experience of growing up in a small town. I’ve learned that you learn a lot about people, and human nature, when thin tent walls do not keep secrets well and a strong community has a long memory.

I learned that it sucks to watch the person I’m infatuated with in their infatuation with someone else. I learned that there are some things I would rather not share with all my friends and that jealousy can make me a dangerously cruel and calculating creature. I learned that on occasion, getting what I want can be a quick lesson in how much better wanting can be than having. I learned that stepping away gracefully can seem like playing hard to get, and so it is that I am chased most when I have no desire to be caught. I learned that dress rehearsals are essential, especially if you are rather busty and there’s a chest shimmy in that night show’s choreography. I also learned that very creepy older men can remind you for years about how much they enjoyed your wardrobe malfunction. Reminding people of their uber-humiliating public experiences is not a good pick up line, ever.

I learned that age is just a number, and some of the best friends I’ve ever had have been no where near my own age. I’ve learned that age differences can still be real hurdles. I learned that swinging one’s hips rhythmically at ale jam is a great advantage for a seventeen-year-old trying to argue that eighteen is an unnecessarily arbitrary number. I learned that the only age I could imagine being would prove to be one of the most quickly fleeting moments of my life. I learned that sometimes something you meant to take lightly can begin to feel very serious. I learned that it is just as painful to want more than you are being offered as to know that you have less to offer than is being asked. I learned too slowly and painfully, what a tragedy it is to lie to yourself about either what you want or about what you are offering. I learned that hearts can break and mend and be that much the better for the experience. I learned that friendship is the best caulk in the cracks of a broken heart.

I’ve learned that you can come home again. I’ve learned that home is not in oak trees or lakes, it’s hellos and hugs and familiar eyes that seem to really see me without scanning through me or past me, to see if there’s someone better on the horizon. Home is not so much in where you are, as it is in who you are with, and who you are when you are with them. Resurrection moss can seem long dead until you add a little water, the same can be said of some washerwomen. Every sappy love song, the theme song to Cheers, and anything else I’m embarrassed to sing along to, is probably true of my feelings of someone at faire. It is possible to be a girl of twelve, a grown woman of thirty-eight and every age in between all at once when I am in the right company. I learned that it takes a village and this one was mine.

I learned that grown women can make new friends who feel like they’ve been there all along, or at least like the puzzle shape they fit in perfectly has been waiting patiently somewhere in my soul for all these years. I learned that the things we learn when playing are often the most important things a person can know. I learned not to take myself, or anything else, too seriously. I’ve learned that the demigods of my youth are only mortals after all and that most of them are that much more lovable in their human frailty. I’ve learned that relationships maintained in seasonal hugs and passing smiles can be some of the most valuable in my life. I’ve learned that the grown ups laugh not because the folly of youth is so strange, but because it is so familiar, and because we would rather laugh than cry as we empathize with a place we remember all too profoundly.

The washerwomen, the theatrical group I am most deeply a part of, have a tradition now of sharing online what we’ve learned over the weekend. It’s usually funny, short and sweet. I’m sure I can fit a weekend into that format. I’ve only scratched the surface of my twenty-five years working faire here, though. I can’t possibly tell you everything in one blog entry, but I’ve attempted to give you some of it. We are part of the show, and the show has become part of us. I am grateful to have the opportunity to bring my daughter with me on weekends to show her what her mother is like in her native habitat. As much as the girl enjoys having friends visit, I doubt I will ever bring any of them along with us though. Faire is, indeed, very educational.

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dennis April 17, 2012 at 7:24 am

I could not have said it better, so I will just share this piece with your kind permission. I have been puzzling over a similar blog, but I just could not paste it together. Not yet, anyway.

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2 Rena April 17, 2012 at 11:22 am

I know that:

“I learned that you should probably know where you live before you go off on an adventure, just in case a different person is charged with taking you home.”

is based on a literal truth, but it’s figurative meaning has so much impact for me.

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3 Tanya A April 17, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Thank you for this. Truly. Thank you!

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4 Sharon April 17, 2012 at 4:12 pm

WOW!!! This puts into words so many of my feelings about my chosen family and the home that faire is for me. Love you! *HUG*

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5 Pax Smith April 17, 2012 at 4:15 pm

Beautiful.

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6 Laura H. April 17, 2012 at 4:38 pm

This. Although I can’t play as often as before, these moments that you’ve written are what draw my thoughts back every Spring to Faire. Well spoke! (ha ha! It’s a pun…on the Washing Women…the well…I’ll just stop now.)

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7 Kelly D. April 17, 2012 at 5:32 pm

Sounds so familiar. Thank you for posting this!!!

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8 Katie April 17, 2012 at 5:48 pm

I won’t lie- the paragraph on “home” made me cry. Absolutely beautiful 🙂

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9 Ellerbeetimes April 17, 2012 at 5:59 pm

“I learned too slowly and painfully, what a tragedy it is to lie to yourself about either what you want or about what you are offering.”

Too true.

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10 Dennis the other April 17, 2012 at 9:18 pm

Wonderfully written as usual.
I am have never been inclined to join the Faire, just grateful to those of you who do.
Damn.

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11 Rick Sir Richard April 18, 2012 at 10:54 am

Well captured. I only worked Faire for a couple of seasons (though attended for years before and after) and I’ve never quite been able to convey what the experience was like to anyone who hasn’t done it.
(Also, always love a blog that references Spock wisdom.)

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12 Sarah April 18, 2012 at 12:16 pm

How is it you were so perfectly able to articulate what it is like to grow up at faire? Reading this took me back to all of my similar experiences and brought a tear to my eye, thank you for reminding me how lucky I am to have been able to have such wonderful experiences and reminding me of all of the wonderful people in my life!

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13 Bailey April 18, 2012 at 7:57 pm

Thanks for saying what so many of us feel but have not been able to express. So very true in so very many ways. For some, this “family of choice” is better than what they had/have at home and it really keeps them going, if not from day to day, at least season to season.

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14 Diane April 19, 2012 at 9:29 am

Beautiful sentiments, Crystal. I’ve missed you and have thought of you often over the years. Tell me how we can get in touch. You’ll perhaps remember me as your ride down to faire from Chico. I hope all is well with you and yours. It’s awesome to find you writing, and so eloquently too.

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15 Gaylene April 19, 2012 at 10:58 am

Brought both of my daughters to faire… the experience was precious and bonding. And as educational for me as it was for them. You MIGHT reconsider bringing one of their special friends to faire with you. I didn’t bring a herd, but the lasting friendship my girls established with the few friends that did come to do faire have out-lasted relationships, school, jobs & children. I LOVE that my girls were faire brats (A misnomer, if ever I heard one)

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