I have a confession to make: In my real life, I'm a graduate student, just about to defend my dissertation plan and go into the long final year of collecting data, testing it, and writing about the results in a big, long book-length piece of work (and then, the job search, which is scary as hell right now in this economy when education and teaching and research are all being increasingly devalued - but that's another blog). In a word, I'm becoming a professional academic. As a result, my life revolves around research, writing, teaching, attempting to get my research published in respected academic journals - in other words, the creation and communication of information for other people to use and study.
Hmm. Apart from (maybe) the drive for publication, academe sounds a lot like what us non-fighters in the SCA do, too, doesn't it?
The thing about academe, though, is that it can be a cutthroat place where your research is torn apart rather than appreciated, and your teaching is largely ignored by students whose perception of the value of your course lies somewhere between zero and nothing. Editors nitpick your writing; other researchers nitpick your findings. It can be hell. Even worse, you might send something out and get no feedback back for months, sometimes years. It's really hard on the old self-esteem and self-worth to wait... and wait... and WAIT for feedback. It's tough when you know that no matter how much effort you put out, no matter how many office hours you held, and no matter how much blood, sweat and tears you poured into lesson plans and handouts and the wear and tear of standing in front of the classroom and talking about the topic until you're bored to death with it yourself, some of those students are still going to file meticulously worded, nasty, detrimental evaluations because you didn't spoon-feed them every exam question and answer on a PowerPoint presentation, or because they got a C- for never doing their homework and half-assing their exams. While it can be very rewarding to be a professional academic, let's face it - it's also pretty rough a lot of the time.
Conversely, there's the SCA. In the SCA, when you do research, there's always someone to share it with immediately. In the SCA, when you get someone's device passed and the Laurel Queen of Arms comments "Nice period device!" on the Letter of Acceptance and Return, you get a little thrill. When you finish doing that kumi braid or the piece of inkle trim and people ooh and ahh over it, you get a little boost - or a big one, depending. When you bring your art, your research, your work to the SCA, you get an appreciative audience. Yes, you'll also get criticism, but the effort you put in is noticed and rewarded in ways that it often isn't in academe.
This is why I devote a lot of my time outside of work/school (because they're really the same thing for a graduate student) to the SCA. It's why I find it so rewarding. I can sit and chat with Her Excellency and amuse her during a long day at an event, and feel like my service is appreciated. I can weave a piece of trim and have it get noticed by someone who likes pretty trim. I can help out a newcomer as deputy chatelaine, or get someone's name or device passed as deputy herald, and see my work and my research made their life a little better, allowed them to have a little more fun. When you have to go back to teaching people who mostly don't appreciate what you're doing, who are only taking your class because the school requires it, it's such a gift to be able to teach a class and have all your students come to it because they want to.
This is something I can't find anywhere else. The SCA is my avocation, and it's what keeps me sane so I can go back and face those bored faces who, despite my best efforts, don't care. It keeps me sane because I know that I can come to the next event and there will be people who do care. I can depend on that.
That's what the SCA does for me.