Fighting to Live
A year ago on August 19th 2018, I told my cousin Rachel as we were leaving the Washington Midsummer Renaissance Faire:
"I'm going to join the Seattle Knights!"
I uttered this half jokingly, still reeling from the thrilling performance I had just witnessed in which armored actors deftly displayed feats of dexterity and skill I'd only seen in movies. They swung swords, axes, shields, and daggers at each other in brightly colored tabards and glittering plate armor. It was love at first sight.
I've adored swords ever since I was a little kid. I blame the Redwall series and Lord of the Rings trilogy for my infatuation. There's something indisputably beautiful about a blade even on display but in the hands of a proficient wielder it can become a silver ribbon of light through the air, a musical instrument of ringing steel, an icon of honor or villainy. Plus they're just so very shiny! Forgive me for waxing poetic.
It probably won't come as a surprise when I say that Eowyn is a bit of a patron saint for me. I too wish "to be a healer, and love all things that grow and are not barren.” Her reply to Aragorn's question about what she fears has always struck a deep chord.
"A cage..To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.”
Of course, we all know she's not talking about a real cage. The bars she fears are not made of steel but of the rules and expectations of those around her. Sexism, corruption, and apathy all threaten to squeeze her ambitions into subjugation. But obstacles can be overcome, corruption stomped out, sexism confronted. Eowyn's true fear is that regardless of how she feels at that moment, eventually her convictions will be ground down, her spirit atrophied, her dreams strangled into oblivion, and she will spend the rest of her days in apathy- at peace with the cage she was given and content with the noose around her neck. If it matters to you, I think Eowyn is a Slytherin (like me!).
I was a pretty awkward and insensitive kid. One of those "oh i'm not like other girls" people...yeesh. And then I grew up a bit and realized that niceness gets you a lot more friends than conceited judginess. So then I reeeaaaallly leaned into the nice girl thing during high-school until I felt trapped by my presentation of myself. People would make jokes about me doing crazy things because it was so preposterous. But all the while there was this wild, discontented feeling gnawing at my insides. I now recognize that feeling as fear that for the rest of my life I would be held in a cage of my own making - doomed to a life of contented apathy, and that "nice" and "pretty" would forever be my highest accolades. "Cute" was a word I heard a lot and each time it punched me in the gut like a perfectly calculated insult. Thanks to college and distance from the confining influences of the people and places where I grew up, I was able to aline my outward presentation much more closely with who I had always hoped to be. I remember the first time someone described me as "badass" and I just about sailed away to the moon.
Women with swords have long been a recurring theme.
So flash forward to the Ren Faire. I decide to at least look up this marvelous troupe of performers and lo and behold! They have an academy with classes starting in just a few weeks! Well, I think to myself, it's too big a commitment and I definitely can't afford it but what's the harm in observing a class? And then..well...here we are a year later and I've just completed the full, 40 week long student course. Now I am a "yeoman" which basically means I'm not really an official cast member but I can perform in shows and be fodder for the swords (and axes and daggers) of the other knights. This is the scariest, most insane thing I've ever done. But nothing else, not even art has come close to the feeling of absolute rightness when I'm holding a sword. Performing fights feels like something I was born to do. Sounds like a melodramatic YA novel right? But the craziest thing of all? I have the potential to become really good at it. After a lifetime of learning to speak softly and sweetly, I've discovered that I have a fairly commanding stage voice. Being loud, drawing attention to yourself and taking up space are generally not encouraged traits in women. So to be rewarded for those very things feels like being in a weirdly uplifting twilight zone episode. This year of classes has been the most healing and affirming time of my life so far. And there's only more to learn.
Life begins outside the cage.