Tag Archives: society for creative anachronism

A Eulogy on Character: Andrew Brechin

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Andrew Brechin knew how to be a character and a three-dimensional one at that. Photo: Tanya Kozak

Originally I was going to write about gender stereotypes for the Ink Punks (a local writing group)
but after the unexpected death of a friend last week I have decided to switch. So, in honour of Andrew Brechin who died too young, I dedicate this post to character.

If you saw Andrew on the street you might think, there is a rather stout fellow, or; he is a portly guy. Two ways of saying the same thing but different connotations to them. These statments might give the tone of the time period in which the story is given, or the narrator’s voice and suggest a certain level of education or deportment. They can also indicate a person’s view of another character. We’ll see more about Andrew’s deportment as we go on. In fact, as I play the only partially omniscient narrator of this piece, I will hopefully reveal more about Andrew to make him live in your mind, for that is how we keep all who have moved beyond the veil alive.

If I said that Andrew was part of the Society for Creative Anachronism (or medieval society) you might get a picture in your head of someone who liked history and to dress in costumes. And if I told you his medieval name was Guillermo Portelli, and knowing he was a stout fellow, you might begin to think he made a joke at his expense. And you would be right in both accounts.

He did indeed like to dress up but he saw it more in terms of daily raiment than as a costume. He was known to have once dressed as baby Cthulhu, that tentacled Old One of  H.P. Lovecraft’s invention. A few pictures do exist. There are other pictures of him with black wings and a black peasant shirt, fake Viking helm with plastic horns, wearing striped pants as he stands proudly on a miniature Viking ship, swirls of paint and glitter as he participates as one of the topless wish fairies in the Lantern festival, or wearing a long red robe with hood as a tech wizard, and wearing a purple top hat as he walks down the street, with cloak and a drum over his shoulders. There are many pictures of Andrew in various types of face and body paint.

Yes, Andrew loved to dress up and was known to have a few hats. You see, he didn’t believe that as an adult you had to let go of the child within. He was a staunch agent of joy and the sacred jester. He brought mirth and fun wherever he went, whether he was drumming for bellydancers, playing as part of the festive Carnival Band or just out there enjoying a party.

If I stopped here, you would have a picture of him, of how he looked and some of his attitude, but he was much more than this. Every year for his birthday, he would announce Breklormas, a feastorama at a local Chinese restaurant. The greasier the better, and I’m sorry to say I never made it to one.

He had a cunning mind and frequently formed wild plans for world domination or something with bacon in it, or some other crazy idea that he’d share with friends. One of his last posts before he died was this:

So, on the one hand, I really don’t want the Winter Olympics back. On the other, the idea of taking it back from the Russians and making it the GAYEST FUCKING OLYMPICS EVAR (which is really saying something, since the Classical Greek athletes competed naked except for a coating of olive oil) amuses the heck out of me. We could make a Queer Olympic Flag with seven rainbow rings on it, and I think it would pass copyright law as a parody…

He was always thinking. I wasn’t his closest friend but I saw some of this wizardly wit with his quips on facebook. And yes, Andrew’s, or Breklor as we sometimes called him, wit and whimsy were evident. He had a penchant for shooting pictures of toilets and posting them just because it was rather, well…Andrew.

Stereotypes begin in reality and are only a snapshot of someone. We have a clichéd image of what a jock, a hippy, a power attorney, a rock star, a nerd, a hipster, etc. look like. There is a uniform to both clothing and personality type. But it’s like looking at twenty blueberry pies baked by twenty people. They may all be pies and have blueberries but they will have diverse textures, various flavors and when you really look at them, uniquely different aspects.

When you write, even if you have a stereotype, you need to flesh that character inside and out. Anyone who just saw Andrew walking down the street, in cape and top hat, walking into the Stormcrow, haven for geeky game enthusiasts, would classify him as one of the same ilk. They would be right but what distinguishes one geek or nerd or jock from another is how you portray them. Already, because I’ve described more carefully Andrew’s clothing, he wasn’t just a T-shirt wearing geek. He was always clean and carefully dressed, and while he wore T-shirts from time to time, he also wore other clothing that had far more character.

While he loved to bring in joy and mirth, he wasn’t goofy. He had an innate sense of when to bring in laughter and when to be serious and listen. He loved kids, and while I heard he experienced bullying as a child, he decided to turn it around and put joy in its place. He was a good and intelligent conversationalist with deep insights. The beliefs he held included loving and wholly embracing who he was. Never once would I say he was annoying. He just knew. And he was pervasive, so much so that when the ripples went out last week from the shock of finding out of his untimely passing, various friends were surprised to find that another of their friends had known him as well. He was everywhere and the words most people used to describe him were: wizardly, witty, wise, joyful.

Make you characters come alive so the reader is invested. If you only have a few words, or limited space, choose those words well. Stephen King has done this very well, even if it was particularly annoying to get into a character in just two pages and find that on the third page he died. Instead of giving dry descriptions, it’s best to show character through movement, expression, dialogue and appearance.

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Andrew Brechin was the sacred jester, bringing mirth to many. He would make a great story character. Photo: Tanya Kozak

Andrew knocked at the old church gate, black feathered wings tied to his back and a glint in his eye. He leaned forward expectantly, then looked back at the camera, trying to suppress a smile. Giving up, he turned and stuck his tongue out. With this external view, you get a sense of the character, the surroundings and the attitude. So in a page or less you can define a character and if you’re writing a story, you can drop small pieces of description in as the character moves or talks. A little goes a long way in the reader’s imagination.

As you write characters into your stories, remember this: Even your villains have to live and while they may want world domination, they may also suffer from a runny nose and lumbago, and love kittens and blueberry pies. No one, not even a stereotype is all bad or good. We are made up of shades of grey and of all colors of the rainbow. Andrew was. Not only did he bring light into lonely dark places, he brought rainbows as well.

I plan to use Andrew one day in a story, either as a villain or a good guy. He’d be tickled pink and purple to know that he lives on.

I should also mention that Andrew will move on to become one of the Great Old Ones. He is being cremated in his baby Cthulhu suit.

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The Outsider Syndrome: Feeling Alone

I’ve been on holidays so I haven’t posted for a bit, but a conversation with a friend got me thinking about this phenomenon that I’ve experienced, and others have as well. I’m not a psychologist but I do like to delve into the whys and wherefores of the human psyche and some life experience has taught me a few things about the way we think and behave.

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Sculpture Niobe (1951) by Constant Permeke in sculpture park Kröller-Müller Museum

The Outsider Syndrome is my name for the feeling that you don’t belong, no matter what. That somehow, even if you’re doing the same activity as everyone else, that you just don’t fit in or they know you are different. Sometimes the feeling is real and sometimes it is our own perception.

My feelings of being an outsider began (as I suspect they did for many of us) in childhood. When church was something everyone did, we didn’t attend (except for a brief spate) and this was still when we recited the Lord’s Prayer in elementary school. The teacher would ask us what we did in Sunday school that weekend and I felt different because I couldn’t answer the question. It made me embarrassed, and as a child I was quite shy. Shyness and being picked on because of it did not help with the Outsider feeling.

I also came from a home where my parents divorced at a time when  most of my friends had both parents at home. So yes, I felt different there too. I’m sure there are studies that show people have this Outsider feeling if they are teased, are shy, have broken homes, or are somehow different from the crowd. And of course there are psychological or personality dispositions to all of these feelings.

I felt different for various reasons but those were the ones that shaped me. I felt different because my body wasn’t quite in the norm as everyone else’s, that I was poorer than many of my friends, that I somehow didn’t relate. At times I’ve realized that other people, almost everyone, is different or unique in their own way. In that essence we are all outsiders trying to fit in to the social organism.

This weekend I was at an event, a group that might just be made up of Outsiders; people who find the norm boring, who might be more strongly individualistic, who might like to roleplay, who might geek out over medieval history and things of the Middle Ages. It’s called the Society for Creative Anachronism and it has its share of social misfits as well as artisans practicing crafts that were once done hundreds of years ago. I haven’t been to these events for a while so I was feeling like an outsider again, not quite fitting into the whole game. Another friend was there who hadn’t been at an event in about eight years. He too felt even more acutely than me that he didn’t belong. People go on with their current interests and they’re not sure how to fit you back into their lives either.

This feeling isn’t particular to one group but any established group to which a new person tries to belong may cause this feeling. People like to stay with the familiar and if someone you don’t know walks up to your group you might completely ignore them, and continue talking to your friends. You might turn your back, making a circle and physically excluding them. We are inclusive…of those we know but we can exclude too without realizing it. If the group or event is one meant for people to meet, share and mingle something as small as turning slightly away can cause a person to move off and feel alone.

The world is rife with stories of Outsiders and sometimes they choose to be so. As I entered art college with all those other people who try to push boundaries, move beyond the envelope and think outside the box I found I fit in, because there were many like minds. At the same time I began to embrace my otherness. If people are going to treat me as other or different, than I shall choose to like my difference and be proud of it. People in the arts and sciences are often moving beyond the norm in trying to explore new things or make over old ones.

Being an Outsider can be an isolating experience. If you find there is a new person in your social or working group, or someone who lives farther out, then a little extra attention can help both of you transition and fit in. Long ago, when I moved to Vancouver with a turquoise streak in my hair, a woman who I worked with took a chance to move past the preconception about people who did such things to their hair and got to know me, becoming a very long-term friend. If you’re feeling an Outsider too, even if you have chosen it in some way, it may be harder to find people accepting, but being open and receptive can eliminate that feeling of being alone. Outsiders really are just people you do not yet know

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