Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur
jducoeur

The Interview Game II

Rules of the game:
1. If you want to be interviewed, leave a comment, saying so.
2. I will respond, asking you five questions. (It may take a little while -- coming up with questions is tough -- but I'll do it.)
3. You’ll update your journal with my five questions, and your five answers.
4. You’ll include this explanation.
5. You’ll ask other people five questions when they want to be interviewed

1) Tell me something about your childhood. Where did you grow up, what was it like, and how do you see influences of the how and/where you grew up on the adult you are today?

First of all, an important caveat: my memory is terrible. I don't just mean conventionally bad -- I mean that I have relatively little memory of high school, and little more than disjoint impressions beyond that. So all of this is a tad speculative.

Growing up, my social experience with the places I lived was so deeply mediated by school that it's hard to separate them. So most of this is going to talk about my school experiences.

I grew up in and around Princeton, NJ, home of the eponymous university. That almost certainly had a deep effect on me. The easiest way I can describe Princeton is "like Cambridge, but preppier". Laid-back, pretty liberal, with a lot of respect for academia and the academic way of thinking.

My first school was a little parochial school called Miss Mason's, scarcely a block away from campus. It was sort of classically Princeton: not overtly about academic excellence, but sneaking it in the back door. I didn't realize this until third grade, when I visited my grandfather's school in NYC (he was a principal for many years), and realized that I was academically several years ahead. Miss Mason's simply started the three-year-olds off on a kindergarten curriculum, and continued that through the third grade. It probably influenced my general attitude of learning as just something you do, not really a big deal.

After Miss Mason's, I went into the Princeton public school system, and that was fine -- not quite as advanced, but that allowed me to coast a bit (and possibly started the casual and sometimes incorrect arrogance I occasionally have about my own intellect). It was an area where being a brain wasn't a problem, and was generally decently pleasant. I was in a small coterie of geeks, and generally had a good time.

None of which prepared me for seventh grade. That was the year when my parents finally split, and Mom (and I) moved to a small town called Hopewell, on the outskirts of Princeton. I wound up in the Pennington school system, which was a rude shock. Pennington was far more normal than Princeton. Being the class brain meant absolute social ostracism, and I didn't yet have the survival skills to get by. It was a year of pure hell, and drove me quite deeply into a shell. Prior to that, I think I'd had more of my father's outgoing style; that year turned me in a far more introverted direction.

Fortunately, I escaped after a year, going to a private school in Princeton where academic excellence *was* the explicit goal. I fit in decently, but the scarring ran deep. I never really fit in socially -- I had few friends, and no truly close ones. It wasn't bad, but it was lonely. It did affect me in one profound way, though: I came out of high school absolutely bound and determined to change myself. We'll get into that in the next question.

Another effect of the area: I grew up an hour outside NYC, so I had a deep understanding of the difference between bucolic suburbia and The City. The latter has always exerted a strong call to me, and it's no accident that I've wound up where I am -- comfortably out in the 'burbs, but an easy drive to a real downtown.

2) You've invested two decades plus in the SCA. What have you gotten out of it?

I've gained myself. That answer is neither pat nor glib: the SCA has done a huge amount to shape me. I sometimes remark about the fact that I think of "Mark" and "Justin" as very differet people; that's driven by the way that Justin was shaped by the SCA. Some examples:

I've learned grace. I've always been fond of dancing (unlike my parents, who are lifelong observers of dance), but wiggle dance doesn't really make me feel graceful. But over 20 hard-fought years, I've gradually gotten comfortable with my own body. Eventually (long after getting my Laurel, I should note) I one day realized that dancing felt right to me, finally. That feeling of kinaesthetic confidence and control is profound.

I learned to express myself, and my sense of fun. After spending years in a shell, I desperately needed to let the outgoing side out. The SCA provides a fine outlet for that; indeed, a nearly infinite opportunity for it.

I developed a much better understanding of what I want and need socially, and am able to indulge that. Every club sees itself as "family", and each one overestimates how unusual that is. But it's still one of the most important reasons for being in such a club: to have a community to bind to.

I developed my sense of lifelong learning. One of the wonderful things about the Society is that it's completely impossible to mine it out. Most clubs are far more focused than the SCA, and I've basically done what I can do in some of them. (Masonry, in particular.) But the SCA has such a preposterously broad remit that I can just keep on doing new stuff, never really getting bored.

I've learned courage. The darker sides of the Society have taught me a lot about how to rise to a challenge. And my association with Steffan taught me much about how to hone and use my instinctive need to make things better.

I've learned leadership. This is probably the one that most took me by surprise. I really never thought of myself as any sort of leader in high school; indeed, the idea mostly terrified me. But somewhere along the line, I've fallen into that role in the SCA, and found that I'm comfortable in it. It's still scary sometimes, and occasionally painful (I have a deep sense of the responsibilities of Peerage, and some of them truly suck), but it's also a lot of fun.

Yes, a lot of this could have been achieved in other organizations. But I've found that the SCA's bizarre and convoluted structure just suits me well. It has complemented and shaped me, more than I ever dreamed it might when I was starting out...

3) When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Are you that? What are your aspirations now?

See my previous comment about my memory. I honestly don't know what my childhood aspirations were.

In high school, I had some notions about becoming a professional actor. Indeed, that was one of the motivations behind coming to Brandeis: it has a very good theater department. But actually getting there was a rude awakening, as I discovered that I really wasn't nearly as good as I thought I was, and wasn't prepared to put in the hard work necessary to get that good. So I wound up following the programming route. I don't regret that -- it's arguably my true calling, a craft I both enjoy and am very good at. But I do sometimes toy with the acting thing still.

As for my current aspirations, they tend to be creatively oriented. I enjoy *making* things, but not particularly material things. Creating the best LARP I possibly can; writing a play; stuff like that is where my aspirations tend to be in practice. The one truly large aspiration is the Mysteries Project, and that's big enough that it's still a bit intimidating. But it's the highest item on my Things I Must Do list.

4) You've spoken in your journal about cosmology and (if I can call it that) theology. What is your approach to morality and/or ethics? What principles of conduct govern your behavior?

Well, as you've sussed, my theology doesn't particularly influence my moral views: my view of deity is sufficiently abstract that it has little bearing on day-to-day conduct.

I'd have to say that my moral outlook is both rough and intuitive; somewhat unusually for me, it's not something I've ever consciously formulated. It's certainly rooted in the Golden Rule (indeed, I'm a bit suspicious of any moral framework that isn't). However, I believe that one has to take a nuanced interpretation of that: ultimately, the Golden Rule is about trying to treat people as they would like to be treated, when possible. That leads to a corollary, that it's important to try to understand people, so that I can treat them appropriately. Of course, there's a good deal of the natural INTJ predilection to analyze and examine people underlying that.

I also have a deeply-rooted belief in the principle of Balance: moderation is an important guiding principle in my life. The thing that most often bothers me about modern American society is that it tends to be wildly immoderate, with a Manichaean tendency to view everything in black and white. I fundamentally distrust that, on all levels.

5) Someone ask you, "I'm new to the SCA. What advice do you have for me, about how to maximize my enjoyment of the Society?" what do you tell them?

I've actually never had a novice ask that. But it's a question I've pondered a lot in the past few years, and I think my answer for a newcomer would be similar to that for a more experienced member.

Rule #1 of SCA Survival: Do What Is Fun. Don't Do What Is Not Fun.

Obviously, that's a bit over-simplified, but it's truer than most people think. Yes, there are occasionally times when you have to do something unfun -- but there are really far fewer of them than usually supposed. Often, the unfun task is actually entirely unnecessary -- indeed, that's often what makes it unfun. And it's easier to find fun in the drudgework if you approach it with that as a goal: even doing dishes can be fun with the right company.

That said, the SCA will not manufacture fun for you. The Society is not, in and of itself, fun: rather, it is a framework within which it is easy to find and make fun. If you come into it expecting to have fun handed to you on a platter, you will be disappointed. If you view it as an opportunity to play, you will be satisfied.

Finally, don't let others force unfun down your throat. It's a *club*, not real life: never forget that. We're all volunteers here, and you have more control over what you do in the SCA than most people believe.
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