I was recently approached by someone who wanted the story of how I got into renaissance festivals, since they are compiling such stories into a book. My imagination was fired by the idea, until I realized they were just asking for a detailed questionnaire. I'll still do that, but I wanted to share the details of how I got into this crazy business.
It all started when I was fourteen years old and my parents took me to the Baycrafters Renaissance Faire in Cleveland, over Labor Day weekend. My young mind was blown, and I knew I had found my tribe. I saw a lady play the lute, and I was shocked that such skills were still known and practiced. I saw my first SCA demo, where a group of fighters demonstrated the difference between Hollywood fight choreography and how massed medieval troops actually conducted themselves.
I went back over the next few years, and the memories blur. As a sixteen-year-old independent driver I was in line just as the parade was lining up. They offered free admission if I marched with them inside a giant puppet, and suddenly I was a performer.
The next year I name-dropped a booth name for free admission. Allen Drago's Patchwork Merchant Mercenaries was willing to vouch for us as employees in exchange for helping him take down the giant pavilion at the end of the show, and it was a small price to pay.
During these trips, one or two days a year over the course of my high school career, I made a lot of friends and became closer to ones I already had. I was involved in a lot of adult discussion it had previously been difficult for my teenaged self to engage. And I saw my first hammered dulcimer.
Matt Ableson was the player, who is now an acquaintance of mine. My family is from a dulcimer-playing region of Appalachia, and I later ran across dulcimers there, but my first experience was through what later became my primary venue: the Ren Faire. And I hate to admit it, but my first impression of the instrument was resentment that my girlfriend had a crush on the guy.
I have my strengths and my weaknesses, in friendship as in everything else, and my greatest strength in that arena is in supporting my friends who are going through big changes. I see opportunities in difficult times and find them exciting, and with my life experiences I like to think that I'm good in easing people through abrupt trauma. Job changes and divorces are my specialties, in light of my own past.
What I am not good at is offering emotional support in coping with longstanding but unchangeable hardship. I'm not good at coping, in general, preferring to effect big changes in response, but not everyone has such freedom. Kids, finances, and strong senses of commitment, in particular, hold a lot of people in a course they hope and expect to get eventually better but will be unpleasant in the meantime.
This is not my forte. I'm great with a late-night call that says "I left him" or "he left me" but I'm terrible with cocktails over "I'm miserable but can't do anything about it". I'm not good with "I need to suffer through this job another year", but solid with "I just quit/was fired". I am sad to say that I have offered insufficient support to friends who needed it because I can't hear those stories for long before being the voice for radical change.
I've written about my first trip to South America when I went to Buenos Aires on vacation and missed my dulcimer the whole time. In 2014 I went back as a busker, and had an amazing experience.
I hit Buenos Aires, Montevideo (Uruguay), Rosario, San Luís, Córdoba, and Mendoza, plus I dashed across the Andes to briefly visit Santiago de Chile before hitting that country's cultural capital, Valparaiso. I fell in love with Valparaiso and had a really fulfilling experience, but I lost my shirt.
My biggest issue was that South America is really big. Most of my busking has been done in Europe, which is remarkably compact. In Italy, if one city doesn't work I'm within a reasonable train ride of another city I can try, even as repeated day trips if I've prepaid my lodging. In South America that doesn't fly, and it was a better financial decision to eat the loss than to wrack up bigger bills to roll the dice again.
So, when a cop would tell me I was not allowed to busk, I was basically up the creek until I was scheduled to move on. This lead to some really great experiences, but as I said I lost a lot of money on the trip. I'm taking those lessons into account as I plan another South America expedition.
I'm booking a lot more cities, so instead of a week in each place I will spend 3-4 days. It will be a much more hectic travel schedule, but lessens my risk from individual cities not working out (even if I'm busted everywhere I go I'll still get 2-3 days of playing a week). I've done my homework and none of these cities have regulations regarding buskers, but that means nothing when an individual cop decides he doesn't like what you're doing.
I'm also looking to bring some CDs with me. Lacking CDs would have been manageable if more cities had worked out for tips, but they significantly improve profitability and could have helped me with my limited playing time. Also, Argentina has serious trade barriers but Chile has a free-trade agreement with the US, so that will be a huge help as well.
Finally, I'm budgeting with the idea in mind that I'll lose my shirt. Rather than projected grosses, I'm planning on minimal income so that anything above that will be a bonus. Losing money wasn't my problem in 2014, losing money I couldn't afford was my problem.
I'm excited and nervous and can't believe how quickly the dates are approaching!
It was a casual conversation that got deep very quickly, which is my favourite kind. She led with, "the way you live and travel means you'll have no regrets on your death bed". I responded, without thinking, "no, I'll just regret not taking better care of the relationships I sacrificed for travel".
I then expounded, "I'm an egoist but I'm not a narcissist: not a user, just neglectful". Harsh truths at the end of a tiring weekend.
I am thankful, today as every day, for the many blessings in my life. I'm thankful for the love of those who surround and support me. I'm thankful for my parents, who nurtured my wild side while instilling a strong work ethic. And I'm thankful for the opportunities that have come my way, without which all my preparation would have been wasted.
I'm not good at openness, at sharing my deepest thoughts and feelings. I very much feel that it's my role in life to act as an inspiration, to encourage by example other people to reach far beyond what I'll ever manage. But there's a dark side as well.
A lot of what I share is built around the idea of "this is what it looks like to accomplish your dreams". I want my life to serve as a goad, giving permission to people who are questioning their own paths, but having reached my dreams brought problems as well; I was so used to striving that I didn't know what to do once the heights were attained.
It caused a pretty serious personal crisis, and it's only five years later on that I'm really open to showing my pain. It was 2011, and I had everything I ever wanted. My festival career was on a solid foundation, I had eight tours of Italy under my belt, and a good relationship to top it all off.
But I was miserable.
I had spent years building my life and I didn't know what to do with the edifice I'd created. I understood my basic problem so I set new goals for myself, but since they were artificial I didn't care enough to exert myself and then I had a failure on top of the previous dissatisfaction.
So I took a vacation.
Having achieved one dream, maybe it was time to find a new path. I loved traveling for work, but if I liked hobby travel better then maybe it was time to find a new career. And I knew where I had to go: Buenos Aires.
My great-grandfather had emigrated from Italy to BA, where my grandfather was born before the family moved back to Italy. When his children all went to the US, my great-grandfather retired to Argentina, where he is buried. Having spent significant time in Italy and with a visit to Ireland accomplished, Buenos Aires was the last significant family place I hadn't seen. The last entry on my bucket list.
And that was a part of it, as well. Maybe I wasn't done with my career, maybe I was done with living, and by going to Argentina I was giving myself permission to commit suicide. This wasn't ideation, I wasn't having fantasies or plotting methods, but acknowledging the possibility as a legitimate choice.
And so I went, and spent ten days wishing I'd brought a dulcimer; I enjoyed the trip, but wanted to be a busker. I realized that my career still had heights to ascend and side roads to explore. And I embraced my latest challenge: difficult music. I had spent much of the fall banging my head against an Elizabethan lute tune, Dowland's Lachrimae Pavane, and decided that such music was my new goal.
But it wasn't for several years that I took suicide off the table. As someone who sees his Purpose in setting an example to others, I realized that I would undermine everything I ever achieved, everything I ever wanted, if I pulled a trigger. Instead of acting as an Inspiration, I would become a Cautionary Tale, and anyone who might have been encouraged by my life would be, instead, warned away from bold choices.
I can't have that. I won't have that. And so I'm on this ride until something else brings it to an end.
I was very strict on my intake. At least one day, weekly, without consuming, and a minimum three-day break every month. Then a dental problem with TMJ meant I couldn't have it anymore.
I miss caffeine. But what strikes me is that when I described taking six days off every month from coffee people would look at me strangely, but if I describe drinking alcohol 24 days of the month I sound like I have a problem.
This despite the fact that I've never gotten a headache from lack of alcohol, never been unable to get out of bed without it. I wonder if our cultural stigma pattern is based on work, where alcohol is seen as an indulgence while caffeine is an enabler. I wonder if it's because our culture has seen a lot more trauma from alcoholism since its later stages are far more problematic. I wonder if I have a drinking problem, even though I'm very rarely tipsy.
But I'm Louisiana so I'm in good company; I'll worry about that in Ohio.
Identity is a tricky beast. One of the most fun topics I studied in grad school was the development of group identities, and it's still one of my favourite concepts to read up on. And, of course, there's no purer expression of the conundrum of identity than a name.
I go by a few names, these days. For many years I was exclusively "Vince", militantly even. As a child, I was offended by my grandfather's insistence in calling me "Vincenzo". As an adult I came to embrace "Vincenzo", using it as my SCA monicker as well as during my travels in Italy. In the SCA I wanted a "persona" (character) name that I would remember was me when shouted across a field, and in Italian "Vince" is actually a word ("he wins"). So Vincenzo was the obvious solution in both cases.
Except that Vincenzo was more problematic than it felt. After a few tours in Italy I stopped using it: I had an answer when I'd be asked (pale ginger that I am), "but what is your *real* name", but it took too long to explain my family history. Also, I started traveling in South America, where Vincenzo was a less elegant solution to the "he wins" word problem and where I had no emotional connection to "Vicente". And so I began, for the first time in my life, to embrace "Vincent".
I'm getting to know "Vincent" and growing to like him. It's no different a process than any other name I've adopted, and Mr Van Gogh has done a beautiful job in paving the way. It's easier to make a reservation, in any language, for example, and he feels a little more grown up. I'm still fond of "Vince", which is very much my default, but it's an interesting expansion as I embrace further possibilities entering my forties.
I make a deliberate effort to keep my online presence apolitical, and that isn't going to change. I feel very strongly that my Purpose, my Calling, is to serve as an inspiration and an example to others, and I never want partisanship to exclude half the population from that influence. Offline is very much a different matter, and I'm happy to chat about sex, religion, and politics over coffee or cocktails. But my online presence is very carefully curated with my ultimate goals in mind.
It's been awhile since I posted anything; I've been busy on other platforms. I get occasional ribbing for my loyalty to Livejournal, but I'm not a fan of WordPress and all my archives are here. I can see a time coming when I might port or mirror my blog on Tumblr, but I'm not quite there yet.
I feel besieged by politics, and living in Ohio doesn't help since blanket advertising is the norm, so surfing social media is off my radar tonight. I've puttered through the various books I'm reading (I'm typically switching between three books at any given time), but haven't been able to sink my teeth into any of them. Then it occurred to me that my new bluetooth keyboard just arrived and that I could write words instead of reading them.
So here I am.
I've been delightfully brainstorming lately. I'm planning two potential busking tours abroad for next year, learning music for my next album and plotting out the one to follow it, and bringing my Patreon campaign to life: I'm very pleased with how well it has been received, and I'm having a lot of fun doing the work involved. Plus, of course, living my life and sharing liberally of it on Facebook and Twitter.
I just spent ten days visiting friends in Canada, which was incredibly refreshing. I had two weekends free so I filled them with an SCA event and a Halloween party, with lots of visits in between, and in general had an amazingly-conversation-filled interlude. I seem to have nailed the balance between socializing and down time, and I'm feeling really well and happy, if somewhat full of Halloween treats.
I'm having a rather wonderful year, though I feel guilty as I watch so many of my friends struggling, and I'm superstitiously looking around to see when another shoe might drop. I'm repeating my mantra of "improvisation is my contingency" as I keep on keeping on, and thankfully my anxiety has been fairly calm since I'm spending so much time plotting interesting scenarios that I'm too busy to contemplate worst cases.