Time flies when you’re having fun.
It also seems to fly when you are under pressure, stressed about something, or anticipating some sort of impending event that is racing straight towards you. A few weeks ago I was sitting here contemplating how it seemed I had all the time in the world to prepare for my next journey, and all of a sudden it is right in front of me, a mere number of days away! Am I prepared? Not in the slightest! Or I don’t feel so, anyway.
When I was growing up, Dad used to ask me what my ‘career‘ would be. ‘Career‘ was a word I heard a lot at school, coming from the mouths of teachers or guidance counsellors or friends’ parents. “But you can’t make a career out of that,” they would say. “And when you’ve done that, what will your career be?” There is so much pressure on us to find a ‘suitable career’ that a lot of the time I think we completely miss the point.
And what is “the point,” exactly? Well, I’m not sure if I’m talking about life in general or what – I just know that the point is happiness, or that is at least what I feel it to be. If you can’t say there is happiness in your life, then there truly is no point.
Back when I was a lot younger – before the time any sort of darkness began to pry its way into my life – ‘happiness’ wasn’t a word I would ever stop to think about. It was simply a guarantee; a fact of being alive. If I thought about the future, I knew I would go to university and grow up and become an adult, and I would be happy all that time. I would have a house and get married and have kids, and I would be happy. I would grow old, and be happy. It’s just what people did. Happiness was a given. Those were my innocent, naive, unaware thoughts.
Now if you ask me what happiness is, I wouldn’t be able to define it for you. At this moment I’m currently reading a definition that says to be happy is “to be in a state of cheerfulness” – but that doesn’t quite describe the word, does it. If someone says to me now, “Are you happy?” I have to really think about it. A million and one thoughts roll into my head; Am I where I want to be in life right at this moment; Is money worrying me; Are my personal relationships doing well; Is my job secure; Is my home environment comfortable and safe? I don’t believe happiness is a constant state. It’s not something you can work towards and reach like a finish line and say “I’m here, I made it, I win!” It changes. It may ebb and flow. Rise and fall. You can wake up feeling wonderful, and by the evening have experienced something that turns your world temporarily on its head. Likewise, you can have a horrible morning, but encounter something fantastic during the day that reminds you life is great and that you’re enjoying it.
I have been trying, recently, to practice the theory that things only affect you if you allow them to. I’m a sucker for letting things get to me more than they need to. Perhaps it’s part and parcel of being predisposed to anxiety, but I do have a tendency to worry, I do stress about things out of my control, and I am affected by what others say to or about me. A few particular people in my life (I could perhaps describe them as more ‘level-headed’ than myself) are often trying to convince me that I do not need to be affected by certain things so much, so I am working on it. After a lifetime of practicing this apparent flustered need to ‘fix’ things, though, it can be difficult to just breathe and let go. Yes, it can be difficult – but not impossible.
As well as accepting that you don’t have to be bothered by every little daily grump, surrounding yourself with things that make you smile – even temporarily – can be life saving. And this is where “a different ‘D’ word” comes in: dress-ups!
I love dressing up. Well, I love escapism, and to me dressing up is a form of escapism. I have lots of childhood memories of utilising that wonderful, magical thing called imagination, whether it be in games with my friends, my sister, or just myself while I ran around being a ridiculous little kid. I still consider myself a ‘dreamer’ in several senses; I have strong, passionate dreams that I am determined to follow, but I also like to slip away into daydream-realm – whether it be with books, music, movies, literature – where the pressures of today aren’t such a reality. This world (our planet; our only home) has so much going on, and I thrive on the ferocity I am imbued with when I’m living what I’m passionate about. But I also relish the few quiet times I have where I can lose myself in the pages of a book, or throw some painted swirls onto a canvas.
A few years ago I was sitting at my Dad’s house in the country (a quiet place I used to relish), watching a movie with a friend. It was a silly movie with plenty of immature humour; I didn’t have high hopes for it, but sometimes it’s good to just blob out to something mindlessly ridiculous. Anyway, one of the characters in this film – a young lad who would typically be described as ‘geeky’ – introduced some of the other characters to one of his favourite past-times. It was called LARPing: Live Action Roleplay. The fellow dressed himself up in a medieval-themed costume, and proceeded to take part in a rather intense make-believe battle with other larpers, some of whom seemed to take it way too seriously. My friend was almost crying with laughter, and I was having a giggle too – the concept was pretty novel to me. Yet deep down there was a little spark inside me that I couldn’t ignore: it was saying, “That looks like something you could enjoy, Sam…” Unbeknown to my friend, as soon as I had a moment to myself after the movie ended I somewhat hesitantly Googled “LARPing in New Zealand”. I didn’t really think such a thing would exist in our relatively small community – but I was to be surprised!
Not only were there listings for LARP in New Zealand in general, but Auckland seemed to be a pretty good place for it! As I flicked through a few different web pages – some of which were quite out of date – I stumbled across one that announced a ‘Campaign’ about to be held in only a few weeks’ time. I had no idea what was meant by a ‘Campaign’, but I dove right in and emailed my interest to the organisers. To my joy they came back to me very quickly, telling me I was welcome to join this campaign known as “Teonn“. From what I understood there were two options: to ‘Play’, or to ‘Crew’. Playing required you to create a character with a back-story, maybe some goals and other character connections. As I was utterly, completely, totally ignorant to the whole LARP thing, I figured Playing might be a bit too much for my first time. I decided to offer myself as a Crew member – Crew were like the extras of a movie, or the NPCs (non-player characters) of a video game; the barmaids, the farmers, the quest-givers, the monsters, the bandits, the helpless villagers, the damsels in distress. I thought it would be the perfect place to start.
The first night of this three-day game arrived, and I had bundled a couple of pillows, a sleeping bag, and plenty of old clothes into my car. I was so nervous. Turning up to a camp out in the middle of a completely unfamiliar area, where I would literally not know a single person, was quite a big step for this anxiety-ridden girl. But somehow I had faith that I would find myself feeling comfortable within the larping community fairly quickly.
Game preparations were in full swing as I pulled into the carpark. There were people rushing around in all directions, carrying bundles of what I could only assume were props and larp-safe weapons. I bumped into a lady who pointed me in the direction of the Crew Room, and I nervously wandered through the dark to find some indication of what I was meant to be doing. I happened upon one of the GMs – Game Masters – who told me to find myself a mattress in the sleeping quarters upstairs, leave my belongings there, and get into my first costume.
The Crew Room was a crazy rabble of people getting geared up in armor, painting their faces with weird and wonderful patterns, items of clothing being flung across the room as costumes were changed, and the GMs calling out what they needed: Gypsies, villagers, knights, wenches, spies, tavern staff… I joined a small group of ladies who were getting themselves into delicate medieval dresses, and discovered that we would be playing courtesans. Not quite what I was expecting for my first role, but it certainly was a good opportunity to get out and meet some of the Players.
Thankfully, being in a group meant I was able to follow the lead of the others – I had no idea what to expect, and as we exited the Crew Room all prettied up, I decided to simply watch and learn. We wandered down the street of the town known in-game as Cormere, and in the dim light of the buildings I could see groups of people in elaborate outfits milling about. The leader of our little band of coquettes approached one of the Players, and proceeded to have a discussion with him about some ongoing battles that were obviously tied in to the Teonn story, and chatted to him about how we were there to bring some smiles to the town.
I found it difficult at first to speak to the Players with confidence; I was pretty overwhelmed and quite intimidated to be honest! But as I got into the swing of the game I realised this was definitely something I would enjoy. Crewing was great; if you wanted to play a more combat-oriented role then you could speak to the GMs and they would send you out as a bandit or assassin. There were all sorts of little side-plots going on, and people were constantly needed to flesh everything out. I was having fun waltzing around the evening playing this courtesan who, when trouble arose, could hide behind the front line and watch any fighting from a safe distance. Since I had never handled a larp-safe weapon in my life I had no idea how to fight accordingly.
Inevitably, though, I did have to gear up for a battle – in the dead of that first night, a raging orc horde arrived in the forest near Cormere – and who else would play this massive horde of blood-thirsty orcs but the Crew.
I believe I failed dismally as a big scary orc, but dozens of us banded together, banging drums and screeching into the night would have intimidated anyone I’d say. Swinging axes and swords in the dark of the forest was definitely one of the things I had expected about this larp business, and it really does get your adrenaline going!
Teonn was a campaign that was scheduled to run for several years, with two big weekend games each year, and several shorter day-games scattered throughout. It was a different thing altogether to wake up on my first morning at the larp and actually see in the daylight all the beautiful Player costumes – simply incredible; it took my breath away. The world of Teonn encompassed a number of different races, religions and factions – my favourite were the colourful ‘Elementals’; mysterious individuals who had some affiliation with one of the elements (earth, air, water or fire). How could you not be immersed in this fantasy world when you were surrounded by such meticulously planned characters and costumes?
I continued to crew in Teonn for a number of games, while I learnt the ropes of campaign larping. Being cast as some kind of orc became common, though I didn’t get any better with the fighting – hopefully the green face paint and huge weapon was convincing enough. Other than that, in a typical game I learnt you’d be sure to find:
These types of heroic guys,
Some magical object puzzle we had to solve,
Helpful pointers in case you got lost,
Grieving over epic deaths.
For the last two big Teonn games I was involved in, I finally decided to take the plunge and try my hand at Playing. Thus, Y’vaine was created, a shy, naive, probably rather annoying Elemental of the earth variety. After all my dealings with dressing up as orcs it was decided that Y’vaine was utterly terrified of those more primitive green beasties, yet I still got covered in bodypaint.
A few snaps of Y’vaine:
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make the final game, which sounds as though it was incredibly emotionally intense. It is near impossible to not get attached to a recurring character you play throughout a campaign that runs for years, and I don’t quite know how I’d deal with the loss of one of my own that I had put so much work into. I also liken the finale of a campaign to reaching the end of a book series you are completely immersed in – you can’t wait to find out the ending, but when it’s all over you feel some sense of emptiness; or at least I do. However, the wonderful fascination of the games is absolutely worth any “larp-over”, and I can say my life isn’t the same now that I have the occasional magical larping escape, not to mention the family-like community I hold so dear. This weird and wonderful discovery has definitely helped put more frequent smiles on my face.
Photos by Scott of Reality Dysfunction (check them out for more pictures) and one of my favourite orc friends, David.
(And a couple from my tacky cellphone.)