Sunday, December 29, 2013

Home-Grown Immersion: Part 3

And so, we come to the final chapter in my report on our immersion luncheon. I have, unsurprisingly, struggled to put into words my thoughts and feelings on it. I am the type of person who, in looking back on things, usually notes first and foremost the things I wish would have gone differently. That's not so bad in my line of work (teaching and training) but it doesn't make for a fun after-action report! In any case, I'll do what my friend Emily (quoting from Alice in Wonderland) usually says: begin at the beginning, go on until you come to the end, then stop.

We decided on a start time of 11 am, which meant that by arriving at 10, I (along with my staff of three, plus Sarah who had changed at my house) had an hour to put things in order and give final directions to the staff. We got things all situated, polished the silver that needed polishing, inspected the china and crystal to decide what we wanted (two whole cupboards at my disposal!), gave final directions, and then it was just about time to start.

I tend to anticipate that the moment of switching from modern!Betsy into first person will be jarring or difficult. In reality, it was seamless. I walked out of the dining room and encountered the butler in the hallway. I informed him of who would be coming to dine, instructed him to show them in directly, and where to put their wraps and bonnets. Then we both went on our way.

My friend Miss Chapin (Sarah) was already there and we spent some time in the parlor before the guests arrived. Mrs. Harl, who was new to the area and whom I had met at church, arrived shortly and we spent some time admiring the books in the library. This is one of the things that I think went really well - having someone who is "new" allowed for easy conversation. There are always questions to be asked and things to discuss when there is someone new in the group.

The rest of the guests trickled in - a mix of ladies from all walks of life. Shortly thereafter the butler asked me to inspect the table (the maid being new, I wanted to make sure that everything was in order) and lunch was served.

I'm really happy to say that we never wanted for topics of conversation. There were always things to talk about - we shared news of people we knew, talked about the weather (Minnesota had a really interesting year, weather-wise, in 1863), the national Thanksgiving day that had been declared, and news of the war. The food was absolutely marvelous - everyone really outdid themselves.

It was interesting to portray the lady of the house, even a deputy one. I had done some research beforehand, and decided to portray a lady who was living with her parents and whose mother was out of town at the time. I thought this would make it easier for everyone to relate to me (since they already know me as an unmarried lady). I'm not sure it worked out that way, but it gave people plenty to speculate on regarding my marriage prospects!

After lunch it was still raining quite heavily so I invited the ladies to wait out the storm in the parlor. One of the young ladies recited some poetry for our entertainment. Very shortly thereafter it was time for the day to end.

In all, I think it was a success. Everyone reported having enjoyed themselves, which was important. My main goal was, as I stated before, to give my friends an opportunity to try out first person immersion for themselves in a "safe" environment that allowed them the opportunity to test out the waters, as it were. I think I was successful in that regard - the general consensus was that everyone would like to do it again!

I do hope to plan another event like this one. In the future, I would perhaps keep a tighter rein on impressions; I let everyone pretty much have free will this time, and while it allowed them to research their interests and create interesting personae (which was awesome), it came at the cost of some confusing conversations about how all these people ended up in one room together. I don't regret the choice, but I would try it differently next time to see what difference it might make.

There were, of course, mistakes made. People said the wrong thing, a cell phone went off, etiquette was forgotten. But I think those incidents created the ultimate learning moments - you can ignore those things and get past them, and the event can go on without a hitch. We're all human, and the important thing is to put yourself out there and just try it out.

I hope these reflections help others realize that you can do first person immersion anywhere, if you are creative and have the desire!

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