Tag Archives: “personal essay”

#SteampunkHands – On Crafting a Subcultural Lifestyle: Objects and the Search for Home in Steampunk (Part 5)

The Airship Ashanti in the 2015 Internationa Steampunk Symposium. They were that year's winners of the Airship Games.

The Airship Ashanti in the 2015 International Steampunk Symposium. They were that year’s winners of the Airship Games.

A Genre for our Times: Living Steampunk in Pursuit of “the Good Life”, A Conclusion

During my extensive involvement in the steampunk community, I have contemplated the meaning of what constitutes a lifestyle and whether that coincides with the personal beliefs one holds. While I began this paper with the intention of exploring the separation of ideology with lifestyle, I also believe that people who are heavily involved in the steampunk community hold a specific worldview. In my interviews with members of the community, I came upon a dozen different responses to the question, “Do you think steampunks have a specific ‘mindset’?” Many vehemently rejected the idea that there was one common mindset (thus, hinting at the collective notion of respect for individual opinions and a general distaste toward imposing one’s opinion upon others.) Many other responses, however, incorporated the idea that steampunks are artists who prefer looking at the world more creatively than the average person. Artist Tamara Lavery mentions that, “I believe it is a very fertile mindset. Many of those involved are makers. Artists, crafts people, musicians,….while going to an event and purchasing something amazing made by another is mad fun, most of us are also happiest making or at least “modding” for ourselves.”1 Another steampunk, author Leanne Renee Hieber mentions the commodification of subculture in her response, but with an anti-commercial, pro-community spin: “I think there are common themes. Craft and maker culture as valued commodity (I consider myself a “maker” too, I make books). History is alive and re-imagined in us. Play, fancy, fantasy, adventure and whimsy are also a valued commodity.”2

In fact, what I found in common in many of these responses is how many steampunks link a “steampunk worldview” (if it does exist) to a set of materialist ethics with the world that emphasizes the imagination as a method to break away from normalized constraints of society. The nineteenth century, more than a common focal point of interest, is considered the nexus point of the standards of our modern world. Steampunks view the Victorian era as the beginning of the end with the tide of industrial, social, political and economic changes that directly changed our lives for the worst. By returning to the Victorian, the steampunk aesthetic movement both celebrates a historical era of change while also integrating anachronistic elements into history in the romantic hope of undoing the past to re-create a better present. The idea is speculative in design, but realist in execution. The steampunk aesthetic movement is one method in which people project their utopian ideals onto the everyday.

Continue reading

7 Comments

Filed under Conventions, Essays

#SteampunkHands – On Crafting a Subcultural Lifestyle: Objects and the Search for Home in Steampunk (Part 4)

ICON 2010

Photo from ICON 2010. Image Credit: J.M. Coen.

A Wandering Utopia: The Steampunk Convention

Note: A part of this essay section was previously published in my 2011 TempleCon convention report here.

Convention spaces provoke migration. They act as a Mecca for people of common means but uncommon interests, who engage in pilgrimages across the country to one destination in order to commune with each other. Convention spaces are also known in shorthand as the “con space,” a term that can allude to the Latin word contra (“to oppose, to argue against,” “pro or con”), to trick (“to con someone,” “the con game”), to illusion and mystification (“to confuse”). The term “con” when speaking of “convention” on the other hand, comes from the Middle English word connen, meaning “to study, know, or pursue.” Both divergent entomologies become relevant when describing a steampunk con.

Cons are understood as being a transitory form of escapism, where people enter from the mainstream world and are transferred into a heightened hyper-reality of Othered existence, before departing after a few hours or a few days to re-enter normalcy. At the same time, the convention space is nomadic, moving across city limits and state lines (and some, even, becoming virtual on the Internet)1. Sprouted by whims and fan passions, fan cons become hatched in backwater small towns and major metropolitan areas, each catering to the localized whims of the community’s populace. Cons, then, can be considered festive realms of liminality, a carnival space that Susan Stewart would identify as, “a reply to everyday life which is at the same time an inversion, an intensification, and a manipulation of that life, for it exposes and transforms both pattern and contradiction, presenting the argument and the antithesis of everyday life in an explosion that bears the capacity to destroy that life.”2

Of course, the concept of the fan conventions isn’t new and doesn’t pertain to steampunk subculture alone. My choice to include the con space as part of steampunk lifestyle, however, is connected to the increased attention by steampunk participants to the importance of holding a convention in their local community and the integration of convention-going with sociability for subculture participants. Moreover, unlike the assumption that these conventions are seen as breaks from the everyday, I argue that convention and event life in the steampunk community is seen not as an escape, but as a heightened utopian space that is reflective of community members’ everyday practices, interests and relationships.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Conventions, Essays

#SteampunkHands – On Crafting a Subcultural Lifestyle: Objects and the Search for Home in Steampunk (Part 3)

Lebanon County Historical Society's Stoy Museum replication of a Victorian Barber Shop. Click for source.

Lebanon County Historical Society’s Stoy Museum replication of a Victorian Barber Shop. Click for source.

Retro-Fitting the Technologies of the Self

I first heard of the Steampunk Salon through Meet-up.com, a social website. The NY Steampunk – Artists & Enthusiasts network was started in late 2008 and has over 600 members throughout the state, though a sizable number of them reside in New York City. Many of their events are based in the metropolitan area, from museum trips to picnics to community art projects, like arrangements for float in Coney Island’s Mermaid Parade. One of the consistent events is the literary salon that takes place in Midtown East, hosted at the business of Romain Pallardy, hair stylist. The pun on the dual meaning of “salon” sounds a bit cutesy to be coincidental, and steampunk in general has been known to create spaces with a cheeky wink and a nod.

***

Finding Romain’s Salon is a bit tricky; one cool fall evening, I arrived at a bustling city street in Midtown East and didn’t see a storefront, for the Salon lacked a street sign, in contrast to the flashy hotel logos and restaurants surrounding it. The plain-faced building squeezed in this ritzy area could have been another forgettable residential building; alongside the row of pearly doorbell buttons, though, it wasn’t difficult to spot the one marking Romain’s business. In neat ink penmanship beneath a strip of plastic was the word “Salon,” as intriguing in its simplicity as Alice’s bottles and cakes marked “Drink Me” or “Eat Me.” The doorbell’s built-in camera blinked upon pressing the buzzer; my face flashed back in miniature before I was buzzed in. I climbed a nondescript, narrow stairwell to the second floor and arrived at a simple office door labeled in black-lined gold lettering: “Romain Parllady: Salon.”

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Conventions, Essays

#SteampunkHands – On Crafting a Subcultural Lifestyle: Objects and the Search for Home in Steampunk (Part 2)

Victorian Carpenter's Kit

Victorian Carpenter’s Kit

“Home is a Woodshop”

Among my books on my self stands a French vodka bottle, sliced clean across the middle; this bottle I had cut myself using a diamond-edged rotary water blade. The process was not perfect, and chipped edges serve a cautionary purpose when I pick up the glass. A candle sits inside it, unlit, on my shelf, yet it nevertheless reminds me of the place where it was made.

***

In the shadow of the George Washington Bridge, I stood by the iron-barred gateway situated between two gray-faced, indiscriminate pre-war apartment buildings, dialing a number off my smart phone. An icy blast of wind coming in from the water cuts through my layers and my fingers tremble over the key pad. A warm, older voice answered, “I’ll be right up,” and in a minute, Stephen Ebinger, a broad-shouldered man with a peppery beard and Santa-Claus eyes, opened the gate. The stairs descended to the subbasement level and I teetered downwards precariously, clinging to the rust-stained railing. I followed my friend through the building’s back door into the basement apartment that serves both as his home, as a fully-equipped woodshop, and as the Steampunk Co-op in northern Manhattan.

Continue reading

3 Comments

Filed under Conventions, Essays

#SteampunkHands – On Crafting a Subcultural Lifestyle: Objects and the Search for Home in Steampunk (Part 1)

A picture of my steampunk self way back in 2009 during one of the first events I attended in NYC for International Steampunk Day

A picture of my steampunk self in 2009 during one of the first events I attended in NYC for International Steampunk Day

Thinking about my contributions for “Steampunk Hands Around the World” this year made me reflect upon my time spent in the community. There have been highs and lows, and admittedly enough, I had no idea how much my life would change in the past eight years because of this aesthetic and the creative community inspired by it. One of the reasons why I have stuck around has been the belonging I have found through the people, places, and things we have created.

A few years ago in graduate school, I took a class called “Performance of Everyday Life”, which interrogated how we understand ourselves and the way we move through the world as acts of performance. From religious ritual to amateur hobbies, from gender roles to cosplay, from sports to clubbing to fashion — what all of these activities have in common is the idea of how different levels of theatricality, presentation, and action is incorporated into our daily identities.

My final paper was an ethnographic study contemplating making and community spaces in New York City and the convention scene.  Reading this over, I see how this can be interpreted as a counterargument of a recent critique of the maker movement written in The Atlantic. Unlike The Atlantic‘s critique of the capital-driven, competition-oriented DIY movement, I think steampunk community’s values provide an alternate view to making which is tied into group identity and fostering spaces of non-competitive creativity that values both traditional masculine and feminine arts.  Artistic camaraderie endows the steampunk object with affect value that grows into something greater than the object itself.  Though it was written in 2012, and some of the steampunks featured in this article I have lost touch with or left the community for one reason or another, this essay overall embodies many thoughts I have about the inherent beauty of creation and sense of home I get with fellow steampunks. This is, more than anything, a love letter to an art movement.

I’ll be posting a new part of this essay every Sunday this month.

Continue reading

5 Comments

Filed under Conventions, Essays

Bringing Asian Culture to Steampunk: Cosplaying James Ng’s Imperial Sheriff — Guest blog by Steampunk Panda

Steampunk Panda as the Imperial Sheriff

I have been aware of Steampunk for some time but it was not until the tail end of the summer of 2011 that I decided to take a closer look and learn more about Steampunk.  As I delved into the culture I noticed how it was very Victorian, based in the 19th century British culture.  That was understandable seeing how it was based off of many early literatures that were set in those areas.  However, the world does not revolve around one geographical location or ethnic background for that matter, and while life progresses in one location it invariably continues on elsewhere.

So for Steampunk to be only Victorian or only British I found that rather stifling and ethnocentric, which from what I had started to learn of the subculture was not what it wanted to do, but rather be an inviting and accepting one.  Perhaps it was the fact that people were uncertain of how to approach other ethnicities with the Steampunk culture without being offensive.  Especially in a time period where racism was not only prevalent but well practiced.

Being new to Steampunk and wanting to take my own twist to it I looked at my own heritage of Chinese culture and doing some cursory research as to what was going on in China during the 19th century.  It was the time of the Opium Wars, the Boxer Rebellion, and in America the railroads were being laid down by my ancestors.  It was a time period I was somewhat familiar with albeit slightly romanticized and dramatized from all the Hong Kong and Chinese cinemas I watched growing up as a child.  Still the clothes and some of the basics of the culture at the time were there.

James Ng’s Imperial Sheriff

As I researched further into Steampunk to find connections to Asian culture I looked to see if others had gone down this path before me. It would seem that for the most part when looking for Asian and Steampunk on the internet more often than not it was found that Asians were in a European/British style outfit or even perhaps a person wearing a kimono with a corset over it.  This does not detract from the fact that even during that time period there were indeed many Asians who wore European/British stylings back then as Western culture was placing its influence over the native Asian culture. What it did was inspire me to find a way to express what it would have been like in Asia without the western influence.

It would be during my research that I would happen upon an artist who would be my catalyst and inspiration towards my goal of expressing a truly Asian themed Steampunk outfit.  James Ng and his Imperial Steamworks series is truly awe inspiring and a solid foundation for which Asian Steampunk can develop from.  It was the discovery of his work that allowed me to feel not alone in the ideas and concept of Asian Steampunk and legitimized for me this evolutionary path for it, and that I hope to see this path flourish by spreading it any way I could.

With his permission I took it upon myself to bring one of his creations to life, his Imperial Sheriff.

Continue reading

11 Comments

Filed under Essays

Con Life, Gender, and My Hypothetical Genitals — Guest blog by Ashley Rogers (a.k.a. Lucretia Dearfour)

Note from Ay-leen: In recognition of Pride Month in the United States, I’d like to thank Lucretia Dearfour for writing about her experiences in the steampunk community.

The first person that we know of to ever go through sexual reassignment surgery was Lili Elbe in 1930, unfortunately her body rejected much of the surgery and she died three month afterward.  The first most prominant recipient however was Christine Jørgensen, who received the surgery in 1952 and was then immediately outed to the public as Trans… as “Different.”  What is truly amazing to me about Jørgensen’s story is that the first paper to get the scoop and run with it was the New York Daily News on December 1st 1952, and the headline read “Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Beauty.”  The headline could have called her a freak of nature, could have foscued on how a man decided one day to be a woman, could have called her a freak or warped the public’s mind in any way shape or form as the first paper to break such a story.  What I respect about the article is that it chose to focus on the fact that Jørgensen became a “Blonde Beauty.”  It’s vein, it’s vapid, and it still says “He was this, now he’s not a he anymore,” but it does so in such a way that conveys a positive message.

Transgender and gender nonconformist individuals exist to this day.  We have existed throughout history and we have only gained strength and prominence as time has gone on with many thanks to trailblazers like Jørgensen.  We’ve still got a long, LONG way to go but the future is definitely moving in a very accepting direction for me and mine.

That being said, in Steampunk as well as in a lot of other geek-oriented subcultures I feel (subjectively) that Trans folks are on the whole accepted, though not understood and, at times, not encouraged.  This is something that can change, and is en route to change yet at the moment we still deal with a lot of double standard BS that cis-gendered (labeled one gender at birth and has no intention of questioning said gender) folks never need to think about.

Continue reading

11 Comments

Filed under Essays

#82 The Birth of Miss Dorothy Winterman: A Personal Essay– Guest Blog by Luisa Ana Fuentes

Story Excerpt:

Dorothy Winterman's "African Amazon" outfit

It is day 15 of our arduous journey through the veldts of Nigeria (or are we in Cameroon yet?). Our tracker Adeola has discovered new tracks and scraps of fibers from obviously foreign cloths. She can find a single iguana track amongst a bevy of crocodiles, this one can. We listen intently that these “men” are probably several hours, if not a day away. We find evidence of them through their encampments, their excrement and their litter. Yes, litter. Can you imagine- these foreigners, these soldiers, these baby snatching, people annihilating, genocidal rapists also throw their unwanted refuse upon our beautiful, sacred ground. Well if you can march hordes of innocent groups of human beings to ships waiting to whisk them away to be enslaved, massacred and destroyed in a whole different place on this globe, throwing down unwanted garbage must not mean much. I guess it truly lies in one’s perspective, does it not?

I think to myself, “Did I travel back in time for this?”

And before I can answer, images of the next few centuries spring forth as vividly as the greens and browns presently ahead of me: slavery, men and boys hanging from trees, Emmett Til in his coffin, the Civil War, ghettos, heroin, crack, Rodney King, Ronald Regan, Flava Flav, the riots in Newark, Chicago and LA, apartheid and AIDS. Internally, the answer is clear. The rest of the women notice my hesitation and far-off look in my eyes and immediately they know where my mind has gone. They wait patiently as I gather my wits about me. It’s all so overwhelming at times. From one existence to another in mere minutes, then from that existence to here-it is all staggering to think I am recreating my past as my future remains uncertain now- the whole butterfly/chaos theory thing. Try to explain that to a group of Amazonian warriors attempting to rid their land of oppressors and see where it takes you.

It took weeks and weeks to convince my group of fighting women I was actually a woman from their future who has returned to the past to go back in an attempt to right the wrongs done to one group of my ancestors by another. Perhaps the laser light pen (bought at a flea market to amuse my cats) and Nintendo DS (note to self: energizers do NOT time travel well) helped to tip the scale of doubt to my side a bit. It took several days for me to even convince them that a person bearing my skin tone could have even come from their same mothers. My complexion, hair texture, shape of my lips and nose were all odd but strangely reminiscent of theirs–albeit, a highly watered down version; or as sister Iruwya said, a highly “whitened” down version of them all. She has a biting wit about her- she is not ever afraid to speak her mind, heart and especially her soul. Once she was convinced of the atrocities to come, she, the non-believer became my staunchest advocate and friend. At night, I think back to the times this whole adventure began. I bounded in the matter of what seemed to be minutes from 21st century woman, to 19th century “lady” and then to here and now, the Africa of my not-so ancient past.

But, now I stand, clothed in a strange compilation of Victorian European garb mixed with the bits and pieces of textiles I have found on the dead and dying of White men and African brothers alike-the strangest mosaic of African-American-European aesthetics this time period has probably ever seen; my hair in tight ringlets surround my face, mane-like; no matter what–I am home.

But now is not night and there is no time to reminisce. It is dusk and the heat, still shimmering in waves from the ground below, attacks us. The cross bow (yes, with laser light pen attachment-sold separately) strung across my back grows heavier with each step that I take. Not even the adrenaline brought about by the sight of the fires ahead, the smell of the cooking meat and the unquestionable shouts and laughter of the White men ahead can alleviate the ache in my mid-back. I look around me and see the familiar smiles of my new sisters: once warrior women of their king in Dahomey, they fight alongside of me now to try and thwart the death of our culture, our names, heritage, land and lives. “Come” says Tayari in Yoruba (a language I never knew while living in New York in 2011, but one I can easily understand and speak now). The rest of us nod. Our evening activities have just begun.

The above excerpt taken from “The Strange and Accurate Depiction of the Life and Times of Luisa Fuentes as Miss Dorothy Winterman, Lady of Leisure and Haberdasheress Extraordinaire In Her Journeys Through Time and Oppression: A Memoir”.

Okay, so the above memoir does not exist in either fiction or reality. It is a part of an explanation of the newest and most original Steampunk outfit that debuted at the Steampunk World’s Fair in New Jersey the weekend of May 20th, 2011. My name, however, really is Luisa Ana Fuentes and I really am of numerous mixed heritages. I’m a steampunk and my character’s name is (you guessed it) Dorothy Winterman, Lady of Leisure and Haberdasheress Extraordinaire.

Continue reading

11 Comments

Filed under Conventions, Essays

#79 A Word About Eyepatches: A Personal Essay — Guest Blog by Elsa Sjunneson

Elsa's steampunk'd folding walking cane, made in accordance with walking canes for the visually-impaired. Designed and crafted by Michael Salerno.

Before I can begin telling you about eyepatches in the steampunk community, I should probably explain why I’m qualified to discuss the issue. I was born with cataracts. I was fortunate enough to maintain the sight in my left eye, but I can’t see anything out of my right. I would wear an eyepatch, but unfortunately since I’m not allowed to wear contact lenses the ability to accessorize with a patch is completely out of reach. Not only that, but I carry a white cane because I have no depth perception. Those of you who have worn an eyepatch probably have experienced this issue. This is what I have to talk to you about today – why on earth would someone choose to impair themselves for fashion purposes, especially given that the disability which you are using is often one that comes with serious emotional attachments. To be clear, I wear corsets, and so do a lot of other people, but rarely is the dialogue associated with a corset one in which the individual wearing it says that they wear the corset because of an injury.

Continue reading

14 Comments

Filed under Essays

Kakum National Park and Cape Coast Castle in Ghana: A Personal Essay–Guest Blog by Eccentric Yoruba

Note from Ay-leen: This essay is cross-posted from Eccentric Yoruba’s Dreamwidth journal and describes the story of the international slave trade from a unique vantage point: where historical hardship becomes a tourist commodity at the Cape Coast Castle in Ghana.

Our next guided tour was to the Kakum National Park and Cape Coast, which is home to several colonial castles. Once more we woke up really early in the morning and got into a bus with other Nigerians and off we went on our two hour journey to Kakum. The national park is famous for its canopy walk, which has several hanging walkways above a thick forest. Apparently, some people find the canopy walk challenging and cannot go through it, that is totally understandable. It took a while walking through the forest until we reached the walkways. One by one, we were guided to them, but not before we were warned not to swing the walkways and to refrain from such behaviour.

The canopy walkways of Kakum National Park

There are seven canopies in total. I took the shortcut, which means I walked through only three. “Are you scared?” one of the men– presumably a safety guide–asked me when I turned left for the shortcut.

“Yes, I am absolutely frightened,” I replied even though I had a huge grin plastered on my face and had paused to take a picture a few moments ago. As I walked hastily through the shortcut, I heard the man say behind me, “You’re lying.” In front of me a little girl was crying while her mother told her not to be scared: “We’ll soon reach the end.” I felt sorry for her.

Part of the reason I had chosen the shortcut was because I wanted to see Cape Coast. To be honest, I was dreading it at the same time because I’d heard stories; of the slave dungeons and the Door of No Return, of people breaking into tears while there, and I wasn’t ready to be caught unawares by several strong emotions and end up crying in public.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Essays, History