The journey continues…ITTB – We did it!

Ittb wrap

I wrote a note on my personal page that I would like to share with everyone.  A little on the long side, but it’s me.  Would you expect anything less?  This was originally published at around 7pm on July 17th.

And with that, I am done with my part of this epic journey that was the last three months. There are a few loose ends to tie up after tonight (return of rentals and such) and the final hand made project is literally less than 3 hours from being finished, but for me…that’s a wrap. Our first full season as builders for a major network television show is just about complete.

Once upon a time (actually it was the summer of 2012), the shop crew sat down as a group and had a heartfelt discussion about the future of ASI. What did we want? Where did we see this adventure taking us? How did that differ from the direction that we were heading? What, if anything, did we need to change? After much heated discussion and not reaching a unanimous decision, Hawk and I made the decision about the direction of the company. Even though we were riding high on popularity in the con circuit and had just come off of a very successful 16 week run, we were worn out, beat up and disillusioned. We were honest with ourselves, and made a hard choice. Even though the convention circuit offered a level of personal popularity for a few of us, it wasn’t going to offer the long term sustainability we were after. We wanted a business that would outlast us. That didn’t rely on just one or two people being well known. That when we were ready to retire, that we could pass on to our children. We started this company with a dream of offering a place for artists to be able to make enough money to be able to support themselves on their art. We wanted to inspire other people to be more creative. We wanted an encouraging environment for artists to feel free to express themselves. And up to that point, what we had relied on was sheer force of will and commanding personalities that spoke to the con kids about being inclusive and embracing fun and creativity in steampunk. But we were at a crossroads. It had already started to be a weird case of almost hero worship. On the one hand, the current plotted course had the potential to launch a few of our members to notoriety but the cost was overshadowing the team and potentially deviating from our intended course of having a sustainable art business in favor of individual counter-culture popularity. And even that didn’t appear to have a way of being self sustaining. In addition to that, most of us were starting to feel uncomfortable with the direction things were taking both in steampunk as a whole and as it related directly to us.

We made a choice to go back to our roots. We made a choice that popularity wasn’t the goal. Success was. And advancement of the team was more important that the advancement of the individual. We knew we weren’t going to do that in the convention world. So we made the decision to pull back and plot a new course. It meant after 3 years of hard work to push the convention world we would start back at the beginning and plow forward using our art and our talents to showcase us instead of our personalities. It meant expanding our audience. It meant more structuring as a business. It meant assuming responsibilities as decision makers and as advocates on our end, and meant assuming responsibilities as employees on the part of the crew. We were going to attempt to break into props and costuming in the television, movie and theatrical world. We decided that the French Market offered the most reliable way to keep us from starving to death while still producing art until we were able to achieve our goals, though even that was debated. This was done with the knowledge that we didn’t know when or even if we were going to be able to pull this off. We made no promises other than that we would work our asses off and do everything we could to make this a reality. We said exactly what we always had. Mission failure is not an option. We will work at this until we succeed or until we die, whichever came first.

As I said this was first approached in a leaky warehouse in New Orleans among the people who were at the time full time shop crew. On the surface, everyone agreed until we started talking about the real life ramifications of what we were proposing. We talked about one of our strengths being the ability of our artists to see into other people’s heads and bring the pieces they were seeing into reality. We talked about how our visions of art pieces would become display and example pieces or personal pieces, but that the business model would be bringing other people’s visions to life. That is in a nutshell what prop makers and costume makers do. We don’t create the vision. We see another person’s vision and create the item. Ego would have to be removed from the equation. It would no longer be about so and so is a great artist. It would be that the company can pull amazing rabbits out of hats and bring dreams to life. This brought the discussion to a screeching halt. To say that there were some heated exchanges about why people were here would be an understatement. I was told in no uncertain terms that some of our artists would never be willing to bring other people’s work to life without making it into their own vision. I tried to explain, calmly at first, and then not so calmly, that that wasn’t what our jobs would be. That if we were ever given this opportunity there would be ample time and money to make your vision all day long, and we could sell it too, but where we as a group fit into the industry wasn’t looking for our vision. They were looking for our skills, our talent and our ability to move from concept to creation. I was told I didn’t know what I was talking about. Which, to be fair, at the time I was really just guessing based on discussion and research I had done. I had no real life experience to draw on. Only intuition and study. The subject was tabled and we moved on to the next issue I suspected would be a sticking point. Props and costuming people aren’t in front of the cameras or audiences. They aren’t famous in circles other than their own. Most people don’t know who works behind the scenes to make things beautiful and amazing. Was everyone ready to more or less give up the limelight in exchange for being able to build worlds in which they would never get any recognition for other than a byline in the credits. No face time. No cultural popularity. But a somewhat stable job, doing what you loved, and creating beauty for others to enjoy. With an added long term goal of once we had a name and reputation enough in the industry, to start talking about arts education. This was even more contentious. For about half the shop crew, this was nothing. We didn’t have anything to loose in this issue and everything to gain. For the other half, it was a mixed bag. One outright refused even the idea. The other raised an eyebrow and said, I see where you are coming from and I agree with it to an extent. I think we need a strong image for marketing and for promotions. We need to maintain the image we have already created, but we need to focus what we’ve achieved towards our new goals. As for my personal need for face time, let me deal with that. And with that the discussion ended, the majority made the decision and we moved on to addressing the outlying members of the crew. It was decided that we would wait on moving forward until the end of summer in order to give Hawk time to get through surgery, and us time to earn money for the summer. We said we would readdress the issue at a later date, and we went back to work.

Before we ever got that far, the world exploded, and the end of summer 2012 was chaos. Forced move, lost friendships, a caved in roof and a hurricane punctuated a 4 week period of time. But now that the command staff was in full agreement, we moved forward with the plan without reservation. We announced to the crew our intentions and for the first time ever we didn’t ask for permission. We had been screaming amongst ourselves for years that we needed a focused vision and to remember that we were a business first, and this was the first real action we made as business owners. We simply stated that this was what was happening. Everyone was invited to join or that if they would rather just be socially connected that was fine too. No harm no foul. Things would continue as before until we actually succeeded, but this was our goal. This was our focus and these were our long term objectives. We lost two more. But that was it. Everyone else was either encouraging or apathetic. Both we considered to be acceptable responses.

It’s been 3 years since those moments. It’s been 3 years since the decision to focus on the company and the group over personal fame was made. Having our name out there did make a big difference in finding the door, but it didn’t make a lick of difference in our ability to do the work. Being popular doesn’t make you talented or successful. Sorry kids. It doesn’t work like that. Changing the focus made real what we always knew, but popularity often skewed. That we are better, as people and as artists, when we combine our efforts and recognize someone based on their abilities rather than, lets face it, how they look or how demanding they can be. If we are going to be heroes, it won’t be because somebody hired us to do our job, or assumed it in a vacuum or had it assigned to us. It is going to be because we earned that title. Earned. Not demanded. It is going to be because we went above and beyond what was expected, and out did even ourselves. It is going to be because people are inspired by our work and by our story. Anything less is not worthy of that title because a hero saves people. We make props. We build stuff. There are only a few instances where that makes you a hero and even then, only to a few select people. And if you want to be worshiped, I’m pretty sure there is a medical term for that somewhere that needs medication. Popularity? Cool. But be careful what you are known for. Be known for being kind. Be known for being inspiring. Be known for being talented. But there is no honor in being known for being a clueless, self important douche. Seriously, who wants to be the Kim Kardashian of steampunk? If that is what popularity has become, I think we will leave that honor to someone else. Seems Hawk and I were both right. Turns out, I was right on the money on what it meant and what it would take. In fact, in the end, the only way to do what we have done (all by hand mind you) is through group effort. Every step forward we have made, we made together. And there were times when it took everyone of us to make that step. When you see everything on AMC this fall, know that many hands touched and shaped each piece. Many hands worked together as a whole to create beautiful art, and each artist we employ is represented in those pieces. They all needed each other and worked together. As Airship Isabella. In the end, everything you see that we made was made by 14 people. 5 full time and 9 either part time or called in. It has been inspiring to watch. My husband was also right in the end. He was right about needing a solid and visible public image, and he has managed to still have face time and get face time for those who wanted it without impeding on our business goals. Leave it to him to be able to have his cake and eat it too, lol. Michael Ford, Andrea Izaguirre, David Orenday, Rebecca Harrison, Andrew Fox, Suzo Frazier, Derrick Duplissey, Josh Suit, Dominque Fleatis, Bryan Oliver, Chris Hasara, Jina Stockton and Jesse Thaxton, thank you for being part of an amazing project and an amazing team. Anything after this is gravy. We made it through the door. We did the thing. And you made it happen. If you aren’t proud of yourselves right now, you are doing it wrong.

For the most up to date information on Into the Badlands, check out http://www.amc.com/shows/into-the-badlands.  Airing November 15, 2015 at 10pm/9pm after The Walking Dead!

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The Future Past That Never Was – Airship Isabella part 5

We celebrated the end to 2012 with a vengeance.  There was not one person in the shop who wasn’t happy to see that calendar turn over.  With the year behind us, we looked to a much calmer 2013.  We didn’t book nearly as many events, and we all made plans to see our families.  But we set out at the very beginning of the year with focus: recover, rebuild and reorganize.  In January of 2013, we filmed an episode of Oddities, and worked on getting the shop in order.  We focused most of the early parts of

Mardi Gras 2013

Mardi Gras 2013

2013 on melding into New Orleans.  We organized a Mardi Gras parade krewe for the St. Anne Parade.  We got to know the people in our neighborhood and the Quarter, and we focused on shoring up our personal lives.  We did book some new conventions and ventured into Ohio as well as returning to Arizona for Wild Wild West Con.  We made an effort to reach out to other performance art troupes, makers and steampunk artists.  We got to know the steampunks in our city.  We coordinated a stop of the Steam tour that featured The Cog is Dead, Frenchy and the Punk and This Way to the Egress in New Orleans, and brought in our old friends Marquis of Vaudeville for good measure.  And for the first time since the start of ASI, we slowed down.  We settled in, and we started carefully moving forward.  When our lease was up in May, we found a more suitable and stable base of operations in uptown, and in June opened the doors to an actual brick and mortar store on Lyons St.  In August, we met with Kinematic Entertainment out of Pensacola, Florida and contracted for a gig as the wardrobe department for a music video for the metal band, Mind Cage, which was released at Prog Power USA in September.  We were approached by a lovely couple for an international art festival in Fort Payne, Alabama, Boom Days, and decided to give that a shot as well.  We were also featured in The Anatomy of Steampunk by Katherine Gleason.

Behind the scenes with Ken Braden of Black Sails Photography during the shoot that was used for The Anatomy of Steam.

Behind the scenes with Ken Braden of Black Sails Photography during the shoot that was used for The Anatomy of Steam.

In October, Zombie and Lulu relocated to New Orleans and became full time shop members, and we were finally able to operate with an in house art department.  With their addition, we were able to provide on the spot concept art, started work on developing a coming and with two more leather workers in the shop, greatly increased both our production rates and reduced our turnover time.  We were promoted from vendor to coordinator of the White Court for the Endless Night Ball.  Cedric became more involved in the Sabertooth Clan in the Vampire community, and he was granted permission to produce

The krewe of Endless Night, 2014

The krewe of Endless Night, 2014

merchandise with the Sanguinarium Ankh.  By the time Dickens rolled around in December, the pains we experienced during the previous year were a distant memory, and everyone was refreshed and ready to once again pick up the pace.

Which brings us to this last year.  2014.  Where as 2013 was calm and steady, 2014 was a strong wind in a sometimes stormy sea.  We relentlessly pushed forward and the year didn’t have the normal lulls and breaks we were accustomed to.  There was no more than a few days pause until the week before Christmas, and that pause was a decision to rest on the part of the group.  As I sit here and try to think about what happened over the last year, I, once again, find it hard to recall.  The Oddities episode we filmed aired in January.  It had been so long since we filmed that we were all terrified because no one could remember what we had said or done.  In the end, we were really happy with the results.

Me and Brian Kessinger at Wild Wild West Con 2014

Me and Brian Kessinger at Wild Wild West Con 2014

We traveled from Florida to Tuscon to Ohio and made lots of stops in between.   We once again started embracing the idea of convention runs, but none of them more than 5 weeks at a time.  Sales picked up significantly, and much of our time in the last year has been, well, working!  We developed a returning client base.  While many of us might have been hesitant at the idea of becoming more involved in the Vampire community, by early 2014, we had all gotten past that and embraced the idea, and a lot of our time, energies and some of our biggest projects were with them. For the first time since 2010, we took on new prospects, not to replace members, but because there was need and room for growth.   Projects that were put on the back burner in 2010 have resurfaced and are coming to life.  The comic series was introduced, and I couldn’t be happier

Dark Steam Social at Big Mama's in the Quarter.  2014

Dark Steam Social at Big Mama’s in the Quarter. 2014

with what Zombie, Lulu and Becca have done.  We started hosting socials in the Quarter for the dark subcultures and in the process made many new friends.  There has been more, but as strange as it is to say, a lot of what we’ve been working on, I can’t even acknowledge exists.  All I can say is, we’ve been busy.  But in the midst of what was easily the heaviest workload we’ve seen to date, we managed to find our way back out into the world.  Not as steampunks or even as vampires, but as people.

We rounded out our calendar with regular plain clothes outings and for the first time since the inception of ASI started doing things that really didn’t have any connection to our job except for the people.   Somewhere in 2014 we started finding a balance.   While work was strong and steady and often chaoticly busy, we still  managed to make time to escape the shop on occasion if only to walk a few blocks for a few hours.  Thank you, Suzo, for finally convincing us that maybe some time in the outside world would be good for us.  It was and is.

Buddha Belly Karaoke!

Buddha Belly Karaoke!

Early on when Zombie and Lulu first moved in, strange and unpredictable things would happen.  They happened before they moved in, but we just didn’t notice until Zombie started pointing it out.  He would burst out laughing and scream…”This doesn’t happen to real people!”  After countless times of this happening, we finally responded with “Well, then we’re not real people!  Because it happens to us all the time!”  Most of the time, it’s funny or really great things, and occasionally it’s on the level of bad that makes you cry.  But we have been doing this for long enough now that it’s hard to remember what the real world is like.  To realize that what we see as everyday occurrences are really unusual to a lot of people, and even to our own crew mates who don’t deal with the shear amount of crazy that seems to  be bound to this journey.  And in 2014, we were given the opportunity to see just how far we’ve come through the eyes of people who haven’t been sailing for 5 years.  It’s easy to forget the back porch of the Lake house, the Ike shack and even Celina in the steady march forward.  It’s even easier to forget the secretary and the fire fighter.  But it’s good to look back at that desperate family with an old box of leather and turn around to a world, while far from perfect, which is so much richer than the world we left behind.

photo courtesy of Black Sails Photography...taken one night...just because.  :-)

photo courtesy of Black Sails Photography…taken one night…just because. 🙂

The Future Past That Never Was – Airship Isabella part 4

At the end of July, our plan was to go back to our home in Celina, and start living there only coming to New Orleans for no more than 10 days at a time.  We didn’t want to spend any more time in New Orleans during hurricane seasons than was absolutely necessary.  We weren’t planning another long stay here until starting at Halloween through early Christmas season.  We went back to Celina, and then on to Amarillo for the first Amacon.  On the way back from Amacon, we got a phone call that we were losing our home in Celina.  We called back to San Leon to find that our former shop had been rented out, and in a week, we were going to be homeless.

We had an inner crew meeting to discuss what to do.  We didn’t have a lot of options.  Ultimately, we decided that we were going to move permanently to the shop in New Orleans.  Delacru could not see himself moving to New Orleans and opted to stay in Dallas.  The rest of us packed the entire shop and our belongings into a 24 foot uhaul, a borrowed trailer and the van, and headed for Louisiana.

The air conditioner had been broken in the house in Celina so it was too hot to sleep, and what sleep people had gotten was fitful with all of the stress.  So when we left, people had only napped for four days.  We were exhausted.  As we pulled up to the first gas station at 10pm, we got a phone call that Delacru had announced he was leaving the crew.  We spent the next three hours in that parking lot, 5 minutes from our start point, on the phone.  But in true ASI fashion, we kept going.  We stopped in Shreveport to rest, and everyone but me did.  I couldn’t sleep.  I spent the time comforting some of our members who were out of the loop, worried and upset.  We arrived in New Orleans at 2am the next day worn, beaten down, confused and broke.  When we got here, we realized that during the massive rain storm that happened while we were gone, the roof inside the shop had actually collapsed and was separating at one of the rafters.  That was it.  It was all I could take.  I hadn’t slept in 5 days.  I’d lost my home.  I’d lost a friend. And the only place I had to turn, had literally fallen down.  Understand, that in the entire history of ASI this was the first time I had broken down.  The only time that I felt truly lost since I had embraced the idea and run with it.  The guys that were there were very understanding.  They pulled me up by my boot straps and made me help unload the truck in the middle of the night while I was a blubbering idiot.  By 4am we were done, and I fell into my bunk and slept for the first time in almost a week.

There was no time to wallow in sorrow.  We were leaving for a three week run in less than a week.  We had spent every dime we had to move.  Rent was due. Electricty was due, and we had to drive to Arkansas on Thursday.  We spent exactly one day sleeping, unpacking, and building merch and went directly to the market.  Somehow we managed to make enough money to cover our expenses, and we headed out again.

We went from Bentonville, Arkansas to Dallas, from Dallas to San Antonio and then from San Antonio to Kileen.  Andy’s Aunt Connie, graciously offered up the use of her home as our designated “honeycomb hideout” for stopping points while in Texas.  It went off without incident, and at the end of August, we returned home.  We had been home less than a week when the hurricane warnings started coming in.

On the seventh anniversary of the landfall of Katrina, Isaac came ashore in Louisiana.  It ran right over the top of us, and took two full days to completely pass.  It was a small storm, and the damage to the actual city was minimal.  But we didn’t have electricity for a week at the house we sheltered at.  We couldn’t stay in the shop because the roof had just gotten shims put in but the short time frame, didn’t give enough time to actually repair the roof.  And the shop didn’t get electricity back for about 10 days.  We had some funny moments and some scary moments.  We played Apples to Apples by candlelight, and laughed at our absolutely unbelievable bad luck.  But we made the best of it, and helped out in the neighborhoods where we could.  Our friends in town helped with keeping an eye on the shop and with replacing food.  But the worst was the tourists didn’t come back until October.  Times were tight, and the fallout from leaving Texas was becoming overwhelming.

In September, on a particularly hard day, our friends took us for a drink on the way back from our shift at the market.  We talked about what we could do to reduce the stress in the shop and to help us heal from a really hard year.  I responded immediately.  Give SCARS to the community.  I couldn’t take care of it anymore, and they needed the opportunity to grow with out us.  So that night, Cedric set in motion the transition.  By the next day, we had bowed out to focus on healing and moving forward with our goals.  We still wanted to promote creativity and inspire people to find their own muse, but working at the market had made us realize that there were ways to make enough money to survive on our own as a collective.  We wanted to move from that to making enough for each of our artists to be able to strike out on their own as well.  For that to happen, we had to start thinking bigger and focusing more on the  financial side of the business.  We made a new game plan, and started working towards advancing in new directions.  In the process, we lost a few more people from the part time crew.  While losing crew is hard, this time we were ready and had new people already lined up.   We booked a few television appearances, and started putting feelers out to the movie industry.  One of the first things we realized was that to make this transition, we needed to widen our base.  We needed to branch out of steampunk and show that there were other equally valid avenues for creativity.  That October we did our first Endless Night Vampire Ball in New Orleans, and met Sebastiaan Van Houton, aka Father Sebastiaan and his krewe.133379_350686785028408_770217728_o

The Future Past That Never Was – Airship Isabella part 3

We’d didn’t agree to the idea of the French Market right away.  There was a lot of back and forth and logistics questions.  For one thing, we lived in Texas.  Donald offered to let us stay at his house for the times we came down to New Orleans, and suddenly it looked like we could do this, at least part time.  We were going to Mardi Gras anyway, so we set up an appointment for February 17th, 5 days before Mardi Gras.  We would try it out for a few days, get our sea legs, and see how it worked out.

In the same time period, we catered a wedding, attended Clockwork Con in Austin, and got an offer to move to Celina, TX that we couldn’t refuse.  Our own home with enough bedrooms to house the whole full time crew, a two car garage for a workshop and an acre of land.  So, we started packing and getting ready to move.  On February 15th, we drove from San Leon to New Orleans with literally the last $250 that we had.  We had our meeting, got approved, had an epic foot race to get

Mardi Gras 2012, our first venture into New Orleans as vendors

Mardi Gras 2012, our first venture into New Orleans as vendors

all of our paperwork  signed and payed for…in the middle of Mardi Gras…and with minutes to spare, we had licenses and badges as official vendors in the French Market.  We did our first day that Saturday.   We used the last of the money we had to buy our booth space, and we set up in a tent in the back corner of the French Market.  We realized a handful of things.  We had no idea how to promote steampunk to tourists.  We were not accustomed to working outside.  None of our set ups were designed for a tent or for wind or rain.  At 3pm, we hadn’t made a single sale, and we had scared off most of the people that we had tried to talk to.

This was a market.  People come to shop, and we had no idea how to sell to a mundane crowd.   Our retail had supported us to some extent for years, but it wasn’t our first goal.  For this environment, our priorities were completely skewed.  We were more than a little flustered, and out of our element. We were starting to count pennies and talking about how much ramen we would need to feed the number of people we had with us.  I called the sales team together to discuss a different approach.  Let’s assume for a second that we are here where we were in the convention world two years ago.  No one knows what we are.  Let’s try starting this out with introducing people to the idea of steampunk.  But unlike the convention world where we have panels, people know the word and the kids have time, here you have less than 30 secs to get them to just stop.  So we used a simple line “So I bet you guys are wondering what us crazy folks are doing out here.”….and it worked.  In three hours, we sold more than we did at most weekend conventions.  The next two days were much easier, and it marked a turning point in Airship Isabella.

We suddenly had the potential to have a consistent way to bring income to the artists and the company.  So in between an already busy convention schedule, we put in at least one weekend a month in New Orleans.  What ended up happening was a 16 week long run.  That’s four solid months starting with Mardi Gras where the only weekend we took off was to move to Celina the first week in March.   At this point in time, I can’t really talk to you about what we did or how that was.  Most of it is a blur of roads, exhaustion, rain and goggles.  We went from North Texas to Daytona Beach, Florida and everywhere in between.  I remember some specific moments, like buying a trailer in Mississippi that promptly tried to kill us, and then bailing out of the car on the side of the road when we stopped holding the ground and clutching a bowl of blackberries that Tracy Stewart had given me that morning. But the non-facing death moments are hazy.  I talked to a very nice woman who I apparently met at Louisianime during that run, which was week 12 btw, just last weekend.  I apparently told her my real name, my whole life story and talked her ear off about me, steampunk and ASI for hours on the smoking deck.  I can honestly say I don’t remember any of it.  I thanked her for listening to me then, and that it was entirely possible that I was trying to remember who I was myself at that point in time.  But I can’t say because I don’t remember anything that didn’t involve nearly dying.

When we finally got home, we all hugged each other, cried and made a solemn vow to NEVER do that again.  On the road, we had a friend secure a semi-permanent location two blocks outside of the French Quarter in New Orleans for the time we spent there.  We had agreed to split the cost of the warehouse.  They had need of a place to store some of their stuff and a vehicle.  We had need of workshop space and sleeping quarters.  Just two weeks after ending the run, we all gathered our things and headed back to New Orleans.  The convention run had been expensive and we needed to recoup some of the income we lost on the death trap trailer.  The plan was to go to New Orleans for five weeks and make as much money as possible to get us through the summer.  In the middle of this, we also had the good fortune of making it to a charity dental clinic and finally getting the surgery to fix Cedric’s teeth.  We spent most of the summer in that warehouse working and enjoying what very much felt like a vacation from the craziness of the spring.

The first New Orleans ASI shop on North Rampart.

The first New Orleans ASI shop on North Rampart.

But life on the road is addictive, and it messes with your concept of time.  People quickly began to get restless and thought we weren’t moving fast enough.  We had been in New Orleans less than a month when the jitters started kicking in.  Most of us realized what was happening and managed to work through it.  Some of us didn’t.  In this time, we also realized something about New Orleans itself.  For those of you have haven’t ever been here, New Orleans is alive.  The city lives.  And you only survive here if she decides to keep you.  The locals told us this early on, but we were only staying for at most a week at a time.  And according to them, anyone can stay here a week.  After that, you will either never want to leave or you will be clawing at the walls to get out.  We’ve been told that it’s best to listen to that instinct.  Either you leave on your own two feet or she will throw you out…generally in a pine box.  It really does take a certain type of person to live here, and unfortunately, not everyone on our crew at the time felt that warm embrace.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: A Captains Journey

Greetings from the deck of the Isabella.  I thought it time to sit down and put a few thoughts together and respond to questions that have been asked via emails and in person during this roller coaster journey we find ourselves passengers on.  This journey started four years ago when I found myself adrift in a world that was cold, unforgiving, and completely uncaring.  I decided at that point I would do everything I had in my limited power to change it. At first I almost gave in to my societal training and to just roll over, take it like an adult, lick my wounds and my pride and slink off into the night. What Power does one person have? And then I realized I was not alone out there.  There were thousands if not millions of us that were living on the exact same societal training. And I also realized the only person telling me I could not do anything in the world I wanted to do … was me.

So we formed this into a company not to get rich, not to just make a living, but to change how we looked at the world and to get a message out there and to stand up and say you are not alone. We can make a difference, and we can be proud of who and what we are no matter how different you chose to be.  If you can dream it, you can be it and do it! Little did we know where this journey was going to take us, a group of people were pulled together in a way to this day I am still in awe of. And off we went. More than once I heard “ Uh Capt where we going on this ride” My response was I honestly don’t know but you’ll know when we get there… Maybe.

In the title I said the good, the bad and the ugly, well hmmm… Let’s do this in reverse order so we end this on a good note. The Ugly.   We have lost people that we thought were family and good friends.   I personally have been called every name in the book and some I had never heard before. It has been said I am fake and don’t believe in what I say. The hard part is having to stand by and watch the people (My Crew) that truly have given everything up to fight this fight ,get attacked and trashed on for standing  with the crew and being made by others to chose between being ASI or being friends with those parties. I won’t type here what I have to say to those people.  I know my heart and that of my crew, and that is all that needs be said.

The bad.  Being on the road for weeks at a time, long, long hours and miles. Being tired to your very bones and core. The fear of making a bad decision or saying the wrong thing in a moment of exhaustion. And the biggest fear, letting the crew down or worse letting those out there down or not hearing a cry for help in the night from someone reaching out. These are just some of the things that can place fear in your heart and stop you in your tracks if you let them.  Have you crawling for the shadows.

The good. I have seen in four years people grow and stand up to start their journey. I have seen the smiles and the wonder in a thousand eyes looking back me. I have met and, if for just a very short time, been honored to be a part of someone’s life, even if it’s just a passing hello and thank you for listening or coming to my panels . It is receiving those emails that something you said gave a ray of hope to that one person that was sitting in a panel and having decided that this life is worth fighting for. The people we have met along the way with whom our paths may never cross again, but you carry a piece of them with you and of you with them.  Watching the members of this crew do and achieve things they never thought they could and seeing them truly smile after talking with someone out there.  I have watched the magic open up for people of all ages, and that is worth every single tear, heart ache, blood and scar I have received on this journey so far.

I have grown as a person in ways I did not even understand when we started this.   I have gained respect for those I love, both family and friends, that have truly taught me the meaning of those words. I have learned words are a very powerful tool and weapon, and that every single person out there is worth fighting for.  Sometimes you must give all you have and be willing to walk away and know you did your best to reach them. You are going to screw up and make mistakes.  It’s not the mistakes that make you who you are but how you react to it and what you learn from it. How you put those lessons in play.  A Captains Journey is one hell of a gut wrenching roller coaster ride that, well, I guess all you can do is put your hands up in the air and enjoy it.  And if  at the end of when and wherever that may be,  you can look back smile and say wow, show your scars and get ready for the next coaster to jump on. Where it goes…who the hell knows! The fun is getting there. Keeping looking at the horizon and NEVER EVER stop dreaming and asking what if!!

Thoughts are things

“The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it.”
— Marcus Aurelius Antoninus

I’ve had an unusual amount of time to just sit and think recently as Hurricane Isaac wailed outside our window and wouldn’t go away. I sat watching a crepe myrtle tree across the road turn into a furious whomping willow (as Kirby so perfectly put it) for hours, and it was kind of awe inspiring. Terrifying, but impressive. It definitely encouraged me to continue sitting inside our stuffy, but dry and not windy structure. So, I had plenty of time to look back at the last month and really do some soul searching about things. We’ve been through a lot recently. I’m not gonna lie. It’s been rough. Between a forced move, some nasty rumors, three weeks on the road, and then a hurricane…all in a period of a little over a month. Yeah, could have done without all that. But, in every cloud there is a silver lining and for every problem there is an opportunity to do something better. I could sit here and dwell on being lied about, and the exhaustion and frustration that comes from big moves and long work runs, or about being couped up in a house for three days with no hope of even going outside, or I can concentrate on the wonderful things that have come from one of the worst months I’ve seen in my 40 years. I made a quick push at this in my last post, but I think it deserves it’s own discussion. Thoughts are things.

Reality is the mirror of your thoughts. Choose well what you put in front of the mirror.

I’ve been told this my entire life, and my children have been raised to be mindful of their thoughts. I’m not saying to deny that bad things happen, but acknowledge them, then concentrate on what you can do to fix bad situations and look for the good in everything. While we would all be better off if people would make the effort to see it, your belief is not required for good to exist in the world. Because whether you believe it or not, it’s there. I’ve practiced this my entire life, and this month has been trying me. Finding the good in humanity and believing in it has been nearly impossible some days. I told myself to hold on anyway and in time, I would see what frustration, anger, hurt, exhaustion and fear were hiding. And sure enough, it did, and almost all of it amounted to normal people being exceptional human beings.

If you’re going through hell, keep going.  ~Winston Churchill

In late July, we heard a friend of ours was having a hard week, and we invited him to join us for our trip to Amarillo so he could get away for a few days under the auspices of needing to borrow his truck. We got back late Sunday, and about 15 minutes from the house, we learned that suddenly we needed to move yesterday. I’m not even going to go into that long story, but that friend who was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time stayed with us another two full weeks helping us get our feet back underneath us and providing unending moral and physical support (that poor man slugged boxes with us no less than three times in 10 days) to five battle worn and weary travelers who were having a hell of a time coming to grips with the storms that were whipping around them. He hauled us all over the country side from Dallas to New Orleans to Bentonville and then back to Dallas again. When our new ride ended up not getting a plane out to Dallas on time, he kindly let us stay in his house for another week while we waited to be able to fit all of our people into our cars again. For this, he asked for absolutely nothing. Thank you, Jim for being there and being one of my reasons to not give up on humanity. And thank you Cheryl and Thea for lending us your husband and dad for a few weeks. I honestly don’t know how we would have gotten through those few weeks without him.

In the same time period, our long lost Russian came to visit us in New Orleans, and he is always a joy to have around. Not having been involved as much this last year, this was his first exposure to the new ways we were running the business end of Airship Isabella. He has always been one of our organizers, and has a solid head on his shoulders about getting things done. His words of encouragement and no nonsense attitude were a validation and helped ease some of the harsher moments we faced. Thank you, Corey, for not letting us quit and firmly kicking us in the butt when it was necessary.

If falsehood, like truth, had but one face, we would be more on equal terms.  For we would consider the contrary of what the liar said to be certain.  But the opposite of truth has a hundred thousand faces and an infinite field.  ~Michel Eyquem de Montaigne

When the rumor mill decided that our cups weren’t full enough, and ran all over the edges, I spent hours on the phone with people calling with questions, encouragement and concerns. Everyone was respectful and nice, but it was exhausting. Late in the evening, I got an unexpected phone call literally seconds after hanging up with a member of the community. I answered the phone, and the conversation that followed made being on the phone for hours that day, dealing with rumors and drama and general crap, suddenly seem utterly unimportant. Because it deals with someone else’s personal information, I won’t go into the details, but it reinforced in perhaps the solidest and most meaningful way for me, that being honest, being forgiving, and never giving up is the right decision regardless of how the other person reacts long after you have learned to accept the situation as it is not as you want it to be. It reminded me that you should continue to hope for better even if you have come to terms with things as they are. That one conversation was the kind of closure that I never even dared to dream of. Thank you, Ronnie, for showing me that there is always room for hope and pointing out a place in my mind that I didn’t dare to dream. I will flush them all out someday.

As our con circuit began, people came out of the wood work, some of them literally out for the first time since the very beginning of ASI, and were kind and supportive in some of the most respectful and amazing ways that I have ever seen. I was in awe of these people. For months I’ve watched bickering and fighting and just copious amounts of stupidity flow almost unhindered, but for one moment, I saw the community that we dreamed of actually take shape. I saw people, in the face of bad behavior, refuse to behave badly. I saw maturity and understanding of what it means to be a member of a diverse community that accepts all kinds of people that won’t always get along. I saw a supportive structure that allowed for personal lives outside of the small world we play in, and it wasn’t just with us. Thank all of you for showing me that the community, while flawed, is not without merit or hope. I’m sure this was always the case, but sometimes it gets really hard to see. Thank you for chasing away the fog.

“Life at any time can become difficult: life at any time can become easy. It all depends upon how one adjusts oneself to life.”

Upon leaving San Japan, we went for the first time to our new Texas abode. I can’t say enough good things about this place. Not the least of which is that my brother is less than an hour away. I had the pleasure of having dinner with him and his wife for the first time in over a year. Then, just to cement the deal, we randomly ran into them at a small burger joint 120 miles from both our homes on the way to Geekfest three days later. Thank you, Connie, for sharing your space with a group of wayward steampunks in need of a sometimes home. With this, I am close to my brother and sister in law, have a country abode and don’t have to give up my city time either. It means more to me than you will ever know.

We won’t always know whose lives we touched and made better for our having cared, because actions sometimes have unforeseen ramifications. What’s important is that you do care and you act.
Charlotte Lunsford

When we finally made it back to New Orleans, Hurricane Isaac decided to come visit too. One of the awful things that happened in the middle of awful things happening is that our roof on the New Orleans shop collapsed. They hadn’t finished fixing it by the time Isaac blew into town. Some of the New Orleans steampunks have been quietly working on the idea of opening a self sufficiency center/disaster shelter here in the city for a while now, and knowing the situation we were in, decided to open their shelter WAY ahead of schedule. We weathered the storm there safely and without major incident. Thank you, Willow and Xan, for reminding me to dare to jump forward with your dreams even if you don’t think you are ready. When the universe decides that its time for your dreams to become reality, it decides the timetable, not you. It’s your job to know an opportunity and need when you see it, and not be afraid to jump. The converse is also true. When things seem like they are moving too slowly, keep going, keep pushing and keep fighting. When the time is right, you will know. While I knew that, I think perhaps I had forgotten.

Finally, through this entire ordeal, through every day of chaos and destruction, has been our family, both biological and crew. You guys have been patient, supportive, and just plain wonderful. From offering us a place to stay for a few days, to updates and phone calls, to managing to keep us from loosing our heads or our minds (no small feat) and so many more small things that I can’t even begin to list them all. Thank you for being exactly who you are, as you are, and allowing me to do the same. In this world, that’s something that isn’t allowed for very often, and when it is, it’s something to be treasured.

Without change, something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken.
Frank Herbert

Everyday of the last month has been challenging. Not one day went by that was easy. Not one day went by that I wasn’t shown again and again that people can be beautiful and wonderful creatures when they want to be, and that we can do all do far more than we think we can. The universe is change, and that’s not a bad thing. It simply is. Lord knows we’ve had to take that in large doses this month. You can fight it and become disillusioned or you can roll with it and see a new horizon. This is not to say that you shouldn’t stand up for yourself when you are being trod upon, but nothing is ever a promise. Nothing is ever guaranteed. All you can do is stay true to yourself, hold on to your dreams, keep your head up and move forward, even when you don’t believe you can. Your belief will catch up to you eventually.

I’m going to leave you with a poem that has hung in my home since I was 18 years old. I have read it about a gizillion times during every trying moment that I have ever had, and it has helped me find my strength over and over again even though I have a habit of misplacing it.

If

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
Rudyard Kipling

Clockwork Con 2012

Now that I have gotten enough sleep in one sitting to qualify as rest, I would like to say thank you to everyone who attended Clockwork Con this weekend.  It exceeded our hopes for a great con by leaps and bounds.  To Alex and Tiffany Whisenhunt, guys, you did an AMAZING job.   Great volunteers, really good hotel, and my daughter’s dream line up for bands.  I couldn’t ask for better bosses!  Normally I would put something in here about being great for a first year con.  Pooey.  It was great for a con that has been going on for years: well organized, accessible staff, friendly atmosphere, original programming, rocking burlesque and did I mention the great band line up?  You guys knocked this one out of the park.  We can’t wait for next year!

I, Amelia, often gauge events for my personal satisfaction levels based on the number and quality of the stories that come out of them.  To say that this event was anything other than epic would be a HUGE disservice to the event.  I would like to share some of those stories with you guys.  These are my personal stories of things that happened to me that will stick with me from the con.

On Saturday afternoon, my daughter, her step-mom, her dad and I decided that it would be a great idea to skip down the hallway leading up to the con.  It wasn’t terribly crowded and we were just having that much fun.   I was on the far left, closest to the meeting rooms and to the right were windows.   We made it about halfway down the hall, when, in mid skip, a door flew open right in front of me.  I screamed, threw myself out of the way and thereby in front of my daughter and caused the cascade effect of us all fumbling and nearly falling down.  It was something out of the Three Stooges and it was hysterical!  We laughed.  The guy who opened the door laughed.  The people in the hall who witnessed the event nearly peed themselves laughing.  Side note:  I know the lineup of people involved might sound strange to most people, but my ex-husband and I don’t hate each other.  We just couldn’t be married anymore.  We are great, so long as we don’t have to live together or make daily decisions together.  We have our moments, but all friends do.  I like his new wife, and he likes my new husband, though we both remarried almost 10 years ago.  I guess new isn’t the right term, but you know what I mean.  And we love our children very, very much.  We are committed to having both of us in their lives, and my ex and his wife became active in the steampunk community because it is so much a part of the children’s lives with us.  Then they realized how cool it is, and got even more involved for themselves!

Also on Saturday afternoon, I was taking a much needed smoke break with the kid’s step mom.  Two girls came up, and one of them said “Someone just recently made me quit smoking,  so I’m going to enjoy the second hand smoke.”   I had recently purchased a nifty new electronic cigarette, and wanted to show it to her.  Being in steampunk  garb and having a total lack of pockets, I had been storing it in my bra.  I held my finger up and said “wait, I want to show you this!”  I went to reach inside my shirt to pull out the cigarette, and realized it wasn’t in the normal easy access spot.  I then got really concerned because it was a relatively expensive piece of equipment.  I pulled my bra to the side and started to actively look.  I didn’t find it in the left breast, so I looked on the right side.  No luck.  Jamika was now concerned as well and asked, “Did you loose it?”.  I reached inside my bra, thoroughly searched both sides, and looked up and said “It appears so.”  I then turned to apologize to the girls and tell them about the e-cigarette instead, but they were actively running away.  I tilted my head in confusion when Jamika looked at me and started laughing.  “You were totally just feeling yourself up.”  Ooops.  So, if you are reading this, I swear I’m not that kind of pervert.  I just have no couth.

There are so many more to tell: sitting talking BCTODAT with SheIs, the +15 drunk, giving a serious business panel with a balloon tied to my wrist, Pablo’s birthday roast, calling our first officer at 2am on Saturday just to say we missed him and Amarante, listening to Steam Powered Giraffe, hearing Dear Isabella by Marquis of Vaudeville live for the first time, seeing all of the Order characters come to life, the wing ceremony for Andy and Suzo, Zombie’s interaction with Mentor, running from Faust out of the Dark Steampunk panel, the look on Kitty’s face with the Spine remembered her from Wild Wild West Con, and so so many other wonderful memories.

The costumes at the event were wonderful, and the Gageteer festival was awe inspiring.  It was great bantering with the Sky Dogs and getting to know some of the other crews better.  I think my favorite part of this convention was that we had time to interact with the attendees.  It was busy enough that there was always something for people to do, but not so busy that we found ourselves booked into exhaustion.  Our volunteer staff was wonderful, and allowed the crew, especially our table crew, a chance to pull away from the table a bit, and actually get to know the community that we love so much.  Thank you again, Clockwork  Con, for throwing an outstanding event.  You were inspiring to all of us.  I can’t wait until next year!

http://www.clockwork-con.com/