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!

ITB-Poster-Logo-1200x707 copy

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. 🙂

Airship Isabella – the real life “Origins” of Cedric and Amelia Whittaker

The fall season is finally behind us, and I will admit to crawling in my little hobbit hole and taking a much needed break from the front lines. I’ve probably slept more in the past two weeks than I have since September! This fall was wonderful and busy and everything that I could have hoped it would be. That being said, it was also everything I expected it to be.

I wanted to take this short moment between awaking from post-road dogging stupor and moving on to the holidays and then without a breath, the slower, but still busy winter season to talk about what it’s like to be a full time member of Airship Isabella. It’s probably one of our most commonly asked questions, and it is often said with a glitter in the eyes and a look of longing. I don’t understand the look because I’m here, at headquarters, and know the full story. 🙂 With the upcoming release of our first installment of Airship Isabella – Origins. I thought I would also take a moment to give you the real life “Origins” story as well.

In the fall of 2008, my firefighter husband, Michael “Hawk” Ford came up with a “brilliant idea”. We were going to build a full scale 20′

Kitty in our backyard Summer 2009

X 50′ two story “airship” to be taken to Flipside the next May, and set up a dance camp. For those of you unfamiliar with Burning Flipside, it is a regional Burning Man festival in central Texas. We called her “the Airship Isabella”, and we did actually build it and take it to Flipside. We had a wonderful time building the ship, and we fell in love with steam punk in the process. We even came up with characters and back stories, and named ourselves Cedric and Amelia Whittaker. In June we moved into a beautiful home on Lake Travis, and rang in the summer playing in the lake and teaching our youngest how to swim. It was about as perfect as anything I had ever imagined. But out there in the economic world, the recession had be going on for almost a year, and we were about to become victims. It’s a long story that is just rotten all the way around, but suffice it to say that by the middle of July, Hawk was out of a job. That left me, a secretary, trying to take care of three children while living in a very nice house on the lake.

“Every problem has a gift for you in its hands.” Richard Bach

We had savings enough to get us through December, but after that we were going to be in real trouble. There were no jobs to be found, and cities, now loosing revenue, were not looking to hire. Hawk continued to play with his new found hobby in steam punk while looking for a job, and as finding a job anytime soon began to look less and less likely, an idea began to form. We had done so well throwing the party at Flipside maybe we could do it professionally. It was crazy. We were desperate. So, we banded together with some friends, and started mapping out what we wanted to do. We created a plan to build our reputation as event hosters and to use merchandise sales to fund our start up. We had a box of old leather in the closet from when Hawk was in the SCA, and a whole lot of bits and pieces from the Flipside project. So, we set out to build steam punk merchandise. It was slow at first, and we didn’t really do much to offset even our costs at first. We also had a hard time figuring out where to market ourselves. We did clubs and small events, but nothing big enough to even begin to be hopeful. We did manage to book a movie spot as extras, and were hired by the artistic designer for the scene we were in, J.R. Fleming. We let her use our boat house as a scene shop, and much to our benefit, she joined the team.

December came and went with the last of our savings, and January was looking incredibly bleak. On the day before New Year’s we got a call from Beth at Ikkicon, asking us if we could fill a single spot on Thursday night before the con. We jumped at the opportunity, and put together a show…complete with a band…that didn’t exist before that day…in under 24 hours. I’m just going to be honest. It was horrible. I cried and had a panic attack. I really didn’t think we were going to survive the backlash. Nonetheless, we showed up the next day to sit our table, and low and behold, people had liked it or they hadn’t seen it. It didn’t really matter either way. We made a ton of connections, and while we had shown up with some merchandise, we had had no experience in the con world. We didn’t realize the volume we were dealing with. By Sunday, we had sold all but two pieces of the gear WE HAD ON to the patrons of that Ikkicon. More importantly, we met there a large portion of the future members of the Isabella.

As the winter progressed, we started working on making inroads into the convention circuit, and trying to survive. We lost our only whole car, and had to pull the old Jeep out of the scrap bin just to keep going. It had two shattered windows and no heater, but it ran…sometimes…and we owned it. J.R. let us use her car when she could, and her mother even picked me up and took me to work a few times when the Jeep was acting up. We had some disagreements within the crew over the direction of the group, and we lost all but three of our original members who weren’t family. They thought the convention circuit was snobbish and a waste of time. They didn’t see how pursuing this venue would be beneficial to promoting a party company. Those who remained had begun to see things a little differently. Those who left were right and they were wrong. It was definitely snobbish, but we were convinced it wasn’t a waste of time. We were also convinced that we didn’t want to concentrate on parties. We could see a bigger picture beginning to emerge and an actual community beginning to develop that we wanted to be a part of. In that split, we lost all but one of our closest friends. And we kept going.

We went with my parents to the museum for Father's day after a really rough spring.

The spring brought another round of triumphs and perhaps the worst tragedies that we have seen to date. We actually started making inroads in the convention circuit, and met people who would become some of our closest allies. We lost a good friend to accidental suicide and had to file charges on a member of the crew that resulted in one of our children moving away…on the day of the funeral. The two weren’t actually related in anyway other than rotten timing. Even in the midst of turmoil, no one lost site of the mission, though the mission had changed. We no longer had any desire to be event managers/promoters or party planners. We had seen the magic in steam punk, and the potential that it had to actually inspire people to be creative and innovative. The mission became, in the summer of 2010, to make sure that that potential was achieved as much as this crew of rag tag misfits could.

I learned there are troubles of more than one kind. Some come from ahead, others come from behind. But I’ve bought a big bat. I’m all ready, you see. Now my troubles are going to have trouble with me. — Dr. Seuss

By July of 2010, we had reached a cross-roads. We were out of money, completely. The Jeep finally quit working altogether. We were facing me having to get two jobs, if I could even find another one. Or Hawk having to put down the steam punk venture, and take any job he could find just to survive. Even those were damn near impossible to locate. We had one other option. We could completely abandon trying to make things work in the “real world” to try to make Airship Isabella full time. We had realized quickly that the only way to make this work was to be able to travel. Without reliable transportation and being tied to an 8-5 job, I couldn’t go along. The second barrier was the children’s school. The third and final problem was start up costs. We made the only logical choice for us, terrifying as it was. I quit my job, cashed in my retirement, sold all of my household belongings, decided to home school the children, and set out on the road. They say the only way to really build wings is as you are falling, so we gave it a shot.

Last day at the Lake House August 2010, our moving/packing partners: Hawk, Remy, Nick, Korrin, Alex, Julissa, Whitney, Eevie and David

We set up a home base in a tiny house behind Cedric’s mom that had been severely damaged during Hurricane Ike, and was and is probably uninhabitable. Over the course of the Fall of 2010, Captain Delacru and Johnny No joined us, and several other members quit their jobs and school to do this full time though they did not move into the shop. To truly understand this, you must understand that this house is about 900 sq ft with two bedrooms and one bath that kind of works. We had to pull the seaweed out of the stove. In this house was our workspace for Cedric, Lazuli, Johnny No and me. As well as sleeping quarters for my two children and Cedric and me. Hawk’s mom kindly let the guys sleep inside her house. We used the start up cash to buy tools and supplies and a vehicle that lasted all of three weeks before blowing out the engine. And we started to work in earnest. We booked a few really great events, and by October were booking well into 2011. We booked and performed at Dickens on the Strand in Galveston, and then we really started to gain steam.

Dickens on the Strand 2010

So, the background being set up and knowing where we were coming from will hopefully make what will come next make more sense.

 “Here’s to the crazy ones; the misfits; the rebels; the trouble-makers; the round pegs in the square holes; the ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status-quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify, or vilify them. But the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” Jack Kerouac

Steampunk as a Cultural Movement

We’ve all heard the “steampunk is an aesthetic” and the “steampunk is a genre” discussions that have been going on recently, but while I would argue that it’s both depending on what you are talking about, I’m not interested in going into detail on that subject. While Cap and I were on our way to get dinner this evening, we were discussing why is steampunk, as a cultural movement, worth fighting for. To begin with, I should probably expound upon why we feel it is a cultural movement.

In our early days on the steampunk scene, we encountered quite a culture of snobbery. It wasn’t ever-present, and it wasn’t everyone. But it was enough to be a real turn-off to the community. People tended to be possessive of geographic areas and didn’t really like seeing new faces on the block. It was really hard to get started in the community, and we had to really ask ourselves why we even wanted to try. After much debate we decided that the push of creativity and the spark of innovation that steampunk seemed to inspire in everyone that came across it was enough to fight for. It was so contrary to the 8 to 5 workday, everyday dole-drum hobbies that even tinkering in the art-form was enough to change the way you looked at everything around you. Your broken bits and baubles became gold, and your arts and crafts classes became a way to express a long repressed desire to create. Once started, we all asked the same question. Why, again, did I stop playing dress-up, and when exactly did I stop seeing the world as a giant canvas for us to paint? It’s those questions that ultimately make this a cultural movement.

Steampunk challenges the idea that make-believe and hand-made creativity should prudently come to an end at the age of 18. The formal end of childhood also marks in our culture the expectation to “grow up”.  At one time, entering science and engineering was a formal way to continue the creativity and innovation of childhood, but in the last 30 years we have seen a marked increase in dogma in those fields as well. Less and less funding has gone to theoretical research and otherwise “alternative” scientific fields. This is doubly true if the field and study doesn’t have an obvious way to turn a profit. With the privatization of scientific research, funneling large sums of cash for the purpose of improving the human race or the understanding of the universe isn’t exactly a priority. Beyond that, the cost of higher education has sky-rocketed, and many people can no longer afford to attend college especially in fields that will require more than four years of study. Traditional art is another option, but it is both highly competitive and requires a natural talent that very few of us possess. Even then, the term “starving artist” is a very real testament to the value our culture places even on the most talented of us.

So where does that leave the rest of us? Those of us who have either already completed our higher education or are not able to start for whatever reason. Those of us who don’t have the drive or the natural talent to strike out as artists. Are we suppose to give up all of our innate creativity in exchange for more practical pursuits? In terms of occupation, maybe. But in terms of hobbies and lifestyles, society would say we are more than welcome to take up jewelry making or soap making or model building or knitting, but those things hardly make a lifestyle. I have found that steampunk often starts just like knitting and model building would, as a hobby. But it involves more than rote mechanics and learning a craft. It engages the imagination. It encourages people to imagine a world that doesn’t exist and to place themselves inside of it. To create their own place and personna in which they play roles that range from princes to janitors in much the same way we created our outlaw worlds in childhood cowboys and indians.

Society frowns deeply on this, and you have to ask yourself, why? The answer isn’t as simple as it may seem. In our travels we have heard a number of reasons why we should “just grow up and stop this”. One, it’s weird. Why? Because it’s not normal. That’s only true because more people don’t do it. Two, it detracts from the normal progression of adulthood. This is true, but the comment assumes that our “normal progression” is a positive and desirable goal. I would argue that it’s not. It stifles cultural, mechanical and scientific innovation at a time when there really isn’t a non-profit driven vehicle for this type of exploration. Three, it’s silly, and you are embarrassing yourself. Well, it is silly, but I’m not embarrassing myself at all. I may be embarrassing you, but I’m doing just fine. And again, the statement assumes that being silly is an undesirable quality. I, again, do not accept this statement. Being silly helps you to retain your sense of humor and calm in a world that is increasingly bleak. Four, and my favorite, aren’t you too old for this? Which brings us back to the original assumption, once you are past 18 years of age, you should no longer be creative or silly in ways that are outside of the established norm. I reject this wholeheartedly for all the reasons I have already stated plus one. The one that answers the question that hasn’t and won’t be asked by those who are disturbed by what we are doing, and that answers how steampunk is a cultural movement.

Those of us, especially those of us who are older, who have embraced the steampunk aesthetic and have involved themselves in the character and world creating genre ultimately find themselves asking the question how did the world that we are living in now get so screwed up? It is inevitable, really. When you start creating worlds in your mind, you can’t help but do so in light of the world you live. You are attempting to either build a better world or to find the ways that it will ultimately fail, depending on how you are looking at your characters. But all roads lead to the same place. They lead you to look critically at the “real” world. Just as in childhood, acting out your conflicts, your inner demons and your fears helped you to cope and to change your responses, so it also works in adulthood. Writers think in this manner as a matter of course, and are often considered some of the most dangerous and influential people in the world. It’s no wonder a genre/aesthetic that encourages and trains people to embrace this mindset might seem disturbing.

In the last year, I have begun to see more and more people embracing this playground, and as they do, I see more and more of them waking up to the reality that they are living in. Every moment of our lives are choreographed and planned according to the dictates of age, race, and class. The odds of breaking free of whatever cycle you were born into are nearly insurmountable, and the society in which we are embroiled has done little to nothing to improve those odds. We have a host of failed and over regulated programs that many of us have begun to wonder if they were ever intended to succeed, or whether they were always meant as a placebo to people that noticed and called for change. From our laughable education and public assistance systems to the empty promise of bettering ourselves through higher education. And by and large, people are trained to look the other way. We are trained to accept as inevitable the oligarchy that this country has become. We accept that our jobs are tenuous and just working is a privilege for which we should be thankful. How far have we fallen even in the last hundred years? We watch with placated eyes as the work our grandfathers fought for is taken from us without so much as a backwards glance. We fight to get ahead for the promise of comfort and security, when neither are even a probable outcome for the vast majority of the populace. We no longer fight for happiness and well-being, but for a bigger house, a nicer car or a new ipod. Happiness is measured by how much money you have in your bank account. To that I have an answer that is often used around the Airship Isabella shop. Money may buy you comfort, but it will never buy you happiness. We have made a conscious choice to live a life where we are happy, and have rejected the idea that success can only be achieved by making the appropriate amount of money. While many have not made the same type of leap, I’m starting to see more and more people reach these same conclusions.

In addition to abandoning the idea that the newest toys are the best toys, today, I am watching as an involved and creative community is starting to turn what they are learning playing games to apply to their real brick and mortar lives. A series of steampunk cultural norms are beginning to emerge and develop by which those in the movement are expected to adhere. Honor, loyalty, respect, free expression, compassion and sharing, especially in the do it yourself/maker aspect of the community. You hear the saying, There are no such things as “trade secrets”. I have seen a return to a community support system, and quiet but real push away from the old snobbery of a few years ago. It has been replaced with a open arms and teach everyone philosophy. While the differences to accepted cultural dogma might not be drastic, the ideals that are being formed are different enough to be considered a real deviation from the norm. As far as a cultural movement goes, by it’s very definition, it is a change or deviation in the way a culture approaches work or thought. We definitely fit that criteria.

This is not to say that the community is without its problems and inconsistencies, but in all honesty, that is to be expected in a movement as young as we are. By the time this sees the public page, some of this will already be outdated. We are growing and changing so fast. But in that break-neck pace, mind-blowing train that is steampunk is a spark that I haven’t seen in my entire life. The encouragement of creativity and inclusive mentality is a positive point of growth for our culture, and that alone is worth fighting for.

Besides, we have better cookies. <wink>