Tag Archives: Essay

Beakers Today

Beakers, Few groups could be as inspired by beakers as the Steampunk crowd, but my mind is currently overflowing with images and ideas inspired by a brief one line and single picture mention in an old Metropolitan Home magazine (March 2007, pg 142). The company that made the hand etched Pyrex beakers with floral designs, rising bubble designs and spiral patterns is out of business, but the image stuck. Following this, I found a blog reference to using Pyrex lab equipment in the kitchen with an explanation of the material differences between American kitchen Pyrex and lab Pyrex (http://www.thekitchn.com/why-dont-we-use-lab-beakers-more-in-the-kitchen-189036). I was sold! Not only is it practical and cool, but she is right, it is safe. This continued the thought of the etched Pyrex, obviously you can safely etch the equipment, the measurements and markings are often etched. So we know the strength is not at risk if the etching is done carefully and sparingly. In reality you would only want spare designs anyway but it adds that touch of beauty and elegance seen in the Victorian period to a classical lab tool still in wide use. Yes, the Pyrex is newer (Corning first introduced it in 1915). However, the safety added by using new equipment is worth the update in this case, especially since it is only a few years. You see lab equipment used as vases and decorative pieces frequently

vases
vases

but I liked the idea of having decorated lab equipment in the lab and kitchen (we know from previous posts I find bring the lab into the kitchen an interesting idea to consider). Beauty, elegance, simplicity, practicality, whimsy, and history brought into our lives – what could be better?

On a related note, I found an article about microscopic gardens I read some time ago and it just felt related to this. In May this article, not the first on the project, showcased these beautiful, fanciful gardens requiring a microscope to see (http://www.boston.com/news/science/blogs/science-in-mind/2013/05/16/harvard-researchers-grow-garden-nanoscience-delights/E3oYRwy8VMZlz3RDIENpfP/blog.html). The idea of using a beaker etched with a floral pattern to grow a tiny garden struck me. You could of course do this with a number of things to make it larger or set a microscope at the ready and control the environment to the inth degree to see what grows. bostoncrystalflowersTo quote:

“Working with materials science professor Joanna Aizenberg, Noorduin discovered that altering the acidity or alkalinity of a solution could cause crystal blossoms to grow outward into a bell shape, or to make them curl inward. Combining these kinds of techniques, they could create tendrils, the nested layers of petals in a rose, and the delicate cup of a tulip—which Noorduin felt especially obligated to grow, because he is Dutch. He was able to grow even more complex structures, such as a stem, a leaf, and a flower, all contained in a vase.

Juan Manuel Garcia-Ruiz, a research professor at CSIC-University of Granada in Spain, demonstrated a decade ago that crystals could grow in unexpected curves and spirals. For years, he said, no one had believed that the crystal forms he grew, which so closely resembled living forms, were really crystals—assuming instead that there was just biological contamination.

He said the new paper brings a finer level of control to the process, showing how it is possible to modify the shapes.

Researchers not involved in the work appreciated its beauty and the effort to find ways to control the mineralization process. But when asked why these studies showing how to manipulate matter at the smallest scale were so pleasing to look at, they all had a slightly different take.

Hendrik Dietz of the Laboratory for Biomolecular Nanotechnology at Technische Universität München in Germany, wrote in an e-mail that the choice to build something beautiful is only possible once it’s possible to control matter at the small scale. Thus, the intricate sculpture-like flowers are a way to judge the scientists’ level of control.

“Beautiful (or funny) things such as DNA smiley faces etc should therefore not be taken easily as child’s play,” Dietz wrote. “There is serious science … that has enabled the authors to pull these things off.””

Art and Facebook

Facebook has a new game floating around centered on art. Generally, these are somewhat odd, fairly pointless strings that feel like either personality tests or the get to know you questionnaires or party games no one actually plays. This one is still odd, but interesting both in theme and response. Someone posted an image of an art piece and said anyone whom liked it would be given an artist name. The new person then posts an image of this person’s art with the same promise. I saw it on a few people’s pages but only one actually gave me an artist name when I liked it. The percentage of people on each page playing seems quite low, yet it shows up with a consistency and regularity that says many are limiting play to one person. I am not sure why you would; playing several could give you several new artists you might like. But, maybe the view on art has changed, it certainly seems to. Art is rarely something done just for art’s sake or for passion it seems – every artist wants to make money at it. This is not unreasonable, and is very understandable, but it changes your approach to your art and it changes both who your audience is and how they approach your art. Art is no longer a specialized rare talent to be nurtured and treasured, everyone is encouraged to participate, share, and post it to the world. Does this dilute the form and lower the likelihood of any true masters arising? It would actually seem so, because the approach is so different and it is so much more a business that there is something lost. But more than that, it is the audience and the art world that limits that with their requirements, rules, connections, business, and interpretations. These of course always exited, but can have a very immediate impact today that was unlikely years ago, when masters were often unappreciated until after their deaths. Art as seen through Facebook and social media; Personal lives displayed in public; interpretation of art on first appearances and criteria not truly understood by those using them; judgmental arguments in the public eye and personal attacks based on minutia all impact the changes in art today and in future.

Steampunk Food

Going into a new area today; I made poppy seed, berry, black treacle pie and discussing it on Facebook started me wondering about Steampunk and food. Reading more on the topic of Steampunk and food  moved me toward a concept, not a clear path yet, just something I am exploring. Some people discus Steampunk food by means of use the of technology, others focus on appearance, and some delve into the use of traditional recipes but with variations and adaptations making use of new technology. these are all valid ideas but don’t really work for me and the concept I am considering. Start with Captain Nemo or Dr. Moreau and their innovation and food development as portrayed in the stories and you begin to see where I am going.

Mini orange tree (not sure where I got this image, others linked at end of post)
Mini orange tree (not sure where I got this image, others linked at end of post)

Steampunk is in the details and the innovation but with a distinct style and elegance to the harsh, cold edginess of ingredients, methodology, and presentation. To see what I mean, consider the elegance of a full Victorian meal with the etiquette and setting to go with it but with a sense of experimentation and drama. This is where my idea starts.

Technology improves availability and variety as much as it speeds processes. Long tedious hand prepared meals that keep you in the kitchen all day seem very out of place in this setting. The same is true of super quick, incomplete, and unimaginative meals. Where to go from there however?

Foil meals for fire, grill, stones, engines, lab equipment...
Foil meals for fire, grill, stones, engines, lab equipment…

Technology is important and the innovation inherent in the steampunk genre must be a foundation. Does innovation and drama counter Victorian style meals? When you think about it, there was huge innovation in every area during that period, even when dealing with food. So no, I think it rather fits if it can be seamlessly blended in.

Okay, so what kind of innovation are we talking about? At what point does innovation leave the realm of Steampunk creativity and reach into a more cyberpunk region when you are discussing food? VerticalGarden18Nemo used what was available in dramatic and nourishing ways as well as extensively using hydroponics and other technological innovations.

How it is Presented is Important
How it is Presented is Important

Molecular gastronomy is not something I have explored a great deal so I am unsure about its place in a Steampunk discussion. I see the reasoning for wanting to use it and envision some wonderful possibilities. The concept is very much at home in the steampunk setting. To fit the steampunk genre they must have a visual appeal in the high aesthetic or formal setting rather than the supper modern settings you often see in molecular gastronomy eateries.  But should we use only English aesthetic or etiquette?

Chef Arnold
Chef Arnold: by John B. Carnett Cook Shop: Dave Arnold does what it takes-and sometimes it takes a lot-to make your food taste better. John B. Carnett

Asian cultures and many others frequently prepare food at the table with great drama and presentation. This is a perfect fit to the setting and the period it is based on. As an example, I have a very practical set of metal chopsticks that break down and fit into a small metal case you can stick in a pen pocket or glasses pocket. Another travel set I have is an origami dish set that could be made out of a number of interesting materials and used anywhere. Mine are silicon but they could be of many materials. Something you see often in steampunk characters and settings is a propensity to be prepared for anything, and be able to do it in style. Think a tea set on your belt and a travel apothecary on your sleeve, with a cartography set on your leg, and an armory on your hip or back.575854_660728157277931_1046375079_n

vintage-pressure-cooker
vintage-pressure-cooker

Steaming things is almost too obvious and I just don’t see it as a major component despite the propensity of steam technology in steampunk settings. Flame is good but I am not sure if it is the method that is the best focus.

Ingredients and concept are important so it should focus on using ingredients or showcasing them. One idea is the, meal in a jar, type preparations I have seen in the disaster prepper groups and off the grid living groups. This method of preparing and storing complete meals for extended time ready to be simply cooked at a moment’s notice is an interesting combination with Steampunk innovation and lifestyles. The major point I see as relevant is the modification of traditional recipes to travel, to adapt to storage, and to make use of substitutions for location or special circumstances. Return to Nemo and you see the types of substitutions we mean. This use of available ingredients to alter traditional recipes being my preferred method of cooking, I may be a bit biased, but it fits so many aspects of Steampunk. 

mason-jar-monday-4-resized-600
Do we also include the method of growing and obtaining foods?

Adventurer meals and travel preparations from Victorian times updated in some ways and prepared to be enjoyed in style anywhere are a perfect example of where I am going with this. Food to be prepped for the lab and finished anywhere is another idea. I remember cooking a meal on the engine as we drove across country; it was a fairly traditional chicken, potatoes, carrots, onions in foil or iron pan type meal (could be clay too).

You are beginning to see the many other directions this idea could go. Formal Victorian meals with innovative twists are another. This is something I will need to explore further and experiment with but there are so many sources of ideas it will take some time and consideration.

Where do we get our food?
Where do we get our food?

Returning for a moment to the meal in a jar thoughts I want to look at the aspect of planning and preparation for quick use and quality presentation that fills a need in Steampunk. As the author of Design Artketing shows an example. Her plan for each week is to get all the ingredients together, prepare the jars for dinner, and maybe lunch. Each is stored as required by ingredients, most are pre-cooked. Each day, she just pulls one and spends her time on presentation or other things rather than preparation and stress after work. Another site uses them for picnics and work lunches, so they use mostly fresh ingredients. Still others use dehydrated, freeze dried, or other long term storable ingredients. Oh, the possibilities and the changes in container, ingredients, methodology, style, and concept this brings up.

Stored food
Stored food

I will quote Four Pounds Flour and Sarah Lohman’s exploration of Steampunk cooking:

“I think steampunk embraces the innovative and transformative, the implications of a super science without limits. Food that has those aspects in preparation, presentation, or taste seems to fit. Surprises, doing something completely unexpected with the available tools and parts. The more impossible seeming the better. I chose popcorn since it’s transformation is itself so remarkable. Toast actually has that kind of feel, bread slices vanishing into a metal box with two narrow slots to be returned with a new texture and taste.”

Meals for a week
Meals for a week

Where this leaves us is with many aspects and ideas for many situations and regions. As with any other aspect of Steampunk I think it is important not to limit ourselves too heavily and lose the innovation and creativity that draws us in.

References

(Quote) http://www.fourpoundsflour.com/what-is-steampunk-food/

(Image) http://www.popsci.com/scitech/article/2007-10/doctor-delicious

(Image, ideas) http://www.toquemag.com/food-drink/steampunk-cuisine

(Ideas) http://johnnahetrick.com/2011/11/

(Image) http://rainydayfoodstorage.blogspot.com/p/sauces-mixes-recipes.html

(Image) http://www.prepperpenny.com/chili-meal-in-a-jar/

(Image) http://www.homescoutrealty.com/chicago-real-estate-blog/bid/86823/Urban-Living-On-A-Budget-Glass-Jars

(Recipes) https://www.brit.co/12-in-a-jar/

(Tips) http://www.liveinthenow.com/article/recipe-round-up-meals-in-mason-jars

(Image, Ideas) http://sharehomedesign.com/20-vertical-garden-ideas/

(Image, recipes) http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes-and-cooking/50-things-to-grill-in-foil/index.html

Zen of Steampunk

Yesterday upon the stair

I saw a man that wasn’t there.

He wasn’t there again today.

Oh, how I wish he’d go away.xxeez

To some, ‘steampunk’ is a catchall term, a concept in search of a visual identity. To me, it’s essentially the intersection of technology and romance.” Jake von Slatt put this in a way that fit some of my descriptions quite concisely. It is important to me in my evaluation of Steampunk to show what I find and what is there, not to codify and define it; I seek to analyze and evaluate not limit the reality. As Alan Watts Said “The whole point of Zen is to suspend the rules we have superimposed on things and to see the world as it is.” “There be those who say that things and places have souls, and there be those who say they have not; I dare not say, myself, but I will tell of The Street.” – H. P. Lovecraft. I agree with this sentiment and this is more my goal than a definition – to describe and show what I find and see. “The true purpose (of Zen) is to see things as they are, to observe things as they are, and to let everything go as it goes.” ~ Shunryu Suzuki

Individualism is not the first thing you think of when you think of Zen, but much of the teaching revolves around knowing yourself, seeing yourself as you really are, hearing your inner voice, and living in now. Previous essays have discussed the prevalence of an individual spirit and focus in both Steampunk and the age it arises from. For this particular discussion the whys of that direction are not needed, but we will look at them later. Louis XIV said “There is little that can withstand a man who can conquer himself.” This is an important distinction when you are looking at Zen related to Steampunk; Zen is not about giving into to self but knowing self and being in control of self. Act on needs not wants, as one quote says: Be master of mind rather than mastered by mind.

In both cases you see an active choice to seek the answer inside rather than from the voice of any governing group such as religion, government, society, or science. G.I. Gurdjieff said “Without self knowledge, without understanding the working and functions of his machine, man cannot be free, he cannot govern himself and he will always remain a slave.” Religion, science, government, and society made drastic changes, leaps, and changed focus based on this and similar concepts, it did not always stick, but the creative leaps possible during that time are impressive themselves. As one Zen quote says “If you do not get it from yourself, where will you go for it?

Machines, automata, and development are critical to Steampunk and were what made the Victorian age what it was. “As machines become more and more efficient and perfect, so it will become clear that imperfection is the greatness of man.” – Ernst Fischer. Willingness to take a leap, create something, build something, experiment without knowing what will happen – these are all things that made the development then what it was and that many people feel has been largely lost today. “If you want something you can have it, but only if you want everything that goes with it, including all the hard work and the despair, and only if you’re willing to risk failure.” – Philip Pullman, Clockwork.

Look at Zen and the adage telling you not to simply follow the paths of others: “Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek what they sought.” – Basho This quest for knowledge is something dear to the heart of some of us. As Zen says “When an ordinary man gains knowledge, he is a sage; when a sage gains understanding, he is an ordinary man.”  Are we in Steampunk seeking an aesthetic or a wishful nostalgia, or are we seeking a possibility, a chance that with risk and a new path, we could see something different. Perhaps it isn’t escapism as much as opening the mind to possibilities, paths, and knowledge.

The place of the mind, reason, and imagination is the place of strength, development, and expansion. You cannot achieve what you cannot conceive anymore than you can succeed without risk. “Therefore the Three Realms are only mind” Ma-tsu Tao-i. In research and scientific advancement, one critical point to true advancement and real science is to not approach a test, experiment, theory, or idea clouded by opinion or expectations. Look again to Zen: “Do not seek the truth, only cease to cherish your opinions.” Science then and now often sought to make life better and to serve humanity but “The machine does not isolate man from the great problems of nature but plunges him more deeply into them.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery. But the changes are what stabilize society, stagnation kills any society. “Life is change, change is stability.” Change is not final, even when to destruction, another change will follow.

Vast emptiness, nothing holy! Bodhidharma

Previously, we briefly touched the topic of Steampunk embracing the development at all cost attitude of colonialism and imperialism but eschewing the technology that became the dominant development. As Kurt Vonnegut said, “Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.” The ethics were not relevant. “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
—Rumi. This is somewhat where Steampunk and much fiction lie, as does much science. But this reaching outside society and the restrictions of others to open the mind and imagination is what allows development, creativity, and innovation. “A civilized society is one which tolerates eccentricity to the point of doubtful sanity.” – Robert Frost

 Texas Road near Monaville

Steampunk Vision and How Steampunk

Today’s painting is of the drawing done a few days ago, one of the eyes.Steampunk Eye

I am not entirely satisfied but tried a couple of new things I want to practice. I am also going to write a bit now about Why and How Steampunk.

My father was here looking at my site the other day. I was explaining why I started this and how mom influenced the project, my art, and what I am thinking about with this, even my choice of subject matter. I had to explain several terms like Steampunk and automaton to him and it got me thinking about the differences in our family and in reading or artistic people in general. Dad is very well read and educated but rarely reads things unrelated to something he is doing and he doesn’t read fiction, never has. Mom did, she introduced me to several of the classic science fiction and Steampunk fathers like Asimov and Jules Verne. But the difference is in how they viewed fiction and writing in general. Fiction, for mother, was not superfluous, it was a way to write about or examine an issue or situation in a somewhat more disconnected and less immediate manner. Fiction authors have always tackled the issues of society from social to religious, scientific to governmental. Science fiction is especially known for this practice. The depth of what-if evaluation in genre such as science fiction, Steampunk, cyberpunk, or alternative history (which can fall into several genres) is often intense if focused on one issue or development. Steampunk reaches many of these topics but focuses on what-if of technology based in steam, gears, and style rather than electronics, efficiency, and computerization. Mother appreciated good writing, science, and educational material in most forms and genres. Dad must be shown the connection first and then is unlikely to connect personally to a fiction writer; it just isn’t how he thinks. My brothers on the other hand all read fiction and many other types of books, but each approaches them differently, as did my sister. I approach everything as an opportunity to learn, grow, enjoy, and experience; books are just a favorite experience for me. I will enjoy reading about a place almost as much as going there if it is well written. On the other hand, a poorly written story, however good the story itself is, will never engage me and will likely irritate me. Steampunk is something only mom and I enjoyed as far as I know, and for her it was because of the quality, the evaluation, the lessons, the imagination, the depth, and the style; it was never a major thing, just something she knew and had a style she liked.

This returns me to a topic from weeks ago and the broad appeal of Steampunk. My mother was to most people the most unlikely candidate to have read or discussed Steampunk. But topics like that gave her connections and relatable points to people she may have not been able to reach otherwise. Individualism and intelligence was important to mom, so what-if scenarios were somewhat of a hobby. She had a project for all of us every time you spoke to her. More often than directly discussing Steampunk, we discussed related concepts and ideas, which is why I have issue with something requiring use of a term. Gears, steam, Difference engines, other ancient types of computing devises, architecture, Victorian or related styles, how things adapt, what things could have changed each aspect or would have simply faded these are all aspects in Steampunk that are of interest and value to people completely unconnected. Historical and cultural evaluations are often enhanced using fiction and what-if scenarios. Artistic and architectural studies are enhanced using fiction or scenarios to understand its place in society and how it was both impacted by and impacted each facet of society. Writing, reading, drawing, or working in a genre like Steampunk helps you understand culture, society, people, technology, materials, art, history, development, government, religions, architecture, and why each of these things develop. A well written Steampunk story will not just keep the same style if it is a what-if future story or even near present. Because it must examine the impact of the change in technology and style on the culture, government, religions, styles, development, population growth, and use of resources and environment. If it simply rote uses technology in an unchanged or shallow cultural development, it is not well written and it misses the what-if part of Steampunk. The depth you go into in that evaluation is different and depends on the story, but the small details are impacted by how much of that detail and depth you have considered. Dune is an example of an author with way more background, development, and depth than are directly written in. It is obviously there, and it makes the story a rich pleasure of immersive fiction and knowledge. This is what I love about what-if stories and the cultural and scientific study inherent in them. Even a simple drawing or piece of art has part of this background. Why the placement, materials, style, why the clothes, colors, lighting, or architecture are used in inherent to the depth of the view and evaluation.

When Steampunk

When Steampunk

Much like every other aspect of Steampunk, when is a challenge to answer accurately. The reason for this is you first need to define what aspect you are defining the beginning of. First use of a term is a common modern designator for the beginning of a genre; personally, this seems inaccurate, though understandable for non-interested parties. In some genre you see a designation from when someone within the genre and someone unconnected used the descriptor term; this is not necessary in Steampunk. First appearance of solidly representative works is another common time factor. Discussing Steampunk in particular, you see disagreement on this one, not based on difficulty placing writers in the genre but of disagreement when the genre began and what it is. Several 19th century authors are pivotal to Steampunk and for many people define the genre, yet most people say they are precursors and not Steampunk. Several works from the 1950’s and 1960’s are undeniably Steampunk and even reached into mainstream production and popularity. Metropolis from 1927 is a major Steampunk work, often considered, as Wikipedia puts it, “the single most important early film to represent Steampunk as an emerging stylistic genre.”

Authors from each period discussed.
Authors from each period discussed.

Given these time references and that representations continue through present, it is interesting that many listings designate Steampunk as having emerged in the 1980’s as a sub-genre of Cyberpunk. First use of the term in a title did not emerge until the 1990’s but that is hardly a key point other than to say it was in common enough use by that point authors were taking advantage of the connections and connotations of the word in a title rather than using the work to show genre. I have trouble with the concept that you need to use a term to fit a genre; it should be obvious on its own. Also, a term usually comes about after a genre is established, simply because there is nothing to describe until it is established. Given this, the genre obviously was in place prior to use of the term, yet even I would be challenged to actually choose a start point for the genre. One point to agree with not beginning the genre in the 19th century is that they were using current and speculative technologies to consider what-if not what many consider outdated or bypassed technologies. Overall, what I see is a distinct and enduring disagreement with no clear answer. If you read my earlier essay about the development of Steampunk and cultures in general, then you will see part of why I find it unlikely a clear and accurate designation of when it began is possible.

on a side note – I missed yesterday due to husband’s birthday and plan an extra project tomorrow to fill, we shall see.

Zen of Steampunk

Lots of images today, be warned if you have a slow connection.

If they are not lists, match positions on the images to pair quotes.

Today is a research compilation and photo manipulation project. This will progress into further analysis and an essay later I am sure.
Today is a research compilation and photo manipulation project. This will progress into further analysis and an essay later I am sure.
Zen quotes on left match Steampunk quotes on right for topic, theme, implication, something that struck me as a connection worthy of linking.
Zen quotes on left match Steampunk quotes on right for topic, theme, implication, something that struck me as a connection worthy of linking.
The creativity, action, and process of Steampunk with related Zen thoughts
The creativity, action, and process of Steampunk with related Zen thoughts

Change and Expansive Minds

Humanity and Steampunk

Reality and our Views

Purpose, Will, and Vision

Wisdom and Ethics

The Mind and Self

Direct Comparisons

Steampunk Photo-manipulation of a Zen quote image that fit the thoughts, concept, and feel for today.
Steampunk Photo-manipulation of a Zen quote image that fit the thoughts, concept, and feel for today.

I considered a one to one image for each pair but that would have made a huge collection. I will single them out if I use them later in essays and such. Let me know if they are clear, they seamed to change slightly when I saved to jpg.

Why Steampunk – a personal look

I am going a bit different direction today; I updated my site, submitted it for publication on another site, and am evaluating why I am doing this and why I chose my topic. If you have read my updated about section some of this may be more clear if I miss a connection. My mother, my life, my husband, and my stress were the major proponents in me beginning this.

Not taken by me, but of me, this was in a tiny town outside Saltillo, MX. We visited here, then the next day went to the factories other countries had in the area and saw the good and bad of them on economy and education. They had a cart with a barrel to get watter from a few miles away in the desert because the well was dry. Seams Steampunk technology could work some places even now.
Not taken by me, but of me, this was in a tiny town outside Saltillo, MX. We visited here, then the next day went to the factories other countries had in the area and saw the good and bad of them on economy and education. They had a cart with a barrel to get water from a few miles away in the desert because the well was dry. Seems Steampunk technology could work some places even now.

1.    Technology. I have learned to work a blog, as mom tried to get me to teach her for several years. I am also learning new programs and styles. Research, of historical and potential technologies is obviously a major part of this and many  of the pieces include significant research that eventually leads to me writing an essay. Technology is fascinating to me in most forms, modern, antique, old, future, potential, fictional, and speculative. I like cutting edge, out of date, practical, and simply aesthetic – it all has appeal. I restore motorcycles and do artistic ventures of a wide variety of forms, many involving technology from various ages.

2.    Insomnia. Lack of sleep is high on my list of problems with having a job, working at home, and doing a project every day but it is nice to have an accomplishment at the end of the day. Insomnia has, over the years, helped my creativity, and hindered it. I have many great ideas but often lack time, awareness, tools, place, or health to work on them or finish them. Somehow Steampunk is one of the things associated with sleeplessness for me – books and video games maybe, imagery maybe, research projects possibly, I’m not sure.

Insomnia has always been part of my art. This was around 3 or 4 am in an empty University Campus on a very foggy morning. I often think of these buildings working on my Steampunk and Victorian research.
Insomnia has always been part of my art. This was around 3 or 4 am in an empty University Campus on a very foggy morning. I often think of these buildings working on my Steampunk and Victorian research.

3.    Relationship. My husband is both supportive and suggests sleep instead, but he has been a huge help and I think this will prove good for us. He also frequently has ideas on how to turn something into a smaller size or staged project to meet my deadline. One suggestion was the mini canvases at Hobby Lobby. He is also a major active person in Steampunk, but has a very different approach, view, and concept of Steampunk. This byplay of views and information is very helpful and engages us when we are busy. This was one thing that prompted my evaluation and research of the various views on Steampunk and why they vary so much and are so strongly embedded.

4.    Evaluation. A requirement to finish a project each day requires constant rethinking of my concepts on the subject, my art, what fits, how to do something, why to do something, and what I think about. Evaluation of Steampunk and the total genre allows a thorough evaluation of all areas of my creative approach and my work. I am evaluating the history, the culture, the style, the art, the technology, the fashion, the people, any aspect that strikes my heart, mind, or work.

When I returned to University I held several jobs as I attended full time classes. One was catering, I often did table displays. For some reason this one reminded me of the meditation.
When I returned to University I held several jobs as I attended full time classes. One was catering, I often did table displays. For some reason this one reminded me of the meditation.

5.    Meditation, focus, creative development – very connected things in this project. Years ago, I meditated regularly and actively worked on my focus. I have moved a very long distance several times in the last year and was feeling very loose and unstable. This gives me a combination of things to help that: a focus, a constant sense of accomplishment, a steady cord, visible development. My art tends to change significantly when I move and having moved quite a lot, I was feeling displaced and am needing a chance to develop my identity, style, strengths, ideas, and courage as an artist. This focus is on a topic, a project, a short term and a long term goal, and a commitment. My art develops as I use it, learn new things, research, and try things. Doing a project every day allows me to try things I might have put off or not done.

6.    Learning. I am developing a deeper understanding and relationship to my topic: Steampunk. I am a researcher at heart and am learning art forms, history, materials, culture, people, and more. I have been a great subject of study for myself. Steampunk is a fascinating culture with rich history and development. The current and future state of Steampunk is an intriguing study. Beyond that you have the study of the actual periods, the period works, the speculative works, the social and historical evaluations, the relative connections, and the spin-offs. Steampunk offers art forms, technology, research, and ideas galore.

7.

This is not the first time I have combined stress and insomnia into my work and art. I try to combine my art into every aspect of life whenever I can.
This is not the first time I have combined stress and insomnia into my work and art. I try to combine my art into every aspect of life whenever I can.

Stress. Life is very stressful right now and the ability to turn away from that and have something guaranteed to be there and to have an accomplishment means a lot; even when it leaves me tired and irritated with the piece. This project produces great stress when I am way to tired and trying to work with tiny gears or found objects, or I am researching a topic I planned on being a quick essay and has extended to near midnight. Working too many hours then expecting myself to be creative is not something I ever considered a good idea but I am finding that the key is to just start. Work on this, the rest will happen or it won’t.

8.    Acceptance. Learning to accept things not going as planned and how to deal with overestimating what I could get done is good for me. I am still working on this, but see a difference already. (The corner shelf painting image is an example, I vastly overestimated the time I needed and the time I had, I was not able to finish and had to decide how to deal with that.) Research, art, technological projects, missing tools, lack of materials, so many things can go wrong. Steampunk tends to include many aspects, parts, information,detail, and materials that I may not have or may not have time for – how do I work with that? I am learning. This is good for my balance and focus on the now not later or before. Just work and think about the rest later.

9.    Input. Outside input and comments are hard for me to accept on my art. There tends to be a lot of me in my work and a comment that feels negative I do not respond well and considering at the time how to respond does not happen. Should I be accepting, open, angry, questioning, cautious  defensive, disregard, consider, evaluate, or respond? I am having to learn this now. This also causes me to pay attention to my comments more. I intend to return to more frequent commenting on interesting posts as I work into this and figure out the scheduling or pushing…something. I know input is good for art and creativity, even if many people say otherwise. You don’t  have to act on it, but strengthening your understanding, emotion, and your view of it helps you. A one sided perspective is not a long lasting focus – it becomes very flat and tired. Working from one perspective itself is strengthened by knowing the other perspectives. We learned that in writing classes – to know your argument, study the opposing arguments, really understand and be able to argue for their side to effectively stand against them. Sometimes, as in my study of Steampunk you simply develop or alter your view of the subject, but that depends on many factors and is unlikely to happen if you were not open to that when you began.

 

We move forward now, evaluating the past, but working in the now. Steampunk as a what-if is a present concept not a past or future one.
We move forward now, evaluating the past, but working in the now. Steampunk as a what-if is a present concept not a past or future one.

 As I go I intend to answer the  major questions Who, What, When, Where, Why, How from multiple perspectives, directions, and focus regarding Steampunk. Today was a personal look at me, Steampunk, and this project, I could continue for some time, thus will just send this now and hope you like it.

How Steampunk

How do cultures develop? If you have ever asked that question, it seems unlikely you would ask someone to define a culture or subculture. As a gamer I create and explore worlds unlike the dominant culture all the time. When developing a world you do not begin by describing, defining, and structuring the cultures, religions, or other social constructs. First, they are just that – social constructs. Thus they develop from and through environment, interaction, climate, changes, and any influences having even the smallest impact. One of the first stages in an in depth world is the geography. You may start with other ideas or maps, but you need geography and geology to develop the culture. Whatever social construct is there in the early stages must be open to develop and change as you flush out the details and expand the world and the history. This is actually a good view of the development of a culture, and a sub-culture is still a culture, simply one divergent from the regional dominant culture.

Cultural Influences

Let me look at an example using the geology I mentioned before. A location with no metal to be mined will have a different development. Science, technology, military, and economy will be based on other things or they will focus on either trade or expansion to obtain the materials they need. Religions developing in this region will also be impacted, thus further influencing the culture and science. Developmental stage of neighbors encountered and the political climate as they expand will further impact every aspect of the culture.

What does this have to do with Steampunk? Let’s look at the period it reveres for a minute. The Victorian age was a time of expansion, colonization, empire, and rapid development. Economy grew at alarming rates to crash in many places. Expansion to obtain material, power, and land was happening at a furious pace. Religion was on a precipice from war and expansion causing middle classes to turn to new faiths, thus an explosion of sects and religions occurred. Science and technology was exploding in wild directions and new things showed up frequently. Production and development was growing faster than cities were prepared for and pollution and exploitation ran rampant in places like London. Luxuries and entertainment were increasingly available to a broader section of society – a segment that was beginning to have increased impact on society. What would you expect of a culture arising from this?

Victorian Cultural Influences

Who defines the rules in a setting like that? Individualism was on the rise. Imperialism was dominant, and people wanted change, new, better, shiny. Brass and wood are not war materials but are practical for finery, many technological needs, and handmade developments. Constructed materials were showing up, there will always be a divide on what should be developed and what should be discarded. Here is where we see Steampunk arise. What should we have developed? Where should we have focused? What science would have served us better? What technology would have been more attractive, efficient, effective, entertaining, and socially constructive? What should the focus have been and be now? What-if is what Steampunk is all about. This brings me back to my discussion from several days ago that Steampunk will remain divers – as it should. Each of us brings our influences, our preferences, our education, our experiences, our fears, our needs, our hopes, and our aesthetic to Steampunk. This does not confuse the issue and damage the genre; it strengthens it, develops it, expands it, delves into the unexplored aspects of it, and reaches our hearts and minds.

This being said, I need now to explore details of Steampunk and where I fit. Knowing myself and my work, I will say up front – that depends on the day and what I am working on.

Why Steampunk

Today is a day for musing. 12 hours at work, running day camp and walking dogs and home to my husband and the cats I sit wondering why it is we are drawn to Steampunk. When you read discussions about Steampunk, especially from non-Steampunk people, you see at first a certainty of its briefness, and now bafflement in its longevity and growth. Why is that shocking I wonder. The other thing I see is a complaint that it is poorly defined. Genres and sub-genres are rarely defined, specified, structured and then developed – they just happen and grow. Natural growth is what creates a genre and what keeps it alive and thriving through time. It is an oddity of human nature I think to want to define, categorize, and label everything.

Genres

This seems one of the very things Steampunk is rebelling against – the strict categorization of life, science, religion, people, and culture. When those in Steampunk fight this, they could be leading themselves into a frustrating pattern. Does this mean there are no boundaries? Of course not, but it is a concept, a theme, a style, a need, a creativity that by its nature reaches into several other genres at least.

What I see is that Steampunk, by its very nature cannot be a sub-genre, it reaches into too many genres even without leaving the written and cinematic focus.

Cyberpunk is strong and clear but it doesn’t have the potential reach and longevity of Steampunk for several reasons. One, it is based in present and future. Present issues and technologies are not as well known, not universally relatable or understood, not pervasive, and not connected to an emotional part of people. Future is nebulous and potential not universally agreed upon or accepted. On the other hand, Steampunk has its core in a period known very well and deeply connected to cultures around the world by the very nature of what went on in that time. Key terms like Victorian evoke immediate imagery, feelings, and thoughts in everyone even if they are widely varied. This is another reason it will remain varied and branching in styles and focus. Two, the basis of what might have been is very different and emotional to people than what is going on or where we are going shown in darkness. Don’t get me wrong, I love Cyberpunk in every form I have dealt with it, but sentiment of what might have been or what could have been is natural to most people. In their personal lives or families people often speculate on that very thing, thus drawing on a strong natural sentiment anyway, Steampunk has a good chance of touching them if they give it half a chance. Three, simple aesthetic appeal cannot be ignored. Cyberpunk has a strong, deep impact and visual strength; but it is not a universal appeal. Steampunk on the other hand has elements to appeal to a hugely diverse audience. The materials, the style, the ethics, the creativity, the science, the culture, the mad-scientists, the history, the reality blended with wild fantasy these reach out and find their targets and touch minds, hearts, and imaginations.Almost Victorian

Almost Victorian is really a better description than Victorian, and that is why it is appealing – the differences are just out enough to draw you in.

Individual achievement, individual ability, individual strength, individual rights, individual identities are all incredibly important in Steampunk. People in need of something will often find this appealing. People already holding these concepts as important are obviously going to see the appeal. Why are they important in Steampunk? Scientific development, scientific leaps, acts of heroism, and creative actions are done by individuals not committees. A person willing to step out of the boxes of others, and leap into an idea will risk more but has great potential. Risk is inherent to the point of almost being irrelevant in Steampunk – of course one willing to step out is under more risk, why discuss it. Some say Steampunk is hopeful and ignores the ills of society, but I do not agree, it simply focuses on those people acting, doing, changing, developing not on those destroying, wallowing, following, or changing from within the box. If you focus on society you are not focusing on Steampunk, you are using Steampunk in a fiction about society. Yes the dark reality is there, but what might have been? Besides, there is always people at every level of society, which ones have the materials or funds to actually build Steampunk devises in most periods the stories are set in? You cannot break the logic of the story to create a false focus. It is a what-if not what was or what is, just accept that and work within that and you could get a more realistic view of reality.

Tradition

When did tradition become a dirty word? How did tradition come to be in people’s minds something malleable moment to moment?

Cambridge Dictionary defines tradition as “a belief, principle, or way of acting that people in a particular society or group have continued to follow for a long time, or all of these beliefs, etc. in a particular society or group.”

Oxford Dictionary defines it as “the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on. A long-established custom or belief that has been passed on. [in singular] An artistic or literary method or style established by an artist, writer, or movement, and subsequently followed by others.”

Key to both of these is a past tense having been passed on state. Present action to create a new tradition is by nature merely a breaking of tradition, it cannot be a new tradition until it has been passed to a future generation actively and they are holding as tradition. Not to be misunderstood, I am not saying one should always follow tradition or accept all traditions. However, understand the tradition, not just the actions but the reasons, the emotional and group impacts, what is being honored, upheld, passed on, developed, or reinforced. My family had traditions and from time to time all the kids keep them, not religiously or constantly, but we remember and we feel the reassuring and strengthening connection to our past when we do. Mother was quite determined that we all learn to think, we make decisions, and we live. Thinking just like her was not the requirement; though she believed we would, based on data, follow her beliefs. Making our own decisions inherently means we do not always follow her’s, we choose our own path. Living life means trying things, going places, not acting in fear and not letting others control us. Political, religious, social or other pressure to conform with non-conformation just like them, to follow this correct path, to destroy this mindset in favor of this other, are all control factors that hinder thinking and deciding. I may or may not decide to be religious or political, but my decision is mine and where it takes me is not pressured by other’s belief in where it should.

“Never break a rule you don’t understand.” My mother quoted that or similar at us frequently. Her issue was not the breaking of the rule, though I think that was lost on many people. Her issue was a lack of thought, knowledge, understanding, and research. Understanding, not just knowing by rote is vital. Why and from whence is important not extraneous fluff? Why do we have such a convoluted system to begin with? People learned to act on the letter and the rote not the intent and purpose. Thus they made it more complicated and gave more specifics and less intent.

What does this have to do with tradition? I shall ask a question in answer. Why do you feel the need to break tradition? Is a bad memory a reason to pick and choose your past and change your history? Does your childhood still control your future? Yes, there were bad things in my childhood. Yet I am an adult, I choose to see the beauty in each place I am and live today, not to heal but just to live. If I live in the past, I am not truly aware of my present. If I live in my future, I am missing my present. I choose to live in today but be aware of the past and future, to actively see where I have been and where I am going. By doing so I can see the intent and move out of the emotional impact into a strength of the family traditions I might have missed or thought just my parent’s oddities. At any rate, my choice of activity will not be a tradition even if wanted it to – I have no kids to begin the tradition after my time.

Back to Steampunk and my project. I am still debating with myself what extent writing and research falls into an acceptable piece for my year long project. Writing, research, and reading is and has always been a passion. Given that, some of my projects should be writings – both fiction and research. I am uncertain at the moment if today will be one of those, but I am going to reflect on Steampunk for a moment. First let me clarify some connection to my previous topic. First research is in itself a tradition in my family, as is writing, publishing, and creation of …well anything. Second, Steampunk is a sort of tradition or collective of traditions. Time is developing branches and sub-genres within the culture but that is to be expected. Thus my research on the word, the subject, the forms, the art, the concept, the culture, and more was spawned. Where this will go will be determined as the year progresses but let me begin with the word.

Cambridge dictionary: books or movies about an imagined time when machines use steam for power rather than modern engines and methods, or a style of fashion based on this

Oxford Dictionary: noun – a genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology.

Reading these I was reminded of a conversation I recently had regarding what Steampunk meant to each of us. This conversation inherently bothered me at the time and I couldn’t put my finger on why or clearly articulate my issue. I see it now in these definitions – there is no inherent time setting. Past, present and future are equal with the elements, elegance, technology, and thought processes of a particular time and society. What I feel missing in these definitions and in a more recent prevalence of Steampunk work is the elegance and the type of research and creative approach. But is that something fitting to a dictionary? How do you define in a short sentence the difference in research approaches, aesthetic, and cultural dynamic? Stories and imagery that Steampunk is rooted in embraced the possible. I have seen many references to their embracing of technology and the future, but my observation so far is of an embracing of possible that was inherent in a time of development and wonders amid great hardship and changes. This is what I see a key to the science – the possible, not the known or understood. Probability, rationality, and details of science were less important than trying it and imagining it, seeing how it could make things better. Great hope is only possible in need, without need, there is little to hope for. Yes there was much suffering in society at the time but there was also amazing development, wondrous innovation, imaginings beyond what was vital and into sublime. This is also where I see some of the aesthetic, luxury, and Victorian details as vital to Steampunk. It is not the Victorian specifically but the pointless luxuries indicating improvements so vast basic needs were not the issue.

Understanding that, I return to the open time scope of Steampunk. This is what prompted the discussion previously mentioned. I am interested in the blending of timelines and merging of timescapes not for purely aesthetic reasons but in a socio-cultural context. One of the primary reasons Science Fiction appeals to me is the use of science in what-if scenarios often exploring the impact on cultures of a technology or development. How this leads me to Steampunk should be obvious if you know the genre, it is inherently a what-if scenario. Can a genre be that diverse in each person and remain a genre? Evidence says more than yes, but that it will be strengthened, explored, developed, and expanded more than a rigid form. I also like Cyberpunk but it is much less broad, for many reasons. One key is likely the distance. Distance of time, place, thought, culture, technology, society, and more have opened the interpretive possibilities. Cyberpunk inherently uses current technology in new combinations in what-if scenarios, not readily accessible technology, but existing or developing elements put to actual use in places current regimes would never allow them. Is this different from those texts that developed Steampunk? Yes and no, as I see it. The way of viewing research itself has changed from a broad scope of possible ideas and find a way to examine details and follow paths to expected and predictable results. Cyberpunk seems a way to break that but in a very different way than Steampunk does and less extreme. But they view the possible from very different perspectives. One is a moral vacuum and one an ethical vacuum; neither answering should we do this but rather can we do this.

Cyberpunk is a dystopian future, a society so vast and gritty the disillusionment doesn’t allow hope and the exploration of the possible examines expected impacts of science developed without restriction. Steampunk is a time of what would have happened if we developed a different technology, rooted in a British colonial ethic that removes ethical restriction from the need to develop at all cost and advance. Cyberpunk moral vacuum explores development of technology above all else and at the exclusion of all else. Steampunk ethical vacuum explores potentialities of could it have been different for society if? What would hold over in society and what wouldn’t? This is why the growing sub-genres are such a logical development. Cyberpunk is all about image and technology, Steampunk is about development at all cost. Vital distinctions that show very different directions, not branches of the same. The type of technology itself is a major part of the reason Steampunk cannot be a part of Cyberpunk. By nature it explores what might have been and Cyberpunk explores what could be from this society and technology. This may sound minor but the very core of each is involved. Traditions held over in many Steampunk stories are important because of the social evaluation. What is the tradition in a Cyberpunk story? The nature of the story is technology and corporations gone rampant and destroying the existing in place of the new. Steampunk often wonders what might not have been destroyed if technology followed that path.