The past, mothers, religion, improv, and relationships are coming up a lot lately in a mesh of memories and reminders. Relationships are challenging when you have depression and social anxiety. Flashes of memories or just the feelings from the past can sweep over you when triggered and your mind is confused but your body is set in the reaction to something years long gone.
My family was very religious, restrictive, and poor. Unlike some of my siblings, I did not do home schooling at any point. I attended private religious schools. However, I was expected to follow my parents rules of dress, behavior, music, work, speech, and life and not participate in most of what my fellows at school did. Simultaneously being told I needed to be more open and friendly because I was shy and felt isolated from others I was expected not to integrate or enjoy the things they did. My clothes were a source of mockery, along with my speech impediments and that I wasn’t allowed the entertainments those around me shared.
I am a reader. I always have been a reader. But my choice of books was highly restricted. I read everything I was allowed multiple times, even the encyclopedias and dictionaries. But once my options opened when I left their home, I realized that despite the apparent attempts at a good education I was woefully lacking in knowledge, experience, and variety. I began to read a wide variety of books and materials and continue that to this day.
Each incident at school was the start of a chain of emotional events and trouble I knew to expect. In many ways, the expectation was worse than the series of punishments. The schools had orders to use swats for any offence they felt worthy, which is broad and covers most things including failing to turn in homework I completed but didn’t give them. I would ace a test and go to receive my swats for not doing the homework to prepare for the test I aced. Walking dejectedly to the office I knew it was only the first because when I got home I would would get a lecture separately from each parent and swats again from one of them.
Rarely did I do anything truly deserving of punishment because I had a very clear understanding of the consequence and reward ratio. I felt I had a hard enough time without adding extra issues for limited reward. Of course, that means when I did choose to do something the punishment was fairly pointless because I knew what it would be and chose to act anyway. I had already determined the risk to reward ratio was in my favor.
The lives around me were like another world to me that I watched from a distance without relating or fully understanding. From the girl whos parents dropped of hundreds for her to go shopping in the mall alone after school or to take her friends out to the kids sharing the newest dance moves in the halls I could not participate. I was quiet, shy, and introverted and places like a shared locker room were a terrifying thought. Numerous times I opted to accept detention for changing in the nearby restroom rather than endure mockery and embarrassment in the locker room. I also had it drilled into me not to undress in front of others so a locker room was a problem.
Conversations were hard because we shared nothing in common other than classes and those were mostly boring and too easy so I didn’t really pay attention. At some point there was always the risk conversation would veer toward my mother and her cancer, which was not something I wanted to discuss. Religious people would imply either that they were praying which was obviously not working or that if she actually had faith she would not be sick. The added issue that she was a test patient because we couldn’t afford treatment much less any extras or luxuries. I absolutely was unwilling to discuss where the food on our table came from because that was a mockery I knew I could not handle. How do you feed 7-10 people on $20 a week, sometimes more, sometimes less? The poor ladies of the church had a list of stores that discarded usable food and mom had an agreement to collect discarded vegetables for the horse. We sorted through the horses vegetables to see what could go on the tale first.
Many times I remember sitting in a parking lot while my mother composed herself or cried in the one place no one could see. After a horrifyingly degrading day trying to meet the needs of the family or accepting charity she would go home to dad’s anger and screaming rants about anything and everything. She would go home to 2 children in constant medical car and her own terrifying medical care. She would go home to the holes in the floor and walls and the car held together by duct ape and wood. She would go home to watch me cower from dad’s anger and my brothers acting out. Failing that we would go to church, where we spent more evening than not to be told how we were all sinners and needed to give more, do more, be more, bring in more people, and earn a place. We went to the church where I was yet again alone and mocked and here knew the question of my families lack of faith and why they were poor and sick would come up. I knew there would be taunts and often physical confrontation. These happened at school but more consistently at the churches.
Each service I listened then as mom taught me I went home and studied. I read their books and teachings. These always led to questions that if I asked someone other than my parents resulted in something to the effect of me being a girl child that should learn my place and be silent and do as I was told. Years of memorization and reading led me to no other conclusion than the religion was a compounded grouping of modifications stolen from older teachings and chosen by various leaders in the worst periods of history to best control, dominate, and instill fear. It is a religion based on fear and control. It is a religion that teaches the only reason to be a good person is to avoid punishment not because it is right. Each test of the history I was taught led to the inescapable conclusion they had manipulated the teaching to show a lie and manipulate the views of the children they took into their care.
What I saw from the outside was a cult that manipulated participants to view the world through a filter and with careful blinders. They were trying for the isolation of those in the retreats but in the city so they could better raw more people.
My mother was a brilliant and strong woman trapped in a world that treated women as a lower level being. She did all the work for a doctorate but was denied the degree because she was a woman at a baptist college. She was a writer and a researcher by nature, a leader and communicator but denied the right to lead, teach, research, or speak freely. The man was the head of the household and the wife was expected to follow him, obey him, accept his behavior, and not question or attempt to teach men. With permission a woman could teach other women or children but that would be shut down if they questioned her teachings or behavior outside class. Children were under her rule but punishments were the prerogative of the man, as were the rules she was to teach. Girls were expected to be obedient, submissive, silent, and learn the proper behaviors of a good wife. I refused to learn any wifely duties at every step, only many years later learning some of them were fun skills when used for your own pleasure or business rather than in service to a master.
I love to cook. I love the ingredients, the flavors, the smells, the history, and the tastes. I spread my ingredients out and chop and prep running several dishes at a time until I have a meal or several meals ready. My goals are to have good food within a certain flavor profile for as many servings as I need and to have no ingredient waste if possible. I try to prepare lunch for several days and take the remainders for my meal that evening I prepare them. I want colors and flavors textures and scents. Food starts when you smell it and see it and the richness of the flavor is increased by the richness of the colors, scents, and texture. Some things I love the flavor of do have troublesome smells or textures but they are worth it.
I really learned to cook here in Hawaii the first time I lived here. Obviously, since I was in my 30s I did cook prior to that. But food wasn’t the same kind of interest. There were times I worked hard to prepare and learn complicated dishes and meals but I didn’t’ really understand them. I didn’t understand flavor profiles, cultural distinctions, the historical and cultural reasons certain dishes are what they are, why some substitutions work one place and not another. I loved good food but had not yet developed the love of ingredients, history, cooking, and the rich value of food and sharing food.
After I moved back to the mainland I had a really hard time adapting to what was available in stores. They are the usual things to people there and to many of the dishes I ate but not to how I learned to relate to food. Since I have returned here I find myself once again enjoying my time picking vegetables in China town or visiting the various stores I love to find ingredients at. I am coming back in to the pleasure of just cooking something because I want to not just so I can feed my family. I don’t come home too tired to think about cooking or to a kitchen I am unwilling to cook in. The kitchen here is small but clean and decently stocked with pans and needs.
Now I buy a few ingredients and spread them out to prep. I can take a couple vegetables, a protein (today it was tofu and mushrooms), a base like starch or purple sweet potatoes or kamut, and whatever I happen to have in my cabinet for spicing and flavor extras to create a series of different dishes for the week. Each is put into it’s container and sealed for the freezer and a bit is put on my plate for dinner. I spent $7 today and made dinner and 4 lunches by adding rice I made while I ate lunch and some spices from my cabinet.
I love that feeling when I finish eating something really good and know I have several meals ready for lunch in the freezer and when I look back to check the kitchen it is clean and ready for the next person with no sign I have been in there. I had only a few vegetable tips to discard and I could use those for broth if I had a way to store them.
Last week my flavors were mostly Italian leaning and this week they are more Thai or like those you see in Buddha bowl recipes. The week before I made each one different (to be able to do that with the same few ingredients pleases me.) Sometimes I have an ingredient I don’t know the name of because all the signs were in Chinese. I have used some of them many times and am familiar with them even if I don’t know what to call them. Others are new and that is always fun. I have learned usually to tell how to substitute or how to cook/prep something new by examining it.
I love food and cooking. Good food is calming and pleasant to enjoy. The ingredients have a history and a story. They are connected to cultures, people, and history of our lives. These foods rose out of cultures and impacted the changes in cultures. Food are the foundation of sharing and communication in many situations. They can be a way to connect or smooth interactions. Food is important and it is a foundation of society.
First, a painting. this is one of my favorites, a watercolor done based on the cliff dwellings I visited last year.
there is also a home project, mostly done. A shoji screen for the pantry we built recently. We still are changing one wall and have not done the door frames yet. I really like how the metal sheets came out in the center and on the frame above. This project completely changed about 4 times before getting this far.
The other is a painting developed when I was in Florida. Researching the older cultures in Mexico and Central America I designed this, using correct designs and architecture but mixed my own way.
I need to get my good camera working, this one is taking very pale images.
Well, today I feel like doing something different. They are doing Flu shots at work this week and I have to be careful of my diet and stress to prevent getting sick during these times in my experience. As such, I have been working on ingredients and recipes to send my husband since he has to do this week’s shopping. I thought I would share some of that process and thinking and maybe a couple total recipes. Usually, I work of a concept or culture not a specific recipe so it can adjust to what I have and my time/tools available. – this may be a bit long with the lists and recipes.
First, let’s look at the basic ideas I am considering:
Immune system and flavor family – that is where this started
I need foods that boost my immune system and I need cultures that fit the ingredients I have or need.
Dealing with flu, cold, and similar things the first things that come up on food lists are the following, among others.
Mushrooms – usually the stronger flavor dark ones like shiitake, minaki, and reichi.
Ginger – fresh is recommended not dried, there are pastes available also
Garlic – again fresh is best, dried doesn’t really work for this
Carrots – the finer you chop them the faster they cook – this is something my mother taught me cook food faster to keep more in it when working on immunity. Slower if in liquid you are going to eat like soup.
Egg yolk – I usually use the whole egg – personal preference
Lemongrass – useful in everything from drinks to dinner, desert to breakfast
Yogurt – unsweetened Greek is best
Fish – they usually recommend salmon but most would work for this
Cinnamon – interesting
Dark greens like kale or beet
Red peppers – the hot ones
Red onion – sometimes I see green onion
Tomatoes – especially vine
Ok, so that is the basic list we start with and we have to add a few things I know I have at home or want because it is in best season at the farmer’s market. There is more but these are specifics I want to use.
Fresh black eyed and purple hulled peas (soooo much better than dried)
Winter squashes – acorn, pumpkin, and several others are in now – pretty much all interchangeable in recipes
Coconut milk (can use instead of yogurt or milk in many things)
This leads us to what to do with them and I think Thai is my major focus first but Moroccan, Indian, and Chinese among others may have ideas.
First I modified a Thai soup recipe for a good chicken soup a roommate made me in Hawaii – she was Korean and made some great food for when you were sick. The prep is from a cooking light recipe but I modified the ingredient list to fit my preference and pantry.
My notes are here and by ingredients. I left prep alone you can modify depending on what you have. This is based on a Thai chicken soup recipe. You can add anything you want really, as long as the basic stock is there. This makes enough for a couple days, can use for lunch if you don’t want soup for dinner. Rice or pasta with it or alone all work. Squash would be good with this. A citrus based desert with little sugar recommended.
12 ounces Mushrooms quartered
3 lemongrass stalks, bottom two-thirds of tender inner bulbs only, thinly sliced (if not there try lemon zest or something)
4 cloves garlic, chopped (can add if not strong smelling)
1 (4 inch) piece fresh ginger root, chopped (see if we have some, it would be old so would need more)
4 cups chicken broth (vegetable broth also works but we may have some)
Today’s Picture was drawn from an image at DressRepublic.com
The pattern is a little different, but recognizable. I love Sari, I was going to make my wedding dress out of the material but went with leather instead. Some of my roommates in Hawaii had beautiful Sari and we would get dressed up in them and I would go to temple with them sometimes for dinner and to watch the dancing. I loved it, they are gorgeous, comfortable, flattering, and incredible materials. I have collected some images from the correct period Sari and want to include them in my Steampunk game. Besides, they are great practice in how material moves and hangs with the types of materials used and the draping.
One of the things I studies in college was Interior Design. I have been considering a couple interior design projects in Steampunk. Today has been very long so I am going to share a few of the ideas I have looked at this week in that area. Many of these are images I got from Secret Garden on Facebook, others from gaming sites. I did not take these photos and did nothing to them, they are property of other artists, I am sharing them as part of developing a foundation for a Steampunk design. Much of it would obviously need to be custom, but then I wanted to consider multiple price ranges and skill levels. I would want to have readily purchasable options, custom options, build-able options, ways to alter accessible or current items, and ways to use different types of spaces. This is obviously not a one day project, but would be a good series.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 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.
Photography and Victorian science is on my mind this evening. My curiosity arose initially on the subject of how photography impacted science of the age and expanded somewhat to how it impacted both culture then and our view of the age. ”
“Any dodge, trick and conjuration of any kind is open to the photographer’s use…. It is his imperative duty to avoid the mean, the base and the ugly, and to aim to elevate his subject…. and to correct the unpicturesque…..” Henry Peach Robinson
Two primary directions of thought seem to stand from the period regarding photography and it’s use when you are not looking at those simply opposed to it’s use in the area under consideration. One is seen in the quote above and relates to the artistic form and use of photography designed to please others and trick the eye. The other is one you see more in scientific arenas both formal and in the large amateur practitioner field of the time, though mostly concentrated in upper class groups. Bacteriology owes much of it’s development and direction to photography. Naturalism and the natural sciences that impacted many fields and aspects of life both owe a great deal to photography and by means of photography they impacted many fields of study and development. Meteorology in Europe found direction in photography and those looking to find technological answers to society’s ills found concrete images of their issues. By the end of the century, cameras were widespread and in common use. Many of these layman images were used in scientific studies such as meteorology, naturalism, and social and criminal studies.
“To understand the special burden of representation borne by photography as a witness in meteorology, however, we must reflect not just on the parallels that Victorians invoked between scientific photography and legal witnessing, but also on the impact of transformations in meteorology…” Victorian Science in Context edited by Bernard Lightman
My readings indicate several factors as dominant in the impact of photography. Accurate representation free from artist interpretation and viewer skepticism allowed experiments, observations, images of life, and models to be shared across distances and with many people. They also allowed a view that was held to be more trustworthy and true to life than even the human eye. Acceptable in life and word seems drastically opposed to what was acceptable in photography of the time. Victorian erotica and pornography stands beside a culture that held and taught such strict codes of social conduct whole languages of innuendo, plants, and fans grew. Courts accepted photographic evidence and many researchers used the images.
The Great Exhibition of 1851 saw a major explosion of photography and its impact as it showcased the new development of visual arts. Queen Victoria herself was the first monarch to be photographed and families began to more commonly have photographic family records. Families at more levels of society could have photographic records, when only limited access to good painted records existed. As photography spread, this grew increasingly true. Thus we see one area the spread of photography impacted science in culture simply by involving the middle classes. One no longer needed to be specialized to contribute or to see the results of another’s work, they simply needed to have access to an image and/or a camera. Combine this with the spread of individuality in backlash to religious and other wars that were devastating to middle and lower classes, with no regard for them whatsoever, and you see potential for a vast explosion of ideas and information distribution.
Steampunk is a culture based on the explosion of creative scientific ideas and the individualistic willingness to try and to experiment. Even before photography became widespread, the use of imaging technology was there and having the beginnings of this very change. Suddenly there was a known, concrete method of accurately recording and sharing images of how things really looked. Think of the impact on the minds of a frustrated populous on the edges of an explosion of ideas all boiling over. Obviously, a major change occurred in impact when photography moved away from exclusively prepared, considered views and images into the frozen moment as it happened of the cameras released late in the century. Even as a prepared piece or time consuming process, images returning from abroad and published in newspapers and magazines captivated the mind of much of the public. Archeologists, Trade expeditions, military excursions, and expeditionary hired someone often at great expense to document moments or discoveries of importance and return them from across the empire to England. These came accompanied by letters, artifacts, prisoners, animals, drawings, and verbal descriptions. Emotionally and mentally the world was both much larger and yet smaller than a few years before. Faraway places in the empire became more real, thus ideas from there or from the idea of there also became more real. We now look back on these descriptions, on the authors that inspired us and our mind connects images from the time and drawings from and about the time to those words.
Early exhibitions such as the one in 1842 spread the artifacts and descriptions of China but one cannot help but wonder if the much greater impact of the Japanese culture on the period late in Victorian age was related to the emergence of improved imagery. Many people relied on the drawings and reviews of the early exhibitions to learn what they brought. China was seen as to far gone from their period of greatness and held no appeal for a populous bound into rapid and unceasing development at all costs. Japan, on the other hand was only recently out of their high point and embraced the Western 19th century. This leaping headlong into the period and technology was appealing to the sentiment of the time. These exhibitions were becoming extremely popular and very well visited, thus they led to the Great Exhibition we all know. This would be the place that allowed the explosion of photography by showcasing it with the greatest technologies of the time and the best developments of the time. Many people when they think Victorian age, thing first of the Great Exhibition or the period right before or after that when so many of the technologies loved by the Steampunk world emerged.
All photography done by me. All images property of Bethany Jordan, as always. thank you.
The World of Francis Cooper: Nineteenth-Century Pennsylvania Photographer
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.
Writing, art, Business, and practice, any medium is fair game.