Re-imagining a Better World

Historical re-enactment is often accused of avoiding the real world, ignoring history's atrocities or hiding in the past. Sometimes all three. In my experience this is not the case. Most re-enactors (and historians) will tell you it is important to look back and analyse history so we can learn from past mistakes, to improve our future.

One of the most important reasons to look back into and analyse the past is to learn from society's mistakes. Steampunk looks into the past, but with modern eyes; it is a re-imagination of the past, not a slavish re-creation. Colonial England was all about domination and power, a way to fuel the economy of mother England. Instead, we can embrace the diversity of cultures. The 'punk philosophy' inspires us to question authority, society's ethics, politics and gender roles and encourages us to look for solutions for society's short-falls. Doing so allows us to embrace cultures and celebrate diversity.

Suna Dasi of Steampunk India is one example: "Transferring this and many other aspects of Victorian society to an alternate, Post-Mutiny India, incorporating native characters unhampered by traditional gender roles, seems an opportunity for fiction that is too good to let lie."

Through steampunk, and Steampunk Hands, I discovered Josué Ramos  award winning writer of science fiction, terror and historic tales. Josué is part of the Spanish steampunk community, organising the EuroSteamCon Madrid and posts regularly on (huzzah, for google translation) his blog Mundosteampunk. You can find my 2015 Steampunk Hands guest blog on Mundosteampunk here.

El Investigator is part of the Mexican steampunk community and has been involved in varied steampunk anthologies.

Beyond Victoriana is another blog celebrating multicultural steampunk. Its founding editor, Diana M. Pho, wrote the introduction for Steampunk World, an anthology published in 2014, and funded via Kickstarter. It contained stories from around the world, showcasing the diversity to be found. I'm eagerly awaiting the follow-up anthology, Steampunk Universe - also funded via Kickstarter. Stories highlight disabled and aneurotypical characters. Both have cover art by steampunk artist, James Ng.

The way we express steampunk is wide-ranging. Events range from family picnics, fundraising events and conventions to music events. Music style varies; rap, punk, folk, jazz, swing and rock are all represented in bands such as Professor Elemental, The Cog is Dead and The Men That Will Not Be Blamed for Nothing.

At a local level, we also have participants of varied educational and vocational backgrounds. Even the degree to which individuals experience steampunk is diverse. Some dip their toe in the genre by reading books, watching movies, listening to music or wearing costumes to the local convention. Others delve deeper - creating alternate personas and joining forums. Some immerse themselves, living the steampunk lifestyle to the full or embarking on steampunk-related careers.

For me, the diversity of those who enjoy steampunk is one of its attractions. Steampunk is inclusive. I can be myself, part of a welcoming and diverse community. And it has made my life richer as a result.

A Sense of Wonder: Steampunk Hands Around the World #2

Bear with me, Dear Reader.

I'm about to tell you a tale - one that will offer you a glimpse into the circuitous route to my present mindset and how steampunk has made my life better by restoring a sense of wonder (1) to my life.

I'm a research addict. I crave it. I accumulate it. I hoard it. You can often find me spiraling down endless rabbit holes, in search of that one elusive fact, that last piece of a puzzle I've been chasing. The one thing that makes everything fall into place. It's the curse of a writer (or scientist, or quiz night-o'holic, or... ).

But there's more to it than that.

Imagine you're an explorer of uncharted lands:

Dust whips your face, lodging in your nostrils, scratching your eyes. You dig your fingers into the rock, ignoring the stinging pain as blood beads on your palm. You drag yourself up the precipice, thrust your arm over the crest of the mountain and spy the wonders of an undiscovered landscape.

Imagine the pure delight of such endless new discoveries. Researching my books is not unlike being an explorer. It starts me on my journey, inspires the landscape (setting) and encourages me to explore for new worlds, complete with wondrous gadgets for my characters to discover.

But there's still more.

It seems Sir Francis Bacon predicted our future: Knowledge is power (Meditationes Sacrae and Human Philosophy,1597) . Everyone wants a bit of the action. No one is willing to share.

Let's face it. Life can be a grind: Wake up. Go to work. Come home. Sleep. Repeat. (Though waking up can be optional). Endless days of monotony, in a seemingly uncaring world where we are either invisible and insignificant or vying for control.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

The Empire may have wanted to plunder the spoils of exploration but we - the explorers - can revel in the pursuit of knowledge. We can search for understanding and inspire wonder for others. We can trek into the unknown, searching for the wonder and mystery of life, of people, of experiences. And we can share them.

So how has steampunk made my life better?

It has inspired my research beyond the confines of my writer's chair, beyond the internet, beyond the library. It has encouraged me to discover the wonders of a community of supportive people. It has inspired me to explore the wonders of my world - past and present. It has given me the courage to wrench myself (sometimes literally), from the safety of my comfort zone onto that mountain side, defying my anxiety - to try new things, a new career and to experience life as I search for the hidden wonders in our broken but beautiful world.

 

Photos copyright Karen J Carlisle and MJC


(1) Definitions of Wonder (Oxford Dictionary):
  • A feeling of amazement and admiration, caused by something beautiful, remarkable, or unfamiliar.
  • A thing or a quality of something that causes wonder.
  • A surprising event or situation
  • Having remarkable properties or abilities.

A New Beginning

It's a new year, prompting the obligatory new year post. It's official. 2016 sucked. Its carnage weighs heavy on my soul - the almost-monthly announcements of cultural icons who have influenced my life: David Bowie and Alan Rickman from cancer, Prince, Mahammud Ali, Jon English, and the shocking accidental death of newcomer Anton Yelchin who played one of my favourite Star Trek characters. Next to go was Kenny Baker(R2D2), Gene Wilder (comedian), Leonard Cohen (poet), Robert Vaughn (Man from UNCLE), Florence Henderson (Mrs Brady), Ron Glass (Book from Firefly), Andrew Sachs (Manuel), Zsa Zsa Gabor and Rick Parfitt (Status Quo). What more could 2016 throw at us? Then came the news: Carrie Fisher - a symbol of strength as Princess Leia, the rebel fighter, and Ms Fisher, advocate for mental illness who fought to bring it out of the shadows - was rushed to hospital following a heart attack. I held my breath. While the world tweeted its outrage at 2016 for being a right, proper bastard, 2016 thumbed its nose, proved itself to be an utter, proper bastard and took George Michael and writer Richard Adams then, in defiance, finally claimed Carrie Fisher. Debbie Reynolds followed her beloved daughter into the moonlight the very next day. I suppose I could be rational. I am getting older. My heroes are aging as well. David Bowie could not live forever (though his music will keep him alive in my heart). But that's not how it feels. It feels personal. That is why I need to grieve. And I'm not alone. That is why we all need to grieve. It is why we feel the need to anthropomorphise 2016, making it the focus of our grief - particularly the anger phase. Why? Why must we grow old? Why must we die? Because, that is life - a roller coaster of emotions which makes us human. And now 2016 is gone (and good riddance!), we can look at it with a clearer perspective. The media and social media concentrated on the negative - including a hoax report of Queen Elizabeth's death - but there were also many positive stories. My personal list of positives comes from my thankful jar (write a note when something positive happens. Put it in a jar or bowl and read the notes at the end of the year, to remind us of the good things we may have forgotten). This is the third year I have done this. Here's just a few:
  • I had a couple of my photographs used for the FB banner of my Art Photographers group.
  • watched a Forever Knight mini-marathon with my friend, Anne.
  • Anne left a secret note in my thankful jar: 'Amazing hair, Karen has it!'
  • I was featured in three guest blogs this year and four interviews this year
  • launched my second, self-published book
  • my daughter shared her amazing artwork with me
  • Margaret Atwood liked one of my environmental tweets!
  • I received notification of my first sales to a US bookshop via my distributor
  • I created two new t-shirts from my Inktober original artwork
  • A cool southerly breeze, feeling great after two heatwaves
  • I got new dice and a purple octopus dice bag for my birthday
  • sold out of books at the Steampunk Festival book launch
  • back garden clean up completed
  • Dearheart hugged me.
  • and 'going through 2015 thankful jar. Wow, so many good memories'.
Now 2017 has arrived. We stand on the brink of new possibilities, a chance for renewal, a chance to concentrate on creating positives for ourselves, to create our own self-fulfilling prophesies. To create hope. That is why I make my New Year List. I don't like to call them resolutions. Too many people make new year resolutions. Too many of them fall by the wayside. I make a list of things to strive for and resolve to make this year a better one:
  • try to cope with my anxiety more effectively
  • writing more (it helps calm the black dog)
  • attend more book-related events
  • set up a website shop (jumped the gun on that one.)
  • eat more healthily (and not listen to the siren call of potato chips)
  • finish the third book in Viola's adventures
  • finish the first book in my next series, The Department of Curiosities
  • spend more time with my family
  • add memories to my 2017 thankful jar.

Welcome to 2017. Let's make some good memories.

Photos:©2016 Karen J Carlisle All Rights Reserved.