How I Found Steampunk

I don’t remember when I first heard about steampunk. I feel like it was a couple of years ago, when I was heavily embroiled in historical research for my novel. I was looking for exemplars for book covers, and potential artists to design mine. I stumbled upon a Deviant Art profile, I remember that much for sure. I quite literally geeked out about the clothing the actors wore in the photos, and the wonderful framing. I thought they were reenactors, a là The American Civil War or something similar. But the clothing was incorrect for my assumed time period to explain the photos, so I began to read the descriptions. “Steampunks” it declared. I was hooked.

But even though I was hooked, I didn’t really pursue it. It wasn’t my focus at the time. I was looking for people to provide inspiration for a book cover, nothing more. So I put it aside and continued on my merry way.

The Three Sisters, it seems, had other plans for me.

Weren’t you going to do something with nurses?

This past summer, I began some preliminary research for my capstone. I wanted to do something with nurses and technology… something that bridged the gap so that nurses could spend more time with the patient, and less time fiddling with a beeping computer. The topic was interesting. It was important. It didn’t spark my passion. So I thought perhaps it was about the nurses’ relationship with their technology. Maybe I could help them like the technology they’re forced to use by their administration. But how to do that?

Appropriation. I thought if I could help the nurses appropriate their technology, then maybe that would ease the pain of learning a new system. Reading about appropriation was far more interesting than about nurses, and there were more papers available to read, anyway. I began to wonder what sort of exemplars I could grab to showcase unique appropriations.

From mere exemplars to central focus

It was about this time that Dane wrote a post that sparked my interest. The comments to that post consisted of us joking that we would take over the world using a fleet of zeppelins, with our brass goggles gleaming in the sunlight and our scarves flowing “majestically,” I think was the word I used, as we floated toward triumph. This was the first time I thought, “Wouldn’t it be fun if I dressed up as steampunk for Halloween?”

With images of brass and wood machinery, steam and goggles, lace and grommets, all swirling in my head, somehow, in the raging mind storm, the word “appropriation!” burst through. I distinctly remember saying to my laptop, “Oh. Steampunk! Duh.”

Getting serious about having fun

Thus began my hunt. I went to Wikipedia to find a general definition. I searched the web for images of technology and clothing. I found blogs to follow and an independent magazine to buy. I embraced the visual aesthetic and used it to inspire my works for ceramics. In class, people joked about my wearing steampunk for my capstone presentation, and I joked along with them.

But it isn’t a joke anymore. Somewhere along the way, I realized I could pull it off. Not only can I probably pull off a steampunk costume, but I already have most of the components hanging innocently in my closet. I have enough exemplars from searching Flickr groups to know the general look. I have the artistic skills to potentially make a pair of cheap safety goggles look steampunkish. I even have a preliminary sketch (above). I’m really excited. I love art projects, they make me feel creative, and engaged with my materials.

Getting systematic

When I mentioned to Shaowen that I’m planning on going steampunk for Halloween, thinking it would be another way to experience steampunk, she told me that was a valid form of research. This was great, because I thought it was just something fun. Sweet! She mentioned autoethnography, and that it’s like ethnography, but using the self as a participant as a part of the study. Where ethnography tries to bring the viewpoint of the “native” into focus, and represent that experience faithfully, autoethnography assumes that the observer cannot be impartial, and that these partial observations are as valid as the impartial ethnographer’s observations.

Shaowen wants me to be very systematic in how I go about reflecting as an autoethnographer. To be honest, though, I felt uncomfortable jumping in headfirst like that. She wanted me to say what sort of information I’m going to gather, when, and why; what do I hope to learn? I felt like I couldn’t do that without having  a better understanding of autoethnography… so tonight I read two papers* that inspired me so much, that I sketched a page of notes, began to get a feel for the sort of information I want to gather/look for, and began writing this post.

Why do you always write at night?

That is such a good question. It’s plagued me since I was young. Most of my best ideas, for fiction anyway, come at 2 AM. I am both excited for and dreading the moment when that begins for capstone, because I will never get a solid night’s sleep again, and I am already exhausted. I should be asleep… I was in bed two hours ago! Yet here I am at midnight, feverishly writing while my bloodshot eyes manage to stay open.

Anyway, as I continue my (perhaps) more formal research, my next step for the autoethnography is to list out a couple different categories of data I want to collect, why I want to collect them, and what information I hope to learn from them. I’ll begin to formally document my iterations on my Halloween costume, and continue blogging. I’m still looking for my definition of appropriation, with the added question of why is this so important to me.

So much to do, so little time, way too much fun.

* Duncan’s Autoethnography: Critical Appreciation of an Emerging Art, and Spry’s Performing Ethnography: An Embodied Methodological Praxis

Steampunking it Up

As I continue to muddle through all my interests, struggling to find a valuable design situation, I keep coming back to Steampunk. While talking with my roommate far into the early morning hours, I suddenly had a vision. And it was glorious.

If I follow through with the capstone idea centered around the Steampunk culture, I should embrace it fully. I own a white scarf, check. I have some Victorian-esque shirts, opera gloves, and could wrangle together some brass welding goggles. Sure, why not? I have a small desk fan to run so that my scarf billows behind me as I expound upon my Steampunkish theories and design concepts to my professors and peers.

What am I trying to say? Only that I could (and most likely should) adopt the clothing aesthetic of Steampunk, thus emphasizing my dedication.

My presentation could very well be the whimsical yet informative event that I’m hoping for. The only thing missing are the zeppelins. I feel a sketch coming on…