“Steampunk Hands Around the World” Event Enters Its Third Year

Ofeibea Loveless recently talked to Kevin Steil, aka the Airship Ambassador, about his annual “Steampunk Hands Around the World” event, which celebrates steampunk worldwide during month of February.

SP Hands Around the World

Loveless: Tell us about yourself.

Steil: Hello! People probably best know me as the Airship Ambassador, running the interview blog and news websites of the same name since 2010. I also run the Steampunk Museum website, the annual global blog-a-thon “Steampunk Hands Around the World,” and have appeared as a guest at a number of conventions. Last year, I was the steampunk consultant for the Game Show Network reality show, Steampunk’d, in the development phase before it went to production and filming.

Loveless: How did you get into steampunk?

Steil: I’m one of those people who were into steampunk before it had a name. When I was quite young, I watched Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and totally fell in love with the Nautilus and the Victorian aesthetic. I was entranced by the idea of advanced technology that looked like it was from 150 years ago. With that thirst, I looked for similar stories, and skipping ahead a few decades years, K.W. Jeter had given steampunk a name, and I came across The Difference Engine while enjoying a slew of cyberpunk. After that, I routinely searched the internet for new mentions of steampunk to engage. In time, the conventions started, and then I jumped in wholeheartedly with Airship Ambassador.

Loveless: Why did you start SHAtW?

Steil: It wasn’t a planned thing, no grand idea with studious planning. The merest hint of an idea came from a conversation I was having with a steampunk friend in Spain. I don’t recall what we talked about; it was just general banter and chatting. Afterward, though, I was thinking how cool it was that technology enabled me to talk to someone half a world away, and even better, that I was friends with another steampunk in another country.

It was so inspiring, to know that steampunk was global, and that I was making friends around the world because of it, that I wanted to share that feeling with all the other steampunks so they could create and experience the same thing. A blog about it seemed like a good idea. But it could be better if I got those international friends to write blogs, too! I hoped maybe ten people would join me. Very quickly, there were several dozen people involved, and a single blog turned into a monthlong event.  Everyone came together in about six weeks to help create “Steampunk Hands Around the World.” It was truly an amazing experience.

Loveless: How has it changed/improved in the three years since you’ve been doing it?

Steil: New people keep joining in to share, there’s a lot more to share about, and the community’s overall creativity keeps growing. There’s still no grand plan, aside from continuing and doing more of the same.

Loveless: Why do you think diversity is important in steampunk?

Steil: Diversity is important in steampunk, just as it’s important in everything we do in the rest of our lives – to reach beyond the limitations of our personal experiences; to be exposed to new thoughts, things, and perceptions; to learn and grow and become more than we were by integrating what’s new and different into our lives. Along with the good, though, there’s a challenge to identify and name the not-so-good and then take appropriate action for equality, equity, and education.

Diversity, in all its many forms – race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and so much more – presents each of us an opportunity to see, and perhaps begin to understand, the small and large differences between ourselves and everyone else. Some people are…anxious about differences. Some people don’t like new things. Their lives remain the same and unchanging. Stagnant. Immobile. Inflexible. Everything is black and white, run through the same filter, accepted or rejected. For others, though, it’s all a chance to expand one’s horizon, to see a little further, to know and share a little bit more, to experience the rich and varied tapestry of life, with all of its ups and downs. Differences and diversity are opportunities, not obstacles.

In steampunk, diversity makes our community stronger and more interesting. It better informs us about history as well as life today. As steampunk shows us what alternate worlds and timelines could be like, diversity shows us what alternate lives *are* like. For all the differences we perceive, there are plenty of similarities, too. We are all different from each other in some way, big or small.

Ultimately, diversity is about people, and we are those people. Some of those people are my friends and I want my friends, and all people, to be treated the same – with courtesy, civility, and respect. Treating others the way we want to be treated would go a long way to making lives, communities, and the world much better.

Loveless: What’s your fave SHAtW moment?
Airship Ambassdor

Steil: There are two. The first was in the middle of the first year, seeing everyone come together and share, to see that we really did created a ring of “Steampunk Hands Around the World.” The second was soon after the first year was over and I heard from several participants that they were creating other collaborative projects with others from the group. It was so great to see people coming together.

Loveless: What has been your most “teachable moment” in steampunk/SHAtW?

Steil: No one moment springs to mind for Steampunk Hands, but I am hoping that people have enjoyed seeing expressions of steampunk beyond their own town and region. There really is so much to see and learn about, and so many wonderful people and new friendships at every turn.

One teachable moment, possibly, in steampunk as a whole was a recent, but not uncommon, situation where someone shared some steampunk item they made themselves and people posted feedback on it. It might have been a picture of their outfit, or a prop, or a book – whatever it was, they put their time, energy, and passion into it.

One might think I’m going to say the feedback was “That’s not steampunk!” given how wide a latitude our individual definitions range. No, rather the feedback was just generally negative. Along the lines of:

“Nice idea, poor execution.”
“Too sexy and sexual, don’t you think?”
“Why would you want to share THAT?”
“Boring and a waste of my time to look at.”

And some that are much worse.

Nice way to be supportive and encouraging, people. You’d better be ready when karma brings that same treatment right back to you. We should be finding ways to lift people up, educate them, help them, and generally be positive. There’s enough negativity in the world, we don’t need to turn on each other in our own community and safe space.

Thankfully, I have also seen people jump into that storm of damaging and discouraging rhetoric by calling out those hurtful actions and basically say “Stop pissing in the tea, people!” Not every thought we have needs to be expressed. It’s fine not to like something, or someone, but it’s really not beneficial to anyone to be condescending or vitriolic. Sometimes, it really is better to shut up and keep it to yourself.

Loveless: Anything else you want to share with our audience?

Steil: Thanks, everyone, for following along each February! I hope each one of you have found something of interest each year, and made new friends along the way!

You can find more info about Kevin and his projects at www.airshipambassador.com/ and www.thesteampunkmuseum.com

Ofeibea Loveless, co-founder of the
 Midwest Black Speculative Fiction Alliance, is a writer/editor who focuses on multicultural aspects of steampunk.



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