By Madame Askew
Months ago, I had the pleasure of speaking with the dear Airship Ambassador about one of my most favorite aspects of the steampunk community: collaboration! Being a gracious and forward thinking gentleman, The Ambassador suggested the topic for Steampunk Hands Around the World. Of course, such a suggestion led me to ponder the topic and to consider what I might come to write for such an illustrious event. I considered and tossed away more ideas than I could ever fit comfortable in a such an essay.
At last I realized that at the heart of the collaboration and its deep importance to me in this community is the simple fact that teamwork and partnership in the Steampunk community has been at the heart of leading me to a happier and better life.
Those who know me as Madame Askew will know that I spend most of my time collaborating, facilitating, and, I hope, inspiring all manner of frivolity around tea, costuming, and a variety of special events. I never do these activities alone, however. I am always surrounded by those joining me in the activities, lovely humans who quickly become compatriots and collaborators and dear friends. Often we are making performance art in the form of improvisation together. Sometimes it hardly seems that anyone realizes that we are creating these magic moments until later, and yet, to be in that moment with a friend of long standing or a soon to be friend is the most exhilarating and affirming instance imaginable. I never feel so absolutely good about life as I do in those moments. It is shared and impossible to create without the act of sharing. Without collaboration, I could never enjoy this experience of creation and never realize that particular joy though, of a certainty, I know many joys in life. This collaboration, however, is transcendent, an alchemy of humanity that is certainly greater than the singular participants, most especially greater than myself.
This is the experience for me as a performer and event organizer, as Madame Askew, but while on stage and in the public eye, I am Madame, it is myself for whom life has improved. Madame Askew, after all, is a fictional character. What many who know me as Madame Askew may not know is that 4 years ago, my personal, private life took an abrupt and distressing turn. My world as I knew it turned upside down and all of my future plans were asunder. My marriage of 12 years was coming to an end. While the ending was not acrimonious and while I have nothing but respect for my former partner, at the time I was deeply devastated and I had no idea how I would go forward or with whom or as who. Really everything I knew about myself and my life was in chaos. I had never lived alone until that moment. I had long been focused on a certain road map to life and I had built my support and community around that particular road map.
Adrift, bereft, heart broken, devastated, and really desperately askew in my own personal life, I discovered the very strength of that warm support, that endless collaboration that is the very essence of the shared world of Steampunk. As alone as I thought I would be in that first instance or loss, I quickly discovered that my partnerships and collaborations with my performing companions, with my many artist friends, with other dear friends who adored event planning as much as I meant that I was most assuredly neither as alone as I felt nor was I bereft of direction. My life took a new shape, one with a road map that was constantly in flux and sometimes precarious, but a road map that was also always shared with companions traveling the same roads whether it be for a short time on the journey or long term collaboration.
Since that fateful change in my life, I have collaborated with my friends in the Tucson Steampunk Society to produce yearly fantastical parade entries in the Helldorado days parade, I have shared the grand adventure of improv with my dear partner in tea and frivolity, Glenn, and I have met so many amazing humans all across North America who are willing to allow me to join them in their vision of the Steampunk world for an hour, a day, even a few moments. I have enjoyed so many different varieties of collaborative and shared art that too list them would take the entire length of the essay. My sheer happiness and pride in each of these collective moments has filled my life and cured my heartache.
Certainty and singularity of purpose, sole control of a project might all be more predictable and more easily managed, but I would never trade the shared joy, the partnership with so many fellow travelers in Steampunk, nor the creative alchemy that comes with collaboration for that predictable singular control. I am at the end of the day so incredibly delighted by this life experience that grows from my adventures in Steampunk and so much happier because of that wonderful collaboration with others in our community.