Monday, February 28, 2011

'jane eyre' brought to the silverscreen once more

Check out the trailer for this year's film adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's classic Victorian thriller/romance story starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender:

Saturday, February 26, 2011

"she's a little funny, isn't she?"

As I was eating breakfast this morning in my parents' kitchen (I'm visiting them for the weekend) my mother began to discuss my recent Emilie Autumn concert experience with me.  My little sister, my mother's youngest child, was subjected to this concert, and Mom heard all about it and saw the photos from the Emilie Autumn concert.  She was particularly disturbed by one photo:

Apparently the fact that Emilie Autumn is as adorable, sweet, quirky, and cuddly as Gir from Invader Zim, and the fact that Jordan reported to our mother that EA and I spoke "for a very long time," has given Mom the impression that Emilie Autumn seems to be "...a little too into you."

I had to hold back laughter, mainly because my mother has no idea why Emilie Autumn and I were speaking for so long.  She never wants to know about my depression, so I never tell her whenever it gets really bad for me.  Why would I bother to tell her that EA and I had talked about suicide and depression?

Then she threw a statement at me with such bizarre syntax that I nearly lost it: "She's a little... funny, isn't she?"

"Funny girls!"
I blinked in feigned innocence at this statement, which seemed more fitting for a stereotypical 1950s upbringing or "proper" Victorian society than it did for a 21st century conversation with a 23-year-old girl who lives independently and is known for being blunt during every conversation.


"Well... she likes girls, doesn't she?"  she replied, trying to sound matter-of-fact.

"Are you saying this because of that photo from the concert? She was just as happy and excited to see her male fans as her female fans. I wasn't special in that sense."

That answer seemed to satisfy my mother.  She isn't against homosexuality as far as I know...  but she seems to prefer that it was discreetly kept behind closed doors. 

But she left me with food for thought.  I've heard many fans, mostly teenage girls, who were convinced that she was a lesbian due to the PDA so prevalent in her stage show.  One girl insisted that Emilie Autumn and the Bloody Crumpets were all lovers and shared one bunk on their tour bus.  But none of them could cite any sources other than their own imaginations.  For my part, I've always taken the lesbianism on stage as what most things presented on stage tend to be- an act.  That doesn't mean that nothing can happen off-stage between EA and her Crumpets.  But what one sees as a performance should not necessarily be taken at face-value.

Against the lesbianism argument (or the idea that Emilie Autumn only likes girls) is the fact that The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls only mentions Emilie ever dating or living with boys, and lamenting the lack of support she was getting from that quarter.  No sexual interest in girls is ever betrayed.

So I did a little research and found out two things that contradict themselves- Emilie Autumn identities herself as asexual, but could also be considered bisexual because she is attracted to both males and females. As she explained in an interview in the June 2010 issue of Curve:
The reality of the situation is that while I enjoy being alone for long periods of time, I do in fact have relationships--but these are based on far more than just sex drive.  And it is true that I don't have an especial preference for boys or girls, though, between the two, I can say that I'm much more into the lady love, as you can probably tell by my live show.
That means that I was wrong for assuming the PDA on stage was all an act.  But her asexual identity also fits in with the idea of a depressed individual in a clinical sense- decreased sex drive is often considered one of the symptoms of a mental disorder like manic depression.

Keeping all of this in mind, I probably won't share the fruits of any of this research with my mother anytime soon. She may never let Jordan go to another EA concert again.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

victorian transportation

Some of the worst jobs in history involved what we tend to take for granted today- the transportation system, much of it built during the Victorian era:

Only last night I had a discussion with my boyfriend about the train system in Britain.  We're nearly finished reading The Return of Sherlock Holmes (which I read aloud to him as he paints historic miniatures for wargaming).  I've noticed, as the stories progressed, the extensive reliance Holmes and Watson have on the Victorian train system in order to get to cases outside of London.  They can usually be at the scene of a crime  in Sussex, for example, within two or three hours from receiving a telegram about said crime. 

I certainly don't envy the men who had to build the 22,000 miles of rail that made up the Victorian transportation system.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

victorian reading list

As sad as I am to see that three Pittsburgh area Borders stores will be closing within a few weeks as part of the bookstore franchise's Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, the 20% to 40% discounts being offered on all merchandise have been too good for me to resist. My boyfriend and I made a trip to our local Borders this past weekend.  He bought three books.  I picked up a dozen, but only left with seven after forcing myself to put some back on the shelves.

Not to my surprise, I found that most of the books I picked up and subsequently bought were Victorian novels or short stories:

  • Villette by Charlotte Bronte
  • Dubliners by James Jocye
  • A Portrait of a Young Lady by Henry James
  • The Turn of the Screw and The Aspern Papers by Henry James (combined into one book)
 I also bought East, West, a collection of short stories by Salman Rushdie, The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights by John Steinbeck, and Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead.

The books I forced myself to put back included:

  • Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (not Victorian, but as a parody of the Gothic novel I think it would be fun to read)
  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (which I've already read)
  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
  • We Are the Living by Ayn Rand
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Now I just need to find a suitable bookcase to hold them.  Currently I am using four old milk crates for that purpose, but they're starting to bow from the weight of the books they hold, and there's just no more room for any books.

I already have a notable amount of Victorian literature in my bookcase, as well as numerous history books on various aspects of the Victorian era- all part of research I have been conducting, on and off, to help me write my Victorian historical fiction novel.  I'll never get the thing done if I keep reading so many books to "learn more."

That is precisely why John Steinbeck gave up on finishing  The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights, his attempt at a modern-language retelling of the King Arthur legends that remained true to the stories as told in the 14th and 15th centuries.  He eventually gave up because the project seemed too big for him.  I just hope that doesn't end up happening to me- where the research gets in the way of the writing. Maybe that's why I bought The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights- as a reminder of the dangers I may be in of shelving a project to which I've dedicated years of work due to letting the research hinder the progress of my writing.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"whom shall you telegram?" redux

image source: The League of S.T.E.A.M.
Despite my promise to write about the League of S.T.E.A.M. last week, I failed to do so.  Bad blogger! So here is the promised, if belated post.

What is the League of S.T.E.A.M.?

The League of S.T.E.A.M. is a performance group based on a steampunk version of Ghostbusters.  With their steam-powered paranormal investigating and exterminating equipment reminiscent of a 19th century that never was, League of S.T.E.A.M. has become a popular addition to many steampunk and neo-Victorian conventions, events, and festivals. As their website states:
From up on the stage to mingling the crowd, our members engage the audience with proton packs capable of firing blasts of “steam,” zombie manservants on chain-leads, net guns and titillating electro-shock packs and ethereal glowing ghosts. Every piece of machinery is meticulously designed, detailed, and fully functional, from the steam cannon to the extendable “Punchy Fist”.
They have their own YouTube Channel, where their many investigations- from leprechaun-catching to assisting trolls- are documented.  My personal favorite is this "investigation" of reported vampire citings:

If you're on the West Coast, it's easy to see the League of S.T.E.A.M. perform live.  They've been present at events such as Steamcon and Anime Expo as steampunk panelists, and will be appearing at Wild Wild West Con in Tuscon, AZ this March:

If you're on the East Coast like myself and wish to see this group in person, I suggest that you either buy a plane ticket to California or be satisfied with YouTube videos, because it doesn't appear that they will be coming to our side of the country any time soon.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

the unlaced chef: asylum funeral biscuits

Sundays are a rare treat for me- mainly because they're my only day off during the hectic work week.  Unfortunately I spend most Sundays trying to keep up with laundry and cleaning the apartment.

I decided to spend this particular Sunday, however, making a recipe that I have wanted to try for some time now: The Asylum's Funeral Biscuits, from Emilie Autumn's The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls.

One may wonder: How does one go about making Asylum Funeral Biscuits?  I won't tell you, because I consider giving full ingredients and directions of any recipe online some form of copyright infringement. There are two things I will share about this particular recipe: the key ingredients are caraway seeds and cardamom, two spices which I have never worked with before today.  I do recognize cardamom as an ingredient in my beloved Earl Grey and Lady Grey teas, so I knew I was in for something rich and strong.

Scott bought me the two spices while I made sure that I had the other ingredients.  Then the baking began.

Step one: Blend Ingredients.

One ingredient I expected on the list were eggs.  We are fresh out of eggs at my apartment.  Seeing as EA is vegan, however, this problem is easily remedied. I decide to double the recipe to make four dozen biscuits instead of two dozen so that there is more for me to eat later.

Step Two: Combine sweet ingredients.

This is the part where I realize that I don't have enough butter to make the doubled recipe, rush out to the convenience store to get some, and in my haste to mix everything together forget to take a photo on my lousy laptop camera. Note: there is a lot of butter in this recipe. 

Step Three: Mix all ingredients together, knead into dough.

 Step Four: Chill for one hour.

Here I clean up what dishes I have used so far and put all of the ingredients away, then go off to read other people's blogs for the remainder of the hour.

Step Five: Preheat oven, take out dough, roll it out, and cut into evenly sized shapes. Chill for 15 minutes.

This part involves some improvising.  I don't have a rolling pin, so Scott suggests that I use a bottle of orange cream soda that's lying in the fridge.  It works like a charm.  I don't have a cookie cutter, so I use a glass cup as a template for cutting the biscuits into even, round shapes.  While this method works, I think that the biscuits are made much too large, because I end up with 31 biscuits instead of 48.

Step Five: Place into oven and bake.

Now I run into real problems, as my apartment has the second worst oven ever invented (the first is the gas oven that my grandmother uses, where you turn on the gas, throw a lighted match into the oven, slam the door shut and pray that the place doesn't blow up while the gas catches the flame.) My oven doesn't have a temperature gauge.  It's marked "Off," "LO," and "HI".  No matter how many times I check whatever is baking in the oven, normally the first batch burns.  Which is exactly what happens.  But the second batch turns out all right- not fluffy and flaky like American biscuits, but flat like a cookie, as British biscuits are made:

 Step Six: Serve with port or sherry and enjoy!

Neither Scott (my guinea pig) nor I drink alcohol.  He hates the taste and I stay off of it because depressed people shouldn't consume alcohol- it's a depressant, and cancels out the effectiveness of my anti-depressant medication. So we tried it with herbal tea.

The verdict: These biscuits were deliciously buttery, but the caraway seeds and cardamom made it way too strong of a taste.

No wonder it's suggested that one dips these in port or sherry- the sweetness of the alcohol will cancel out the strong taste of the spices. That, and apparently I am not a fan of caraway seeds, because when I got a few stuck in my mouth after all of the bread of the biscuit was gone, the aftertaste was just horrid.

I'm taking these into work tomorrow, as I had originally planned, but I think only my boss will eat them.  He likes strong, spicy foods, so these will actually probably be a rare treat for him.

On Tuesday night I'll see if my friend Candy will have them with me with some port or sherry this time.  If I still can't abide the taste then, I'll make sure that I only put in half the amount of required spices if I ever attempt the recipe again.

Update 2/21/11:  As predicted, my boss, a native of India, loved the Asylum Funeral Biscuits due to their spicy, yet sweet and buttery taste.  I think he's eaten about six of the two dozen biscuits I brought in so far. Now I know what I'll be giving him for the next major Hindu holiday. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

old-fashioned workmanship is the most durable... least, if you live in Whitby, one of the many settings for Bram Stoker's 19th century Gothic horror novel, Dracula.  According to an article in today's Whitby Gazette online, their sewer system, which dates back to Victorian times, is getting a 21st century makeover.

I must have read this article five times until this one bit of information could truly sink in:  They've been using a sewer system that's been in existence since the 19th century. 

Sure, it's not that remarkable if you compare it to Paris, where the sewer system dates to about the 14th century. Many other relics of the past have continued to be used well into modern times, such as the Puqious (system of aqueducts) near Nazcas, Peru. For Whitby to have such an old sewer system is not unique in the least. For me it is, but that's because North America tends to lack such old relics of past engineering and workmanship that are still used for modern conveniences. We don't mix the old and the new very often.
image source: Whitby Gazette
Besides, who knows whether or not the nefarious Count Dracula roamed the same Whitby sewer system over 100 years ago? (*insert evil laugh here*)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

the brass knight

My boyfriend Scott thought this steampunk Batman would be of interest. The graphic novel feel of this picture just screams Watchmen for me:

image source: imgur
I must have spent ten minutes studying this work of art not only trying to determine if it could truly be labeled as steampunk, but also trying to understand why Batman had a piece of white cloth riveted to his chest.  Then I realized that that was a skin-colored shirt underneath.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

steampunk! at the disco ghost story

Alternative rock band Panic! at the Disco just went steampunk.  At least, according to the visual display that is the newly released music video for "The Ballad of Mona Lisa," the first single off their third studio album, Vices & Virtues.
image source: Empire Screamo
While I was not expecting steampunk to go mainstream in music via this particular band, I am not surprised that it did. Panic! at the Disco has always been attracted to the show aspect of music, something that the tour for their freshman album A Fever You Can't Sweat Out showed everyone in 2005.  From all reports that I've heard, their shows were focused way more on cabaret and circus acts than most other mainstream bands.  Remember, this was years before Britney Spears' Circus antics.

image source: Buzznet
The music video is very much reminiscent of  "I Write Sins Not Tragedies"- it opens up in the same church, frontman Brendan Urie wears the same top hat that he wore in the debut single (albeit with steampunk goggles now added) and the idea of a woman hiding a secret that becomes exposed is, once again, the unifying musical theme. The jangly, upbeat music is comparable to the music played for "I Write Sins Not Tragedies."

Instead of the ruined wedding of the first video, this new video is a depiction of a Victorian funeral, peppered with descriptions of how to properly run a funeral (such as "Rule #3 Stop All Clocks").  The ghost of the deceased, played by Brendan Urie, travels through the crowd of the goggled and clockwork-accessorized mourners searching for anyone who might be able to see him so he can solve the mystery of who murdered him.

"The Ballad of Mona Lisa" included the entire cast of The League of S.T.E.A.M., an acting group that portrays themselves as steampunk Ghostbusters (and who I will discuss in further detail later this week) among other neo-Victorian extras.

Now the question is, can Panic! at the Disco be declared a steampunk band?

My answer is: no. Just because they have steampunk elements in one music video doesn't make them steampunk.  They don't really sing about anything in this particular song that explicitly puts one in a Victorian or even neo-Victorian mindset.  Their music is more pop and rock, definitely not the industrial sound that most steampunk-labeled bands, such as Abney Park and Vernian Process, are known for. The steampunk bit just seems like another way for this band to create a fresh and unique stage show and persona for itself, not a way to switch musical genres.

Monday, February 14, 2011

valentines for the not-so-romantic

For last year's Valentine's Day I wrote about the Victorian origins of valentines.  This year I leave you with some modern interpretations of Victorian love and the art of attraction.  Happy V Day everyone!
image source: Cheezburger
image source: Flickr

Sunday, February 13, 2011

"love at first bite"

Last night my mother, older sister Lindsey, younger sister Jordan (and co-adventurer of my recent Emilie Autumn concert experience) went to the Benedum Theater in downtown Pittsburgh to see the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater's production of Dracula.  This particular ballet, which has not been performed by the PBT since Halloween 2004, was, oddly enough, set for Valentine's Weekend. Why?  Choreographer Terrance S. Orr claimed in the ballet's program and to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that this was because Dracula is actually a love story.  I think it's really because of the recent association with vampires and true love that the Twilight series has sparked in popular culture.

As a money-making scheme, it seems to have worked.  According to reports that I heard from others who saw it, the two previous performances before our Saturday evening show were packed.  Our show was no different.  The PBT also ran out of all of their Dracula apparel and most of their PBT merchandise during the very first show, according to the women at the merchandise table with whom I spoke about the lack of PBT t-shirts.

Besides this being the second ballet with dancing dead girls that my mother has taken me to see (the first being Giselle), I thought that this ballet would be a good one for me to review for this blog, since the original Dracula story was published in 1897 by Victorian writer Bram Stoker.

Well, for fans of Bram Stoker's original Gothic novel, the ballet has very little in common.  The only two characters from the story who make it onto the stage are the lunatic Renfield and Count Dracula himself.  Mina and Jonathan Harker, Van Hellsing, and Lucy are all gone.  Instead they are replaced with Svetlana and Frederick (the lovers), an unnamed Transylvanian priest, and Flora (the seduced girl).   Instead of three wives Dracula has somewhere around 18, all pale, blonde, curly-haired girls in gossamer gowns that flow eerily about them as they dance, and, when not dancing, raise their hands in front of them as they walk in a possessed state. 

The first act started out in the crypt in Dracula's castle, where he and his wives awaken from their coffins.  Renfield brings Flora, a pretty girl from the village, to the castle to satisfy the Count's lust.  He hypnotizes and seduces the scared girl before making her his new bride with a vampire kiss on the neck.  The scene ends with all of his wives falling in to drink the blood of the freshly dead girl.

The second scene takes place in the village, where the innkeeper and his wife are celebrating the birthday of their beautiful daughter Svetlana with the other villagers.  After a series of humorous dancing gestures and movements Svetlana and her boyfriend Frederick are engaged and more celebrating follows.  At the height of the party Flora crashes it by staggering in as if drunk, and then proceeding to attack everyone.  Only the crucifix of the priest seems to keep her at bay.  Then Dracula appears and carries Svetlana off.

The third act, which takes place in Dracula's bedroom, involves Dracula and his brides "initiating" Svetlana as a new bride.  Just before the fatal kiss Frederick, Svetlana's father, and the priest storm the castle and a chaotic "fight" scene involving many leaps, spins, and graceful falling to the floor ensues.  Dracula is defeated only when Frederick rips the curtains off of the castle, exposing the Count to the power of the sun.  Instead of sparkling, however, Dracula flies up to the chandelier and explodes. Svetlana, Frederick, and the rest of her rescuers return home.

image source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The storyline was terrific- simplistic, to the point, and still retaining the Victorian ideas of repressed sexuality that Stoker's novel exudes.  The costumes were gorgeous- Dracula's cape looked like bat wings, and were especially impressive when he was hooked up to wires and "flown" across the stage.  The ripped gossamer gowns of the brides flowed so eerily and seductively out of the dark that the thought of dancing eternally in such a gossamer dress in similar ghostly ballet movements was very appealing to any Romantic notions that lurk in my rather pragmatic mind.  They were especially impressive when the dancers would hold the top layer up with their arms and run across the stage, letting the gossamer trail behind them like wings.  Even the colorful dress of the Transylvanian peasants was beautiful to watch twirling across the stage. The setting itself was timeless- those peasants, their village, and Dracula's castle could have just as easily existed in the 17th century as in the 19th with the exception of the crazy Renfield, who was wearing Victorian slacks and a matching vest beneath his white collared dress shirt.  And the special effects were beyond impressive- that explosion of Dracula's was thunderous, blinding, and fiery, leaving the audience completely shocked that such a thing could have occurred in a ballet theater.

There were a few downsides with this ballet.  One was just a personal issue with my seat.  Our tickets placed us so far to the right of the theater that the speaker system and the stage scenery blocked a portion of the stage from my view.  I missed Dracula coming out of his coffin, Dracula about to consummate his "marriage" to Svetlana with the fatal kiss on the bed (if that scene doesn't scream "sexual symbolism," I have no idea what does), and some of the characters bouncing on and off the bed through the fight scene.  Not the end of the world, of course, but I do have to trust that nothing else was happening on that bed other than an "almost kiss." 

The other downside was the choreography.  It seemed rather sloppy and not very well put together at parts.  Flora's dance scenes with Dracula during the third act, which I think were supposed to make her look like she was possessed, were just too jerky, more like she was drunk and about to be sick than anything else.  Parts where Dracula's brides were supposed to be in sync were not very clean in the execution of the dancers' movements, and the villagers dropped a few of their props.

Terrence Orr did add some golden choreographed movements, especially comedic ones.  During the marriage proposal the innkeeper asked Frederick if he wanted to have kids with Svetlana.  When the poor boy answered yes, the innkeeper shot down the proposal.  Only Svetlana pleading her father by rubbing her face against his hand melted his hard heart.  During Svetlana's seduction by the Count, Renfield accidentally found himself hypnotized by Dracula when he looked directly at him, and had to shake himself out of it. The entire audience chuckled appreciatively.

Overall, the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater's production of Dracula was a decent ballet that should have been rehearsed a few more times to clean up the choreography.

Friday, February 11, 2011

"are you suffering?" well yes, i was

Image source: Jordan B. All photos used with permission. 
Yesterday was not leisurely in the least.  My hours between waking at 9:00 a.m. and arriving at Mr. Small's at 5:30 p.m. for the VIP event consisted of the following:
  • Getting dressed for the concert.  This included much more time spent on makeup than usual.  I discovered that I can make curls stay in my hair for nearly 16 hours if I wet my hair, mousse it, then blow-dry it and put the smallest hot curlers I have around my forehead and the top of my head, and larger rollers for the lower part of my hair.
  • Scramble to find a car so I could make the hour-long drive to my hometown and pick up my 17-year-old sister Jordan. Originally my boyfriend Scott had promised me his car, but he got stuck in Erie the night before due to his job, didn't sleep at all, and then had to do some things for work before leaving.  I ended up borrowing my boss's car. Did I ever mention that my boss is so good to the people he knows? He'd give you his arm if he thought it could help you.
  • Rush Jordan back to our parents' house so she could drop off schoolbooks and put on her outfit (she had done her hair and makeup before going to school) and drive back to Pittsburgh to wake up Scott so he could drive us to Mr. Small's in time to make it to the VIP session. Although only Jordan and I were going to the VIP session, Scott had bought the tickets for me and so needed to be there, photo ID in hand, to prove that the VIP tickets were to go to us.
Unfortunately, due to Scott's sleep deprivation, he took a nap from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., and missed a very important email that was sent to his inbox around 3:00p.m.  This email stated that the VIP session had been postponed until after the concert. Why? The frozen Muffins standing outside the theater told us that EA's tour bus had not even arrived yet, hence the postponement.  Jordan and I debated whether to stay and ensure that we'd get really good spots in the crowd, but eventually decided to go with Scott to a local Panera Bread instead so he could eat and we could have some hot drinks.  We weren't eager to spend any more time than we had to in the Pittsburgh winter air in our fishnets and ripped-up stockings.

After passing a good hour and a half of time eating and milling around a bookstore, we returned to the concert venue, only to find ourselves in a long line with plenty of Muffins decked out in Asylum or goth wear.  There was a plethora of creative outfits this time around compared to the last concert- men in Victorian-esque suits with such steampunk touches as clockwork parts added to them, one woman in a beautifully hand-made plaid Victorian bustle dress, and lots and lots of girls in striped stockings with hearts drawn under their left eyes. I also noticed that there were a lot more men and a old of older people who didn't appear to be there only to accompany their teenage daughters, as happened during the last concert.  In fact, the group standing behind Scott, Jordan and I all looked to be between the ages of 30 and 50.  Everyone seemed to be in proper spirit for the event, and we chatted away to each other and huddled close together for warmth in the single-digit degree weather.

That was, until 7:40, when I realized that the line had not progressed forward for about 15-20 minutes. After a phone conversation with two friends of mine who were ahead of us in line, I learned that no one was being let in because the band needed to do a sound check.  I heard more rumors snake their way down the line- including that EA's tour bus had only arrived at 7:00, the time when the doors were supposed to open.

Despite my little sister and others leading on a few heartening rounds of "Miss Lucy Had Some Leeches," people were starting to get pissed.  One guy began pounding on the door and screaming for someone to open up.  My friends up front were already set on never coming to another EA concert again.  I was pretty upset that the theater and the band would be so inconsiderate as to let so many people, plenty dressed to the nines in stockings, fishnets, shifts, and corsets, stand outside in temperatures that had been forecast to be near zero degrees. Weren't they concerned about fans getting frostbite? people began to wonder.  It was a miserable half-hour we spent there, waiting for something to change the state that we were in. We danced in place, huddled together some more, started to sing "Shalott," then realized that a song about a woman freezing to death was not the best way to pass the time when you were going through a similar experience.

Finally, at 8:10, the line moved again.  Soon Jordan and I had VIP passes in hand and we were in the venue, slowly gaining feeling back in our extremities.  We were nowhere close to the stage like we had been the last time, but Jordan was in good spirits and taking everything in stride.  I was not so much, mainly because I felt responsible for Jordan, Scott, Scott's coworker Eric, and my two friends having to stand out in the cold so long.  But it was worth it when the music started playing.

Essentially, the show was very much the same as the last time I went (see the review of that concert here)- the same sort of opening, songs were sung in almost the same exact order, and much of the choreography and on-stage antics were the same during the songs.  "Liar" had Emilie Autumn singing while being pushed around stage in a wheelchair, "Dead is the New Alive" started out as an army call, and "God Help Me" involved the Bloody Crumpets throwing cookies and spitting tea at the audience, Contessa losing her long underwear, and Veronica spanking her. The Sexy Rat Game continued to be a crowd favorite as well.

However, there were a few notable changes, mainly on things that I was not overly impressed with during the show at Mr. Small's Theater in December 2009.  The first were the skits.  Every single skit that they did was funny and enjoyable to watch without taking anything away from the music and the songs.  There were also less of them, which I think made the concert flow much better.  So two thumbs up for cutting down on that factor, EA. 

Also, the showy PDA between the band members that I complained about in my review of the last concert was, this time around, almost nil.  It was more suggestive than direct, which I thought made it much more enticing, such as EA and Veronica's dialogue about Veronica wanting to touch EA's... harpsichord.  And there were exactly two kisses, according to Scott.  He wishes there had been more.  Truthfully, I was sort of wishing the same, mainly because I have been conditioned to expect it.  But I was perfectly happy with less than more, mainly because a good deal of the last concert was taken up by the "shock" factor of two females kissing, which actually just made it seem like they were trying too hard.

This show's choreography was much more pronounced, especially with the Bloody Crumpets.  During last year's show, it seemed quite often that the Bloody Crumpets did not entirely know what to do with themselves on stage.  Sure, there was choreography during their performance of "God Help Me," "The Art of Suicide" and "Liar," but I do recall many instances where they were actually wandering around aimlessly on stage, drinking tea or passing tea cups and biscuits to each other.  Unless I am mistaken, this year it seemed like there was a purpose to most of their actions on stage.  There were plenty of synchronized movements during the songs that I don't recall the Crumpets doing much of last year.  And Veronica's fan dance during "Dominant" just seemed much cleaner and put together.  Of course, time plays tricks on your memory, so I could be completely off on this statement I am making about the choreography, so don't take me at my word on that one.

The one real disappointment, other than it was harder to see Emilie Autumn due to where we were standing this time (near the back in the center), was that the concert was definitely shorter by an hour.  I can think of at least two songs that weren't sung this time around: "Shalott" and "306," both songs that I was particularly looking forward to singing along to.  I was very disappointed at first, but after some thinking I came up with a few good reason for why the show was so much shorter this year.  The fact that many skits that had been performed last year in between the songs were actually cut out this year probably considerably shortened the time of the show.  Also, there was less "talking" to the audience, which had occurred last year in great abundance and took up a good deal of time.  This year, direct comments made to the band members were mostly ignored, or at least not directly responded to.  I don't think that's a bad thing at all. It's not like EA and the Bloody Crumpets were pushing aside the fans- they were just going on with the show.

Overall, I think this year's concert (aside from turning into a human Popsicle for an hour) was as enjoyable and considerably more cohesive than last year's.

After the show was over Jordan and I still had the VIP experience to look forward to.  Scott was our ride back home, but because he wasn't a VIP he spent the entire time in a cold hallway in Mr. Small's Theater, passing the time by reading a book about the British Empire in India that he had brought with him.  And all of this on three hours of sleep!

The VIP experience was excellent for the reason any fan would think so- we got to personally talk to EA, get items signed, and be amazed by her adeptness at playing classical music on her Baroque violin.  The event itself, however, was poorly organized.  We spent a great deal of time waiting around, but that was fine with me as Jordan and I spent the time talking with other Plague Rats, including Kamy (who I met at last year's concert).  We were told we'd be going to another part of the building, and I guess something happened to kibosh that plan because Emilie had to come down to us instead. The Asylum Tea we were promised never actually came due to some problem with the brewing of said tea.  The manager running the VIP event did promise to send us all a sample of the tea through the mail, so now I have that to look forward to.

Please understand that I am not complaining at all about how the VIP event was run.  I was just happy to be there and trusted that all of the promises would be fulfilled, even if in not quite the way I had expected them to be. But I have run events before myself (including two tea parties), and it did not seem to me like things were going smoothly with this event.

Emilie Autumn was one of the sweetest people I think I have ever met.  She was so apologetic for all of the difficulties that ended up being the Pittsburgh concert.  The official explanation is that the tour bus hadn't started in Cleveland, probably due to the extreme cold, and it took several hours to get it going.  She talked to us all as if she had known us for years, and during the Meet & Greet session she squealed and eagerly held her arms out to the next fan waiting in line for a photo and an autograph, talking with them one-on-one about themselves.  Jordan, who loves to draw, had created a picture for EA of her as a dragon, red pigtails and striped black and white violin in hand.  Emilie gushed over this picture, which I suppose you would expect an artist to do with a fan's artwork, but to the point where she was even showing it to the manager who was running the event (who, understandably, seemed more pressed to keep the line of fans going through than pausing to look at a piece of artwork.  That is her job, after all).  She also called Jordan beautiful, which Jordan is:

My turn was certainly memorable.  She squealed when she saw me and hugged me like I was an old friend.  She complimented me on my corset and Jordan and I on our good genetics.  I gave her my copy of The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls to sign and a book I had made for her entitled The Opheliac Soul.  When she opened the book up she saw that it was "Hollow Like [The Opheliac's] Soul."  I wrote the web address of this blog in the book as well and briefly explained the neo-Victorian focus of this blog in case she wanted to check it out.  She seemed interested, and was so friendly.  So even if none of that stuff meant anything to her, kudos to her for acting so sincere because it did make me feel pretty damn special!

Then I got to the crux of what I wanted to say.  "I just want you to know," I said, "that my boyfriend bought me these VIP tickets to prevent me from killing myself back in July.  I'm okay now, but-"

She gave me a warm embrace and, in a shaky voice, began to tell me people like us are meant to find each other, to help each other out, that this is why she does what she does.  Since my mind was racing with the main thought of "Shit, I'm going to be the jerk responsible for making Emilie Autumn cry," all I could do was thank her for her music and say that it helps me when I'm down.

She almost made me cry too with this sisterly embrace:

I went away feeling rather unfamiliar with myself, but in a good way.  It wasn't the murky grayness that covers most of my daily existence.  It was knowing that there is empathy.  Not exactly a great revelation, but a real comfort that added determination in my steps away from her.  I did leave her saying, "I'm good now."

Do I hope that I am "good" now?  I do.  Not tremendously.  "Best Safety Lies in Fear," after all, and I when I do gain a little hope for good things I am extremely wary of it.  Emilie Autumn did not necessarily give me that hope, but she reinforced that idea that non-depressed people have failed to get across to my damaged brain- mainly that I am not alone, and never will be, even if it seems like no one else could possibly understand.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

it's 4 o'clock somewhere

The second part of Emilie Autumn's North American tour began today (or, shall I say, yesterday, since it is after midnight) in Cleveland, OH.  I haven't heard how it went, I don't really care how it went, because next stop for EA and the Bloody Crumpets is PITTSBURGH!

The show at Mr. Small's Theater will be a much needed "let loose" moment for yours truly.  This week saw the beginning of several new projects:

  • I'm working to get my boss back on track with... well, everything.  But that's every week...
  • I've started to pick up a couple of extra working hours with the law office that my boss and I share office space with.  Now I have three jobs in that building, two in that office.  I should just move in and save myself the trouble of having to dress for work everyday. :-p
  • I also began taking active steps towards receiving counseling for my depression.  Although the depression rears its ugly, monstrous head every now and again in me, it's relatively under control due to medication and removing myself from mentally and emotionally draining environments.  I have not thought of suicide since July, but my current, daily life is just one shade of gray- neither unbearable nor enjoyable.  Now my goal is to begin setting goals for myself other than: "Don't kill yourself until after the Emilie Autumn concert."  I want to be happy.  Counseling with medication is a lot better than just medication, or just counseling. Hopefully these first steps will help me towards making goals with the actual future in mind.
  • I also started (and finished) a gift for Emilie Autumn.  Of course I waited until the last minute.  But what can I say?  At least it's done.
Besides these new projects, I've also worked for the past 10 days straight.  I am taking the entire day off just for EA's concert so I can get ready in a leisurely fashion.  My little sister's recent plans to attend her high school prom just ruined the outfit I had planned to wear to the concert (the pink corset top is part of the prom dress she was going to wear), so I am reverting to the outfit I wore for the last concert with no major changes- there just isn't enough time.

A few more individuals have also tentatively committed to joining the Unlacing the Victorians posse at the concert.  With such a large group supporting EA and the Bloody Crumpets, and the fact that my copy of The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls was returned to me this evening from a friend to whom I had lent it nearly six months ago, I am prepared for all sorts of suffering.

Now, the questions is:


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

183 steam-powered candles for jules verne!

Google's regular image changes are the main reason why I was alerted to the fact that today is the birthday of Jules Verne, the 19th century French author of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Journey to the Center of the Earth.  This Victorian era writer is often called the Father of Science Fiction, and his works are considered by many steampunk enthusiasts as the inspiration for the creation of the genre.

To honor his birthday, Google has made an interactive Doodle on their homepage that makes the letters in Google a virtual submarine window. To the left of the letters there are controls so visitors can move the virtual Nautilus under the sea.

Click here to read what The Official Google Blog has to say about this image.

So happy birthday Mr. Verne, and thank you for your great contributions to steampunk, even if you had no direct control over its creation.

Monday, February 7, 2011

"true grit" a true western

*Warning: Here be spoilers for True Grit.  Do not read the review if you do not want the movie ruined for you*

Some people may not consider the Old West to be Victorian in any aspect.  Why?
  1. Although tales of the Old West always take place in Victorian times (roughly 1837-1901, the reign of Queen Victoria), some people may not consider them truly Victorian because they don't take place in Victorian England. 
  2. The characters of the Old West are not really Victorian characters in a socially acceptable way.  They are, more often than not, nitty, gritty individuals scratching out a living in dangerous lands--not the gentlemen or women of London, who are more concerned with whitening the front stoop every morning or following socially accepted rules on wearing mourning clothes when a loved one dies. 
 I count the Old West as a part of the Victorian Era.  The U.S's focus on increased industrialization, a form of empire building by gradually taking over native peoples and bargaining for Alaska and other territories to improve their status as a nation, and technological developments in steam engines and the like, all of which were part of the story that is the Old West, share many similarities with Britain's own development at this time.  The Old West may not compare socially with Victorian England, but it had the same economic, political, and territorial goals in mind.

On Saturday night I went to see the Coen Brothers film True Grit, starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Hailee Steinfeld.  I had never seen the John Wayne original, so I had no idea what to expect.

There are a few things to be said about the movie.  It was a good Western.  The plot and characters were sound, the story did not revolve around the action portrayed in gunfights as it did on character development (which is what made Unforgiven such a great Western), and the ending resulted in how it normally does in Western's- the main character reached her goal, maybe sadder and wiser, but without regrets.

image source:
The characters were realistic- Jeff Bridges as the alcoholic, trigger-happy U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn; Matt Damon as the boastful, proud, word-slinging Texas ranger LaBoeuf; and Josh Brolin as the outlaw Tom Chaney, the man who killed Mattie's father.  The only character who was larger-than-life, in my eyes, was Hailee Steinfeld, who played the headstrong 14-year-old Mattie Ross set on avenging her father's death. There is no way I could easily picture any 14-year-old as quick-talking, as demanding, and as insistent of her rights among the adults she continually runs into throughout the movie.  But she pulled it off with great acting- showing barely perceptible trembling when neither Cogburn nor LaBoeuf would do things her way, and being visibly, but silently, disturbed in the middle of firefights, or when Cogburn would not keep promises he made to others.

But it was not a great movie.  It was rather formulaic as Westerns go (here I have High Plains Drifter, The Outlaw Josey Wales, and Unforgiven)- the main character vows revenge on an outlaw who either killed someone close to them, or just deserves to die, they take a journey to find out where the person is, there are a few amazing gunfights, and the person reaches their goal.  Keep in mind that there are several other Western "formulas," such as the outlaw who seeks revenge against another outlaw or a bad lawman, or the reformed outlaw who avoids lawmen or others seeking revenge.

It wasn't breaking fresh ground in the genre.  Being a remake, it's hard to see how it could have broken fresh ground.  I was actually a bit disappointed when I found out that the Coen Brothers had made this movie, as it was completely unlike the many remarkable movies that they have made in the past. It was mediocre for a Coen Brothers movie.

If you like Westerns, this one won't disappoint.  But if you want to see something breaking the mold, try another movie.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

here we go steelers- and victorian rugby!

As many readers probably already know, I live in Pittsburgh.  I am not a big American football fan at all.  But the Steelers are once again in the Super Bowl, and Pittsburgh sports teams are kind of a big deal around here.  The instructor I had at Pitt who started me on blogging once commented that Pittsburgh was the only city he knew of where the colors and jerseys of the local sports teams were considered a true fashion statement.  It's only too true.  You see Steelers fans at all times of the year, in bars, at nightclubs, at the grocery store, at work. Black and gold is often used for interior and exterior decorating, and signs and flags are kept up year-round.

Besides, the Steeler Nation has spread from the original Steel City to what some may consider a worldwide phenomenon.  Many people left Pittsburgh in the '80s due to the financial hardships imposed on the steel companies, often by their own unions, that led to the disintegration of the industry in this area.  But the loyal Pittsburghers, more often than not, took their love of the local football team with them.  My boyfriend saw more Steelers paraphenelia than Cleveland Browns support when he lived in Toledo for one year, and last year my uncle, while waiting to be shipped off to the Middle East for yet another Army Reserves tour of duty, was able to stem his homesickness at a Steelers-themed pub in Ramstein, Germany.

The modern sport of rugby (invented by the Victorians around 1870) is a rougher and tougher sport than American football will ever be- no helmets or pads.  But at least it's safer?

image source: Rugby-Pioneers

I shall be watching the game at a local coffee shop, where I, the non-fan, will be working so the other baristas can watch the game.  Sseeing as I am descended from immigrant steel workers, representatives of that industry which gave the Steelers their team name, I will offer my meager support in the local fashion of black and yellow.  No wonder steampunk and neo-Victorian fashions fail in this industrial city.

So good luck, and "Here We Go Steelers!"

Friday, February 4, 2011

the fashion evolution of a neo-victorian wannabe

I'm breaking one of my biggest rules for this blog- using my public soapbox to talk a little about myself.  I have been pondering it for a few weeks now, especially after some comments I have read from readers about the fashion I blog about- that of neo-Victorian culture.  While I love the fashion of that era, and have for a long time, I am not a true neo-Victorian fashionista most of the time. In fact, I was not interested in fashion until my last years of high school.  I think it would be interesting to take a look of how someone who had no interest in clothes suddenly is fascinated by Victorian-type clothing.

1987-2000:  My identical twin sister Leigh and I are born.  Our mother is very into modern fashions of the time.  Unfortunately for us, identical outfits for twins are ALWAYS fashionable to mothers.  This concept does not become a bother to me until I am a pre-teen, at which point it's just plain embarrassing. After that
mother holds out on the "identical" look by purchasing the same outfit in different colors for my twin sister and I.  We resist as much as possible by refusing to wear the "matching" clothing on the same days.

2000-2002 (Junior High): Our clothing at this time is heavily influenced by what our peers are wearing.  We become walking billboards for American Eagle, Aeropostale, and other clothing companies.  Leigh puts on make-up, carefully curls her hair, shaves her legs.  I am a year behind in mimicking her due to a stubborn insistence that "real" beauty should not be determined by clothes or makeup.  By the time I begin to apply make-up I am only using foundation and lip gloss.  Also, I wear a lot of button-down blouses and plain t-shirts, poorly-made cheap clothing so I can have more of it.  My mother is distressed at my obvious lack of interest in fashion.

2002-2006 (High School):  Leigh becomes a closet goth.  Once a week or so she hides black-laced gloves and crucifix chokers from Hot Topic in her backpack and throws a hoodie over her black and white lace Charlotte Russe corset-top (made school-appropriate by a black crop top) before hopping into our decrepit 1993 Toyota Tercel and heading off to school.  The cares she takes to conceal her fashion is due to our disapproving mother, who thinks that these clothes look ridiculous.   Once at her locker she does a wardrobe adjustment.  I still wear my comfy, plain clothes and plain makeup and wonder why guys find Leigh more attractive.

2005: An incident happens that makes me realize how people judge others on what they wear (but is too personal for this blog).  A close friend teaches me how to apply makeup in an attempt to cheer me up.  It works- I begin to appreciate how makeup accentuates my appearance and can be used to create different looks.  I begin to buy more daring fashion pieces ("daring" to me being knee-high boots, my first cameo necklace, and stylishly cut jackets.)  A highs school trip to France also provides me with the opportunity to purchase some rather odd pieces of clothing- a saloon-girl type army green corset top, for one.  My mother is pleased with my transformation.  Influenced by the romance and danger of Victorian stories such as the Sherlock Holmes mysteries and The Phantom of the Opera, I begin to make costumes to play out my own neo-Victorian interests.

Halloween 2005

Scene from a Sherlock Holmes play that Leigh and I wrote and performed as our school-required "graduation project."  From left: Colonel Moran, Professor Moriarty (me), Sherlock Holmes (Leigh), and Dr. Watson
2006-2009 (College): Except for my first semester in college- when I catch mono and dress sloppily because I sleep between most classes, meals, and study sessions- I avoid the stereotypical college dress code of hoodies and sweats.  It's hard to be specific about my transformation here except to say that I learn that there is more than jeans and t-shirts to clothes and I pick up accessorizing skills with scarves, belts, hairpieces.

I also discover my goth side:

Friends and I at "Ceremony," a goth/industrial dance night, at club Pegasus in 2007.  I'm the second from the left.  Leigh is the third from the left.  The club and the goth/industrial club night have both died since then.
As a journalism major, I learn a few tricks to getting fashion to get potential subjects for stories to talk to me.  Professional business-like clothes make me, a student journalist, look "legit" to businessmen, officials and judges, leave the preppy clothes for campus organization stories, and discover the sad truth that men are usually more willing to help out the girl in the skirt than the girl in trousers (on the other hand, women seem to have greater respect for the girl who dresses smartly but conservatively).

I begin to seriously look at "odd" pieces of clothing as potential wardrobe additions. I order a steampunk skirt from eBay before I even know what the subculture is.  But I miscalculate the size and end up with a non-returnable skirt that's one size too large for me.  Victorian-influenced blouses begin to pop up in local clothing stores as early as 2008, and an accumulation of neo-Victorian items begins in my closet.  Unlacing the Victorians begins as a required "subject" blog during my last semester of college.  Friends and family who read the blog begin showering me with suggestions for Victorian-type clothes and accessories.

2010 (post college):  Two words determine most of my fashion choices: my career.  After my journalism experiences with wardrobe I fully believe that other people believe that you are what you present yourself to be.  As one Sweet Lolita explained to me nearly one year ago when I asked her about how often she wore her Lolita outfits:
I'll wear full [L]olita when I'm going out on the weekends (usually I'm going into San Francisco so it's definitely not too weird there because obviously, San Francisco is a pretty weird city itself and people often wear interesting fashions. plus, the only US [Japanese] brand [L]olita store is in that city, Baby, The Stars Shine Bright) but during the week I'll throw in influences into my daily fashion. Maybe a cute brand bag or a shirt or a small headbow...
I think she calls her neo-Victorian fashion "weird" because these subcultures are mostly defined as "weird" by the mainstream, and many people who follow these subculture fashions seem to have themselves accepted that definition based on "normally-dressed" people's reactions to the clothing.

At my first job I tried to dress the part of the museum educator.  I wore mostly professional-looking clothes from Ann Taylor or Express, but added belts and long necklaces or scarves to spice them up.  I also wore jeans with cardigans if I knew we were going out on the battlefield, or I was going to be working with artifacts or moving furniture or cleaning.  Several months into the job my employers gave me a dress code that limited me to shirts with the museum name on it.

At my current job I can pretty much wear whatever I like, according to my boss.  But I try to keep it to the same professional clothes from my previous job out of respect.  Unfortunately, most of my neo-Victorian "influence" seems to be reduced to jewelry nowadays- either cameo necklaces/rings or a steampunk necklace I made around Christmas but have not been able to upload the photos yet.

What does the future hold, fashion-wise?  Stay tuned to find out...

Thursday, February 3, 2011

come one, come all!

While most of the steampunk events I find out about online appear to be on or near the West Coast, I finally found something in my neck of the U.S.:
image source: Steampunk World's Fair

I'll have to see if Leigh is willing to check this out with me.  It sounds like a bloody good time for all.  Plus, Leigh could meet Professor Elemental in person so she can tell him how much she loves his "Fighting Trousers."

Check out the event website here.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

neo-victorian office wear

This past weekend I found myself putzing around Anthropologie in East Liberty for kicks, mainly because about 98% of the merchandise in there is out of my financial comfort zone.  While browsing through the sales rack, however, I came across a neo-Victorian influenced skirt for only $30!

Despite my love of the fashion, my indulgence into the fashion doesn't usually go beyond a cameo necklace or locket for the office.  Not that my boss would care.  He liked when I came in around Halloween in knee-high boots, fishnets, a ripped-up skirt with a slight bustle at the back, and a black blazer with a red camisole underneath (with a cape and a half-white mask that I only wore for two hours that day, I became the female Phantom of the Opera).  He seemed to miss the point that my outfit was due to his request weeks earlier that I pass out candy to local schoolkids who would be trick-or-treating at businesses in our neighborhood, because he asked why I didn't dress like that more often. 

But I digress.  The reason I don't often indulge in alternative fashion styles at work is because our company shares offices with a law firm.  They were uncomfortable with my goth costume at Halloween, and I don't want to cause my boss any trouble due to complaints about my dress. I am pretty easy to see- my office is a glass fishbowl, and all of their clients catch at least a glimpse of me.  Since I interact with the law office employees more so than my own boss most of the time, I try to keep on good terms with them in order to make my own job easier. 

Due to the toned-down nature of the outfit I put together from my new Anthropologie purchase, I got to play the neo-Victorian office manager for the day: