Monday, August 10, 2015

SW16: Lisa Vaca and the Art of Organizing

Often when folks think of "makers" they think about creating physical objects of some sort - an article of clothing, a machine or gadget, music, artwork, etc.  But we at SteamWomen believe that someone who organizes events and builds community is also a Maker. In a way, they also take raw materials and make something amazing from them.  Lisa Vaca (aka Lady Amethyst) of San Diego, California is one of those amazing Makers. We are very pleased to feature her this week!

 How would you define or describe yourself?

'Tis a bit funny that in real life when I am asked this question (and due to the nature of my profession, I am asked very often) I now always start off with, "I'm a steampunk..." which usually gets people curious.  Anytime I was in an interview or one of those meetings with an ice-breaker or a get-to-know-your-team session, I found it tedious that I'd always go straight to the same old boring answers.  Inevitably, someone would say, "So, tell me about yourself..."  Before steampunk, I'd have answered the typical, "I'm an executive assistant, a people-person, good at organizing events, enjoy waltzing, and my Meyer-Briggs personality type is ENTJ."  Now that I have this wonderfully weird alter ego, however, I just start off with, "I'm a steampunk, a vintage-dancer, and I enjoy dressing in clothing and accessories from other eras while I plan time-travel field trips for creatives and other like-minded steampunks," or something similar to that.

How did you find Steampunk?
As a birthday gift for my husband one year, I wanted to take him somewhere unusual.  In a comic book store in San Diego, in 2011, I happened across a flyer for an event that was happening on his actual birthday that January.  The event was called "Steampunk Symposium" aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California.  I signed us up and booked our room.  Not knowing what the word "steampunk" meant, I started my research and soon discovered that this steampunk thing involved the gadgets and music and literature and tea and alternate-history that I knew Jeff really loved, but I never knew the name for it.  Now, I was really excited, but I realized that I'd need to prepare more than just Southern California vacation clothes.  I also knew that Jeff would want to be prepared for an adventure of this caliber, so I spoiled the surprise and told him all about it a few months ahead of time.  He was thrilled!  We purchased some basic outfits and hats, practiced our dancing, and started watching steampunk genre movies and downloading the music of Abney Park, Unextraordinary Gentlemen, Vernian Process and more.  The weekend of the event we met and became friends with the wonderful people who ran Clockwork Alchemy and other wonderful people who ran Steamcon.  We soon purchased tickets to all their conventions as well as Gaslight Gathering, the one here in San Diego, and we have been "hooked on steampunk" ever since.  

What inspires you?  And what is your creative process?
I'm minimally crafty and can barely sew, therefore I don't really consider myself a "maker" in the steampunk sense of the word.  My primary "creations" are events, and I am inspired by historical places and beautiful scenes.  As every steampunk convention organizer or event planner knows, something that helps create a memorable steampunk event is location, location, location!  San Diego is full of steampunk locations.  I was born here and have seen it grow and go through many changes but I am happy to say that much of the history of my beautiful city has been preserved.  Because of our year-round mild-weather, and this area's abundant Victorian architecture as well as it's Western- and Mexican-heritage, plus our proximity to the resources of Hollywood and the fact that San Diego is the home of Comic Con, this place is what I call "ambiente perfecto" (the perfect environment) for steampunk!  There are literally hundreds of San Diego places that steampunks can go anytime of year and fit right in.  You can see a portion of the list of locations on my website and I also share about it in my Steampunk 101 class/panel.  As a consideration for out-of-towners, when I present Steampunk 101 at out of town events, I show people how to look around their own cities and develop their own list of "local steampunk places" where they can hold steampunk events.  Yes, I do also offer a class on Event Planning but I realize that the actual event planning process is simply a boring step-by-step list for most other people.  I happen to love it, though.  It's exciting to me!  Even at my "real life" job, organizing an event (whether a one-day workshop or a week-end conference) is, for me, like a puzzle which begs to be solved.  Actually, it is more like a puzzle in which some of the pieces must be invisible and others are missing and a few are bent or broken, but I know that once the puzzle is put together, everyone will benefit.  The finished project is a like a work of art to me, from the first scribbled-out handbills to the snapshots shared at the end, the entire project is one that I have enjoyed creating and love sharing with others.   

Tell us about some of the projects you're working on...
- Member of the Board of Directors for Grand Pacific Steam, a non-profit organization and steampunk fair in Vista, CA.
- Committee Member of Gaslight Gathering, the annual steampunk/Victoriana convention in San Diego, CA.
- Serves as "Dean of Steam," programming the track of steampunk panels and classes at ConDor, San Diego's longest-running sci-fi convention.
- Created San Diego Steampunk, a group of over 100 steampunks, and manages the website, the meet-up, and several of their annual activities.
- Active member and volunteer with San Diego Costume Guild, representing their steampunk department.
- Member of Lady Mari's Costume Walkabout, participating in Victoriana, Edwardian and Steampunk walks.

What advice do you have for young Steampunks?
Like so many of the other wonderful Steam Women you've interviewed here, I also encourage those just beginning to take an interested in steampunk to avoid naysayers and rule-makers and costume-police, but I would also encourage them to avoid becoming those things.  Steampunk is wonderfully diverse.  It covers a wide range of eras, includes all ages, all cultures and all genders.  Don't be afraid to develop your own interpretation of it and to let others develop theirs.  Almost all steampunks that you meet are going to be supportive and encouraging.  By this I mean that you will likely never go to a steampunk convention where others look down their noses at your attire and tell you that what you are wearing is not period correct or that your accessories are not functional or, gawd forbid, that you are not steampunk (or not steampunk enough).  True that not everything in the world is steampunk.  I understand that.  But in a  steampunk community no one should point a finger at another person and say that.  That's just rude, dude!  No one, when they are dressed in an outfit they put together needs to hear, "Hey, that's not steampunk!"  Instead, you could wait until they ask your opinion, IF they ask it.  The essence of what makes steampunk unique is based in kindness and manners and polite (although sometimes tongue-in-cheek) society.  Steampunk graciously allows for the creativity of others without making anyone feel like they don't belong.  In my circle of steampunk friends we have a saying, "It's not steampunk to say, 'That's not steampunk!'"  And we always explain that the emphasis is on the word "say" meaning that even if we don't consider someone's outfit to be steampunk, we keep it to ourselves and don't say it.  Bambi's mother would approve.

More About Lisa:
Lisa is married to Jeffrey Vaca, a costumer and well-known steampunk-maker, himself.  They have two teenagers, Hannah and Nathan, who occasionally dabble in steampunk and other nerdy genres with their parents.  Their steampunk-decorated home in San Diego is dubbed "The Chronoseum" and is a popular venue for small steampunk events.  Two "steampups" also live at the Chronoseum: pugs, Samson and Jasper, along with other interesting creatures kept in jars of resin or otherwise preserved.   

Along with her husband, Lisa supports and/or attends six to eight annual steampunk conventions all over the south-west and the west-coast, sometimes encouraging 30 or 40 local San Diego steampunks to "road-trip" with them to conventions as far away as Las Vegas and Tucson.  A former home-school teacher, Lisa teaches steampunk classes, including Steampunk-101 (as a presentation, a panel, or a round-table chat) and also teaches steampunk craft classes for children.  She offers these freely at her home, at elementary schools, and at steampunk conventions and one-day events around the south-west.

In real life, she works as an executive secretary and a CAP (Certified Administrative Professional) in the fields of education and charitable service.  Her current employer, one of America's largest non-profit organizations, has her running company events and programming small-scale trade-shows and conferences.

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