Monday, April 6, 2015

SW4: Susan Spencer, the Black Baroness!

Today's SteamWomen interview takes a look outside of U.S. Steampunk, as we talk with Susan Spencer, sometimes known as the Black Baroness! Susan is based in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada and is a vendor (Spencer's Mercantile), entrepreneur, and organizer of Steampunk events, such as the SteamonQueen street fair and the Grand Canadian Steampunk Exposition. Check out her doings online or maybe in person!

How would you define or describe yourself?
 I'm an entrepreneur, an organizer, and (in Malcolm Gladwell's terms) a connector. I bring things and people together to create items, events, and happenings. I build things - some of them physical, some of them experiential.

How did you find Steampunk and how do you define it? 
Growing up a history aficionado in a family of chemists, inventors, and engineers, could I really have ended up anywhere other than in Steampunk? I am old enough to have been fascinated by things that we now describe as Steampunk before the term was coined – and I loved them. Movies like "The Great Race" and "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" fascinated me, so when someone finally mentioned the word "Steampunk" in passing one day, my reaction was, "So that's what all of this stuff I've loved forever is called!"

Describe one of your creative processes.
It took me a very long time to accept that we're all just making life up as we go along. Once I realized that, it set me free. The smallest of ideas can blossom into something enormous and complex and wonderful, given time and attention. And it all begins with an idea, a phrase, a momentary passing fancy – call it an inspiration, perhaps. I let the thought ramble around in my head for a while, let it surface when I meditate, consciously devote serious thought to it in quiet moments, and before long it will start to develop and grow. I'll decide if this is something I should work on in the present, and if it is, I'll devote serious amounts of time and energy to it. I'll talk to people. I'll call up someone I don't know and pick their brains about an aspect of it. I'll research the daylights out of it. If it's a product or an event that needs to be monetized, I'll work the numbers over and over again until I'm happy with them. It's usually at this point that things begin to fall into place and aspects of the project begin to come together. After that, it's just a matter of hard work, communication, testing the waters, hard work, prototyping and going back to the drawing board if necessary, hard work, brainstorming with smart and experienced people – and then a lot of hard work.

Who or what inspires you?
People who make a positive difference in this world. Great music. Great art. People who are great leaders without the attendant egos. Great books. Grand ideals. Grand gestures. The opportunity to do something wonderful for others.

Tell us about one of the projects you're working on (or just finished).

The Grand Canadian Steampunk Exposition is coming up on September 25-27, 2015. I have a team of extremely talented and dedicated volunteers and staff who are a delight to work with – true professionals in their disciplines, and all great people to boot. This year's theme is "Wonderland Awaits" – we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice in Wonderland. As you can imagine, that book offers a tremendous amount of inspiration!  We are incredibly fortunate to be working with Parks Canada at Fort George National Historic Site in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. How much fun can hundreds of Steampunks have when they are let loose in a fully functional 19th century military fort? Then throw in an altered reality and sideways view of the world inspired by the writings of Lewis Carroll – you can see it's going to be quite a weekend! To add icing to our cake, we'll have wonderful performances throughout each day by some of the most talented performers around – everything from a flea circus to magicians to musicians. And we have two gala concerts, featuring Abney Park, Steam Powered Giraffe, Professor Elemental, and French Canadian Steampunk group Jardin Mecanique. I really can't wait to see this all come to fruition!
What advice do you have for young Steampunks? 
Love yourself. Believe in yourself. Do your best, always. Get an education in something, even if it's not a "formal" one. Humility is uncommon and devastatingly attractive. Confidence is sexy. Never stop learning. It costs nothing to be kind. Never look down on someone unless you're reaching down to offer them a hand up. And generosity is usually repaid at least threefold.

Anything else you'd like to add?
Sappy as it may sound, I want to leave this world a better place than it was when I arrived. I have no pretensions that I can change the world or be a great political leader or anything of that nature. But I can certainly make and do things to bring joy and happy memories to people. It's all about recognizing that we are all just people, and that there really is no reason send out anything but positive vibes and love. If that makes me a left wing tree hugging granola crunching idealist with stars in my eyes and rose tinted glasses – well, I think I'm okay with that.