Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Coffee with a Stranger #2 – Coffee with Time Traveling Steampunks

When I think of time travel, I think of Jean-Claude Van Damme. Yes, that Jean-Claude Van Damme - the Belgian action star of the late 80's and early-t0-mid 90's who proudly sported a mullet before it was ironic and managed to incorporate at least one scene where he does the splits to dodge punches, roundhouse kicks, bullets, or missiles into every movie he made. You see, several of my formative years coincided with the peak of an era that I like to call Van Damme Mania. It was an era where it seemed like every couple of months or so, JCVD would release some high-octane, adrenaline pumping, action movie. Living in a somewhat staid small town during both Van Damme Mania and my pre-teen years, my impressionable friends and I gravitated towards these movies. We had high standards after all:

Fiery explosions? Check.
Bloody fights? Check.
Royal rumbles? Check.
Easy to identify good and bad guys based on embarrassing racial stereotypes? Check.
The occasional bare breast or two? Check, check, and more check!

Aside from blood, boobs, and explosions, JCVD films often had another running theme: time travel. Well, that and twins, but I won't get into that here. There was a lot of JCVD going back in time, accidentally roundhousing, shooting, or exploding a seemingly insignificant tree, ladybug, or evil bad guy, and then coming back to a present where he didn't exist, he had an evil twin, a loving girlfriend was married to an arch villain, or everyone was still riding horses instead of driving cars. Need a visual? Check this out:

Time travel is complicated stuff, isn't it?

Oddly enough, other people have different associations when it comes to the idea of time travel. Take Kristy, Stranger #2 in this little project of mine, who I met at the Bread Workshop in North Berkeley. She was in her early to mid 20's, originally from Connecticut, and an accomplished knitter judging by the red hat she was wearing and the scarf she was working on when I arrived a little late for our meeting. For her, time travel has nothing to do with mullets, splits, and explosions. Instead it involves steampunks and 4th century Celtic monks. Or, more specifically, modern day steampunks who steal a time machine to go back in time to chat with some 4th century Celtic monks.

If you're anything like me, that last sentence raises a lot of questions. Like what's a steampunk? Or what differentiates a 4th century Celtic monk from, say, a 6th century Celtic monk? Or where can I steal me a time traveling device?

Steampunks, according to Kristy, "dress and look like they dropped out of a Charles Dickens novel." She also described them as "anti-mass production" and as "purposeful Luddites." After my own superficial research on the Google, I'd add that it looks like they wish they could hit the pause button aesthetically and technologically somewhere in and around the Victorian era. They also seem to be big fans of steam and gear based gadgets, funky top hats and aviator goggles, and the writings of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne.

As for the difference between 4th and 6th century Celtic monks, I have no idea and Kristy didn't get into details. To tell you the truth, I'm not even entirely clear on how one would define a Celtic monk, no matter what century he or she may be from. Kristy, however, was focused on one monk in particular: a historically real monk who was apparently living large in a Roman emperor's palace and then one day said "nuts" to that and gave it all up to live in the desert and weave mats. Instead of saying "nuts", though, Kristy made what I would describe as a farting noise and ended the description by remarking: "Then he spent the rest of his life sitting on his butt and doing that." Steampunks, for their part, would relate to such a lifestyle - not necessarily for the weaving, butt-sitting, and desert living, but because of an appreciation for the rejection of luxuries and the embracing of a simpler life. So why not steal a time machine and check this guy and his 4th century cohorts out?

And where's Kristy getting all this material from? I don't remember JCVD playing a Celtic monk in any of his movies, so it can't be that. Surprisingly, Kristy doesn't rip off her time traveling ideas from dated action movies. Instead she's actually writing her very own novel about this stuff! When I met with her at the Bread Workshop, she was 60 pages into her novel about modern day steampunks who steal a time machine to go back in time to chat with 4th century Celtic monks. What's even more impressive is that she writes 1300 words a day, either working on this novel or writing poetry. 1300 words! Meanwhile, it takes me weeks to write even one of these
Coffee with a Stranger posts.

I've really got to get my shit together.

Although I never asked her outright, I don't think Kristy would identify herself as a steampunk. After all, she wasn't wearing aviator goggles and she's definitely not a "complete atheist", which is how she described most steampunks. In fact, while living in Boston with her husband, Kristy thought she had a call to the Episcopalian priesthood. She even approached her priest and asked him how to get the priesthood ball rolling. Her priest, however, urged her to take things slow and instead go through a process known as "discernment". This process basically involves taking some time to do some work for the Church, think about your relationship with the Big Guy, and decide whether priesthood is really for you. Kristy ended up doing a "community organizer" internship for a church in the Allston-Brighton area of Boston. Needless to say, she met up with a lot of Allston-Brighton residents for cups of coffee, which is why she decided to meet up with me. "Good karma" is how she described it, but I'm left wondering: can an Episcopalian priest believe in karma?

A couple of weeks after our cup of coffee, I randomly bumped into Kristy. She and her husband were in line behind my ladyfriend and I at Ici Ice Cream. Her husband, a nice fellow, is the reason why they moved out to the West Coast. He's a computer programmer/developer by trade and last year he got a job with hi5.com. Hi5 does all those games you see on Facebook - stuff like
Sorority Row and Mafia Wars. Or as Kristy explained, they're those social networking games where "instead of connecting with your best friend from second grade, you get to shoot up your friend from second grade!"

I don't know about you, but I think JCVD would appreciate this type of social networking.

Meanwhile, we all ordered some delicious ice cream, exchanged some pleasantries, and had some laughs. Kristy had written another 20 pages of her novel (which I'm hoping she'll, hint, hint, let me take a look at), whereas I still hadn't written a C
offee with a Stranger post about our cup of coffee together. I'm thinking it's time I steal a time machine, deliver a roundhouse kick to something or someone, and cross my fingers that that will lead to an alternate present where I procrastinate less.

It's worth a shot, right?


ellison said...

i was extremely excited because i KNEW WHAT STEAMPUNK WAS before you defined it for us. from movie reviews, honestly. i read all the reviews and see hardly any of the movies but then i can say, well, in such and such paper said critic said it was a piece of post-modern trash. (or steampunk ridiculousness, as the case may be.) i love the newspaper. it's like living but vicariously.

Coffee with a Stranger said...

I'm actually discovering that I might be the only person who did NOT know what a steampunk was.

Where the hell have I been? Living under a rock?