Millennials

I am coming to terms with the realization that I am a part of the ‘Millennial’ generation. I had been under the impression that this was a group that was a few years younger than me, but from what I gather, I am actually right in the thick of it.

Why did I have that impression? Probably because I do not associate myself with the stereotypes. OK, yes it is stereotypes, and I know how much worth to put into those, but forgive me for not wanting to be grouped with people who are considered ‘entitled’, ‘lazy’ and ‘narcissistic’. I know that, like most stereotypes, this describes only a small percentage of my generation, but you know how it goes, the bad apples ruin it for everyone.

I have actually been having a hard time finding someone to tell me, or anything online, that actually sums up ‘the quintessential millennial’. I keep finding things on ‘how to market to millennials’, which, now that I think about it, really does sum up how many people of my generation think of themselves.

We are a generation who has been molded by marketing. I know that this is true of other generations too, but I think that it is very obvious with people my age. We are obsessed with physical beauty. Any small imperfection that people find in themselves they tend to latch on to. That said, there has been a lot of push back against this lately. Women especially are learning to fight back and to be proud of who they are without bowing to the ideals that are being pushed on them by the media. Men are having a harder time, I think that it partly because the media has less specific standards to be met, but instead reinforces ‘what it is to be a man’. Stepping outside of those confines is also more socially unacceptable for men. Women are allowed to do masculine things, but men are not really allowed to do girly things.

We are a generation that was raised in a time of great prosperity in this country. We were raised with the expectation that growth would continue, and the world would keep getting better. People would continue making gains with regards to equality, income would continue to rise (not that they really compared it to inflation), if anyone paid attention to the problems of global climate change, they saw that more people were making strides to conserve, for whatever reasons. We were promised that if we did well in school, and got a degree we would be set for life. It didn’t even matter what the degree was in, as long as we had one we would have an easy time finding any job. All in all, the world was a very promising place.

Then, just as we were finding our place in the world, everything changed. With 9/11 we were told that America was the victim in a religious war, and certain people became ‘the enemy’. Suddenly we were told to be afraid all the time, of anyone who was not like us. The government created a way to not only keep a pulse on the fear of the nation, but to control it. Soon the economy fell. My generation was in various stages of starting their careers, some people were looking for a first job, others were just getting out of college.

This is when people really started to get disillusioned. Right now, a college graduate has, on average, tens of thousands of dollars of student loans. We were told that loans were the way to go. We have to build our credit, and once we graduate, our job will easily cover the bills, no problem. Now, where is that field of jobs, ripe for the picking? It does not exist. People who lost their retirement are not going to leave their jobs, so no jobs are opening up. Companies are more careful about how many people they need, and more picky about who they hire. All of the people who were laid off in the aftermath of the crash are out there looking for jobs too. And they have experience on their side, and on their resume. That is not to say they have it easy, no-one is hiring, and the longer you are out of work, the harder it is to get a job.

So now people without a job do not have the luxury of finding the right job, they have to take what they can get. In my case, as for many others, this means a job that starts at minimum wage. I am lucky that this company actually does raises, but most do not. I am lucky that I am making enough to get by, but many others do not. They need government assistance just to make ends meet. The requirements that they must meet in order to continue receiving assistance are already enough to show that these people are not just lazy, as they have been made out to be by the media. In order to qualify for many, they must have, or be actively looking for, a job. Many of the people on these programs have more than one job.

While I may qualify for some of these programs, I have not chosen to take advantage of them. Partially due to the stigma associated with them, and partly due to the trap they often catch people in. In order to qualify, certain income levels must be maintained, but if you make more than that number, the amount of benefits you lose far outweighs the gained income. I am lucky enough to still be able to make this choice, although luck is the only reason. Sometimes things happen in life that cannot be planned for. Sometimes those things turn out okay, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes, even if you have a backup plan, it cannot cover the realities of life. And once that plan gets used up, it just takes one more case of bad luck.

My generation may act entitled, but I guess that is what happens when we are promised the world and then the rug gets pulled out from under our feet. We are being judged by the people who reaped the benefits of that golden age. They do not understand why we are struggling so much, and they think it must be because we are lazy. We have been told all of our lives that if we are just that much better, that much prettier, that much stronger, we will succeed. So is it any wonder that people latch on to these things as the things that will make them happier?

Please, stop blaming us for the economy falling apart, we were handed a broken plate and expected to return a meal on a silver platter. Please, stop telling us that our failure to thrive is our fault. Please, stop telling us that it is our own fault that we are struggling. I am not blaming you, I am just telling you how it is for us.

 

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Homeschool or Traditional School?

When I talk about the possibility of homeschooling my children, many people are skeptical. Stereotypically homeschoolers are anti-social religious zealots. But is that the reality? As with many stereotypes, there are people who meet that description, but many do not. I would venture to say that most homeschooled kids do not meet that description.

When looking up information on line I am having a difficult time finding any support at all of the stereotype. I like to have information from both sides, but it seems that the only people who find it worth talking about are either homeschoolers themselves or have some reason to be biased. The information that I am finding cite numerous studies that support the idea that homeschooled children are better socialized than children in traditional schools, and have an easier time getting into college. I would like to know more about these studies, and I wish that they had larger focus groups. I also would like to know how these students were found.

If the children for these studies were found in homeschool support groups, they are already part of the homeschooling community that actively engages in the community. Many of these kids are also active in other clubs and activities. I hesitate to trust the statistics completely because of this possible bias. It is possible that there is an unrepresented amount of children who are at home, isolated from people whose beliefs do not agree with their parents’, perhaps even homeschooled to avoid discovery of abuse. This is obviously a worse-case scenario, and I doubt that there are very many of these, but the scenario just points out how biased the studies may be.

So far this sounds like a real downer on homeschool, but that is far from being my intention. I simply want to point out a few holes in the research. All of that said, I would like to homeschool my children because I do believe that it can be beneficial. The key word is ‘can’. Because the parents are in charge, the parents have control over how homeschooling turns out.

Many homeschool parents choose to have their kids learn through the community, which means that they built relationships with people from all walks of life, in many different settings. This is the type of thing that traditional schools have great difficulty with. Students spend most of the day with children their own age, learning social skills from people who are no more skilled than they are. Once they get out of school, so much time is spent on homework, that doing anything outside of school is a great challenge. There are many studies out right now about the levels of stress on students, even in elementary schools.

The differences between how homeschoolers and traditional students spend their days has a huge impact on their social skills as well as their maturity and goals. Homeschool students have more time to pursue the things that interest them rather than only focusing on the things that are chosen for them. This gives them a greater sense of personal identity, and a love of learning. I believe that everyone is born innately curious about the world, but the way that schools have traditionally taught takes all the fun out of it and makes it a chore. While homeschoolers may gain more in the way of study skills, I believe that it is this love of learning that contributes more to their success after school.

Many people who think that homeschool is a good thing, but don’t want to deprive their children of some part of the school experience, be that the rites of passage like prom, or the perceived social benefits, decide to supplement traditional school with home based education or outings. That is a great idea, and I wish that more people would do that. There is one flaw, however; doing this does not give all of the benefits of homeschool and traditional school together. You end up with all of the ups and downs of the school environment and end up with very little time to spend on this type of enrichment. When it is possible, it can help to negate some of the negative associations that students can get to learning, and give them access to more information, which is certainly better than nothing. Many people though choose to homeschool not because of the perceived benefits, but to avoid the common downfalls of schools.

Schools foster a very specific type of social outlook. Students are pressured to fit in, which makes it more difficult for them to ‘find themselves’. This is supposed to happen during the growing up period, but in our culture there is a struggle for people as they leave school and adjust to the real world, only to find that the person they were trying so hard to be has no place in that world, and they don’t know who they are underneath that. Homeschoolers on the other hand, never experience that massive peer pressure and, provided that their parents allowed them freedom, they already have all of that figured out, which gives them a head start in their post-school lives.

Teachers in traditional schools can try their best to study things that their students are interested in, and to share their own passions, but despite this, much of the time students are studying things that they have little interest in. Not all students are interested in the same things, and it is impossible to cover everyone, someone will be interested in everything, another student may find that his interests are never discussed.

What are some other reasons that parents choose to homeschool? In general it is to have more control over the things that your kids learn. This can be behaviors (bullying, maturity, study skills), ways of thinking (religion, tolerance), or really anything. There are some things that kids can learn in public school that they do not want their kids learning, whether that is evolution or intolerance of others, homeschool allows parents to teach their children what they want, for better or worse.

Many of the benefits that I see to homeschooling are really just logic, whether or not the studies are trustworthy, one can see that spending time with many different people means learning to communicate effectively with different types of people. It makes sense that if you are able to study the things that you love, you will love learning. But this does bring up a conundrum. How do you teach the things that a child needs in life but has no interest in?

That really depends. To me it seems that in order to be well-rounded, you do not need a high-school level education in every subject. More important than certain subjects is the ability to acquire information. First up is reading – this one is easy – let the kid read about things they find interesting. My mother is a librarian at a middle school. Every year she meets many students who tell her that they do not like reading. So she asks them what they are interested in and sends them to that area, or suggests something they might like. Even if that ‘I don’t like to read’ idea does not go away, they usually leave with a book or two and will come back – even if it means sneaking away from their friends to do it.

Study skills, like learning about quality sources, looking for differing opinions, and different ways to present the information (formal presentation, written paper, power point etc.) can all be taught, like reading, in the context of any material the child is interested in.

It is not so much the material that we need to know in today’s society, but the skills we use to acquire information and interact with the world. If you are not an engineer, math is only so helpful your day to day life. But you do need those basics. And those basics can be taught in fun ways. I will not even try to delve into that here, just run a search on ‘hands on math’ and you will find hundreds of ideas, even into middle school level.

In the interest of understanding quality sources, I would also put learning the scientific method in the category of life skills. Many people seem to misunderstand what science is. Science is not a collection of infallible facts, it is a system of best-guesses. Science gives us a way to consistently improve our understanding of the world by providing a framework with which to come up with new ideas and narrow the possibilities nearer and nearer ‘the truth’. All with the understanding that we will probably never know the full truth.

Beyond that, education can largely be child-led. As much as I think that people need to understand history, this is more about learning about cause and effect. The people who make decisions need to be well versed in the past so that they can use that to make informed decisions. That said, if history is taught in fun ways, and focusing on a child’s interests, everyone should be able to find some sort of history to teach. After all history is just a collection of true stories, and what child does not like hearing stories.

The other thing that I would like people to have more knowledge of in general is different religion. There is a great emphasis on learning one’s own religion, and I think that is fine, but in order to have an understanding of others, we need to understand a little about their beliefs. I understand that this may not fit into everyone’s interests, but as a protection against the dangers of acting on a misunderstanding, if the lessons of forming an opinion only after doing research, which can be taught with any subject matter, I think that the worst aspects of ignorance on this can be negated.

So homeschool or traditional school? That decision rests largely on the type of people the parents are. If they will use homeschool to isolate and indoctrinate their children, I do not believe that is good for the children or society, but if homeschool will be used to give the children the opportunity to learn to love learning, and find their place in the world then if you can do it, go for it!

That said, from a practical perspective, how do you make it work? Unfortunately, no matter how much the parents might be amazing teachers, or might benefit their children, if they cannot afford to have one parent stay home with the kids, homeschooling is usually not an option. Some people might be able to find a way to have each parent work opposite schedules, or have the child in the care of others for some of the time. This takes a very large commitment, and often rests on a delicate balance.

Homeschool can be an amazing experience, and that I wish everyone could have, but not all parents are suited for it, and even more cannot fit it into their lives. It is unfair that something that has so much potential is only an option for so few. It is also unfair that the stereotypes may prevent people from ever trying something that could be so beneficial.

 

Crazy Weather!

I know I am not the first to comment on how strange the weather has gotten over the past few years, but I figured that since today we got snow in a place where snow isn’t really a thing, I would share my personal experiences.

Madrid

When I was little, we would get several snows in Madrid every year. Halloween was usually even a bit muddy at first, then would freeze as the night wore on. I remember trodding through snow that was over my knees at around 5 years old.

By the time I was in 3rd grade we were in a drought. We all thought it was just part of the cycle, 7 wet years, 7 dry years. But the drought has kept going for more than 15 years. We were lucky if we got one real snow a year. During this time we ended up with an insect in the area that targeted the dry trees. It started with just one species, but nearly wiped them out before moving on to others. We call them trees, but they are what many would call bushes. This increased the fire danger as nearly half of these low trees in the area were dead. Property owners have spent a long time clearing them out.

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Cerrillos Hills State Park near Madrid

Madrid has always had difficulties with water. In the mining days they gave up on digging a well after numerous failed attempts. They ended up hauling all of the water needed for the town of about 3000 as well as the massive mining operation by train. Later they were able to successfully find water, but no-one drinks the water. While it is technically drinkable, it smells like rotten eggs and can come out of the tap black from the coal. During the worst years of the drought of the 1990’s and 2000’s, a neighboring down completely drained their well and had to have water for the town hauled in.

This year was wetter, but as I gather it is still not equal to a wet year there, let alone getting close to making up for the past. (Not that we would want that all in one year.) But the water levels in the rivers and lakes have been rising.

In Madrid there is an arroyo (Dry riverbed) that runs through town. In the spring there is the concern of flash floods as the snow melts in the mountains. One time I got to see this massive wall of water tearing down the ravine just out of town. It was probably 20 feet high and moving around 70 mph. Once the water was there it was just a few feet deep and while it was still faster than you would want to swim in, it was considerably slower.

Before I left the state in late 2014 I got to see some of the damage caused in Madrid by a massive flash flood. The main street of town looked unchanged, but as you went along the back roads you could tell that something drastic had happened. At that point the arroyo was a little shallower, but that year it could not contain the massive amount of water rushing through and it cleared an area about 5 times as wide as the arroyo had been. It was difficult to tell exactly where the arroyo used to be, the whole area was so close to the same level.

Many people think that what the desert needs is a lot of rain. And that is true- to an extent. When the ground is as dry as that, getting a lot of water over a short period of time can cause a lot of devastation. What we need is a nice long drizzle for a while. Think of it like a sponge. When it is dry it does not soak up much, but once it is wet it can hold the water better.

Dallas

When I started visiting my father in Dallas, it was very humid. I was never there during the rainy season, or during the winter, but as I understand it, it rarely got cold enough for snow there. They too have been experiencing a massive drought.

This past year they have had enough rain to bring the lakes up to higher than normal levels, and have had massive flood problems as well. My father has a deep creek in his back yard. Most of the time it in less than a foot deep, but sometimes it can fill all the way to the banks, about 6-7 feet deep and just as wide.

My father has done a lot of work to make sure that the erosion from these events does minimal damage. The creek has a turn just before his driveway, and from many of these incidents, the higher speed water has been carving out a cave beneath the driveway. The garage is several feet higher still from the banks, and sits several hundred feet away. They have had flooding in the garage too.

While that part of Texas is not known for tornadoes, they are not unheard of. This year with the weather unable to make up its mind, there have been many, even at a time of year when they are not normal.

Southern New Mexico

For school I moved to southern New Mexico. The first year that I was there we had a tornado. New Mexico as a whole does not get tornadoes. Occasionally there are some in the north east corner of the state, where it is flatter, but most of the state is too mountainous for tornadoes to form.

The town had no idea what to do. The university locked students out of classrooms, even ones that were essentially basements. These were probably some of the safest places to be. I never saw the funnel, but you could see the sky get dark and the wind get crazy. I left the costume shop for my class, in one of those basements. Since class was cancelled I walked back to my dorm. It was not long before it started hailing. The power went out, which always confuses young people these days. Some people were hiding in their rooms, others were running around being idiots.

After the storm passed, my roommate and I went out to investigate. Nearby there was a sidewalk that went downhill a bit faster than the surrounding terrain and had concrete walls supporting the earth on both sides. This channel had water flowing through it several feet deep. It did not take long for the weather to normalize, but the town was dealing with hail damage for at least a week.

That summer when I went home, the Santa Fe area had no fewer than three tornadoes in one day. I saw one as I drove home. The west part of the sky was a deep black cloud, while the east looked like a clear blue sky.

For the next few years it was uneventful, we never even got snow for the first three years I lived there. The fourth we were thrilled to have a light dusting of snow stick. The next year I moved to a neighboring town on the other side of the mountains. That year we got a foot of snow. It really was not a lot of water, but the intense cold made the snow puff out and take up a lot of room. It was more than 20 degrees below zero, colder than Chicago at the same time. Knowing that people in that area are not used to snow I opted not to drive if I could help it and walked to work.

The area was declared to be in Emergency conditions. No-one had running water, and the gas company shut down the gas lines in most of town. I happened to be working at the only hotel in town that happened to be on the side of the street that did not lose gas. We were sold out as people got desperate for a hot shower. My manager comped herself a room for her family. People in the area would go shopping just to stay warm because the stores sold out of heaters. We were lucky, we had electric heat at my apartment.

But as the temperature started to warm up and the town started to get back to normal, our condition did not improve. Everyone in town was required to wait until the gas company came to re-light pilot lights, so even after the gas was back, people were still in the hotel.

My apartment, like a lot of construction in the area had little insulation on water lines. That area usually does not see freezing temperatures at all. But we had our laundry room outside the main apartment. There was nothing on those pipes at all. I was among the first to discover that one of the water lines burst. They had to turn off the water to all of the buildings because they had not included individual turn-offs for each. After they patched the ones they knew about, they would turn the water back on and find more. I was told that with five individual breaks in my laundry room I had the record.

All of this repair took several weeks. The apartments rented out a couple rooms at the hotel next door to let us shower. People started collecting water from the pool to fill the tank on the toilet so they could flush. After they finally repaired all of the breaks, I let them know that my washing machine had been damaged. I had just purchased a nice front-loading washing machine, and now it sounds like a jet taking off. They had someone come in and ‘fix’ it. It got a little better, but it still makes waaaaay too much noise.

Once it got a bit warmer they started working on installing new turn off valves for each building, so we ended up without water quite a bit in the next few months.

Pacific Northwest

After spending so much of my life in the desert I decided to move to a wet place. When we first moved to the northwest it was so green. More shades of green than I had seen in years. Last winter was very mild, and from what I gather, normal. This past summer though, we had a drought. I keep joking that I brought the desert with me. Of course to my family the amount of rain we have seen is a lot, but compared to normal here, it is no-where near high enough.

There were wildfires here, something that I grew up dealing with, but thought I was getting away from. Over the summer when I would look at the grass so brown it looked like I was in New Mexico again.

This winter has been colder than the last, with less precipitation. But the mountains have gotten quite a bit of snow and the passes have had to close several times. The other day I was told that last year an area that did not open last winter because it was too warm was closed this year because of too much snow.

The other day we noticed snow in the area, but it did not stick, save for one small patch on the pavement. Today it started to stick. In a few hours we had enough to make it look white out there. It stopped snowing, and the temperature got above freezing, so now it is not white, just wet and probably turning to ice.

So What?

In comparison to some of the extreme weather events we have started to see over the past few years, my experience is nothing. So why do I even talk about it? Because those extreme events are not the only strangeness going on. Just because those are the things that make the news does not mean that other than that things are normal. We need to understand that there are a lot more changes going on than most people recognize. Whether you believe that humans are the cause of climate change or not, things are changing. We cannot deny it when it is happening right before our eyes.

Things are changing faster than the early climate scientists predicted. Many scientists today hesitate to even reveal the true extent of what their research shows because they know that people have a hard time believing what is out there already. Most of the world agrees that humans are the cause and humans need to do something about it. The United States is doing a lot to block these efforts.

Why would the people in power do that? Money. Current companies do not want to loose their existing investments and are spending money lobbying politicians to protect their interests. That money would be better, and more efficiently, spent if they turned to establishing themselves in renewable energy instead of fossil fuel.

I do not understand what people think that the scientists motivation to lie about this would be. They have nothing to gain by taking on this type of company.

The current goals agreed upon internationally are woefully under-ambitious. There are numerous examples of nations that are making the commitment to move ahead and are making rapid progress towards that goal. The United States is putting up blocks on these international agreements to avoid any obligation themselves. Our internal goals are pitiful. They will hardly start to make any difference by the time that we have reached the point of no return.

 

Happy New Year!

This year I am looking forward to a lot of big changes that are already in the works. I am also doing everything I can to create even more.

I hope that my readers are enjoying my content, but I am considering seperating out my costume blog from the rest. Even though it is all me, I am working towards developing a costume business and do not want my political beliefs getting in the way. However this means creating interesting content for two seperate audiences, while starting a business and working full-time. All the while trying not to ignore my family and other responsibilities. I also know that since I have been sending people all to the same site, that would inevitably lead to confusion. On the other hand, it is better to do it now while I am still just starting out. What do you think?

I need to finish building a few things and taking pictures, but as soon as I am done I will set up my Etsy store and share that with everyone. I will be endeavoring to provide high-quality pieces ranging from the elaborate to the simple. I am working on some toys now, but my costumes will also be available. Everything will be made-to-order, so we can make sure that everything is just right. This will also be the main channel to contact me about special orders. I always love a challenge!

I look forward to the possibility of making money doing something that I love. I know this will be a challenge, but if I can make it work, it will be better for myself and my family. Wish me luck, and I wish you all the best for all of your New Years Resolutions!

Geek Culture

Like many people of my generation, I am surprised to find what was out is in. I was always the type to like what I liked, no matter who said what about it. This has always been obvious in my clothing choices, but it is not the only thing.

My personal geek has always been history. When I graduated from college with a B.A. in History I decided I could stop calling myself an ‘history nut’ to calling myself an ‘Historian’. I have never made the change.

But there is also books. I love to escape into a great story. My teachers used to have to slow me down. I was told that I would not have time to read all of Little Women in time to finish my fourth grade book report. In fact sometimes it is a book that gets me into history. Reading a book about King Tutankhamun’s tomb is what got me into studying Egypt for several years.

And then there is the clothes. Historical clothes, fantasy clothes, elegant clothes, funky clothes, kids dressed like grown-ups, grown-ups dressed like kids. Most anything that was not the norm was fair game. (That said, more recently there have been a lot of people pushing that same box in places I won’t even go.

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Like this rendition of a bubble dress)

When I was young I resisted a lot of ‘geek’ things. I had a personal ban on sci-fi, was wary of fantasy, knew nothing of Anime, and rejected Video Games. But I always felt a kinship with this type of geek. We were all outcasts, we knew what it was to be left out of the clique. But somewhere we had a feeling that some people, maybe even the ones who hassled us the most, did it because they were afraid to let anyone know they were like us.

Later on, with the re-birth of Goth, I found the first outcast clique I felt like I could fit in with. The fun clothes were just up my alley, and I did not keep to the ‘all black’ rule, as my Morticia Morticia dress might show. I remember one day I was wearing a lime green floor length dress that I had made with black lipstick and some friends started to debate whether people who saw me would assume I was a Goth or a Raver. I had a lot of fun with the fact that I could find makeup in totally wild colors, and I would spend the hour and a half morning bus ride designing elaborate Venetian style masks out of eyeliner.

By this point Lord of the Rings was out, and I was a big fan. I still had not seen Star Wars, but I was beginning to be exposed to Anime somewhat, and I was more computer savvy than most people my age, although by no means a computer geek. Compared to them I live in the stone ages. (And might prefer that). I was already in the SCA and was finally feeling like there were people with whom I could fit in, something that, outside of Madrid, I thought was impossible in elementary school.

It was not until an awesome college professor who specialized in Shakespeare had us analyze A New Hope that I finally got over my ‘no sci-fi’ rule, although I do still find a lot of it not to my taste. I still have trouble getting into video games just because they have a tenancy to eat so much time. That said, I have my weaknesses. I play Sims, Tetris, Bloons and Civilization far more than I should, and I play Minecraft (much to the amazement of my students when I was substitute teaching) on occasion. I love going to cons, of any sort. It is another place where I feel at home in my crazy costumes.

These days, with the popularity of geek I find that I feel almost disappointed, now that the people who would have been my bullies behave like they are my pals, I get a bit put off sometimes. As many people know it is easy to tell a true fan from those who embrace the geek because of the popularity. And sometimes, because I am a late-comer to some of the geek myself, I feel like I am either placed in that category or I am being deceptive to people who think I have been a lifelong fan. On the other hand, there are so many things that do play into my lifelong geeks, that I feel like finally the fad has joined me.

Steampunk is a perfect example. It is technology, albeit fictional, that I can understand on some level, it is history, sort-of, and it is clothes! Victorian is one of my favorite periods, and recently it has shown up in several places. In my own mind I make a distinction between

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true Victorian
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the idea of Victorian   (Dracula, Melodrama, etc.)

as well as

 

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Goth Victorian

and

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Steampunk

But I like all of them and I think that it is awesome that something so different from modern fashion is having its own ‘retro’.

 

Growing up where I did I have not really had much opportunity to go to conventions, but where I am living now is part of the nerve center for some of it, and I really want to go explore it more.