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summing up 2008

Not that I believe in these types of summations all that much. However I still want to do one today, since this year has been an important one in my life I think.
I suffered two big losses this year. The first was my mother, who passed away on October 24th, after a prolonged illness. As a young girl she had gotten tuberculosis and apparently once you get that it never ever goes away but only goes into remission to strike back as soon as the organism is at a weak point. Until 7 years ago she was an active, vital, great looking, young/old woman who amongst much else took care of a huge garden single handedly. Then the illness came back with a vengeance and what used to be a strong, willful life gradually faded away in front of our very eyes. The massive quantities of antibiotics she had to take to combat the TB completely deteriorated her liver, causing a cirrhosis from which she died very painfully at the age of 82.

My relationship with my mother has always been very complex. She was a Professor of Law, an academic. Highly intelligent as well as headstrong. She was also very introverted, a recluse who much preferred the company of animals and plants to that of humans. Thus her passing has caused a lot of introspection and coming to terms with much unresolved matter from our past - all of it still very much an ongoing process.

While I have very close friends in far away places, I had two best friends located in close proximity right here in Istanbul, with whom I hung out with all the time, had hour long phone conversations with on a daily basis. Nukhet, a brilliant woman, a jazz singer, I lost to Leukemia almost 2 years ago . And this year the other member of this close-knit triad of 37 years, a wonderfully funny, warm, talented man named Ragip, passed away from a very rare illness which was wrought upon him as the result of careless/cavalier habits in his professional life as a very successful industrial designer working in metals - a total horror called Miner's Disease which completely devastated his lungs. Ragip died exactly one month after my mother on November 24th. Nukhet, Ragip and I: We met on the first day of art college in 1971. Three little opinionated, fledgling, wanna-be designers. Ultra big mouths, little to show in the way of knowledge. Very very very naughty, living somewhat dangerously... Need I elaborate?
During the whole year Second Life was very much in the foreground.

Until July I was busy building Syncretia. Syncretia seems to have become something of a success - which startles me quite a bit since it is so very private. I built the place as a playground and not really as an artistic environment -  or rather I have come to re-examine what artistic activity means to me and built it by these new playful/narrative tenets. I met Hack, Mossy and wolfie in 2007 and it is their joint influence that has changed my perception of creative activity throughout 2008. The outcome is Syncretia.

Due to exhibition commitments coming up in the Fall I had to stop building Syncretia and leave it exactly as it was after July. Compounding this was the worsening condition of my mother's and Ragip's health in Real Life. But not to beat any further about the bush or to come up with more excuses, the bottomline is that I have been suffering from quite a substantial creative block over the past 6 months or so. However, although I have not built anything as such, I have become engaged in another kind of creative activity which seems to me to have considerable implications when it comes to self discovery - the creation of alts in Second Life. Through them I have begun to realize that my holistic self-perception simply does not hold water, that there is far more than meets the eye in the composition of my psyche. That I am made up of many personalities, many selves - and often not even very harmoniously at that. Again, I would not have embarked upon this road had it not been for the example that MosMax has set me.

I have always played dress-up games in Second Life, however the second half of this past year has been practically one prolonged dress-up game. I freely acknowledge that I am very superficial in that way: I love clothes to excess in both lives. Not expensive clothes, certainly not designer labels, but just quirky eccentric clothes. These days I seem to be slowly coming out of my creative block and have started to design my own line of apparel which I intend to sell. I should probably mention that I had designed some clothes in my very early SL days, however in the interim not only has my perception of creativity changed but also my self-perception; thus these old clothes are not going to be part of any of this. They belong to another life, another self. There is as yet very little that is completed from the ones that I am putting together now, however when I get to the point I will be displaying them on my little plot at Klein, which I have already re-built as a shop. Whether it will be for money or as give-aways in the way that four Yip does, I am not yet entirely sure...

One new thing that has come into my life in 2008 is blogging. This has led me to blogging on the NPIRL blog, which in it's turn has led me to give quite a bit of thought as to what the the distinctive attributes of metaverse creative content might be; how best to define it and what would set it apart from Real Life creative output. The conclusion that I have been coming to is that the uniqueness of metaverse creativity lies in its ability to induce behavioral change and the consequent re-examination of the self, the definition of new persona and selves, the assuming of ever new characters and roles which carry the potential of leading us into convoluted journeys of self-discovery.
Bettina Tizzy has been massively supportive during the emotionally very difficult period of the past 2 - 3 months, particularly just around the times of the deaths of my mother and Ragip - so, many thanks are due to her for that alone. Added to which should be huge thanks for all of her wonderful efforts at getting the name of Syncretia out and about - at which juncture I would definitely need to mention Hamlet Au and Aleister Kronos as well...

And finally... There are other things. Confusing, hard to define states and emotions, still appearing to be unresolved; the nature and details of which I have no inclination to discuss here. However, they do need to be mentioned in this summation since they have been hugely important, if not indeed paramount, in how this entire year progressed and how it is now seemingly transitioning into a new one.

So hello, 2009.

Makes one think...

I have followed the recommendation of a colleague and bought Filter Forge. And so, here I am wondering about quite a few little things:

I have been sitting in front of this for the whole weekend now and I am still finding it hard to tear myself away. Not that I don't know my photoshop plugins backwards and forwards but this one is really something else. What differentiates it from others is that these people have created a procedural interface through which you can create your own filters, which has generated a community of filter developers who upload their output onto an online library. Obviously I am nowhere near figuring out how this procedural thingy works yet, so I am containing my enthusiasm to creating new presets based upon the existing filters which I have been downloading from the site.

The computer is creating its own particular kind of craftsmanship. So, what are the new criteria? How do we assess competency for God's sakes? Sorry, scrap that thought - how do we even assess ownership?

I decided that I would save some of these as jpegs and keep them handy to look at later, since I tend to forget what something looks like in action just by its name or that little thumbnail - and there are literally hundreds and hundreds of these things over there, and it would be really easy to become confused... So, here I used a modest little photo which Xia took for her famous photosphere tutorial. Just applied filters from the "Creative" category of the library. With some I did create presets of my own by sliding back and forth some sliders and tweaking a color here and there. However, some I really didn't even bother modifiying - the original is so drop dead gorgeous to begin with - "if it ain't broke don't fix it", being as good a motto as any, if you ask me. There are a few here, but there are others on Flickr as well, if you want to take look there.

The original image
Plastikono by Dragan Stiglic
Generate Grunge by ronviers
Perspective Blend by Voldemort
Acid Flux by Sphinxmorpher

So, if I were to apply these to some silly assed photograph or other, got me some nice large sized printouts from that and sold them as my "artwork" - what kind of a jerk would I end up being? Would that not be plagiarism par excellence? But then again, one could say that I was the one who decided on the photo here (the filters tend to work better on things with big empty areas I found) and I was also the one who decided which filter to apply? But really... Is that enough to make me the creative agent here?

Other important question: What kind of a generous human being is it that "creates" one of these beauties and then just puts it there for all and sundry to plunder?

I am just totally totally gobsmacked! Totally...

(Oh and, this is just the creative category, mind you. There are all these textures that people put in there - simply to die for!)
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My Alts

From an old blog of Alpha's:

"I did not use to have them - alts I mean. I was way too engrossed with my life and all of the countless events that would make everyday hilarious. I was having a riot and there really was not much time for introspection. And in the end, I think that alts are all about introspection, an inward journey. At least that is what they are to me. Something changed over the summer. I still do not know why, it is not something that I can understand or change. And at that point the alts started to materialize. In the end an utter manifestation of my loneliness.

First came Xia, or rather Xia came first in the sense that she started to live in the metaverse, started to develop an independent identity before the other two did. However, technically she is actually the last one to have been rezzed. Grapho and Furry Incognita actually came before her. But Xia has spent some considerable time as the only active avatar and consequently she is the only one of the three who has managed to acquire a more or less tangible personality. As of yet the others are far more ephemeral.

Grapho has not really even lived yet. Something that needs to change, particularly since he is quite likely to be the most important one, the one who will probably end up leading me furthest down my inward journey. And maybe that is indeed why I keep putting off hanging out with him. I do not yet know who Grapho is. And also Grapho is changing these days.
Furry Incognita has been around more than Grapho and I am beginning to get a glimmering of an understanding about her. She is antisocial. Beyond that, I cannot yet know for sure. I have an instinct that she might be quite cruel. At least sometimes. Or self protective rather. Cruel for self protection.
They are all me. It shocked me when I realized that Xia was me. She is so different to my self perception. Nonetheless she is me. And so are the others."

Teeeee heeeee...

And oh boy, do I have good reason to be in such a gleeful mood:

It is official people, I am now in the Hall of Fame of Data Visualization! Visual Complexity is the one place of all places where a data vis designer dreams of having his/her output posted. And they went and posted mine! And without me even having applied for it! Now is this cool or what?

I made the Bridge Project a few years ago, as part of my PhD work and rising to yet another dare of Roy's. Just before then I had presented this somewhat ill fated paper called entré loup et chien at a conference and Roy told me summarily to stop it with all of the bla bla bla on Freud and all of the other nonsensical theorizing on associative thinking processes and instead to go and put my money where my mouth was by showing him what I meant. And I went "oh sure, that's an easy one Roy..." and found out, much to my horror, that what I thought would be a piece of cake for a kick-ass designer like myself turned out to be a colossal task, the process of which I describe in the dedicated website of the piece.

I then presented the Bridge Project at a number of international conferences, and most notably at Siggraph in 2005, as part of the sketches program. But this add-on at Visual Complexity is truly way more than what I would have expected, more than what it deserves, given that it isn't even a true blue blooded data vis project. Only a hundred or so nodes to the whole construct, whereas any data set has to consist of at least 10 times that before it can even be considered as sufficiently complex material appropriate for righteous data visualization research.

But what the heck! They chose it anyway! And so, again, teeeee heeeee... I am tickled pink!

"This time I am alone. This time I will not leave"

I think they call this low grade depression. It is not fatal, it will resolve itself eventually, I suppose.
I do not sleep very well at night, so I end up sleeping through most of my days. Watch TV. Out of the hundreds of channels available to me, I have the thing tuned to a crime fiction channel and so I end up watching endless re-runs of Cold Case and Silent Witness. Read a lot of crime fiction too. All of these loner detective types with destroyed personal lives. I think that is precisely why the likes of me so totally revel in this pulp...

I am on a sabbatical leave, supposedly writing up my PhD dissertation. Traveling for research related to that - ostensibly... I have conference papers to write, meetings to go to. Things to see, people to do - that would be me. Like, just now someone called me up to invite me to an art opening this evening. Will I go? Of course not. Some handy excuse will come along I am sure.

Sometimes I go and buy clothes though. Stuff I have no need for, that I have no inclination to wear even. Where to anyway, given that I do not even want to go out?

Second Life seems to have become a place of employment these days. I log in to get material for the npirl blog. Or sometimes I log in to clean out my inventory. All these clothes... RL... SL... All dressed up and nowhere to go - that would be me. There is a bit left on the Eastern shore under the water at Syncretia that I could conceivably build, but then I seem to have a real horror of doing so: Once that is done then I am done there. I will have no more prims left. And the place has to stay as it is till the end of January because of this exhibit anyway. Can't really touch it.

So, into this emotional wasteland Truthseeker rezzed the Singularapture this week. While we were busy there today Jedda Zenovka, who was with us, gave me a glorious photo of the view from her RL veranda: A rain forest.

The Singularapture looks so unbelievably beautiful where it is now at Syncretia. And in my inventory I have a snapshot of a rain forest from the other side of the globe.

And then this text floated over my head in Second Life the other day:

"This time I am alone.
This time I will not leave."

Just about sums it up, doesn't it?
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A feeling of not belonging

Dedicated to the anonymous reader of this blog...

... There is a woman playing the piano. You probably cannot hear the notes but you see her from far away. She is playing Claire de Lune. It takes a long time for the notes to emerge, she has to start over and over, from the very beginning. Little did she know it at the time, but it turned out that she was giving a recital to an audience of only one. I suppose she did have an inkling of sorts... That sense of knowing when someone else is there... Over a distance of hundreds upon hundreds of miles.

She was born as a man. Made her appearance clad in those unsightly black shirt and jeans, hair combed sideways, staggering onto Orientation Island. That was one year ago. She/he did not need to hang around there, after all, his/her human knew her way around Second Life. She teleported to the mainland, stood lost at an info hub. And then he/she was discarded. Until quite recently.
She is an odd one, this woman who was born as a man. It is taking her quite some time to find herself, to figure out who she is. She rarely talks, she has no friends to talk to anyway. Belongs only to one group and that one out of sheer necessity.

I, on the other hand, am Alpha. I have friends. I belong to groups. I even have a real virtual job for God's sakes, writing for one of the most prestigious blogs of Second Life. And then of course there is my life's work, my building. I am Alpha Auer, Resident of Second Life. Not a mere cipher. I have an identity.

But do I really? If all of this is so cast in stone, so indisputably real, then who is she? Why is she around even? Why is she the one giving nocturnal recitals? Why is she haunting my human imagination? Filling my dreams with her unreality?

I was at a lecture on Second Life last week. One thing that was said stuck with me. That Real Life is no more "real" than Second Life. It is all a projection anyway. Plato's Cave. Second Life gives us a novel understanding of our imprisoned condition, facing the shadows of our so-called "reality". Our minds.

We do not belong. Neither here nor there. Meanwhile, she will continue to play the piano.


When I was a child I knew a wolf. We lived on the outskirts of the city, and somehow this feral puppy made it into our garden. For months and months all I could do was to leave food for her, knowing that she would eventually venture forth in the cover of darkness. In time she approached me. She never became fully domesticated but she was there, on the periphery. There was even love in her beautiful yellow eyes, or so at least I thought.

And that is ultimately how we do belong. In the affection we perceive in alien yellow eyes. For a time.

My Beautiful RL

I am really more of a much-rather-stay-at-home kind of a person. I will happily spend all of my days right here, at home - as long as I have a good computer, a decent ADSL line and the roomies of course...

And yet at the same time I know that I happen to be living in a magical city. So, how is that for a contradiction then?

Fall is here, and somewhat early this year too. In fact, I have already had the heat on ever so slightly in the evenings for the last few days. The days are getting noticeably shorter and there are absolutely glorious sunsets that break through all the rain clouds, sunsets for which this place is famous for in the fall. I hate the summer and I love the fall and even the winter. The day I put on the first woolly socks of the season is a feast day. So, this really is the greatest time of the year for me and to my mind the greatest time of year for Istanbul as well.

I love this huge, congested, confusing, ugly/beautiful city and the funny thing is that I thoroughly detested it until about 15 years ago.


Istanbul was dead during the years that I grew up here: It was a provincial city of a million people or so. And yes - no doubt architecturally speaking it was far more beautiful then than it is today. The hills of the Bosphorus were still largely forested and most of the old gingerbread houses were still struggling to stand in their big pine tree gardens on the Asian side. And yes, people were far more polite and well mannered - the famous old guard Istanbul bourgeoisie was alive and well, daintily sipping their tea with crooked little fingers, sitting in the "Cercle D'Orient" or the "Grand Club", or indeed all the refined drawing rooms of well bred Istanbul ladies. Faded and pathetic grandeur... Turkish is a language with a formal "you", as well as an informal "thou" - and boy, was the "you" much in evidence back then... My my... Yeah... yeah...

It was boring! Elitist, uniform, stuffy, stultifyingly conservative, effete, outmoded... So stilted in fact that most people of my generation - at least the ones that had even one single, even remotely rebellious bone in their body - once they hit their twenties could not wait to get out. Either by becoming revolutionaries that desperately tried to throw the whole dilapidated social structure on to the garbage heap where it really and truly belonged, or by just simply physically wanting out. I personally went to London first for a couple of years and then ended up in New York where I lived for 7 years. And New York is, to this day, my other big love city - except that unfortunately this other big love has ended up breaking my heart, deceiving me very badly in fact, by metamorphosing into this "obey the rules whilst pretending to be hip" sort of an old fuddyduddy city... So there, in New York, the love is the woe of lost love; whereas over here, the then so deservedly shunned upon, sniffed at conservative Istanbul of my younger days has ended up revealing itself as the true wild lover?

And it all happened because at one point, in the 80's came a visionary prime minister, who opened up the economic barriers that Turkey had literally been suffocating under up until then. And millions came flooding in from the impoverished countryside into Istanbul in search of employment at the newly raised industrial parks and factories; bringing with them their cultures, their food and their music. True they were extremely rough around edges, true they were uneducated but they were also bright, innovative, ambitious and hard working. The hook nosed, blond Laz from the Black Sea and the Kurds from the east; and then of course the small, round faced Turkish peasants from central Anatolia. They worked, they wheeled and dealed, they confiscated government land on which they raised their favelas, and then they worked some more and turned the favelas into perfectly civilized middle class neighborhoods - albeit unbelievably ugly ones, that now stretch across the once unspoiled, beautiful horizon. Today Istanbul is a vast, and at times very ugly city, a megapolis of 15 million - grown to that size in less than 30 years. With horrifying traffic problems, and crowds possessed of an energy that people say is akin only to what is encountered in places like Shanghai and Hong-Kong these days.

And the kids of those once immigrants are now my students. And the students of all my colleagues employed at some 20 universities in this city. Close to half a million university students in Istanbul apparently... Blond big Laz boys snogging dark small Turkish girls. Kurdish mommy - Laz daddy. Turkish daddy - Kurdish mommy: The parents of the backpack brigade.

Today I was out and about all day. Various chores and errands that then turned themselves into an absurd sort of a shopping day where I ended up buying my 5th black backpack. And then came back to Besiktas, my 'hood, quite late and sat in a small Lahmacun (sort of an eastern anatolian pizza with ground beef on top) place and wolved down two of those while watching the "other" members of the backpack brigade saunter by in the rain. And eavesdropping onto this completely absurd and very funny conversation between the two lahmacun guys in their little red paper hats concerning soccer results and predictions, waving around rolling pins and little balls of dough to emphasize their points. I very badly wanted to take a photo to put in with this post (which I sort of began writing there I guess) but there was this heavily necking couple sitting directly dead center in my FOV and I figured they would not really appreciate all the attention, so I left it...


The backpack brigade: This must be the city of the backpack. I don't think I have ever seen so many of them sold or used anyplace else. Every second street vendor is selling backpacks it seems and seeing someone without a backpack is almost an oddity. Reason: Well, 65% of the city is under 35, you see. It is a city of youngsters, all stomping along with their backpacks, some of them with sometimes almost waist long dreadlocks (boyz and girlz - I have no idea how they manage to grow dreadlocks of a quality that would easily be the envy of most Rastas, given that hair around here is usually quite straight and fine), yet others with shorn heads, and then all the others with comparatively tame looking, nicely kept long tresses. And then, every once in a while, a scarfed Muslim girl amidst all the hair swaying crowds, one who somehow manages to contrive a totally punk combination with her all-star high tops, her jeans - with a mini skirt on top and then the scarf to complete the whole outfit - as likely as not to be seen busily cuddling a spiky haired boy with ear cuffs, whose baggy jeans look in grave danger of slipping south at any second. Countless piercings and grungy black t-shirts all in place. 10s of thousands if not 100s of thousands or indeed yes, even millions of them; filling the streets day and night. Filling entire soccer stadiums in colored face paint, busking on city ferries, busily reading their little underground fanzines, texting SMS at the speed of lightning, scouring the internet, clogging up both MSN and ICQ, eating and drinking in the thousands of bars and cafes that fill entire neighborhoods large enough to be cities in their own right, talking talking talking. And big worriers they are too - worry about everything, they do - hhh. Like I said, there are 15 million people here and 65% of them are under 35... So, go do the math. It is a huge huge number, creating a huge cultural wave, one that has brought a dead city back on to its feet - and then some...

They have created a formidable music scene. Turkish folk music amalgamated with heavy metal and hard rock. Then the Turkish rap scene. Blue collar parent's kids with jelled up spiky hair, singing a harsh mixture of Turkish tunes to rap rhythms. Then the ones that create crossovers between Thracian gypsy music and hard rock. The ones that mix up arabesk and western ballads. And then of course all those more serious and intellectual types, who take their ney and their tambur out on the streets and play Sufi jazz. Buskers everywhere it seems. I love it.


And yet it is a city living under the pall of an imminent and colossal earthquake. The geologists are saying that the huge fault line underneath the Marmara Sea is due for a break within the next 20 years or so. And when it does, the magnitude of the thing is expected to be 7.5 or even over. They have torn down entire neighborhoods that are in the direct danger zone (where I live is not anywhere near that category - thank god) and are re-structuring those areas. But still hundreds of thousands live in secondary danger zones that are also under grave risk.


After I ate my lahmacun I dragged my old and new backpacks filled with all kinds of absurd goodies up my hill (a very nice black beaded necklace, 2 leather wrist braces that I would certainly not be sneezing at in SL either, a brand new and ominously worn out looking black t-shirt that has "Turkish Rap Underground" written on it front and back, some shampoo that promises to make my hair curly... hhh). Opened the front door to find an army of roomies complaining loudly at my prolonged absence.


So, can my RL get any better than this? Not that I want to seem greedy or anything like that, or not that I am not immensely grateful for all that I have already - but... I should bloody well hope so!


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Enter Grapho Fullstop

I am not sure how I managed to get to Grapho in my convoluted thought patterns. Bett made a post on the neko gym on the NPIRL blog. From there I started to think about my avatar family, for whom I have in fact built that gym. Not that the lazy sods ever use it or anything like that, of course. Except for Xia... I wouldn't be at all surprised if Xia was sleep walking me over to the computer and logging her in for some nocturnal ab flexes in there. But other than her, no one ever goes near the place. Not even to rezz a bomb!

So anyway, for some reason all this has made me think of Grapho, my ill fated male alt avatar who is after all part of the family. Grapho came into being as a result of a dare. During one of our PhD tutorials last year Roy suggested that it might be a really eye opening experience for me if I created an avatar whom I would have a hard time understanding. After mulling over various extra-terrestrial beings and such I came to the conclusion that this would probably be best achieved through the rezzing of a man. And boy, was I right!

I have found it very difficult to become Grapho. Even his appearance gave me much trouble. Unlike Xia, whom I whipped into shape within a half hour, I worked on him almost as much as I worked on myself. And I am still working on myself, I should add. I have recently started wearing a home modified version of the Eloh Eliot skin and much as I like the skin itself I cannot stand my expression, especially the thing that happens with my mouth. It seems almost impossible to make my RL mouth in SL, I find... Anyway, back to Grapho: Yes, I did work on him for days. And what I came up with is actually the sort of guy that I really do not like the looks of at all in RL. Grapho is pretty, if not indeed downright effete. And I do not like effete. When it comes to male looks I am really not into pretty! At all!

So, in order to compensate for his looks, I decided to dress him up in the strangest cyberpunk clothes that I could find. June Dion made a killing the day we went shopping with Grapho. Every unimaginable (some of them pretty scary too) costume we got. Most, if not all, in black. Grapho has gray scale skin, so together with the strange clothes and attachments he really has ended up becoming an ominous figure - until you zoom in into his face and there is the sweet pretty boy, playing dress up horror games. Ridiculous...

I tried to invent a pretty bizarre history for Grapho, where he is this man from a hard core poverty stricken ghetto background, who has somehow worked his way up to become a hot shot architect through sheer talent and maybe even ruthlessness. (Except that Grapho looks about as ruthless as a bunny rabbit - but no matter). So, the way I made him speak was laced with a lot of curses, colloquialism. And in my attempts at trying to fill the role I overdid it to the extent where Mossy suggested that it might be a good idea to wash out Grapho's mouth with soap every then and again. Indeed Mossy had a gut reaction of dislike to Grapho, whereas Hack did not even become friends with him. Didn't even want to know the guy.

So, I wandered the grid with Grapho for a few weeks and then finally gave up. There were a couple of staggering observations that I made along the way though, the most notable one being that I was pestered with attention from female avatars, to an extent that I never ever am by men as Alpha or indeed drop dead gorgeous Xia. So, that tells me something about a kind of a role reversal in sexual patterns between men and women, I guess. Strangely enough, I read an article along this line just around the time when I was walking Grapho on the grid, in some women's magazine I gobbled up in the dentist's waiting room. So, there may indeed be some truth to this? Anyway, not my concern.
My concern is my inability to become a man. So, this is leading me to think about men and my relationship to men. Does my inability point to a failure to grasp the workings of the male psyche?
Here is the thing: I really like men. I become very good friends with men, in fact most of my close friends are male. Women, only very rarely. I work better with men, all my professional collaborators to date have been men. I trust quite a few men, and conversely only very few women. This probably goes back all the way to my father, whom I loved and whom I trusted implicitly. And my father never betrayed my trust, not even once and not even for a second. But did I ever understand my father? Or more to the point: Did my father ever allow me to understand him?

The essence of my relationship with my father, the thing that it was built upon, was play. My father had two qualities which have ended up becoming my sine qua non of life: One was that he had a tremendous sense of humor and the other was that he had imagination to burn. So, he used to play with me. When I was very young they were intricate make-belief games, the favorite one being the rabbit and the bear but there were many others also. We also used to build a lot of props for these stories. He was a very talented guy, who had wanted to become an architect but ended up becoming a law historian instead. As I grew older the games changed and one favorite was discovering things together. He had a VW beetle car and we would undertake these dusty long trips discovering archeological sites all over Anatolia. After all, he knew the subject well enough to make some significant contributions to the field, although he was not formally educated as an archeologist. Discovering an archeological site with my father was magic. He would see in his mind's eye how it had all been way back then and tell you about it all so vividly that you literally saw what he saw. Stones would come to life with his stories - some historic fact, some made up, based in what he already knew. He loved animals, he treated them as fully individuated personalities, equal in status to humans and a lot of my time with my father was spent in the company of animals.

So this man, who could talk for hours about things that happened thousands of years ago, who could transform himself into a bear and me into a rabbit and sustain the story for days and weeks on end...  This man who was really nothing less than a huge bundle of feelings, some straightforward and others deeply complex; running the gamut from vast love to vast anger... Did he ever tell me anything personal? About how he felt? Nope... And if I ever tried to broach any subject that would involve information on what he felt, how did he react? With a masterful sleight of hand of course: Before I even knew it we would have moved on to some other fascinating subject, with me left none the wiser concerning the thing that I really wanted to know: What he felt!

to be continued...

a la guerre comme a la guerre...

(... except that I do seem to be meeting my Waterloo over here, aren't I?!?)
To say that there is some considerable cause for concern is putting it really mildly. Here is what I have been having to do since yesterday: Cleaning out 1000 year old CD's, opening them up one by one. Most of them have totally had it after all this time, of course. Furthermore quite a few of them are left overs from the old Mac days (man, am I glad that fancy little contraption is out of my life for good btw...), so I have had to install MacDrive in order to be able to open those and the blasted software keeps making the computer crash every 5 minutes. I mean what is the point in inventing a software that proclaims to read the MacOS format on Windows, if it incurs the virtual equivalent of an epileptic fit the second it encounters a corrupt Mac CD?

So here we are, buried in mountains of old CD's going through each and every one of them. And this is all down to her influence isn't it? This... this... this... this housewife thing she has going on over there, this compulsion to keep things nice and tidy, to economize!!! Oh and here is what's really important: It is a dark dark day when I begin to refer to myself as the woman or as she: I'm telling you, this is the thin end of the wedge people... The woman and I, Alpha, are supposed to be one - or as good as anyway... Right? Has anyone ever heard me talk about a separate woman over here before? So what is this all of a sudden? That I need to talk to the woman about Xia? She is splitting us apart!

I did. Talk I mean. Not to put too fine a point on it, I said to her, hey listen, you gotta delete her... I mean it really is getting out of hand: She is living inside this computer now, constantly fiddling around with folders, organizing things, deleting, making copies, starting sub folders. Two jpegs, even remotely connected and boing! - we have yet another new little sub folder! (Has anyone seen her post on clean inventories btw? Now, if that isn't anal-retentive I would really like to know what is?!?). Then, as if all of that isn't enough already, suddenly she decides that she needs to clean up the entire computer environment. CD's, external hard drives, and all the stuff that is in all the other computers (quite a few around in this joint)... And does anyone realize what that means? What it means is that we (here is that bloody we again, just in case it escaped your notice...) will be sitting here for ever looking at mountains of defunct CD's  - one by one, I might add! Just because her ladyship wants to have order in her life. Oh yes, ostensibly we are supposed to be looking for some old files that are needed for some building work in Syncretia - a likely story, if you ask me...

So, I did speak to her/myself and to my absolute horror she/I sided with her! Xiamara is a good, steadying influence it was decided and she will stay! That there are things that we can learn from her? Apparently? So whatever next I wonder? We will be learning how to cook and swan around the kitchen baking cookies? Start serving the cats home made food maybe? And then the next thing after that I will be expected to wear a dirndl, I guess. Well, I suppose one can always buy one from the place where Hack got his... And if push comes to shove I could always accessorize it with some nice spiky neko leg and arm braces or indeed a clockwork brain? Or two?... I really have to think on my feet here - this is something of an emergency - I am being taken over! By someone with a penchant for floral prints and sub-folders no less!

But then again, it's an ill wind that blows nobody any good: That famous photosphere tutorial post of hers, that according to her (hhh - and I mean really hhhhhhh), tout le monde is waiting for with baited breath? Well, that's not too likely materialize these days either now is it? With us rummaging around in hundred year old CD's?



I suppose she does have her points, old Xiamara. I just wish she wouldn't be quite such a bloody goody-two-shoes, girl scout little preacher about them all you know?... I mean, when all is said and done, when I put my hand on my heart and am totally honest with myself, the CD's really were overdue for a clean up. Even the cats were peeing on them every chance they got...

And furthermore, it will be a cold day in hell before anyone catches me in anything even remotely reminiscent of a Laura Ashley gown... Ever!

teeee heeee...
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Comparing Toe Sizes

This is Sıtkı.

I have 11 of them, cats that is, but he is the favorite. I get heavy hearted before I go on trips because I will be leaving him behind and sit on the edge of my seat on the ride back from the airport in anticipation of seeing him. He is a big (tall and long, as well as fat) tabby tomcat. He is also quite stupid. He drools in fact, that is how stupid he is. For such a huge guy he has a tiny miaow. And more often than not, not even a miaow - he opens his mouth and no sound whatsoever comes out. Really, he is nothing extraordinary at all.

I found him as a tiny, emaciated kitten on my doorstep. That was 11 years ago. He was quite wild and it took me forever to even be able to get close enough to feed him, which would explain the terrible state he was in. People here feed cats on the street. When you walk down my block you can see all these food and water bowls set out. Not to mention the merchants in my neighborhood who are really wonderful with animals. Most stands and stores have their own cats and there is an army of fat, waddling dogs down on the market square, that are tagged on the ear by the municipality to prove that they have been vaccinated and are safe to be around. So, it would have taken a really shy and introverted feline personality to starve to death around here - which indeed is exactly what Sıtkı turned out to be. 11 years later, I am still the only one that he will come to. He is highly highly highly unsociable, hates his feline roommates (and they all hate him back btw) and he will go near another human only when he really desperately needs to be fed, most unwillingly and only when I am unavailable - like when I am traveling. But me he loves. And he lets me know that he loves me. I am his chosen one. And he melts my heart that way.

His size is really remarkable, he is huge. Big head, big shoulders, long tail. Huge paws. Fat big tabby belly, which he sometimes turns upwards when he sleeps. He sticks those huge paws up in the air and the big gut becomes revealed with all that mixed up tabby fur. Everyplace else his tabby patterns are perfect but on his stomach it is a reddish, grayish, brown mess. And then he dreams and these chattering chin movements and tiny screeches and grrrr's happen. I love him.

Cats have very distinct personalities. It takes living with 11 of them to realize how utterly differentiated they are. Even more so than us humans I would say, in that they are also completely uninhibited in displaying their traits. We adjust ourselves to the society around us and do our best to conceal our differences from the herd. (At least most of us, for most of the time). Not so with cats. So, I have complete introverts and extroverts, highly intelligent investigators and somewhat dull philosophers, aggressors and defenders. Those that compromise and others that would sooner die than give an inch. Thieves and gentlemen. Floozies and prudes...

Like I have this one cranky old woman who will position herself out on the front stoop crying in this god awful, plaintive voice to all the passers by. Those that aren't in the know will say things like "Oh, this poor animal, I always see her here. Why is no one taking care of her?". So, how embarrassing is that? Little do they know that she has just come out of a house where bowls are filled to overflowing with the best cat food that money could possibly buy? And that she has thoroughly stuffed her face before she stepped out there? Now why does she do that? Why this act of desolate, impoverished, unloved cat, desperately in need of attention towards the outside world?

Bahriye - the spectre at the feast... A nail to my coffin she is...

One thing that they all share is a highly developed ability to criticize. Anyone who has spent any length of time with a cat will be familiar with that gaze that conveys such utter depths of contempt towards anything and everything that it is surrounded by. Very judgmental little personalities they are. Sıtkı too, is extremely critical of all that goes on around him. Except me. Or is that my imagination? Or does his hard feline gaze really soften when he looks at me?

Huge paws I said. I do this very often: I put my foot next to his and I examine our respective toes side by side. His toes are considerably bigger than mine. Not my big toe of course, but my little ones are smaller than his big tabby protrusions. (It should be added here that quite a few of the others have pretty big toes too - but, as everyone knows, when it comes to these things, there are toes and then there are toes... So why are his special? And why do I make such a fuss over them being bigger than mine? And why does that give me such an immense sense of comfort, I wonder? Yes yes. I know. I am completely loopy. Have been for all my life. But still?

And here's another Sıtkı story, that I will tell to anyone that is willing to listen. So time to put it here too, I guess. But it really is a weird one, this story. All my cats go out. There are cat-flaps front and back in all of the windows. I live in the city center, in a vastly busy urban area but luckily it is also a pedestrian zone and, like I said before, most of my neighbors are thoroughly animal friendly people. Sıtkı too goes out every so often. About 2 years ago he went out and didn't come back. I have no idea where he was or what happened to him. (He returned completely filthy but with absolutely no weight loss so this one really is a mystery). As can be imagined I was totally and completely beside myself. I searched the entire neighborhood. And not only me: Every shop and stall keeper in Besiktaş was on the lookout. There were little lost signs in every shop window and on every lamp post. Not a day would go by without numerous reportings of the sighting of a likely tabby cat somewhere. The Boss searched every animal shelter in Istanbul, over and over again. We had the municipality on alert, garbage collectors were notified to examine the trash for a tabby body. During the first weeks I was frantic and then slowly I went into mourning. I was disconsolate. Everyone around me knew. My students tiptoed around me. Friends would bring me back treats from the cafeteria. I was a mess. Cried on the shuttle.

And then here is what happened: I am a very heavy smoker. In fact I am more or less a chain smoker. And like all really heavy smokers the one place above all others, where I love to smoke is (or was) in front of the computer. Where I smoked even more, where every inhale was pure unadulterated bliss. This is a time before I had ever heard of Second Life. But, Second Life or not, I have been a geek for 15 years or so now, spending a good 10 hours a day in front this blasted thing - smoking smoking smoking. So, one evening as I was sitting here, suddenly this thing came into my head and I said it out loud: If Sıtkı ever comes back, I said, I will never ever smoke in front of the computer again. This was the 26th day of his absence and that night he came back.

And I have kept my word. I have not smoked a single cigarette in front of the computer since that day.
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The look-alike avatar

In the last post I added something pretty much in the twelfth hour, at the very end. I said "your vanity" and then in parentheses I added "this one would be me, alas". This kind of came out of me. I wrote it without really becoming aware of what I was uttering until I saw it on the page itself. Now that it is out, I think I do need to look at this confession a little bit.

First the name: My Real Life name is Elif Ayiter. Elif is the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, the Arabic Alpha, in other words. Not that Turkish has any affinity with Arabic, but we did use the arabic alphabet for a very long time due to the influence of Islam. Elif, I think, is also the first letter of the Koran. So, Elif is a Turkish woman's name (oddly enough, apparently Arab's do not have Elif as a name), the translation of which is Alpha. When I was going through the list of surnames to pick as I was creating my account I immediately honed in on Auer, because Auer is very similar to Ayiter. Also, I am partially German and Auer does have a Germanic ring to it, I guess. Thus, the urge to make Alpha as closely related as possible to Elif was there from the word go.

So am I vain? Well, I most certainly wasn't at the time when I went into Second Life. I sat here in an oversized grey tracksuit, fumbling my way around Orientation Island. I remember that day quite vividly. I also had this technique developed to perfection whereby I would manage to totally avoid looking at any reflection of myself in shop windows and what have you. I was that revolted by what I saw. This has become so ingrained in me that even today, after a weight loss of 32 kilos I tend to keep it up.

But why did I get so fat in the first place? Was it some kind of punishment for the vanity of my younger days? Was my superego trying to teach me a lesson somehow? I do have a feeling that it was something along those lines. So why Alpha? If I was in fact meant to learn a lesson by depriving myself of my looks, why did my superego not stop me from creating Alpha in the image of what I used to be before I became fat? I already wrote here earlier that Alpha became the dragoman that led me out of one state of being into another. So, did my superego allow me to create Alpha because it reckoned that I had learned my lesson and was now ready to be discharged once again into the world of the living as a better person?

So, again, am I vain? Have I learned the lesson? Has anything changed in the intervening decade of the"fat years"? I cannot be sure. Of course, I would like to think so. I do know that parts of me are terribly insecure, have been since I was a child. But the rest? Am I vain? I also wrote a while ago, in the Diametric Opposite that I had tried to do the photo assignment that Murat gave to his students in the spirit that Ufuk had undertaken it. And that I had failed quite miserably. Is that thing, that fatal flaw that I cannot even bring myself to acknowledge, vanity then?

In the end, is vanity the thing that the look-alike avatar is really all about? I truly do not know...
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I have been spending quite a bit of time in RL lately.

I am very familiar with the faces that surround me in everyday life. My family, my colleagues, I see their faces so often that I have stopped thinking about all this. What a face may actually mean. I mostly love the faces around me, at this point they are as familiar as my own face in the mirror.
The Boss's face, a conglomeration of emotions, expressions, a mobility that runs the gamut from total contempt to mad faced hilarity. My sister's face: Naivete and romanticism personified. A beautiful face in its cleanness and its mobility. My mother: Sad beyond sad. Always sad - and yet mobile. Even within the sadness there flit these spurts of other things, emotions, good and bad. My grandmother: A vastly intelligent face, one of the most remarkable that I have ever encountered. Other faces: Erdag, Murat, Selim, Bayram. Wonderful mobile faces. And quite recently I met two more such. Wonderful that was. An afternoon in a park.

Mobility. I think that is it! All these faces that I love, that I trust, have that. There are shades of expression, levels and layers of emotion that co-exist as well as follow each other in rapid succession. Everything moves, it is liquid. Muscles rearrange themselves infinitely to express emotion. The faces that I love and trust are faces that have many many many, countlessly many states of being. Fine gradations of being.

Then there are faces that really scare me. They are the ones where the expression is more or less fixed, you always see the same state of being - or at best, very minor alterations to something that is largely fixed. Could be the world's most wonderful expression too, doesn't really matter. Could be a lovely, impish smile. If it is always always always there I get nervous. In fact, I get more than nervous, I become revolted. Because then there is something else there, that is concealed. That refuses identification. Things that refuse to be identified are things best left alone.


Today I went back into Second Life after a lengthy interval. I looked at Alpha's face. Her expression too is fixed. As are those of all the avatars around me, of course. But none of the faces that I love in Second Life give me the sense that they conceal some evil that had better be left alone - obviously. So, what is going on here? I need to think about this one.

Especially since I have lately been thinking about how accurately we actually get to know each other over there, in Second Life. It seems to me that the level of recognition amongst close friends in the metaverse is something that really does need to be remarked upon. We tend to reveal our warts to quite an extraordinary degree to our nearest and dearest. Far far far more than in Real Life I even think, to be honest.

Could it be precisely because we cannot rely on our faces to conceal things? Could it be that it is far more difficult to conceal your nasty little quirks and idiosyncrasies and downright objectionable characteristics when there is no face to hide behind? Or do we simply become far less inhibited when the expression is fixed? Like you suffered a massive stroke or something? What happens then? Has anyone ever investigated these things I wonder? The correlations?

Here's the thing though: You express yourself through what you do as well as what you say in the metaverse. And I think the doing bit is way more important than the bla bla bit. People that just speak and do not do much of anything else? Who wants to even know them in Second Life? And could this have anything to do with the fact that speech is not accompanied by expression when you are there? So that in the absence of facial expression, for speech to actually acquire meaning and interest it needs to go in tandem with action in the metaverse? That action itself becomes expression? Could it be then that actions really do speak louder than words after all? At least in Second Life?

So, could it then be so that the ultimate indicator of who you are is what you do? And, could it be that when doing is all that you can rely upon for self expression you really have no place to hide? Could it be that the avatar, far from being a concealer, is actually a revealer, in its absence of facial expression?

I really think that I am onto something here you know.

Yes yes yes. I know, I know. You can build yourself a persona that has absolutely nothing to do with who you really are. Sure you can. I mean look at all those transgender avatars. I have one too, who doesn't anyway? Or alts? And as long as you stick to public events and places you can probably conceal yourself ad infinitum. But that is a very superficial take on Second Life, hardly worthy of a hardcore Resident's consideration even. The minute you start to do; to build, start groups, make music, rezz - whatever it is that one does around here that ends up making a Second Life even remotely meaningful, that gives it an identity, you will start being seen in action. Action that clothes your chatter in meaning, that creates a context, an expression.

And then you are so busted. Oh, by all means, please do continue to wear whatever your particular cloak of concealment has been... Who cares? Anyone around you who has gotten close enough to give you a serious moment's thought will still know all of what you are all about. And what's more, here's the divine irony: That famous cloak you have so tightly wrapped around you will be the first thing that is giving you away - your innermost being, your fantasies, your illusions and delusions, your fears, your confusion, your very need for concealment or identification, your vanity (this one would be me, alas), your hopes, your lies, your imagination, your self perception, your level of individuation... You see, you took action when you built that avatar, that persona. It wasn't a god given thing, you made it. You created yourself and now you stand there holding the can.

Second Life is bloody uncanny that way. It really is.

Not Belonging

ISEA 2008. I am one of the presenters. Of course I am terribly happy, not to mention proud to be here. But...

There was this art opening, artists-in-labs, this evening. Why do I have this feeling of not belonging? I do belong! I submitted a paper, which underwent a juried and competitive process, at the end of which I was accepted to be here. All fair and square. Furthermore, there are plenty of people here that I know already: Some colleagues from my PhD program, also colleagues from elsewhere, two of my PhD tutors and of course lovely Nina Czegledy, who is such a warm associate to have. It is not like I am forced to stand alone in a sea of strangers. Admittedly when I first started to do this sort of thing 3 years ago, that first time at Siggraph for instance, that was exactly what it was like... But nowadays I seem to have earned my laurels somehow. In fact, tomorrow I will be one of the moderators in the Leonardo Education Forum. So what the hell is wrong with me? Why do I feel so uncomfortable, so ill at ease, so displaced? Why am I so dreadfully unhappy in any kind of crowd that involves more people than you can seat comfortably around a medium sized table? Especially a crowd such as the one that was there tonight?

It was lovely. In this really lovely building, with a huge courtyard. There was freshly squeezed juice and a wonderful buffet dinner. And orchids. Singapore is full of them. They grow here like geraniums elsewhere. Still I left while the whole thing was in full swing. Scarpered out in sheer agony and walked back to my hotel. I went through what I guess was one of Singapore's hip neighborhoods. Loved it. Sat in a cafe all by myself and had a Diet Coke. It was crowded of course, but as long as I don't know any of the people, as long as I am anonymous, crowds are perfectly OK. So, I feel comfortable in a crowd of people, unknown to me, halfway across the globe, that speak a language I have no idea about? So why is it that I feel completely displaced, miserable and heart achingly lonely in a crowd of my own peers?


The New Aggressive Look

I have been wearing my ninja cat boots and arm brace for quite a bit now and I truly did not realize that the two sticks are these really nasty gadgets that cops use in Latin American countries. Bett told me what they were only yesterday. When she saw me there was this "hmmm... what's with the aggressive new look Alpha?". She meant the sticks but also the boxing gloves. So, I figured that it really does behoove me to look into this bizarre apparel and what it might be all in aid of.
Now, the sticks I didn't know about but the boxing gloves I did, of course. And here's how it happened:

I get quite a few visitors at Syncretia and for the largest part they tend to avoid me. They are quite respectful of one's privacy and do not really venture anywhere near me. Well, not so this one avatar a week or so ago. I was working in the gym, fine tuning the exercise benches and what have you, when suddenly this dude shows up, right? He is one of those conspicuously (and intentionally) ugly avatars, but not a noob. Incidentally I am becoming a real pro at this, nowadays I don't even need to look into someone's profile before I have them sussed. But I do look anyway, just to make sure of course, and sure enough he has been around for a while, belongs to all the right groups and bla bla... Oh and, the ugly avatar look is kind of like going to the opera in jeans. It is this eeever so subtle way of implying to the SL community that you may be here but you are nonetheless maintaining your objectivity, you are refusing to become part of the system, you are maintaining a critical distance. So you run around looking like a crossbreed between Ruth and very badly mangled up road kill - but no matter: Who cares how you look! You are making a point! You also avoid buying anything at all costs, because that, again, would make you part of the system, a horrifyingly capitalist one at that, right? Tsk tsk... You are soooo different from all those frivolous avatars around you, the ones that are actually enjoying themselves? Right?

Anyway, back to the gloves. So, he starts chatting. We are standing in front of the workout benches. First he asks me whether he is interrupting me. What am I gonna say? Yes? Of course he is interrupting me. I am up to my armpits in virtual machine grease over there. But I am polite of course, and I say "no no not at all". He tells me that he has read about Syncretia on the NWN blog and that he thought that it sounded "interesting" so he came to check it out. Then he asks, "is this an artistic installation?". "Is what an artistic installation?" I want to know. "Well, what you are working on, with all the wheels..." he says. "Ahumm... it is actually a gym", I say... "Oh... interesting..." he says... I don't reply to that one so after a bit he says "well, let me look around a bit" and takes off... Like 5 minutes later he is back: "Where is the artwork?" he asks. "Oh" I say, "there is only this one thing that is kinda art, it is all those type thingies and rocks on a platform out front". He asks for directions, I give them and off he goes. 5 minutes later he is back again! "Very interesting..." he says... And... before I know what I am even doing I have rezzed the gloves!!!

So, in hindsight, I guess what I am saying is something along the lines of "OK, these may be slung over my shoulder at the moment, but one more interesting out of you and I am gonna put them on and then things will start to become really really interesting around here...". "Here take this... and this... and this...", "on the nose... on the nose!"... "You sanctimonious twerp!"...

Needless to say he takes off... teeeeee heeeeee

(I bought the gloves ages ago. I liked the texture and the color but I really had no idea if or where or how they would be needed. But you see, here's my motto: Always err on the side of caution. When in doubt buy! You never know when something will come in handy. Like all of my wonderful Geisha animations. There has yet to materialize an occasion for their usage. But when that day comes I am so gonna be prepared! I'm telling you... Buy first! Think later!)

So folks, onto some good news: There is this somewhat remote possibility that I might come into quite a bit of money. (And this is no joke btw, it really might happen. An inheritance thingy that involves a lawsuit with the State of Bulgaria - so, really remote but...). Anyway, if it does... I am setting up my own metaverse. Or better still, I am gonna buy up the decisive voting shares of SL. Get me a nice, cushy seat on the Board of Directors. What am I saying? Become the Board of Directors, I meant! And from that day onward this ain't gonna be no namby pamby democracy no more. Forget all of that malarkey! Dictatorship all the way! Applicants will be strenuously interviewed. I will be controlling login times. Like with pilots? Where they have to clock a certain amount of flight hours a month or their licences get revoked? Same here. None of this ambling in every so often, to check out "interesting" stuff. You wanna be here mate? You live here! End of! I will also be controlling rezzing activity. There will be random checks on what you have purchased or built - if it is less than XXX lollies/XXX prims, you are history!!! Random checks on all chat and IM activity. Verrrry important this one. Words like "interesting", "objective"; "discourse", "critical", "analytical", any word that ends with an "...ology", in fact any word that is longer than 3 syllables - and you are out on your intellectual little ass faster than you can type "epistemological"! hhh... I mean it! I really do!
So yes, it will be a very sparsely populated metaverse indeed - but well worth the results don't you think?


Hmmm... So are my non-intellectual pretensions really any better that other people's intellectual pretensions? Of course not! But... then again, yes and no, I guess.. To give myself credit where I do in fact deserve some, I kind of tend to keep the intellectual bla bla to research work and papers and stuff. And I do make a point of not using words like "epistemological" even there.
And I most certainly do not go to someone's home (which is what Syncretia ultimately is, of course) and say "interesting"...


And one does have to be vigilant with these things you know. So, in a way the gloves are there for my benefit as much as anybody else's: The nasty beast lurks within, barely contained...

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The perils of teaching graphic design in the land of the Shapeshifters

The blog stats from yesterday have given me more food for thought. I am actually in the middle of some serious writing, and I am taking out some time here for light relief as it were. God, I love this blog! Why didn't I think about this before? It is such an outlet for emotions and all kinds of assorted palaver. I think I will become a much more pleasant person all around for this. Do all of my ranting and raving here and step out into the world as fresh as a daisy! Totally amazing this is!

So, anyway, where was I? Why do I end up pissing off some of my students to the extent where they still have emotions that are bitter enough for them to hold a grudge against me years later? When they haven't seen or heard from me in a long long time? I think this somehow does relate to what I teach, which is graphic design - pure and simple. No software, no technology - just design. I expect students that take my classes to already know Photoshop and Illustrator and all of those other good things before they sign up. So, unlike some of my colleagues, whose course material neccesitates them to also teach technology and software, I cannot hide behind any objective evaluation criteria as far as the acquisition of any technological skills during my course are concerned. There are no written exams or quizes that I can dish out in a studio design class either. It is entirely based upon project development and evaluation. Now, obviously, there are massive amounts of reading and research involved in doing this, however the outcome of that will need to be transformed into a project's concept, its visual outcome and that is precisely what comes into the classroom and gets critiqued in front of the entire class. So, what I do when I teach is pure critique. And that is precisely where the cookie crumbles.

There are quite a few objective evaluation criteria when you do a design critique, regarding information hierarchies, informational flow, gestalt and so on and so forth. One also asks to see results of reading and related visual research. So all that is tangible stuff that any graphic design instructor with even only half a brain will hold onto for dear life. But then, there is this one elusive component that unfortunately does sneak its way in and that is taste. Now, for some reason, we all have this assumption that taste is something that we inherently posses - like beauty or a good singing voice. We never realize that taste is actually an acquisition, which is solidly grounded in learning. And no matter how accomplished your informational hierarchies are, and no matter how adroitly you have pulled off the visualization of a concept - if you lack taste - that indescribable something, that deus ex machina of all design - you are soooo f.u.c.k.e.d! And that is the bottom line, I'm afraid.

I do have a vitriolic tongue in my head. I can be cruel. And when occasion demands it, I will go straight into the heart of the matter and say that what I am looking at lacks taste. Which can of course be perceived as a huge subjective insult towards that individual, that could go on to rankle inside of them for years and years afterwards, I suppose. But, alas, here in Turkey this can imply something quite a bit more substantial than just a subjective remark directed at one particular person. In fact, I really have been thinking for quite some time now that this lack of taste is more in the nature of a cultural manifestation (I have come here after conducting years and years of design class critiques, where I have seen so many repeat manifestations of this that at this point I have really and truly lost count):

We are designing with the Latin alphabet, ergo we are designing by Western European graphic design rules, that demand a thorough knowledge of Western European typographic history, so that Western European taste can actually be acquired. And the Latin alphabet has only been around in this culture for 80 years or so. And that simply isn't long enough!

We Turks are an originally nomadic people from the Orient. So, our genetic roots are Far Eastern. Our closest linguistic relatives are the Koreans and the Japanese. Roughly 1000 years ago, a very severe draught in Central Asia compelled our ancestors to migrate westward where they encountered Islam and the Byzantinian culture. They must have been quite forceful these incoming horsemen and they ended up conquering both the Arabs and the Byzantinians, became settled and set up a series of Turkish empires in Asia Minor. However, as divine irony would have it the nomadic conqueror ended up becoming entirely conquered by those that succumbed to him. Thus, the shamanic religion was relinquished for a strange adaptation of Islam and civic culture was entirely taken over by what was Byzantinian: Byzantinian cuisine, Byzantinian etiquette and manners, Byzantinian court rules and attire, Byzantinian architecture. And high culture from the Iranians: Miniatures, ornamentation and literature... The poor old nomad with his horse and tent simply did not have sufficiently powerful cultural stamina to withstand the force of what came in from the thousands of years of settled cultures that he found himself surrounded by. The Arabs, the Byzantinians and the Iranians. Ancient, powerful cultures grounded in millenia of tradition. The Turks were really no match.

And why is this so important to graphic design you may ask? Hold on, I'm getting there - slowly I admit but... (hhh)... Roughly 1000 years ago Turks underwent a full cultural transformation and roughly 200 years ago marks the begining of yet another, when Turks started to undergo the process of becoming Western European. So, we are talking about a nation that is highly capable of undergoing vast transformations. On the one hand this may appear to be a good thing but in truth it is also a huge national shortcoming I think. Turks change too easily, too readily. We do not really internalize and identify with things, it all sort of ends up staying on the surface - to be relinquished at the drop of a hat (so to speak - these kinds of hats get dropped over generations of course, but dropped they nonetheless get around here). I think we are quite unique in this too. Is there one other nation anywhere that has changed 2 alphabet systems in one millenium? (I do know that the Koreans changed from Kandji to Han-guel but that is not entirely the same thing since Han-guel is based upon ideograms too...)

Now, one of the things that Turks took on as part of their new cultural identity back then, a thousand years ago, was the Arabic alphabet. And one of the things that they let go off in favor of westernization about 80 years ago is that exact same alphabet. In the 1920's we adopted the Latin alphabet. I do know that there is an awful lot of malarkey in the western mind that the westernization of Turkey was this Jacobean thing, imposed from above and held only in place through the intervention of a powerful military mechanism. Nothing could be further from the truth: Shapeshifting, I think, is just about the only true Turkish attribute. We are in fact totally brilliant at it. There is no ruling class Jacobean enough or army strong enough anywhere in the known universe that could get a nation to change two typographic systems in less than a thousand years, unless there is a predisposition for that type of fundamental change ingrained within that culture itself. Come on folks! Think about it!

There are of course, extremely good attributes that the shapeshifter characteristic gives this nation: Adaptability, intelligence, resourcefulness. An excellent sense of humor. Turks, in general, are very bright and talented people and I really do think that a lot of it is due to this quality of the shapeshifter. But... but... but... Like I said, this has its downside: If you are so capable of breaking from your past, by the same token you are incapable of establishing tradition. 80 years is not even a nano second where the cutltural history of a nation would be concerned. And there is no way that something as vastly novel as the Latin typographic system is going to become part and parcel of a nations heritage to the point where it becomes ingrained into your system as taste. Turkish graphic designers have to learn typographic tradition. In fact they have to work bloody hard at it, since they have to unlearn first: An avalanche of typographic disasters lurks on every street corner here, and furthermore comes into your home in the shape and form of packaging and daily newspapers. Taste is something that you begin to acquire on your mothers lap. But what if the women's home journal your mother was reading while she was holding you is a mine field of unspeakeble graphic design horrors stretching form cover to cover? (Incidentally, your mother could be an astrophysicist in all of this - makes no difference whatsoever: She's a Turkish astrophysicist right? Besides she doesn't really need designer taste in order to be able to get on with her job, calculating star distances and whatnot - you, on the other hand, do!... hhh...) Who is to blame? Your mother? The shopkeeper on the corner with his unbelievable sign? The publisher of the journal? Nobody. It is a cultural phenomenon that happens only here, in this land of the eternal shapeshifters. I go to Arabic countries and admire the typography - just about one of the most beautiful things that man ever invented I think. Then I go to Europe and fall in love all over again with illuminated manuscripts and thousand year old Roman inscriptions. Both to the east of us and to the west of us people have had millenia to assimilate these to the point where it is in their bloodstream. These people do not have to unlearn anything and relearn taste to become good designers - whereas we Turks really really really do. Which is the point where evil old cows like myself come into the game.

I am relentless in this. I will not tolerate the lack of taste that comes from a lack of knowledge, a lack of assimlating tradiition. OK, we are now working with the Latin typographic system and a thing of beauty it is too. So deal with it! Now, there may be very little evidence of its beauty on the streets at the moment - like I said 80 years ain't long enough for that to have come about yet. So, it is your bloody job to sit down and find all the beneficial evidence and incorporate it into your system whichever way you can - if you have decided to come into a university's visual communication design program and find yourself in my classroom, that is. And if you don't, if despite all evidence to the contrary you still happen to insist on thinking that your ingrained taste, the one that you walked through the door with, is quite sufficient for the task at hand, then I will make it my business to blast your sorry ass six ways from Sunday. That is my job! Teaching/learning is so not about namby pamby molly coddling. At its very best teaching is about breaking habit! And a good instructor worth his or her salt will do precisely that. Break your habits. Sadly, the one that I am compelled to break, that I am in fact paid a very decent salary for breaking is the habit of your bad taste, which is a direct result of the shapeshifter culture that you are a part of. Sorry people - tough bagels. But that is how I see this. We are reaping in the untold benefits of being the little old shapeshifters that we are but we have to learn to recognize our shortcomings and deal with them. Or else...

To give credit where credit is due, in 9 cases out of 10 my long suffering brood ends up being pathetically grateful for all the beatings that I subject them to. What usually happens is that I get a totally wonderful email from someone one or two years after they have seen the last of me, thanking me - really really thanking me from the very bottom of their hearts for what I have put them through. I am eternally grateful whenever that happens and like I said, it does happen more often than not.



To Cheja... (and pornqueen too of course! ;-)

We have this thing here in Turkey called - a website where people can make entries about anything and anybody that the hell they please. I have been intrigued for the longest time that I seem to have quite a few entries to my name, posted by my students of course. And some of them are highly unflattering too, I might add...

I was in for a bit of a shock just a minute ago when I glanced at the stats for my blog from today: The viewings have absolutely skyrocketed! Normally I do not get too many. The blog is simply too new (and also I think way too personal) to have attracted much attention outside of the people that know me already. And how many of those are interested enough to check out my palaverings on a daily basis anyway? So, today's activity was unusual enough for me to click on the details of the stats - and hey presto - there it was! My (at least, I think that this is who she is, can't be totally sure of course) recently graduated ex-student pornqueen has linked the blog to the entry page for my name on and now my students past and present seem to be trooping in to see what this is all about. There is even a related entry posted today on the page by a student of mine from almost 10 years ago (in this case I know for certain, one of her classmates spilled the beans on her - she goes by the nickname of Cheja). Anyway, she declares total amazement at my knowing about Aleister Crowley, at my hanging out in Second Life... (!?! - why, I wonder?)

So, here is my amazement: Either there was something terribly wrong with me when I was their age; or there is something really wrong with those of my ex-students who can somehow muster up this interest as to what I do or say. I do not think that I have ever given any instructor of mine even a minutes further thought when I was at that age, either while still in college or during the decades after that. My own life and all of the nonsense that I got up to was so interesting in itself that I would never have had a minute to spare for pondering upon some "old fogey"s life, you know? These days I have some amazing instructors and I would be lying if I said I did not give Roy and the others quite a bit of thought. But, I am older now and I am a college professor myself. So, in a sense my PhD instructors are also my colleagues. I attend joint conferences with them, I collaborate with them. They are not only my instructors but valued professional associates. Of course, I think about them, follow what they do and write about with great interest. But back then? When I was 20-something? Please!!!! Pffffffffffffffffffffffffftttttttttttttttttttttttttttt... Really!

Really? What the hell is going on here? How can one even begin to explain this weird phenomenon? Eventuality number 1 would have to be that I must be soooo totally, bewilderingly, flumoxingly charismatic and compelling and forceful and altogether so bloody interesting that some of my ex-students simply cannot help themselves and have to think about me non-stop. (Fondly or not - hardly the point here, btw. What matters is that they really still seem to be doing so!?!?) And furthermore, they have to manifest this by posting entries about me 10 years later?... Much as I would love to believe this one, I really seriously doubt that this would be the case. ROTFL, in fact... Which brings me to eventuality number 2: My poor little ex-kiddens (as wolfie called my current students in SL the other day - hhh) cannot be having much of a life, can they now? Not one in the sense that I had one when I was their age anyway. Not one in the sense that I have one today, for that matter. So, in the absence of anything better to occupy their minds with, they actually have the time to sit around and wonder about what I do over here? How sad is that? And if they manage to devote this much attention to me, I don't even wanna know about what other kinds of totally boring stuff is needed to fill up the void of those endlessly empty days and nights.

Of course, I am thankful to be able to say that the overwhelming majority of my ex-students have completely dropped off the radar. Or I hear from them very rarely, at appropriate occasions like when they send me birthday wishes on facebook or whatever. Now, that is nice. I like that. But as for all those that are storming wordpress just to see what I may be babbling about, or indeed the ones that make posts about me on slander sites (, despite all its good intentions can at times become a sort of a slander site I think). Don't you have anything better to do for God's sakes??? It is a beautiful hot summer's night out here. How about going up to Istiklal for some righteous cruising? Knock back a few beers on Asmali Mescit? Nevizade is also good for that, no? What about one of those nice chi-chi discos on the Bosphorus? And Kadikoy too is like so totally beyond cool these days you know... Hang out and shoot the breeze, crack a few good jokes? Gossip a little maybe?... And not about your old professors either - please!!!

So, here's a good, solid bit of advice from your nasty old school marm: Get a life people! I certainly have one (two in fact - hhh). I really think it is about time you guyz (and galz) did too!
Oh and... While you're at it you may also wanna consider not listening to Jethro Tull anymore? Jesus! Even I don't do that and at least I was around during the time when he could actually stand on one leg and not fall over! :-D