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alignment Issues

A friend who read the entry below wrote me an email. I wish she had left a comment, but she didn't: She is wondering whether it isn't all about encroaching middle age and the loss of youth, rather than the alignment of "self" and "persona", as I put it.

Hmmmm...

Here's the thing: I had a bit of a nasty shock a few years ago when I was made to listen to a tape recording of myself at the age of 20 or so. As much a friend today as then, Neshet Ruacan, secretly tape recorded a lengthy conversation between myself, his sister (and my beloved friend) Nukhet and a close girl friend of ours, Silva. Apparently the inanity of our chatter got on his poor nerves to such an extent that he decided to record it and play it back to us at some later date. The tape got lost only to resurface almost 30 years later, which is when we finally heard it. The vapidity of what it was that I actually said, coupled with the obnoxiously opinionated, self-important and humorless delivery had me really gobsmacked. And then of course, there was that "world weary", nasal tone very much in evidence as well? - hhhh. I was taped candidly in more recent years also, and I am thankful to be able to say that these days the way I sound seems to be more or less acceptable.

So, I can say in all honesty that I am actually quite thankful to have outgrown youth and have become middle aged. The young me had a lot of pretensions (intellectual, political and what have you). I was a very wild girl but always with a mission behind my wildness. I always had to make a point somehow. In short, looking back, I must have been hair raisingly boring. (And incidentally, the middle aged me is in grave danger of becoming hair raisingly boring too, unless she stops all of this self-indulgent "me-me-me" crap ASAP!!!!)

But... but... but... I most certainly do not want to look middle aged in the sense that I did a year ago. The defeatism of saggy jowls. The tired step of a heavy body. But conversely, I would love to have crows feet!!!! Crows feet add laughter to your face. Alas, I do not have them. What I have instead is a marked potential for droopy mouth corners, which make me look negative, pessimistic, ill humored, tired, un-enthusiastic - just totally obnoxious really. So, I get them filled out every once in a while. Yup! So kill me. I will do it anyway - hhhh.

"Do what thou wilt shall be the whole law and nothing but the law..."

Well well well, here I am quoting Crowley again! I guess the old magick has stuck to me more than I thought (but promise, it is only quotes - no real skills at casting circles and such... ;-)

I am thinking that in order to understand Alpha I really need to talk about what brought me to her...
So, there I was, a woman sitting in a hotel room in Montreal. I was on a research update for my PhD program and there had been a parting of the ways with a tutor whom I was actually extremely fond of earlier in the day. Furthermore, I had left my best friend dying in Istanbul (she did in fact die a few days after I was back)... I put my laptop on the toilet table in front of the mirror (that was the only place in the room where I had juice), turned it on and went into Second Life. Alpha was still a noob but she was already looking decent enough for me to be able to make a truly horrifying comparison the minute that I was logged in: Looking at me from the mirror was a fat, desolate woman, with bad hair, downturned mouth and saggy jowls. Nothing of any interest whatsoever would ever happen to her again. Her life was over. She would never be loved again, desired again, no one would want to embark upon adventures with her or dance with her or even want to laugh with her - a sour faced academic who was very good at giving conference papers, a feared and dreaded instructor who was a world apart from her students. Isolated, ensconced in whatever solitary horrors awaited her in the lonely miserable years to come, shared, of course, by her army of animals.

Looking back at me from the screen however, was the face that was concealed inside this woman under the layers and layers of fat that she had so successfully hidden behind for over 10 years: Mischievous, playful, and adventurous, wanting to laugh and laugh and laugh. No one knew, no one cared - but this was who I was inside. I wanted to live, go on strange journeys, play, do crazy things, maybe even dangerous things that might hurt me - again!

So, how had I ended up here? What had turned the one who had a future lined up, that she was running towards everyday of her life into this sad old cow? Love happened. I know it sounds maudlin and melodramatic but a devastating love affair in my late 30's completely turned around my life. Looking back on things now, I am extremely glad it happened that way, I am extremely glad that I had to go through that suffering, which made me shed one skin and reveal another. I am glad that I no longer live the life that I did then.

And so, what exactly was that life like? I was an art director, very good at what I did, piling up awards, working at a very fancy international advertising agency. As superficial a life as any one could possibly wish for... Clients, meetings, office intrigues, nice dinners at posh restaurants, cute little "dates"... Very predictable, very much like those lives are meant to be, the world over. Nice apartment, nice clothes, nice vacations... Oh, oh, oh... and before I forget: I also dabbled in art!!! I painted... Jesus...

Then one day I went to a party and met a man. I had no idea who he was, had never seen him before. He was not good looking or even particularly charismatic/charming in any sense of these terms, but to me he became everything. And I most definitely did not become everything to him... Simple as that... Oh, we did get together, on and off we had an "affair" that lasted for well over a year and then one day he got up and left, never to come back. What compounded the pain was that there was no way that I could possibly blame him or be angry with him. No, he was not a creep, he was not some womanizing jerk incapable of commitment - what he was, was a political prisoner who had spent 14 years of his life in jail. They threw him in when he was 23, he came back out when he was 37... Need one say more? He needed me and "my love" like he needed a hole in the head. He saw the total misery I was in and he had the decency to get out of my life and leave me to it.

Even during the "affair" my work had started to suffer. My heart was no longer in it, in the superficial soap bubbles of advertising, and it could be seen in my output and demeanor. I lost the job in the aftermath of the breakup. I lost it very badly, screwing up a major account so thoroughly that not only did I get fired but word spread around pretty quickly in the advertising enclave of Istanbul making me a pariah, someone who was a liability, someone who was totally unhirable. I did have some money saved up and spent the next year or so, maybe even longer, at home quietly and steadily getting drunk. I did not try to contact him, not even once. Just sat there day in and day out in a total daze of misery... And getting fat... Fatter and fatter and fatter... Bloated... Blotto... This was the time when a close friend who was interested in meditation and magick came to help me, to show me how to somehow visualize my way out of the nightmare. It worked to the point where I started being able to go out again. Another friend, Erdag Aksel, who is still a very close friend and colleague today, got me a college teaching job as a design instructor, for which I had to leave Istanbul and move to Ankara.

In Ankara I met the "thing" that thoroughly transformed my life; the computer. Of course, I had worked with them before as a graphic designer, but here I met Mark Siprut, who gave me a Wacom Tablet. Photoshop was still in its infancy - version 2 something. Still no layers, only channels. I sat down in front of one of the machines in the computer lab, a Mac Quadra, and before I knew it night had come, they were locking up the lab, I had to leave. Something like 7-8 hours had gone by - without so much as a bathroom break and no need for a cigarette, remarkable for the kind of smoker that I am... For me the computer is magick. My dabbling in magick had led me to Jung and Freud. And although I could never muster up enough interest for the practice of magick when it came to Jung the story changed entirely: At the point where the Wacom Tablet entered my life, I was already quite well read in Jung and had developed a very strong interest in Alchemy as a psychological tool for individuation - hence the name of my website, Citrinitas, hence all the alchemical references at Syncretia, my SL island. Even as I was in it, I was aware that I was going through the phase of Nigredo, the dark night of the soul, which would result in Albedo, a calm period of gathering and learning, which would eventually lead me to Citrinitas, a new time of turbulence during which the silver in me would (hopefully) begin to turn into gold. All of this is very closely intertwined with the unconscious; and in a very strange kind of way the computer, that penultimate system of logical 0's and 1's, for me is an environment for the realization of the unconscious through the copy's and paste's that bring together the strangest combinations, creating associations that were not there a minute ago. I had dabbled in painting but never whole heartedly. Now, I started to create images in earnest, compulsively... I got another teaching job in Istanbul and moved back to the city that I love only like one other - New York.

Meanwhile I was still very fat... Still withdrawn... I had started to become very good at being a teacher, and when I was not teaching I sat at home painting, gobbling up software in order to be able to do more and more. Completely absorbed in what I was doing to pay any kind of attention to how I looked, how I lived, what I drank or ate - which in those days was liters and liters of Coke and Burger Kings (the alcohol had thankfully stopped at some point when I still lived in Ankara, nowadays I drink very little - and only socially, never alone - I still smoke like a fiend though...). When I lost my job in advertising I also lost a huge circle of acquaintances, so my social life was meager, to say the least. I did have good friends but all were happily settled in relationships, with busy lives, so I ended up spending a lot of time by myself in front of my magick box, now fully enjoying Albedo. I was out of Nigredo, I no longer suffered. I only remembered my "love" very occasionally and whenever I did it was with more gratitude than anything else. He had come into my life at exactly the right moment and pulled me into a state of moulting that was much needed. The superficial thing that I was, needed to be put thoroughly through the mill and he was really nothing but the miller.

I became better and better at the teaching, which got me a bit of a reputation, which got me the job that I have today, which put me in a position where I had to formulate educational strategy not only for my own courses but for an entire university program. This led me to do research on the web, which led me to an amazing book called the Telematic Embrace, which led me to do a PhD at the Planetary Collegium, which led me into Second Life and to a hotel room in Montreal where I found myself staring into a mirror and a screen in a total shock of recognition: The moulting was complete for now. Doubtless there would be more to come, in years to come. I was far from finished, far from faultless. But for now Albedo was over and Citrinitas, that long awaited for moment had finally arrived. I had to go out there and live again, probably suffer again, certainly make mistakes - but definitely live again, become involved with life again.

I cried a lot that night. I had enough to cry about anyway with a dying friend and the sad episode with my tutor, but the faces in the mirror and the screen brought home to me what a horrifying mess I was in and how if I didn't do something about it, it would really and truly be over for me... Just as my thumb had spoken to me so did Alpha that night. And she and I agreed that I would do everything in my power to re-align "self" with "persona", so that life can come and find me, or more to the point so that I have enough confidence to approach it once again. And that is what I have been working on between then and now, with Alpha, my amazing dragoman, showing me the way.

(Oh and... I have lost the weight btw. 32 kilos - which is something like 70 pounds altogether)
(It also has to be added that there was a very brief phase about 4 years ago, when I went through a half hearted version, (a rehearsal if you will?) of trying to align self and persona. However, it had no long lasting effects whatsoever. Before I knew it, within months, I was back to how I was, back deep inside Albedo, still some 30 kilos overweight, with nothing but a few laser peels to show for my efforts... My heart wasn't really in it.)

The birth of an avatar named Alpha Auer

So, the time has come to talk about a certain young lady, who seems to occupy a central position in my life; who, in a very bizarre way has actually managed to acquire a life of her own - an almost separate personality that is quite capable of evoking changes and responses in me, I might add. A decade or so ago, I used to do these visualization exercises, that were also somewhat related to magick. One of them involved getting your thumb to talk back to you and I was extremely good at it, I must say. So, I think Alpha's origins lie in there somewhere, in all of my readings on Aleister Crowley... I was ready for her, I think. (Oh, and incidentally, no I do not practice magick or anything of the sort. My interest in all of that was to help me to get through a particularly emotionally turbulent period. So, really, no occult interests whatsoever over here...)

Alpha was born on March 5th 2007. She arrived in this world screaming to know where the appearance tab was - she had to do something about how she looked for god's sakes!!!! Did Linden Labs think she would spend even a nano-second in these dreadful jeans and purple shirt??? And those flip-flops??? And that cardboard hair???? Please...  please... PLEASE!!!

In the event, it took her only a short time to sort out her shape (luckily her human did know her way around Poser) and she very swiftly replaced the noob uniform with a black jumpsuit and boots but the rest took longer, of course. Finding her way to the Free Dove where she got her first freebie flexi hair took a couple of days but skin turned out to be a much bigger problem: I have this compulsion to make Alpha look like Elif. A huge part of this does have to do with the thumb syndrome I was talking about, but in the beginning there were other reasons as well. Anyway, finding a skin in Second Life, that looked right, that would make Alpha's expression somewhat similar to mine in RL took months! Finally, quite by accident Alpha stumbled upon the Mami Skin that these days Cory Edo is actually giving away as a freebie (!)...



During all this time Alpha went into Second Life every day, completely alone, completely lost. I was not at all sure what I was doing, what I was looking for, or looking at even. I had suffered a huge bereavement in Real Life very recently and part of it was an escape for sure... To a certain extent, I was reminded of all the psychotropic trips that I had been on in earlier years - the altered state of being... I saw very ugly landscapes and buildings... I teleported to art galleries where the work displayed had me lost in total amazement at the futility of it all. Why create things in a place which offers you a chance for an altered state of being/expression that look exactly like the sort of stuff you would churn out in Real Life, I wondered?... I joined groups and went to meetings - only to immediately drop them... I attended some educational conferences only to be gobsmacked by the vapidity of it all... I went to a lot of live music events: I found that the best ones were classical music events, so I joined a group for that... And also the Bliss Basin, where they did have some nice concerts I guess... I made some acquaintances but nothing earth shattering... So, when all is said and done, I did not see or do anything that was in any way rewarding or would have provided a reason to stay on - but I did anyway...

Somehow, through all of this, somewhere I saw the glimmerings of what this place could be: It left you alone to do what you wanted to do. And given the right circumstances it could provide a matrix for a vast transformation of self thorough make belief and play. True, no one that I observed around me in those early days seemed to be engaged in anything of the sort, but I somehow managed to recognize this embedded attribute within the system nonetheless. And that is why I stayed...

"Do what thou wilt shall be the whole law and nothing but the law..."

Concealment

SL is a leap ahead in that there are extensive modeling tools that change everything from body shape, to hair style, to outfits. Because all of this choice is present, you are now much more vulnerable to being exposed by the choices you have, or have not made in creating the avatar you created to represent YOU.

Mike Shannahan
http://interactive.usc.edu/members/students/2006/05/post_2.php


Given the changes that can be wrought upon one's avatar, the question as to what extent residents enact completely different roles to the ones they possess in Real Life is a valid one. My feeling is that while physical identity can be manipulated and changed, personality cannot. It is of course true that within the bounds of a superficial aquaintanceship the personality who sits behind the avatar may be successfully concealed. However any deeper relationship, any length of time spent together will reveal character, warts and all, even if the identity itself remains under wraps. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the avatar somehow presents a more accurate embodiment of the inner self that the Real Life persona does. The avatar embodies the most secret wishes and dreams. The avatar can also be the representation of prominent personal traits. Thus, the naughty, irreverent, politically incorrect dwarf avatar Hardwarehacker Hoch, whose "human" is no dwarf by any definition of the word, is not a representation of the actual Real Life body but of the human spirit, embodying a marked ability to create mischief, to be nosy, unscrupulous, mercurial and unpredictable, as well as the owner of a highly developed sense of humor!
,

Play



The fallout rate of the metaverse is high. While there are well over 10 million Second Life accounts, only about 10% of them are active. Of these active accounts a sizable proportion belong to those individuals who access SL for "what is in it for them". Projects, teaching, networking, amongst much else, is what I think, compels the majority of users to initially come into Second Life. I, with my PhD research, am certainly no exception to this. However, while for quite a few initial users Second Life never acquires any meaning beyond that, for others, like myself, it ends up becoming highly meaningful in itself. This small group of individuals are the real Residents of Second Life. The amount of time they spend in SL is certainly an indicator, however, to me, it is not the main one: What is significant is that these individuals are the ones who have no real objective in being there other than to just be there. Yes, they may also engage in creative activity, they may teach, they may network, they may be merchants of virtual goods - but their "presence" is not really attributable to these activities that are somehow related to Real Life in the first place, but to the fascination that a "Second Life" which is quite independent from a "Real Life" actually holds. And, as far as I can tell, this fascination is very closely intertwined with "play".



I am extremely hesitant to go into this, to examine what "play" is actually all about, although I do know that at some point of my research I will have to do so. Don't they say that trying to understand the nature of play is somewhat like tearing up the wings of a bird to figure out how it flies? So, I am terrified of losing my own recently re-attained ability to play in the process and will probably be defering probing into it until I feel much more confident in the permanence of this very precious novel re-manifestation in my psyche.



I am not at all sure if all hard-core Residents engage in play as much as we; that is Hack, MosMax, wolfie and I seem to be doing. I am reluctant to say this but I also have a sense that, in general, men seem to be somewhat better at it than women are. For instance a recent comment on my Flickr feed has given me much food for thought:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/33643459@N00/2269571003/in/set-72157603914137106/

My artistic output is also slowly but surely moving towards play, and this is one thing that I am immensely pleased about: Although this is not a discussion for this page, I have very very serious problems with the over-conceptualization and intellectualization that is rampant in contemporary art and I have often been quite horrified at manifestations of this in my own output. What I seem to have started to accomplish in my building activity in Second Life is a kind of unselfconsciousness: I am building water basins for my underwater animal entourage... I have constructed a huge and elaborate powerplant the ultimate aim of which seems to be rejuvenation... I love to see the detritus of my avatar family's plane and car accidents scattered all over my carefully planned layouts... I have built a very fancy tent complete with cushions, stove, tripod camera and bicycle...

It is true that where initiating communal games is concerned I still severely lag behind Hack and wolfie, who, as said, are indeed the true masters; but I join in zealously in anything that they instigate and once in I do get  caught up in the moment (although probably still not as fully and completely even now, since I have yet to get to the point where I am no longer at all aware of the glorious photo opportunities that these so often tend to provide).

The Environment


"How horrifyingly ugly!" was my first thought when I landed on the grid. And, yes, without putting too fine a point on it, for the largest part, Second Life is ugly indeed. "The absence of zoning and building permits as well as a total lack of city planning have created "a mess of urban sprawl that makes LA look like a utopia. Virtual homes are on the same lots as content shops, and one can’t help but feel lost... ...SL has proven itself as evidence that city planning is a necessity because neighbors will build a floating castle next to your gorgeous view of the virtual ocean, without a permit!"

Rezzable!

Nearly all MMOs hook players by making them invest in their character’s reputation, and SL is no exception. (Pearce, “Emergent Authorship” p.23) However, where other MMOs define reputation by an achieved experience level- a number- SL has redirected the fervor of leveling-up into the creation of impressive content that attracts attention and reputation. The detail of an SL player’s virtual home and avatar are status symbols that are physical evidence of that player’s technical skill and creativity.

My Second Life began in March 2007

I am doing research related to art education in virtual spaces and my specific quest is the implementation of a learning strategy known as the Groundcourse, which was developed and practiced by Roy Ascott, under whose tutelage I am studying towards a practice based PhD at the Planetary Collegium. During my research update in Sao Paulo in December 2006 Mike Phillips, my Director of Studies, suggested that I might do worse that take a look at Second Life.