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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.