I’ve been reading a book lately called “Other Worlds Than These”, it’s a collection of short stories about parallel universes from authors like George R. R. Martin, Stephen King, Carrie Vaughn, Orson Scott Card and many others. As a book it’s ok, some stories better than others, but it’s this forward by Lev Grossman that I can’t get out of my head.
“When I read The Chronicles of Narnia as a child, it didn’t so much as introduce me to the idea that there was another world as confirm my already grave suspicions on the subject. Even at the tender age of eight I was – as I suspect you were, and are, if you’re reading this book – one of reality’s natural critics. Oh, I knew that the real world had it’s good points. One must be charitable after all. Candy, for example, and cats, and hot baths. But by and large the material was just a bit thin. The jokes weren’t funny, the catering was uneven, and the less said about one’s fellow players the better. I had a powerful urge to see what was on in the next theater over”.
If that quote didn’t strike you as familiar, as something that’s rattled about your brain unspoken until just now, the rest of my post probably won’t make sense. You see, it feels like he’s talking as much about the 8 year old me as he is himself. There weren’t enough stories to fill me, my appetite for elves, magic, space, time travel, anything new, anything different, seemed insatiable. It wasn’t just books either, soon I didn’t need others’ words to feed me, the stories came from inside me. The tree in the backyard hosted a mysterious race of fae when I looked at it out my window at night, that cardboard box from the time we got a new fridge became a time portal that took me, more than once, to Camelot.
Fast forward several decades, and I sign up for Second Life. I see now that it was just another new adventure, new experience, new world. Some might say new escape, but I don’t always like to use the word escape because I don’t mean it to imply that there is something wrong with one’s current life or world or experiences. It’s not so much about getting away from anything, it’s really more about getting to something more.
Getting to my point here, in an unusually round about way even for me, when I discovered Second Life it wasn’t just the concept of an alternate world that held the appeal so much as the people in it. Why? Because it seemed to be filled with others like me. People who had read the same books as me, liked the same movies as me. People who knew what a Drow was, who were fascinated with Steampunk, who saw beauty in Cybernetics, others who could rattle on about the history and characters of Star Trek, or Middle Earth, or Narnia. I met people with the same sense of humour, who understood the same references, who spoke the same language in a sense. I discovered that there were others out there with the same larger than life imaginations, insatiable appetites for words, and the ability, ultimately, to suspend disbelief.
To this day, I’ve yet to find any community or group that has so many people who enjoy what I enjoy, who are fascinated with the same wild ideas, who like to talk about the strange, mysterious, and magical. There are people who get me in ways that are hard for me to find in a coffee shop, family reunion, or work place. I wonder now if it’s not coincidence that I found so many kindred spirits in Second Life. I wonder if there is something about it that appeals to that part of us. Probably, I mean I don’t think that’s any kind of radical theory, so the question is… what is that part of us that draws some to Second Life? Imagination?
If you’ve read some of these stories about alternate universes, parallel worlds, time travel, you know many are sprinkled with warnings. There is the danger that by simply being part of them, we could bring about change. Not only is there a risk of changing the people we encounter in those worlds, change the society itself, but we must also consider that by even being a guest in those worlds we are forever changed upon our return.
Another common thread in these types of stories is the warning about bringing something back from those worlds into ours. Luckily there is less risk of bringing something back from a Virtual world into our real space than there is say, if we time travelled to ancient Rome… or is there?
My theories on that were blown completely out of the water when I first came across the work of Aemeth “Cake” Lysette. She does drawings of Second Life avatars, she did the one of me shown above, and you can see more of her work on her Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/aemeth/ and her blog http://aemysays.wordpress.com/ or her store https://gumroad.com/ashurcollective.
On the surface perhaps you might just admire her artistic vision, her skills, her style, but if you know me at all, you know what I’m like, I had to toss the idea around my mind until it was coated in cinnamon and sugar and tickled all those taste buds that live along the moist edges of my imagination. I chose those words on purpose you know, the food references, because this idea is really just that delicious. A real life drawing of a virtual world avatar. Doesn’t that give you goose bumps? The walls are crumbling, the rules are broken, we’ve not just crossed into an alternate world, put our mark on it, but we can bring something back with us.
When I read that she was taking commissions, I had to have one. It’s not often I say that, although there are many things I own virtually that I enjoy, that are fun, that I use often, that I admire, I can’t say that I’ve ever needed something the way I needed this. Perhaps it’s because my time in SL is waning, it’s possible that I needed something tangible in my day to day life to remind me of that place, those times, the person I am when I’m there. Whatever the reason, I wanted, needed one of Aemeth’s works, a drawing of my avatar.
There was one problem, which look to ask her to draw? I have so many avatar looks, and I don’t even mean alts although I have those too, but as you can see from my pictures I change everything about my avatar, from hair to skin to clothes on a pretty regular basis. I change it for my mood, for the event I’m attending, for the company I’m with, but mostly for the photoshoot or blog post I’m trying to do. If I could have just one piece of art, just one image to represent who I am virtually, what I do in Second Life, what it means to me, which would it be?
I shared this struggle with a friend, asking his opinion on which I should chose, and he helped me narrow it down to two that are most commonly “me” when I’m not working on a photoshoot or blog post. The looks I most commonly choose to represent myself as when I’m on my time. Two wasn’t very helpful though, because as much as I wanted this portrait, I am still sort of frugal and would only treat myself to one. That’s when he stepped in and offered to commission two, so I could have both.
It seemed indulgent to have two, selfish, of not just his money but also Aemeth’s time, but in the end both agreed this was the best way. If a portrait would be that special thing, that artifact, that magical token I can take back to my world with me on the days or weeks when I’m not in this virtual one, my portal to alternate worlds, it had to capture all facets of me.
They are perfect. They are me in ways I don’t have words for, although, now that I look up, I apparently tried to use them all just to be safe.