The seasons are changing in Second Life! Here is a glimpse of my wee home all ready for the winter months. When I get irritated by the news — which is often, these days — I spend some downtime wandering through a virtual world. Not that virtual worlds are free of racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia, mind you. But sometimes escapism is my only coping mechanism.

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Writing from: my study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: the sound of a virtual blizzard.

Perpetual twilight in the Beast’s castle.

NaNoWriMo took much more out of me, creatively, than I expected. Every day this week I have attempted to compose a complete Holidailies entry and failed. But it isn’t all NaNoWriMo’s fault. I’ve been battling the dreaded lurgy since the last week of November, and now this part of the world has been plunged into perpetual twilight.

All right, so it’s nothing so dramatic. But on the greyer days, the sky never lightens completely, and “daytime” is around nine in the morning to three in the afternoon. It can feel rather bleak. Add to that the blustery weather, which has been providing my subconscious with a fun soundscape, especially what sounds like a cut-rate radio drama generic ghost sound wandering the halls with a “whoooooOOOOOOOoooooo!” in the middle of the night.

So what’s a sick, sleep-deprived, creatively-stagnant, FunkyPlaid-missing swan to do?

Mystic Bastion.

You’re right. Touring spooky castles in virtual reality is a spectacular idea.

DRD’s Mystic Bastion is more than an astounding homage to the Beast’s castle from “Beauty and the Beast”. This castle and all of its furnishings are gacha prizes. If you aren’t familiar with gacha, picture those vending machines containing little plastic toys that can be won for a coin. In Second Life, this method of winning random prizes has become a bit of a phenomenon. The end result is elaborate sets like this one.

Upon entering.

For a brief moment, I played gacha machines in Second Life. I stopped because it hits me square in that crazy “collector” place in my brain I try to avoid, the one that says I have to have complete sets of anything I aim to collect. So although I don’t partake anymore, I do enjoy seeing the result of healthy creative competition, especially when the end result is a gigantic castle.

Which one of us is the Beast?

So in the half-darkness, I creep around the creations of others and try to kickstart my own inspiration.

In the Beast's library.

I’m not a fan of fairytales, but I sure do appreciate a gorgeous library.

Photo credits: my own raw snaps from Second Life. Click through each pic for creator credits.

A self called nowhere.

There’s no escaping the fact that we’re all fragile bags of meat. Today my immune system bottomed out. This happens more frequently than I would like, and when it does, there is not much to do but wait it out with rest and lots of water.

Occasionally when this happens I like to set aside the bag of meat for a little while and pretend I am hale and hearty and having adventures. Second Life lets me experience things like virtual ice-skating in a remote winter wonderland instead of just sitting at home, feeling miserable, with the wind blowing hard outside. I am grateful.

[SL] Ice-skating.

It is very important for me to maintain my spirits when I get ill. I too easily fall into the trap of feeling guilty, upset, depressed, or otherwise disappointed in myself for being sick, which is pointless and stupid but I do it anyway. This only prolongs the recovery period. Sometimes a frivolous distraction is exactly what I need to recalibrate.

[SL] Ice-skating closeup.

Tomorrow I will jump on that ever-growing pile of emails. Tonight I’ll skate, leaving faint traces on virtual ice in an invisible world.

Writing from: bed, with the electric blanket cranked up to 11. Listening to: “A Self Called Nowhere” by They Might Be Giants.

Doing stuff with pictures instead of words.

Sometimes I want to write and sometimes I don’t. The periods of “don’t” usually coincide with feeling sick, as if writing is only something I undertake in the spirit of health. Strange, considering the number of times I have written myself out of black moods.

Over the weekend, in between sneezes and coughs, I finally worked on a Second Life snap I took last summer. I didn’t want to upload it anywhere until I had a chance to work on some of its flaws, but I didn’t know how to do that until my friend Lillian — whose pictures you really should look at, go on, I’ll be here when you get back — gave me a tutorial on a few Photoshop tricks.

afternoon tea

Rarely, I get to capture quiet moments like afternoon tea with Marian in her lovely home. Most of my Second Life is spent playing trivia in large groups or futzing around with stuff on my own. Occasionally I take pictures of myself, but I get bored with that pretty quickly, probably because I don’t have the patience to sift through the world for poses and clothing I like.

new year, new look

Most of the time I take pictures of nothing in particular.

The Seagull

Turn around.

When I first logged into Second Life in 2004, I decided to create an avatar that was loosely based on my real-life appearance with some important modifications. Namely, some gigantic black hair.

bridge self-portrait

I also may have overdone the makeup a bit.

Over the years, my avatar has changed — mainly hairstyles — but the salient bits have remained the same for about a year now: short stature, black wings, amethyst eyes, and a gravity-defying mohawk.

Second Life Self-Portrait

I do not know why I consider this avatar to be so “me”. I don’t look at all like her in real life. But every time I try to change something up, it feels wrong and doesn’t last.

This is not the first time that I have encountered this strange identification with avatar appearance. When I still cared about my mudding character’s description, I had a tough time making modifications to it. So I didn’t, except for costume changes, and didn’t think much about it. She looked the way that she did because that was who she was, and I decided that she looked just like me. There: problem solved.

In Second Life, though, my avatar has never looked just like me. I initially took more liberties in graphics than I did in text. And as Second Life becomes more advanced, I have more options than ever. Then why has my avatar’s appearance frozen? Why can’t I even bring myself to get a virtual tattoo?

Needless to say, I have always been fascinated by the myriad ways we choose to represent ourselves when we have the choice, so when Rach Borkotron told me about Gracie Kendal’s Usual Suspects project on online identity and anonymity, it immediately piqued my interest. I was up to my eyeballs in homework, though, and couldn’t come inworld to participate. Then I read Lou Netizen’s post about it, and immediately promised myself I would celebrate finishing my first semester of grad school by participating.

Gracie’s studio contains over 500 portraits now. When I teleported in, I was at once overwhelmed and a bit disoriented; although I knew the portraits were taken of avatars facing away instead of forward, it was strange to experience them all at once. Like everyone else, I am so used to identifying people by their faces that the gallery’s effect was initially alienating. Then, when I recognized a portrait of someone I knew — Lou, of course — I immediately relaxed.

Gracie herself is utterly charming and earnest, so interacting with her put me further at ease. She is obviously enthralled with the project, and welcomes each new contributor warmly. I loved watching her work and enjoyed talking with her and some of the other participants about the project and her process.

Posing for Gracie.

Gracie is just over the halfway mark, so now is the time to participate. There is more information on the project on Gracie’s Usual Suspects blog, or I can send you a notecard and landmark inworld if you prefer. Just don’t ask me to get a new ‘do.

Second Life, First Post

When I ponder over a decade of muds, mucks, and mushes, it’s hard for me to imagine wanting to experience anything other than a text-based virtual environment. After all, I have always been in love with words.

And then I think of Second Life.

Cygnoir and Jopsy, Tree Isle of Teal

I like having someplace to go like this Tree Isle of Teal. I like having a friend like Jopsy to visit, watching fireflies from our perch in a giant tree-swing. And we can talk, or we can sit silently and watch the sky deepen into dusk.

Second Life is the perfect place for an introvert, because she can spend hours roaming the various lands and never have to interact with another being. She can fill her head with foreign incantations in an attempt to create the smallest of useless objects. She can ride a cable car and watch the world pass by.

cable car ride

While I am quite enamored with my first life, my second one provides me with some much-needed respite from the endless bursts of information, of motivation, of keeping busy. Whereas fiddling with my website often winds me up tighter than when I began, Second Life unwinds and soothes me, even if I’m competing in a trivia match or having a challenging discussion with a stranger. The interaction is all on my own terms, and because it isn’t so text-focused, I can distance myself from it. Interesting that I feel more distance in an immersive graphical environment than I ever did on a muck.

I will miss the text-only creations of mucks as they each turn into their own Brigadoon, but I am eager to grow into these brave new worlds. It’s time.

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