Players: Elif Ayiter; aka. Alpha Auer, aka. Alpho Fullstop, aka. Amina Diavolo, aka. Grapho Fullstop, aka. Xiamara Ugajin, 2009 – present, Second Life. Photographs: Elif Ayiter.
The play of my many selves is a complex set-up with a total of six entities in the game – my biological self who is joined by five of my many avatars – Alpha and four others; who are my fashion designer ‘selves’ that jointly operate a very successful fashion enterprise in Second Life, known under the brand name of ‘alpha.tribe,’ which has been ongoing since 2009.
Thus five avatars who represent different facets of ‘me’ (and who are of both sexes, human as well as non-human), are pooling their resources in the operation of this design enterprise, within which each virtual identity pursues his/her own line of creative inquiry, culminating in different lines of output. My wish is to investigate whether the consistency/singularity/indivisibility of the creative self is in fact a given and whether this entire notion might not be challenged altogether.
Although not presuming in any way to reach Fernando Pessoa’s level of complexity and sophistication, the self-observational process which I engage in with project alpha.tribe does bear certain similarities to Pessoa’s life-long undertaking: Just like the heteronyms of Pessoa, my alt avatars have pronouncedly different appearances, which have also been refined over time. However unlike Pessoa, for whom the embodiment of his heteronyms was a process of pure inner visualization, the population of alpha.tribe can be personified quite tangibly through the agency of their three dimensionally embodied avatars, and particularly through their creative output. Like Pessoa’s multiple identities, the avatars of alpha.tribe have different dispositions, preferences and tastes; are thus often at odds with one another; allegiances and animosities continuously being formed, dissolved and shifted between the 5 designers, all of whom reside within my psyche.
(Properly) Introducing Alpha
“Rorschach” RL/SL portrait. Elif Ayiter. Second Life, 2008.
Although I know that her name will come up throughout this site, a proper introduction to Alpha Auer is nonetheless in order at some point – and right now seems to be a good moment to do so.
“My RL/SL Uniform” Elif Ayiter. Second Life, 2008.
Alpha Auer was born on March 20th 2007. She is my main persona, my body in Second Life – an extension of myself, a look-alike avatar whom I have attempted to cast as much in my physical likeness as I can possibly get her to be. True, Alpha is a much younger version of myself, however aside from this circumstance (which is somewhat forced upon me since it is very nearly impossible to create a convincing ‘mature’ avatar in the metaverse), Alpha is not a glorified, prettified version of me. She has my small features, and my flat round face, and like me she is sallow – although unlike my rather unruly Real Life hair which has given me much grief for all my life, she does make much of virtual coiffure and has a vast collection of hair.
What is important however is that Alpha is more than just a look-alike. She is in fact ‘me,’ or rather I should say that she is how I perceive myself consciously. The way I think of her therefore is not as a novel personality, or a doll. Her Second Life profile tells other avatars that she is a totally irreverent, mischievous, politically incorrect, frivolous, fashion victim avatar… which is followed up by her Real Life description which again says totally irreverent, mischievous, politically incorrect and (occasionally) frivolous and fashion victim here too, I might add…
Her name Alpha means the same thing as my Real Life name Elif, both being the first letters of the alphabet in different languages. And I chose the last name ‘Auer’ out of the selection which Linden Labs had on offer at the time because not only did it resemble my Real Life last name very closely, but also because it is a German last name and I am part German.
“The Teddy Bear hat” Elif Ayiter. Second Life, 2008.
Through a blog which I kept under her name between 2008 and 2012 she became a mouthpiece for my opinions, many of whom reflect the querulous creature that I am in both lives – usually considerably reluctant at accepting anything at face value, questioning of authority, not given to sugarcoating, highly dubious of the ‘inherent goodness of humankind,’ and therefore very often also politically incorrect; as indeed I have made a point of proclaiming on Alpha’s Second Life profile as well. What is also evident on this blog, and what I try to also project through Alpha herself is a predisposition for frivolity. My big platinum meter, against which I measure almost all else is humor, and again I believe/hope that a sense of humor is one of the things which comes across on this blog.
An important circumstance, which has strongly affected Alpha’s well being in Second Life, is that for a while she became a celebrity in this world (a circumstance which is now definitely and thankfully a thing of the past). This fame came about initially through the popularity of the Second Life island Syncretia, of which Alpha was the owner and builder. Becoming the blogger of what used to be one of the largest blogs of Second Life until 2010 (and probably number one when it came to creative content), the NPIRL blog added to the exposure; which then increased further when the alpha.tribe business was founded.
The metaverse is a meritocracy in which fame is based upon the creative contributions to the world. And, Alpha’s contributions were many since I am a workaholic and since I get inordinate pleasure from ‘making stuff.’ Ironically enough, as the fame increased I ended up making even more things, became compulsive in doing so in fact, since nothing much else was left for me to do in Second Life: Because of her celebrity status Alpha became isolated. What had previously been a private life, founded upon personal friendships and play gave place to a vastly empty existence which could only be filled by making more and more things in lieu of the absence of friends and playmates. I believe that this emotional emptiness accounts for the creation of three of my four main alt identities in Second Life – Xiamara Ugajin, Alpho Fullstop and Grapho Fullstop – about whom much of the rest of this document will be all about.
How it all began…
“Alpha, Alpho, Grapho and Amina” Publicity shot for the store. Elif Ayiter. Second Life, 2009.
The text on the Flickr page says: “We seem to have made quite a few black and white outfits. Certainly enough for a nice little group photo anyway. ;-)”
My psychic system of avatars has come about spontaneously over the past four years. Their creation was not a deliberate act which I planned for future art-making purposes: In the summer of 2008 a parting of the ways with some close friends in the metaverse left me to my own devices. I knew of alt avatars, which were the alternative identity avatars through which many metaverse Residents operated independently of their main avatars; however up until then I had not felt the need to create such autonomous personas that would materialize as facets of myself. Alas, suddenly being alone in a world of strangers, I decided that a good way to circumvent loneliness and ennui would be to create my own play companions.
I will now let my main avatar Alpha talk further about how her first three alternative identities, Grapho Fullstop, Xiamara Ugajin and Alpho Fullstop came into being:
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 Alpho 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.
Alpho 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.
At the time that the blog entry above was made in late 2008, Amina Diavolo, the fourth of the main persona with whom I manifest in Second Life had not yet been rezzed. Eight months later, in August 2009, Alpha once again starts wondering about her relationships with the other four (Amina has joined the group by then) with whom she is now expected to not only share her space, but in a way her entire existence with. While some she likes, with others the relationship is far from easy:
“I am at the point where I am feeling them as completely separate persons. They are standalone entities with different pre-occupations and thoughts. Which is very strange. They originated from some part of me, surely they are me? But, it is definitely not how this all feels, how the game is progressing here. And, funnily enough, meeting with them, hanging out with them, is proving to be yet another incentive to stay in SL. Perhaps maybe even the strongest one?
Grapho, I am in awe of. Xiamara, I do not like. And neither, for that matter, am I too overly fond of Amina. She looks a bit like Priscilla Presley (not at all my reason for not liking her, I should add). But she is this type of flaky, droopy, overly innocent seeming female, the kind who contrary to all appearances of flakiness gets everything done exactly in the way she intends it to. In short, the type for whom I really do not have much time for at all. Devious, the word is, I suppose? And it is these two – Xia and Amina, whom I do not like – that I should probably be taking a really good close look at since according to the laws of projection in them would be embedded my deepest personality flaws. So ingrained that I probably have a hard time recognizing them in myself and mirror them onto entities whom I do not like? So, how horrifying is that? But, in all likelihood still very true…
The one that I do like is Alpho. I even like the way she stands around with her goofy chubby girl AO animations and then bursts into that freebie female power walk – so purposeful! hhh… She is the only one that I have given my own shape to amongst my alts (although I have distributed quite a few of them to customers in the shop – but that is another story…). However, Alpho is a furry and so whenever she is not making clothes she is a wolf designed by Leben Schnabel or a panther designed by a really talented furry designer, whose name I cannot remember off the top of my head. But much as I like her, she is someone else entirely. In fact, if anything, her separateness I recognize more readily than all the others. And Grapho too. He intimidates the living daylights out of me I have to admit, but I do like him as well. And I very clearly see him as his own person. A stranger, in fact. The others are separate and yet not strangers. Grapho however, is a stranger whom I have yet get to know.
I guess, this is what it was like to play with dolls? When I was a kid? I really can’t remember. grrr… What it is definitely like is hanging out with my animals. Distinctly separate entities.”
For reasons which are too long and too complicated to explain here, during the summer months of 2008 Alpha had not been online, and Xia had become the only avatar with whom I would go in-world. Difficulties (as it turned out only temporarily) resolved, Alpha made a comeback which she jubilantly proclaimed on her blog:
I am back… I am back… I am back… I am back… I am back… I am back… I am back… I am back… I am back… I am back… I am back… I am back… I am back… I am back… I am back… I am back… I am back… I am back… I am back… I am back… I am back!
Yippppppeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!! Life is wonderful and I am sooo back!!!
And already in this post, at the very end, it is obvious that Xia is going to be something of a thorn in her side…
Although I have since become expert in having more than one, and indeed in many cases all 5, of my main avatars in-world at the same time, when I first started out I was not yet proficient enough to do so, and consequently they would be logged in by taking turns. But needless to say even, I was dying to do multiple logins – and thus, one fine metaverse evening in September 2008, I took the plunge: Using two computers side by side, I had Alpha meet Xia in-world for the very first time.
I have tried to do justice to the encounter on a Flickr set which was created specifically to hold the evidence of the moment and I will now replicate those entries in their entirety as photo captions which you can read under the images in the gallery below:
But all feelings of goodwill desert Alpha when one day she comes home to her Klein townhouse, and goes down to the subway stop only to find out that Xia has moved in:
Alpha Auer: Apoplectic is just a word… That snake! That underhanded, back stabbing SNAKE!
Xiamara Ugajin: I am terribly sorry you feel this way about this Alpha, but unless I completely misunderstood everything, you and Mr. Hoch discussed a shop for my fashion design products on these premises. I agree that the red cross is shoddy and leaves much to be desired at the moment, but surely you can see that this is only a temporary measure? Just so that passersby know that this is no longer alpha.land but xia.land? I do like the typeface that I decided upon for the “Xia” logotype though. Don’t you agree that it hits just the right note? Playful yet elegant?
A friend, AlterEgoTrip Svenska, joins the conversation: Ah… an X over alpha.land? the cheek!
Alpha Auer: I’ll say it is! But sorry, AlteEgoTrip, I really need to set this straight with Xia straight away:
Premises? Did you just say PREMISES?!? That is my first SL home you are referring to, you snide little madam you!.. You utterly nasty little piece of work!… What Hack and I discussed is a shop! “A” shop! Not “YOUR” shop! Did you really think that I would let you ride roughshod all over alpha.land? And furthermore, what gets sold in there is up to me alone. If – and a very big IF at this point, after what you just did – it is your silly little outfits or TURNIPS is entirely my business.
“Playful yet elegant”? – *snort*… “The right note”? *snort*… Do you hear yourself even, woman? You sound like my great aunt! Sorry, I take that back: Even my great aunt is more with it than you will ever be! I control your objects Xia! I will get rid of this deplorable JUNK the second that I log in. Just wanted the world to see what you are really made out of first! xia.land indeed… I will get Hack to ban you, I will…
Oh, and then “fashion design products”?… ?!?… We have yet to see her ladyship make some kind of a noteworthy appearance in photoshop… Outside of refreshing her make-up that is, of course: She is constantly in and out of there fiddling around with those skin templates. But other than that? Nada…
Mr. Hoch: stutenkampf??? Have phun gurrrls :)
Alpha Auer: Your goodwill and optimism in thinking that she will get a hint here, are touching indeed dear Hack, but she is a SNAKE! The day she was rezzed will go down as a dark day in virtual history – mark my words! Only one thing to do really: The second that I login I am over at Klein deleting this unsightly mess. I do, after all, have full modification rights on her objects. Only problem, what with the travelling and the lack of broadband internet, I have not been able to do that for all these days….
Xiamara Ugajin: Oh Mr. Hoch! I beseech you most earnestly to not pay any attention whatsoever when it comes to all these horrifying things that Alpha is telling you about me. I have nothing but the purest intentions here and I cannot understand why she is making such a big issue out of a small change to some signage.
She is completely out of control Mr. Hoch. Just to give you a very small example: As we were walking to Starbucks just now, she almost bought a Sex Pistols t-shirt, from one of those dreadful looking tourist kitsch souvenir stalls, no less! The only reason she didn’t is because they did not happen to have one in her size. And she may indeed yet go back and get an XXL size which she thinks she can wear as a mini dress!… And this is her with a cold and a temperature!
When I asked her who exactly she thought she was, buying a Sex Pistols t-shirt?!? (a highly reasonable query under the circumstances, as I am sure you will agree), she responded with this ice cold glaring look and this (and I quote): “I am someone who likes listening to the Sex Pistols Xia”… Like as if liking some music, which is presumably in highly questionable taste to begin with (I, personally, am not familiar with this band at all, I’m afraid), would justify buying a t-shirt with the word SEX emblazoned on it! She has absolutely no sense of decorum… No taste… No refinement…
I know you have not accepted me as your friend yet, however I am sure this will change when you discover how interested I am in many of the finer things in life – such as classical music, fine cuisine and cars… She is a hoodlum Mr. Hoch. A menace who runs around with a raging fever, and still tries to buy t-shirts in highly dubious taste even in this state!
AlterEgoTrip Svenska: Ah Alpha sound like just the person for a girl like you to learn a few things from ;) I like that description Xia, I don’t think its possible you could have painted her up to be more direct and straight forward if you actually had tried… :) I liked your description of her; I bet you could USE a “Sex Pistol’s” T- Shirt!
Alpha Auer: You must be joking AlterEgoTrip! Sex Pistols t-shirt indeed… What SHE wants to do is to go to that fancy shmancy Spitalfields fashion traders market tomorrow… It is miserably cold here; we all have the flu… But will she even listen? Pay any attention to utter misery?
Nope! SHE wants to go to Spitalfields Market and there’s the end of that!
Enter Grapho Fullstop
“Grapho’s during his very early days in the metaverse”. Elif Ayiter. Second Life, 2008.
From Alpha’s blog, posted on 10/18/2008:
“… 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. Some time ago, Roy had brought up the idea 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 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…”
“MosMax is not exactly enthused by Grapho’s foul mouth”. Elif Ayiter. Second Life, 2008.
“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 MosMax suggested that it might be a good idea to wash out Grapho’s mouth with soap every then and again. And while MosMax 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. 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?”
A few months later, Grapho is now working as one of the designers of alpha.tribe, and consequently I am spending considerably more time as Grapho in-world. One of the things which I keep coming back to is his appearance which I really am not happy with – he is too pretty by half… Slowly we progress to what he ultimately ended up becoming. The post below is from an interim stage, in which I make a startling discovery:
“I took photographs of the outfit, Natural Things, v.01, which Grapho has designed, to upload onto Flickr today. And I noticed something quite bewildering: Grapho looks like my father. Well, not my father, as I knew him, obviously. But, as he was as a young man, to judge by the many photographs of his youth that I have seen over the years.
What is bewildering is that I did not notice this during all these past days where I have been Grapho in SL, sometimes 6-7 hours a day, hammering away at the outfit. Maybe I was too busy working , maybe it is the light in there – but the truth of the matter is that I only noticed it when I opened the photos in photoshop to crop them.
Grapho has been working on his appearance quite a bit of late, so we have been popping open the appearance editor every so often. Another thing is that in order to be able to design garments for women, Grapho also had to create a female shape to try them on. This latest manifestation of his is largely the result of my switching back and forth between the sexes, with that radio button down there, trying to create a truly androgynous avatar for the sole purpose of photographing some of the clothes with that. I thought it might be nice to have that ambiguous look for the unisex outfits, as this latest one has turned out to be. Anyway, at some point in all of that experimentation I sort of liked what happened to Grapho and decided to save the shape as the new Grapho shape. So, what resistant part of my psyche did not notice that what I had saved was actually a fairly close representation of my own father?”
“And it is also somehow significant that this all happened while I was switching back and forth between male and female, since the shape that I started out with was the default Alpha shape (who is a more or less plausible lookalike of me in RL). The one that I saved for Grapho was not the immediate mutation that SL gave me of course – that one was rather hideous. I continued to play with that for a very long time, switched back and forth between the sexes with that one as well, even saved some of the interim stages. But, when all is said and done, this male shape is a vastly mutated and transformed regeneration of Alpha. Generations away – but still.
And… my father did look like me.”
And finally, Grapho today. I have to admit that I am very proud of my achievement… And no – he no longer looks like my father.
And now back to Xiamara! Where the name of the game is ‘a la guerre comme a la guerre…’
(… except that I do seem to be meeting my Waterloo over here, aren’t I?!?)
Where Alpha is endlessly insecure, Xia is self-assured. Where Alpha is endlessly confused, Xia is decisive. Once she makes her mind up – that’s it folks! She is schoolmarmish, didactic, self-congratulatory. Where Alpha eternally goes after the unattainable always breaking her heart in the process, Xia knows exactly what she wants. And what she wants is always what is also good for her. And furthermore it is always well within her reach as well. She works out, eats properly, never a hair out of place, always befittingly dressed for all occasions. Not to mention that she is drop dead gorgeous. And quite needless to say – I hate her guts.
Unlike Grapho and Alpho whom I love, and of both of whom I cannot say that I know them in any kind of fundamental way, Xia I know in very intimately. Which leads me to think that Xia must in fact be an aspect of my own psyche: No matter how concealed her presence may be within me, nonetheless I recognize her immediately – even though she is so very different to my self-perception. One way in which I do see myself in her however is her tidiness, her compulsive orderliness; which is a trait that I loathe in myself, and yet can never get away from.
Thus, from Alpha’s blog, written in 19/09/2008 comes the following:
“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 forever 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 homemade 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 cleanup. 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!
My Furry Sister
She is telling me about all these things that I had no idea even existed. She knows so much I do not know. She is courageous. She is resilient. She is self sufficient, she is her own company, her own entertainment. I am so lucky to have found her…
She is also a cypher who does not want to be known. My friend, my sister alone.
This is Alpho Fullstop. Of all my avatars she is the one that I love the most. However, unlike as is the case with Xiamara, whom I know very well, Alpho I do not know at all. Being with Alpho is almost like being with another person; one who takes you to places and gives you insights that turn out to be huge revelations.
Alpho is a furry, an animal avatar, a thing which happened gradually, which came out of the very mysteriousness of her being. In Real Life I have a very close affinity to animals – but again, no matter how I may identify with them and love them, there still remains a mysterious gap in my understanding them. This brings with it respect, and respect is something which is also key to my relationship with Alpho.
Alpho came into being, when once again, in Fall 2008 Alpha left the metaverse having become overwhelmed by certain developments which yet again affected her well being – one of which was also her my mother’s death in Real Life. Instead of bringing Xia back into the fray, Alpho was born and became a traveler alt who wandered the metaverse in search of content for me to write about on the NPIRL blog with which at the time I was much occupied.
“Am I cruel?” Elif Ayiter. Second Life, 2008.
She is unfathomable, she startles me again and again, such as was the case when the following post materialized on the Alpha blog. I hesitate to say that Alpha was the one that wrote it – it is so unlike how she usually writes, from which I conclude that Alpho must have had a hand in this – and in any case it is her tale: One evening she was playing Alpha’s piano, when she sensed that someone was listening to her. There were no avatars nearby – only an alt avatar in the distance whose owner was known to usually be away from the keyboard:
“Feelings of not belonging
Dedicated to the anonymous reader of this blog… (the Alpha Auer blog, from which this is taken)
… 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?
We do not belong. Neither of us – neither here nor there. Meanwhile, she will continue to play the piano. Sometimes.
When I was a child I had 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 many designer personas
Although the three avatars Xia, Grapho and Alpho were created for emotional reasons, as playmates; or in the case of Grapho as a personal inquiry, indeed as a challenge; I came to a point in which I wanted to go further with them. They were independent agents who went about their businesses, mostly engaged in solo wandering in Second Life. I wanted to bring them together.
One thing that I had been fascinated by, from my earliest days in Second Life, was the virtual economy and the way in which it brought about a staggering display of the strangest design artifacts – from spaceship to jetpacks, to the strangest objects the purposes of which oftentimes went beyond the term ‘absurd.’ What also impressed me was the craftsmanship which many of the designers brought to bear upon their output. In short, I was an avid shopaholic, as much for the joy of the usage of these artifacts as for creating my own collection of them. The field however, which drew me to itself the strongest was avatar design, or avatar fashion design. I was already taken up by creating identities, and had come to realize what a huge impact appearance had upon (virtual) identity. So, although I had never created avatar apparel before, I now wanted to do so. I realized that this was one of the most challenging fields of metaverse design.
However, I wanted to add a further twist to the challenge: I decided to split myself, my designer being, between my avatars. At that point they already had fairly pronounced personalities which I felt would form a strong enough basis to create many designers, each one following his or her distinct visual strategy. These would all come out of one designer, namely me!
Although I have used the word ‘challenge’ above, I want to be honest and immediately point out that working with many design strategies and implementing different visual languages was not something that I was a stranger. Before stumbling into academia I worked for many years as a graphic designer, in the capacity of an advertising art director, and any competent art director will change his or her design approach from product to product, depending upon what the concept and usage of the product to be designed for happens to be. The challenge therefore, was not in this aspect, but rather in splitting the creative self amongst independent agents: While overlaps in the Real Life design agency will inevitably occur, given that the one doing the work is one entity, what I undertook to accomplish in this particular situation was a thorough split of my global creative identity.
“Once the alts start interacting within a parameter, such as a joint design venture, it really all starts to happen. No longer are they lost and disjointed entities wandering the grid but suddenly they are, in fact, the diverse parts of me. They now have to learn to live with one another; they have to make up some kind of a psychic Gestalt, whilst still retaining their identities. And what better opportunity than whilst they are engaged in design work, given that they are all parts of a designer to begin with?
One good example would be the actual shop itself: I initially designed it very much along my usual lines – dark shiny surfaces, sort of Syncretia stuff really… It is what comes naturally to me – or should I say the Alpha part of me? Who is, of course, the predominant partner here, the one very much in control. Stuck in her ways with all of that. Tenacious and obstinate!
So along comes Xia, and after hanging out there for a day or so, she starts putting down huge red flowers all over the place. Now, I, Alpha, have yet to put down a huge red flower anywhere – Real or Second Life! And yet… What are all those bright colored Asian shawls that I tirelessly buy and never ever wear, all in aid of then?
Only Xia and I have been designing so far and we are in fact wearing our own outfits in the photo above. Alpho and Grapho are still waiting for their turn. Alpho’s output I am really looking forward to. I was intending to design full Furry avatars but I am now beginning to wonder about that. Working with sculpties, which full Furry avatars really do need, is unbelievably difficult and I have a horrible feeling that my building skills are nowhere near being up to that level. So, what I think Alpho will do is design garments and attachments around other designer’s Furry avatars, such as the wolves of Leben Schnabel, and then put landmarks of the stores into the purchase box. At least initially, this is how I think it will have to go. And later we will see.
And Grapho? He is wearing more or less normal garb here but actually he has some strange ideas also. Such as designing a biological avatar.
And Xia? Well, she is sticking to the floral theme, as you can see here. She has worked for almost a full week on this one and she has called it “Bonsoir Monsieur Labisse” – after a French surrealist painter whom my mother liked a great deal and who painted women not clad in flowers like Xia did with her skin here but the faces are similar somehow. Well my mother liked him – I, Alpha, cannot stand the guy’s paintings. And yet, here is Xia, paying tribute to a painter whom Alpha does not care for at all? How weird is that? But then (thankfully) she has another one in the works and this one she wants to base on Rousseau, who is a favorite of mine as well. So, again, if I am such a dark/shiny surfaces person how come I love Rousseau? Ah… But Rousseau is dark too isn’t he? Don’t let all of that foliage fool you for a nano second… And so, of course, is Labisse.
So, one way or another I can see one undercurrent of me both in her and myself (Alpha) – but two very different ways in which it materializes. One is the one I already know, that I have worked with all of my life – “my style”, if you will. The other one is as yet unfamiliar to me. Highly so, in fact.
Yes, this is beginning to become a very bizarre journey indeed. And a good one too, I think.”
And then came the 5th one – Amina Diavolo…
So far I have only talked of four avatars, and this is for the good reason that Amina did not join the team until alpha.tribe was well on its way as a business. Unlike the other three alts, Xia, Grapho and Alpho, who were all created for emotional reasons and became fashion designers long after they had established their individual personalities; Amina was created for the purpose of providing an identity to a 5th design strategy.
At this point Alpha was specializing in geometric apparel, Xiamara was working on Flora, Grapho on dark and mysterious things and Alpho had taken over hybrid beings that were situated mostly between human and animal forms. I did however want to do things which fell into none of these categories but instead had to do with water, and with the whole concept of fluidity. To take over this line Amina, who had actually been rezzed in September 2008 but had never made it outside of Orientation Island so far, was brought in-world in early 2009. Here is the story, as recounted by Xiamara, which posted in what is currently a private blog for alpha.tribe:
“Posted by Xiamara…
Alpha… That deceitful paragon of honesty! Butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, would it now? Those endlessly “self-critical” personal assessments on that nasty little blog of hers! And what’s more is that people fall for the hogwash – hook line and sinker!
However, such are the workings of the universe that in the end everything does tend to come out in the wash and her Highness is now totally disgraced. And, much as it is not in my nature to do so, I still feel compelled to share this with tout le monde, if for no other reason than for the overall welfare of alpha.tribe: We need to preserve our integrity. One of us may be a liar and a cheat but our prospective clientele should know that we are not all cut out of the same cloth over here. True, it seems like as if Grapho too has been somewhat implicated in what happened, but Alpho and I are completely in the clear and beside ourselves with anger.
It all became revealed when Alpha found about tumblr, a blogging domain which enables you to link very large sized photos from Flickr directly into the post stream and has really beautiful, minimalistic themes which are fully customizable in terms of color. So, of course, Madame Designer Extraordinaire immediately rushed over, created an account and started a photo gallery on all of the output of alpha.tribe there. All good and well. Granted, it looks quite nice too what she did…
I have to admit that I have had my suspicions for quite a while now: To be more precise it is that seashell outfit which she had told us that she had made which made me somewhat uneasy. Alpha is the sort of person who will get out of bed to align things and that outfit (aside from the spur boots) is loose to a degree where it is practically falling apart. In fact that is the point of the whole thing. So, from the first minute that the photos made their appearance on Flickr I wondered but decided to keep my own counsel on the matter and just closely follow how things would develop from there.
And then last night presented an opportunity which was simply too good to pass up and I finally raised the point: We were all giving her keywords which would define our particular output, to insert under the images of the outfits on tumblr. She decided that hers would be things like “Geometric” and “dark.” Geometric is quite appropriate when it comes to describing something like vector.tribe and even Red Ammonite, with its exactly segmented spherical skirts and headdress. And both outfits are essentially dark as well. So, after she put those in, she started on ‘She sells seashells.’ And that is when I asked her how exactly that disjointed skirt and that blurry textured vest, not to even mention the leotard which meanders all over the place, could possibly be described as geometric? And as for dark? What about all that glow effect I wanted to know?
“Oh, but look at the boots” she said. But I persisted and said, “no no no – look at the rest Alpha.” So we had quite a bit of evasion and humming and hawing, and going back and forth from her side, at which point I could feel Furry getting distinctly restless as well (she twitches ears and tail, as you know) and then Grapho finally said “I think you should tell them Alpha”. And after that all hell broke loose…
Apparently there has been a 5th alt!
Can you believe this? Amina Diavolo her name is! And she is the one who is flowy and unstructured and uses glow effects and such! And apparently Alpha, if I hadn’t smartened up to the situation and raked her over the coals last night, would have continued to keep her existence under wraps and have her work secretly for herself – but also for Grapho!!! Making his and her own output more substantial and diverse. Creating a situation where she and Grapho appear to be the actual creative muscle in this enterprise, with me and Alpho being relegated to being ‘niche creators.’ So, not only has this Amina Diavolo person created all of that seashell outfit – except the boots (those are in fact Alpha’s), apparently she has also made this not yet released ‘body parts’ avatar for an art installation and that has been appropriated by Grapho – with Alpha’s approval. So, between the two of them they have been using secret slave labor!
Plagiarists! Thieves! Not one moral fiber between the two of them!
Ah well, the cat is now out of the bag, of course. I immediately wanted us to vote for a change of management. I mean I am perfectly happy to take on the burden. And Xia.tribe sounds much better than alpha.tribe, don’t you think? But here something strange happened: Outraged or not, in the end, when the chips were down, Alpho wanted to continue with Alpha as CEO! And Grapho? Well, he was in cahoots with her from the get go anyway, so not much to be expected from that quarter to begin with. But, I did manage to convince everybody that this Amina person will need to be brought out into the sunlight and given her rightful due as a shareholding partner. That the sales boxes of her creations need to be rezzed by her so that she is the recipient of the sales proceedings and not those two underhanded clowns over there.”
My emotional relationship with Amina is far less complex than my relationships with the other alts – almost like the one which would come about between an employer and an efficient employee who does what is expected of her with no further mishaps.
I do not feel like as if she is represents a hidden part of me (as is the case with Xiamara), or that she is my unknown male counterpart (my animus) as I think is the case when it comes to Grapho. Neither is she a mysterious soul sister like Alpho. Indeed, as far as I am concerned, there is nothing much that is mysterious about Amina at all. I cannot say that I am particularly fond of her, but then again she certainly does not evoke the strong antagonism which Xia seems to bring forth in Alpha. She is simply not close enough.
Like Xiamara, Amina too is very attractive. However unlike Xiamara whose striking looks are almost dissettling in their intensity and their asymmetry, Amina’s prettiness is of the conventional variety: She is a dark haired, petite, Italianate beauty, with an ever ready smile. In fact, Amina is the only one of my main avatars who actually smiles, the corners of whose mouth are uplifted. Thus, amongst all my alpha.tribe designers she is quite likely to be the one who is thought of as being the most pleasant to be around.
For my part, I am not altogether sure that the term ‘pleasant’ really applies, however: Although I am not close to her, I still have a sense of the sort of person that she is, and I have to say that she is not someone I would find too congenial were I to meet her as a ‘real’ person, instead of as a character whom I have brought into being myself: What I sense about Amina is that she is manipulative, and a user. That underneath the sweet smile is someone who is absolutely not to be trusted on an emotional level. And in this she is vastly different from Xiamara. No matter how much I may not like Xia, and no matter that we fight endlessly; Xia is not a user. And she is not underhanded. I may not find her likable – and God knows I do not – however Xia I trust.
That said, if I were to write a reference letter for her it would certainly come out as a glowing recommendation:
alpha.tribe island, Second Life, 05/01/2012
To Whom it May Concern:
Dear Madam or Sir,
It is my understanding that my employee Amina Diavolo wishes to pursue further studies in virtual fashion design at your institution. I am writing this reference letter, at her request, to aid her in her application.
Amina joined our design enterprise in early 2009 and has been a true asset to our workforce since that time. She was brought in to focus upon fluid, unstructured avatars apparel design, a difficult field in and of itself to gain mastery of. In the event however, she has risen to the challenge, and has made significant contributions to our collection.
Amina is hardworking, conscientious, dedicated and gives great attention to detail in her work. She is reliable, and undertakes her tasks in an organized and orderly manner. She is innovative and experimental, and yet adheres to ergonomics and usability. Her designs have thus been very popular with our clientele, amongst whom can be counted some of Second Life’s most discerning fashionistas. alpha.tribe’s output tends to be very popular amongst photographers and video artists, used as props and costumes as part of their own creative work, and Amina’s work has been used extensively for such purposes as well.
As a person Amina is unfailingly polite, cheerful and cooperative and we all greatly enjoy her company, which always comes with a ready smile. She is an enthusiastic participant in all our joint ventures, such as our in-house theatrical productions, in which she has always taken part with great eagerness.
Although Amina is already an accomplished designer, she is likely to benefit from further research and learning, particularly when it comes to integrating novel technologies and materials into her output. Thus, I would like to
recommend her to you as a future student most wholeheartedly.
Please do not hesitate to contact me further questions, should any arise.
Alpha Auer, Founder and CEO of alpha.tribe Enterprises Ltd.
And waiting in the wings is Syncretio Kanya…
I have created many more avatar accounts in Second Life, and some of these have come into the game as actors and actresses of the alpha.tribe tales. Through this, a few have started to slowly come into their own. One of them is the quiet backroom girl seamstress Absent, who in the alpha.tribe production called ‘The Tales of Ruysch,’ of which a few images can be seen below, plays the landlady.
There is one alt however who is truly chomping at the bit to mature into a fully fledged personality, as became more than evident during the production of the tale: Syncretio Kanya…
In continuation of the (sort of) tale, Syncretio who seems to have a bit of a “complicated thing” going with Xiamara, goes for a head clearing walk in the park. Where he encounters Alpho, the wolfess, who immediately pounces upon him with an acerbic little homily concerning the wickedness of his ways. (He is the one who is being difficult here. Xia, for once, is totally in the clear!). Not being in a fit state to deal with her by himself (he is kinda drunk), he does what any avatar with half a brain would do under the circumstances: He logs in his alt! hhh (Who incidentally, is played by me.).
Meanwhile Grapho, Amina and Syncretia are off in the distance, having nice little constitutionals and reunions and break-ups and heartaches and what not…
Syncretio is turning out to be quite a handful: His refusal to pay for all the damage he has caused during a tavern brawl results in some hefty altercations between the tribe and a harridan of a landlady (played by an alt who prefers to remain anonymous for now).
Ever the peacemaker, Grapho tries to find a middle ground. However the rest of us (me included) proceed to “nyah nyah nyah” the querulous old bat! I mean, what’s a few virtual glasses between friends, right?
The Tribal Souvenir Photo
Alpha boasts on her Flickr that:
“We have been invited to “Tonight Live with Paisley Beebe” tomorrow, May the 2nd. I will do all of the talking but hopefully all of us will be on-stage! (if the computer over here doesn’t catch fire that is)… So, in preparation for tomorrow, today everyone put on the outfit which they felt represented them the best. And then while we were at it, we decided to take a little souvenir photograph as well. I think this is the first photo of the 5 of us together.”
However, needless to say, Xia is not best pleased with the outcome:
Xiamara Ugajin: Hello Alpha, I am not happy with any of this.
First, I would like you to know that I am far from satisfied with this photograph: How exactly are people supposed to see me? When I am sitting there in pitch darkness? You did that on purpose, didn’t you? I also spoke to Amina and she too has problems with how you captured her: Not to put too fine a point on it, the poor woman looks as fat as a blimp here! And you did that on purpose as well, didn’t you? And then of course, not to even mention the whole mise-en-scene, with you in front of all of us! Like a drill sergeant!
Second, I am not happy with you doing all of the talking tonight! As far as I am aware, one of the reasons Ms. Beebe asked us to her show are The Tales of Ruysch. And, I am the heroine of that! The leading female part! But of course, you conveniently choose to ignore something as important as that!
And then, needless to even say, I am far more articulate than you are! So, even for that reason alone I should be the spokesperson of alpha.tribe and not you.
And finally – I hate to be so crass and tell you this to your face but there is also the little matter of physical appearance to consider: I look much better than you do, you know? And that would be yet another reason to give me the hot seat. In short, I am far more likely to make a good impression than you – and you know it! (Which, come to think of it, is probably the reason why you blacked out my face in the first place…)
Alpha Auer: Aaah, yes! I was wondering how long it would take for you to show up with your vitriolic little tongue… And roping Ms. Flakoid Amina into the affair as well…
Xia, I told you about 25 times to not to wear a dark skin for that photo shoot! But you have all these highfalutin ideas about how you are the heroine of Ruysch and bla bla bla… So, you just would not listen, would you? And now, as always and with everything, I am to blame!
As for the rest? I know you are far more articulate! After all, you are the one who totally takes over whenever I teach a class. You nasty old schoolmarm, you! And looks? Of course, you look better! Is there any doubt even? A hardcore designer spent something like 3 weeks on how you look!
… and also, cut it out with this “best wishes” thing at the end, will you? This totally phony politesse! Like as if anyone would buy that? From you? Here on flickr? Just odious!”
Homage to Fernando Pessoa
I would like to end this long post by paying homage to master of the game himself, Fernando Pessoa, by reiterating some of what I have already written into the body of the main thesis:
Pessoa had the peculiarity of publishing his poetry under different names besides his own – most notably Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis, and Alvaro de Campos. These he claimed were not mere pseudonyms, since it wasn’t just their names that were false. They were false personalities, with biographies, points of view, appearances, and literary styles that differed from Pessoa’s. They were names that belonged to invented others, whom their creator called ‘heteronyms,’ and who were the co-travelers of a voyage of self-discovery, or self-invention which he worded as “to pretend is to know oneself,” an existential circumnavigation that would not end until Pessoa did.
‘Pretending’ was actuated through discrete personalities lived by the author within himself, and was given expression to through the books which they authored and to the contents of which Pessoa did not claim ownership of. Nor did he necessarily agree or disagree with what is in their prose and poetry, saying that ‘they’ wrote through him as if he were being dictated to. Indeed in his most extreme proclamations regarding this literary content, Pessoa claims that the human author of these books has no personality of his own. “Whenever he feels a personality well up inside, he quickly realizes that this new being, though similar, is distinct from him – an intellectual son, perhaps, with inherited characteristics, but also with differences that make him someone else… As the helpless slave of his multiplied self, it would be useless for him to agree with one or the other theory about the written results of that multiplication. ” (Pessoa, quoted in Zenith: 2001: 2)
Although Pessoa resolutely maintained the autonomy of the heteronyms, nonetheless he tacitly acknowledged that he was the owner of the overall literary system which he created through their writings, when he divulged that he may have been only contributing “… to my own amusement (which would already be good enough for me),” in this way also defining his creative act as ‘play’. This acknowledgement is tragically furthered when he expresses the deep seated loneliness out of which these alternative selves have manifested as the quenchers of a thirst for companionship, for playmates, saying “what can a man of sensibility do but invent his own friends, or at least his intellectual companions?”