Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Most Important Thing I have Done In Second Life

The Evolution of Understanding

I have a little more than  2 years of experience in Second Life. In this time some amazing things have happened... nomination for the Linden Prize, building of Winthrop & the Sunken Gardens, the art and machinima challenges, hosting the artwork of then CEO of Linden Labs, M Linden, Peter Greenaway being guest of honour at UWA, and many more things. However, in my mind, what I will do this Tuesday, will be the most important. I'll explain below.

Now I dont normally write like this. There is in almost all of my previous posts, an 'official sheen'. However I need to be myself if I want to convey this evolution of understanding that has come about in me through a number of things that have happened across and following MachinimUWA III: Journeys.

I think these days, it is very hard to get below the surface with anything, to really know something or someone beyond the superficial exterior. News, happenings with acquaintances, friends, relatives sometimes go by in a blizzard of email, facebook and twitter posts. Many times we look, we read, we post, but we do not really see, we do not truly understand, nor do we really communicate. Sometimes though something happens that allows me to break through this fog...

On the 4th of February, MachinimUWA III was launched.... entries started coming in steadily, and on the 11th of April, I received an entry called 'Twinkle's Journey', by Bay Sweetwater of North California, USA, and it carried this message from Bay. "My machinima entry for MachinimUWA III is finally done and entered. Wipes forehead in relief. What a heartrending ordeal."

 I looked at it, I remember wondering a little bit about why I didnt see the star too much through 'Twinkle's Journey', apart from right at the start, and I do remember one of my colleagues commenting to me that it was very different from all the others. I didnt really know how to relate to it though then, and to me it seemed a quaint video for kids. The comment I made on the machinima in fact referenced not the machinima, but one of the art creators whose work featured in it:

"Very nice Bay... and wow... Julia Hathor, of legend"

The competition continued, and reached its finale on the 22nd of May 2011 Peter Greenaway's talk and the winners announcements. 'Twinkle's Journey' did not feature among the winners. Bay Sweetwater however, did, as she was in a 4-way tie for 3rd place in the viewer participation event. Part of her prize was to be the book '100 Treasures From UWA' released for the 2011 centenary of the University of Western Australia.

The following day many people sent me links to various news articles and posts about the winners ceremonies, and one of the links I received, was a link to a post Bay Sweetwater had written in her blog:

"I was feeling so low all day (yes, even tears) at my little “Twinkle’s Journey” video not placing anywhere in the MachinimUWAIII machinima competition this year. (See results here, heartfelt congratulations to all the amazing winners and award recipients)."

I know through my experience over the past 2 years with the art and machinima challenges that there will always be brilliance missing out on any awards that might be given out following the conclusion of the challenges, and I always try to be encouraging with anyone I know to be feeling disheartened, and hence, I responded to her in comments as follows:

"Hey Bay, don’t feel down. Your work was wonderful, and had a lot of great comments during the Machinima review days. Full audio is linked on the uwa website. It was truly truly hard not to give everyone something. some brilliant brilliant works including your missed out, and with so many talented artists and machinimatographers out there, thats always going to happen. Chin up. Smile. Your work is wonderful"

I then reminded her that she had actually won a prize, and that there was to be a book posted to her. She said instead of sending it to her, I should donate it to a primary school. When I heard this I thought it was a rather unusual request and I was a little ambivalent as to whether I would in fact do that, or let it be, as I was busy organizing to post the book to all the other winners and it would have been so much easier if I could have done the same in this case.

Anyway, some little thing inside me told me I should contact a school, and try to honour the request.  And so it was that I contacted the principal of the North Woodvale Primary School, Greg Brice, and told him that, someone in the United States had won a prize, and asked for me to donate this prize to a school, and that I would like to donate it to North Woodvale Primary, along with the machinima 'Twinkle's Journey' that Bay had created (this will be happening on Tuesday, the 31st of May).

Having organized this, I wrote to Bay and told her this and asked if she had a message that I could convey, as I was giving this on her behalf (in my mind, it was to be a message to the principal). Anyway, here is the message Bay asked me to convey:

Twinkle always believed in herself and her dreams, and look, she got all the way to the stars! You can too. Always believe in yourselves, no matter what anybody says, and you'll find your dreams, just like Twinkle. I'm so glad you're watching my little video. You'll probably notice that you feel Twinkle in the movie, but you don't see her anywhere! That's Twinkle's little mystery. No one can see her, but she lives everywhere. You can feel her in the trees and the rocking horse and the unicorn--all the things she loves. Especially that star up in the sky that has her name. So when you go home tonight, go outside when it gets real dark and wave to Twinkle high up in the sky. I bet she'll wave back to you! A big hug to every one of you, Bay Sweetwater

Again, I thought it a rather unusual message, and found it quaint she chose to direct her comment to the kids. But I did flash a smile when I saw through this comment, that the star not being present through most of the machinima was by design, and I thought here it made sense at last as to why I didnt see the star throughout the journey.

So,  had organized everything, had received the message, and copied the movie onto a thumb drive and was feeling good that I could do this. And I decided to watch the machinima again. 'Nice songs', I remember thinking.

But I still wasn't 100% happy with the message, and I wrote again  to Bay (26th May, 11:57)  saying:

"One other thing I would like you to add, if you could, is a general message from you to them (the kids). why you wanted to give your prize to them :)"

A few hours later (26 May, 14:37), I was to write again:

"Hi Bay
Oh my... i have read it now a few times and finally really really understand it. Its perfect Bay. In every way."

What had happened was, I had watched Twinkle's Journey again, and finally saw what I should have seen before. The comments she had in the description:

"A child's journey to the stars, told by those of us who are left behind."

I was thunderstruck. I was finally starting to see.... the curious words appearing close to the start of the  in the machinima became crystal clear to me at last:

"How I wonder where you are my little star. We thought you'd gone, yet here you are. You never left us."

The words from her blog, when she submitted the machinima, came back to me... 'what a heartrending ordeal'. I could hear the sound of a million pennies dropping.

I went back to her blog, and saw another post which said the following:

"I love my Twinkle’s Journey entry. I know it’s probably not the best technically or artistically, but my heart is in it. Here’s a poem for Twinkle; no matter how far your journey to the stars, your home is always in my heart.

by Bay Sweetwater
Spring never woke that year, no eye
beheld the flowers, no tender sigh
escaped its lips. My tears wouldn’t dry.
I hailed a passing butterfly.
He’ll carry me, he’ll carry me.

Through stormy nights and days anew,
O’er woodland green and waters blue,
I see all love come shining through.
Yeah, love itself will get me through,
And carry me, and carry me.

It doesn’t matter where you are,
My own cupped hand or farflung star,
I’ll always hold you in my heart:
My firefly in a jar.
I’ll carry you, I’ll carry you.
It was so clear now to me how Bay was in overcoming her sorrow trying to share the best memories of her little star with all of us. I was so glad that I had taken the trouble to contact the school and had looked beyond the surface.

I watched Twinkle's Journey again and felt drawn to one of the songs in it.
Emelia Sleeps, by Loveshadow. I searched for the words and found them:

Emelia 9.04.08 - 4.01.09

Emelia Sleeps
Under pastures green
Under leafy Skies
By the old Oak tree

And the windmills turn
And the toys will fade
The Seasons come
And the angels play

Emelia Sleeps
But she speaks to me
From another place
In eternity

Tells me she was loved
More than most will know
China Teddy Bears
Say it’s so

If I could trade one day
Then I surely would
Cause Emelia Sleeps
By the Blubell wood.

LS 2010 

There was not one, but 2 heart rending stories contained in Twinkle's Journey. Mirroring my thoughts that many of us look but do not see, these comments were made by someone who has listened to Emelia Sleeps,  'A sweet and tender lullaby', to which Loveshadow responded, '...if only it were just a lullaby'.

I made an announcement that Bay had donated her prize to the School, and more people started to understand the truth behind Twinkle's Journey, and had I believe communicated their feelings and support to Bay.

I had hoped that all of this would somehow help her through her grief, but it wasn't something I could ask of course. Then she posted this message in the comments section of Twinkle's Journey:

"Thank you everyone for all your kind and heartwarming comments. They mean more to me than I can say. How thoughtful of you, Jay Jay, to extend Twinkle's Journey to Woodvale school, along with the copy of the UWA book, quite an amazing treasure in itself! Btw, in addition to Loveshadow's bittersweet tune "Emelia," this video features the music of Anchor Mejans' gladdening song "Welcome Home," which opened up my heart to make this little video. A big hug to you all."

And this is the evolution of my understanding, and in my thoughts the most significant chapter in what has been my own journey through Second Life, and will come full circle when Twinkle makes the journey to North Woodvale Primary School.

Jay Jay

This is what happened next, with images of the occasion at the Primary School 


  1. I to was moved by the video and like you JayJay, I hadn't caught the message when I'd viewed it while making my selections. Thank you for sharing this JayJay ~ Nazz

  2. Thank you JayJay, for giving us a glimpse into your own heart, as well as re-directing us to the heart and soul of Bay, through her machinima ...spirit Radikal

  3. It's easy to miss the depth in the work people do. I had missed the import of "Twinkle's Journey" when i watched it. On the surface it's just a child's fantasy and I'm afraid I dismissed it too quickly, having to move on and judge the other 49 entries. It's a problem with any art, and is my crusade in life--to get people to slow down and take the time to actually experience art in all its nuances.

    Thank you JayJay for highlighting this machinima. It's importance lay in the fact that someone with a powerful emotional story to tell found the company of her peers in the virtual world to be an appropriate venue for expressing herself. We can all learn from this.

  4. I have heard it said, that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I now feel as though that one must look for beauty though the eye of the creator as well, if to truly see the message or image in it's entirety.
    JayJay, your a prince of a man, and Thank both you and Bay for unedited version of Twinkle's Journey

  5. JJ,

    So your journey is how our virtual worlds change are real life worlds....That could be the next contest.....

    I loved all the scenes in Bay's piece..but felt something underlying the first time I watched it....just didn't put a finger on it..but I got the playful child spirit.....until you told me to watch it again...then my heart broke with realization....

    Bay--lovely tribute to your Twinkle little star...thank you for sharing it with us.

  6. It's true, the stuff that wins is the stuff we make. I don't think we can expect art to compete. It's so personal and varied. With multimedia art there is also more of a need for supportive text than ever before.

  7. I will quote the words of my friend in Second Life. Uttered during an event dedicated to Margy Dream, Vulcano sim in which I attend. These words struck me much:

    "Sl gives the feeling of not being alone. Here you have the feeling of being hugged ideally, not only emotionally but also in practice with a humanity that exists behind a screen or behind doors in real life that sometimes close without the curiosity of see below. SL is like a stargate, a door that allows us to share ourselves with others. "

    Bay, thou hast done through your "Twinkle Little Star" and I, behind my screen, I embrace you. Thanks :-)

    Thanks to you and also to Jayjay. I do not know him well but my intuition says it's a special person.
    I apologize if something is not understandable. I do not speak English well but use a translator :-)) Jayjay, perhaps in UWA, you can create an English course? ;-)

  8. Even after 4 years in SL, I am still constantly amazed at my own emotional response to things virtual. SL and its related communities really are places of support and constant revelation. I have often heard people say SL changed their life - I can believe that. I hope Bay finds some small comfort in the support of friends and strangers in SL. Her video is really touching and a strong communication of both her loss and her hope. I wish her all the best.

    Thanks also Jay Jay for the UWA contribution to SL. It's a great forum for people to showcase their creative efforts. I always go there knowing I'll see something interesting, thought-provoking and/or beautiful.

  9. There were other films besides Twinkles in which the judges merely skimmed the surface. I am very happy that it was the Twinkle film that opened a few eyes. Perchance perceptions will be a little more honed next time. It was a nice showcase in any event & good on the University of Western Australia for hosting. THANK YOU!

  10. thank you so much all, and thank you Bay. Anonymous x 2 I wish I knew who you are!

  11. I see that in some small way, all of this has helped a little bit.... this from Bay today:

  12. Thanks so much for posting this, JayJay. I was much moved by your story, and by Bay's poignant machinima. SL has such power to touch lives across the world and this exemplifies that beautifully.

  13. This is a very touching story that you relate, JayJay, and I am happy that you were able to come full circle with the real feelings and emotions carried by very real people into the worlds of the virtual. That being said, and based on my own research of social networks and engagement, I dare to generalize that without the element of affect (yes, the touchy feely side), not one of us would be in SL nor in any other virtual world. All our creations are infused with passion, if not, why create them? All of our friendshisps mean something very real to our hearts who know no difference between the contexts or worlds in which they were made. If not, why do we seek them out to chat when we are feeling happy or sad?

    What Bay Sweetwater did was a very personal tribute to her Twinkle Star, and like her I am certain there are many of us who can relate with her on a very personal level. What makes this tribute different and so very special is that we, your UWA audience, were fortunate enough to share along with you in Ms. Sweetwater's vision through the medium she chose to express it. I consider myself lucky for being an avatar at this moment.

    Like you, I have had my own virtual evolution in my time in SL.

    Thank you for sharing this with us, JayJay. I will never tire of saying this over and over again, I so consider you one of the brightest beacons for the population of SL. You are top knotch.

    With utmost respect to Ms. Sweetwater's very touching vision, and with love & appreciation for all that you do and all that you are,

    Theoretical Afterthought

  14. I agree completely with FreeWee... I thought it was a sweet movie and liked it, but I too missed the poignancy of the story. I thank JayJay for sharing this, and Bay for being so brave to share her story is such a lovely way.

    Rowan Derryth

  15. Thank you Bay for this machinima that I liked a lot (I didn't catch the message either), and thanks to JayJay to have instanciated a SL event to a RL wonderful prize, very well deserved.
    It's good when there are so many interferences between RL and SL...
    SL has definitly been here an expression platform, relayed by this new medium which is machinima.
    A moment to remember.

  16. thanks everyone. nazz lane followed up on this in an interview

  17. This is a quite an incredible and subtle story, and very educational to this educator! It highlights the importance of never forgetting you're dealing with real people in amongst all the clatter and clammer of events, and to keep a careful ear/eye out for each anothers' humanity in amongst the barrage of information we encounter daily. Thank you for reminding us of that.

  18. thanks for the feedback Stef. hope you have seen what happened next: