Reimagining the World

'Imagination' (one of a series), by Inara Pey on Flickr

[Image: “Imagination,” one of a series posted on Flickr by Inara Pey. (Click image for full-size original.) The images in this set are all digital creations — scenes from the Second Life alternate-universe “game”/virtual world. See Pey’s blog post about it for more information. Image used under a Creative Commons license.]

From whiskey river:

Imagination can so easily be trapped by the wish to escape painful facts and unbearable conclusions. The New Age idea that one can wish oneself out of any circumstance, disease, or bad fortune is not only sadly disrespectful toward suffering, it is also, in the end, dangerous if escape replaces awareness.

At the same time, the act of seeing changes those who see. This is perhaps most clear with self-perception. By my perceptions of who I am or what I feel, not only do I re-create my idea of who I am but I also change myself. Perception is not simply a reflection of reality but a powerful element of reality. Anyone who meditates has had this experience: Observing the activities of the mind changes the mind until, bit by bit, observation creates great changes in the soul. And the effect is the same when the act of perception is collective. A change in public perception will change the public. This is why acts of imagination are so important.

Like artistic and literary movements, social movements are driven by imagination. I am not speaking here only of the songs and poems and paintings that have always been part of movements for political and social change, but of the movements themselves, their political ideas and forms of protest. Every important social movement reconfigures the world in the imagination. What was obscure comes forward, lies are revealed, memory shaken, new delineations drawn over the old maps: it is from this new way of seeing the present that hope for the future emerges.

(Susan Griffin [source])


Love brings something inside you to life. Perhaps it is just the full dimensionality of your own capacity to feel that returns. In this state you think no impediment can be large enough to interrupt your passion. The feeling spills beyond the object of your love to color the whole world. The mood is not unlike the mood of revolutionaries in the first blush of victory, at the dawn of hope. Anything seems possible.

(Susan Griffin [source])


Uley, Glos

The moonlight is suddenly large:
a brightness on the fields that only shows
when this house dims
and something clearer rises
through the parish I know by heart, bricks and glass, the dead
immersed in stone,
subtle erasures, siftings of blood and bone,
as if this was the story of a place
that I could tell without impediment:
first thought, then form, a drift of native souls
scattered across the land like seed or snow,
ordered and lost; a sieve of consciousness
the making of this commonplace domain:
respected borders, marriages and births,
the giving up and taking on of names.

(John Burnside [source])

Not from whiskey river:

Permission Granted

You do not have to choose the bruised peach
or misshapen pepper others pass over.
You don’t have to bury
your grandmother’s keys underneath
her camellia bush as the will states.

You don’t need to write a poem about
your grandfather coughing up his lung
into that plastic tube—the machine’s wheezing
almost masking the kvetching sisters
in their Brooklyn kitchen.

You can let the crows amaze your son
without your translation of their cries.
You can lie so long under this
summer shower your imprint
will be left when you rise.

You can be stupid and simple as a heifer.
Cook plum and apple turnovers in the nude.
Revel in the flight of birds without
dreaming of flight. Remember the taste of
raw dough in your mouth as you edged a pie.

Feel the skin on things vibrate. Attune
yourself. Close your eyes. Hum.
Each beat of the world’s pulse demands
only that you feel it. No thoughts.
Just the single syllable: Yes …

See the homeless woman following
the tunings of a dead composer?
She closes her eyes and sways
with the subways. Follow her down,
inside, where the singing resides.

(by David Allen Sullivan [source])


One Art

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

(Elizabeth Bishop [source])


The Himalaya is the crowning achievement of the Indo-Australian plate. India, in the Oligocene, crashed head on into Tibet, hit so hard that it not only folded and buckled the plate boundaries but also plowed into the newly created Tibetan Plateau and drove the Himalaya five and a half miles into the sky. The mountains are in some trouble. India has not stopped pushing them, and they are still going up. Their height and volume are already so great they are beginning to melt in their own self-generated radioactive heat. When the climbers in 1953 planted their flags on the highest mountain, they set them in snow over the skeletons of creatures that had lived in the warm clear ocean that India, moving north, blanked out. Possibly as much as twenty thousand feet below the sea floor, the skeletal remains had formed into rock. This one fact is a treatise in itself on the movements of the surface of the earth. If by some fiat I had to restrict all this writing to one sentence, this is the one I would choose: The summit of Mount Everest is marine limestone.

(John McPhee [source])

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  1. John,

    Many thanks for using one of my images as the header for this piece; I’m truly flattered. I just regret I hadn’t forcused more on the subject on imagination itself, given the words you’ve selected here do get the grey matter churning! A delight to read.

    • Hello Inara — thanks for stopping by, and it’s nice to meet you.

      I don’t know enough about Second Life to truly understand what I’m looking at in your wonderful Flicker set. (Are these actual scenes from that Guana Cay, er, place? Screen captures? If you’re in Second Life, do you get to, well, walk around in these scenes?) But I do know it was very difficult selecting from among those images… every one of them made me (yes) reimagine the world. And it was funny, too; much though I loved what I was seeing, each image made me want to turn around and imagine what was behind the camera of my mind’s eye. Any one of them fit today’s theme perfectly!

      Thanks so much for posting them, both on Flickr and on your blog!

  2. Hi John, nice to meet you as well.

    Second Life can be difficult to understand. Essentially it is a 3D virtual environment you access through the use of an avatar you create and dedicated software which is a cross between a sort-of 3D web browser and a computer game. Using the software, called the viewer, you can travel around Second Life with your avatar (itself quite a complex concept to grasp, as allows you to be almost anything you want to be, and can reveal as much or as little about the “real you” as you like). You can also use the viewer to converse with others in text and/or voice, listen and watch media inside Second Life, and join in a huge an utterly varied range of activities.

    All of the environments in Second Life are pretty much built by the users. So in the case of Guana Cay, the environment has been put together by ARNICAR India (that’s the name of the avatar) using items and objects created by other users, in order to present that particular environment. Other places within Second Life might be similar, or might be entirely urban or may represent any given period in history or present a more futuristic / science-fiction environment – it’s all down to what those developing their “virtual land” want to do and how they want to use it. Even the land can be altered to suit the individuals purpose: it can be sunk under the water to create islands as with Guana Cay, or hills can be raised up, or rivers cut through the land, and so on.

    In this regard, a large aspect of Second Life is the creation and selling / exchange of content between users, giving Second Life it own economy. So all the trees, the floating house, the duck, the logs, etc., seen in the image at the top of the article have all been created by people using Second Life and offered for sale to others. The concept of Second Life’s economy is iteself huge and complex, so I’ll shy away from it at this point rather than confuse you further!

    A former tagline for Second Life was “Your world, your imagination” – because as a user, and depending on the depth of your pocket, you really can imagine and create – almost anything within it (and have the potential to make money from the things you create). Although it is worth keeping in mind that getting your head around everything takes time, as the world is so comprehensive and varied and can be quite technical in places, so there’s also a lot to learn.

    Of course, there are downside to the platform – but then, that’s true of the Internet as a whole. For my part, I find the entire concept on such an immersive virtual environment and the technology behind it fascinating, and I love exploring all of the places people have created within it.

    In terms of my images (and any other images you see of Second Life, you’re seeing things pretty much as they appear “in-world” in Second Life as you explore it with your avatar. The images are captured using the viewer software I mentioned above, which includes a “camera” through which the images are captured. Just like a real camera. Just like a real camera, the software includes abilities to alter things like the depth of field / focal length, field of view, etc.

    This camera both automatically follows your avatar around as you walk / run / fly and explore, presenting you with pretty much and “over-the-shoulder view of the world, and it can be moved independently of the avatar, allowing you to create and frame shots and then save them to your computer – including taking snaps of yourself, if you wish.

    The viewer also allows you to maniplate things like the time of day, the look of the sky and the water, even add mist or fog to a place, alter the amount of cloud, and so on, and may include in-built tools for vignetting images or setting tone mapping, etc., – so it’s possible to produce images which are entirely unique and which don’t need a lot of external post-processing via PhotoShop or anything.

    The images I produce are essentially “as seen in Second Life”, using the capabilities in the viewer itself to adjust the time of day or change the look of the sky – amount of cloud cover, colour of the clouds and their density, etc. I do also do a small amount of post-processing to give the images their rounded corners and also (again, depending on the image) to enhance the look of some of the textures – so the bark of any trees is a little enhanced, for example.

    Hope this answers some of your questions – Second Life is such a complex subject it’s hard to give a concise overview, so apologies for the length of my reply :).

    I’m so glad you like the images, and am agaiin flattered; I’m merely a passing amateur within Second Life, and there is a lot of exceptional work done by others, up to and including professional photographers and artists (art is a another huge element with Second Life) – most of whom I tend to lot to as I continue to try to develop my own style and approach to (and understanding of the nuances of) photography.

    • That is a brilliant summary — I’ve been blogging for over 10 years (five here), and your Second Life description is probably among the two or three best comments I’ve ever gotten. Thank you so much!

      Shortly after SL went “live,” I read something about it, somewhere. It sounded almost TOO good. So I signed up and created an avatar. My brief first (and only) visit was not a success. My PC was pretty underpowered, so performance was godawful. And — worse, in a way — I could yet see that yes, SL really did have the potential to be something amazing… especially as a time sink. Dazzling, and very, very… well, absorptive.

      So from your description, anyway, I gather that while the creators of a given region (ARNICAR India in this case) deserve full credit for the features there, “photographers” moving about here and there may take better or worse photos — just like in the real world. (Any photo of the Grand Canyon or Snowdon, say, will depict something intrinsically impressive… but only very GOOD photos will depict that something in a way which is itself impressive.) Is that about right?

      SL still terrifies me, and still tempts me in about equal measure. The open-endedness, especially; I think I could wander for days, leaving the computer only for biological necessity. That you regularly post travelogues blows my mind: how do you ever pull yourself away???

  3. Thank you for the praise again :).

    Yes, SL does eat some computer systems, although there has been a lot of work put into it over the last couple of years to dramatically improve performance which should benefit even moderately old systems (5 or so years).

    If you’ve not been back since the early days, I think you’ll be pretty amazed at the changes: “windlight” options for creating more realistic sky / clouds, etc; the arrival of “mesh” modelling, allowing items to be created outside of the platform using dedicated modelling tools rather than the in-world building tools, then imported; most recently the arrival of “materials” (normal and specular maps) to create more realistic surface textures. It’s all quite remarkable.

    And you’re right with the photography; it can vary from lens to lens; and there are some truly amazing people out their travelling SL and capturing it. I’m trying to learn from them as I go :)

    When it comes to blogging & the travelogues – I cheat :). I try to line-up 2 or 3 places at a time, log-in and visit each, snapping away using a number of personal lighting presets I have & taking notes. I can then stack-up 6-8 places fairly rapidly, then sit down, write about them from my notes & re-visit if needs be, select the images I want to use, clean them up (where necessary) and post. In this respect, I’m actually logged-in to SL a lot less in terms of overall time than I was a few years ago, when it was very easy to spend 5-6 hours an evening in-world. :)

    • Hmm… I wonder if anyone conducts something like “guided tours” for SL newbies? I can’t even imagine how such a thing would work — the world seems so freaking big!

      It seems unlikely that my account is still active. (The email address I used back then has been “dead” for a long time.)

      Even so, it’s kind of fun to imagine my avatar stumbling about on his own all this time. He’s probably got quite a few XPs, or whatever the equivalent measure of experience might be. Er, unless, of course, the system subtracts XPs for things like falling into open manholes and flailing uncontrollably, which I’m sure has happened more than once.

  4. There are some user-run mentor groups that help new users get to grips with Second Life, but the current official “orientation” starting-points are not exactly excellent, it has to be said.

    There’s also an online Destination Guide which is tied-in to the viewer and which can be used to help in finding your way around (although it can still be a little bewildering to get started).

    If you can remember your avatar’s name and the password you used, you might be lucky and the account may have survived. If not, sign-up is now free (has been since 2006, and if you used a free account to start with, it’s very likely it is still sitting on a Linden Lab server).

    Should you feel like dipping toes into the water again, let me know; I’ll see what I can do to help.


  1. […] work from the Second Life virtual universe site before here at RAMH. (My favorite was probably this post, from 2013, as much for the conversation with that image’s creator as for the image itself.) […]

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