This is going to be a bit of a weird post for me. I kinda started this blog with the initial intentions that I would mostly be writing about my experiences and thought processes as I designed my stuff and tried to create a viable business here in Second Life. It was kinda meant to be more a rambling place to put my thoughts along this journey than as an advertising tool. Yet, as I got deeper into running the business itself and I slipped farther and farther into "Businesswoman" mode I saw it more and more as just a tool to promote the products. The original idea kinda dropped away.
A few times since I realized this had happened I had been tempted to re-insert some of the original flavour...write about some ideas, thoughts or experiences that were important to me or I felt deserved being addressed, but I resisted, for fear that customers didn't really want to hear me ramble. "Show us the new products and shut up" was I figured the consensus. And perhaps it really is. But I have seen some other designers use their blogs in a similar fashion, sometimes writing their personal adventures and exploits or discussing ideas or issues that have arisen in their business or in SL that others may need or want to hear and think about as well. So, I have been divided on this for some time.
But, after an experience recently that has shaken me, and waking up this morning and looking over the blogs as I often do to start the day, I noticed something that made me pause and think. It fell into line with other things that had been happening and I caught myself doing something that no artist wants or likes to do...stifling my own creativity.
Before I go much further, I want to do something I rarely ever do...talk a bit about myself.
I am a shy and very private person. I have little confidence or faith in myself and a self esteem that borders on the negative. I grew up in an abusive family, and I am a survivor of not only physical, but emotional and psychological abuse as a child...abuse I allowed to continue through my husband for many years as well. I am deaf, and I suffer from Post traumatic Stress Disorder induced by my childhood abuse, as well as severe Chronic Depression, and Dissociative Identity Disorder...what they used to call Multiple Personality Disorder. I grew up being told I was a freak, was worthless, was broken, was crazy...and all that from my own father. The worst part is I have let him convince me it’s all true.
I don't tell you this for sympathy, however...I despise pity from anyone for any reason, which is the main reason I normally refuse to talk much about myself. I don't want people to look at me as I look at myself...weak, broken, afraid and a freak. I tell you this to let you know how rarely I talk about myself, my life, or my background. I tell you this because I think many of you...and I am talking to the other designers in SL...may understand and have been there yourselves perhaps. I tell you this about myself because I want you to understand the person writing this blog and know where she comes from, and thus maybe how she thinks. I tell you this most personal of stuff, secrets I usually hide even from friends, because I think the things I have lived through are more common than most people want to admit, and affect more of us as artists and designers than anyone knows. Our backgrounds help to create us, create how we think, what we dream, and how we see the world. It affects our creativity and why and what we create. It affects every aspect of who we are and how we handle life. It's a filter through which we see ourselves and each other. And for once, I do want people to see me clearly.
In the childhood I lived, my art and writing were my escape. It was all I had to express myself, all I had to communicate with in a world where so few people knew my language or could understand me. It allowed me to create worlds into which I could run away and forget my life. My art and writing, my business and SL as well is still that for me, and I suspect for many of you as well. It's our dreams, our coping mechanism, our escape, our hope.
In the years after I left home and my family and their abuse behind, I struggled to stay focused on any one goal or dream in life. As a dissociative, each of my personas has not only a role they play in helping me cope with the traumas that created them, but their own thoughts, feelings, world views, religious beliefs, and dreams. As they shifted in and out of control of my life I flitted from goal to goal, job to job, new promised land to newer promised land. I ran my own business making jewelry and reproductions in college, worked as a graphic artist for a tee-shirt company, studied and taught ancient history, and worked as a sculptor for a mold company. I got into computers and worked for several online companies, did corporate management, and even spent a year in advertising and marketing. I tried a lot of things, became good at some of them, but mastered none. Nothing lasted more than a year or two at most.
Throughout all these years, the only thread of any consistency for me had been my art and writing. Even when it wasn't my job, even when I was doing things worlds away from art...my art was always there for me. It remained my hope and my freedom. It was the only shred of stability for me.
It was about that time I determined to try yet again to make my art my career to support my girls and myself. I started doing free game modifications in my spare time for games like the single player RPG Morrowind to build my skills as a texture artist and 3D modeler. After building a portfolio, I lucked into a chance to start at a small, but known game company on a new MMORPG they were developing. I was finally getting paid to create again. However, corporate game work is indeed work, and combined with the stress, my life and issues, and my diseases, it was only a matter of time before the same forces that had made holding down any previous job difficult began to spring up again.
It was around that time I started in SL, just as my creative career in the corporate game industry was in danger because of my depression and dissatisfaction with not having the freedom I desired. I struggled through another year before I finally decided to take a enormous leap in faith and quit my job and started a business here in SL fulltime. Which is where you find me now...
Now, you may be asking...if you are still awake...what any of this drivel has to do with anything, yes? Well, hopefully it does two things, the first of which is give you a better idea of who I am, and the second of which is for you to understand exactly what a lifeline my art and creative work is and always has been for me. And...maybe, just maybe, some of you have lived similar lives, experienced similar things, and also understand the desperate desire to create something and have someone look at it and say, "Hey, that's nice." That desire to validate yourself through your art, through your creations and show those who told you you were broken and worthless that you are indeed worth something.
This is me, and this is the background from which all my work springs. My work can be in turns, silly and cute, dark and somber, morbid and creepy, disturbing, or fantastical. As many of you know, I run half a dozen branded stores in SL, each with a different theme and style, expressions of my different personas I suppose. But in the end it is all my way of coping, communicating and expressing myself and who I am to a world that I usually hide in fear of, yet desperately seek some validation from.
So, when I say that I caught myself recently stifling my own creativity out of fear, hopefully you can now understand how major a shock that would be to me. My art has always been the only place that I -was- free. The only place I could express myself to my depths and not fear retribution or abuse for it. My art is personal, and healing for me...it has saved my life, and helped me keep going when I didn't have anything else. And yet now, here I am censoring it.
When I started my businesses in SL, I did so with a fairly simple philosophy...if I made what I liked and what interested me, it would hopefully also interest others, and the business side would handle itself. I still mostly feel that way, and I have also made only stuff I myself wanted to wear or liked or was inspired to design and build. I spent years as a sculptor for a mold company making things I had no personal interest in...there was no creativity involved for me, no expression of who I am or why I am an artist. The MMORPGs I worked on for several years were better than that, but still even though there was more freedom for expressing my own creativity and finding my voice again in art, it was limited because the work had to fit the theme, genre, story and style set by the head game devs whose game I was working on. But...here in SL...I could do anything I wanted. I could free up completely the part of me that needed to create, needed to escape from my own head and my own "fuckedupedness" as I have called it and just lose myself in creating.
I have largely refused to give in to the whisperings of my businesswoman aspects that say I should do more of this or more of that because its popular or might make me more money. I need to be inspired and excited to truly enjoy creating, and churning out stuff you don't like or enjoy isn't inspiring or exciting...so I have tried to avoid that here.
For most of the time I have been creating in SL, I have let my own inspirations dictate what I created and sold. If I got inspired to do something that didn't fit with my current branding ideas of a particular store, I just branched off and created a new brand and store. It's not new to me, but is rather how my life has always worked with my DID...each persona does its own thing and I blissfully follow wherever their desires lead me at the time. it's a curse to live with from a lifestyle perspective...but can be wonderfully freeing as an artist.
My products, as you will know if you have visited my stores, are kinda all over the board. Neko skins and accessories, traditional clothing, j-pop inspired cutesy clothes, childlike dolls, leather and spikes, science fiction, you name it, it’s either a genre I have played with at random or am currently pondering playing with. I have blissfully puttered about doing whatever came to mind at the time.
Now, I rarely get out and about in SL. I mostly work and hide on my own cluster of islands. If I see something on the blogs I just have to have I run out and get it and rush home. I am painfully shy to the point of trembling at my keyboard if anyone I don't know well talks to me. it's better in SL than in the real world, where I almost never ever leave my house at all, but still I tend to be a hermit even in SL. It's not that I think anyone will attack me here...it's that I worry so much about what people think of me...mainly due to my childhood abuse and the horrendously low self esteem it has left me with. I am terrified that at any moment, someone will look at me and say, "Wow, you are really a worthless freak. Damn, you had me fooled, but I see you for what you are now." I try to put on a brave face, let "the professor" or "the businesswoman", two of my many personas created to cope as a child, handle most customers or people I have to talk to daily, but otherwise I cower in my islands and try not to be noticed. yet all the while a part of me desperately does want to be noticed. Does want to be approached, does want to be praised or told I did something good. I am 40 years old, a grown woman with children, and yet I still am also a beaten child waiting for daddy to tell me he loves me anyway despite me being broken and worthless. A sad, but harsh truth.
Now, because I rarely get out much in SL, most of my acquaintance with new products, stores and cool stuff made by the rest of you is either through these blogs and Fashion World of SL or from seeing customers in my store wearing something new and cool. There are a few designers that I will actually go to their stores on occasion and check up to see what's new I need to toss money at, such as ::FORM::, Gritty Kitty, etc. but mostly I sit and watch the blogs for neat stuff I want, and of course to follow general fashion trends in SL. but, my own work has normally been limited only by my inspiration, skills, and time...and of course by the swings and shifts of my mental illnesses.
Because I have always approached my art as something deeply personal, as a form of inner expression and escape...as a defining of myself to the world...I have never even considered much before recently if my work might be mistaken for a rip-off of someone else's work or ideas. It's not once up until a few days ago crossed my mind.
Indeed, I have seen other people's stuff that I suspected had been inspired by some of my designs. usually they did their own thing with it, and it was quite new and different despite also sharing some similarities that made me feel it might be derived from something I had done already in SL. Only once have I seen anyone completely and totally copy one of works prim per prim. I recall well how that made me feel too. I was hurt, angry, and wanted to scream and cry both at once. Yes, I have had someone rip some of my skin textures before and even put them up on a website for download. Most of us, have experienced these things at least a few times I expect here. I am far from naive. I know people steal, cheat, and copy for profit or any number of other reasons. It's life, I've seen it all in my 40 years, and am overall pretty numb and jaded to the nasty aspects of life.
However, despite having seen a few derived works, and seen at least one complete rip-off of one of my designs, as well as dealt with texture theft, I never for one second thought of my own work in that way. It just was a foreign concept. I don't steal ideas, I don't copy anyone with any known intent, I just work from my inspiration, following my creative ideas wherever they wander. Since, I -know- I don't rip other people's stuff, it's not anything I would ever even think about, right?
But, this was brought home to me a few days ago when someone approached me with the belief some of my products were rip offs of theirs. I was shocked, stunned, angry, afraid...I knew it wasn't true myself...but it didn't change the fact staring me in the face that this other person thought it was true. I tried to talk to them, explain where my ideas came from, and how this piece was designed...but they were only able to see it through that same veil of anger, outrage and sadness I myself had experienced a few times before when I suspected someone of copying me. It shook me very deeply. And days later I am still struggling with this in the forefront of my mind. I know I hadn't seen their store before, I know I didn't copy their work, because I remember exactly where my inspirations for those pieces came from. Most of it is based on real life items, so some similarities are gonna happen, and the prims we used and how we did the products was totally different really in every way. It was the overall effect...the "look" if you will that shared some similarities, and after going to their store and seeing their works, I suddenly was hit with how they must be feeling, cause there were some vague sameness to a few pieces. yet, I knew without doubt I didn't copy this designer’s work. but how could I ever convince them of that? Likely...I couldn't. no more than one of the people I had talked to about supposedly copying one of my works was able to convince me otherwise. It was a sobering realization, and it has thrown me into a major tailspin.
Admittedly, I know my reaction is complicated too by my background and my own views and personalities. I have no self confidence or esteem, and think myself worthless most the time, so I desperately want other people to like me, think good of me, validate me. Most of my personas are pretty submissive and some even downright needy in that way. It tears me up for anyone to think bad of me or dislike me, and so I usually bend over backwards and let people take advantage of me to get their validation, respect or love. And here I was crying in my closet like I had as a child, because I couldn't bear that this person thought that badly of me and thought me so low as to knowingly copy her work. it is still ripping me up inside, and yet I don't know what to do about it.
This morning I woke, up, still struggling as I had over the past few days with how to handle the issue with these few products. I mean...removing them either out of fear that she would publicly accuse me of copying her or just to make her feel better and think better of me amounts to admitting I did something I didn't do, right? But doing nothing somehow seemed wrong too. How could I just go on knowing this person thought I had done such a terrible thing?
With all that churning in my head, I look over the blogs and see a new release from one of my favorite designers in all SL...Zabitan of ::FORM::...and I am floored. His new chain gauntlet is the spitting image of one I had on my list of projects to do for ~ broken ~. I have a huge list of stuff I always wanna do...and the list gets longer by the day. Some of it I will get to, some maybe not. The chain accessories I had planned were mainly inspired by my characters from playing City of Villains a few years ago. My character had chains wrapped around her fists and arms, boots and chest and her waist. I wanted to do my own version of that concept...kinda a ghost in chains idea here in SL. but when I saw Zabitan's new gauntlet, I froze. On one hand it was spookily similar to what I had worn in CoV, and what I had planned to make myself...but on the other hand it's just chains wrapped around a hand. It's not like anyone can realistically lay claim to such a simple concept, right? So, with all the self doubt and emotions of the recent days and issues in my head, I decided I shouldn't try to make the chain outfit I had planned to make, because people -might- think I had copied Zabitan, and I couldn't bear to risk that. Where before I had blissfully made whatever I was inspired to from my own ideas...now I was terrified that anything I might make could be too close to some other designers work I may not ever have even seen, and I may be accused of idea theft. I was contemplating not following through on a design I had done just because someone might wrongly think I copied it from someone else. I was ready to censor myself and start the process of cutting off my own creative drive I need so much.
It stopped me cold in my thoughts. And then it made me start thinking again...
As a painter, I can paint anything I want, and even if I decide to paint a subject someone else has painted...say, the Last Supper...no one assumes I am "stealing" Leonardo DiVinci's ideas. They look at it for exactly what it is...a new work perhaps inspired by the same event that inspired DiVinci, or even inspired by DiVinci's work, but my own vision of that scene. My painting is my own inner vision of the subject matter, and it isn't lessened in any way by the subject having been painted, sculpted or envisioned many times before. Yet, somehow that doesn't seem to hold true in a small enclosed social environment like Second Life.
Even in business in the wide world, and even considering the constraints of trademarks, copyrights, and patents, products once created are re-visioned later by other companies without complaint by either the first visionary company or the public. No one looks down upon the second company to create the car, or the third business to start offering "value meals". Once a vague and general concept is born, and especially after it catches on, the business world runs with it across the board. A new idea soon becomes the accepted standard.
Yet in Second Life I have seen forum threads saying things like "Bob Bobson was the first in SL to make a working car, everyone else is just ripping him." or, "My friend George started this whole trend of doing X. The rest of these fuckers are just coastin' on what he did." I have been here a while, since early 2004. I recall the arrival of the first really nice custom skins, prim hair, prim skirts, and so much more. In every case...someone was hit with these brilliant and inspired ideas first. Yet, does that mean they someone now 'own" the concept of making hair from prims? Does that make every other prim hair maker lesser because they weren't first? Does it lessen each artists own personal vision of that idea? From some of what I have seen over the years and still see in SL, many would say yes to that...even while they wouldn't blink to work for Pepsi even if under that same mentality, Pepsi is just a cheap knock off thief stealing Coca-Cola's idea. It's an odd phenomenon that may be made worse by the still small, insular nature of Second Life's designer community, and community in general.
You can get into advanced discussion on the very nature of what inspires someone. Did my seeing someone else's hat on a customer one day unknowingly inspire my own hat design? It can be hard to answer that, even when we are being our most honest. But...if the end result is different...new...a totally different take on the original concept...is it still valid art as it is in the real world? Or is there a different set of rules in Second Life and communities like it? Do, we, as designers, need to start stifling and holding back our ideas and creative inspirations for fear they may be too close to someone else's? Where is the line? How do remain true to our artistic desires and yet also navigate this invisible minefield of "Whose idea was that first?".
Some things seem simple at first glance. I mean, as long as the prims used, and how they were used and built are different, why would anyone think it wouldn't be okay for me and ten other people to all create our own versions of the same airplane in SL? But I have indeed heard such comments from people before. I have heard people and their work slandered for no other reason than the person talking believed someone else had a right to claim ownership of a vague and basic concept just because they did it first here. If two works are both based on real life objects, surely that's safe, yes? So long as they use different prims and their versions are their own vision of the object, yes? But, what about layout? What about the first designer who started doing an outfit that has a mini pleated skirt paired with an tee-shirt and a shrug sweater? Even if the details are different, if I do that combo, am I copying the earlier designer? I was gonna update my neko skins, and the neko ears with lots more functionality, including HUD controls...but wait, ***Hybrid*** did a HUD control for its neko accessories first instead of the voice commands or touch menus others of us had used before. Would I be copying them if I now use a HUD system for my version 2 neko products? Originally I didn't think anything about it...but now I am worried someone will think I am doing a bad thing because I used a HUD for my ears and tails too. It's a great idea. It overcomes problems I had with the touch menu system in version 1, and it lets me do more that I wanted to do from the start. But Hybrid did it first with neko ears, so does that mean I am somehow invalidated from using a basic tool of SL for my neko ears? Does that make me a copycat? An idea thief?
On one hand, fashion is all about copying general ideas and doing different takes on it. One person in the fashion world creates a "look" that then other designers simply must do their own version of, and thus a fashion trend is born. Fashion is all about taking bits and pieces of inspiration from wherever you find it and trying to revision something new from it. Or is it the same in the real world fashion circles? Does Giorgio Armani talk bad about Liz Claiborne for using the same fabrics in her line this year he is using?
Where is the line for Second Life? At what point do we have to start censoring ourselves for fear we will be taken as less inspired, less creative than others, or worse yet as thieves? I once thought I knew where that line was, but I am not so sure now.
Have any of the rest of you struggled with this, or have you blissfully done your own thing like I was doing, oblivious to anything but your creative drive itself? Do you worry about your work being too close to someone else’s, or see an idea done and think, "Now I can't do that"?
I wrote this in a whirlwind of rambling this morning, and I held off posting it. Instead I went into SL and asked a few close friends I trusted to read it for me. Both of them have been in SL for some time, one even longer than me. One is also a designer herself, the other barely knows one end of a prim from the other as she claims, but is well acquainted with the designer circles here. I listened to both their suggestions and edited out some details too personal to include in such a format, and yet still, despite both urging me to post it...I have struggled all day on the merits of doing so. I don't want to come across as whining or as one of those women who mention her abuse and issues for sympathy votes. That's not me at all. I am the sort to hide it most the time, deal and soldier on quietly. I am shy, private, and mostly keep to myself. At times I have been told that makes me seem distant and even arrogant, when in truth I am really trembling for fear someone might dislike me or my work. I take every positive comment I have ever received and place it on a pedestal to cherish forever, and I take every rude, mean, or negative aside to heart and chastise myself over I endlessly. I do not expose myself to possible hatred, ridicule, or derision often or easily. It has taken a massive amount of willpower and effort to push the button that says, "publish". I just hope that the original spirit of the post and the ideas behind it find some resonance with others, and may serve some purpose, even if just to let someone else know they aren't alone in such thoughts or concerns.
Thank you for your patience at this post's length, and for your understanding of its difficulty to write for me.
- Zoe Llewelyn