In a surreal twist the title character of my teen novel, The Virtual Life of Lexie Diamond (HarperCollins), spawned her own virtual self: an avatar on the 3D online
digital world of secondlife.com. The teen grid, which is separate from the adult world,
recently launched an educator's island. And it was here that Lexie's doppelganger was
invited to be a sort of pundit for teens. In her first life, on the pages of my book, Lexie
will tell you that life is a Bubble in which we humans are trapped like fish in a bowl, or
icons on some Super Geek's Game Boy, nothing more than playthings for a higher
intelligence. Lexie discovers a portal out of the Bubble, which leads to not only her
deceased mother but also renewed belief in Lexie's view of the world. Therefore what
better place for Lexie's alter ego to exist than on a website that portends to be a portal out
of Life As We Know It?
After getting cozy with Second Life, I realized that the possibilities for
creation in first life paled next to those in a second life. As the mystic saying goes: As
above, so below. The so-called real world in which we work, play, fight, and struggle to
love is fantastically mirrored in the hyper real world of Second Life. Your avatar can
spend time meditating at a Hare Krishna ashram or forgo the karmic investment and live
La Vida Loca at a stream of wild parties. You can even earn a first life income by selling
goods "in world" to exchange Linden dollars at the current rate of $US1 to L264.
One subscriber apparently made a million dollars U.S. in fiscal year 2006. Whatever you
imagine can be.
I confess, however, that Lexie's virtual second life aroused in me a host of
conflicting emotions from interest to fear. On the page, the borders of my imagination
defined Lexie's voice and world. But on Second Life, teens would interact with
Lexie, co-create her environment, meet at her house for events, post comments on a
communal bulletin board, or just hang out. This would not be the continuation of book to
movie or television in which I might maintain control of Lexie's world. True, I would
provide Lexie's "voice" on Second Life but who knew what might happen to her?
Essentially, she would be having a life without me.
As a writer, I have imagined many virtual lives, sorting through and sculpting my
inner life in the process. More often than not, my experiences provide the inspiration if
not the literal translation for my characters. Perhaps making an avatar is the closest
experience to creating a literary character, minus countless hours of writing, editing and
training. In order to resonate, however, a literary character must be, as we all are, flawed.
And if the voice is true and the narrative captivating, its flaws might engender a certain
fondness and catharsis for the reader. On Second Life, however, you would have to comb
through to the far reaches of almost seven million subscribers to find a single
imperfection. Everyone is fabulous.
The first pass at Lexie's virtual construction rendered her homely, gawky, and a
bit pudgy. A real teenager. Guess what? Passersby besieged her, wanting to chat. In
her too-true-to-her-fictional-life, she stood out. A little sleeker, a little prettier and she
began to fade into the virtual background where she belonged. Still, my heart ached to
lose her edge of imperfection and I wondered what was the emotional cost of
straddling existence between one's fantasy self and the one you faced every morning
in the mirror? Would you lose respect for that imperfect self, gradually siphoning off
your emotional investment into a world of your design?
There was only one way to know: I decided to create my own avatar. And while
my ego enjoyed choosing options such as the perfect nose, eye-popping breast buoyancy
and slim hips, I soon became distracted by my very real children, my wonderful partner,
my dear friends. My hapless avatar was left in the incubation stage like a sloughed off
beauty mask. For now, Lexie Diamond's avatar is alive and well on secondlife.com and
her creator continues to mine her own imperfections for the basis of future literary