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Writing My Own Story

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When I saw Dan Eldon's book The Journey is the Destination on September 5, 1999, I was 25 years old, facing a major crossroads in my life. The book is filled with windows into the world of a young man who, at 22, was a Reuters photographer covering the crisis in Somalia when he was stoned to death by an angry mob in 1993. As I flipped through the pages I didn't realize that he was dead until the end. I was with a photojournalist who had just returned from Kosovo during the height of the ethnic cleansing there with photographs of flaming skulls, and when he informed me that Dan Eldon was dead I felt as if I'd suffered a personal loss, and I had. I had lost the illusion of immortality that glazes the consciousness of most young people. Already, I had outlived Dan Eldon by three years. I decided to become a journalist that day.

For seven years, I dove into the profession, wondering if it would eventually carry me to a war-torn outpost in which I might meet my catastrophic end. I pursued the kind of stories that often find no home in the mainstream media. When a Catholic nun was sentenced to six months in prison for civil disobedience while peacefully protesting, I was there to see her off, exchanged letters with her from jail, and went with a vanload of sisters to spring her from the clink at the end of her stint. I spent nearly seven hours on Earth Day one year touring Indian Point nuclear power plant, which sits like a simmering volcano on the Hudson River in Westchester County, New York, with eight percent of the nation's population living within fifty miles of the spent nuclear fuel that continues to be collected on the site. For six months, I investigated post-Katrina corporate profiteering across the Gulf Coast. My first interview was with Malik Rahim, a former member of the Black Panthers in New Orleans who was in the midst of building what he called "the most progressive community in America," from the racist rubble of the crumbled city.

After my report, "Big, Easy Money: Disaster Profiteering on the American Gulf Coast," was published, I was struck by the continuous American struggle away from literal enslavement toward the possibility of authentic freedom. I went on a civil rights quest with Lila Cabbil, the president of the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development, and I learned three things: Meet people where they are, speak in "I statements," and look first at how I might be inadvertently perpetuating any tension that I sense within my own family, community or world before pointing a finger elsewhere. With these lessons firmly in mind, I returned to Dan Eldon's book with new eyes, and started to wonder how I might transition from telling stories to living them by attempting to do as Gandhi suggested: You must be the change you wish to see in the world. I couldn't have predicted that this idea could also include a virtual world.

In the aftermath of my work in the Gulf Coast, a friend suggested that I check out Second Life, a three-dimensional immersive virtual world in which residents can create their own identities and circumstances. I logged on only so I can tell him I'd checked it out, but instead was immediately stunned by what I discovered in those first few days, weeks and months: a new global culture is emerging in the Imagination Age. Not long after, I started working on an investigative report for IBM about the evolution of the company's groundbreaking Virtual Universe Community, which collaborates across geographical boundaries and disciplines. I founded a company, Dancing Ink Productions, and soon started working with an array of clients looking to participate meaningfully in the transformation of business and social networking at this critically important time in the history of our small, spinning planet. In fact, Arianna Huffington was one of the first guests I hosted at my virtual home on the private island of Jessica in Second Life.

I can only imagine if Dan Eldon had been a young man during the digital age, when his photographs of famine, war, adventure and love could have reached the world on a grand scale. His life is a lesson in global citizenship and the continuous necessity for capturing the narrative of the human family as the ceaseless metamorphosis continues to unfold. Creativity is the most critical characteristic for a successful global citizen to possess in a world that communicates increasingly in immersive environments. We have reached a point at which we can inhabit and enhance one another's ideas to overcome the illusory boundaries that have long divided us. There's reason for hope.

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