Virtual Thanksgiving

As a solitary person with no “real-world” relatives, my observance of Thanksgiving differs from most. I have RL friends who are as family to me, but for the past several years circumstances have prevented us from celebrating holidays together. Since coming to the virtual world in 2006, my Thanksgiving has been almost entirely virtual.

In the early years, I sat down for a virtual dinner with one or two friends.

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Thanksgiving 2009

Then after Master took me as his, we had very lovely Thanksgiving dinners in our home in Second Life.

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You may think a virtual feast is easy, but I worked hard cooking the meal!

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Today in Littlefield Grid, our “family” has widened to include everyone on the grid. We have a table set up at Stonehaven and some folks dropped by to share good conversation and friendship.

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Apparently the virtual meal is still quite satisfying!

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I am so grateful for all the fabulous people I have known in the virtual world. Thank you, each and every one of you, for the beauty and joy and fun you have brought into my life. And thank you, Master, for loving me–it is what makes everything possible.

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Remembrance

I hate this day.

Twelve years later, how should we continue to observe this tragic day? I will share my own personal opinion, noting that it is mine, applies to me only, and everyone else’s opinion is up to them.

What I hate about this day is the extent to which we allow ourselves to be frozen in grief, or in anger. Both emotions are honorable, appropriate, and good. But if we aren’t mindful, they can define us. Then, every year on this day, we find ourselves observing the occasion by striking out in rage against whoever it is we blame.

To me, that awards a victory to the terrorists.

I’ve never understood how killing someone is supposed to prove that one is better, or stronger. To me it only proves that one is more brutal.

For me… and I emphasize, for ME… the best way to honor this day is to be as unlike those terrorists as I possibly can be. To choose to act in the way that is as different as possible from what they hoped to achieve.

Today, instead of rage, I will embrace compassion. Compassion is the polar opposite of what they wanted us to feel. They expected that we would be enraged, and respond in kind, striking back with brutality as they struck us. But they don’t get to have their way–not from me, anyway.

I have no control over what governments do. I can only control what I do.

So today, instead of tearing down, I am going to build something.

Instead of feeling fear, I am going to do something fun.

Instead of feeling grief, I am going to rejoice in love.

And that is how I defeat terrorists.

Littlefield Grid members observing the day together at the 9-11 Memorial
Littlefield Grid members observing the day together at the 9-11 Memorial

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New Horizons

It was late April of 2010 when Walter first led us to explore grids other than Second Life. At that time, visiting other grids was pretty grim for those of us who find our pleasure the virtual world more by art and design than by technology. It’s hard to believe just how far we have come in three short years. What was the barren frontier has become a perfectly reasonable alternative to Second Life.

It’s been awhile since I posted anything about what I have been up to on our grid. So I’m taking this opportunity just to share a few snapshots of what I’ve been building.

In April of 2013, almost exactly 3 years after we first tried Opensim, in a vast leap of faith, we opened our own independent virtual world: Littlefield Grid. Here is our Admin Team arriving at the Grand Opening gala.

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We just added our 500th member a couple of weeks ago, and are closing in on 600 already. Littlefield Grid consists of about 140 regions, centered around a central shopping district and five welcome and hangout regions. The welcome regions include Littlefield Hangout, a beautiful redwood grove.

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Littlefield Engineering is a hangout for those who like to talk tech. It was my experiment in Brutalist architecture.

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One of Littlefield’s distinctions is our enthusiastic band of content creators. I have built lots of stores for them, where they share their creations with members for free. For me, building a store is often an opportunity to explore a new architectural style. I created a few stores in Art Deco style for my beloved who especially likes that style.

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One of the biggest challenges, when we left SL for the Opensimulator world, was vegetation. The quality of available landscaping materials in Opensim worlds in 2010 was distressingly poor, especially compared to what was available in SL. But three years later, things are looking up; we now have one whole sim of good plants and decent trees (and they are all free to our residents).

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I enjoyed learning about Victorian style when building this Queen Anne and a Victorian shopping street.

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One of my most recent builds was a conference center in the style of a mountain lodge – my little homage to the luxury hotels in the National Parks of the Western U.S.

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For more snapshots of Littlefield Grid, with many more photos of my builds, visit Camryn’s Flickr stream.

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Never stop learning

“No one is good to start with;

It takes practice for your work to match your vision.”

This wisdom comes from the amazing Robin Sojourner, one of the most respected creative forces in the virtual world. Robin’s quietly generous creativity permeates the virtual world through her free scripts and templates, the beautiful things she makes, and her teaching of building and texturing skills. “One of the things that excites me,” she says, “is that people who have no idea that they are creative come into Second Life and find out that they can make things. We are taught, at some point early in life, that creativity is reserved for the ‘creative types’ and they are special and there are only a few of them… and it’s just not true. All of us can do it.”

I was like that. If you’d told me in early 2006 that within a few years I would be so engaged in creating, I would have laughed. But now look. I’ve built whole towns and countless sims, and everything from jewelry to palaces. It turns out I have an eye for fashion and for architecture, something I would never have known about myself, had it not been for the virtual world.

But I think I am not done learning yet.

We have a similar creative force on Littlefield Grid, the marvelous Aaack Aardvark, who is generously giving his time to teach us how to make things in mesh. Our classes are fun and enlightening, and Aaack is a wonderful teacher who keeps us laughing. I am having a great time. The learning curve will not be easy, but with help, who knows. Maybe I can finally make a tree that satisfies me. Maybe more.

The day that you stop learning is the day that you start dying. Keep opening yourself to new things.

 

Ten Years

I spend more time than ever in the virtual world these days, mostly in Littlefield Grid. But today I took some time in good old Second Life, to observe the 10th anniversary of the official launch on June 23, 2003. After all, Second Life is where I was born.

It is easy to be critical of Second Life. Those of us who inhabit the OpenSimulator world, especially, often are. But I have to admit that I was moved by my experience today. Let me explain why.

Statue of Man 2002When speaking of Second Life, it is important to draw a distinction between Linden Lab—the commercial entity that created the Second Life software—and the residents, the community of people who created essentially everything that is IN Second Life.

I am no fan of Linden Lab. In my opinion, Second Life is one of the most spectacularly mismanaged businesses in the history of business. Their chronically poor judgment has alienated countless thousands of contributors to the virtual world, and kept the company on the edge of disaster for years.

But somehow, after ten years, the place is still standing, at least for now. Despite inept management, over a million people still log in to Second Life at least once a month. Why? Those one million people are not visiting Second Life because of technology. What keeps them coming back? They come because of people: the residents, the community, the world that has been created, not by Linden Lab, but by people like you and me.

Linden Lab is not Second Life. We are.

Second Life’s 10th Birthday was, for me, a celebration of the mind-bending creativity of the residents of the virtual world (every virtual world, not only Second Life). Seeing it showcased all in one place made it clear just how deep the talent pool is. I was awed by resident creativity expressed in immersive 3-D art… streaming media, machinima, radio and television stations… vehicles, from cars to sailboats to rocket ships… relationships: communities, friendships, romance and sex… battle weapons from swords to It all started with a cube.tanks… animations for every conceivable activity… a massive virtual fashion industry fueling $32 billion USD in virtual goods transactions… deep and complex roleplay communities… education, and charitable fundraising… scripts that enable intriguing things to happen… exquisite textures and building materials… cities and landscapes in astonishing variety… every conceivable environment from castles to post-apocalyptic ruins, bayou shacks to gleaming palaces, and everything in between… and ideas, omg, incredibly creative and innovative ideas.

These are the components of the virtual world, and they were not created by Linden Lab. They were created by us—the users, the residents, the virtual world community. This is what inspired me today. Not Linden Lab, but imagination and the human spirit.

On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the official launch of Second Life, I celebrate the creativity of 30 million human beings who have lived in this and every other virtual world. I toast their thought, their craft, their innovation, their art and their science. I praise the generosity of spirit that inspires me every day, when people pull amazingly wonderful and original ideas out of their minds, and share them with the rest of us in Second Life, in Littlefield, and in every virtual world.

Let us raise a glass to creativity! Hear, hear!

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Generosity

We were meandering down the streets of the town where I live, enjoying a leisurely Sunday afternoon. He had surprised me by driving up to take me to breakfast. I was floating, savoring the pleasures of the moment: the beautiful cool spring day, a tasty breakfast of pancakes and bacon, and most of all, being with my Master in person.

He is subtly different in person. He looks very much like his avatar. But his avatar never smiles. The flesh and blood man smiles constantly. Always smiling. He exudes warmth and charisma and charm. In person there is a difference in the timbre of his voice. Richer. Softer. I hear confidence and strength, but surprising tenderness. His voice wraps around me like a down comforter, and makes affection and adoration pour out of my heart.

cannoliWe passed a new Italian gourmet market. With a twinkle in his eye, he asked if we should pop inside to have a look. I smiled and nodded eagerly. We perused the culinary delights: trays of salads, entrees and artisanal pizza. The salumeria tempted us with fresh pasta, prosciutto and cheeses. We oo’d and ah’d over the pastries: creamy cannoli, tiramisu, butter cookies piled high. He said he was going to get himself a sandwich for later. I wandered through aisles of imported olive oil.

A few minutes later we left to head home. As we came out of the market, he pressed a bag into my hand. “Here,” he said simply. Curious, I peered inside. The bag contained dinner for me for that night—chicken francese and polenta—and a huge box of the cannoli I’d been admiring. My little gasp of delight at the unexpected treat made his face light up with pleasure.

This simple expression of generosity will come as no surprise to anyone who knows him. I have never met a more generous person, or one who takes more delight in it. He absolutely loves to cause that response of surprise and pleasure with his gifts. And because he does so much for me, he gets to see that reaction often.

I hope he knows that I love his gifts—but his gifts are not why I love him. My love grows from the honor of knowing him and having him in my life, being loved by him, and the remarkably wonderful person he is.

He is the most delightful gift of all.

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Law of Drama

Law of Drama

We, all of us, are a messy mix of virtue and vice. But virtual worlds may lead us to see people through black or white filters. Instead of character flaws, we see demons. Every human being has some goodness inside them. Somewhere. But in the virtual world, we become convinced that we are utterly just, and the other side is mired in evil (or at least incompetence). We do not see our opponents as they are: flawed humans, as imperfect as we are ourselves.

There certainly are people and situations that deserve righteous anger: those who hurt for the sport of it; deceivers and exploiters; and those who engage in destructive behavior and thoughtless self-indulgence that causes harm.

But it seems to me that too many people are addicted to the primitive thrill of drama. They seem to hunger for the battle-lust of explosive anger, or the conspicuous display of woundedness from having been wronged. I won’t deny it: both the anger and the woundedness can feel very satisfying–especially because it seems so clean, when we can’t see the effect of our words in the facial expressions of our target. When we see them only in black and white. When we do not see them as whole, imperfect people.

Speaking for myself, drama bores me. It also makes me a little nauseous. It feeds on emotional energy and I have none to spare. Life is too short to waste one minute of it on such nonsense. My instinct is simply to ignore it, mentally flipping the channel.

I cannot stop anyone from trying to hurt me. I cannot control the behavior of others. I can only control my own. I try to do no harm. If someone claims to have been harmed by me, I try to embrace self-honesty and humility, always allowing for the possibility, however remote, that I might be wrong, and that I might learn something from my opponent. If I have done wrong, I swallow my pride and apologize.

I do believe in standing up for one’s strong convictions. I am not a member of the spineless school of can’t-we-all-just-get-along. If someone is harming me, I will do what is necessary to stop it—which usually means simply walking away. In most cases, fighting back stops nothing. It only prolongs it. If I choose to participate in their negativity, I give it power. If I turn my back on it, it has no power over me. I just turn away, without saying a word… and without giving any ground. I have no time or energy to waste on this crap.

Even when I have been hurt, I resist the temptation to demonize my opponents. As difficult as it might be to imagine, I do my best to assume that they are people of good will, trying their best, as I am, to live lives of integrity. They may be damaged (as I am) or lacking in communication skills (as I am). Their action may have been thoughtless, or misguided. If so, then striking back would solve nothing.

I do not engage in vengeance or payback. I treat everyone with compassion, whether they deserve it or not. When you do a small kindness for someone who hates you, they might spit in your face. But sometimes, a compassionate act, even a small one, is infinitely more powerful than an angry one.

And when I have been hurt, I resist the temptation to wallow in my woundedness. All that usually accomplishes is prolonging the pain and spreading it to innocent bystanders. If someone hurt me intentionally, broadcasting my pain would only encourage them. If the hurt was unintentional, the flaunting of bloodied bandages accomplishes nothing, and risks making me look ridiculous. I know how to cope with my feelings in an adult manner, and then let them go.

At all times, I listen, with an open heart, to the words of others, and to their fear, their wounds, their hopes and desires. I listen for the good in them. And I have never yet failed to find it.

 

This was written originally about political debate. I am republishing it by request in a shorter form.

Perceptions in the virtual world

I am continually amazed by how differently people experience the virtual world.

I don’t just mean the surface things like what types of activities and styles people enjoy, whether or not they like to roleplay, or their level of interest in relationships. I am speaking of fundamental differences in the way people perceive the virtual world, and what they value about it. The differences can be so striking that two people may be left staring at each other agape with incomprehension.

I recall the first time I encountered this divergence, when I mentioned my admiration of the builder Painter Meriman’s Craftsman style bungalow, his painstaking attention to the authentic details of the style and his skill with textures and composition. He had displayed it in a street scene, complete with lawn and sprinkler, sidewalk, driveway, fire hydrant, period automobile, and other subtle touches. “It feels so real!” I gushed. “You think you are in a 1920’s suburban neighborhood.” My friend’s face fell. “Oh,” she said. “I’m not interested in things that feel real. That is so boring.” I was very surprised. Her reaction woke me up to the fact that not everyone values what I value.

Recently, another dear friend illustrated the vast differences in our experience of the virtual world when he thought it would be fun to decorate an ancient Roman plaza with a big net that dropped poppable colored balloons all over the ground. I had worked hard to fine-tune the color palette of the plaza so that everything blended harmoniously, and had focused on building within the authenticity of the style. The beauty of the finished product gave me great pleasure, and to me that was worth the work. But the addition of colored balloons completely drained away any joy I felt in the scene, both because they were inauthentic (I can’t be certain but I suspect ancient Romans didn’t go in for balloon drops) and thus made it impossible for my imagination to immerse in the scene, and because the bright colors conflicted in every way with the color palette I had so carefully designed. It was as if I had painted a painting in pastels, and someone thought it would be fun to throw a vat of tomato sauce onto it. Not that I have anything against tomato sauce, but it would kind of ruin the painting, right?

And yet, the same situation looks very different through my friend’s eyes. He is all about fun and play. He loves fantasy and pretending. My friend is an iconoclast, and gets a charge out of turning things upside down just to see what happens. If we both were standing in front of a row of buttons, I would methodically press one at a time to see what each one does—but he would press all of them at once, and if it blew up as a result, it would delight him. For him, my careful attention to authenticity and color feels unpleasantly confining. He does not understand why beauty and style are important to me. He hates it. He yearns to break free of the chains of style, and splatter balloons and paint everywhere. That, for him, is a source of pleasure. The balloons that made my joy evaporate were the balloons that made his joy possible.

Although I found this incident unsettling, it was a good education for me. In the virtual world I have always been drawn to designers and artists. Because, like most people, I tend to hang out with people who are like me, it is easy to forget that not everyone is like me. When encountering someone whose perceptions and values are very different from mine, I go through a kind of progression of understanding, starting with “I don’t get that at all,” then advancing to “I guess I get where he’s coming from, but it’s not for me.”

The danger against which I must constantly guard is that I might be tempted to continue that progression too far, and end up saying, “His point of view is different, and it is wrong / of no value / inferior.” There may be a few things in this life about which such an absolute statement could have merit. But I don’t think that any of them apply in the way we experience the virtual world. There is a difference between saying that you don’t like something, and saying that it is intrinsically bad. Is one way better than another? Is one way right, or wrong? I doubt it. Even if I don’t like them, I do find the differences intriguing.

Have you ever encountered someone who sees the virtual world in a fundamentally different way? How did you react?

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SOMA: sensual pleasure on Bondage

Friends noticed me in SL a lot more for a few weeks, and I want to share a bit about the project that I just completed there. Stop by the sim Bondage and have a look at SOMA.

SOMA is not easy to describe. They are a group of friends who share an interest in the pleasure of intellect, erotic sensuality, art and myth. At first glance, one may wonder whether it’s a sex club, an art gallery, a dance club or a temple. The answer is yes.

In ancient mythology, Soma was the drink of the gods, the Hindu equivalent of the Greco-Roman ambrosia. It is the elixir that celebrates the divine character of life. SOMA is a group of passionate friends and thoughtful lovers. Or is that lovers of thought? SOMA hosts discussions, dances, art exhibits, erotic parties, rituals, theater, concerts and more. SOMA is a pleasure feast of body, mind and spirit, a celebration of art and sensuality, of wild and tender passions.

SOMA began as one small building on a small parcel, and grew rapidly without much planning. When they finally took over the entire sim, they asked me to come and help them expand in a more thoughtful way. I retained their original Asian building and helped them expand into a large Roman area and a Celtic-themed area featuring a stone circle.

SOMA now has a blog, “Ambrosia” and can be found on Twitter @SomaSecondLife. Inworld, join the group Bondage Soma to receive notices. Below is a quick photo tour of SOMA.

One arrives at a central plaza that leads to all the various venues. Yes, that is an Egyptian god in front of a Roman villa. That type of convergence is typical of SOMA.

Soma Roman Villa

The group enjoys weekly dances in The Pleasure Dome. Love the Alchemy Immortalis “Haute Suite” chairs.

Pleasure Dome

Sculpted deities by the amazing Ryusho Ort are featured in the central plaza.

Soma Statues Hindu Egyptian Gods

Prometheus Theater overlooks the plaza and is a setting for concerts and dramatic productions.

Prometheus Theater overlooks the plaza and is a setting for concerts and dramatic productions

Villa de L’Arte is currently showing the work of the fabulous Bachi Cheng, a successful RL artist whose vibrant, colorful images celebrate life and love.

Villa de L'Arte is currently showing the work of the fabulous Bachi Cheng

A small Roman peristyle garden offers a bit of serenity in a quiet cloister.

A small Roman peristyle garden offers a bit of serenity in a quiet cloister

Artwork and logo by my wonderful friends Stephen Venkman and Seren Dawes.

Artwork and logo by Stephen Venkman and Seren Dawes.

Bacchus Pub, furnished with Max Graf’s excellent Rustica pub set.

Bacchus Pub, Rustica pub

The villa has several nooks and terraces for intimacy and romance.

Soma Romantic Terrace

Flute Alonzo’s furnishings have gorgeous textures and top quality animations.

Soma Flute Alonzo Furnishings

One private room has a Gorean dance pit and a setting for small group gatherings.

Soma Private Room

The sim is named Bondage. That said, it is not primarily a BDSM sim. But there is a small, elegant, intimate dungeon, the Temple of Bondage, well-equipped for sensual bondage play.

Temple of Bondage

The Temple of Bondage has a lovely public room and three private rooms equipped with dozens of the finest BDSM toys from BFE, Deviant, Dictatorshop and Nihil.

Temple of Bondage Dungeon Rooms

The Temple of Zeus and Hera provides a setting for pagan rituals and… well, other things.

Temple of Zeus and Hera

The Serene Meditation Garden is a lovely place for Tai Chi or just sitting, when you need to breathe.

Serene Meditation Garden

This Stone Circle is the setting for a popular weekly discussion group. I landscaped the oak grove around the group’s slightly kludgy standing stones to which they have grown sentimentally attached.

Stone Circle Oak Grove

Other features not pictured here include an elaborate undersea mer garden, tree house, beach house, and Japanese pleasure palace.

Be sure to stop by SOMA on Bondage and partake of its many pleasures.