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We speak of “real life” in contrast to the virtual world, as if the physical world is more legitimate, more authentic. The virtual world is relegated to the status of playful fantasy. A dream.

When I entered the virtual world, I dreamed the person I wanted to be. I thought I was fantasizing. Some would say I was creating a character. That it was “playing.” I thought so too.

I immersed myself into the dream. It was rich with color and feeling, alive with relationships and possibilities.

The woman I dreamed was me inhabited a boundless world. There were no constraints on her. She could be anyone she wanted to be. She didn’t become anyone. She became someone. She blossomed, becoming an authentic individual with a unique personality and style. She was not a character. She was not a fantasy.

One day, I realized that this dream person is the real me.

The physical world that my flesh and blood body inhabits is confining. I am trapped inside walls of limitation. Not only physically, but in terms of just being who I am. I have never been able to be myself in the so-called “real” world. But I didn’t even know it, until I had the opportunity to dream myself into existence in the virtual world.

There are still a few who choose to look through my virtual self, ignoring me as if I were not real, or just some kind of placeholder, or at best, dismissing me as a fantasy character. They consider my physical self to be the “real” me.

That makes me sad. Because those people have chosen to limit me. They have chosen not to see the real me.

Dream the real world with me.

to dream

Ragnar Lives

I am a big fan of the hit TV series “Vikings,” which chronicles the exploits of legendary 9th century Norse hero Ragnar Lothbrok.

Ragnar Lothbrok, 9th century Norse hero

There is a lot to like: complex characters, sweeping cinematography, gripping plot lines, and a fascinating—sometimes terrifying—glimpse into an ancient culture.

Vikings “lived large.” They did not shun violence and brutality, but they loved as fiercely as they fought, boasted of their battles, cherished their families, thirsted for adventure, honored their gods and embraced expansive joy over and above guilt. They raided and plundered from England to Rome, taking what they wanted to take, dealing violence to anyone who stood in their way. The haunting “Vikings” theme song says it all: “Give me more, give me more, give me more.”

How different from our own morality! Or… is it?

We espouse noble values of peace, respect for others, diplomacy and moderation. But sometimes I wonder how deep those convictions really go. If you scratch the veneer of our so-called “civilized” world, does our inner barbarian still lurk beneath?

Imagine if you travel to another town, and see something you really like, for example a shiny new car. You want it. You fantasize about owning it. Your civilized self would go home, earn the money, and buy one. But your inner Viking, if empowered by strength, would simply take the car that you see. You feel entitled. Because you want it. Because you can.

In the real world, most of us would not simply take someone’s car. Most of us choose to live within the law, and respect the mutual agreements that constitute civilization.

But the virtual world, for some reason, seems to be different. In the virtual world, the inner Viking is unleashed.

Grid raiders hop from grid to grid, like 21st century Vikings, and feel entitled to take whatever they see. Because they want it. Because they can. Buildings, landscaping, clothing, hair, furnishings, vehicles, whatever.

Sometimes they make a ridiculous attempt to disguise their hypergrid plunder by giving it away and calling it a “freebie.” As if that fools anyone.

If you are a virtual Viking, at least have the courage to admit it. Vikings valued truth and honesty, along with strength and courage.

Personally, I choose not to unleash my own inner Viking. I will never take any so-called “freebies” from other grids because I know how often those freebies are plunder—the hard work of an artist who did not consent for it to be stolen and given away. But that is my choice. I can’t control what morality others choose.

In the end, who wins? It’s hard to say. I like to think that the consequence of respecting creativity is to create an environment that encourages more creativity, which benefits all of us.

Even so, it is worth looking at history. Ragnar Lothbrok and his raiders plundered England, taking as much treasure as they could, but 250 years after the events chronicled in “Vikings,” one of their descendants simply took the whole island. In 1066, William the Conqueror, the great-great-great-grandson of one of those same 9th century Viking raiders, invaded England and became its king. The present day British royal family, those figureheads of civilized values, are in fact direct descendants of the barbarian raiders who plundered Lindisfarne in 793 AD.

Is it possible that civilized values are not the opposite of barbarian values, but only a mask, a disguise? Is it deceptive, allowing us to deny the existence of our inner Viking? Or is it a way to protect ourselves, and others, from its power? How do we come to terms with the conflict between these aspects of our nature?

If grid raiders continue to be Vikings, taking what they want to take because they want it and because they can, without guilt or respect for law, will we be better off? Or worse? I don’t know. I can’t say what the ultimate outcome will be, or should be. For myself, for now, I choose to continue to let my watchword be respect.

And I’ll just watch Vikings on TV.

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No reason

With apologies to proponents of cognitive therapy, I think the head is ultimately powerless over the heart.head-heart

Using logic in an attempt to control feelings is ludicrously futile. “You have no reason to feel that way,” we say to ourselves. As if that means anything at all.

Maybe I have no reason to feel what I feel. Nonetheless, I still feel it. I am an intelligent, reasonable, rational person. Yet if I am heartbroken, all the logic in the world will not mend me. No amount of rational thought will ease my pain.

Oh, the battles we fight with ourselves over this conundrum. We try to hide our feelings, to give the appearance that rational thought has won the day. We seek various cures that are supposed to produce “serenity” to keep our emotions in check. But if we are really honest, we have to admit that those feelings are immune to the power of rational thought. We feel what we feel. Logic has nothing whatever to do with it.

We should just swallow our pride and admit to those embarrassing hurt feelings. At least to ourselves.

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Back in the 1990’s, when it was still new to many people, my work involved conducting workshops about online communication. Twenty years later, most of what I taught then is common knowledge. But there are still a few points that might usefully be revisited.

One principle is that “silence cannot be interpreted.” When we are missing information, often our imaginations fill in the blanks with our fears and suspicions. Alternatively, our imaginations might fill in the blanks by creating a fantasy of that which we wish were true. Neither tendency is reliable. Without solid clues, you can’t know what is in those blanks.

Without the cues of body language, tone of voice, facial expression, and observing real-world actions, written communication leaves out a lot of information. People feel very deep emotions through the written word and very deep connections to other people. Thoughts put into writing can go very, very deep and be very expressive. But they are still only partial.

Imagine the phrase, “Thank you,” as said by the following:

  • Growled by a surly clerk at Motor Vehicles after stamping your paperwork
  • Squealed with glee by a child who just received a wished-for toy
  • Sneered with sarcasm by someone calling an insult to your attention
  • Whispered tearfully by your lover in an intimate moment

The words are the same, but the meaning behind them could not be more different in these situations. You discern the meaning—and the sincerity—not from the words, but from the non-verbal cues—cues we don’t always have available online. Without that information, our imaginations make assumptions that may or may not be correct.

Some of us compensate for this lack of information by trying to add expression to our words through emoticons, or just by writing more elaborately. That can be very helpful. Unfortunately, it can also be a trap. It’s helpful when you are communicating something genuine. It’s not so helpful when one is communicating something false.

From time to time, one will encounter a person, quite skilled in the use of language, who seems to be very friendly, courteous and kind. Sadly, based only on their words, we cannot know for sure if they are genuine. They might say to you:

  • [Name] smiles softly. “Thank you, my friend.”

At first glance, this seems to communicate warmth, and friendship. It might inspire trust. Alas, you cannot really know whether this person really is smiling softly, or if they are blank-faced, or yawning, or laughing derisively behind the screen. I hate this, because words like those above appeal to my own fantasies about warmth and kindness. I really want them to be true.

For my own self-protection, over the years I have learned not to form opinions about people online based on what they say, or how they say it. Instead, I form opinions based on what people do—how they treat people, the choices they make, the actions they take. I love words. But actions mean more.

I admit I am disappointed when I meet someone whose words project an image of kindness and nobility, but whose actions reveal them to be manipulative, self-serving and deceitful. I really want them to be that kind, warm person, and it is a big disappointment to learn otherwise.

It is far better to place my trust in someone whose real-life actions repeatedly demonstrate generosity, honesty, kindness and real caring.

Being “nice” is only a façade if it goes no deeper than words and expressions. Buying into the appearance of niceness is a great way to get hurt.

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The 9/11 Survivor Tree, at the 9/11 Memorial on Littlefield Grid.

9-11-survivor-tree

A callery pear tree became known as the “Survivor Tree” after enduring the September 11, 2001 terror attacks at the World Trade Center. In October 2001, the tree was discovered at Ground Zero severely damaged, with snapped roots and burned and broken branches. The tree was removed from the rubble and placed in the care of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. After its recovery and rehabilitation, the tree was returned to the Memorial in 2010. New, smooth limbs extended from the gnarled stumps, creating a visible demarcation between the tree’s past and present. Today, the tree stands as a living reminder of resilience, survival and rebirth.

Our reproduction of the Survivor Tree was modeled on the original, by Ada Wong, who has beautifully captured the difference in the old and new growth, and even the saw marks where the damaged limbs were removed.

Video: A Story of Survival

You Rock

Thank you for last night, Master. You rock!!

rocking-1024

 

I will follow you to the dark side of the moon any day.

Love, Camryn

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I just learned that one of my projects, the Chinese Garden on Qoheleth, and its owner will be featured in a Second Life magazine. I call it a project, rather than a build, because although I designed the layout of the property and landscaping, I chinese gardendidn’t do the heavy lifting of actual building. The remarkable Chinese architecture on that project was the work of the fabulous Ryusho Ort. I just deployed it. Nonetheless people still think of me as the “creator” of the place, which is very flattering.

I am blessed that so many people take pleasure from things that I have built. It gives me pleasure to build them, so it’s good to know that I can share that good feeling with others.

From time to time, people will express their appreciation to me. Of course it always feels good to hear nice compliments. It’s also important to get feedback from the people who use the builds, so that I can continue to improve my skills and make even better and more enjoyable spaces. So I’m always grateful to hear from people.

But there is one compliment that gives me the most pleasure of all. It is Moon Gate frames the Tang Dynasty style mansion of the Chinese Scholar's Garden on Qoheleth in Second Lifenot “You are a wonderful builder, Camryn!” or any other compliment about me. As nice as it is for people to think so, that’s not what a builder like me longs to hear.

The best compliment may not even be expressed in words. It is shown in actions. The best compliment is when it’s clear that the build works, because people use it. People hang out there. People enjoy life there. They bring their friends, and tell people about the place. That’s when I know I did good.

When it is put into words, the best compliment is, “I love being there.”

The Chinese Garden gets many such compliments. People who do not know I created the place have said to me, “I love hanging out here,” and “it’s so peaceful.” A group of Chinese members did a photo shoot there. A magazine wants to write about it.

That’s what I like to hear.

What is your perfect birthday celebration?

Sometimes, I wonder if we all get so enslaved to tradition that we do the same kind of birthday celebration all the time, because it’s what we always do, without stopping to consider whether it is what we really want… or if there might be a better choice.

Having a big party where people gather around you and wish you happiness, getting presents and eating cake is one kind of birthday celebration. And it’s a good one. But it’s not the only kind, or even the best kind.

Over the years, I have come to understand what makes a birthday good for me. And it’s not what most people would expect.

It’s great when other people tell you that they think you are fabulous. But what is even more important is if YOU think you are fabulous. Nowadays, on my birthday, I don’t wait for anyone else to start the celebration. I celebrate me. I have a lot to celebrate.

I have a very dear friend who calls me every year on my birthday and tells me that he is glad I was born. I love that he does that. And it inspires me to admit to myself that *I* am glad that I was born. I take the occasion of my birthday to give thanks that I have been given the extraordinary gift of life, and to celebrate all of it, the ups and downs, the sorrows and joys, all of which have made me who I am. All the amazing experiences I’ve had, all the people who have been given to me to love, all the wondrous things I have learned. It really is quite remarkable… and worth celebrating.

That goes for my age, too. I don’t lie about my age. I sort of brag about it. I am damned impressed that I have survived this long. I consider it quite an accomplishment. In the journey of life, through maiden-mother-crone, I am fully embracing my crone years. Being a crone is not a bad thing. It is an achievement. It is a time to value wisdom, and insight, and grace, and a greater capacity to love. I am better now than I was when I was young.

I am not much of a party person, but this year for my birthday I was treated to a quiet, intimate evening filled with laughter, good food and good wine in the company of three of my dearest friends. It was lovely, and showed me, so clearly, how lucky I am.

I also received one very thoughtful and delightful gift from my Master. But the greatest gift I have received is my Master himself… and all the other beautiful people I am privileged to call friends. My way of returning thanks for these, and so many other gifts that this life has bestowed on me, has been to use the occasion of my birthday to GIVE gifts. Maybe I’ll buy cupcakes for everyone in the office. Or tickets to an event for my close friends. It has become something I look forward to.

These are the things that make a birthday happy for me.

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One year ago, on April 6, 2013, Littlefield Grid was born.

With the birth of the grid, we embarked on an amazing adventure. In just one year, Littlefield Grid has attracted a wonderful, active community of over a thousand members. In our very first year we have become one of the most active and popular Opensimulator grids. We have a fabulously talented group of people making this grid what it is. It makes my head spin to realize how much has been accomplished already. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

For me the first year has been a frenzy of building: creating the spaces to be the theater for the friendships and relationships that are the lifeblood of our grid; making something out of nothing. The occasion of the first anniversary made me sit back for a moment and take stock.

I am impressed with how much the grid has grown. But I am also impressed with how much *I* have grown. At my advanced age (rapidly approaching a milestone) I have developed a completely new interest – architecture. This is all because of my Master, Walter Balazic, who encouraged me to build a very BIG thing: a reproduction of Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece, Fallingwater. I had never tried to build anything of that magnitude before, neither in size nor in significance. It was a daunting task. But he inspired me and encouraged me and before I knew it, not only had I built it, but I had won an award, built a whole city covering nine regions and immersed myself in learning several new styles of architecture. Imagine! Truly, one is never too old to grow.

We are just getting started. But I just want to take a moment to reflect on a few of the architectural projects I have completed for Littlefield Grid. This is basically the web version of my in-world exhibit for the Littlefield First Anniversary Expo.

 

PAINTED LADIES are American Victorian homes in the Queen Anne Revival style painted in three or more colors to enhance their architectural features. First used to describe San Francisco’s colorful Victorians, the term also refers to Queen Anne Revival homes in other American cities such as Cape May, New Jersey. Distinctive features of American Queen Anne Revival style include a wraparound front porch, a corner tower (often round), painted gables, spindles and balustrades, windows crowned with pediments or gables, bay windows, and combinations of patterned wood shingles in a fish scale design.

Littlefield Victorian Store, American Queen Anne Revival Style

My build: Littlefield Victorian Store

Famous RL Examples of “Painted Ladies“:

 

 Painted Ladies: American Queen Anne Revival Style houses in Haight Ashbury district, San Francisco  Carson Mansion, Eureka, Calif., American Queen Anne Revival Style

 

STREAMLINE MODERNE was a late type of Art Deco architecture and design that emerged in the 1930s, stripping Art Deco design of its ornament in favor of an aerodynamic expression of motion and speed. The style emphasized long, sleek profiles and rounded corners. Applied to everything from automobiles and trains to toasters and radios, the futuristically aerodynamic style of Streamlining was associated with prosperity and an exciting future.

Littlefield Adult Mall Store in Streamline Moderne Style by Camryn Darkstone

My build: Littlefield Adult Mall Store

Famous RL Examples of Streamline Moderne:

Pan-Pacific Auditorium, later used as design for Disneyland entrance Joseph Stalin Locomotive, example of Streamline Moderne

 

MINIMALISM is a trend in architecture in which unnecessary elements are removed to achieve serenity in design. Basic geometric elements of lines and planes are organized as simply as possible to define the space. Unnecessary interior walls are removed, creating open floor plans. Where walls are necessary, glass is used as much as possible to unite exterior and interior space. A single shape or the connection between two intersecting planes may be used as a design motif. Furnishings are often predominantly white, leading to the nickname ‘white chic.’

Architecture Exhibit, Littlefield Grid First Anniversary Expo: Minimalist Design

My build: Exhibit – One Year of Architecture in Littlefield Grid

Famous RL Examples of Minimalist Architecture:

Mies van der Rohe: Barcelona Pavilion: Minimalist Architecture Tadao Ando: Church on the Water: Minimalist Architecture

 

BRUTALIST architecture flourished from the 1950s to the mid-1970s. Examples are typically large buildings, massive in character, fortress-like, with a predominance of exposed concrete construction, used for its raw and unpretentious honesty to communicate strength and functionality.

Littlefield Engineering: Brutalist Architecture

My build: Littlefield Engineering

Famous RL Examples of Brutalist Architecture:

Boston City Hall: Brutalist Architecture Delft Technology University, the Netherlands

 

‘PARKITECTURE’ is the nickname for the style National Park Service Rustic that was employed in the National Parks of the U.S. to create visitor facilities without visually interrupting the natural or historic surroundings. The style matured in the 1930s with the construction of the luxurious Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite. To attract Eastern visitors to the National Parks of the ‘wild’ West, America’s railroads built grand hotels like the Ahwahnee, offering every amenity of the era, in the guise of a rustic mountain lodge.

Littlefield Conference Center: Parkitecture Style

My build: Littlefield BDSM Workshop Center

Famous RL Examples of Parkitecture:

Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite: National Park Service Rustic Grand Dining Room, Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite: National Park Service Rustic

 

Littlefield, grow old with me. The best is yet to be!

It is a sad fact of life that “no good deed goes unpunished.”

Perhaps you have done a kindness by helping someone in need, as Androcles removed the thorn from the lion’s paw. But for every Androcles, whose lion repaid his kindness, there are ten who are attacked by the one they tried to help.

Some good Samaritans get so discouraged when this happens that they just give up, and stop helping others. If our motivation in doing kindness is to get a reward—even the reward of gratitude—we often will be disappointed.

Instead, we do kind things because that is the person we want to be. Do it for ourselves. Do it for our sense of self worth, our self respect. Do it for one’s own sake.

In his 1968 booklet, “The Silent Revolution,” Kent Keith advised, “give of your time and effort because you care and want to give, not because you are expecting anything in return… Do things because you believe in them, and the simple satisfaction of having achieved them will be enough.”

He goes on to admit that helping others often results in being attacked and mistreated by those you are trying to help. But his response was not disappointment. Instead, he proposed “Ten Paradoxical Commandments,” that rang so true even Mother Teresa posted them on the wall of her orphanage.

People are often illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.

If you are honest and sincere, people may cheat you.
Be honest and sincere anyway.

If you are successful, you may win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough.
Give it anyway.

We show kindness to a lot of people on Littlefield Grid. We give of ourselves without any expectation of reward or profit. Sometimes, our kindness is repaid with gratitude. But that’s not why we do it. We extend kindness because that’s who we want to be.

Sometimes, we are repaid with thoughtlessness; and, on a few rare occasions, hurtfulness from the very people we helped. Thankfully, we have some terrific folks in our community, and that rarely happens. When it does, we could be resentful. But we aren’t. We keep right on extending kindness. And we always will.

We do it anyway.

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