The next chapter, wherein I colonize a new planet

Last summer, Walter began to worry about the future of Second Life in the face of growing evidence of the financial struggles of Linden Lab. In particular, he worried about how we would keep our family together, if Second Life should suddenly tank. He decided to work on a backup plan: building us a second home, in another virtual world. Not to leave SL; but to establish a beachhead, a fallout shelter, a Plan B.

After a few months of experimentation with various virtual worlds, he decided that we would build in the OpenSim world of OSgrid. One attractive thing about it is that there is no TOS, and no restrictions on “adult” lifestyles. Also, it is incredibly cheap. For less than the cost of a single homestead sim in SL, we could have 24 full regions, each one with no less than 20,000 prims, some with much more. Unlike SL, we are connected to OSgrid but our regions are hosted on our servers; that gives Walter full control over our world. No overlords; no being at the mercy of someone else’s poor business decisions. For Walter, and for our family, this was perfect. Walter was really excited. I think this is something he was born to do.

Walter’s imagination saw the possibilities, not only for our own family, but for the whole BDSM community on SL. Linden Lab is, to put it charitably, increasingly less hospitable to the BDSM community. But having our own grid would put us in charge. We would not need to conform to someone else’s rules. We would make our own rules, and protect and celebrate our way of life. So Walter hatched a plan to create a virtual world, not just for our family but for the whole BDSM community. And thus, Littlefield was born.

“Our hope is that Littlefield will be a safe, fun, and rewarding environment for the BDSM/Adult/Fetish community. We hope this community will bring together like minded individuals who will be able to create, interact, and have fun with very limited cost. We hope to offer some clarity and education about the BDSM/Fetish lifestyle to help anyone who is curious or wants to learn about the practices of BDSM in RL.” –About Littlefield, by Walter Balazic

As good as that sounds in theory, I will admit that at first I was reluctant. I love Second Life. It has been my home for four years. I love the creative people and the amazing builds and artworks they have made. I love my friends. I love the visual splendor of the world. I love being able to explore strange and wonderful new environments and experiences. I marvel at what people are to pull forth from their minds.

My first few visits to alternate grids did not reassure me. I love Walter very much, and I believed in his vision. Yet, at the same time, my initial experience was unappealing. For one thing, it was lonely: 5000 sims and I rarely saw more than 80 people online in the whole grid. Then there was my appearance, of which I am very conscious in Second Life. I am not a fashionista by any means, but I do love looking good; I have taken great care selecting skins, shapes, hair and clothes and I really appreciate the artistry that goes into making them. Alas, upon arrival in OSgrid, I looked like a 2006 noob; and even worse, the only skins, hair and clothes I found were freebies from that same era. I couldn’t find an AO so I was stuck walking like a duck. The buildings and landscaping around me were amateurish, lacking that spark of design sophistication that makes SL so appealing. I got very depressed over it. What would my life be, here? Yes, Walter would be in the new world, but the prospect of disconnecting from everything else I loved in SL seemed grim beyond words.

So I sat down to think things through. As I often do when pondering a dilemma, I begin by reminding myself of that which is most important, the sine qua non. And that is Walter. He is the most important person in my life. I may live in a virtual world, but my home is in him. He is my center, my ground, my reason for being. At my collaring, I made a vow to stay with him, to follow him to the end of all things. And I will, even if it were to mean forsaking everything else.

Having established that, I began to ponder my dilemma. Staying with Walter was a source of happiness. So what was making me unhappy? I focused on two things. My avatar looked terrible; and the world around me looked grim. Well… what if, instead of just lamenting the problem, I tackled it head on? Could I fix those things? Would there be a way to procure good skins, decent clothes? Instead of accepting as a given the uninspired world I saw, could I build something better, a world that was visually pleasing?

The more I thought it through, the more I began to see myself, not like a refugee, but almost as a character in a science fiction novel–a pioneer on a spaceship sent to colonize another planet. If we wanted something, we would have to find a way to bring it with us, or, more likely, make it ourselves; there would be no stores where we could just buy things. Could I do this? I was pretty sure I could make buildings, but could I make my own trees, my own clothes, my own hair… my own skin?

I thought about it for several days. Then it was time for action. I had to build just one thing, something simple, something that could reassure me that other things eventually would be possible. I sketched out a simple plaza, with fountains and planters and benches. When my friend VonGklugelstein Alter gave me permission to use his textures in our new grid, things suddenly started looking up. I built a few stores. They didn’t look half bad. Inspiration hit, generating ideas for a community center. I experimented with making a tree. I bit the bullet and started to learn Photoshop. I found clothing templates I could work with.

I’m not sure exactly when the transition happened, but somewhere in there, I went from being dragged reluctantly into what seemed like a prison, to voluntarily spending almost all my time there, because it’s so much fun.

There are a LOT of challenges. But now, instead of depressing me, the challenges energize me, and even entertain me. If I need a building tool, I can’t go out and buy it. I have to make it. (But it’s not such a bad thing, is it, to learn how to do it myself?) There is no fashion world on OSgrid; no other designers, no shopping, no couture, no skin makers, no hair makers. But some makers of clothing templates in SL will license their content for other grids; so I can make some cute outfits, and we have one person in our family who is really good at making clothes and shoes. I found a free skin on the internet that’s really good. Hair is still a challenge, but we are working on it. Animations are another, but we now have one pioneer who is applying herself to that trade. My avatar now looks almost normal.

It is a different way of being. My SL has been, not so much about creativity, as experiencing and appreciating the creativity of others. It is a somewhat passive experience of consumption. On OSgrid there is not much out there available to be consumed. Whatever we want to consume, we must make. The experience of Littlefield is proactive, one of creating, colonizing our own new planet, building a world that we’re in charge of, for the benefit of our family, our friends, our community.

Walter was right about this. He usually is right. I am learning to trust that.

I am still in SL–I don’t see myself ever leaving SL–but pixel by pixel, the Littlefield part of my world is coming into focus. It stimulates a different aspect of my mind and heart. It is a place of limitless possibilities. A place that is all potential, all promise, all vision, unrealized as yet, but well on its way.

Our Collaring Ceremony

On 14 July 2010, our first anniversary, Walter formally collared me in a beautiful ceremony. I thought I would share that ceremony here, for those who have never experienced one.

A collaring ceremony is in some respects like a wedding. It signifies a permanent commitment between a Dominant and a submissive. The “ring” went around my neck instead of my finger, and the nature of the promises is slightly different. But like a wedding, the Dominant and the submissive make vows to one another, promising their love and support. The collar symbolizes their mutual consent and the vows each has made to the other.

I dressed carefully, wanting to be elegant and pleasing but simple, to signify that I would be letting go of my personal power and consciously, willingly, joyfully handing it over to him. It would not do to dress like a princess or in any way that seemed ostentatious. When a collaring ceremony is private the submissive might even be nude, as a symbol of the consensual power exchange at the heart of the relationship. But for this occasion I chose a simple Grecian style white gown by Nicky Ree, with long flowing gauze draped from the shoulder. I carried a single white rose, the traditional symbol of submission.

With joy in my heart, I made my way down to the ceremony pavilion on our island. The path wound through the trees and down the hill into a sheltered valley. As I emerged into a clearing, I saw the rustic pavilion, surrounded by trees. It was generously adorned with hundreds of white roses that seemed to burst from every beam and rafter. Master waited on the pavilion, by a small table that held a jeweled box. An intimate group of family and close friends greeted my arrival. I smiled, unable to contain my happiness.

Camryn Darkstone Collaring Ceremony“Camryn, would you join me please?” Master called.

I stepped onto the pavilion and went to him. “It would be my honor, Master.” We both smiled. Then he spoke with solemnity.

“Camryn, it is my intent to offer you my collar as a sign of your submission to me. Are you willing to accept my collar?”

My heart leapt with excitement. “It would be my greatest joy, Master… yes!”

Master turned to the table and opened the box. I gasped with delight as he removed a collar that he had made especially for me. Bright silver, engraved with a Celtic design and sporting a gleaming sapphire, it sparkled in the sunlight. It seemed the loveliest thing I had ever seen. 

Reaching out, Master placed the collar around my neck, but did not yet close the lock. He looked into my eyes with love and made his vow to me.

“Camryn,” Master said solemnly, “with the placing of this collar around your neck and your acceptance of it, I vow to do everything I can to be worthy of you. I promise to hold you and keep you safe, to stretch you and give you flight, to respect the needs of our relationship above all others, to love you, honor you, support you in all things and be sensitive to your needs and desires . I acknowledge the trust you have placed in me and the responsibility that goes with my acceptance of that trust. I will never violate or even threaten to violate that trust. I acknowledge and accept with all my heart the gift of submission you have made to me. This collar will be a symbol of that which we already know: that you are mine, and by wearing it you will always be safe to be everything that you are.

“Do you accept this collar in the spirit by which it is given you?”

Looking on my Master, and hearing these words, I felt my heart fill with love and happiness such as I had never known. Without any hesitation, I spoke clearly and with conviction.

“Master, of my own free will, with clarity of mind, heart and conscience, I surrender my life to you, submitting to your will in all things.” I had difficulty holding back tears of happiness as I spoke from the depth of my heart. “I accept your collar as the outward and visible sign of my deepest joy: that I am yours. I gladly accept your authority and trust you to guide me on the right path. I vow to honor you with my every thought, word and action. I promise to stay with you, support you and fulfill your needs and desires as you allow. You are the center of my universe, the light of my life and the love of my heart. I give you my love, my heart and myself, now and always.”

I knelt, in a traditional posture of submission. He reached out and locked the collar firmly in place around my neck. As the lock closed forever with a satisfying click, my world seemed to fill with light and love. I am his! At last I am become who I was meant to be. I have found my heart’s desire. I smiled up at my Master in utter devotion.

“Camryn,” he continued, “I will never forget the responsibility that I have undertaken here. I am charged with your well being in all you do. My decisions will affect you in every way. Your life is literally in my hands and I will never shy away from that responsibility, but use the power you have given me wisely. I will never consider only myself. I will always remember that you will follow wherever I may go. I will not lead you into danger and I will be mindful that you will look to me in all things for guidance and teaching. I promise to learn from you what is good and safe for you, and be prepared to give as much, or more than I receive from you. The Master’s hand is a double edged sword. It can give pleasure and it can punish. I will never forget that, and will consider every facet of any situation before using that power. It will never be used in anger, and will always be justifiable.

“Thank you for giving me the gift of your submission, Camryn,” he said softly. He took my hand and helped me rise, and we kissed, through my happy tears as our friends and family showered us with congratulations, warmth and love.

Get over it

Dear world:

Yes. I am a strong, intelligent, secure, capable, boringly normal woman in a D/s relationship. Get over it, already.

Don’t call me a doormat. I am independent and self-sufficient and there is only -one- person who gets to tell me what to do.
 
Don’t call me weak. My way of life requires a reserve of inner strength you only wish you had.
 
Don’t call me passive. I made a carefully considered decision, of my own free will, with clarity of mind, heart and conscience. Our life is a mutual, consensual choice.
 
Don’t call me a bimbo. I have exquisite taste and I don’t wander around SL dressed like a hooker. My sex life is as private as yours, and probably no kinkier. 
 
And p.s. It’s none of your business anyway.
 
I have been given the gift of submission, the freedom to surrender, the grace to trust, the privilege to love.
 
If that bothers you, I’m not the one with the problem.
 
Everyone should be so lucky as me.

Stonehaven

I had become rather cynical by the time I visited Stonehaven. I held no hope of finding anything more than an evening’s entertainment. My first impression was forgettable. The place looked rather bland. Like other BDSM clubs, it had various bondage devices scattered around, the requisite castle, and a few noobs engaged in capture roleplay. In other words, it did not seem very inspiring. Still, it was a capture roleplay sim, so it held at least a small promise of danger, a little bit of intensity perhaps. So I entered.

I wandered around for a few minutes, but no prospective captors caught my eye. Bored, I noticed a group of people gathered on a terrace beside the castle. Hoping to stay out of sight, I circled up behind them and stood at the edge of the terrace, hoping not to be noticed until I could eavesdrop for a bit.

Hello, Camryn. Welcome to Stonehaven. Oh well, so much for not being noticed.

I looked around for the person speaking to me. I saw him, prominently seated. He seemed to be holding court; others deferred to him. Among the group gathered there, he stood out. Tall, muscular but slender, with generous long hair, his avatar was thoughtfully put together. He was dressed tastefully in black leather, of good quality, with a contemporary look, not the dreary gothic sameness of most dominants.

I’m Walter, I’m a warden here, he said. If you need any help, or have any questions, just ask. I’m always available to help.

I relaxed a little. This was different from the arrogant opening lines most dominants employed.

I explained that I was new to Stonehaven. He offered his protection, and told me a little about the place. When I confessed that I was not well versed in the ways of capture roleplay, he smiled.

Do you have shackles, or something? he asked. Otherwise… it’s a little hard to capture you. He smiled. I blushed. I rummaged around in my inventory, found some, and put them on.

Now that I said that, Walter smiled, I’m going to capture you, of course. He laughed. I smiled, increasingly at ease. A friendly captor? That was unexpected. And yet I sensed something more within him, that made me think his good natured manner might have an inner strength behind it. I wondered what he was like if provoked. I decided I’d rather not find out first hand.

He reached out and grasped the shackles. There was an ominous yet satisfying snick as the locks snapped securely shut. Walter took the keys. I shivered slightly, feeling an inner thrill.

The shackles were more secure than I ever imagined. They locked not only my wrists, but my heart as well. Three years later, even when I do not wear them, I am still locked. Walter still has my keys.

.

Control, Intensity, Trust

My experience with that passionate young man taught me what I desired from D/s: control, and intensity. Those who think of BDSM as little more than sex with handcuffs might find it difficult to understand either desire. It is difficult to explain to someone who isn’t wired this way. The experience of surrendering, abandoning control of myself to a trusted dominant, thrills me beyond words—and the more control I give up, the more extreme my surrender, the better it gets. I also need for the space between me and my partner to be alive with intensity; without that, I am easily bored. In the absence of the emotional and sexual intensity I had known with Jonah, the world felt pale and bland.

After several weeks of searching, I began to despair. There was no shortage of dominants in Second Life; just a shortage of good ones. Again, those who are unfamiliar with D/s might imagine that being a submissive means that I like for people to tell me what to do—and that might seem like an easy desire to fulfill. It is not easy at all. In fact, I find it nearly impossible. The third thing I need, in addition to control and intensity, is trust. I do not trust easily. In my life, I don’t let anyone tell me what to do. I am rebellious and fiercely independent. In work and social situations I am usually the one in charge. Not because I want to be; but because no one else can dominate me. I am too smart, too strong, and my standards are too high. I want desperately for someone else to be in control, but I cannot trust enough to give up control to anyone unless they are smarter and stronger than me—and very few people are—and unless they earn my respect.

Jonah was one such person. It had been so easy to surrender to him; I had not fully appreciated exactly how many things had to click before that could happen. With each unsuccessful encounter, I began to despair that my relationship with Jonah might have been the kind that only happens once in a lifetime.

I was wrong about that.

Next: Stonehaven »

Reawakening

For several days, I roamed the virtual world, visiting BDSM clubs, in search of intense, extreme experiences to rouse me from the ennui that gripped my soul. At first, in my numbed state, it felt less like an adventure and more like research. Before I could have those experiences, I had to attract a dominant’s attention, and it wasn’t entirely the same as “vanilla” cruising. I made notes about how to get noticed, and learned the expectations of the dominants I met, so that I could be prepared to fulfill them. I outfitted my submissive’s tool kit: collars, handcuffs, gags, silks, latex, leather and sexy outfits; anything a prospective dominant might desire. I went to classes about D/s and joined several groups, mainly to listen and learn. Soon I knew which clubs to frequent, what to wear, where to stand, how to get noticed. I re-wrote my profile to present myself in the most appealing way. I became adept at attracting the attention of dominants, and had many interesting and strange encounters.

For three days, I became the property of an older, established Dom whose elaborate rules, rituals and protocols taxed my patience.  After that didn’t work out, I was captured by a 19 year old Turk who, apparently, was letting his 13 year old brother watch the computer monitor over his shoulder; I ended that one quickly. Then I met a European fellow who was only in SL to make initial contact and really only wanted to talk on Skype. Next was a man who wanted me as a house-slave to assist with his business, followed by a couple who wanted to share me; it took me less than an hour to decide against each. A brand new dominant was a lovely friend, but didn’t have enough experience to meet my needs, nor I his. There was an intriguing man with ice-white eyes who was into fantasy role-playing; unfortunately, that meant long, painstakingly composed descriptions of his every action and thought that were exquisitely crafted but took ages for him to produce. He brought me to his house for sex, but after two hours, he’d only managed to write us through a single kiss. After he spent another 45 minutes writing a description of removing his shirt, any arousal I might have felt had totally evaporated, and I’d nearly dozed off waiting for his next lines. Knowing there was no way to build a relationship there, I excused myself.

It was rather common to find dominants projecting a certain image that ultimately bore little resemblance to their actual personality. Everyone seemed to be a stereotypical Goth in black leather, heavy boots and spiked wristbands, with a scary name and dangerous-sounding profile. One such dominant turned out to be a cream puff who mostly liked tickling. Another severe-looking hyper-masculine Goth collared me for a couple of days, until I discovered that he was actually female. One exceptionally dark and dangerous dominant gave me chills… until he opened his mouth and started talking, bursting the bubble with a notable lack of sophistication, intelligence and ability to spell.

With each encounter, satisfying or not, I learned more about myself and what I wanted and needed (and what I didn’t want or need). Thus I was alert when, three weeks into my search, I met a young man who expressed an intense desire to possess and control me. As we explored one another, sharing our hopes and failures, to my surprise I felt life stirring in my empty heart. There was no sex between us; just possession, and complete control. His intensity reawakened my passion and tuned it to a fever pitch. I gladly surrendered myself to his control for one glorious week, before the differences in our needs became painfully apparent. He was “just passing through” to make initial contacts, uninterested in Second Life for its own sake, preferring only phone and webcam contact. His disinterest in the possibilities of the virtual world disappointed me, and ultimately his insistence on real world involvement caused our relationship to unravel. But inspite of that, he gave me a great gift. He breathed new life into my feelings, and helped me remember how it felt to be consumed with desire.

Next: Control, Intensity, Trust »

BDSM in Second Life

Before I move on, I think I should say a few words about the phenomenon of BDSM in Second Life, for the sake of readers who are not already residents.

In fact, I will start at the very beginning. “BDSM” stands for “bondage, domination, sadism, masochism.” The acronym is shorthand for consensual erotic practices in which one partner controls the other for their mutual enjoyment. The power exchange of domination, in which a Dominant (Master or Mistress) controls a submissive partner, and bondage, in which the submissive is restrained by use of straps, ropes, cuffs, confinement or other means, are typical practices. S&M, a practice involving extreme sensory intensity, is included in the acronym, but is less common. Domination, the “D” portion of BDSM, is sometimes referred to separately with the expression “D/s” which stands for the pairing of domination and submission.

In real life, the practice of BDSM tends to be hidden, protected in secretive societies, whispered about in private. But in Second Life, BDSM is a wildly popular mainstream activity. I suspect that nearly everyone who has sex in SL has at least tried bondage. Bondage items are plentiful and easy to obtain. BDSM animations are included in many of the most popular sexual items.

One apparent reason for this phenomenon is the fact that virtual BDSM presents few of the risks that one might face in corresponding real life situations. Emotions can run high, of course, but as long as it all stays online, there is no possibility of physical harm… even from the most intense bondage scenarios. One can be cuffed, chained, tied in extreme positions, whipped, erotically choked, suspended, or locked away in a cage, all without danger. If it makes you uncomfortable, just log off, or turn off your computer.

Apparently a lot of people don’t find it uncomfortable–just the opposite. Without the risk of danger, one’s imagination free to engage the wildest sexual fantasies, a surprising number of people indulge in BDSM. The popularity of BDSM on SL is clear from the high traffic statistics at locations that provide opportunities to engage in it.

For most people who try it, RL and SL, bondage and D/s are simply occasional selections on an otherwise vanilla menu of sexual activities. Some, however, embrace BDSM and D/s relationships as an identity, a fulltime lifestyle choice. This choice can take a wide variety of forms. A Dominant may form a household with one or more submissives. Some may not establish formal relationships, but may engage in BDSM sessions or scenes. Some like to be restrained, but are not necessarily submissive; some get a thrill from dominating or submitting, and may not engage in bondage or even sex. Some enjoy the most extreme and restrictive forms of bondage, possession or even torture, while others have strict limits and will only go just so far and for just so long.

With such diversity, it is not easy to paint a picture of BDSM in Second Life. The only threads that tie all these practices together are the enjoyment of power exchange for mutual pleasure; and the freedom to indulge that fantasy without fear of physical harm.

My story is one of those threads. It’s a long and wandering thread, because it took a long time to find what I was looking for.

Next: On the edge of tomorrow »