Solitude

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Sweet Solitude by Edmund Blair Leighton, 1919

I want to reveal something personal about myself. It is not an easy thing to understand. I will do my best to explain it. I ask you, gentle reader, to suspend judgement until you have read my entire post, and do your best to understand, and, if necessary, forgive.

No matter where I start my explanation, it will be very easy to jump to conclusions. If you read one sentence, or even one paragraph, and quickly believe that you understand… please bear with me, because you probably don’t understand. Even if you think it’s simple, trust me, it’s not.

Let me start with a caveat: people are different. I know that seems crushingly obvious, but I need to say it. What is right and good and healthy and natural for me, may be completely different from what is right and good and healthy and natural for you. Just because something works for you does not mean that it works for anyone else. So please keep that in mind if you find yourself thinking that there is something “wrong” with me. Okay? Okay. So, here goes.

I am blessed to enjoy a handful of intimate relationships with some remarkable people. I give thanks every day that I am lucky enough to have these people in my life. I strive to show them the same love, compassion and respect that I have received. I am also blessed to be part of a wonderful community, to which I happily give time, talent and energy, because I enjoy doing so, and as a way of returning thanks for the many gifts I have received. I am very glad to be part of the community, part of a family, and part of a D/s relationship that is, quite simply, life-sustaining for me.

All of that is absolutely true. It is also true that I am sustained by solitude.

Since some of you will read that and instantly have a negative reaction, let me unpack it for you. Solitude is not the same thing as loneliness. Solitude is not isolation. Solitude is not withdrawal. Solitude is not depressing, painful, or unhealthy in any way.

For me, and others like me, solitude is serenity. Solitude is tranquility, a restful peace. Furthermore–and this is important–solitude is not the opposite of relationships. For me, solitude is fuel. Solitude is what enables me to love.

This is not true for everyone. In fact, it is not true for most people. Most people draw energy from being around others, and when they are alone, they feel lonely and isolated. They seek out company because being with people recharges their batteries.

I enjoy being with the people I love, and I seek out their company because I like it. I like to laugh and share and be intimate just as much as anyone. But for me, it takes a lot of energy. I like it, but I can’t sustain it. At some point, even if I am enjoying myself, I will begin to feel drained, then exhausted. And then, in order to recharge my batteries, I need solitude.

While I am alone, I am refueling. I am centered, focused and grounded. I may be working, playing, reflecting, studying, meditating, daydreaming, praying, planning, or indulging in small pleasures. But unless something unusual has happened to cause it, you can be certain that I am not sulking, pining, standoffish, hiding, lonely or withdrawn. I am most likely  content, and happily immersed.

That doesn’t mean that I hate interruptions, or that I don’t want to be around people. If for some reason I need to protect my solitude, I will; that is my responsibility, not yours. So don’t worry that you will bother me if you interrupt me. And if you interrupt me and I say, “not right now,” it means exactly that–it doesn’t mean forever. It means that in this moment, I need to be recharging my batteries, but later, when I’m recharged, I’ll probably be up for spending time together.

A few years ago, I wrote about the difference between introverts and extroverts. I am an introvert. My source of energy is reflection, deep thought, solitude and intimacy. I need these things so that I can sustain essential relationships, work, activity and community.

That is who I am. If I am not like you, and if that bothers you, I hope you will forgive me. After several decades of self discovery, I know with deep certainty that this is who I am supposed to be.

Never Again

Aging, in many ways, has caused me to look at myself with wry amusement.

The creaks and groans. When it takes longer to rest than to get tired. When children I taught have their own kids going off to college. When pulling an all-nighter means not getting up to pee.

For most of my life, I was younger than everyone else around me; always a year younger than others in my grade at school, the youngest of my cousins, younger than almost everyone else in my graduate school class. Now, in many situations I am one of the oldest, if not the oldest person in the room. This amuses me. In the classic three stages of womanhood — maiden, mother and crone — I have become the crone. I honor and embrace my crone-ness.

Advancing age has brought on what I have called the “Never Again” effect. It’s a moment when you come to the realization that you have probably experienced a certain thing for the very last time in this life.

It’s not so much about deciding not to do something ever again. This is more about the realization that you will never have the opportunity again, even if you wanted it.

We all have a private bucket list of things we want to accomplish or experience in this life. “Just once before I die, I want to…” My bucket list included, among other things, five musical works that I wanted to sing at least once. It didn’t seem an unreasonable goal, as I was a member of two professional vocal ensembles that might have done any of those works. But age eventually got the better of my voice, and my singing career ended before I was able to sing any of those five works. No amount of effort or determination will restore my ability to sing. Physiology is what it is. Aging happens. I realized one day that I will never again be a professional singer. I will never again have that opportunity. That was hard to accept. I had spent most of my life in pursuit of, and immersed in that life. It was not easy to think back on the hopes and dreams I had in grad school in my twenties, the energy and optimism with which I embraced the journey, and to realize that now, whatever was going to happen, has already happened. That life is finished. It is over now.

That is just one example. There are many others. A few of them, in the past few days, have been very painful. The number of endings in my life is beginning to outweigh the number of beginnings. I am by no means unique in this. I’m guessing it happens to everyone. But in this journal I can only speak about my own experience.

In young adulthood, with decades ahead of me, the future was an intriguing mystery. With the arrogance of youth, I felt that anything was possible. I could select any path I desired, and pursue it with confidence and hope. Now, in my seventh decade, some of those paths are forever closed to me. I have been blessed with intelligence and ability and have always had a lot of drive to accomplish my goals. It has been extremely difficult to accept that some of those goals now will forever remain unmet.

Sometimes, I say “never again” with a sense of relief. About certain things, I think, thank goodness I never have to do that again. I grow increasingly aware of the things that are a waste of time and energy, and as I grow older and my supply of time and energy shrinks, I’m unwilling to spend any of it on pursuits that ultimately mean nothing.

A few things escape the “never again” effect because no matter how old one is, one can never be certain they’ll never happen again. Who can say for sure that one will never fall in love, or never witness an astounding event? In June 2014 I was pretty sure there would never be another Triple Crown in my lifetime, but the very next year, I was proven wrong. Sometimes you just never know.

But the list of assured “never again” grows longer with each year. It’s increasingly unlikely that I will ever be wealthy, own a nice home, have children, travel to far off lands, learn to sail, buy a new computer, etc. etc. My limited resources, my dingy little apartment, my solitary life, my physical limitations… this is it. This is what I get to have now. Whatever I have now, is what I’m going to have from now on. My ability to change it has diminished.

Should I mourn? Or celebrate?

There was a time when I had ambition. I had the vision of a hopeful future, and the energy to make it happen. Gradually, life’s defeats and disappointments took their toll.

Now, where once I had vision, I have understanding. Where once I had ambition, I have acceptance.

These are not bad things.  Perhaps they add up to that elusive quality called “wisdom.”

I can no longer chase a bucket list of accomplishments I will never achieve. But I can love the people who are given to me to love. I can no longer sing as I once did. But I can embrace moments of joy and laughter.

I can’t escape the storm of passing time. But maybe I can learn to dance in the rain.

dance-in-the-rain

When dreams are more real than waking

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

How to compliment a builder

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.

The Perfect Birthday

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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Do It Anyway

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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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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The Joy-Sorrow Chord

Although I mainly write about the virtual world in this blog, I just want to take a real-world moment to note, with deep sadness, the death of the great composer John Tavener, who was an enormous inspiration to me, both musically and spiritually. I had the privilege of meeting him twice, once when reviewing his Grammy-winning composition Lamentations and Praises, and again when reviewing his epic 7-hour all-night vigil Veil of the Temple.

Tavener lived much of his life close to death due to a serious heart condition, knowing that the end could come any moment. The effect on his music was perhaps surprising; it has a delicate radiance and sense of timelessness, with one foot in this world, and one foot in the next. Listen as Tavener’s music was sung as Princess Diana’s coffin was borne from Westminster Abbey — it was a transcendent moment, beginning in luminous simplicity, soaring ecstatically into a magnificent ray of sunlight as the procession reached the west door. The very simplicity of it allowed millions to weep, pouring their grief and joy into the sound.

Sorrow and joy. It is fitting that I feel both things as I think back on what John Tavener has meant to me. Sometimes I think it would be easier if I could feel just one thing at a time. But sorrow and joy don’t happen one after the other. They seem to happen all at the same time. It’s like being in the midst of an oppressively dark, gloomy day, and suddenly one brilliant shaft of light comes beaming through the clouds. It’s still gloomy; the sunbeam does not dissipate the overcast skies. But it gleams there in the sky, testifying that there is, indeed, sunshine out there, somewhere, hidden behind the dark clouds.

When speaking of joy and sorrow, it is easy to revert to the old metaphor of darkness and light. Black and white. I have been accused, before, of believing in the darkness more than I believe in the light. Of being a pessimist, living with the expectation that the worst will happen. And therefore, somehow, causing it, as if I created the darkness.

I do not really think that is true, any more than I could, somehow, by force of will, have made yesterday’s rain clouds dissipate and turn it into a sunny day. We do not get to have that much control over the world. But that is beside the point.

John TavenerWhich is the truth, darkness or light? If I believe in the dark, does that mean I do not believe in the light? Is it that black and white?

People often speak about things being “black and white,” by which they actually mean something is either black or white. Clearly one thing, or the other. Well, if I have learned anything in this life, it is that almost nothing is clearly black or white. They are not even gray. Almost everything is both black and white at the same time. People, for example, are rarely purely good or purely bad, and also not a neutral-in-the-middle gray; we are all a messy mixture of both good and bad, simultaneously.

Thus it is with life. Almost every moment contains both darkness and light. Distinct, and separate, and coexisting. The via media, the middle road, is not some flat compromise of gray, but a lively tension resulting from the pull of two opposites.

John Tavener, who understood this, portrayed it in music, in his composition Ikon of Light. (Listen to it.) A string trio is the darkness, the soul lost and yearning. This is suddenly interrupted by a choir’s brief, brilliant cry of “Phos” (“Light”). This flash of light is not triumphant; even in its brilliance it is ambivalent. Tavener referred to the expression of “light” as the “joy-sorrow chord.” One chord that contains both joy and sorrow, filled with heartbreaking ecstasy.

That is more how I see it. Every moment contains joy and sorrow, heartbreak and ecstasy, sorrows and songs, darkness and light. Black and white, and every other color besides.

It makes no sense to me to be asked to believe in only one or the other. What seems more likely is that in certain moments, one aspect may be hidden. Yesterday, outside my window, it was a dark, gloomy day. The sun was nowhere to be seen. But even as I sat there in gloom, it was a sunny day. Not right here, perhaps. But if I were to fly high enough, above the clouds, it would have been sunny. Just because I cannot see the sun, right now, does not mean that it is not shining.

The belief that the sun is shining does not make the clouds go away. The presence of the clouds is not something I can control. They are there whether I want them or not. The challenge is to accept that there is sunlight, even though I cannot see it.

The assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

It is not easy. Sometimes I need reminding that there is always, in every moment, both black and white, both sorrows and songs, both darkness and light. The music of John Tavener fills my heart with gratitude like a brilliant ray of light momentarily breaking through the clouds, attesting that there is sunshine out there, somewhere, unseen beyond the dark clouds.

Expectations

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“Expectations are limiting.”

I have said this before, but in our goal-oriented world, my assertion is usually met with blank, uncomprehending stares, or polite dismissal.

It is fashionable to have expectations. We are supposed to decide what we want, and go after it. Admiration is lavished upon those who achieve their goals, and get what they want.

The problem is that most of us get so focused on achieving our goals that we totally miss glorious surprises that don’t fit into the preconceived plan. When something comes along that isn’t what we set out to achieve, it is too easy to simply dismiss it as irrelevant.

But what if this unexpected development is actually better than our original goal?

Not only do we miss glorious surprises, we may get mired in the negative emotional energy of resentment, frustration and disappointment. I have known so many people who seem never to see or appreciate what they do have. Instead they can only think about what they don’t have.

When I was younger, I had goals and expectations. Almost none of them came to fruition. My life has turned out very differently from what I imagined it would be.

The way I see it, I have a choice. I can be sad and resentful that I didn’t get the life I wanted. Or: I can pay attention and notice all the wonderful things I do have… and be grateful.

My life isn’t what I wanted.

It’s better.

Let go of the limits of expectations. Have enough humility to admit to yourself that you don’t know everything. Accept that you may not be able to know, in advance, exactly what the best outcome is. Have aspirations, but be mindful that there might be something even better waiting for you, something you can’t envision or predict. Be open to the possibility that you will be surprised by something wonderful you could never have imagined. Open your eyes, and your heart, to the surprise and delight of unexpected pleasure.