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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Real Virtual People

How “real” is the virtual world? Is it more than a cartoon, a video game or a fantasy? And what does “real” mean, anyway?

Is this place realThere are many shades of real.

We might say that something is “realistic” if it closely resembles reality. Subtle shading and shadows in the corners of a room, or motion capture animation may make a scene look “almost like” the real thing. To say something is “realistic” acknowledges the craftsmanship of its creator. But saying that something is “almost like” the real thing is an admission that it’s not the real thing. It may resemble a real tree, but it is not, in fact, a physically real tree—it is a collection of pixels. I don’t think very many people believe that the virtual world is the same as the physical world.

That doesn’t mean it’s not real.

Whether or not it’s physically real, the virtual environment can affect us physically. It’s like when a skillful filmmaker weaves together story, cinematography, acting and other elements to make light, color and motion affect us emotionally, and even physically if we recoil in a horror movie or weep over a sad ending. In the same way, a well crafted scene in a virtual world can evoke real-world physical sensation and emotion. The serenity of a quiet virtual forest, under a protective canopy of giant trees, with sounds of birds, brooks and breezes actually calms my physical body in the “real” world. The desolation of a vacant shack on a dry, windswept plain makes me cough as if I can feel the swirling dust catch in my throat. Standing around in a virtual snow scene makes me feel cold in the physical world—and putting a sweater on my avatar warms me up.

Of course there is the whole matter of virtual sex and BDSM, and the very real arousal it can incite. “In the real world, arousal mostly happens between your ears anyway,” a friend of mine said recently. “Virtual sex is just like physical sex—but with better animations!”

We all know that the emotions we experience through our encounters in the virtual world are real. The whole gamut, from mirth to rage, wonder to repulsion, heartbreak to love—yes, love—all just as authentic as if they were triggered by events in the physical world. And the qualities of the human spirit we encounter are also real: generosity, creativity, selflessness and selfishness, forthrightness and deceit.

Flower AvatarSo, is the virtual world real?

A better question would be: are your experiences real? Does the virtual world evoke real emotions and sensations? Is pleasure real? Is inspiration real? Is friendship real? Is excitement real? Is beauty real? Is laughter real? Are art, craftsmanship and creativity real? Dare I ask: is love real?

Some people ascribe no reality to the virtual world; they see it as a cartoon, with no value in and of itself. They treat it as if it were only a screen separating them from other “real” people. They seem impatient, then, to get past this screen and connect with a physical person, who is, to them, the only person who matters. These are people who typically don’t put much effort into their avatar, since the virtual world is not important to them. They don’t care about their avatar, or yours, but they are very interested in who you are in “real” life, where you live, what you look like, how old you are, etc. For them, the virtual world is not real at all. For them, the physical world is the only reality.

On the other end of the continuum, some of us inject so much of our conscious awareness into our avatar that our physical self becomes secondary. As in the movie “Surrogates” I live through my avatar much more than through my physical self. If you only know me in the physical world, you don’t really know me. Camryn Darkstone is the “real” me. In the virtual world, I am freed from some of my physical limitations and allowed to be my most authentic self. Of course it can’t be carried to extremes, since I do enjoy some pleasures with my physical body that aren’t available in the virtual world, for example singing and food. But in terms of my sense of self, and everything else that is most important, I am much more present as Camryn Darkstone.

For others, the avatar is a fantasy, a character they have created, through which they role-play. Some even view the avatar as a separate person, with a life of its own. I know at least one person who, when speaking as his avatar, refers to himself in the third person, as though he and his avatar were two different people. The avatar refers to “that person behind the keyboard” as if it were someone else.

virtual-worldI can’t wrap my mind around that kind of disconnection. For me, there is no boundary between myself and Camryn Darkstone. I am Camryn Darkstone. Camryn Darkstone is real. In fact, Camryn Darkstone is much more real than my physical self. Camryn Darkstone is a better representation of my sense of self than my physical presence.

The seamlessness between virtual and physical has been enhanced since I accepted my Master’s collar. He is a TPE Master—Total Power Exchange—and he is my Master all the time, 24/7, not just for the duration of a scene. I don’t segment off certain areas of my life for him to dominate. He has total access. He gets to be in charge of every part of my life, virtual and physical. So the seamlessness between the virtual and physical aspects of my life is strengthened even further by him.

It is also strengthened by the culture of our family. Whereas many people draw strict boundaries of anonymity and privacy when interacting in the virtual world, within my family we are very open. Each of them, for me, is the same type of blended virtual-physical person as I am. We don’t role-play, we are our authentic selves. I voice with them. They know my real name, and some even know my address (and are likely to send me mail order gifts, as I do for them). My Master has been to my home. They know what I look like, where I work and what I do for enjoyment. And yet, even with all of this “real” world information, I am still Camryn Darkstone to them. I am one person—submissive, builder, tree lover, horse racing enthusiast, fashionista, bourbon connoisseur, anglophile, musician. This—all of this, virtual and physical—is Camryn Darkstone.

I am not a virtual person. I am a real person in a virtual world—a real person whose real life is extended, enriched and enhanced beyond the limits of the so-called “real” world.

I thought it was just me

If we ever got honest enough to go out in the streets and uncover our common grief, we would discover that we are all grieving over the same things.

–Miguel Unamuno

shared-sorrowWe all know people who are a little too generous in sharing their troubles. On the other hand, there are those tight-lipped souls who refuse to share anything at all. I’m not sure which is more frustrating.

How often do we try to mask our heartbreak with a veneer of cheerfulness? Sometimes “official smiles” are necessary when you have to function professionally despite being in pain. At other times, I may do it to protect my privacy. It is not everyone’s business to know whether or not I am upset about something.

But in the context of an intimate relationship, whether a close friendship, romantic or D/s relationship, I am not sure that “official smiles” are helpful–or even effective. The people who know you know if something is wrong, no matter how brightly you are smiling. They may just feel the subconscious tingle of discomfort that comes from knowing that something is wrong and you are concealing the truth. Or if they realize that you aren’t telling them what’s troubling you, they may feel hurt at being shut out. Or if they are paranoid, like me, they may not be able to stop their imagination from worrying whether they caused your pain.

So before you “put on a brave face” and hide your sorrow, take a moment to consider if doing so will protect those close to you–or hurt them.

Nobody owes it to me to reveal their troubles. I have no right to demand it. But with those I love, I am always hopeful. I want my dear ones to tell me when they are upset. It’s not a burden. Actually, the honesty is a relief. And when they choose to share their pain, I am honored. I will listen with an open heart, and will not judge. I probably can’t take away their pain. But I can care. I can be with them in it, and support them with my love.

My belief is that love is stronger than sorrow. The only thing worse than being in pain is being in pain alone. Not everyone is able to help. But there are people who will listen, and not judge, or argue, or try to talk you out of your feelings. They will simply care about you, and for you. I try to be one of those people.

When your heart is aching with disappointment and sorrow, it does not make you weak, or flawed, or needy. It makes you the same as every other human being on the planet. We are all grieving. That ache in your heart resonates with the ache in my heart. And when that happens, by being open with each other about it, we both might find strength and healing in our common grief.

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Expectations

firebird

“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.

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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Submission and Abuse

Are submissives more likely to end up in abusive relationships? Does being submissive imply acceptance of abuse? Is a submissive a victim?

These questions, inspired by my last post, have come to me in emails and IMs the last few days (come on, people, don’t be shy; post a comment!). I realize now that I did not elaborate on some elementary aspects of BDSM before that post, and those who are unfamiliar with the lifestyle might not understand them. So it probably would be responsible of me to back up, and reiterate the basics of BDSM safety.

One poll in 2011 reported that 30 percent of women have experienced abusive relationships. I am one of them. I am a survivor of an abusive marriage. I know all too well the terror, the agony, the resignation, the despair of abuse victims; the sense of being trapped with no way out. I also know what it is like to try to convince an abuse victim to leave an abusive relationship; the helplessness as you struggle with their twisted sense of loyalty to their abuser, and their intransigent belief that their situation is hopeless.

So yes, I know something about abuse.

I also know the other side. I was lucky. I escaped more or less intact and, after a lot of healing and work, have been blessed with a D/s relationship that is the polar opposite of abuse. I know, now, what it feels like to be loved, respected, safe, and cherished.

subbeamIt may seem that submissives face a dilemma. How do you surrender control, and yet be safe, steering clear of abusive Dominants? How do you end up in a healthy D/s relationship like mine?

In my previous post I talked about my desire to surrender control to my Master and the pleasure I have received from giving up my right to make decisions. BUT it is essential to note that this surrender occurred only AFTER I had carefully considered and made a thoughtful, conscious choice to submit. I willingly gave him my right to choose—but first I had to own it, before I could give it away.

My choice was the culmination of a long, careful process. I did not jump into the collar of the first Dominant I met; I “auditioned” quite a few. A D/s relationship must be built on trust. Trust rarely happens instantaneously. Even after my Master expressed his desire for me, I did not say yes to him immediately. He had to earn my trust, until I was sure that he would take responsibility for my emotional and physical safety. I had to be sure of his character, and know that I could depend on him. By the time I submitted to him, I had proved, beyond any shadow of doubt, that he was not an abuser, but a generous, loving man of integrity.

“Safe, Sane, Consensual” (SSC) is your key. Be smart, and strong, and responsible. Some believe that when one is “submissive” you just naturally do whatever anyone tells you to do, without thinking, and that you become conditioned to blind obedience. I don’t know what that is… but it is not submission. Submission requires your clear-headed consent. You must be able to choose whether or not to submit, and to whom.

You get to negotiate the terms of your submission. You may expect a Dominant to push your limits a little, but not to ignore them. You do not have to experience anything unless you want it, and have agreed to it, and then, only in the context of emotional and physical safety. And if something goes badly wrong, you must have the choice to walk away.

In my post, I also said, “I don’t want to be equals.” This doesn’t imply any lack of respect from him. My Master respects me, even admires me a little. I know that I am valued; he makes it clear to me every day. I defer to him, because I chose to. It is consensual. He would never put me down. He raises me up, and I raise him up out of my admiration and respect for him. I can release myself into his arms, trusting and secure. He will never let me fall.

If you are very lucky—like I was—you will find a kind and loving relationship that is safe, sane, and consensual. Then, and only then, you will have the choice to throw off the chains of freedom, and experience the delight of surrendering total control to a competent, trustworthy, loving Master.

A Valentine

somewhere i have never traveled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such fine hands

e. e. cummings

I love you, Master!

Real Friends

Let me tell you about friends.

In addition to having the best family in any world, I am blessed to have some really awesome friends. I also have a lot of pseudo-friends. There is a difference. There’s nothing wrong with pseudo-friends, but it helps if you can tell the difference.

How can you tell if someone is a real friend?

A lot of people will SAY that they are your friend. But just because they say it, that doesn’t mean it’s believable. If they really are a friend, they will SHOW it.

What really matters, more than what you say, is what you do to the people you say you care about.

Real friends will show you that they want you. If they actually like you, they will take the initiative to seek you out, because they enjoy your company. Even simple, casual contact, phone calls and IMs show you that they want to be around you.

Real friends will show you, in word and action, that they respect you. They will show you to your face… and they will show it behind your back, too. Even when you are not present, they will not say anything negative about you to others, or do anything that communicates a lack of respect for you. Real friends will defend your honor.

Real friends will show respect for the things that are important to you, even if those things are not important to them. They will refrain from making derogatory comments about the beliefs and people you cherish.

Real friends will honor important milestones with you. They respect your significant events, places and people.

No one else but you is responsible for your feelings, but real friends will notice your feelings. They let you know that your feelings matter to them. They show you that it occurs to them to wonder how you might feel, and that they care. They know you well enough to sense how you feel.

Real friends share their important feelings with you, because they want you in their lives. Pseudo-friends continually shut you out, which tells you that they don’t want you or trust you.

Real friends allow you to care about them, and for them.

Real friends value you for more than your skill set. They value you for your character: for who you are, not just for what you can do.

Real friends give you room for failure. They do not devalue you for being imperfect.

Real friends are dependable. When you need them, real friends are there for you. And they trust that when they need you, you will be there for them, too.

Are you a real friend? I try my best to be one.

Are you blessed to have real friends, like I am? I hope so.

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Introverts

“There are two kinds of people in this world…”

introvert vs extrovertHow many jokes begin with that opener? Actually, in some aspects of our personalities people do tend to gravitate toward one of two types. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator measures these tendencies, to help identify your personality style. Many of us have taken the Myers-Briggs at work or school, and know our four-letter personality type, such as ESTJ, INFP, etc. (Just for fun, a free version is at http://www.keirsey.com) It sorts you out in four attitudes or preferences for which “there are basically two kinds of people in this world.” The first letter identifies whether you are an Extravert or an Introvert. That’s the one I want to write about today.

One of the many liberating things about the Myers-Briggs is the premise that people are different. I know that sounds obvious. But in acknowledging that people are different, we also acknowledge that just because someone else is wired differently, it doesn’t make them better or worse—just different.

As simple and obvious as that seems, it is not easy for everyone to accept. This is especially true when it comes to Introverts and Extraverts. Speaking as a strong Introvert let me say that there is a stigma attached to being an Introvert. At the very least, misunderstandings and misconceptions abound.

So, what does it mean to be an Introvert? Well, I’ll tell you what it doesn’t mean. Being an Introvert does not mean one is self-centered, self-absorbed, antisocial, shy, timid or fearful. All of those qualities can be found just as easily in Extraverts.

Put simply, Extraverts are action-oriented. They are energized by doing things, more than thinking about things; when they are inactive they get bored and lonely, and to rebuild their energy they need to take action and spend time with other people. Introverts, by contrast, are energized by depth of thought; they find too much activity draining, and need alone time to recharge. Extraverts tend to prefer having many friends; Introverts tend to prefer having a few deep friendships.

Extraverts draw energy from being with other people and find it depleting to be alone; Introverts draw energy from being alone and find it exhausting to be with large groups of people. It seems like a simple difference. Yet for some reason Introverts remain misunderstood. After all, let’s face it: the world is run by Extraverts. American culture especially values them. America likes action. Extraverts get things done. Most workplaces value how much you can do, more than how well you can think. Introverts are told, “You think too much.”

Extraverts love to be with lots of people, and seem especially puzzled that Introverts do not. To me, as an Introvert, hell is a crowded, noisy nightclub. Heaven is a quiet evening at home. An Extravert hears me say that, and thinks there is something wrong with me. “You need to get out more,” says the Extravert. “You need to be with other people. It’s not good for you to be alone.”

Oh really? Who, exactly, decided that? Anyone who thinks that big parties are good for me, and solitude is bad for me, does not know me. “No,” I want to say to the Extravert, “it’s not good for YOU to be alone. YOU need to be with other people. That’s YOU. It’s not me.”

Both Introverts and Extraverts are guilty of reducing the other to extremes. Yes, I am more oriented to thought than action; that does not mean that I never want to do anything. Yes, I find large noisy crowds exhausting and depleting; that does not mean that I hate people, or that I want to be isolated, or that I do not want to spend meaningful time with one or two close friends. Personality types are not a hard and fast rule; they are about a style, a preference, and a source of energy.

Conversely, it would be unfair of me to characterize Extraverts as shallow, hyperactive party animals incapable of reflective thought. Oddly, though, one rarely hears an Introvert say that; and this is another difference. For some reason, Introverts seem able to understand and accept the differences in Extraverts. However, Extraverts seem to find it difficult to understand and accept the differences in Introverts. Extraverts are much more likely to see those differences as shortcomings that need to be fixed. It’s almost as if they believe that Introverts need to be converted into Extraverts.

So let me make a stand. Dear Extraverts: I am not one of you. I am an Introvert, an INFP. And there is nothing wrong with me. My source of energy is reflection, deep thought, solitude and intimate relationships. You are different. The world needs both of us. I celebrate our differences. And both of us are just fine the way we are.