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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New Horizons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Never stop learning

“No one is good to start with;

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

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

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

But I think I am not done learning yet.

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

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

 

Ten Years

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

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

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

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

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

Linden Lab is not Second Life. We are.

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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Lies

Recently I’ve been reflecting on past relationships I have had in virtual worlds. One of the things swirling around in my brain is the subject of honesty. Honesty in relationships is an extremely complicated idea. I’m writing this journal entry mainly for my own sake, to help me get it sorted out in my head.

How many couples say to one another, “Let’s be completely honest”? And how many couples actually are completely honest with each other? Not many, I’m betting.

The truth is that everyone lies. People lie for lots of reasons—some of them good reasons. It would be a mistake to cast all lies in the same light. Some lies are harmless; others are hurtful. Most lies swim in the gray area in between.

Fantasy role-playing could technically be considered a lie. Those of us in virtual worlds adopt an appearance and sometimes a persona that may or may not resemble our “real” selves. We operate under a social contract in which we all agree to suspend our disbelief about this. Some people are better at it than others. Some people look straight past your avatar and only want to know the “real” you. Others easily accept the fantasy avatar you have created. Is fantasy dishonest? Or is it playful?

Beyond fantasy, virtual worlds are a hotbed of deceit. Lying is far too easy. We can cover up where we are, and what we are doing, and with whom. We hide our online status. Knowing that no one can see our location, we feel free to invent stories about where we are. “I’m talking with a friend.” “I’m shopping.” “I’m checking something out.” Or, for total privacy, we just create an alt, and do as we please without detection. I know of at least one person who has a partner, and also a sex alt the partner doesn’t know about. I expect there are thousands of others in exactly the same situation. It almost seems to be the norm in virtual worlds.

Personally, I sometimes lie to preserve my privacy. When writing online profiles I usually say that I live in NYC. I don’t. I live near NYC, and I do spend time there, but I don’t live there. I don’t really want strangers to know where I live. I think that is a fairly smart lie and I doubt many would disagree.

“Privacy lies” happen when someone is pressuring you to reveal something about yourself that is actually none of their business. The response “that’s none of your business” might be counter-productive—it might actually increase your interrogator’s curiosity. Telling them something else may call off their prying. Are “privacy lies” good or bad? Rather than focusing on the morality of the lie, it would be better to examine the thing you are lying about, and decide whether it is hurtful.

That leads me to the “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings” lie. Sometimes this type of lie is actually compassionate, or at least benign, like when he assures her that she doesn’t look fat in those pants. But most of the time it’s bogus. Let’s say he cheats on her, and lies to cover his tracks. She confronts him. He says “I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.” That’s bogus. The lie is not the issue. Clearly he didn’t mind hurting her feelings, because he cheated on her. That is what hurt her. The lie is extra. Lying about it is the secondary issue that piles hurt onto hurt.

What if he’d had the courage to be honest with her long before? What if he’d had the courage to admit that he wasn’t feeling satisfied? That she wasn’t meeting his needs? That something had changed in their relationship, or in him? That type of honesty is extremely difficult. First it requires being honest with yourself. Most of us would rather placate ourselves with lies. “Things are basically fine.” “I do love her.” “I can control myself.” “I can live without it.” “I should be satisfied.” When we can’t even face the truth about ourselves, how can we hope to be honest with anyone else?

The idea of hurting someone we care about is extremely difficult for most of us. He may find it impossible to imagine saying to her, “I’m not satisfied. This relationship is not giving me what I need.” He pictures her ashen face, the hurt and disappointment he sees there, and he just can’t face it. He can’t bear the burden of having to hurt her with the truth. So he lies.

When there is a truth that would hurt our loved one if they knew about it, it’s natural to want to withhold it, or cover it up. The trouble is that this deception almost never works. Not facing a painful truth does not make the painful truth go away. It just sits there, eating away at the relationship and causing damage to both of you. For the sake of not hurting her, he decides to forego his happiness. Does he think she won’t sense that? Does he think that he won’t eventually be compelled toward something outside the relationship that does meet his needs? Does he think that won’t hurt her even more?

Others may feel differently, but speaking for myself, I would choose a painful truth over a comfortable lie every time. Hurt can be healed, but only when it’s faced. If you need something that you can’t get from me, let’s face that together. Give me some credit. If I love you, I want good things for you. I am not so selfish as to demand that you fake it, just so that I can pretend that everything is fine. I know that relationships are not black and white. I know you care about me, and that, at the same time, it’s also true that I cannot meet all your needs. So tell me the truth. Let’s face the next step.

At least, that’s how I’ve always preferred it.

What do you think?

Politics and Drama

It’s an election year again, and I would prefer to hide under a rock for the next year.

No one seems to understand why I hate politics so much. I don’t have strong opinions about very many political issues. I am not particularly loyal to one political party or another. When I tune out of conversations about politics, people tend to assume that I disagree with their views. But that’s not it.

angry emo facePolitical conversation, in this day and age, seems to bring out the absolute worst in almost everyone. I hate politics because I hate what politics does to people. Those with strong opinions tend to listen to popular provocateurs who skillfully tap into base emotions and inflame them. They stir up hatred and convince us that it is righteous anger. They ignite our fears by demonizing our opponents, until we become convinced that we are utterly just and the other side is mired in evil (or at least incompetence). We do not see our opponents as they are. Instead we see the demons that zealots have conjured in our imaginations.

It seems to me, sometimes, that politics is not about examining the issues, but about vanquishing one’s opponents, regardless of the merit of their point of view. The thinking seems to be “my side is always right and your side is always wrong.” Don’t get me wrong: I am not a member of the wishy-washy can’t-we-all-just-get-along school. I do believe in standing up for one’s strong convictions. I also believe in honesty—especially self-honesty—which includes the ability to see the actual merits of issues—and people—independently of my feelings about them. If I have learned nothing else in life, I have come to accept that no one among us is purely good or purely evil. We, all of us, are a messy mix of virtue and vice. Every human being has character flaws, some bigger than others. Every human being also has some goodness inside them. Somewhere. If I can’t see both, then I am not seeing clearly.

These thoughts also relate to the so-called “drama” that seemingly is ever-present in the virtual world. The relative anonymity of our world seems to encourage people to say things they would never dream of saying in “real” life, including bold lies and cruel words for which they never have to take responsibility. It also tempts us to leap to conclusions; when we can’t see others face to face, our unconscious tends to fill in blanks with assumptions that may or may not be justified. Furthermore, in the online world our emotions tend to be magnified. All of this creates a recipe for hurt feelings, deception and misunderstanding.

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

There certainly are people and situations that deserve anger: the bullies and those who hurt for the sport of it, deceivers and exploiters, those who engage in destructive behavior and thoughtless self-indulgence that causes harm. As I said, I do believe in standing up for myself; I am no mild-mannered pushover. I will protect myself and those I love, and will not submit to such treatment.

But it seems to me that too many people are addicted to the primitive thrill of drama. They seem to hunger for the battle-lust of explosive anger, or the conspicuous display of woundedness from having been wronged. I won’t deny it: such things can feel very satisfying—especially because it seems so clean, when we can’t see the effect of our words in the facial expressions of our target.

As for me, I have chosen a different approach.

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

If someone is harming me, I will do what is necessary to stop it—which usually means simply walking away. In most cases, fighting back stops nothing. It only prolongs it. If I choose to participate in their negativity, I give it power. If I turn my back on it, it has no power over me. I just turn away, without saying a word… and without giving any ground.

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

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

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

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

Top Quality Creators Who License for Other Grids

In my last post I discussed new opportunities for Opensimulator builders to obtain high-quality textures and sculpts from SL artists who are willing to license their products for Opensimulator virtual worlds.

In this post, I’d like to applaud some of the cooperating artists. Below I have listed some of Second Life’s top creators of high-end textures and/or sculpts who offer “other grid” licenses. I encourage you to support these artists by buying their products, so that they will be encouraged to continue to support OpenSim builders and help us improve the quality of our life here.

Note that in some cases, their products are sold only in SL or on the SL Marketplace, so you would need a Second Life account to receive delivery of the product or to contact the artist. Even if you are not currently active in Second Life, you might consider keeping an account there just for this purpose. One of my friends thinks of it like this: he lives in the suburbs, and occasionally visits the big city for a shopping trip!

TOP QUALITY CREATORS OF TEXTURES AND SCULPTS WHO LICENSE FOR OTHER GRIDS

Please suggest any other premium content creators you’ve worked with who license for Opensimulator.

Studio Skye – Alex Bader. Alex has just started making his outstanding textures available for download from his website. No Second Life account needed. http://www.studio-skye.com

Primmersive Designworks / E&D Engineering – Eryn Republic, Texture Engineer. Excellent, hyper-realistic textures, emphasis on postmodern, dystopian, industrial. Custom design available. Contact them for licensing info. https://marketplace.secondlife.com/stores/21145  (Second Life account required to receive delivery)

TRU Textures Ltd. – LillyBeth Filth (Elizabeth Gallagher) Extensive selection of quality textures available for download from website. No Second Life account needed. http://www.texturesrus.net/

Anthonys Republic. High quality sculpts. Choose between one-time license covering all products, or pay as you go. https://marketplace.secondlife.com/stores/22444 (Second Life account required to receive delivery)

Twisted Thorn Textures – Nighty Goodspeed. Only a small selection available on Marketplace; see SL in-world store for much more. Choose between one-time other-grid license covering all products, or pay as you go. https://marketplace.secondlife.com/stores/5019 (Second Life account required to receive delivery)

Door and Texture Store – VonGklugelstein Alter. Really useful materials for creating buildings. Contact VonGklugelstein Alter in SL for licensing info. https://marketplace.secondlife.com/stores/21912  (Second Life account required to receive delivery)

Panther 3D – Adaarye Shikami. Some textures available in SL at Twisted Thorn. Contact Adaarye Shikami for licensing info. https://marketplace.secondlife.com/stores/9149  (Second Life account required to receive delivery)

Jubjubs Stuff – Jubjub Forder. Several highly useful sculpts. Contact Jubjub Forder for licensing info. https://marketplace.secondlife.com/stores/15290  (Second Life account required to receive delivery)

Svo Michalak. Very nice sculpts of useful landscaping, food, tools and assorted other objects. He told me once that other-grid licensing is assumed for all his products however I would suggest that you contact him yourself to make sure. https://marketplace.secondlife.com/stores/18128  (Second Life account required to receive delivery)

FUD – Happyholly Grigges. Some good trees and other items. Contact Happyholly Grigges for licensing info. https://marketplace.secondlife.com/stores/8976 (Second Life account required to receive delivery)

CFD Cloud Factory Designs – Areku Shirakawa. Furniture sculpts. Contact Areku Shirakawa for licensing info.  https://marketplace.secondlife.com/stores/15366 (Second Life account required to receive delivery)

FLECHA – Flecha Warwillow. Contact Flecha Warwillow for licensing info.  https://marketplace.secondlife.com/stores/52128  (Second Life account required to receive delivery)

S.Town Sculpties – CrashOV Uladstron. Contact CrashOV Uladstron for licensing info. https://marketplace.secondlife.com/stores/39126   (Second Life account required to receive delivery)

Please suggest any other premium content creators you’ve worked with who license for Opensimulator.