Good times and bum times, I’ve seen ’em all…
And, my dear, I’m still here.
Plush velvet sometimes;
Sometimes just pretzels and beer, but I’m here.
I’ve run the gamut, A to Z.
Three cheers and dammit, C’est la vie!
I got through all of last year, and I’m here.
Lord knows, at least I was there, and I’m here.
Look who’s here: I’m still here!
In a bit of cheeky homage, I took the title of this post from an article I read many years ago. That article was about conversational terrorism. This post is not.
Rather, I want to say a few words about good conversation… because I have the impression this skill is slowly being forgotten.
I am old enough to have attended “charm school” as a little girl. Most people of younger generations probably never had the opportunity to learn the basics of social etiquette. This is especially apparent in the virtual world.
Social conversations in the virtual world can be fun, fascinating, intimate and revealing. But in the hands of someone who knows nothing of social etiquette, they are often distinctly unsatisfying, if not downright off-putting.
Social etiquette is all about being kind and thoughtful, and putting others before yourself. This is especially key in conversations.
Good conversation is not difficult. Just follow these guidelines, and you will make more friends, and have more pleasant social experiences. In sum:
Focus on the other person.
Listen attentively to what the other person is saying. Don’t just think about what you are going to say next. Pay attention to them.
Refrain from talking about yourself. Instead, show the other person that you are interested in what they are saying.
One way to do this is to ask them a question that invites them to say more.
Example: They talk about the sim they are building.
Good response: Ask if this is the first sim they have built.
Poor response: Talk about the sim that you built.
One caveat about asking questions: be careful not to ask questions that seem intrusive by touching on highly personal or real-world information. Keep in mind that anonymity is important to most people in virtual worlds. They may not want to reveal what part of the world they live in, or details about their work, health, home or family life.
Another good way to respond is to rephrase or sum up what they have said. This is an effective way of letting someone know that they have been heard.
Example: They talk about a feat achieved in a video game.
Good response: Wow! That is quite an accomplishment!
Poor response: Talk about another game that you play.
If someone shares excitedly about something they enjoy, acknowledge their joy… even if you do not share it. Nothing is more off-putting than responding to someone’s happiness by rejecting it, with some version of “I don’t like that.” It may be the most effective of all conversation-killers.
Example: They talk excitedly about a concert they attended.
Good response: Ask how often they’ve heard the artist live.
Horrible response: Comment that you don’t like that artist.
The underlying principle in all these examples is to focus your attention on the other person, and encourage them to talk.
Sometimes, if the other person is reluctant to talk, you do need to start a conversation by talking about yourself. Choose something that you can use to draw the other person in—something that you can get them to talk about. Remember that the goal is to focus on the other person. Your conversation starter should be a way to encourage the other person to talk.
No matter how much you are tempted, refrain from speaking negatively about others, especially those who are not present. You may think your opinions are interesting, and that everyone needs to hear them, but what usually happens is that your audience begins to fear that once their backs are turned you will be gossiping about them. Gossiping makes you untrustworthy, and is a conversation-killer.
Try to be positive, rather than complaining. Life is simply too short to waste time complaining about what’s wrong with the world. To start and sustain good conversations, focus on enjoyable things.
If you want to create and sustain good conversations, especially with people you are only just meeting, avoid controversy. Starting a conversation about politics, for example, is usually an effective way to alienate someone you just met, and bring up bad feelings. Save the debates for occasions when you are talking with close friends.
In summary: good conversation is about good listening—focusing your attention on the other person.
Why should we care at all about good conversation? What is the point of social etiquette? Most people love feeling that someone is really listening to them. And when you create good feelings in the people around you, you will also be making the world just a little bit better.
10 years ago today, I met the man who became my Master, in the virtual world and the “real” world alike, and the single most important person in my life. At the time he said things like “If you are still around in 10 years…” and “If you stay…” Obviously he did not know me yet. I am a stayer. It is now 10 years later, and I am still His.
So in honor of our 10th anniversary, I thought I would list 10 reasons why, after 10 years, I am still happily collared to my Master, Walter Balazic.
He makes me happy.
His desire is for me to stay with him and be his. My desire is to fulfill his desire.
I made a vow to him, and I want to be a person who keeps her word.
I absolutely adore him. I still tingle with joy every time he comes into the room.
He takes care of me, even when that is not easy.
He is an amazing person. I admire and respect his character and his many gifts… in fact I am in awe of him. He inspires me to be a better person.
We have a lot of fun. He makes me laugh.
He is always teaching me and opening countless new worlds. He even gave me a family, for all of whom whom I give thanks every day.
It makes me proud to say that I belong to Walter Balazic.
He has saved my life more times than I can count. I owe him a debt of gratitude I can never hope to repay; but I will keep trying for the rest of my life.
I love you, Master 🙂 Happy 10th Anniversary… here’s to 10 more!
There are many different words for “Love” in the Greek language. Eros, Agape, Philia and other Greek words hold nuances and shades of meaning, attempting to capture this most enigmatic of emotions.
We talk about Love a lot. I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing that Love is responsible for the vast majority of words ever written by the human race, in the form of poems, plays, scripts, letters, stories, social media, emails, blogs, chats, song lyrics and more.
Love is proved in deeds. Not words.
Yes, there are many words about Love. But no matter how eloquent those words may be, no matter how inspiring, tender, uplifting, intimate or cherished, one truth remains:
Love is NOT a word.
If you want to know Love, don’t look to what someone says. Look to what they do. Anyone can say, “I love you,” but the only way you will know whether or not it’s true is by their actions. Love is proved in deeds. Not words.
Love is helping someone move, packing and carrying heavy stuff.
Love is emptying your checking account and maxing out your credit card to help a friend in an emergency.
Love is giving someone a ride when they don’t have a car.
Love is fixing comfort food when you know your partner is weary in body and spirit.
Love is standing with a friend as they try to change their life, supporting them and not letting them fall. Even if that means you have to nag them to make sure.
Love is standing with them even if they do fall… and loving them anyway.
Love is speaking hard truth to someone who needs to hear it.
Love can be as simple as a smile and an affectionate touch when someone needs it.
Love is honoring what’s important to your friend even if it’s not important to you.
There are many other examples but I think you have the idea.
Love is not a word. Love is an action.
I am blessed. I have a lot of love in my life. To those who love me… thank you. I will do my best to show you that I love you, too.
Happy Valentine’s Day! xoxo
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. –1 John 3:18
Yes, I know. I should not have been surprised. But I was stunned when someone learned one fact about me, and then, relying solely on stereotypes, proceeded to imagine a great many other things about me… most of which were untrue.
It happens with alarming frequency. We label a person. The human tendency is for our imaginations to fill in the blanks… often with that which we fear. We make assumptions about a person’s character, personality and beliefs, based on this label and what it is popularly believed to represent. Those assumptions may or may not be correct… but most people never bother to find out.
Often, the function of a label is establish division. It is a way of individuating oneself: establishing your own identity by highlighting how you are different from others.
Owning your own identity is a good thing. The problem comes when you try to shore up your identity, not just by having pride in yourself, but by denigrating those who differ from you… as if to say, “I’m good, and you’re not.”
This is not a new problem. People complain about it constantly. I hear many people bemoan the divisions in our country. Political differences, religious differences, cultural differences. Yet I hear very few go beyond talking, and actually try to do anything about it. For most people, bridging the gap and healing divisions seems to be about vanquishing the “other side.”
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
But here’s a secret. Believe it or not, it is possible to own your identity, to feel strong and confident about who you are and what you believe… without demonizing those who believe something else. Yes, as amazing as it might seem, you can treat someone with courtesy and respect even if you think that their values and beliefs are dead wrong. You can hold on to your own values, without compromising your beliefs, and still be friends with people whose values and beliefs are the opposite of yours.
Bridging that gap is not easy; it requires listening with an open mind. Instead of making assumptions about what someone believes, why not actually ask them? Why not find out what they believe? You might be surprised. You might even discover that you have more in common than you think.
This seems to be a difficult thing to do. The person who labeled me had no interest whatever in my beliefs. Their only interest was to say, in so many words, “You are not like me. I reject you.”
Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies. –Friedrich Nietzsche
As I’ve pointed out before, scientists have demonstrated that we are genetically more invested in winning arguments than in thinking clearly. Confronting this person would have been useless because they were entrenched, and unable to hear or see any reality other than the one they had created for themselves. So I remained silent. But there are a few things I would have liked to say:
You have NO clue what I believe.
I do not fit into most standard label categories. It’s almost impossible to label me as liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, Christian or agnostic, or any kind of class distinction. But somehow, you decided that I fit neatly into some category, and that, as a result, you know everything there is to know about me.
You are totally wrong.
Not only do you have no clue what I believe, you THINK that you DO know. Because of your mistaken certainty, your mind is completely incapable of discerning the actual truth. You have no curiosity at all, no desire to find out what is real. And that lack of curiosity has made you blind.
I know who I am. I know that your assumptions about me are wrong, mere fantasies concocted by your imagination. They don’t affect me. But they sadden me.
I feel sad for you, because you cannot see. I feel sad for our world, because this blindness is widespread and causes rifts that continue to deepen, spreading hostility, fear and pain to everyone.
But I’m not giving up on you. I’m holding out hope that one day you will find the strength to challenge your fears, and crack the closed door of your mind just enough to let in a little light. I’m holding out hope that in the end, love will be stronger than fear.
It was a tagline on House, M.D., the television show in which a doctor had to navigate a web of illusions and untruths to diagnose mysterious maladies. Dr. House listened to what patients had to say, but he never trusted it until he proved it himself.
Scientific research has demonstrated that everybody lies. Part of the social contract that keeps society functioning includes a network of small lies, starting with “How are you?” and “Fine, thank you.” We have all agreed to suspend disbelief, to a certain extent, in the context of social niceties.
Additional research shows that everyone lies on the internet especially, and that the more anonymous the online setting, the more likely people are to lie. This is bad news for virtual worlds, which are basically anonymous. Apart from the element of fantasy, for instance making one’s avatar look different from one’s real-life self, the anonymity of the virtual world makes it easy for us to invent stories and conceal truth.
I think about this a lot when I perceive that I am being lied to. I rarely confront someone about it, nor do I let on that I realize they are lying. But I do think about it. Most of all, I wonder: Why? Why are they lying to me?
There can be a lot of answers to that question. 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” like this happen when someone is pressuring you to reveal something about yourself that is actually none of their business. When someone lies to me, I wonder whether the person perceives me to be prying, and is trying to protect his or her privacy. In other words, is the lie basically a way of telling me to back off? I can understand that.
People also may lie to protect themselves from punishment. “Self-preservation lies” may happen when we have done something we weren’t supposed to do, or when we have not done something that we were supposed to do. If someone tells me a lie because they don’t want me to be angry at them, I can accept that. But I am still disappointed that I have been lied to. It indicates the presence of a basic rift in my relationship with that person, and it makes me sad that they do not trust me with the truth.
Then there is 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 this type of lie can also be an attempt to cover up something that is extremely hurtful. It makes me anxious, wondering: what is this thing that would hurt my feelings? Just how hurtful is it?
Although I can forgive many lies, without knowing the reason why someone is lying to me, my imagination has to juggle all the possibilities. It’s exhausting. On one hand, I want to be compassionate if the person has good reason to protect their privacy. On the other hand, part of me wonders whether something hurtful is being concealed. And then I begin to wonder why the person does not trust me enough to be honest.
So, in the end, even benign lies leave me with inner turmoil, hurt feelings, sadness, disappointment and suspicion.
But since everybody lies, I suppose the burden falls on me to cope with it.
I have a dear friend who simply does not understand my affinity for BDSM. Despite countless in-depth conversations, in which I do my level best to explain it to him, he persists in his belief that submission is demeaning and that everyone really prefers freedom.
Believing himself to be an open-minded person, he has constructed an illusion in which he does support submission. He does this by re-defining, in his own mind at least, what submission is; or by inventing a complicated argument that submission is in fact dominance. By clinging to this dubious construct, he can appear to agree with me, while never actually changing his beliefs.
He doesn’t get it. He probably never will. And I must live with that.
The illusion works for him within the limits of a conversation about abstract thought, when his ideas are not put to the test. But inevitably, something concrete will happen that forces the abstraction to materialize into action. Then, his actions do not bear out his conciliatory words. The curtain is pulled aside, and his true beliefs are revealed. And the truth is that he just doesn’t get it. He probably never will. And I must live with that.
It pains me to be at odds with my dear friend over this important aspect of my life. I would love to share my joy with him, but I can’t, because he doesn’t believe in it. While painful, conflict in a relationship is not at all unusual. I think we all find ourselves, at some point, having a major difference of opinion within the context of a close relationship. When it happens, must we choose between winning the argument and preserving the relationship? Is it possible to prove your point without hurting the other person? Is it necessary to capitulate, to keep the friendship intact? Or must we avoid conflict at all costs, agreeing not to mention certain issues, or pretending that the conflict does not exist?
We are genetically more invested in winning arguments than in thinking clearly.
These questions become even more complicated when we consider the fact that humans are inherently irrational – even the ones who most adamantly claim to be rational. Scientists have demonstrated that we are genetically more invested in winning arguments than in thinking clearly. It has been proven countless times that facts usually do not change our minds. We – all of us – experience something called “confirmation bias,” a trait that is hard-wired into our genes. It means that we all tend to embrace information that supports our current beliefs and reject information that contradicts them.
Furthermore, we also have a trait called “cognitive immunization” which means that the stronger our beliefs, the less likely it is that facts will sway us… no matter how true the facts are. The person you are arguing with probably will not be swayed by logic, reason or facts that contradict his or her beliefs. In fact, it is more likely that he or she will just become more entrenched.
Given that this is true, when two people have conflicting beliefs, it seems to me that arguing is pointless.
Given the choice between proving my point, and preserving the health of a relationship, I choose the relationship. Every time.
Given the choice between proving my point, and preserving the relationship, I choose the relationship. Every time.
So, I must let go of my disappointment that my dear friend does not share my understanding of submission. My dear friend is very important to me, and I want him in my life. I find great joy in submission, but I do not wish to wreck a friendship by insisting on winning an argument.
I also suspect that if I chose to associate only with friends who agree with my beliefs about submission, that would be a form of confirmation bias. My friends have many shades of beliefs and opinions about submission and BDSM. It is quite a varied tapestry. Total unanimity on this or any point probably cannot be achieved. And a circle of friends who all think alike could be a little boring.
So, I will accept the presence of the conflict and learn to co-exist with that tension. I will stop trying to convince anyone of the truth of my beliefs. Living with conflict is not comfortable. But there are many, many other things about those relationships that make them totally worth the effort.
Challenged by friends, I set out to answer the question: “Why do I love Nine Inch Nails?”
It is a puzzling question, for sure. Anyone who knows me would never guess my favorite band. I am a classical musician by training, and a quiet person by nature. Even more puzzling is why I like Nine Inch Nails, but have never found a single other band in the same genre that I can tolerate. For me NIN is, apparently, unique.
[A note: This is NOT an overview of Nine Inch Nails, or a Greatest Hits compilation. Let me just note that although I am a decent musicologist in my own field, I am 100% not qualified to judge rock music. So I am only offering my own subjective reactions, not opinions.]
First I’ll tell you how I discovered Nine Inch Nails. That will probably reveal some things about why I like this music.
Picture it: Second Life, early 2007. I was a few months old and had fallen in with a community led by an artist and builder named Baron Grayson. Baron’s creativity fascinated me. The things he could pull out of his imagination were amazing. He was sort of Goth, which was a new thing for me. The worlds he created were dark, beautiful and rich with narrative.
Baron streamed NIN as the background music on his sims. The music was a perfect match. As you can see, he even modeled his avatar after him.
So NIN was the soundtrack of my life in 2007. This also tells you at what point in Trent Reznor’s evolution I joined the stream. It was firmly post-sobriety. I love all music by NIN but for this discussion I’m going to focus on music from 2002 on.
When I first heard NIN, I admit I recoiled from the more violent, screaming stuff. But Baron also played the moody ambient NIN and the acoustic and stripped down songs from the album Still. All the music on Still is pretty quiet, so it was easy for me to listen to.
[Adrift & At Peace – Still, 2002 – 2:52]
I remember thinking how much it reminded me of Arvo Pärt: meditative, hypnotic, and gently repetitive, like a mantra. The gentle repetition gives the music a feeling of stasis, of being suspended in time. At the same time, one can sense a subtle sadness underneath the serene sounds. I think I connected with that sadness, even more than the serenity.
Then Year Zero came out. At the time, my life was in a place where the album’s message that “the world is fucked” totally resonated with me. All that despair in the lyrics, and the more violent sounds, started connecting with the darker places in my head.
Drawn by the darkness, gradually I found myself more willing to listen to the louder songs. And I was surprised by what happened. It was almost as if the music created a container, and instead of trying to push away my black thoughts and emotions, I discovered I could pour them into this container… and they wouldn’t destroy me.
For example, the last half of this next song just explodes in a violent tidal wave of noise – and somehow I found that instead of shrinking from it, I could fucking swim in it. I felt this exhilarating mix of primitive rage and elation.
[The Great Destroyer – Year Zero, 2007 – 3:17]
I can barely tell you how liberating it was, after 50 years of trying to deny my dark side, to finally embrace it.
When The Slip was released the following year, I was embroiled in a really twisted relationship in Second Life. I was massively depressed, and one song on The Slip seemed to have been written especially for me. I played it over and over. Like many of Trent Reznor’s tortured torch songs, it’s very bleak and yet very tender.
[Lights in the Sky – The Slip, 2008 – 3:29]
So that’s the emotional underpinnings of my love of Nine Inch Nails.
But there are also some more objective things I like.
I like that the music sounds transparent, even when it’s loud; the various electronic sounds are separated so that it feels like there’s space between them, and you can hear them, instead of having it all blend into one big soup of noise.
I like how he layers all the sounds, building layers and then stripping them away. If the sound was full out all the time, I would become numb. But he controls the level of intensity, letting it rise and fall so it’s never too much for too long. That actually serves to make the intensity even more intense. It is really true that nothing is so loud as when it is surrounded by silence.
[Copy of a – Hesitation Marks, 2013 – 5:22]
I like his use of dissonance and distortion, not gratuitously, but sparingly, to make a point, like the pain represented in the opening notes of Hurt, or the distorted bending as the world begins to come apart in the second verse of The Great Destroyer.
I like that he uses motifs that appear in several songs. They are like clues that connect ideas. Sometimes he will invert the motif, or harmonize it differently, sort of teasing the listener into following him into the maze. He refers to it as a “trail of breadcrumbs.”
I like that the music is intelligent. It’s emotionally raw, for sure, but it’s not mindless. It rewards thoughtful exploration.
As a singer, I have a deep appreciation for poetry, and I find his lyrics very affecting.
And I love the energy and the pure physicality of the hard beats. It’s part of what creates the container for my darkness, capturing my body and making me get involved. I can’t sit still while listening to Nine Inch Nails. It compels me to respond.
I’ll stop talking now and simply offer three songs that illustrate these points.
[Less Than – Add Violence, 2017 – 3:30]
[While I’m Still Here – Hesitation Marks, 2013 – 4:02]
[Just Like You Imagined – The Fragile, 1999 – 3:49]