Thank you for last night, Master. You rock!!
I will follow you to the dark side of the moon any day.
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.
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.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
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.
I struggle a lot with Christmas.
Wait, let me rephrase that. Truthfully, I don’t struggle with Christmas at all. What I struggle with is fitting in during the holiday season.
Nearly everyone else observes Christmas in a completely different way from me. I have reasons for following a different path, but it’s very difficult to hold true to myself without offending the people around me. They tend to think that because I don’t do things their way, I must be criticizing them. I’m not, but their attitudes toward my customs range from indignation to puzzlement. Well, let me try to clear it up.
Up until about 25 years ago, Christmas had a very unpleasant stranglehold on me. Then one year, I finally broke free. At the time, my loved ones thought I’d lost my mind. I hadn’t, but I knew I would lose my mind for sure if I didn’t change my ways.
You see, my family, when I was growing up, was enslaved by a holiday defined by quantity and a drive to impress others with perfect decorations, food, presents and parties. My mother actually counted the number of gifts under our tree as a way of “rating” the quality of that year’s holiday. And it wasn’t only about gifts; to qualify for a “good” Christmas, our house had to be decorated better than any other house, inside and out, and we had to give “the” party of the season with the most impressive gourmet food and drinks. And of course we had to put on a good show, exhibiting “holiday cheer”—whether we felt it, or not.
From the outside it looked great; with decorations, parties and gifts my mother certainly knew how to “impress with excess.” But in the frantic rush to do everything, perform perfectly and be artificially happy, everyone got far too stressed, and made each other thoroughly miserable.
When I became a young adult, not knowing any better I began to duplicate that craziness. I, too, made myself crazy trying to give outrageous gifts and do everything perfectly for the holiday. I didn’t have financial resources like my parents so I tended to spend a lot more money than I should have. As things in my life started going sideways, the stress of trying to be perfect, and exhibit holiday cheer when I felt none became a bigger and bigger burden. Finally, in one particularly depressed year, I couldn’t face it, and I said: no more.
I knew that I had to change. I just wasn’t sure how to do it. My head was swimming, trying to grasp the difference between trying to impress someone, and trying to please them. My mother’s methods had always seemed a little aggressive to me, as if gift-giving were a contest that she was trying to win. It seemed less about pleasing the recipient and more about showing off how much money she had. I knew that was not the way I wanted to keep Christmas. I had to replace that competitive attitude with something more meaningful. I just didn’t know what that was.
The only thing I could think of was to start totally fresh, with a blank slate.
I declared a moratorium. I announced that I would accept no gifts, nor would I be giving any. That year I did not decorate, or prepare any special treats. I had no Christmas tree, did no shopping, and listened to no Christmas music. I rejected all offers of Christmas dinners, parties and other gatherings. It was a truly minimalist Christmas.
My only acknowledgement of that season was going to church on Christmas Eve, alone, in a small church nearby. I didn’t speak to anyone after the midnight service. I slipped out the back, and set out alone to walk the few blocks home. I remember feeling so light, and peaceful. It was a beautiful night, crisp and clear; it needed no artificial decorations to make it beautiful. The sky was deep black, studded with diamond stars, stretching to eternity, more stunning than any Christmas tree. It was still, and quiet. Quiet enough, finally, for me to hear what I needed to hear, without the noise of all that pointless activity. In that silence I felt like an enormous weight had been lifted and I breathed freely of the cold night air, feeling at peace for the first time in a long time.
Wrapped in that crisp, bright darkness, gazing up at the infinite night sky, I suddenly comprehended what it meant for eternity to enter into time. In one blazing flash of insight, I realized that Christmas is about one thing. To immerse myself in that one thing is all that I need. Anything that flows from and serves that one thing is good. Everything else is a distraction.
And at that moment, I realized that I was free.
Since that cold dark night 25 years ago I have settled into my own lovely, small Christmas celebration. Others are welcome to do as they wish, but I know what works for me. I ignore most elements of commercial and secular Christmas, not because there is anything wrong with them, but because I find them irrelevant. I have come to understand what is important for me, and I focus on those things.
Gift giving, for me, now, is not a way to impress, but a way to honor the gift that originated this holiday. I exchange modest gifts with a handful of loved ones, as I am able, not out of any sense of obligation, but because I enjoy pleasing them. My loved ones mostly feel the same, and I am always genuinely pleased by them, too.
I do not decorate. I have no use for Santa, elves, reindeer, or anything else commercial. I don’t object to them, but they are meaningless to me, and certainly not worth expending any money, time, attention or effort. For me, they have nothing to do with the one thing that gives Christmas meaning.
I keep a few quiet traditions that are deeply meaningful to me, but they are private, and ancient, and intimate, and since most people would not understand them, I tend to keep them to myself. I don’t need anyone else to understand them, and I feel no need to convert anyone else to my way of observing the holiday. I do what I do because it’s right for me.
People with families have different priorities, of course, but I feel no pressure to participate in holiday gatherings just because it is Christmas. I treasure time with my loved ones all year long, but I am perfectly comfortable with solitude. In fact, my most intimate Christmas ritual is spent alone, at home, on Christmas Eve morning, listening to a famous radio broadcast. I say alone, but I am not alone. I join an invisible audience of 200 million people who, like me, are in front of radios and computers all over the world, listening to the same broadcast at the same time. Even though I can’t see them, I know we are all attuned to the same thing. I immerse myself in the beauty of that one thing, and I wait to bow my head humbly, honoring that moment when the eternal and the now became one.
That is my Christmas.
I don’t expect anyone to understand it, and certainly don’t expect anyone to change how they celebrate the holiday. Others will find meaning in other ways. But hopefully they will understand that I am not judging or criticizing. I am simply honoring what is meaningful to me.
As the commercial holiday season gets underway, I wish everyone happiness, and joy, and peace.
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.
Then after Master took me as his, we had very lovely Thanksgiving dinners in our home in Second Life.
You may think a virtual feast is easy, but I worked hard cooking the meal!
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.
Apparently the virtual meal is still quite satisfying!
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.
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.
When 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 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!
How “real” is the virtual world? Is it more than a cartoon, a video game or a fantasy? And what does “real” mean, anyway?
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.
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.
I 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.