Virtually Speaking

Second Life along with the First.

The River

The shadow of her spirit moves serenely down to the river. Her dark velvet robe rustles over the damp grass of the riverbank in hushed whispers. She casts a casual glance my way, not appearing to see, bemused at this turn of events; calm as if in a dream, unmoved by the void in her wake.

The water is black and glassy as an onyx mirror, stretching away, disappearing into the distant mist. The air is so still and leaden that breathing is an effort. A boat awaits at the water’s edge, the faceless hooded steersman emotionless, his oar buried in the quiet water as he waits for her.

I call to her, my voice both questioning and laden with a plea. “Where do you go? Why now? No farewells have been said! We were not done knowing you! It’s too soon! Come back!”

She stops and turns, her face beatific now, only a flicker of sorrow passing in her eyes. “I must go. I choose to go. Perhaps I will be loved at last where this journey ends.”

With that, she turns again, holding the hem of her robes high to step into the boat. My voice chokes with emotion. “But we loved you! Did you not feel it? Could we have loved you more? Please stay!”

As she sits regally in the dark gondola and the steersman begins to move, she turns back toward me a final time. “It was not you – your love was returned many fold. It was his love that I needed more than any and could not have. What purpose can there be without his love? And what life can there be without purpose?”

The black water ripples and parts as the gondola floats silently away. The passengers are silent now, dark forms against the pale mist that reaches for them.

I stand alone on the bank, tears gathering in my eyes and clogging my throat. How cruel of Love to deny itself to one so loving. How cruel of Life to deny us one such as she.

I stand on the quiet bank until the mists swirl around her and swallow her. The hollow place in me will not soon heal, but it is trivial when set beside the pain of not having the one she loved. After all, what purpose can there be without love?

I stand until the sullen mists have finished their work and hidden her passing. Only a memory remains, tinged now with the ache of loss and the sorrow of another’s love unreturned.

And so went my dream last week.  It was a dream brought forth by real events – namely, the unexpected death of one of my dearest SL friends – Montserrat Snakeankle, aka Sparrowhawk Perhaps, Montserrat Tovar, aka Carmen Hermosillo, aka humdog, close friend to Peter Ludlow/Urizenius of the SL Herald, Yadni Monde, Pighead Stonecutter and hundreds of other unique and creative people online. I’m honored to count myself among their number too, a friend and confidante of the wondrous Carmen. Carmen passed away on August 8 of heart failure. It was sudden and it was devastating to those of us who knew her. Second Life has lost one of its most brilliant, irrepressible beacons. And not until her passing did I discover that she had been a force of nature on the internet, going back to the original WELL, through Fringeware, the development of Oracle and Sims Online until finally she landed in Second Life.

And so my life this past week has been a journey through grief, offering my shoulder to her other friends, seeking comfort from those who knew her. I’ve gone from acceptance back to anger, to tears and back to acceptance repeatedly as I try to assimilate the loss and not dwell too much on the fact that she will never IM me again, never drop another of her poems on a notecard to me. And I fight against the guilt I feel for not having sought out her company more often, of basking in her glow while she was here.

Her story is a tragic one in more ways than simply her early death (she was 58). It’s also a tragic story of a love that never could seem to break through obstacles and fulfill its promise. I’m trying very hard not to sit in judgment on anyone – everyone has their reasons for the decisions they make in their lives. And other’s perspectives will invariably differ. In Carmen’s case, she was willing to sacrifice everything she had – her time, her heart, even her dignity – if it meant attaining the affections of the man she adored. For whatever reasons, she never got it. For whatever reason, most of her last communications with me dealt with her broken heart as she was chastised, belittled and pushed away.

There will be those who point to that broken heart as a contributing factor in her death. It may be, but I prefer not to engage in that much recrimination. To what end? It won’t bring her back and it won’t thaw frozen hearts. As a friend of hers told me last Saturday night at her memorial service in the Shivar temple (which Yadni had built for her), “Montie made her own choices right to the last”. He was referring to her refusal to take medication the doctor had prescribed to her when she reported feeling ill on August 5. It only took three days for her health to finally fail her, and perhaps a grim wish was granted to pass away rather than to live without the love she wanted. We cannot know for certain. He was also referring to her refusal to give up on the love she so desperately wanted.

One of the ways I deal with grief is by writing. And that brings me back to the trigger for this sudden spurt of creative energy on my long-abandoned blog.   Montie’s sad passing must find some meaning or it would be completely pointless.  And one way for me to find meaning is to use it as motivation – to create more, to tell my loved ones I love them more, to make sure my friends know how important they are to me.  If I do that, perhaps a little good can come out of something so sad and meaningless. For what is Life without meaning?

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August 18, 2008 Posted by | First Life, Internet, Second Life | , , | 3 Comments

The Long Goodbye

In case some of you missed it (or in case anyone still ever reads this place), I’ve been posting occasionally over on The Grid Grind.  It’s diluted what little time and energy I had for blogging to the point that I just haven’t been up to keeping up here in the old homestead.

That’s the way it happens, though, any time you diffuse your energy.  I’ve done it with games I’ve played, getting so far along in the plot or high in the levels only to see some other new shiny that grabs my attention.  I most recently did it with Lord of the Rings Online, a Tolkien-based MMRPG which I had been playing since the middle of beta.  I had done most of the quests and character classes so much that, by the time I was advanced in the release version I just lost interest.  Burned out.  I think I’ve played LOTRO all of about 30 minutes in the last month.  Lifetime memberships for the win — Turbine’s strategy to create a membership that could never leave, just like Hotel California, is paying off.

I sometimes joke about suffering from ADHD – though it’s not a very funny joke.  My son has suffered from it for most of his life, and it’s taken some serious changes in diet and medication to get him to some semblance of normalcy.   It’s not a joking matter.  So when I flippantly say that I think I suffer from it, it’s not without some basis.

I have a very hard time staying focused on one thing for very long.  In terms of online worlds, my limit seems to be somewhere between one and two years.  Historically, I will leave a game for a while, take a deep breath, and return with a vengeance or a new character after I’ve recharged my interest.  Sometimes, like with Anarchy Online and City of Heroes, I’ve done that several times.  I think I’m on my fourth COH account now because Cryptic/NCSoft makes it so damned hard to reactivate old accounts.

The forces that divert my interest do not always involve boredom, though.  With Second Life, boredom isn’t the whole story.  I was making good progress mastering the creation tools of SL – in-world building, Photoshop, Poser, writing scripts.  I even got a free copy of Maya 2008 to start playing with sculpted prims.  But my enthusiasm has flagged.  What’s going on here?

For one, I think the year-long saga and emotional shipwreck that was Archan ultimately sapped me of the last spark of enthusiasm I had for Second Life.  Of the hundreds of people I considered to be friends from my Archan experience, I think I can still count 4 of them that have stuck by me and proven themselves to be unselfish, caring, and considerate.  The others either drifted away or got caught up in the post-apocalypse paranoia and hard feelings.  As I fully expected, some blamed the whole thing on me.  I don’t care.

I suppose adversity is the true test of friendship.  I understand that, and I understand that the nature of Second Life is such that new friendships are only an IM away.    In SL more than in real life, everything is transitory.  That includes friendships, for the most part.  It’s just like me to keep people on my friends list who haven’t been in world for 2 years, just on the outside chance they may come back and say ‘hi’.  But maybe I’m an unrepentant idealist, who knows.

The most glaring difference between SL and all those other games I’ve tired of is that, in SL it’s not the loot and the levels.  It’s the friends.  The friends are what keeps me around and makes me come back.  The possibility of future friends keeps my hopes up as old friends fall by the wayside or decide I’ve inflicted some imaginary hurt on them.   And that’s what this is all about, this ADHD/boredom/wandering loner syndrome I’m in.  It’s about hope and the possibility that things will be better tomorrow than they are today or they were yesterday.  We all need hope.

Still,  going on my third year in Second Life, if I weighed all the formed and budding relationships I’ve had against those that ended gradually or abruptly, it feels to me like one long goodbye.  Most of the time, a virtual friend just isn’t going to have the shape and substance you find in a real-life friend, and like spring tulips you hardly say hello before you’re saying goodbye.

November 26, 2007 Posted by | Second Life | , , , , | 2 Comments

When bloggers get bored

I don’t subscribe to my local newspaper any more.  Haven’t for a number of years, in fact.  It’s a small town paper.  Their version of “news” is when an elderly couple’s cat gets lost.  Crime creeps into the headlines once in a while but this is one of those places whose crime rate would make Detroit or Washington, D.C. cry with envy.   It’s that stereotypical “Middle America” you read about but don’t believe exists.   It does.

I’ve found that I can get more important information from internet news – the NY Times Online, Dallas Morning Herald, Chicago Trib, and so forth.  I even read the Jerusalem Post and London Times.  Who needs the local yokels with their trivial personality feuds when there are bigger yokels who actually have (or are trying to get) nuclear weapons?

So it’s no surprise when I picked up my local paper in the office this morning – the company pays for the subscription, not me – and see that they’ve dug up an old Michael Duff blog entry from August 30.

Mid-Life Crisis Online

It’s a well-worn tale by now.  Oblivious, non-techie journalist hears that Second Life is the “hot” thing on the internet now thanks to Philip’s PR, German pervs  and Mark Bragg in the news.   It’s free to try, he needs blog material, he’s bored, so why not?

Is the result hard to predict? 

Second Life held no attraction for me because there is no “game” here. They might as well change the name to Mid-life Crisis. Call me shallow, but if I’m not killing Orcs within 10 minutes of character creation, your design concept is fundamentally flawed.

Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but spending real money on fake things sounds ludicrous to me — like going out for dinner so you can buy pictures of steak.

I actually get that part – killing Orcs can be fun.  I’ve been personally responsible for more than one virtual Orc extinction myself over the years. 

But this is what we call “missing the entire point”, boys and girls.  How many newbies do you know who have NO design skills, no programming skills, don’t engage in cybersex and yet have become immersed in the world so completely their real-life relationships suffer? 

Why does that happen? 

I think it’s twofold.  First, I think some of us – the creative types, even if we don’t have creative skills – have much richer imaginations.  Those imaginations draw us to places like Second Life.  And TSO, IMVue, or insert-your-favorite-VW-here.  The very appeal of SL is to those of us who feel most comfortable in a virtuality because we can visualize ourselves as being there, becoming our avatar, interacting as virtual people. 

Second, I think the social interaction in SL is very powerful.  People enjoy engaging other people.  It gives us the feedback, support, and benchmarking we need as individuals to feel worthy and not alone.

Duff apparently only gave it a few days before hitting his blog deadline and peeling off a tongue-in-cheek denouncement.  That’s hardly a fair review, even if fairness wasn’t his intention.  I think it took me two weeks of frequenting the same clubs and stores, figuring out all the nuances of interface and the hidden tricks of the debug menu to even get to the point where I felt there was a social pull in Second Life for me.  Two months later I was much more comfortably immersed.  Two years later, SL is as much a part of my life as my real family and friends.  My SL friends are real – disguised in some way perhaps and hundreds or thousands of miles away, but nevertheless real.

A word of advice to Mr. Duff:  Stick to killing orcs.  Let me know how immersed you are after two years of killing the same ugly orcs 4,000 times.  After you max out your level in WoW, I’ll still be discovering new things in Second Life.

October 1, 2007 Posted by | First Life, Second Life | , , , , | Leave a comment