Once every two years

I understand how nervous some people feel about alts. I remember a time when alts were viewed as a bad thing, because people used them for not-so-nice reasons.

So I decided to establish a personal "rule" that if someone who met me in one alt approached me in another alt, I would admit that I've met them before. But they would have to say hi (or something) to me first. I would not approach them.

The first two instances were fairly insignificant. I don't remember the first one, but the second one met one of my anonymous alts first then another anonymous alt. No damage done.

The third instance was with Impy. He met one anonymous alt, then he added Opal in a social media site (not SL). I considered that as an approach to another alt anyway. Needless to say, that was a significant coincidence.

Today, someone saw one of my anonymous alts and complimented me. I said thank you, of course. But, as I was reading his profile, I realized that I had met him in real life at SLCC 2011! And I even took his picture! Anyway, I had to tell him. My rule. :)  But he first promised to keep my secrets. :)

Exporting people and places into RL

I went to Spain for two weeks and met two lovers, a Flickr friend, and an MBA classmate and his wife. I wouldn't go into detail about the trip itself, because I have a separate travel blog for that. But I will talk about the trip's relevance to SL.

First, the two lovers. They were my lovers in SL years ago. Then they became busy. One explicitly set boundaries that we are only friends in RL, but the evening I spent with him in real life was absolutely magical and he treated me like a close friend. The other had claimed me in both SL and RL, but we spent maybe only a couple of hours together; he was busy with work and family and I was busy with sightseeing. But those two hours are memorable even.

Maybe I've been lucky. That trip brings the number of SL lovers that I met in RL up to 4. Each of those lovers are just as I imagined them. Their personalities were the same in RL as in SL, although two of them held back romantic gestures because of their marital circumstances.

Or maybe it's because these lovers are among the most important to me throughout my life in SL; therefore, meeting them in real life only deepened the connection we have.

After saying goodbye to each of them after meeting them, I cried. Because these are men I love and I may never see them again.

Second, the Flickr friend. She was really more like an acquaintance. In fact, I had originally avoided her, because I had felt a jealousy for her because of another lover. But she started following me in Flickr and commenting on my images there. Then she found me in another social media and connected with me, revealing her RL identity.

When we met up in Barcelona, we spent the afternoon at a children's park, going on the rides and shooting photos and talking and talking and talking until it was very late. It was amazingly easy to talk to her. In the end, I admitted my old jealousy and the reason for it. It was something I would not wish to hide when building a friendship. But I regretted it a little when she started feeling sad and nostalgic as our conversation flowed into past loves and betrayals.

Third, the sights. Not all the sights but specifically La Rambla, the Columbus monument, and the Plaza Reial, which were replicated in the Barcelona del Oeste sim before it was renovated. And also the Mezquita mosque in the Al Andalus Generalife sim before it disappeared.

I knew that the plaza in the old Barcelona del Oeste was based on a real-life plaza. It was a special place for me because of all the memories I have in that plaza -- conversations and dances with lovers and friends. I wanted to find it in the RL Barcelona, but I didn't realize that there were a gazillion plazas all over Barcelona. And then, when the Captain led me to an alley to head back to my hotel, we passed through the Plaza Reial, and I realized that it was THE plaza. I was amazed and awed.

I walked the La Rambla a few times since my first day in Barcelona and I even took pictures of the Columbus monument, but it was a few days later when I realized that it was also part of the Barcelona del Oeste sim.

Fashion - Leyda Style December 2009 gift, X3D

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When I found out that the Mezquita is in Cordoba, which is near Seville, I made sure to go and visit it as well. When I first saw the replica in SL, it already made my heart beat faster. It was that awe-inspiring. When I first saw the real thing, my jaw literally dropped.

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Of course, I learned that the replicas were not accurate. They were simplified versions of the real thing. Probably because of the prim allowances. The SL version of La Rambla was shorter, the monument was not exact, the plaza is a lot smaller, and the Mezquita replica was probably based on the way the real Mezquita was before the expansions and before the cathedral was built inside it.

So there. I've "exported" people and places from SL to my RL, and it was a wonderful experience. I've met SL people in RL before, but this is the first time I've encountered SL places in RL. The people and the places now have a deeper meaning to me and I have a stronger connection with them.

I'll not look at SL the same way again.

Standing infinity

I celebrated my 8th rez day anniversary by dancing naked. :D

And did you realize that the number 8 is like the infinity symbol standing on one end?

Maybe there's something of infinity in this rez day anniversary. I'm past the 7-year itch, if there's such a thing about being a virtual world resident.

I spend less time as Opal now, and less time inworld in general. But my heart is still in there. My loves are still there. It's still the place I yearn for when I get homesick. Sure, most of the places are different now, but there's still a certain ambience about virtual reality.

And because August always seems to start a new life for me, maybe the coming year would be something different. After my experience in Utherverse, I've had a paradigm shift, similar to the paradigm shift about the global community that I've had when I first joined SL. This time, the shift I experienced is about the universality of virtual worlds.

During my conversation with Knightman in Utherverse, I was surprised at how strongly he was attached to UV, just as I am very attached to Second Life. UV is home to him, just as SL is to me. I realized that, in the end, the place we call our virtual "home" has nothing to do with the technology or the avatar or what the place looks like. It has to do with the relationships that bind us to it.

In the end, these different virtual world grids are just villages, colonies, and tribes of humans, separated by differences in technology, just as villages, colonies, and tribes are separated in the real world by distances.

In the end, we are all humans behind the avatars -- a soul touching another soul.

The Utherverse

Two months ago, I received an email notice that someone had filled out the contact form in my company website. Colin (RL name) said:
Have you ever spent time in Utherverse/RLC? We're looking for Speakers for VirtualCon and it seems you would be a good fit.
I must have heard/read about Utherverse in passing because the name was familiar. Maybe I had seen their ads. But I didn't pay much attention to it, because they seemed focused on sex. For the same reason, I wondered how I could be a good fit. My book is about deeper and more intimate relationships (even though they may be short), not impersonal one-night stands.

Long story short, Colin gave me a short tour of Utherverse. In exchange, I gave him a short tour of SL. Actually, I just showed him one of the events going on at the time and gave him a gazillion links to learn more. Then we just coordinated via email as the plans for the convention firmed up.

A few days ago, I went in again to get a bit more familiar with the application (it's a proprietary platform, not at all like SL or OpenSim), to get acquainted with the venue, and to customize my avatar (well, as best as I could anyway). As I sat on the stage of the lecture hall, looking for the "Stand up" button, a couple of people came in separately and started chatting with me. Knightman (partial virtual name) told me that the W key would let me stand up and we started chatting about Utherverse and SL. Meanwhile, Rainbow (partial virtual name) was crashing every few minutes. In the end, Knightman invited us to see his "zaby", which is a living structure, in this case, a house.

I gave the talk today at 1pm Pacific. I went in a little early to look around some more. I checked out the booth that the Utherverse staff created for me. Then I attended the session by Veronica Franco about etiquette and learned that, in Utherverse, it is better to talk to someone in public chat before IM'ing them in private. That's the tip that I remember the most because it's so different in SL. Or, at least, so different from my experience in SL.

"Love, Like Dim Sum" at the Virtual World Convention

Afterwards, I walked to the lecture hall where my talk would be and we got set up. Colin informed me that Anna Lee, the president of Utherverse, was going to be moderator for my talk. (I must be special! :D )

Initially, Skype kept dropping out, so Anna decided we'd try my cellphone. But the sound was bad, so we went back to Skype, which held up, thankfully.

Earlier, I asked Colin if I would be able to see what people wrote on the public chat. I wanted to know how I could structure some audience participation into the talk. I had started doing slides but I found out later that they had trouble with slides, but I went with the outline I had in it anyway. Besides that, not much preparation. I was just going to primarily present what was in the last chapter of my book anyway.

So, the talk started out a bit shaky. But I asked the audience some questions to get to know who's listening to me and the ball went rolling from there.

The audience was wonderful.

They were responding to questions. They were sharing opinions. They were commenting on each other's comments. ... I could have been in any virtual world. ... I realized then that it wasn't a world that was focused on just sex. They had the same soulful longer-term relationships as we do in SL.

And the people are very warm and very welcoming. After the talk, so many people sent me private IMs asking questions, thanking me, giving me compliments about the talk, asking for advice. And they gathered around me with all these large question marks around them, which turned out to be requests for hugs! I had never been hugged by so many people in any single event! And they waited patiently for a hug! I was floored!

Knightman had already invited me to build a home in UV when he showed me his zaby. Today, I got more invitations to come back and check it out more. Anna invited me to talk again next year.

Well, one thing is for sure.... Next year, I won't look like a newbie anymore. :D

UPDATE: Here's a recording of the talk. (Thank you very much, JokerEmpire!) View it full screen so you can read the public chat at the same time.
UPDATE2: And the official recording!

Shaping the bonsai

Photo by Ragesoss

It all started a week and a half ago.

I asked Wolfgang if he missed his sub, who rarely comes in anymore, because her husband discovered her affair. W refused to answer. As I expected. But my question also made him angry. Again, as I expected. And he can be harsh with his words when he's angry. So, I, too, became angry, so I didn't email him during my lunch or before going to bed, as I usually did.

The next day, he informed me that he agreed to meet an old SL friend who was celebrating her birthday and wanted to see him alone, during our usual scheduled time. He didn't ask me beforehand. He simply assumed I didn't want to log in, just because I didn't send email.

I emailed back that it was fine, and I went back to bed. When I woke up, there was an angry email accusing me of not wanting to see him, because I didn't send emails to confirm we would meet during our usual time and because I decided to just go to bed when he said he was meeting his friend. That accusation hit a nerve and I saw red.

I lose sleep to be with him. He is up there on my priority list, and I am even lower than his sub and his other SL friends on his priority list. How dare he accuse me that I didn't want to see him?

Since we met, I kept reminding him that I am neither submissive nor lesbian, and I had always talked about getting more balanced in our unbalanced relationship, which became more and more unbalanced. In the past year, our meetings had been mostly D/s or F-F or both. I'm afraid to ask for his male alt because I sense that he prefers to do something else. The last time I asked for his male alt a few weeks ago, he ignored it entirely and logged in a female alt anyway. But I did the D/s F-F for him because we became closer through those alts until a year ago, when he cut the time he spent with me. I continued the D/s F-F just to keep his interest. It was my sacrifice, but he thought I enjoyed those RPs. I suppose I was very good at RPing a submissive lesbian.

But, with the new job and not getting enough sleep, my cup became empty. It was not just empty; it was bone-dry. I cannot give if I have nothing to give. And my question was... "Is it worth losing sleep for a submissive lesbian RP?" If he saw me as just an RP buddy, why am I make this big a sacrifice?

We touched a lot of points in the past week and a half. Old issues. New issues. New questions. New ways of seeing things. We agreed on very few things. We disagreed on many things.

Yesterday, we defined what RP is. To him, everything, except the OOC chats, is RP. To me, the usual emotes between lovers is not RP, except when his character is female, which becomes "light RP," because he's not really female and I'm not really a lesbian.

In the end, we decided to continue meeting with his male alt (the only male among the four he uses with me) and the only one of mine who has never been collared (among the four I dedicated to him). And we'll see how it goes. From his perspective, our only option is to give up and go our separate ways. I'm fine with giving up too. After all, I was the first one to mention it, early in the argument. But I thought of other options too, including balancing our relationship more and doing the D/s F-F once in a while, but he refused.

He claims that I didn't enjoy his company entirely, just because that type of RP wasn't something I'd choose on my own. But I got to his more tender inner self through his female alts. I compared his more tender inner self to a hallucinogenic drug that I wanted, and his female alts were the needle that caused a little pain so I could get that drug. By taking away the "needle," he was denying me the "drug." He didn't like that metaphor.

Instead, he compared it to cutting branches. He said "the eternal question" is whether to cut the branches or cut the tree. The intent is not to kill the tree, so the "worker" cuts the branches first, although cutting the branches could still kill the tree.

I understood his metaphor. It was a good one too.

Then I thought of the bonsais that I was looking at online a few weeks ago. I used to own a couple of juniper bonsais but I had to give them up when I moved from California to Washington State many years ago. I remember the delicious smell when I pruned them. And I remember reading something about how a challenging environment (too windy, too rocky, fires, wounds on the trunk) makes a tree more beautiful. That's what bonsai masters try to recreate. And that's why they chip and burn the trunk and branches to simulate dead wood, and they prune unnecessary branches, and they wire and twist the remaining branches into shape, and they wait for new branches to sprout. And they nurture the tree everyday.

He doesn't like the bonsai metaphor either, but he said that, if it makes me happy, it's fine with him. :)

So we're trimming most of our branches this time. Hopefully, we don't trim too much that we kill the tree. And if we learn how to do it right, maybe someday we'll have a beautiful bonsai of a relationship.

A seven-minute gift

Wolfgang was thinking of gifts for my alts. Belated Christmas presents. He took a long time to decide. But I had a better idea. Instead of the dress and the shoes that he had planned to get, I said I preferred to see him in Skype.

Although he had sent me several selfies, I had never seen him in Skype, although he had seen me a few times. It's just one of those imbalances in our relationship.

But he hates Skype. More than he hates phones.

"so why to torture me with?" he asked.

"I just want to see you," I replied, "with expressions on your face... to see how you smile..."

"i m not spontaneous," he explained. He receives the message, analyzes it, and responds with the expected reaction.

"And I thought I was funny.  :\ " I pouted.

He LOL'd and explained further, "a good joke make smile inside ... but it is inside." For him, the facial expressions are a way of communicating externally and are, therefore, "fake."

He reiterated that he isn't spontaneous, but he added that he was told he had an expressive face.

We continued talking about fake smiles. I had already accepted the fact that I wouldn't get what I wanted, but he said, "No smile. Just a short time of cam. ... It will be just 2 mins."

He gave me seven. :D

In those seven minutes, he didn't speak to me by voice, so we were typing in IM. Then his phone rang and I listened to him talk fast in French. It sounded like he was hurrying to hang up, but the caller asked another question so the call became twice as long, although probably still under a minute. He sounded impatient, which was understandable, because he really hates talking on the phone for longer than necessary. But I loved listening to him talk. And I told him so. That's when he realized that he forgot to mute himself on Skype. We continued to chat by IM anyway.

In those seven minutes, I was mesmerized. I had to consciously type something and reply to him or else I'd just sit there quietly, drinking him in.

In those seven minutes, he tried to seem cold and distant. But I saw very brief glimpses of emotion. Like the half-second of instantaneous joy when he saw something on the screen in the beginning, when my video came on, although I later realized my image was very dark because I had no lights on in my room. Like his eyes darting to the sides as though looking for escape in the beginning of the call. Like his left hand curling against his left jaw for a moment, then the index fingers of both hands steepling in front of his lips as though he were trying to strike a pose, again for only a brief moment, then both hands disappearing from view. It was as though he didn't know what to do with his hands.

In those seven minutes, I saw a man who tried to project being calm and collected. And, yes, I sensed that coldness, that distance. But I also saw very brief glimpses of discomfort and uneasiness and self-consciousness and vulnerability.

Maybe he really does hate Skype and that's what causes the discomfort and uneasiness and self-consciousness. But it is also very telling that he would do the thing that he hates most, simply because I wished it.