Being Distantly Social

We truly are all in this together.

I don’t think I realized how isolated I was feeling until I saw videos of the Italians singing from their balconies. It brought tears to my eyes. But I don’t have a balcony, and my nearest neighbor isn’t even within shouting distance.

Social distancing sucks. While the concept is important, and absolutely must be adhered to, the term sounds like a punishment. At a time when we all need each other more than ever, it sounds like we’re in jail. Solitary confinement.

But this is 2020, y’all, and we don’t have to take it lying down. We have technology! Instead of being socially distant, we can be distantly social. Because we truly are all in this together.

For example, last Sunday I attended virtual Unitarian Universalist Church via an app called Zoom. The sermon was in one living room. The music came from another. A story was read from a third. We all watched and participated on our computers. We were able to express our cares and concerns on camera or via text. One gentleman even attended from his hospital bed.

It was all unexpectedly comforting. We were all alone, and yet together, doing the same thing at the same time. Fellowship. For a brief shining moment, I found it impossible to feel sorry for myself. And it was also fun. I wasn’t bored. Those moments are few and far between these days.

I’ve heard of all sorts of creative ways that people are getting together virtually. A local librarian is doing virtual storytime for the kiddies live on Facebook. A friend of mine had a virtual talent show where people performed from their various living rooms. Neighborhoods are hosting teddy bear hunts. They’re putting teddy bears in their windows for kids to be able to walk around and see from the sidewalk. Virtual book clubs are cropping up, and people are watching movies together while sitting on Skype so they can still make snarky comments about the movie together. And if you’re not so technically inclined, of course, there’s still the good old fashioned telephone.

And now more than ever, it’s important to check in (distantly) with your elderly or disabled friends, neighbors, and loved ones. They feel isolated at the best of times. This must be a special form of torture for them.

Yes, I know that virtual socializing isn’t exactly like the real thing, but it’s what we’ve got right now. If you’d like to (virtually) interact with people face to face, I highly recommend Second Life. I’ve written more about it here, but in essence, you get an avatar, and move through the world with other people.

It’s not a game or a competition, and you don’t have to spend any money in there. You can go to church, go dancing, listen to live music, explore, or just sit in a virtual coffee shop and talk to people. It’s the closest thing to real life that you may be able to find these days.

I’ve made amazing friends in Second Life for more than a decade, and I’ve done a lot of exciting things there. So if you’re feeling cooped up, check it out! There’s no COVID in cyberspace!

Stay safe, everybody!

Second Life
Socialize in the virtual world of Second Life!

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Off Limits

There’s nothing on earth that makes me want to do something more than being told I cannot do that thing. Not that I’m going to disobey The Law writ large. I won’t even shout “fire” in a crowded movie theater. Laws are generally put into place for the protection of society. But some arbitrary rules and decisions are just absurd. And some long-standing traditions with no basis in logic could stand to be modernized.

Even as a child, when I would hear that a book was banned by our school district, I’d make it a point to read that book. Fortunately my mother was very supportive of this. She believed we should have access to a variety of points of view, and then form our own opinions. So I read quite a bit.

I once met a man from another culture who was horrified that I was “allowed” to work the graveyard shift. “They let you go out alone at night?” First of all, who is “they”? I’m a 52 year old woman who lives alone.

I experienced that same look of horror when I rented a car in Turkey. They made me drive it around the block to prove I could before they’d let me have it. And sure enough, in the rural areas in particular, I soon noticed that I was the only female driver.

So imagine my thought process when reading about Mount Athos, in Greece. It’s a region that has 20 Eastern Orthodox monasteries, and women aren’t allowed on the entire peninsula. And it has been thus for nearly 2,000 years. I’ve never wanted to go somewhere so badly in my entire life.

Their reasons for this ban are very strange. They claim that the Virgin Mary once was on a ship that blew off course, and when she landed on Mount Athos, she liked it so much that she asked her son to let it be her garden. And so it was decreed, somehow, from on high. (As they say, it’s who you know.) And because of that it became out of bounds for other women.

Whatever.

But these monks really take it to the extreme. They won’t even allow female animals there even though they do a lot of farming, so their eggs and milk must be imported. They do make an exception for female bugs and songbirds, because, let’s face it, that would be a bit difficult to control. But they also make an exception for female cats. I’m guessing that has to do with rodent control. (Come to think of it, what keeps out the female rats? It’s a slippery slope!) Who knows what their rationale is.

So I’m lower on the pecking order than a bug. Nice. I’m that big of a danger to their society. Insane.

A few women have made it to Mount Athos, I’m happy to say. A Serbian Emperor once brought his wife there to protect her from the plague, but she wasn’t allowed to touch the ground the whole time she was in residence. Cooties!

One woman, Maryse Choisy, once disguised herself as a man, and lived there for a month. She then wrote a book about it. Good for her! A Greek beauty queen then followed her example in the 50’s, and it was such a scandal that it was written up in Time magazine.

Three women landed there that same year and caused a big controversy. And there have been various movements to allow women in since then, but none of them have taken hold.

It’s not like they are against modernization under certain circumstances, when it suits them. Some of the monks are now taxi drivers, mechanics, and computer IT techs. But women! Gasp! Can’t have that.

But then, they also insist upon maintaining Byzantine time, which commences at sunset each day. That means that their clocks need to be regularly readjusted because sunset isn’t at the same time every day. Talk about stubborn.

And they’re all about doing what’s right for them, and to hell with everyone else. To avoid WWII, they asked Hitler to place them under his protection, and oddly enough, he agreed. So they referred to him as “High Protector of the Holy Mountain”. And that was while he took over the rest of Greece. Wow.

The reason I’d most like to visit, though, is that these monasteries are the repositories of so much medieval art, codices, relics and icons that even though they are trying to catalogue and restore them, they say it will take decades. Such rich history would be a joy to behold.

Men can visit. But only if they have short hair and are over 18 and get all the proper visas, and are preferably, but not necessarily, members of the Eastern Orthodox Church.  That means even Vladimir Putin got to go, but I can’t. (One assumes he had to keep his feminine side strictly under control.)

If this is what faith has to offer, I’ll stick with logic.

mount athos putin

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Home is Where?

I’m starting to settle in to Seattle. I’m beginning to sort of know my way around. I’ve figured out where a lot of the different neighborhoods are located. I know which grocery stores I prefer. I know when to avoid the interstate (which is pretty much all of the time). I have gotten my library card and my driver license. I’ve voted.

It still feels a little like a foreign country to me, though. Given the fact that I love to travel more than anything in the world, that’s a high compliment. But I often dress inappropriately for this weather. I don’t know how things work. I often feel like people are speaking a foreign language and I don’t quite get how things are supposed to be done. There comes a time in every trip when you long for home. I have those days.

But the fact is I have been feeling rather transient for the past 4 or 5 years. That’s not Seattle’s fault. I think selling my house was the defining moment. That’s when I pulled up anchor and started drifting. I like having a home I can call my own that I can alter or remodel or neglect as I see fit, without the worry of being evicted by anyone other than the bank.

I also like having a sense of community. I like having a group of friends and a church that I feel a part of, and a strong understanding of the local gossip, politics, insider jokes and slang. I enjoy having certain traditions that I hold every year, such as attending annual festivals. I definitely do not have any of that here yet.

I think home for me is ownership, knowledge, routine, tradition, and community. It’s fitting in. It’s feeling comfortable and anchored. I’m sure I’ll get there eventually.

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There’s no place like home.

Sealed Without Your Consent–Mormon Ordinances by Proxy

The LDS Church performs a wide variety of ordinances, some of which are called saving ordinances, which they believe are required for salvation. One such ordinance is called sealing, and it seals you to spouses and other family members for all eternity. Fine and dandy and more power to them, I say. Everyone is entitled to their own sacred beliefs, and that is one of theirs. Even as someone who is outside their faith, I can respect that.

But wait. Hold on. It turns out that a whole group of my ancestors in Denmark have been sealed. And they passed away before the LDS even existed. How is that possible? It turns out that there’s this loophole called an ordinance by proxy.

According to Wikipedia,

“After Latter-day Saints enter the temple and receive temple ordinances for themselves, they may return and perform the saving ordinances on behalf of their deceased ancestors. These are performed vicariously or by “proxy” on behalf of the dead, and Latter-day Saints believe that it is up to the deceased to accept or reject the offered ordinance in the spirit world. Only saving ordinances are performed on behalf of deceased persons.

“Ordinances on behalf of the dead may be performed only when a deceased person’s genealogical information has been submitted to a temple. Latter-day Saints complete genealogical work for deceased persons and if it is determined an individual has not received some or all of the saving ordinances, the individual’s name is submitted to the temple to receive these ordinances by proxy. Optimally, the proxy who stands in will be a descendant of the deceased person, but the ordinance proxy may also be an unrelated volunteer.”

Well, that certainly explains why the Mormons have the best, most detailed genealogical records in the world. They want to save as many people as they possibly can. That can’t be a bad thing, can it? Rumor has it they’ve even sealed Adolf Hitler, Anne Frank, and Mother Teresa. That’s a load off, knowing that their places in eternity are assured, because their actions in life didn’t already seal their fate for better or for worse, right? [Heavy sarcasm alert.]

But when I heard about this happening to my relatives I was disgusted, and my cousin and my late sister could not understand why. Here’s why. I take my spirituality very seriously. It has been hard won and required a great deal of soul searching. The thought that when I die some future relative who is a total stranger to me can perform this ordinance on my behalf, against my will, is offensive. If I wanted to be sealed, I’d do it while I was alive.

I suppose I could petition that my relatives to be “un-sealed”, but I feel I don’t have the right to do so for the same reason that the proxy sealer didn’t have the right to seal them in the first place. I have no idea what their wishes would have been, so I can’t in good conscience make that type of choice on their behalf.

My sister said, “But why do you care if you’re sealed? You’ll be dead.” I care, dammit, because we’re talking about my legacy. We’re talking about what other future family members will read about me and believe about my choices. Unless they make an effort to do their homework, they’d most likely assume that the choice was mine, and I’d hate to think that perceived choice might influence theirs. I don’t want my legacy, my hard won philosophy about this life and the next,  to be usurped and altered, no matter how well-intentioned the person who chooses to perform this rite may be.

It’s a certainty that I won’t completely agree, religiously, with the majority of my future relatives. Heaven knows I don’t agree with all my living ones. And, oh, by the way, there are some relatives that I’d rather not be sealed to for all eternity, thankyouverymuch. There. I’ve said it.

My sister also said, “What would it hurt to have all your bases covered?” To which I replied, “And what if one of those bases happened to be related to the Satanic Church? How would you feel then?”

I sincerely believe that every person has their own spiritual path to walk upon. I don’t want some “one size fits all” type of divine insurance policy. Not only does it lack sincerity, commitment and dedication, but it would deprive me of my free will. If that means I’ll be burning in hell, so be it.

So if any future ancestors are reading this and thinking of having an ordinance by proxy performed on me, thanks, but no thanks. Even if I were truly given the opportunity to accept or reject it in the spirit world, I plan on being busy, and will not want to be disturbed.

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It’s Sunday. I get it.

Hardly anyone reads this blog on Sunday. I don’t take it personally. People have lives, after all. Either they’re busy recovering from Saturday night, or they are engaged in spiritual pursuits, or this is the day to go over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house. So I hereby give you permission to take the day off.

I hope you’ll forgive me for doing the same. Instead of writing something myself today, I thought you’d enjoy a little comic relief in the form of a heartfelt warning straight from my silly yet creative boyfriend’s Facebook page. Take heed. The life you save may be your cat’s.

kitten chick

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Biopharmagenica Inc. has just announced the successful insertion of a tiger gene into young chicks that make them every bit as dangerous as their new-found cousins. In controlled experiments, these “chigers”, as they are now called, viciously attacked young kittens, who were otherwise bound for Facebook fame, and ate them.

Researchers called the experiment a success, noting that the feral cat population is out of control in many urban areas. Auditors report that several of these chigers escaped from their cages by chewing through the locks. Most were recovered.

My Second Life

For years now I’ve had a rich and fulfilling second life. In it I’m younger, thinner, sexier, more outgoing, and more well-known than I am in my everyday life. It’s quite intoxicating, actually. This is me, standing in front of one of my fractals with a fractal necklace around my neck:

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I discovered the virtual world of Second Life at a time when I was feeling very alone and unfulfilled and in need of positive and intelligent human interaction– something I was sorely lacking in my first life. Oh, who am I kidding? I hated my life. I desperately needed a change, but I had no idea how to get out of my miserable situation. To make matters worse, I was working the graveyard shift at a one person drawbridge, and when the rest of the city is asleep, you often feel like you’re the only person alive on the planet. It can be very isolating.

Then one day in 2007 I was watching an episode of CSI New York and they were discussing Second Life, and I decided to give it a try. I didn’t know it at the time, but that’s when my life changed entirely. Isn’t it funny how something you think of as a random choice turns out to be the thing that completely changes your path in life?

Many people make the mistake of thinking that Second Life is just another one of those online gaming worlds, like War of the Worlds. While you can play games within Second Life if you so desire, that’s just a very small part of that world. Second Life isn’t a game that you play. It’s a community that you become a part of. In there, you can go places, do things and meet people that you’d never have the opportunity to meet in your everyday life. Always wanted to go to Paris? Go there and climb the Eiffel Tower. Love live music? On any given night there are dozens of performers there, and many of them are amazing. Like to dance? Go to a club. Get to know the DJs who play the music you like. Into Philosophy? There are places where you can have philosophical debates with some of the most intelligent people you’ll ever meet. The art galleries in Second Life are amazing. Dress up in your formal best and go ballroom dancing. You can also swim with whales, parasail, explore castles, wander through botanical gardens, shop for clothes, design your dream house or build anything you can imagine. Take a class. You can also ride horses and even fly! More and more businesses have a presence in there. It’s a great way to have a staff meeting when everyone is not centrally located. A lot of universities also have a presence in Second Life. You can even attend the church of your choice, or join a support group.

It’s also a wonderful place to transcend your first life limitations. Someone who is wheelchair bound can go in and dance. Agoraphobics can explore the wider world. The deaf can communicate with the wider community without being stigmatized. The home bound can attend church or hike in the woods. If you live in a land locked country, you can go to the beach. If you are relatively poor, you can own waterfront property. The only limit is your imagination.

Yes, Second Life does have a dark side. That’s why I don’t recommend it for teenagers, although they are allowed to enter. There are plenty of people in there who will take advantage of you. There are predators who will identify your weaknesses and exploit them. There are mentally ill people who would be better off seeking help elsewhere. When I see women in there who are offering themselves up as sex slaves, it sickens me. Slavery exists in the world. It’s not a game. And it’s quite possible to get tangled up in an emotionally abusive relationship. I’ve seen it happen all too often. You can even be stalked in Second Life. I’ve experienced that myself. That’s why it’s very important not to reveal your true identity to anyone unless you’ve known them for a long, long time, perhaps even years. There are orgy rooms and strip clubs. If you’re into that sort of thing, fine. I am not here to pass judgment. But I will always maintain that the odds of encountering people who do not have your best interests at heart in those places are much, much higher. My watchword in Second Life has always been respect. If people do not treat you with respect, they are not worthy of your company or your time.

After a while, you begin to get a very strong sense of the people behind the avatars. It’s very important not to forget that there ARE real people there, who have feelings and histories and motives. You learn who your friends are. I have made some amazing friends from all over the world in there. I’ve also encountered true evil. The longer you are in that world, the quicker you can suss that out. Some people go in there thinking that they’ll be able to lie, but in truth, Second Life exposes you in ways you can never imagine. You don’t have your body language or your possessions or your appearance or your social status to hide behind. Everyone is on an equal playing field. Everyone is attractive and healthy and can own whatever they want in there. So the thing that sets you apart is…you. You can try to be someone else, but that façade tends to crumble quite rapidly unless you’re the world’s most heartless sociopath. Sadly there are more than a few of those wandering around. Mostly, though, I’ve found that the vast majority of the people in there are good but lonely people who lead lives of quiet desperation and are seeking an outlet.

I first went in to Second Life because I was lonesome, and I have found good friends. I also was there because I felt unloved, and indeed, I found the love of my life in there. To this day I am convinced that he is my soul mate, but to my everlasting regret, some relationships cannot or will not make the transition into real life. But I will never regret learning that I was capable of loving again. Another thing I found in there was self-confidence. I learned that I have artistic talent that I never had the courage to pursue before. In fact, I now have an artistic presence in there, and quite a few people collect my art. So much so, in fact, that I now sell my art in the real world in the form of calendars, mugs, posters, puzzles, ornaments and greeting cards. I have over 1300 products available. Check them out here: www.zazzle.com/serenity_questi .

Discovering that I could be successful in Second Life gave me the courage to try for success in my first life. And indeed, I’ve made a great many changes. I’ve still not reached the heights I have in the virtual world, but now I know that I can love and laugh and make friends and be artistic, and because of that, I have hope. I’m rarely in Second Life anymore, ironically. Because of the many gifts it has given me, my first life is now so busy I don’t have time! But I know that many of the friends I’ve made in there will be friends for life—this life.

If you wish to try second life, got to www.secondlife.com and sign up.  Once you’re in the world, here are some things I recommend:

 

Have fun!