A Sad Little Mating Dance

I had to admire her determination and persistence.

In my freshman year, I was lucky enough to attend Warren Wilson College, a liberal, rural, private institution that only had 500 students at the time. To this day I regret transferring to another school after only one year, but WWC had done away with my major, and, frankly, the place is obscenely expensive, and all the “gee, you’re an awfully smart young girl” scholarships had dried up.

I loved that school to the very core of my being. I loved the small class sizes and the gorgeous campus nestled in North Carolina’s Swannanoa Valley, surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains. I felt cozy and safe there. I will be passing through again soon, to visit the piece of my heart that will always remain there. The only downside to the place is that it was like living in a small town with no way out if you didn’t have a car, which of course I didn’t. So in an effort to stave off boredom, I attended the weekend dances in the basement of the student union.

I had never attended dances in high school. I would never attend dances in any other college. But at WWC, attend them I did. This was so unlike me that it stuns me when I look back. WWC brought out a lot of amazing things in me.

A lot of drama played out in these dances. It was like all the school gossip got to be acted out on one central stage. You never knew what was going to happen.

For example, my friend Jenny (not her real name) liked a guy named Carl (you get the picture), but those feelings were far from reciprocated. It was becoming a rather hot topic, because Jenny was pining away for this guy, and he couldn’t have been less interested. Rather than letting that be that, though, Jenny was persistent in her efforts to get this guy to propose marriage and have 6 kids before the school year was over. It had all the students collectively shaking their heads.

For some reason the other day I was thinking about one particular dance in which Jenny decided to put all her cards on the table, so to speak. We tried to warn her. We really did. But her head was too far up in the clouds to hear us.

On this particular night, Jenny decided it would be cool to wear an oversized, care-worn satin teddy that she had borrowed from a friend. To that, she added a pair of baggy jeans and a jacket. To complete the ensemble, she donned the same ratty tennis shoes and white knee socks she always wore while washing dishes in the cafeteria. Apparently this was all supposed to be sexy and yet somehow revealing of her amazing personality. She was convinced that this was the night she would win Carl over.

I had gotten to the dance ahead of Jenny, and had planted myself in my usual wallflower spot, all the better to observe the various goings on. I would sometimes dance at these events, because the custom was just to kind of dance alone in a large group unless you were officially coupled up. So if enough close friends were around, I’d get out there. But mostly I enjoyed watching and gathering intel.

Carl was already on the dance floor with a group of buddies when Jenny walked in. She immediately made a beeline for that side of the room, and stood on the periphery, waiting for Carl to catch a subtle glimpse of satin and become instantly smitten. I doubt he even noticed she was there. (He was clueless and/or indifferent, and she was extremely short.)

She kept sliding back and forth along the edge of the dance floor, so that she’d be directly in his line of sight if he looked up. I say sliding because she had taken off her shoes. Jenny liked to dance by sliding her socked feet back and forth as if she were skiing. She wanted to be ready to slide onto the dance floor when the inevitable invitation came.

She schussed there for about a half hour, staring at him the whole time, completely enraptured. He had to have known at this point. I was starting to feel really sad for her.

Hint taking wasn’t her strong suit, obviously, and communication wasn’t his. I had to admire her determination and persistence, but people were starting to laugh at her and I hated that for her. That was the only silver lining to the fact that she only had eyes for Carl. She was oblivious to the fact that everyone was watching.

Finally, she decided she would just have to make him see her. So she joined the large group of individuals on the dance floor, and slid in his direction. The bottom of her socks must have been black by now.

She got right in front of him, and then slid her jacket and her teddy strap off one shoulder. I think she was expecting the world to come to a sudden stop when she did this, but of course it didn’t. He didn’t even look up.

It must have taken some effort not to see her at this point, because she was a good foot and a half shorter than he was, and he was looking down, after all. I could only assume that he knew exactly what was going on and was trying desperately not to have anything to do with it.

He turned slightly away from her, so she put her teddy strap back up and straightened her jacket and then slalomed past a few of his friends so she’d be in front of him again. And then she performed the same shoulder-baring move, as if she expected magic to happen.

Nothing. By now I as picturing myself watching this whole thing through spread fingers. I wanted to run out there and save her from herself. I wanted to tell her she was awesome and she should never feel like she had to try that hard to be loved. (And also explain to her that if she did feel the need to try that hard, it entered the realm of sexual harassment.) But I knew it would do no good.

At this point, Jenny had pulled her jacket wide open, and she was shimmying her all-but-nonexistent breasts at the poor guy as she threw back her head and closed her eyes. She looked like Steve Martin in the Two Wild and Crazy Guys routine in Saturday Night Live. I don’t think that was intentional. It was heartbreaking to watch.

And then, a sort of magic did happen, but it wasn’t what Jenny was hoping for. Without any signs of having communicated at all, Carl and all his friends exited the party en masse. So many left all at once, in fact, that it left Jenny all alone, shimmying on her deserted part of the dance floor, eyes closed, as her teddy straps slipped ever downward.

Fortunately, all her friends at the party seemed to be operating under an umbrella of ESP as well, because without any plan, we all immediately got on the dance floor and surrounded Jenny, so when she opened her eyes, we were there. And we all danced that way for the rest of the night.

Tears slid down her face as her feet slid across the floor, but at least her friends had come to her rescue. That was something to see. More than a few of us had tears in our eyes as well.

As a mating dance it had been an epic failure, but it was a masterful show of solidarity that you don’t see very often nowadays. What a pity. We as a society sure could use it.

As far as I know, Jenny never attempted to court Carl again. We’ve lost touch. And even if we hadn’t, I suspect this would be a sore subject now. I wish her well, and hope that in the subsequent decades, she has learned moderation to go with her amazing determination.

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A New Ending to an Old Story

It took a turn I hadn’t anticipated.

When I was 15 years old and a sophomore in high school, I had a crush on a guy named Howard. We sat at the same table in English Literature class. We always had fun together. Even though we were just friends, I was grateful to have someone to romantically obsess over. It took my mind off my dysfunctional home life.

One time, as the teacher blathered on about some classical poet who interested me not at all, my thigh happened to accidentally touch his. It was like the best electric shock imaginable. My hormones were already off the charts at that age. But this was epic.

And the most amazing part was that he didn’t move his leg, so neither did I. We sat there through class that way, and I was swimming in a veritable sea of lust, thinking, “Omigod, He likes me back!”

It never occurred to me that that could be possible. No one in school had ever expressed the slightest interest in me. My self-esteem was so low that my main goal was just trying to get through the day without humiliation. On that day, though, nothing mattered but Howard’s thigh.

A week or so later, there was to be a high school dance. I’d never been to a dance. I’d never been to a football game. I didn’t want to go to these things all alone, and I had no one to go with.

I got to class early, and was talking to Howard and another boy who sat at our table, and the boy blurted out, “You should go to the dance with Howard!”

Silence. Utter silence. Maybe Howard had put him up to it. Maybe he wanted to go to the dance with me but was afraid to ask. But what if he didn’t? I certainly wasn’t going to stick my neck out and risk rejection. So I said, “Well, if Howard wants to go to the dance with me, all he has to do is ask.”

And the whole time, in my head, I’m shouting, “Ask! Ask!”

But again, dead silence. Awkward. I thought that maybe he wanted to ask me when no one else was around. Or maybe he didn’t like me after all. Or maybe he was just too shy. Should I ask him? I didn’t have the courage.

No need to keep you in suspense. Howard never asked, and I never went to a high school dance, ever, because he was at the head of a long line of people who never asked.

Howard and I remained friends for the rest of the year. We pretended that the situation had never come up. A lot went unsaid, it seems.

At the end of the year, he mentioned something about being best friends in my yearbook. I was just looking at it the other day. It made me smile.

But we didn’t stay in touch over that following summer, and the next year he didn’t come back to school. I never knew what happened to him. I always wondered.

I hadn’t thought about that in years. I have no idea why it popped into my head the other day. I had given myself closure by thinking that, yes, he did like me, but he was too shy to do anything about it. What a shame, I thought. What a waste. But life goes on.

But of course by now I was thinking about this in terms of a blog post, and I wondered about his side of the story. I thought it might be cool to seek him out on line and ask him. With time and distance and zero desire to pick up where we left off, maybe we both could provide some insight for each other. If he even remembered me, that is.

So I Googled him. Unfortunately, he has a fairly common name, so this wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought. Add to that the fact that his picture doesn’t appear in the yearbook for some reason, and to be perfectly honest I can’t remember what he looks like, and you can see what a challenge this could be. There were too many people with his name on Facebook.

Even so, I’m pretty sure I found him. A business license revealed a person who lives one town over from the high school, and he’s the right age. I looked on Facebook again for someone from that town, and there was the guy with the business in question, and yes, he mentioned my school in his profile. While his picture didn’t ring any bells at all, he would have been my type.

I sent him a message, but I get the impression he doesn’t Facebook much, so I’m not holding out much hope of an illuminating conversation. And yet I learned a lot from his Facebook page. It fills in much of the blanks in our story. It has taken a turn I hadn’t anticipated.

It seems that Howard likes men. Which means, most likely, that he did back then as well. But in the early 80’s, that’s not something that he would have put out there for general consumption, especially in the rural South. It’s not something that even occurred to me to think about, really. If you had asked me at the time, I wouldn’t have had a problem with anyone in the LGBTQ community. It just seemed as exotic and out of my realm as the Dalai Lama.

I have no idea if Howard was struggling with his sexuality when I knew him. I hope not. But clearly he had me in the friend zone. But that, in retrospect, was a precious gift.

I wonder what he thought of the thigh incident. Was he appalled? Completely turned off? Afraid to pull his leg away for fear of revealing himself? Or was he simply confused? I hate the idea that while I was swimming around in my sea of lust, he was bobbing in a pool of uncertainty or disgust. Wherever he might have been, mentally or emotionally, the touch I was giving was not the touch he was receiving.

I hope I wasn’t torturing him. That certainly wasn’t my intent. I am horrified to think that I was sexually harassing him without knowing it.

At least now I know why he never asked me to the dance. It wasn’t about me. But with hindsight, we could have gone as friends and had a great time.

At least now I have a few more answers. I’d love to renew my friendship with Howard. I’m sure we’d have a lot to catch up on. Either way, I will always wish him well and be grateful that he gave a lonely 15-year-old girl something to daydream about.


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The Dancing Man

I gave him that name because of what happened next.

The first time I saw the dancing man, he was standing beside my car. That made me uncomfortable, because drawbridges seem to draw an unusual number of characters, and as a bridgetender I can’t really leave the tower unattended simply because I fear for my paint job. So I had to stare helplessly out the tower window and hope for the best. In other words, it was my average day at work.

I used to wonder what it was about drawbridges that attract strange people. I’ve blogged about my unique encounters before. But my latest theory is that there’s nothing special about drawbridges. These people are everywhere. It’s just that I get to be a full-time observer of them here. I look at it as my own little sociological investigation of a cross section of humanity.

Anyway, back to the dancing man. I gave him that name because of what happened next. He went to the front driver’s side corner of my car and did what I can only describe as a ritualistic dance. The steps, while rudimentary, seemed full of purpose.

But this is Seattle, so people took note but continued to walk by, letting him do his own thing. Next, he moved to the front passenger side and did the same dance. He repeated the process until he got to all four corners, and then he walked away.

I was confused. I was mesmerized. I was a little charmed. But mostly I was relieved that no damage had been done to my car.

Since then, I’ve watched the dancing man perform this ritual on at least a half dozen occasions. I’m increasingly delighted every time. I’ve chosen to view it as some sort of blessing he is bestowing upon my vehicle. Maybe I’ve avoided an accident because of this magical love bubble that he’s placed on my car. Who knows?

Recently he stopped by to get his groove on during shift change, and I pointed him out to my coworker. “I just love that guy,” I said. Apparently, mine is the only car he interacts with, but he is still a regular fixture on other shifts.

My coworker said, “See that coat he’s wearing? I gave that to him. He was walking past and he looked like he needed one, and I had an extra.”

So there you have it. The one who bestows blessings had a completely unrelated blessing bestowed upon him. I really love how the universe works sometimes.


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Weird Drawbridge Stuff

Every time I think I’ve seen it all as a bridgetender, something new and surprising happens.

Every time I think I’ve seen it all as a bridgetender, something new and surprising happens. The other day, a boat passed under my bridge, and on the bow there was a woman in a hot pink, shiny catsuit, wearing a powder blue motorcycle helmet, complete with visor. I wish I had had time to whip out my camera, but I was too busy standing there, slack-jawed.

I’ve also seen my fair share of nudity and inappropriate acts, and believe me, most of them I wish I could wash out of my brain with bleach. It seems as though the level of one’s exhibitionism is directly proportionate to one’s lack of classic beauty. I would really rather not see your thick carpet of back hair, ma’am, thankyouverymuch.

And then there are the strange things that have floated by my tower: Houses. Lengths of bridge. Airplanes. Submarine periscopes. UFOs (unidentified floating objects). I once opened for a yacht being used by Sir Paul McCartney when he did the halftime show at the super bowl in Jacksonville, Florida. (I didn’t catch a glimpse of him, though.)

Pedestrians can be quite entertaining, too. They often like to sing. And while they tackle it with enthusiasm, as a general rule they shouldn’t try out for American Idol.

Or they dance. We get a lot of dancers. One guy walked down the sidewalk dribbling an imaginary basketball. Another preached a full sermon to the geese on the canal.

People have gotten into fist fights while crossing my bridge. I’ve seen more than one marriage proposal. A sad number walk across, shouting and gesticulating when no one else is there.

I’ve also seen eagles and falcons and ospreys and alligators and nutria and harbor seals and dolphins, to name but a few of the fascinating creatures who share the planet with us. I’ve also seen more lightning strikes and rainbows and sunrises and sunsets than I can count.

I’ve seen enough bizarre traffic accidents to make me wonder if anyone puts any thought into vehicular safety anymore. I’ve also heard every obscenity known to man, and have had a wide variety of objects thrown at me. I’ve also had government snipers on my bridge when presidential nominees were making speeches nearby.

I really do have the most interesting job in the world. I’d like to say I’ve seen it all, but somehow I suspect that I haven’t. So watch this space!

A coworker to a picture of this waterspout as it passed by the bridge. Glad I wasn’t on duty!

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Dance, Dance, Dance

Okay, I confess. One of my guilty pleasures is the show Dancing with the Stars. I just love watching people do something well that I can’t do at all. (Oh, I can boogie with the best of ‘em, but formally dance? Not me. I can’t even walk in heels.)

There’s just something so wonderful about being able to express your emotions with your body. It’s as if dancers project their joy from the very tips of their fingers and toes. It’s beautiful to see.

At the end of this most recent season, I impulse-bought myself a ticket to their live tour, something I’ve wanted to do for years, so several days ago I got to experience that joy firsthand. I was rather star struck, because I feel like I’ve gotten to know all these people, and now here I was, breathing the same air! It made me feel like I was back in junior high school or something.

I was really glad that I brought binoculars, though, because I was in the nosebleed seats, and half the time I wouldn’t have known who was dancing without their help. But once I was able to suss out who was who, I could put the binoculars down and just enjoy the big picture. I left there feeling so content.

It’s magical to bear witness to such glorious artistry. We all have so much potential. There’s just so much opportunity for magnificence. I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel like good really is capable of triumph.

Here are some of my blurry photos from the tour. What with all the light and motion, my camera wasn’t exactly up to the task, but you get the idea.

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Standing in My Integrity

I once stayed in a 16-year relationship because I didn’t want to hurt the guy’s feelings. Like most women, I’ve been trained since childhood to put everyone ahead of myself. And I’m good at it. Too good.

Some things never change. I came across this article about a school in Utah where the little girls have been instructed that when boys ask them to dance at a school function, they cannot say no. (We wouldn’t want to hurt little boys’ feelings, now would we? Even if it makes the girls uncomfortable in the process.)

I had a visceral reaction to this story. Girls need to learn to say no. They need to know it’s okay to say no. They need to trust their gut instincts. And boys need to learn that no means no.

Without these lessons, you wind up with 53-year-old women like me, who prize integrity above all else, but still tend to sacrifice it to smooth things over. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t ruffle feathers. Keep your opinions to yourself.

It’s really kind of funny. I’m always told I have a strong personality. (Like that’s an insult—and one that’s never directed at men.) People have absolutely no idea what an inner struggle accompanies my ability to speak up.

Speaking up does not come naturally to me. Not at all. When something is bothering me, I generally have to agonize over it for days on end before I can take action. And during that whole process, my stomach is in knots. I lose sleep. I grind my teeth. I rehearse what I want to say over and over again in my head. It’s not a pleasant experience. But I’ve found over the years that not speaking up is even worse.

I’ve been working really hard on standing in my integrity lately. Speaking up more promptly. Agonizing less. Saying, “No, that’s not okay.” Figuring out why doing what feels right to me is such a torturous undertaking.

Integrity should be the place where I reside all the time. It shouldn’t be some thought balloon that I pull along behind me. It should be my natural habitat. And the fact that I was ever trained otherwise is outrageous. That there are still girls in this day and age that are being spoon-fed this crap is disgusting.


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On Making a Fool of Oneself

I just watched a short Youtube video about a guy in Perth, Australia who likes to start impromptu dance parties with strangers on trains. What fun! Before long, most everyone on the train is getting their groove on, and I’m sure they all have smiles on their faces for the rest of the day.

I am a big proponent of making a fool of oneself. That doesn’t mean it’s within my comfort zone to do so, but I’ve found that when I give myself that extra little push and do something silly…Wow! What a rush. It’s liberating.

I did notice one guy on that train who wouldn’t dance, and sat there frowning. I know a lot of people like that. They absolutely will not play under any circumstances. They tend to be bitter, angry people that are filled with regrets. I feel sorry for them.

But I don’t feel so sorry for them that I wouldn’t boogie down. Life’s too short!

train party

[Image credit: popsugar.com.au]

Smoke Signals

The thing I hate most about my living situation is that I can’t get a freakin’ cell phone signal inside my house. If I need to make a long distance call (my land line doesn’t have long distance), I have to walk out to the street. This is not fun during a downpour or an emergency.

If I fall and can’t get up and can’t get to my laptop to fire off an e-mail or an instant message, I’m screwed. That’s ironic. We are at an age when technology should be making us ever more powerful, but in some situations it makes us increasingly helpless. For as long as homo sapiens have roamed the earth, we’ve been coming up with ways to communicate, hundreds of ways, in fact, but for the most part, these methods have been lost to us. Think about it. Can you personally communicate by any of these methods with any manner of ease?

  • Semaphore
  • Ham Radio
  • CB Radio
  • Sign language
  • Esperanto
  • Smoke Signals
  • Cryptography
  • Skywriting
  • Oral history
  • Troubadour
  • Telegram
  • Morse Code
  • Signal mirrors
  • Drum Signals
  • Hieroglyphs
  • Yodeling
  • Petroglyphs
  • Pictographs
  • Earth Figures
  • Carrier Pigeon
  • Marathon runners
  • Graffiti
  • Signal Fires
  • Pony Express
  • Coded Spirituals
  • Messages in a Bottle
  • Satellite Phone
  • Maori Hakka
  • Interpretive Dance

It’s kind of embarrassing. With all these options at our disposal, why am I sitting here in my house, cursing my luck for not being able to get a cell phone signal? My ancestors would laugh at me.


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:


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!