The Milk of Human Kindness

A couple of years ago I met a musician in the virtual world of Second Life who went by the name of Strum Diesel. He’s a folk/pop/bluegrass artist, and an amazing talent. I started going to all his performances. I love his music.

In real life his name is Sean Kagalis, and he often tours. I was very lucky to see him when he performed in my town, and I got to meet him in person. Not only is he good at what he does, but he’s a very kind person, and a delight to be around.

Recently he heard about my Indiegogo Campaign. I’m nearly $10,000.00 in debt because I moved 3100 miles across country to start my life over after a long series of setbacks. You can see my video explaining all of this here. (Please do contribute if you can. Every penny will help me.)

When Sean heard about this, he offered to do a benefit concert for me in Second Life. I don’t think I adequately expressed to him just how much that meant to me. Whether his efforts raised any money for my cause or not, just the fact that through his actions he was basically saying, “I am on your side. I care about you. I wish you well. I am willing to donate my time and talent to your cause,” was more precious to me than gold. I’m all alone out here. I don’t know anyone. Everything is new. So having the support of friends means the world to me.

He did the benefit the other day, and I danced for joy throughout. And in the real world I had tears in my eyes. I am very lucky to know such an amazing human being. I honestly don’t know why he’s not world famous. I can’t imagine anyone who deserves it more.

Check out his music video below (for those getting this blog through e-mail, it can be seen here: ) and support his talent if you can. People like this should be allowed to shine. Thanks, Sean! For more than you know.

Walking Between Cultures

One of the things I love most about the virtual world of Second Life is that you get to meet people from all over the world. One friend, C.N., is a young man who is an amazingly talented artist from Vietnam. I met him just as he was finishing his secondary education and applying to universities abroad. I remember how exciting that time is. You have a world of opportunities in front of you. You can go so many different directions. There so many possibilities.

I was even more intrigued because his experience must be all the more heightened as he was going from one cultural extreme to another. What does that feel like? How does it impact you?

He just successfully completed year one and is back home on holiday, so I asked him to talk a little bit about his experiences. What follows is what he was kind enough to share. Thanks C.N.!

My first year in UK has just passed – I feel like it was just one week – with a lot of enjoyable experiences.

Though the university had got seven Vietnamese students before me, many people told me that I was the first Vietnamese they had ever met, after constantly mistaking me for a Chinese. I can say that I have busted a lot of misconceptions – very funny ones – that British people hold about Vietnam. Many of those who are old enough to have lived the period of the two wars in my country thought that we spoke French as the primary language instead of a unique mother tongue. When they learnt that we have our own language, Vietnamese, they asked me if its pronunciation and alphabet are similar to Chinese or Mandarin, and were pretty surprised by the big difference.

Before I left for England, all that I have heard about British people had been their posh manner. My parents – not sure from whom they got the idea – kept warning me about being bullied and discriminated by native students. They were also very worried that I would become tight–fisted and ‘starving in a sense’ as a result of being discouraged by the extremely expensive cost of living, which is also a common misconception in Vietnam and which had almost made my parents reconsider letting me go to England.

All those misconceptions seem to originate from different people’s experience in big cities like London. I myself went to London once, and I must say I didn’t enjoy it. Not only prices are costly; a smile is also something people cannot give for free. The atmosphere of the small city where I stayed is just the opposite. The people there are very friendly and adorable, which immediately made me feel at home. I’ve got to know many local people – here everyone knows everyone! – who very often invited me over for meals. I experienced the same friendliness on campus; one of my loveliest memories is getting yelled at by a professor for addressing him too formally.

After all, there’s no big difference between the lives I had amongst the small communities in UK and in my country, since – you know what they say – the people make the places!


[Image credit:]

I Love Your Mind

In this modern computer age I have quite a few friends that I haven’t met face to face. In many cases we are a half a world away from each other, and the likelihood of us ever breaking bread is pretty slim. Even so, they’re as dear to me as any partner in crime from college ever was. We banter, we chat, we meet on Facebook or in the virtual world of Second Life. We exchange e-mails. We skype. I have even made several friends through the comments here on my blog. I’ve also connected with distant relatives and reconnected with long lost friends on line. I love being alive at this point in history!

Granted, you can’t always trust what you learn on line. That girl of your dreams might be a fat old truck driver with bushy chest hair pushing out the top of his wife-beater shirt, and pedophiles and perverts love the internet even more than I do. I have met my fair share of crazies, believe you me. But generally speaking, crazy is hard to hide for long. It usually oozes out of the cracks in one’s façade fairly quickly.

But what I love most about meeting people this way is that you skip right over the assumptions and judgments that come along with the usual first impressions. You get past that two foot long beard because you aren’t aware it’s there. Obesity, deformity, race, bad taste in clothes, and really bad cologne do not factor in when you are getting to know someone on line. You aren’t meeting face to face. You are meeting mind to mind.

Within three seconds of meeting an adolescent in Second Life, I can tell. They have no life experience, and therefore very little to contribute to a conversation. I move on. It also doesn’t take much time to determine if you have nothing in common with someone. If someone is pushy, aggressive or rude, they’ll usually be the same way in cyberspace.

But just as in real life, when you click with people, it has nothing to do with the physical. It’s their sense of humor, their integrity, their intelligence and their point of view that makes you like them. You have a better chance of meeting these gems on line, because you won’t discount them for their scary biker attire or their severe facial scarring.

Whether we’re willing to admit it or not, we’ve all dismissed someone due to our assumptions based on their appearance. What opportunities have we missed for life long friendships? The internet is the great equalizer in this instance, and I’m forever grateful for the many friends I’ve made through its agency.

read your mind

Naming Yourself

I have never really related to my own first name. And my middle name? It feels downright foreign. If I could have named myself, I would be Serenity. I’d actually legally change it tomorrow if I didn’t think I’d be laughed out of my family. It’s the name I chose for myself in the virtual world of Second Life, and it feels right.

It seems exceedingly strange to me that the one thing you are stuck with for life, the thing that identifies who you are and makes you stand out from everyone else, is the one thing you don’t get to choose for yourself.

Over the years I have come across some really amusing names in Second Life. I started making a list so I wouldn’t forget them. Some of them are well thought out, others not so much. Naming yourself should be serious business because you are stuck with that legacy for life. But one thing I’ve learned from all of this is that if we all got to choose our own names, the world would be a much more interesting place.

Here are some of my favorite Second Life names.

  • Aloof Hermit
  • Always Schmooz
  • Antenna Rae
  • Anytime Thursday
  • Argyle Socke
  • Athiest Priestman
  • AyeLove Yue
  • Before Afterthought
  • Belgian Waffle
  • Bittersweet Lime
  • Blunt Fhang
  • Blvd Ho
  • Born Aristocrat
  • Bratty Childs
  • Breezie Catnap
  • Bringiton Paine
  • BrokenGuitar String
  • BrokenHeart Paine
  • CallYou Back
  • CanYouHearMe Snoring
  • Cheese Twist
  • Cherish Clarity
  • ChickenNoodle Soup
  • Cold Frog
  • Cooky Munster
  • CoolComfort Nirvana
  • Counterfactual Fizzle
  • CountTo Infinity
  • Crawfish Gumbo
  • Creepy Janitor
  • Cryptic Quandry
  • Denied Flatley
  • diddlesme gearbox
  • Discovered Clarity
  • driveme Oppewall
  • dry Rage
  • Editorial Clarity
  • Enticing Destiny
  • Experimental Afterthought
  • Extremely Noble
  • Failed Inventor
  • Fifty Winx
  • FreeWee Ling
  • Gathering Gloom
  • Gawdawful Calamity
  • Harmonic String
  • Heinous Deed
  • Ina Tryce
  • Justyn Tyme
  • Katydid Something
  • Love Pang
  • Naturally Offcourse
  • OctopusDropkick Sorbet
  • Oh Mercy
  • Pickle Soup
  • Pipsqueak Halfpint
  • Prison Barrs
  • Promises Paine
  • Rational Clarity
  • Shouting Kidd
  • SkittlesofDoom Waffle
  • Sling Trebuchet
  • Starlight Melodie
  • Story Writer
  • Strangely Broke
  • Subtle Charisma
  • Subtle Difference
  • Subtle Signals
  • Subtle Witte
  • Tainted Love
  • Tenderlee Held
  • Twisted Fool
  • Vry Offcourse
  • Wandering Homewood
  • Yorma Destiny
  • Youbetcha Babii
  • Younever Rang

What would your name be if you had a choice?


[Image credit:]

Virtual Reality Tank Guy

I love the virtual world of Second Life. If you are feeling lonely, it’s a great place to meet people, make friends, find romance, have fun and pursue interests in art/music/religion/culture even if you can’t or won’t leave the comfort of your own home. I hate it when it’s referred to as a game, because you may be using an avatar that looks like a cartoon, but there are real people with feelings behind those avatars. You’re not there to earn points or prizes or virtual power or rise to a higher level. You’re there to socialize with other people.

In a wheelchair? In Second Life you can dance! Agoraphobic? In Second Life you can explore Paris or outer space, anxiety-free! Want to own a mansion and sit on your veranda overlooking the ocean with good friends? All you need is a laptop.

One thing that Second Life has taught me, though, is that a lot of people are living lives of quiet desperation. I’ve met hundreds and hundreds of people in there who are unhappily married or unhappily single, and come in to Second Life because they’re desperately lonely. It’s been so long since someone has touched them with even the slightest bit of affection that they’re willing to settle for virtual touch, virtual companionship. Is this healthy? That’s a topic for another blog entry. But it’s a fact.

I have to admit that I am one of those people. When I first came into Second Life more than 6 years ago, I was trapped in a depressing and loveless relationship, one in which I was never touched, never heard, never understood. I was so lonely it was actually physically painful.

I’m a lot more jaded in that virtual world than I once was. I’ve seen it all. I’ve pretty much done it all. I have an inventory full of virtual t-shirts to prove it. I’ve made good friends and established myself in the virtual art world, so my Second Life is fairly stable, and I’m therefore less apt to suffer fools gladly. But in the beginning I was much more tolerant and open and patient and understanding of people’s needs to connect.

That’s how I met a guy who called himself Aeon. In hindsight I suspect he was a very young and extremely lonely guy who was just trying to impress me. He claimed he was somewhere on the west coast, in the military, wearing some virtual reality suit and floating in a sensory deprivation tank, doing experiments for the federal government. Yeah, right. Whatever works for you, I suppose. I just accepted him as another lonely person trying his best to reach out, and we would dance for hours on end. Sometimes you just need to be held, you know? We would dance our way through my graveyard shift, night after night. I hope he derived as much comfort from that as I did.

Eventually, though, he strained my ability to suspend disbelief to the breaking point. One day he said one of his coworkers, a female, was going to test out the suit, and she would be talking to me through his avatar. Okay. The only problem with that is when “she” started talking to me, she made the exact same spelling errors that he did. I had no doubt that this was the same person. And then “she” proceeded to tell me that she was in love with Aeon, and that I needed to back off or she would hurt him. That’s when I knew this guy was a) wanting to move on, and b) a lot more disturbed than I was capable of dealing with. I quickly exited stage right. In spite of that, I hope that where ever he is now he’s found happiness. And therapy.

Everyone has their own reality. Everyone wants to connect. Fortunately most of us don’t need a sensory deprivation tank to do it.

virtual suit

[Image credit:]

Populating Fields

I think my laptop knows more about me than anyone else does. Disturbing, but true. And your computer does, too. It knows your likes and your interests, it knows who your friends are, it even knows what you look for when you job hunt. If you have some kinky propensity that you haven’t shared with even your best friend, rest assured it knows about that, too.

Think about it. It finishes your sentences for you, as if you’re an old married couple.

When I open my browser and start to type in a web address or something in my Google search field, I often don’t have to type more than one or two letters. What’s interesting is that every single one of us can do this and it will yield completely different results. If that doesn’t equal a digital representation of who we are as individuals, nothing does.

Here are some of my keystrokes and my computer’s helpful suggestions for web addresses. I’ll let you decide what this says about me.

  • t =  (of course!)
  • f = Facebook
  • y = Youtube
  • h = Hulu. (Are you sensing a trend? I don’t really lead an exciting life.)
  • d = (and you thought I was a confident writer.)
  • j gives me my local public library. Yay books!
  • k sends me straight to, although I have no idea why. I haven’t been able to travel in years. Wishful thinking on my laptop’s part?
  • m takes me to Mapquest. I may not get to travel, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still get lost.
  • s  = Second Life. Even though I don’t have much of a first life, my second one can be rather exciting.

And here are some of my recent search terms on Google, apparently.

  • A is for Aborigines and Ad blocker.
  • B is for Barack Obama, Bobby McFerrin and Bear Hibernation.
  • C is for Capricorn and Carpe Diem.
  • D is for Dogs for Defense and Daddy Saddle (Only for research purposes, I swear. It’s a long story.)
  • N is for Nelson Mandela and Nutrasystem, which is kind of an ironic juxtaposition.
  • P is for Philip Seymour Hoffman and Pete Seeger, may they both rest in peace.
  • Q yields nothing. Poor neglected Q.
  • T really reveals my eclectic nature. It gives me Trepanning, TED Talks, and The Peeling Garlic Trick.
  • W is for Wizard of Oz and a ton of questions that start with What.

There is really no need for interrogation in the modern world. To find out who someone is, where they’ve been, and what their intentions are, simply look to their laptop and all will be revealed.

computer meme

Corrective Rape — “It’s for your Own Good.”

I’m in the virtual world known as Second Life, and a total stranger approaches me. He says, “I want to make love to you.”

“Uh, no thanks.”

“I won’t tell anyone.”

“Thanks all the same, but I couldn’t be less interested.”

Sheesh. Are there really men out there who think women are animals that can be used? Do they really think we go for emotionless sexual congress? If that’s what you’re really after, get a sheep.

That guy quickly moved on to the next hapless woman, and I’m sure he eventually found someone with low self-esteem who was lonely enough to take him up on his offer. That makes me really sad. But it also makes me wonder what lessons this is teaching this man. In Second Life, doing “the deed” requires the woman’s cooperation, but what is this guy like in real life, where that cooperation isn’t necessarily required if you are not moral and law abiding, one wonders?

He seems to be under the impression that his talents, real or imagined, are some sort of gift that all women should appreciate. That’s a really scary attitude and seems like it is only a few steps from there to a slippery moral slope that ends with an alarming trend.

Corrective rape is a hate crime that victimizes the LGBT community. These violent encounters are a way to punish these people, and in the twisted minds of the perpetrators, it is also, astoundingly, supposed to get them to see the error of their ways and somehow start preferring heterosexual sex. Many people do not see this form of rape as the heinous act that it is, but more as a way to “fix” people who are “not right”, so it is often supported, even encouraged, by family members and local clergy.

This type of crime has been reported in Ecuador, Thailand, Uganda and Zimbabwe, but especially in South Africa where rape statistics in general are off the charts. The statistics about this phenomenon in particular are a little sketchy because these countries lump all such reports in with other types of rape, but rest assured that in these countries today, lesbians are living in fear of having the doors to their homes kicked in. That’s no way to have to live. It isn’t right.

Another huge problem related to this trend is that it often goes unreported, because in order to report it, you also have to reveal your sexual orientation to the local authorities, and who wants to do that in an intolerant regime? It also results in a great deal of HIV among members of the lesbian community.

If this type of violence is not taken seriously, it will spread to other countries. It needs to be treated like the hate crime that it is, and people involved in these acts must be prosecuted and given the harshest of sentences. Until we all understand that every person deserves respect and dignity, and that no one has the right to impose their will upon another human being, it will be the perpetrators of these acts, not the people that they are abusing, who will be the ones who need to be corrected.

Animals. Sick, twisted animals is what these rapists are, and as far as I’m concerned there isn’t a well deep enough to throw them down.

corrective rape

[Image credit:]

Palliative Measures for Fame

When Diana married Prince Charles, I was a junior in high school. All the girls around me were starry eyed and envious of her. Not me. I couldn’t imagine a worse fate than being thrust headlong into the public eye with no respite for the rest of your life. No privacy. No quiet. No way to know who your friends really are. Constant commitment and obligation and expectations and criticism. Continually being told how you must behave. This, to me, is not a happily ever after scenario. It’s more like the definition of hell. I don’t care how gilded your cage is, it’s still a cage.

I wouldn’t want to be famous. I often wonder what I would do if I found myself in that situation, though. I think I’d make a lot of effort to have some type of anonymity.

I’d spend a lot of time in the virtual world of Second Life. No one can know who you are there, unless you tell them. I’ve made a lot of really good friends there, but in truth I have no idea who they are in the real world. Sometimes I’ll sit at a party, talking to people that have been friends for years who I’ve gotten to know based purely on their character, without judging them based on their appearance or skin color or notoriety or possessions, and I’ll think, “One of these people could be Paul McCartney.” If so, then good for him. For a brief shining moment he gets to be treated like everyone else. That must be a huge relief.

I’d also probably start an anonymous blog so that I could express my opinions and get honest feedback from people. For all you know, I am Paul McCartney.

I suppose there are people out there who thrive on fame, but I can’t imagine how. Nothing and no one around you is real. Everyone wants a piece of you. Everyone wants to be seen with you. Not because you’re you, but because you’re the brand that you’ve become.

I think the reason child actors so often self-destruct is that they’ve never ever had a taste of reality. It’s hard enough going through puberty and trying to figure out who you are and what you should do with your life without being surrounded by a bunch of plastic yes-men who are willing to tell you absolutely anything in order to keep the money rolling in. At a time in your life when you need all the good advice you can get, it must be terrifying to know that you are completely on your own.

So even though I know I’m irresistible, I’ll have to ask you to try to control yourself. I can do without your adulation. Thanks anyway.


The Gift of Friendship

I watched my laptop hit the floor and I heard it break. I stood there for a minute, not wanting to actually open it up and look, wanting to hold on to a few more seconds of being a person who had a computer, and knowing I was about to become a person who didn’t have one.

Upon closer inspection, I discovered that I had actually bent the battery. I didn’t even know that was possible. And the screen was shattered and partially separated from the keyboard. It was a lost cause. So that was it, then. I was done. No money to replace the laptop, which meant no more blog, no more extra income, nothing to keep me sane during the long, lonely graveyard shifts on the bridge.

Oh, how I cried. And I felt kind of stupid being so devastated over an inanimate object, especially at this time of year when I’m even more conscious of the pervading, insidious societal urge toward crass consumerism, but I have come to rely on my laptop, and I honestly and truly had no idea what to do.

Then my friend Ray stepped up and loaned me one of his old ones. What a relief. While it didn’t solve the problem, it took the pressure off until I could figure out what to do. And it kept me connected and working and writing. Ray kept me going, as he so often does. I’ll always be grateful for that.

So I trundled on like that for a while, but I knew I couldn’t use his laptop forever. Not that he was putting any pressure on me at all. Quite the contrary. It’s just that I needed to have my own computer. If I was going to risk dropping something on the floor and destroying it, it should be something I own. But I was still at a loss. It’s not like a big sweaty wad of cash was going to drop out of the sky.

And then a miracle happened in the form of my friend Martin. Martin, who I’ve known for seven years, but only in the virtual world of Second Life. I was lamenting my situation to him, and he offered to buy me a laptop. Just like that. He said, “I can afford to help you, and I want to.” That generous. That kind. That rare. My instinct was to turn his offer down. It was too much. But he wanted to give me this gift. He wanted to, and I needed help.

So here I am, writing this on my brand new laptop! A laptop given to me by a true friend. The thing itself is not what’s valuable, even though it’s fantastic and a complete life saver. No. It’s the love behind it, the decency, the unselfishness, the spirit of giving. Every day when I use this laptop, I will think of Martin and what he did for me, and I’ll remember that there really are people in this world who are willing to go the extra mile, the extra thousand miles actually, for a friend.

I hope someday, when my head is actually above water financially, I can pass on the bounty to someone else in their time of need. In the meantime, though, I will do my best to be there for friends in other ways, such as being a good listener and a source of support, and I can delight in the fact that with friends such as these, I’m rich in the only way that truly matters.

So I’ll leave you with this quote from the movie It’s a Wonderful Life: “No man is a failure who has friends.”

Happy Holidays, dear reader.

Simulat with Art

[My dear friend Martin in Second Life, standing in front of one of his artistic creations. I’d include a picture of my friend Ray, too, but he’d kill me if I did.]

Sending Art into the World

When you are a creative person, the art that you make feels like it’s a part of you. When you sell it or give it away, it feels like you’re sending a child off to college. You still have a connection, but you know that for all intents and purposes that child has embarked on a life of its own.

Recently I got to hear what actually became of some of my work, and it blew me away.

In the virtual world known as Second Life, I have an annual Christmas tradition where I create an ornament out of one of my fractals, and give it to people who like my art. So I created this year’s ornament, sent it out, and a few minutes later I got a message from a woman whom I had never met. She thanked me for the ornament, and then told me that she has been carrying the one I gave out in 2009 almost daily since then. She said it appeared in many of her photographs, and sure enough, she sent me a few and there it was, sharing a variety of significant moments in her life. That ornament, she said, was sort of a lucky charm for her, and it had been with her in good times and in bad.

I cannot even begin to tell you how flattered I was to hear this. The idea that something I created had been out there in the world for the past 4 years, playing such a major part in someone else’s life renders me speechless.

When you send art into the world, you have no idea how it might impact others. That’s the most amazing thing about being an artist.

Fractal ornaments_001

A few of my fractal ornaments from years past.