Love & Math

loveandmath

A recent facebook post by a virtual family member laughing at a post on SL secrets had me pondering about my own Second Life, and all those secrets and skeletons in my own closet. Luckily, I’m not famous – even in SL – so no one will really care what I did or with whom. Perusing that slander site, I couldn’t help but think of how easy it is to cheat, lie, and be duplicitous in our virtual world, so in an effort of transparency, wanted to talk a little about probably my own greatest weakness.

It probably isn’t one, but I’ll talk about it anyway.

If you asked any of my friends what my biggest problem is, a few of them would probably admit that I’m one of those romantaholics in Second Life, meandering from monogamous relationship to monogamous relationship (and some not so monogamous) … but it’s not entirely the complete truth.

I know my first few months in SL won’t be helpful with my defense: The year Phan started, I had two husbands, and 4 boyfriends (not counting the lovers). While it was a busy 13 or 14 months, I stuck with the last boyfriend (he refused to marry) for a whole year afterwards. At the end of my second year in Second Life, I dumped him and Second Life all in the same day, and swore never to log on again.

See? I am capable of long-term commitment and decisiveness.

There were a few exceptions, but I never logged in again …

… until Thanksgiving week of 2011. There was this SL roleplay experience I was interested in, so I logged in and promptly joined – an awesome experience that lasted about a year and half, during which time, I had no boyfriends, no lovers, and absolutely no husbands. See? Restraint. No problems here. Move along to exhibit C.

As the roleplay began to dwindle, I did start dating again. I had one quick dating relationship (we were never boyfriends), a really weird relationship with a guy that logged on once a month, followed by a really bad boyfriend thingee (lesson learned: don’t date your boss). As a rebound, I started dating a couple of friends at the same time in my first throuple – which imploded in less than two months.

Little blip on the timeline of one-on-one love. Keep moving.

In 2015, I had exactly three boyfriends – two that I married. Two. In one year. One lasted six months. See?  We’re seeing a pattern of stability here.

Well, until he technically dumped me for a theme-park, so I finalized it for him. The second dumped me for a RL thing, and I had a kinda-sorta relationship with our friend afterwards, resulting in a kinda-sorta marriage early in 2016 (didn’t last long).

(redacted)

Yeah, that looks bad … BUT … keep reading.

Tired of the successive relationships, my heart and I took a month off and dated about 4 guys at once [managing to hurt only one in the process … (I said I’m SORRY!!!!)] before settling with the guy I’m with now, albeit in a very unconventional relationship. That’s been going strong now for a couple of months, and Phan is finally a very, very happy man.

See? A little noise, then happily ever after!

Ok, so let’s count.

Second Life, round one: 2 husbands, 4 boyfriends, two years.

Second Life, round two (only since 2014): 4 husbands (all quick affairs), 8 boyfriends (again, not counting any of the lovers or one-nighters), not double-counting anyone that was more than one of these.

So, yeah …. When you apply mathematics to my second life, I’ve been married six times in nine years, with additional 12 boyfriends, all concentrated in 2 two-and-a-half year periods where I decided to do the dating thing. Quite embarrassing, but I doubt anyone else on here would dare be so honest about their Second Life Dating & Loving.

So, yes, Mother, I have a problem … BUT, Elizabeth Taylor still beats me with one hand behind her back, and – bless her heart – she was only stopped by death. Through it all, I hoped each of the nineteen would the final – “The One” that would last until the Lindens cast us all out with pixel dust, so I can still claim sanity and have some reasonable expectation of happiness.

I know in my heart that this guy is it; although, quite aware of my history, he’s probably not entirely convinced.

The 5 Club Hosts You Will Meet in SL

The 5 DJ's You Will Meet in SL

Hosting at clubs in Second Life is one of the most under-appreciated jobs in Second Life.   I know … whenever I’ve “worked” in SL, it was one of the only two jobs I’ve wanted to do … and I love it!

Almost present in every dance club, they aren’t the DJ … so they won’t get near as many tips, and probably won’t get any of the undies thrown at the stage, either.  They also aren’t the dancers/strippers, so the heavy tippers are going to naturally be paying most of their attention to those with less clothes on. I actually had a customer tell me “Why are you even talking to me?  You’re not the DJ! So, I’m not gonna tip you!  Begone!!! LOL!”

In general chat.

Yeah.

So, why have them?  Throwing a party in SL isn’t as easy as it sounds.  They have to be announced.  They have to be stoked by someone entertaining to stay “lit.”  Everything has to be in good working order, and if anyone is going to get paid (tipped), then someone is often having to remind the clientele that we aren’t working for snowflakes.

That’s the host.  They run the things that allow other people to shine leaving your DJ and dancers free to take care of #1 … you.

The best hosts are usually “nurturers” or “supporters” by nature.  They’re not interested in any glory or fame – they just wanna be part of a team, and want to be the glue that holds it all together.  It’s true – you don’t really need one, but things run better when the DJ doesn’t have to put out his own notices, or the strippers don’t have to double as club security.

Having said that, a lot may be expected of hosts … but there is a wide spectrum of people who occupy these roles by luck or hard work, at least in the gay clubs I frequent.  Not everyone behind a host tip jar is as I just described … and maybe they DO make you wonder if any of the general stereotypes I described earlier are true!

Maybe you’ve met one or two!

You’ve just walked into a club.  The DJ is hunched over, his eyes and fingers tight on his vinyls.  A lone dancer spins on a pole, giving you the “c’mere” look.  Another guy is standing near the DJ.

Just standing there.

Like – he doesn’t see you, or doesn’t want to see you – but he’s there, with “Host” clipped to his lapel, and a tipjar near his station.  Finally, he says “Hi!” but doesn’t say much else … unless you ask him.

At half-time, you see a frustrated DJ trying to send out notices again, while wanting to stay focused on the music, and a lone dancer … with nothing in his jar, spins slowly and seems a little dejected.

Congratulations.  You’ve just met Mr. Wallpaper (#1) … a guy who wants the pay, but doesn’t want to do anything else but look pretty and text.  If his job is being Moma Bear for the staff on duty, he’s about to be reported Protective Services for severe neglect.

You like the DJ, but you decide to go to another club.  The next place is hopping … the notice you received earlier seemed exciting … and that’s what you’re needing tonight … some excitement!  You walk in – the place is packed, you start moving with the beat of the music.

There’s a contest, and the entrance requirements aren’t clear.  You IM the host who is clearly having a good time with the DJ.  He doesn’t answer.  You know he’s busy, so you give him a few minutes before you ding him again.  You move up closer and can tell that he, the DJ, and one of the dancers are talking shop in general voice chat … where anyone who has voice activated can hear … almost like there’s the party going on in the club, and another one for these gents … a group you aren’t a part of, and never will be.  You think maybe you’re being a little paranoid, but after fifteen minutes … you realize the staff are in their own world, and the fact they’re having a successful party is just a miracle of circumstance.

You’ve just met Friend of the House (#2) … and you realize he can stay that way.

The next weekend, a friend drags you to another club.   You walk in and are instantly greeted by a person who has “HOST” written all over them.  They IM instantly with all of the details of how to join the club group, the DJ’s group, his own personal group … and he winks at you a couple of times in the process.  You laugh it off, but are happy to be in a place that actually wants you there.  You thank them and move with your friend to an empty space on the floor.

The chat feed is then lit up with about 10 gestures in a row, filling up the screen … all coming from the host who is now twirling mid-air like a ballerina.  He invites you to join him on his dance HUD … but you smile, thank him, and politely decline.

He changes clothes mid-air, into a fuschia mer-man outfit, and IM’s you again, “I’ve got the fat-pack!!! ALL the different colors!” he exclaims joyously.

You don’t respond, closing your eyes to get in the groove with your friend.  Your IMer goes off again.

“You are sooooooooo cute!  I noticed your partner box was empty … I happen to know someone who is looking for a hawwwwwwtttt man like you!!!!”

You don’t want to appear rude, so you reply with a simple, “Yeah?”

“Meeeeeee!!!!!” he yells, switching to general chat.  “Bet you guys wish you knew who *I* was just sexting with!!!! Teee-heeee!!!!”

You blush and run out of the club … leaving your friend behind, having just met the type of host I call Florence Foster Jenkins (#3) … because, not unlike the woman who didn’t know how to sing but held concerts anyway … well, you get the picture.  This guy isn’t a host … he’s a walking explosion of glitter.

A few weeks later, you venture out on your own.  You see a new club, and give it a try.  The DJ is okay … and shockingly, they have a host that actually says something.

“hey phan” – he says without punctuation or capitalization. “welcome to supermode”

You smile and say something back, and get into the party.  A few people walk in and are greeted similiarly, but not much is said by him after that.   At halftime, a notice comes across the group notice (a club group that you had to find for yourself), and instead of a fun notice with fancy fonts and other assorted ascii symbols … just a run-on paragraph … also without any sort of punctuation.  You have a name for this guy already – Lazy Bones (#4) … he knows what he’s supposed to do, he just doesn’t feel like it today … and probably not some other days either.

Later that night, you go to another club recommended by a friend.  You walk in.  The club is full.  The DJ is DA BOMB … and you are greeted … by name … and with enough punctuation that you actually feel like they want you there.

You get into the groove, letting the music wash over you.  The host types out some info about a Linden giveaway … and asks you to IM him for details.  Not obtrusive … not pushy.  You decide to just enjoy the stream.

You see him talking in chat .. asking people how they’re doing … if they have a request for the DJ, and a gentle reminder ever so often about showing some tipping the DJ or the dancers if you enjoy what they’re doing.

As quickly as he interjects, he seems to disappear into the crowd … you’re almost not sure if he’s really there … but you know enough that you’d know to ask him if you had any questions or concerns.

By halftime – you’re completely engrossed in the music.  You invite some friends to stop by with you.  You forget about the host … but all in all, you had a great time.

You’ve just met the host I call The Steward (#5) … the one that knows his job, his role, that knows he’s not the star, or just a jar grifter.  He’s there to make you happy … and if you are when you leave, even if you don’t know his name … he or she has done their job.

Tip your host the next time you’re at a party!  Especially if they’ve earned it.

This article is solely the opinion of the author, and not that of any club pictured, or that  of any club who employs or has employed said author.

After the Holidays

After the Holidays

New Years Eve in Second Life has always been a special holiday for me.  Ten years ago, I had watched a news special about the then new and interesting virtual world, and decided to take it for a whirl.  I wanted an experience different than that of my experience as a gay man in America, so I created a female avatar … and stepped foot into this new world.

After the requisite adventure on Orientation Island, I was spit out onto Periwinkle Station, then an infohub where new residents were unceremoniously dumped (Periwinkle Station still looks much like it did ten years ago, but is no longer an official infohub for SL).  True to the worst of the rumors, I was immediately attacked by a random griefer who kept bumping into me screaming “SEX SEX SEX!”  Let us say that it was in this moment, I became expert at navigating in Second Life.

My first night in SL was a little disorienting. I managed to walk into a forest, and my screen seemed literally black until I bumped into a house.  I found a main road and started walking down it – illuminated only by the moonlight.  It wasn’t the magic I had been promised from the news piece, and I almost logged out for good … until I saw this beautiful woman, almost like a full-sized fairy – floating by a hillside.  Her dress was iridescent … and seemed as if she owned the night.

She IM’d me.  She didn’t have to.  I’m sure I looked like standard-issue female newbie.  She welcomed me to Second Life, and asked if I needed anything … and after a few lessons on teleporting and shopping … I was on my way, never to see her again.

The next day, I decided to change my name, so I dumped Miss Original for another madame with a more sultry name and began building a life other than my one in the Real.  Nearly a year later, after a series of disastrous relationships and a faltering business, I decided to match my RL anatomy and created Phan.  My female marionette went into retirement … mostly.

While Philip Rosedale and his team were trying to figure out why SL wasn’t turning into Web 2.0, Second Life was and is an alternative reality for the rest of us to grow and learn, to love and be loved, to make families of choice, to laugh … to cry.   And that is what it has meant to me.  I felt stagnant in my RL job – SL gave me the courage and motivation to complete my education and start a career track in an industry I had stalled in ten years earlier.  It has helped me want so much more in my RL … some things I’ve since attained, and some things I’m still sorting out.  Although it has easily been a place for me to hide from my RL problems and issues … it never allows itself to be just that.  It encourages me to grow, to discover, and mostly I do … the unknown vein of precious metal being myself, my spirit, my psyche, and the rest of my realities and needs.

2016 has been a crossroads for me in so many ways.  Second Life has both comforted me and exacerbated some of the things I’m still working on.  But, it has kept those needful things on the plate – even when I just wanted to cover my head and hide.

A friend of mine told me that 2016 is a year of ending, and it has seemed that way with the death of so many cultural icons, a critical election, and with the looming threat of Project Sansar – scheduled to open in just a few short months.  I have no clue what is going to happen in 2017 … but I know things will change, and I hope SL will continue to be here to help guide me through it … to understand it … and to see how I can apply it in positive ways in my very real life on the other side of this screen.

Happy New Year!

The Station

The Station

Struggling now to breathe past the wall of air;
Cold and blist’ry, I fight to face the east.
Hope warms my veins; I see a slowing glare.
Passengers depart once steam has released.

Your face breaks through the air of warm and cold.
I’m reminded of the joy your smile brings
Your bag drops as you pause to pay a toll.
I thought you’d stay; and now you plan to leave?

You whisper sweet things against my stone ear;
You have a plan beyond this boggy plain.
I cling to you before you disappear
You smile, peel away, and re-board the train.

A lump forms in my throat; I force a smile.
I face home and walk alone that bleak mile.

The Dark Year

The Dark Year

I had posted the original version of this a few nights ago, then retracted it. I felt it may be perceived as too emotional, too dramatic, etc. Then a friend reached out to me for help – help I couldn’t give because I was at my RL job, and once I could, they didn’t respond … sending me into a panic until I could log on and make sure they were okay.

So, I tweaked it a bit in hopes it might help someone going through a struggle. Love you all!

***

About twenty-four years ago this month, Queen Elizabeth stood to make one of the most memorable speeches of her royal career. Scandal had racked the family: Tabloids had ripped them apart as Charles, Anne, and Andrew found themselves embarrassed at the end of their respective first marriages. As an example to society, they were never supposed to divorce … and yet, they all eventually did. As if the Fates could not hold back a final blow, one of her favorite residences, Windsor Castle, experienced extensive damage from a massive fire, destroying many national artifacts, and memories she had held and grown to love as a child.

As everyone watched her that night, looking for the slightest hint of emotion as she read from her prepared manuscript, she described that year as her “Annus horribilis” … quite literally, the horrible year.

I almost amuse myself to think that I might have a right to complain about anything in my life. People on this planet are literally starving to death, or dying from lack of decent affordable healthcare. As difficult as my life has been this year, it is still completely wrapped in white male privilege; something I can never escape, and am not always aware of. I’ve never been denied a job because of my gender. I’ve never been followed by security in a store. I’ve never been pulled over in traffic and had the ownership of my vehicle called into question because of what I looked like (regardless of what I was wearing). And while we all have a natural fear of crime, I’ve never had to worry about being killed by a neighbor, or a police officer, for the crime of walking back home from a neighborhood store with candy in my pocket.

We’re each formed by our unique experiences, and by the lives we grew into from the shoulders of our parents before. Is the life of one Elizabeth Alexandra Mary less stressful than mine simply because of the trappings she lives in, and the daily activities that are attended to for her?  Or,might she be a more resilient creature because of her time as an auto-mechanic in World War II and the aftermath, or from assuming the largest responsibility in the English-speaking world with little preparation and at such a young age?  What pressure does she live under constantly to maintain the respect of the British public, and to preserve a monarchy that struggles to justify its very existence?  I couldn’t begin to guess, and doubt I could honestly ever fill her heels (except on Saturday nights, but that’s another story).

And so, for me, it was a brutal Monday in July when the weight of my own dark year came crashing in on me. What I had hope would be a wonderful opportunity in my career and company turned into being the second job promotion in a row that was a total nightmare.  Despite the fact that our department is incredibly understaffed compared to sister offices, I felt I was being pressured to do so much more than was possible with less … or be terminated from a company I had worked for now 18 years. A co-worker, a favorite of my supervisors, expressed concern that I wasn’t enjoying my job. She stated that my discontent was obvious to everyone, and that maybe I should begin considering other career options. What was more obvious to me was that she was just “the messenger;” but the message from above was clear: Step up, or step out.

The previous job had been less personally catastrophic, but a nightmare nonetheless. As a patient safety specialist, I felt I was doing all I could to keep our hospital from actually hurting people from professional and operational neglect. I had to fight a leadership team that didn’t understand why I insisted on self-reporting safety issues using processes that were essential to our accreditation, with the ironic benefit being that this reporting could spur processes changes that could save lives. Instead, I was treated as an alarmist … like a town crier who ran from church tower to church tower clanging the bells because Mrs. Smith’s cat was lost again. The year after I left, they were nearly stripped of that very accreditation for another safety issue discovered by accident during an investigation by the state.

But that day, as I sat there, it all seemed to be slipping away.  Step up, or out.  I had been in this profession twenty-one years total, having decided to follow a career track just the last six years.  To be at this crossroads felt like a stab in the back. I had meticulously taken positions in the company to advance myself, each step making things better so I could move to the next level. If I were to change now – or worse, get fired – it would mean the last several years of networking, problem solving, and educational preparedness would go down the drain.

A real-life relationship issue prevents my home from really being the sanctuary it should be. I make it no secret why I come into Second Life, and I have often found many in the same boat who have wanted to do something different than they could in the Real. I’ve found myself fortunate when I could call some of these distant souls friends, lovers, boyfriends, or husbands. I laugh when people deride the virtual as a compilation of pixels … it has many, many times in my life been a sanctuary, a respite, and a healing place for me over the years.

But, as my life seemed to falling apart on the outside, things were rapidly changing for the worse in Second Life as well. A series of failed relationships in the last year and a half had me questioning my ability to love, my capacity to be a companion for another soul, and even my ability to attract a mate in a world where weight, size, color, and age really don’t matter as much as having a personal sense of style. Always being afraid of abandonment, I now felt my loneliness might be my new normal from here on out.

A few days before, one of the most precious of them had ended disastrously, and so when the pressure from above hit me at work that day, I pulled back from my desk, closed my door, drew the curtains and began to sob uncontrollably. Why was my life so out of control? My real one had been teetering for a couple of years, and now I couldn’t even maintain a loving relationship in a world where most of RL’s stressors and worries simply don’t exist. In a brief state of panic, I wondered how difficult it would be to take the stairs to the upper garage deck of our office building and simply walk out of both.

Once I could breathe, I phoned a friend – one from our virtual world. He knew how depressed I had been, but thought I was overreacting on IM until he heard my voice. Thankfully, he talked me down. I cleaned my face, straightened my office, and before I left work that day, I made an appointment with a therapist I’m still seeing weekly.  While I still struggle with depression and anxiety, it is with a better understanding of what my priorities in life should be, knowing the triggers that set me off, and knowing that it’s OK to take care of my needs however I have to – in whatever world is available.

In the last few weeks – even with setbacks in either world – I now see the world through a small prism of hope. I feel better emotionally than I have in a very long time. I’m meeting new people in Second Life. I’m happier at work (my boss recently complimented a presentation I made to 50 leaders in our company). And, I’m putting RL relationship issues in perspective, and working on solutions to chronic problems in areas where I’ve previously just hid my head and hoped for the best.

And so, here we are on Thanksgiving Day. This has truly been the darkest year of my life (and I’ve only touched the surface), but I find I have a lot to be very thankful and grateful for. I’m happy – very happy – to be alive. I’m grateful to have a job that supports my family and I, and despite the recent setbacks in the country at large, am happy to live in a country  that gives me the life I currently enjoy.

Life is beautiful, but it can also be very hard. Sometimes, it isn’t easy to see that a circumstance won’t always cause pain, that a situation in life actually may not persist until death. When several of things are pounding you at once, it’s easy to hide, run away … and maybe even end it all, but it’s also extraordinarily selfish.

Life isn’t a consumer activity. It doesn’t exist to amuse or entertain us. It can be painful, but it can also be beautiful, and to the extent that it is wonderful, it is so only because we engage it head on and make it that way. If we want change in either of our lives, we have to follow Gandhi’s advice … and be that change ourselves … not give up, not hide our heads, not abandon.

Happy Thanksgiving!