“This used to be my playground
This used to be our pride and joy
This used to be the place we ran to
That no one in the world could dare destroy”
~ Madonna and Shep Pettibone
There is an odd sort of emancipation that comes from not caring about something anymore. It’s both sad and freeing. Sometimes, it leads to mistakes, but it’s worth considering if those mistakes are acts of the subconscious willfully moving through you.
As tends to happen, I have been ill recently, which is the main reason for my absence from this blog and SL in general. It’s the main reason, but not the only reason. Distance lends a certain perspective to things that otherwise are shuffled into the mix. In truth, I just haven’t wanted to be here or in SL and being ill just made it easier not to be.
I used to look forward to returning to SL after absences; I used to like missing it so I could come back with fresh ideas. But there was none of that this time. Over the last few days, as I’ve been feeling better, I’ve been trying to ease back in. Forcing myself to, but not really wanting to.
Which brings us to today’s surreal events.
In Second Life, I maintain several different accounts in different ways for different reasons. There are three I have paid for myself and others which I simply upkeep. I have access, at any given time, to dozens of accounts, but only a couple of them are “mine” so unless a friend asks me to, I don’t log into more than the one or two I need as a general rule.
My main (Salome) is a premium account and the one I do almost all my work on. My oldest “alt” which was established back when it was impossible to log into Salome and get anything done has also been a premium for about seven years. It’s a premium mostly for tier reasons and because I keep forgetting to change it before renewal. There are a handful of premium accounts I maintain for friends that they pay for (they like their avatars to look “up to date” in case they want to log in for a bit here and there). It’s like maintaining a website for someone. Every so often I buy a new skin, change the hair, or dress them in a new outfit. Sometimes I replace a few trees or swap out a skybox sofa.
There is one account that is different, and that’s the one I’ve maintained since the death of JTL. Prior to his passing, I had full access to the account and maintained it as I do for other friends, tidying up their inventories, decorating their in-world corners and keeping their avatars current.
There was a time when it was against TOS to allow someone else to log into your account, but now it is simply indicated as a responsibility of the account holder. There is no policy that would allow me to take over JTL’s account in the way I have done. At the time I didn’t care and I still don’t. I had had fun with him in this place and I wanted to go on maintaining that memory. I didn’t need a wall or a monument or anything of that nature. I had the ritual of upkeeping his avatar.
It’s hard to explain the difference in processing loss when a close friend takes their own life. No matter how you try to empathize with their choice, you feel the profound ache of that which was taken from you unfairly. You cannot really rank pain of losing someone against the method of how they were removed from you, but suicide is unique.
I have lost people to illness both sudden and prolonged. I have dealt with the defects of my own body. I’ve even lost family members and casual friends to their own hands. But the suicide of an intimate friend wasn’t something I’d experienced before and it was a wholly different kind of grief to manage. I know that some people grieve through anger but that’s never been a part of my process. I wanted to be angry and blame the people who I felt contributed most to his pain, but that feeling never took for long. Instead I’ve spent most of my anguish wondering if I could have helped in a way I didn’t see when it would have mattered. I cannot say I blame myself directly, or anyone else for that matter, but I have spent a lot of time wishing and replaying conversations and exchanges, wondering if I could I have done more. Part of that is arrogance and part of it is a rebellion against helplessness. It is arrogant to think I could have made the difference in the burdens of someone else’s demons. The alternative is that I never made a difference; never had a chance to help. I don’t spend a lot of time tearing myself apart wondering what could have been, except in the most heartbreaking moments. For the most part, I just allow myself to miss my friend and all that comes with those emotions.
It has been years and there are days I feel his loss as profoundly as if it were yesterday. Logically I understand he battled with his inner pain long before I knew him. Emotionally I don’t think I will ever stop questioning if I could have done something – anything to turn the tide and help keep him tethered to this world for even just a little bit longer. I don’t think that will ever change. I don’t think it should. The least I owe him is to question often what his life represented and what his loss means. Maintaining that pain is its own sort of ritual, and as deep as the sadness goes, it is part of the gift of having known someone worth missing so profoundly.
Maybe it’s the clarity that sometimes couples with intense emotional pain — the inability to endure stupid customs or inane hypocrisies that led me to my misstep today. I am usually, despite my cranky and bombastic facade, exceptionally good at navigating the games of human interaction. I recognize behaviors and blend with the natives; it was a skill I developed out of survival and tethered to my own nature. So can I assume the guise of whatever makes others comfortable up to a certain point and for a set amount of time. There’s only so much of yourself you can put on the shelf for so long. This is, in fact, the habit that contributes most to my tendency to be an isolationist. It’s exhausting. It mattered far more when I was younger and wanted to blend in. Now it is simply part of my heritage — the social grace that insists placing the care and comfort of others is more important than comfort of the self. As I get older, however, I have less patience for it. Why should I spend so much precious time and energy on people I barely care about? I should be saving all that energy for the people that matter most.
That last part probably felt like an odd tangent, but I’m tying it together.
Because I was ill, JTL’s account came up for its annual billing. He established an email specifically for his SL account and had given me the password, so I am able to do anything requiring that sort of confirmation. The email is forwarded to my account, so I’m the one that got the notice about a billing problem. And, because I’ve been the one paying for the account for the years since his loss, I’m able to easily verify anything to do with billing.
But when it comes to things like “mother’s maiden name” established at the time of account set-up, I don’t have it at the tip of my tongue. I could find it and I should have simply hung up the phone, pretended to disconnect, and called back when I had the information handy. I didn’t do that. The crafty little “play the game” person inside me should have recognized the situation and taken over. She didn’t. That, in itself, speaks volumes.
Some part of me, I think, resented that I even had to pick up the phone. Second Life billing support does not provide an email address. You have to call. So I found myself talking to some kid stuttering his way through Linden Lab’s incoherent billing policies, and something in me started to snap.
I was able to circumvent the “security” of mother’s maiden name with the last four digits of billing information. I was able to put in a ticket to move the account to a monthly billing plan (I really wanted to move it to a free account, but since I had missed the rebill date, there are a few things involving mainland group tier, etc I needed to arrange before I did that and so an extra paid month was going to be necessary). But, at some point, the awkward kid on the other end of the line began to lecture me about how it’s in Linden Lab’s Terms of Service that all information submitted at the time of account creation should be accurate. Exvept the word he used was “truthful.”
It would have been okay, I think, had he just been scolding me for my obvious lying (having a female voice tied to a male account name) but it felt like he was referring to the setting up of the account, and that was JTL, not me. The kid wasn’t — couldn’t have been implying what it emotionally felt like he was implying, but that’s the difference between reflection and “the moment.”
Up until that point I had been playing the game – pretending the account was mine and I just didn’t remember what information I’d provided. I tried to even say, in as friendly a voice I could muster, that I just didn’t care – what I needed was either possible or not. But, I’m sure due to training or whatever other force, the kid kept on. Maybe it was because the account was in a male name and my voice was so clearly feminine. I don’t know. But something just shook loose inside me and, despite the fact that this poor kid cannot possibly have understood what he was implying, there was something suddenly unbearable about the idea that JTL had lied when establishing his account. That JTL has been untruthful.
JTL never lied; he always used his real name. On message boards, regardless of whether the subject matter was hacking or mathematics or porn, in his personal blogging, when he established an account on conservapedia to edit articles with scientifically proven information — and, yes, even in Second Life where the majority of the user base is anonymous alts. You could have traced him back to 80′s BBSes, Usenet accounts, code in any of the languages he scripted in, and even comments on various consumer review pages or blogs. He always used his own identifiers that were always linked to his personal identity.
JTL had many faults, but he was always up front about the fact that you were dealing with him and his faults in whatever format you encountered him. He had no fear of being held accountable “IRL” for his actions or words. I admired that tremendously.
So I snapped and said words to the effect of: “At the time of account creation the information provided was truthful, but he’s dead and I have the account now. I’m the one paying for it, and I’ve been paying for it since he died.” I said it because if the kid had spoken one more thing about TOS and telling the truth when establishing an account I was going to summon creatures from the netherworld to steal his vocal cords.
I knew the minute I said it that it was a mistake, but somehow I just couldn’t make myself care. The kid started to mutter something about how he couldn’t do anything on the account now that I’d admitted it wasn’t mine — unless I got a death certificate. And that reached the end of my ability to deal. I think I chirped out something like “Fine, cancel the account and don’t get your money,” before hanging up.
The kid, of course, could care less about Linden Lab getting their money, I’m sure. But as it is the money and only the money that defines Linden Lab is anymore, it’s all I could think to say in disgust as I hung up filled with a sadness and disappointment I couldn’t (and still can’t fully) explain. It’s all I could think to say because the reality of the situation — the humanity of the situation — would never make a difference. Not to the company of Linden Lab. Not to the kid on the phone. There is no place for the reality and humanity of this situation in any rule book.
That is a sad and simple truth.
I didn’t yell or swear at him, but I wish I hadn’t hung up on the kid. On the off chance you know some kid who sounds about 20 years old and works for Linden Lab customer service, and he happens to mention he got hung up on, you can tell him the person who hung up on him wasn’t blaming him. I try to never get upset with service workers because the policies they have to abide by are not their fault. It’s like getting upset with a musical instrument because you don’t like the song being played upon it. At the same time, I hope the kid finds a better gig with a better company.
What’s strange is that I don’t question that I was in the wrong. I was circumventing TOS. Not for any sinister purpose, but clearly circumventing. I knew I had to play the game — the same way I’d been playing for years since JTL was lost. I just suddenly in one moment didn’t care about the ritual of maintaining his avatar as much as I cared about making it clear my friend had not lied when creating his account. That lying wasn’t who he had been. And so, that moment of honesty has consequences. Small ones compared to the loss of losing him, but consequences nonetheless. If the account does actually get canceled, I simply won’t be able to log in anymore, change the outfit, update the skin, or pretend that I’m maintaining that virtual doll for a person who no longer exists. Maybe that’s not even a bad thing.
Some people go to a memorial stone and place flowers because they think the dead watch over them. I do not believe that. I’m not sure if life passes into spiritual form or another dimension of energy when it ceases to be here, but I like to think they have better things to do than hang out here and watch us. Still, I maintain my own little rituals; not because I think they’re watching, but because rituals are comforting. I am a sentimentalist. I have trinkets in my home that I keep in places of pride. I touch them, clean them, remember those who gave them to me, I remember they also touched these things and think about how time is an odd way to measure a life.
Logging into JTL’s avatar was sometimes a utility (having a male avatar to test things on) but for a long time it was also a small ritual of remembrance. I suddenly find it’s no longer something I need. Not at the cost of going through motions he would have resented in life. Not at the cost of giving another inch to a company I can’t stand in the name of someone I dearly loved. Playing the game for Linden Lab isn’t worth it. Not to me. Not anymore.
I feel less and less interested in Second Life and more and more revulsion toward Linden Lab that it now manifests in things I can’t even blame them for. It’s the accumulated disgust over everything from the overpricing of their badly maintained and scandalously under supported product to their complete betrayal of their founding beliefs and abusing the good faith of their once robust and engaged user base. I have nothing but annoyance for the mediocrity of most of the petty subcultures that permeate, including what is now the nasty, rotted out core of that which defines the virtual fashion community. I cringe every time I get an offline message or email directing me to the latest “have you seen this” bit of uselessness that is NWN or SLU or one of the other outlets that do nothing but struggle for the attention of an indifferent audience until only the voices of the extreme are drawn to drink. I’m exhausted every time I’m assaulted with the images of feckless, self-promoting whores that contribute nothing but furthering their own insecure brands; and the bewilderment that comes with wondering how they came to represent this format. Exhausted, detached, revolted — these are not things I enjoy feeling — are not things it is in my nature to harvest, but they compose the majority of my feelings toward Second Life and the majority of its residents these days.
What I cannot escape is that I am no longer a part of this place and no longer have any wish to be. What keeps me here is wholly within myself and within those precious few who are worth investing into. The rest is just noise and ghosts, and I am tired of being haunted by what could be and should be.
It is not Linden Lab’s fault that my friend took his own life. They had nothing to do with it. It is not their fault that they need to have a corporate policy in place to address ownership of accounts regarding deceased members. It is certainly not the fault of the poor kid on the phone that he touched a nerve. I don’t lay any of that at the feet of Linden Lab or some poor CSR.
But it’s not my fault that when I look at Second Life, I no longer see anything worth maintaining illusions for. I no longer see anything but ritual in place of what has been lost. And I no longer care when parts of those elements get further lost. It is their fault that I don’t care and that they have decided to chase after other revenue streams they are clearly not qualified to catch instead of investing in the one thing — the only thing that they possess that can boast unique value.
It offends me that someone would squander such potential. Offends. That’s the only way to express it.
Yes, Second Life has always been an empty shell, but it was once filled with the creativity and hope of a diverse and healthy user base. An invested user base. It wasn’t a perfect place and it wasn’t a shiny happy place, but it offered tools and spaces that were worth building into and it cultivated people who had lots to offer besides empty-headed consumption. It offered possibility and purpose. Little by little, and sometimes in big patches, the shell has been mismanaged to the point where it is now impractical and, honestly, dank. It makes me feel like a hermit crab wearing a tuna can. It’s nothing except something cheap to wear until something better comes along.
Except it’s not cheap. It’s expensive. Beyond its use; beyond its worth. It is just out to suck as much as it can until there is nothing left to suck. I have little interest in lending my marrow to the pot.
It’s not that I’m “leaving” so much as I’m already gone, and I think I possibly have been for quite some time. I suppose I feel a little foolish for being here at all. But I’m a sentimentalist and there are still some tokens here I wish to touch.
So this is not to say that I am leaving. I will still visit and create and go through the motions of playing at being a resident ghost in this particular shell. But I no longer care if it all disappears. It’s no longer even worth lying for. That should be funny. Maybe it will be tomorrow.
It really is a shame. At some point there were things worth championing in this space. Now, it’s just another board that’s all about playing the game. And no one seems to be playing the same one.