Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Safer Shores – a Syrian Story




Nima Siad stumbled off the makeshift boat ramp onto the pavement that sat on top of Canadian soil. She was a 19 year old Syrian refugee seeking asylum. The boat had come from the coast of Oregon. Her family had split up to enter Canada from different border points and her journey was by water in the cargo hold of a sympathetic container ship with a bunch of strangers. She hoped to find her family again someday, someday soon if they all made it through. She was exhausted and cold and freezing rain was pelting down on her face and her hijab. Her blue jeans and jacket felt damp around the edges too. Border Patrol officers herded them into a small building with no windows. The freighter had been busted for smuggling people across. The captain and crew were being taken away in a police van. Nima felt a rising of absolute panic from her gut. In Syria this would be a place she’d never come out of, at least not alive.

A pale faced blonde lady officer patted her on the shoulder, seeing the fear in her eyes “It’s OK….we just need you to fill out a form so we can find you somewhere to stay….you’re safe. I’m Jane. What’s your name?”

Nima spoke decent English. She had finished school in Portland, a little later than planned because of their life in Syria. The school was destroyed before she could complete her studies, and most of the village with it.

“Nima.” She offered cautiously.

Jane’s voice was soft and calming “Nima, why don’t I walk with you and get you started? There’s a little bit of paperwork and then we can walk across to the shelter. Some volunteers there made food if you’re hungry.”

Food. She was so starved she forgot what it was like not to feel hungry. They had no food on the boat, or water. There were water bottles on the table as she approached and Jane picked one up and put it in her hand. She cracked it open and drank half in one gulp and then immediately threw it all back up on the floor in front of her and then painfully uttered “Ah……oh….oh sorry….” She felt like she was about to faint.

Jane looked concerned and steered her quickly to a hard plastic chair “Take it a little slower…you’re pretty dehydrated. I’ll find a medic before you fill out those papers. Just little sips OK?”

Nima was too exhausted to feel the full scope of embarrassment and just nodded weakly. She tried anther tiny sip, wanting the taste of vomit to wash away. She let the water just lightly swish and then slowly swallowed, fighting the urge to heave again. She closed her eyes and rolled her head back on her neck to lean it on the wall. When she opened them again she focused blurry vision on a sign on the wall across from her. It slowly came into focus and said Welcome to Vancouver.

* The story, all names, characters, and incidents portrayed in this body of work are fictitious. No identification with actual persons (living or deceased), is intended or should be inferred.*

Monday, February 6, 2017

Virtual Worlds and Avatars for Compassion and Humanity



In light of the recent horrific attack on a mosque in Sainte-Foy, Quebec, and all the political strife and discrimination faced by people of Islamic faiths in our world, in my own country, Canada, and our closest neighbouring nation, the United States, I feel a need to do a bit of more serious writing as well as keeping up my usual role play related fiction. Sometimes virtual worlds are just for recreation, and if that’s the only way you want to use them, I won’t judge. I totally get the need for an escape right now. You can skip the serious side of my writing if you so choose. For me, it just needs to be written.

My plan is to write a 7 part virtual world character series of fictional stories in response to President Donald Trump’s initiative to enact an executive order banning citizens from 7 nations from entering the USA as well as his attempts to suspending the Refugee System in the United States. Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen will get fictional faces and stories to humanize the people of these nations who live in fear or separation from their loved ones. Many are seeking asylum and refugee status in Canada as a result of these actions and undertaking dangerous border crossings to what will hopefully be a better life. I keep reading about these border crossings and I can’t help but think about the individuals depicted, their experiences and thoughts as they cross.

There is a movement already in virtual worlds, in particular Second Life, using avatars against Trump and his discrimination. I’m not often in Second Life nowadays but I was inspired by a post from Strawberry Singh.

http://strawberrysingh.com/2017/02/03/avatars-against-trump/

This is simply another expression of it.

When you create a character, even briefly, you step into them and realize that it’s just fate to be born into the place you live, your family, your race, your gender, wealth or poverty and your level of personal safety related to all of those. We all could have had a different roll of fate’s die. The people dispossessed by the threat of these ludicrous bans are each one of us just looking out from a perspective we haven’t considered or lived. These will be shorts, vignettes if you will, just a moment, a slice of life through someone else’s eyes.

I realize my perspective is one of privilege. I’m a white Canadian woman and my belief system is not made obvious by any identifying garment or symbol. I have the freedom to walk down the street without fear of discrimination based on race, culture or religion. My writing is in no way intended to exploit or re-victimize any person who has lived this, but to raise awareness about it and empathize.

I’ll begin with a giveaway of a Hijab because I made one to use in story photos. The one I made is using sculpted prims I modded from a blend of Linda Kellie's work and Ina Centaur's. I recently saw a video of a young Muslim woman talking about how her family and friends told her to stop wearing hers because it paints a target on her head in the climate of fear we live in. I am not Muslim myself, but I have a deep respect for all belief systems in our world and I think if we have representation of all cultures and faiths in virtual worlds too that can only increase the love of diversity and respect that needs to exist in all worlds.

If you would like the Hijab I made, you can obtain one in my shop called Thrifty Chic on the region Kingfisher Bay. This is the hypergrid address:

login.greatcanadiangrid.ca:8002:Kingfisher Bay

Saturday, July 13, 2013

An Avatar By Any Other Name

A Virtual Worlds Meme

“What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;” -William Shakespeare

What motivates the nature of your nomenclature?

I’m going to give the example of a few of my avatar name choices and then hope that other bloggers feel inspired to share theirs.

Jamie Wright

Let’s begin with Jamie Wright as this name is most significant here. She is the first avatar name where I got to choose both first and last as there was no mandatory list of last names. She was my freedom. Jamie is the name I would have named myself if I chose my own in real life. That portion of the choice was automatic. The last name took a few minutes more to choose in the process. Wright is my paternal grandmother’s maiden name.  My grandmother was a most influential person in my life and I still reach for the space she no longer occupies in the world with whispered queries in conversations we had to leave unfinished.

Rewinding to some of the pre-Jamie names, I’ll list some SL ones although not all with last names as many are now gathering dust:

Madrone

Madrone Llewellyn is the name of my first avatar in SL and my introduction to virtual worlds. I named Madrone after a character in a book by Starhawk called The Fifth Sacred Thing.  My Madrone is actually nothing like the Starhawk character but as I loved that character I embraced the name. When I made Madrone, I think my goal was to actually make a somewhat alternate universe version of myself (warning – ginger!) or maybe just a younger digital version of me. In terms of writing her as a character, I was challenged on this by a friend and I’ll explain those details related to another name. I did eventually deviate the Madrone character further from my actual personality by making her much more timid and prudish. At present, Madrone is not associated with any role play and so she’s just my SL self.


Laurel

When I write a character I tend to dream up their entire life’s history, family, and in many instances the expanding character bank of their life’s village. Laurel was created and written to be Madrone’s maternal aunt. I wrote her mother, Vervain, as having passed away when she was a small child and I wanted to write a significant female relation into her life as a sort of anchor character. I had chosen Vervain’s name first in the writing so I decided if that character were to have a sibling she would also need an herbal name and went through a list. Laurel jumped out at me and I used it but it actually didn't sit right with me for quite some time. It wasn't until I role played her and solidified her in my mind did she become Laurel to me. She looks a lot like Madrone but older and in my opinion more comfortable in her own skin.

Amelie

I love the French movie Amelie with the protagonist of the same name. When I had been playing Madrone for quite some time a friend of mine gently teased me that I was role playing a character who was “too much of me” and not enough of a character. She was challenging me to stretch my writing outside my comfort zone. I believe the challenge specifically involved her saying “You and Madrone are too nice. I dare you to write a bitch.” So I did. It was my goal to make her bitchiness amusing enough that she could be a character people could love to hate. Amelie was absolutely everything that stretched my writing outside of who I am. She was a high demands fashionista and an uber critical snob. The hissy fits were epic but she always looked fantastic and well accessorized while throwing them. She still has the best clothes and shoes of all my SL avs because “Mon dieu, was I born in a barn?” I even had her bully Madrone (who incidentally spent a lot of time in barns).

Juliette

Because apparently my alts run in packs. Juliette was Amelie’s mother. She was very sophisticated but kinder than her daughter and less pretentious. I attempted to model her after the actress Juliette Binoche at first (specifically from the film Chocolat) but after awhile she evolved into her own unique appearance. The name is however derived from the movie inspiration. Juliette was a more emotionally complex character than some I wrote before her. Again, the goal there was expanding my writing. Out of all my avatars, my husband has the hots for Jules. Should my gingers feel neglected? I personally think Laurel is the sexiest but don’t tell Amelie.

Ian

*snicker* blush* Ian…There was a boy who sat in front of me in grade school named Ian who was my first crush. Fortunately I was never called to task on it because he didn't know I existed. Thank you Ian. Your namesake is a likable jackass.

Those are a few of my significant avatar names. I’ll spare you the full roster or we could be here all day. I create a lot of role play specific avatars. Many of them spring to life after writing them as a non player character in an already existing character’s story. When that occurs, I often use name databases specific to a culture or country of origin or even baby names lists. It dawned on me at one point that a random person looking at my internet history might assume I’m always pregnant from all these names I research. I assure you it’s only pregnant with thought.


Alright meme writers. I've shown you mine, so show me yours!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Tale of Two Jamies

A Tale of Two Jamies is a virtual worlds blogging meme inspired by a conversation begun by Danko Whitfield about meeting yourself on the hypergrid.

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…” – Charles Dickens


Jamie pulled the bedclothes around her like a cocoon as she rolled to the right. As she nestled the side of her face into the cool section of the pillow she drifted deeper into sleep. The rain outside the lighthouse fell in a steady patter on the roof. She transported metaphysically through time and space in her dream to a place out of time and reality.

When she walked through the square across the hard stone tiles she blinked at the figure standing by the fountain. She had discovered herself.

“How is this possible?” she demanded of the doppelganger.

The other Jamie shrugged “You tell me. It’s your dream. Where are you coming from?”

“Metropolis, Augurey Peak to be exact. Where are you from?”

Her mirror image smiled softly at her before looking down “Judging by the way I’m dressed…OSGrid.”

Metro Jamie tensed up a bit “Oh I see.”

OSGrid Jamie sighed “Don’t be that way about it. We’ve had enough politics over it all. I’ve let go. But you’re definitely dreaming if here is Metro. Why did you choose me?”

Metro Jamie looked pensive and answered humbly after a pause “Maybe I needed to. How are things over there? Are you still there?”

OSGrid Jamie laughed “I’m as there as you are here. I had to put our alts into the witness protection program.”

Metro Jamie nodded “Probably for the best – there’s enough of them to form a small army.”

OSGrid Jamie concurred “Yes people were starting to talk. Do you have any tacos? I’m feeling a bit peckish.”

“Seriously? You’re an apparition in my dream. You can’t just come in and insist on food! I can’t even rez here.”

“This is YOUR dream Miss Fussypants. If you want to give me a taco, just give me a taco.”

Metro Jamie closed her eyes for a moment and then opened them to discover she had a whole plate full and held it out to her other grid’s self.

The double took one and said “There, was that so hard?” before crunching her first bite into it.

“Yes!” Metro Jamie plunked down on the tiles and bit into her own taco. She put the plate beside her and sat cross legged.

OSGrid Jamie carefully eased down while trying to catch falling lettuce with her free hand while she kept eating. After they’d both had several they licked their fingers in the exact same pattern and had a very awkward moment looking up at one another in realization. Metro Jamie spoke both their minds.

“Bloody hell I really do have no manners….”

OSGrid Jamie snorted “Yep. So what now?”

“Much of the same I expect. How long have you got?”

OSGrid Jamie looked down at herself “You mean how long have we got. I think we’re fading. Our feet are disappearing.” She stood up and offered a hand to her counterpart.

Metro Jamie stood gingerly and asked with a wide eyed expression “What are we even standing on?”

“You think that gravity and time are relative here?”

“Fair point. How do we end this?”

OSGrid Jamie gave a half smile “We just let go. Thanks for the tacos.” She said earnestly as her body became one with the air.

Metro Jamie inhaled quickly at the site of herself fading. Then she closed her eyes and surrendered to the darkness as she exhaled out “You’re welcome. Safe journey.”








Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Blessed are the Geeks

Blessed are the geeks, the tech gods and goddesses and the grid monkeys. I've often considered starting my own grid. I truly enjoy helping many grids out by modding and creating content that caters to a specific theme or need. I love building immersive virtual environments for role play and/or just realism and fun. But those two loves and skills on their own do not a grid goddess make. From running and helping to run RPGs I've caught a glimpse of the delicate balance of trying to keep it all going smoothly and make players/residents feel their needs are being met. I can only imagine the headaches that go with applying that to a large scale such as a virtual world’s grid.


Sometimes it seems like new grids spring up overnight and I find myself curious as to the motivations and dedication to just commit to the process. There is definitely an appeal to having design control and dominion over your own virtual destiny. You make the rules, the theme and set the pace. Within all that potential is also the anxiety. What if no one comes? What if I break my arm and can’t work and there’s suddenly no money to keep this going? What if this is just a terrible idea? Clearly I’m not ready for the alter of grid denizen and grid owner matrimony yet. Blessed are the geeks.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

It Takes a Village


Two discussion gatherings got me thinking more reflectively about the notion of virtual communities and how truly attached we become to them. The first one was a poll on the OSGrid forum:


I suspect Oddball OToole is simply curious but there’s no way I could pick one “thing” that defines what OSGrid is for me and vote. I wasn't the only person struggling as per the discussion.

Concurrently, a controversial article was written about another virtual community dear to my heart:


I held back on joining the discussion for a long time because I felt what fueled it wasn't at all the topic that had been chosen to bring it to light. That’s a whole other long complicated story and not what I’m here to reflect on in this article.

When I did chime in it was because I was put on edge by a misunderstood set of statements about the mission and core values of the open source sharing community. It was specifically the notion of a virtual community being in question that bothered me the most.

“As for this "small village" stuff -- it's entirely for the birds. My God, man, you're *on the Internet*. There are no "small villages" on the Internet, only smug people with ban lines and orbiters.”

I’m not interested in vilifying the author of that quote. In fact I probably owe a thank you for getting me thinking about it all more deeply and appreciate it. If there were truly no small villages, no sense of belonging, none of this would exist. Chances are you as a reader see that this blog was posted through a social network you joined because of or related to your interests from a virtual or online community. Grids would all shut down if no one connected enough within them to form true and lasting friendships and groupings.

I’m grateful to be a part of many of these places and I care as deeply for many of the other people involved as I do for the humans I interact with in the real world. The two are not so different. So to all you smug people with ban lines; find your community and your smile. Sometimes it takes a village.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Few Ongoing OAR Projects

Multitasking is both an art and a curse.I often take on too many ideas at once. However, I've decided that any work I do has to cross reference and support other projects to keep all my projects moving forward. For example, there are several OAR ideas I have where I'd like to create and release a fully immersive environment that one could launch on a grid or standalone and new or existing users could log in or travel there and choose an appropriate avatar and easily engage in the immersion. I plan to make a series of avatars I re-use and repackage for more than one of these options.

My last post was about the Cedar regions project, which I'm still building on. The Cedar series is strictly an educational resource to be used by teachers, home schoolers and parents as they choose to guide children in learning how to use open simulator and virtual worlds. Concurrently I'm working on a Mayan OAR. I referred to it as a Mayan Vacation on the OpenSimCreations site but it's become more than that in my head. My Mayan project region began with the OAR on this page called Maya Pyramid:

http://opensimworlds.com/index.php?part=worlds

Expanding on that idea, I'm creating a sort of tourist experience with a hotel of sorts, a little river boat tour and a small village. It may not be ready exactly on Dec. 21st but it's my intention to release it to the public as a commemoration of the end of the Mayan calendar. It's also meant to raise awareness on the ethics of tourism and capitalism within cultures of poverty. Furthermore, it's becoming a story. My vision is to create the pocket of the virtual representation of the universe with a collection of avatars placed within it. Each of the avatars will have a notecard and become a piece of the greater whole; a story told from many faces. They are to be a fictional representation of a still life built on reality.

Those are my serious projects. I also get distracted by more frivolous endeavors like wanting to recreate scenes from Dr. Who, various and ongoing role play, space themed amusement parks and recently making holiday items for my little market on OSGrid. I wish there were more unoccupied hours in my day:)