RP Redux

Today I came to a degree of clarity about the role-playing situation in Caledon, the Victorian Steampunk region of Second Life. Here’s the entry I posted to caledonforums this evening:

Dear friends and neighbors,

I have today come to the conclusion that I can no longer support Caledon’s military activities. While the original goals are nothing but laudable, and many of you have poured untold hours of heart and soul into the activities of the current situation, I have chosen to visit abroad with my cousin Mr Paderborn until Caledon returns to a state of peace.

Perhaps it may be that I will find a way to contribute to the larger cause by taking some humanitarian role, and I may return from time to time for functions that are purely social in nature.

I look forward to the day when Caledon becomes once again a place of uncomplicated peace and contentment, and I return to my home in Tamrannoch, and to my lakeside cabin in the Highlands.

Yrs, etc.

Miss Hermione Fussbudget

End of roleplay

As Miss Fussbudget has noted above, the creators of the current scenario have shown nothing but the highest of ideals and best of intentions. I, however, have felt increasingly confused and put off not only by the activities within SL, but by the discourse concerning the affair on these forums and in the blogs that are fleshing out the story.

I don’t like feeling confused, and so I am choosing to absent myself from the situation.

One of my confusions is the on-again, off-again nature of the role-playing. It is unfortunate that, once having taken up the burden of villainy for the laudable purposes of the scenario, the typists of said villains seem to tire of the role. Having no experience of that burden myself, I hesitate to complain, but I feel it is rude to ask the rest of us to treat them now this way, now that way, and indeed to complain (via these forums and on blogs) when others, within SL, respond in a way appropriate to the role of the villain.

A much greater sense of confusion, all along, has been the question of whether any good can come of playing at war. In RL I have spent most of my adult life as a practicing Quaker. Quakers, as you may know, bear a corporate testimony against war. But I thought, this is just RP, and it makes for some fun opportunities for play-acting, and it’s all just make-believe, right?

But in fact, the choice of a war scenario to raise funds for SLRFL has led directly to ill will and real-life conflict and disaffection. I now believe that these RL ramifications are a result not only of inexperience (which is surely one part of the problem, as described by Her Grace of Loch Avie elsewhere in these forums), but also inherent in the choice of plot.


the typist for Hermione Fussbudget


I’ve been having a lot of fun (and spending a lot of time) in Second Life. My original avatar, created on November 20, 2006, is Otenth Paderborn. Otenth has dabbled in land speculation, done a fair amount of shopping, and created a Quaker meeting in SL (First Friends Church of Second Life, SLurl: Quaker/155/22). He’s about to teach a four-week Quakerism class.

I’ve also created several alts, including one for work purposes named Thoreau Alcott. Only one of my alts is active, however—but she is very active. Hermione Fussbudget was created on January 22, 2007 in order to try out a new part of the orientation experience. Due to technical glitches, I wasn’t able to do that, and I thought, “oh well.” (Part of Hermione’s genesis is the result of how one creates an account in Second Life: You are presented with a limited number of surnames from which to pick; you can then add any forename that results in a unique combination. How could I pass up “Fussbudget”? And “Hermione,” well, I have very fond memories of Hermione Gingold on talk shows when I was a child, and it’s a killer combination. My friend Sonja then helped me create a realistic female shape, in contrast to the many, many Barbie-doll figures found in SL.)

Hermione was on her way to the inactive list with my other alts, until I discovered Caledon, a multi-sim, privately-owned area with a Victorian Steampunk theme. It’s a beautifully executed environment, less cluttered and more manageable in size than the mainland, and with a thriving social community. And thus Miss Hermione Fussbudget found an engaging home and secured her future.

One of the activities in SL is the Second Life Relay for Life (SLRFL), an adjunct to the American Cancer Society’s annual fundraiser, the Relay for Life. It’s a major activity in Caledon, and there are many fundraising acitivities. Hermione invited Miss Ida Keen, the creator of very fine animated knitting needles, to create a special set of needles for Caledon, and she really outdid herself, creating needles that, when worn in SL, actually result in clothing and objects that you can give away. (You can get a set from the SLRFL vendor beside Hermione’s house in Caledon Tamrannoch.)

So, this year’s meta-theme for the Caledon SLRFL is a “war” with Port Neualtenberg, another region on the mainland of SL. So far, so good. Hermione’s knitting fundraisers used the trope of “keep our boys warm,” appropriating images used by the American Red Cross during the First World War. She also bought a commission in the Caledon Militia, along with a suitable uniform and weapons (She is, apparently, not a Quaker!). So far, still so good!

But the people organizing the “war” events held an event last night that took a bizarre and, to me, offputting, turn. There was a Reconciliation Ball to which all the militia were invited, as well as Neualtenbergers. Broad hints were proffered that all was not as it seemed. And indeed, explicit instructions were delivered that a machinima was being filmed and that principals in the event had scripted roles. Since the war talk had been going on for quite a while, I thought it a good idea that some slight would be offered one way or the other during the ball and that, finally, we would arrange a straightforward shooting melee at some civilized, appointed time. I was happy for Hermione to attend the ball and, in effect, serve as an extra.

What happened, though, was a complicated (and long!) bit of scripted interplay that involved armed conflict between citizens of Caledon, with a confused conclusion.

As an inexperienced role-player, I don’t know what to make of it. I’m happy to role-play a slightly saucy Victorian spinster. I’m happy to be an extra in a machinima (albeit that part was extraordinarily boring!) I was happy to make low-key war talk in a good cause. But I’m not happy, as the real person sitting at the computer enjoying myself in SL, to be made confused and at loose ends by some unknown group’s script. As a bystander last night, Hermione saw one of her neighbors in Caledon act reprehensibly as part of the scripted RP. What does an RPer who isn’t in on the larger picture do? Ignore it all until there’s another scripted event? Write and play my own script? Shun the neighbor?

I guess what I’ve discovered about myself is that I do not want, personally, to experience confusion and conflict that was created on purpose by other people RPing in SL. I felt like I was used as an object for other people’s enjoyment, rather than as a participant. (Once the scripted violence started, we were instructed to move back and shut up, in effect.) And I’ve discovered that I’m not sure how I feel about creating a mock war as a fundraiser. (War as a metaphor is fine. Even defined as “armed conflict against an enemy,” I don’t think all weapons are physical. The Lamb’s War is a sadly ignored concept from early Quakerism.)

And now I’m rambling, so I should end!

(P.S. Otenth and Hermione share a blog: Tenth Life.)

Rik is learning to lead

Great post by Rik on The Click Heard Round the World: Learning to lead:

Fundamentally, I need to invest more of me in my work. Not to let Rik the Quaker, Rik the dancer, and Rik the manager exist in these seperate spheres but really let all these integral pieces of myself come out in whatever settings I find myself leading.

I met Rik through Quakers in Second Life, but his blog extends through the whole of his life. I left a comment:

What great reflections Rik. I have felt similar ambivalence about exercising leadership at times.

My experience of leadership in a Quaker context (which could be a whole, messy, complicated essay, but I’ll avoid that here), has been that there are at least three elements that have contributed to my leadership: skill and two kinds of giftedness.

First is the gifts I just carry with me: self-confidence, an orderly intelligence, being an INTP.

There are skills on top of those gifts, which can be developed, that add to or extend them: ease with public speaking, good filing skills (or not!), education on the topic.

Then there’s another kind of gift I’ve experienced, that I’ll describe in religious Quaker terms: God gives gifts to the community, through individuals. The gift is exercised by me, but neither comes from me nor belongs to me.

I’ve experienced these three things most clearly in the various times I’ve been a recording clerk. I clearly have inherent gifts and skills that are put to good use in being a recording clerk, but unless the second kind of giftedness is present, it’s not pretty.

No longer a Quaker

Unless something unusual occured, as of yesterday I am no longer a member of the Religious Society of Friends. Here’s the letter I sent to my meeting:

Dear Friends,

This letter is to let you know of my decision to resign my membership in Beacon Hill Friends Meeting. I have not, for some time, been acting as a member of the meeting; this resignation is to bring my formal status into harmony with my behavior. While there are many people in Beacon Hill Meeting and in the wider Religious Society of Friends who are dear to me, this affection is not, in my heart, an appropriate reason to remain in membership.

I don’t think I’ve rejected any of the values of Quakerism, but I’ve been going through a prolonged period of spiritual dryness and have not felt any drawing towards Quakerism as a way out of it. In fact, I have some glimmerings of interest in Buddhism. For most of the past twenty years, being a Quaker has played a major role in my sense of identity, encompassing vocation, avocation, community, and lifestyle. It is painful and confusing to realize that things are no longer clear. What has become clear is that I need to create an open space in my heart–silence, if you will–in which to seek for my right spiritual path.

It may be that my journey will lead me back into the Religious Society of Friends. Ironically, I have become involved in drawing together a community of Quakers in a particular Internet venue. If my journey does lead me back into active participation in a meeting, I am prepared to reapply for membership should that occur.

Thank you, Friends, for the fellowship and welcome I found when I moved to Boston over five years ago. I’m sorry to find myself no longer among you.

with affection,
Kenneth Sutton

(The Internet venue I mention is Second Life, where the most recent meeting for worship, which I could not attend, drew sixteen people.)

Getting around to writing this letter took a long time. I finally couldn’t not do it. I feel a much greater sense of integrity already. (Having objected to accepting the membership application of someone living at a distance, I felt keenly the lack of integrity in continuing to hold membership when I was not participating in meeting.)

The questions of identity are, indeed, hard. Last night I was at shiva for my friend Barbara, and when I was introduced to one person had to explain that while I was a Quaker, I no longer am. And when discussing my work, the immediate question that follows my statement that I’m not a UU is, what are you? One dear friend last night named it exactly when she said I can no longer use Quakerism as a crutch to shape identity or to maintain relationships.

A Quaker and a King

In his diary entry for Monday 11 January 1663/64, Samuel Pepys records a Quaker woman at the the court of King Charles II:

This morning I stood by the King arguing with a pretty Quaker woman, that delivered to him a desire of hers in writing. The King showed her Sir J. Minnes, as a man the fittest for her quaking religion, saying that his beard was the stiffest thing about him, and again merrily said, looking upon the length of her paper, that if all she desired was of that length she might lose her desires; she modestly saying nothing till he begun seriously to discourse with her, arguing the truth of his spirit against hers; she replying still with these words, “O King!” and thou’d him all along.

None of the commenters has yet identified the woman, and I haven’t looked it up yet. But I’d like to know!

Smithfield Meeting

While at the FGC Gathering in July, I decided that I would address my recent spiritual malaise by attending some programmed meetings and liberal churches. Last Sunday I began my experiement by visiting Smithfield (RI) Meeting with DC. In contrast to other programmed meetings I’ve attended, Smithfield felt much more like the programming arose from silence, rather than the open worship being a piece contained within the programming. Here’s the approximate order of service (nothing was printed or handed out; before and between almost every element was a period of silence/open worship):

  • instrumental of “Amazing Grace”
  • lighting of candle of remembrance for casualties of war, Bible verse
  • hymn
  • scripture reading to focus time of sharing of “joys and concerns”
  • open worship
  • hymn
  • message (“Grace for the Night Journey: Five Years On”)
  • open worship (there was at least one message)
  • hymn (Amazing Grace)
  • handshake
  • introductions and afterthoughts (there were two messages)
  • announcements
  • refreshments in the basement

Summer recap

It’s certainly not that there hasn’t been anything happening, or that I haven’t been reading. But it’s been a busy summer–full, fun, difficult, challenging, all over the map.

I’ve kept intending to sit down and write catch-up posts. Perhaps the best way to get started is just to summarize:

  • One of my best and oldest friends, BH, has pancreatic cancer. I’ve been to Philadelphia, oh, five times since June.
  • I went to the annual Gathering of Friends General Conference, where I saw many old friends; took a splendid workshop (five days, 2 1/2 hours a day) on Sacred Harp; discovered that while I like Boston better than Philadelphia, I’m not as happy; and decided that perhaps I should address my now going-on-two-years spiritual malaise by trying out programmed Friends meeting and/or local liberal Christian churches and/or trying Buddhist practice. And I saw Mt. Ranier every day for nine days. Woot!
  • I got an aquarium, which is a return to a favorite hobby of childhood and some parts of adulthood.
  • I went to Provincetown overnight for my birthday, taking the ferry and also going out on a late-afternoon whale-watch. We saw many, many whales, very, very close. It was also the hottest day of the summer, and I spent the night in an air-conditioned room at a nice b&b. What a great decision to go!
  • I attended a convention of typography enthusiasts (or rather, geeks). It was fun, I learned some useful things for work, and I took a letterpress workshop. Which leads to...
  • I’ve started a letterpress/book arts course at MassArt, which will go through mid-December.
  • And I’ve read various and sundry books that I do hope to list eventually.