Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Decade in Review: 2010

January 2010   I got a cortisol injection for my Ithiopathic Adhesive Encapsulitis, which finally fixed itself.  There's nothing like not being able to lift or bend to highlight how fragile a body is, how easily an accident can alter one's lifestyle.

I spent a lot of time in Second Life, an on-line game where players create virtual versions of themselves, called avatars, and interact in a virtual world.  A friend from high school, Amy Beltane, had introduced me to "UUtopia," a collection of virtual land parcels owned (well, actually, leased) by Unitarians on Second Life.  At the time, Amy was attending seminary school, and her wife, Sharron, would meet in Second Life in their tricked-out treehouse.  (This was before Skype was common.)  When I first joined, UUtopia was bordered by Anarchists on one side, and Communists on the other.
I found Second Life interesting because players in it can design virtual objects; because I found the fuzzy boundary between the physical reality of people pushing buttons on a keyboard and the virtual reality of interacting with players' avatars fascinating on psychological, philosophical and theological levels; and because I could have interesting discussions with people.   OK, it was really fun to make things, and before two weeks had gone out, I was scripting programs to build things.

Once I'd been introduced, the UUtopians were incredibly nice to me and let me build stuff on their land.  I built Wiccan-flavored altars in Second Life that would chat the words of ritual in response or create a circle of blue flame in response to an accurately typed ritual phrase.  I built candles that would echo the intents of the candle lighter when virtually touched.  I made ritual labyrinths, glowing pentagrams, and hollow hills.  Sometimes I would help out and make a foundation or dome or something.

Most of the other folks I met were not builders.  They were programmers, grandmothers, students, poets, and many of them seemed to live on the east coast.  I think the most interesting was the person who frequently wore a fox body -- so yes, I've had religious discussions with a fox.   Occasionally, I would attend UU religious services in UUtopia (the UUtopians took leading services and giving sermons in turns); but since it was Mark's night out and I had to attend to The Child, this usually didn't work out.  I did manage to present one night, and that was well received.

Sadly, Amy and Sharron got divorced.  Which I leaned virtually.  Expressing my condolences to both of them was one of those times where the virtual and the real seemed both extra virtual and extra real.  Their parcel of land went up for sale.

Eventually, the UUtopians got tired of being collateral damage from the "Griefer War" going on between their neighbors.  ("Griefing" in Second Life is when players do things like cause it to rain giant penises, or create objects that duplicate wildly and use up all the hosting server's resource with junk objects, or otherwise crash the party and behave obnoxiously.)  They moved to a new island that was all UUtopia.   The move -- with its discussion of rent and sub-letting -- made me uncomfortably aware of how I was playing in a sandbox that other people were paying for.

However, the UUtopians (for the most part) seemed pleased to have me tinkering around and building things for them.  Probably the most involved build was a "bridge" (and café), which was like a museum of history display about the development of Neo-Paganism and its subsequent incorporation as a UU Sixth Source.  At one end was a large world map, about ten feet across.  I got some help and figured out a logarithmic scale so that fifty feet away from the map represented the year 2020, twenty-five feet away from the map represented the year zero CE, and fifteen feet away represented the compressed centuries of hominid development.  Then I placed various markers (the death of Hypatia of Alexandrea) and objects (Stonehenge) along the time-line and lined up where they would be located on the map.  

The objects had "hover text" over them labeling them.  Some even would dispense virtual cards with museum text on them.  What became evident to me was that there was a cluster of events around 1880 CE and 1980 CE, coinciding with the English mystery lodges in England (e.g. the Order of the Golden Dawn), and the introduction of Wicca and Goddess Worship in the United States.  To be sure, there were markers for events before the Common Era, but there was also a gap after about 300 CE were events thinned out.  But, to my mind at least, it showed how new Neo-Paganism (at least the Wicca-flavored part I'm most familiar with) is.  

As 2010 progressed, and after the Bridge was more-or-less done, I spent less and less time in Second Life.  The laptop I was using at the time was an older one, and I was at the trailing end of supported hardware for the game.  I really wanted to design things in it, and I'd told myself the typical maker's lie that I could make a living selling Second Life merchandise; but the reality was that it was a hobby, not a job, and I felt like a mooch creating virtual stuff on other people's virtual land.  Also, it was difficult not to spend less than an hour or two playing, and Second Life began to cut into my writing.  And it was something that was difficult to share with the family.

Spring 2010   This was the year we had to get The Child into a school.   We had some friends who were Montessori teachers who were encouraging us to enroll in their school (four blocks away!), but getting in depended on the openings at the school, which were assigned by lottery.   The previous year, without the threat of enrollment hanging over our heads, Mark and I were able to look at the various schools calmly.  We decided most of the 4J schools were fine, and that the temperament and qualities of the individual teachers would have a bigger impact than a particular school.

I was really glad we'd practiced getting into a school.  The Eugene 4J school system has neighborhood schools, with the option for parents to move their kids to a non-neighborhood school if their kid gets a good number in the 4J lottery.  It's supposed to be equitable and flexible, but it engenders a heightened sense of an educational scarcity and encourages a cult-like following in the school a family eventually chooses.   I can't tell you how many frazzled parents I saw who were about to have a breakdown over the fear that they were somehow doing something wrong and about to mistakenly doom their child to a lifetime of consequences of Not Getting Into Yale.

The Child got good numbers, and we got into the Montessori system.   Over the summer there had been a fire at the Montessori school, with the result that the kindergarten was no longer at the facility four blocks away.   We wont discuss the Driving Habits of Other Parents (in SUVs).

I volunteered to help out with kindergarten P.E.  Wow; the coach was a miracle worker, and I took several pages of notes from him.

September 2010:  My story, "The View from the Top" got published on the Analog website:    It was part of an experiment the Wordos did.  We nailed down the main character, the setting, and the plot elements.  Then everyone went out and wrote stories; the idea was to see if we could isolate parts of a story.

After we'd critiqued them, Jerry Oltion sent a packet of the stories to Stanley Schmidt, explaining what we'd done.  Stanley chose Jerry's story for inclusion in the print version of the magazine, but was gracious enough to include the other stories he would have bought if he'd received them the standard way.  Although it would have been nice to have the story printed, it was an honor and a thrill to be published electronically at Analog.

November 2010:  I tried participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).  That lasted about five days.  Despite just writing and "daring to be bad," NaNoWriMo requires about two weeks of preparation before hand if anything is going to come out of it -- and I'd have to agree with the mother who recently wrote, "Whoever planned this thing wasn't a parent with familial expectations about Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas."  One of these days I suppose I'll have NaNoWriMo in June/July.

December 2010:  Was pretty much all about the lunar eclipse, which happened on the Winter Solstice.  The holiday card was about the eclipse, I wrote haikus about the eclipse, and I concluded an early birthday celebration with a hike up the hill to see the eclipse.

When I think about 2010, I'd have to say that this was the year of virtual hopes and fears.  So much of the focus was on the realm of ideas -- and what might or could happen.

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