Friday, 31 August 2007

If at First You Don't Succeed...

‘Get a (New) Life’ read the headline of the feature tagged as ‘virtual living’ in the September issue of Marie Claire. The avatars placed underneath the photographs of their real life owners, they had a remote resemblance to, captured my attention first. Leafing through the four pages of the article, reading the captions underneath the photos, I was incredulous to find out that there were so many people whom one would consider as ‘ordinary’ and ‘normal’ living ‘extraordinary’ and sometimes ‘abnormal’ lives on cyberspace.

Then I read on… about this bizarre world hidden beyond the keyboards and cables, with its population of 7,5 million people, its own currency of Linden dollars, its own high-profile celebrities like Anshe Chung (Ailin Graef to us in the real world) who has become a real life millionaire last November from her business, developing, renting and selling virtual land. Virtual Land, I hear you ask…So did I… alongside a hundred other questions about this bizarre world. And before long, I was a new resident of Orientation Island, Second Life.

Second Life is a rapidly growing computer generated, three-dimensional, virtual universe. Once you visit the website to register your details for a free account and download the programme, you’re given a basic avatar of your choice which you can upgrade within an hour of arriving at Orientation Island. According to Marie Claire, half the Second Life population is female, and the typical user is aged between 25 and 34, with a full time job. Not the game for your average geek then!

As I arrive at Orientation Island, I stumble past other new arrivals, all trying to figure out the finer art of flying in all directions. It takes me about twenty minutes to figure out how to modify my avatar and within minutes, I realise I am surrounded by numerous half-naked avatars in quest of the perfect form: bulging biceps, thinning waist lines, gravity-defying double D boobs abound – mere proof that in second life, you can be everything you wished you were and aren’t in your first. So I saunter off with a sleek bob, razor sharp cheekbones, turquoise eyes, boobs I can only dream of and a bootylicious Beyonce derriere.

Within minutes, I am chased down the steps by Nikolai, a butt naked avatar which seems to showcase the sleazy darker side of this virtual world the MC article focuses on (In May a German TV programme revealed that paedophiles were buying and selling child porn in Second Life and adult avatars were paying to have sex with child avatars which resulted in the expulsion of a 54 year old man and a 27 year old woman.). Since I do not yet own Matrix type moves, available for a decent amount of Linden dollars, I ward off my unwelcome admirer by flying off in another direction. Up up and away…

Two hours on. I have so far had random chats with a Slovakian girl, a 26 year old from Argentina whose avatar goes by the name of Franco and another male avatar, whose owner from Bangladesh seems really keen to chat me up. Franco sounds decent and is easy on the eye with his well-defined muscles; for all I know he might be a lanky, spotty fifteen year in real life, for all I know. Another two hours of brainless exploration and I finally find the way out to Help Island, the ticket to the real LaLa Land of Second Life where all the fun begins. Marie Claire says, and I quote, ‘you can visit New York’s Time Square or the Louvre in Paris, and see bands like Gnarls Barkley and Razorlight playing live, all in one evening.’ No such luck as yet, but I do bump into Franco again who is quick on his game and asks me for my e-mail and pictures. Oh, men are all the same after all, even in Second Life!

I then hit the dance floor for a bit, go to the Freebie Island to adorn myself with numerous frocks, get some more body parts, including a set of nipples, and gestures for my avatar, furniture for a house I do not yet own, and a house for a land I have not yet purchased (Land prices start from L$ 2250, equivalent of $5), blag a freebie yacht and a Lamborghini. Following the other half’s suggestion I should check out the seedy part of town, I land with a thud into a sex shop where I meet Kenshin, an avatar clad all in black, who then teleports me (Yup, levitation and teleportation are no alien concepts in Second Life) to Winged Isle where he takes roughly an hour to pick the perfect pair of wings and pays for them. Genrous as he is, he offers to buy me a pair as well which I kindly decline. He says he will then buy a six-pack – no he is not going to Tesco’s to stock up on booze, it’s for chest definition, as I stare, wide-eyed.

I depart, with a promise from Kenshin he will give me a house once he buys his land on the condition I help him find tenants for the other houses. Well, well, making cash in Second Life may not just be a dream after all! I may one day join the ranks of Simone Stern, the 45 year old Second Life fashion designer from Indianapolis who owns a clothing shop in Second Life where she sells anything from 200 to 550L$ (35-90p) and who made more than £30,000 last year from selling her collection.

As I leave Second Life, after ten hours, on and off, of exploration and a taste of what (second) life has to offer and I can see why it can become addictive. What is scary about Second Life is the vast world of possibilities it offers for its residents. You can own your own land, get on the property ladder, have the coolest, richest, best-looking set of friends, go out clubbing every night with no hangovers to fight off the next morning, go out on the pull and have cyber-sex with stranger without any scruples or the shadow of an STI, you can be/become anything you want to be, you wished you were, you aren’t. Isn’t it uncanny that there are only good-looking avatars in Second Life, like a new race of tall, well-sculpted, irresistibly sexy superhumans?

Second Life defies real life, in doing so it defies reality. The dreamscape Second Life would offer the dorky loner next door whose life revolves around his monitor or the shy chubby girl in the office whom no one invites out to the pub on a Friday is far too immense – the number of emotionally incompetent or socially ostracised people dependent on the computers for survival and stimulation is high as it is, and the possibility of becoming a spot-free, muscular or curvaceous, charming, intelligent individual who is attractive to the other sex, with copious amounts of riches can only tie them more tightly to their computer and pull them further into a world of make-believe.

Sex offered and exchanged in Second Life that is free and readily available, is the allure for some married women who do not see anything wrong or amoral about a sizzling encounter with a cyber stranger. How healthy is it to think that some extra-marital dalliance is good for you just because it is a computer-generated image of yourself going on the pull and exchanging bodily fluids with random strangers? How many cyber-men is too many before a woman can admit she is running away into a dreamscape rather than tackling the problems in her real relationship with a real man in the real world?

As fun as it is for a while to flaunt one’s Beyonce curves with a sexy avatar strut, lounging on a tropical beach watching the sunset, cutting some smooth moves on the floor as the heart and soul of the party, there are times one has to log off and get back to real life when the day is dreary, and your bank account is in the red, and your boss wants that all important report by tomorrow, and your booty has already succumbed to gravity. Then again, if at first you don’t succeed…

Saturday, 25 August 2007


Yesterday, after seven whole years, I bumped into an ex-boyfriend, at a most unlikely time at a most unlikely location. Seven whole years later... The chance encounter, which was awkward to say the least, catapulted me back to seven years ago for a while as I contemplated the magical mending power of time.

Seven years ago, I met a man on a chance encounter at Leicester Square and fell in what I thought was love, but was actually infatuation, at first sight and we had a a whirlwind of three weeks which ended in a bitter showdown after I cheated on him with another ex. As loving and caring as he was on the first few days of our three weeks, soon I had started seeing sides to him I did not really like much, macho arrogance, narcissistic vanity, spoiled stubbornness, just to name a few – not that I am using any of these as justification for what I did at the end of those three weeks. He, on the other hand, had heard rumours about me being a ‘playeress’, very much a result of falling for the wrong guys, then going desperately on the rebound; yet he had stuck it out to prove the gossip mongers wrong. In the end, at a time I was feeling vulnerable, a phone call from an ex I had always held out a torch for, I did something that proved the gossip mongers right.

After a period of cooling down, and much begging from a desperate twenty one year old me who was thinking she had lost the best thing that had ever happened to her, we tried to give it another go… As you may have guessed, a man whose ego has been damaged so badly and a clueless girl who was foolish enough to think this man was the love of her life after only three weeks, the second try was doomed. This time I had to do all the work, all the chasing around, all the compromise; and I was foolish enough to think I deserved it because of my betrayal, even at times I was not so foolish, I got reminded of what I had done to him an awful many times. In the end, he called up out of the blue, a night in November, to call it a day, saying he’d not be able to trust me ever again.

I took off the next few days, shut myself in my room, cried my eyes out, talked to friends, cried some more. I went out, got drunk, I made teary-eyed, drunken phone calls in the early hours of the morning; I regretted teary-eyed, drunken phone calls in the early hours of the morning; I got dissuaded by good friends from making teary-eyed, drunken phone calls in the early hours of the morning. I blabbered to flatmates, to friends, to pretty much anyone who would listen. Then when I thought it was all over, I cried more. I did all sorts of foolish things women do when they think they are in love (Indeed I now know they are not, and I was not because I now know love is the last thing to make you an emotional wreck). Most of all, and worst of all, I blamed myself for everything that had gone wrong.

Like any good player out there, this man had not just left me – but he had left me with hope; maybe it was cowardice or pity or mere heartless player’s game, but at every ill-advised phone conversation we had over the next few months, he always said something that would light up my day like a ray of light – he still liked me, he said, but wasn’t sure if he’d be able to trust me again; we could get back together, he’d say but remind me there were other girls out there and I had to compete, I had to convince him he could trust me again. Foolish as I was, I bought that.

Then there were ill-advised meetings after which I felt used, betrayed, and more fragile than the last time. Yet the next time he would call, I would still go weak at the knees and give in. Deep inside, I was hoping he’d take me back; I was hoping, if I showed him I was ready to do anything he’d ask of me, that one day he’d forgive me and trust me again. Now I know you cannot convince someone to forget the past and give you the trust you have thrown in their face; only they themselves can decide to let go of the past and make the conscious decision to trust someone. Back then, I was twenty one, none the wiser. Twenty-two, none the wiser.

This game of cat-and-mouse went on for over a year, if you’d believe it. In the mean time, there were days I broke down completely, nights I thought I’d lost the plot, times I’d have sobbing fits outside night clubs at three in the morning. Looking back, oh how I wasted a whole year of my youth, drowning in self-hate, guilt and negativity. My self-pity was a bottomless pit that threatened to engulf me completely. It took one final enormous act of humiliation and a good hard talking to by a good friend to finally give me a kick up the backside and get a move on towards healing, of heart and soul.

Is it a coincidence that it was only after I forgave myself and let go of all the pain that I was able to stand on my own two feet and face whatever life had in store for me? Is it a coincidence that it was only after I was ready for life that life had true love in store for me with a man who was my friend, my number one support, who loved me for all the right reasons and had trust and faith in me knowing I had cheated on someone before, a man whom I was not just infatuated with but had gradually fallen in love with over months of warm fuzzy friendship?

Today, after that chance encounter yesterday, these were the thoughts that went through my mind. On departure, I turned to my ex and wished him well. For whatever has gone down between us, however hurtful it was for both of us; in the end, it was seven years ago. Seven years is as long time to recover, grow up, grow wiser and look on your exes for what they really are: stepping stones, learning curves, milestones on the way to learning about relationships, yourself, and true love. In the end, they are all there neatly filed up in the memory bank of our dusty remembrance; occasionally we come across them, reminisce, congratulate ourselves on how far we have come on this journey of life, and wish them well for making us taller, stronger, wiser.