Friday, August 18, 2017

Interview With Grace Devin (Grace Loudon)

By Bixyl Shuftan

Among those in the Relay Committee this year was Grace Devin (account name Grace Loudon) Grace has been with the Relay for the past several years, and this year was on the Committee. Recently, I had a chance to speak with her about how she ended up in the Relay for Life in Second Life and some of the things that's been done here.

We met up at the American Cancer Society Island, just outside the main building. But sitting down at a table proved slightly complicated, "(laughter) I don't like it when there are so many sitting options. Just give me a sit for goodness sakes."

When I asked her about how she found out about Second Life, Grace answered, "Oh my gosh;  that's a long way back to remember (laughter). I was playing 'There,' and friends started talking about a new place to check out: Second Life. You had to sign upm it was still in Beta. I didn't make the BETA cut but I got in soon after and made a short, squat little woman named Edna Thereian. I lasted a month (laughter). Then I left for awhile, and thought one day, 'Let's give this another try,'  and I never left!"

I asked her, "When did you return, and what was the difference?" Grace told me, "I started Valentine's Day in 2004 - I remember I had such a hard time figuring out how to move around and function...and yes, I got a box stuck on my head...that I decided it just wasn't for me.  I'd say maybe 2 months later I came back, made a new avatar and dived in.  Had to have a little more patience. I also had to have a little money. Seemed to make it more of an amiable place to be in."

"How did your first days after your return go?" I asked. Grace answered, "Oh great!  I don't think my experience was any different from any other person new to Second Life.  When I was new, there were no regions.  It was all mainland and it was very small.  The population was a fraction of what it is now.  There were maybe five shops, four clubs. It was easy to make friends and just hang out and goof off all the time. It was fun."

I then asked her, "When did you first come across the Relay in Second Life?" She replied, "I spent a good six years in Second Life without ever having heard of Relay For Life of Second Life.  I didn't even know American Cancer Society was represented in SL.  I spent a great deal of my time building.  I got to the point where I was building for a living:  roleplay regions, stores, etc.  I joined up with a really good friend and we started a virtual business that pulled in real life companies - we built region representations for them.  Smirnoff Vodka, The Tourism Board for Mexico, we did a representation of Cocos Island for its entry into being a new Wonders of the World. We had just finished that build actually, when my friend went into the hospital for surgery.  The night we finished she went in.  She never came home - she passed from complications from treatment for endometrial cancer."

"I'm sorry to hear that," I responded. Grace went on, "Yeah, it was pretty heartbreaking.  She was only 23.  From that, I learned about the American Cancer Society. And a friend was involved in Relay For Llife, and she asked if I would help out with a couple of things. And viola - sucked in!" "So you came in around 2011?" I asked. "Yep," she answered, "right around them.  Just finished my 6th year with Relay"

My next question was, "How did your first season with the Relay go?" Grace replied, "My first season, I was asked to build a Designer Region.  So I did - and I remember that there was some fuss over the fact I built a castle (bottom of page) and it was right in front of the water region where activities were going to be held, (laughter) 'and Grace makes her entrance.'  But it all went well in the end and it was great fun. The next year, Charlene, who took care of the track setup, asked me to be her assistant and I said 'sure, what could go wrong?' (laughter)"

After a chuckle, I asked, "Heh, so what happened next year?" Grace answered. "The next year I ended up, through a series of circumstances, being the person in charge.  And thus I became the "track boss" for the next few years.  This year or this past year I ventured into being a part of the Steering Committee. Though I still got to be on the track, which I love. 'On the track' meaning I made sure it was there, along with all the tools and fun things.  And (I) coordinated the Designer Regions, as well as Activities."

I then asked Grace, "What would you say your best accomplishments as 'track boss' were?" She answered, "Not beating anyone up? I kid! I don't really think of any of it as an accomplishment to be honest.  Everything is just a list of things that need to be done so we can have an awesome Relay Weekend.  If everyone has a good time and complaints are minimal, then I guess I could call that an accomplishment. But I never do that by myself. There is a whole gang of people who are integral to every bit of it."

"For those who don't know," I inquired, "what is your position on the committee?" Grace replied, "I am the Relay For Life of Second Life Co-Lead !  That means I'm like Nuala (Maracus)'s (The Lead) assistant.  One of them, there is also Leala Spires.  We are both Co-Leads. So we're backup, the posse, the crew (laughter). Relay this year was split into three areas - Bring the People, Bring the Fun, and Fund the Mission. I was the 'Bring the Fun' person.  Or as we like to refer to it:  'Bring da Funk.'" "So there was lots of funky music?" I asked. She answered, "Every chance we got! (laughter)"

"It was great being the lead for that area, truly," Grace went on, "Lots of creative thinking, brainstorming sessions, party planning, making things, And the people were phenomenal." I asked her, "What were some of the best examples of creative thinking?" She explained, "Every time we had to plan an event, something awesome came out of it.  We were all about 'breaking that box,' so we strived to create things that were new and never done before, or at least not done the way we did them.  For example, our Paint SL Purple and Kickoff events, normally two separate events.  We combined them into one and made it a Purple Kickoff.  Recognition was a ,department, this year, and we had to think of new, fun ways to recognize people like our volunteers, survivors, etc.  From music playing, eggs, to giant greeting cards that said 'cow in the heck are ya?'  Also, we created the Passport Hud for tools and links that everyone used.  Lots and lots of stuff for Relay Weekend as well."

Grace added, "I have to give a lot of credit to my real-life/Second Life partner as well; Sean.  He put up a lot of the funding that came up for specific script needs that were above my pay grade.  He created some tools for our use and generally exercised a great deal of patience and understanding the entire season." "Nice. Did you both come to the Relay together?" I asked her. She answered, "We did!  He doesn't like titles or being held to a position of responsibility so he has always been my background support.  Doing what he needs to do to help and watch over things when I ask him to: Big, strong silent type (smile)."

"Going back a bit," I told Grace, "you described yourself as into building and roleplaying. What kind of building did you do, and what roleplaying group and area?" She answered, "Well, when I got my first region I created a place called Laura, which is a location known to those who roleplay Gor.  I played a panther chieftess. If you're not familiar with Gor. it's sort of a female native/tribal type.  I was one of the first to play that role too by the way - little feather in my cap.  Anyway I did that for a long time, and during those couple of years I learned a lot about building and terraforming.  Then I got pretty good at it, so I started building for other people.  Eventually, I switched my own roleplay to Medieval Fantasy and built a place called Everwind, which became wildly popular.  By then I was building outside of roleplay quite regularly for a fee.  Roleplay regions for other people, shopping districts, started my own business of prefabs and furniture, etc.  Then got into the building that I told you about with my friend who passed."

"There was a time I was turning business away!" Grace told with enthusiasm, "Then Second Life grew and grew and before you knew it, there were twenty of 'me' out (in) their building regions." "Twenty people who were doing much the same work as you?" I asked. "Well, they may not have built in the same style I did," she answered, "but there was suddenly a lot of people building and it was not longer me among a few.  It was now me among a whole lot.  So the competition to get business increased, as it does regularly in Second Life, and eventually I lost interest.  Especially after the death of Katherine (my friend), I just lost the zeal for it."

I brought up, "What happened with Everwind"? Grace answered, "I closed Everwind after a couple of years and created a Steampunk Roleplay Region called Rivet Town! This also had some moderate success and I really enjoyed building it.  I can't sit still most of the time - my mind is always thinking about what I can do next (laughter). After Rivet Town, I did Everwind 2 - again, had a lot of success. But eventually I grew tired of roleplay and just stuck to Relay." "Sounds like some events, such as the Fantasy Faire, bring back some memories," I suggested. "Oh yes indeed," Grace responded, "I'd love to create for that. Maybe this, next year."

Grace then told. "In fact, as far as big-scale building goes; this island, ACS Island, is the first I've done in a long time." "So you made the builds for ACS Island?" I asked. "Yes," she answered, "What you see here I did.  I asked to do it, and yay!  I was allowed." I panned around, looking at the various structures, "Which of these places required the most planning and work?" "The Memorial Garden, she stated "by a landslide. It was so important to keep it subtle, yet significant.  To make it a place of importance, but not the main feature of American Cancer Society (Island)." "The Catt Gable Garden?" I asked. "Yes," she answered.

Grace explained of the memorial garden, "Catt started the garden on ACS, and she did a lovely job of it.  The problems we ran into however were the abundance of gifts that were left in memoriam.  Also, people felt like the setup created a bit of a maze, which was not intentional but the space was small for it and Catt worked hard to achieve that subtle aspect. She didn't want it to be so obvious when you landed. So I tried to keep a lot of her idea when I re-did it.  And I had to create a system to pay respects with flowers or candles, but not have those items just remain indefinitely. I also wanted to ensure it was a place to reflect, remember, to sit and feel at peace. And of course, memorialize Catt (smile). If you notice, along the path as you walk on the region, there are small portraits lining the walk. Those portraits are all of survivors.  To remind anyone who visits or comes for support, that there is hope. And it doesn't become about a memorial garden or a tribute to those who have passed.  Because many are still here - surviving!"

I then brought up a question that had been on my mind since the Relay Weekend sims first appeared, "Going back to the Relay, you mentioned you were once the 'Track boss.' There were a few people who noticed about the track for this one being several sims shorter than last year." Grace answered, "Yes, we took off some regions this year.  We tried to be smart about the expenses and thought every bit that we spend on what we don't truly need, we take from the donations.  So we dropped regions that just weren't necessary this year. We ended up with every region being sponsored, every region being paid for and not one penny had to come out of the fundraising totals to cover Relay Weekend. The same applied to events like Halfway There and Wrap Up - we decided not to rent a region for any events that really just didn't need it. It's nice to have and pretty to look at when decorated but is it truly necessary?"

I then brought up, "Also, for the first time in a while, the theme for next season wasn't announced at the wrap-up. When will it be announced?" Grace confessed, "Well honestly, I don't know!  We truly don't have the answer yet. There is a lot that we want to put on the table and sort out for next year.  A lot of responsibilities, things that we do or have done that are somewhat unnecessary or obsolete.  We want to try to knock out what takes a lot of time with no real measurable results.  And want very much for the people involved in putting it all together to be able to step away, sleep, not stress (laughter)." "Sounds like there may be some big changes next year," I wondered. Grace responded, "Stingray is an important part of that decision making so at this point we are all just taking a breather then we'll get together and sort it out, figure out the structure for the next year and how/when to proceed.  Some changes may be big, and there could be only one or two small changes.  It's just really, really up in the air at this moment.  But decisions will be made very soon.  I'm sure we'll have a theme!  We just might ask for suggestions later than the norm."

I then brought up the two off-season Relay-related events later this year, Making Strides for Breast Cancer, and the Christmas Expo. Grace smiled, "Absolutely!  Strides is planning a walk soon and I know Nuala already has her Christmas Expo laid out (laughter)." I smiled, "What does she have in store for us?" Grace answered, "Oh gosh, I have no idea!  I don't think I'll be working on it this year, unless she plans to surprise me with a request to help.  We may just have to wait and see!"

I then asked, "So what are your plans for next year?" Grace responded, "I suppose more of this!  (laughter) Every year I keep telling myself I have to turn it over to someone else now.  My world outside of Second life is busy, busy!  I have two kids, I sing, and have a band and we travel a lot, I actually have to curb my schedule for Relay season; my plate is quite full!  But then here I am, right back in the thick of it all (smile)  It's not easy to just step away when you see how much of an impact what you do has on the progress made in finding a cure. I feel like I might miss something if I'm not in the middle of it all."

I finally asked, "Was there anything else you wanted to add?" Grace thought for a moment, "I think there is just one more thing.  I think that everyone gets tired.  We get tired of staying up late, we get tired of trying to make everything right and perfect, we get tired of trying to work with the different personalities of everyone involved in Relay.  We get tired of doing things certain ways, we get tired of changes, we get tired of fighting, of dealing with pain, illness, losing loved ones.  I know that tired - I feel it too.  But the moment we give up because we're tired, is the moment everything we have worked for and want to continue to work for becomes to big to defeat.  I hear this said in a movie once:  'What can you expect to accomplish if you are just one drop in an ocean?' he answer was 'But what is an ocean but a series of drops all together.'  That is Relay, and that is us.  We need to never stop being those drops in the ocean." She paused for a moment, "I may not have gotten it word for word but close enough!"

It was about then we parted ways, "Thanks, Bixyl (smile).  I appreciate that you wanted to hear from me."

Image Credits: IshtarAngel Micheline, Softpaw Sommer

Bixyl Shuftan


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