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Friday, April 30, 2021

Robin Sojourner's Memorial Service

     *
By Bixyl Shuftan

It was Monday April 19 in which it was announced that Robin Sojourner, Robin Wood in real life, had passed away. She was 67 years old. She had been suffering from cancer, and in the last entry on her blog about a week earlier made by her brother, it was stated she was realizing the end was near.

Robin had been in Second Life for sixteen years, and had accomplished much. She was noted as a content creator and an instructor. Her Texture Tutorial became part of the Ivory Tower of Prims, and she was an instructor at the Builder's Brewery. She also helped set up the Wiccan Learning Center, and a Relay group. She was once listed among "Ten Women Who Made A Difference" in Second Life.

On Sunday April 25, people gathered at the Livingtree sim to pay their respects, more than fifty avatars showing up. People gathered at the amphitheater near the middle of the land, one lady commenting, "I remember when y'all were building this place, and I was told this would be an amphitheater.  I think this is the first time I've seen it used.  Wish it was for a better reason." There were a numer of noted personalities there from Marianne McCann, Pygar Bu, Tuna Oddfellow, Saffia Widdershins, DrFran Babcock, GoSpeed Racer, Holocluck Henly, Avi Arrow, and others. A few had not logged onto Second Life for months, even years. Wendi Linden was also among those who attended.

"I will have few comments I'll want to start off with," Marianne spoke, "then I will welcome you ll to speak if you wish. I'm not gonna make all y'll wade up here if you don't want to, especially with this many people on the region. I assume we're all within the range of my text?" She waited some moments, then someone asked about Voice. Marianne answered, "You may use voice if you wish. I will be typing. It's, uh, going to be easier to get through tonight."

"It is very nice to see all of you. I know for some of you, you've not been on (Second Life) for a while. Thank you for being here. Thank you all for coming tonight to honor Robin (Sojourner) Wood. McCann: For some time, Robin had been struggling with cancer, in particular phyllodes tumors. McCann: She had successfully dealt with them initially, only to see them recur. She left us on the 19th of April, 2021, just past 3 in the morning. When she passed, she was asleep, and smiling. It was as she had hoped she might go.

"We remember her for her artwork, ranging from work done for TSR, the creators of Dungeons and Dragons, her People of Pern artwork, the Robin Wood Tarot, and many other pieces completed over the years. After fibromyalgia interfered with her ability to manipulate traditional art tools, she focused on her digital work, having a long history with Adobe Photoshop and other programs. It was this depth of talent that she brought of Second Life. Here, she ran several stores, as well as creating the Wiccan Learning Center and the Texture Tutorial and Library. A generation of Second Life users started their own building careers through her tutorials, her UV maps, and her T-Shirt template. Not content with just this, she was an accomplished quilter and knitter. She also wrote and published three books.

"Today, I would like to encourage those who can to come up and share their experiences with Robin, in either life. You may type or use voice, whichever you prefer. Robin may have transcended us, but will live on in all of our collective memories. I first heard of Robin in 1985, with her first cover for Dragon magazine. The piece of art is one of her best known, titled 'Music Lover.' It features a dragon watching a harpist play a tune. You can view it at... https://www.robinwood.com/Catalog/Prints/PrintPages/MusicLover.html  As much as I have long loved that piece, I would often rib Robin over the editor’s note from that issue, where the editor noted Robin apologizing for being late with the art, saying 'but, you see, there were all these scales.' (several chuckles from the crowd) The piece is, of course, incredibly detailed, featuring reflections up and down the body of the dragon — even reflections of Robin, at the easel, painting the scene. This was who Robin was. She was never content with the merely good, but wanted to feature every detail she could. If you look at her work here in Second Life, you will note that that a candle can light multiple ways. And that every nut and bolt is presented in the most efficient fashion.

"After seeing that Dragon cover, I would see her works come up from time to time. I remember seeing her show up on the covers of School Cunningham’s books on Wicca, for example, then later on the beautiful Robin Wood Tarot. In the early years of the Internet, I came across RobinWood.com, where she would sometimes share icons for the Macintosh. She also shared essays of her own there, one of which I finally got up the gumption to reach out, just to thank her. This was when we discovered that we had mutual friends between us, and we first got to know each other. In 2006, I joined Second Life. In my earliest days inworld, I found a store called Practical Magic. While there, I found someone selling Robin Wood’s artwork. Incensed, I wrote to Robin Wood, to let her know someone was profiting off her art. This was how I discovered that Robin Sojourner and Robin Wood was one in the same.

"Some months later, she introduced a line of skins. I had been looking for something to replace my old system skin and reached out as I, as a child avatar, needed a skinthat lacked adult features. She agreed to take on the task, developing the first line of kid-specific skins in Second Life. More than this, she decided that an alt of hers, Robin Howe, should become a child themselves. Within a short time, that avatar became the inworld sister of both me and my inworld brother, Pygar Bu.

"Second Life mirrored reality. Our friendship grew deep after hours upon hours of phone calls, chats in Second Life, and even a week-long visit out our way. She was a very big part of my chosen family beyond Second Life. In May of 2007, she opened Livingtree as both a store an educational space., inviting Pygar and I to be a part of it. McCann: Before she passed, she asked that Pygar and I continue the island, which we shall. Please feel free to continue to enjoy this space going forward, and to remember  Robin when you visit."

Marianne got applause for her words, Saffia Widdershins saying, "Beautiful, Mari. And a living memorial you create." Shirley Márquez Dúlcey (Shirley Marquez) would say of Robin's art, "I had some of that artwork. Somehow I lost my pieces during a house rebuild, and alas she had stopped selling them by then so I couldn't replace them (frown)."

Shirley would speak next, "My first significant memory of Robin was from the Arisia science fiction convention in 1992. That was the third year the convention was held. She was the artist guest of honor. I had been tapped a few weeks before con to step in and deal with selling the convention merchandise. That included a T-shirt that Robin designed. I managed to find a place that could get them done just in time -- the shirts were actually still warm from the curing oven when they arrived at the con! I saw Robin at the convention regularly for years. She was there to sell her art and to do panels about art. She was always generous with her time and knowledge. The 1992 convention book had one of her works on the cover that you can see here: https://corp.arisia.org/sites/corp.arisia.org/files/covers/A92-25.html "

Minerva Breda was next, saying, "Apologies for the Letters that may wobble out of place. When I was thirteen years old at my first Philcon, overwhelmed with all people who like me loved reading and art I was lost me. robin Wood helped me get whelmed. Teaching me things along the way over the years.  She always teaches. It’s like breathing to her. Second Life is a place you can be anything.  In a place she could have been a werewolf playing cards against humanity, she choose to teach. SL offered her the ability to create when fibromyalgia made painting too much. I wanted to visit her in first life and tell her how much she influenced me over the years. It’s not possible for a few reasons. I mentioned as much to Daimon. So we teleported to her place. I sat here feeling lost and overwhelmed again.  Daimon listened to me prattle. But as I looked around here I began to feel better. The Teaching was all around me. It feels good to refocus on what is important to her, rather then the lost.

"Robin, I wish you gentle sleep and thank you for being a mentor. As for us who were honored to know her.  The best we can do live justly, be kind, teaching others. Like she does. Even now. Thank yuo Mari for the opportunity to speka and you all for listening."

Madi Perth (Madi Melodious) had her turn to speak, "I didn't know Robin like so many of you here did.  I wish, I wish I had.  She made a huge impact on my real life and Second Life. When I first encountered her art work in a place called Lion and Uncorn. I saw that very Dragon issue and from the moment I was hooked on her art.  Latter I found out she had made a Tarrot deck.  I found it in the store and it called to me.  I carried that deck every where I went.  it was apart of me. I found out she was active in SL and came to Livingtree a number of items.  I never worked up the courage to say hi to her.   I will regret that forever. Shade and sweet water to you Robin."

Kat Medici was next, "The very first time I met Robin was at her first Second Life event.  As I understand it, a real-life friend who was already in world brought her in.  I was fangirling.  Seriously walking around the event and whispering to a Second Life friend that Robin was RIGHT THERE! Of course Robin 'heard' me and said, 'You can come up and say 'Hello'.  I don't bite.'  I was shy because I am in real-life but ended up speaking with her, still mentally 'SQUEEING' the entire time because it was ROBIN WOOD.

"Over the course of years, through numerous avatars (me, not really her), she became a dear friend, someone whom brought laughter, wisdom, kindness, and sometimes a much needed honesty in Second Life and real life.  She helped me (as yet another alt) create and open Practical Magic along side with CrystalShard Foo, and others.  She was my teacher in copyright laws, my mentor in so many ways, a friend and part of my heart, then, now, and always.

"Last night my real-life sister, whom also knew Robin from Second Life, said that Robin brought the essence of home to Second Life, through her items, through her sim, through her presence.  This is a True Thing. Our worlds, all of them, are changed and better because of her. Blessed Be Robin."

Carrie Talaj then spoke, "Thanks for being here, everyone. While I initially had heard of Robin, it was from a tarot reading I got in the early 2000s from a friend.  I remember the cards being super vibrant and 'spoke' to me.  That was a good sign that I should get that set myself. However, I'm not really into the world of fantasy art/literature/gaming, so I really first met Robin through Mari and Pygar.  Mari had given me access to Livingtree early, but I had yet to meet Robin.  That happened when I snuck in late one night without Mari.  I saw Robin, kinda thought 'Oh, I shouldn't be here.' She merrily said 'Hi,' and went about her business.  She had just kind of accepted me here since I was here, and I loved her for that.

"Over time and more interloping, we became friends, and was often on the receiving end of a lot of kindness. If I bought something, I'd often find my inventory stuffed with every variation of what I'd just bought, and every variation of 'Oh, and this will go great with that.' Eventually I got to watch her create.  I'd complimented her on the level of detail on some china she'd made and I mentioned 'I'm always amazed at the level of detail in other's art. I don't really get that detailed when drawing' and mentioned some of the tarot cards I'd drawn based on her tarot book. She immediately turned it around on me, telling me 'I admire the art you do, Carrie.' She'd seen the cards I made, and never told me. 'When you draw, you know exactly what level of detail you need to make your point. When I paint, I'm not always sure what all needs to go into a piece. I paint everything. I'm not sure what I should leave out. I love that you can leave detail out but still make your point.' She didn't have to turn it around, but she did.  She always did.  And it was always kind.  And I loved her for that.

"As an aside, she also taught me why Chef's clothes were white, and how to get a good credit score (which I do!).  She wasn't just an artist and a creator, but a heckuva lotta fun to talk to. Talking with her was like talking to sunshine. I cannot say this enough: She was a very kind soul.  After my troubles in Second Life, I didn't see her (or my other friends) for a very very very long time. But when we were both on at the same time, it was like no time had passed. Thankfully, we talked for a good while and caught up a few months ago, one of the last times she was on Second Life."

"I'm going to miss her. I can't just log on anymore, and hope she's still there. But my other friends are.  And her passing has made my time with them feel more special.  Please tell your friends you love them.  You may never know when the last time you speak to to them will be. I love you, Robin.  Just as I love everyone here."

Next to speak was ᴀᴅᴅɪsᴏɴ ··ᴄᴀᴋᴇ·· ᴍᴏɴʀᴏᴇ (October Blackwood), "Before I start crying any harder, I just want to say, while I did not know Robin personallym in many ways she was monumental in my growth in Second Life. I joined when I was 17, almost 13 years ago. Within a year, I wanted to try my hand at skins and clothing and was linked to her free resources. Fast forward I came across her store, with metaphysical supplies, this took me back as I had never thought to bring my spirituality to the metaverse. A year ago when I decided to open a pagan hangout, I knew I needed to use some of the detailed beautiful work of Robin.

"A couple months ago I had finally got some down time, and wanted to reach out to Robin to ask her to be apart of our community as we have affiliates and such we work with. However unfortunately I got busy in real life, and other things came up. I finally had some downtime, and that when I saw the article that shattered my heart on facebook. It was then I realized the impact that Robin had on myself and my community, and to be here with you all and to hear more of how this amazing woman touched our lives, it's just really beautiful. We have a memorial altar in our landing area, and a memorial bench that will be a permanent feature at Nox. My community, the community that Robin helped pioneer in the metaverse, will never forget her. Robin, though I never was able to meet you, through your videos, and work in Second Life, you still feel like an old friend. May we always remember you, and your contributions to this little virtual world. You inspired so many of us."

Then spoke Shanna (Sushanna Rosenfeld), who stated she was, "from Gianfar, a roleplay sim here in Second Life, set in Anne McCaffrey’s ‘Dragonriders of Pern’ universe. Several fine artists have depicted our friendly dragons, but Robin chose to be different – she painted portraits of the People of Pern. The result was a book of that name, produced with Anne’s approval and text. Her people were and will remain our images of the characters we love. Along with Karen Fonstad’s Atlas and Tania and Mike’s albums of Anne’s harper songs, she brought another dimension to Pern.

Next, one man, Tompta Olfson, spoke not in text, but Voice. He talked about having met Robin at a con, not knowing who she was, and noticed she had a sword. He went up to her, and told her the rules required that it be sheathed at all times, and eventually something was worked out. He met up with her later, they started going out, and eventually married. "Thank you all for being here," he told the crowd, "Thank you all so very much."

CrystalShard Foo then told the crowd, "So, I'm not very good at speeches. I met Robin when a friend introduced us, very soon after she came to Second Life. Unlike many people here I've never heard of her before or knew her in any way - she was just another newbie to me. So I helped her with some questions and when I realized her artistic leaning, gave her some L$ to fund her uploads. I quickly moved on and forgot about it. We did keep in touch though. And over time we became casual friends, not really talking that often, but I did enjoy talking with her when I did. At one point she heard that I was interested in learning Tarot, so she mentioned that she makes Tarot decks. I was surprised since I didn't know anything about her real life artwork. When she offered to send me a deck, I said sure.  When the deck arrived and I opened it one of the cards had a dedication for me - thanking me for helping her when she was new. I was pleasantly surprised - and kind of confused, this wasn't something I was used to. I didn't even remember helping her. She had to remind me. That deck is still with me and it's very special to me. That's all I have to say I guess. My head is kind of fuzzy."

Calla Cela spoke next, "I met Robin right after she came to Livingtree. I was so in awe, my fingers could only type gibberish. She was very kind to me. I was here to read her books. This inspired me, when I started teaching, to put out my books at my place and I still do so. When I started teaching how to make mesh clothing in GIMP, students would ask why that had to be 1024x1024's. I just said, 'Robin says it. I believe it. And that settles it. I am grateful for all she has done to make Second Life a better place.

Then came John Sheppard-Mckay (Jon Nielsen), "I first knew of Robin through her People of Pern illustrations for Anne McCaffrey. I read my first Anne McCaffrey DragonRiders of Pern book in junior high and I was hooked. And Like Shanna, I'm a member of Gianfar Peaks of Pern here. The next time I encountered Robin's art was Scott Cunningham's books on Wicca. The next time I encountered Robin was her clothing templates which i use to this day and treasure. I've been coming to Livingtree occasionally. I have to admit when I found out she was sick, I came and got a lot of her items that for whatever reason I hadn't gotten before. The last time I talked to Robin, I was dealing with my mother-in-law's effects and I had one of Scott's books that was autographed... well signed. We exchanged emails about it. Now, every time I log in, we have her pentacle rug on the floor in our home along with her very colorful quilt stool. Enjoy the Summerland, Robin and say hello to Scott!"

Next was Pygar Bu, "Robin was one of my sisters. She even made a kid avie for it. Little Robin was an important part of our family, being the practical one. She was never satisfied with partway. From her projects here, to building and maintaining the Texture Tutorial and Library, to creating quilts in first life, and then recreating them for Second Life, everything had to be complete. She also made sure that those around her had all the tools and instruction for doing whatever they wanted to do. I was struggling with mesh in Blender, and she encouraged and coached me through shapes and textures. She was everyone’s number one fan and teacher.

"She could be completely silly as well. I was going through early pics of Livingtree, trying to find the opening day image over there, and came across one by her called 'Skating Break.' She had managed to balance herself, on roller skates, on top of one of the displays in the Tutorial building! (some chuckles in the crowd) This island is definitively Robin. It is open for all, has areas dedicated to learning, exploring, fun, relaxation, and is beautiful as well. If you haven’t already, please do look around. Her touch is everywhere here. Thank you."

Tuna Oddfellow commented, "I had Robin's Tarot Card deck long before we had a Second Life, My ex wife was telling me about the year Robin was the artist guest of honor at Arisia Science Fiction convention the shirt had a drawing painted by Robin with a cute girl on it, my ex wife wanted a cute guy. So Robin painted over the shirt design for her." Marianne responded, "That sounds like Robin, Tuna." He answered, "She told me she wished she still had the shirt."

Star Finesmith (MorningStar Finesmith) then added, "Robin came indirectly into my life some years ago. A friend of hers and of mine instroduced me to her tarot cards in Second Life and her. I'm not sure you'd say website, but some information to learn outside SL. Last fall, I reaced out to Robin herself and she happened to be on SL. We chatted. She was so warm and caring! She mae me feel completely at ease. I invited her to be part of our budding art community.. She said that she wished she could, but then she shared with me the battle she was having with cancer. I'm touched and amazed at how much she touched my soul in one conversation. She was an amazing woman, a full soul. Blessings to you Robin."

Zidders Roofurry (Zidaya Zenovka) then asked everyone, "Would it be OK if I shared the poem I wrote for her? It's not long." He was told he could, "'d like to preface this by saying that while I didn't know Robin well or for all that long she was one of the first people I met when I first came to SL. I was struggling with both the learning curve and with a lot of personal issues at the time. She was very kind to me and helped give me a reason to smile at a time when I didn't feel I had a lot to smile about. I'll always appreciate her compassion."

Sojourner
by Zid

Ink and paint by dragons soul.
Tall elves behind both tree and knoll.
Forest paths and storming thunder-
her work a spell we all are under.

Mystic Pagan blessings be.
Bright faeiries floating fast and free.
All not just imagination.
From Robin's hand became creation.

Heart's hearth bright-a warming glow.
Her kindness to all she did know.
With grateful spirit we honor her.
Our dear Robin, Sojourner.

Phrynne had this to say, "I met Robin at Darkovercon in the mid-90s, where she was Art Guest of Honor.  She was friendly and fun.  Someone was asking her about the Music Lover, and she said, "Don't you know, I paint from life?  It  took a while for the dragon to hold still."  And all of us around the Guest of Honor table laughed.

"But I also learned something else about her work -- she created drawings and paintings at the size they were to be printed.  All the artwork on the Robin Wood Tarot was painted and drawn at that size, not done larger and reduced.  I have her deck, well worn and well loved.

"I am glad to have had to chance to meet her then, and to find her kind teaching and the beauty she created here, in Second Life, as well as in offline life.  Robin, may you walk in beauty."

Maggie Hawksby had another poem.

When Earth's last picture is painted
And the tubes are twisted and dried
When the oldest colors have faded
And the youngest critic has died
We shall rest, and faith, we shall need it
Lie down for an aeon or two
'Till the Master of all good workmen
Shall put us to work anew
And those that were good shall be happy
They'll sit in a golden chair
They'll splash at a ten league canvas
With brushes of comet's hair
They'll find real saints to draw from
Magdalene, Peter, and Paul
They'll work for an age at a sitting
And never be tired at all.
And only the Master shall praise us.
And only the Master shall blame.
And no one will work for the money.
No one will work for the fame.
But each for the joy of the working,
And each, in his separate star,
Will draw the thing as he sees it.
For the God of things as they are!

Ilianexsi Sojourner had a third

Gone From My Sight
I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,
spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts
for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck
of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then, someone at my side says, "There, she is gone."

Gone where?

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,
hull and spar as she was when she left my side.
And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me -- not in her.

And, just at the moment when someone says, "There, she is gone,"
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, "Here she comes!"

And that is dying...

Wendi Linden would say, "If not for Robin, I don't think I wuld have the honor of doing my work here. She was a good friend."

It was about this point the event was ending. Addison added, "We will be honoring her at our full moon gathering tomorrow, I've already bought large packs of her vigil candles and will be handing those out and Mari, or Tompta can you guys advise me on any songs she liked that we can play at the gathering?" Crystalshard stated, "I mentioned how the deck is important for me so I made a little tribute and cloned it here in SL for myself. But hearing how many of you have her deck in real life and how its important to you - apparently it's available in her store, or should be." Marianne invited everyone, "please feel free to explore the island."

And most everyone went their seperate ways, some remaining to chat for a while.

And so, those who knew Robin had given her their goodbyes. But what she did, both here in Second Life and real life, will continue.

Bixyl Shuftan
   

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

More Sunbeamer "Bid Me" Results: Over 60,000L Raised

 By Bixyl Shuftan

One of the events the Relay in Second Life is known for are the "Bid Me Bald" events, started by the Relay Rockers and caught on with others. But a Relay team with a lot of furry avatars, well, something different is called for. In the early days of the Newser, the Passionate Redheads would hold a number of "Bid Me Human" events, such as the one that left Rita Mariner "in the skin" for over two months. As time went on, the Redheads transitioning to the Sunbeamers, the "Bid Me" events began to show some creativity and variety when it came to what to be bid on, from other types of avatar besides human, to a different color, and more.

Thursday April 8 was the final day for DJ Matt/Matt Carlton's "Bid Me Pink" fundraiser. For Matt, she felt a little pressure to bring in plenty of Lindens as she wanted to match this season the amount she made last year, which included 60,000 L raised at one event on Fantasy Faire's last weekend. This was also the first "Bid Me" in which the kiosks were located at the Bouncing Bunny Beach Club, the newest venue in the Sunweaver community where most (but not all) of the Sunbeamers make their home. This was partially to help draw attention to the new venue, and partially because Matt has a DJ event there, and her fans would be inclined to donate then. By the last day, Matt was already at two weeks with over 5,000 L raised.

As this was a special Relay fundraising event, Matt didn't take any tips, instead asking that money be donated to the Relay kiosks, and the cheeky pictures at the bunny-themed venue were covered up. The contest theme was "Best in Purple," so several people came in purple outfits, purple fur, or both. A number of people were there, including club manager Snowbuns (Skylark Lefavre) and owner Nydia Tungsten (Rita Mariner owns the land). Other people showed up such as Rosie (RougeRedHead01 Resident), the newest reporter for the Newser, and Gem Sunkiller. Several people would also send remote donations.

Matt would play songs such as "It's a Great Day to be Alive," "Live Like You Were Dying," and "Angels Among Us." Among the last he would play for his set was "Clouds" by Zach Sobiech, a young musician whom was diagnosed with terminal cancer when composing the song. (https://youtu.be/sDC97j6lfyc)

We could go up, up, up
And take that little ride
We'll sit there holding hands
And everything would be just right
And maybe someday I'll see you again
We'll float up in the clouds and we'll never see the end

We'll go up, up, up
But I'll fly a little higher
Go up in the clouds because the view's a little nicer
Up here my dear
It won't be long now, it won't be long now


By the end of the first hour, Matt was already at 7,500L in the "pink" kiosk. Thanks to more donations coming in, by the close of Matt's performance, the total had risen to 15,000 Lindens. With 500L in the "stay orange" kiosk, this made for a total of 15,500L raised, and a comittment of six weeks in pink. Matt thanked everyone over the radio stream, which got someone musing, "First time I heard someone say thank you for being forced to be pink." Matt responded, "I like pink, but I Chose pink this time as my Aunt just fought Breast Cancer and won. So fitting, I thought."

Matt had offered a little bonus if 10,000 Lindens or more was raised. If that goal was reached, she stated she would spend at least half the time in the "Bid Me" period in Relay clothes. This could be either her Team Sunbeamer outfit or some other Relay wear.

The contest was won by LiskaBystrouska Resident.

Saturday April 10 was the last day of three "Bid Me Foxy" fundraisers. The volunteers for these were Shockwave Yareach, Cynthia Farshore, and team captain Rita Mariner. The kiosks were at Club Cutlass, and the fundraisers were totaled at the end of the party that night, at 8PM SL time. Shockwave and Cynthia got identical results: 250 Lindens each in the "Stay" kiosk and 7600 Lindens each to go vulpine. They'll be in their new looks for three weeks. For Rita, her default kiosk got 50 Lindens while donators chipped in 5050 Lindens for her to go vixen. So she has to deal with jokes about raiding coops for two weeks. With three people made foxy all at once on top of the existing number of foxes, there were jokes about a "foxolypse," as well as wondering if there'd be a run at the KFC.

Cynthia was DJing for the Relay USO event that night, and Shockwave was with her. So they didn't have to change until that event was over. The three fundraisers brought in 20,800 Lindens.

Finally came the end of Nydia Tungsten's "Bid Me Mouse or Bunny" fundraiser. This would be on Sunday April 10. Like Matt's Bid Me, the kiosks were at the BBBC, and the fundraiser was timed to end just as a party at the club was ending. Compared to the other Bid Me events, the default kiosk was making a strong showing. In the two hours, several thousand more Lindens were added to the kiosks. There were a few people coming by whom hadn't been to the club before.

Finally at 5PM SL time, the totals were finalized. 4,000 Lindens had been donated into the "Go Bunny" kiosk. The "Stay Vixen" kiosk had 6,010 Lindens. The "Go Mouse" kiosk made more than both combined, making 14,000 Linden dollars. As Nydia had pledged a week for every 2000 raised, normally this would have been seven weeks. But she had a surprise. She decided not to count just the amount in the winning kiosk, but the total of all three combined, 24,010 Linden dollars. So this meant 12 weeks, or three months. At the close of the party, Nydia changed to a mouse form, and her partner Brandi Streusel, whom was already a mouse, gave her a hug. There were more than a few comments about cheese recipes.

All five of these Bid Me events raised a total of 60,310 Linden dollars. Counting offline donations, this has brought the total raised by Team Sunbeamers past 450,000 and a half million, or Jade Level, within sight. This isn't the end of the Sunbeamer Bid Me events as DJ Snowbuns volunteered for one (more on that one later), and no doubt there will be more. With this combined with DJ Cynthia and DJ Matt helping out other teams, the Sunbeamers are continuing to be a top-ranking team in the Relay for Life in Second Life.

Go Sunbeamers! Go Relay!

Bixyl Shuftan
 

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Interview With Kyoko Furse-Barzane (Samara Barzane) About The Arts

 
By Kayly Iali

Kyoko Furse-Barzane is a real life/second life artist as well as a curator for the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA). She actively participates in Second Life once working in the business and now in the art arena. Kyoko is also the Chancellor for CDS (Confederation of Democratic Sims) for the 34th Term.


I first met “Samara,” as she was called then, back in 2010. She was then the gallery owner of Park Galleries and her gallery was my very first exhibit in Second Life. As an artist, I had always been intrigued with her digital photomontages. They are full of complexity like memories with so many different layers. Kyoko herself, is full of complexity. She had many roles in real life as well as in Second Life. She is also known as Kyoko Furse-Barzane for her interest in Japanese culture.


Kayly: How would you describe your art?

Kyoko: I have been an artist in real life and my medium was serigraph. But in Second Life I showed some of my travel photographs. Then, hmmm, it's hard to remember when I started creating "Memory Layers” to exhibit in Second Life. They were what I called digital photomontages. I manipulated a photo or usually parts of several photos to create a composition that seemed to work. Just like with our memory, each layer affected the next one. Sort of a metaphor for how memory works. Memory on memory which each memory changing those before in some way. I probably started this method about 7-8 years ago.

I then had a drought. I seemed to have gone as far as that could go for me. I did a few works in 2016, and then really tailed off. But during the pandemic and sheltering in place, my art changed. I still used my travel photos as the base layer but just only outlines, either dark or light. I eventually "got" why I was doing it. And since I haven't traveled in a year and a half, what I have left are the outlines. Pandemic does do strange things to one's mind for sure.


Kayly: Did you have any training in art?

Kyoko: I did take a drawing class my senior year in college. I actually ended up with a master's in dance education. Movement has always been my first love. I ended up with a bad knee injury when I landed from a jump and my knee kept going. But the creative spirit needs an outlet. So, I started taking painting, printmaking and design classes at The Philadelphia Museum of Art, but printmaking and design were the most influential for me. They both related to movement for me. I also took classes in the evening at The Pennsylvania Academy of Art for three years. I did exhibit my prints and won few minor prizes at various art center shows. But dance was always my first love. When I went back to dance to get the degree; I was a better choreographer for my work in design and serigraph.

Kayly: What did you do in Second Life?

Kyoko: When I retired in real life, I also retired in Second Life from the various jobs I had held with various fashion creators. I was a Customer Service Representative then the head representative and also, a shopping sim manager. Then probably 2012 or so the memory layers happened.


Kayly: What is your reason to exhibit in Second Life? and what is your experience had been?

Kyoko: This is my real life art. I just happen to show it in Second Life. In real life, I'd had enough as an artist and as a choreographer doing the politics and arranging and applying for shows and grants. In Second Life, I am more in control of what happens to my work, I guess.


Kayly: Do you have your own galleries?

Kyoko: I have owned and run many galleries, not just for myself, but to share the work of others. I took over Park Galleries after Artistic Fimicoloud, the gallery owner, passed in 2008. At CDS, I had managed the Art Café. It had a long run. I started that in 2015. Then I became curator of our Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA). So, I closed down the Art Café. The reason I closed the Art Café was that it just didn't feel right to promote artists at my art café as well as curating at the MoCA shows. As a professor, one course I taught Intro to Ethics. I always checking my moral compass.

Kayly: What advice would you give to artists who is interested in exhibiting in SL?

Kyoko: Look around. See where the important galleries are. Notice the sims they are in. Second Life for me and what makes me happy, other than doing my own work, is showing and promoting the work of others. While I owned and operated Park Galleries, I gave a number of artists their first exposure. I enjoyed supporting good art and really like helping people make connections.

Some of Kyoto Furse-Barzane landmarks to visit

MoCA, Museum of Contemporary Art in Neufreistadt, Curator
http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Neufreistadt/188/135/181

Second Life Galleries:
The Grove Gallery, http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Arcata/149/183/57
Current Digital Photomontage
New England Estate, Marblehead, http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Marblehead/116/95/22
Digital Photomontage
Star Journey
http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Star%20Journey/76/222/445
Digital Photomontage

Kayly Iali
 


Monday, April 5, 2021

Return to Grace Baptist Church

 
By Bixyl Shuftan

It was seven years ago that the Newser reported about the Grace Baptist Church. This Easter weekend, when I was looking for a church to write about, they just happened to be having an afternoon service when I took a look at the place. So I went in. As before, the church was in a brick building with a chapel and two smaller rooms. In the smaller building was what looked like a 50s dinner. This time the pastor was Pastor Michael Boyd (michael Baily). He was giving his sermon on voice, and when I stepped inside, some of the parishioners greeted me as I took my seat. At the end of the service, he turned on the screen and invited people to sing along in real life to the woman singing.

After the service, I spoke to Pastor Michael, whom answered in voice. He was happy to hear I had been there before, explaining I probably interviewed Pastor Bryan Sarjeant (leroy.zoon) shortly before he stepped down. "Brian and I were co-pastors for a while," he explained, saying the man had to stop for health reasons. Brian had been an Army ranger, ended up on disability, and "struggles with a lot of things." He had been ministering on a regular basis until it proved too much and overwhelming for him.

Brian was with Pastor Michael for his first year. He did say if he had a problem, Brian was always available, "He hardly comes on Second Life any more." He does continue to maintain the church's website ans "the behind the scenes stuff." One of the more interesting things Brian does, Michael described, was when he assumes control of the church's bot account, which really does look like a robot. The robot will walk out of it's usual place in one of the smaller rooms and step outside to pay the tier.

Pastor Michael told me he had 22 years of experience in the ministry in real like church. Doing so in a virtual church can be quite different. But on the other hand, it fits into his skills in both ministry and computers. Plus he told me he's not as quite as mobile as he used to be, saying he once had a health problem that led him to almost dying in the hospital. "This is where God led me, and I'll stay here until He leads me somewhere else," he explained.

Of what experiences stood out, Pastor Mike thought for a moment, then recalled "this gentleman who came in" whom was in his 70s to 80s. He ended up passing away, "we had a memorial service in church for him." There was also one lady, Amy, whom offered to decorate the church. But "the all time best, I came one morning, the building was gone!" Fortunately Brian came by to fix the problem. So Pastor Mike could chuckle about it, "Only in Second Life can a building just walk away."

I then brought up the Pandemic, and asked if over the past year many more people have been coming. Pastor Mike answered, "Yes, but not as many as you would think." He told me a few more came, but he didn't get as big an influx as expected. It seems more people are opting instead to see live video over Youtube and livestream, "not so much Second Life."

Boni, one of the parishioners, had a few things of her own to say (also in voice), "The one good thing about this church, they pray for you. They will stop right there and pray for you. ... Prayer is a big thing, it's really important. ... We here, the Bible says pray without ceasing. That's our communication with Him. ... That's the one great thing about this church, outreach ... prayer time after Bible study ...people can submit their prayers.

"I do know one thing, people who can't get out because they're disabled ... for me, it's been great to come to a church that preaches God's word, outreach to people ... at the end of every message, 'You are the church, go be the church.' ... It's helped me in my real life, share on my FB page.

"It's been a great experience here. From the right side of my heart,my own experience. I enjoy coming here. ... There are times I can't come, can listen to a mixer. Three different ways, SL, mixer, and Youtube. On Youtube, a chance to listen to it later. With the busy schedule everyone has, sometimes you have to listen later.

"It's not how full the pews are, but reaching people where they're at. People walk in and out all the time, you never know. ... The mustard seed you plant may get watered by someone else."

Of nonhuman avatars, Boni commented, "I went to this thing one time, Virginia and I went to a place that was all furries," and mentioned they were from a group called Faith-filled Furries, "Some churches will say no furries or ask you to leave for some reason, but not here." She would say the only people asked to leave were ones being disruptive, such as trolls. She went back to the furs, commenting at one prayer one fur asked that someone's mike be turned off, that the group didn't want to use voice.

Virginia, whom was there, had this to say, "I'm so happy I found this church in Second Life.  We're blessed to have this church here.  I was just talking to someone that was here tonight he was so happy he was here.  He's been to a few other churches in SL."

Someone got out a pink hammer that made cute "boink" noise, and they were joking about it being the ban hammer for a couple minutes. Then the people left needed to head out. 

The Grace Baptist Church meets on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 5PM SL time, and on Sundays at both 5AM and 5 PM. They also have a Thursday Zoom Study at 4:30 PM, and a Friday Bible Study at 5 PM SL time. For more information, one can check out their website at http://gracechurch-sl.org , or email them at pastor@gracechurch-sl.us .

http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Lionheart%20Pumbaa/40/71/29
 
Bixyl Shuftan
 

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

2021 VWBPE Thinkerer Award Goes to Wisdomseeker (Lissena Resident)

 
By Bixyl Shuftan

Last weeked was the Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education conference. There were a number of talks and other events, including a few discussions by the Lindens. Near the end they gave out their Thinkerer Award. This was at the closing ceremony in which a number of people such as Pooky Amsterdam, Lorraine Mockford, Elli Pinion, iSkye Silverweb, Olivetree Lighthouse, Beth Ghostraven, Heike Philp, Serena Offcourse, and others were given thanks (and the Newser was also thanked as well for it's coverage). 

Then came the award, which is given to "for outstanding contribution in the promotion of learning, community, and educational practices, and who exemplifies the spirit of cooperative development within immersive environments." And this year, it went to Wisdomseeker aka Lissena Resident (Lynne Berrett in real life). 

Elli Pinion described the reasons, "Lynne began her educational career with an MA in English and doctoral fellowships in the Humanities. She was an English instructor at universities in New York and Michigan. She joined Manhattanville College in the New York City area as Director of the H.E.O.P. College Skills Center for at-risk students and held many other positions there for almost 30 years. Concurrently, she established a private psychotherapy practice for adults and couples after getting an MSW in Clinical Social Work at New York University.

"In semi-retirement Lynne trained as a coach with MentorCoach, a program based in positive psychology. She was on the leadership  team of the Alliance for Positive Psychology there for almost 10 years. 

"She says that her experiences as a caregiver, with her husband, first for her mother and again for her brother in law and his wife, led her to search out new ways to help others.  Because both women had developed dementia, she began to study brain health in depth to learn how to delay and even prevent the onset of dementia.

"Lynne first encountered Second Life at a Positive Aging Conference and was immediately attracted to the imaginative power of Virtual Worlds.  She recognized the potential for learning through virtual experiences (turning theory into action) -- learning that could transfer to a person’s life beyond SL.

"In 2013 she founded the Whole Brain Health Group in Second Life.  She established Inspiration Island, which now has 4 full levels of activities, as official home of Whole Brain Health. It is a 'public' region where over 40 volunteers, members of the island Collective, are given free parcels to create self-guided activities and offer hosted programs. Everything is designed to help visitors learn by doing.

"Over the years she has presented her work in Second Life at many conferences around the country. When she presented at the National Center for Creative Aging Conference in Washington D.C., Joyce Bettencourt (Rhiannon Chatnoir in SL) came along to stream Second Life into the event so they could be joined live by Thinkerer Selby and members of the Collective.

"Lynne is active in many virtual worlds educational and nonprofit groups such as Virtual Worlds Education Roundtable, VWBPE, AvaCon, OSCC conferences, and she was a founding board member of Nonprofit Commons. She also developed a course for SL entitled ‘New Frontiers in Brain Training,’ which uses activities on Inspiration Island to guide students to design personalized action plans for well-being.

"Her latest accomplishment is building Virtual Learning Village, a grid in OpenSim specifically made for lifelong learning and professional development. She and her group of volunteers have created a beautiful environment with many innovative tools for teaching and learning.

"To find out more about Lynne’s work, she has multiple websites:
https://agelessmindproject.org
https://virtualinspirationisland.org
https://virtual-learning-village.org
https://www.facebook.com/VirtualInspirationIsland

"It is for all these reasons, and more, that the VWBPE Organizational Committee proudly confirms Lynne Berrett, our Wisdomseeker, as the VWBPE 2021 Thinkerer Award recipient."

After much applause, Wisdomseeker went forward from her place on the stage to speak, "I want you all to know you have saved my marriage. My husband is watching this and has promised never to ask me again what I am doing in Second Life." She paused as a few chuckled, then resumed, "I am so honored to accept the 2021 Thinkerer Award -- not just for myself but also on behalf of the Whole Brain Health Team and the Inspiration Island Collective. I could not have done any of this work without their dedication and expertise and imagination over many years. There are so many people to thank! 

"First of all, the award winners who came before me. Every one of you has contributed to the success of our learning projects in Second Life and OpenSim through your example, advice, encouragement, and concrete help. I plan to thank people privately, so I won’t subject you all to a long list of names tonight. But of course the members of the Inspiration Island Collective are at the top of the list. Every year since 2014 we have taken a group photo of the Collective. Most of the original members are still with us—which is a source of great joy to me. Each year we have added new members to the photo. You can see the latest one in the Lotus – which is a miniature Inspiration Island – at our Exhibit here at VWBPE. It was made with loving care by Katsii Tennen (Catseye), Fran, and Tooyaa.

"If you attended our presentation this morning, you can guess whom I DO want to thank publicly. From the very beginning, Thuja Hynes (Tooyaa) and Francisco Koolhoven (Fran) have been essential partners in producing the rich experiences Whole Brain Health offers. Our long, fruitful collaboration has been absolutely central to WBH’s development and my own growth as a virtual worlds educator -- and as a leader. Their creativity, technical skill, and willingness to try anything I come up with have repeatedly made the impossible possible for us. 

 "I also want to shout out to Maximillian Merlin, my chief creative and technical partner in a newer venture, Virtual Learning Village. After creating our drone security system and a lot for Inspiration Island, Max brought his Buildwerk team of volunteers to OpenSim, where we have built a beautiful grid for adult learning of all kinds. 

"Our Whole Brain Health logo is a manifesto for all this work: it’s a simple circle with the three words INTERACT  INSPIRE  INNOVATE embracing the central word, CHANGE.  The more we can INTERACT and INSPIRE each other through our collaborations, the more we can truly INNOVATE – creating new forms of learning in virtual worlds and beyond, for people of all ages... because well-being is directly related to flexibility – the ability to CHANGE. 

"As one of my role models, Seth Godin, just wrote on his blog: “The world is going to change and resilience is our best response. 'Resilience is a commitment to design, an attitude and a system that works even when things don’t turn out the way we planned. Especially then.   … Flexibility, community, and a sense of possibility can go a long way. That doesn’t make it easier, but it’s our best path forward.”

"So my last thank you tonight goes to the VISION of Best Practices in Education that is illustrated year after year in this conference. And most of all, thank you VWBPE, this year, for illuminating the value of lifelong learning for adults in virtual worlds with this award. "

The award itself, which resembled the classic statue "The Thinker," when presented was very large, almost twice her height. Someone joked "The real test is if Liss can carry the trophy 20 meters." Another commented, "That award is going to take a heck of an anti-grav trolley to be taken away."

Following Wisdomseeker's speech, people started to head out to the last official event, the farewell party. She and several others would engage in a group hug, then depart.

Past recipients include Renne Brock / Zinnia Zauber, Barbara Truman / Delightful Doowangle, Valerie Hill / Valibrarian, Cynthia Calogne / Lyr Lobo, Andrew Wheelock / Spiff Whitfield, Alice Kreuger / Gentle Heron, and Selby Evans.

Bixyl Shuftan

Monday, March 8, 2021

Interview With Draxtor Despres

 By Bixyl Shuftan

Among the personalities in Second Life, among those whom seldom needs an introduction is Draxtor Despres. He was first well known about ten years ago when his "Flufee" videos promoting mess proved a hit. Although he eventually stopped them, he went on to more successes such as the Drax Radio Hour, "The Drax Files" videos, the 2018 documentary movie "Our Digital Selves," and lately has been doing "Second Life Destinations" videos for Linden Lab, as well as being the host of the Second Life Book Club. Not long ago, I met up with him for an interview. 

Bixyl Shuftan: "To begin with, what were you doing before you came to Second Life, and how did you find out about it?"

Draxtor Despres: "I was working on a teenage comedy film, and I was writing the score for this movie. And my friend who was mixing the music, who I was touring with and I was 23 maybe, and he was also in his mid-30s and we were saying 'Ah, it was so much fun when we were on tour,' and he said 'Ah, we could do a virtual band.' And I go, 'What do you mean a virtual band?' That was in 2007. And he said, 'Ah, this thing called Second Life, there's musicians in there.' And I go, 'Second Life, that sounds interesting. And I looked it up, signed up an avatar, and logged in. And then I called him on the phone, on the landline, and said 'Where are you in Second Life? I'm in there. It's awesome!' And he said, 'I'm not in there, I just read about it somewhere or my son told me about it.' So that's how I got in. But it immediately resonated because it tapped into something that I think I was looking for since I was twelve, which is a space that is inclusive and has all sorts of people and you can access it and you are not bound to your physical location."

Bixyl Shuftan: "How did your first few days go?"

Draxtor Despres: "Yeah, I was going to New Citizens Incorporated. I said this many, many times. It really bears repeating. People echo this. I don't know what would have happened if I would have met people who took me in and were spending time with me and helping me out. And I think Linden Lab knows this. Everybody I talk to at Linden Lab, I always say 'You guys gotta have greeters, you gotta hire greeters. I know there's Gateway Programs, but there is no way this onboarding process in something like Second Life can be automated. There has to be handholding and real people. And so yeah, I went to New Citizens Incorporated and I think a week in or so, I was just completely fascinated and I knew I wanted to tell stories. I was just coming off radio. I quit my radio job when my son was born. ... 2004. So I was three years out of radio, and went back to music. And when I was in Second Life, I realized I can tell stories, I need to find out what people do, and I need to do that with my, radio documentary-type style. I didn't know what machinima was. But I was aware you could capture the screen. And so I did that, and the stuff looked pretty awful. But that's the beauty of Second Life, you learn by doing, (chuckle). And then you upload it to Youtube, and then it becomes a permanent record of how bad you were! Which is good! Because then people can see a growth. I think that's actually great. It's also a type of encouragement for people who want to get into stuff. They go, 'Hey, this guy that I admire started somewhere.'

"I think the first machinima I did was 'Playing Democracy in a Virtual World.' I uploaded it in May, but I know I finished it in April or before then. I'm not saying this to brag, but it was very clear to me what I wanted to do, which was to document what other people were doing, exploring, and then documenting it. So within the first two months, I did the first story, and then it was basically two videos per month for a while. I was completely absorbed. And it worked out well. What was interesting is I was working on this film still. And I actually played a little role in the film. It was for Disney actually. It's a Disney romantic comedy, but for the German Disney division. And I had to go on the set a few times. And I was constantly talking to people in Second Life through offline IMs with my little T-Mobile Sidekick. I don't know if you remember T-Mobile Sidekick. It was a really kind of cool early, smartphone if you will. The T-Mobile Sidekick 2. Look it up. I still have it here, of course it doesn't work any more. But I was able to do text and access the Internet and everything. So I was constantly, while I was on the set of this film, I was constantly texting people offline. And then I remember the director was like 'You gotta be in the here and now man!' And I go, 'I am. I need to do field inquiries in the other world in the here and now."

Bixyl Shuftan: "What led to Pooky Amsterdam and the 'Flufffe' videos?"

Draxtor Despres:"Well, that was, 2011. A that time I was four years, almost five years doing ... I don't know. Before Flufee (video one link), I did at least a hundred different mini-documentaries and news reportages about various aspects of Second Life. And I'm not counting (that) I also worked on three interactive projects for big documentaries through the Bay Area Video Collition, BAVC. And I wanted to just go into unscripted comedy. And Pooky (Amsterdam) is a friend of mine, and she was game. And at the time, mesh came along and so the avatars that were put out were, had a different feel and look, and people had a lot of anxiety about mesh. And that was the basic story line, that Flufee was not afraid of mesh, he wanted to leave 'Primland.' And that was the basic story that we from then on developed further. 


"But it was actually quite controversial. As you know people are, I don't want to paint with a broad brush, but there is a small group of very vocal people who oppose improvements. Same thing was when Voice happened. I did a peice about Voice. People were really upset. And people were upset about mesh. And so we got a fair ammount of very negative feedback, like we were making fun of people with anxiety. And we never intended to make fun of anxiety around economic issues like how it would impact people with existing businesses. Those are all completely legitimate concerns. If someone comes in and says 'Okay, and now we're going to open the market to professional stages, upload their stuff they have elsewhere, of course that's, it's a huge thing that will change everything. And it did change everyting. And it created economic hardship for a lot of people who had comfortable prim-based businesses. Those are things that I do not naively support like, it's very nuanced.

"What we did with Flufee was just try to have some fun with different sterotypes within SL. And just comment on them, just like any good comedy or satire does. Believe me, I'm not a fan of making everything into an IKEA, which at the time was the main charge, like 'SL's going to turn into IKEA. It's just people mass-producing stuff. And the prim carpenter is going to be out of a job.' And those things, those thoughts, fears have total validity, because it's parallel to what's happening in the physical world. Matter of fact, I know three carpenters whom are extremely gifted, but who are out of a job because of cheaper stuff that you can buy in big chain stores. In a world where you have stagnating wages, that is what happens."

Bixyl Shuftan: "I guess it was a surprise that it was the hit it was."

Draxtor Despres: "Yeah, it was a surprise that it was the hit. But you know, I don't want to downplay Flufee. I think it was total fun. But, if someone would have asked me what was the craziest thing that happened in my 'Second Life career,' the craziest thing was hanging out with former President Jimmy Carter, Richard Branson, and Peter Gabriel in Paris France when I was nominated for a 'Every Human Has Rights Media Award,' and have in my office here a signed document by Desmond Tutu because of a Second Life video that I made. So I'm not downplaying what we did with Flufee. It was a lot of fun. But in terms of impact and changing my entire life, the fact that I was able to do something that resonated with the entire world and people whom I admire in the realm of social activism like Desmond Tutu or Nelson Mandela, that's another level you see. Comedy's fun, but the other stuff to me matters much more. But that's just me. It's not trying to devalue other stuff. But I'm a social activist and to be able to show people on this gigantic scale being in Vanity Fair and again being on stage with Jimmy Carter, talking about the validity of virtual worlds. To make real change in the physical world, that is, it's at another scale of impact and importance. Again, I'm not saying comedy's not important. Comedy is very important.

"And it was a fun challenge to write these things, the Flufee things. That kind of disciplined writing. You get a little feel for how tough it is to write for a sitcom, or something like that."

Bixyl Shuftan: "Did you expect to do as many Flufee videos as you did?"

Draxtor Despres: "Well, I actually wanted to do much more. But, it's just not feasible. You know, you call it a success. And thank you. But the reality is, I never intended it to be a commercial success, or I'd never had a plan to make money off it or sell it, or whatever. I didn't even own Flufee. Flufee was owned by these bike gang guys. We just asked them 'Can we use Flufee?' And they were from the Czech Republic. So I never had a plan to sell this somehow, or make money off of it, or whatever the business model would be, sell t-shirts, or I don't even know. If you were to ask me now how I would advise someone how to monetize this, I wouldn't know where to begin with. Maybe a Patreon campaign these days. But fact of the matter is, it's very labor intensive. I just could not keep this up. It was not fesible to do that as a hobby basically, with a time commitment.

"And then the added aspect was that, I wouldn't call it a dispute, but there was a little bit disagreement with where we wanted to go with Flufee. Because ... they registered flufee.com, the bike gang folks. And, again we just started this for fun. But then they wanted to commercialize it and do other things with it. Primarily, the wanted to do an iPhone app where, have Flufee (break wind) and do all sorts of things. And actually, Pooky wrote a joke about this in one of the episodes, I don't remember which one. And then I realized, or Pooky and I realized, that we were basically taking something we did not create, Flufee, the character, the image, as far as I'm concerned, we created him because we gave him a voice and we gave him a whole world. But it was not our creation. We didn't create, we didn't draw him. We didn't create the character. So, and that's totally normal, the bike gang was able to do with him what they wanted to, which was to sell an app. And then the conflict then that I saw is like 'Okay, we can continue this, and it's a lot of fun. But it kind of makes no sense for us to create, it's basically fan fiction. Which is fine. But fan fiction with an incredible amount of work, that kind of leads nowhere.

"So what would make sense is to create your own character and do something like that, because over the years of course what was cool was learn how to efficiently produce these things, which was very valuable. We stopped it, and I started on a project called 'Caleo's Room.' Which was, we used some music by Egochavinsky, very very weird concept. And that was in 2013, it never saw the light of day. Why? Because I was reminded by Chris Leeman of Botanical, that he missed my news reportage. And I saud 'Ah, maybe I should go back to doing that.' And he said, 'Yeah, you should. Nobody's doing it.' I mean, Bixyl, you're doing it in print. But he was saying in terms of video. And I said, 'Okay, I'm going to do personal profiles. I'm going ot start with you Chris.' That's how the Drax Files then started, in 2013.

"So basically, we ended Flufee because of this realization that we're putting a lot of work and a lot of time making free content with characters that we don't own. Then I started to draw up the 'Caleo's Room' idea which was basically a mystery scripted sort of like a, I was obsessed with the TV show 'Lost,' and I wanted it to be something like 'Lost' that little bit, but made with machinima. And I'm really glad that we didn't do it, because, it's, narrative machinima is really great. And there's some amazing practitioners here in Second Life and in other worlds. But I realized that I have a unique thing to offer. And that's where I'm coming from. I was news director at an NPR station for quite some time. I started actually at KPFK in North Hollywood in 1999, very important left-leaning progressive radio station, still around. Been around for sixty years.  And so I thought, 'You know, what Chris is saying makes a lot of sense. This is my unique offering to this world. And I gotta continue doing that."

Bixyl Shuftan: "Yes, there was the Drax Radio Hour and the Drax Files that you moved on to."

Draxtor Despres: "Yeah, you can say that I moved on to that. I would say that I moved back to where I came from, which is documentary. I mean, in 2007 I registered virtual worlds public radio dot-org. I think I still own it. We announced it at the 2007 Second Life Community Convention. In 2008, I won the 'Every Human Has Rights' Award. In 2009, we were nominated for an Emmy for interactive news reporting. In 2010, I did the Kansas to Cairo documentary with the US Department of State under the Obama Administration. That's when Obama started following me on Twitter. So this stuff is in my blood. And then I did a little detour with Flufee. That's how I would, if I would be my own biographer. And again, it's not to devalue this. I think I'm a funny person. I'm not arrogant (chuckle). You know, I know that I can be funny, because people enjoy the funny side of me when I'm offering it in a variety of context. But, the fact of the matter is, that what is needed in this ecosystem is, this reportage stuff, with this documenting and profiling people. And that's what I realized.

"And the same with the Book Club now, for example. The Book Club is also something. Again there's people here who do book talks. I know that there's the Seanchi Library. Those are all really awesome things in that ecosystem. But nobody has done consistently inviting of real life authors into Second Life. There was sporadic stuff. William Gibbson was here 2008. Kurt Vonegut was here in 2006 shortly before he passed away. But nobody has done a consistent weekly offering as we're doing it now. So this is what I'm obsessed with. And this also again, this comes very naturally because this fits my personal interests."

Draxtor commented about someone else being delayed and her having to reschedule, "It's really crazy because we're in Germany right now. I don't even know where you are, Bixyl. I'm always interested. I like the feel of the global village that we are here." So I mentioned I was from Virginia, to which he responded, "Ah, I've never been to Virginia. I've only been to nine states. ... " When I mentioned the history of the state, he continued, "Yes, absolutely. I find this, I mean, I'm reading a lot on American history. I'm learning a lot through reading. I'm learning a lot through my wife and in-laws. She's from Hawaii. The whole history of the Imperial side. There was a fantastic book about the various, acquisitions shall we say. Starting with Hawaii, which was the first big one, 'Because it's better if you own the sugar producing plantations rather than renting it, am I right?'

"Let's continue the questions. ... I really need to go to the East Coast and the original colonies. That's definately something when we can travel again, when I can afford it ..."

Bixyl Shuftan: "I remember the Book club episode in which you interviewed Larry Niven , Philip Rosedale was there in the audience."

Draxtor Despres: "Yeah, we've had over sixty authors. Onboarded over a hundred authors now. We've done the book club since April 2020. We had, amazing guests. Larry Niven is a favorite. It's amazing. Larry Niven is 82 years old. And it was amazing to help him onboard in Second Life. He had huge problems downloading Second Life and installing it under Windows. And once he was in SL, it was completely natural to him. It was actually quite amazing. I'm going to keep this story fresh in my mind to dispel this myth that Second Life is so difficult. For Larry Niven, being in a 3-D environment was so much more intuitive than being on a flat desktop, in Windows 10 (chuckle). So it was very cool. And a lot of others. 

"What is exciting to me about the Book Club is to bring in people, some of whom are very skeptical. We get high viewer numbers. Three thousand viewers on average on the stream. Not inworld of course, but on the bigger shows there's three thousand people watching this. Can you imagine? I'm not saying all of them are hardcore book lovers. When this streams on the Second Life Facebook page, it's probably likely that a lot of people get notification that 'liked' the Second Life page, 'Okay, there's a livestream.' Then they go there and then they  watch a little bit and then they disappear again. So I'm not to delusional to believe that we have three thousand hardcore book club lovers whom are completely engaged with what we're putting forward. But, it's still pretty cool, and I can leverage these numbers to get authors in who may not even talk with me otherwise. So I'm using this strategically. And what is very satisfying is when an author goes like, 'Yeah, you've got good numbers. I've got to come on the show." And then I tell them to sign up for a Second Life account, and then they go like, 'Uh, secondlife.com, what a weird page. All weird. Avatars? I'm not into gaming.' And then I go, 'Trust me, trust me,' I say, 'Come on in.' And then they do it, and then they're inworld. And then I can show them the art, amazing stuff that's happening. And then their eyes open to new possibilities. And that's enormously satisfying.

"As you know, these stereotypical notions about Second Life, they unfortunately are very sticky. They still persist. We all need to work against them. And we're all doing our part. And unfortunately it's ... I'm going back to the original thing. Second Life is something where you need to experience it and you have to do this with handholding, right? So the biggest challenge in what I do is with the videos. The biggest challenge is to translate into a 2D medium the visual, the linear movie, the amazingness of SL. And over the years, I've realized certain things work better than others. For example, mixing real ife with Second Life so people go, 'Ah, these.' Because the first thing that people say is, 'Oh yeah, these are NPCs. Why are you playing with NPCs or whatever?' And I'm like, 'Oh no. These are representatives of actual people. And sometimes I can drive that point home with a juxtaposition of real life and Second Life. And sometimes I still don't succeed."

Draxtor then briefly changed the subject, "You know Bixyl, I just noticed you look a lot like Greg Pallast (chuckle). Was that intentional with the hat, are you a Greg Palast fan?" My response was to smile, and comment I felt my clothing was the classical reporter's outfit, to which Draxtor spoke, "I saw an interview with Greg Palast. If you don't know who he is, hold on, let me get you a link . Greg Palast is one of the last and most amazing independent investigative reporters of America. And I saw an interview with him, here' his website (https://www.gregpalast.com/), where they ask him about the hat, and he just had the hat, yeah. That's true, it is true. But people don't wear it any more. And Greg Palast is the only one who wears it in real life. And you're the one holding the tradition in Second Life. That's so cool."

Bixyl Shuftan: "And about you, where did you get the idea for your appearance, the goggles, the Pac-Man t-shirt, the shorts?"

Draxtor Despres: "Bixyl, you gotta do your due diligence and look up my evolution. Look in the early videos of the 2007 era, especially the Kansas to Ciaro project. And you see how I evolved. I was in a suit and tie for a long time. And then in 2012 I changed. I think in the early Flufee era I still had that outfit. And then Loki made me that t-shirt, the Pac-Man shirt. I also have a 'Drax Files' shirt, but I like the Pac-Man shirt more. And that's when I got the goggles. But before from 2007 to 2012, I was the reporter guy. And I have a federal trademark on that outfit, on that visual representation based on the 2007 avatar. I never changed. I can actually send you a video from a German news reportage. And there's a lot. There's one from PBS. I was on the cover of 'Frontline' actually, 'Frontline World,' ... from 'Eyewitness.' (video link) ... Gotta do your research (smile)."

Bixyl Shuftan: "Where did the pants come from?"

"Loki Elliot made those pants. Those were custom pants. And he did a whole bunch of cell-shaded stuff. I have some more cell-shaded. He was experimenting with cell-shading at the time."

Draxtor was telling me time was running out, so I then asked, "What are your future plans in SL, and any other projects?"

"I'm working on a feature documentary about virtual cultures and pandemic times to follow up on 'Our Digital Selves.' Our Digital Selves came out in 2018, has won one hundred and fifty plus awards, was shown all over the world. In many film festivals I still - , actually the Infographic Film Festival in Paris was postponed because of Covid. I was accepted into that as well. And now I'm doing a similar ninety minute documentary. But it's Second Life *and* Animal Crossing. It's just a kind of comparison of two worlds, one old, one new, if you will. And how the situation of lockdown, how do virtual environments help us, how do they change our behavior, for a long time to come. So that's what I'm working on.

"And then of course as a Linden Lab contractor, which is almost a full-time job because we're producing so much content with a tiny, tiny team. It's really just Strawberry and me. And, I shouldn't say that. There's Marianne McCann, ... helping with the Book Club. And I have access to some volunteers that help me out with props and stuff. But it's basically Strawberry and I, and Bret from Linden Lab driving most of the video content. And it's, yeah kids, it's a different skill that creatives sometimes don't enjoy, which is to have to produce all the time on deadline, and not just when inspiration hits you. Which leads me to say that truism and something that people should be aware of is that inspiration is a learned skill. You have to learn how to tap what inspiration is in your particular profession or line of work. Be a friend of the blank page, or not be afraid of it. And just fill it with meaning."

Draxtor explained he had time for one more question. So I just asked, "Anything else you want to add?"

"What I would like to add is that, as you know, I dabbled with VR. And I have nothing against VR. But VR is not a world. VR is basically a specific piece of hardware. What matters is the society, the community, the world. And worlds can be built and can be enjoyed with or without 4K resolution (chuckle). That an industry that sells headsets needs to sell you on visual fidelity that's completely understandable. I have nothing against visual fidelity. But if the continued success of Second Life teaches us one thing, it teaches us that really the only thing that matters is human connections and worlds building. The fact that we can build our place and connect with people, and do that in a fairly inclusive way, yes you still need a high speed Internet connection, yes you need a computer that runs it. These days, Second Life runs on a wide variety of machines. Linden Lab has really invested in that. And VR runs on expensive headsets with expensive machines. So what I hope, Linden Lab did an amazing job with Sansar. Sansar was an amazing piece of technology. And it's sad that it didn't gain traction. And I was doing both for a couple years, three years almost. I'm really glad to be in Second Life full time, because it's really like, it's total home. It is absolutely home. And it's not going anywhere. I mean, look at it, you know. People come and go, (chuckle) it's funny.

"I was at a VR conference in 2014, at the Computer Museum in San Jose. And a mutual friend of mine introduced me to some young guys from USC. They were working on something, I forgot what it was. And she said, 'This is Draxtor. He does a lot of stuff in Second Life.' And they were literally saying, and they didn't mean it in an offensive way I don't think, and they were saying like, 'Oh Second Life. That's where older people like to go dancing and chat.' And, (sigh) sometimes this stuff is offensive to me. And I get upset when people say this. But I felt like, 'Okay, these guys probably didn't mean it, and I don't want to escalate this.' And I think I said something in fact like, 'Yeah, some people may be older than you guys or me. And they may dance or chat.' And I left it at that, you know. My goto thing on this is, often, and it's a little bit self-destructive in a way, or self-defeating, when I get really preachy. But I think when you're passionate about something, you tend to get preachy, right. And that can put people off. And frankly, I don't care. But I also realize it's a waste of time, sometimes. But I get upset over people when people have this notion. I was at another conference, Augmented World Expo, 2017. I was introduced to a guy who also said something, typically, 'Second Life's still around.' And you know, I mean I can say ... I throw out the 500 million US annual transaction volume. I'm not a numbers guy. But if they want numbers, you can tell them. These are people who are like it's all about dollars for them. Okay, so you throw some dollars in their face. And you know, and that is enjoyable when people are like 'Second Life's still around, hur-hur-hur! I have this really cool start up, and you're telling me,' and 'It's doing very well.' And that is funny to see, kinda see their jaw drop basically. Some of these like dismissive guys.

"And Ebbe Linden was really good at that too. I met Ebbe several times in these conference settings when he was giving talks and when he was on the convention floor talking to people. And I observed him a few times when he was talking with other tech types, or even just regular people or start up people. And he was just incredibly cool and confident, and not phased at all when people were like 'Oh yeah, Second Life. I remember how there was this scandal ... oh you guys got this, ha ha ha, that's funny!' And he was just really cool. And I was like, 'Hey, this is going to be my role model,' because normally, I would get upset, 'You guys, mother effers, you don't know what's what.' Let me tell you."

It was this point Draxtor told me he had to go, "Okay, I gotta go. Strawberry is pinging me."  He thanked me for the interview, and the Newser crew for it's coverage of Second Life, "Thank you for what you do. It's really awesome what you do. And thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about this. It's really all about the world and what people do. This is frankly my life. It's just evolved that way. I want to create media that will last and will showcase how the world can be made a better place if people engage in creative pursuits. And creative pursuits can be anything. It can be cooking, pottery, whatever. But this is the digital version of it. So, just absolutely amazing."

It was then that we parted ways. Anyone wanting to meet Draxtor can do so at the weekly Book Club events, and his videos about Second Life will continue for a long time to come.

Bixyl Shuftan