Thursday, March 4, 2010

I Could Have Danced All Night

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies.

...But My Avatar's Performance Lagged Too Much

Tonight, I was invited to a Fancy Dress Ball in Second Life, so that we could test performance on Second Life's Viewer 1 compared with Viewer 2 for work. Pat was at a play with friends and if she had been here, it would have been good for her to join me. Another woman brought her husband.

It felt a little weird to be preparing for a ball at which I'd be with colleagues, but I also recall the '90s and even while in India that there were occasions, where I'd be in dancing situations with colleagues in real-life. They always felt scary and awkward and then turned out to be really fun.

Designing my outfit this afternoon, I felt excited; I could dress ultra-femininely, as I always tend to do in Second Life. In real-life, I'm most reluctant to wear formal-wear. Once, in real-life, for a GLAAD benefit at the Kodak Theater in L.A., I became very tan and wore a gorgeous, coral, formal gown, pointy-toed, but low-heeled shoes and a string of large, fresh-water pearls, but could hardly focus, as I was distracted by my own woman-ness.

Who can relate to that, I wonder? Am I the only woman, or only lesbian, who is unnerved by her own attractive appearance, depending on what she's wearing?

Tonight, in Second Life, I wear diamondy-stiletto platform shoes, a diamond watch and a sleeveless, black gown with subtle lace-work around the neckline and a cutout back. And then my lag is so great shortly after my arrival that I can hardly move. Upon my arrival, the ballroom is set up, so that I have to ascend stairs and I feel like I am making a grand entrance.

I am the first woman there. At the door, the host is lovely, but I am super-nervous. Please don't misread me. I'm not single and I'm not heterosexual. Oh, God. What am I doing here? Me and three other men. In text-chat, I tell the host, "Nice place. I think I'll walk around a bit," and that's when I begin lurching forward and back into the potted plants due to machine-lag.

From my potted-plant vantage point, I see a familiar colleague arrive. Phew, another out lesbian. Oh, no. She's wearing a super formal petticoated gown and it's low-cut. I don't recognize her from other Second Life experiences. I want to stay hidden. My cool black sheathy dress now seems inadequate.

Soon, more avatars arrive and my machine lags just about impossibly. My other openly lesbian friend and colleague arrives as a tuxedo penguin, rather than choosing to appear humanly, stereotypically ultra-feminine or ultra-masculine. She sits down almost right away, rather than dancing or mingling and I am touched at her apparent awkwardness...but maybe I'm just projecting.

She is there to do diagnostic testing and asks me technical questions that my machine won't let me answer. Ultimately, I switch to our company's instant messaging system and tell her that my Second Life performance is impossible and that I feel worse than the prom I didn't get invited to in high school, standing here all alone, since I cannot return to the room where everyone else is; I'm frozen.

"I know. I feel awkward, too," she responds.

"No, I mean, not only do I feel awkward around a bunch of ladies and gentlemen dancing with each other, I am unable to be with them because my machine is stuck."

We agree that I will exit Second Life and try coming back in, but first, I somehow end up back in the ballroom, where my other colleague in the stunning, low-cut dress listens to me kvetch for a bit by text-chat about my machine's performance and finally says, "Oh, well. Would you like to dance?"

Now, I really do feel like I'm at the prom I never went to. And finally, a reward after the suffering. Just like in real-life, something often makes me anxious in a situation where there's dancing and equally often, it turns fun just when I'm despairing and wanting to escape. "Sure."

"Who'll lead?"

"How do we dance here?"

"Just touch the pink ball in front of me."

I touch a pink ball nearby, but it's not the one in front of her, so I'm beginning to dance by myself.

"Oh, I'll come over to you," she says and suddenly we are ballroom-dancing as Celine Dion sings, "Here, there, wherever you are..." and I'm moved, watching the two of us being so beautiful and defiant of social norms, even though in real-life, I'm not a huge Celine Dion fan.

This afternoon, I send my colleague e-mail, letting her know that I'm alienated by the sign in front of the ballroom, which promises a formal, elegant atmosphere, "...where Ladies dance with Gentlemen." I think subversively, I'll wear a tux and come as a gentleman tonight. Ha! But then I create an ultra-feminine outfit, as my need to play with my gender role toward the ultra-feminine end of the continuum wins out.

She doesn't answer the e-mail. I don't know if she has seen my message. But her invitation to dance is the best response of all. We're a graceful, marvelous pair -- thanks to scripted moves, courtesy of Second Life. As our avatars glide along, it's hard not to just stare, mesmerized. Perhaps, she is also more moved than either of us mean to be and chats, "There's a way to dance to a faster song, but it's hard to touch the ball while we're dancing."

"Yeah, I can't reach it either. In any case, thanks for the prom experience I never had."

From across the ballroom, my friend and colleague, who's a guy married to a woman and who has two kids, chats, "Me, too, Sarah." As in, he did not go to his prom either. How helpful. I'm not the only one, making up for, and redeemed from, a sad adolescence.

We whirl and whirl and finally, I feel both self-conscious and ever-so-slightly bored. My dance partner probably feels the same and chats that if I'm getting tired, I can simply click the "Stand" button, which will end the dance.

"How gallant you are," I chat, meaning, I know you want to stop, but you're inviting me to end it. I click on "Stand."

"My pleasure," she says charmingly, as she glides away, petticoat ruffles whooshing onward.


Two Barrel Brews said...

Awesome entry Sarah and thank you for sharing. Bummer about your machine lag, I had a problem like that last time I was in Nebraska and I finally decided it was probably my connection.

Anyway, sounds like you had a great time and it would have been fun to see the dancing. Oh, and may to dress-up a bit more than usual.

- Lyn

Sarah Siegel said...

Lyn, thanks for your kind feedback and next time, I'll save a dance for you!