The trouble with having time out from a normally hectic lifestyle is that too much time spent alone, and too much time to spend thinking and reflecting can lead to introspection. That’s not been helped by spending the last couple of days traipsing around cemeteries and wading through parish records of births, marriages and deaths, whilst assisting a friend research her ancestors. There’s nothing like spending time in the company of long-dead relatives to affirm one’s own mortality and to accentuate the need to have some sense of purpose and achievement in life.
It’s a massive responsibility to make something of your life – they never tell you that: they just expect you to get on with things and not to complain when everybody else seems to be so much better at it than you. Achievement is relative – what might be a huge leap for you may be inconsequential to the world around you, and conversely, the great achievements of others may leave you unimpressed.
Many of us may gravitate towards sl, at least in part, because it offers an alternative life that has none of the expectations of the real world. To ‘succeed’ in sl has little to do with physical prowess, upbringing or social standing, and need not require great business acumen. More significantly, there is no expectation that one should succeed at all in sl: to merely be part of the whole is enough, and so we escape the burden of having to prove ourselves and the need to compete and excel. It is perfectly possible to have an unremarkable second life, that has no notable achievements and in which we never make our mark, yet be accepted, included and be perfectly happy with our lot. We have nothing to prove and no-one to prove it to. Even if we completely screw it up, sl gives us the option to quietly erase all signs of our existence and disappear for good, or even start again from scratch – if only the real world gave us those options.
It doesn’t. Screw up in the real world and we have to live with our mistakes. Fail to succeed in real life and our fate is sealed. Let life pass us by, and it’s gone; no returns and no fresh starts. Faced with the reality of our own mortality, how many of us can honestly look back and not repeatedly wish we could press the ‘rewind’ button?
We’ve all made mistakes – some of them, pretty damning – but there’s no changing the past, no matter how much we wish we could. We all have regrets, but regrets solve nothing and i’m pretty sure that most of us at some point have taken stock of our lives and come to the conclusion that we have royally screwed up, that we only have ourselves to blame, and there’s nothing at all we can do about it. It’s an unpleasant and unsettling truth, but truth often is. How we deal with it – or not – is purely our own problem. Certainly, retreating into sl, where we’re spared the burden to be something we’re not, may give us respite, but eventually we all have to log back out and face the music that is our real lives, and the difference can be stark.
When in sl, i’m Dr Jekyll – fun, gregarious, happy and full of life. Certainly i’ve made mistakes in the past and learned some harsh lessons, but nothing that a new perspective and a change of identity couldn’t put right. Nobody knows who i am, where i’ve been or how i arrived where i am today, nobody cares if i’m a success or failure in the real world. There’s a freedom and sense of belonging that sl brings that is both restorative and energising.
Log out and return to reality, and Mr Hyde emerges from the darkness of failure, loss, and a life that should have been a whole lot more than it has become.
Reality can be harsh; virtual reality need not be, but – whilst both are what we make them – only the real one makes us who we are.
Uncomfortable – but true.
and if i show you my dark side
will you still hold me tonight
and if i open my heart to you
and show you my weak side
what would you do
Pink Floyd – The Final Cut