Friday, December 4, 2015

Relay For Life of Second Life: What Went Wrong in 2015?

Hearts & Souls' core members by July 2015
Disclaimer: When I post about negative experiences it is rarely if ever out of any smug satisfaction.  There are no winners.  It is a "buyer beware" as I stumble through the metaverse.  This post definitely serves this purpose.  You have an opportunity to learn from any mistakes I've made and spot warning signs in advance.  Those who know these people and find me relating a story: take it for what it is; there's no glory in it for me. I am sure to lose several from my contact list.  I always blog with the expectation that someone is going to find out, whether there are tattlers or not. This is The Internet.  Just keep in mind that my opinions may not be that of the Hearts & Souls Relay For Life team, and taking anything out on the team or creating difficulties getting the team resources or preventing them from representation or fundraising is an attack on innocent people - both from the team and American Cancer Society - who have nothing to do with this post or me.

Despite our experience with the Team From Hell in 2014, the year as a whole was energetic and inspirational. We believed.  On the other hand, while the 2015 Relay Season started strong, it ended a wretch.

The Foundation Shows Cracks

- A Break in the Integrity of the Process -  So many teams held official fundraisers featuring contests with Lindens for prizes, the Castle Contest among them.  I could understand if this was a donation towards the winner's favorite team, but that was not stated in these promotions.

- General content was no longer required; PG-13 to light R were in - For the first time there were relaxed rules on language for music.  Limited profanity was permitted.  The American Cancer Society went with that?  Earlier in the year I made a remark because there was a slip in the General Rating rule in 2014 when T1 played a song with profanity on Relay Weekend (it was the album version of Pink Floyd's "Money").  This was vehemently denied, then the song played again this year, again with "bullshit" clearly sung.  So much for brand image emphasized so passionately during Captains training.

- Adult oriented events were promoted via official channels.  Previously, qualifying events were strictly General content and held in General to Moderate sims only.

Fundraising Failed to Reach Heights: Some Observations

Poor promotions - a Google spreadsheet for a calendar but no events page for site visitors to browse by date... This time no low-LI inworld event billboards.  We certainly took a hit from the latter having been discontinued.

The official Relay For Life of Second Life website changed over to an unprofessional, Geocities grade homepage, with cheesy backgrounds depicting avatars of committee members.  How could SL's relayers be taken seriously with this childish aesthetic?  It was an embarrassment and disrespectful.

So many people I once admired became monsters to me by August.  Will that view change with the Christmas Expo?  Here are some highlights of what went on throughout Relay Season in 2015 from my point of view.

Forgot who said it, but someone with - or associated with - the committee tried to prove a point by telling me in IM that the purpose of Relay Weekend was a push to collect the big bucks. Funny, I thought it was to take time out to honor the survivors and caregivers, who relay as a gesture in defiance of cancer.  While this has been an inspirational event and served to contribute significantly to the season total, they had forgotten the true purpose of the weekend.  Was the lone table set for one nothing more than a prop to them to milk the crowd with pathos?

There was lack of accountability on the committee's part by alienating people with deep pockets.  Many bailed throughout the year, including from committee positions (that's when a proliferation of buddies filled in).  They fell way short of their goal of less than half the amount collected the previous year.  In the end they had no one to blame but themselves.  Greediness, selfishness, and nepotism set RFL of SL back.  It certainly didn't improve anything.

Missed Opportunity to Keep Sim Resources Optimal

Apathy towards relayers and their basic needs became apparent by virtue of added junk on the track for Relay Weekend.  We live in an era where less crashes and server related incidents should make for a smoother run in Second Life, even for those on older computers.  What we gained the committee took away from us with:

1. Posing couches in several locations - we should have had these in the entertainment sims and away from the resources needed on the track.  Placing them to the side of the path in view of passersby would be no less enticing to those interested in participating

2. Stand-ups on the side of the road in each sim for relay weekend programs.  Compare resources with traditional cube giver at Relay Station.

3. Art builds so large most relayers could not see them properly.  Two come to mind: a night sky contained in a mammoth cave and an ambitious but impossible dragon.  At a time when people have their graphics down to participate, these are poor choices of parameters to build by.  Creativity is defined not by how well you compensate for mortal limitations but by how well an artist may meet and defy the technical ones once all things are considered.  Even after the weekend with graphics cranked up I never got a decent look at the dragon. 

4. No enforcement of speed scripts.  The committee did change the rules for lap awards against them at least, but what of the added scripts?  To compound it, most of the instigators were individuals who already relied on scripts for their appearance.

I had 12gb of memory in a Quad core CPU to work with and barely made less than a handful of laps.  Think about those with even less.  Was this all worth it for the relay experience they had?  Ask them.

The Problem Elephant in the Room

Long time followers of my blog know I have very specific opinions regarding people holding onto a role they are unable to fulfill.  There's no way around it: if you can't do it, you step aside.  There's no pride or glory holding onto the position.  Quite the opposite.  TS Darrow, someone already on several people's shitlist, was unable to serve as organizer for the Honor Lap for Survivors and Caregivers. He took partial credit for the hard work Catalina Straheli put in to make the project possible.  TS (sorry, used up all my acronyms the last time around) should have been removed altogether and Catalina given sole credit.  That is, if he possessed the common sense or ethics to step aside on his own.  Not his kind...

He was a real problem and clearly did not recognize the privilege of such a role much less the responsibility.  I wonder sometimes whether these types see this as an Epic Title to collect and strut around with rather than view the requirements and say to themselves "hey I can do that" and simply want to help. Rumors also flew from several angles of his behavior in committee meets. 

Many volunteers and mentors were afraid to speak up because TS was committee chair Random's partner.  After all that, so many still hoped that he would be removed.  Many of us wait to see if he will be left off the committee for 2016.  Remember this essay was drafted during the final quarter of 2015; a subsequent post will address any outcomes and revelations with the 2016 Relay season.

There's a blog post from 2012 from when our mentor at the time stated plainly that they could not be there for us or her other teams due to RL commitments, but would continue on as our mentor. What favor did she do anyone? Where did this false sense of pride and duty to let us down come from?  It isn't the first I've seen of this nor the last I'll see of it, and TS Darrow is just one in a long string of sleazy characters holding onto a title for its own sake or for unspecified perks.

It steams me more - even more than his involvement in the Halloween Weekend fiasco - that this is a position which was proudly maintained by Dat's late husband Pro Recreant until his passing.  RFL of SL could have done better. A *LOT* better.

The "One Team" Mantra

In February Catalina - model and photographer - embarked on an impressive and selfless project as her goal for the year: take portraits of avatars: singles, couples, families, groups, Relay teams, etc. to raise donations. She had begun to tally via off-season inworld kiosks and early convio donations; it was about donating and not so much about which team got the credit monetarily. Her raising money towards the cause had its own running total for her personal mission.  Seven and I went into it and encouraged teammates to go for it throughout the season.
Catalina takes a portrait of a teammate with her portable studio

It wasn't long before Catalina was assimilated into the Relay Rockers.   I suppose the One Team mantra could only take an individual so far.  Someone must have felt that her achievements and recognition would have more meaning if she joined a team. Now her project was no longer just hers.  I'm not sure why she changed gears. Her portrait show became the focal point of their Relay Weekend campsite.  I'm probably unique in thinking along these lines Catalina, and I'm sorry; you worked hard as an individual and I thought that was reward enough.  While camaraderie facilitated her covering for the Survivors/Caregivers project in TS' absence, it was good to see that the role was not taken for granted.  Again kudos for taking that on.

The Double Standards Mantra

The Relay Rockers had become the media voice for RFL of SL through T1 Radio and deservedly so.  They hosted the CRFB DJ competition for years and raised money for other teams once their own goal had been met.  However there were things I wasn't too keen about in 2015 and it's time to call the Rockers out.

1. They seemed beyond the restrictions everyone else had to follow.  Perfect case in point: limiting the number of teammates at the campsite during Relay to half a dozen tops.  They had about 20.  We shared their sim and members of our team were unable to get in to wave on the survivors & caregivers at first.  We're talking about no more than four of us. What can you say to that?  It would be like David asking Goliath to stop unconsciously flicking & burying him in ashes.  Avalon had about 8, another 6 or so hung out across the road from us for another team, and access was still needed for caregivers and survivors to run through our portion of the track. Many teams did that: had more than 6-8 of their own simultaneously during Relay weekend, but I expected better of the Rockers. 

2. The Relay Rockers enjoyed a tradition of throwing a party Sunday afternoon following the Victory lap. This year it was held at their sister campsite for T1 over on Media Row (yes, annually they enjoy representation in  two spots), but that wasn't the only thing. 

Seems as though the builder of the event sims - now a committee member - wanted to show for her hard work so a rule was made that EVENTS WERE TO BE HELD IN THE EVENT SIMS!  I say "made up" because of what transpired...  There has always been a rule not to throw parties or events on campsites during Relay.  We've seen tailgate parties the Friday before.  We've seen post-relay parties Sunday afternoon following.  However 2015 was the first time teams got their land almost 2 weeks in advance.  While there was encouragement for those in need of a place to use the event sims during that time, we had a place.  I promoted our event by group notice and submitted for their Google grid, and no one said boo.  We relied on one of them to change our stream URL; for the first time access to it was restricted on the parcel. That Saturday before Relay Weekend they opened the track up to those in the RFL Volunteers group, so we held our "Halloween in July" event at our campsite.

Or tried to.  There was such an uproar over the 8 or so partiers and how we set a bad precedent and threatened to hog the sim's resources (of the 45+ sims there was maybe another dozen individuals dispersed throughout), and that rules were made for a reason, and on and on it went.  Wasn't sure when the builder started calling the shots on event rules but her mouth was definitely in the melee and putting her foot down in notices.  It's not like we filled the sim with 20 teammates, if you know what I mean *points up*

We were forced to stop the stream and move over to The DJ Stage for the second half.  It was disgusting and humiliating, but most of all baseless and unnecessary.  I think Random Darrow attended because she felt sorry for us and saw on some level how we got fucked.  I think she genuinely meant well.

Random Darrow dancing with us at the Event Sim

Of course the Relay Rockers still got carte blanche that following Friday for their tailgate party and as usual filled a sim on Sunday with the annual post-relay party. 

Relay Stock: A Personal Disappointment

The height of Relay Season 2014 for me was Relay Stock hosted by the Relay Rockers.  I loved Relay Stock weekend.  I opened with the first set Saturday morning with The Beatles' Good Morning and took it from there with rock, psychedelia, funk, sould, glam... I attended many sets, we danced on vans, I hung out at my muddy campfire a ways from the stage where I sold tie dye. It was awesome.

When Relay season 2015 ramped up, I watched for Relay Stock applications so i could sign up to DJ again. I never saw it, only a teaser notice.  Perhaps SL failed to deliver since I never saw a call to apply via IM/Email.  It was too late get a DJ slot by the time I found out but I managed to get us a tent to put our stuff.  I did hold a Pirate Radio set early Sunday morning (participants had to add my stream URL to their media players of choice), but it wasn't the same as being a part of the weekend.

I was proud of the art I hand drew for my Pirate Radio poster. If there was interest in it, I would have offered the original on eBay for a convio donation.  Nobody gave a crap.

Our spot at Relay Stock 2015. Pirate Radio poster to the right.

Some Bottom Lines and Let Downs

- Meaningless rules made up for self-satisfaction
- Double standards & favoritism
- Unnecessary stress
- Active team members in committee positions
- of course Harmony From Hell pissed all over our Halloween theme like the diseased, plagiarizing dogs they are and used my idea as an annual event of theirs moving forward.

Problems Within the Ranks.

Things were cutting close.  I had been diagnosed with cancer in June.  CT scans suggested it had not spread and surgery should be a success.  I had worked out with my Sloan Kettering team to have the procedure done right after Relay Weekend.

As mentioned previously we had gotten our land for the campsite early - right after Independence Day.  I wanted to get ours done in a week, while I still had a mediocre level of energy both physically and mentally.  Never had I encountered so much resistance.  The theme was an Autumn suburban community and trick or treating door to door for visitors to learn something new about prevention with each house.  The centerpiece up on the hill was a graveyard of failed practices and quack remedies.  Every stop had a freebie and an inspirational or educational notecard.  I placed the road and homes, drew some ghosts of doctors and sent them flying over the graveyard.  My teammates researched and placed pumpkins with gifts in each house and into marked graves.

Hearts & Souls' campsite Tricks & Treats in 2015

But things went south.  I asked them to work the landscape and they must have misunderstood.  Corners of the path looked too primmy and needed to be filled in with a shrub or bush etc.  Instead they indiscriminately threw crap all over the lawns, not unlike some crazed dog randomly leaving their chew and squeeze toys all over a neighborhood's lawns.  I encountered so much resistance and as much as I had made it clear what we needed.  I returned items since we werent on simultaneously, diplomatically clarified what was needed.  I also had to return trees and other things which violated placement rules.  They didn't do a thing for the landscape and kept putting what I called shitskies all over the place.  The straw broke when one of them - who made plushie owls for sale - placed a plushie owl on each roof.  Clearly whatever rapport we had since 2012 had left the building. They took their little prim-mongering toys, cared enough to keep the informative stuff and freebies on, and left the team.

A friend on another team helped me with some enhancements to the landscape and to  get my stress level down, which of course went back up from the campsite event fiasco.

The moment Relay Weekend had ended, they took the rest of their stuff. There was nothing on display for photographers or videographers.  As usual our place was marked by a shot of our team sign.

Four days after Relay Weekend I was under general anesthesia for six hours.  Subsequent pathology showed the cancer had just started to enter the excised muscle mass.  I'll never know if the stresses leading up to Relay Weekend had a hand in my requiring post-op radiation treatments.  I haven't been the same physically since. 

My co-captain dropped everything and went back to a Star Wars MMORPG in early spring, so I couldn't rely on her covering for me.  In hindsight I really should have had the procedure sooner and to hell with Relay Weekend.

Our annual breakfast spread Sunday morning
By the closing ceremony in August there was so much antipathy towards the committee.  It appeared as though they had sealed themselves into a bubble and were oblivious how much they had alienated the SL populace.  Having fallen short of their goal and the delay of off-season kiosks made them appear desperate to squeeze out more for the year.  Home & Garden / Breedables Expo sat out 2015, which also had an impact on the total.  As it turns out there was a genuine delay of post-season tools as a new scriptwriter was engaged who had to balance between his new role and a demanding RL.  

The straw of course occurred during the wrap up ceremonies.  A raffle of RL items would be awarded to someone among those  who had donated US$100 or more by convio during a certain time frame.  Who won this?  What if I told you it was the committee chair's moll, TS Darrow?  Trust me I wasn't the only one aghast that a committee member got it over all those eligible relayers.  I don't think most people expected anyone from the committee would be tacky enough to participate.  But you know me.  I'm blunt.  I had nothing to lose audibly calling shenanigans.  The minions shushed me as if I was ruining the mood of the moment, but little did they know how far gone that hour had already become.  And them.  They can't pull a sour grapes card since I didn't participate, but I reckon many of them thought that.

I received a convio fundraising award, which meant little to me.  I knew I scored a large sum from friends and family out of pity for having cancer.   I figured this was not going to happen each year, that the results were not the product of my skills in any way.

Sitting with Lemondrop during the wrap up

Just prior to October's breast cancer drive we finally got the off-season tools, which I passed on to my team mates.

My Decision For Now

I'll continue to pass tools over to my team, but I will refrain from personally paying Lindens into Relay For Life of Second Life.

 I may do something for Relay outside Second Life next year in 2016.

 It's entirely up to the team what will happen to inworld Hearts & Souls. That's for another post.

I may be the only one saying anything, but the numbers speak for themselves. Poor planning and poor ethics, and an oblivious and corrupt committee.  So many fed up residents have had their arms folded throughout the fall.  I wasn't thrilled to see who was involved with the Xmas Expo and decided to pass.  Many of us were expecting a full purge.

This is unfortunate.  It means I may not participate in SLSFCon or Fantasy Faire.

I've wanted to join in Fashion For Life for two years but the organizers have been so bloody aloof each time. No wonder half of the shops were unoccupied. It's nice to see Nevar Lobo taking a proactive role again, but is it too little too late?

While a large number share my sentiments, the herd mentality is a strong one.  Most people unhappy with what's been going down will continue to support Relay For Life of Second Life.  Whether or not RFL of SL knows fully the dissatisfaction and disappointment leveled at them, what they do know is that very few will go through the trouble of developing an alternative.  And would The American Cancer Society lend their support in turn since they already have a representative acting as liaison on their behalf?

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