Just a few minutes after I wrapped up a really satisfying live music show at Serenity Gardens last night in Second Life, my mood turned from ebullient to despondent in about three seconds when my friend Lisa Kaser messaged me on Facebook, saying, "Zak, I just learned that Kaj passed this morning. I didn't want you to just scroll across a post to learn of it."
Kaj. Three little letters, but a world of meaning. Unlike many of the friends who I initially met in Second Life, Kaj Qinan didn't stick around that virtual world for very long. She'd come to my shows from time to time back in the earlier days, around 2007-2013, usually when I was performing at one of the more hippie-focused venues. My main interaction with her in times since then has been through our interaction on Facebook, and it was there that we primarily had conversations about our mutual commitment to progressive political ideas, and for making the world a better place in which to live for all people. But she was more than just a political friend; she was a person who exuded kindness and compassion, and always seemed so genuinely interested in what was going on in people's lives.
I'd heard she had some health problems, but she never dwelled on them to the point that I realized they were serious. And then, apparently, at age 59 she passed away due to a heart ailment, details unknown to me. Kaj was a big supporter of Bernie Sanders; her final Facebook profile pic is a little collection of Bernie memes. Quite often, when I'd post some news item relating to the travesty of the Trump presidency, Kaj would be the first to repost it. She'd also come to me privately with follow-up questions about the detailed implications of some piece of news. You could always tell that she was truly interested in learning, and getting to the core of an issue.
Is Everyone Dying?
As my regular readers are aware, I've had far too much death in my life in recent years. One thing I'd like to address is the aspect that in previous generations, the people to whom a person would become close was mostly limited to a relatively small group of family, local friends, and coworkers. In this era, where I can develop meaningful friendships with people around the world, many of whom I will never meet in person, one has a more broad scope of friends and acquaintances, and inevitably as time goes by, some of them are going to die. The upside of being able to be in contact with a wider range of like-minded people is tempered by the aspect of having more people you know also experience tragedy in various ways.
Also, I am 50 years old, and as time goes by, the percentages dictate that more people in and around your age range are going to pass away. It can lead to the false logic that more people are dying than usual. It's not true. Last night, Christina mentioned something about the "thinning of the herd", but that's a fallacy of perception. I can think of the many people who've come along after me... in other words, who joined the world at some point past the time when I was born. I mentioned a bunch of them, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Kevin Hart, Pete Buttigieg, Greta Thunberg, and Billie Eilish. People who make an impact on the world but are young and far from the presumable point of death. The pool of life is much more like a river than a pond, with people constantly exiting and entering. It's easy to see why a person might feel like everyone is dying off, but what they really mean is that the people who are closer to their own age are starting to go, which is all part of the natural scheme of things.
In any case, Kaj will be missed by many. I had a long chat with Trista Morris last night; she felt horrible about the fact that Kaj had commissioned some artwork from her that she didn't have a chance to complete and send before Kaj's untimely passing. I told Trista that a person can't live their lives with the expectation that every single conversation one has with another person might be their last. All you can do -- and Trista certainly does -- is to try and treat people kindly at every opportunity. With Kaj, that kindness was always reflected tenfold. This morning, a good chunk of my Facebook timeline was filled with people writing wonderful memorial words about her, and frankly, that shows the kind of impact she had on people and is a beautiful legacy. It speaks to a life well lived, and through her feisty yet sweet nature, Kaj Qinan was a positive force in the lives of those around her. You can't ask for much more than that. Also, if Bernie Sanders wins the Democratic nomination for president, or (better yet) beats Donald Trump in the general election, I promise to hoist a glass specifically for Kaj... I know how happy that would have made her.
So, before that sad news hit, I was pretty happy about the show I'd just done at Serenity Gardens. I'm still happy about that. I find that the more I take risks in music performances, the more I enjoy the results. That means adding new material, or doing music that might be a step or two outside of the typical boundaries of my own style or my abilities as a musician. It's not always great, but it is always more interesting and fun for me as a performer.
Of the dozens and dozens of places I've played live music in Second Life, Serenity Gardens is definitely one of the finest in all aspects. Photo by Kat.
Last night, I did two songs I'd never done before -- one original and one cover -- and nearly all of my other songs were those that I hadn't played in months and months. That meant I had to take a little extra time preparing to play, internalizing the new stuff and remembering the details of the older stuff. But it was well worth it; the crowd seemed to dig what I did and although I was a sweaty mess afterwards, that feeling of walking the tightrope (versus just taking the easy route) can be exhilarating.
Serenity Gardens set list...
Carey (Joni Mitchell)
Crosses (José González)
One of These Things First (Nick Drake)
Loading Zones (Kurt Vile)
Desire Lines (Deerhunter)
Eleanor Rigby (Beatles)
*High and Dry (Radiohead)
Vendetta (They Stole My Crayon)
*Your Promises Don’t Keep (Zak Claxton)
I’ve Been Waiting for You (Neil Young)
Everything Counts (Depeche Mode)
Moonage Daydream (David Bowie)
*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.
Big thanks to each and every person who attended last night's show, with special thanks to the following who helped support it!
AaronCabottJones Resident, ColdAsh Resident, Turn Pike, Tpenta Vanalten, Trouble Streeter, Jaron Metaluna, Grace McDunnough, Triana Caldera, Tyche Szondi, Kat Chauveau, Kat Claxton, Aurelie Chenaux, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!