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  • Writer's pictureJena Ball

"When will you begin the long journey into yourself?" - Rumi

One of the greatest gifts of being an avatar is the opportunity to really get to know yourself. Our current culture is so focused on outward appearances and the acquisition of "things" that it's rare to be encouraged to look inside - to ask yourself who is at home behind the reflection in the mirror. That's one of the reasons I've loved filling out and tweaking my profile in Second Life. It has allowed me to not only write about topics and people I care about, but to share images, videos, and poems that have touched me and shaped who I am.

Below is my avatar, Jenaia Morane, and her profile. Both she and the profile are always a work in progress, but I can honestly and proudly say that Jenaia and her profile represent the best of me in both worlds. Let me know what you think, and if you are moved to share your own profile, drop me a line (contact info at the bottom of this post).


"Like water be gentle and strong. Gentle enough enough to follow the natural paths of the earth and strong enough to rise up and reshape the world" - Brenda Peterson


#1: A Vision

If You Are Lucky in This Life

A window will appear on a battlefield between two armies.

And when the soldiers look into the window

They don't see their enemies

They see themselves as children.

And they stop fighting

And go home and go to sleep.

When they wake up, the land is well again. - 4th grader Cameron Penny

#2: An Intention

"I want to write with quiet hands. I want to write while crossing the fields that are fresh with daisies and the ordinary grass. I want to make poems while thinking of the bread of heaven and the cup of astonishment....I want to make poems that look into the earth and the heavens and see the unseeable. I want them to honor both the heart of faith, and the light of the world; the gladness that says, without any words, everything." - Mary Oliver

#3: For Gabby

To be with a dying friend is a gift . The veil between realities is very thin, the distinction between energy and form a formality. The closer she moved towards death, the clearer her love became. If you are quiet and persistent enough – if you step even for an instant beyond physical perception – you will see what you have always known. Life is eternal. thank you my sweet girl for being there through it all.

#4: I Want to Know

"It doesn't interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing. It doesn't interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive. It doesn't interest me where you live or how much money you have....I want to know what sustains you from the inside, when all else falls away...." - Oriah Mountain Dreamer

#5: Inside Out

Inside looking out

the footsore dancers prance and preen,

pivoting on heels of glass

along lines of lessons

they’ve forgotten they learned

before they chose to dance.

Inside looking out

I watch,

cup my hands

around the steady flame of my existence,

and remember a breath of laughter,

sultry sweet and humming,

behind your words.

Inside looking out,

I touch the tender purple-blue edges

of our collision

and marvel at your devotion

to the intricate steps

seducing you from the stillpoint

of your own soft-spoken truth.

- (c) 2010 Jena Ball

#6: How to Be Jenaia

Reach out to people in need of an encouraging word.

Take on way too many projects for one mortal to accomplish.

Laugh out loud at the silliest things.

Snarl out loud at the world's stupidity.

Fight the world's stupidity with every idea in your head.

Love fiercely if not always wisely.

Stay up way too late.

Create, create, create.

Teach others tirelessly.

Watch the world unblinkingly, unflinchingly, for any sign of hope.

Hold every sign up like a beacon for all to see. - Raevn

#7: The Avatar in Us All

A presentation on the power and potential of being an avatar in virutal space presented at the International Association of Blended Learning's conference in April, 2020. Learn about the origins of the word avatar, how neuroscience is showing that our brains respond directly to our virtual experiences, and how the stories we live and tell as avatars can impact and even change how we live our lives in physical reality. Watch the video here:

#8: Thoughts

  • "Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion!" - Rumi

  • “You either walk inside your story and own it or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.” - Brene Brown

  • "Words are sacred. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones, in the right order, you can nudge the world a little." - T. Stoppar

  • "To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved." - G. MacDonald

  • "Forgiveness involves faith in a love that's greater than hatred, and a willingness to see the light in someone's soul even when their personality has harbored darkness." -M. Williamson

  • "You cannot BE, that which you do not know yourself to be...that is why you've been given this discover who you truly are..." - E. Tolle

  • "Be the change you wish to see in the world." - Ghandi

If you'd like to share your profile with me, please send an email If you'd like to have your profile featured on this blog, please state that in your email and include any images.

P.S. Sign up to stay in touch here:

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  • Writer's pictureJena Ball

“Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it. Action has magic, grace, and power in it.” ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I remember the first time I saw a 3D replica of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Up until that point everything I knew - and could imagine - was clinical, based on articles, slide decks, and videos with colorful illustrations of the virus's life cycle. As Karuna's* creative lead, tasked by the National Library of Medicine (NLM) with creating a virtual space to educate the public about HIV/AIDS in Second Life, it was my job to know. I understood what the virus was, how it functioned, and the devastating effects it could have on the human body. But it wasn't until I commissioned one of Second Life's best builders, Madcow Cosmos, to build a giant 3D replica of the virus, that HIV became real and personal to me.

The day Madcow delivered his creation, I was working on a meeting space for HIV/AIDS support groups. There was an open area beside the building that I thought would be a "nice" place to display the model. As you can see, I was still thinking of the virus as a kind of "objet d'art" to be seen and admired by visitors to the island.

"You told me I could use as many prims (pieces) as I needed," Madcow said.

"That's right," I agreed. "I wanted it to look as real as possible."

"I took you at your word. It's done," said Madcow, "but I can't say I like the results."

"Let's see," I said.

Madcow opened his inventory and dragged the model onto the ground. Because of its complexity, it took several seconds for my computer to render, but when it did I gasped and took a few steps back .

Roughly twice my avatar's height, the virus was a dull, semi-transparent turquoise-gray and circular in shape. The circle was studded with a couple dozen spikes, each with what looked like a suction cup at the end. Madcow had animated the virus so that it turned slowly, giving me a 360-degree view of its red and bright green center. "What are those colors in the middle?" I asked.

"The viral envelope is the red part. The green is the capsule inside it that holds the RNA," Madcow explained. "Click the top."

Clicking the top caused the virus to open and reveal its center. "Wow," I said. "Well done."

"Like I said, I did what you asked, but I don't like the results," he said. "This thing is creepy."

I understood what he meant. It was one thing to understand what a virus is, and another to confront it - to see it as a sophisticated, living entity that survives by invading and co-opting the body's immune system. And, like any successful life form intent on survival, it was masterfully engineered and adapted for that purpose.

"There is no greater danger than underestimating your opponent," I said quietly under my breath.

"Excuse me?' Madcow said.

"There is no greater danger than underestimating your opponent," I repeated. "I was quoting the Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu. It seemed appropriate."

"You got that right," said Madcow. "That thing is a killer."

"Agreed, but I think the opponent we've underestimated is ourselves. There is so much ignorance and fear related to HIV/AIDS. We need to find a way to get help people get past their prejudice and want to help. They need to understand that this virus doesn't discriminate. Anyone can get it."

"Well good luck with that," Madcow said. "Gotta run."

"Okay, thanks again, Madcow."


That conversation, which took place more than ten years ago, has been replaying in my head for days now. There are too many similarities between what the HIV/AIDS crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic happening today for me to ignore them. Too many similar questions about how to move forward with empathy and awareness; how to celebrate the courage, dedication, and successes happening all around us (from the incredible medical professionals to the thousands of teachers reaching out through digital media to keep their students engaged); and most important of all, how to ensure that the stories of those we've lost will be celebrated and preserved?

In Part II of this series I will offer some thoughts on those questions, share insights gained from working on Karuna, and ideas about how we might collaborate moving forward. Stay tuned.

*Karuna is an ancient word from the Pali language that means compassion. It was the name chosen for the HIV/AIDS project in Second Life. To read more about Karuna, visit the Resources section of this blog where I've posted the final report submitted to the National Library of Medicine.

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  • Writer's pictureJena Ball

I am sitting on the floor of my living room crying. We're talking uncontrollable sobs that claw at my chest and reduce breathing to loud, heaving gasps. Snot is running from my nose and my eyes are swollen shut. I can’t seem to stop.

I’ve just learned that after 18 months of trying to cure an infection in my mother’s foot – months of grappling with out of control diabetes, doctor visits, wound care, insurance forms, and caring for her like a small child, the big toe has become gangrenous and will have to be amputated.

At this point I am exhausted, frustrated, and beside myself with worry. But my tears are about more than these perfectly understandable emotions. At the back of my mind - in places where I only go with the help of a very good therapist - a voice is whispering, "Your best isn't good enough. You let her down. You let your family down. Your sister was right. You are a self-centered loser who is wasting her life."

To be clear, I know that voice belongs to messages I internalized over the years growing up in a dysfunctional family where physical and emotional abuse were routine. I also know that my sister's accusations (recently delivered in a scathing email) are the result of her own hurt and unresolved anger. However knowing is one thing, feelings are another, and I'm feeling pretty lost and alone at the moment.

It's past sundown by the time my body has no more tears to shed and my cat's persistent efforts to comfort me finally register. A glance at the clock tells me my mother should have had her dinner and meds 30 minutes ago. After that it will be time to check her blood sugar, administer insulin, change the bandages on her foot, and help her get ready for bed. Despite the immediacy of these tasks, I can't make myself move.

I pull my cat into my lap, stroke her fur, and force myself to take a few deeps breaths. This situation, I know, is unsustainable. Something has to be done. My life has been reduced to trying to keep my mother alive. I have no time for friends, no time for exercise, and no one to talk to who can relate to my situation. That's when I remember an odd voicemail left by a friend a few days ago. As a medical librarian her response to my dilemma has been to research ways I could connect to others without having to leave my mom alone for any length of time. Her recommendation? Sign up for an account in a virtual world called Second Life.

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