Real Talk 08/10/18: The Breaking Point

In which I reach the breaking point and pull a trigger I should have pulled a long time ago.

Doing Not-Doing

Before we get to what’s going on in my life, I want to talk about what I’ve been reading. The Tao Te Ching, a philosophical work by Taoist godfather Lao Tzu, has been on my to-read list for a very long time. After finishing the first half of Ray Dalio’s Principles, which is really two complete books plus an extended preface, I decided to mix it up and read a completely opposite kind of book.

Or so I thought.

Principles, an excellent guide for anyone who wants to do anything more effectively, is a practical instruction manual written by the CEO of a highly successful stock market investing firm. Dalio distills his vast knowledge of economics, science, and psychology into a set of basic ground rules for life and work, relying on logic and evidence each step of the way.

Nobody knows much about Lao Tzu, but the conventional wisdom is that he wrote his Tao in a cave somewhere in rural China a few thousand years ago. The Tao Te Ching is a collection of contradictory statements about the nature of reality, arranged in short verses which almost read as poems.

I’m only twelve verses in to the Tao, but so far, it’s similarity to Principles is striking. Both books are about living your life according to the most basic principles, which should be distilled by observing the world accurately rather than seeing what you want to see. Both are about learning behaviors that will serve you well in all possible situations, rather than reacting to events on a case-by-case basis.

I’ve talked about my love for oxymoron, dichotomies, and the contradictory nature of reality, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I’m loving the Tao Te Ching. I’m treating the book like a series of logic puzzles, meditating on each 50-word verse for anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. You could read the whole book in that time, but I don’t think you’d get much from it.

Each verse sparks some kind of revelation in me, even–especially–the verses that seem completely unintelligible at first glance. If you decide to give it a read, approach it with an open mind. The verses read like the kind of empty nonsense statements people post on Facebook to look enlightened, but the wisdom in this book is highly practical stuff that you can apply to your life. I’m sure I’ll talk more about it as I continue puzzling my way through it, but for now I want to mention a few of the lessons that have struck me most powerfully.

Disclaimer: I have no clue if any of my thoughts about this book are accurate. My understanding of Eastern philosophy in general is limited, so treat the following as an eight-year old trying to explain the themes of a Shakespeare play.

The core of the work seems to be the concept of wei wu wei, “doing not-doing”, which is very different than doing nothing. It’s similar to the “flow state” discussed in modern psychology: finding enlightenment by disappearing into your work, entering a state where your conscious mind ceases to exist and you blend seamlessly into whatever you are doing. As a writer, for example, my goal shouldn’t be to write a book or earn fame and fortune as a result. The aim is to write and to disappear into my writing, reaching a state where my books essentially write themselves and I am simply a vessel through which words pass. Okay, that sounds really abstract and out there, but psychologists agree you work most efficiently when you enter a flow state, so it is a practical technique.

Another concept I like is the emphasis on emptiness. The Tao, or Way, which is the subject of the whole work is referred to as infinite emptiness with limitless potential. Talking about the power of nothingness sounds like another abstract truism, but Lao Tzu demonstrates its truth very practically. The useful quality of a bowl is that it is empty; having nothing in it allows it to hold whatever we want. When we build a house, we are enclosing a certain amount of nothingness and claiming it as our own. We use wood and concrete and so on to build with, but can only live in empty space, so emptiness is the most important building material. If you yearn for a bigger house or apartment, you’re really longing for extra nothing to work with.

I just finished a verse today which really struck me. It talks about how sensation blinds the senses: for example you can’t see anything when blinded by color, you can’t hear anything when deafened by noise, and so on. At first, I thought it was about living in a more quiet, muted environment, so you could learn to pick up more subtle, nuanced sensations. A practical example is how fancy restaurants will serve bland Swiss cheese as an appetizer to reset your palette and allow you to taste nuanced flavors. Then the verse added the heart and mind as sensory organs, which perceive the stimuli of desire and thought. The idea that desires and thoughts are not things that we create but things we “see” or “feel” is fascinating to me, and really drives home the importance of mindfulness meditation.

Más Megas Por Favor

Since moving to Mexico nearly two years ago, I’ve rented a small room in a house shared by about a billion people. I’ve learned to love my room since then, but one issue has continued to bother me: poor internet. There are three internet lines into the house already, but they’re all a fair distance from my room, and all being used by multiple people already. I don’t know what speed the connections actually are, but seeing as none of my housemates have need of a powerful connection, I’m guessing they sprung for the cheaper plans. I have functional internet most of the time, but it’s slow and unreliable, as anyone who has watched me tried to record the Crossroad podcast knows.

I’ve lived with this under the assumption that I’ll be getting my own apartment at some point and should just live with it until then. Recently, though, I’ve rethought my plans and think I might stay in this little room for a few years longer. In that case, it might be worthwhile to install yet another line into this house, this time straight into my room (or as close as it can get, I don’t really know what the wiring situation is yet). I’ve been thinking about it for a bit but hadn’t decided if the expense was worth it.

Then, last Thursday, the internet was out completely. I still don’t know why, though it may have been weather related. In any case, we had to skip doing the podcast entirely last week, and that was the last straw.

I’ve ordered a new line to be installed tomorrow. If all goes well, I should have my very own 100 megabyte per second connection up and running by tomorrow night. That means a more reliable and higher quality podcast, but it also means I can look into streaming video games and other content without having to rely on my brother to do the streaming. In other words, there might be a lot more Desdenada content headed our way.

Twenty-Five Years Later

Last week, Venezia’s parents had their twenty-five year wedding anniversary. In Mexico, they celebrate that by basically doing the wedding ceremony over again, so I basically got the experience of being a groomsman at a wedding. The ceremony took place in beautiful Cuernavaca, City of the Eternal Spring, and marks the first time in my life I’ve worn a suit (I dropped out of high school before prom and don’t go to enough high-society events, apparently).

Venezia’s sister also came back from Paris for the event, and I got to meet her boyfriend. Venezia and I tend to communicate in Spanglish anyway, but we took it to a new level with Sprenchlish, using our incomplete grasp of French to make up for his incomplete grasp of Spanish or English. We also taught him to drink mezcal, although there was no worm salt handy, so he sadly missed out on the full experience.

The past two days were a nice breather after the hectic weekend previous. Now it’s time to look ahead to next weekend, though, which features both Venezia’s birthday and the two-year anniversary of when we first met–not to be confused with the two-year anniversary of when we started going out, which is on the same day exactly one month later. We’re still nailing down the birthday plans, but brunch and an escape room are definitely in the picture.

Meanwhile we’re working on getting our Hallowe’en costumes together. The plan is to go as Éponine and Marius from Les Misérables, which is a little tragic as far as couples’ costumes go, but should also be a lot of fun.

What are you going as this year?

Real Talk 24/09/18: Coldblooded

I don’t take enough pictures of myself, so yes, the above photo is from the same night I went to see Les Miserables. No, that’s not an alien spacecraft in the background, just a local museum, because Mexico City is cool like that.

Tides of Vengeance

If you don’t play World of Warcraft, go ahead and skip this section. It’s just going to be me ranting about a thing I love.

I’ve been playing World of Warcraft for over a decade, and I’ve never had even close to as much fun as I have since the release of the recent expansion, Battle for Azeroth. Actually, it started before the expansion. Ever since the prepatch, I’ve been riding a wave of euphoria I was sure couldn’t last.

As amazing as the expansion has been so far, the new content patch they just announced, Tides of Vengeance, looks even better. They’re expanding the new systems I’m already loving like island expeditions and warfronts, and taking the story in directions I’m really excited about.

I guess there’s not much of a takeaway here other than I needed to vent my excitement. In any case, I consider video games art, and as an aspiring artist I find it extremely inspiring to consume art I love so much.

Which brings me to a counter intuitive thought. A lot of Warcraft players feel the opposite way about the game as I do right now. That’s nothing new. As a general rule, gamers don’t like things and like to complain about them. This isn’t me bashing you if you don’t like Warcraft, though. Instead, I have a recommendation.

Quit.

Yes, I’m more in love with this game than ever, and I don’t think it has ever been better. If you don’t feel the same, I’m sure your reasons are legitimate. You have every right to feel that way and to complain about it, but I believe it would be more productive for everyone involved for you to find a different work of art that you enjoy more.

We’re in an era now in which anyone with Wi-Fi has access to an embarrassment of riches when it comes to entertainment options. Unless you’re pathologically impossible to please, it’s basically guaranteed there’s something out there that you would love as much as I love Warcraft.

Whether it’s Warcraft or Star Wars or Game of Thrones or Rick and Morty, people seem to have a difficult time letting go of things they once loved even if they’ve come to hate them. Instead of finding something else that thrills and inspires them, they embark on a crusade to convince the creator of the art to change the art into something they love again. This seems unlikely to succeed, and if it did, would probably ruin the art for all the people who currently love it.

The thing that makes your soul sing is already out there. You don’t have to force something else to become it.

Downsizing the Tavern

When Alaric and I launched the Crossroads podcast, we were aiming for each episode to be about an hour. Being completely new to hosting a podcast, we underestimated our ability to come up with things to say and decided to make it easy on ourselves by coming up with a handful of topics. That way we only had to fill about ten minutes per topic. Instead, we had to force ourselves to stop talking after spending a full hour or more on each segment, resulting in a six hour podcast every week.

I still think it’s awesome we’re able to create that much content, but it’s hard to keep it up with out current schedules. The reality is, we spend at least as much time preparing for and putting out each episode as we do recording it, so we’ve each been putting over ten hours a week into something with no monetary reward. Not that the point is to make money, but we’re both more or less starving artists who should probably be focusing a little more on how we’re going to pay for groceries and clothing at this stage of our lives.

Going forward, at least for the foreseeable future, we’re scaling the show back to what we feel are the best segments. We’ll still kick each show off with our unconventional perspectives on current events. Then we’ll skip right to what is now the very end of the show, where we discuss whatever weird stuff is on our minds. This could be anything, but given who we are, will probably involve a lot of science, philosophy, and generally bizarre trains of thought.

While we’re putting the self-improvement, book club, and entertainment sections on hold for now, those are all still things I’m deeply passionate about. Leaving them off the show for now opens up the opportunity for me to talk about them more here on the blog. Speaking of this blog, I know I’ve been really inconsistent with my posts lately. Downsizing the podcast means I’ll have about six extra hours free a week, which should go a long way towards keeping this blog on track. So if you like the blog and didn’t listen to the podcast anyway, I guess this is just good news all around.

The Darkest Season

As of the 21st it’s officially autumn. I love the fall, for reasons that probably make me sound like a serial killer. Most people are celebrating the advent of pumpkin spice lattes and layered clothing. I’m celebrating the season of horror movies and grim weather.

I know I’m not the only one. There’s a whole goth subculture that starts celebrating Hallowe’en three months early. I’m about the farthest thing from a goth, though. In fact, I have about the happiest life I could ask for. I think that’s why I love horror, tragedy, and generally dark and sad stuff. With an abundance of happiness and triumph in my own life, I don’t need any of that in my fiction.

What’s strange is I would feel like I’m “missing” the dark and sad stuff from my life. Not that I wish bad stuff would happen to me–not at all. But for some reason, I crave entertainment that depicts the negative stuff that I’m not getting in real life.

Does anybody else get that? I’m genuinely curious. I know a lot of sad people who consume a lot of sad music and a lot of happy people who watch nothing but uplifting movies. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around that. The rare times when I do feel sad or uncertain, the last thing I want is to subject myself to entertainment that makes me feel more of that–in fact that’s the one time I crave happy feel-good stuff.

Maybe there’s two kinds of people when it comes to emotional entertainment. Like coldblooded and warmblooded animals. I’m coldblooded emotionally, which again makes me sound like a serial killer, but what I mean is that my emotional state reflects external stimulus. Since my mood is usually up, I seek to regulate it with entertainment that brings me down a bit. Other people are emotionally warmblooded. Their happiness or sadness is self-regulating. They’ll stay sad when exposed to happy stimulus or happy when exposed to sad stimulus. Just like a mammal in a cold environment has to burn resources to keep their internal temperature up, however, these people are drained by the act of regulating their emotions. A sad person is capable of maintaining their sadness in a happy environment, but feel more comfortable in a sad environment where they don’t have to burn emotional calories to maintain homeostasis.

Of course that doesn’t explain why my emotions can be brought down in a sad environment but naturally regulate back up to happiness afterward. This is a terrible theory.

Real Talk 17/09/18: Viva

Life has been a bit hectic so I’m going to keep this one a bit short. On the bright side, all the things going on in my life right now translates to lots of interesting Real Talk down the road!

Un Día Más

Over the weekend I took my girlfriend to see Les Misérables in honor of our 22 month anniversary (yes, we’re one of those insufferable couples who celebrate every month). We saw it in the Teatro Telcel here in Mexico City, which is a beautiful building in Polanco, a beautiful part of town.

I can understand Spanish pretty well, but it can be tricky to make it out when it’s being sung dramatically. The fact that I wasn’t able to understand many of the words, and was only faintly familiar with the story going in, only proved how amazing the performance was. Even with my hazy understanding of what was going on, I laughed and cried and became deeply invested in the characters. The book got moved right to the top of my to-read list, and I want to see the film now, too, although the English soundtrack has been ruined for me.

Apparently I’m not alone in my esteem of the Mexican cast. After a little research, it seems they’re considered equal to the Broadway production by critics. The country is certainly facing problems right now, but I’m glad to see the arts are still flourishing here.

Tunnel Vision

Part of the reason my life is so crazy is because I’m trying to do so much. It’s my own fault I decided to try and write this blog seven days a week, on top of a five hour podcast each week. To keep up with these projects while balancing them with the projects which actually make me money, I’ve had to hunker down and spend all of my time being productive. For the next little while, I’m doing my best to abstain from any entertainment–video games, TV, etc.–except for what I’m consuming for the sake of the blog and podcast.

It might seem a bit dull short-term, and you might say I need to take on less and give myself some time to enjoy life. I see it as an investment. Maybe my life will be a bit boring short-term, but if everything I’m working on now pans out, I should be setting myself up for a much more fun life in the future.

Viva México

Mexican Independence Day is the 16th of September, though it’s celebrated by and large on the evening of the 15th. I thought I’d take this opportunity to reflect on some of the things I love about my adopted country.

There are the surface level things, of course. The food is without compare. If you haven’t been to Mexico and therefore haven’t tasted actual Mexican food, the trip is worth it for that alone. Tacos al pastor, a dish with Lebanese origins, tops the list, but also see chilaquiles, chiles en nogada, esquites, molletes, enchiladas suizas, mole poblano, tacos gobernador, chapulines, and countless others. Then there’s the music, from ranchera to reggaeton, and the weather.

More than all that, I love the culture. Everyone is different, of course, but the majority of people are relaxed and friendly. Even in Mexico City, one of the biggest cities in the world, the atmosphere is calmer than you would find in most cities in the States or Canada. Family, community, hard work, and honesty seem to be held in high regard here, and the people are only stronger for the problems their country faces.

Finally, I love Mexican art. There’s something unique about the Mexican perspective that I can’t put my finger on. It’s subtle, but Mexican art deals differently with love, death, family, history, music–everything. Nobody writes like Octavio Paz or Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Nobody makes movies like del Toro or Cuarón or Iñárritu. Nobody paints like Diego Rivera or Frida Kahlo, though perhaps that’s for the best.

There remains no doubt in my mind that moving here was the best decision I ever made.

Real Talk 10/09/18: Harsh Realities

Ever had doriesquites? They’re pretty much the greatest.

The Principle of the Thing

I’m always reading one fiction book and one nonfiction book at a time. Lately my fiction reading has been taken over by the Crossroads book club, so if you want to hear my thoughts on Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five you can check out the Crossroads podcast.

On the nonfiction side, I’ve been digging into the meaty and fascinating Principles by Ray Dalio. This book is all about decisions. Specifically, the idea that if you take the time to reflect on and codify your core values, you’ll never have to make a decision in the moment–you’ve already made all of your decisions ahead of time, and you can always know the correct course of action by keeping your principles in mind.

I’m about halfway through the book and loving it. The idea of reducing things to their essence has always appealed to me. It’s why I love subjects like philosophy and psychology. Instead of making moral judgments in countless scenarios or trying to sort out why a million things make you feel a million different ways, you can learn the underlying mechanisms and reveal that there are only a handful of scenarios and feelings, repeating over and over again under various guises.

The other reason the book appeals to me is because, well, it’s harsh. I like blunt truths and harsh realities. A lot of people will hate this book or find it offensive. If you want to get the most out of your life, though, the first step is accepting what is true, rather than believing in comforting delusions.

If you’re prepared to do some real work on improving your life, I highly recommend you check it out.

Quality Research

Speaking of work, I’ve been working on a lot of things lately and not keeping up with all of them. Notably, this blog has suffered, and I ended up taking most of last week off while I focused on writing and catching up on recording the podcast.

It’s not quite right to say I took the week off of blogging, actually. I didn’t post anything most of the days, but I was still doing research for posts. The problem is that I expect it to take about an hour to write a post, but lately it’s taking a lot more research and preparation every day. Not that that’s a bad thing. I think it’s a sign I’m striving to create higher quality content. To keep up my schedule, though, I’m going to have to either write shorter posts or allot a lot more time for working on this blog. Maybe a bit of both.

This week I should be back on track, considering half my research is already done. It also helps that we’re back on track with Crossroads–we were recording almost every day last week to get back on schedule, which really cut into my productive time.

What have I been doing all this time? I’ve been trying to keep up with some wild events going down right here in Mexico City, which I’ll hopefully cover on Wednesday. Getting the story straight is only half the battle; I also need to explain it in a way that will make sense to someone who doesn’t live her.

Meanwhile I’ve been doing a lot of research into the Third Crusade and other historical topics related to Assassin’s Creed. I’ve also been putting together a very basic, beginner-level workout inspired by Assassin’s Creed, and finding time to actually go to the gym and test it out.

Finally, the Witchtide Project eats up a shocking amount of time. I’ve set some lofty goals for myself with this campaign. Last week I spent hours upon hours researching Congolese, Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Nahuatl mythologies just so I could create deities for the setting with an authentic feel. I’ve barely scratched the surface on the maps I’m supposed to have ready by Sunday.

It’s a lot of work, but I’ve been pretty proud of what I’m making here lately. I hope the quality of my content continues to improve with time.

Legal Immigration

I’ve lived in Mexico for almost two years now, but don’t have an official residence yet. I have to leave and re-enter the country every six months, and there’s no guarantee they’ll let me back in each time I cross the border. I’ve been working on applying for a temporary residence, but the process arduous, expensive, and frankly, confusing. Knowing this experience is still simpler and easier than the process of emigrating in the other direction, I have nothing but empathy to those trying to move to the United States.

If all goes well, I should be a temporary resident of Mexico within a few months. Then, after living here another few years, I can apply for a permanent residence. Within a decade I start the process for getting Mexican citizenship, assuming I can meet the prerequisites.

As it stands, I have dual citizenship in Canada and the United States. I can’t have Triple Citizenship, so I’ll have to revoke one of them. That decision is still quite a ways away, but I’m leaning towards revoking my United States citizenship, mostly because Canadians can travel a lot of places where Americans can’t.

The experience has me thinking about the whole decision to live in a foreign country in the first place. If I go on to much longer I’ll be getting into Low Fantasy Adventure territory, so I’ll leave it at this: nearly two years later, it’s still the best decision I ever made.

Real Talk 03/09/18: Guess Who’s Back

It’s Labor Day in the States and Labour Day in Canada, but in Mexico it’s just another lunes like any other. If you didn’t know, lunes means Monday, and Monday means Real Talk!

The Rap God Returns

Eminem dropped a surprise album, Kamikaze, and it should be no surprise to anyone that it’s one of the best albums of all time. Eminem is kind of like Hemingway in that it feels kind of ridiculous to point out how good he is. I’m not exactly saying anything new. Then again, I noticed over the weekend that Eminem is like Hemingway in other way: it’s becoming increasingly cool to hate him.

That’s how you know he really is a Rap God. It’s what realtor’s call the Second Opinion Effect: when potential buyers really like a property, the worst thing that can happen is for them to invite a friend to a showing to get their opinion. Human beings are hardwired to want to matter. If we’re invited to give an opinion and we just agree with the current opinion, we don’t matter–or that’s how our lizard brain perceives it.

It’s become so accepted that people like Eminem and Hemingway are at the height of their craft that saying they’re at the height of their craft triggers the same response: we don’t matter. Criticizing them fills that void and makes us feel like we really are contributing something to the conversation. It’s a perfectly human impulse, but not a healthy one. Tearing down what’s popular triggers a chemical reaction in the brain that makes you temporarily feel like you matter but does not actually make you matter. It’s the equivalent of setting up a billboard on the highway with your picture on it and the caption “I matter.” A lot of people will notice you and acknowledge your attempt to matter, but doesn’t help you matter to any of them.

Not to say you can’t legitimately dislike Eminem or Hemingway, but if you can’t explain why without resorting to “he’s overrated” or any argument that involves the word “bandwagon”, there’s something else going on.

Paging Dr. Faust

One of my current jobs involves social media marketing. At its most innocuous, this job involves me lying in bed using Instagram on my phone, liking and commenting on photos so other users will notice the account of the business I’m logged in as. Lately I’ve reached a more advanced level and am learning the ins and outs of Facebook advertising. It’s fascinating, terrifying, and morally ambiguous stuff.

I talked a little with Alaric about this on the Crossroads podcast, and said it feels like a deal with the devil. Facebook’s ad platform, fueled by inconceivable quantities of data and cutting edge machine learning technology, can do wonders for anyone trying to get a project off the ground. As I continue to expand Desdenada, I’ll probably be grateful for the knowledge I’ve gained and use Facebook ads to reach people who might be interested in what I have to say.

While learning to ride this monster, I’m also feeding it, contributing more and more data to a diabolical machine that is already capable of swinging elections, psychologically manipulating its users, and framing the conversation of the entire internet. Am I evil, or at the very least a Faustian rube, for participating in this system, as insignificant as my contribution might be in the grand scheme of things?

I can’t deny big data can and has been used for some terrible purposes, but it’s still a tool like any other. Tools aren’t good or evil–see the tired aphorism about using a hammer either to build a house or commit murder. Big data might be pioneered and primarily wielded by certain individuals or corporations, but I tend to see innovation as inevitable. Big data was going to be discovered/invented/understood. Any knowledge that can be learned eventually will be. We can delay the inevitable, but that is only foisting the problem off on future generations.

Maybe this is my guilty mind trying to rationalize what I’m doing, but if it’s inevitable that big data will be used and abused, then the responsible thing for anybody who has concerns to do would be to understand it. You can rail against the way Facebook uses questionable methods to get what it wants, or you can do your best to understand the methods, understand what Facebook wants, and discover benign methods for Facebook to get what it wants. They must exist, when you think about it: Facebook wants to make money by connecting consumers with people who want to sell them things they want to buy. I have no problem being connected to people who will show me things I want to buy, although I do have problems with the process as it exists now.

I don’t have the answers, but ignorance of and resistance to change are decidedly not the answers.

Diminishing Binary

If you do ten push-ups each day, adding ten more push-ups will make a world of difference. If you do ten-thousand push-ups each day, adding ten more won’t do much.

The concept of diminishing returns applies to fitness, economics, creativity, self-improvement, and most other areas of life. The more effort you put in to something, the less reward you get for each unit of effort.

What diminishing returns means to you depends on your goals. If you are competing at the top of a field, you disregard them. When two people who can consistently do ten-thousand push-ups enter face off in a push-up contest, whoever can squeeze out one more push-up than their opponent will win. If your goal is just to be in good shape, though, you’ll be wasting your time and effort long before you reach ten-thousand.

When do diminishing returns begin? I’ve been thinking about that a lot this past week. I have a lot of goals, many of which have little synergy with one another. The effort I put into training to run a marathon has a limited effect on my goal of writing a book. To make a much progress as possible toward all of my goals, I should invest effort in each of them only up until the point where I experience diminishing returns and my effort would be better spent working toward a different goal.

But the more I thought of it, the more I came to the conclusion that the biggest drop off in the ratio of effort to reward occurs when you make the binary leap from zero to one.

This has to do with my belief in the overwhelming power of habit. The main part of achieving any long-term goal is building an effective habit of working toward it. You begin establishing a habit when you do anything at all, so the rewards of building a habit are allotted to the very first unit of effort you expend.

To put it plainly: writing one word a day is infinitely more productive than writing zero words a day, and the reward of writing each additional word pales in comparison.

That’s not to say, of course, that you should limit yourself to one unit of effort in everything you do. You’ll never get anywhere that way. Then again, you’d get infinitely closer to your goals doing that than you would expending zero units of effort.

If I know I don’t have the time or energy to write a significant portion of my novel, I’ll just write one word. If I’m not up to going to the gym, I’ll do one push-up. It makes all the difference.

Real Talk 27/08/18: Do Androids Criticize Electric Sheep?

It’s been a week since I brought back daily columns, and I’m very happy with the result. Of course, I was mostly doing introductions for each one. Now the real work of coming up with actual content begins.

On top of daily blogging and recording a few more segments of the Crossroads podcast, I had an adventurous weekend. Venezia’s parents are celebrating an anniversary, and we drove to two towns in a nearby state to scope out potential venues.

The state of Morelos, a mountainous, forested region south of Mexico City, is home to a lot of beautiful little pueblos. We stopped first in Cuernavaca, a city of eternal spring where the weather is always perfect. On top of looking at venues, we also tasted a mouthwatering selection of dishes prepared by some top-notch caterers. Then it was on to Tepoztlán, a magical town known for the Tepozteco, an ancient pyramid on top of a mountain and the supposed birthplace of the serpent god Quetzalcoatl.

In Tepoztlán we visited my favorite kind of place: an enchanting hacienda that is at once beautiful, serene, and almost certainly haunted. You can find these spots the world over, but I think Mexico does them best. That’s where the above photo was taken, where I stand looking confused, trying to spot the Tepozteco.

Hopefully you had a good weekend as well! Let’s move into the topics I’m thinking about today.

This Show Wasn’t Meant for You

Last night I finally caught up on Westworld. You might assume I don’t like the show very much since I didn’t see the finale until two months after it aired. The opposite is true. It’s my favorite show on TV, which is why I only watch it when Venezia can watch it with me. Schedules being what they are, the show became a rare yet very worthwhile treat.

The show’s been controversial since season one, and I think the popular opinion is to dislike season two and to hate the finale in particular. I think that’s to be expected for this sort of show. People liked the first season because it went to unexpected places and broke the status quo. Then they grew attached to the new status quo and tried to predict where it was going. When season two again went to unexpected places and broke the status quo, viewers felt let down, even betrayed. As counterintuitive as it sounds, I think that’s the reaction the show is supposed to create at this stage. I could be wrong, but I have a hunch people are going to look back on this season very differently in a few years.

In any case, I’m sure I’m in an exceedingly small minority of people who think Westworld is a near-perfect show and one of my favorite pieces of art across all mediums. It speaks to me about topics I’m interested in: philosophy, evolution, the nature of consciousness, the futility of the human condition. That said, I understand why someone wouldn’t like it. Not everyone wants to reexamine the nature of their own reality each time they turn on the TV. In fact, the majority of people–you could even argue the “normal” people–just want a straightforward, flashy, entertaining bit of fiction.

That’s fine. This show wasn’t meant for you.

That seems obvious to me, but after catching up on the show itself, I went online and caught up with the discussion of the show. A lot of people reacted negatively, but I didn’t find anyone saying “this show isn’t for me, I’ll watch something else.” Instead I found anger, scorn, and an overwhelming urge to convince people like me that the show is not good and we need to stop liking it.

None of this is new or particular to Westworld, but it’s made me think. I love talking about entertainment with other people. The fact that Westworld is my favorite show and a show with so many possible interpretations and tantalizing themes means it should lend itself to the most fun discussions I ever had. Instead, I almost immediately grew sick of the conversation around it.

It’s not just that the majority opinion is contrary to my own. Anyone who knows me knows that’s the main constant in my life. Something troubled me even about the discussions of people who liked the show. A thought that’s been rolling around my mind for a while now finally crystallized.

I crave discussion, but find only criticism.

Criticism in the traditional sense. Not necessarily negative, but concerned with determine the worth of a piece of art. There is definitely a place for criticism, but at some point it seems to have replaced discussion entirely. If I’ve already formed an opinion on whether a given work of art is good or bad, I’m not interested in hearing arguments for either side. I’d rather talk about what a certain theme means and how it relates to your own life experience, not whether you think it was good or bad for the work to touch on that theme.

I could say a lot more on this subject, but this rant has gone on way too long already. In fact, I had another topic to talk about today but we’re out of time. Check back next week as I struggle with the morality of my new job: making ads on Facebook.

Real Talk 20/08/18: Let’s Talk about Real Talk

Since this crazy experiment began, I’ve “rebooted” Desdenada a handful of times. My goal has been to blog every day, and I’ve been toying with different columns to generate daily content. Through it all, Real Talk alone has remained consistent.

That’s probably because it’s the column where I can pretty much talk about anything.

Real Talk will remain home to all my ramblings that don’t fit anywhere else, but I’ll try to narrow it down to a few categories that should be relevant or useful to at least a few readers.

Are You Not Entertained?

Real Talk will be a place for me to share thoughts on entertainment. Books, movies, television, podcasts, video games, you name it. I already dive deep into specific books and video games on the Crossroads podcast, and am bringing back a whole column devoted to gaming, but Real Talk is where I’ll give my take on everything else I’m reading and playing.

I’ve toyed with doing a dedicated movie column, but while I love talking about movies, I rarely have enough to say to fill a whole post. As much as I want to share my take on the Meg (it’s simultaneously better and worse than you think), that’s something that would go better in a segment than a full post.

Since this is an introductory post and I’m almost out of room in this subheading already, I’ll go ahead and list the entertainment I’m currently enjoying and might discuss in later weeks. Besides For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Code of the Extraordinary Mind which I’m reading for Crossroads, I’ve also been reading The Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milán and Ray Dalio’s Principles. I’m finally catching up on the second season of Westworld, my favorite show on TV and possibly my favorite of all time, and just started watching The Sinner, which is bizarre, dark, and captivating. I just jumped into the first Assassin’s Creed (the subject of the aforementioned gaming column) but am still sinking most of my gaming time into World of Warcraft and Hearthstone.

If any of that sounds interesting, I’ll almost probably be talking about one of them right here next week!

Working Day and Night

I’ve been thinking of this as the career segment, although most of what I’ll talk about here is stuff that doesn’t currently pay any bills. Sometimes I’ll share insights from my writing and social media marketing jobs, but will focus more on projects like my yet-unpublished novels. It will also be a meta segment where I can talk about my plans for this blog, the Crossroads podcast, and Desdenada in general.

Today we’ll be talking meta stuff. When I came up with columns before, I was looking for ways I could fill seven days of content each week. This time I thought bigger.

Tomorrow’s column, Crossroads, is of course a tie-in to the Crossroads podcast, a whole other project. I’ve created the other five columns (one of which will post two days a week to brings us to daily content) with the idea that each could spin off into its own independent, fully-realized project. Not to say that they will, but I’ve used the idea that they could to refine the ideas.

Real Talk, for example, could become a daily blog, or even a vlog. The Stained Glass Gazette, which will cover the news of each week, could similarly expand to a daily column or podcast. Later this week I’ll launch a column about creating a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, which may or may not culminate with a show in which I play through the campaign with some friends.

Again, none of this is certain, but the possibilities are exciting!

Now It’s Personal

Finally, I reserve some space for the original function of a blog: a personal journal that you share with strangers on the internet for some reason. I don’t think my life is that interesting, so I’ll take care to focus on things that have some value or takeaway. For example, how I apply or, more likely, fail to apply principles like mindfulness or stoicism in my day-to-day life. That way you can learn from my triumphs and failures.

This week I’ve mostly been thinking about what I’ve already discussed in this post: rebooting the blog side of Desdenada. At the risk of being redundant, I’ll reflect a little more on the new columns.

While Desdenada is still decidedly a hobby, it is something that shapes my whole life. It takes about an hour to write each post, which average around a thousand words. Some columns, like Real Talk, I can just fill with whatever’s on my mind, but others require an hour or more of researching or outlining. This hobby amounts to the time commitment of a part-time job, so my choice of columns has a surprisingly large impact on what I spend my life doing, reading, and thinking about.

We are what we repeatedly do. Be mindful of what you devote your time and energy to. Even if you go into a temporary project to achieve some unrelated goal, the time spent on that project will shape who you are and how you think.