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 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.

Crossroads Conversations: Building an Empire

This week has been a little shaky in terms of recording the Crossroads podcast. Normally this column would come out after the podcast, and would be a continuation of the conversation. Due to scheduling issues, Crossroads won’t finish recording until tomorrow.

My topic for this week is going to be this blog, and the six new columns I’ve recently debuted. I spent the past week introducing these columns. Now I’ll look ahead to their potential future.

Lock It In

I didn’t do it on purpose, but the columns I’m most sure about happen on the first two days of the week. This column, of course, has already been realized as it’s own independent project, the Crossroads Podcast. Going forward, we’ll continue getting more consistent with our streaming and publishing schedule, and I’ll get the show an actual RSS feed. Plus some theme music, and album art with a logo. Stuff like that.

Real Talk is my longest-running column, which makes sense. It’s the easiest one to keep up: I literally talk about whatever is on my mind for a thousand words or so. I could see Real Talk evolving into a vlog fairly easily. The only obstacles to that are time and a better webcam. A decent webcam doesn’t cost much these days, and I could easily find ten to twenty minutes a week to rant to a camera. No promises yet, but this is definitely something I could make happen.

That leaves the question of what to do with the Real Talk column. Do I talk about the same things in each, so people can consume it either as text or video? That’s the easiest option but doesn’t really appeal to me. It could be what this column is to Crossroads, a continuation of whatever I talk about. The problem is that on Crossroads I get feedback from Alaric which gives me new thoughts to talk about here.

Most likely, I would use time to my advantage. Real Talk happens on Monday, so I’d put the vlog on Friday. Then I can share what I’m thinking about at the beginning and end of the week, and set goals on Monday then talk about how they turned out on Friday.

Barriers to Entry

Again, not intentional, but the columns spanning the last three days of the week make up another category. I have clear ideas about how I could expand them, but the obstacles are larger.

My Living Let’s Play would, ideally, be supplemented by a live stream of each game I do. That should be easy to do–I’m devoting time to playing anyway, I just have to push a button to stream it. Unfortunately, my internet isn’t capable of producing a stream of watchable quality. I’m renting a room in a shared house, so upgrading the internet isn’t a plan. I would gladly do that if I could. I’m probably not moving any time soon, either.

The Witchtide Project is all about working toward an end goal: running and recording a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. We’ll get there one day, but first I have to build the campaign itself and recruit a couple more players. I could throw together a playable campaign tomorrow if I had to, but the whole idea is to create as polished an experience as I can. In other words, the barrier isn’t a fixed amount of time, but the amount of time it takes for me to feel like it’s ready.

Uncertain Paths

Finally, we have the columns that could grow into more but probably won’t anytime soon.

Low Fantasy Adventure is one of the columns I’m most excited about. The project it could become is insanely exciting, too. While the column reflects on past adventures, I could make videos out of my adventures going forward. I would love that, but the sheer production that would go into that, not to mention the cost of travelling regularly, means it will have to remain a dream until a later stage of my life. One where this whole crazy experiment actually brings in some money, for example.

The Stained Glass Gazette is a tricky one. I am happy with the approach I’m taking toward news and do enjoy talking about current events. That said, I’m still trying to figure out what unique value I can add that you can’t already get ten-thousand other places. Most likely I’d want to find several cohosts, creating a roundtable-style show with voices from different ends of the political spectrum.

Bonus Round

There’s one other project I’d like to add in the future, though it’s not necessarily related to any of my columns. I’ve been thinking for a while that it would be a good idea to create a newsletter for Desdenada, but haven’t quite figured out what would go in it.

It would have to be something that everyone who likes the site would be interested in, which is tricky, because my columns are so eclectic. Probably should have listened when people told me to establish a clear brand. Anyway, how can I appeal to people who only read the Witchtide Project because they like dungeons and dragons as well as people who only read Low Fantasy Adventure because they like travel?

I could look for one topic that encompasses everything, or I could just include everything. Like the blog itself, I could break it into segments, and include a little nugget of extra content related to each column every week.

This isn’t rhetorical; I actually haven’t decided yet. When I do, you’ll be the first to know!

Crossroads Conversations: The Tavern

I mentioned yesterday that the idea behind my new columns is that each could grow into its own independent project. Crossroads conversations is the exception: the Crossroads podcast came first and this column grew out of it.

Continuing the Conversation

If you already listen to the podcast, Crossroads Conversations will be the place to get a deeper look into the discussions had on the show. If you don’t listen, here’s where you can get some of that content in a much shorter format.

In the final segment of each week of Crossroads, Alaric and I each bring one topic and get a chance to lead the conversation on whatever is on our minds. There are no rules about what we can bring to the table, but because of who we are, Alaric’s segment tends to be about science, nutrition, and medicine while mine gravitates toward philosophy and big-yet-hazy-ideas.

We try not to discuss these topics beforehand. The upside is that we have an organic conversation on the podcast that, in my opinion, makes it the most interesting part of the show. On the other hand, when I reflect on the conversation later, I often find I have more to say.

I have a very limited understanding of the science Alaric talks about, so his segments are learning experiences for me. That’s great because I end up asking him the same questions that listeners probably would. Only later when I have processed and absorbed all this learning do I have anything intelligent to add to this conversation, so one of the functions of Crossroads Conversations will be to add my thoughts to Alaric’s topic of the week.

The other function is to expand on my own topic. I use my segment to talk about ideas or theories I have, asking Alaric to poke holes in my logic or help me work out the fuzzy details. I come out of the conversation with a much clearer idea of my own thoughts than I have going in. After reflecting on Alaric’s insights, I’ll lay out more polished versions of my ideas here.

An Evening at the Tavern

Since this week is all about introductions, I won’t actually be doing the above today. I’ve already explained the point of this column and still have about six-hundred words left to fill, so if you’ll indulge me, I’ll talk a little about the thematic ideas behind the Crossroads podcast.

I’ve always loved the lonely crossroads trope. Traditionally, the crossroads is a place to meet the devil, selling him your soul in exchange for you heart’s desire. Many ghost stories involve haunted crossroads, including some versions of La Malora, an old Mexican folk tale. It’s not hard to speculate about where these stories come from. A place in the middle of nowhere where all sorts of people are bound to run into each other? Some weird stuff is sure to happen there.

Now imagine a tavern at such a lonely crossroads, where travelers stop to rest on their way to far-off places. People who have no business ever meeting each other rub shoulders and share a drink. In such a place, you meet people from spheres you’ve never interacted with, and if you’re willing to listen, they might share their ideas with you.

These are ideas you’ve never heard before. Chances are nobody in your sphere has heard these ideas, either. That gives you an edge. At the same time, many of these ideas are going to make you uncomfortable. You’ve never met people who think this way. You didn’t think there were people who think this way. Part of you will want to excuse yourself, go to bed, and be on your way back to people who think the way you do at first light.

If you’re wise and brave, though, you’ll stay until the end. In the dark hours of the morning, when everyone is drunk and the cares of the real world seem a thousand hours away, something magical happens. People begin to really talk. To bare their souls. After a night of debating radically different ideas and viewpoints, you realize that the deepest, darkest parts of each person are exactly the same.

The aim of Crossroads is to capture that magic. By exploring the radically different, we discover what makes us radically the same.

The Road Ahead

Now, in no particular order, is a list of topics I plan to cover in future editions of both the podcast and this column. If any of them sound particularly interesting to you, let me know and I’ll try to address it sooner!

  • Transcendental Capitalism: why I think capitalism is not a movement or an ideology but a physical and inevitable manifestation of the human condition
  • Norse Mythology: why giants are not big, dwarves are not small, and the entire fantasy genre is based on a lie
  • The Crucible Method: a self-improvement system I designed for myself, built on a foundation of pain and failure
  • The Importance of Aesthetic: why everything we consider shallow might be key to our happiness and survival
  • Core Values Remastered: my continuing struggle to define Desdenada’s Core Values, building on our conversation in the first episode of Crossroads
  • Favorite Philosophers: a crash course on the thinkers and ideas who continue to shape my life
  • Favorite Podcasts: a breakdown of the voices I spend an inordinate amount of my time listening to
  • Hall of Heroes: the contemporaries I follow and strive to emulate and what each has taught me
  • Hall of Legends: those who are no longer with us yet whose legacy provides lasting value for us all
  • Apps and Tools: the rare tools I’ve found that actually simplify my life instead of adding unnecessary complexity
  • Anticipation: my system for ensuring the future is always bright and I’m always excited for the days to come
  • Literary Étude: my bizarre technique for infusing my writing with the essence of my favorite authors while creating something fresh and original
  • Skyrim Life Skills: an effective self-improvement gamification system I came up with after sinking untold hours into the Elder Scrolls V

Of course, that’s only half the story. Who knows what topics Alaric will come up with in the intervening weeks, and the conversations they’ll inspire!