Words of Power: Equilibrium, Mångata

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Putting a hold on my adventures while I take a fika in Solitude.

At last we come to the third and final word of our first thu’um. The significance of this word, mångata, is more difficult to grasp, and relies on our understanding of the first two words, lagom and fika. Let’s refresh our understanding of those words.

Lagom means not too little and not too much, and we apply it in our lives when we find balance and moderation in all things. We do not neglect our work or our health. We find time for friends, for family, and for ourselves. Yet we do not overdo any of these aspects, either.

Fika is s break accompanied by some kind of treat. Stepping away from whatever task holds our attention helps us find balance and perspective. Many people have figured out that they work more effectively after taking a short break, but fika is more than that. The treat reminds us that the break is not just a means to the end of being more productive. It’s a valuable and meaningful part of our day, best spent with a friend or in quiet contemplation.

Mångata, too, is best observed in quiet contemplation.

A Road of Pearls

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Just in time to witness an execution.

Mångata is translated as the roadlike projection of the moon on the water. When I first learned the word, I thought it was funny that Swedish had a specific word for that. Then I thought about it more, and realized it’s funnier that we don’t. If you’ve ever seen mångata, I’m sure you knew it was something special, whether or not your native language has a word for it. When I was a child and lived near the ocean, I used to think it looked like a road made of thousands of shimmering pearls.

There is no practical reason for us to be fascinated by mångata or by similar phenomena. Searching for a meaning behind it won’t add anything to the effect. Yet it’s something most people naturally appreciate. Taking time out of your day to observe mångata won’t earn you any lasting benefit, unlike the money you would earn if you spent the evening working instead. Yet fifty years from now, which will still be meaningful to you: the beautiful sight of moonlight on water, or a little cash?

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Then it’s back to Morthal to find out what all the trouble is.

We’re so used to trying to be productive all the time that it can be hard to take a breath. You might practice lagom in your life, but if you’re like me, you’ll feel a pressure to “maximize” the free time you create by taking time away from work. Relaxation becomes its own sort of work, as you strive to not waste the time by not relaxing hard enough. After all, since this is time you could spend doing valuable work, you better relax pretty damn hard to justify this use of it.

Breaking up our work with fikas helps us practice resisting that overproductive part of ourselves, but the final, ultimate understanding of lagom only comes when we learn that the most important things in life are the things that don’t make any sense.

Shouting Mångata

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Someone burned down this house with a little girl inside it. Now her ghost wants to play hide and seek.

Besides its literal meaning, the significance of mångata is that you should appreciate the things that strike a chord within you, even when you don’t know why and you can’t justify them as something useful or practical. That’s easy enough to grasp in theory, but such an abstract concept can be difficult to actually apply in day-to-day life.

The trick is to wield these words like a shout in Skyrim. I wouldn’t recommend actually shouting them, especially in public, but you can say the words under your breath or repeat them mentally.

Before I sat down to write this, I did this very thing while taking a fika.

“Lagom. Fika. Mångata.”

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Mångata must be awesome with two moons.

Then I reflected on how I could apply those words immediately, here and now. First of all, I realized I needed to stop spending my fika planning what I was going to write in this post and just enjoy the moment. Then I started looking for anything with a mångata-like quality in my environment.

I’m writing this in a busy Starbucks attached to the building where my girlfriend works. Before I moved to Mexico, I had been to Starbucks maybe once or twice in my life, and took an irrational pride in being the only millennial writer I knew who never spent any time in the franchise. When it became the most convenient place to meet my girlfriend most days, I had to grudgingly get over that bias.

I still don’t think Starbucks serves good food or coffee and it would never be my first choice of somewhere to spend time, but this specific location has taken on special meaning for me. It’s full of memories of the time I’ve spent over the past two years, either with my girlfriend or by myself hard at work. When I take a fika here, it’s a chance to reflect on how far I’ve come and how anywhere can become special when you visit it with the right people.

Slowing Time

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Found her….

Time is relative, and this is true psychologically even moreso than physically. Now that we know all three words of the Equilibrium shout, we can return to a claim I made in the first post about it: that it is equivalent to Skyrim’s Slow Time shout.

When faced with uninteresting tasks, whether tasks that are too easy or tasks we do not care about, we go on autopilot. Our brain recognizes we aren’t doing anything crucial, so it shuts down to save processing power. Not only does this make us perform less effectively, it also skews are sense of time. They entire workday becomes a blur, and your life passes you by at an alarming rate.

Meanwhile, events that are new or meaningful are handled with special care, painstakingly analyzed and recorded into your memory. Five minutes looking at a beautiful harvest moon might seem to go by slower than eight hours at work, and will certainly stick with you longer.

If you take even twenty minutes out of your workday to reflect and find a way to add real meaning to what you are doing, you can wake yourself up and slow time around you. By taking a break, you can actually increase the amount of time you spend working–relatively speaking.

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Desdenada Gazette 06/06/18: Kingdoms Will Fall

For real, though: dinosaurs.

Amidst yet another silly Trump scandal and the will-they-won’t-be specter of nuclear war, this issue of the stained-glass perspective is here to bring you the only story that matters: Jurassic World 2 comes out this month!

Maybe that’s not exactly news, but some early reviews are out, which is enough of an excuse to talk about it. Last week I tried out a three-sided approach to covering a much more serious story, and this time I’ll see how that approach fares with coverage of a movie that isn’t out yet.

Why? Because dinosaurs.

Spielberg Reincarnated As Bayona, Simultaneously Still Himself

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Story: New York Post

On the one hand, the fact reviewers are calling Bayona the new Spielberg makes me hopeful the movie will be good. On the other hand, it’s weird to talk about “the new” anyone when said anyone is not only still around but still actively doing what he is known for. Makes me feel a little bad for the guy, although something tells me he’s doing just fine.

That said, I am excited about Bayona. If you’re not familiar, he directed El Orfanata, a first-rate horror movie that showcases his talent as a director, even if, by all accounts, Guillermo del Toro secretly backseat directed the whole thing.

What excites me more is that positive reviews claim the movie recaptures the heart of the original Jurassic Park: not thrills or gore, but the sheer wonder of believing in a world where dinosaurs are real.

Bayona Hates Dinosaurs, and Also You

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Story: The Wrap

In contrast to the positive reviews, negative reviewers complain they felt the opposite of wonder. It’s not just that the movie is formulaic and unoriginal, everyone involved seems to know how formulaic and unoriginal they’re being. The result is that the editing, the actors, and even the dinosaurs go through the motions, treating the action like it’s nothing special.

These criticisms are worrying because that is the worst possible scenario: the most important element becoming a generic vehicle for a standard action movie plot.

Not having seen the movie yet, it’s hard to know if these criticisms are founded. Despite my worry, I’m also curious to see if I end up agreeing with these reviews. It might be wishful thinking, but I do wonder how much the problem is with the critics rather than the movie. Negative reviews point out that the movie uses tricks and sequences that were impressive in the original movies but now fall flat. Not to excuse unoriginality, but in an era where people take pride in being jaded and hard to impress, how many people go into screenings of a movie like Fallen Kingdom having already decided they’re going to call it unoriginal and flat?

Then again, I’m going into it wanting it to be the best thing ever, so it’s not like I can trust my own judgment either.

Movie Is Fine, More or Less

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Story: Time Out

If we’re being honest, the middle-of-the-road reviews reflect where I’m probably going to fall at the end of the day. The five-star reviews are correct: dinosaurs are the best. The one-star reviews are correct: it’s lame to do the same thing over and over. I expect to walk out of the movie thrilled out of my mind, then lay awake that night thinking of all the cooler places the movie could have gone.

This brings us to the real reason I devoted this post to a glorified movie review: I’m a dirty hypocrite. Never having been a fan of comic books and having only passing interest in Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, I’m the first to wail and gnash my teeth when everyone praises each addition to these franchises as the greatest film of our time. How are people taken in, over and over again, by the same tired formula plastered with fan service and hamfisted one-liners. Meanwhile, I’ll always give Jurassic World a pass.

Because dinosaurs.

What lesson should I take from this? Should I learn to forgive Marvel movies for all their flaws, because superheroes are to someone what dinosaurs are to me? Or should I go the opposite direction, learning to hate Jurassic World for using a personal quirk to lure me into supporting uninspired art?

Or should I take a third option and just like what I like without overthinking it?

It’s definitely between options one and two. That third option doesn’t sound right at all.

Traditions of Ysgramor: The Key Companion

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Once again, these pictures will have nothing to do with the content.

Once again, Aemilian’s recent adventures in Skyrim comprise an assortment of quests with no clear theme. You know what that means: it’s time to look back and delve deeper into some earlier experiences. Specifically we’re going to talk more about what the Companions can teach us about building powerful habits in our own lives.

Each Traditions post will use one Companion in particular to illustrate a part of the process. Today we’ll be talking about Farkas, the simplest, yet perhaps the most important, of all the Companions.

Occam’s Warhammer

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DRAGON!!

Farkas is the archetypal fantasy warrior: strong, not smart. Some might look down on what they perceive as intellectual weakness, but Farkas seems to have come to terms with it, proudly proclaiming that he inherited the strength of Ysgramor while his brother Vilkas inherited all the smarts. In fact, it is this “limitation” that makes him perhaps the truest Companion, as the other members allow their intelligence to divert them from their calling. Skjor is preoccupied with history, Vilkas with vengeance. Aela is perhaps too taken with her beast side and Kodlak can’t think of much else but how to escape it.

Meanwhile, Farkas takes the ideals of strength, honor, and brotherhood at face value, living and embodying them with every breath. His simplicity is his strength, his sword and his shield. He is, in a way, the keystone around which the mead hall Jorvasskr is built, the beating heart that unifies the rest of the order.

The simplest piece can be the most crucial. That is definitely true when trying to create habits, as well.

Keystone Habits

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Anyway then I went to Morthal.

A keystone habit is a habit which other habits are built on. By changing one established habit or routine can create a domino effect that changes your whole life. The trick is finding the right habit, and making sure it’s a simple habit that can be easily implemented. Since the secondary benefits of a keystone habit are more important than the habit itself, you should keep it simple, even laughably easy.

For example, a lot of people want to make it a habit to go for a morning run, but struggle to actually do it. Researchers found that it is more effective for these people to simply adopt the habit of putting on their running shoes in the morning. This is the keystone habit.

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Seems there’s something sinister business going down here.

When adopting this habit, you’re free to just take your shoes off again as soon as you put them on. Most of the time, however, once you have the shoes on you’ll feel you might as well go for a run. After you run, you’ll have more energy throughout the day and naturally crave healthier foods. You’ll sleep better, too, which makes it easy to get up early the next day. And even if you don’t end up running after all, you’re at least building the core habit on which so much more will later be built.

The obstacle to these keystone habits is hubris. When writing down a schedule or to-do list, it’s very easy to tell ourselves, “I will go for a run tomorrow, nothing can stop me, my discipline will prevail.” It probably won’t, though, so do yourself a favor and write down “Put on running shoes” instead.

Find Your Keystone

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Unfortunately I have more stuff to sell than Morthal’s economy can handle, so I’m off to Solitude for now.

Now that you understand keystone habits, finding the right habit for your life is a matter of reverse-engineering your goals. If you want a more healthy lifestyle, for example, you would reduce that goal to the running shoe habit discussed above. Not to stereotype, but if you’re someone who loves video games or identifies as a nerd, chances are you can benefit from that habit as presented and don’t need to come up with your own.

There are plenty of ways to use these habits besides fitness, though. If you want to start flossing every night, make a habit of just flossing between two teeth. If you want to read each morning, start by building the habit of opening a book and reading a sentence (if the book’s any good, this will often be enough to grab you!).

I’ve found a powerful keystone habit in my own life when it comes to creative output. Since I set my own schedule, I find it too easy to be tempted by distractions when trying to write or blog at home. My solution was to change my environment, usually going to a cafe. I still technically have access to all the same distractions on my computer at a cafe, but I end up writing and blogging. My ego might be partially responsible: when there are other people around, I want them to think “look at that writer”, not “look at that loser playing Hearthstone”. All I need to do is make a habit of visiting my favorite cafe, and the rest takes care of itself.

Real Talk 04/06/18: Aesthetic Is Everything

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Coming off a trip to the real-life Skyrim, I’m excited to launch a few new creative projects this summer.

This edition of real talk finds me at a juncture in my life. Basically, I’m still working hard on the same old projects I’ve been working on all winter, but assuming I can finish them soon, a slew of shiny new summer projects are right around the corner. Let’s take a look at the horizon, and then meditate on one of the more controversial Desdenada core values.

The Summer to Come

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What summer looks like in Canada.

In Mexico City, Aprils showers bring May showers and also constant thunderstorms and often hail. All this inclement weather is interspersed with scorching hot sunny days, because this is still Mexico, after all.

My girlfriend and I just returned from a trip to visit friends and family in Canada. Travel is always an opportunity to get away from your day-to-day life and see it more objectively, evaluating what’s working and what you might like to change. In this case, I was happy to find upon my return that I had missed my normal life and was excited to return to it.

That said, I’m also excited about a few new projects I’m going to pursue over the summer. I’m aiming to finish the two books I’m writing now–one for work and one of my own–very soon, so I will spend the summer beginning and hopefully completing two new books. Meanwhile I want to put more time and energy into this blog, and possibly even begin some sort of streaming or podcasting to go along with it.

Yesterday, I also kicked off another new project that I’m very optimistic about.

Secrets of Talonguard

 

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The environs of Vancouver provided ample inspiration for my new Dungeons and Dragons campaign.

I used to play Dungeons and Dragons fairly regularly, but haven’t found a group since moving to Mexico. Recently I connected with some people online and found myself the Dungeon Master of a weekly game for five other players. It’s mostly for fun, but we are recording the sessions and plan to put them up as a podcast in the near future.

For anyone who hasn’t played Dungeons and Dragons, I would highly recommend it. Not only is it fun, but it’s a good chance to develop some basic acting, improvisation, and storytelling skills. If you choose to play as the Dungeon Master, you’ll also work your organizational, teaching, and a range of creative skills–it’s a hard job, but a rewarding one!

Despite having run campaigns in the past that I could have easily dusted off and used for these players, I for whatever reason decided to make an entirely new one, throwing a whole world together in a matter of weeks. It’s definitely pushing my creativity and time-management to the limit, but I’m really enjoying the work. My campaign, dubbed the Secrets of Talonguard, is sort of a fantasy version of the colonization of the Americas–with all the complicated themes that entails. I look forward to seeing where the players take the story!

Desdenada Is: Aesthetically Pleasing

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Whistler is the definition of aesthetically pleasing.

Again, I eventually need to settle on a core value naming convention. Aesthetic Is Everything is a great phrase, but it’s a statement, not a value. The value in that case is just aesthetic. If we’re going with the adverb noun construction, though, I kind of do like “Desdenada Is: Shockingly Shallow”.

I’ve had ideas about the importance of aesthetic for a long time, but have found it a difficult idea to communicate, and a controversial one besides. The idea isn’t to convince people to place a higher value on aesthetic; the idea is everyone already places a higher value on aesthetic than they realize, and we should try to accept and understand that.

A good example is the “green” movement. Time and again, people have shown themselves highly motivated to fight for things that seem “green”, “natural”, or “responsible” (wind turbines, which do a lot more harm to the environment than good), while acting ambivalent toward or actively opposing logical solutions (nuclear fusion, a clean and efficient energy that intuitively feels like it would be the opposite of that). Or take alternative health brands that claim nutritional supplements are overpriced lies, then sell the same supplements in green packaging and labels explaining their link to some indigenous tribe.

It’s not just in marketing, though. I’ve seen plenty of movies depicting what is supposed to be our grim, dystopian future: people slave away at menial jobs, working for faceless corporations, then spend their free time amusing themselves with technological entertainment instead of connecting with other people. Of course, this is already how most people live. The directors use light and noise to make it seem worse than it is: cities are gloomy and labyrinthian, shared spaces are silent and grim, public transit is needlessly cramped and loud. There’s no in-universe explanation for these factors; the implication is that some government authority is intentionally designing architecture to be difficult to navigate and block out natural light, and is ruthlessly clamping down on decoration, music, and anything else that might make life more bearable. It doesn’t make any sense when you think about it, but the vast majority of people have a baseless doom-and-gloom vision of the future, probably due to weird aesthetic choices in our fictional futures.

There’s a positive side to aesthetic, though, if you can embrace its power and use it for good. I started mixing self-help with fantasy because for whatever reason I find the aesthetic of fantasy incredibly appealing. It sounds silly, but I’m more likely to follow the same self-improvement program if it’s masked in fantastical terms. That’s why it used to write a column called The Rational Alchemist, basically a self-help book based on traditional alchemical elements. It’s arbitrary, but I’m more excited about “practicing alchemy” than “improving myself”.

I think it’s time I brought that column back.

Desdenada Gazette 30/05/18: Three Sides to Every Story

Picking a divisive issue and pissing both sides off: it’s the Desdenada way.

Today I’m trying something a little different with the stained glass perspective. Instead of looking at three different stories, I’m going to look at one story from three different angles. A long time ago I realized that whenever there are two sides to a story, the truth is found somewhere in between. That means the only way to even get close to the truth is to listen to both sides, even when one side makes you outraged.

Of course the best test for this method is a Trump story, since remarkably few people are willing to consider both sides when it comes to anything Trump. Specifically, I’ll be looking at an ongoing immigration story, as immigration–to the U.S. and otherwise–is possibly my most dear political issue. You probably know the one: the case of the missing children.

In keeping with the tenets of the stained glass perspective, I’ll disclose my bias at the outset: I support radically free immigration to an extent the majority of liberals would find off-putting. Still, I’ll do my best to fairly consider and empathize with the position of those who oppose immigration.

Trump Is Satan, Feeds on Tears of Mexican Children

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Story: The Washington Post

My exaggerated headline is not too far from the actual Washington Post headline: “Will Trump Finally Pay A Price for His Abject Cruelty?” The story argues that the loss of the children are a symptom of the Trump administration’s general lack of responsibility. Authorities aren’t strictly required to separate children from their illegal immigrant parents–this is a conscious choice in how to enforce the rules.

Since children accompanying illegal immigrants do not commit this crime willingly, they should not be treated as criminals. Besides, family unity is a cornerstone of the American identity, so breaking up families is un-American under any circumstances.

As the headline suggests, however, the real concern is not finding the missing children or reexamining U.S. immigration laws. The article’s thesis is that we must ensure that Trump is blamed for this, fighting his administration’s attempts to duck responsibility and shift blame. In a way, we should be thankful these children got lost, as the article implies in its closing paragraphs: the emotional punch delivered by photographs of “tearful family separations” will keep women from voting Republican in November, more effectively than any logic or reason.

Democrats Are Stupid, So Are You

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Story: The Washington Examiner

Spoiler: everything you know about this story is a lie. Some people probably propagated the lie on purpose, but for the most part I imagine this is a case of getting outraged over headlines and soundbites before doing any further research. Maybe people are too eager for any excuse to be outraged at Trump, or maybe outrage is just a habit at this point and people can’t help themselves.

First of all, the photo above has been widely shared in connection with this story, as an example of the awful way Trump’s administration is treating immigrant children. The photo, however, was taken in 2014, and is actually an example of how the Obama administration treated immigrant children.

Moving on to the story itself, the fact the government lost track of over a thousand children sounds bad out of context. It sounds even worse when you add the context that these children are only in the system because they were forcibly separated from their families. That context is an outright lie, though. The children were actually part of a group of 8000 children who crossed the border from Mexico on their own, and were accepted into the United States and given to sponsors who would raise and care for them.

When the government contacted the sponsors to follow up on how the children were doing, the majority were doing well. Over a thousand of the sponsors didn’t respond, however. Technically, this means the government “lost track” of them, but really means “last we checked they were safe and sound, but we haven’t heard from them in a few months.” It’s suspected some of the sponsors are avoiding contact because they may be illegal immigrants themselves, or otherwise don’t want the government looking into their business. So it might be most accurate to say these children are hiding from the government.

Breaking: Political Story Is Divisive

Immigrant fight heats up
Story: The Hill

The Hill’s headline, “Immigrant Fight Heats Up”, is actually a good headline, but I still found it funny if only for a meta reason. After two headlines that essentially read “the other side is wrong”, it took me aback to come across a headline that reads “there are two sides”.

Anyway, I’m not really going to talk about this story itself, but using it as a background for my own take on the issue. As I said at the beginning, I’m staunchly pro-immigration, and none of what I read today changed that. In a broad sense, I oppose the ethical stance and practical measures of this administration.

Yet if I’m upset about anything today, it’s that people who share my position are spreading lies and making unsubstantiated attacks against Trump and other Republicans. As is too often the case, I lean with the liberals on the issue but am embarrassed by the association.

If you hate Trump and want to see him destroyed, then you owe it to yourself to apologize to the other team for your mistake and encourage your own team to correct the misinformation they’ve been spreading. I know the idea makes you sick, but if you can do it, it’s a sign of real maturity and integrity. Besides, it’s the pragmatic thing to do. If you double down now, you’re giving Trump outright proof that his detractors will use outright deceit to get what they want. That doesn’t help your cause.

If you love Trump, you deserve an apology and some vindication. Treat yourself to some ice cream today, or better yet, get your liberal friend to buy some for you. That said, this incident doesn’t charge the big picture. Just because the other team is using unfair tactics to demonize Trump’s hardcore immigration crackdown doesn’t mean Trump isn’t spearheading a hardcore immigration crackdown. He very much is, and has no problem separating children from their families. Are you comfortable with that? I can’t tell you that you should or shouldn’t be, but I will tell you to honestly ask yourself the question.

 

 

 

 

Diabolical Logic: Vaermina, Weaver of Dreams

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Sure is dark tonight.

When we left Aemilian he was heading north. It turns out that takes a long time when you only ever walk (technically the horse did the walking, but it’s not much faster than the character walks). It’s not called the Ridiculously Slow Let’s Play for nothing.

Finally arriving in Dawnstar, I came upon an intriguing mystery: the townspeople all seemed to be cursed with vivid and terrifying dreams. A traveling priest of Mara claimed to know the source, and led me to a foreboding tower on a ridge above the town.

The priest revealed he once resided there as a cultist of Vaermina. What he told me about the cult was intriguing: they held dark secrets of alchemy unknown to any others. As much as I hunger for alchemical knowledge, I reached the same conclusion as the former cultist: the Daedric Prince and her followers were irredeemably evil.

Logic, however, is beyond good and evil, so let’s take a look at the logic that guides the dark mind of the Dreamweaver.

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

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Real is a relative term.

The existing lore on Vaermina is limited, so I have to extrapolate for this one. Vaermina’s sole motive appears to be to gain power. She does this by stealing memories and inflicting psychological torture, but it could be that these are simply the tools at her disposal, rather than that she believes them inherently important.

Then again, a Daedric Prince surely has the power to branch out if she wanted to. Her cultists outside of Dawnstar are competent fighters when pressed, but prefer to fight psychologically if they can. Maybe gaining power isn’t an end in itself for Vaermina, but then what is all this power for?

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Adopting a second child. No one should be homeless in this frozen hellscape.

Vaermina is mainly associated with dreams, but also with evil omens and with stolen memory. She is also indirectly associated with alchemy, because her followers practice alchemy in order to achieve certain dream states. Evil omens is an odd one. Vaermina doesn’t seem to have the power to change the future–other than the way we all can by taking action in the present–she is just associated with convincing mortals that the future is going to be bad. More simply, she seems to be associated with anxiety.

Now a theme seems to arrive. Vaermina creates anxiety with omens, terror with nightmares, and uncertainty by stealing memories. Perhaps Vaermina should actually be associated with fear more than anything else.

To Know Oneself

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SLEEP WITH ONE EYE OPEN *slamming guitar chords*

Vaermina actually being the prince of fear doesn’t quite track, however. Dreams are certainly a method of creating fear, but it’s only one tool, and creates a fear that tends to fade quickly upon awakening. Why scare mortals in fake ways in a fake dreamworld instead of just sending a bear to attack them in real life, or any number of methods that would cause more lasting terror than any dream?

Again, let’s look deeper–what hidden value could fear hold? It’s been said that you truly learn a person’s character when they are afraid. Self-preservation is one of our highest instincts, so only a person’s deepest values win out against terror. Maybe Vaermina induces fear in mortals so that they can better know themselves?

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WAKE ME UP (wake me up inside)

This raises all sorts of interesting questions, since it’s also commonly said that fear and anxiety are the main reasons that people aren’t able to be who they really are or express themselves freely. This doesn’t quite fit either, though, because Vaermina also tends steal the memories and dreams she creates. Why give someone the chance to truly know herself and then snatch the experience away?

The best theory I can come up with is extremely counterintuitive: Vaermina actually represents connection with reality. Her nightmares are therapeutic, venting the anxiety that keeps mortals preoccupied with things that aren’t real, then stealing away the dreams so they themselves don’t become sources of anxiety. Ill omens about the future keep mortals focused on the world around them on the lookout for danger, and stealing memories can keep them from wallowing in the past.

My Eyes Are Open

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Triple beam dreaming, the ghetto my reality

Vaermina’s methods might be a little dark, but living more in the moment, connected with the physical world, is something worth working toward. These qualities might be at an all-time low in the modern age, with everyone distracted by anxiety, busy schedules, social media, and so on.

To practice Vaermina’s teachings, without putting yourself through trauma, you can try a toned-down version of her nightmare technique. When you are trying to focus on a task, or even just relaxing, you may find yourself distracted by anxiety or by thinking about what else you need to do that day. Get out a sheet of paper and indulge those thoughts for a moment, writing down everything on your mind that doesn’t have to do with the current task. Then put the list in a drawer and put its contents out of your mind.

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Despite being intrigued by some of Vaermina’s teachings, I ultimately disobeyed her and let the priest destroy her artifact and the source of the nightmares in Dawnstar.

This is easier said than done, and you may find these thoughts creeping back anyway, unable to be contained by a drawer. Whenever they do, gently remind yourself that you already wrote them down and have committed to worrying about them later, so you don’t have to worry about them right now.

Desdenada Gazette 16/05/18: Fun and Games

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Cool dramatic image, but no damage was done.

News is supposed to be dark and heavy, but I’m not feeling it today. For me, the breaking news is that Mexico City was just hit by an earthquake but it was fortunately a very small one, unlike some other quakes in recent memory. As the adrenaline induced by the seismic alarms fades, it is replaced by a euphoric gratitude for life that colors my stained-glass perspective. Read on for some lighthearted and ultimately unimportant coverage of the stories of the day.

Congressional Testimony Released, Politics Is Fun

Story: Washington Post

Obligatory Trump story of the week: the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee just released thousands of pages of testimony that sheds some light on the infamous meeting between Trump Jr. and a Kremlin lawyer two years back. As usual, the info coming out probably is not as damning as impeachment-hungry liberals think it is but a little more damning than collusion-denying conservatives say it is. For the rest of us, it’s a fun peak at how ridiculous politics usually is.

Trump Jr. told congress that he told his Russian contact he would love dirt on Clinton. In his defense, who wouldn’t love dirt on their opponent? On the other hand, he probably could have chosen his words more carefully. Maybe he should have watched the Godfather a couple times before getting into politics. You don’t say “I would love it if you gave me the skeletons in Hillary’s closet so I could beat her to death with them”, you say “I believe Hillary is a worthy and honorable opponent, it would be a shame if you told me something different.” Plausible deniability, man.

The testimony also has other sources in the room confirming Jr.’s main defense: that the meeting was a failure since no useful information was shared. It’s an odd defense because the story is basically that they tried to collude with Russia but Russia let them down, so technically they’re innocent.

One of the most fun pieces of info is the sheet of notes Paul Manafort took during the meeting. They’re written in short-hand and could literally be interpreted to mean ANYTHING, so look forward to both sides coming up with elaborate Westworld-fan-theory-level explanations. My favorite lines are consecutive: “illici” followed by “active sponsors of the RNC”. Make from those what you will.

Finally, probably the only really important info: a lot of the information was collected by the investigation immediately after the meeting two years ago and only became known to the media today. Whichever team you’re rooting for, know that we’re seeing the game at a huge time delay compared to the principle players.

Internal Clock Is A Thing, Says Science

body clock cartoon image
Story: BBC

I’ve spent years tinkering with my daily schedule, trying to figure out what works best and what is easiest to follow. Lately I’ve been paying more attention to research on natural rhythms. I believe strongly in the power of habit, and for a long time I thought the key was simply doing the same thing at the same time every day. The actual timing, I thought, was arbitrary: whether you go to the gym at 7 in the morning or 7 at night, the habit will form if you’re consistent.

There’s some proof to that, but I’ve gotten good results incorporating natural rhythms into my schedule. Whether it’s placebo is up for debate, but still. It may sound like New Age mumbo-jumbo, but science has found that certain aspects of our body are on a clock. We produce testosterone in the morning and melatonin in the evening. It remains unclear how much of this clock is internal and how much is regulated by external stimulus.

This story focuses on how strongly mental illness might be linked to the internal clock. To vastly oversimplify things, a person might feel depressed if they’re body thinks they should be asleep when they’re awake. The reality of modern society is that the majority of people don’t get to set their own schedule. School, work, and other obligations set restrictions on when you can sleep, eat, exercise, and so on.

The question going forward, then, is how much does society need to change to accommodate these natural rhythms, and how much can we alter our natural rhythms with external stimuli (e.g. blue-light machines in the morning) to match society?

Hearthstone Balance Changes Shake Up the Meta

Story: IGN

This story takes the “fun and games” theme literally, and isn’t exactly news to anyone who doesn’t play Hearthstone (although apparently it’s going to be a new Olympic sport, so interest in the game may rise). I’m not as much interested in the actual changes, though, as a pattern I’ve noticed in the way people talk them.

Hearthstone is a card game and in it’s main game mode, you build your decks beforehand. The result is that each time new cards are released, the best players quickly figure out the best decks and all the other players have the power to copy them. These decks become the meta. At almost every level of play from beginner to professional you usually see the same decks being played at a given time. That’s not a flaw with the game; it’s inevitable. Still, people who play a lot complain that playing the same meta decks against the same meta decks over and over starts to feel stale.

The new balance changes aim to disrupt the most powerful decks my making their key cards a little weaker. That’s good for the health of the game since you don’t want any card to be overpowered. On the other hand, it will likely only be a week or two before the top players work out a new set of meta decks and we all follow suit.

What I’ve noticed is that people seem to be talking less about the actual power levels of the cards and more about how it will feel fun to play with fresh decks. When the game began, they made changes to cards when necessary, but not on a consistent basis. Now it basically feels guaranteed that we will see changes halfway through each expansion cycle. At first it felt like they were saying”we made a mistake” but now I get a different feeling: the cards they’re fixing weren’t necessarily broken, but they were causing the same decks to be powerful for too long. Having these consistent balance changes means each expansion cycles will have two defined metas, and we all get to play with new cards more often.

It’s an interesting way to think about game balance, and about life in general. Sometimes the point isn’t to change things to be better–sometimes the real benefit is just that there is a change. Things need to be shaken up now and then.