Mario Villalobos

Barely Alive

  • Notes

For the past week, I’ve been battling a cold that has kept me from living the life I want. I first felt the sickness coming last Thursday when I felt that familiar yet godawful tickle in my throat that developed into a full-blown old man’s cough by the weekend. I remember I slept for over 9 hours one of those days and I was still tired.

My only saving grace was that my new Playstation 5 arrived that Thursday, so while I recovered, I played a lot—and I mean a lot—of God of War, so much so that I’m only three trophies away from earning the marvelous platinum trophy, a feat I usually don’t care about but I do in this instance. My whole entire week has been focused on recovering from this sickness and playing this game on my new toy, and it’s been nice. Unproductive as hell, but nice.

I returned to work yesterday for the first time all week, but I could only manage half a day before I clocked out early and went home. I woke up this morning hacking half my lung, but I feel better. During this sickness, I’ve still been going through my comforting morning routine, and that meant that I cold achieve this little accomplishment I can hang my hat on:

I can’t believe it’s “only” been 100 days since I started meditating again. It’s been a much needed companion for me these past few months, and I’m grateful for it. I’m still not at 100%, but I’m getting there. I have been able to sit at my desk and work all morning today, for example, and that feels good. I’m still not able to workout or do anything that requires 100% focus, but I’m getting there. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel again, and that feels very nice. I’m hoping for a restful weekend so I can be back at it again by Monday.

Here’s hoping.

Over the Weekend

  • Notes

I feel good. Great, even. Many (but not all) of my new habits and routines I’ve been building over the past month seem to be clicking all at once now, and my days feel good, and because of that, I feel good.

I woke up to twenty—twenty—low heart rate notifications on Friday, an obvious record for me. Last week, Apple Fitness+, my workout service of choice, released kickboxing workouts, and I spent every weekday last week going through them. Normally, my heart rate maxes out at around 150bpm during my most intense workouts (HIIT mostly), but I noticed during my kickboxing workout on Thursday that my heart rate maxed out in the 170s. During my sleep that night, I practically entered hibernation mode, and I woke up the next day feeling strong, lean, and healthy. When I weighed myself on Saturday, I dropped another pound, making that 4.5 pounds lost since the start of December. My goal then was 10 pounds, and I’m almost halfway through achieving it.

Fitness is only part of the equation. Good sleep also matters, as well as how I fuel my body. The last book I read last year was Thrive: The Plant-Based Whole Foods Way to Staying Healthy for Life by Brendan Brazier. The Thrive Diet is basically an alkaline diet, where the focus is on eating foods that are not too acidic. The first few chapters go through the science, and frankly, I didn’t give a shit about that. Brendan spent those chapters trying to sell me on his food philosophy, and it felt like a snake oil salesman trying to sell me on bullshit. But! The last half of the book was devoted on recipes, and these looked good. They were high on good, natural foods, something that jived well with my vegan diet—I diet I started on January of 2017. Over the last few weeks I’ve been slowly—oh god slowly—adding these recipes into my recipe app and acquiring as many ingredients as I could in my small town. Last week, I finally finished adding all the recipes into Mela, and I started to finally make some of these foods.

And oh my god.

The few I’ve made have been more than just good—they’ve been great. The almond flaxseed burger was orgasmic, and the chocolate blueberry energy bars helped me see in multiple dimensions. After I took my first bite of the burger, I messaged my friend and told her, “I love being vegan.” She didn’t say anything because she was busy eating meat, but oh my god, that night’s dinner is forever ingrained in my head. It was also the same night where I watched The Menu, which added an extra dimension to the viewing experience (what a great movie, by the way).

This week, I hope to keep pushing myself as hard, if not harder, during my workouts, and I hope to keep making more of these Thrive recipes. The book also has a 12-week meal plan (that I also digitized), and I’m not quiet ready to start that yet (some recipes require ingredients I can only find on Amazon so far), but it is on my radar. There are these pizza recipes I really want to try but they require buckwheat flour, and why don’t more stores carry buckwheat flour? What the hell? Anyways.

It’s been a good 2023 so far. Let’s keep going.

Sassy

  • Notes

Yesterday, a little kindergartener spent the day in the main office because she was in trouble. We sat her down on a desk in the corner and kept an eye on her here and there to ensure she did her work. Occasionally we would see her poke her head out, and every time we would tell her to return to her desk and get to work.

“Can you call my mom?” she asked my friend, the secretary, during one of these moments.

“Why?” she asked her.

“Because I don’t like school anymore.”

I wanted to burst out laughing, but I kept it together until she returned to her desk, out of sight.

“Can you call my husband?” another co-worker said. “Because I don’t like work anymore.”

We had a good laugh, but eventually, we went back to work, too.

Later, the little girl left her desk again and asked my friend, “Can I go to the potty?” My friend looked at her for a moment, but before she could say anything, the little girl continued, “Because I keep farting.”

I couldn’t hold it together. I covered my face with my hands and laughed as quietly as I could. Once I saw her leave the office, I lost it. I laughed until my eyes watered.

Sometime later, the principal came out of his office to ask me to do something. “Before I do that,” I said, “can I go potty?” He looked at me funny and said,

“Yes, Mario, you can go potty.”

I smiled and said, “Because I keep farting.”

My job is the best.

Year of the Sketchbook

  • Journal

I finished six notebooks last year, and I have every intention to finish more this year. Writing in my notebooks has become one of my most valuable activities, and the thought of living without them frightens me. I’ve been journaling for a long time, but my decision to do them in these Leuchtturm1917 notebooks last year was a good one. The size, the paper quality, the numbered pages—I love all of it.

In my Year in Reading post, I mentioned that I began to use my notebooks as a commonplace book. That decision changed many things for me: it improved my reading, it clarified my thinking, and it ingrained my notebooks deeper into my life.

That last one is something I’ve been working toward since I first learned about Leonardo da Vinci in the 5th grade. Leonardo da Vinci was a magnificent son of a bitch, someone who opened my tiny little child mind to a wider world of possibility. At that age, my entire identity revolved around my skills as an artist. I could draw really well, and when I saw photos of da Vinci’s notebooks, I realized that I needed to keep notebooks, too, because I wanted to be just like him. If da Vinci sketched in a notebook, I wanted to sketch in a notebook, too.

Leondardo da Vinci, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

As I grew older, and as the darkness of the world began to overwhelm me, I stopped drawing and I started writing. Writing helped me combat these demons, and when I became quite good at that, my entire identity changed and revolved around writing. I wrote a lot during high school, and that helped me get into a good university where I would continue to write. At this state of my life, I considered myself a writer, an affixation that has stuck with me ever since.

During college and throughout most of my twenties, I used the classic pocket notebooks from Moleskine. Each pocket notebook took me a few years to finish but finish them I did. During the second half of my twenties, I became a minimalist, and so many of my thoughts during that time were focused on simplicity. I wanted to simplify everything, and that included my notebooks. I learned about these popular memo books from Field Notes, and those felt perfect for me, so I used those to write in up until my mid-thirties. I loved my Field Notes notebooks. They were small, they fit in my back pocket, and they didn’t take very long to finish.

But they weren’t quite right. That idea of emulating da Vinci had never left me, and I feel like it’s time I do something about it. If 2022 was the year of the commonplace book, I want 2023 to be the year of the sketchbook.

Sure, but what does that mean?

I’m glad you asked! Because I have collected some images of notebooks I like. When I was playing through The Last of Us Part II back in 2020, I wrote that Ellie’s notebook pages were beautiful, a sentiment I still hold. Look at them:

Source: The Last of Us Wiki

The sketches, the notes, the beautyoh, be still my heart. One of my behaviors I want to change is this idea of being “perfect.” I made progress on this front last year, but I’m not quite where I want to be because I still feel hesitation when I even think about picking up my pencil to sketch in my notebook. But look at Ellie’s pages again. Look at her draw guidelines to draw her faces, her multiple attempts to draw eyes, her attempts to understand how a horse looks in various angles—this is what I do when I journal. I explore, I analyze, I cross out and try again.

In short, I sketch, but in words… so why not sketch in pictures, too? (lol)

Or look at Nathan Drake’s journal from another Naughty Dog game, Uncharted:

Source: Uncharted Wiki

Look how messy they are: plants are taped to the pages and dying, a photo is stapled to the page, pages from books are cut out, taped, and written over. They’re so messy… and yet, I find these spreads so beautiful. There’s a soul to them I feel my notebooks are missing. My notebooks are filled with pages and pages of my bad handwriting, bad handwriting that has helped me in so many ways, sure, but… I want more.

I want to sketch; I want to figure out how to draw the same face from multiple angles; I want to sketch buildings and landscapes and animals and whatever else; I want to mess up and cross things out and be okay with that; I want to tape scraps of whatever onto the page and be okay with that, too.

In short, I want to do more than just write in my notebooks. I want to be more like Leonardo or Ellie or Nathan or that little shit in 5th grade who first learned about Leonardo da Vinci and wanted to be just like him. I want to be messy and curious and happy to simply be alive, and I want to express all of that in my notebooks, these little books of joy.

That’s what I want to do this year. That’s what I want to attempt to do this year, this year I’m calling the “Year of the Sketchbook.”

I hope I can make that little shit proud…

The Altar of Attention

  • Notes

Om Malik, in a post titled Why internet silos win, writes:

It doesn’t matter whether it is Twitter, Instagram, or Mastodon. Everyone is playing to an audience. The social Internet is a performance theater praying at the altar of attention. Journalists need attention to be relevant, and experts need to signal their expertise. And others want to be influencers. For now, Twitter, Instagram, and their ilk give the biggest bang for the blast. It is why those vocal and active about Mastodon are still posting away on Musk’s Twitter.

If we didn’t care for attention, we wouldn’t be doing anything at all. We wouldn’t broadcast. Instead, we would socialize privately in communication with friends and peers.

I’m using Om’s post as a jumping off point for something I’ve been holding onto and thinking about for a while. I’ve written my thoughts on social media before, and I see these current thoughts as an evolution on what I’ve written before. Mostly: I’m not an online community kind of guy, and I need to finally accept that.

When I jumped on the Mastodon bandwagon a few months ago, I wrote that I had mostly been enjoying myself. And that was true, I guess, but that feeling didn’t last very long. It wasn’t really who I followed, it was the whole idea of a timeline, or the feed. The feed, this box filled with 280 characters or 512 characters or an unlimited number of characters; this box filled with cat photos or moss photos or pretty sunsets; this box filled with people trying to sell me stuff, to influence my behavior in some way, to convince me that their views are right and their views are wrong; this box can go to hell.

I don’t need it, I don’t want it, and I need to get away from it.

Last month, Robin Sloan had this to say about Mastodon, words that have stuck with me ever since (I’m quoting all of it):

Don’t settle for Mastodon

I suppose this is an anti-avenue, because: Mastodon is not it.

When you tell me about Twitter vs. Mastodon, I hear that you got rid of the flesh-eating piranhas and replaced them with federated flesh-eating piranhas. No thanks, I’m still not swimming in that pool!

I’m not saying you shouldn’t create a Mastodon account, or that you can’t enjoy fun, percolating conversations on that platform. I’m just saying that it does not, to me, represent a sufficiently interesting experiment, because it accepts too much as settled.

The timeline isn’t settled.

The @-mention isn’t settled.

Nothing is settled. It’s 2003 again!

Nothing is settled. But what I don’t want to happen is probably what Robin wants to happen, and that’s for people to create something new to replace what’s already here. A new social network paradigm or something similar. What I’m thinking is: no, no we don’t. I don’t think all of humanity was meant to connect to each other in this way, something M.G. Siegler wrote (and I quoted and wrote about) back in October of 2021; mainly, that the problem is us, human beings.

A few weeks ago I went to my friend’s house and we played Uno, Old Maid, and Go Fish with her son and husband, and I had a blast—we all had a blast. We joked around and told stories and I lost my “crown” to my friend because he won the last game of Old Maid, and it was genuinely and simply a lot of fun. What I’m arguing for myself is that I want and need my “tribe,” my smaller community of good friends and family that I can see and hear regularly, and not these formless, shapeless outlines of people behind a screen. I know social networks provide something different—especially for marginalized communities—but this is what I prefer, a real life community.

Aren’t you being hypocritical? I hear someone asking. You have a blog, you’re still on Facebook and Instagram, you’re a Bookshop.org affiliate and are trying to sell me something, so why should I listen to you? You’re right and you shouldn’t. Nobody should listen to me. Like I said, my thoughts on all this are still evolving and will continue to evolve. But I am still going to try and figure out what’s best for me. On the last day of 2022, for example, I collected my login information for my Mastodon, Micro.blog, and other accounts, I saved them in a CSV file (two-factor codes and everything), I deleted my login information from my password manager, I deleted all my cookies and history from all my devices, and I tucked away that CSV file deep in my Documents folder. I am still thinking about maybe printing this information instead, but for now, this is what I’ve done. My intention is to never again login to these services, to never again contribute content to these services, and to simply let them rot until the end of time.

I guess what I’m yearning for is a more genuine human connection with those I already know and will meet in the future, and a way to pull away from these boxes the Internet or tech companies or modern culture as a whole wants to put me in. And to do that, I need to reclaim my attention, to focus on my hands and what I can build with them, and less on those things sucking away at my eyeballs and stimulating my reptile brain.

But what about your blog? Aren’t you writing for an audience or for the chance to build one? Yes and no, I guess. Again—I don’t know. I have an unending physical need to write. I have had it for decades now, and writing online forces me to write something different than when I write fiction or when I journal in my notebook. I don’t think I would have ever written any of these thoughts if I didn’t have my website. They would have been short notes here and there in my notebooks, and maybe a throwaway line a character says in one of my novels. And besides, I’m guessing most nobody reads my blog anyway? So like who cares? But yeah—I don’t know.

I’m still trying to figure my shit out. I have a long list of ideas in my drafts folder I’d still like to write and explore, and I still enjoy writing and publishing things on my own website—more for myself than for others, honestly—so I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. And that’s a good encapsulation of what being a human is like, I guess, and that’s what I want to be doing more of, being more human.

I Don’t Think Books Are Overpriced

  • Notes

Last week, Ted Gioia wrote a good article about Barnes & Noble’s recent turnaround, and in it, he quotes James Daunt, the current CEO of Barnes & Noble:

Back when he was 26, Daunt had started out running a single bookstore in London—and it was a beautiful store. He had to borrow the money to do it, but he wanted a store that was a showplace for books. And he succeeded despite breaking all the rules.

For a start, he refused to discount his books, despite intense price competition in the market. If you asked him why, he had a simple answer: “I don’t think books are overpriced.”

I don’t think books are overpriced. Books, to me, have always been the one exception I’ve made when it came to my budget and how I spent money. If I really wanted a book but I really didn’t have the money, I bought it anyway. I understand how irresponsible this sounds, and it is… or was. I’m fortunate to be in a position where I can afford to do this now without amassing any form of consumer debt, and in fact, the one reason why I’m not buying books all the time is because I live in a small apartment and I don’t have the space to keep them all. So I have to be a bit judicious about it (says the guy who bought more books yesterday).

I don’t think books are overpriced. And they’re not. Most paperbacks cost somewhere around $10-15, and hardcovers are maybe $10 more than that. For what books offer, that’s relatively cheap. I like buying paper books because I like writing in them (see here), and I like holding them. I’m not opposed to eBooks—hell, at the end of 2020, I wrote about Standard eBooks, and just yesterday they released about half a dozen new books, some of which just entered the public domain, and I downloaded many of them. Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis sounds AMAZING. I simply prefer holding my books and writing in them. There’s a simple pleasure whenever I start a book for the first time and I bend the front cover behind the back of the book and I hold it in place as I read the page on the right, then as I get deeper into the book, I do the same but with the back cover—ahhh, I love doing that. Anyways.

I don’t think books are overpriced. Even though I only read 10 books last year, I spent $1,273.84 on books anyway. That’s a helluva lot more than I spent on music, I can tell you that much. I spent most of that money on Bookshop.org, and yeah, they charge more for books than a place like Amazon, but again, I don’t think books are overpriced. I’m happy Barnes & Noble is doing well. Whenever I make my way to Missoula, I usually try to stop at the local Barnes & Noble (after first checking out Shakespeare & Co., the best bookstore around), and I usually come away with something good (they had Spanish versions of Don Quixote and One Hundred Years of Solitude last time I was there, so I bought those).

I love books, and I love spending money on things I love… so yeah, that’s how I spent $1,273.84 on books last year. Fuck’s sake, that’s crazy, lol.

The Banshees of Inisherin

  • Notes

What a way to ring in the new year than by watching this incredible, incredible movie.

I went into The Banshees of Inisherin not knowing anything about it, something I’ve learned is the best way to approach movies nowadays, and I’m glad I did. I’ve never gone from laughing my ass off one second to literally crying the next.

I want to watch it again, to really study it. I don’t know how long it’s been since I’ve rewatched a movie. I’ve been so caught up in the chase of the new that I need to remember to slow down, that we’re all going to the same place anyway, so why not enjoy the journey until then?

If you haven’t watched it, I highly highly recommend it. If you have, then you know. “There goes that dream.”

Goodbye 2022

  • Notes

May you burn in hell forever.

But also, not really because 2022 wasn’t that bad of a year. Here’s to an even better 2023. 🍻

Happy New Year everyone!

I’ve Spent How Much on Music?!

  • Notes

I love music (who doesn’t?), and in America, you show how much you love something by how much you paid for it, so how much did I spend on music this year?!

I spent $937.22 on music this year. Is that a lot? I feel like that’s a lot. That’s an average of $78.10 a month, which, yeah, feels about right. That’s also about 93 to 94 albums in a year, or about 7 to 8 new albums a month, which, yeah, also sounds about right. I think one of the main questions some people will have is: why not subscribe to Spotify or Apple Music or another streaming music service? And my answer to that is:

Fuuuuuuuuuuuck streaming music services. Fuck them all to hell.

I used to subscribe to Apple Music. For a few years, actually. I paid for their $99 annual plan, which came out to $8.25 a month. For $8.25 a month, I could listen to all the music I wanted. It was great! I listened to everything, and I discovered many great new artists. All in all, I had a great time with Apple Music… until I canceled it during one fire season. I had plans to renew it later, but I wouldn’t need it during fire season because I would be in the mountains where service was spotty and where I wouldn’t really have the time or the energy to listen to music anyway. And when I canceled it, I saw the last few years’ worth of music—music I’ve spent time listening to and curating and rating—vanish. Of course it vanished, but I still felt like a big part of me just died. All my new artists, all my playlists, all the work I did to curate my library to my tastes—all gone. So what did I actually pay for? All those hundreds of dollars?

For limited access to an infinite number of songs. I was renting this music—it wasn’t mine. And right then it hit me:

Fuuuuuuuuuuuck streaming music services. Fuck them all to hell.

The only music left in my music app was all the music I purchased before I subscribed to Apple Music, before I spent hundreds of dollars on… honestly? Nothing. It’s like spending $20 for a movie ticket—the cost is in the experience, and for $99 a year, I was allowed access to this musical experience for a limited time, and if I wanted continued access to it, I would have to spend more and more of my money. I would have rather spent that money on buying my music—for sure, far fewer albums than before, but at least I would own them.

And so, that’s why I’ve spent $937.22 on music this year, and why I will continue to spend more than $99 a year on music, more than $8.25 or $9.99 a month on music. Besides, the artists making this music deserve to get paid, and they get paid more when I buy their music directly rather than if I streamed it.

Do I recommend you buy your music, too? I don’t care. If you want, I guess. If you’re happy renting your music from these big companies, then more power to you. For me, though, I’m just fine spending almost $1,000 a year on music, and I will continue doing so for as long as I have money to spend.

My favorites of the year

Year in Reading: 2022

  • Journal

I read 10 books this year, the fewest number of books I’ve read in a year since I began to log them back in 2010. Why did I read so few books this year? Because I tried something new: I began to use my notebooks as a commonplace book.

Whenever I underlined a valuable passage in a book, I would spend the time to copy it down into my notebook and then add my comments to it. I loved this exercise a lot, but this exercise took up huge chunks of my time, time not spent reading. Additionally, I found myself not reading sometimes because I either had a backlog of passages to copy down or I didn’t feel like giving myself more work to do by reading and underlining more. Over time, though, as this habit became more ingrained, I found that the way I read changed. Since I knew I was going to comment on these passages in my notebook, what I underlined started to change. These passages weaved themselves into the larger narrative of my life, a narrative I’ve been writing in my journals within the same notebook.

My favorite book of the year was Emerson: The Mind on Fire by Robert D. Richardson Jr. I’ve admired Emerson for years, mostly from afar, and primarily through a small handful of his essays. Reading this biography clarified who he was to me, and who he was was an amazing person. A big reason why I read so few books this year was because of this book—I swear, I underlined half the book, and it took me months to both read the book and to transcribe all the notes I underlined into my notebooks.

My other favorites were The Places That Scare You by Pema Chödrön and Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman. Both helped me see the structure of my life in a new way. I tried to live a better life this year, and even though I feel like I failed in many ways, I am starting to see the light seeping through the clouds with the promise of a new day just ahead of me, and I have these books (and my notes on them) to help me.

The Plague by Albert Camus was my favorite novel of the year. The others I read were fun but they didn’t compare to The Plague. I hope to read more Albert Camus books in the future.

I don’t know how many books I will read in 2023, but what this year taught me is that if I focus on the quality of my reading, the quantity doesn’t matter.


  • The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski
  • The Places That Scare You by Pema Chödrön
  • Leviathan Falls by James S.A. Corey
  • The Plague by Albert Camus
  • Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman
  • Emerson: The Mind on Fire by Robert D. Richardson Jr.
  • A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami
  • The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi
  • Slow Horses by Mick Herron
  • Thrive: The Plant-Based Whole Foods Way to Staying Healthy for Life by Brendan Brazier

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