Goodbye 2020, Hello 2021

What will the new year bring?
What will the new year bring?

The Year That Was

As horrible as 2020 was for all of us, I will remember it as the year I realized my life is short. Like many, I spent the early days of the pandemic indoors, with my eyes doomscrolling through grim statistics and depressing headlines. I diligently washed my hands for 20 seconds whenever I could, I bought and wore masks whenever I went outside, and I made sure to social distance when around others. I listened to the scientists and got angry at those who questioned them. I was afraid, anxious, and unsure about the future, and I didn’t know what to do.

I was fortunate enough to keep my job and to not have lost anyone I cared about, but I know many of us weren’t as lucky. Many of us lost our jobs, lost friends and family members, and lost a piece of our lives we will never get back. All I lost was my sense of time. Before the pandemic shut the world down, I felt like the Red Queen, always running but never going anywhere. As the pandemic raged throughout the world, I felt like time didn’t matter anymore. Each day was worse than the one before, with more and more people dying and more and more people not taking the virus seriously.

I had stopped running and stopped caring.


It didn’t have to be this way. The weekend before Montana closed down its schools and forced many of us inside, I drove down to Missoula with my camera and tried street photography for the first time. I had purchased The Art of Street Photography course from Magnum a few days before, and I wanted to both expand my walls and improve my photography. Unfortunately, there weren’t many people walking the streets that day, but I figured I’d go on another weekend and try again. So far, that weekend hasn’t arrived.

One of the few pictures I took on that trip
One of the few pictures I took on that trip

In April, I bought my Gibson G-45 acoustic guitar. Along with photography, one of my goals for the year had been to learn to play the guitar. It had been one of my goals for a very long time and lockdown proved to be the perfect time to learn. Fender extended the free trial on their Fender Play course to three months, and I thought this the perfect opportunity to learn from home. I eagerly went through the first few levels and spent the next few days and weeks practicing and building up my calluses. I had a lot of fun during this time, but like most things, it didn’t last very long.

By May, I was back at work full-time, and where once I had all day to play the guitar, now I barely had any time for it at all. I’m trying to remember all that happened during this time, but the memories won’t come. I woke, I went to work, I slept. I barely played the guitar. I barely took any photos. I barely wrote.

I barely did anything.


My guitar after first unboxing it
My guitar after first unboxing it

Once school ended and summer break began, I started to work on myself some more. I had stopped feeling like myself during those first few months after lockdown, and I hated how I felt. After the governor ordered all schools shutdown and forced everyone to work from home, I reopened my Facebook account. I had deactivated it years before, back when Donald Trump was elected president, but I figured I needed to keep in touch with my friends and family during this time and Facebook felt like the answer.

I admit, I missed it. I missed checking in with my friends and family, learning about their lives and what they were doing to keep themselves safe and sane. I friended a couple dozen people I’d met over the previous years the first few days after I returned to Facebook, and that provided enough novelty to keep me coming back. As much as I knew Facebook was bad for me, I didn’t care. It gave me a release from the world, a world that kept getting darker and darker.

But this honeymoon period on Facebook didn’t last. Almost as soon as I returned to it, I felt that same growing unease building in the back of my mind that I felt when I last deactivated my account. Friends and co-workers started to post memes and updates stating that the virus was a hoax, that masks were bad for you, that Bill Gates created the virus so he could get rich selling the vaccine for it. I ignored them but they didn’t disappear. I tried filtering my news feed to only show content I liked, but that only created a filter bubble that made Facebook even more vapid.

Once I realized Facebook stopped making me feel good, I knew I needed a change. I needed something that would not only keep me connected with my friends and family, but also keep me sane. I had been an on-again, off-again blogger dating back to my high school years, but for whatever reason, I could never make it stick. From 2014–15, I started a blog where I wrote an entry every day for 365 days. It was a great success, but since I had hosted it on Squarespace and their $99/year price was too high for me at the time, I cancelled my subscription and ended my blog.

I felt like this was the perfect time to create a website again.


Regardless of all the pain and anger I felt, the summer of 2020 was one of my most creative and fun seasons I’ve ever had in my life. Starting in mid-June and ending in late August, I wrote an entry and took a photo every day on my brand new blog. I wrote about my father and realized what he taught me, about my desire to expand the boundaries of my world, and about my identity and who I wanted to be. I discovered my love for macro photography and for the simple act of walking. I also drank. A lot.

But then I broke my Fujifilm X-T20 camera and things slowed down. I bought the Fujifilm X-T4 in early September to replace it, but the pace I kept during the summer stopped. I was back at work, and I had some thoughts about that. My mom came to visit from San Diego, and I got to spend some time with my nieces. But mostly I spent the fall quietly.

In October, I hurt my back and spent most of it in pain. I felt lucky for having a job and that my community escaped the worst of the coronavirus, but I didn’t feel like myself anymore. I had stopped writing, reading, working out, taking photos, playing the guitar, and anything else that made me happy. But that changed in November when I decided to participate in Microblogvember, Micro.blog’s annual blogging challenge. This was exactly what I needed to regain control of my life, and I’m glad I did, because it worked.

I wrote every day in November, and I loved every minute of it. I met some great people during the challenge, and I fell in love with my website again. I spent an inordinate amount of time customizing it, but I’m really proud of the result (as of today).

In December, I started to work out again, and that made each day better. Health is the foundation for everything I do, and I’m glad I spent the month rebuilding this habit because it made everything else easier. I began to rebuild each of my other habits, starting with writing. Writing is all I ever wanted to do, and even though I stopped writing fiction in 2020, I didn’t stop writing.

Toward the end of December, I wrote what is perhaps my favorite thing I’ve ever written in my life. In over 1,500 words, I described a recent visit to my local clinic. It was fun and weird and a little bit gross, but I loved writing it, and I loved that I had a place of my own to share it. I messaged it to a few friends and received an eclectic mix of reactions, but I came to the realization that this is the social network I want, and I’m glad I have it.

If anything, 2020 felt like a big reset, not just for me but for the whole world. I’m proud of how I finished 2020, and I’m eager to see what 2021 brings.


The Year That Can Be

Will I be able to try street photography again this year?
Will I be able to try street photography again this year?

If 2020 was a big reset, 2021 will be the year I lay the foundation for the rest of my life. Because of this, I feel that 2021 will be a transitional year. It’ll be a year where a new administration is set to be sworn in soon and a year where millions of people will be vaccinated against the coronavirus. I don’t expect life to be back to “normal” anytime soon, but I feel it’s safe to expect something close to it by year’s end.

So what do I want to do in 2021? Like with most things in my life since I graduated college, it starts with my debt.

Pay Off My Debt

As of January 3rd, 2021, I have 9 more car payments and 11 more student loan payments. That’s it. That’s all I have. In total, I have a bit over $10,000 in debt, and I’m on track to pay it off by the end of the year. I’ve never laid this all out so clearly in my life before, and it feels amazing. I haven’t been debt free in 13 years. 13 years. That’s 13 unlucky years of being burdened with a debt I promised to pay off, and in 2021, I will finally do it.

I can’t even imagine what life will be like without this weight on my shoulders. It’ll mean an extra $1,000 a month in my bank account. It’ll mean I am free to do whatever I want. This is something I’ve never experienced in my adult life before, and I can’t wait to get there.

Consume Less

Because I don’t want to lose sight of this one overarching goal, I plan to live as simply I can this year. Even though I have some pretty expensive tastes, I’m very minimalist by nature. I didn’t grow up with much, and I’ve never been happy owning things I don’t use. One of my favorite books I read last year was Spark Joy by Marie Kondo. I love donating things I don’t need anymore, and I love owning only those things that spark joy in my life.

Over the last few weeks of December, I went through all of my online accounts and deleted those I either didn’t use anymore or didn’t want anymore. Some of those included services like Dropbox and VSCO, while others were sites I signed up for on a whim but never used again. I deactivated Facebook and Instagram with the goal of actually deleting them sometime this year. I intend to use only those services I actually value and enjoy, and I hope this culling will help me simplify and make my life feel leaner.

I plan to wean myself from Amazon this year, too. I don’t think it’s possible to outright delete my account and never shop from there again, but I think I can get close. If I’m being honest with myself, I really don’t need anything new this year. I have everything I could ever want and need in my home right now, and I plan to make the most of them this year.

Create More

To do that, I hope to fill my days with things I enjoy doing. In 2021, I hope to write more, to take more photographs, to keep playing my guitar, and to keep learning. During the heart of the summer, I loved writing and taking photos every day, and all that cost me nothing. Nothing but my time and my energy. When I’m in the middle of a project and I hit that flow state, it feels like time both stops and goes by too fast. I hit those moments a few times last year, and I want to fill this year with as many of those moments as I can.

I don’t know if I want to start a new book this year, but I know I want to continue writing. Writing is my one true love, and without it, life ceases to have meaning. I do have a few book ideas, as well as a few unfinished books, so perhaps I can work on one of them this year.

I want to keep taking photos, but I want to improve my craft more this year. I tried street photography last year, but my experiment was cut short due to the pandemic. Maybe I’ll have a chance to start it up again this year. It’s okay if I can’t, though, because I plan to improve my macro photography, too. I want to go on more hikes and explore new areas this year, and I hope to experiment with landscape photography. The world is literally out there asking to be explored, and I hope to capture as much of it as I can.

Over the last week, I’ve been re-developing the callouses on my fingers playing my guitar again, and all I have to say is: why did I ever stop? I love playing the guitar, and I love learning new chords and songs and musical concepts. Since a life without music is not a life worth living, I plan to play the guitar as much as I can this year.

Lastly, I hope to keep learning languages. I first started learning Japanese in January of 2019, and my progress slowed considerably in 2020, so I hope to pick up the pace in 2021. I not only plan to finish Genki I, but I also plan to start learning French again. I took three years of it in high school, so I hope getting back into it won’t be too difficult.


Those are my plans for 2021. I wonder what the universe will say about that, but if 2020 taught me anything, it’s that I know I have it in me to adapt and focus on what matters.

I have no idea what the future holds, but I’m very eager to find out. Let’s go!

Healed

The doctor came into the room with her supplies and set them on the counter. She turned to me and told me to lie face down on the bed. “I’ll be right back with the nurse,” she said. “If you need to hold her hand during the procedure, let me know, okay?”

“Okay,” I said.

After she left the room, I stepped onto the bed and lied down. I had to adjust my mask because my breath fogged up my glasses, and while I did so, the doctor came back with the nurse. I heard the nurse grab the supplies and set them on the metal tray beside the bed. The doctor stepped toward my right and pulled my shirt collar down.

I grabbed onto the corners of the bed.

“You have very nice hair,” she said as she brushed it away from my neck.

I chuckled and said, “Thanks.”

“I’m going to spray the anesthetic now, okay?”

“Okay,” I said. The spray felt cool.

The doctor grabbed the #11 scalpel blade. The nurse placed one hand behind my back and held my shirt collar down with the other.

“Yeah, hold it there,” the doctor told the nurse. To me, she said, “I’m about to make the first cut, okay?”

“Okay,” I said.

I squeezed the bed and held my breath.


I sat in the waiting room and took some photos of the landscape painting hanging on the wall. The ceiling light hit the glass cover and caused a glare that made taking a clean photo difficult. As I tried to get a better angle, I heard the nurse call my name. I put my phone away and followed her inside.

She walked me toward the scale and told me to step on it. I took my boots off and saw the digital reading go up to a number I didn’t like. She wrote the number down and led me into another room. She walked toward the end of the room and told me to sit down on the chair.

She grabbed the sphygmomanometer and told me to take off my jacket. I did so and then gave her my arm. As she checked my vitals, she asked me a few questions about my reasons for coming in to see a doctor. I told her and after she wrote my words down in her laptop, she asked to see my neck.

“Oh yeah,” she said, “that’s a big one.” Her eyes softened when she asked, “And how long has it been like this?"

“About a week.”

She nodded and said, “Okay. Please wait here. The doctor will see you in a bit.”

“Okay,” I said.

When she left the room, I took my phone out and opened the camera app.


Two weeks ago I went to see a doctor I’ve never met before. For over a week I had been battling this pain in my neck from what I now know was an infected sebaceous cyst. It wasn’t pretty and it didn’t feel good, but I thought it would go away on its own. It didn’t. Instead, it gave me headaches and made sleeping difficult.

This was the second time in a few months I setup an appointment to see a doctor. The first one was because of some back pain. I’ve had back pain before but never as bad as it was then. Getting out of bed was a struggle, and when I did, I had to use the back of my chair to be able to stand upright. I couldn’t bend down to put on my socks and when I tried, the pain would shoot up my back and make life miserable. This went on for a few weeks, but by the end, I was able to tolerate the pain enough to at least dress myself. Like with my cyst, I thought the pain would go away on its own, but when it didn’t, I called the clinic and setup the doctor’s appointment.

My doctor’s solution to my back pain was to buy a heating pad and sit on it for a few hours. I was skeptical, but after a few days with it, I felt the pain soften quicker and quicker with each passing day. I’m now a firm believer in heating pads and would recommend them to anyone with back pain.

But I’m grateful I experienced the few weeks of pain on my own. Because it was the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life, I grew a tolerance to it I didn’t know I’d need so soon thereafter.


A few minutes after the nurse left, I heard someone knock on the door and come in. It was the doctor.

“Hi, Mario? I’m Dr. Henderson. How are you today?”

“I’m doing good. You?”

“Good. So I hear your neck’s been bothering you. What’s going on?”

After I repeated everything I told the nurse, the doctor asked to see my neck. “How long have you had it?” she asked. She sounded startled.

“A little over a week,” I said.

“And you haven’t felt any fevers or chills?”

“No,” I said. “Other than the occasional pain, I’ve been feeling pretty good.”

“Okay,” she said and looked at my neck again. “This looks like an infected abscess. What might’ve happened is that, as you went along your day, you cut your neck on something and over time, bacteria formed in the wound and hardened. You said you had this bump on your neck for a few years now, right?”

“Yeah,” I said. “It never hurt before last week, so I didn’t really think much of it. It was just this bump I thought came with getting older.”

“It’s called a cyst, and sometimes they can be serious. Sometimes the bacteria in these infections can seep into your bloodstream and cause sickness.”

My eyes widened.

“But you’re talking to me just fine, so I don’t think anything like that has happened yet.” She looked at my abscess again and said, “Well, we’re going to have to cut it out, okay? I have to make a few incisions across the abscess and then we’re going to push the infected tissue out. Unfortunately, you won’t be under any anesthetic, but I do have a numbing spray I’ll spray over it. It’ll help a bit with the pain.”

“Okay,” I said.


I sat at the edge of the table and felt my arms shaking.

The nurse came back into the room and asked me if I was okay.

“Yeah,” I said. I lifted my shaking arms and said, “My adrenalin is making my arms shake.”

“I bet,” she said. “You did really good. Most other patients would have been yelling.” She made exaggerated groaning noises that made me smile.

I shrugged. “The pain was fine,” I said.

“Have you ever watched Dr. Pimple Popper on YouTube?”

“No,” I said.

“When you do, it looked just like that.”


The first cut didn’t hurt. The second cut didn’t hurt either.

“There it is,” the doctor said.

“Oh yeah,” the nurse followed.

I felt the blood trickle down my skin.

“I’m going to push now, okay?” the doctor told me.

“Okay,” I said. I took a deep breath.

While the nurse pulled my shirt collar down with one hand and had the other placed on my back, the doctor pushed against my abscess with all her strength.

She stopped and I breathed again.

“This is a big one,” the doctor said. She pressed down again.

“There it goes,” the nurse said.

“There’s another one,” the doctor said.

“Twins,” I said and laughed. The doctor and the nurse laughed, too.

She pushed down hard on my neck again.

“The first one’s out,” the doctor said.

“How are you feeling?” the nurse asked me.

“Fine,” I said. “I didn’t know I was having babies today.”

The nurse laughed and said, “Yeah, those were some big ones in there.”

“Okay,” the doctor said. “Let’s get the other one out now. Mario, are you ready?”

“Let’s go,” I said.


During the week after the appointment, I took antibiotics and changed my dressing daily. The wound closed a few days after and has been healed for about a week now.

Like I wrote about that day, that doctor’s appointment was one of the funniest and best experiences I’ve had with a doctor in my life. We laughed and made jokes and otherwise made a potentially scary situation into a very warm and human one.

While I lied on that table and felt the doctor push and push against my back, all I felt was gratefulness. I was grateful I lived in a world with doctors and nurses, with people who chose to help people, who spent time and energy learning about the human body and how to heal people. I felt grateful I had insurance and access to these people and these facilities. The procedure hurt, but my feelings of gratefulness overshadowed everything else. It also didn’t hurt that not too long before, I experienced some of the worst pain of my life.

2020 was a strange year, but we made it out alive. How can you feel nothing but gratefulness after that?

2020 Books

Do these books spark joy?
Do these books spark joy?

I read 17 books this year. For me that’s low, but 2020, by all measures, wasn’t a normal year. I struggled with attention and focus, and there were months when I didn’t read a single page. But I’m proud I read anything at all.

My favorite fiction book of the year was Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. Last year I read 1Q84 and fell in love with Murakami’s style immediately. The same went for Kafka on the Shore. I love how he tells stories, and I want to read the rest of his bibliography in the coming years.

My favorite non-fiction book of the year was Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. I just finished reading it a few minutes ago, but I knew from the beginning that I would love it. I haven’t read many biographies, but I loved this one. I’m an American and I love the story and the promise of America, and Alexander Hamilton embodied all of it.

Other books I loved this year were The Expanse series of books by James S.A. Corey and Spark Joy by Marie Kondo. Both influenced my year in different ways and made living through this hectic year better.


  • Death’s End by Cixin Liu
  • Lost Connections by Johann Hari
  • The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs
  • Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing by Marie Kondo
  • Killing Floor by Lee Child
  • The Art of Noticing by Rob Walker
  • The Black Echo by Michael Connelly
  • Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
  • Roseanna by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö
  • The Lonely City by Olivia Laing
  • Caliban’s War by James S.A. Corey
  • Abaddon’s Gate by James S.A. Corey
  • Severance by Ling Ma
  • I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
  • The Deficit Myth by Stephanie Kelton
  • Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
  • Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Languages

My first language was Spanish but I stopped speaking it once I learned English. In high school, I took three years of French and loved it. In college, I took two semesters of Mandarin Chinese and loved it. For the past year, I’ve been teaching myself Japanese and I’ve been loving it. I’m currently listening to the Duolingo podcast on the great Argentinian heist of 2006, spoken in both English and in Argentinian Spanish. They say the “ya” (double Ls) sound like “ja”, so llaves (keys) becomes javes. It’s interesting. On Instagram, I went down this rabbit hole on French photographers, and I followed one who today had an hours long live session where she spoke in French and I felt this giddiness as I heard her speak that I haven’t felt in a very long time. I wanted to re-learn French, and I wanted to re-practice Spanish, and I want to keep learning Japanese and maybe one day go back to learning Chinese. I watch so much anime because I just love the musicality of the Japanese language, and I love understanding some of what the characters are saying. I’m not sure why I love languages, but I do.

There are so many decisions I wish I made when I was younger, and sometimes I feel like I’ve grown too old to pursue any of them, but I’m not. I want to keep learning and I want to travel to all these countries and speak to all these people because we’re all just people sharing the same world and trying to live the best lives we can. And if I can do so by taking pictures and going on miles-long walks? Oh man, now that’ll be the life.

Pain

Yesterday, I went to my local clinic to visit with my doctor. My back had been killing me since last week, but I woke up yesterday feeling better than before. It still hurt to bend down and put on my socks, but at least it didn’t take me 20 minutes to get up from my bed in the morning like it did over the weekend.

I hadn’t seen my doctor in a few years, and when he came in to see me, he told me it was a good thing that I hadn’t seen him for that long. It’s always when something goes wrong, I thought. I talked him through what was happening, and he told me a story that helped him with his back pain. One day, he was bending over to put some sheets away when his back just gave out and he fell to the floor in pain. What helped him, he said, was wrapping a heating pad over where it hurt on his back for about an hour or two, and that made him feel better. After my visit, I drove to Walmart and bought a heating pad. I came home, learned how to use it, and sat on it for a few hours. My back did feel better, but it didn’t really solve the problem.

Only time will heal this wound, I think. Time and rest. So that’s what I’ll do.

Fixed

I received my fixed Fujifilm X-T20 camera yesterday. I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I held the camera in my hands again. I attached the XF18–55mm kit lens to it, turned the camera on, and felt the same sense of joy I felt when I first turned it on back in 2018. The X-T4 is an amazing camera and it’ll be my main camera for the foreseeable future, but man, it feels good to have my OG camera back.

I haven’t been writing much in here anymore because I haven’t been taking pictures or writing in my notebook anymore. Every time I take a picture of something, though, I have a strong urge to write in here, and that’s why I’m back today. Writing without pictures documenting my day doesn’t feel right. I wanted to push through it, but that didn’t amount to anything. So here I am.

Fall is here, and the colors are beautiful. The coronavirus is still a thing, and our president has it. Some schools around us have had to shutdown because of active cases, and I feel like it’s only a matter of time before it hits us, too. The election is a month away, and I have no idea what to expect. I honestly don’t even know what I want to happen. I’m all out of fucks to give.

Phenology

I learned a new word today. Phenology is the close study of nature’s rhythms. It relates to the cyclical and seasonal nature of climate, plant, and animal life, and I love it. I’ve been checking in with the moon more this summer than I ever have, and there’s a calm and stillness I feel when I look up at the sky and see the moon’s current phase. The wildfire smoke has enveloped the West in a blanket of misery and doom, but it has given a new beauty to the red sun. That just reminds me how even in the most tragic and depressing of circumstances beauty still finds a way to seep through.

Basics

The basics start with my notebook and pen. I need to get my thoughts and feelings down on the page so they won’t eat me up from the inside. When I neglect my notebook, I let my depression win. On the first post of this blog, I wrote that every morning I wanted to write in my notebook before I wrote my blog entry. I veered away from that, but now I’m ready to veer back into it. Over the course of the summer, I came to the realization that I don’t want to be a fiction writer anymore, and I felt like that freed me up to try new things. Journaling still helps with my mental health, so I’ll continue to do that, but my photography has also helped a lot, too.

I feel like—and this may sound cheesy—I was born to be a storyteller, and journaling and photography are different ways of telling a story. I wrote last month about my desire to go on a long walk, somewhere in the 500–1,000 mile range, and photograph it and then write a long essay about it. I still have that desire. I would love to write that story, even if just for myself, so that’s something to look forward to. But I have to be healthy and strong, so getting back into a steady workout routine will be key. I’m actually sore right now from yesterday’s workout, and it feels good. Just. Don’t. Stop. I have to keep telling myself that.

Work is slowing down. The teachers and the kids have settled into a rhythm. Other than the masks, it feels like the coronavirus doesn’t exist. When I was a wildland firefighter, one of the biggest admonishments I received from my superiors was to never be complacent. Complacency is what gets people killed, and I feel like our school and our community are complacent right now. I hope we all get through this safely.

Fall starts soon. I’m ready for a new season. Just. Don’t. Stop.

Depression

For the past few weeks, and possibly the past month, I’ve been depressed. I had lost the will to do anything. I stopped writing in my notebook, stopped going on walks, and stopped taking pictures. I had broken my first mirrorless camera, and that made me more sad than I could have ever imagined, so I bought a new one. I love my X-T4, but unfortunately, that hadn’t been enough to kick me out of my perpetual sadness. So then I bought a new tripod. “Maybe,” I thought, “I need to go on something more than a long walk in the park and instead go on a hike up the mountains and take some landscape photographs.” I received my new tripod on Friday, but instead of taking it out with me, I stayed home and got drunk. I have been neglecting my todo list, my notebook, my camera, my guitar, my studies, my reading, my workouts, my meditations. I have been neglecting everything that makes me happy and instead I’ve been focused on the drinking, on the shopping, on all the indulgences that make me feel awful.

Today I meditated for the first time in a very long time. It wasn’t peaceful. It wasn’t life-affirming. It wasn’t anything positive. Instead, it was angry. It was dark. It was everything I had been feeling for the past month, and in that regard, it was a great session. It always starts with that first step. It’s picking up my pen. It’s changing into my workout clothes. It’s sitting down at my desk. I wrote in my notebook this morning and let all these feelings out, and it felt familiar. It felt… I felt like myself again.

I haven’t thought about suicide since my early twenties, and I don’t think I ever will again because I know there will always be better days ahead. Things might look black and white now, but I know colorful days are waiting for me, and it’s this mentality that has helped me stay alive. I don’t know if things will get back to “normal,” whatever that means, but I know I have to keep moving my feet to get to the good days. So here’s to the good days.

Mom

I’m breaking from tradition and posting a picture I took a few days ago. I think this finally frees me up from having to take a picture a day. Who imposed this rule? Me, but I wanted to see how long I could go. A few months seems laudable. This is a picture of my mom, and I really like it. She flies back to California tomorrow morning, so tonight will be the last day I’ll be able to hang out with her. It was a short trip, but I hope it was nice for her.

Twenty

My mom flew in on Sunday, and I’ve been hanging out with her and my nieces the past few days. I’ve been playing twenty questions with this lovely lady and have been enjoying the time with her. She has grown into a creative, honest, and amazing young lady, and I‘m eager to see her grow up. I moved to Montana a month before she was born, and I was there when she was just a few hours old, so I have a special affinity for her. Don’t tell anyone but she’s my favorite!

I took hundreds of photographs and filmed gigabytes of video, and I’ve been having fun going through them and editing them. I really do love photography.

Devourer

I haven’t been on a walk in a few weeks. It’s been work work work non-stop, and it’s been getting to me. Emotionally, spiritually, and physically. I’ve been coming home from work dead tired and unmotivated to do anything. I know it’s bad when I miss the slowness of life. I miss breathing and thinking and writing mundane thoughts in my notebook. Now it’s filled with anger and disdain. Is starting a Google Meet really that hard? Is printing to a certain printer? Has 21st century life really moved that fast for 20th century people?

I’m tired of this virus and I’m tired of the people who aren’t taking it seriously, who are only thinking of themselves instead of others. I feel like we’re a bunch of parasites eating through the earth until there’s nothing left. We need a great devourer to eat us up and give the earth time to breathe and rebuild.

Eternity

Taking the week off from writing felt both long and not long enough. Taking the week off from photography felt like an eternity. I missed not having a camera, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt the same way about writing. I have to come to terms with that. I’ve spent my whole adult life pretending I was a writer when really, what if I wasn’t supposed to be one? I’m not saying I’m supposed to be a photographer, but I never gave myself the opportunity to explore other interests outside of writing.

What I like about photography is that it puts me in direct confrontation with life. I have to be right there to take the photo. I can’t be at home and imagine a photo and have it exist like it would in my head. I have to be outside and in the world to capture it with my camera. I have to be close to the spider to photograph its beautiful eyes; I have to be with the bees to take photos of them; I have to be outside and walk around to find the beautiful flowers to photograph or the moon or anything else.

This summer has helped me step out of my inner world and into something much bigger. I started to expand my walls and go outside and explore the world, and I happened to take my camera with me. I bought the Fuji XF80mm macro lens in early July and discovered a new love. With each photo, with each session, I get better, and that feeling is intoxicating. Self-improvement has always been a great love for me, and it’s no different here. And now that I have my X-T4, I feel like the world has no limits, like I can do anything, and I want to. So let’s go.

X-T4

New camera. After I dropped and broke my Fujifilm X-T20 last week, I ordered the X-T4. It arrived yesterday, and my initial impression is that this is a mind blowing device. Everything about this camera is amazing. For one, it’s a bit bigger and heavier than my X-T20, and I didn’t think I’d like that but the extra room feels freeing. I love the new flip out screen and the dedicated ISO dial. I love that I can switch between stills and video and have the camera retain the settings for both. I love how quiet the shutter is. I love everything about it. I haven’t taken it out on a walk yet, so that’s something I have to look forward to. I want to get into the manual and really get into the nitty gritty details of this camera. I’m excited, I’m happy, and I can’t wait to see where this goes.

Hopeful

School starts today, and I’m not ready for it. I’m not ready for any of this. But I’m hopeful that things will turn out okay this year, that we will all stay healthy and have some sort of return to normalcy. I saw one of my very favorite students yesterday and all of my anxieties about starting the school year faded away, so this could be okay. Or we could have a breakout and have school shut down indefinitely. Positive thoughts.

A co-worker found this spider in a trash can outside, and he went out of his way to find me to show me. I think this shot turned out a lot better than I imagined, but I still wish the spider was turned the other way so I could take a photo of its eyes. But I love how the web turned out. These small creatures are both beautiful and gross, and I have a weird attraction to that feeling. Is there a word for that? Add that to my vocabulary list.

Unaware

The staff returned yesterday, and they’re back again today. School starts tomorrow, and I’m not ready for this. Why has time ceased to have any meaning during this pandemic? I had a dream last night where I was back at USC, and I went into Doheny Library. Dozens of students sat by the tables studying and more browsed the stacks. I waited in line to speak to one of the librarians. “I’m an alumni,” I said after I told him I didn’t have a library card. He looked at me quizzically. I did the math in my head and said, “I graduated twelve years ago.” “I’m sorry,” he said. “The library is only for students right now.” I looked around again and felt stupid. I had forgotten all about the coronavirus, and for a moment, I lived blissfully unaware of it.

These next couple of months are going to drain me psychically and physically, and I’m not ready for any of it. I still have so much work to do, and again, I’m not ready for any of this. I’m not ready for the emails and the phone calls and the text messages. People tell me I should be grateful they need me so much. Job security, they say. And to them I say, fuck that.

Phase

The Waxing Crescent Moon
The Waxing Crescent Moon

Checked in with the moon last night, and I immediately felt a peace I hadn’t felt for a while. Life had been overwhelmed by work and by my own laziness and unmotivated attitude. I stopped studying Japanese and playing my guitar and working out and reading books and even writing in my notebook. I’ve only wanted to distract myself with video games and television, with alcohol and comfort food.

I’m two months into this blog, and I don’t know where I’m going with it. The plan wasn’t to write every day, but here I am, writing every day. This has been my one constant this summer and now summer ends soon. School starts on Wednesday. All the staff return today. I’m behind on a few projects. I’m not ready for any of this. But regardless of how I feel, the lunar phases will continue like it always has, and I must, too.

Grey

I finally finished The Last of Us Part II, and I loved it. That seems to be an unpopular opinion about this game, but I don’t care. It was a great game, one I’ll be thinking about for a long time.

Humans are contradictory, hypocritical, and selfish, but we’re also kind, loving, and selfless. The world isn’t black and white, and sometimes there isn’t a clean way to view the world. For generations we’ve praised slave owners and murderers as heroes, yet we railed against others who were better than them. The rationale being since they’re on “our” team, then they’re okay, and since the other person is on “their” team, they’re not. Moral absolutism is a myth, and cancel culture is getting out of hand. But we’re also all on the same team. We’re humans.

I honestly don’t know where I’m going this. These are just thoughts and notes I’d like to remember later.

Insanity

School starts next week, and I’m both eager to see the kids but anxious at the same time. I’m not ready for the staff to return, but I’ll be happy to get back into some sort of rhythm again. For the past week, I’ve been playing The Last of Us Part II every chance I could get, and I’ve been having a lot of fun. I was even playing it for a bit just now, and for a moment, I completely forgot that the coronavirus was a thing. I was invested in another world and with other people. I wonder if there’s a word for that, this disassociation from one reality and into another one. I think that’s the perfect definition for insanity?

Mantis

After helping a co-worker with a computer request, I stepped out of the building and saw a shadow in my periphery. I looked down and saw this beautiful praying mantis standing still on the cement sidewalk. My heart stopped then grew with excitement. I sprinted to my office, grabbed my camera, switched lenses, and then sprinted back hoping she was still there. I felt so happy when I found her again in the same spot. I lied down on the dirty ground and began taking a series of photos of her. She let me get close to her, and she even turned her face to the left and to the right to ensure I got both of her good sides.

I’m having so much fun with macro photography that it might be saving my life, in all honesty. What makes me a bit sad, though, is the fact that I know I don’t have the discipline to go out there and shoot every day. I can try, and maybe that trying will reap more rewards than anything else. Here’s hoping.

Serendipity

Went on my first walk of the week yesterday on the prowl for a praying mantis, but I found this beautiful ladybug instead. I like how serendipitous life can feel sometimes, how the universe gives you something you didn’t expect but realized you needed all along. I needed to go on that walk yesterday. I needed to take my time on the creek bank and to go slowly as I scanned the world around me. I found those two ducks from last week in the same spot and took more photos of them. One of them didn’t look well, so I’m wondering if there’s something wrong with it. Maybe she’s pregnant? I’m not sure. I also found nature at its gnarliest:

I asked a friend what was happening and she said it looked like a fly eating a mayfly, and I said, “cool!”

I hope to find a praying mantis soon. For now, that’s my bucket shot, and that has given my life a meaning I need right now.

Burn

As I sit down to write this, there’s an active and loud thunderstorm outside, and it sounds beautiful. The lightning lights up my window every few seconds and then the crackle of thunder roars in the distance. I love thunderstorms. I love how powerful they feel. If the world ends, that’s how I would like it to be: loud and powerful.

Every now and then, I have the urge to burn bridges. To live with a clean slate. To start fresh. I had another one of those urges during this mini-vacation, but I didn’t act on it. Not yet, at least. I’m caught between my impulsive nature and my desire for a more rational mindset, and I think this conflict is what hurts me the most. It’s why I feel depressed a lot, I think, why I can’t control my anger sometimes, and in turn, my mouth. I say things I wish I never said, but once they’re out in the open, I can’t take them back. I can’t rewind time and start again. Life is not a video game, no matter how much I wish it were sometimes. I don’t know what to do about my nature, but at least I can listen to the rain fall and watch the sky light up with electricity.

Chill

Death Valley recorded 130ºF temperatures over the weekend. It wasn’t as hot here yesterday, but it was hot nonetheless. I spent the day inside in my air conditioned home and played video games, vegged out on lots of food, and otherwise spent life lazily. I’m doing the same today. I want to turn off all the devices I own that send me notifications because too many people from work are contacting me for help. I’ll be back tomorrow. Chill out.

One of my favorite things recently has been spending time in Lightroom editing my photos. My photos are nothing to cry home about, but I love tweaking this setting and adjusting that curve until I come away with something I think looks good. It’s an art form, a new way to express my creativity, and I love it. Now to ignore my depression because it’s kicking in and I don’t like it when it does.

Rainbows

I played The Last of Us Part II last night after eating half a dozen vegan burritos and downing four amber ales. In the game, I killed dogs sent to kill me and then their owners as I searched house after house for supplies and clues to where my friend went. I flashed back two years and spent time with my mentor and realized this was all his fault. His death is on him. The world is messy. It can’t be all sunshine and rainbows. Life has radicalized me against those who think this way.

I haven’t worked on my book in weeks, and I wonder if I even want to be an author. I haven’t gone for a walk in a few days. Trying to take one good photo a day is burning me out, so now I take pictures of my TV, a screen I look at for hours a day. For many days, my life is my TV, and is there nothing more American than that? I don’t go to work today or tomorrow, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I spend them indoors illuminated by the blue light of my OLED god.

Love/Hate

I reactivated my Instagram account last night and posted some of the photos I’ve taken for this website. I have a love/hate relationship with social media, and I was drunk enough last night to think it a good idea to return to one. That terrible beer with a skull on it? It’s grown on me. It’s still terrible but the 9% alcohol content helps. I had planned to return to both Instagram and Facebook once school started because many of my co-workers use Messenger for their communication with each other, but I think I’ll skip Facebook for now. Instagram is simpler, but it’s still owned by Facebook.

Is it just me or is it mind-numbingly difficult to be a moral human being in the times we live in? I disagree completely with how Facebook has dealt with viral misinformation and that it helped the Russians interfere with the 2016 presidential election, but Facebook owns Instagram, a service I really enjoy, so it’s tough to not be caught in its grasp. I hate Google for many of the same reasons and then some. I don’t like how they track everyone on the web for the sole purpose of collecting as much data as they can about us so they can then sell it off to advertisers and other companies. But I love YouTube and I love all the talented creators posting videos on it. It’s a great resource yet I feel morally conflicted to use it. And now there’s Apple and their monopoly of their app store. Epic is taking them on in attempt to loosen their grip over iOS and iPadOS, which is great, but Epic also isn’t infallible.

It’s hard to have a stance in anything. I’m for green energy but at what cost? Instead of burning coal and ruining the environment, we dig for resources by exploiting human labor. I’m vegan for many reasons, one of which is that I think whatever force powers my life is the same force that powers a cows life or a chicken’s life or a small insects life. But the modern economy depends on fossil fuels and on other stuff that hurts the environment anyway. It’s tough choosing a side when all the options have consequences I’m against. All that is to say that I’m out of beer, and I want more.

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