Mario Villalobos

Journal

10 Years

Ten years ago today I moved to Montana, and the only thing I have been able to think about is how soon I can leave it. Ten years is a long time to live in a place, but I’m ready to move on. All I’ve been dreaming about for the past few years, and most strongly the past few months, is leaving this state and embarking on another adventure somewhere else. But I feel stuck, like if Montana is a giant sinkhole that traps everyone that sets foot in it. When I first boarded that plane ten years ago, I didn’t imagine I would have lived in Montana for an entire decade. It’s ten years later and I still can’t believe I’ve lived here for that long. Montana is a beautiful state. I’ve met some incredible people here, and I’ve made some wonderful memories, but I can’t call Montana home. Those words simply can’t form in my mind no matter how hard I try. I wish they could—they would make my life so much easier. Instead, I’m writing this with so much anxiety in my chest because I don’t know what comes next.

Why can’t I call Montana home? I think it began when COVID-19 shut the world down two years ago. Back when Trump and his supporters infected everyone’s psyche with their idiocy and illogical thinking. Back when a virus that didn’t care about ideology killed everyone it could, from the rich and the poor, to the old and the young. But if I’m being honest with myself, I think it began before that.

It began the moment I landed in Missoula. It began the moment I grabbed my two bags and loaded them into my sister’s car. This trip was supposed to be temporary. A year, two at most. That’s what I told people; that’s what I told myself. But then I started to make friends. I started to go on dates. I started to get some weird attention. I moved into my first (and so far only) apartment without any roommates or family to live with. I became a firefighter. A licensed EMT. An IT Director. I made more friends. Made more memories. Started taking photography seriously. Started to learn the guitar. Became vegan. I paid off my debts, and before I knew it, an entire decade had passed. I went to bed yesterday in my mid-20s; I woke up this morning in my mid-30s. I woke up to a greying beard and an aching back. Where did all that time go!?

It went into building up these experiences, into preparing myself for whatever comes next. By paying off my debt, I fulfilled one of the original goals for coming to Montana, and with that goal accomplished, what does Montana mean to me now? More than anything, a lost opportunity, I think. I’m not where I thought I’d be personally or professionally. I wish I was married. I wish I had kids. I wish I had written at least one good story, something I know I’m capable of but haven’t quite achieved. It’s so easy to focus on the things I don’t have instead of the things I do. What about my health? My good friends? All my experiences from living in Montana for a decade? The friends I made and lost, all the fires I fought, the knowledge I’ve accumulated? Did I ever think I’d be a firefighter or a licensed EMT? Did I ever think I would actually learn German? So why do I want to leave Montana?

Because, even after all that, Montana still doesn’t feel like home. It still feels like I’m passing through. Like I’m a tourist. Like I’m at a crossroads. Returning to California feels like I’m regressing, like I’m going back to my past when all I want to do is move forward. So, to the east? To Chicago? Or New York? Or Boston? What I miss most about California is the diversity. What I didn’t realize until I moved out of California is how rare it is for people here in Montana to be fluent in more than one language and how much I would miss listening to Spanish every day. I’ve thought about going to Europe just to be around all types of cultures and languages, and I’m still dreaming about one day going there. So, Europe? Spain? France? Germany? I don’t know.

At work, I have this map pinned to the bulletin board inside the main office. I randomly tacked five pins to the map and created a route of places to visit for a road trip I wish to take soon. My wanderlust is real and it hurts. But if there’s one thing I know I’ve gained from living in Montana these past ten years, it is courage. And for that, I am truly grateful. Montana may not be my home for much longer, but I did grow into the man I am today by living here, and for that, I am forever grateful. What will the next ten years bring? I don’t know, but I’m hopeful it begins with a road trip and ends with one last great adventure.

A Pound of Pictures by Alec Soth

Earlier this week I received Alec Soth’s newest book, A Pound of Pictures. This book represents a few things for me. The first is that it’s both my first Alec Soth book and my first photo book, and because of that, I had to get it signed.

This is a massive book, one of the biggest books I own. I’ve only seen the first few pictures because I want to clear an entire day to slowly go through the entire book. Going through his YouTube channel last month taught me so much about photography, especially about building and reading narrative projects, so I want to give the book the respect it deserves, or at least, as much as I can give it.

This book also represents my intention to climb up a new mountain. I look at myself in the mirror every morning and seem to find new grey hairs and wrinkles. I look at the calendar and think, Damn, it’s already March? I look back at my days and think, Am I really living? So I want to do something new and challenging, something that scares me, something that I can look back on and be proud of. So—what is it?

I have no idea.

Okay, sure, I have a few ideas, but I don’t want to reveal them publicly. I don’t want to set some sort of imaginary expectation in people’s heads. I don’t want to set an intention to the universe and not follow through on it, because I’ve done that enough in my life, and it doesn’t feel good.

I’ve been quietly working away in my notebooks this year, and my thoughts feel clear for the first time in a long time. I can see a path opening up in front of me, and I hope I have the courage to walk down it. These ideas are crazy. They’re insane. They scare the shit out of me, but oh my god am I eager to see them through. I have to do the work, and none of this, this life, this existence, matters if I don’t do the work.

I’m getting way too old to leave so many projects unfinished. Every day I wake up thinking if this is the end, and every day I live my life in mediocrity. I’m sick and tired of living this way. I need more. I need to do more.

So I bought a book. And now my life will be better.

Right?

That Which Admits of Being Counted or Reckoned

I’m somewhat obsessive about numbers. It’s not something I’m consciously aware of, but they are something that quietly rules my life. I add page numbers to every notebook I write in, count every book I’ve read, and log how much I weigh every week or month. Recently, a few more numbers have emerged that I want to note.

The first is that yesterday I completed my thirtieth consecutive day of practicing my guitar. In 2021, I had stopped my regular practice, and I wanted to change that for 2022, so I decided to do Austin Kleon’s 100-day Practice and Suck Less Challenge. I printed out the PDF and pasted it to the inside cover of my notebook, and after every practice session, I would mark an X over the current number. After 30 days of this, I can truly say I suck less at playing my guitar. My callouses have returned, and my playing has improved greatly. I’m happy about my progress and eager to finish out the next 70 days strong.

One hundred days ago I hit my move goal 1,100 days in a row, and this morning I hit 1,200. My health is a big priority for me, so seeing this number keep getting bigger every day is validating. I notice when I don’t move around much, which has been happening a lot in the mornings as I get work done, so my evening workout routines are a great way to wind down for me. It relieves any pent up stress I’ve accumulated, and it helps me sleep well at night.

Which brings me to the final number I wanted to note. Ever since I purchased the Apple Watch Series 6 in September of 2020, I’ve worn it to bed every night to track my sleep. A few nights ago I woke up to eight low heart rate notifications. The lowest number you can set for this notification is 40bpm, and throughout the night my heart rate dipped below 40bpm eight times, reaching 36bpm at one point. I’ve never seen it get this low. I regularly see it get down to 38 and 39bpm, but never 36bpm. My heart rate has averaged about 45 to 48bpm for the 10 or so years I’ve been tracking it, so I normally have a low heart rate, but goddamn. How I’m still alive is beyond me.

Being Frightened

I’ve been spending the past week watching Alec Soth’s channel on YouTube, and yesterday I watched his video titled COLORS #52. In it, he looks through the book COLORS: A Book About a Magazine About the Rest of the World and quotes Oliviero Toscani, one of the co-founders of the magazine. Oliviero is being interviewed, and when asked if there are any photographers or artists capable of carrying on a project as pioneering as COLORS was in the early 90s, he answers:

Certainly, only that no one teaches them not to be frightened of being frightened. If you do something without being frightened, it’ll never be interesting or good. Everyone wants to be sure of what they’re doing. Any really interesting idea simply can’t be safe.

When I went to film school, I remember early on how courageous I was in expressing my ideas and concepts with the stories I wrote (even though I failed a lot), but at one point, I lost that. I became afraid of the writer’s room, of seeing the expressions on my classmates faces after reading the 10 page scene I wrote an hour before class started. I remember how often I would watch movies when feeling stuck, and how my pages reeked of what I last watched. I remember how painful it became to show up to class with my subpar pages, and how ashamed I felt when I felt excited that I had something to write about after I found out my uncle had died in a car crash. I remember I decided to start writing novels instead of movies because of this fear. I had wanted to run away from it, but after writing two books that will never see the light of day, I realize now that I’m still frightened.

I’m frightened of being judged and ridiculed, of failing. I’m frightened of exploring my weird ideas because they might not be “marketable” or “popular.” I picked up photography because it was something so different from writing, and at first, I really enjoyed it. But again, at one point, I became paralyzed by fear. My artistic impulse has been to keep pushing my art forward, but when I’m afraid of so many things, I don’t end up creating anything at all.

In my post Bravery from July 2020, I quoted Rebecca Toh. I had asked her how she had the confidence to carry a camera with her everywhere and photograph people. “The important thing,” she said:

is not to let your shyness get in your way. The thing about photography is that it throws you into direct contact with life, and that can be scary at times, but if you want to do the photography you want to do, there is simply no way about it except to go out bravely and shoot.

I’ve been trying to find the courage ever since, but maybe I’ve been approaching it wrong. Maybe it’s not courage I need but the confidence to be frightened. To admit to myself that these ideas might not be “marketable,” that these photos might not be “popular,” but so what? Like Oliviero says, “Any really interesting idea simply can’t be safe.”

Like Pema Chödrön writes in The Places That Scare You, “Do I prefer to grow up and relate to life directly, or do I choose to live and die in fear?”

The Deal

One of the things I want to do more of this year is write. I don’t want to write a novel or short stories or a screenplay; I want to write more posts for my website. I have a long list of ideas built up, of unfinished thoughts and sentences, and I want to spend every morning this year going through them, fleshing them out, spending good time on them, and posting a finished product I’m proud of to my website. That was the idea, at least. Sure, I’m only a week into the new year, so the year is still very young, but damn, I wish I was more productive with it already.

The struggle, and every writer knows this, every creator knows this, is that you have to show up every day. The muse helps those that show up, and if I don’t show up, then I won’t create. That’s the heart of the matter. Does that suck? Yes, of course it does. But I have to show up, whatever the cost, and in this case, the only cost is time. Time is so damn valuable yet I’m finding it so hard to find enough of it nowadays. Where does it all go?

I’ve been spending about a quarter of an hour to half an hour every morning sitting in front of my computer poking away at an essay that just isn’t materializing the way I’d hoped. The point was to show up every morning, to build up that writing habit again, but I feel like I haven’t. Not yet, at least. I’m “pretending,” to an extent. I’m checking off the task from my mental checklist and calling it good enough and moving on to the next thing.

I wish I spent more time on it. I wish I had more time to spend on it, but life is moving so fast that it’s so very tough to keep up with it. So what’s the answer? I wish I knew. But here’s the deal I’m making with myself: I have to show up and do the work before I can go out and play.

I don’t want to live a passive life anymore. I want to live an active life, a life I can look back on with pride. And to do that, I simply have to show up every day and live.

This book gave me the fuel I needed to not only shop less from Amazon but also change my shopping habits completely

2021 Books

I read 26 books this year, nine more than last year. I read more fiction books than non-fiction, but that’s mostly because I wanted to read some sci-fi, The Expanse and The Interdependency being the two series I spent the most time with this year. I also read through all three of Sally Rooney’s novels, which I really loved.

Against Everything was a really good book of essays I read at the start of the year, but the one book that really blew my mind open was Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. I’m still thinking about this book almost a year after I’ve read it. How to Resist Amazon and Why gave me the fuel I needed to not only shop less from Amazon but also change my shopping habits completely, and Jeff Tweedy’s How to Write One Song helped me think about creativity in a new and more mentally-healthy way than before.

2021 was a different type of year for me, one that a reading log can’t quite capture completely, but each of these books shaped my life in some way, and I’m grateful for all of it.


Photo by Aurelia K. Photography

A Stream of Consciousness Life Update

I’m listening to The War on Drugs’ new album, I Don’t Live Here Anymore, and I’m enjoying the hell out of it. Over the past few weeks, I’ve purchased albums by Miguel, Lena Raine, Lana del Rey (a favorite), Meg Myers, Radiohead, SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE, Cassandra Jenkins, Faye Webster, Jana Winderen, DARKSIDE, Better Oblivion Community Center, Tyler, The Creator, Snail Mail, Phoebe Bridgers, Low, and many many more. As cliché as this is, music grounds me. It helps me overcome all of life’s struggles and hardships, all the bad feelings and dark thoughts I sometimes experience.

I believe in buying my music rather than paying some company the privilege of renting them for a month at a time, and yeah, it makes me feel good to do so. I get the same feeling when buying books from my local bookstore than to Amazon, even though it costs me more to both drive there and to buy the book. It’s one of those things that I feel we’ve lost as a society, the knowledge of the true cost of things. I listened to a recent episode of Make Me Smart with Kai and Molly where they talked about the carbon tax, and it made me think more about this. I recommend giving it a listen.

I swear I didn’t plan on making this post about the morality of where you buy things and taxes, but that’s kind of what happens when I write. Things just happen and I get to see where my thoughts take me. It’s fun and interesting. Anyways, what’s this about a life update?

In early September, I contracted COVID. I had mild symptoms, and I didn’t think much of it until I woke up one day and couldn’t smell my coffee beans. During the heart of the pandemic, I made an effort to smell my coffee beans most mornings to 1) make sure I didn’t have COVID and 2) because they smell so good. Fresh coffee beans are one of the best parts of life, right? So I woke up that Sunday not able to smell, so I drove to my local hospital and asked for a rapid test. They swabbed my nose (a feeling I had forgotten about until now—do not recommend!) and told me I’d get results within a day or two. I got the call on a Tuesday mere minutes after texting a friend that I was 99.99% sure I didn’t have COVID. Turns out I was 99.99% wrong.

I was and am fully vaccinated, but I do work at a school, and I, like far too many people, stopped wearing my mask. I had mild symptoms throughout the entirety of my experience with COVID, and I did regain my sense of smell later on the same day I lost it, and I’m now weeks and weeks removed from my quarantine, but I still feel some after effects of having had COVID. It’s not fun, it can be scary, and I don’t know what to do about it. It feels like I have a tennis ball stuck in my throat, and on some days I don’t feel anymore and on others I can. It’s weird and unpleasant, and I don’t know when, or if, it’ll ever go away. Right now it’s on the milder side, but I’ve been afraid to think that maybe it’ll go away this time, you know? Because it always come back and reminds me that something is wrong and that maybe—maybe—I don’t have that much more time of relatively good health left.

I paid off my debt over three weeks ago, and life has been interesting since then. I didn’t feel debt free for maybe a week or two after sending in that final payment, but now? Now I can feel it. As soon as Apple’s Unleashed event ended, I bought the 16" MacBook Pro with the M1 Max chip, all the RAM, all the GPU cores, and just 2 TB of SSD storage. She’s a beast, and she should be in my hands on Monday. I’m sorta back in debt, but really, only for a few months. Am I justifying it? Not really? I’ve been planning to buy a machine like this for a while now, and now that I have it? I’m good. My life is good. I don’t need much of anything else. I just want to create for as long as I can, however long that ends up being. If I have a year left, then I have a year left. If I have 50, then I have 50. All I know is that I have to take it one day at a time.

And today is a Friday, so I want to live this Friday as best as I can. And part of that means writing again.

I finished my school’s website redesign a few weeks ago, and even though it’s very much a 1.0 product, I’m very proud of it. I learned a lot, and I know I want to keep writing CSS and HTML for as long as I can. It’s so much fun and so very satisfying. I’ve been absorbing so much of my time and attention on the entire web development scene, from blogs and newsletters and podcasts, and I just want more more more. I love this feeling, and I hope it never goes away. And with that comes my desire to redo this website again. I have ideas that I want to explore and mock up and prototype, and yeah, I have a lot of work ahead of me, but I’m eager for this work. I’m yearning it, you know? I want to spend my time on this, like, right now! But I want to wait until I get my new laptop before I start working on it full-bore. I can’t wait.

Last Wednesday, the 20th, I donated blood for the first time. I don’t know why I never had before, but now I have, and I definitely want to do it again. Up until a few days ago, I never knew what my blood type was. But now? Now I know. I’m O+. I’m a universal donor. That was my wish. I was hoping I was a universal donor, and I am. And I’m going to keep donating my blood for as long as I can. It feels good that maybe my blood can help someone out there, some stranger fighting for another day with their loved ones, for another hug, for another kiss, for just more time. That’s what we’re all fighting for, isn’t it? At the heart of it? For more time with who we love?

One of the best decisions I’ve made in a long time was agreeing to be the academic coordinator for this student from Germany. It has been so enlightening to see the world through someone else’s eyes, especially someone from the other side of the world. This is her during her final volleyball game of the season, and unfortunately, it was my first and last time seeing her play volleyball. I, of course, brought my camera and took over 4,800 photos over a two day span. My Fujifilm X-T4 was crying for mercy by the end of it, but I didn’t care—I needed to take photos! It had been so long. It has been too long.

Fortunately, basketball season is coming up, and she will be playing. She has never played basketball in her life, but just seeing her go at it anyway has been inspiring. She had never played volleyball before either but just look at her smile! I think that says more than I ever could.

Halloween is this Sunday, then Thanksgiving after. All the holidays are coming up, and I don’t know what I’ll be doing during any of them, but maybe I can do something about that. Maybe I can live each day to the best of my ability with the people I care. I think that’s a very good goal. Let’s do it.

Refreshed

I think I’ve come to the end of one of the best summers I’ve had in a very long time. I don’t have anything tangible to show for it because most of the work happened internally. I was in a very dark place when I wrote The Door, but I think I needed to feel what I felt then to really work on myself, to improve my outlook on life and my role in the world. I think I said it best in this post from July:

I started to spend my time on this because I’ve been at something of a midlife crisis this summer. I’m afraid of tomorrow, of next week, of next year, because I feel like time is moving way too fast and I still don’t know how I want to spend it, and every minute lost scares the shit out of me. I’m slowly (very very slowly) building myself back up, and I’m hoping I come out of this stronger. I just don’t know what I want to do with my life anymore, so I’m pursuing every little interest I’ve ever had in my life, from these crazy ideas to the impossible ones.

It’s like I grabbed all the clothes in my closet and threw them on the floor then spent all summer slowly going through each article and hanging up only those that truly brought me joy. And I dug deep. I dusted off that old moldy box crammed in the farthest corner, the one that reeked of old memories, and I opened it up and saw what was inside. I opened every random scrapbook and set of envelopes, every rotten and embarrassing memory, and I simply experienced them all over again. Because I feel like life is a series of roads not taken, and so many of us don’t turn back and reconsider the choices we’ve made. And I reconsidered everything.

I think I’ve made my thoughts on social media well-known here, but I have to reiterate how dangerous these services can be and how much better life can be without them. But I also have to admit how often I’ve turned back to them when I’m yearning for some kind of connection with people. In early August, it seemed like every tech blog I followed were singing the praises of Glass, a social media service meant to be some sort of successor to Instagram. Did we really need another social media app? Apparently yes, and I downloaded it and tried it out. After enjoying the “new” thing for a few days, I realized how much I still didn’t like social media apps. Anything that uses the word “followers” in a non-religious context should cause everyone to take a step back and rethink what it is they’re doing. I’m not Jesus preaching to a flock of worshippers. I’m just some guy trying to figure out the world and my place in it. So I deleted my account.

I appreciate how easy it was to delete my account, but I didn’t like that I had to wait 7 days for Glass to do so.

When I decided to leave Micro.blog, my intention wasn’t to leave it forever. At the time, I needed a break from it and services like it, and I’m grateful for the time away from it, but on reflection, I think I’ll be better served if I continue to stay away from it and all social media services like it. I’m four months removed from my initial declaration to quit all social media services, but I feel like four months isn’t long enough. Hell, four years might not be long enough when social media, in one form or another, has been a part of my life for about twenty years.

So what are some of the things I’ve reconsidered? In Identity from July of last year, I wondered what kind of life I would have had if I grew up in Montana. Would I still be a writer? I explored this idea more in Abyss, and ever since I wrote that in February, I’ve been thinking a lot about writing and the place it has held in my life. During the summer I didn’t really blog or journal or work on any writing project, and that’s because I really don’t think I was meant to be a writer. When I made the decision to attend USC and major in screenwriting, I think I made one of the many wrong turns I’ve made in my life. I don’t mean to imply that I don’t like writing; I do, very much. I just don’t love it, and I think that’s the big lie I’ve been telling myself for a long, long time.

Here’s how I know I don’t love it.

When I was a kid, my mom bought an old typewriter in a garage sale for us kids to use. I don’t really remember any of my siblings using it because I’m pretty sure I spent all my free time on it. I so very loved typing on that thing. I loved the clickety clackity sounds it made and the impressions the type made on the paper. I remember one time I grabbed a paperback, measured the dimensions, cut a piece of paper to the same dimensions, then transcribed the first page of whatever novel it was on both the front and back side of that paper. I remember how I then took this page to school and showed it off to my friends. How I wasn’t bullied more I don’t know.

Later, when I was in high school and had a computer with internet access for the first time, I remember falling in love with typography again and its role in web design. I remember pirating a version of Photoshop, learning it, and creating banners for one of the many blogs I started and abandoned. I remember how I would stay up all night learning how to design webpages and publishing all my changes to friends I made on AOL chat to see. I remember going to school the next day, tired and sleepy, thinking all day about going back to my computer and getting back to my designs and experiments.

Earlier this year, I rediscovered this love when I spent maybe 16-18 hours a day working on my site redesign, from learning all I could about Hugo, HTML, and CSS to asking what if? and trying my best to see if I could make that idea come to life. I remember forgetting to eat many times and going to work the next day, tired and exhausted and hungry, but so very eager to come back home so I can keep working on my designs. And this has happened all over again recently as I started work on redesigning my school’s website and simply loving the hell out of the whole process.

I’ve never felt this way with my writing. I’ve had moments of joy and exhilaration when writing something particularly good, but mostly, I associate nothing but pain and despair with writing. And sometimes that’s what I need but not something I want to do all the time. I don’t want to spend 16-18 hours a day living in despair, forgetting to eat, waking up the next day in pain and eager to relive it all over again. Shit man, I’ve been putting off writing this entry for weeks, with the only reason being that I’d rather spend my limited time on other things.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not spending all my free time wisely. I still spend way too much time watching TV and browsing the web and not enough time creating things (which I’m pretty sure is my true love). I’m also pretty sure I would not last long if I spent all my free time creating things. But the progress I’ve made this summer admitting all this to myself has been one of the most thrilling and revitalizing times of my life, and I’m so so so eager to see where all this goes.

Should I pursue design more? Should I consider devoting more and more of my time to web design and things like it? What about my photography? In the back of my mind, I’ve often thought how cool it would be if I was a National Geographic photographer or something. Should I pursue mechanical engineering again? Before I decided to focus on writing, I was on track to go to a school like UC Berkeley or UCLA and major in engineering. Shit, I was accepted to both, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go to the best film school in the world. My dad was a mechanic, and I thought if I pursued something in the same world he lived in would mean he would be proud of me or something. But I didn’t, obviously.

One of the great joys from this summer has been delving back into engineering-type things. I’ve been spending more and more time on cars, on how they work, on how to fix them, on how to race them. I’ve been learning more about craftsmanship, from car design to how to build houses. Oh man, about a month ago, the lever to my toilet broke. You guys have no idea how satisfying it was to go to Ace, buy a new one, come back home and replace it. The feel of the flush now feels a million times better than it did before, if only because I fixed it. I spent the time adjusting the tension to my liking, and now every time I flush the toilet, a small piece of me is lit with joy.

And that has been the story of my summer and why I think it has been one of the better ones of my life. It’s been about having this conversation with myself, asking myself what I want to do and going out there and doing it. It’s been about giving myself permission to explore the world, to see it like a kid again, and loving every minute of it. That is what’s been the most rewarding part of the last four months, and I could not have done it if I didn’t give myself the space to explore and play.

And I feel so damn refreshed.

Molting

I’m continually amazed at my propensity to come up with excuses. These excuses aren’t great; in fact, they’re awful, but they’re enough to keep me from doing what I should be doing, things I know that will fulfill me once I start but—oh my god why are these things so hard to start? Why is it so hard to take that first step? And why do I let myself accept these lame excuses?

I’ve come up with lists and goals and plans and anything else under the sun to just get me moving in the right direction, but sometimes I feel like they’re just an illusion of forward motion instead of actual motion. And listen, I know we’re all only human and we can only do so much, but should that be enough? And is that only an excuse? Don’t be so hard on yourself, one might say, You’re doing more than others I know. I’ve heard it before. But if that were true, would I be where I am right now? Feeling this way? Am I doomed to always feel this way?

I think so, and I don’t think so. Things are somewhat slowly taking shape in my head, and I kinda sorta know what I’m doing, and I’m like this close to taking that first step, but part of what’s holding me back is 1) time, 2) money, and 3) my own fear and inertia. I’m watching Tiny World on Apple TV+, and there was this segment in an episode that showed a praying mantis shedding its skin and coming out bigger and stronger than it was before. The metaphor is obvious. I’m in that molting stage right now, and I’ll come out of this stronger. I know I will.

And if the images in my imagination come true, then holy shit will I enjoy life that much more soon. If not, then, I guess I’m doomed to live in mediocrity forever. Either way, I’m at least okay that I’m alive to write the story, and that’s pretty cool.

What Now?

Well, this has been a strange week. It wasn’t quite the one I wanted, but it’s the one I got, so I shouldn’t complain. I wanted to write more, but instead I felt like I was in this liminal state, at the threshold between who I was and who I could be. I wrote about this feeling a few weeks ago, but I felt like this week was the culmination of weeks and months of thinking and feeling through these thoughts and emotions, and I’m now getting started on something.

What that something is I don’t know, but I know it doesn’t involve social media, so that’s a plus. When I decided to quit Micro.blog last week, I wanted to quit the endless and torturous cycle of publishing something then checking Micro.blog for comments, or when I had analytics, checking those stats for hits and referrals and more hits, then when that didn’t satisfy me, I would re-check Micro.blog and see if I got any new comments, and if I did, great, dopamine hit satisfied, but if I didn’t, I would step away annoyed and try to replace that feeling with something else. Later, when I wanted to publish something new, this cycle would repeat itself, and I would again enter this viciousness that I didn’t like or enjoy. I wanted to save my time and energy for more productive pursuits, to write more, to read more, to photograph more, to create more, and… a week isn’t long enough to know how this is going, but I think it’s going okay, all things considered.

If anything, this week was simply a big reset. Like I wrote about in that declaratory post, I’ve grown used to not using social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, but that’s mostly because I replaced it with other social media platforms, like Micro.blog. So not having anything felt strange. I really didn’t know what to do with myself. I kept doing my normal things, like journaling in the morning, studying Japanese, and starting a new book, but once I did my work, I had all this time still left unspent that I wasn’t sure what to do with. I found myself picking up my phone every time I felt unsure what to do next, but since I didn’t really have anything to check on my phone, I put it down and felt unfulfilled. I’ve grown used to picking up my phone and seeing if I had new notifications or new things to read in whatever feed I had let infest my life, but now that I didn’t have anything like that, I really didn’t know what to do with myself. I kept asking myself, What now?

These feelings lasted for days. I felt stuck in this loop of old patterns that took all my energy to break free from, the same energy I wanted to devote toward my more creative pursuits, the same pursuits that was the whole purpose of my declaration in the first place. But breaking old habits is tough, and I can still feel and hear the background static that years of bad habits have produced. I don’t know how much longer it’ll last, but I feel like I’m finally walking down the right path for myself.

On Friday, I felt the urge to blog again, so I wrote a few posts over in my Stream. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to wake me up again. I picked up my notebook again and started writing notes for a new novel that I want to start, something I haven’t done in about a year, maybe longer. These notes weren’t much, but they were more than I’ve done in a long time, so I consider that a win. I’m actually very excited to start this new book, and I don’t care who knows it.

When I turned a year older earlier this month, I wrote down what I wanted to do during the next five years. A five year plan. One of those things was to simply write a book I can be proud of. I’ve written a few books already, but I haven’t really been proud of them, not enough to send them off to people or publishers. They’ve felt unfinished, rushed, not my best work. So, I hope to simply write something I’m proud of. Not something that would sell, not something for other people to read, but something that I’m proud of. So that’s what I want to focus on. That’s how I want to live my life. And I feel like I’m now, finally, on that path.

I realize a week is too soon to really know for sure, but all I can do now is to keep walking and see what happens. So let’s see what happens.

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