Mario Villalobos

I Got My First COVID-19 Vaccine Shot Today

And I feel fine. It was the Pfizer one, so in three weeks, I have to come back and get the second shot. The entire process was quick and easy, and I couldn’t be more proud with Tribal Health and the entire health staff that helped get all this setup. I live on tribal land, so of course the vaccine clinic was setup at one of our local casinos. Funnily enough, this was the first time in my entire time I’ve lived in Montana that I’ve entered this casino, but getting the chance to get a vaccine was one bet I was happy to make.

After I checked in and filled out all my paperwork, one of the nurses led me to the nurse who would be giving me my shot, and to my surprise (and relief), it was my old friend Hope. I hadn’t seen her in years. We used to fight fires together, and she was actually my first squad boss on my first fire. When I knew her, she was an EMT, but now, she’s a few months away from becoming a nurse. It was really good catching up with her, and I was very glad she was the one to give me the shot.

She told me about some of the side effects I most likely will feel tomorrow, but I’m not worried about it because I’m pretty good with pain. Once I got the shot, I was directed toward another nurse, and she gave me a timer with 15 minutes on it. I sat on a chair and waited the 15 minutes, and since I felt fine, once the timer went off, I went home. At the moment, I still feel fine. In fact, I feel ecstatic. I’m so glad I’m getting vaccinated from this godforsaken virus, less than a year since Montana first went on lockdown. Modern science is incredible.

Some Photos of the Mountains

Montana has a way of soothing a turbulent soul with its majesty and beauty, and the detour I took today proved it. I drove down Ninepipe Road—my favorite spot at the moment—and snapped some shots, then I drove home. On the way, I talked to myself about how brief my detour took, and I wondered aloud how I could improve it.

Earlier in the day, as the sun rose behind the mountains, I looked at them and wondered what settings on my camera I would use to best capture the shot I wanted. I don’t normally think like this, about ƒ stops and shutter speeds, but my mind had quieted a bit from the noise of the irrelevant and thought creatively instead.

I’m conducting an experiment, one where I turn off my phone at the start of my workday and only turn it on at the end. I had purchased the cellular version of the newest Apple Watch last fall in preparation for an experiment like this, but I hadn’t got around to it until this week. My watch only notifies me when I get new text messages, phone calls, and email, leaving me alone the rest of the time. So far, I’m loving this.

I’m spending more of my time writing in my notebook and in the novel I’m reading. I’m reading Saul Bellow’s Herzog, and it’s a wildly funny yet somewhat challenging book to read, but without the distractions of my phone—from checking the news or my Micro.blog timeline—I’ve found myself more focused and invested in Saul Bellow’s words. They’re amazing, and I’m enjoying the book more because of it.

I’m always moving quickly, from one task to the next to the next, and I forget how much more fulfilling life can be when I slow down, when I stop and simply look at the mountains. I told myself in the car that I should’ve taken my time taking my photos, that I should’ve explored the reservoir more and simply breathed in its beauty. I say this a lot, but life is short. Why try to live it quickly, flitting here, flitting there, when, again, life can be more fulfilling when we simply take a detour and breathe in the majesty of the mountains.

Ducks, Dicks, and Death

The other night I dreamt of my arrest and subsequent arraignment. The prosecutor filed two charges against me, both of which I don’t remember, but I knew they were serious. Murder serious. Fortunately, I posted bail, left the building, and felt glad I could walk around the world freely. On one of these walks, I stepped on a receipt. When I looked at it, I knew it was the proof I needed to absolve me of at least one of the charges. I showed it to my lawyer and he grew excited. He then warned me that I still had one more charge still hanging over my head. So I walked and walked, looking at the floor, looking at the sky, looking at all the faces passing me by, but I couldn’t find the proof I needed to prove my innocence. Sadly, I never did because I woke up.

It was around 3am, and as I lied in bed thinking through the dream, I reflected on the day and remembered a conversation I had with a friend. She told me about an altercation between another friend and a teacher. We had a new student enter the 9th grade that day, and she and a friend went down the hall looking for an empty locker to claim it as her own. The teacher saw her and thought she was snooping through other kids’ lockers, so she yelled at her and almost made her cry. At the same time, my other friend walked down the hall and saw the teacher yelling at the new student. When she saw the new student on the verge of tears, my friend confronted the teacher and told her that the student was new and that she was simply looking for a free locker like she was told. The teacher, as we found out later, felt so offended that she lodged a complaint to the superintendent. In it, she complained that she felt afraid for her safety. This teacher has a history of over exaggeration, but unfortunately, she is also very effective at getting her way.

My friend and I were both very concerned that our other friend could lose her job. I felt angry that the teacher had a high chance of not only getting her way but also taking the job of someone I cared about. Why do people who do the right thing always get shit on the most? So I told my friend that if the teacher got her way and took my friend’s job, then she would take mine, too.

I’m very tired. I’m tired of people proselytizing their values onto others but doing the opposite, sometimes in the same breath. I’m tired of all the men (and it’s usually always men) in positions of power who don’t fight to do the right thing because it’s too much work, or because it might offend some people, or because it might cost them their job. Why believe in anything if you’re not going to fight for anything?

So I thought about this event in relation to my dream, and I wondered if maybe my subconscious was warning me not to tie my job to the fate of my friends. I thought maybe those were the charges filed against me in my dream, and the receipt represented my job and the income I could lose if I went through with my threat. And the second charge, the one I didn’t have time to find absolution for, was my friend’s fate, the fate that currently lies in limbo. As I lied in bed and realized that this could be the meaning of my dream, I said, Okay, I won’t tie my job to hers. I then went to sleep and woke up a few hours later.

Change has to come from within, and it’s hard when even my subconscious is against me, against who I want to be. But like I always say, if it’s not hard, it’s not worth doing. So here goes.

Abyss

Writing found me when I was at my darkest. As a teenager, I suffered from dark thoughts and violent outbursts. I would punch walls and scream into pillows, and I would listen to music that intentionally plunged the hole in my chest deeper into the abyss. For a long time the abyss was my home, and part of me fears that I’m still living in it. When I was sixteen, I noticed that this darkness ebbed when I expressed myself in words. I wrote stories about men who had things under control, who epitomized the type of person I wanted to be but didn’t know how to become. My 11th grade English teacher told me that she enjoyed reading my stories very much, and for the first time in my life I felt like someone cared not only about who I was but about what I created.

I’ve been feeling directionless lately, and the question of my own mortality has been front of mind in a way it hasn’t been since I was sixteen, and I wonder what, if any, meaning this has to me and my life. For a long time I’ve felt like the best of my art has needed and depended on anger and depression, even though I know without a shred of doubt that this way of creating art would never and can never be sustainable. The last novel I worked on was about a man who watched his friend lose everything, and to write it, I needed to be in a dark place, but this darkness was all-consuming, and without a break, I feared I would lose whatever battle it was that kept me alive. So I took breaks until I eventually stopped writing that story. Paradoxically, whenever I stopped writing, I would be consumed by feelings of anger and depression anyway that writing was the only salve to those emotions.

Photography has saved my life, and I’m grateful for everything it has given me, but I fear it isn’t enough. I can feel those ghosts lurking in my periphery, and without some form of release, I fear I won’t be strong enough to fight them off anymore. I fear of falling deeper and deeper into the abyss and of never seeing the light again. I need strength, and the only thing I know for sure that gives it to me is my art. I’m a writer and a photographer, and I like to draw and play the guitar, and these art forms have made my life worth living. So far, they have kept those ghosts away, but life seems to be a constant battle between these angels and demons, and sometimes I feel like I’m winning and other times I feel like I’m losing. I don’t feel like losing yet, so I won’t.

One thing that has been missing in my life has been my fiction. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a writer anymore, but those doubts are now gone. I went to school to write movies, but it took me a few years after I graduated to realize what I really wanted to do was write books. I’ve been writing books for ten years, and I feel like I’m finally ready to accept this role in my life.

I hope I’m not too late to dig myself out of the abyss. Here’s to a new mountain to climb.

Happy

Last April, while the world was in lockdown and all the schools in Montana were closed, our school principal asked me if I would help him coordinate a school-wide music video project. At the time, there was a #DancingPrincipal challenge making its way across schools in Montana, and our principal thought it would be a fun project for our kids and our community to participate in as a distraction from the grim news crowding everyone’s psyche. I agreed and the above music video is the result of everyone’s efforts.

I gave the principal rough directions to send out in his email to everyone, but mostly, the kids and the parents had full creative control over what they shot. The result was, I think, amazing. I loved receiving everyone’s submissions, especially at a time when it had been weeks since I had seen any of them in person, and I had even more fun dropping each clip into my editing software and watching it in sync with the music. I finished editing the final project on Easter Sunday, and I posted it to our school Facebook page that day.

In the end, the reception was incredible. It has been watched over 14 thousand times, and it has hundreds of likes and shares. It was one of those things that made the early parts of the pandemic seem bright and hopeful, like things might not be as bad as they eventually became. I’m posting this now because I’m starting to feel that hope again. The world has never produced vaccines this effective this quickly, and even though there are multiple variants of the virus infecting people all over the world, it seems that these vaccines work against those, too. We have a president that actually believes in science and in the power of a functioning government, and it seems like his goal of getting 100 million people vaccinated in 100 days will not only be reached but surpassed.

I’ve had this dark cloud hanging over me for so long that I’m afraid of letting myself feel like this, but sometimes I just have to let go and let myself feel happy.

What will the new year bring?

Goodbye 2020, Hello 2021

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

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

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?

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 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?

Do these books spark joy?

2020 Books

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.


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.

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