Mario Villalobos

A cardboard shoebox with 15 Leuchtturm1917 A5 hardcover notebooks, 13 of them finished and labeled and two brand new still in their wrapping. In the background is a Field Notes notebook and beside that is a pen case with an assortment of writing tools.

The Perfect Notebook Box

  • Journal

Recently, I finished my thirteenth notebook since the start of last year. Each notebook is the plain A5 hardcover notebook by Leuchtturm1917, and I didn’t really search long or far to find this notebook because frankly, I’m not too picky about them. I bought this one, liked it, so I kept buying them. These notebooks have about 250 pages, so in about 22 months, I’ve written 3,250 pages, or almost 150 pages a month. What I am picky about, though, is storage, as in, how I’m going to store my notebooks once I’m done with them.

When I first started keeping notebooks on a daily basis back around 2004, I chose the pocket Moleskine. Like many, I liked the size, the hardcover, the elastic band, the entire aesthetic of it. Sometime around the early 2010s, I noticed the quality of each new Moleskine I bought degrade compared to my earlier notebooks, so I began to look for alternatives. I really liked the Field Notes brand notebooks, and for a few years, I subscribed to their annual plan. Because these had fewer pages than the Moleskine, I quickly filled these notebooks, and I wanted a way to store them neatly. Fortunately, Field Notes sells an amazing archival wooden box that holds 60 notebooks. I bought two. And because the Field Notes pocket notebooks were the same dimension as my older Moleskine ones, I could store my Moleskine notebooks in here, too.

So when I switched over to the Leuchtturm1917 A5 notebooks, I wanted to find something similar. When I couldn’t, I drew up some plans myself and asked a few friends with woodworking tools if I could commission them to build me boxes for my notebooks. Unfortunately, my sketches required more precise tools than my friends owned, so I was back to square one. However, back in March, Warren Ellis noted a link to this Notebook Stories article on, as Warren put it, “deep nerding on the perfect notebook box.” I read through the article then and learned about Fantastapack, a site that makes custom boxes at whatever dimensions you’d like. So I took my sketches with my custom dimensions, inputed them into Fantastapack’s order page, and before I knew it, I had ordered 11 of them.

I designed each box to hold 15 notebooks, and because I ordered 11 boxes, that meant I could theoretically fit 165 of these Leuchtturm1917 A5 hardcover notebooks, or about 41,250 pages worth of notebooks. And because I had already filled 3,250 pages, I had about 38,000 more pages to write in before I ran out of boxes. At my pace of about 150 pages a month, that means I won’t reach this end for another 21 years or so. I’d be in my late 50s by then, and you know what? That doesn’t seem too old, so what I’m hoping is that I either know how to build my own wooden boxes by then, in which I can just build my own, or that Fantastapack is still around so I could order another 11 boxes from them.

I feel good knowing I have homes for my next 150 notebooks, which means all I have to worry about is writing. That’s it. I’ve tried many morning routine’s over the last few decades, and the one I’ve enjoyed the most is the one I’m doing now: wake up, make my coffee, make my bed, grab my pen, grab my notebook, drink my coffee, and write in my notebook. I’ve done this for over 680 days straight, and I don’t feel like taking a break because there’s nothing to take a break from. This is my life, and I love it. As simple as that.

Now to buy 15 more notebooks just so I can prepare my 2nd box…

A rainbow beginning at a ranch house and rising toward a dying raincloud, the mountains peeking through behind them, the signs of early fall in the foreground

The Urgencies of Life

  • Journal

Announcing your plans is a good way to hear God laugh, as Al Swearengen once said. I had every intention to update my blog more often, but life took over and had other plans. Life, for lack of a better word, has been busy. From work to relationships to my own personal projects, I simply haven’t had the time to sit down and write posts for my digital notebook. However, I’m forcing myself to sit down every night and at least look at my text editor and see if anything happens. A finished essay doesn’t just happen—I have to make it happen, and I’ve forgotten that.

Recently, I re-read Atomic Habits by James Clear. It’s not my favorite book (in fact, I would say, now that I’ve read it for a second time, that it’s a book I actively dislike), but I had noticed myself falling back to bad habits, and I wanted something that would snap me out of my bad routine. I was spending most of my free time on leisure activities and not enough time on the things that matter the most to me, from writing to reading to working out and photography. I wasn’t doing any of it, and I needed a change.

As I read the book, I came across a passage that has stuck with me since reading it a few weeks ago:

Professionals stick to the schedule; amateurs let life get in the way. Professionals know what is important to them and work toward it with purpose; amateurs get pulled off course by the urgencies of life.

Disregarding this dichotomy (one I disagree with completely), I want to highlight that last phrase: the urgencies of life. I love that phrase because of how accurate it fits the last few months for me. The urgencies of life had overwhelmed me to a point where all I sought was leisure, and I used that leisure to distract me from simply living my life, the life I wanted to live, the life I know I’m capable of living. I think to assume that anyone is capable of not being swept up by the urgencies of life is either delusional or has never lived. They happen, we all get swept up by it, and I believe, at some point or another and in some way or another, we all deal with it our own way. Aren’t we all amateurs? Does anyone really know what they’re doing? Anyhow…

Not too long ago, as I looked at how I was living my days and thought of ways to improve it, I came to this rather simple realization, one that I don’t know if it’s naive or brilliant: if I fill my days with the things I want and love to do, from writing and reading to working out and photography, then I really don’t have time for much else. If I’m reading, I don’t really have time to check social media. If I’m writing, I really don’t have time to watch TV. If I’m working out, I really don’t have time to overeat or play video games. This seems so simple that I’m honestly embarrassed to even write and admit this. It’s like, d’uh, Mario! Of course that’s how it works. If you make time for the things you love, then you don’t have time for the things you don’t. Maybe it’s more complicated than that (self-control and discipline do seem to be needed, I think), or it could really be that simple. I’m not sure, but that’s where I’m at right now.

A few weeks ago, a massive rainstorm hit my area, lowering temperatures and drenching everything. Roads were slick, the sky was dark, and there didn’t seem to be any time to enjoy the beautiful fall weather. On my way home from work one day, the rain had stopped, the sky began to clear, and I saw this rainbow appear off toward the horizon. All I had was my iPhone, so I pulled it out and took this photo. I feel like the rainclouds are clearing from my life, and I can maybe make out a rainbow off in the distance, toward a horizon I’m beginning to see with greater clarity and focus. I really don’t know where I’m going or what I even want from my journey, but I like the road I’m walking, especially if it includes more rainbows.

Two Years in the Making

  • Notes

Over two years ago, after I finished reading American Pastoral by Philip Roth, I said that I was tempted to buy the Library of America’s complete collection of Philip Roth’s novels, but I didn’t. I couldn’t quite justify spending $240 on this collection, so I set that temptation aside and moved on with my life. However, that idea never left my thoughts, and earlier this summer, I was fortunate enough to earn a somewhat massive (for me) raise at work, and because of that, I tucked away some money every month until finally… well:

Library of America's nine volume collection of Philip Roth's novels displayed on a bookshelf in chronological order

This arrived today. Needless to say, I’m happy.

Digital Notebooks

  • Notes

“We are all digital notebooks now,” Warren Ellis wrote. “Writing just for ourselves and whoever finds their way to our caves to look over our shoulders as we scribble thoughts down in public and daub pictures on the walls.”

I’ve stopped publishing notes and journal entries on my blog because I’ve mostly been writing in my notebooks now. I’ve been writing for at least an hour every day since the start of last year, a span of about 636 days. I’ve written hundreds and hundreds of pages in my notebooks, and when I couple that with the time spent trying to live my life as best as I can, I’ve simply stopped making time for this online space of mine. I feel kinda meh about it, honestly. The only reason I’m writing this entry is because I want to publish something at least once a month, keeping some trivial streak of mine alive.

Warren was writing about something he calls a “social media winter,” this idea that “social media doesn’t create ‘growth’ any more.” “If you use social [media] to keep up with your friends,” Warren wrote, “then get them to move to new channels with you and keep them close.” Facebook, Instagram, and especially Snapchat have been daily companions to me for the past year, and I have enjoyed myself tremendously on them because my friends are on there. Contrary to my past feelings on them, my time on social media this year has been nothing but positive. They’re not without their problems, but what doesn’t have problems nowadays? So again, couple this with my time spent in my notebooks and living my life, and I’ve frankly lost most of my motivation to tend to this little digital notebook of mine.

And yet…

I like having an online presence. I like having my own little digital garden with my name on it and my words and my photos and my everything on it. Even now, as I’m writing this, I’m feeling those old feelings of pleasure and contentment and even calmness that comes with writing something for myself and for the 2 people who have added this site to their RSS readers. I read Warren’s post on the day he published it, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. This idea was planted then and has been growing throughout the week, and sure, I probably could’ve explored it some more in my notebook, but he’s talking about the web, about blogging more specifically, and I feel like my response to it should be on the web, too.

I’ve gone through spurts of intense productivity and long stretches of silence, and I’m not sure where I fall on that spectrum now. I have ideas and desires and plans for this digital notebook of mine, but I don’t know what will come of it. Life has been incredibly fun and challenging this year, and I’ve enjoyed writing about it in my notebooks and talking about it with the people I care about the most, so I’m not quite sure how to fit this place into my life right now. This could be the start of something fun and cool, or it could simply be the ravings of a madman. Not sure yet.

I guess we’ll find out, right?

Cowboy on his horse whipping a lasso in the air as he chases a bull


  • Journal

Last weekend, I went to my first rodeo with my friend, and I had a blast. I had no idea what to expect, and I admit, I felt out of place, but my friend made me feel welcome. She walked me through the rules and strategies for each event, and the more I understood, the more I began to appreciate the rodeo and the entire culture and enthusiasm surrounding it. Rodeo’s are a big part of people’s lives where I live, amongst all my friends, and I, in hindsight, feel disappointed that it took me so long to enter this world.

A few things struck me the most. The first was how violent some of these events could be. The second was how young many of the participants were. There was one moment when a boy no older than twelve fell off his horse and hit his head on the ground, knocking him out for a solid ten minutes. There was a hush in the crowd as we watched the EMTs huddle around him and do what they needed to do to help. They strapped him to a gurney and carried him away, but one of the cowboys told the crowd that he heard the boy say he was okay and that brought a relieved crowd to cheer and clap. And the show went on.

One of my favorite events was the barrel race. These were fast and fun and I loved seeing these skilled people ride their horses with such command and grace. I’m hooked.

Two cowboys hogtie a bull
A cowboy falls off his horse
A cowboy on the ground as his horse runs away
A cowboy about to fall off his horse. He has lost his hat.
A cowboy falling off his horse and landing on his left arm first
A cowboy looking to the right
A young cowboy barrel racing his horse around a barrel
A young cowgirl barrel racing her horse around a barrel
A momma cowgirl and her young cowgirl daughter barrel racing together
A young cowgirl barrel racing her horse around a barrel
A cowgirl on her horse sprinting to the finish line during a barrel race
A group of kids looking at the arena
A cowboy in a red, white, and blue outfit standing in the arena by a red, white, and blue barrel

An early morning sunrise, a small structure on a green hill, the purple mountains off to the right, the sky a spectrum of pinks, reds, yellows, and purples

Mostly Happy

  • Journal

Earlier this month, I woke up at around 2am and when I couldn’t fall back to sleep, I grabbed my camera and drove around. I pulled off at a place I had driven by a million times before but never stopped to explore. The sun was beginning to rise as I walked the dirt path and listened to the birds and the insects and the quiet, and I snapped a few shots of the sunrise, then I drove to the reservoir and snapped photos of the geese and ducks swimming on the water, and I stood there a moment and watched the sky change colors and the birds fly away from me and I thought, Wow. I loved every moment of this brief excursion, and I was happy.

Earlier this week, I went on a hike early in the morning, and I had my camera in hand as I snapped photos of the trees and the talus and the mountain peaks, and I broke a sweat as the slope steepened and the extra water in my pack began to feel heavy, and I talked to myself as I ascended the mountain and swore there was a squirrel or a sparrow stalking me in the trees as I hiked the trail, and I imagined getting mauled by a bear because I saw bear scat on the trail on my way down from the hike that I swear I didn’t see on my way up and I, of course, didn’t have bear spray on me so I made my peace with the Universe and savored every moment of whatever life I had left, and when I saw my Jeep I felt a tinge of disappointment that I didn’t get to see a bear. I took my boots off and changed into my sneakers, and I sat in the front seat with the AC at full blast and I felt my sweat dry on my face, on my glasses, and my back was throbbing, and yet, I still thought, Wow, I loved every minute of this hike, and I was happy.

Last night, I had dinner with a friend I had known for many years but had never asked out before. We were actually supposed to meet last week but since she couldn’t find a babysitter, she had to postpone by a week, and that was okay. We sat at the bar and I ordered a Cold Smoke and some street tacos while she ordered some multi-ingredient science experiment that I think had pineapple juice and Sprite and a plate of clams that reminded me of the ocean, and we talked about work and baseball and ourselves, and I asked questions and she asked questions and there wasn’t a lull in the conversation, and we smiled and laughed and when our meal was over, we walked outside and marveled at the beautiful Montana sunset and I lamented that I’ve spent all this money on my photography gear and I didn’t have any of it on me at that moment. She laughed, we hugged, and as I drove back home, I thought, Wow. When I got home, I saw that she sent me a message, and I read it and smiled, and after a few back and forth messages, we settled on hanging out again next week. There’s a rodeo, she said. Let’s do it, I said. Thinking of that makes me happy.

This has been a good summer.

Thursday Mood

  • Notes

Been jamming to this song over the last day. Love it.

Didn’t know there was a French version of it and now I’m hooked!

This might be the best version. So damn sexy.

Random Thoughts for a Saturday Morning

  • Notes
  • I want to learn bookbinding because I want to make my own notebooks. I want to scour the world for a specific type of paper that fits me and use that to make my notebooks with. Imagining this search for the perfect paper excites the hell out of me.
  • Technology is exhausting me, and I just want to spend all my time holding paper, writing on paper, drawing on paper.
Drawing of circles with cross hatching
  • Drawing these circles in my notebook was one of the most therapeutic things I’ve done in a long time.
  • I want to buy more books but I’m running out of space in my apartment.
  • How much does LASIK eye surgery cost? I don’t want to wear glasses or contacts anymore.
  • I don’t have any tattoos but I kinda want some tattoos. No idea of what, though.
  • I want to buy a record player and build a vinyl collection of all my favorite albums. Then I want to sit and listen to these records and do nothing else. Just listening.
  • I used to spend so much time in libraries, and then I used to spend so much time in bookstores, and I’ve stopped doing that because I live in Montana and everything good is a long car ride away. I can’t walk to these places on a whim like I used to.
  • One of my fondest memories from college was listening to my friends talk about movies and argue why The Departed was an awful movie and why Infernal Affairs was better. I really miss those times, and I really miss having a more active social life.
  • All my friends are married now and have kids, and I don’t think I’ll ever be married or have kids, and I’m okay with that. I still wish I had a more active social life, though.
  • I think the thought of sitting at an outdoor cafe, drinking a good cup of coffee, and watching people walk by for hours is a day well spent, and that’s all I want to do when I’m older.
  • I’ve been thinking a lot about death. Don’t mistake me: I want to live for another 30, 40, 50 years, so not like that. More of this idea that so many of us are afraid of dying that we don’t ever truly live. That, in a way, we’re more afraid of living than dying. At least, I am. That we can’t ever truly live until we’re comfortable and fully accept our mortality, with dying. Memento mori: remember that you have to die.
  • Sartre wrote that he hoped “the last burst of my heart would be inscribed on the last page of my work, and that death would be taking only a dead man.” I’ve been thinking a lot about that over the past few weeks, and that’s how I want to live, how I want to go out. The problem is that I don’t think I have to courage to live like that, but the other problem is that I’m running out of days to live like that.
  • Montaigne wrote about “The Master Day”: the day that is judge of all the others. It’s the last day of your life, the day that completes your story.
  • With that said, I wonder if I will spend the rest of my life talking about living or actually living. I’m hoping for the latter, but who knows.

The Final Triumph of Cormac McCarthy

  • Notes

A Healthy Environment ‘For Present and Future Generations’

  • Notes

“The US’s first-ever trial in a constitutional climate lawsuit kicked off on Monday morning in a packed courtroom in Helena, Montana,” writes Dharna Noor in The Guardian.

I am so proud of these young people, and I am so proud this lawsuit is happening in Montana. I love Montana, even though I’ve had my issues with it over the years, and I actually did not know that

Montana’s state’s constitution has since 1972 guaranteed that the “state and each person shall maintain and improve a clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations”.

That is incredible. I hope this lawsuit kicks off the proper energy and motivation for other states and countries to bring more lawsuits like this to the courts. A man can hope.

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