Mario Villalobos

Pulp, Reckless, and Friend of the Devil

I didn’t really get into comics under after college. It was one of those things I always wanted to get into but for one reason or another (money, mostly), I didn’t get into as a kid. One of the first series I remember reading and loving was the first few volumes of Gotham Central by Ed Brubaker. It told the story of the police officers working in the Gotham Police Department in a world where Batman exists. It was amazing. I loved the noir aspects mixed with superheroes, and it kickstarted my love of Ed Brubaker.

I devoured his Captain America run, read through Incognito and Sleeper, and absolutely ravaged his Criminal series. Over the past year or two, Ed, along with his longtime collaborator Sean Phillips, has released original graphic novels outside of the monthly comic release cycle. These are full-length, 140 or so page stories that are simply incredible.

Over the last few days, I found myself with time to finally get through these stories. It started with Pulp, a magnificent and tragic story of a 1930s crime writer with not much life to live. I followed it with the first volume of his new Reckless series, Reckless, a noir novel set in the 80s that just reeks of 80s nostalgia and horror. And today I read through Friend of the Devil, the latest Reckless novel that takes the horror of cults and hippies to a new level.

Ed and Sean are two incredible artists that have created a world I absolutely love. These are stories I needed to read and experience. I’m continuously amazed at how art can pull me out of my own life and into a world I simply adore. It reminds me that I’m not alone, and I’ll always be grateful for that.

Demon Slayer: Mugen Train

I finally made time to watch Demon Slayer: Mugen Train this evening, and I absolutely loved it. I’ve been without Demon Slayer for almost five months, and I remembered why I loved this series so much the moment I watched the first frame flash on my screen. This arc in the manga was one of my absolute favorites, and I felt like it translated wonderfully on the big screen. Everything was top notch, from the animation to the music to the acting. The studios added some 3D elements that I felt were a bit off, but thankfully, it wasn’t a distraction.

I had to renew my Funimation subscription to watch this, so I guess I’ll try to take advantage and see what new anime I can start. I hear both Fruits Basket and Kaguya-sama: Love Is War are pretty good…

Over the past several weeks, I’ve spent some of my free time going through Essential Craftsman’s series on how to build a house on YouTube, and I’ve been enjoying the hell out of it. For a long time, I’ve had it in mind that someday I wanted to build my own house, and even though it feels like a crazy and far off idea now, I’m hoping that one day I will have a hand in building a home that will last generations. Granted, I don’t know how to use any construction tool outside of a hammer, so this might be something that will take a lifetime to pursue. But hey, nothing worth doing is easy. I am very grateful, though, to know more about drainage and surveying and plumbing and electrical and everything else that comes with building a home. That knowledge feels empowering in the best sense of the word.

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. I want to find that thing or things that say, Yes, this is what Mario was born to do or whatever, because right now I feel lost.

I really resonated with Rachel Syme’s article in this week’s New Yorker magazine. She writes about our collective fetishization of setting and meeting deadlines, with the cult of productivity types who wake up at 5am and meditate and write in their bullet journal and drink spinach smoothies and do yoga for an hour before they’re ready to tackle their day. It’s all bullshit. “Everywhere you look,” she writes,

people are either hitting deadlines or avoiding them by reading about how other people hit deadlines. This may seem like a sly way of marrying procrastination with productivity (you’re biding your time learning how to better manage your time), but, no matter what, it’s an exhausting treadmill of guilt and ostentation, virtue signalling, and abject despair at falling behind.

I’ve been trying my hardest to slow down recently, to savor life, to battle my ghosts and fight for the life I want to live, so it was a breath of fresh air to read that I’m not the only one who sees it all as an “exhausting treadmill.”

I was also a bit giddy to read this section on Jenny Odell, the author of one of my favorite books of the past few years, How To Do Nothing:

Odell has her moonier moments, and she isn’t always stating revolutionary ideas. Her goal is to bring back patience, which she sees as our most neglected and underappreciated virtue. Still, she has a surprisingly fresh rationale: being patient isn’t just about changing how we do things, it’s also, more fundamentally, about changing how we see things. Breaking the “cycle of reactions” we’re usually beholden to, she explains, opens a “gap through which you can see other perspectives, temporalities, and value systems.” If the common fear is that a lack of productivity will narrow the possibilities of our life, Odell is here to tell us the opposite. With our eyes always fixed on a prize, we’re missing the bigger picture. What good is “the deadline effect” if it’s blinkering us, keeping us from a more expansively defined potential?

Bringing back patience is an honorable goal, and I’m better served practicing that than working my ass for a deadline that doesn’t matter. I don’t want to become the Red Queen.

Fortunately, Jenny Odell has a new book coming out called Inhabiting the Negative Space. It comes out in August. Can’t wait.

A buff-tailed bumblebee and a 3D model of the bumblebee brain, based on micro-CT (!!!)

I’m in a particular frame of mind at the moment, one that finds this absolutely breathtaking:

To create the atlas, the research team took micro-CT images of ten heads of buff-tailed bumblebees. From these, they first extracted the image data showing the brains. In each of these data stacks, 30 brain regions of the bumblebee were manually reconstructed in three dimensions. On JMU’s high-performance computing cluster Julia, a standard brain was then calculated from the ten data sets, based on their mean values.

These scientists CT-scanned buff-tailed bumblebee brains and created a model of it, all in order to use “…it as a model organism to analyze learning and memory, the visual system, flight control and navigation abilities.” I don’t know why I find this so fascinating right now but I do. This is so cool!

This just makes me mad:

In the United States, more than 12 million children hear a minority language at home from birth. More than two-thirds hear English as well, and they reach school age with varying levels of proficiency in two languages. Parents and teachers often worry that acquiring Spanish will interfere with children’s acquisition of English.

A first-of-its-kind study in U.S.-born children from Spanish-speaking families led by researchers at Florida Atlantic University finds that minority language exposure does not threaten the acquisition of English by children in the U.S. and that there is no trade-off between English and Spanish. Rather, children reliably acquire English, and their total language knowledge is greater to the degree that they also acquire Spanish.

Emphasis mine.

I’m not a parent so I don’t know what happens to parents once they have children exactly, but fearing that their kids will suffer with English because they were also exposed to Spanish feels irrational to me. For me, learning and knowing Spanish made me even more proficient in English. Hell, I became a writer in no small part because I am bilingual. Everyone should know more than one language, and I truly hope studies like this will make parents and teachers (and school administrators) more open to teaching our kids a second language as early as possible.

I Paid Off My Car Today

Just a quick update to declare that I paid off my car today. I’m about 3 months early from doing so, giving me a chance to pay off my student loans earlier than expected. I first started to seriously think about this debt in November 2019 and by December of 2019, I made a two year plan to pay off all of my debt. Now that I’m here, with one debt paid off and another one in sight, I don’t know how to feel. This is an entirely new emotion for me, and I don’t have the words to describe it.

All in all, I’m happy and ready to keep going.

Sam Baker, Axios:

Nearly every week for the past 56 weeks, Axios has tracked the change — more often than not, the increase — in new COVID-19 infections. Those case counts are now so low, the virus is so well contained, that this will be our final weekly map.

Ever since I received both shots of the Pfizer vaccine, I’ve felt like the threat of the coronavirus simply disappeared from my life. I still wore my mask as often as I could even when those around me didn’t, but I’ll admit, within the last month, I’ve begun to forget my mask when going out, and I haven’t felt that guilty about it. Within the last few weeks at school, I carried my mask in my pocket but I didn’t wear it outside a few special occasions. In my county here in Montana, 49% of us have been fully vaccinated, a remarkable achievement considering I still see too many Trump flags, yard signs, bumper stickers, and regular assholes walking around with their MAGA hats and stupidity.

Last week, my mom called me and told me she got her first Moderna shot, and just a few days ago, my brother got the Johnson & Johnson shot. My sister has been an anti-vaxxer for a very long time, so neither her or her husband have gotten the shot. Many of my friends have received the shot, though, and I’m grateful for all them and those who have been vaccinated. I sincerely hope President Biden achieves his 70% vaccination goal by July 4th because I, like many, just want things to return to normal.

Alissa Wilkinson, the film critic and culture reporter for Vox, on why baseball gave her a different narrative to follow and why she needed it:

Coming back to watching it this season feels like reinserting myself into a glorious story. I needed a reminder of where I’ve come from, and who I am, and how far I’ve gone.

[…]

Watching baseball, right now, I’m reminded of two things. This part of my life is part of a bigger story I’ve been living for a long time. And as much as I love narrative media and great stories, life is a lot more like an open-ended game where the end isn’t written yet. That’s frightening, but it’s also invigorating. A win is just as likely as a loss, and nobody loses forever.

This story resonated with me because it mirrors what I’ve been going through the past few weeks. Since I’ve found myself with a bit more time than I’m used to, I’ve decided to start following my hometown baseball team again, the San Diego Padres.

When I was a kid, all I ever did was follow the Padres. I remember I would steal every copy of the San Diego Union Tribune just so I can nab the Sports section and cut out the box score and the story to whatever game the Padres played the day before. I remember how this was one of the first uses of a notebook for me, and I loved it. I remember Tony Gwynn and Ken Caminiti and Steve Finley and Greg Vaughn and Wally Joyner and Bruce Bochy and whoever else played for them when I was a kid. I remember the 1998 season and the heartbreaking World Series sweep by the Yankees. I remember tuning into every game I could while in high school, and I remember tuning out once I got to college. Thank goodness because the mid-2000 Padres were awful.

Over the past few weeks, I started to watch game highlights on the MLB YouTube channel and feeling that spark of interest return. I love seeing the Slam Diego Padres again, win or lose, and I even started to read Kevin Acee in the Tribune again. This all feels familiar, like I’m dipping back into a narrative of my life that never ended. I haven’t subscribed to MLB.tv like Alissa did, but goddammit, I’ve felt like it over the past week. I, too, am feeling a bit apathetic to TV and movies, and maybe what I need is sports. Hell, I even tuned into the Indy 500 for a bit yesterday because I needed something that wasn’t TV or movies, a story to follow1 that I wanted to see through.

Part of the reason why I had stopped following sports, though, was the painful heartbreak of being a sports fan from San Diego. The Padres haven’t been to the World Series since 1998, and don’t even get me started on the Chargers. But maybe I need that heartbreak again, the feelings of ups and downs that sports gives people. Who knows, maybe the Padres have a shot this year.


  1. The story of Paretta Autosport, the all-woman crew, sparked that interest. What a good story! ↩︎

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.

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