Mario Villalobos

To Live Directly

Sometimes I feel like there’s a universal force showing me the things I need to see at the time I need them.

I started to read The Places That Scare You by Pema Chödrön today, and right there in chapter 1, she writes:

No one is protecting us and keeping us warm. And yet we keep hoping mother bird will arrive.

We could do ourselves the ultimate favor and finally get out of that nest. That this takes courage is obvious. That we could use some helpful hints is also clear. We may doubt that we’re up to being a warrior-in-training. But we can ask ourselves this question: “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.

The Harder the Conflict, the More Glorious the Triumph

I came across a tweet earlier this morning that took me down an interesting path.

On December 19, 1776, Thomas Paine first published The American Crisis, and it starts like this:

These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.

I wanted to learn more, so I went to the Wikipedia page for The American Crisis in search of the full text and found the Standard Ebooks version of the book. I had never heard of Standard Ebooks, but I’m grateful I know about them now.

Their mission statement is incredible. I’ve downloaded and read many books from Project Gutenberg, but it always felt like I was reading a simple plain text file and not a modern book. But Standard Ebooks takes pride in its presentation, from internal code style to semantic enhancement and typography rules. I’m impressed!

I went ahead and download about half a dozen books from their site and loaded them on my phone, and I’m very eager to get started on them. But not yet because I feel awful today. This booster shot has messed me up today.

No pain, no gain, right?


I’ve just come home from getting my third Pfizer shot of the year, six months after my second dose and three months after contracting the virus myself. Setting up the appointment and getting the shot was mind-boggling easy—the way it should be, though, I’m sure it was easy because demand is so low. But I don’t want to think about it like that. Like Ed Yong wrote yesterday:

Instead of asking “What’s my risk?,” I’ve tried to ask “What’s my contribution to everyone’s risk?”… I’ve tried to put we over me.


The infectious nature of a virus means that a tiny bad decision can cause exponential harm, but also that a tiny wise decision can do exponential good.

If you haven’t already, get vaccinated. This isn’t about you; it’s about us, so let’s all do our part.

If You Want to Be in Control of Your Life, Then You Have to Be in Control of the Things That You’re Interacting With on a Daily Basis

The above quote comes from this New Yorker article by Julian Lucas. In it, he writes about distraction-free writing tools like iA Writer, my personal app of choice. The entire article is worth a read, especially the section on iA Writer. I especially found this section where Oliver Reichenstein, the creator of iA Writer, details how he came up with the custom monospace font used in the app:

He drew inspiration from mechanical typewriters, especially for the app’s focus mode and signature font. While most books are typeset using proportionate typography, allotting each character space in accordance with its width, monospaced fonts give each character, whether a lowly period or an initial capital, an equal span. “When you write in a monospaced font, you get a feeling of moving forward,” Reichenstein said. “Even if you don’t click away like crazy, you feel that your text is growing.”

“When you write in a monospaced font, you get a feeling of moving forward.” I find that so beautiful and so true. Sometimes at work, I find myself having to write something in Google Docs, and I always felt this background hum that made me feel uneasy whenever I did so, and I wasn’t sure why. Was it all the extra chrome? The distracting buttons? The font?

“A minor literary doctrine holds that great writing should be platform-independent,” writes Julian in his closing paragraph.

Let amateurs mess around with gadgets and gizmos; Wole Soyinka wrote “The Man Died” in a Nigerian prison with Nescafé for ink and a chicken bone for a stylus. Yet the ability to write with anything and the drive to experiment with everything likewise reflect the fact that the means, no less than the matter of writing, should adapt to our selves and to our circumstances. The quest to match writer and machine may be as necessary, in its way, as literature’s unending effort to reconcile experience and expression.

“Experience and expression.” Is that not what all art is? This attempt by us to let the universe know we existed once and that our life mattered?

Learning 30 German Words a Day

I studied my first 30 German words today, and it was tough but fun. German has this kh sound that I’m having trouble making. Words like ich (I) and vielleicht (maybe) are tough for me to say, but I know I’ll get better with practice. Other words are more fun to say, like auf keinen fall! (no way!) and schade! (what a pity!).

Like I alluded to in my last post, I’m approaching this language differently than I have with others I’ve tried learning. My main focus is on just speaking and listening. Reading will sorta come through with my flashcards, but I won’t be focused on that or writing until later. My main goal is to have a conversation with Mona in about six months, so my focus has to be simple and direct. I’m also limiting myself to about the most common 1,000 words I’ll need to know to hold a basic conversation with someone, and to just basic grammar. Nothing complex yet.

There’s a section in the Ultimate Language Learning Guide that I loved. To paraphrase: the one thing that matters with language is to express what I want to express and have the person I’m talking to understand what I’m expressing. If I just focus on that, then I think I’ll be okay.

I’m using Anki to make my flashcards and study them, and I’m using a simple spreadsheet to keep track of my words and their definitions. I’m also using this German to English dictionary by LEO for my audio files and Lonely Planet’s German phrasebook and dictionary for most of my German words and grammar.

There’s so much more work I need to do, but I think I’ve built a solid foundation to build off of, so all I have left to do is to keep working, so let’s go.

Attempting to Learn German

I love learning languages, and I wanted to spend more time learning during the winter months, so not long ago I purchased Johnny Harris and Nathaniel Drew’s Ultimate Language Learning Guide from Bright Trip. I wanted something new, some external force to kickstart my Japanese learning because it had become quite stale, quite boring, and I wanted to tackle my studies in a new way.

They have a video titled “Motivation” that goes through the why you want learn the language in the first place, and with Japanese, I quickly filled up a page in my notebook with my reasons why I wanted to learn it. I thought I’d write a blog post detailing those reasons, but I didn’t. I didn’t because to me, nothing that I would have written would have been new to me. I started learning Japanese on my own around 2018 or 2019, so I’ve been going at it for a few years. It wasn’t a 2 week fad that quickly faded away but something I’ve kept at it for years because my motivation was clear: to go to Japan with the hopes of one day living there for a while.

Because that won’t happen for a while, I decided to do something new. In April of this year, I agreed to become the academic coordinator for a foreign exchange student in Germany. She arrived in August, and I’ve had nothing but good times since her arrival. The other day I heard her talk to her dad on the phone in German, and I absolutely enjoyed listening to her talk. Years ago I wrote about one day learning eight languages, and German was one of those eight. So I thought, why not learn German now?

So here I am today. I’m committing myself to learn German for the next 6 months or so. Mona, the foreign exchange student, will leave America in about that time, and my goal is to know enough German to hold a conversation with her before she leaves for Germany. I have no idea whether I will be able to by the end of these next 6 months, but I am very excited to try.

I know this will be hard, but that’s kinda the fun of it, isn’t it?

Still Going Strong

100 days ago I hit my 1,000 daily move goal, and yesterday I hit 1,100. A part of me thought I’d slow down once I hit 1,000 days, but my fitness routine is so ingrained into my days that I don’t ever think about slowing down. My days are just my days. I wake up, get to work, and workout. It just is.

I won’t be doing anything special during this upcoming holiday break, so I guess I’ll keep going.


Eric Dietrich:

With a final vote Friday, Montana’s Districting and Apportionment Commission made it official: The state has a new congressional map, political lines drawn to define how Montanans are represented in the U.S. House through the 2030 election.

While the boundaries could still be subject to a court challenge, the vote represents the likely culmination of a monthslong districting process that kicked into gear when detailed 2020 census results were published in August, triggering a once-a-decade effort to recalibrate Montana’s political boundaries. The proceedings drew hundreds of publicly submitted proposals, days of verbal testimony at hearings in the state Capitol and thousands of written comments filed by residents across the state.

I’ve lived in Montana for almost 10 years, and even though my “California” politics are in the minority, this place has become like another home for me. Things got bad once Trump was elected (to be fair, things were bad everywhere once he got elected), but for the most part, I haven’t really felt like my politics ever put a target on my back. But seeing this:

This makes me feel personally attacked! What is this nonsense? The two markers on the map read “San Fransoola” and “Bozeangeles," portmanteaus for “Missoula” and “Bozeman,” respectively.

What utter nonsense! 😂

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