Mario Villalobos

TagsCoronavirus

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.

Ivana Saric, Axios:

The Los Angeles Unified Board of Education approved a measure Thursday mandating eligible students in the nation’s second-biggest school district to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Why it matters: It’s the first major school district to require vaccines for students — a move that may set a precedent for school districts across the country to follow.

[…]

What they’re saying: “The science is clear – vaccinations are an essential part of protection against COVID-19,” Interim Superintendent Megan Reilly said in the press release. “The COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective and requiring eligible students to be vaccinated is the strongest way to protect our school community.” 

I was hoping I wouldn’t have to write about the coronavirus since Axios stopped tracking active cases back in June, but that is not to be. We’re three weeks into our current school year and already we’ve had multiple cases of COVID-19 spreading throughout our student body and faculty. Because I live in a Republican-controlled state, all the important choices are being left up to the parents to make. We don’t have any mask mandates, we don’t have any quarantine mandates, we don’t have anything we can do to make our school safe. Masks are optional; quarantines for close-contacts are optional; vaccinations are optional.

In my experience, when we leave choices up to the masses, the masses will choose to protect themselves first. We are selfish. We care more about our rights than yours. This is America in the 21st century and it’s goddamn heartbreaking. In our school, because our leaders aren’t leading, our parents are having to make choices they don’t want to make. They want their children to be safe, but they also don’t want them to be bullied because they’re wearing masks when others aren’t or because they chose to stay home during the football game instead of going out there to play with their team. People would rather play a game and risk infecting so many others than doing the right thing and cancelling these events for the sake of the community.

I’m so glad President Biden has mandated COVID vaccines for all federal workers, and that the Los Angeles school district has done the same for their students. The country needs to follow their leads and control this godforsaken virus.

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.

School’s Out!

Actually, the last day of school was yesterday, but life has been literally everywhere the past few weeks that I finally found some time to write about it today. I’ll miss the students, especially the newly graduated seniors that I’ve seen grow up for the past seven years, and I’ll miss the little kids, many of whom I can’t wait to see grow up. The last week of school for the teachers is next week, so I still have some time left with them1. Then I have the entire summer to work on some projects, to reevaluate my life, and see where I want to be come fall. Thankfully, it doesn’t seem like the coronavirus will impact us much next year2, so it seems like things are starting to feel normal again.

In hindsight, this was probably one of the better years for me in terms of my job and my relationship with the staff and students. I had more highs than lows, and I can only hope for more good things next year. But now I’m looking forward to this three-day weekend, the shorter week next week, and the entire summer to enjoy. The 2020-2021 school year is officially in the books! Phew.


  1. Fortunately for some, unfortunately for others, but isn’t that how it goes in whatever job you have? ↩︎

  2. Knock on wood… ↩︎

When Problems Are Really Solutions

Bessel van der Kolk in The Body Keeps the Score:

[Dr. Vincent] Felitti points out that obesity, which is considered a major public health problem, may in fact be a personal solution for many. Consider the implications: If you mistake someone’s solution for a problem to be eliminated, not only are they likely to fail treatment, as often happens in addiction programs, but other problems may emerge.

One female rape victim told Felitti, “Overweight is overlooked, and that’s the way I need to be.”

[…]

“The idea of the problem being a solution, while understandably disturbing to many, is certainly in keeping with the fact that opposing forces routinely coexist in biological systems… What one sees, the presenting problem, is often only the marker for the real problem, which lies buried in time, concealed by patient shame, secrecy and sometimes amnesia—and frequently clinician discomfort.”

When I read this yesterday, I felt deep, deep shame. Up until the end of 2011, I always battled with my weight and my self-image. I ate all the time, even when I wasn’t hungry. I ate when I was bored, when I watched TV, when I was with friends. I ate when I hated myself, when I wanted to die, when I wanted to numb the pain. I’m 5’8”, and at my heaviest, I weighed over 230lbs. I had failed so many times in trying to keep my weight in check, and each time I failed, I ate and ate and ate.

But then that all changed. I wish I could remember the mindset I was in when it did, but I can’t. Not really. One day it just clicked: I want to lose weight, and I want to live healthily, and if that means a pound a week, a few pounds a month, so be it. This isn’t something I wanted to do in 10 days and then just stop; this was something I knew would be a lifelong endeavor, and at time time, that made complete sense to me. So I just started.

Slowly at first. I only worked out on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and I did simple resistance band training. I did what I could, knowing that I was in it for the long haul, and I decided to only weigh myself once a week. What I wanted to see was a steady decline in my weight, regardless of the number. My arbitrary goal at the time was to lose a pound a week. It didn’t happen the first month. I think I only lost two pounds that first month, but I had a month’s experience under my belt, and that made the next month a bit easier. I started to feel stronger, healthier, and more excited to start my next workout. That next month I lost the four pounds I wanted to lose, and then it snowballed from there.

From December 2011 to April 2012, I lost over 60lbs. Each new milestone propelled me to the next one, and I’ve been living healthily ever since. I’m at my ideal weight range, which is in the mid-170s, and I have no intention of ever stopping. I have over 10 years of experience built into my system now and stopping means sadness, means depression, means death. During the past decade, I have noticed myself stopping when in front of a mirror because 1) I like how I look, but also 2) I sometimes don’t recognize myself.

I felt shame when I read that passage above because I have sometimes thought to myself, whenever I’ve seen an overweight person, why they don’t do what I did and just lose the weight. I know this is awful, and my hands are trembling a bit as I’m writing this, unsure whether I should just delete this section or not, but it’s true. I only remember the results, the consistency, the routine of it now, but I don’t always remember all the pain and hardship I had to endure before I decided to make the change and how everyone is different. How everyone is battling their own demons, their own personal hells.

And then I read the next section:

But when the ACE study data started to appear on his computer screen, he realized that they had stumbled upon the gravest and most costly public health issue in the United States: child abuse. He had calculated that its overall costs exceeded those of cancer or heart disease and that eradicating child abuse in America would reduce the overall rate of depression by more than half, alcoholism by two-thirds, and suicide, IV drug use, and domestic violence by three-quarters. It would also have a dramatic effect on workplace performance and vastly decrease the need for incarceration.

In early 2020, before I ever heard of the coronavirus, I befriended a little girl named Zoe. She is the sweetest person I’ve ever met in my life, but what I didn’t know when I met her was her past. When she was much younger, she witnessed something truly horrific, something that no one should ever ever see. She and her brother were both taken from their parents and adopted by a lovely family, but the memories of whatever she saw infected her in ways that make her a “troublesome” student. She lashes out in class sometimes, and other times she just shuts down without any discernible reason.

So I bought The Body Keeps the Score because I wanted to learn more about trauma, specifically childhood trauma, but then the coronavirus shut the world down, and I didn’t see any of the kids, particularly Zoe, for months and months. So I kinda forgot about the book. Last spring, I did attend a Zoom meeting that dealt specifically with childhood trauma, and I earned a certificate and everything, but without putting it into practice, I kinda forgot what I learned. Like others, I focused on other things, and when school started again in the fall, we were all more concerned about wearing masks and social distancing than paying attention to the mental states of our students.

Throughout the year, I’d been checking in with Zoe more and more, and to me, she seemed okay. She even gives me hugs whenever she sees me. It’s funny because there was one time last week when she saw me, she said, “Just give me a hug,” and she wrapped her arms around me and hugged me. It was so funny and so sweet that it was then that I remembered this book. I wanted to know if there was something in what I was doing that was helping her in some way. I’m about halfway through the book now, and I may be getting hints here and there about how to help children with childhood trauma, but I’m not quite there yet, so I’m not sure if what I’m doing is helping. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. All I know is that I’m committed to this topic and to Zoe and other children like her.

This is a lifelong endeavor, and I’m in it for the long haul.

I got my 2nd and final shot of the Pfizer vaccine today!

Charlie Warzel in the New York Times:

In 2016, Mr. Caulfield met Mr. Wineburg, who suggested modeling the process after the way professional fact checkers assess information. Mr. Caulfield refined the practice into four simple principles:

  1. Stop.
  2. Investigate the source.
  3. Find better coverage.
  4. Trace claims, quotes and media to the original context.

Otherwise known as SIFT.

I had an argument/discussion with a really good friend yesterday about whether or not flu cases went down during the last year. I told her they went down because of our collective COVID precautions—wearing masks, social distancing, washing our hands—but she said it’s not true because they weren’t testing for influenza, so there’s no way of knowing for sure. She’s been against all the COVID precautions since the beginning, so I could understand where she was coming from. I still didn’t believe she was right, so I went online, found around ten sources for my claim that flu cases actually went down, and she said,

We don’t “believe” the same articles. We can both find ones that show what we agree with 🤣

I’m not sure if this SIFT method would’ve worked with her, but I find it useful for myself anyway. I also don’t know how to converse with my friends who don’t share the same definition of “truth” as me. Am I wrong? Is she wrong? Is there a balance? I have no idea.

But we’re still friends, and I’m fiercely loyal to my friends, even when we disagree.

When to Say Yes

I love my very simple homescreen setup. Ember and Messages are the only apps that notify me. I need to know when my coffee is at optimal temperature!

I’m thinking through some things—questioning habits, rethinking workflows, expanding my thought domain—and I remembered I had this note that I used to use a lot before the coronavirus was a thing.

My productivity system is a single text file that I write in every day. I would like to write an article one day on it. I’m also reading through Cal Newport’s A World Without Email, a book that exemplifies confirmation bias for me.

There’s this mindset among many people online that I like to call app lust. It means this desire to try out the next great app because people think it’ll be the answer to their problems but in reality just serves as a distraction that gives the person a hit of dopamine. Each new app satisfies this craving, and they’re always on the lookout for the next hit. I used to be this way, and I’ve learned that I’m happier when I rely less on technology and on apps.

Anyways, I’m still thinking through these thoughts, but here’s the list I used before the coronavirus and something I hope to use more of today:

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.

I filled seven notebooks in 2020. This week, I scanned and processed them on my computer.

I filled the first four in the first four months. It took me eight months to fill the last three. This was the effect of Covid-19 on my life last year. It couldn’t be more clear.

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