Mario Villalobos

TagsCoronavirus

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.

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:

  • Does it scare the hell out of me?
  • Will it take me out of my routine?
  • Will it help other people?
  • Will I make friends?
  • Will I grow from this experience?
  • Would I do this regardless of money?
  • Will I regret not doing it?

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.

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!

“One day this will all end,” I wrote in July, “and the question I ask myself is whether it was worth it.”

COVID has made me confront my own mortality more than anything else I’ve ever experienced, and all I want to do is squeeze as much life as I can out of my allotted time on earth. I want to push myself until I can’t move anymore, until I can’t breathe anymore, and I wish to die with a smile on my face and a legacy worth existing, worth the blood, sweat, and tears I’ve shed and will shed.

I have to keep reminding myself that everything I do matters. That my life matters, that my actions matter, that my words matter.

But goddammit do I wish I can enjoy the pure beauty of existence sometimes. That this breath is the most beautiful thing to ever exist, and that this breath is enough.

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