Mario Villalobos

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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.

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! ↩︎

Mark Miller and Ben White in an essay about social media published on Aeon:

Depression, for instance, has been described as a form of ‘cognitive rigidity’, where the system fails to adjust how sensitive it is to corrective feedback from the world. For people in good mental health, emotional feedback allows them to flexibly tune their expectations: sometimes it makes sense to ‘write off’ a prediction error as just noise, rather than see it as something that demands a change in their generative model of the world; other times, it makes sense to change our model because of the error. In depression, researchers hypothesise that we lose this ability to move back and forth between more or less ‘sensitive’ states, which results in rising and unmanageable prediction error. Eventually, we come to predict the inefficacy and failure of our own actions – which in turn becomes a self-reinforcing prediction, which we achieve some minimal satisfaction from confirming. At the level of the person who is depressed, this manifests in feelings such as helplessness, isolation, lack of motivation and an inability to find pleasure in the world.

I’ve suffered from depression for most of my life, and I can of course recognize when those feelings of “helplessness, isolation, lack of motivation and an inability to find pleasure in the world” happen, and my best medicine to combat them has been both giving myself time to heal and surrounding my life with as much pleasure as I could find.

I started to use social media in high school when I first joined Friendster and MySpace, but those were just silly diversions and not really what we recognize as social media today. Around this time, I spent a lot of time in AOL chat rooms where I mostly wrote “a/s/l” and “15/m/ca” (or whatever) and wait to see who would chat with me. I remember I made about a dozen “friends” this way that I contacted on and off throughout my time in high school. I remember friends from South Dakota and Texas to this day, but I don’t remember their names anymore. It’s been ages since I’ve thought about this. Wow. But then I joined Facebook in 2004 when a freshman at USC, and I’ve been a part of a social media platform ever since, at the expense to my mental health.

For me, social media was an easy way to socialize. I didn’t have to see people, and I didn’t have to talk to have conversations with them. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve battled with my stutter, and to compensate, I learned to both speak fast and to mumble, to not give my stutter a chance to happen and make me feel bad about myself. But this, in turn, made me even more difficult to understand, and whenever somebody said, “Huh?” or “What’d you say?”, I felt bad and I would just shake my head and say, “Nothing,” or “Nah, not important.” And because of this, I had a very hard time making friends, something Facebook “fixed.”

So I grew used to socializing this way, chatting, making plans, etc. And because I went to film school, most of the things my friends and I did was, well, watch movies, one of the most anti-social activities ever invented. And I loved it. I wrote and expressed myself with my stories, and I wrote and expressed myself on Facebook. But because Facebook and social media was how I made friends, I spent a lot of time alone and seeking validation on these platforms.

Later in the essay, the two authors write that:

So-called ‘Snapchat surgery’ makes perfect sense within the predictive processing framework. If we become accustomed to our own doctored appearance, and to receiving all of the feedback associated with it, soon the level of validation available offline will be registered as mounting prediction error. That’s likely to result in feelings of stress, and inadequacy. Through the lens of predictive processing, we see that getting surgery to look more like a filtered image is just the system doing what it always does: it’s no different from grabbing a blanket as the temperature begins to drop. We’re sampling the world to bring us back into an expected state. But social media is capable of displacing our self-image so much that the only way to rectify the error and meet those expectations is to surgically alter the way we look.

Emphasis mine. Social media taught me that the only way to be liked is how many likes, hearts, comments, @-mentions, or whatever other metric in place each of my posts generated. Every time I posted something, I intentionally glued myself to whatever app it was I posted to and waited. I waited to see the reactions happen in real time, and whenever I didn’t get enough or when the one person I wanted to reply didn’t, I felt bad. I felt awful. I felt like hurting myself. This is so damn ridiculous that I can’t believe I’m writing these words right now. Why would I do that? Why would I care?

Well:

Of course, there’s a more obvious way to alleviate these problems: spend less time online. For some of us, this is easier said than done, as mounting evidence supports the suspicion that social media can be addictive. A comprehensive review in 2015 defined social media addiction as a disproportionate concern with and drive to use social media that impairs other areas of life, and found that roughly 10 per cent of users exhibit symptoms of addiction. Interestingly, this is around the same percentage of people who have problems with alcohol – but while the addictive hooks of alcohol are relatively well understood, those of social media are not. Predictive processing might once again hold the key to understanding exactly how the features of particular platforms come to have such an effect.

I was addicted. It makes sense. Social media has been a part of my life for over 20 years now, and the first step toward healing is admitting you have a problem. I have a problem. I know this. I’ve known this, but I feel like now, I’m trying, finally, to do something about it.

And I have two things I’m trying to do to improve this situation for myself. One is to identify the friends I have now and start trying to improve my relationship with them. Yesterday, a friend of mine confronted me and asked me why I haven’t been talking to her as much recently, and I finally confided in her with some of my thoughts of depression and suicide, and I think (hope?) our friendship can improve because of it. It was scary and I felt very vulnerable, but after I said the words out loud, I felt better. Is that selfish? I’m not sure. I hope it isn’t.

The second thing I want to do is increase my number of friends. I saw this photo in an article in The Atlantic the other day that I really resonated with. It shows a rough estimate of an average person’s average friend circles. Now let me tell you, I don’t think I have any intimates, close friends, best friends, or good friends, and I definitely don’t think I have 150 “friends.” This is one area I would really like to improve, but I don’t know how, not really.

Everyone says it’s tough to make friends as an adult. If that’s not a challenge worth accepting then I don’t know what is. So: challenge accepted.

It’s called Now & Then, and here’s the synopsis from the show’s website:

How can the past help inform today’s most pressing challenges? Every Tuesday, award-winning historians Heather Cox Richardson and Joanne Freeman use their encyclopedic knowledge of US history to bring the past to life. Together, they make sense of the week in news by discussing the people, ideas, and events that got us here today.

I’ve been a big fan of Heather Cox Richardson’s newsletter, Letters from an American, a “newsletter about the history behind today’s politics,” for a few months now. It’s one of those daily reads that truly makes me feel smart, if not, smarter. Ben Brooks from The New York Times wrote a feature on her and her newsletter back in December, and what I didn’t know was that hers was the top newsletter on Substack.

Her new podcast with Joanne Freeman begins next Tuesday, June 1st, and I cannot wait.

The New Yorker’s Rebecca Mead with probably the best quote ever:

It’s an erect penis, and an erect penis is an erect penis.

It’s in a story about The Cerne Giant in Dorset, England. The Cerne Giant, if you don’t know (I didn’t), is:

[S]o imposing that he is best viewed from the opposite crest of the valley, or from the air. He is a hundred and eighty feet tall, about as high as a twenty-story apartment building. Held aloft in his right hand is a large, knobby club; his left arm stretches across the slope. Drawn in an outline formed by trenches packed with chalk, he has primitive but expressive facial features, with a line for a mouth and circles for eyes. His raised eyebrows were perhaps intended to indicate ferocity, but they might equally be taken for a look of confusion. His torso is well defined, with lines for ribs and circles for nipples; a line across his waist has been understood to represent a belt. Most well defined of all is his penis, which is erect, and measures twenty-six feet in length. Were the giant not protectively fenced off, a visitor could comfortably lie down within the member and take in the idyllic vista beyond.

Who wouldn’t want to lie down within a 26-foot long penis and partake in the beautiful scenery?

Currently, Craig Mod is walking across Japan, filling in the Kumano Kodō he has yet to walk. And because Craig Mod is Craig Mod, he started another newsletter to write about it. It’s temporary, running only for about a month, from May 11 to June 6, and already I look forward to reading it every morning with my cup of coffee that I’ll miss it when it’s gone.

Today’s issue, the eleventh one and titled Old Infrastructure, has this hilarious encounter with a group of elementary school kids:

I had stopped to chug an iced coffee from a vending machine. A group of thirty or so elementary school kids were being herded onto a nearby bus. They all wore the same dorky yellow hats; hats that would have gotten you punched at my elementary school. WHAT ARE YOU DOING? They screamed at me. Walking! I yelled back. OH YEAH, WHERE’D YOU WALK FROM? And I told them. I told them where I had walked from and they just said, HOLY SHIT.

In issue three, We Got Iced Coffee, he had another encounter with kids that had me laughing:

The elementary school children ran away from me giggling. They hid behind their umbrellas. As I passed I said to the umbrellas, Mighty fine little town you got here (as I say to most kids I pass — “nice town!” is a nice thing probably not enough people say, certainly not to kids, and I mean it too — these little towns are pretty nice), and one of the boys yelled back, Just what the heck race are you anyway?

Kids are so honest and unashamedly so that I wish we didn’t lose this trait as we get older. I love talking to kids, too, so I can relate to Craig’s impulse to write about it.

Earlier in issue #11, Craig met an old man who told him to:

Use your body when you’re young, he barked, And your mouth when you’re old! Ha ha!

Old. Young. Just use your mouth!

Dave Morrow, from a video he posted to his YouTube channel in 2018:

So my theory for quitting these [social networks] was that even though I didn’t notice it, I felt like all the input of being on those platforms, every few days or every week or whatever, I would always have a bunch of background static, where conversations going in my head and I wouldn’t know why, but it’d be like I was always thinking about something or worrying if I had to do something on any social media platform, like respond to somebody or stuff like that.

[…]

What would happen if I took all the energy that I spent on social media—posting, replying, looking at stuff, anything you do on social media—I took all that mental energy, all that physical energy, and I just devoted it straight toward what makes me feel really good? That is photography and traveling to new places on foot, out on the mountains, out on the wilderness. So I’ll take all that energy from social media, which only gives me, if at any happiness level, a very low amount of happiness comes from social media for me. But if I took all that energy I was devoting towards that and pushed it all towards something that makes me feel really good, makes me feel really accomplished when I’m done, how much more would I accomplish every single year? If I just took all that energy and diverted it only to the things I like?

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time, but something I’ve been thinking about more since linking to Cory Doctorow’s essay earlier today. I’ve found it easier and easier to live without Facebook and Instagram and Twitter, but if I’m being honest with myself, it’s been easier because I replaced it with Micro.blog. I don’t like that I replaced one compulsion with another, regardless of how much more integrity this platform has over, say, Facebook. I don’t like the background static, like Dave Morrow so beautifully put it, after every post I publish or every response I write. It keeps me from creating, and creating is the one thing that keeps me happy.

So what if, like Dave Morrow says, I focus all my energy toward the things that make me feel really good? Toward the things I like? What would my life like that look like? Well… let’s find out.

Here’s my declaration: I’m quitting all social media, including Micro.blog, starting today. Like Dave Morrow, I want to focus all my energies towards the things I like, and that means writing, reading, photography, traveling, and anything else that flexes my creativity muscle. And hey, if that turns me into an even bigger asshole, so what?

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