Mario Villalobos



Last April, while the world was in lockdown and all the schools in Montana were closed, our school principal asked me if I would help him coordinate a school-wide music video project. At the time, there was a #DancingPrincipal challenge making its way across schools in Montana, and our principal thought it would be a fun project for our kids and our community to participate in as a distraction from the grim news crowding everyone’s psyche. I agreed and the above music video is the result of everyone’s efforts.

I gave the principal rough directions to send out in his email to everyone, but mostly, the kids and the parents had full creative control over what they shot. The result was, I think, amazing. I loved receiving everyone’s submissions, especially at a time when it had been weeks since I had seen any of them in person, and I had even more fun dropping each clip into my editing software and watching it in sync with the music. I finished editing the final project on Easter Sunday, and I posted it to our school Facebook page that day.

In the end, the reception was incredible. It has been watched over 14 thousand times, and it has hundreds of likes and shares. It was one of those things that made the early parts of the pandemic seem bright and hopeful, like things might not be as bad as they eventually became. I’m posting this now because I’m starting to feel that hope again. The world has never produced vaccines this effective this quickly, and even though there are multiple variants of the virus infecting people all over the world, it seems that these vaccines work against those, too. We have a president that actually believes in science and in the power of a functioning government, and it seems like his goal of getting 100 million people vaccinated in 100 days will not only be reached but surpassed.

I’ve had this dark cloud hanging over me for so long that I’m afraid of letting myself feel like this, but sometimes I just have to let go and let myself feel happy.


I went to the river to think. I parked near an old fire pit with a used diaper in it, a fitting symbol for humanity. I pulled out my camera and snapped some pictures, but then I stopped and listened. I listened to the birds and the river and the wind, and I felt both so ashamed and so overwhelmed by the beauty around me. This was the first time in my eight years living in Montana that I made this drive. That’s eight years of taking where I live for granted. The drive down didn’t take long at all, and I wonder how many more days could have been better lived if I just got into my car and started the engine.

I wish I wasn’t so anxious all the time. I wish it was easier for me to get out of my own way and just live. But it’s not. I have built up these walls around me to make me feel safe and secure from the world, and I’m only now realizing how much better I’d be without them. Even now, as I’m writing this in my home, I feel comfortable behind my walls. They have protected me my whole life, and I’m having a tough time imagining a world without them. But if yesterday taught me anything, it’s that the world is too big to enclose behind walls.

On a whim, I pulled out my microphone and connected it to my phone. I recorded ten minutes of the sounds around me, and when I listened to it later in the day, I experienced this sense of freedom I’ve never felt before. It’s beyond the “anything is possible” platitude I want to say but know isn’t enough to capture my feelings. The walls are still there, and I doubt they’ll ever be gone completely, but I can feel them expanding, even just a bit, and maybe that’s all I need to get started.

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