Mario Villalobos

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Learning

I’m listening to Lana del Rey’s newest album, Chemtrails Over the Country Club, an artist and album I really enjoy. I purchased the album on Friday, but I didn’t get around to listening to it until today. I’m a fan. White Dress in particular is great.

Last week, I read Cal Newport’s newest book, A World Without Email, and to me, I wasn’t the right audience for it. I was for his previous two books, Deep Work and Digital Minimalism, books that have heavily inspired me these last few years. But in A World Without Email, I felt like he tried a bit too hard to justify his thesis instead of doubling down on it. Seriously, just get rid of email, don’t replace it with Trello or Asana or something else—just get rid of it. I only get emails from my financial institutions, invoices and tracking numbers from orders I purchase, and temporary login links for websites I visit. I’m sure I get more, but those are the ones I remember getting this past week. Because of this, I’ve turned off my email notifications, quieting my life that much more. This week I also read through Viet Thanh Nguyen’s sequel to The Sympathizer, The Committed, a sharply funny and sometimes brutal book that I deeply enjoyed.

I purchased both of these books from Amazon earlier this month, and I have two conflicting emotions about this. For one, I feel regret for choosing Amazon over a company like Bookshop. I started my search on Bookshop, but when I saw that they didn’t offer free shipping, I caved in and purchased them from Amazon instead. I have thoughts about this, but the second emotion I feel is pleasure because I love reading and holding and smelling physical books. I love the feel of the paper, its texture and character, the way each book has its own typeset and weight and, again, character. I love all of it. I’ve been reading more and more eBooks in apps like Libby, and my next two books will be read on it, but there really is something unique about physical books that bring me so much joy.

On Monday, I received my newest Trade Coffee coffee beans, and when I unpacked them and put them in my cupboards, I thought about money, where I choose to spend it, and why. Like I said, I felt regret in choosing Amazon over Bookshop, but to be fair to myself, I knew quitting Amazon would be tough. My Prime membership doesn’t expire until November, after all. But earlier in the day, I read through this article in the New Yorker about independent bookstores, and I felt motivated to truly get loose from Amazon’s grip and spend money at companies I admire.

Companies like Peak Design and American Giant, two companies I do adore. Earlier this week, I bought the 30L version of the Everyday Backpack to somewhat replace my 20L one, and I bought a comfortable and absolutely gorgeous black hoodie from American Giant. Both companies have absolutely honorable mission statements, and I feel like I’m helping them accomplish their goals. I budgeted some of the rest of my relief money toward other areas in my life that needed it, and I spent the rest toward paying down both my car and student loans.

I’m learning. Life will be boring if I ever stop learning. I’m learning to both treat myself and pay down my debt so I can live a more free life. I had this thought earlier today, one where I felt like the last 10 years or so have been lived within a prison, and my sentence is up in 6-9 months, as soon as I pay off the last of my debt. Will I feel free once my true net worth is positive? I’m not sure, but I feel like I’ve let my debt define me, and I’ve said no to life more because of it.

I know it’s strange that I started this entry talking about the things I’ve spent money on and now I’m talking about my debt and how it feels like it has shackled me for a decade. Humans are complicated, humans are contradictory, and humans aren’t bothered by cognitive dissonance. It is what it is, and really, would anyone want it any other way?

In the New Yorker article I linked earlier—the one that convinced me to renew my subscription after taking a few years off—Danny Caine, the subject of the article and owner of the Raven bookstore in Lawrence, Kansas, wrote a book called How to Resist Amazon and Why. I purchased it directly from their website. It should arrive on Thursday, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it and learn something new.

There are at least three birds in this photo

Creative Frustration

The days are getting warmer and longer. On Friday, I went to my usual spot because the blue skies were calling my name, but I couldn’t get into a rhythm. I shot the mountains again, and I saw a pair of geese hanging out, but nothing was quite clicking for me. I felt like I had overworked the area, and I was getting tired of this subject matter. I went home and spent an inordinate amount of time trying to edit my photos, but again, nothing seemed to click for me. I accepted the fact that sometimes I get in a creative funk, and I was about ready to simply delete all the photos I took that day and try again some other time.

This feeling felt familiar. Before photography, I spent a lot of time trying to get better at illustration. I bought and studied a lot of books that taught me about perspective, character design, color theory, and anything else I thought would make me better. I bought sketchbooks and pencils and erasers and other tools I thought I needed in order to get better as an illustrator. But just like my feelings on Friday, I eventually grew frustrated with my progress and I simply stopped sketching.

I plateaued, and I feel like I’ve plateaued again with my photography.

How do I get better? How can I improve? Where can I take my art?

I’m not sure, but I know I won’t find out if I stop. I started sketching in my sketchbook earlier this week, and it felt like something was filled in within me. I got into photography because of drawing. When I studied my perspective books, I learned about different focal lengths and how they treated perspective. I didn’t quite understand what this meant until I bought my camera and lenses and saw for myself how different lenses gave each photo a different look and feel.

When I edit, it feels like I’m painting, and I have a lot of fun doing so. So I think I have to go back and spend more time sketching and studying the world again, not only to get more practice in (and thus improve my skills), but also to give my photographic eye a break and maybe return to it with renewed vigor. Otherwise, I think I’m going to keep feeling frustrated, and who wants to live like that?

I’m glad that I date everything

People Sketching and Some Thoughts on How to Be Happy

About four and a half years ago, in an effort to simply improve my artistic ability, I spent a week or two drawing portraits in an old notebook I had. The goal was to draw a face a day, and I really enjoyed the whole process. I do love drawing, but with anything that isn’t writing, I have a tough time knowing what to create.

This mini-project ended abruptly when I was called out to a fire, something that happened often during the summers. I didn’t get back into a normal routine that year until September, and because I had only spent a few weeks on this project, I hadn’t build up the routine in my system. So I never picked it up again.

Looking back at these sketches, I feel not only the pull to create again, but also the dreadful fact that time keeps marching forward, whether I like it or not. I remember doing these sketches like I did them yesterday, but these were done almost five years ago. What the hell!? Where did all that time go!?

But another thing I’ve learned by revisiting these sketches is how much of my life I’ve devoted and am still devoting toward creating stuff.

In college, after I intentionally hurt myself, I was required to see a therapist. I won’t go into too many details about this period in my life, but one of the things my therapist taught me was the skill of focusing my energies toward things that made me happy. At the time, I went to film school, so some of the things I did was to spend even more time writing and studying movies and volunteering in more of my friend’s film projects. I had a blast doing this, and once I graduated, I felt like I knew how to take care of myself for the first time in my life. My college paid for my therapy sessions, so once I graduated, my time with my therapist ended, too. It has been almost 13 years since I’ve seen her, and I owe so much to her that I feel like I literally would not be alive if it wasn’t for her.

In a way, she showed me who I was and who I could be. I focused on the person I wanted to be, so I worked until that version of me was the real me. I don’t know if it’s humanly possible to be the me in my head, but I feel like I’m infinitely closer to that version of me now than when I tried to hurt myself then.

And I think some of what has helped me is what I call my three pillars. They’re super simple:

As long as I follow these pillars, I feel not only happy but also like I’m giving myself the weapons to fight off my demons, to fight off those forces that told me it was okay to hurt myself and to hurt others. Each pillar feeds into the next and is fed by the others, so it’s this ouroboros of happiness, at least for me.

So what does all this mean?

It means that for me to stay happy, I have to create things, and that means I write, I take photos, and I draw. I have to learn new things, and I do that by reading books, by learning new languages, and by playing the guitar. Eventually, I would like to make my own music, but for now, I’m still learning, and this is a very fun and very frustrating phase to be in. I have to keep pushing. Finally, I have to take care of my health, and I do that by eating well—I’m vegan—and by working out regularly. For me, health is the foundation for everything I do, and without it, the other two pillars won’t be enough to keep me happy. I have to workout. I have to sweat and feel the endorphins rush throughout my body because if I don’t, then I’ll be sad. It’s really that simple for me.

These pillars have led me well for a while, and I hope I have the strength to keep them standing for the rest of my life because the alternative is scary.

Playing Around on a Sunday

Before I purchased my Fujifilm X-T4, I had owned the X-T20 for a few years. It was my first “real” camera, and I loved it. I used it every day. I taught myself how to shoot in manual, and I practiced by shooting photos every day. I used the camera like a journal, shooting photos of my days without an intention to share any of them. I just wanted a record of my life while also learning the camera and about photography in general. Those few years were a lot of fun.

But then I broke my camera.

A few days later, I purchased the X-T4, and I really liked it. It was definitely a Fujifilm camera, and it was easy for me to learn it. Unlike my X-T20, though, I didn’t use it every day. I didn’t use it like a journal, so I never really internalized all its little quirks and the flavor of its photos. I just knew it was a “better” camera than the X-T20, with a better sensor, a new battery, more powerful video features, and other specs. But there’s one thing knowing something exists, and it’s quite the other using the thing at all.

Today I just wanted to play around. I feel like I’ve been in a creative rut lately, somewhat because I went through a seasonal phase of sorts shooting beautiful sunrises or shots of leaves, and I kinda expected that’s what people wanted out of me. But I kinda just wanted to break free from that and try new things.

I had to drive north to buy groceries, and with all these thoughts and desires on my mind, I decided to pack my X-T4 and my XF55-200mm lens, a newish lens I hadn’t really used much. I zoomed the lens all the way out to 200mm, put the lens hood on, started my car and just went for it. I drove 65mph down the highway with one hand on the wheel and the other holding onto the camera. I shot through my dirty car windows and just winged it.

I took a bit under 100 photos to and from the grocery store, and these are the five photos I liked. I don’t think they’re the best photos of all time or anything, but that also wasn’t my intention. I just wanted to play. I even messed around with how I edited these photos in Lightroom. The X-T4 came with a new film preset called Eterna Bleach Bypass, this super high contrast look that I never thought I’d use, but here I am, using it. I also cranked up some of the sliders just because, stuff like Clarity and Grain, sliders I’ve used very very conservatively before and now went all out with.

I like these photos and I liked today and I like my X-T4 and I just like photography more in general now. I think this was a very freeing and fun experiment, and I’m going to keep doing it. You know, just for fun!

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.

Some Photos of the Mountains

Montana has a way of soothing a turbulent soul with its majesty and beauty, and the detour I took today proved it. I drove down Ninepipe Road—my favorite spot at the moment—and snapped some shots, then I drove home. On the way, I talked to myself about how brief my detour took, and I wondered aloud how I could improve it.

Earlier in the day, as the sun rose behind the mountains, I looked at them and wondered what settings on my camera I would use to best capture the shot I wanted. I don’t normally think like this, about ƒ stops and shutter speeds, but my mind had quieted a bit from the noise of the irrelevant and thought creatively instead.

I’m conducting an experiment, one where I turn off my phone at the start of my workday and only turn it on at the end. I had purchased the cellular version of the newest Apple Watch last fall in preparation for an experiment like this, but I hadn’t got around to it until this week. My watch only notifies me when I get new text messages, phone calls, and email, leaving me alone the rest of the time. So far, I’m loving this.

I’m spending more of my time writing in my notebook and in the novel I’m reading. I’m reading Saul Bellow’s Herzog, and it’s a wildly funny yet somewhat challenging book to read, but without the distractions of my phone—from checking the news or my Micro.blog timeline—I’ve found myself more focused and invested in Saul Bellow’s words. They’re amazing, and I’m enjoying the book more because of it.

I’m always moving quickly, from one task to the next to the next, and I forget how much more fulfilling life can be when I slow down, when I stop and simply look at the mountains. I told myself in the car that I should’ve taken my time taking my photos, that I should’ve explored the reservoir more and simply breathed in its beauty. I say this a lot, but life is short. Why try to live it quickly, flitting here, flitting there, when, again, life can be more fulfilling when we simply take a detour and breathe in the majesty of the mountains.

Ducks, Dicks, and Death

The other night I dreamt of my arrest and subsequent arraignment. The prosecutor filed two charges against me, both of which I don’t remember, but I knew they were serious. Murder serious. Fortunately, I posted bail, left the building, and felt glad I could walk around the world freely. On one of these walks, I stepped on a receipt. When I looked at it, I knew it was the proof I needed to absolve me of at least one of the charges. I showed it to my lawyer and he grew excited. He then warned me that I still had one more charge still hanging over my head. So I walked and walked, looking at the floor, looking at the sky, looking at all the faces passing me by, but I couldn’t find the proof I needed to prove my innocence. Sadly, I never did because I woke up.

It was around 3am, and as I lied in bed thinking through the dream, I reflected on the day and remembered a conversation I had with a friend. She told me about an altercation between another friend and a teacher. We had a new student enter the 9th grade that day, and she and a friend went down the hall looking for an empty locker to claim it as her own. The teacher saw her and thought she was snooping through other kids’ lockers, so she yelled at her and almost made her cry. At the same time, my other friend walked down the hall and saw the teacher yelling at the new student. When she saw the new student on the verge of tears, my friend confronted the teacher and told her that the student was new and that she was simply looking for a free locker like she was told. The teacher, as we found out later, felt so offended that she lodged a complaint to the superintendent. In it, she complained that she felt afraid for her safety. This teacher has a history of over exaggeration, but unfortunately, she is also very effective at getting her way.

My friend and I were both very concerned that our other friend could lose her job. I felt angry that the teacher had a high chance of not only getting her way but also taking the job of someone I cared about. Why do people who do the right thing always get shit on the most? So I told my friend that if the teacher got her way and took my friend’s job, then she would take mine, too.

I’m very tired. I’m tired of people proselytizing their values onto others but doing the opposite, sometimes in the same breath. I’m tired of all the men (and it’s usually always men) in positions of power who don’t fight to do the right thing because it’s too much work, or because it might offend some people, or because it might cost them their job. Why believe in anything if you’re not going to fight for anything?

So I thought about this event in relation to my dream, and I wondered if maybe my subconscious was warning me not to tie my job to the fate of my friends. I thought maybe those were the charges filed against me in my dream, and the receipt represented my job and the income I could lose if I went through with my threat. And the second charge, the one I didn’t have time to find absolution for, was my friend’s fate, the fate that currently lies in limbo. As I lied in bed and realized that this could be the meaning of my dream, I said, Okay, I won’t tie my job to hers. I then went to sleep and woke up a few hours later.

Change has to come from within, and it’s hard when even my subconscious is against me, against who I want to be. But like I always say, if it’s not hard, it’s not worth doing. So here goes.

Abyss

Writing found me when I was at my darkest. As a teenager, I suffered from dark thoughts and violent outbursts. I would punch walls and scream into pillows, and I would listen to music that intentionally plunged the hole in my chest deeper into the abyss. For a long time the abyss was my home, and part of me fears that I’m still living in it. When I was sixteen, I noticed that this darkness ebbed when I expressed myself in words. I wrote stories about men who had things under control, who epitomized the type of person I wanted to be but didn’t know how to become. My 11th grade English teacher told me that she enjoyed reading my stories very much, and for the first time in my life I felt like someone cared not only about who I was but about what I created.

I’ve been feeling directionless lately, and the question of my own mortality has been front of mind in a way it hasn’t been since I was sixteen, and I wonder what, if any, meaning this has to me and my life. For a long time I’ve felt like the best of my art has needed and depended on anger and depression, even though I know without a shred of doubt that this way of creating art would never and can never be sustainable. The last novel I worked on was about a man who watched his friend lose everything, and to write it, I needed to be in a dark place, but this darkness was all-consuming, and without a break, I feared I would lose whatever battle it was that kept me alive. So I took breaks until I eventually stopped writing that story. Paradoxically, whenever I stopped writing, I would be consumed by feelings of anger and depression anyway that writing was the only salve to those emotions.

Photography has saved my life, and I’m grateful for everything it has given me, but I fear it isn’t enough. I can feel those ghosts lurking in my periphery, and without some form of release, I fear I won’t be strong enough to fight them off anymore. I fear of falling deeper and deeper into the abyss and of never seeing the light again. I need strength, and the only thing I know for sure that gives it to me is my art. I’m a writer and a photographer, and I like to draw and play the guitar, and these art forms have made my life worth living. So far, they have kept those ghosts away, but life seems to be a constant battle between these angels and demons, and sometimes I feel like I’m winning and other times I feel like I’m losing. I don’t feel like losing yet, so I won’t.

One thing that has been missing in my life has been my fiction. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a writer anymore, but those doubts are now gone. I went to school to write movies, but it took me a few years after I graduated to realize what I really wanted to do was write books. I’ve been writing books for ten years, and I feel like I’m finally ready to accept this role in my life.

I hope I’m not too late to dig myself out of the abyss. Here’s to a new mountain to climb.

Happy

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.

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!

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