I set out to run 100 miles for June and I ended up running 101 for good measure. I ran 29 days out of 30, which also means I’ve probably listened to The Power of Love by Huey Lewis & The News at least 58 times. It’s the most I’ve ever run in a month, and maybe a world record for The Power of Love listens. You just can’t not be fired up to be alive when you hear that song.
In all seriousness though, felt good to be setting new records instead of just looking back on old ones. Particularly because I also turned a year older in June. Nothing better fights the feeling of time trying to bring you to your knees, than that brief moment in your stride where both feet are off the ground and you’re openly defying gravity.
I’ve also been wearing a fitness tracker, and by the end of the month I noticed my resting heart rate had become considerably lower. About 10 beats per minute less. Mid 40’s while I slept and low 60’s otherwise. It was cool to see the body doing what the body does, and to know that the hard things can equate to something good.
In the end, I’m glad I reached new heights but a part of me doesn’t feel entirely honest about the win. I know I could’ve gone further or run faster. No reason I couldn’t have, but I guess it’s just a fine line between enjoyment and punishment. Never the less, I still did what I said I would, and that’s a challenge enough on it’s own for most of us. The last and probably most important thing I learned is, no matter how tired you think you are, you’re still gonna be able to smash through a brick wall once you’ve hit the 4 minute mark of Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer.
Can’t really say when I got in the habit of bad posture, but probably somewhere in middle school. In any case, once it took hold, it never seemed to let go. Something that’s always bothered me. Aesthetically and physically. Without fail by the end of each day the middle of my back is sore and burning. Been this way for as long as I can remember. I used to ask my brother to walk with his full weight across my back, after being so beat up from my after school job each day. It’s a wonder we didn’t make things worse. Each morning brings a reset for me, but it’s short lived. So everyday of March I tried to make a point to focus on better posture.
I started out by diving into an internet blackhole of what healthy posture should be, and quickly learned that my own posture falls into something called kyphosis. Googling the word gave me a shot of confidence because it looks like things could be a hell of a lot worse. Then I started practicing specific exercises tailored to my posture. A lot of things you’d feel pretty weird doing in a gym surrounded by strangers to say the least. Also got this tiny device you stick to your back that vibrates if you start to slouch. Used that for several hours every day, and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t as annoying as it sounds. Kinda feels like being in a group text chain of twenty people who never stop texting each other. But hey, it works.
By the end of the month I couldn’t say that I felt any different, but I knew from the start, a month wouldn’t be enough to undo this one. Mostly, I was just looking to jump start something new. Still keeping up with that annoying little device, and including posture exercises in my regular workouts, but my biggest takeaway was more a mental one than a physical. Sort of these random mental audits of how I’m standing at any given point. Where is my pelvis? How far am I leaning over this cutting board? Is my neck so far out that it looks like I’m going in for a kiss with my monitor? You get the idea. Don’t know if it’ll ever get better, but I’ll keep trying. One thing for sure is, our parents sure as hell weren’t kidding when they told us to sit up straight.
I was exclusively concerned with Peewee Herman, Batman, and Edward Scissor Hands at the time the Gulf War was happening, but as I grew to learn about it as a teenager and further as an adult, the photographs of the burning oil fields always struck something in me. Towering columns of fire shooting up from the Earth, speckled across an endless horizon, burning day and night. I sometimes feel how those images look. Particularly, the unseen part. I feel like that oil deep beneath the surface. Not knowing how much is under there, but only that it’s being violently spent every minute of every hour of every day.
I don’t typically have a problem with mindless phone scrolling at night. By day’s end I’m tired and ready for sleep. The morning can be another story though. I’m awake by 7am somedays, but sometimes not “up” for another hour or even more. Usually because I’m mindlessly scrolling through my phone. News, stocks, social media, wikipedia rabbit holes, whatever. Even though this doesn’t happen all the time, I don’t want it to happen at all. It’s not how I want to spend what time I have, so I decided for all for February to make a hard rule to not touch my phone in bed. Morning or night. Unsurprisingly, it was a great idea.
Alexis is usually still sound asleep when my watch silently buzzes on my wrist at 7:30am, and I open my eyes. It’s here where I would usually reach for my phone and scroll from anywhere between 5 minutes to an hour and a half. But now that I couldn’t do that, I really only had two options, go back to sleep, or get up and get going. I almost always got going. I don’t start work till 10am, and working remotely means no commute, so everyday I had a good chunk of time to do the things I wanted to do, just for me. Man, does that always feel good. Doing what you want to do, before the day has any opportunity to dictate what you have to do. I’ve known this, and that’s why I like waking up early nowadays. Sticking to this hard rule for the month helped me protect some of my most valuable time by making sure it wasn’t being siphoned off by my thumb and my phone.
There was a small downside. I really only read the news at night or the morning, and usually in bed. So cutting that out maybe meant being a little less informed at any given moment. Though, I find a lot of news is just the same story everyday with a few more details than the day before. In the end then, I have to guess I wasn’t missing too much by only catching up on the weekends.
All in all, I’m glad I took the time to do this, and I’m going to keep it up. It was a good reset. I know that old habits die hard though, so I took it a step further and have since permanently moved my phone and charger across the room. Can’t reach it from bed at all anymore. I’d go even further and set my phone to blast Eye of the Tiger across the room at 7AM, but I’m afraid that could land my wife in prison for attempted murder.
No sweets, all of January. This meant cutting out all the usual suspects that come to mind when you think of sweets, and being more mindful of everyday things with excessive amounts of added sugars. Things like instant oatmeals, soups even. Definitely no mixers if I had any alcohol. Even cut back on fruit. This one came about because, well we really went off the rails in December. I wasn’t counting, but if I had to guess, I’d say I had more Christmas cookies than there are days in December. Some people have a sweet tooth, but I definitely have sweet teeth. Figured It’d be a good idea to give it a rest.
Sounds an awful lot like an excuse, but I’ve always thought my capacity to go off the deep end with sweets was because growing up we didn’t really have them around the house. At least not in excess, which always seemed the case at friend’s houses. It was pretty common for me or my brother to be staring blankly at the kitchen pantry that was literally full of ingredients to MAKE food, and declare “There’s nothing to eat in this house.” Can’t help but laugh thinking about it.
In any case, the challenge wasn’t hard to stick to. It honestly only gets tricky for me when sweets are already in the house. You’ll never find me tempted at a checkout line. Alexis is the literal polar opposite though. She’ll buy a Kit-Kat because she’s craving it, have one stick, then throw the rest in the fridge for 2 months. All the while stretching the limits of my willpower and sanity. Eventually when I break and ask if she’s ever gonna eat that, she says she forgot it was even there, and have it if I want… Torturous.
So in the end, can’t say I feel any different, but it’s nice knowing I did the body some good after a hell of a bender in December. With it in the front of my mind now, I’m sure I’ll be a little better about it all for a while. Make no mistake though, my love for donuts is undying, and knows no bounds. Always and forever.
2020 was a mess on a lot of fronts, but a bright spot for me personally was following through on my resolutions. My biggest and toughest resolution was to learn Unreal Engine. A year later, it’s honestly still a work in progress. I’ve been simultaneously learning the interface, art pipeline, animation pipeline, visual scripting logic, and performance optimization among other things. Somedays feel like I haven’t come very far at all, but others feel pretty good, considering less than a year ago the program wasn’t even installed on my computer yet. Hopefully it’s upwards and onwards from here, but it’s hard to say. As much fun as it is, it still feels incredibly daunting. Here’s a small peek at a game I’ve been developing with what I’ve learned so far:
My second resolution was to exercise at least every other day. Above all else, this one made sure a missed day or two didn’t snowball into a completely derailed week or month. Seemed like a cycle I’d been stuck in the past few years, but this simple rule got me out of it. I made exceptions to let my body bounce back from injury or for a long weekend getaway here and there, but for the most part I nailed it. It’s formed into a habit at this point, and hoping to keep it that way.
My third resolution was to avoid hangovers. I know, I know, the depth of my shame is bottomless. I wasn’t exactly swearing off alcohol, but I’ve long been ready to swear off hangovers. I drink socially, so the pandemic really dropped my consumption this year, and in turn lowered any chance of being hungover to begin with. Even so, I still fell short on a few occasions. At least three I can think of. It wasn’t perfect, but it was more wins than losses, and if I can keep it in the front of my mind, the record should be an undefeated one soon enough.
Lastly, I took a shot at some monthly challenges throughout the year and reflected on my experiences with them month by month. In short, I ended up satisfying some curiosities, kickstarted some better habits, and knocked back a few bad ones.
All in all, it was a win in a challenging year. I’d never done anything like it and ended up having a lot of fun with it. So much so, that it feels weird to just stop down at this point. So I think I’ll keep on. More on that later.
We headed up to the San Bernardino Mountains and rented a place for a few days around Lake Arrowhead to celebrate Alexis’ 33rd birthday with our friends and quarantine companions, Mike and Christina. I have no doubt if we weren’t in pandemic times we would’ve packed somewhere in the neighborhood of 30+ friends into some Mid-City bar to sing happy birthday to Alexis. We made out just as well though with only the 4 of us up on the mountain, even if my singing voice is a little off key.
We cooked, drank, gambled, embroidered, watched logs on the fire, and got plenty of sleep. It was one hell of a mid-thirties bender if I’d ever seen one. Think we could all say it was a much needed change of pace and scenery, and most importantly exactly what I think Alexis was looking for. I don’t like that we’re getting older, but I can’t complain about collecting memories like these.
Usually the very first thing I do everyday is read. Whatever lands in my news feed is what I’m consuming. Save for the occasional space exploration article that sneaks its way in, what I’m reading everyday is typically pretty uninspiring, unimaginative, and usually depressing. It’s just news, and most news seems to be the bad kind. So I wanted to take a break from it and push myself to make sure I read fiction everyday of October.
Some days I missed, but made up the next. I ended up reading Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis, and The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I didn’t care much for the first, and really enjoyed the latter. They were short books, but honestly it’s a stretch for me to read two books in a year, let alone in a month. I’m a bit of a slow reader. I can make it through five pages before realizing I have absolutely no idea what was written on them. My mind wanders, but luckily I don’t mind turning back the pages and starting over.
Even if I might be a contender for the world’s least efficient reader, it was still an easy goal for the month. More importantly it was an enjoyable one. The month was a nice break from the bordering apocalyptic 24-hour news cycle that 2020 has been, and a reminder that I should probably keep up with it, especially considering how easy it is to do.
Wake up everyday by 7am. Without a doubt, I thought for sure this would be my toughest challenge yet. Historically, I’m the guy who has no fewer than five alarms set to ensure I get out of bed on time, and still manage to be chronically late for work everyday. Anyone who knows me, knows this to be true. My friend George who gets up at some unspeakable hour, threatened to call me every morning, making sure I kept my word. He didn’t call, but to my absolute astonishment, I would have actually been ready for him.
I’ve never been an early riser and I’ve always just chalked that up to not being a “morning person.” But after a month of no screen time past 10pm, followed by a month of waking up at 7am, I was quick to see it had little to do with being a morning person and everything to do with regularly getting to sleep at a decent hour. Regularly is the keyword here, and something I haven’t practiced at all in my adult life.
Getting up at 7am everyday was not only doable, but enjoyable. Can’t believe I’m gonna say it, but I love getting up early. I’m falling asleep within 10 minutes of my head hitting the pillow now. A feat that’s been out of my grasp for a lifetime. And by the time I start work, I’ve already accomplished most of my goals for the day. That feels so, damn, good. It ensures the things I want to get done, are getting done, and that makes me happy.
What started as the monthly challenge I dreaded most, ended up being the one that I benefited most from. At the time of writing this it’s been over two months since started the challenge and I’m glad to say I’ve still been keeping up with it. Hard to believe, but I got out of bed at 6:30am today without an alarm. If there is a Hell, it must be frozen over.
No computer, TV, or smartphone after 10pm. As simple as this challenge was on the surface, it was one of the toughest yet. Still saw it through, but the rules were bent a little.
Alexis likes to wind down and relax with some TV at night. If I was gonna be around her at all on weeknights, I was gonna be watching some TV after 10pm. Made sure I was only a spectator though. When she’d ask what we should watch, I’d only reply, “I have no say in this.” She was very quick to love the month’s challenge.
Other than that, I stuck to it. 10pm on the dot. Most nights I’d be right in the middle of working on the computer, frantically racing to get something just a little bit further before 9:59 flashed 10:00. It was a hard challenge because most nights, maybe every night, I just didn’t want to stop at 10. To sit and create something has been my hobby, profession, and passion for my entire life. A computer is my typewriter, drafting table, brush and paint, hammer and chisel, sound stage and camera, and on, and on, and on. It’s hard for me to step away from it. Always has been. When things start to connect creatively, I can forget to eat, rob myself of sleep, and neglect my relationships. Passion and addiction could probably be siblings.
I ended up spending my newly freed time reading, enjoying my wife’s company, putting thoughts to a page, and catching up on sleep. Stepping away from the screen wasn’t always what I wanted to do, but I think it’s what I needed to do. At the time I’m writing this, I finished the challenge almost two weeks ago, and I’m still generally keeping up with it. Not as strictly as I was, but that’s alright. As hard as I try to make everything be either black or white, I know nothing ever truly is.