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.
My last monthly challenge of 2020 has always been a question mark. Intentionally left open for new ideas that revealed themselves throughout the year. Nearing the end of November though, still hadn’t really had it figured out.
Then one day my friend Jesse texted me out of the blue. He’d been thinking about me, and took a peek at Six Foot Giraffe, which turned into him catching up on my entire year. He let me know how it was really cool what I was doing and how he was excited for whatever my December challenge would be. I told him I still had no idea what it was though, and then he suggested something brilliant.
So that’s how this one came to be. I love video games, always have. The medium sits at the intersection of so many interests I’m passionate about. Storytelling, visual art, technology. Thing is, I really don’t play very often at all. I try to stay productive, and playing video games as you can imagine, isn’t exactly conducive to productivity. The way Jesse framed it though, felt like more than just an indulgence, and that was easy for me to get behind.
I played 3 games for the month, all made by independent developers. The first was called Untitled Goose Game. You play as a goose wreaking comedic havoc on a small and quaint english town. Totally ridiculous, totally fun. It was largely developed by just 3 people. The second was Kentucky Route Zero. A kinda off-beat, point-and-click, absolutely visually stunning interactive novel. The game took 10 years to make, and also developed mostly by only 3 people. I loved it. The last was Darq, a puzzle-platformer made almost entirely by a single person.
I had fun with it and truthfully Jesse was right, it was well deserved after a solid year of focus. Seeing what just a few people, or even just a single person is capable of in game development has been inspiring, but simultaneously daunting. I honestly don’t know that I’ll be able see it through, but I know I have to try. It helps knowing it’s possible if I work hard enough, and want it bad enough. Guess time will sort if those two boxes get checked off or not.
You’ve Got to Walk by the Bedquilt Ramblers. One of the many beautiful and haunting songs composed for Kentucky Route Zero that caught my ear.
With the way these monthly challenges have played out for me, I actually ended up finishing everything I set out to do this year by the end of October. That kinda leaves me in the bonus round now. Without any concrete plan, I thought I’d give keeping a dream journal a shot.
It wasn’t something I had a burning desire to do, but I was curious enough about it, so why not. The idea was just to write down what I could remember the instant I woke up everyday. That was it. I learned pretty quick that deviating at all from that plan meant forgetting everything, no matter how vivid the dream might have been. I wouldn’t think It’d be possible to forget my dream in the 2 minutes between rolling out of bed and flushing the toilet, but I have plenty of blank entries that prove otherwise.
I don’t think there’s such a thing as not dreaming. There’s only not remembering. So long as I made sure to reach for the pen and paper the instant I woke up, I had something to write. After paying more attention to my dreams, I saw that they’re always disjointed. A lot of different storylines happening one after the other, that are in no way connected. Like flipping through channels on a television. In those cases I only wrote down what stood out most each day.
I’ve never been able to make much of my dreams, and this month wasn’t any different. I can try to analyze what watching a monster-truck-sized horse trapped in a stadium surrounded by people throwing spears at it from the stands for their own entertainment means, or I can just accept the novelty and spontaneity of it and go about my day. I choose the latter. Dreams are weird, and I don’t think they mean much, but it’s fun to experience them. Making an effort to remember them was interesting but probably not something I’ll be keeping up with. At least not regularly. In the end, it was something new, and that’s all I was really going for.
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.
One of my resolutions this year was to learn Unreal Engine. We’re in October now and I feel like I’m getting somewhere with it. Over the past few months I’ve been using the software to make a game, but really making a game to learn the software.
This screenshot is from a game I’ve been working on. It’s a long ways from being shippable, but it marks real progress that took a lot of time and effort to arrive at. So much so, that it limits what I can do on Six Foot Giraffe. I don’t want to stop posting here, but don’t want to slow my progress any more than I have to either. Truthfully at this moment, I’m not even interested in doing anything else anyways.
I’ve worked in the field of design, particularly for motion graphics and advertising for over 13 years now. Enough time to have gotten very good at it, and well paid for it. I still like the work, but for the most part it’s not as thrilling as it once was. Back when I was just a Junior Designer and still coming up in my career, it was more pleasure than it was work. Where 10 hour days still weren’t enough to get my fill. Everyday I was learning something new and becoming a stronger designer than I was the day before. It was thrilling, and it was addicting.
These past few months of learning and exploring Unreal Engine has me feeling that long lost excitement again. Even in the those moments where it’s not going smoothly, I still find it so exciting to learn something I wasn’t able to do the day before. That’s the gist of why I really don’t want to do anything else right now. Like I said though, I don’t want to stop posting here either. So the obvious thing to do is to keep posting, but for the most part only about development. Never really done anything like that on Six Foot Giraffe, but I’m giving it a shot and seeing if it takes.
Calling taking a daily photo a challenge feels like a stretch, but that’s what I tried to do the month of September. Somedays I didn’t get around to it, and doubled up on others, but for the most part it was a breeze. Something that comes as no surprise.
I came up with the idea before the pandemic hit, which now impacts the places I go and things I do, and the subject matter of these photos. What I captured ended up being a glimpse of how my days are spent in these weird times. Walks around the neighborhood, watching the world through the windows, exploring the insects in our landscaping, our nightly card games, and even more walks around the neighborhood.
Practicing photography doesn’t seem to hold my attention the same way some of my other creative outlets do. I honestly like editing the photos more than I do taking them. It was fun in the end, but not something I’ll keep up with on a daily basis. Maybe I’ll give it another go in non-pandemic times.
Long Form Project. This one was kind of a loose one. Much of the work I share on Six Foot Giraffe is often made with more of a quantity mindset than a quality one. Quick visual experiments to satisfy a visual or technical curiosity. A post usually doesn’t take me more than an hour or three, from start to finish, and once I call it done, I never revisit it. There are exceptions where I spend a few days on a single longer post with a lot of writing, but in general it’s been a never ending mindset of quantity.
The idea for a long form project month was about seeing what I could come up with when I focused on quality instead of quantity. Coincidentally, as the year wore on, I already found myself working increasingly more and more on just a single project instead of my usual slew of one-offs. At that point, I didn’t know exactly what to do with the month.
As luck would have it though, my website unexpectedly broke one day, and I didn’t know how to fix it. I didn’t know how because I hired someone else to build it a few years back, instead of doing it myself. I reasoned that even if I could patch it up, the site would still have plenty of problems. It was poorly made from the start. So I decided to spend the month redesigning and rewriting the site’s code from scratch. Something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.
It was kind of a tall order considering my knowledge of writing custom code for WordPress was pretty limited. That’s what’s kept me away from dealing with the site’s problems for so long. At first I was breaking more things than I was fixing, but day by day, little by little, I got it figured. My aim was to drastically simplify the site. Making it lightweight, responsive, and bringing what matters most to the foreground. I still have a long list of to-do’s, but it’s a start, and finally a way to take control of a situation that has bothered me for years now. I won’t ever need to hire anyone to touch Six Foot Giraffe again, making it that much more mine, and saving me several thousand dollars in the process. It was 31 days well spent.
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.
Another month, another New Year’s resolution challenge. Two for May actually. I originally set out to forgo eating meat, but I decided to practice yoga everyday too. Yep, I went full Californian.
I’d have to guess the longest I’d ever gone without eating meat is no more than a couple days. Those off days being purely coincidence. The more I’ve learned about the health positive science that supports a vegetarian lifestyle, the more I’ve grown curious about giving it a shot. There’s also the ethical issues with eating meat that are sometimes on my mind. The ones most of us do our best to pretend aren’t there, myself included. For these reasons, I took a crack at it.
I had no trouble sticking to it for the whole month. Didn’t feel like a chore, and didn’t really miss anything either. Somedays though, I didn’t feel like I was eating as lean as I normally would, and I can’t say I always felt as full throughout the day. I’m thinking my inexperience with a meatless diet is more to blame there than a vegetarian lifestyle. Some nights we added a plant based meat with dinner. That helped maintain some familiarity for me. Other nights we made dinners that were so damn good, I’d prefer them to grilled chicken breast any night of the week. Looking at you, sweet potato street tacos. Then there’s the ethics. I don’t know the math, but had I been eating meat, 31 days is more slaughtered animals on my behalf than I’d like to think about. I guess that’s a win, but at the same time hard to swallow knowing it doesn’t bother me enough to swear it off for good here and now.
In the end, I’d call it a successful experiment and I’m glad I did it. It me forced to think about something I’d been avoiding thinking about. I’d like to try it again when we’re not locked down at home in a pandemic though. I think It’d be an entirely different challenge if everything wasn’t prepared at home. Looking forward, I’m gonna to try cutting back on meat. Not entirely, but ideally more regularly. Seems like a reasonable ask for something that’d help my body, my conscience, and the world I live in.
On to the Yoga. I’m not a complete stranger to yoga, but I haven’t practiced any in some time. I wanted to expand my experience with it, and that’s how the challenge came to be. I had it on the books for September, but decided I needed it more sooner than later. We’ve hardly left the house during pandemic. That’s months gone by without my morning bike commute, or my few mile walks on lunch. Felt like a good time roll the yoga mat out.
I aimed to practice at least 15 minutes everyday, and often did more. Missed a day or two when my schedule got a little crazy, but I made it up with longer sessions when I jumped back in. Everyday I’d search Youtube for yoga sequences aimed at whatever I felt I needed most in that moment. That meant a lot of sequences for back pain, which naturally led to a lot of sequences for improving my posture. I had a few back to back nights that I had trouble falling asleep, so I looked up a sequence to help with that, and it did. After the 31 days, I’m not a yoga guru, I can’t balance any better or reach any further. But I learned a good lesson. I’d only ever viewed or used yoga as a form of exercise. Trying my hardest to break a sweat, or I felt like it was useless. This challenge showed me for the first time how to use yoga for relief. God, I’m getting old.
I’m no stranger to cooking chicken on a stove, but just about anything outside of that is foreign territory. A fact that’s always drove Alexis a little crazy. So I challenged myself to cook everyday of April. Seemed like a simple way to make her happy while also learning a thing or two along the way.
I focused on cooking dinners. It ended up not being an everyday event when leftovers were factored in, but it was somewhere a little over twenty days total. Also forgot to take a few pictures.
At the start of the month I was reading and rereading every recipe as if it were a complex math problem. But by the end, I was feeling more loose and fluent with it all and the time between prepping and eating was cut down a lot. Unfortunately after a month of working at it, I’m still not a Michelin Star rated chef. Go figure. The reality is, a lot was learned, I’m better off in the kitchen than I was on day one, and Alexis and I had some fun together.
My biggest takeaways? Recipes can sometimes be more suggestive than prescriptive. Roasted seasoned chickpeas are amazing. Sour cream is in more things than I’d ever known (or like to know). Zesting is a thing. You can never have enough olive oil in the house, but you can certainly have too much of it in a pan. I had the smoke filled kitchen to prove that last one.
I accomplished exactly what I set out to do this past month, and I’m honestly excited to keep up with it and have cooking be a more regular part of our daily life. I just hope the fire department never needs to get involved.
I challenged myself to track everything I ate for all of March. I wanted to get a better idea of what was going in the tank. Calories, nutrients, all that. Figured it’d be an easy one. Wow was I wrong.
Plenty of apps out there help you log what you’re eating and I started using one straight away. Learned pretty quick though, if I wanted accurate measurements, I’d have to do some actual measuring. Who’d have thought? That meant weighing food and preparing every single meal from scratch. That was way beyond what I mentally signed up for, and not really something I was interested in doing. So I quit.
I logged my best guesses of what I was eating, but they were just guesses. It wasn’t working, and I didn’t want to waste the month. So after just a few days I switched gears and took on about as unrelated a challenge I could think of. Learning to play the ukulele.
Alexis got me a ukulele for Christmas a few years back, and it’s hung on my wall untouched ever since. Always wanted to learn it, so figured I’d give it go. I know how to play a guitar, so there’s familiarity there, but it’s still a different instrument. If it were the same, I’d be able to play it the day I got it. I spent around 15 minutes every day watching and playing along with tutorials. Chord shapes, strumming rhythms, and a few songs. Some days even an hour would slip by while I played.
There’s still a lot to learn, but it’s pretty cool to think that just a few weeks ago my ukulele was just wall decoration, but today it’s another outlet for happiness. This one was a lot of fun for me, and I’m so glad I did it. Sure as hell beats weighing chicken breast seven days a week.
Some ukulele playing by yours truly.
I set out to run at least a mile everyday for all of February. I ended up running 26 of the 29 days, totaling just over 76 miles. Did the best I could while still keeping it enjoyable. Never kept track like this, but It’s probably the most I’ve ever run in a month. Says something considering I was once no stranger to 8 mile runs.
I know people hate running. Even the ones who enjoy exercising hate running. It’s always been good to me though, and I’ve learned to appreciate it more as mental than physical. It brings me peace, clarity, and in creative drought brings a flood.
It was a lot for being out of practice and I quickly learned the difference between wanting to run, and having to run. Even still, I had fun with it. Really hadn’t run as regularly as this in years, and can’t really say why. But I missed it.
I’ll probably do something like it again, but in the meantime, I think running more often instead of running everyday suits me just fine. Maybe next time around I’ll go for 100 miles.
As part of a long list of New Year’s resolutions, I challenged myself to no alcohol for all of January. I’ve gone longer stretches without a drink in my twenties, but those years are far and away. Now I’m usually only a week or so from the next one.
I only drink socially, so I’m not drinking too often, but often drinking too much when I do. A truth that at its tamest, has left me hungover on the couch wasting two thirds the day, and at its worst left me having to say I’m sorry. Needless to say, I was excited to take a break and maybe form some better habits along the way.
For the most part, I followed through. I did drink one night, but not to excess. I signed Alexis and I up for a tiki cocktail making class as a birthday gift in December and the class was in January. I wanted to enjoy it as intended, so I had a few tiki cocktails that night. I pushed the challenge another two weeks into February to make it up to myself. So by the numbers, out of 44 days I drank only one night. Can’t let a night ruin a month.
I get I wasn’t moving mountains here, but I really didn’t find the challenge to be very… challenging. The only obstacle was social. Alcohol is a cornerstone of just about every adult social activity out there. I turned down a lot of drinks and nights out over the course of those 44 days. Saying no to friends isn’t fun, but the real ones understand.
I learned that it wasn’t hard to give it up for a bit, but that I’m not interested in giving it up for good. Drinking socially with friends has brought me so much happiness and great memories over the years. Of course there are pitfalls, but there’s been so much more good than bad. It’s reason enough to want to preserve and improve my relationship with alcohol, instead of trying to erase it. These 44 days have been a reminder to drink responsibly, or else not at all, as well as what I stand to lose if I can’t get that figured.
I can feel the eyes rolling across the internet of anyone reading this, but they say writing it down makes it that much more real. What prompted me to do this, other than being the start of a new year, is just how stagnant my days have been feeling. This has been true for a while now. That may seem ridiculous to anyone who knows how my time is spent, and I agree. I’m absolutely doing a lot. I seemingly go to more birthdays in a year than I’ve had birthdays in my life. Always on the move, going here, there, or wherever. Traveling the world with my best friends. Last year I was in 4 new countries, Hawaii twice, Seattle twice, Nashville, Salt Lake City, Zion, Las Vegas and Florida. Laughing and making memories all a long the way. Life is not dull for me, I know this, and I do feel truly grateful for all the color my friends and family bring to my life, and grateful for the vibrancy of those colors.
Still I feel personally stagnant. I don’t feel growth. There are so many things I want to do that I’m not doing. So many things that I want to change that I’m not changing. This is me doing something about that, writing a list like every other starry-eyed sucker at the start of a new year. After thinking on it a while, I came up with three things that I want to strive for everyday of the year.
Learn Unreal Engine. This is a big one. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for years and has the potential to open so many new doors in life. It’ll take a lot of time, energy, and discipline, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t dreading it. Probably why it’s taken me so long to commit to it. But I kinda see it like when I first started learning guitar. Sore fingers, the awful sound of dead strings, and so much frustration. It was a real mess. But I did learn, and all that past frustration ended up bringing me a lot of happiness, still to this very day. So yeah, I’m dreading it. But I’m also hopeful and excited.
Exercise at least every other day. I’ll be 34 this year. At 24 my health and fitness was a very different picture. No question, I’m not as fit or as healthy I was 10 years ago. That doesn’t feel great, but it’s okay. I’m older, responsibilities have multiplied, priorities have shifted. I get it. But days, weeks, or even months gone by without honest exercise just isn’t gonna cut it for me. The goal isn’t working out hours on end, taking bicep measurements in front of a mirror. The goal is just to be more responsible about staying consistently active.
No more hangovers. Yes, this is seriously a goal. Shameful I know. Honestly might be the hardest one! When I drink, it’s very often an amount far and away more than what it should be. I know that. But when I’m in the right social setting, having a great time, it’s a breeze having somewhere in the neighborhood of ten drinks, and not even realizing it. The price is paid tomorrow, and I’m left angry at myself for giving up a day of my life. If I’m gonna take my ambitions seriously, I just don’t have that kind of time to lose anymore. So no more. Simple as that, but not that simple, I’m sure.
I also came up with some monthly challenges. I promise this isn’t self torture. The idea is to kickstart some new habits that I’ve been curious about for a long time. To see how they make me feel, what they teach me, and if any of them stick. I’m excited for them all. Well, all of them but maybe that 7AM wake up time (like I said, I can feel the eyes rolling).
The order of the months are meant to compliment the others around them, helping maybe build momentum. December was left open incase I come up something new. Some months will be tough, and some easy. There’ll be setbacks. I’ll miss days, get sick, be traveling, and swamped with freelance. Hate to say it, but there’s even a good chance I might be hungover! There will be days where I just won’t feel up to it. Every month is a suggestion, not a prescription. Guess the trick is not letting a setback become a deal breaker.
That’s what I got. We’ll see, wish me luck.