That’s it for 2022. Made it through another year of monthly challenges and resolutions. Some wins, some losses, and some ideas of what comes next.
I wanted to have a website and announcement trailer finished for my game project, but that was a swing and a miss. It’s in progress, and could just call it done, but it’s close to being something I’m proud of, so I’m going to see it through right. Even though I don’t have it done, it was a good goal to have throughout the year. Kept the ball rolling.
I also meant to start networking with the indie game dev community. Sharing encouragement and constructive criticism for other devs and their projects, as well as putting myself out there and sharing my work with the community. This is something I wanted to do the least, and it showed. I did answer some questions here and there on forums for other devs, but as a whole, can’t say I put much effort towards this one. Being social on social media has just never come naturally to me. Wish I could chalk it up solely to a fear of rejection, since that can be overcome, but I think more than anything it’s a general disinterest in it all. I dont know how you overcome that. What I do know is at some point, I’m gonna need to lean into it, especially if I ever expect my projects to reach an audience. This just wasn’t my year for it.
My last overarching goal for the year was to try and eat vegetarian at least 3 days a week, building on the momentum of the past few years. Some weeks I went over 3 days, some weeks under. I didn’t strictly track this one, so I might be a little over, or I might be a little under for the year, but whatever the case I’m fine with that. What’s important to me was having a lasting mindset throughout the year to try to eat less meat, and I did just that, even if it wasn’t always perfect.
As for my monthly challenges, this marked my third year of exploring them. I started them because I was feeling stagnant. They were meant to spark some change and ideally growth. I’ve certainly learned a lot, from some more than others, and have no regrets about it, but over time I’ve started to question my motivations in continuing them. Some challenges haven’t required much of me, while others were unreasonably demanding. But even the smallest challenges I’ve come up with, still occupy space in my mind and demand my attention. None of which is helping put out the flames of a wildfire that’s been burning through my life for years now.
My marriage has been easy in so many ways, and it’s been hard in others. I’m sure that’s true and natural for just about any marriage, and to expect anything more might just be fantasy. But for us, the hard parts seem to be much harder than they ever should be for anyone. While it’s no one’s fault, it’s been true for a long while now, and it’s been difficult to say the least. Even more challenging is I don’t see any path forward that doesn’t hold even harder times and heavier thoughts on the immediate horizon. Knowing this, I don’t think coming up with a list of monthly challenges is going to help me be fully present for the work ahead. It would do the complete opposite. It would help me ignore and continue to tolerate the challenges of our marriage instead of addressing them. That’s what led me to incorporate these challenges into my life to begin with I think. To stave off that terrible feeling of being lost. I believe a clear heart and mind will yield you direction, like a compass would, but this compass needle is easily disturbed by the noise of distractions.
I’m not setting any resolutions or monthly challenges this year. Instead, I’m going to do my best to be present in my life, to feel it all, to listen to those feelings, and to try and get myself and my wife pointed in the direction, or directions, we need to go. All this said, I’m entering 2023 knowing that this year will probably be the hardest of my life yet. Although in this moment it doesn’t feel all that happy, I’ll say it anyway. Happy New Year.
Few months back, Alexis and I vacationed a week in Florida to spend some time with family. We originally meant to be in Ft. Myers, but Hurricane Ian had other plans. From what I understand, nearly the entire first floor of the condo our family has visited for decades, was under water, and a lot of Estero Island was erased. We came pretty close to canceling Florida all together, but we made some adjustments and saw it through, and I’m glad we did.
We started in St. Pete, specifically to take a boat ride out to visit Egmont Key, home to one of the oldest lighthouses on the Florida Gulf Coast. This is where Alexis and her siblings scattered their mother’s ashes earlier in the year. Although her mom spent her last years in Ohio, she missed Florida terribly. On top of that, she had such an affection for lighthouses, that you had to see her ceramic collection to believe it. Can’t think of a better place for her to rest. We spent the afternoon reflecting and exploring the key for a few hours before our boat had to take us back. A cover of Springsteen’s Atlantic City played no less than four times on our 40 minute ride across the water. It became a bit of an anthem for the trip, as well as a running joke to this day. Before leaving St. Pete, we discovered a strange species of seagull that had a striking resemblance to Danny DeVito, which we appropriately gave the scientific name of Danny DeSeagull.
For the rest of our trip, instead of Estero Island, we stayed at a beach house we rented on Anna Maria Island. We planned on having a good amount of friends and family come visit. Nine adults and four kids. There were a lot of us, but we made it a priority to get a place big enough to keep us all comfortably under the same roof. It turned out great. The kids declared they wanted to live there forever, so we must’ve done something right.
We walked the pier, drank pool side, marveled at lightning storms, caught sunsets, fired up the grill, built castles, dug holes, chased the kids, were chased by the kids, and astonishingly avoided getting sunburned. Not pictured is the half mile long trench I dug on the beach by pulling the kids in a wagon with wheels that absolutely refused to turn in sand. I’ll be damned if I let those kids think I’m not invincible though.
With as much fun was we had, it’s hard to believe we were ever considering canceling the trip. There’s a lesson to be learned somewhere in there. We know we’re supposed to spend time with our family, but sometimes you forget just how much fun it can be. Thankful we could make it happen, and thankful for the memory of us all sleeping under the same roof, together as family.
I’m so far behind in chronicling my monthly challenges that much of my being wanted to just give up on this aspect of it entirely, but damnit, I made a commitment. My October challenge was to participate in Inktober again. It went how it usually does. Excitement leading up to it. Mild dread halfway through. Pride in the end. I’ve done this one so many times over by now, you’d think there isn’t much more to learn from it. But these little doodles always help me better express or understand my thoughts, feelings and experiences. If you spend enough time looking in, you’re bound to see something new. That’s why no matter how many times I do it this one, it’ll always have something to give.
I tried intentionally meditating for the first time in my life about a year ago. The experience I had was mostly positive and I kept up with it for a bit, though slowly but surely, I practiced it less and less. Meditation is hard work, and I don’t mind that, but this work didn’t always feel like it was paying a fair wage. I know it has power though, and I’ve still been curious, so I set out to dig a little deeper.
I spent some time in September exploring some more, and took Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Masterclass on mindfulness and meditation. The guy’s a character, and I enjoyed it. A lot of the course was high level and easy to understand, like the idea of mindfulness being the awareness that arises from being present. A lot of the course felt very nebulous to me though. Ideas that are hard to grasp by simply listening or even doing. One of the more potent things that stuck with me, was the work he’d done teaching mindfulness to prison inmates. Particularly how the men reacted, which led him to describe the experience as if “he were giving food to starving people.” Such a powerful idea. It quickly had me looking inward, wondering what parts of me are dying of starvation and atrophying, even while my body outwardly stands tall and strong.
I took this course months ago but have managed to maintain practicing mindfulness regularly. The trick in making this work sustainable for me this time around, was realizing that sitting or laying meditation, which is what I’ve typically practiced, is just not for me. Instead I’ve found walking meditation, in part thanks to my friend George. I find it much more natural to be aware and present when in motion. Always have. Don’t know why it took so long for me to put together that I’ve had more success entering a state of mindfulness running my third mile than I ever had laying on my back with my eyes closed. Now a few times a week I listen to guided meditation while I walk a few miles through my neighborhood, in the middle of my workday. I often feel refreshed and clear headed after. It’s not a silver bullet that works every time, but this time around, it at least feels like work that pays a fair wage.
My solo indie dev project that I’ve been calling Greenfield is still happening. Taking up nearly all the free time I ration for creative pursuits. I’ve often heard the analogy of a hard thing being like pushing a boulder up a mountain. This project feels like that, but this mountain seemingly has no summit. Just keeps going up. A truth that’s made Six Foot Giraffe really hard to keep up with. I remind myself though, that this project I’m pouring so much energy into can fail. Creatively by falling short of my vision for it, and or financially as an indie game competing in an ocean of other games. And that’s assuming I can even finish it. It’s not hard to imagine that I may regret pursuing this, no matter how enamored I am with the process in this moment.
On the other hand, the work I do here on Six Foot Giraffe will never be something I regret. What I make and share here today compounds its value to me down the road, many times over. When my years past inevitably become just an impressionistic blur, it’ll be here that I’ll find my long lost thoughts and feelings, in full focus. I’ve been at this long enough now that this isn’t just a theory. I am already experiencing it. So let this be a reminder to myself not to quit.
We were already more than halfway across the country for my cousin’s wedding, so we figured we may us well just keep on going. We spent nearly a week in New York to catch up with Alexis’ brother Tony, Olivia and our Godson Gnarly. We stayed in an Airbnb they manage, in the same building they live in, in Green Point. It was a homerun and really let us get the most out of our time together.
In all my visits to New York, this trip was the closest I’ve ever come to grasping what it might actually be like to live there. From getting around, to spending time where I’d probably be hanging out, and of course speculating how far your money can go. Or more accurately how far it doesn’t. There was a lot of walking, lot of exploring. More so than any of my past long weekend or whirlwind work New York trips. I think my clearest takeaway was just how hard living there must be. Financially, physically, mentally. At least relative to my own day to day. Some abstract promise of New York City has always sat firmly in the back of my mind though. Always the thought that maybe someday I’d live there and truly experience it. I still feel it even now, but the door to that life has just about closed I think. I did it backwards. Los Angeles should’ve been the reward for putting in years of surviving in New York City. Luckily, we’ve got airplanes and some New Yorkers that’ll always be glad to see us.
It wasn’t a quick trip, but it felt that way. In other words, we had fun. Exploring the Whitney, strolling Central Park, treking through Green Point, conquering bridges and obviously eating and drinking to excess some of the best a neighborhood had to offer. I also quickly learned my new favorite mode of transportation in New York City is the Ferry. Most important of all though, we saw the ones we’d been missing, which is exactly what we set out to do. Thanks for having us.
Marco and Kelly tied the knot. We laughed, we drank, we photo-boothed, and we most certainly danced. It was a fun night and we were thankful to have been included. Although the majority of my extended family lives in Illinoise, I don’t get out that way too often. It was a great chance to make some fun memories with plenty of aunts, uncles, and cousins that I hardly see. From dropping in on my Uncle Vince and Aunt Enza’s restaurant for a quick cannoli, to gathering in full force at my Aunt Marie’s house for Italian beef sandwiches, where Uncle Santo uncorked a few bottles of his homemade wine.
I’m kicking myself for not getting any photos from the day we spent at my Aunt Susie and Uncle Perry’s house with the Smith branch of the family. I blame the lapse of judgement on those martinis Aunt Susie whipped up for us.
All around, a quick but potent long weekend. Congrats Marco and Kelly, and thanks for having us.
The Cohen’s invited us to crash their family vacation in Gearhart, a small town on the Oregon Coast. They’ve stayed at this particular beach house a few times over, but it was a first for Alexis and I. It’s absolutely gorgeous out there. I’m no stranger to a beach and lived most of my years within a few miles of one, but it really feels unique out there. Simultaneously lush and harsh.
We spent our days eating, drinking, exploring, playing games, sort of flying a kite, losing sandals, and doing our best to entertain Della while simultaneously falling under the spell of her charm. She’s a little maniac, in the best of ways, that is growing up much too fast for the frequency we get to see her.
Of course, as sure as the sun rises, I spent an unreasonable amount of time in the hot tub. It wouldn’t be vacation otherwise. Possibly a collective 8 hours in one day. I have sources that could verify, but my sunburn was probably evidence enough. Think I also broke a record for the fastest I’ve ever exited of a hot tub. All it took was Jason pretending to throw the live crab he just caught into the water with me. Speaking of, the ordeal he went through to catch that crab could be worthy of multi-part docuseries.
We made sure to explore Cannon Beach nearby, mainly to hunt for obligatory photo opportunities featuring scenes from The Goonies. The clouds hung low and the fog was heavy, but it somehow felt ideal. Walking around the town for an hour or two had the predictable effect of me opening Zillow to wonder if a life here could be possible. Most importantly, Alexis finally got to be a Goonie.
After a couple days on the coast, we packed up and headed to Portland, but not before a pitstop in Astoria. Always liked how Astoria sounded. Astoria. Anyhow, we were there hardly two or three hours, but it was just long enough to be charmed by it. The weather was nice, and I wouldn’t guess that to be true a good part of the year. This meant the streets were lively and the people were in good spirits since they got to wear t-shirts and shorts. We had lunch and a drink at a brewery and spent the rest of our time hunting for more Goonies shots. Mikey and Brand’s house, the Astoria Historical Museum where their dad worked, and the jail where the Fratellis busted out of. They even had the iconic Jeep 4×4 parked outside it, bullet holes and all. You better believe Alexis was fired up.
Eventually, we arrived in Portland. We’ve been there before, but haven’t really seen much of it. This trip wasn’t much different in that sense, we were only there two nights, but we stayed in an area new to Alexis and I, the same goes for what and where we ate. Demystifying the city just a little bit more for us. In that spirit of making it count, when the girls decided to get their nails done one day, and everyone else opted for a nap, seemed like a chance to take in what I could on foot. Ended up being a lot of walking on a hot day, but I had no trouble finding a shaded patio and a cold beer to counter the sun. You absorb so much more when the world isn’t rushing past a car window. Always worth the price of adding a few miles to your shoes. While I do wonder how the people who actually live there feel about that saying “Keep Portland Weird,” I know that I love the spirit of it, and walking around, I felt it.
Another reason we wanted to spend some time in Portland was because our friend Jon lives there now. He moved from Seattle with his girlfriend Margret and they bought a house. We finally got to see it, and it’s lovely. He’s really carved out a nice life there. He showed us around some of his usual stomping grounds too. We dined, we drank, we gamed, and we watched Jon eat the scariest hot-dog any of us have ever seen.
Just a few hours before we were set to leave, we stopped off at a park and met up with some old friends, Erin and Jamie, who I knew from when I was in college and who Drew knew when he was in high school. That’s a strange sentence that honestly kinda touches on the confusion of how we’re all connected. It could probably warrant a scientific study, but that’s for another time. Anyhow, none of us had seen each other in a longtime, and it was nice it happened. They introduced us to their kids, Ruby who was so young and tiny that sleep seemed to be her biggest priority, and Elliot who might’ve held the coveted spot as the coolest kid on the playground that day. Sporting shades, a hat and jean-jacket speckled with cool kid patches all over it. He demanded a high-five from me before we left, which if I’m being honest, made me feel like a million bucks.
It’s with that, that our Oregon adventure came to a close. We got our photos, made our memories, and became honorary members of the Cohen clan. The last of which, I determined by Della being able to individually pick us out and point to us from a lineup when she heard our names. I was tempted to shave my beard to really put her to the test, but I also don’t want to be the uncle that inadvertently traumatizes her. Anyhow, thankful for these trips, thankful for these friends, and after nearly a week, thankful to sleep in our own bed.
One second of video, every day, for 30 days. That was my monthly challenge for June. Inspired by my friend Duncan, who’s been capturing one second of video everyday, for over 8 years now. 8 years! Can’t say doing it for only a month was much of a challenge for me, or that I learned much, but I did have fun doing it, and that was the whole idea.
I did have some more exciting days that were harder to pick one second over another, but for the most part I didn’t have too much going on outside my normal routine. Turned out to be a pretty accurate representation of what I’m doing and seeing, day to day. Not wildly exciting right now, but the years do have a way of compounding the importance of things like this.
If I had to say something I learned from it, guess it’d be that you really don’t need to lug a big camera around to capture some good looking video, like I normally would when we travel. Of course I’ll still do exactly that, but it’s nice to know, ya know? Anyways, “Those are rats.”
I didn’t “make” these images. In fact, no one did. They were generated using artificial intelligence. It’s like searching something in Google Images, but instead of using text to find an image, you’re using text to make the image. It’s mind blowing to put it mildly.
These were literally generated in seconds, and in multiple variations. Something not quite right with a result? Refresh it and instantly see another 4 completely unique variations, in any art style, from illustrative to photorealistic. And again, and again, and again. Simply put, there is no designer in the world capable of working this quickly or efficiently.
You can imagine how thoughts about my future job security quickly and wildly spiraled out of control. The more I thought about it though, and the more I played with it, I started to understand and accept it as one more tool in the toolbox. As a practical example, I generated these images to help me visualize and concept some environments that have been living almost exclusively in my mind for my indie game project. The speed this tool allowed me to iterate and test concepts, as well as simultaneously be inspired by the generated visuals themselves, is just unbelievable. It’s as if I suddenly have an army of designers working for me, ready and waiting for my art direction. Truly transformative. Not something to fear, but something to embrace.
This video does a good job of explaining how it all works. In a lot of ways, and especially after watching that video, I feel like this technology strengthens the thought that nothing is original. That everything is inspired by something. I’m sure my thoughts and feelings about it all will continue to evolve, as will the technology. It’s a new frontier with some very clear pitfalls and I’m sure ones yet to be revealed, but for now I’m just enjoying playing with this thing, staying up way, way later than I should be in doing so.
Alexis’ mom passed away a few weeks ago. Much sooner than any of us should have to leave. Her name was Elizabeth, but family called her Lisa. It’s been hard to witness the emotional and physically toll Lisa’s passing took and continues to take on Alexis. Mostly it’s had me feeling helpless. Especially leading up to it. Understandably, there are certain weights that just can’t be lifted from the shoulders of the ones we love, no matter what we do or say.
Alexis had a complicated relationship with her mom, but even still, one that was rooted in love, and had countless moments that shone bright all the same. Unfortunately, I can’t say I knew her as well as I would have liked to myself. Over the years though, I did get to know her secondhand through stories Alexis would tell me about her childhood. Her Mom’s obsession with the movie Titanic. Her abundant and quirky sense of humor. How every time she used a strangers driveway to make a 3-point turn and headlights briefly flooded a house she’d say, “Don’t put the coffee pot on, we’re not staying!”
The days we spent sorting through and organizing her belongings after she was gone, grew my sense of knowing her even more. I learned she was a beautiful writer. She wrote a lot of poetry. She was a singer in a few bands as a teenager. She had many struggles. She held on to the smallest things from her children, which spoke volumes for how much she loved them. I also learned she was crazy about lighthouses! Just when we thought we’d collected and packed up all the lighthouses, of all shapes and sizes, without fail a few more would pop up somewhere. Over the course of a few days, we’d always laugh discovering a new lighthouse. A welcomed lighter moment in heavy days.
One of my favorite memories with Lisa was when we all went miniature golfing together. It was Alexis, myself, Her sister Elizabeth, our niece Scarlett, Grandma Nancy, and of course Lisa. Somehow I wound up with the tiny pencil and score card. After each hole, without fail, Lisa would check in to make sure I marked her score at least a stroke or two better than Grandma’s, regardless of what anyone shot. All the while, Grandma Nancy was asking me to do the same for her. Back and forth, and back and forth. Adjusting scores from four holes ago if need be! It was only my second time ever meeting them, so I was eager to please and in turn sweating bullets cooking the books. In the end, I think to keep all parties happy I declared Scarlett the winner, who couldn’t have been more than 5 years old at the time. It was a fun memory, and I think a testament to her fun loving spirit and humor.
It’s been a hard few months and weeks, and I’m left saddened this happened but thankful to have been able to stand tall by my wife’s side when she needed me most. In the end, I’m incredibly inspired by Alexis’ strength under such crushing weight of grief and responsibility. She’s navigating uncharted waters in her life, and doing so with as much grace as anyone one of us could ever hope for when it comes our own time to do so ourselves. Goodbye Lisa, we love you and will miss you.
My Dad flew across the country to grab a beer with me on St. Patrick’s Day. One of the many perks of him being retired now. It was a quicker trip than he’d usually make to California, but we made the most of it. We ate the tacos, hopped the bars, talked the talk, explored the neighborhoods, poured the saké, watched the movies, clinked the glasses, and got a good look at the Pacific. Think I’ve also logged enough hours listening to my father go on about the never ending, infinite complexities of College Basketball March Madness, that at this point I might actually be able to pass as one of the talking heads on ESPN.
One of the brighter burning highlights came to be when just a day or two before my Dad got here, I learned that Flogging Molly was one of his favorite bands. As luck would have it, they were playing St. Patrick’s Day at the Palladium in Hollywood. I knew if we went it’d mean staying out way too late and drinking way too much, but damn it, life needs some living. So I got us some good seats, and after seeing the pit below and feeling the relief on our backs, I might consider it to be one of the greatest purchases I’ve ever made. One of the opening bands was from Ukraine, and given current events, the people were BEYOND fired up. It was a fun show, and most importantly, Dad got to cross off seeing Flogging Molly on St. Patrick’s day.
My Dad and I talk pretty often, but I’m not exactly sure the last time just the two of us spent this much uninterrupted time together. Maybe our cross country drive when I made the move to California 15 years ago. This little adventure has been a reminder that I should strive to make this happen more often. We had a great time, and I’ve got the photos to prove it. My favorite of which is Dad using chopsticks for only his second time ever for his “raymen” noodles.
“They are playing Taps now. I used to think it sounded nice but all those bugle calls sound different when you are on the inside.”
My Aunt Janet recently shared this letter with me, and I’m so thankful she did. My Grandfather wrote it to his future mother in law, while he was at Ft. Riley, Kansas. I’m assuming it was the first place he was sent after being drafted. Seems he wrote this just before he was shipped off to Europe. Never really heard him talk much about this time of his life. Don’t know if that’s because he didn’t care to, or just because I never asked. Sure wish I had though. Think he was Twenty years old when he wrote this. It’s hard to imagine, considering what I was doing at Twenty. Anyhow, I really enjoyed this small window into a big moment of his life, and felt like it should be preserved.
I know, a years end reflection post shared halfway through January isn’t exactly timely, but it takes more time to make the internet than to consume it I guess. In any case, 2021 is over and I’m still here, which means I survived my second annual long list of resolutions and monthly challenges. My main goal was to have no zero percent game development days. This meant doing something every single day to get closer to the dream of developing and publishing my own game. Even if there was only a few minutes to spare some days, and even if I didn’t have access to my computer. I set this goal because game development is still so new to me and it’s been hard to gauge how much time and effort is really required to create what I’m envisioning. Figured a year straight of dedication would give me a better idea. To answer whether or not the dream is even possible. I stayed pretty true to the goal, and I do have my answer now. The answer is yes, I can do this, but it’s going to take a really, really long time. Years. It’s clearly an amount of work that isn’t meant for a single person, especially when it’s not a full-time job. It’s all really tough, and all really time consuming. Thing is, I have so much fun doing it. So long as that stays true, and I hope it does, then I’m going to keep at it. This goal has shown me that it’s okay if it takes a really, really long time to see this through, because clearly it’s supposed to.
Another goal I had was to read more books. I aimed to read at least every other day. Somedays I missed the mark while plenty others I read back to back to back. So a bit of a wash. I read four books, nothing short of a miracle given my reading track record. Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikalsen, recommended by my wife Alexis. Let’s Talk About Hard Things by Anna Sale. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. I enjoyed them all. Those last two were also recommends from my friend Kelsie. Glad I made reading a priority for the year and plan to keep the goal alive. I got a lot more back from it than what I put in, and that shouldn’t be ignored.
My last stretch goal for the year was to eat vegetarian at least two days a week. Inspired by a challenge I had in 2020 to eat vegetarian for a month straight. Making it a part of my year long resolutions was meant to be a small, painless step towards changing a personal habit, where the cement has already been dried a long, long time. For the most part I made good on what I set out for. Some weeks I slipped up, but others I exceeded my modest goal of 2 days a week. I have every intention of keeping this one going with more effort, more nuance and more intention along the way.
For my monthly challenges, I did everything I set out to do at the start of the year. You can read my rambling thoughts about those experiences here. I left December open for any ideas that I might’ve come up with along the way. What I ended up doing for the month was… well, nothing at all. Innovative, I know. More specifically, I committed to not commit to anything. It was an everything in moderation, even moderation itself, kind of month. Capping off a year of discipline with a little rest and indulgence. I stayed up late, slept in, skipped workouts, ate the bad things, you name it. A good change of pace for me, but one that had me ready to get back on the rails by the end of it.
Looking back on the year, I’d say I learned a lot. Formed some better habits along the way too. Glad I took it all on. Out of everything though, the one thing I still can’t understand, a true mystery for the ages, is just what in God’s name I was thinking when I decided to take 60 second showers for an entire month.
We traveled to Florida in late October to spend some long overdue time with family. Our first stop was Anna Maria Island to see Alexis’ siblings and nieces. We spent our time exploring the island, chartering a boat, swimming, grilling, building a sand metropolis, carving pumpkins, and getting our Halloween costumes good and sandy. It’s not everyday we get this group together in the same room, so I designed (under Alexis’ supervision) some commemorative shirts for some added fun. By our last day I even got called “Uncle Kyle” a few times, which is always as equally terrifying as it is heartwarming.
After a few days we were off to Estero Island to see my parents at our family timeshare, where one Smith or another has been making memories at for over 35 years. Here we got a few good sunsets in, tore across the Gulf of Mexico on some jet skis, and drank an amount of alcohol that would be cause for concern if we weren’t on vacation. We were also lucky enough to catch up with some aunts, uncles and cousins who we rarely get to see, but who were also vacationing on the island.
Before we headed back to California we had just enough time to clink glasses and crack some jokes with my brother, as well as drop in on some friends in Fort Lauderdale. It was a long trip, that went by all too fast, which is really just a roundabout way of saying, we had a great time.
Our self-professed full blown Formula 1 maniac of a friend, Duncan, had an idea to get the gang together for a Formula 1 race happening in Austin, Texas. He’s as old now as his dad was when he died, so he wanted to celebrate life, and we wanted to help him do that. Wasn’t long then till our friend Drew took the reins and made this seed of an idea into a full itinerary. The next thing I knew, I was dropping my bag in a hotel room at a city I’d never been before and heading to the rooftop bar to hug some pals who just flew in from about every corner of the country. Some of which I hadn’t seen in a long while. We were only in Austin 4 nights, and this was a few months ago now, but I’m still hesitant to say I’m fully recovered from it. To put it simply, we made it count.
Our first full day was as full it gets. This was the qualifying race day, and it started a little later than the actual race on the following day would. What this meant was, we had some time to fulfill a dream that many of us have harbored our whole lives. Having Texas Barbecue in Texas. We settled on Terry Black’s BBQ by recommendation of Drew who ironically doesn’t eat meat, but luckily happens to be an avid reader of the internet. It was a home run.
When it was time to head over to the track, we had a “party bus” take us there. A better description would’ve been “decommissioned public transit bus, with a few string lights.” It was perfect. Couldn’t ask for much more sipping a drink and watching the view through our windows grow increasingly more wide and rural with every passing mile. When we arrived at the grounds and stepped off our bus, we were still at least a ten minute walk to the gates. But the thing was, you could already hear the surreal harmony of engines in the distance. And it truly was surreal. Like nothing I’d ever heard. I turned wide eyed to Duncan to find him silently nodding with a smile. The feeling you get hearing those cars before you see them, growing louder with each step towards your destination, made me understand why people are into this. It’s powerful and it’s exciting.
Not only have I never been to a Formula 1 race, but I’d never been to any race at all. The track was enormous, with even more space surrounding it. This meant a lot of walking. Even with all that space we were still somehow just about bumping into people the whole time. Our friend Tyler put it well when he looked over at me and said, “This is very… covidy.” Apparently 400,00 people were in attendance that weekend. By the grace of God, we had seats with backs on them when we needed to seek refuge.
Although it was just the qualifying day, the powers at be upped the ante a bit and set Billy Joel to headline the night. I’m not a die-hard Billy Joel fan, but I know the hits and know how to have a good time at a show. His iconic Piano Man however, stands in a league of its own for me. I keep it in the company of some of my very favorite songs ever recorded. I’ve sung it at karaoke more time than I can remember, and hearing it live was really something. But what happened next could only be described as divine intervention, or just surgical precision planning. Just as he sang “It’s Nine o’clock on a Saturday,” I looked at my watch, and it was Nine o’clock and it was on a Saturday and then I lost my goddamn mind. The best example I can think of that captures the full range of emotions I experienced as this realization hit, comes from this masterclass of acting. It was a bucket list item I didn’t know I had.
Our ride back from the track was what could only be described as a post apocalyptic party school-bus. The driver at one point asked if one of us could literally pull on some cables by his feet for him because somewhere along the highway the gas pedal stopped working. Hell of a ride, but we still managed to stop off at a barcade for some games and a few more drinks, eventually getting back to our hotel, all in one piece.
The next day, was the actual race. The stakes were higher, the crowds were denser and people were FIRED UP. Duncan guided us through the in’s and outs of the drama unfolding in realtime, while I asked him in what way was Harry Potter related to Formula 1, since the word “Petronas” is seen everywhere. As uninvested as I was in the sport, I still found myself on my feet and cheering like a maniac for the last few laps. It shaped up to be a pretty dramatic battle between the top two contenders. I knew it’d be a fun experience, but I was surprised at just how fun it all really was. Also didn’t hurt that Duncan’s team won, and really that’s all that mattered to the rest of us.
Race day started and ended a lot earlier than the previous day, so by the time everything wrapped up at the track we still had plenty of daylight to kill. Most of us spent it floating in our hotel’s rooftop pool, with more drinks than any of us probably needed. It wasn’t long then till we headed off to celebrate Drew’s birthday at dinner followed up by a fancy cocktail bar, flaming drinks and all.
On our last full day, I found a little time to explore the city on foot, making the capitol building my loose destination. About a mile or so in, I learned that “Texas Heat” is not just a marketing buzzword for hot sauces. Jeans were a poor choice that day. Luckily, we booked out an air conditioned theater to see Dune, as guys do on a guys trip. We had a food and alcohol limit to hit during the screening which basically equated to everyone eating and drinking way too much, and almost brawling discussing whether or not Dune was or was not a good movie. It was a great time.
For our last night, we went to an Idles show. Most of us didn’t know the band very well, but our friend Drew did, and it only ever takes one of us to care about something for the rest of us to get behind it too. Of course it was a fun time, and the braver among us even pushed their way to the front where things get rough. It’s a miracle we ever saw them again.
Our last morning was spent packing up and saying our goodbyes in the lobby. It’d be fair to say we were all pretty much just fantasizing about our couches and takeout by this point. It was a fun, exhausting, memory filled trip that could’ve only happened when you get this group together. Like I said, we made it count. Most importantly of all though, is that our self-professed, full blown Formula 1 maniac of a friend, Duncan, had the absolute time of his life, celebrating life.
Bonus: Michael surprised us all with a fun video he cut together on his flight back home, what a guy huh?
We had some fun out in Joshua Tree with friends on a long weekend in late September. It was exactly what I’ve come to expect when you get this crowd together. Good laughs, good food, good drinks, and good memories. Of course I also spent a life-threatening amount of time in the hot tub. Wouldn’t be a weekend getaway otherwise. It’s a nice thing when your agenda for the day doesn’t equate to much more than watching the setting Sun and the rising Moon.
The house we stayed at and particularly the surrounding scenery, was out of this world. With a little color correction, it could probably serve as a backdrop for an alien planet in some sci-fi film. The landscape always seems so surreal out there, no matter how many times I’ve seen it. This felt especially true because of how secluded the house was. Trying to spot any other man made structures on the horizon felt like playing “Where’s Waldo.” A welcomed change from my everyday sights.
We did venture out toward some civilization one night to see Modest Mouse play at Pappy and Harriet’s. I seemed to miss the Modest Mouse train when I was younger and don’t know much else outside their hits. Even still, it was a really fun show and didn’t hurt that it was at a pretty unique venue. The Districts were the opening band. I’d never heard them before but glad we caught them. Been listening to them on and off ever since.
Cheap Regrets by The Districts
After a few days dehydrating ourselves in the desert, we headed back to Los Angeles for one last outing before we all went our separate ways. James Blake at the Hollywood Bowl. If I’m being honest, I had absolutely no idea who this guy was. Thing is though, The Bowl is a truly magical place, and in my experience it doesn’t really matter who’s playing. So long as it’s a nice night out, you’re gonna have a great time, and we did exactly that. Also didn’t hurt that our seats were absurdly close considering the layout and capacity of the Hollywood Bowl. We’ve got a friend who’s a good guy to know, to say the least.
Our friends Jenn and Duncan even flew down from Sacramento for the night to join in. I know, sounds exhausting. Thing is, they have three kids, and I have to imagine a chance to catch up with friends and have some adult conversation for a change, is a juice well worth the squeeze. Glad they made it and even more glad I get to be in the company of friends like these.
Today’s our wedding anniversary. We celebrated by getting out of town and exploring Laguna Beach this past weekend. Four years married now, and Ten years since the first time we kissed. A decade gone by and I’m still crazy for her and driven crazy by her. She’s still my favorite person, and I still get caught up in her beauty just the same as the first time I ever saw her. I can also say with great pride, that I still know how to crack her up on a dance floor, largely with the same set of moves all these years later.
Might not have seemed it at the time, but getting married was the easy part. Staying married, well that’s where it gets tricky. Marriage might just be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Hard to know if that’s because I’ve had an easy life, or because marriage is just plain hard work. Maybe it’s both. But in any case, it’s been my experience that the hard things we choose to do willingly, are always the most rewarding in the end.
I tried to pick out just one photo from each year of our story together. It was a challenge to say the least. Been so many bright spots along the way. Plenty of ties for first place. A lot of these photos didn’t even exist on Six Foot Giraffe to begin with, and that just felt like a bit of a crime to me. So here they are, not just safe and sound in my heart and mind anymore, but here too, for when the years start to get too far away from us. Happy Four to us.
Finally got around to editing some footage from Fourth of July weekend two years ago. My turnaround time for these has really fallen off a cliff, but better late than never. We hiked, barbecued, boated, bowled and found ourselves entertaining a bar full of strangers at karaoke. With twenty of us on a boat and plenty of drinks in hand, it’s a miracle nobody fell overboard. Happy Fourth everyone.
My Grandfather passed away a little over two weeks ago. My Dad’s father and the only Grandfather I’d ever known. His name was James Patrick Smith. He was just shy of 89 Years old. A long life that above all else, defined him as a devoted husband, and a father loved by his five children. He was as hard working as they come. Legend has it, he hadn’t taken a day off work for 40 Years. A child of the Great Depression who cleaned his plate even if what was on it wasn’t always his favorite. Though, it’d be hard to know if he didn’t like something, since he never complained about a thing. He loved long walks, opera, football, and literally anything that concerned chocolate. He had a booming deep voice, and his laugh could fill every room of the house, and he laughed often. He always wore a wrist watch. I think he always understood the weight of time, which led him to always have a camera in hand or video recorder resting on his shoulder at any family gathering, which he and my grandmother always made a priority.
He filled many roles for many people, but to me he was someone I affectionately called Gramp. I had the good fortune of being born while my parents were still young, and my grandparents still only in the first half of their 50s. Still full of life and vigor. I’ll forever be grateful for that. An experience many of my cousins didn’t have. I wouldn’t be surprised if my brother and I even kept my grandparents a little younger, for a little longer. We’d spend entire weekends there with them. Together we’d play games, watch movies, indulge in all kinds of sweets, explore our town and soak up anything they told us like sponges. We were just about spoiled rotten. We loved it, and we loved them.
I remember a particular fascination I had with my Grandfather’s hat. So much so that when anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d tell them with unwavering certainty, a door-to-door hat salesman. It was a simple bucket hat he’d wear on his commute from the suburbs to downtown Chicago by train each day for work. When I was there on weekdays, I couldn’t wait for him to walk through the door to get my hands on that hat. As the story goes, I’d sometimes get a little impatient, and just use my imagination and put the dog bowl on my head instead. Regardless of how much dog food was already in it. When he’d finally come charging through the door, he’d always make this boisterously triumphant trumpet sound announcing his arrival. I’d run to meet him and in one swift motion he’d move his hat from his head to mine. Looking back on it, it’s clear I was just like any child wanting to wear the costume of a super hero they idolized. It must have made him feel fantastic.
As I got older, it was clear I didn’t fit the exact mold of some of the things he valued, whether that be having an interest in sports, being an ace student, or being involved with the church. Hell, I don’t even like chocolate that much. But none of that mattered and I know he was proud of me all the same, and know because he’s expressed that. Particularly, he was proud I chose to turn my passion into my career, and pursued my own kind of happiness.
In the end, I believe he was ready to go. His mind was still razor sharp, but his body had long been in decline. But beyond all else, I think he just wanted to be with my Grandmother again. Ever since she passed on, he’d often say with a chuckle something along the lines of, “I don’t know what I’m still doing here!” Particularly whenever I’d call him on his birthday. I can’t think of a more potent explanation of what love is than the sight of my invincible Grandfather crumbling to a thousand pieces as he stood over my Grandmother’s casket. And all this time since, he’s just been stuck at the station, waiting for his train to take him back home to her. Just as he always used to. He was a devout Catholic, and there was no doubt in his mind what he believed to be next for him, and it brings me a great sense of peace, knowing he was at peace himself.
Goodbye Gramp. I love you very much and I’ll never forget you.
Headed up to Big Bear for a long weekend getaway with the Boggs’. We did some light hiking, set a few smoke detectors off cooking, some hot tubbing, some card playing, some star gazing, and gathered around some candles and a fireplace wondering when the power would come back on. We also taught the kids how to play Roulette, for better or for worse. Spencer and Nikki, please, please don’t grow up to be degenerate gamblers. The house always wins.
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.
Our small but plentiful Thanksgiving with the friends we call family. We ate, drank, walked and laughed. Didn’t need much else. Mike volunteered to cook the turkey, even though he’s been pushing himself to pursue a vegan diet this entire year, which reminded me a bit of this scene.