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Not much time for blogging these days.  Oh well…  Here’s another random update from a couple weeks of rather constant entertainment.

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1.  Jennifer and I saw the Kronos Quartet at Emory for $5 about nine days ago (thank you student ticket prices).  It was really quite strange – an avant garde string quartet is an interesting thing to see.  In general, when industrial or post-rock musicians start making a non-musical racket by banging on things and making static sounds for a few minutes, I tune out and/or shut off the music.  But when a group of classically trained musicians decide to perform “Armenia” by Einsturzende Neubauten (essentially three minutes of banging and grinding metal) in the middle of their set, one has to look at it in a very different way.  I must say, though I don’t enjoy it as music, such a thing performed live is actually a very interesting experience.  They also played an eclectic array of other songs – including one of Jim Thirlwell’s many many pieces of monotonous and dreary boredom, a Sigur Ros song, the tune from The Fountain (which they co-wrote with Mogwai), and several with Chinese pipa player Wu Man.  It was simultaneously a very hit or miss set (especially the Wu Man bits, of which there were far too many), and a wonderful performance.

Such is the effect of unpredictability in a sequence of otherwise not particularly good music.  Anyone who has a chance to see them (especially for the tiny amount that I paid) should take the chance.  It’s certainly an uncommon musical experience.

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2. Two nights ago, I went to see the Dan Tyminski Band (sort of a bluegrass supergroup – featuring the man who performed Man of Constant Sorrow for O Brother, Where Art Thou), also with Jennifer.  (In fact, we can pretty much assume she was there too from now on.)  That was also fun.  Although bluegrass is so restricted by its genre conventions that even its most ardent supporters have to admit that it eventually gets monotonous, about 90 minutes of it in live performance is a lot of fun.  All five of the guys onstage (with perhaps an exception for the bass player) were extremely talented, and their rapid picking on the solos was very amusing.  And, of course, the constantly depressing lyrics performed in an ultra-happy way was also nice.  (“He beat her up because she ran around / she shot him and they laid him in the ground / now there’s two kids without a home.”  All sung in a pretty trio.)  It’s fine stuff if you’re in the mood, and one could hardly do much better than this group of guys.  Dan has a nice voice, and the rest of the night is basically a stream of solos in which each person tries to outdo the previous one.  Fun.

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3. About three days ago we had the campus movie fest finale for our particular school.  Suffice to say, we did not win (although we were nominated for Best Picture).  The whole thing was an appalling experience.  If you’ve ever wanted to relive the experience of high school (a bunch of idiots with no taste using laughter as a popularity contest) – and really, who wants to do that – then feel free to attend one of these things.

It was nice to see our film on the screen, but everything else was a real struggle.  Crappy movies, crappy presenters, and an audience that found inexplicable ‘plot’ twists (rather than humor that was in any way motivated) to be the funniest things in the world.

Stay away from these things, I beg of you.

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4. Have been watching the second season of Torchwood.  We’re now six episodes in, and its actually far superior to the first season.  The characters have – gasp – character!  Honestly, Ianto is so far removed from his first season emptiness that he’s practically a completely new character.  (In fact, when they finally showed him playing doorman again in episode six, it did not sit well; he’s not that person anymore.)  And the same could be said for most of them.  Jack’s off the cuff, sex-obsessed one-liners are back.  Gwen, Tosh, and Owen – though thin, so far – are not any worse written than they were last season, and may even be slightly improved.  And even Martha Jones – that personality-free character who almost single handedly made Dr. Who season three unwatchable – is being used for positive ends (most of the time).  She came in during episode six, and her dullness actually allows the other characters to spit out more one-liners; she’s essentially playing straight man.  (And, let’s face it, that’s about all she’s capable of anyway; she is flat out one of the most terrible actresses on the planet to have achieved steady employment.)

So if you were worried that this season would be more “Cyberwoman” and bad movie remakes, fear not.  It’s actually been pretty solid so far.  (Don’t take that to mean ‘brilliant,’ however.  It’s just ‘good.’)

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5. In a few weeks I get to see Silver Mt. Zion perform in Atlanta.  I’m excited.

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6. Even sooner, They Might Be Giants will be playing here as well.

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Don’t ask me why there’s all of a sudden so much entertainment in Atlanta.  This was a dead zone for most of the last eighteen months.  Whatever the reasons, I’ve had a lot of fun these past couple weeks in between reading for classes and finishing up my thesis.

You wish you were me.

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(Sorry for the all caps title, but such looks better on this current blog layout.)

A trip to Ghent, Belgium, told in pieces.

The flights:

  • The first flight was fine. Only about half full, which makes for a relatively comfortable trip. A remarkably low number of screaming babies. And flying from west to east feels quicker, as one only spends about seven hours in the air, and yet arrives fourteen hours after one left – ah, the magic of time travel. I get no sleep.
  • The second flight was a disaster area. Again, only half full, but it’s an endless mid-day (a nine hour flight that leaves at ten and arrives at three), so the plane literally feels like it’s going nowhere. Oh, the horror of time travel.  Not to mention that I’m beyond tired, and yet there is a screaming baby in front of me (which only ever seems to scream when I close my eyes), a flier next to me who spends what seems to be about three hours discussing the ‘duty-free’ purchasing options with a flight attendant, and for some reason the leg room feels like it’s about half of normal size. Pretty much complete discomfort. Again, predictably, I get no sleep.
  • Stardust – flight one : film one – Actually quite a fun little film. By no means great, but Gaiman’s book wasn’t really ‘great’ either – he’s more or less just a purveyor of pleasantly silly nonsense. (Except, perhaps, for American Gods.) But it was a fun idea that was well executed, and the film version managed to maintain the bulk of Gaiman’s pithy writing style and his sense of playful ‘rationalism’ (i.e. having the spirits of the dead physically deformed by the way in which they died). Fun.
  • Mr. Bean’s Holiday – flight one : film two – Now this surprised me. The first film was little more than a retread of some of his best comedy bits. This one, though it frequently did the same thing, played variations on old gags rather than simply re-tell them, which made it seem much less like one was watching TV reruns. So it managed to be funny. However, what was really surprising was that it actually had a sort of thematic / moral argument that was quite unexpected. Via the use of a handheld camera, about half of the film is literally ‘holiday home movies.’ This is then contrasted in the film with a very pretentious (and terrible) piece of ‘art cinema.’ So the whole film functions as a populist criticism of film as pleasure rather than film as art. Quite a nice little thing, actually, provided one doesn’t ask for too much from it.
  • Hairspray – flight two : film one – Oh…dear…god… Perhaps my boredom with ‘feel good race-movies’ is affecting my judgment here, but I really wanted to hit this movie. And why, exactly, do we need a skinny male to play an unhappy fat woman? The casting here is kind of gimmicky, using the ‘anything goes’ nature of comedy for a rather silly reason.
  • No Reservations – flight two : film two – This film literally hates you. Literally. It sucks so bad that it achieves consciousness of its own suck-intensity and becomes a malevolent sucking force. The plot is obvious within the first seven seconds: single woman doesn’t realize she’s unhappy; she is forced into a parental role, and then falls in love with the man who fills in for her on the job; the world is saved by the good old fashioned nuclear family. Meanwhile, we weep a lot. This is the kind of thing that Lifetime television continually does, despite the fact that such drivel should be against the law. Wallowing in despair in the name of ultimate happiness. Watch it only if you loathe yourself.

City:

  • Fresh off the plane, my first impression of the country is one, unfortunately, of surprise and concern. A bit of advice…never let anyone tell you that “it’s ok if you don’t speak the language, because they all speak English over there.” This is a lie. Just because English is sort of the default international language, doesn’t mean that you’re actually going to be TALKING when needing communication. A signThere are almost no SIGNS in English in Belgium, and this is every bit as important as language fluency. Especially considering how many other tourists there are in the area; it can be nearly impossible at times to find someone to ask directions from who actually knows anything. So, just be aware that, while you can’t become fluent overnight in a foreign language, you can at least not have unreasonable expectations that things will go smoothly.
  • That said, the country is beautiful. My first impression of it was entrance through a dense fog. (And I love fog.) It is apparently foggy there almost every morning…at least this time of year. Taking the train from Brussels to Ghent, I was able to see the countryside architecture. Lots of steeply pitched roofs, all with a chimney, and oddly long and thin fenced lots (as though they wanted a 200 foot by 10 foot yard for some reason). Under normal circumstances, the prevalence of brick would bore me, but it is all weather-beaten and looks suitably old in the fog, leaving the whole thing feeling more or less like an embodiment of ‘cozy.’ Combine this with the green color, and we have the type of rolling countryside that a Nebraska boy raised on British television has always pined for.
  • In Ghent itself, my first impression, aside from the difficulty in signage, is of the fact that the streets effectively just have a four story A street in Ghentwall on either side. The buildings butt up against each other and are all about the same height, running off into the distance. Forget trees and grass; in fact, forget parking lots. Nothing but human construction as far as the eye can see, and yet it doesn’t get me down like I would expect it to. Probably because the architecture itself isn’t pure functionality like most American buildings; some effort has usually been taken to give them an attractive form – and when this effort hasn’t been taken, it is counteracted by the ‘wall’ atmosphere, which in and of itself renders the buildings paradoxically less ugly.
  • I spent many hours walking the historic district of the city. I have to admit that I have seldom had such a pleasant time just existing in a man-made place. Though it might get a bit old after one has become inoculated to the beauty of the old buildings and become ‘sick to death of castles,’ as Eddie Izzard might say, it was lovely just to walk through the city. I did so much of this that I actually know that area quite well, and could now walk it relatively comfortably without a map.
  • The bulk of my scenic tourism occurred along a particular road, as most of the truly monumental architecture was located there. From west to east sits St Nicholas, Belfry, St Bavothe old post office, St. Nicholas’ Cathedral, the Belfry, and St. Bavo’s. Perhaps I am remembering incorrectly, but I believe they run consistently in that order, with no buildings in between them. (Public squares separate them in my memory.) To the north is the city hall; to the west is the Graslei (east bank) and Koornlei (west bank) on the river Leie – a pathetically small little river made attractive by the ornate old structures on its banks. West of this lies Gravensteen Castle; to its south somewhere is St. Michael’s. It is a pity that I wasn’t able to visit any of these buildings as an actual tourist – it would’ve been wonderful to be inside them – but seeing them from the outside was Gravensteenthe more entertaining half of the experience anyway. To see them from the inside is to go sight-seeing; to see them from the outside, integrated into the city like this, is to just live with them. For someone who likes old things, and is deep down an antique-buff, to walk through a city with ambiance like this is pure heaven. In the space of a few blocks one walks through a few dozen pages of a history book.
  • Oddly enough, the buildings, though they are of relatively uniform design and (apparently) age, house business the range from local tea rooms to McDonalds. It’s quite jarring to see a bookstore with no English language books sitting literally right next door to a Subway (the sandwich shop, not the travel gateway). It all feels sort of like American business trying desperately to reach in and take the shopping centers of another culture. A very odd sensation. (Though not entirely a bad one as, due to the lack of English signage, my first meal in Belgium was actually a homesick Big Mac – which you’ll be glad to know costs about $7 in Belgium. It was $10 for the combo meal – with which one gets the European experience of fries with mayonnaise rather than ketchup.)
  • Perhaps it is unfortunate (or perhaps it is what truly ‘makes’ the St. Michael's Bridgeexperience), but the streets are choked with people. It seems that virtually the entirety of the population is tourists, and I have to imagine that any locals who are in the vicinity spend the bulk of their day sitting in a tea room or smoking…drinking the night away. Either that or playing an accordion on the street for money. I don’t really know that I’d like the lifestyle here, but as a place to visit it was an amazing experience. Something totally outside of my experience.

Conference:

  • The conference was an eye opener as well. I had not realized, prior to the first few speakers, just how much of a (self-described) marginalized group I was among. These were a new breed of film historian Stage - Maltby second from leftgathering here (which is probably part of the reason why only about a hundred or so were in attendance); individuals who, in their pessimism about the future of the discipline, have taken to looking at history via what I would call (and perhaps others already have) ‘cultural mathematics’ – complex data collecting and statistical evaluation of the level of prevalence of particular cultural acts. Numbers and data sets are everywhere here. Not that I’m criticizing – indeed, I was doing the same thing in my analysis of the Atlanta Better Films Committee children’s matinees – but I had not realized how pervasive this mentality had become in film studies. We have Bobby Allen mapping all the film venues in the history of North Carolina, and many European groups doing the same thing with their respective countries. We have Annette Kuhn doing a vast project on the way individuals report their earliest memory of cinemagoing. We have Richard Maltby doing calculations of the percentage of early film rental contracts that went unpaid (and arguing, quite brilliantly, that the hiring of Will Hays was more about preserving the industry from this financial problem than protecting it from censorship rabblerousing). The bulk of the research is an unwieldy collection of data in the name of little actual discovery. (Though Maltby’s was very valuable.) For the most part we are simply constructing vast piles of data that, most of the time, will do nothing but “prove common sense,” as one of my co-attendees put it in a private conversation (which is why he shall remain nameless in this public forum). Not that it’s bad work. It is, in fact, very good work to have done, but it seems that many scholars have practically given up on the idea that anything really new can be said without dissecting things at the most minute level.
  • This is most problematic in the fact that they’re mostly dissecting the same level. In all honesty, theatrical venue locations are going to reveal very little. At least Maltby’s research (and my own, if I may be so bold) is in a slightly more interesting area.
  • That said, no one should assume that I did not enjoy the conference. I heard a number of very interesting presentations, and simultaneously found myself in the deep end of the current vogue in statistical analysis. It was fun and informative.
  • And, for those who are wondering, my paper went well, though only about seven people were in attendance. That was the one truly unfortunate thing about this conference – I was scheduled for nine a.m. on the final day, so a large quantity of people simply wandered in late. It was unfortunate additionally because, as a first time conference goer and a student, no one really had anything to talk to me about without simply asking for me to describe my work. After the presentation, people were actively seeking me out with things to discuss. In my opinion, all young scholars should go early and in the more amenable time-slots in order to bring them deeper into the culture. But who am I to make judgments like this. (That’s me being facetious, of course. I think I make a very valid criticism of the organization of this particular conference.)

Culture:

  • Every bit as valuable as the presentations, however, was the chat sessions with the scholarly community. As I said, this was the first time that I’d attended a conference, and the opportunity to have normal conversations with individuals who have been successfully performing this job for varying numbers of years, and others like me who are still entering the field, was very interesting.
  • I spent the bulk of my time in the conference talking with a young professor from Brazil named Fernando Mascarello, and Group at Film Plateaua Russian student from UPenn named Maxim Waldstein. Others were around as well, of course, but they were my most frequent chat buddies. A large quantity of my experience at the conference itself was in talking things over with individuals who were of a similar experience level to myself (no diss intended to Fernando there), while the old-guard generally conversed amongst themselves in the distance. Perhaps this was a fault in my approach to the conference, but I didn’t really treat it as an opportunity to glad-hand with the big-wigs, and so did not introduce myself and converse with them simply for the sake of doing so.
  • Not that it mattered, as I met a number of them anyway in the later hours hang outs. Kathy Fuller-Seeley from Georgia State, who I knew prior to the conference, introduced me to Richard Maltby and Eric Smoodin. Paul S. Moore, a younger professor currently teaching in Canada, was also around in that group, and the one, aside from Kathy, who I spent the bulk of my time with during the evenings. British professor David Williams introduced himself, as he was very interested in my presentation – he even gave me a DVD of his short films on British film history. James Burns from Clemson also introduced himself, though we didn’t seem to hit it off that well for some reason.  Maybe I was just tired – I can only meet so many people in one shot.
  • So some glad handing and acquaintance making was done, though I personally considered it more of a vacation than anything else.

All told, the trip was a good time. I had a lot of fun, met a lot of nice people, and saw my first castle.

Sorry if things don’t sound so exciting in the recounting, but I’m not really all that in the mood to recount the monumental tale in a blog entry right now, and am only really doing so out of feelings of obligation.

Hopefully you all enjoyed reading. And if not, at least there were pictures. :-)

Graslei and I

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Just a few things

Hot on the heels of the last time that I hobnobbed with actors, I was supposed to get to meet another this past Wednesday. Emile Hirsch, young actor from “Into the Wild” (and also “Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys”), was in town for a pre-screening of “Into the Wild.” He was to visit Emory’s campus prior to the screening, and a few film students were going to be allowed to sit in on press conferences and the campus tour and such.

But, after waiting for him to arrive (half an hour late), and then waiting half an hour for him to complete the campus tour, the press conference coordinator “received word” that we wouldn’t be able to sit in.

So, we’re assuming that somebody’s either a primadonna, or has an asshole press agent.

Not that it matters. He’s no “Dowtown” Anderson, or Salman Rushdie.

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Been tough going so far this semester to get work done. I’m not sure if it’s just being overworked (I do have a lot of deadlines), or if I’m just tired of the Better Films Committee thing and want a break, or what…but I’m not as productive as I need to be right now.

I’m a month into the semester and haven’t written a word on my thesis. My conference paper is due in a month and I don’t really feel like I have a start on that yet. And I’ve got two term papers to fit in there somewhere as well. Not to mention the whole PhD application thing…

200 pages worth of stuff to write and I’m dragging my feet.

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The baseball season’s almost over.

My Cardinals ate some ass. The Mariners fell apart in the last month. The Rockies’ push was too little, too late. The Cubs are tough to cheer for this year because of their vast overspending in the offseason. And the Red Sox look primed to implode because both Matsuzaka and Okajima are fatigued by the extra length of a MLB season.

This post-season might be a rough one.

I think I’ll cheer for the Red Sox, but I don’t really expect them to win.

I think this one’s going to go to the Cubs.

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I’ve been reading a classic sci-fi book recently called “The Green Rain.” It started well, with a good idea (rain that turns people green) and some humor (a few steps below Douglas Adams but still quite playful writing). Unfortunately, it’s just gone in preposterous directions.

I think it was a perfectly reasonable choice to make the book largely a critique of race relations, considering that the idea was based in skin tone. But an instant religious sect, separate from any politics other than greenness, in an effort to take over the world? Come on… Even as a satire, that’s just lame.

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Randoom

Julius, Jennifer’s cat, fell or jumped off the porch Saturday night. (Knowing this cat, I suppose it’s possible that he both jumped and fell off the porch; he has been known to bend time and space and do impossible things in that way…) He was gone for four days, which led to an understandable amount of sadness and panic. Last night when we came back from dinner, he was just sitting on the steps waiting for us…

Covered in his own shit.

I really wish I had video of whatever it was he got up to. Every time I’ve ever disappeared for four days and returned home stinking to high heaven and caked with feces, its always been the prelude to a damn good story.

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Emory tried (again) and failed (again) to invite filmmakers to campus for a screening and a Q & A. They screened the short film “The Accountant” and the trailer for the new film by the same group, “Randy and the Mob.” Then the Director/Star, co-star, producer, and a couple other people came to the front to answer questions.

Problem was, the cast and crew nearly outnumbered the attendees. There were eight people in the audience, and five people and a documentarian among the guests of honor. I can’t imagine how disheartening that must be.

But Emory is, in certain ways, to blame for the thing. The Film Studies department has never advertised its events particularly well; that’s part of the problem. Additionally, the film studies students are apathetic (I was the only current FS student in the room), and it apparently hasn’t crossed anyone’s mind to offer extra credit or make these things mandatory, because undergrads never come.

I’m glad things like this happen, because I like meeting people who are active in the field and who I admire, but it’s such a waste of effort to organize things like this and then have an embarassing turn-out.

Of course, I don’t really mind that there was hardly anyone around, because it meant that I got to sit around and shoot the breeze with Walton Goggins for about twenty minutes. (Who most people would probably know from TV series “The Shield,” but whom I geeked out over because he played ‘Downtown’ Anderson in “Major League: Back to the Minors.”) I wasn’t having one of my better days in terms of conversational skills, but it was pleasant nonetheless – he’s a good guy.

I didn’t get an autograph or anything, but I rarely do that sort of thing. I usually find it much more fun to treat celebrities like real people. Asking for autographs puts you back in superior/inferior territory…

To get back to the point, it’s a little silly that they took time out of their busy schedules to try to promote the film and only got 8 listeners. Emory needs to try harder on these things, because they aren’t stopping by just to spend half an hour doing small talk with me – as much as I might enjoy it.

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The plans for the conference trip to Belgium are moving along. I received the information packet through email yesterday. As it turns out, Kathy Fuller-Seely from Georgia State, who I’ve spoken to about Better Films Committee research, is also going. So I’ll at least have an acquaintance in the vicinity.

And they’re putting together a guided tour of the historical theaters of Ghent for Sunday, which should be a nice touristy thing to do.

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On the less positive side, classes aren’t going so well this semester.

The history class about race is fine. The two professors are both very good at what they do and this is ‘their baby,’ so the whole thing is well organized and informative. But I’ve been in the ‘film history’ rut for about nine months now (all history is a ‘rut’ for me, eventually), and I’m just not particularly in the mood for it. So, no matter how good the class is, it’s just not catching my fancy at the moment.

And the other class, on a pair  of comedy auteurs, has been awful. The professor seems to be completely unprepared at all times (he’s tried explaining a couple of online group assignments and no one really seems to have a clue of what he’s actually after), and the class has zero structure – no clear cut reading assignments (just a collection of books to read whenever), no clear line of thinking (why aren’t we watching “Sullivan’s Travels” and “O Brother Where Art Thou” back to back, for example), and no one really seems to know what to do. We’re only two weeks in, and haven’t even really had a full class yet (as the first week was largely introductory material, and the second was mostly a primer on doing research at Emory), and yet I’ve already given up on it. I have my paper topic and beyond that I just don’t have any hopes for it. There’s always hopes that it will improve, but…

So this semester might be quite the trudge.

Oh well.

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Oh, and since I never actually blogged about it, I did go to Scottsbluff two weeks ago and performed Keith’s marriage ceremony. (And what an Oscan winning performance it was…) It was nice. And, I got to do something that most people never get to do, so I’m grateful for the experience.

The attendees, and Rachel and Keith, told me that I did well, but that’s the thing about weddings…you can’t do it again, so everyone is on your side. If you don’t do well, I’m not sure anyone would admit it.

And, it’s a lot of fun having a bunch of older people call you “the preacher” for an entire day. Especially when you don’t have any right to the title. I recommend that anyone who can weasel their way into such a situation, that they take full advantage of being called “the preacher.” I miss it already.

Anyway, congratulations to Rachel and Keith.

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I went and filed all my paperwork and such for my passport this morning.

First, despite the fact that I took the picture myself and used the self serve kiosk, the lady at CVS somehow managed to charge me $9.00.

Second, when I went in to film the paperwork, I was told that it normally takes 12 to 16 weeks to get a passport (as opposed to the 10 to 12 that it stated online).  So I was talked into buying expedited service for $60.00 more.

So, instead of paying $100 for a passport, I paid $170. 

Both of these people are desk jockeys.  There’s no conceivable way they would have benefitted from screwing me, but I feel screwed all the same…

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It just dawned on me yesterday, after receiving an email that I’ll talk about later in this post, just how much I’ve actually done this summer.

I’ve moved twice; looked into Ph.D. programs; researched the Atlanta Better Films Committee heavily (online, on microfilm, and in two archives so far); had small vacations in California, Nebraska, and Tennessee (briefly); had a little bit of contact with Janet Six about Webster Edgerly research; wrote an abstract on the BFC for a conference in Brussels in December; was accepted to said conference; and am now trying to deal with the passport and financial issues which come with that.  All while holding down a 30 hour per week job (admittedly, one at which I have no duties whatsoever) and having a girlfriend.

It’s no wonder I don’t feel like I have much free time.

So anyway, I get to go to Belgium in December, barring paperwork or financial accidents.  Yay me.

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…let me count the ways.

1. I woke up at three a.m. and couldn’t get back to sleep.

2.  I had to wait for a very slow moving train for ten minutes on the way to work.  (The second train I’ve had to wait for in the last three days, after living in Atlanta for a full year without so much as seeing a single train.)

3. I had to stop at every red light between home and work.  All of them.

4. I also had to dodge two joggers and a truck driver, all of whom decided that the sidewalk wasn’t good enough for them, and they’d rather stand in the street.

5. I finally get to work, and the ProQuest database for the Atlanta Constitution newspaper, which is vital to my research work, is for some reason not online today.  So now I have a nine hour shift to kill and didn’t bring anything with me to do, because I had planned on using the online Constitution all day…

Keep it rolling.  Let’s go Team Suck!

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