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Monthly Archives: March 2014

A Mark of Freedom: The Ultimate Means of Self-Expression

My struggle to convince myself to do work overflowed from the weekend into today. As I attempted to finish my passage analysis, my thoughts about Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and it’s theme of individuality, I began to think of dancing. Although it could have been because LMFAO came up on my playlist, but the first reason sounds more cultured.

I love to dance, although for the most part, I’ll be too embarrassed to unless I’ve been drinking or I’m alone. A couple of my friends claim I’m a good dancer, but another friend claims that ‘no man can truly dance’, and I think those are some of the wisest words any 20 year old has ever spoken. In a way, it’s more flailing to the flow of the music, but in a way that some people weirdly enough find pleasing to the eye. I’ll never understand it beyond a need to cut loose, but it’s fun, so everyone does it anyway.

My preferred method of dancing is probably the shuffle, but not being confident to just let loose in the house when there are other people around, I often end up browsing videos to quell my dancer ‘hunger’.

Today I came across this, JayKayEsKay‘s video youtube, it’s pretty entertaining; that kid in the purple is pretty awesome (Also the suggestion to play Wiley’s ‘Lights on’ over it is a good one. If you follow it with ‘Can you hear me?’ the timing fits pretty well).

Needless to say, all that made me want to do is dance more. I guess I’ll just have to wait until I have the house free next week whilst I’m holiday. But it made me think about what makes people want to dance. Is it the desire to attract a potential partner? The need to release some stress? Or the desire for self-expression?

I think for me, today, it was the middle option, but the latter one is what kept my attention the most. After yesterday’s procrastination-by-tattoo-design, I was desperate to find a way to express myself. But too poor to go through on getting the tattoo that I often think about, and with no time or money to dance, I was reduced to just thinking about the various concepts.

What is the best method of self-expression, and is it something we all need to do? I know I wouldn’t get a tattoo unless I had some hand in designing it, otherwise, in my opinion, it would just be another mark on my skin. The design I have sketched out in front of me involves freedom, peace and I suppose spirituality to some extent. Maybe that’s why people love dancing, in a way, it envelopes all of those things. But maybe I’m just talking rubbish.

Perhaps I should stop blogging and take up dance class? Probably not.

(I swear one of my next entries will be a bit more constructive, I’ve just had a need to write and no topics to focus on).

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2014 in Life

 

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False Hope: The Problem with Procrastination

One more week until the Easter break. Unfortunately, that one week presented me with three deadlines. So after a relatively successful Saturday of working towards said deadlines, I took the obvious next step and procrastinated my way through the past 15 hours.

A lot of said procrastination involved blankly staring at the book I’m meant to be analysing in hopes that it would assess itself. But alas, it was not to be, and instead I found myself writing a poem, sketching tattoo designs, and reluctantly filling out my details onto a dating profile that I had recently acquired.

It was never my intention to sign up to one of these sites; in fact, I think my profile was created automatically as I foolishly gave up all my details in hopes of winning some sort of internet competition. But with the profile in place, and the year anniversary of my turning single looming steadily closer, I figured keeping the profile could leave me no worse off.

So I took to OkCupid, cautiously filling out my details in the hope that I could achieve that desirable balance of nonchalant but interested. My first trial out of the way, I was then presented with an analysis of my own personality, and a list of potential suitors who matched me. With these suitors came the option of ranking them, in the hopes that someone would also grant me the coveted four or five stars, and a conversation could ensue.

And then I reminded myself that this is all a load of rubbish. Not the idea of dating sites, they work just fine. What’s rubbish the fact that I’ve just wasted a day on a site that has identified my main trait as ‘laid back’. And that’s exactly the problem, if by chance I am to get some sort of response, I’ll probably be too laid back (/intimidated) to actually do anything about it, and this whole endeavour will have been for nought.

Oh, lazy Sunday, look what you’ve done to me. Reduced to trawling through an ocean of out-of-my-league girls with no drive to make a move on any of them. Pathetic.

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2014 in Life

 

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“Emotionally Subnormal”: Comic Book Culture and its Intended Audience

At twenty years old, I’ll admit to being a big fan of comic books. But the stereotype seems to dictate that as you get older, you either put down your comics and become part of society, or you’re sucked into a life-halting abyss and condemned to forever be a man-child who lives in your mothers basement. Fortunately for me, my mother doesn’t have a basement.

But despite my glib claims, I really do take the whole issue to heart. Why should people be panned for doing something they enjoy, just because parts of society deem it childish, and is that really what my future holds (sans-basement)?

The Criticism.

Back in November, writer Alan Moore revealed his view on super-hero comic books. He claimed that they were a product meant for thirteen year old’s back in the 1950s. Of course, many comic book fans didn’t take kindly to this, for the most part because they themselves were well over the age of thirteen, and this man that many of them had revered had just collectively insulted them. Another big problem they had with this was that Alan Moore is the writer of such ‘graphic novels’ as Batman: The Killing Joke, in which Batman’s arch-nemesis, the Joker, kidnaps and humiliates Police Commissioner Gordon, and shoots and paralyses Batgirl, the Commissioner’s daughter and Batman’s one-time sidekick. It was pretty dark stuff, but is considered a must-read by many fans. However, for all you non-comic fans out there, another of Moore’s works that you’re probably more familiar with is the graphic novel which would go on to become the source material for the 2009 film The Watchmen. Again, it’s dark stuff, and has lead many to question whether Moore intended those works for children and teenagers. But having worked in the industry for decades, Moore knows the inner workings of its system, and is of course entitled to his own opinion.

But I realise that this is also an opinion that many other non-comic readers share. As a collector myself, I can see how people might think the whole thing is a bit childish. It’s an industry that has a predominantly male following, and idolises men and women flying around in tight revealing costumes solving problems in what could be argued to be most brutish way they can think of.

But in recent years, with the release of Fox’s X-Men film franchise, DC’s numerous attempts at Batman and Superman films, and Marvel’s ever-expanding Cinematic Universe, comic books are undergoing a renaissance in terms of its following. People are starting to appreciate superheroes a lot more than they used to, but this still isn’t leading to a universal appreciation for the printed source material.

A Failed Renaissance?

And why would they? People go to the cinema to escape their day to day lives and achieve a sense of escapism, not to find another reason to ‘waste’ their money on a product that’s very easily damaged, and provides about 20 minutes of entertainment. It’s like subscribing to a television series, but having to own a hard copy of every episode you watch. Instead, they can pay £8/$14 or so, sit down for an hour or two, and be wowed by the colourful characters speeding across their screen towards an eventual happy ending. And that’s that; they’ve had their money’s worth, and they can go home happy that the hero has won the day.

But what the films don’t convey is just how deep the comic book stories can run. And that’s not a criticism of the film makers, I love super hero movies. Too much perhaps. I look at my DVD collection on the shelves across the room from me, and about a quarter of the ones I keep here at my university housing are comic book adaptations of some sort. But because I’m such a big fan of both mediums, I can see that the differences between the two are staggering. Like all Hollywood films, superhero movies are made to make a profit. That’s why after the occasional risk pays off (2008’s Iron Man), a studio will for the most part stick with what they know. Hence the countless returns to Batman, whose presence in a film is guaranteed to gather an audience, no matter how good or bad the film actually is (1997’s Batman & Robin, I’m looking at you). But if you were to find someone eager enough to frequent their local comic book store, and ask them about a few of their favourite characters, chances are, unless they were simplifying matter’s for you convenience, they would be able to list off a fair few characters who you may only have the vaguest idea about.

Which is why comic book fans everywhere are praising the risk behind the soon-to-be released Guardians of the Galaxy. When I told my house-mate that GotG had been put into production, describing it as a ‘Star Wars-esque superhero flick, featuring a gun-toting, talking raccoon and a tree [played by Vin Diesel]’, he rightly admitted that that sounds like a ridiculous move on Marvel Studios’ part. But having read the source material, I realise that it’s a pretty fun and entertaining read.

Good v. Entertaining.

That’s the way I categorize most of the films I own/have seen, unless of course they’re just bad movies. And obviously, I can apply the same rule to comic books. As I said previously, Guardians of the Galaxy by Abnett and Lanning is a fun comic book. It’s Entertaining.

I mean, sure, it’s a good read as well, but as far as comics go, I would place it on the entertaining side of the spectrum (although just to clarify, good films/comics are obviously entertaining as well, but hopefully you understand my meaning). On the good side of the spectrum sit my favourite story-lines/issues. For instance, a Thor comic in which the title protagonist is heckled for not being around the stop Hurricane Katrina; a Spider-Man issue where reeling from the death of a close friend, the hero is forced to debate whether or not a relentless mass murderer deserves to be saved; a Luke Cage-orientated issue of Avengers, where the Harlem hero is attacked by government agents for refusing to become to submit to a questionable new law; or a Doctor Strange story where the sorcerer’s trusty ‘manservant’ is diagnosed with cancer, the one evil it seems he cannot face. To extend this back into film territory, to a lesser extent I could claim that Iron Man 3 is my favourite Marvel film, because it see’s Tony Stark stripped of his armour, and forced to combat evil whilst stricken with PTSD.

Do those sound interesting to you? Maybe they do, maybe they don’t, everyone has different tastes. And that’s the point!

Sure, people could say that comic books are childish, but what’re the chances they’ve actually read that many? Comics, like any other medium, cover a vast array of issues, and they’re not just limited to superheroes. Other acclaimed comics include things like Y: The Last Man (which is awesome) or Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (which I have to admit, I haven’t actually read, just watched the film, which is also awesome, and I’m not even that fond of Michael Cera). There’s just so much to chose from, and I think it’s a shame that people are so quick to dismiss all comic’s as something for the ‘Emotionally Subnormal’.

But seriously, watch Scott Pilgrim. It’s awesome.

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2014 in Comic Books

 

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Cowboys and Cameramen: Switching Lenses

So, the elections tonight. Still not sure how I feel about that. And if I wasn’t anxious enough, our lecturer today claimed that four months from now we’ll be well into working on our dissertations. Although thinking about it now, I realise he just meant looking for books to consider reading and stuff like that, but at the time, it worried me. This is the biggest piece of work I will ever have done, and with it being worth two modules that’s a third of next years grade, right there.

My classmates were in a similar mindset. After the talk, a couple started claiming that they had no idea where they would even start thinking about their proposed topic. Fortunately, for once, I’m a step ahead; I had to figure out some sort of basis for my dissertation a few months ago, as a means of convincing a university trust to give me some money to go travelling. I succeeded, and now I’m tied to the topic for the next fifteen months. Luckily, I haven’t narrowed it down to an exact title yet, but the broader theme is cemented. I’m going to study cowboys. Sort of.

My proposed topic is something to do with how the Western Frontier of America influenced cinema. But here comes the problem; as the lecturer pointed out today, we can’t leave our topic to be too broad. Yes, we have 10,000 words to write, but that doesn’t mean we have all the space in the world. So whilst he was listing off the steps we need to take in starting our dissertation, I zoned out slightly and started considering my options.

Option One. How the Western Frontier influences modern American cinema.

The west was a vast place, and as we’ve all seen from the movies, its vastness allowed for expansion, adventure and a whole range of events to occur. In today’s world, expansion is still a subject which can be found in many modern films. The Indiana Jones franchise see’s the title character travelling to strange countries and fighting untold evil (whilst donning a fedora and sidearm; it doesn’t get more cowboy-ish than that). The most recent instalment of the Django series allows for race differences to be studied from a new perspective. Even science-fiction films like Pacific Rim see our heroes battling against a new enemy that they don’t truly understand. All in all, there’s a lot to work with. But really, a lot of those topics revolve around one core subject, and that is…

Option Two. How the Western Frontier fostered ideas of Masculinity in American Visual Culture.

Cowboys and Cameramen; things that have been working together for over a century. Since the earliest flicks like the Great Train Robbery, ideas of heroic strong men have graced our screens, presenting to America how ‘manly’ men should conduct themselves. Through this, I could analyse what truly makes a man in cinema by contrasting him with more alternative heroes like Napoleon Dynamite, or assessing his sexuality by looking at pictures such as Brokeback Mountain. The topic is rife for researching, but then our lecturer went and spoke that phrase that none of us can achieve; originality. Whilst it would be impossible to find something wholly original, I can imagine that the cowboys influence on America has been done to death. Which lead me to an equally unoriginal idea, but one that might be slightly less overdone due to the more recent nature of it’s creation…

Option Three. American Frontiers, from the Old to the Final: How the Old West influences Science-Fiction.

Now really, I’m not sure why I didn’t think of this before. It had always been there in the back of my mind, as I pondered just how much I could force the idea of Han Solo as a space-cowboy onto my dissertation. But really, the whole idea of Science-Fiction; expansion, settlement, heroics and exotic locales; is directly plucked from the Old West. Unfortunately, whilst Science-Fiction is easily my favourite genre of film, I also think it seems less professional a topic to write such an important piece of work on. There’s also the problem that out of the two film essays I wrote this year, the one based on Science-Fiction did the worst, in part I think, because I got too excited about the topic, and began to stray too far from the question in my hopes of splurging every idea I could think of about Star Wars, RoboCop and unfortunately, Starship Troopers onto the page. Rookie mistake.

So where do I go from here? Do I go with vague, and let things whittle themselves down over time? Do I go with focused, start off early, but get bored sooner? Or do I go with what I enjoy (slightly too much) and run the risk of getting a lesser mark?

What a to-do. I suppose the best option for now is spoken on this small speech I have to give tonight.

I was eager to grow up. Still am. But I fear my usually relaxed persona may soon be stripped away. I hope not. That would be very un-Dude…

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2014 in Life

 

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The Popularity Contest, Part 2: The Only Black (Guy) in the Village

As I concluded in the previous entry, popularity in primary school often came at the expense of someone else’s inclusion. I was an outsider from the ‘popular kids’, but that doesn’t mean I got along well with all the other ‘outsiders’. Whilst I consider myself a fairly relaxed and friendly person now, back in school, there was another kid I just did not get on with. Like me, he straddled the line between ‘cool’ and ‘uncool’ and we were often in unintended competition for a place on the top spot.

I say unintended because I had a different group of friends whom I was much closer with, and he was for the most part, one of the ‘cool’ kids, but his occasional (and probably intendedly friendly) taunts at my expense didn’t always sit right with his peers. Of course, being a child, I would taunt back, and an endless cycle would emerge. Eventually, we put our differences aside, but this wasn’t until the summer after our final year.

Since then, I am happy to say that I’ve never maintained and real rivalries/enemies, or at least as far as I can remember. Secondary school was a pretty simple affair. I made friends easily; being one of a very small number of mixed race people helped in a predominantly white community. Of course, this also meant I had to suffer the occasional ‘black’ joke, some of which I really didn’t care for for obvious reasons; someone once jested something to the effect that they would “rather be found unconscious by a white person, because a black person would rob them and they would smell”, which firstly doesn’t make any sense if they’re unconscious, and secondly is not the sort of thing you say to a coloured person to get them to like you; but for the most part things were going alright.

But when I look back, getting by on what made me different meant that I was never really developing my social skills. No one disliked me, but I wouldn’t really let anyone get to know me until I was properly comfortable with them. I was close with my good friends, maintained a mutual respect with my (one-time) fellow rugby players, and remained socially awkward around potential girlfriends. The stereotypical television teenager I suppose. Or rather, the old one, where everyone was either a jock or a nerd, as opposed to the new stereotypes, which portray all teenagers as angry rebellious ’emo’ kids with a vendetta against the world. I suppose all of them have some truth to them, but I digress.

This lack of progress meant that I, like many others, didn’t really branch out and befriend other members of my year until the end of year eleven, or the start of year twelve. But in doing so, I now realise I created a mirror image of my primary school days. I had made new friends, who didn’t get on with my old group, and in doing so had been placed in a position where I had to choose where my allegiances lay. Frankly, I thought the whole scenario was ridiculous, so I tried to continue as if everything was the same, not realising that apparently that wasn’t an option. Some of the people I had now been spending time with for several years barely spoke to me anymore; I had lost some of my best friends (although luckily, not for good, a central conflict between some of my classmates eventually was deemed ridiculous by all, and old friends were reunited).

But for about a year, I was stuck in this limbo, and I hated it. Why did how popular you were deem who you could talk to and what you could do? The so-called ‘popular kids’ could talk to anyone, but would also be the ones whose judgement was final on what was ‘cool’ or ‘uncool’. I had seemingly lost some of my best friends because they refused to get along with some of my new ones.

In the end, from my perspective, it all worked out for the best. The whole ordeal allowed me to branch out in terms of who I interacted with, and at the end of it, re-establish old friendships that had seemed to fade away. Nowadays, I try to consort with anyone and everyone I can (sort of), as I said in Part One, apparently I’m the ‘guy who knows everyone’, and why not? It’s a good thing to be. But I’m always stuck with that reminder of what was, and despite my outward growth and progress, to me, I’ll always be the nervous kid who got picked last for football.

Although frankly, I prefer rugby.

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2014 in Life

 

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The Popularity Contest.

So in our university, it’s gotten to the stage where committees of old societies are moving aside and making way for the new. A couple of my friends recently took part in the election for the film society, and were pleased to find they were mostly unopposed. While they didn’t all get the exact position they were after, they all came away with some sort of new role, leaving them happy with themselves, and me happy for them.

But despite my place in the Film society, I opted not to take part. I had my eyes set on bigger game. Or at least from my perspective. I’d recently joined a society/organisation of sorts, and had decided that that is where I wanted to take my place amongst a committee.

Similarly, I had been told that most roles are given out after the elections, as so few candidates usually stepped up to take part. I was confident that I would be able to secure a role. I still am, for the most part. From the looks of things, most of the roles are going uncontested, and some roles no one seems to want. It was an easy in. So I took the opposite approach and decided to go for a role that I knew I would have some contest in. Why? Truth be told, I’m not even sure. It sounded interesting enough, and I thought why not. I also wasn’t entirely sure that my peer had settled on which position he wanted. But inevitably, he did, and now we’re rivals in the softest sense of the word.

It’s nice, for the most part, there are no hard feelings, and everyone in the election will most probably come out with some sort of role. It’s a win-win situation for all. Of course, the reason I can happily say all of this now is because it hasn’t happened yet. Elections are tomorrow, and I’ve got no idea what I’m going to say in my speech.

And herein lies the problem. Although I’m most certainly wrong about this, its come to my attention that it may not matter what I say tomorrow. I’ve only spoken to my ‘competitor’ once, and he’s a friendly enough guy. I’d vote for him, truth be told, if I weren’t running against him. But the role in question is rather limited in its reach. There’s only so much responsibility we can take on, and only so many tasks we can compete, which really leaves it a competition of who has the most experience, and who can think of the most leftfield ideas. But I’ve only been with the group for a month; I’m still learning the ropes, and so chances are any ideas I come up with won’t be plausible. Which leaves it down to a contest of who is more charismatic.

Now I’m not saying I’m unpopular, I’m comfortable with who I’m friends with, and a lot of the time, people seem to claim I ‘know everyone’ (although I have my doubts on that one, I think it’s just a matter of timing and location). Unfortunately, I haven’t yet had time to get to know everyone in this new group, whereas my ‘opponent’ knows several people from outside. He’s got an in, and it’s probably going to come in pretty handy.

But none of that is important. As I said, chances are, we’ll all come away with a position whether we win the election or not. I’m just nervous is all, more about having to present than actually winning or losing.

But it’s made me think about how our whole education system seems to be based on popularity contests. We see it everywhere; it’s hardly a secret. I think back to Primary School sports lessons, when they were picking out the football team. I’d forgotten about this until recently, but I was usually one of the last to be picked, unless by some luck one of my friends (another outsider, of sorts) was captain. But to all the sporty popular kids, I was a no go. Later, I became closer to the other groups, as I think is the case as you near the end of any school period, but often it was at the expense of another classmate, unfortunately.

Urgh, stopped to talk to a house mate and I’ve lost my flow. I might have to tidy this up and continue in a part 2.

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2014 in Life

 

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Mild Reflections on Higher Education.

Crossroads.

A year ago, I was considering dropping out of university. For the most part, whenever someone would ask me how I was enjoying my studies, I would tactfully remark “they’re going well” or “things are good”, leaving them unaware of my feelings towards higher education. But to those closer to me, my family, my girlfriend at the time, and a select few friends, I admitted that I didn’t think the student life was for me. The only part I really enjoyed was the independence. I had moved out of my home, made new friends, and was cooking for myself far more often than I did at home. It was a new experience, a supposed freedom that I was told to enjoy whilst it lasted.

A year has passed, and I’ve had a realisation and gained a new outlook. After one too many overly messy nights, I’m trying to cut down on my drinking. My grades haven’t been great, so I try to make more of an effort, even though it’s earned me a reputation amongst some of my classmates. And for the most part, I like to think I’m happier for it, because I’m finally starting to escape what I see to be the biggest deceptions about student life.

Learning.

A lot of students go into university with the same mindset they left school or college. It’s not cool to give an answer unless asked, and drinking in bars and clubs is a new and exciting pastime. From my experience, seminars can often be a place with minimal discussion as no one wants to contribute. I am equally guilty of this problem, as in many seminars I’ve sat in silence, spending an hour hoping not to be picked upon. But if all students are determined to sit in this silent seminar, hour after hour, why are they really spending thousands of pounds on education? The idea baffles me, despite being one of the perpetrators of this offence. However, I’ve noticed that when people attempt to speak up in classes, they seem to be judged for actually doing what we’re sitting in class for. In one such lesson, I heard a classmate slyly remark that they wouldn’t have to do anything, because I would do all the talking. This shouldn’t be how students operate. University is attempting to mould us into the people we will need to be for the world of work, and we’re fighting it off its help in an effort to remain young and carefree. But it’s not getting us anywhere, and anyone who tries to escape is dragged back into the mass of uncaring drones.

Drinking.

However, students are often more than happy to regale each other with tales of drunken exploits. Again, I’ve been prone to do this, drinking on a far too regular basis over the summer holidays, something which earned me a bit of a reputation amongst some of my friends. However, as one of my closest friends exclaimed months ago, the whole thing has started to lose it’s appeal. I’ve come to realise as of late that I had forgotten exactly how good a cold glass of coca cola tastes, or a sweet black coffee as opposed to an alcoholic a mixer. Now, I’m all for drinking when the occasion commands, and a cold pint is very welcome after a long hot day. But the drinking culture that’s overtaken youths is getting a bit tiresome. Maybe it’s because I’m currently taking a module on the history of alcohol in North America, and history’s lessons are actually getting through to me, or maybe it’s because I’ve again been reminded of the indignity that alcohol brings. In 1920s America, young men would often gather together and form social clubs, where they could relax, drink, and escape the social problems that plagued them during the day. However, the rise in heterosocial culture combined with several other factors would eventually draw them back out of these clubs, and into the wider world. It’s a perfectly acceptable stage of life that’s clearly been going on for decades, but I feel like it’s finally time for me to try and do better.

Enjoying.

What this has all made me realise is the real benefit that University has given me. All the time, lecturers and career advisers encourage students to get involved. Parents urge their children to make the most of their time in University, as apparently it’s all downhill afterwards. And while for the longest time, I’ve been ignoring the advice of pretty much everyone, I’ve finally begun to understand. In the past few weeks, I’ve been finding new ways to occupy my time; volunteering, applying for the position of student ambassador, or even, more conventionally, casual visits to the film society. For the first time in ages, I’ve got goals and motivation. I’ve realised new favourite pastimes. Cooking. Watching new films. Burning incense. Drinking coffee. (And, unfortunately for my wallet) Comic hunting on eBay. Simple menial things that I’ve been doing for years, but only recently realised how I enjoy them far more than drinking and the other staples of ‘student life’.

Which is really just as well, because from here on out, things actually count, and frankly despite my previous claim that I have faith things will work out, that’s quite frightening.

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2014 in Life

 

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