Category Archives: Blogging

13 Questions for 2013 [Part 1]

1) If you weren’t doing whatever you’re doing with your life right now, what would you be doing?

I think if I weren’t in grad school working on my PhD in Geography, I’d be doing one of two things. If I were still on the academic path, I’d probably be studying math/physics/astronomy/some combination thereof. But, alas, science is hard. The other choice would have to be music-related, though I can’t exactly say doing what. It probably depends (in my alternate universe) if I made different decisions in high school (I’d probably be a professional trumpet player/band nerd) or in college (I’d probably be a professional singer/choral guy). Either way – I’d probably have about as much money (and that’s not much!)

Isn’t playing with alternate timelines fun? But, as they say on Lost, Whatever Happened, Happened.

2) What’s the oddest term of endearment you’ve ever used or that someone’s used for you?

To understand the answer to this, you have to realize that Karen and I are slightly crazy when alone… That said, I can’t even remember half of the crazy nicknames and terms of endearment we have for each other, but I think one of the top ones has to be Bread Head. I don’t remember the entire back story for this, but I know it involved the Bunny Bread slogan… “That’s what I said: Bunny Bread!”

3) Is the country you live in really the best fit for you?

Ha, this is a tough one! I’m inclined to say no, given that I find plenty of things wrong with the United States (and something new to dislike/frown upon seems to pop up every week). Sometimes I really wouldn’t mind living outside the US for an extended period of time, especially if that meant working (teaching) in Canada, the UK, Norway, Germany, Australia, etc. But for all its faults, I do think the US is where I am supposed to be for this period of my life. The whole graduate education in another country thing does not really suit my fancy, which is why I never seriously considered it when applying for PhD programs. That, and in conversations with Karen it has been made perfectly clear that she prefers to visit and not live in other countries. Oh well.

Those are all the questions I’ve come up with so far. Have some intriguing questions of your own? Leave me a comment, and I’ll get back to any questions deemed worthy in the next installment of this series!

Hello 2013!

Well, it looks like a new year is upon us. Karen and I saw 2013 come in with Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve… but mostly for the NYC ball drop and the aerial shots of Times Square. Seriously, if Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift are the best “musicians” we can find (and I use that term loosely) then maybe America is not worth saving.

But now I’ve gone and started things on a negative tone, and that just won’t do! So sorry for that. Anyway, before Ryan Seacrest and Jenny McCarthy helped us rock in the new year, Karen and I had Christmas with my parents and we went out to eat at Don Pancho’s. Hey, don’t laugh if that’s not exciting enough for you! That’s more activity than we usually do! Then we followed that up with three hours of watching House from Netflix. Love it.

Anyway, I intended for this post to be more about my resolutions for 2013, as it has become something of a tradition around here to write them down for the world to see. (Behold, I give you 2011 and 2012.) 2012’s resolutions were, as you might imagine, a bit hit or miss. I played my trumpet some (thought not enough to be good at it), I did indeed run a couple of races earlier in the year (and then basically lost the time, or the will to make time, once the PhD started), I ended the year no healthier than when I began it (probably, at least weight-wise, because of the running trend!). I did travel quite a bit. That one I can really and truly say I accomplished. It’s funny to look back at the beginning of 2012 when I knew I’d be going to NYC for AAG and I thought I’d be moving for my PhD studies. Ha, good one! There’s no need to recap my travels here, but feel free to go back and look for my posts on New York City and Norway.

For 2013, I decided to simplify my resolutions into two broad categories, something that a lot of “resolution advice givers” (aka, “experts”) suggest is a bad idea. The thinking goes that if you make smaller, more achievable goals along the way then you will be more likely to achieve them. I tend to actually agree with this line of thinking, but my resolutions are really more like life mantras that I am adopting, and mantras are, most often, by their nature very broad.

So here you go. Matt’s Mantras for 2013. (Hmm… has a nice ring to it. Maybe I should market this.)

1. Be better to myself.

I think everyone can agree with this. It’s a not difficult, in theory, to see why being better to one’s self is a useful mantra to adopt. After all, who better to take care of yourself than you. Am I right? This concept takes into consideration a number of my previous resolutions, most obviously to live a healthier life. No one else should be responsible for making sure I make healthy decisions, with perhaps the exception of doctors who are paid to help in this quest! But being better to one’s self does not stop at the corporeal. There’s the mental, the emotional, the spiritual to consider. There’s even the financial. All of these, and plenty more I’m probably forgetting, are areas to consider improving. Consider being better to yourself as well this year – just don’t make the mistake of confusing being better to yourself with (selfishly) living only for yourself. The two are not mutually exclusive!

2. Create (or produce) more, consume less.

This mantra was inspired by a blog post I recently read from a creative-type (photographer/video/web content creation stuff) guy I follow on Twitter. The unfortunate thing is that after I read it, I didn’t email it to myself or bookmark it or anything…so now I can’t find the particular post AND I can’t remember which person on Twitter posted it. (One problem of following a lot of creative types on Twitter, I suppose). But the gist of the post was something along these lines: “The world we live in thrives on consumption. If you aren’t producing something worth consuming, then you are not much use to the world. Therefore, create more and improve your usefulness to the world.” That may be a little bit of a simplistic reduction, but that’s what I took away from it. From my studies of political economy and geography, it’s also pretty true. The world we live in (ESPECIALLY in the US) is so ridiculously full of consume-consume-consumers that it does seem to make sense that if you aren’t producing, then you are part of the problem. However, this particular blog post was specifically speaking to producers in the “creative economy” (or “knowledge economy,” if you prefer). But I think this mantra is applicable to so much more, just like Mantra #1.

Produce more food yourself (this fits right in with Karen’s goals of having an even better garden and eating even fewer processed foods) and consume less (which my waistline could use).

Create more content (whatever that may be – more blogging, more photos, more scholarly articles) and consume less junk. I already started applying that some this year (for example, it quickly became apparent this fall that 3-4 hours of my life each Saturday could be spent in some better fashion than watching UT football), but there is plenty of room for improvement. I only blogged 13 times last year, and I probably posted less than 200 photos of the thousand or so I took all year. Room for improvement? Definitely. But it’s not all bad, of course. I submitted my first peer-reviewed journal in 2012, and I will see it through to publication in 2013. I’m already planning the next couple of articles down the road, and I’d like to see a couple of those submitted and accepted this year as well.

Create more/consume less can take many forms, and you should join me in taking on this mantra for 2013.

In summary, I’ve already hit 1,000 words, and I’ve probably lost bored some of you to tears with a post this long. If you had the fortitude to make it through, I commend you. Happy New Year! Let’s make it a great one.

Eclectic Musical Tastes

This idea was borrowed from a friend (Life According to Me).

30 Day Challenge: Day 11

Put your iPod on shuffle and write 10 songs that pop up.

Welp, I decided to just use iTunes because my iPhone (which doubles as my iPod) doesn’t have my entire music library on it. And if you’re going to do this post the right way, I feel you should get to experience the full force of craziness that is your own musical tastes. Then I had a second thought. I have a lot of music in my iTunes library (606 songs, to be exact) that I have purchased, downloaded, imported from a CD, etc. that I have not listened to even once. The first song that popped up on shuffle happened to be one of these, and I decided that those shouldn’t count either.

So, here you go. (UPDATE: 12/5/12 – now including links to YouTube/other recordings)

1. Chocolate City – Parliament

2. Factum Est Silentium (by Dering) – Voces8 (Can’t find a playable Voces8 recording, so I give you Tennessee Tech’s choir)

3. Paranoid – Ozzy Osbourne

4. I Get Along Without You Very Well (by Hoagy Carmichael) – The King’s Singers (Can’t find the King’s Singers version, so I give you Frank Sinatra instead)

5. Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely – Backstreet Boys (WHY do I even HAVE this?? Ack!)

6. The “You’ve Got Mail” Suite – George Fenton

7. Hitch a Ride – Boston

8. Pat a Pan – Mannheim Steamroller

9. 11 Blue Egyptians – Jason Becker

10. Dare You to Move – Switchfoot


Some of you may be asking why I did this, but I think it’s pretty self-explanatory. It’s a pretty LOL-worthy list!

That, and I needed some stress relief after finishing the first of my three term papers. But let’s focus on the LOL-worthy.

It’s been a long time, now I’m…coming back home.

Name the song for which this blog is titled.

If you said The Beatles’ “Wait” (from theRubber Soul album) then you are correct!

I don’t even know why I used that for a title; of all the Beatles’ songs out there, “Wait” has never been one of my particular favorites. In fact, it sometimes grates on my nerves. Part of is the nasally singing from Lennon and McCartney. Maybe also the incessant tambourine.

But enough of that. I’m actually writing a blog post for the first time in ages. I guess that’s really why I used the lyrics in my title – it has indeed been a long time since I could make time for this blog. This semester has been hectic, to say the least. It took a good month to really transition back into the swing of taking class, working as a research assistant, etc. but I’m glad to report that “the old Matt” is back, as Micheline likes to say.

So what have I been up to? Well, a number of things. My course work is primarily outside of Geography this semester, so I’ve been doing a lot of reading in political economy and political science. I’ve been finding really good connections between that and my geography reading and dissertation ideas, so political economy/theory/stuff will play a big role in my research over the next couple of years. Yeah, hard, to believe – but I’m on track to finish my PhD in a mere 2.5 more years. I metaphorically pinch myself sometimes at that thought, and it’s been a frequent one over the last few weeks because I’ve been planning my PhD “Program of Study,” as all first-year students have to do.

Other than the coursework, the dissertation planning is coming along. I don’t have a complete project, but I’m working on research questions and thinking about the short- and middle-term plans for accomplishing the research. The most obvious part of the planning is fieldwork. Karen and I will go with the “research team” to Oslo, Norway, again next summer. The plan at this point is to go a little earlier in the year, probably mid-May after UT’s finals. We may also go to some other Norwegian cities where the oil and gas sector is more active (Stavanger and Kongsberg are potential options.) The most important part is to get the plans nailed down early enough to get cheaper flights and find housing NOT at the last minute (like last year, when my fellow research assistant and I nearly caused Micheline to have a stress-induced stroke. Sorry about that, again!)

As for mid-term planning, I will apply for grants for more research funding starting next summer/fall to fund fieldwork in Berlin. I’m not sure how long fieldwork in Berlin would take (again, I don’t have a dissertation proposal complete yet), but I would like to spend the entire summer of 2014 over there, if not also part of that fall semester. Given how much time I know went into planning the Oslo fieldwork – at least two summers of fieldwork to plan, organize, establish contacts, etc. – I’m not ruling out any time period at this point. That is why I need to start securing funding so early.

Well, I’ve got to run. I hope you enjoyed my brief update, and as usual, I promise to try writing more often… but we all know how that goes.

Avoiding the New Year?


So, it’s already the first Friday of the New Year, and I haven’t posted my New Year’s Resolutions. It’s not for lack of trying. At first, I made a very simple list of things for resolutions, and most of them were borrowed from last year. I even started to write about them, but then wasn’t exceedingly happy with my mediocre list, so I deleted the blog post.

Well’s here’s attempt #2. Sometimes it helps just to write them out for myself, if for no other reason than to sort things out for yourself. As my friend Melanie recently posted, “My advisor’s advice is that ‘you can edit crap, but you can’t edit nothing.'” That sounds relatively similar to advice I’ve gotten during grad school, too… My attempts at New Year’s Resolutions are as follows: (though perhaps not as well developed as last year!)

  • Play the trumpet more. (This was also a resolution last year, but I only played a few times. Doing better on it so far.)
  • Run more consistently. (And I had better. I’m running a 15k at the Biltmore in May, and my long-term goals are to run a half-marathon this year and a full marathon next year.)
  • Be healthier. (This was only a partial success last year. Lost some weight, gained it back, started losing it again… and ended the year up 9 pounds in all. Weight loss isn’t the entire story though, because Karen and I have also made it a goal to eat out less this year, eat fewer processed foods, and make/cook/bake/etc as many things as we can ourselves instead of buying them. Well…the last part is actually her goal, as I am mostly useless in the kitchen. But eating out less was my idea, after I calculated that we spent a small fortune on eating out last year. I’ll be intentionally vague, but suffice it to say it was a four-figure number, close to half of my pitiful salary. Embarassing to post, I assure you.)
  • Travel, as always. (Shouldn’t be a problem. Going to NYC for the first time in February for the AAG Conference, and there’s a good chance I’ll be moving out of state to pursue my Ph.D. Fun times!)

That’s all for now. Since I didn’t do as well at posting or developing these ideas this year, I’ll try to appease you with some music instead.

A note about no comments…

Just a quick update here everybody: A few of you have noticed that I made commenting a little more difficult by requiring an account. My apologies for the extra step, but it unfortunately became necessary after some less-than-pleasant comments earlier this semester. I haven’t had a lot of time to think about the blog this semester anyway, but do know that I appreciate your (constructive) comments and I don’t want the conversation/feedback to end because of the sign-in requirement. So, I’m going back to the open commenting that was in place before, with the exception that initial commenters will have to have their first comment approved before future posts are automatically posted.

This may not mean much of anything to any of you, but suffice it say that we’re going to try the old way of doing things again.

Revisiting Resolutions

I got curious today about what my New Year’s Resolutions were from back in January. I remembered that I publicly declared those resolutions on this very blog, so I thought today would be a great time to revisit them! Some are accomplished, some are going poorly. Such is life. At least there’s still 5/12’s of the year left to accomplish them, right?

(Note: I’m going to copy/paste the resolutions straight from the January post in italics, before updating them in a red font.)

• Lose 30 pounds. Sure, why not? This time… I think I won’t rely on Crohn’s Disease to, ahem, assist me, so perhaps they will stay off a little longer this time? I haven’t gained it all back, but if this trend continues I should be able to be a contestant on the Biggest Loser by 2013.

This one is not going well at all. Thanks to the wonders (and stress) of grad school, combined with the Geography building being right across from the University Center, I’m currently +8.6 pounds for the year. I told you I was on my way to being a Biggest Loser Contestant! In somewhat more encouraging news, though, I am down a couple pounds since May. This is probably closely correlated with Resolution #2…

• Train for and run a race of some variety. 5k, etc. Preferably more than one, but that will all depend on how more time I can devote to training. The good news is that Karen has agreed to do it with me this time. The bad news? We’re both really good at wimping out after a few weeks.

The training began in January…and ended in January! Trying to start running again in the cold and at the beginning of the semester was a good way to set myself up for failure. So there’s the bad news. The good news is that I started again this summer, and although Karen wimped out on me after a few weeks, I’ve kept to the Nike+ Beginning Running program without her for several weeks now. I’m not quite up the “Running Obsessed” level, but I am at least on track to run a 5k before the year ends. The biggest challenge ahead will be maintaining my running schedule once the semester begins.

• Travel the world. (As a geographer, this is pretty much always a goal, not really a resolution. And since I’m planning on going to Berlin and other parts of Germany for thesis research this summer, this one should’t be too hard!)

Mission Accomplished. This one was completed with my summer fieldwork in Berlin and our mini-vacation in Paris. I can now check France off of the list of countries to visit, though I wouldn’t mind returning in the future to visit some French locales not named Paris!

• Read something other than the literature for my Master’s research and/or class. This one might actually be sort of hard! I’m thinking of reading the Lord of the Rings, but I seriously doubt I’ll find time for it this year, so I may stick to a few Star Wars novels I’ve been saving. Wouldn’t hurt to read some of the photography books I’ve amassed over the last 2-3 years either!

Believe it or not, this one can actually be checked off the list as well. I made it a part of my summer plan to get some leisure reading in and it worked. I only got around to reading D.H. Lawrence’s The Prussian Officer and Tina Fey’s autobiography Bossypants, but it was a start! I’ll definitely have to save LotR and Star Wars for another day/month/year.

• Play my trumpet. Regularly. I’ve decided to break it back out from hiding/storage. Cleaned it up nicely last year but never played it much. The first step, however, is to get Story used to it so she doesn’t freak out and bark every time she even sees it.

This one is a work in progress. Story is a little less scared of the trumpet now, but I’ve only played it twice all year. I did, however, start to teach myself piano from Karen’s beginning piano books, so at least I’m making some musical progress!

• Become more fluent in German. The two German courses I’m auditing this semester should help with that, but I’m still slightly terrified that I won’t be able to interview people in German this summer!

This one never really reached fruition, because I found a way around being terrified to interview in German during my fieldwork: First, speak English, and Second, find a translator. I may have gotten a little better with the help of the my two audited German courses, but I ended up dropping one midway through the semester because of the busyness. Which leads me to the last bullet point…

• Somehow, find a way to not “overdo it” this year. I came close to overdoing it this semester, but I was able to stay on top of all my various projects, papers, performances, etc. by the skin of my teeth. I’d like to take a step further back from the edge, but I know in all likelihood that I may actually be inching my way closer to a plunge, given my course load and responsibilities this semester alone. I know Summer and Fall won’t be as bad, but there’s still field work and comps and thesis writing death to think about then.

I miraculously pulled this off, and finished the spring semester with flying colors, all A’s, and new-found responsibilities of being entrusted to teach a section of Geography 101 for the department this upcoming year. How did I do it? Mostly, I saved my sanity with a combination of Sbarro’s in the aforementioned university center and Eric Whitacre’s latest CD, Light and Gold. I was also greatly blessed to receive three scholarships/grants from various sources at UT to fund my fieldwork, so part of my stress (rushing about to meet various deadlines!) paid off.

Now this resolution has to be extended to this fall semester. I’ve already blogged about how busy I have been just getting ready for the fall, but it will definitely pick up the pace in a few weeks.