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Getting organized as a PhD student – part 2

As a doctoral student, whether on contract or not, time is one of the most precious resources we have. And let’s be frank, as a human being, that’s true too. If I’m perfectly honest, time is the thing I dread the most. How do you fit everything into a limited amount of time? How to accomplish everything, read everything, write everything, when time does not slow down? In fact, the doctoral student must necessarily worry about time, after all, in principle, he has only three years.

Without any pretension, here are a few little tips that have helped me a lot, hoping that they will be useful to you too. And since your time is precious, I’ll make it quick and to the point.

© Lukas Blazek

To start, of course, the inevitable to-do list. It obviously helps to clear your mind of all the tasks, but only if it’s perfectly exhaustive. It can take many forms: a simple list or a moving list in “to do”, “in progress”, or “done”. In my opinion, and this is very personal, it benefits from being as simple and sober as possible. On the other hand, I refuse to make daily lists. It always seems more relevant to me to have two big lists: one with everything that needs to be done for the month (personal, professional and school included), that allows me to keep an eye on the tasks that come up every month; and a bigger one, more durable, that carries everything that is not especially urgent, but that deserves to be taken care of, or the longer projects.

By the way, speaking of what is urgent and what is not. There is another well-known technique, which is to divide the things you have to do into 4 categories. “Important and urgent”, “urgent but not important”, “important but not urgent” and finally “not important and not urgent”. This method is called the Eisenhower matrix (it would have been developed by Dwight David Eisenhower). But as far as I’m concerned, since I’ve incorporated it into my two to-do lists by nature, this work is only done in my head and doesn’t need to be written down.

When it comes to getting to work and actually eliminating tasks, there are several methods. The one that I think is the most useful is the Pomodoro method but with some adjustments. This method basically consists of activating a timer of 25 minutes during which you concentrate fully on the task. Then you take a 5 minute break, and after 4 sessions of 25 minutes, you can take a longer break of 15 minutes. It appears that 25 minutes is about the time it takes me to concentrate on a task. This makes it very difficult for me to take advantage of my 5 minute break, knowing that I am still, let’s say, “in the mood to work”. So I adapted this method to my needs as follows: I work for an undetermined amount of time, but I always set a stopwatch at about 1h30 or 1h45 just in case. Then, option A: I work without fatigue or weariness for that hour and a half and end up taking a break at the end when the timer rings and I’ve accomplished a lot, or option B: around 45 minutes for example, I feel some weariness, I’m not inspired, etc. and so I take my break at that point. To do this, I need my breaks to be optimal. A break of less than 15 minutes does not have enough impact to make me feel rested. To optimize my break, I give myself real relaxation time: I make myself a cup of tea and drink it quietly on the balcony, I play with my cat, I read a chapter of a book or I watch an episode of a series. Experience has taught me that in order to be productive again, I need a real break before I get back to it. In the end, I get back to being more peaceful.

© Monica Sauro

Author Brian Tracy, in his book “Eat that frog! “recommends doing the most difficult task of the day first thing in the morning. In their book “Make Time”, John Knapp and Jake Zeratsky recommend, among other things, to choose one thing to do each day that is the priority of the day and focus on it. If at the end of the day, that one thing is accomplished, even if it’s only one thing, then the day is considered successful. As a PhD student this could be: writing a thesis page, answering a call for papers, etc. Combine these two techniques and your days will be much more relaxing, yet more productive. Even if you only accomplish one task a day, at the end of the year you have 365 tasks accomplished that you care about, and that’s what counts.

When it comes to time management, there are a multitude of ways to organize your schedule as such. For example, each day, I don’t make a list of things to do, I make a “clock”, on it, I know that I have 12 hours of work. I then divide up what I want to do in those hours. Others just dash on a post-it note and that’s fine too. What you mustn’t forget is to keep time for the things that don’t seem important, but that will help you progress much faster: leisure. Don’t be afraid to set aside some leisure time each day, with something you really enjoy doing and that has no real purpose other than to give you a good time. Read a novel, try a new recipe, play games.

Finally, what you need to do is to find your own method, even if it means cobbling together your own from ideas here and there. But above all, enjoy your time!


Thank you for reading this article, I hope it has helped you, see you soon!

The artist’s body Part 2 – The body that makes

Attention, during the whole series “The body of the artist”, it’s recommended to the sensitive souls to abstain from such a reading. Note that the images will remain visible all the same.

We saw last month that some artists have chosen to give more importance in their works to the action of painting than to the painting as a result. What counts is no longer the production itself, the concrete, palpable creation, but rather the action of doing, the action of creating, so the action. This is how the first happenings were born, which can be awkwardly translated as “event”.

The work becomes the action of the artist himself. It’s no longer possible to keep a trace of what has been created other than by another medium, such as photography or video for example. What the artists emphasize through this movement is the performance, and thus the link created in the moment with the spectator, whether he is voluntary or “undergoes” the work.

© Warhol Co

From there, everything can become a work, everything can be Art. Everyday life becomes the favorite subject of some artists. Even today it’s possible to find photographs of Dick Higgins and Alison Knowles’ performances, “Danger Music” during which Alison shaves Dick’s head in a particularly conscientious way. You can also go to the famous online video platform to see Andy Warhol eating his cheeseburger again and again with unparalleled care. In the same vein, we can also see Bonnie Sherk eating her meal in a cage reserved for animals, while eating a meal prepared in a restaurant. There is also a whole series of photographs on the performances of Mierle Laderman Ukeles who works to clean the streets and the ground around and inside several museums. Ben Vautier chose to “enter the water with an umbrella” and to make a work of it (on several occasions).

But the artist’s body sometimes acts in a way that is out of the ordinary. This is the case of Yves Klein’s numerous attempts at levitation, who, after injuring himself several times, finally decided, with the complicity of a friend who developed photographs, to produce forgeries supposed to represent him in full flight, or between life and death, depending on the themes they decided to put forward. Or the numerous photographs of Bruce Nauman who represents him “as a fountain”, spouting water from his mouth. In “Parallel Stress”, Dennis Oppenheim suspended himself between two walls in a precarious balance, spread out just enough for him to cling on as best he could between the two (at least for the few minutes that the performance lasted).

Other artists have chosen to go even further and include the spectators in their works. The body that makes is no longer entirely that of the artist this time. Yoko Ono, in “Cut Piece”, which must have inspired Marina Abramovic, is simply sitting on the stage, and it’s the spectator who has the task of coming on stage and cutting up her clothes. The spectator and the artist are thus in a duality where the control of the situation and of what happens is at stake. The spectator is the one who acts, in front of a submissive artist, but who remains nevertheless the one by whom everything happens. As for Giuseppe Penone, with “Rovesciare i propri occhi” during which he wears mirrored lenses, sends the viewer back to his own image, to his own contemplation. It’s then up to the spectator to establish what he does with it.

© Volker Gleaser

With the project “Manifestation for all the senses” of Milan Knizak, the artist is only the organizer of a kind of amusement park in which the spectator has only to walk around to live an extraordinary experience. Olfactory because they are almost sprayed with perfume, musicians play, and the organizers then crowd around the spectators to shout, scream, etc.. Here the work has become a place and an experience to be lived by the spectator who “lives” the work. More recently (in the 2010’s), the Russian director Ilya Khrzhanovksy, for his project « Dau », built an architectural complex in the style of the USSR of the 30s and 40s and proposed to hundreds of people to come and live there, exactly as the habitants of the USSR of that time would have done. The experiment-work lasted two years and was carefully filmed by the artist, proud of his creation. He then offered to visit the places in question. But to do this, you have to proceed as in the former USSR, with a visa application and a visit that lasts at least 6 hours (up to unlimited time). The work here is more of an experience for the spectator, who is no longer so passive…

The artist’s body is extended into the viewer’s body.


Thank you and see you soon for the next part of this series!

The body or the artist, part 1 – The painting body

Artists have always liked to represent human bodies. From the time of the caves until today, there’s an infinity of representations of the human body. This motif, declined under all possible variations, is an interesting subject. However, today, we will rather look at what the artist does (or does not) with his own body.

Here again, the variations seem extraordinarily numerous, especially since the 20th century has given birth to facets of art that use the artist’s body in an unexpected or original way. For such a vast subject, it’s not reasonable to pretend to exhaustiveness. We will nevertheless try to focus our attention on several facets of the artist’s body in art today. The first, for a sober introduction of the subject, will be the body that paints.

Beware, during the whole series “The body of the artist”, it’s recommended to sensitive minds to refrain from such a reading. Note that the images will remain visible all the same.

From the middle of the twentieth century, Art is no longer only interested in the painted canvas, in the result. Critics, thinkers and artists redirected their attention to the act of painting itself. The action, the act of painting, had become the main subject, or at least a significant part of art itself. This is how action painting is born.

© Mike Petrucci

This current, at first mainly led by male artists, first focused on the action of the painter, then the body became a tool that allows to paint, to spread the paint, to act in the painting activity. The artist’s body becomes in turn a brush or even a canvas. Female artists then took over this trend as well, and the whole world of Art was modified without any possible return.

Of course, everyone knows the brilliant Jackson Pollock, who represented almost the entire action painting movement, as evidenced by the numerous videos of his painting “performances”. But we must also mention the brilliant Georges Mathieu, who combined his painting with a very particular gesture. His monumental paintings, often done while wearing period costumes, were executed in spectacular scenes photographed or filmed, which were sometimes more like theater than painting in the traditional sense.

It was then up to the Japanese to take hold of this movement where the artist’s body was solicited as a tool for artistic creation. Shozo Shimamoto making his paintings by throwing his paint pots directly on the canvas, or Kazuo Shiraga rolling in the mud, the act of making art becomes closer and closer to the artist’s body, organic. From there it’s only a step towards Yves Klein’s anthropometries. The latter proposes indeed representations where women, naked, the body coated with paint, became the tool used to apply the paint on the canvas, that the painter now, hardly approaches. What the brilliant Niki de Saint-Phalle understood well with her painted works which are in reality only canvases with bags of paint, which she bursts by shooting a gun directly on them, thus letting the paint flow, in explosions of dripping and cathartic colors.

© Amauri Mejia

But others choose this pretext to get closer to their work than ever. The artist Marcel Duchamp, well known for his subversive mind, went so far as to use elements of his own body (hair, hair, …) or his bodily secretions (his semen in this case), to constitute paintings where he mixed manifestations of his own body and paint, Plexiglas etc.. Original materials that are understandable when you know that these paintings were intended for his lover, the Brazilian artist Maria Martens. There are also those who continue, obstinately, to hold the brush, but who have made it slip from their hands… This is the case of Shigeko Kubota, who, as a sign of protest against the action painting mostly practiced by men and therefore almost “ejaculatory”, will use her vagina to hold the brush in her works.

And then, of course, there is a moment when the paint disappears altogether. Claes Oldenburg or Carolee Schneemann have chosen in some of their works to paint with unidentified organic matter, or even waste or garbage. Ana Mendieta chose to paint with blood. Andy Warhol explored the question with a process of action painting that involved his own urine.

Thus, the body of the artist becomes not only an element of “doing”, it’s what must be looked at, the center of the work. There is certainly no shortage of examples, and these are just some, taken from thousands, of artists who have chosen to see their bodies, as artists, differently.


Thank you for hanging in there until the end and see you soon!

Getting organized as a phd student – Part 1

Some time ago, I once again found myself in a state of panic. Luckily, unlike what happened to me when I was not yet optimally organized, this time I was able to get out of it and get back on track. But without the new measures I had taken, it would never have been as easy or as quick as it was.

I have to say that I don’t make life very easy for myself. Take last year for example. I had to manage my PhD (which should already be a full-time job!), as well as two research masters, combine jobs to put food on my plates, and also of course to take care of my personal life (family, friends, volunteer work, fulfilling projects that are usually always put off, etc.) and all this in full covid. To my great surprise, I turned out pretty well.

© Stil

Of course, the ideal situation for any researcher looks more or less like a quiet and spacious office, with all the books you might need at hand, a durable work surface, on which you can rest your reading cards and come back to them later, leave a few interesting journals open on the right page, and an assortment of pens that always write well and without making a mess.
But the reality is often quite different.
So here are a few keys that, in my humble opinion, have worked for me and should perhaps help you get organized, especially if, like me, you’re crazy enough to do so many things at once.

In the physical world

No office? Slip your laptop into a lidded box when you’re not using it, with planner, bic pen, a few draft sheets, book in progress. All you’ll have to do is move the box wherever you can. I’ve already experimented with the dining table, the bed, or the sofa with some success (for Zoom sessions where you have to show your heads, try the most stable place possible, at worst, the computer on a chair and you sit on the floor against a neutral wall, no one will pay attention).

No library nearby? I’m not going to lie to you, it’s going to be difficult. But you have two options. Either you decide to work only from sources that you can find online, but this assumes that your internet connection is concrete and that your subject can be used without a dead end. Or, what I advise, go to the library anyway, even if it means 3 hours of transportation there and 3 hours of transportation back, but make the most of this outing. Choose the library in question carefully if several are possible, check the catalog before you go to see what is part of your bibliography imperatively or what may be worth a look, consult a maximum of books on the spot and borrow as much as you can, if possible consult a map beforehand so you can get to the library without wasting time. Above all, if you can only go once a month (or even worse), don’t go without knowing what you need and prepare yourself as much as possible.

Impossible to find what you’re looking for among books bought and stored at home? Sort your bookcase! Separate the books that you clearly use for your thesis from those that are for your personal entertainment, separate your books from those of other people you live with, if applicable. And if this means that you no longer have a bookcase to store your books in, that’s fine. I’ve been known to store books in dresser drawers, carefully sorted and arranged so that you can see the edge of them. If your clothes can fit somewhere else, do so, it’s very pleasant: top drawer antique philosophy, third drawer art aesthetic, bottom drawer reference works, etc. If not, don’t hesitate to experiment with crazy places for your books. Just remember that the kitchen or the bathroom are obviously not good ideas. But apart from that, you can do just about anything you want, the idea is to be able to see all the slices of the books easily at a glance, don’t bother trying to make it presentable for an impromptu visitor.

Too many papers? This problem is rather rare nowadays, but tenacious in some people. Remember my lidded box? At the bottom, in a place that rarely moves, there is a set of pockets that I use to store the papers related to my thesis. A pocket for the lectures, a pocket for the reading cards, a pocket for the flying papers of the style “a bright idea came through me and I wrote it on a bar napkin with lipstick”. At the very back, I also put away a special pocket with transparent sleeves, in which all the important things are stored. In my doctoral school we call it a portfolio. In it I have all the certificates of the training I have completed, conference programs, my school certificates, that sort of thing. Don’t keep paper documents for your thesis if they have nothing to do with this classification (in the humanities anyway), you can always get the rest in digital format and you’ll save space (unless of course your subject imposes you by nature to do things differently).

© Tom Hermans

In the virtual world

Not enough storage? Lost all my documents? Nowadays, it’s impossible to do without proper storage equipment. You need to buy at least two USB flash drives, of identical size, on which you save your entire “Thesis” file every time you make a change without exception. The ideal is to have three, but two can do the trick, if you store them in radically different places (still not in the kitchen or the bathroom…). If you can, protect their access with a password, data theft between researchers is not a legend, protect your work, you took a long time to do it. All disciplines that require something other than text or pdf files, don’t forget to provide storage space accordingly, photographs, videos, or audio files take up space (not to mention those who develop graphic simulations that rocks, but I doubt those need me to double check their storage).

Problem organizing digital documents? Create a system. Your brain needs to stay available for research (or the countless other tasks you’ve set for yourself), so help it. Even when you’re very messy and scattered by nature, it’s possible to make compromises. Create a large “Thesis” file and within it several sub-files: your reading cards, your digital books, your writing progress, your proposals for conferences or study days, etc. Each element must be distinct. And remember to give easy and short titles, you don’t want to bother to find or put away a document. Finally, for the ultimate slackers (of which I am one) for whom it’s impossible to sort all the documents as soon as they arrive in your life, plan a file “to sort” and set one day per week when you can take a few minutes to put everything back in its right place.

Other important tips :

Take care of your lifestyle. It’s out of the question to sit still for 6 hours at a time without getting up to stretch your legs, to miss a meal because you don’t have time, or not to do any sports during the week (except for medical reasons of course). Organize your time in blocks and forget the to-do list for all that is hygiene of life, you will not do it in the duration otherwise.

Take care of your social and emotional life. With the covid, it’s not easy, I agree. But try to reserve one evening per week (or 3 hours if you really can’t do better) to enjoy your family, friends or your other half without thinking about anything else (if the sanitary conditions require it, it’s not as good, but in webcam it counts too). Sometimes you’re afraid to lose time by doing this, but in the end, it’s those 3 hours that will recharge you and give you the shape for the rest of the week.

Compartmentalize! If, like me, you are curious by nature and multiply commitments, make sure they don’t interact with each other. No document that is not related to your thesis should end up in a pocket where you only have this, and your thesis documents should never end up in your health book or with your calendar for the volunteer marauds! Your life has many facets and that’s fine, they can sometimes get mixed up intellectually, that’s what makes it so rich, but don’t let them pile up without a head or tail, you’ll quickly get lost.

I hope that one or two things that may have helped me can help you in your turn. In the next section, we will discuss the organization in more detail, addressing a major problem: time. Lots of great achievements to you and hang on!


Thank you and see you soon!

Metamorphosis

Lavoisier tells us that: “nothing is created, neither in the operations of art, nor in those of nature, and one can posit in principle that, in any operation, there is an equal quantity of matter before and after the operation; that the quality and quantity of the principles is the same, and that there are only changes, modifications”. This law of conservation is generally simplified by “Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed”. Somehow I could stop my explanation at this simple quote, but some of you might be a little disappointed.

The word metamorphosis comes from the Greek meta, which means after, and from morphe, which means form. Together they give metamorphoun, transform, and metamorphosis, transformation. The Romans would later adopt this term in Latin. In antiquity, metamorphosis is one of the most common events in Greek-Roman mythology. Ovid, a famous Latin poet, wrote in his famous Metamorphoses, the stories of humans transformed into birds or terrifying beasts. But sometimes they were also changed into mountains or trees, or even constellations of stars. In this book, metamorphosis is alternately a punishment from the gods or a reward from them.

In the Middle Ages, alchemists desperately sought the secret of the transmutation of lead into gold, of vile matter into precious matter. During this time, humans were accused of transforming themselves into crows or frogs and were condemned to death for this. Metamorphosis is therefore always a mysterious, almost mystical event. However, it will soon become apparent that many animals are subject to changes of this nature. Insects for example, like the butterfly in its chrysalis, see their shape change radically. To do so, however, they must go through a stage of dormancy, of rest.

© Suzanne D. Williams

But humans also seek change for themselves, a way to metamorphose. In “primitive” societies, for example, there is always a will to change, to transform oneself. We wear feathers in our hair or ritual paintings on our faces. In some tribes (the Jivano) it’s even considered that body paintings are more representative of a person’s being than the shape of his features. His identity is therefore the way he has chosen to metamorphose. Elsewhere, among the tribes who go hunting in disguise (=metamorphosed into an animal), it’s feared that the metamorphosis is stronger than reality. This tactic does not go then without fear: after all, what will be stronger, what will prevail, the difference of the bodies or the similarity between the soul of the human and the soul of the animal?

Descola tells us: “The metamorphosis is therefore not an unveiling or a disguise, but the culminating stage of a relationship where each person, by modifying the position of observation that his original physicality imposes on him, strives to coincide with the perspective under which he thinks the other sees himself. »
The human being who metamorphoses, disguises himself or tries to transform himself (including one could say it by surgical operations nowadays, or modifications such as tattoos or piercings, etc.) not for himself, but in relation to others. He metamorphoses in order to get closer to others, or to distinguish himself from them. He’s in any case always in a relationship. A metamorphosis is meaningless if it’s not faced with a reaction. The ultimate expression of oneself cannot occur if it does not have a spectator (be it an animal, a deceased person, etc.).

© Joe Green

Metamorphosis is a complex subject. We get up in the morning wanting to change the world, or change ourselves, or sometimes (although it’s probably riskier) change others. This may explain why metamorphosis is addressed in so many works of art: Shakespeare (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), Apuleius (The Metamorphoses), or Kafka (The Metamorphosis) and even the Harry Potter saga (the Polyjuice potion), etc. References are not lacking.

Cornelius Castoriadis asserts that “man can create nothing”, because “true forms are immutable, incorruptible, unbreakable”. But perhaps this is because one does not seek to metamorphose what can be. For Giordano Bruno, human nature has a “power of transformation” of its own. It’s then enough to master this power, which links humans to a kind of “cosmic infinity”, so that through philosophy, Man becomes a master of metamorphosis, and can thus “permanently transform his power to act and think”. These encouraging words suggest that metamorphosis can very well leave the world of mythology and fairy tales to become part of the world of the possible. And therefore, that nothing stands in the way of a radical metamorphosis of the world for the good.

*

Thank you & see you soon.

Little bibliography : 
- Giordano Bruno, A Philosophy of Metamorphosis.
- Cornelius Castoriadis, The Imaginary Institution of Society.
- Philippe Descola, Par dela nature et culture.
- Kafka, The metamorphosis.
- Antoine Lavoisier, Elementary Treatise on Chemistry.
- Alexander Roob, Alchemy and mysticism.
- Ovide, Metamorphoses.

Search the Archives

It appears that in many cases, worthy research work cannot go without an investigation in archives, in some form or another. It’s tedious work, not always pleasant or rewarding, and in some cases one may come away from the expedition washed out, but no more informed. However, if your research topic includes archival material (and mine does), it’s essential to delve into it, at least once, just in case something might have escaped us.

The term “archives” is generally used when referring to old documents. These documents are stored and classified for conservation or historical purposes (often both). These types of documents are not always officially referred to as “archives” by those who manage them, or by those who are the source of the documents. However, when a document that was useful in the past, is no longer useful today because it has lost its relevance, and is preserved, then this document is a form of archive (at least in the context that interests us here).

The main difficulty in digging through archives is that it can be anything and everything. In the social sciences and humanities (SSH), one can find manuscripts, journals, memos, activity reports, but also flyers or leaflets. But some documents are not necessarily text, they can be visual, even graphic, such as event posters, maps, advertisements, or tickets. Others may simply not be palpable. These are videos (official or amateur), podcasts, recorded radio transmissions, etc. The list is endless. Of course, all this can also be found in its digital equivalent (online or offline), especially when it comes to recent documents. In the case of my thesis specifically, especially in cases where there are few archives in quantity, I prefer to err on the side of caution and not pre-sort what I’m going to look at without knowing what’s in it beforehand. All types of documents have their advantages and defects. Their selection must depend above all on your subject and your problem. Which documents can you use to highlight what you want to talk about?

© Marjan Blan

The very first phase of an archive excavation is the collection phase. It’s by far the most tedious, although it’s not the longest. Finding archival data can be done in several ways depending on what you are looking for. The ideal case is when you are interested in what is called “public archives”. In other words, the state archives. Since they are official items, these types of documents often surprise you with valuable information. However, beware of the legal side of things. In France, for example, public archives can be used after a certain period of time, which is governed by a law contained in the Code of Relations between the Public and the Administration, in article L 321-1. However, this law no longer applies when it concerns documents that may contain someone’s personal data or if the document is rather intellectual property of someone. Keep in mind that each country has its own rules and laws concerning its public archives. It would be a matter of not breaking the law somewhere, even in the opposite side of the world…

The other major source of documents is obviously private sources. This documents are more difficult to obtain, so one must search longer, especially when it comes to documents that are not required to be published. In spite of this, private archives have the advantage that they can be used at the owner’s discretion. That is to say that if he likes you, or if he doesn’t care at all (which happens more often than you might think), you can use the documents he entrusts to you in your research. But beware, this is a matter of private law, it’s always preferable to have your back by asking him for a written record of his agreement.

This is just a piece of advice, but I recommend that you keep a complete and well-informed list of all the archives you consult from the start. I personally indicate the provenance or source, the date of creation of the document, the date of availability sometimes, a maximum description of the document and my own notes concerning it, as well as of course, a basic characterization (title or name, etc.). I treat this list almost as preciously as the few paragraphs I have already written of my thesis or my bibliography (copy on my computer, on my external hard disk, on two different USB keys, etc.). If I were to lose this work, duly classified and analyzed, it would be me who would be lost!

© Ula Kuzma

Archive work undoubtedly allows for direct immersion, especially if your theme includes one-time events that are now over. The historical aspect is another undeniable advantage of archives. They are a time machine, literally. Rereading an old newspaper is exactly like going back in time, you can feel the atmosphere, the concerns and sometimes even the feelings of those who wrote it. In the social sciences and humanities, this is an element that I consider not to be neglected, in order to better grasp the ideas and concepts of people at a given moment in time.

The contribution of documents gives the research work a kind of scientific support, as it’s a reliable source element, often attested and sometimes accessible (and therefore verifiable) by everyone freely. Finally, what I call archive excavation or archive search is first of all a compilation work. Even in so-called “abstract” subjects, because certain elements can help to conceptualize and even make more concrete some aspects of the research. Then, it’s a work of analysis, which I’m sure you know how to do perfectly well. It’s this analytical work, which will be your biggest effort, that will give full prominence to the documents that have caught your attention, so that you can bring out your working hypotheses.

Finally, you will then have to exploit the data within the thesis, but how? After several half-days of pain, I finally realized that the solution is often contained in the documents themselves. Sometimes it will be photographs in the appendices, or complete transcripts when justified. But it can also, in the case of text documents, be a quotation within the text of your work if this is possible and sufficient. The important thing is to link your document to the rest of the thesis especially! It’s not a question of talking about a document in order to talk about it, it must bring something to your problem and to your demonstration. Otherwise, it’s archiving, not a thesis friends!


Good luck in your research & see you soon!

Giving and receiving – Christmas part 1

First of all, as it should be, a little history. I have talked a lot here about the question of the summer solstice on June 21. But it’s now appropriate, at this time of the year, to take a little interest in its winter equivalent, December 21. Wait, this is an article on Christmas, you’ll tell me, it’s December 25, isn’t it? Not at all on the 21st, what’s this story? But. Christmas is a Christian holiday, certainly, taking place on December 25th. But it’s far from always being that simple.

You may have heard, one day or another, the words of Saturnalia? The feast of Mithras? Of Yule? Well it so happens that it’s these feasts first, which occupied our ancestors during the winter solstice.

© Norman Tsui

If you look at Mithra, it’s not surprising that his feast is celebrated on Christmas Day, because the god Mithra was born on December 25th (doesn’t that remind you of anyone?). This god, whose origin probably dates back more than 4000 years, is celebrated since then around the winter solstice, for his birthday, as it should be. Of Indo-persian origin, Mithra is the sun god. It’s he who protects humans, who warms them and allows them to feed themselves by making their plants grow. Mithra is a god who gives, and that is why, on his birthday, December 25th, he’s honored with gifts and offerings. December 21, the winter solstice, is the shortest day of the year, the night is so long that it seems it will never end. Yet, each year on December 25, Mithra is reborn and the days grow longer again, unfolding the greatest gift Mithra has to offer to humans. Further north, among the Celts (as in many other polytheistic religions, by the way), we find this idea of a solar god, who dies on the winter solstice, but whose day also represents rebirth (or birthday) and thus victory, because he is reborn again and again, invariably.

As for the Saturnalia, you will easily understand that it was a Roman custom. In Antiquity, this feast lasted one week around our present Christmas. During this period, in Roman culture, which was very hierarchical, it was considered that there was no social difference between individuals and all religions were invited to these celebrations, without any problem. Meals were shared, gifts were given to loved ones and sometimes to those who passed by the house. Children were given toys or small sort of dolls, guests were given holly, mistletoe or ivy, which was also used to decorate the house. During this week, slaves were considered free, and in some houses, the master even served the slave for a change. All institutions were closed, and all death sentences were even suspended. Everyone was at home, busy making small personalized gifts that they could then offer (saturnalia and sigillaricia). Most of the meals during this period are offered free of any kind of charge.

Druids and shamans from all over the world, during the winter solstice (among the peoples located in the other hemisphere however, the dates are reversed), we celebrate during the week of the shortest day of the year, the rebirth of the sun. Yule, which actually means “solstice” in Old Norse, is the day when Heimdall, who lives at the North Pole, comes down to visit children, rewarding those who have done well by leaving them gifts and punishing those who have not been good with ashes. For the Vikings, Yule is a feast of light, where humans, as well as gods, take the opportunity to gather with friends and family, enjoy loved ones, share good food, songs, hand-made gifts, and tell stories.

© Samuel Holt

So much for the history. Today, it’s more often remembered in the Western world that Christmas is a Christian holiday, celebrating Jesus of Nazareth, who was also born on December 25th. However, December is also the month of the day of St. Nicholas (December 6). The legend of this saint tells that he is said to have succeeded in resurrecting three little children who had been cut up by a horrible butcher. This is how he quickly became the protector of children, especially the little ones. In the Middle Ages, as early as 1087, in Northern and Eastern European countries, it gradually became customary for a man to disguise himself as Saint Nicholas (as he was pictured, i.e. with a large beard, a bishop’s crook, a mitre and a large hooded garment) and to pass through houses to offer gifts to well-behaved children (it was not until the 16th century that Mr Bogeyman made his appearance). Little by little, the legends became intertwined, giving birth to Santa Claus, a character strangely resembling St. Nicholas, who gives presents to children, but on the day of Jesus’ birth now, December 25th.

In spite of this, we should not forget that another great festival takes place around the winter solstice, which is Hanukkah. For the Jews it’s a very great moment of rejoicing, during 8 days, the feast of lights. And it’s indeed still about lights that inexplicably last longer than one would expect (like the sun that comes back every year). It’s an opportunity to make large and long hearty meals, but also to study and cultivate oneself around stories (Hanukkah comes from the root of the Hebrew word ‘hanèkh, which means “to educate”). And of course we also give each other gifts! Contrary to popular belief, it is not the acculturation of the Jews that led them to adopt the habit of giving gifts to each other, as their great wise of the past already encouraged this custom (Maimonides, etc.).

The winter solstice is therefore a moment closely related to giving and receiving gifts. (Luckily, Santa Claus today does not only care for children!) This custom raises a multitude of questions, among which is that of the gratuity and/or the value of what we offer, of the importance given to “being together” vs. the material accumulation of goods, or even that of knowing, obviously, more profoundly, where come from the fact that we have been giving each other gifts around the winter solstice for thousands of years?

In any case, I wish you all a wonderful winter solstice and a wonderful holiday season, hoping that it will be possible for you to see your loved ones despite the current circumstances and no matter if this period has more meaning for you as Yule or Christmas, or whether it’s Saint Nicholas or Mithra who brings you your gifts.


Thank you & see you soon!

Nightmare at the Festival – Part 1

Music, lights, over-motivated organizers and enthusiastic participants, how could a festival turn into a nightmare, you might ask? Yet it’s far from being a rarity and it almost becomes a classic. Festivals are known to be microcosms on their own, but that doesn’t mean that when a grain of sand enter the mechanics, the disaster doesn’t become a major one.

Woodstock, or how a disaster turned into a myth

First of all, I must destroy what is perhaps inked in your mind as one of the greatest successes of the festival world: Woodstock, August 1969. If the festival is today a true legend, a remnant of the hippie movement and of that period when everything was beautiful, flowery and smiling, it’s partly thanks to its extraordinary programming. We find for example Joan Baez, Santana, Canned Heat, Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, etc.. The list of talented artists is almost too good to be true. The fact is that they all came. That’s not the problem.

© Krists Luhaers

To begin with, the weather conditions are no longer a mystery today, the three days took place in pouring rain, forcing artists and spectators to deal with it. Ravi Shankar, who played on Friday had to play literally soaked by the way. Spectators had to wade through mud in torrential rain, mud that was apparently very difficult to get out of. On the other hand, the festival, which was initially a paying event, brought in so many people that it is estimated that only 10% of the spectators had paid their entrance fee, the rest had gotten in by going over the barriers or simply smashing them down. The festival was therefore in the rain, wading through mud and astronomical overcrowding. But even if we forget this kind of consideration, the musical performances were far from being what we are entitled to expect from the artists who showed up. Joan Baez, 6 months pregnant at the time, was exhausted. The Who were interrupted in the middle of their performance by a political activist. Janis Joplin arrived completely drunk on the stage. As for Jimi Hendrix, with his extraordinary and mystical performance and his on fire guitar (we’ll talk about it in a future article), he didn’t play in front of more than a few people on Sunday evening, so exhausted and confused by the conditions, all the spectators had already left.

However, this did not prevent this festival from remaining in the minds of the public as the biggest hippie festival of all time. (Perhaps not in the minds of those who actually attended…).

Concert or riot ?

Barely 6 months after Woodstock, another festival was held, the one in Altamont, of sinister memory. Organized by the Rolling Stones, it should have been the West Coast’s answer to Woodstock (which was held in New York State). It was a thunderous program, with Santana and Jefferson Airplane still part of the adventure. While we think it was drugs that kept the Woodstock audience peaceful, too high up to realize what was going on, we also think it was drugs (another kind certainly) that were responsible for the events that took place in Altamont. Furthermore, the “security” at the festival should have been held by the Hell’s Angels, who were high on LSD, amphetamines, secobarbital and alcohol (yes, yes, all of these at once), and who largely participated in the mess.

Very soon, fights broke out, right in the middle of the performances of the artists, who realized, confusedly, that something was wrong with this festival. In the afternoon, the Rolling Stones, who had planned to cross the crowd to go on stage on foot, find that the stage is overcrowded and leaves them little room. Their concert is therefore delayed until the stage is cleared to give them room to play, which only warms the spirits. Shortly afterwards, while the Stones are playing, a fight breaks out, costing the life of the eerily famous Meredith Hunter (a student from the audience), who is stabbed to death by a member of the orderly, in front of her girlfriend’s eyes. He’s then brought to the ground, beaten and stabbed again by the Hell’s. He was apparently carrying a firearm (pictures would tend to prove it), but this weapon was never found. The Stones will continue to play another eight songs after this event without having any idea of what’s going on in front of their eyes.

© Nils Schirmer

This festival is considered by many to be the official end of the hippie movement, in the face of the catastrophe it represented for many. To this will be added the death of important musical figures of the movement a few months later, including Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix (all three at 27 years old, more or less because of their respective addictions).

But then, it’s just a long flood of festivals that go wrong, with more or less media noise. In 1999, for the 30th anniversary of the festival of peace and love (hm, refer to what I wrote above, I would have rather said of high and rain, but hey), we organize what is meant to be a legacy festival. However, the spectators are not allowed to bring their food or water (they can of course buy it on the spot at exhorting prices). And when the Red Hot Chili Peppers perform Jimi Hendrix’s song “Fire”, the spectators simply set fire to everything they find (tents, vehicles, etc.).

However, festivals are also prone to riots with electro music, with the monumental failure of the Bloc festival in 2012, where several thousand people complained of being run over, or of being in very dangerous rushes. Vestiville, a festival with a program that included, among others, Maître Gims, had to be cancelled in catastrophe due to poor organization by its founders. And it could have stayed there, but the disgruntled spectators decided to stay on site to win their case. In response, the authorities were sent to them, accompanied by tear gas, which turned the festival into a pure riot.

Poor organization & messy cancellations

The organizers can sometimes (out of bad faith or clumsiness, I leave it to you to judge) be much worse than their spectators. During the 2008 Zoo8 festival, spectators had to wait hours before entering, no access to drinking water and a camping area as big as a pocket handkerchief for everyone. The artists, who were not paid, therefore refused to play. A tent pole near the stage broke, making access impossible, and several barriers collapsed to make matters worse.

The Maitreya Festival was not to be outdone, as it was cancelled literally the day before, and the organizers refused to reimburse all the spectators (with a ticket that ranged from $100 to $300 anyway). Festivals that cancel for the mere absence of ONE headliner among others (The flying dutch), or that let their festival-goers sleep in ditches, in the rain, without water or food of course (Tomorrowworld 2015).

The palm of disaster in terms of a contemporary failed festival is undoubtedly the Fyre Festival. A festival that promised a lot, but which… promised a lot. The founders wanted to ride the wave of web influencers, make a monstrous publicity and a carefully elaborated communication. However, they hadn’t thought for a moment, it seems, that organizing a festival required more than a nice poster and interesting video teasers. Supposed to take place on a private island that once belonged to Pablo Escobar, festival-goers first arrived by plane.

When they landed, a heavy rain (again) soaked the tents and mattresses that had been awkwardly left outside. Festival-goers are invited to wait more than 5 hours in a restaurant (which mainly offers canned cheese sandwiches) while the organizers try to catch up with their festival and struggle with group cancellations. Soon they realize that the number of festivalgoers is in any case much higher than the number of tents and wet mattresses waiting for them. It’s also not possible in this season to fall back on the hotel complexes on the neighboring islands, as they are all fully booked. On top of that, once night falls, there is no source of light to illuminate and total confusion reigns on the island.

In the meantime, several participants will have their luggage stolen, will realize that there is no network for the telephone and that most of the human constructions on the island are still unfinished construction sites. Desperate, the organizers give up and announce that the festival will be postponed and that the spectators will be flown back to Miami the next morning. Obviously, as the flight schedule is disrupted, the flight will be delayed, and festival-goers will therefore find themselves stuck at the airport, once again without access to water, food, or air conditioning, leading to fainting due to the heat.

Some musical events that went wrong :

  • Guns n’roses, July 1991 (riots apparently due to Axl Rose’s pride)
  • The Doors, March 1969 (Jim Morrisson is drunk, late, doesn’t sing, and makes exhibitionist threats (the story doesn’t say whether he carried them out before being evacuated by the authorities))
  • Frank Zappa, December 1971 (a spectator shoots a flare gun at the ceiling, causing a fire, this will give birth to Deep Purple’s most cult song “Smoke on the water”)
  • Deep Purple, April 1974 (total destruction of the instruments, stage and camera that was to film the concert by Richie Blackmore in front of a mesmerized audience and band)
  • The Stooges, 1974 (fight between Iggy Pop and some spectators, who will end up putting a contract on his head as a result)
  • Ozzy Osbourne, January 1982 (Ozzy is going to decapitate and devour the head of a bat he thought was a fake)
  • Mötley Crüe, 1983 (the audience throws bones and animal heads at the band, which is pretty well taken, until one of their technicians is hit by a dart, which Tommy manages to take away without stopping playing, shortly afterwards the smoke machine explodes, and a liquid spreads all over the stage with an atrocious smell, It was not until the last song that the band realized that the technician had been seriously burned and that the smell came from him), although the band collects disastrous concerts, we can also mention the memorable December 2015 (Tommy gets stuck upside down for several long minutes after a drum failure, videos on the internet to support the curious. ..)
  • Smith Westerns, 2011 (a torrential storm occurs, sweeps away the stage, which collapses and causes the death of 5 spectators)
  • The Who, December 1979 (fans throwing themselves on closed doors, 11 people trampled dead, 26 injured)

As you will have understood, a festival is not a place without risks, on the contrary. If sometimes the reasons for this disaster are purely economic (organizers who make empty promises or who push the lure of gain to the point of selling essential goods such as water at much too high a price), other times they are due to meteorological criteria (and yes, rain is nice but not very suitable for the festival), but above all, in the vast majority of cases, they are due to human errors whether they come from the organizers, the spectators or the artists.


I hope that in the future you will not fail to rethink everything I have just told you and… that you will then go to as many festivals and concerts as you can!

May nothing stop the music & see you soon!

LABYRINTH

A priori, you will tell me, no apparent link between the subject of this research blog and the labyrinths. And yet!

Many people think that the word “labyrinth” comes from the Latin labyrinthus, which roughly means a group of buildings from which it’s difficult to get out. However, it’s necessary (you will understand why in due course), to trace the etymological origin of this word back to the Greek labrys, which is the term used to designate a very specific double axe, each side of which represents summer and winter.

© Axel Eres

But let’s leave etymology now to look at more concrete things. Labyrinth motifs appeared as early as prehistoric times and are in one form or another common recurrences at the beginning of many civilizations (can you see me coming?). The oldest known representation of a labyrinth dates from the Paleolithic and is found in a tomb, carved on mammoth ivory. But since then, it’s a veritable outpouring of labyrinths on the world. The Celts of Brittany built labyrinthine galleries to delimit their sacred places, ancient China used incense labyrinths so as not to get lost when night fell (labyrinths so as not to get lost… interesting, no?), they are represented in various civilizations on coins in Antiquity (from the 15th century B.C. until about the 1st century in Greece), etc.

However, I grant you that when we talk about labyrinths, we first think of Greek mythology and the labyrinth of Daedalus. So, let’s go ahead and do a little bit of Ancient Greece. Daedalus is known to have designed a labyrinth of incredible complexity, so that the minotaur could be enclosed in it. Of this labyrinth, which some archaeologists suspect to have existed in a certain form in Crete, only three people would have managed to get out of it. It’s about Daedalus first, locked up in the labyrinth to be sure that the secret of its manufacture is never revealed, Icarus, his son, and Theseus. Icarus and Daedalus manage to escape through the air thanks to wax wings. Theseus, for his part, is able to do so thanks to Ariane’s stratagem, using a thread to find his way back.

Where it becomes really interesting is that upon his return, Theseus, once in Delos, will invent a complex dance full of circular and interwoven movements. This dance for the ancient Greeks, is supposed to represent the detours of the labyrinth. It’s called the dance of the cranes and archaeologists suspect that it was an archaic dance that would have succeeded in being transmitted until then, whose theme would be the change of seasons … (labrys, is it starting to make sense?). Moreover, in the Iliad, Homer evokes the Cretan labyrinth as being above all a space devoted to dance (and if you’re still in doubt about the importance of dance, go ahead and read the article that deals specifically with dance.). And it would even seem that dancing in a labyrinth would allow the dancer to attain immortality if he performs it correctly.

© Brandon McCluskey

Today, we often think of labyrinths, either as physical places like the Daedalus labyrinth, or as a qualification of an abstract element. In any case, the labyrinth designates something where it’s easy to get lost. The notion has since made many adepts, since even Umberto Eco will have fun defining the different kinds of mazes possible and imaginable (unicursal, mannerist, rhizome, etc. If you feel like it, we may come back to Umberto Eco and mazes in particular). We find this motif in many pictorial representations, especially in classical Italian painting of the 15th century, but also in symbolic painting, sometimes even in fractal art.

But once again we’re going to take a quick step back in time. Among the ancient civilizations that had a great interest in the motif of the labyrinth were the ancient Egyptians. Herodotus evokes among the wonders of the world a titanic Egyptian labyrinth. This labyrinth was designed to teach Egyptian citizens the names of kings as they wandered through the labyrinth. And while there’re many other labyrinths dating from ancient Egypt, it’s noteworthy that here the labyrinth has gone beyond its sacred vocation to take on a political, even commemorative, role. But for them, the labyrinth was not limited to that, it’s also very much linked to death and immortality.

To really understand what the labyrinth (and labyrinths) meant to early civilizations and early modern society is as complex as venturing into one of them. The labyrinth represents at the same time Man, lost in himself, and lost in the Universe. It represents bewilderment, of course, but also the quest towards its center, and thus towards a form of equilibrium. Since the theoretical exit of a labyrinth is in its center, but then again, one must turn back…

Mandalas have already been mentioned in the article on Ephemeral Art, but don’t you think that when you look at them more closely, they look like labyrinths after all? They are in fact a sacred circle, representations still linked to the divine, to death and immortality. The labyrinth also sometimes represents the world of the living as opposed to the world of the dead, or the journey of the dead to the afterlife, or the journey of the living before starting their existence. Among the ancient Scandinavians (who were greatly inspired by this motif in their daily life), labyrinths were also used for dances, but also for traditional games, especially during festivals celebrating the deities.

© Eres Attias

It’s therefore found in many societies, not only those mentioned here, but also among the Mesopotamian, the Hopi, the Navajo, the Maya, etc., as well as in other parts of the world. The list would be infinitely too long and would look like a catalog of ancient societies, quite simply. In all these societies, we find the idea that the labyrinth is related to dance, to the duality of living and dead, to the sacred, to knowledge (of oneself and/or of the Universe), to artistic creation (dance again, but also graphic, architectural representations, etc.) and also in a certain way to the political-social organization of these societies.

Around the 6th century, some churches began to include 2D labyrinths on their floors (they then stopped for several centuries when this was rightly considered too pagan, but that’s another story). These labyrinths to be walked through had several uses, first they served as a “devil’s trap”, but then they served as penance for sinners who wanted to redeem their sins. Finally, they became low-budget alternatives for those who could not afford to go on pilgrimage. And so the labyrinths dedicated to meditation, recollection and reflection in general made their great return. In spite of their apparent futility, the vegetable labyrinths in the gardens of the 16th century still had a powerful symbolic value. The center of the labyrinth is the knowledge, the sacred.

What is certain is that systematically, the labyrinth allows one to evolve, it has a true initiatory dimension. And this, whether one remains trapped inside or whether one manages to find the center and then, of course, to come out of it, because one has to come out of it…


For once, I’m not going to leave you like this, but I’m going to suggest a little exercise. Since antiquity, one of the most frequent forms of labyrinths, are the so-called digital labyrinths. They are very small mazes, intended to be followed, not by walking, but simply with the tip of your finger. That’s why I invite you to create your own digital maze. You can do it in three dimensions or in two dimensions, with a bic pen and a paper, or you can draw it in the sand, make it as simple and elementary as possible or extraordinarily complex, free to you. If however you accept this challenge, I would be delighted to see your creations that you can send here by put a link in the comments. I hope that you will find as much pleasure in building your own digital maze as you have in walking through it. And who knows, maybe you will find, in its center, the secret of immortality?

See you soon and congratulations for finding your way through this labyrinthine article!

Little Bibliography (mostly french) :
- Jean-Pierre Bayard, Symbolique du labyrinthe.
- Umberto Eco, La ligne et le labyrinthe : les structures de la pensée latine, dans Civilisation latine.
- Umberto Eco, De l'arbre au labyrinthe.
- Brigitte Guitton et Philippe Guitton, Les Voies de l'immortalité dans la Grèce antique.
- Hérodote, Histories.
- Plutarque, Life of Theseus.
- Paolo Santarcangeli, Il libro dei labirinti. 

Offer a dance

Dance is an ancient art. Probably even one of the first arts (if not THE first!). It has been known for a long time that prehistoric men and women already practiced it. If we know that they knew it, it’s partly thanks to the many cave paintings depicting dancing characters. But they practiced it a long time before they could represent them, because dance requires only the body as an instrument, unlike other arts (singing is also an exception, but is closely linked to dance in a certain way …).

They did this for several reasons, the main ones often suspected to be: to give themselves courage and impress possible enemies or to communicate with higher entities. In fact, the appearance of secular dance is often placed well after the sacred dance, generally with the appearance of Antiquity. However, this distinction is probably more blurred than one might think.

© Ardian Lumi

Many researchers have attested to have actually observed in certain animals in their natural environment “rhythmic body movements”, without will of communication because sometimes practiced in a solitary way, and which did not correspond to any other explanation than this one, very simple: they also dance. The first dances therefore perhaps had no other goal than to be a pleasant entertainment in the first place.

So dancing is something much more universal than is generally thought. But that’s not quite what we’re going to be interested in here. Dance is a “free” art, it only asks, as we’ve seen, to have a body and to be able to move it in space and time. It’s only since very recently, with the appearance of cameras that allow us to take photos and especially videos, that it’s possible to see a dance differently than in reality. It’s a small miracle to which we no longer pay attention.

Our ancestors had to be physically present to admire a beautiful dance. And as for practicing it, the whole body must necessarily be summoned. Even today, on some beaches, it’s enough for someone to play a guitar tune for strangers to gather and start dancing freely. And more significantly, people still gather on certain dates to dance in the street, sometimes around a fire, always with a fairly large amount of music. This is the case, for example, of the feast of St. John (originally celebrated as the Summer Solstice), which has even become in France the festival of music, during which one meets with friends in the streets, closed to vehicles for the occasion, to dance all night long.

Dance is everywhere. It is of course always at the Opera, where you can for money, admire the prowess of the étoiles. But in certain contexts it can also be found on the Opera square, during social movements, when the dance of these same dancers became a demonstration of their political protest during strikes. The dances are often also present in carnivals, village fairs and other celebrations, local or larger, sometimes even at the heart of games (even board or video games!). Organized or spontaneously arising, these dances are just as captivating.

© David Hofmann

Micro-societies, whether they are created ephemerally for the duration of a festival or are more durable, always leave a lot of room for dance. Always free of charge, it often takes the form of a gift, which one offers oneself as a dancer, but also to one’s dance partners and to all those who will be able to enjoy watching it. Dancing as a gift reminds us of the very official dances of the Kwakiutl Nations, who consider dancing for someone is one of the most beautiful gifts one can give. Receiving a dance or being able to offer a quality dance was considered to be a great richness, with tangible value. It was found for example during the Potlatsch, which has already been mentioned in the article “Mauss, gift and society”. One cannot help but think also of the dance that Salome offers to Herod to obtain the head of John the Baptist on a platter in exchange. But also perhaps to this sensual dance, or to the strip tease, that lovers can offer each other in intimacy?

So dance has many facets. It can be a pure and mysterious gift, or a precious and rare currency. And its capacity to become one or the other is all the more interesting because it always begins by being the entertainment of the one who dances.

*

Dance as much as you can and see you soon!