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Reading and Watching in 2017

In my Sundance reflection I posted over the weekend, I promised to catch up on my recent pop culture ventures since I’ve neglected my duties of late (full-time jobs really just hinder this whole recreational blogging thing).

So, in an effort to stay true to my word, here’s a quick glimpse at all the popular stuff I’m consuming these days. Spoiler alert: I’ve become kind of savage with things I don’t like, so you’re in for a treat.


Books

At the moment, I’m on my sixteenth book of 2017, but I doubt I’ll be finishing it any time soon. I’ve returned to the Outlander series with the fourth installment, Drums of Autumn. I’m at the 200-page mark in an 880-page saga, so who really knows when I’ll finish or what shenanigans I’m in for along the way. Thankfully, Diana Gabaldon doesn’t let me down and keeps things entertaining and unexpected, unlike many books I’ve started and stopped recently.

I’ve given up on two books so far in 2017, which generally provokes a sense of relief, while also being a big ol’ bummer. I don’t like to dislike books, especially when I spend 100 pages of effort on something I end up tossing aside. My rejected novels were Nick Hornby’s Juliet, Naked, which I bought on a whim at a used book store, and Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. I didn’t have harsh feelings about The Poisonwood Bible—the same cannot be said of the former—but I just didn’t feel it going anywhere. To be fair, I started the novel and read a good chunk on my way to Sundance and didn’t really pick it up again until returning, so I was struggling to readjust. But at over 500 pages, I wasn’t feeling compelled enough to trudge through, so I put it aside. This is one I could see myself returning to in future, just not any time too soon.

Other quick reading notes: I’ve already crossed off 3 of the authors I planned to read in 2017, have made progress on 2 others, and have completed 2 other reading goals for the year. I read Rupi Kaur’s poetry collection milk and honey in about 12 seconds over the weekend and enjoyed it. I read a collection of Emily Dickinson’s works and consumed something like 700 poems in a week. I also recently read the Russian novella The Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk after seeing the film adaptation at Sundance. The novella is fun, but the film is far better.

I’ve basically been reading Drums of Autumn exclusively, but fairly soon I’ll double up with something else, likely Romeo and Juliet in my goal of reading four of Shakespeare’s plays this year. I don’t want to pair Drums of Autumn with another novel, so I’ll keep the balance with other plays or short story/essay collections for a while.


Movies

I’ve seen a fairly ridiculous number of movies in 2017—forty-three, to be precise, which is just two short of the number of days in the year thus far. To be fair, I did start the year at a film festival, but I’m also just in the kind of mood that basically involves at least one movie a day.

You can read my Sundance post to hear about what I liked there, but there have been plenty of other fun things I’ve seen on my own time. Arrival was the most recent Best Picture nominee I saw (I still haven’t seen Hidden Figures or Hacksaw Ridge) and I loved it way more than expected. Other things I’ve really liked include Sing Street (2016), Grey Gardens (2009), Y Tu Mamá También (2001), Temple Grandin (2010), The Handmaiden (2016)and Fifty Shades Darker (2017). Yes, the last one is kind of embarrassing, and yes, the last two have something very specific in common, but I’m fine with that.

Here’s hoping I reach 50 films—which is 1/2 of my goal for the year—by the end of the month (but honestly, it will probably happen by the end of this week).


Television

TV has been unexpectedly complicated for me in 2017. TV tends to be my breeziest medium, but I’m having a very difficult time finding something that clicks for me this year. To be fair, I’ve still completed 7 series this year, but each of those has been under 20 episodes, so I haven’t had to really commit.

My biggest surprise was my lack of interest in The Americans, a show I started expecting I would love it and planned to catch up before the new season comes later this spring. I watched the entirety of season 1 and the premiere of season 2, and just kept finding myself underwhelmed. This is the show every critic says is totally underrated and deserves nominations it rarely receives, but nothing about it really hooked me. I kept watching in the hopes that would change, but I finally decided to stop. It was a decision accompanied by a surprising amount of turmoil, but I really haven’t thought about the show at all since, so I think I made the right decision.

I’m finally committed to a new project with Flight of the Conchords, though this show is only 22 episodes overall, so again, it’s fairly temporary. It’s silly and strange and I like it. Same goes for Moone Boy, which I watched very quickly a few weeks ago.

There is a handful of shows currently airing/soon to return that I’m keeping up with, including: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Mindy Project, Girls, Legion, and Bates Motel. It’s nice to have a few things to rely on, especially when I’m not particularly inclined elsewhere.

And speaking of my lack of interest, my roommate and I have developed an exciting and cut-throat habit of “canceling” movies and books and TV shows (aka we deem things “canceled” when we stop liking them, and they cease to exist). So The Americans? Canceled. Together we tried to start back on Penny Dreadful, having both watched the first season when it aired, but that only lasted 14 minutes before cancelation. I also canceled The Leftovers after watching 19 minutes and feeling like I never needed to return. I have a lot of random things on my TV list for the year, and I expect some of them to be canceled as well. At least I’m giving them all a shot.

Of the things I have actually watched, I would most highly recommend A Series of Unfortunate Events because it is just delightful, and I also had fun watching Chewing Gum, Looking, and Glitch in January. And seriously, Moone Boy is super sweet and charming if you’re looking for that type.


Now I’m off to go finish a movie I started this afternoon and enjoy some quality reading time. Next time I write, I fully expect to have canceled a few more things.

I can’t wait.

Round three!

I went to Sundance again and it was great

I have sadly neglected my blogging duties of late, but I’m working to correct that issue by blasting through a few important bits of news concerning my current life.

Two weeks ago, I returned from my third trip to the Sundance Film Festival, and as my title might tell you, I enjoyed my time. The weather was the worst it’s been in my experience, but a few feet of snow hold no power against my will to see films and celebrities.

Without going into unnecessary detail about all parts of the trip—if that’s the kind of thing you’re looking for, I’m more than happy to share at another time—but I’ll fill you in on some of my favorite bits.

To begin, here’s the full list of the films I saw during our eight days:

  • Lion (seen in Salt Lake City)
  • Jackie (seen in Salt Lake City)
  • Dayveon
  • Lady Macbeth
  • The Discovery
  • Ingrid Goes West
  • Thoroughbred
  • Colossal
  • Lemon
  • Walking Out
  • Marjorie Prime
  • Band Aid
  • Burning Sands
  • Novitiate

So, over the course of the festival, I saw twelve films, attended three panels, and waited in a lot of lines. Below, I’ve given you some basic information about the films I most enjoyed and some other weird highlights of what happens when you go to a film festival in the mountains during some major snow. Enjoy!

The Films

First of all, I’m happy to say I had a very positive viewing experience at Sundance this year. Though I wasn’t completely blown away by any single film (like I was with Whiplash in 2014 and Manchester by the Sea in 2016), I also didn’t have any excessively negative reactions (I’m looking at you, Listen Up Philip and Wiener-Dog).

So here were my general favorites of the festival:

  • Dayveon, a realistic and quiet film about a young boy in Little Rock joining a gang. This is one to look for if you’re a fan of Moonlight.
  • Lady Macbeth, a Thomas Hardy-esque story of a young woman who marries a wealthy older man and has no qualms about using her new wealth and comfort to get exactly what she wants (featuring murder, sabotage, and a cute cat).
  • The Discovery, a film in which sci-fi and indie blend perfectly to create a world in which the Afterlife has been proven, and the national suicide rate has skyrocketed. This one will mess with all your expectations and leave your head spinning.
  • Thoroughbred, a dark comedy à la 90s classics like The Craft or Jawbreaker in which two wealthy high schoolers conspire to murder a parent. It’s all kinds of fun.
  • Lemon, a truly inexplicable film about a struggling actor and his odd life, featuring a song about matzoh balls that you will honestly never forget.
  • Band Aid, a quirky little comedy about a young married couple who decide, when counseling doesn’t help, to start a band and turn their fights into songs.

Overall, I’d say Lady Macbeth, The Discoveryand Band Aid were my real favorites. Thankfully, The Discovery makes its way to Netflix on March 31, and Lady Macbeth is set for a summer theatrical release.

Other Sundance Happenings

As I mentioned, I attended three panels during the festival, one of which provided me with a free copy of the first season of the Sundance TV drama Top of the Lake (I’m still very proud of winning this, if you can’t tell). But the real fun of Sundance for me—which I’m sure you know by now—is the people-watching, specifically since the people of Park City tend to be of the famous variety. This year, I again saw/met/stood awkwardly next to about 70 people of note. I won’t recount all of those sightings for you, but here are some of the best experiences. Check out the slideshow below for evidence.

  • I got to speak to Abbi Jacobson of “Broad City” and she was wonderful.
  • I was trapped outside a bathroom and nearly lost my spot in the waitlist line because Sam Elliott was standing next to me and I was apparently a threat to his well-being.
  • I was twice in close proximity to Robert Redford.
  • Laura Dern is a beauty and has great hair.
  • Standing next to Matt Bomer is like being next to a living Ken doll, except he’s nicer and more attractive and eats apples on-the-go.
  • I watched Dianna Agron get a severe scolding from a police officer because she didn’t use a crosswalk.
  • Laura Prepon is kind of scary and looks alienesque close-up.
  • Height-related matters: Jason Segel walked past me on the street and wasn’t as tall as I’d imagined. Tim Robbins is crazy tall. And Nicholas Hoult is taller than expected. Important facts!
  • Though traffic was too bad to arrive to the Women’s March on time from a film screening, I did get to rally with the remaining marchers. It was an emotional and encouraging experience.
  • I saw Gael García Bernal more days than I didn’t see him. At least five different days. And he is incredibly beautiful, though I have no photographic evidence to prove it. He wears cute glasses and a little headband and sits very still while watching movies. Maybe I’m too involved?
  •  I was very upset I hadn’t seen Peter Dinklage and was doing my best to find him. Then, for my last two film screenings, I literally sat right behind him. I defended him from a weirdo who kept hitting him with her coat. It was very exciting.
  • I stood in a waitlist line near Ryder Strong from “Boy Meets World” and caught him talking about me to his friend. It was weird and fun.
  • I ran into Nigel Barker several times because he was just, like, around (???), and I can say there’s significant reason he was a male model.
  • And finally…on my last night of the festival, I attended a concert featuring none other than Tony winner Daveed Diggs (of Hamilton fame), and on his thirty-fifth birthday, no less. And he was kind enough to take a picture with me.

I’m not sure I ever really thought I’d attend the Sundance Film Festival, but to have attended 3 times as a 25-year-old is not something I take for granted. Again, I am incredibly grateful for the people who have helped me get there (multiple times) and for the festival living up to my magical memories year after year. I hope to return many more times and share it with the people I love.

Until next time, Park City…

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ATX Television Festival: A Time of Highs and Lows

Sometime last Monday night my mom and I pulled into the driveway after what ended up being a pretty insane whirlwind of an experience. 2,200 miles, 6 states, 9 TV panels/screenings, 2 historic home tours, 46 celebrity encounters, 2 sketchy hotels, 5 days. Yeah, I think whirlwind is the right word.

We left home early on Wednesday, June 3 with the short-term goal of reaching Graceland in Memphis for a quick tour. Despite the shocking absence of a single billboard advertising Elvis’s home, we made it to the estate and enjoyed our weird little tour. Here are a couple of my favorite features of the incredibly lavish home.

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After Graceland, our only intention was to make it to somewhere around Dallas. The drive from home to Austin, TX is 15 hours, so we figured stopping in Dallas (a mere 3 hours north of Austin) would be an appropriate end to our day. This was a fine goal, but we unintentionally ended up in a shady hotel that reeked of smoke. Note to self: if a hotel is the only one available at a given exit, keep driving.

THURSDAY

After departing Thursday morning, we drove the final three hours to Austin, stopping only for a quick breakfast and trip to IKEA. We headed into downtown Austin to register for the festival. Here’s a rundown of the highlights of what happened that afternoon and evening:

  • First celebrity encounters: seeing Todd Lowe, Keiko Agena, and John Cabrera (all of Gilmore Girls) and having a quick conversation
  • Ran into Sabrina Carpenter and Rowan Blanchard (stars of Girl Meets World) for the first of about a million times
  • Talked to Derek Phillips and Stacey Oristano (Friday Night Lights) and took a photo, bonding over our mutual love of our pets and the gross Texas heat
  • Saw and talked quickly to Liz Torres (Gilmore Girls) — she looks awesome, by the way
  • Attended the premiere screening of Complications, a new USA show
  • Had a moment with the show’s stars, Jessica Szohr and Beth Riesgraf, on our way into the theater and they were really cute
  • Other celebrity sightings for the day: Wilmer Valderrama (That 70s Show, From Dusk Til Dawn), Louanne Stephens (Friday Night Lights), Nick Wechsler (Revenge), Adrianne Palicki (Friday Night Lights), Sutton Foster (Broadway star, on TV in Bunheads and Younger), Wilson Cruz (My So-Called Life), Sarah Ramos and Miles Heizer (Parenthood)

Here are some photos of the people and places mentioned:

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FRIDAY

Friday began bright and early with our first real panel of the festival: “A Conversation with Marta Kauffman,” plus a screening of her new Netflix show, Grace and Frankie. In case you aren’t aware, Marta Kauffman is part of the creative team responsible for Friends, which is my favorite TV show ever (and probably yours, too). It was a pretty big deal for me to sit in a room with her.

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Here are some other highlights from Friday:

  • Running from one Marta Kauffman panel (pictured above) to another — she spoke with the creators of Justified and Queer as Folk in a panel on final episodes
  • Accidentally becoming part of a mob formed around Ben Savage (Boy Meets World), who is tiny, friendly, and left-handed — we also saw the girls of Girl Meets World again and snapped a few pics

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  • Running into Marta Kauffman and saying something kind of dumb to her but I STILL TALKED TO MARTA KAUFFMAN, PEOPLE
  • Sitting front row at the panel called “Drunk History‘s History,” featuring the show’s creator, Derek Waters, and two of the narrators from the upcoming third season, Duncan Trussell and Dan Harmon (the creator of Community)

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  • Meeting Nick Wechsler, star of Revenge, after the Drunk History panel

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  • Stumbling upon Judy Greer (Married) doing an interview outside the women’s restroom
  • Walking behind a man and commenting on his terrible hair before realizing said man was Denis Leary (to be fair, he was there to promote his new show Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll which I think is the reason for the hair)
  • Running into Louanne Stephens (Friday Night Lights) in the hotel lobby and getting a photo, taken by her daughter, as well as signed and personalized postcards she’d had made at Kinko’s

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  • Attending the wonderful Friday Night Lights tailgate and being smart enough to sit in the shade directly in front of the special reserved section for the show’s attending stars
  • Seeing Amy Sherman Palladino (creator of Gilmore Girls) just before a surprise performance from Hep Alien, the fictional band from Gilmore Girls
  • Other celebrity sightings for the day: James L. Brooks (creator of all important television), Danny Strong (actor on Gilmore Girls, writer of Game Change, Mockingjay, Empire), Jackson Douglas (Gilmore Girls), Adrianne Palicki, Derek Phillips, Stacey Oristano, Angela Rawna, Libby Villari, Katherine Willis, Stephen Walters (all of Friday Night Lights)

Here are some photos from the tailgate:

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SATURDAY

Saturday started with a low: not getting into the “Coffee with Amy Sherman Palladino” panel, because the line had started at 5:00 AM and the panel was in the smallest venue at the festival. Not perfect planning. On the upside, our minutes spent wasting time were quickly filled by the appearance of Scott Patterson (Gilmore Girls). He pulled us in for this “mother-daughter picture” (his words), so that was pretty cool.

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Other moments from Saturday worth remembering:

  • Finding Kelly Bishop (Gilmore Girls) outside and taking an accidentally dramatic black-and-white photo with her

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  • Attending one of my favorite panels of the weekend: “Empire: The Creatives” featuring the brilliant Danny Strong and the beautiful Wendy Calhoun

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  • Sitting front row for the presentation of the ATX Award for Excellence in Television to James L. Brooks, the man responsible for The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Simpsons, and Taxi, among many others. This was MAJOR.

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Now things turn in a bit of an upsetting direction, and I’m going to do my best to condense this story. Our main reason for attending the festival was the Gilmore Girls Reunion panel, held at 7:00 PM Saturday night. This was going to be the highlight of our weekend, though we were plenty excited for many of the other panels and events, too. The line for the GG reunion was supposed to start at 5:00 PM, and the festival’s Head of Security promised us that anyone attempting to get in line ahead of this time would be sent to the back of the line. She also told us that staying in the hotel lobby until 5:00 was a good idea, and we’d be fine to still get into the reunion.

This turned out to be a big lie. We anxiously waited until 5:00 to go to the line, at which time we found that the line had already wrapped around two street corners (though it wasn’t yet 5:01). The big mob at the front of the line wasn’t sent to the back as promised; instead, we at the end had to continually move back further so space could be created at the front of the line. Counters came by more than once, and still told us we should be fine to get into the event. We waited in line for two-and-a-half hours in the 90-plus degree heat, and sometime around 7:30, just as we approached the theater’s front doors, we were told that the reunion had already begun and all seats were occupied.

So, we didn’t get in.

There were tears and lots and lots of frustrated fans. We heard from several people inside that there were, in fact, empty seats. It was generally a giant bummer. I’m doing my best in retrospect to keep it from clouding my overall experience. If we’d known earlier that we wouldn’t get in, we would’ve at least gone around the building to watch the red carpet, but we were stuck in line. We ended the night trying to hang around any entrances/exits we thought the GG cast might use, and ended up only seeing the very tall Jared Padalecki from a far distance. Not the best end to an otherwise good day.

Other celebrity sightings for the day: Yanic Truesdale, Jackson Douglas, and Milo Ventimiglia (all of Gilmore Girls).

SUNDAY

As far as the festival was concerned, we really only had one thing on the agenda for Sunday: attending the Dawson’s Creek script reading of the show’s pilot episode, featuring special guests. This was actually the best thing we did at the festival on a purely entertaining level. We ended up waiting in line for 2 hours for the event, but it was worth the wait, and we also saw Matt Czuchry (Gilmore Girls, The Good Wife) walk by, so that was fun.

The primary four cast members were all gender swapped, which obviously provided for some pretty blatant fun, and the level of drama found in basically any Dawson’s Creek script provides the perfect backdrop for a live script reading. Kevin Williamson, the show’s creator, also served as a narrator of sorts for the reading. I truly hope this is an event the ATX Television Festival can do every year, because I loved being part of it.

Here’s a list of the cast for the script reading:

  • Dawson Leery, played by Mae Whitman (Parenthood)
  • Joey Potter, played by Patrick J. Adams (Suits)
  • Pacey Witter, played by Abigail Spencer (Rectify)
  • Jen Lindley, played by Kerr Smith (original Dawson’s Creek cast member!)
  • Grams, played by Louanne Stephens (Friday Night Lights)
  • Mr. Leery, played by Derek Phillips (Friday Night Lights)
  • Mrs. Leery, played by Stacey Oristano (Friday Night Lights, Bunheads)
  • Tamara Jacobs, played by Arielle Kebbel (Gilmore Girls, The Vampire Diaries)
  • Bessie/Nellie, played by Kristian Bruun (Orphan Black)
  • Bodie/Mr. Gold, played by Nick Wechsler (Revenge)

Here are some photos from the script reading:

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You might also note that the last picture features Mae Whitman with a framed photo of Tim Riggins. This was a prop from the Riggins house on the Friday Night Lights set that Stacey Oristano brought as a special present for Mae. I’m kind of super jealous that she owns it.

After the script reading, we went back to the hotel quickly, where we found Liza Weil (Gilmore Girls, How to Get Away with Murder) and got a picture. We bonded over being lefties.

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Finally, I popped into a brunch sponsored by MTV’s Teen Wolf, where there was a photo booth set up for people to take photos with cast members Shelley Hennig, Tyler Posey, and Holland Roden. Tyler Posey told me I could sit on him or get on his shoulders for the photo, but I opted for something more normal.

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After this, we watched a few actors hop into a car headed for the airport before heading out of Austin ourselves. We took a different route on the drive home to spend some time in Louisiana, where neither of us had been before. After many hours driving in terrible traffic and construction, we got a hotel in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Monday morning we made our way out early, stopping for a bit in Oxford, MS so I could revisit the home of William Faulkner because I love him. About seven hours later, we made it home.

Our few days on the road were exhausting, exhilarating, and occasionally upsetting, but I’m happy for the experience. ATX Television Festival is young and still has many kinks to work out, but I hope I’ll be able to return in the future. Until then, you can find me in front of my own TV, soaking in as much of it as I can.

2014: A Recap

I don’t think it’s even necessary to say that 2014 has been really, really good to me. Some of my wildest dreams came true this year and I am immensely happy and grateful for what was easily the best year of my life. Here’s a quick recap of the best things that happened to me in 2014.

  1. I went to the Sundance Film Festival. Really, this blog post could end after this first thing on this list, because Sundance was undoubtedly the most life-changing thing I experienced this year. I loved every moment of it (even when I got sick and lost my voice for a few days). Nothing can ever really live up to the experience of Sundance and watching awesome movies with the actors and directors and producers and creators in the room. Sundance, I can’t wait to see you again soon. Thanks for the best 10 days I’ve ever spent.
  2. I graduated from college and decided what I want to do with my life. This May, I graduated from Western Kentucky University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Popular Culture Studies (plus a second major in French and a minor in Performing Arts Administration). I adore WKU, so much, in fact, that I’m now one semester into a two-year English literature Master’s program at WKU. It’s very strange to know that I have a degree that qualifies me to do things. For the foreseeable future, though, I’ll still be in school; my career plan sees me finishing a Master’s and hopefully doctorate in the coming years so I can become a professor at a university. My post-graduation plans certainly didn’t going according to Plan A (or Plan B or Plan C, for that matter), but I’ve learned so much in the last year, both in school and about my own passions. I can’t wait to see what 2015 has in store.
  3. I started living with one of my best friends. I’ve been fortunate that I lived with three of my closest friends during my four years as an undergrad, so it’s pretty lucky that I’m continuing that tradition as a grad student as well. Ryan and I have known each other for about 17 years (I can’t believe I’m old enough to say that), so living together is quite normal. To answer the question I’ve been asked many times, no, we aren’t dating/married/engaged/expecting any kind of lifelong commitment, but we are essentially the same person and have nearly lived together for the past few years because of how much time we spend together, so it just makes sense that our cohabitation is finally official.
  4. I had two more wonderful trips to New York. In case this is still unclear to you, I’m rather skilled at going to New York and meeting famous people. 2014 brought about two of these trips, once in May and once just recently in December. Between these trips, I once again met a number of celebrities and managed to reconnect with friends in the process. It’s a pretty perfect way to spend a few days, if I do say so myself.
  5. I read and watched lots and lots of great things. I’ve already posted my “year in review” blogs about my favorite reading and watching projects this year, so consult those if you’re looking for recommendations. I’m ending 2014 having read 91 books, watched 145 new (to me) movies, and 23 completed TV series. If I had all the time in the world, I’d be doing these things nonstop. Considering I’m a full-time student with a graduate assistantship that keeps me plenty busy, I’m quite content with my progress this year. I can only hope 2015 will be this good to me.