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Sometimes, Just Do Stuff Because It’s Cool

March 29, 2016 — by Matt

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Sometimes, I overthink.

Overthinking is not cool
Self portrait.

In fact, it’s one of the reason I’ve looked into meditation and started practicing mindfulness. Honestly, it’s probably one of the reasons I that I like a drink or two on occasion. These things turn the volume down on the over-analytical voice in my head.

Because a lot of time that analysis gets in the way of what could be a valuable, memorable, or life-altering experience. It gets in the way of discovering some truly cool shit.

You’ve probably heard the “do one thing a day that scares you” advice. Whether its actually done daily or just something you keep top-of-mind, it’s a valuable tidbit of guidance. I fully support it. But I’ve got another one for you:

Sometimes, just do stuff because it’s cool.

cool flow chart

We did it as kids. We explored because it piqued our curiosity – even before we understood the concept of “cool” or became slaves to it later as teens. Something seemed interesting, so we explored.

And sometimes, that’s enough of a reason to do it.

Now I’m not saying to ignore all inputs, factors, danger, or potential consequences of your actions. I don’t want you waking up in the hospital or staring down the katana blade of the ninja pirate loan shark to whom you now owe 3 months salary and your first born. We’ve been through however many years on this planet partially to learn lessons that protect us from disaster. So, you know, also don’t be dumb.

But let’s face it, most of the decisions we overanalyze aren’t going to take us to those places. Something seems like it could be cool? Won’t bankrupt you, you’re already not doing anything, doesn’t get in the way of any of your bigger goals? You’re with good people, or might meet some, or even… have no fucking clue what’s going to happen? Cool.

Because we deserve to give our overthinking brain the finger and throw caution to the wind. Not all the time. Not even most of the time. But SOMETIMES, damnit.

So let’s just find some cool shit to do.

ExperimentationExplorationRisk

You need a hug

March 8, 2016 — by Matt

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I’m not going to lie. I’ve had some times in the last few weeks when I just needed a hug.

First there was a DJ performance at a networking night that just went abysmally. Then there was the crippling feeling of being overwhelmed when working late, promoting and organizing two events and the flights for three trips, and failing to work on any of my own projects all culminated in a single week of deadlines, lost sleep, and stress headaches. And there are just life issues that crop up here and there that make you feel like you can’t win.

I know these things are surmountable. I know life doesn’t intentionally try to screw with you; it just provides winds that you can either let knock you over or harness to steer you toward something better. And I’m confident that I can handle these winds, and so can you.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t times I feel I just need a hug. And I believe that’s a GOOD thing – even as a fully functioning adult.

kids hugging

When we were kids, we needed hugs all the time – skinned knees, bad dreams, and scary, unknown experiences tested our resolve almost daily. If we needed a hug it usually meant we had run into a situation with which we were unfamiliar, or tried something that ended up being scary. Sometimes it meant we failed. But while the hug made us feel better in the short term, it was really just a symptom of something larger. We were learning, experimenting, taking risks and facing fears in order to learn about the world around us (and ourselves).

As we grow up, we learn how the world around us works. We learn lessons, we build assumptions, and we build an identity. None of these are bad things – we need them to become a real person, functioning member of society.

But I think some other things happen also. We find a comfort zone, and then we carve out a groove there. We become less vulnerable, less willing to put ourselves in a position to get hurt. We’ve had so much pain in life that as adults, we’ve learned ways to avoid it. We do what feels comfortable, we shield our passions, and we take fewer risks. In fact, there are studies that suggest that risk-taking decreases with age.

If you make yourself someone who never needs a hug, never needs a shoulder to lean on, then you’re self-sufficient, resilient, and strong. Right?

Yeah, maybe you’re those things. But guess what you aren’t? You aren’t excited about anything. You don’t have anything that really revs your engine. You’re OK with mediocrity because breaking out of it would require too much effort, too much risk.

I’ve seen these grown-ups. Hell, I’ve BEEN that grown-up sometimes. The type that know everything, the type that don’t need to try new things because they’ve apparently experienced enough of life to know what they like and don’t like. The type that are cynical or apathetic about everything. I’m not talking about selective apathy here, which is a great tool to keep your focus. I’m talking about general apathy. If you don’t care about anything too much then it can’t hurt you too much.

DON’T suppress that part of you. DO go after things that scare you. Test your limits. Learn to fail. Put yourself in a position to need a hug once in a while. Because the people that have not hardened themselves to eliminate all vulnerability are also the ones willing to take the necessary risks to achieve their dreams.

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Non-Goals for 2016

February 8, 2016 — by Matt

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I wrote down a bunch of my goals for 2016 a couple of weeks ago, mostly in the creativity realm (but in some other areas as well). And I tried to make them SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-Focused, and Time-Bound.

Sometimes, though, I have more general stuff I just want to keep in mind. Yeah, “exercise more” isn’t a great goal because there’s no results defined, t’s tough to measure success, and it could be interpreted so loosely that it loses its meaning. But when I was writing my goals I also wrote down some things I would try to do in 2016 that any SMART goal purist would scoff at.

These things aren’t specific and at the end of the year I probably won’t be able to tell you that I “achieved” them. They’re more like themes. And just because it isn’t measurable or quantifiable doesn’t mean it isn’t important.

Here are some non-goals for 2016. And I think they are themes that all of us could benefit from keeping in mind.

Break some rules

Break the Rules non-goals

I analyze, I plan, I get lost in details. I organize, I set boundaries and rules for myself in the hope that I’ll stay focused. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. But I’ve realized that sometimes making and trying to enforce my own rules is in itself consuming my attention. Sometimes, setting rules for yourself and following them is just masturbatory. If I can admit that I don’t know everything and like everyone else, I’m just trying to figure it all out, then I need to admit that maybe the rules I’m setting are bullshit too.

Look, some rules and guidelines are important. Some are powerful tools to say no to the things that leech your energy and to ignore things that don’t honor your vision. But some are just rules, and you don’t know if they’re important or if you’re just wasting your time trying to follow them until you break them. So I’m going to break some rules, especially my own.

Be present

Everyone and their mother wants to be more present, you’ll see it proclaimed across a million blogs and social media posts by everyone until it starts to lose its meaning. And it’s the ultimate example of a shitty goal – how can you prove you’re doing better? How can you measure your progress? I’m not even sure myself. But I still think it’s important to do.

I don’t know HOW to do it, but I do know some things that help. Meditating. Taking deep breaths. Putting down my phone and looking around. Doing one thing at a time. So even though I can’t measure my success, I’ll try to be more present in 2016.

Have boundaries

boundaries non-goals

I realized very recently that I might have an issue with boundaries. I take on other peoples’ problems as my own often because in some weird way I feel like if I don’t work to help other people in their time of need, I’m being a bad friend/boyfriend/brother/son/whatever. I’m like a personal-life micromanager.

That’s stupid. All I’m doing it providing a crutch for others, setting a bad precedent, and eventually resenting others because I feel like I’m always helping them instead of working on my own shit even though really, they didn’t ask me to. Boundaries will help my peace of mind and my relationships across the board.

Have more fun

I put a lot of pressure on myself. Often the result of this is that I keep myself from having fun because I tell myself I have to work. Just as often, the result of that is that the pressure of telling myself I have to work causes my to self-sabotage and procrastinate. If you haven’t caught the theme of this an other articles yet, I’m very in my own head.

I want to have more fun this year. Not like in my mid-twenties, where every weekend was fun only and I got nothing done – but a good balance of fun and hard work. And taking time to relax, have some fun, and take the pressure off can only help my mindset and productivity when I do sit down to write, or make music, or whatever. I’m still young. There’s lots of fun shit to do out there. Let’s make a few bad decisions.

Say ‘No’ more

I worked on this a lot in 2015 but I sometimes still struggle with it. I often over-commit to things – someone comes to me with an idea or a project and in the moment it sounds great, so I say yes. But then I realize I’m adding it to the end of an already-too-long to-do list, I get overwhelmed, and nothing gets done. And a lot of time, this new thing is much less important than the things already on my list.

A shorter to-do list makes for less self-inflicted pressure and is more likely to get done. In fact, we can really only have one priority at a time. I love Derek Sivers’ “Hell Yeah or No” (and Mark Manson’s more vulgar “Fuck Yes or No“) philosophy for just this reason, and I’ll be employing this concept to be very selective with the new stuff I take on in 2016.

Say ‘Yes’ more

yesman non-goals

This one seems like the complete opposite of the last one. It is and it isn’t. I need to say no to stuff I don’t care about to make room for the stuff I do. but I also want to keep myself open to new opportunities and adventures. Sometimes just saying yes results in meeting some awesome people, creating some epic memories, and finding some new interests. This balance will be tough to figure out, I’m sure of it. But if an opportunity presents itself that doesn’t obviously fly in the face of my goals or my identity, I want to at least consider a “yes”, let go, and let the winds take me.

Speak my mind

I’m a conflict avoider by nature. So I sometimes bite my tongue or stifle my true thoughts because I don’t want to hurt others or start a fight. But that only hurts me and hurts others. And by its very nature I do it more often with those I care about most, because those are the people I’m most concerned about upsetting.

In all honesty, I’ve gotten a lot better at this, but I have some work to do. So in 2016 I’ll try to care less about coming across as a nice guy and just speak my mind. It might cause some fights or conflicts with other people, but they’ll either resolve and the relationship will grow stronger with the honesty, or they won’t resolve and we can both move on.


There are probably more things I’ll figure out as the year goes on, and maybe I’ll even figure out some strategies to make these part of my personal pillars. Oh! And I just stumbled upon a no-goal concept from one of my favorite blogs here. Check it out for another perspective.

Do you have anything you’re trying to focus on this year that doesn’t necessarily fit into traditional goals? Share them in the comments below, and let’s help each other make these achievement-oriented for 2016!

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My 2016 Goals (and the Impermanence of Plans)

January 13, 2016 — by Matt

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None of us know what’s in store for us.

I mean, we’re only two weeks into 2016 and I’ve already been hit with surprises that affect the goals I wrote down for this year a few weeks ago. I’ve had some wake-up calls about some of my approaches and some of my behavior. I’m even more sure not that I don’t really know anything – I’m just figuring it all out. We all are.

But of course the lack of knowledge shouldn’t stop us from taking action, trying things, and to some extent, leaping without looking. We try, we fail, we learn, we adjust, and we try again. It’s all we can do.

So when I was reviewing my 2016 goals prior to to writing this article, I thought it important to make clear both to you all and to especially to myself) that our plans our impermanent. We don’t know everything going into a year, or a new opportunity, or a new project, or an adventure. We should go in with a plan, with some goals in mind. But we should be aware that unexpected things happen – both good and bad. And to adhere to our original plans instead of adjusting course when these unexpected things occur is lunacy.

With all that said, I still believe in goals. They’re still important to have. And I still believe that working in a specific direction is infinitely better than working without aiming toward something bigger. I just know that being dogmatic and inflexible in those goals can be equally harmful. So I will work toward my short-term 2016 goals with an eye to make sure that larger, more important goals like smiling, and having fun, and experiencing love and connecting with people, don’t take a back seat. (In fact my next article will be my “non-goals” for 2016. More on that later).

My 2016 Goals

These aren’t the end-all and be-all of what I want to do in 2016. They’re not all-encompassing. They’re simply the things that I’d like to shoot for in the few areas I was thinking about when I took the time to think about them. I’m including them here for some sense of accountability and to keep myself and others energized in following their passion.

One other note – these are my personal goals. I’m a part of some groups that have separate group goals that I’m not including here. I also won’t go into too much detail on why each one is important to me as I expect to write more about many of these as the year goes on.

Writing

  • Publish at least 50 articles in 2016. This is about one week with a little fudge room, and potentially more if I meet my next goal.
  • Get published in at least three other online publications. I love writing here but in order to get a larger audience and get more feedback on my content, I want to expand my reach a bit.

Music

  • Release one instrumental/rework/remix project. The barriers to this should just be my own willpower and abandoning my perfectionism, as they don’t require coordinating any other artists. The one I’m working on now is pretty exciting too!
  • Get at least 5 beat placements. I’ve stopped sending artists beats in the last few years but I love working with artists and hearing what they come up with. I’ll ramp this back up this year.
  • DJ at least 6 events. I’m keeping the definition of “event” fairly loose right now.
  • Get a song played on Beat Haus radio. One of my favorite internet radio shows, I’d like to produce something of high enough quality to be featured on one of their episodes.
  • Record at least one complete song in a studio. I love the convenience of recording at home, but miss being in the studio. I’ll return there this year.
  • Get at least one paid DJ gig. Although I already technically have my first one lined up, it’s a group event and I won’t be paid directly.
  • Release at least 5 DJ mixes. I released 3 in 2015, and with the events I’ll be DJing, this should be a piece of cake.
  • Make some money from production. I don’t care if it’s $10, I’d like to experiment with charging for my production services.

Art and Other Creative Endeavors

  • Complete one video project. I love working in video even though I’m not particular skilled, and I have tons of ideas. I’ll make sure to bring at least one of them to life this year.
  • Complete at least three paintings.
  • Sell one painting. Are you seeing a theme here? I’d like to start making some money from my creative passions – mostly to prove to myself that I can.
  • Build a creative portfolio/CV site. It’s time to stop thinking of my creative pursuits as a “hobby” and start identifying myself as my ideal version of myself.

Financial

Note that I have some additional financial goals here but for whatever reason I’m not yet comfortable sharing the details on the internet. Here are the ones I am comfortable sharing.

  • Eliminate credit card debt.I made a great dent in this in 2015 and expect 2016 to land the knockout punch.
  • Sell my car. This will not only be a big win for my wallet, but also for my peace of mind.
  • Increase my savings safety net. I won’t put my specific figure here, but this is a big thrust in 2016 for me. I’ll write more about the systems I’ll use to help meet this goal.

Startup

I’d like to take a deeper dive into the world of startup and determine my appetite for it. These goals are a bit fluffier right now because I don’t know what to expect – but I’ll refine them as I learn more.

  • Attend at least 5 startup networking sessions. This will help me determine what I need to know or if this is even an avenue I want to pursue.
  • Detailed write-ups of top 3 ideas. This is my “just show up” step to get the ball rolling.
  • Run my ideas past a focus group. This is my “ask for help” step.

Travel

  • Travel to at least 5 countries. This one is pretty simple, but will force me to travel more this year. That said, I’ll try to prioritize meaningful travel to a few places rather than frantic, touristy travel to many.

Health, Wellbeing, and Growth

  • Make meditation a habit. Meditate at least twice per week in 2016.
  • Make exercise a habit (again). Go to the gym twice a week (to start). Adjust this to include other activities as the year goes on and the weather improves.
  • Attend one class or seminar on something that interests you. My post-collegiate education has been mostly self-directed, but I’d attend a class on something in which I’m interested.
  • Improve your handwriting. It’s abysmal. Like, the worst. I’m not sure what the actual target is here but it’s something I want to work on, so I’m including it.

Is that it?

Of course not. There are areas of my life that are equally or more important than what is listed above – my happiness, my relationships with my friends, family, and significant other, seeking adventure, exploring, deep connections, peace and presence, and so much more. In my next article I’ll talk about these larger concepts, and how making them a bigger part of my identity in 2016 could trump some of these more specific goals – or, how it might make them easier to accomplish.

So although there are bigger things at play and I, like you, have no idea how the year will shake out, this is my starting point for 2016 in these very specific areas. If some monumental shift occurs in a month or two, I won’t hesitate to adjust or abandon any goals that no longer make sense. That doesn’t mean these goals aren’t important to establish. It just means they’re directional, aiming toward them as I barrel through 2016, until the target is hit, it becomes less important, or a (truly) more important target presents itself.

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Moderation vs. Abstinence

December 18, 2015 — by Matt

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I like giving stuff up.

No, not “giving up on stuff” but “giving stuff up” for a while. Going without. Sacrificing.

I’m not totally sure why, but I have some theories. I think I like knowing that I don’t need a thing to get by. That I’m not dependent on it. That if I didn’t have it for a while I’d be just fine and I shouldn’t be scared of going without it. I also believe that sacrifice is a muscle you need to work out just like anything else. Going through life without having to sacrifice anything can make you soft and less willing to sacrifice when it really matters – like giving up your superficial comforts for a while to put your goals first. And finally, on a deeper level, I think I like giving stuff up because it makes me feel in control.

So when I gave up alcohol for the month of October, I felt great afterward – not just because I had challenged myself and won, but because it honestly hadn’t been too difficult.

But then I started to think – why hadn’t it been that hard? Was “giving something up” not the real challenge? Were some of my “sacrifice experiments” just me trading one extreme for another. After a friend brought up a similar concept in conversation, I wondered if abstinence wasn’t the real challenge I thought it would be. Maybe the real challenge was learning moderation.

Struggles with Moderation

“Everything in moderation except whiskey, and sometimes too much whiskey is just enough.” – Mark Twain

I’ve never been good with moderation.

Sometimes this has been a gift. If I’m excited about a new idea, I tend to go all out in pursuing it. Getting a new song idea might lead to pulling an all-nighter with no regard for the clock or work the next morning. It’s extreme – but I get my ideas out, and I make progress. (On the other hand I sometimes burn so hot on a new project initially that I fizzle out and give up on it, so there’s still a place where moderation should probably come into play).

Sometime’s it’s a curse. If I get home exhausted after a long day, I might put on an episode of a TV show on Netflix to wind down before I write or work on music. But one episode is just a taste, and 7 episodes later I’m way past my window to get a good night’s sleep and haven’t gotten anything creative done. And I had more than a few nights out in my 20s where once I got a few drinks in me, moderation went out the window.

In a way, binge watching Netflix, getting addicted to a game or a drug, or becoming a “workaholic” is not much different than completely giving something up. Yeah, the results of one extreme are often much more positive than the results of the other – but they both hold so much weight.

I know for me, a little moderation would go a long way. If I could watch one episode of TV, work on music for an hour, and go to bed at a reasonable time, I might get more done. I might be happier. I might be less frazzled, anxious, or stressed because I’m more balanced.

Or maybe not. I mean, is being “extreme” always bad? Most of us live and work in this limbo state, not straying too far from our comfort zone. Aren’t trips into the edges, jaunts into the extremes, and journeys into the Danger Zone necessary to test your boundaries and make big changes?

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I have no answer, no lesson. I don’t know that there is one place on that spectrum between complete abstinence and complete abandon that’s “healthier” than any other. I think both “going extreme” and “practicing moderation” have their place in life. Always doing one or the other isn’t “the way”, but there are no rules as to when each makes sense either. I guess we just try to find what works for us in different situations. The alcoholic might decide that their best approach to alcohol is extreme – give it up forever, for good. The writer may find that when brainstorming, locking themselves in a cabin for days (extreme) works – but when refining their first draft, an hour a day (moderation) delivers the best results.

It’s up to us to find where we are at our best for each situation, because when we do, we set ourselves up for greatness.

What do you think? Do you struggle with moderation, or do you struggle to make big changes? If you’ve recently found the place on that spectrum that works for you in even the smallest area of your life, I’d love you to share it. I have a feeling we are all trying to find that balance.

ExperimentationExplorationHealth

What I learned from giving up alcohol for a month

November 5, 2015 — by Matt

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In late September (what seems like months ago now but is just over a month) I decided I was going to give up alcohol for the month of October.
I’m far from the first person to start such a challenge, or to write about it (check out links to similar articles at the bottom of this post). Nor is it the first time I’ve done it – I ditched the sauce for about a month and a half last year leading up to my birthday.
But as September drew to a close I felt the itch to do it again. And something about October felt like the perfect time to give it another shot. It’s not quite hibernation season, the only really big holiday is Halloween, and there’s even a cool name for it – “Ocsober” – that is popular in Australia as a fundraiser, similar to Movember.

So why did I do it?

I’m not a recovering alcoholic; although I used to be quite the drinker throughout my 20s, I’ve slowed down quite a bit since then. Mostly it just felt like something to do. But there were a few goals I had as I embarked on my 31-day challenge:
  • Challenge: I like a challenge and to test myself. I think that challenging ourselves is a good way to remind ourselves of our strength and avoid falling into complacency.
  • Freedom: Being able to give up something you’re used to – be it alcohol, certain foods, physical possessions – is an expression of freedom. If you remind yourself that you are not a slave to these external factors, you’re also expressing your freedom from them.
  • Sacrifice: Similar to Challenge and Freedom, I believe it’s important to exercise our Sacrifice muscles sometimes to prove we can give up stuff if we need to, and to prime us to sacrifice when it really matters in the future. I’ll explore this concept more in an upcoming article.
  • Health: The last time I gave up alcohol there were some definite health benefits. I was excited to reap these again.
  • Money: Even with a lower appetite for alcohol, I have some expensive tastes and I was looking forward to the financial benefit giving up alcohol would bring, especially as I worked to build up my financial safety net.
My original plan was to write a week-by-week summary of how I felt, but I soon realized that this would be boring and unnecessary. So here’s the long-story-short: I did it. I’m glad I did it. It wasn’t too difficult, but there were some cravings. And I did learn a few lessons.

What I learned

Here’s what I experienced (and learned) during my month of sobriety.

It’s much easier if you make it part of your identity.

Just like when defining your [personal pillars], I find much more success when you make your goals part of your identity. I just said “I don’t drink in October”. Not “I’m trying to stop drinking” or “This is a challenge I’m doing”. To me, it was just a fact. It wasn’t a thing I brought up, it just was. Making it that matter-of-fact made it surprisingly easy to not drink – it’s just something I didn’t do.

Doing cool stuff together is cool!

Before I started Ocsober I posted my plan on Facebook and a few friends actually decided to join me. So I set up a Facebook event and we shared our stories, successes, and observations. Even though I didn’t see too many of these friends over the course of the month, the online conversation and support made it feel like we were in it together.

Putting your intent toward a healthy habit feeds into other healthy habits.

One thing I learned from my friends is that many of them also decided to adopt some other healthy habits for the month. Some of them gave up caffeine. Some of them cut down on sugar or adjusted their diet. Even I put more focus on eating better. I think it’s because keeping one healthy habit top-of-mind makes you think about other healthy choices as well. One choice (healthy or unhealthy) can start a snowball effect of other similar choices However…

It doesn’t fix everything.

Even though my friends found success in other healthy habits in addition to alcohol, I found myself falling into some bad habits, the most prominent of which was massive sleep deprivation. This had to do with unrelated factors (starting a new job, change in schedule, a busy month in general) but it still dulled the mental edge I hoped would be sharpened through sobriety. It’s not like I expected giving up alcohol to solve all my problems, but some of my other struggles during the month reminded me that it;s important to view health holistically.

Alcohol is expensive.

The biggest area of improvement was in my finances. Without making any other major efforts, I found more money in my checking account the days before my paycheck than I had seen in the months prior. And I wasn’t a monk during October; I still went out with friends, I still drove a lot, and due to my schedule issues I ordered much more take-out than I usually would. But I still found myself with a little extra dough just by cutting out the booze.

I’m a celebratory drinker, not a coping one.

I kind of knew this about myself already, but my biggest cravings to drink come at times of celebration. I had some rough days and weeks this October and never felt like I “needed” a drink. In fact, my only slight cravings came at times of celebration – my last day at my old job, celebrating my new job with my girlfriend, and checking out my favorite monthly party in Boston. But none of the cravings were strong enough to break me – and I took the celebratory nature of those instances as a good sign that although I enjoy sharing a drink among friends, I’m not dependent on it.
So where does that leave me? I’m not sure. But I found the exercise to be enlightening and beneficial. It feel good to prove to myself that I am not a slave to the sauce, and knowing I can sacrifice will strengthen my resolve the next time I need to.
I love 30-day challenges. Have you tried one that was particularly useful to you? If so, leave a comment – and maybe we’ll give it a try!
Other examples of 30-day alcohol challenges:

Article photo courtesy of Jason Williams.

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