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caged bird.

September 17, 2009

“Right now I feel like a bird
Caged without a key
Everyone comes to stare at me
With so much joy and reverie

They don’t know how I feel inside
Through my smile, I cry
They don’t know what they’re doing to me
Keeping me from flying
That’s why I say that

I know why the caged bird sings
Only joy comes from song
He’s so rare and beautiful to others
Why not just set him free

So he can fly, fly, fly
Spreading his wings and his songs
Let him fly, fly, fly
For the whole world to see”

–  “Caged Bird”, Alicia Keys (Songs In A Minor)

I was listening to this song on the way to work this morning, and I remember I used to empathise with the lyrics so, so much.  I really used to feel like I was in a golden cage.  I was always very good at school, getting top marks, and I consistently made my parents proud.  Whether it was my perfect results, glowing reports from teachers, the fact I never did drugs or drink or really anything stupid, I was not an angel but I was a pretty good kid.  And yet I wasn’t happy.  My parents had a very tempestuous relationship, every time I ‘acted up’ (be it legitimately or just deviating from the strict guidelines of my family) I was reprimanded, and I felt effectively like the moment I put a foot wrong, despite all of my success and demonstrated maturity, I would have pleased those who wanted me to fail and let down those who told me I had a bright future ahead of me but secretly hoped, almost expected me to fall down at some point.  It wasn’t easy, and sometimes (though I’m glad to say, more occasionally these days) I still feel that way.  The friends that I had at school called me names because I was good at academic stuff, because I was gay, but in the end I grew a thick skin and somehow ended up popular – but it’s all nothing, because however people perceived me (particularly back then), it was rarely anything close to who I actually am.  Sometimes people just see a certain part of your façade and choose to put in you in a box that’s easier for them to understand, despite the fact that they may pigeon hole you incorrectly.  So I also felt “caged” in that respect, that my peers would look at me as having ‘everything’ (not being as wealthy as most of them, but having more brains in spite of that – as if the two were connected! Winning awards and positions of responsibility, having a fair amount of friends – even though in the long run they didn’t last – and being able to look nice in my later years only added to this perception that I was lucky.  And I was lucky, but not in the ways that they thought.) but in reality I was a different person and my life was not as easy and carefree as they perceived it to be (especially when they would try to make it more difficult!).

But listening to the song, I didn’t feel that it was ‘my song’ the way I used to, and I guess that is a very good thing.  I don’t feel ‘caged’ anymore.  I have power over my own destiny and have done since I left Oxford.  I may still live at home, but it was my decision this time to go back to university; it was me who got my new job at the BRI (something which was finally a breakthrough from retail); it is me who will decide to learn to drive.  I mean, my results and my decisions were always my responsibility, but now I am 23 I am old enough to say and decide what I want to do without family or friends influencing me or saying I should do this or that.  Well, they may still make plenty of recommendations, but I choose whether to listen and I don’t feel obligated to follow their advice anymore.  I guess it’s a sign of getting older, but people are finally accepting that I have common sense and I have my own reasons for deciding to do what I want to do and how I want to do it.  And those reasons are respected.  It’s a good feeling – although everyone enjoys feeling like they are the underdog in a perverse way, it’s refreshing to finally feel like I am in charge of my destiny (regardless what anyone says!).  Sometimes it is hard living up to people’s expectations, and sometimes I might breakdown, but I know that those expectations are primarily my own expectations.  I am hard on myself and I guess that I always with me.  But if I’m alright with me, then that’s the most important thing.

I love this song because it also reminds me of Maya Angelou’s autobiography, which I am still only midway through – once I finish American Psycho (which will be soon), I may try and finish it, though the book is so damn big it’s not practical to carry it around with me.  We’ll see.  But at the same time that our problems are always biggest to us whereas in the context of the whole world they may be quite small, compared to things such as racial injustice, rape, and other things that Maya Angelou went through that I have no personal experience of, there’s nothing wrong with me or my life.  It’s just a work in progress.  And I like to think that that is quite healthy.

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