Posts Tagged ‘connection’

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community.

July 5, 2010

When I am on my driving lessons, my driving instructor (who lives around the corner from me and has done for the whole of my lifetime and probably many years prior to that) often points out people who he knows, chats about the various people who have lived and continue to live in certain houses and streets, and talks about life in Kingswood in general.  Most of the time, I can only nod my assent because I have no idea whom or what he is talking about; I only know the names and faces of the people who live within 3 doors of our house and across the road from it.  On the odd occasion that I am walking around the local area, I could quite happily walk past people who live on my street without recognising them.  This street is not and has never been a community to me; my town is just a place I live, and although it’s adequate (I like the fact that unlike other, more wealthy areas of the city, it doesn’t have a ‘grey’ atmosphere and I can see the sky – I’m not a total urbanite then!), I don’t feel any sense of community with the other people who live there; in fact, I feel like more of an alien (and with my dress sense, I look like one too).  I must add that I will stick up for where I come from, despite its chavvy, slightly dangerous reputation; I did get slightly offended by a comment made by one of the people on my careers guidance course at UWE; being a graduate of Spanish and French, I was asked “But in Kingswood, you don’t get an opportunity to practise your languages, do you?” This comment was accompanied by a smirk; I took slight offence because although it’s true that where I live is not a cultural hub and I don’t meet many people who are multi-lingual there, Kingswood is not formative of who I am.  Moreover, it’s not a bad place, and given that the area of Bristol that this person comes from is more renowned for crime and poverty than mine, it’s somewhat hypocritical and condescending.

Anyway, I went to Peterborough to spend the weekend with Toby last weekend, and I had a wonderful time, but I noticed that for him, life and his sense of community is different: he knows all of the people who live in his close and a lot of those who live in his village.  He went to school up the road from his house; he can point out many people in the photographs included in the local Parish News (I am unaware of Kingswood having a Parish News leaflet, or any kind of worthwhile community publication). It is interesting that I cannot do this.  I always went to school on the other side of the city, because my parents paid for my education and decided to send me to those schools (and based on my subsequent track record and academic success, I can’t quibble with their decision – it was pretty wise and with hindsight I would now have done the exact same thing).  When I went through a brief phase of playing with the family of girls who were my age and lived across the road from me, they had a group of kids who lived in the neighbouring streets as their friends: I knew none of these people because they all went to the same school down the road from our house; I went to a private school across the city.  We had different school holidays, different teachers, different friendship groups, different subjects.  In retrospect, that was most definitely for the best but at the time it felt like I had to work extra hard to fit in with them.  Despite living across the street, it was like I was visiting another world, their world, every time we would play together, and after a couple of years the visit wouldn’t be worth it, and we would just say hi without animosity as we occasionally passed each other on the street.

However, whereas Toby can name all of his neighbours and various people who live in his village (and I also understand that part of this is the difference between city / country-ish mentalities), I enjoy my popularity when I wander round the Bristol city centre – Mike commented once on a shopping excursion that it seemed as if I knew at least one person in every single shop (and there are a lot of shops).  This is an exaggeration of course, but not a massive one; I like shopping and I used to work in retail in that area, therefore my face is recognised in the area and I can recognise acquaintances who work there too. An amusing story is the Guess Boutique – whenever I go in the staff are extra-happy to see me because they still remember the time Toby & I went in and I fell in love with a bag that I could not afford; Toby & I left and I spent the whole of that Friday night babbling about the bag. Saturday lunchtime we returned to the store and I bought not only that bag that I had originally claimed was “too expensive” but also a hoodie to boot (it was on sale, there was only one and it was in my size, it was black and gold which are my colours – it was obviously fate so who am I to stand against destiny?). I don’t know if the staff there work on commission but I think that that day, they were very happy!  So I make friends in shops.  My friends who live in Bristol may have gone to school or university with me, but we came from all different parts of Bristol (and their experiences of commuting to find a community may be quite similar to mine) so urban centres, shopping districts, cafés and cinemas are our meeting points.

My point is, I have my own community of people whom I call my friends; friends are the family you can choose, as they say.  However, my friends are all dotted about the city (and beyond that, the country); the way we keep in touch is via telephone, email and internet most of the time; and when we want to meet in person, it’s got to be an arranged thing rather than a spontaneous wander down the road.  Although it can feel slightly isolating living where you have no real connection to anyone else in the immediate vicinity, it’s made irrelevant by the fact that I can speak to and arrange to see a lot of my friends within very little time; and that my friends are so, so good to me.  I think that having my own space is something that I value too; at the end of the day, I can retreat to my home and have a little time for me, safe in the knowledge that I’m not going to bump into or be harassed by anyone who knows me.  I can be anonymous, think independently, live as I choose without any fear of anyone whom I care about judging me. I know that in Kingswood, I dress differently, I wear different clothes, I speak and think differently to the majority.  I would never change that; I like being my own person and I won’t ever change to conform (a hard lesson that built my character during my school years). But it’s made easier when I’m surrounded by people with whom I have absolutely no desire to fit in. My community, the people whom I love and value, are my friends; my community is not local but instead city-wide, national, and one day I hope it will be global.

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appraisal.

May 29, 2010

1 year ago:

  • I was about one week away from finishing my job as Assistant Manager at the Perfume Shop.  I was eager to leave and start my Careers Guidance postgrad at UWE, and my new job at the BRI who were taking their sweet time to contact me – for most of June and July 2009 I claimed JSA while I was waiting for them to give me a start date, which felt pretty bleak!  Luckily, they did at the end of July, and I’ve enjoyed working there ever since, especially as my boss has been so flexible and understanding regarding my university course this year.  I can’t wait to go into work next week and tell them that I was successful in my job interview for Personal Tutor at Cirencester College – they’ll be so pleased for me. 🙂  Also, I think that a couple of them might have placed a bet on me getting the job?… Madness!
  • I was about one month away from starting this blog!  I can’t believe I’ve been writing on here and connecting with you all now for 11 months, it’s mad!  I feel that my writing has improved as a result, as well as the fact that I’ve been able to share with you all my music, my heart, my trials and tribulations regarding relationships, friendships, and everything in between!  Some of the comments that I have received and some of the friends that I have made as a result of writing this blog make it all worthwhile and I am very touched that sometimes, at one moment in time two lives can connect, because we can be going through the same thing.
  • I was emotionally drained after two dating attempts that were non-starters.  It would take me a few more attempts before I finally got it right, but I remember believing, even up until recently, that perhaps love just wasn’t for me, and I might be a popular person and have lots of friends and cherish them, but never quite find someone with whom I connected on a romantic level.  I was still dating because I didn’t want to give up, but I was secretly convinced that it was no use.  Love comes around when we least expect it.
  • I had started my twitter account (follow me!) a month ago,  and I have since made fantastic friends such as Nick, Nigel & Ness (all the N’s!).  The Twitterati was born!!! 😉

6 months ago:

  • I was working through my feelings regarding Mike (remember that saga?), and things were just in the process of getting really tangled and confused.  It was an emotionally bleak time, because I’d truly never felt like that, because this was someone I cared about so much and was so important to me.  I’m glad to say that now we’ve come out the other side, and he is one of my best, closest friends. Listening to Cheryl Cole (whose album I had just downloaded at the time), we really had to “fight for this love” (oh god that sounds cheesy but never mind), but it was all worth it because without him I wouldn’t have my beautiful tattoos (I still had virgin skin at this point!), the strength to have started my own relationship with Toby, nor the placement or transport which enabled me to get the job at Cirencester.  Mike (through the Careers Guidance course) has really helped me transform my life.
  • I was coming to breaking point with my relationship with my parents.  Christmas was a particularly low period, and I remember sitting in the park in the dark on Christmas Day quietly hating them, just wishing I could escape.  I felt like I was a nuisance to their lives, that they didn’t really want me around but since I had nowhere else to go, they expected me to just sit with them without complaint.  My friends were helpful distractions during the day, but coming home in the evenings and sitting around the dinner table was always a daunting prospect.  I was only just realising that, at 24 years old, that my problems with my parents were reflections on them: time and again I’ve made close friends easily, and generally my friends and I see eye to eye and we don’t argue.  So the fact that I had these problems with my parents, that their relationship is so volatile, is a reflection of them and not me.  I was finally starting to learn that I am not an ugly person on the inside and that there is nothing wrong with me, but that’s still a work in progress.

Today:

  • After two months of sending off applications for jobs as I approach the end of my Careers Guidance Qualification, I had an interview for a Personal Tutor position at Cirencester College.  Out of 110 applicants, they interviewed about 20 people, and of those 20, 4 of them were employed.  I am one of those 4, Mike is another.  It’s ridiculous, it’s amazing, I am unbelievably happy because it is the job I wanted, the people who work there are a pleasure to be around, and the students are some of the best in the country (the College has an excellent reputation).  Just as I was getting despondent regarding my lack of interviews, 2 came at once (I have to cancel my Careers Wales one) and I got the job I wanted.  I am going to be helping to shape young people’s futures, which is quite daunting, but I feel ready for this.  Bring it on!  Plus, I’m going to be working with one of my best friends… I wonder if Cirencester knows what it has let itself in for?
  • I am nearly 5 months into my relationship with Toby.  He is the hands down the best boyfriend I’ve ever had, he seems to pretty much adore me, and already in this short time I have learned a lot about relationships, about love, and about myself.  Although he’s going to be in London from July while I’ll be in Cirencester, we’re both determined to make it work – it’s not like we’re across the world from each other, it’s one and a half hour’s drive.  At this point, despite my own feeling that I don’t deserve love, that I am scared to let someone in and see all of me, we’re doing it and living the dream, and at 24 years old I’m pretty lucky to have everything suddenly start working out.  Toby is a dream, I am so lucky and we are gonna make it 🙂  Also, he is my home away from home, and between staying at his and socialising / partying with my other friends, I have that extra distance I need from my parents until I move out.
  • I have been having driving lessons for 2 and a half months now, and it’s been harder than I expected, if truth be told.  My instructor Russell is fantastic, and I’m hoping to increase my lessons in July once I finish at uni, with a view to taking my test during the summer.  For Cirencester, a car will come in incredibly useful (though to start with I reckon I could get by without it) and for my general independence, a car is necessary.  If I can pass my driving test (and I notice that my attitude to driving has changed and I feel a bit more confident, more capable of it – so I can pass my test), I will buy a nice little car and I will have achieved my three aims for this year : boyfriend, car, job.  More importantly, I failed my driving test when I was 18, and for all the time in the interim, I’ve had a secret nagging feeling of failure that I can’t drive.  It’s time to conquer those fears once and for all, redress the balance and vanquish that feeling of failure and inadequacy.
  • I have my 3 lovely tattoos, and my raven is on the Iron & Ink website for you all to see!  Check it out here!  I’m famous! 😉

2010 is destined to be my year of transformation, I am determined to turn my life around and this is the final piece in the puzzle.  I will move out once everything else is in place, but at least moving out doesn’t require passing any sort of exam or any protracted interview / dating process!  Looking back over how far I’ve come, it’s pretty overwhelming and I feel almost powerful that I’ve finally taken control, with the help of so many friends, and it’s time to keep moving forward.  No regrets, no apologies. 🙂

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Toni Braxton – Pulse. (album review)

May 7, 2010

The first album from Toni Braxton in 5 years comes following an abbreviated residency at Las Vegas, yet more record label disputes, health scares, a neat run on Dancing With The Stars and a separation from long-term partner Keri Lewis.  So one would assume that she has a lot of life material to draw on, material that might be evident in the singer’s new album.  Well, yes and no: Toni Braxton has stuck to her strengths, which are soulful R&B ballads expertly sung.  The lyrical content of these tracks betrays barely a whisker of what the singer has been through in the past 5 years, and to look at the singer she stands stately, sophisticated and stunningly beautiful for a woman of 40 years old.  Indeed, she still has that same sexy body she had 15 years ago, although now it is dressed with a more chic, age-appropriate veneer that effortlessly walks that tightrope between sexy and classy.  Nevertheless, Braxton’s creamy, rich alto has a slight bit more depth to it now; to paraphrase from her interview in Metro this week, she has the ability to channel her experiences (be they joyful or sad) into the texture of her voice, and this is what makes Braxton one of the most enduring and valuable singers to emerge in the last 20 years: you feel her when she sings.  On Pulse this is evident throughout, particularly when her voice is reduced to a low, husky whisper such as at the beginning of “Woman”, a cover of Delta Goodrem’s track from 2007’s Delta that improves on the original because Toni Braxton’s voice brings more depth to the lyrics (although Delta Goodrem’s own version was solid in itself, perhaps making this achievement all the more impressive), and the production ranges from subtle to soaring while never overtaking Braxton’s performance.

After more leaks than Ciara’s Fantasy Ride, it would be unacceptable for Pulse to be anything less than solid, considering the 25+ tracks we’ve heard from Toni Braxton’s recording sessions for the project.  For the most part, Braxton has chosen the strongest songs for the project, although bonus tracks “Rewind” and “Stay” add little value to the album and could have been replaced with successful “Ice Box” soundalike “Clockwork” and particularly “It’s You”.  These are just little personal gripes however, and don’t affect the fact that Braxton sings each of the 11 tracks on her album with impeccable aplomb; her voice cannot be faltered, whether she’s emitting attitude on the sassy “Make My Heart” (which again improves upon Blaque’s / Mis-Teeq’s “Can’t Get It Back”, being based on the same sample) or evoking vulnerability on standout closing track “Why Won’t You Love Me”.  It is surprising that this is the only track on Pulse that gives Toni a significant songwriting credit (“Yesterday” does credit her, but only along with 4 other contributors) considering her credits on The Heat and More Than A Woman; those two albums, while not perfect, were both cohesive and consistent – they felt like albums, not just a collection of songs.

And this is where my only main gripe with Pulse comes in.  Indeed, the album contains some beautiful songs – my personal favourites are first single “Yesterday” (although it sounds like Beyoncé’s “Halo”, it is strong and sincere enough to stand on its own two feet – unlike the version with Trey Songz, which suffers from a change in production that is at once overdone and bland), the aforementioned “Make My Heart” and “Why Won’t You Love Me”, “Wardrobe” with its clever man-as-outfit metaphor that somehow avoids sounding cheesy or forced.  “Lookin’ At Me” is a welcome uptempo that bumps convincingly and brings the sass out of Toni, and perhaps in the closing stretch of the album which is ballad-heavy, another uptempo of this nature might have livened things up.  Finally, “Hands Tied” is an utterly beautiful song in lyrics, production and vocals, and has an outstanding video to match – Toni Braxton dances in front of a troupe of attractive men, stands in an eye-catching black dress in front of an ornately carved table that I would quite like in my house, and locks eyes with the camera, singing and dancing and yet conveying the determination for love inherent in the song’s lyrics.

As I said before, there are no weak tracks, and perhaps my opinion is swayed by the sheer amount of material I’ve heard from the project – unlike classic albums Secrets, The Heat and More Than A Woman, the album feels merely like a collection of lovely songs than like an album.  Previous album Libra suffered from this same problem, although Pulse has more of an identity, hewing close to soulful ballads and eschewing popular production tricks; unlike a couple of Libra‘s tracks, this album won’t sound dated, to its credit. But something intangible makes some albums more than the sum of their parts, and Pulse just doesn’t have that je ne sais quoi.  In comparison with Monica’s recent Still Standing (check my review here!), both albums are a welcome embodiment of “real” R&B, both are classy efforts that dispense with unnecessary featured artists and emphasise the singers’ strengths.  Neither album possesses any repellent tracks, and all the material is beautifully sung.  But if I had to choose between them, Monica’s would win out because something about it feels more sincere, more cohesive; something connects with the listener more.  I feel bad that I can’t quite put my finger on what that “something” is, but it means that while Pulse is certainly solid and worth purchasing, as a whole it isn’t  exceptional.  Nevertheless, some of its songs are exceptional, and it is wonderful to hear a singer relying on her vocal ability and strong songwriting rather than gimmicks or collaborations with flavour-of-the-month artists.

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the cool kids.

August 24, 2009

Today I had my induction at the hospital (despite the fact I’ve already been working there for three weeks) and I learned such valuable things as the different colours of bins and their bags, that you should never inject someone in the spine with vinchristine, and how to pick up a box.  Occasionally there was a relevant tidbit of information, but I could have quite happily skipped the induction without being any less the wiser.

However, I did make a couple of friends, which made the whole thing worth it!  Two girls, Kim and Hannah, ended up with me outside the building during a cigarette break, and we got talking – it turned out that Kim and I had both worked in the Galleries together (she recognised me from during my time at the Perfume Shop), and the three of us would giggle during the funny bits of the presentations (whether they were intentionally funny or not) and get filthy looks from a spoilsport old woman who was taking the whole thing far too seriously.

We got to know each other during the course of the day and its multiple breaks, and we had a good banter and sense of humour.  And the strangest thing happened… during the end of the lunch break before everyone gathered together again for the afternoon talks, people would come up to our little group and ask if we knew what was going on etc.  They said that they “recognised us from their group”.  I’m not entirely sure why, because we were no more prominently sat than anyone else, and we contributed just as much (read= little) to the morning discussions as anyone else.  But after our while, our group grew and we comprised 5, 6, 7 people who were smiling, laughing and conversing and swapping jokes about the day. It was something curious, but it made the day a bit more light-hearted and bearable in the midst of insights such as “Anger is an emotion”.

I got to thinking.  In our group, there were the obvious computer geeks and social awkwards who didn’t wash as often as they should.  There was a mixture of races, genders and personalities.  There was the annoying guy who kept kicking our chairs and feet as he sat behind us.  Kim commented more than once that it felt like being back at school, and I began to wonder what “group” or clique we would have been?  And it dawned on me that we were the “cool kids” that the others wanted to be around – we were young, lively and chatty, and people flocked to us one by one.

That strikes me as strangely amusing, because at school I never felt that I belonged to a particular clique, let alone that I was particularly cool.  I was brainy at school, so other people used to call me a “keener” because I would study; I was heckled for being gay for a little while; my friends were a little bit geeky.  These things together made me feel as if I were a nerd or a geek, and it’s only looking back that nobody probably thought that I was a geek, because I certainly wasn’t.  Even though they weren’t friendships that lasted, I was on friendly speaking terms with quite a lot of people, I got on with my teachers, and my musical ability and singing and dancing made me a celebrity in the school, singing in the corridors as much as in concerts, and winning a few competitions.  I even used to sign autographs for the younger kids!  We had a prefect slave auction, and I fetched the highest price; I got asked to do duets with other people during my last year or so.  It’s funny, and I didn’t realise until the end of school, but I was one of the ‘cool kids’ and I was popular.  And somehow I managed to achieve that while being myself, which is possibly one of the hardest things of all.

It sounds funny even to write it now, because I never felt popular – not once but twice, I had a massive disillusionment where I realised that the people I would mainly hang around with weren’t nice people, were phony attention-seekers, and just weren’t on the same wavelength as me.  It hurt, and needless to say once I left school, I never made any effort to keep in touch with them, let alone see them again. That part of my life is closed, and I am relieved to be past that, because it caused me a lot of pain and taught me a lot of hard life lessons for a teenager.  The friends from my school with whom I’ve kept up a friendship are all people who weren’t in my year group or original social groups, but instead were people both older and younger than me whom I met through working at the Bookstore in the summer, exploring different cliques and just getting to know people outside of my comfort zone.  Doing that is something I will never regret; all that I regret is that I didn’t do it sooner!

True friends are few and far between; I’m learning to let people drift apart naturally, because that’s healthy – some people are in your life just for a season.  I’m learning that the people with whom you keep in contact and who keep in contact with you are friends you never have to worry about making an effort to keep in touch with; that connection happens naturally.  But what is funny to me is that a lot of my old year group are on Facebook, and they add me as friends.  At first, I would reject them because I had absolutely no desire to be in touch with them and to see what they were doing, let alone for them to be able to browse my information and photos.  But after a while I just felt “fuck it, if they are desperate to add me on Facebook, why not? Let them boost my friend count if that’s all that matters to them.”  And a lot of these people are all friends with one another on Facebook, which makes me LOL because at school, a lot of these people either never spoke to one another (due to the social hierarchies of high school) or hated each other.  And now they are “friends”.   Bish please!!!  It’s so fake to me, and it just reinforces the fact that I don’t need that kind of energy in my life.  I know who my real true friends are, and although I might have been “popular” without realising it, and I may be “popular” now – which is a nice confidence boost and does make me feel cool, in a way – I don’t need to compete with anyone for who’s the most popular or who has the most friends.  I am confident in a crowd and in a smaller group, but I’m also at ease with myself and my own company, and I know that at the end of the day it’s not how many people are in your entourage, but who is in your entourage who really, truly has your back.  I’m complimented that I seem to give off a ‘cool vibe’ and I won’t put it down (certainly that rather than repel people!), but I am more blessed to finally have friends who are truly there for me through thick and thin, and for whom I would ride or die.  It took long enough, but now I feel popular – and my friend count is irrelevant, because my friends count.