Posts Tagged ‘control’

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last Christmas.

December 15, 2012

I remember when I started this blog that I would write quite lengthy, detailed posts about my personal life and about all of my feelings and experiences. This blog has been around for over 3 years and during that time my life has transformed in a lot of ways: I did a postgrad, started working in jobs I actually wanted, learned to drive and bought a car, entered a long-term relationship, moved to London and supported myself, moved in with my boyfriend… I made the decision not to talk about my relationship in too much detail because I feel that my private life is just for me and for Toby – but he informs everything I do now and is such a big part of me that every post on here, more or less, is influenced by him or concerns him to some degree.

Although I am certainly more mature and guarded about what I choose to post on the internet, sometimes I miss the honesty and openness with which I used to post. Sometimes, when I have dilemmas in my life, I find myself typing my question into Google in search of some advice. And sometimes I find some decent food for thought, whereas other times there’s just nothing sensible or nothing that quite touches the nature of what I am going through. But on those occasions where I do find something that can help me, through offering a kindred voice or shedding an alternative perspective on a situation, it’s really valuable. And so I have decided that in this post, I am going to be honest and talk about what is on my mind, in the hope that one day someone else might find my post and it might help them to know that they are not alone.

Yesterday I was speaking to my mother on the phone and apropos of nothing, she asked me that when I am in Bristol for Christmas, that I don’t voluntarily reveal the fact that I am gay and in a healthy, happy long-term relationship with my partner. The reason for this is that my uncle and aunt are coming up from Melbourne for the holiday to visit my grandmother. My cousin (my uncle and aunt’s daughter) has been living in Bristol with my grandmother for the past six months, and during this time she has demonstrated that she has grown up a lot from the irksome child and teenager that she was when I had previously met her. And yet the other day, my mother was having a conversation with her and my grandmother, and my cousin asks “how is Alan getting on with his flatmate?” Toby is my boyfriend, my lover, my partner with whom I share a flat – but he is so much more than my “flatmate” that I paused a little bit – because surely this is obvious, and my cousin (whose recent displays of emotional intelligence lead me to believe that she would have caught onto this) must know that Toby is my boyfriend. My mum then told me that my cousin has revealed in the past that my uncle (who has hitherto always been nice to me) “hates certain celebrity chefs because they are gay” apparently. And so, my mother has asked me not to volunteer any information about Toby to “keep the peace on Christmas Day” and to keep my grandmother happy, because otherwise relatives’ reactions “may cause a scene and my grandmother will get upset.”

What the fuck.

I am not at all angry at my mother for wanting a peaceful Christmas – it’s perfectly understandable. My mother’s side of the family is Italian (and therefore Catholic, although I wouldn’t describe them as religious with the exception of my grandmother who goes to church twice a week – but only since my grandfather passed away 5 years ago). But I have introduced Toby to my father (who has made crass comments about gay people in the past but has never been anything but welcoming of Toby and supportive of me in my relationship – I feel that his macho posturing isn’t really indicative of his views, which annoys me somewhat – why does he even need to act a certain way therefore? But I appreciate the fact that he is accepting of me) and everything has been fine – Toby has never felt uncomfortable or unwelcome in my parents’ home. My grandmother has met Toby a few times now and they get on ok too – neither is my grandmother stupid; she knows who he is to me, even if she doesn’t say it out loud. But here lies the crux of the problem – everybody knows, but nobody wants to talk about it. Everybody is actually fine with my sexuality, but everybody seems to think that they are the only “enlightened one” and that nobody else approves. So it remains a big open secret. Which to me is partly laughable, but also quite painful because I have absolutely no shame in having found a man that I love with all my heart, and having established a strong and secure relationship with him. Shouldn’t this be something that could be appreciated, if it’s too much to ask for it to be celebrated? Why do I have to keep quiet about the most positive (out of a range of very positive things in my life) part of who I am today?

I have always been the Beyoncé of the family, if you will. (Prepare for me to toot my own horn in the next couple of sentences.) Not only because I’m musically talented, but I am the only person on my mother’s side of the family to go to university, let alone to the University of Oxford and then on to achieve a postgraduate qualification afterwards. I am the only one who has successfully moved out of Bristol. I’m the slimmest and most fashionable out of me and my cousins. I have an interesting job which pays a decent wage (but more about that in another post, as I have an announcement to make!). I am 27 years old and I have done pretty well so far (with some wobbles along the way – but hey, that’s life right?). With all of this hard work (which was for myself, but it didn’t hurt that it pleased others also), it would appear that the fact that I am gay, that I happen to be attracted to men, and that I have now built a life for myself with another man whom I love deeply, resets everything. I will never be good enough, and no matter what I did or what I achieve in the future, I never had a chance at being “good enough” because of my sexuality, which is something I cannot control. I love being gay, I love Toby, I am very happy with my life and with myself (apart from the fact that I ought to quit smoking and that next year I am going to lose weight – but there’s a forthcoming post for that too because my musical goals and my aesthetic aims are going hand in hand in 2013).  And I can’t talk about any of it, because other people may react to it, and it may upset someone else. Well, it upsets me! What about that?

Back to the phone call. So my mother asked this favour of me. I fell silent, and I said that I didn’t know if I could do that – I certainly couldn’t promise anything. I know that she understands, and I know that she didn’t like asking, and I am not angry at her. But I am angry at my family because I am never going to be good enough, and I am not able to relax and completely be myself. I told my mother that I didn’t understand why I should compromise myself. It’s not natural for one to shout their gayness or their homosexual monogamous relationship upon entering a room – this is not my intention. But I am 27 years old, and I am not afraid of them anymore – I have built my own life, and at the end of the day, I don’t live in Bristol and I don’t need the validation of my family. It’s nice if I could feel comfortable with them – but if that’s not going to be a possibility, c’est la vie. I will choose Toby over them, if it has to come to it. I am sad that it might have to come to that – but maybe we can’t have everything. I have a lot, and that’s enough. But I refuse to be intimidated by small-minded, low-aspiring people. I don’t even really know if they are small-minded – this is all just rumour and myth. But after all – I’d better not say anything, just in case.

I want everyone to have a lovely Christmas day. I want Toby to feel welcome when he comes to Bristol, and the fact that he does perplexes me even more in light of this request. I don’t want my grandmother to be upset, and I don’t want anybody to cause a scene. But it’s not my fault if they cause a scene because of their own prejudice, surely? I don’t understand why I have to conceal, compromise and sacrifice my identity in the presence of people whom I see only occasionally, and who are my frickin’ family, so as not to rock a phantom boat. Am I being unreasonable? Because perhaps it’s not such a big thing to ask, for one day. But then, to me, it’s not really about one family day – it’s about me being denied the ability to openly be myself, to celebrate all of the things I have achieved and the precious gift of Toby’s presence in my life. He is wonderful, and I don’t see why I have to downplay this. I’m not going to shout it from the rooftops (though sometimes I want to! 🙂 ) because that would be unnatural, but neither am I going to lie about it because that is no more natural either.

This is bringing me to the sad conclusion that, whether or not a scene occurs, I feel like this will be my last Christmas in Bristol with my family, for at least a while. I don’t want to hurt my family by not celebrating with them, but at the same time I am an adult now, with the right to live my own life. (I can’t lie – it will be nice to actually not do a big travelling jaunt for one year.) I’m old enough to make my own decisions and to choose to stand my ground and enjoy my life in my own home. I have proven my worth time and again, and I now have the flat, the job, the relationship – the evidence to show for it. It’s not my fault that my family members may be insecure or jealous, and I don’t see why I should compromise myself to appease any inadequacies they may or may not feel. It’s not my problem. If I cannot be myself on Christmas day, then maybe next year it has finally come to the point where I’ve got to start making my own traditions, and if it means being by myself then hey – I’ll do it. I would never begrudge Toby going to spend time with his family, and maybe I would be able to join them instead. I don’t know – this whole situation has thrown me into a realm of “I don’t know”. What I do know is that I won’t lie, I won’t hide, and I won’t be ashamed. I am strong enough and secure enough to stand alone – I’d rather not have to, but if that’s the way it has to be then so be it. A part of me hopes I’ll be pleasantly surprised this Christmas and all these worries and postulations will count for nothing. I really don’t know what will happen – I am confident that I feel the right way about the situation, but I hope that I will have the grace and the presence of mind to react correctly and in a dignified manner to whatever situation arises.

I’ll let you know.

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Joss Stone – LP1 (album review)

August 11, 2011

LP1 is Joss Stone’s 5th album and her third consecutive attempt to reboot her career (after the stellar Introducing… Joss Stone and the defiant Colour Me Free!). This time, Joss is free of her previous record label EMI and is on her own imprint, Stone’d. So, if she is finally truly in control, why is this album so lifeless?
The good: Joss’ voice is richer, more textured and more soulful than ever. “Last One To Know” is starkly emotional, and compliments this voice with dramatic string crescendoes. On “Landlord”, a raw number which could have been recorded alongside Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, Joss takes centre stage backed by nothing but an acoustic guitar.
The bad: There is little else positive to say about the album. Its major crime is that it is dull. Hook-free songs plod along with nondescript drums and guitars blending into an MOR blur. The lyrics are frequently awful: take “Newborn”‘s anticlimactic “What happened to this morning when I woke up and the world was… bruised”, or acoustic closer “Take Good Care”‘s “Take… good… care… / Don’t… push… the button.” Um, what? Joss tries to inject some life into proceedings by cussing to prove how ‘badass’ she is: “I’m a girl that don’t give a shit!” This swearing becomes tiresome, as it’s unnecessary bravado rather than genuine emotion.
If the songwriting on this album matched the quality of Joss’ voice, LP1 would be a much more satisfying affair. As it is, it’s going to take more than this inert stab at independence to revitalise her career. Perhaps Stone should consider working with a soul singer-songwriter like Jazmine Sullivan, whose vocal range and depth is similarly impressive but who has songs which thrill and impress, rather than bore. Joss is one of the UK’s best singers but this material is largely deplorable – and it’s a crying shame.

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another driving lesson…

March 18, 2011

So yesterday I drove to Taunton and back for a Sexual Health Regional conference. The conference was interesting (some of it went over my head, but some of it was quite useful and I felt privileged to have been invited!) and I felt triumphant that I navigated my way to Taunton and back home with little difficulty. However, I learned that I drove too fast, at times, on the motorway. I have been told off by my parents, by Toby and by Mike – I know they care about me and I wasn’t in danger – the car was never out of control and I never had to swerve to avoid anything or to correct any drift. I’m talking about speeding.

Now, I was on the motorway driving quite happily in the right lane. I was going a fair amount over the limit, but no faster than the other cars in that lane – a lot of the time, I was keeping up with traffic. However, I still have a big fear that I might have been caught speeding – although I saw no cameras or police vans, and I didn’t see any flashes (let alone be followed and pulled over), I am now paranoid that at some point before the end of the month I am going to get a letter through fining me and putting points on my licence. I probably haven’t been caught, because I expect I am dramatising things in my head and the bad speeding was only for a couple of seconds at a time. I didn’t see any flashes, which are apparently what you look for – even in the daytime sunshine, they are apparently visible. But I feel like just having this fear has made me learn my lesson, because I’m going to dread letters in the post for the next two weeks. This is punishment enough! I can’t afford to pay any fines, and I can’t afford to have my licence taken away – I just got it and I need my car! Not to mention the embarrassment… I am sure I am just being paranoid and dramatic – after all, I don’t have any points at the moment whatsoever and I plan on keeping it that way, especially now. I wasn’t going faster than other cars on the road, and I know that plenty of people go faster than I was and still get away with it. I just wanted to write that it’s really not worth the fear of the next two weeks – which I have to endure – to go too fast. So don’t do it kids. Love y’all.

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me first.

November 20, 2010

I’ve had enough time to get my future on track, and this year I have made great steps towards achieving what I ultimately want to do. Once I pass my driving test and get a car, I’ll be a lot closer to liberation and being a free agent; I can move out and have my own mobility.

With this in mind, I find myself constantly checking myself with regards to my attitude to the future. When I get nervous about driving, and I feel like (for various reasons) it’s never going to happen for me and “why don’t I just take the hints that I am not built to do this”, I remember that I am the only one who can be responsible for my life. Everybody feels weak sometimes, and that’s fine; but I have to make sure I don’t cross the border from feeling weak to being weak. I am in control of my own life, and that’s what it comes down to.

So when I’m at work and I feel frustrated by colleagues who seem to have nothing better to do than squabble with one another, make everyone else feel alienated, and ultimately act in direct contrast to their job description of being open, friendly and communicative, with excellent listening skills – that’s no reflection of me. I should not feel cowed by this, because I do my job well and I have done absolutely nothing wrong. My life, my destiny – it’s all good and I shouldn’t let others and their displacement of emotions affect that.

Likewise, I ultimately see myself almost definitely moving to London in the near future. Obviously, Toby being based there is a big draw for me. But I finally am waking up to the fact that I have to do this for me. My independence, my friends, my boyfriend, my career, my financial and professional development. I hope that me and Toby will be together for a very long time. But if not, does that mean that I should never try to move to London for myself? Of course not!  So I’m continuing to look for job vacancies there. Once again, I am going to be gracious and loving towards everyone I can be (who deserves it!), but I am also going to put myself first because I deserve it. This is my life, and we only get one. I spend so much time trying to keep the peace, to make other people happy, and while I can be materially selfish and spend money on myself no problem, I need to emotionally value myself too. We all do. The way that I can keep making progress like I did in 2010 is to be held back by nothing and no-one and reach for the stars.

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what’s natural?

September 13, 2010

So Mike and I were having a cigarette break during work today (the job has been going much better this last week; ironically since the start of term, although I’ve been very busy, I’ve enjoyed it a lot more because there have been less meetings and more actually doing stuff) and he suddenly asks me “If you and Toby have kids, would you have a surrogate or adopt?” I replied “Adopt, but it’s up to Toby what he would like, we’d talk about it.” Mike says: “I thought you would want a surrogate, you’re not bothered about having a blood link to your child?” Me: “No, not really. I know adoption can be difficult and problematic too, but I wouldn’t get involved with a surrogate. The blood line thing doesn’t bother me.” Mike: “So you have no desire to spread your seed? Just as you’re an only child and all.” “Nope, not really bothered.” “What about your parents? I am sure they’d like you to continue the family line.” “It would be my child, I couldn’t give a fuck what my parents want or think or whatever.” “But I’m sure you would care, a little bit.”

I can assure you that I Wouldn’t Care. I understand Mike’s argument totally, but it just doesn’t apply to me. I would love to have a child, but they do not have to be tied to me by blood for me to love them; the idea of a surrogate carrying a baby for 9 months for me and my partner seems both unreasonable, and then I would be scared that they would change their mind and keep the baby for themselves, or that we would have to have some kind of triangular parenting strategy; my mind boggles at that. So adoption to me, despite the legal wranglings and wait lists etc., seems more straightforward, and although I am not an Angelina Jolie / Madonna fan, I think that the idea of adopting a child from a less fortunate background and being able to give them new opportunities and a new start in life appeals to me. But it would be a joint decision between me and Toby, or me and my partner, when the time came, and I would take his opinion into account. I wouldn’t take my parents’ or family’s or friends’ opinions into account that much because at the end of the day, this is MY child, I would be the one raising it and I would therefore have the final say. It would be between me and my man and that is it.

Am I unnatural for feeling no desire to carry on my bloodline, to “spread my seed” as Mike put it? I mean, genetically I’m pretty cool – pretty, strong, talented and intelligent 😉 But seriously speaking, I know that most people seem to feel quite strongly about this idea. Whereas if anything, I would feel a twinge of satisfaction at denying my family – particularly my father’s side of the family – the continuation of their bloodline. Because they ostracised my mother and I during my youth; and because if that is all that is important to them, then they have their priorities wrong. And my mother’s side of the family is ok, but they live in the past somewhat.  This is a new day, and I control my life; not God or my parents or my family or the Catholic Church. My decision; what I say goes. Perhaps I shouldn’t let this resentment cloud my judgement, but even if I didn’t feel any resentment (and it’s only a twinge, anyway), I still don’t think it would affect my viewpoint: I would happily adopt, bloodline and genetics be damned. If that makes me a freak, then add it to the list of other reasons.

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day one.

August 16, 2010

I will keep this entry brief as I’m exhausted, but I had my first day at my new job at Cirencester College, and it was epic but a success!  I did not enjoy the 5:45 wakeup, especially considering I had trouble getting to sleep the night before as my body clock is programmed not to sleep before midnight and I was half-consciously hyper about the job.  In the afternoon I could feel my fatigue kicking in briefly, but 20 minutes later I recovered and got a second wind, plus Rachel (the new girl who also started today in my faculty) felt the same so it might have just been a result of the information overload.

My main worry was the transport, as this week Mike is on holiday in Cornwall (he starts next Monday, and he will give me a lift on the way) and so I’m getting the bus to the train station, then the train to Kemble railway station and a taxi from there.  If the bus in the morning was late, I would risk missing my train; if the bus went too slowly, I would miss my train; if the train was delayed (although this would have had to be by a considerable amount), I would miss my connection to Kemble.  But this morning bodes well as everything ran smoothly, and I was lucky enough to be able to jump straight into a taxi (despite my connecting train being held up 5 minutes) and get to Cirencester College before 8:30 (I didn’t have to be there before 9am today, but my official start time will be 8:30 so it was a nice trial run). The taxi driver was kind and friendly, which was another good omen for the day. Transport-wise, as soon as my new colleagues heard that I was relying on public transport this week, they organised between them to collect me from and run me to the local station every morning and afternoon more or less, so that will save on taxi fare (which is a financial burden lifted!). I was really touched how welcomed everyone made me feel, and how well I got on with Rachel and all my other new colleagues, both those I had met previously and those who were new faces.

As for what we covered, I was a little overwhelmed by the information (although in comparison to last year, apparently they’ve made it a much less intense start!) but most of it seems to make sense and I have more or less sorted out everything that I need; Thursday and Friday are enrolment days following the publication of A-Level results, so that will be the first day I get to meet students, which is both exciting and daunting, but after today I feel more confident about it.  I am finally a grown up, even though it still hasn’t sunk in that I am actually employed there, I have a real, full-time, professional job and I am not just pretending or on placement! My confidence will hopefully grow.  A sign of things to come is that I have just made my own sandwiches for lunch, whereas as a child (and even as a young adult!) my mother always made my sandwiches. It’s time to take control!  I’m feeling tired but feeling good and positive and I hope that this week goes well 🙂

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Janelle Monáe – The ArchAndroid (album review.)

May 23, 2010

I literally don’t know where to start with this review.  Comparisons have been made to James Brown (the lead single “Tightrope” has a funky, dirty bass and backchat with Monáe’s band), Judy Garland (“Oh, Maker” features a stately purity of voice in its verses, only to give way to a joyful exaltation of a chorus, and is one of the album’s highlights) and even Erykah Badu (Monáe sings with a knowing voice, sometimes sounding wise well beyond her years while not even connected to this cosmos).  But Janelle Monáe is undeniably her own woman: crazy hairstyles, performing in black-tie tuxedos, employing ethereal instruments coupled with double-time beats, composing her material in suites… It would be audacious enough if it didn’t succeed, if Monáe were above her station with this Metropolis, 28th century high-concept shit.  But she’s not.  Although at times The ArchAndroid feels a bit like it’s overreaching, the vast majority of it is exciting, mindblowing and more than a little bizarre.  This makes it one of the boldest releases to come out in quite a while.

I’m not going to attempt any detail of the story behind this album; it’s only vaguely important to the running order of the songs.  In very brief, Cindi Mayweather was an android who fell in love; the cyber-hunters were invited to hunt her down; she has since discovered the ArchAndroid helmet which displays the city of Metropolis on the top – yep, that’s the album cover above! – and has transformed from pariah to messiah for the robot population of Metropolis.  Monáe creates a textured evocation of this hyper-space reality within her music, and it’s appropriate that The ArchAndroid sounds nothing like anything else in current popular music.  However, its melodies are still catchy, its production tricks are still appreciable (although the music sounds far removed from anything Sean “Diddy” Combs would touch, Monáe is signed to his BadBoy imprint, whose releases normally display impeccable production values – if, at times, little else), and the meanings behind the inventive, often poetic lyrics (from “Say You’ll Go” – “Love is not a fantasy / A haiku written in Japanese”) go beyond the specifics of the Metropolis concept to speak more generally of love, society, and human emotions and situations.  In other words, Monáe hasn’t concept-ed herself into oblivion; the songs can still have meanings to each individual listener, which is important because we still need to relate in order to truly engage with the music.

Moving to the specifics of the music on The ArchAndroid, it’s a hefty album, comprising two suites that are much weightier then Monáe’s The Chase EP; that disc had three songs which were swift, exciting and irresistible.  The special edition had two extra non-concept tracks; a plea to the President for social consideration, and a beautiful, restrained cover of Nat King Cole’s “Smile”. Monáe may not be a vocalist in the same way as Beyoncé, Mariah Carey or Christina Aguilera, but she has an extraordinary control of her instrument, and displays its versatility when songs require it (similar, in a way, to Toni Braxton or Sade).  On The ArchAndroid, Monáe alternately displays grace (“Oh, Maker”), subtlety (“Sir Greendown”), uninhibited release (“Come Alive (The War Of The Roses)”) and an old-school sensibility that fuses scat, Broadway and Latin rhythms (epic closer “BaBopByeYa”).  Suite II (the first suite of The ArchAndroid) is generally more immediate and accessible to the uninitiated listener: after a classical intro (although its concept hangs together flawlessly for most of the album, the instrumental interludes may be slick but they are still unnecessary filler!), Monáe gets straight down to business with the help of spoken word artist Saul Williams for “Dance Or Die”.  Beats fibrillate below Monáe’s haughty poetry, and before the listener knows it, the song segues into “Faster”, into “Locked Inside”…; before you know it, you’ve reached subdued ballad “Mushrooms & Roses” and Suite II is nearly over.

The seamless melting of one song into the next is a neat production trick, but one that we have seen before.  It has its risks, since the listener has to pay attention to his iPod, CD player or media player of choice in order to determine where one track ends and the next begins.  If the songs are dull, they risk totally going over the listener’s head.  Luckily, the majority of The ArchAndroid has enough memorable hooks, production tricks and bizarre sections to stick in the mind and merit repeat listens.  Suite II is far stronger than Suite III for this however; Suite III, although shorter, is much denser and ethereal. Although Suite II had some lovely slower material (“Oh, Maker” and “Sir Greendown”), Suite III seems weighed down by the lack of upbeat or midtempo songs.  “Make The Bus” is an ok effort but hardly lives up to the breathtaking pace of Suite II; “Wondaland” seems altogether too precious.  However, Suite III comes into its own as it reaches its conclusion: “57821” (the serial number of the robot Cindi Mayweather) begins to engage the listener with its subtle, undulating backing, before the majesty of closing tracks “Say You’ll Go” and “BaBopByeYa” unfurls.  In all, Suite II is stronger and more addictive listening, but Suite III has its moments despite its more downbeat demeanour.

Why does it all work? It’s beyond me, as Janelle Monáe seems to have thrown everything and the kitchen sink into this album – in terms of lyrics, vocal approaches, production tricks, musical genres, concept… It’s a miracle that it doesn’t sound overblown, desperate or self-important, but for the most part – it doesn’t.  Only on “Wondaland”, “Mushrooms & Roses” and “Neon Valley Street” does Monáe sound a tiny bit like she’s faking, stalling while she scrabbles for a new idea with which to blindside us.  The vast majority of The ArchAndroid is not only severely impressive, but sounds genuine.  Which makes Janelle Monáe a hugely talented, innovative young woman, and one of the best new artists to emerge in recent years.  Take a listen to The ArchAndroid and prepare to be both mentally and aurally stimulated.