Posts Tagged ‘determination’

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fortissimo.

July 15, 2012

This week has not been the kindest. I’ve been scared, depressed, challenged and exhausted. Scared that in September, I might no longer have a job; depressed that if I didn’t find a source of income within the next two days, that I might have to move back to Bristol (which isn’t terrible in itself, but would feel like a massive step backwards and super-frustrating when I am due to move in with Toby in a couple of months); challenged to step outside of my boundaries and comfort zone, and apply for jobs once again; exhausted by the emotional rollercoaster of all the above! Toby was away in Manchester for two days, so I didn’t have as many cuddles to keep me going as I normally would; although I feel that perhaps his absence was a good thing because otherwise I might have vented to him a little too much!

The reason why I chose the title “fortissimo” for this blog, is that it has a double meaning: normally, we think of the musical term, where it means to play very loudly, as if at the height of a crescendo. But it also means “very strong”, and this perhaps is the theme of the week I’ve had. In the blog I wrote last week, I wrote about wanting to feel more vibrant as a result of the summer weather, but I also want to feel super-strong. Vibrant and powerful in a range of ways. Fortissimo, if you will.

I had people yell at me over the phone at the start of the week; I knew I was not in the wrong in each siutation, but considering the circumstances they were in, I understood that they were distressed. However, the way I felt after they took their frustrations out on me was proof that I am still very much in the process of developing a thick skin.  Two years ago, coming out of the QCG at UWE, I felt somewhat invincible: I had a wonderful new boyfriend, a fantastic new best friend, I’d just landed my first proper full-time job and my body was still banging (I am hoping that my healthier summer focus will help me get back to this state). I also felt confident – that I could really go out and get anything I wanted, and do anything I put my mind to. I think that I have / one has always been able to do this, but not without a certain sense of self-doubt on the inside. That year, the sense of self-doubt turned into a sense of self-belief. As I look at myself this week, I realise that that sense of self-belief has disappeared somewhat – and I want it back. I have to be stronger, more confident and less deterred by what others may say or do or think.

It looks more certain now that my job is in fact not in jeopardy, but I also feel that (due to changes at work which I don’t really feel I can talk about in the public domain) my sense of security is far from unshakeable. I won’t be totally reassured until I’m holding my contract in my hand (which apparently should happen on Monday afternoon), but it’s an improvement on the uncertainty I’ve been going through recently. Part-time work during school and university excluded, the longest I’ve stayed at a job is one year; this position was the one where I initially hoped (even without realising it) that I would break that pattern. I wanted something on my CV that showed I had commitment to a role. In feeling forced to look elsewhere, I confronted a sense of fatigue at completing yet more job applications (most, if not all of which I won’t hear anything back from – nothing personal, just the way it works), but also some questions (raised also by the article I read in Glamour recently): by not constantly challenging myself to go for higher positions, promotions, jobs where I would (for example) have to travel abroad sometimes, am I really challenging myself? There is a lot to be said for being safe and being based in one city – it makes life easy, and it means that once the working day is done, my life is my own and I can spend it with my partner and my friends. It’s a lovely sense of security (there’s that word again!); but at 26, I should still be challenging myself and shooting for the moon, right? And what’s more important – something on a piece of paper that shows I’m loyal to an employer, or an attitude and confidence that shows I am loyal and committed to my own development and achievements?

It’s a change to my thinking that I’ve tried to get my head around before, but only partly succeeded: we feel a misplaced sense of loyalty to our employers, because they pay us for what we do and provide us with financial security. However, we are the ones earning the money, learning new skills constantly, and we should be less afraid to confidently negotiate positions and salaries as we see fit: if you don’t try, you don’t get! If employers don’t want to pay for our services, they don’t feel bad in saying goodbye; why should I feel guilty in looking around at what other options might be available to me, in case something better comes along? A professional relationship should work two ways.  Don’t get me wrong, I feel comforted by the fact that I probably won’t lose my job, because it makes things easier and more stable for me and Toby moving in together in the Autumn and being able to put a deposit down on a new flat, but I’ve been forced to think that while we are young, we should be confident and assertive in going for opportunities that present themselves, and in creating opportunities where none are immediately evident. Sometimes one is lucky, other times one must make his/her own luck. So contract or not, I’m going to keep an eye on what jobs come up (both internal and external), so that I’m ready to apply for something better that takes my fancy.

Another surprising development where I’ve really had to draw on some strength is in my cigarette consumption; somehow I’ve found myself promising Toby and a few other people that I will quit smoking in 2013. I’ve joked that this might be December 31st, but really, it is one of next year’s New Year’s resolutions. I’ve prided myself on my stubbornness, and I know that I will be able to do it; when reading Diana Ross’ biography, one of the things that stuck with me is her saying “I’m going to quit smoking one day without any whining or fuss, not like other people.” And that’s exactly what she did! I admire that single-minded determination to change one’s life without wavering even in the slightest. But when I told a couple of colleagues this plan of mine (they’re not colleagues I usually work with, because I certainly don’t want any kind of scrutiny in my office), they said “well, do you really want to quit? If you do, why wait? Start now.” I must admit that that thinking makes total sense, but while I am getting to the point where I truly do want to stop smoking, I still enjoy it somewhat that I’m not ready right now. However, after a Wednesday night out with Nick where we made a new Icelandic friend called Sigga (who smoked a lot, and I smoked with her), I woke up the next morning hungover and with a very husky throat. I really didn’t want to smoke, and I didn’t have a cigarette until 1pm that afternoon. I had a total of 4 that day (normally, I smoke between 8 and 10 cigarettes a day), and from then on, my colleagues’ words were echoing in my head. I really could quit sooner rather than later, and I’ve focused on reducing my cigarette consumption with the hope that I could stop. I don’t know what I will do at work, as I will still want my breaks every couple of hours (particularly considering I rarely take a proper lunch break), and there are social and time-killing benefits to smoking. But rather than a physical sense of addiction, the hardest challenge will be conquering the voice in my head that yells “CIGARETTE CIGARETTE CIGARETTE” when I become conscious that I haven’t had one that day. I had 7 cigarettes the following day, and today I bought a pack of menthols (rather than my usual Marlboro Reds), of which I have had 6. Menthols have a different taste and less nicotine, and my idea is to wean myself off cigarettes, or at least permanently reduce my consumption. As anyone who has tried to quit smoking before knows (I did quit once in the past after I came home from my year abroad in Spain, but I had only smoked for a couple of months, so it wasn’t really the same thing) I don’t know if I’m ready to completely quit and declare myself an ex-smoker, because sometimes I really enjoy it and I’m quite attached to having a cigarette with alcohol, or before I go to sleep. Plus, I feel like I would be betraying (there’s that word again!) Mike, or Toby’s colleagues who like to smoke, if I no longer want to smoke with them. I also believe that truly conquering one’s addiction to smoking, alcohol or whatever truly means that we can still do those things when we genuinely want to without feeling any compulsion. If I gave up smoking completely, I would still feel subjugated by my addiction if I felt a constant sense of fear to have a cigarette for the rest of my life, in case it opened up the floodgates and I couldn’t stop again. True mastery to me means that I am in total control of every cigarette I have, knowing that I can trust myself not to have another one if I don’t want to. At this standpoint, I can say that I feel ready to cut down my smoking by about half (and recapture my full vocal power and some extra spending power each month to boot). So I have also been gathering my strength to do that.

Living life to the full, being loud and proud, and being strong and confident is a daily work in progress. It’s not always easy, and we can’t do it 100% of the time – I fully accept this. But when I go through a shitty week like this one, I’m thankful for the support offered by my partner, friends and family, but I’m also encouraged to recapture my own confidence and desire to reach the stars. I have so many goals in life that I not only am working slowly towards achieving, but that I am fully capable of – but it’s easy to get worn down and distracted by the daily grind that we learn to settle for a little less and choose safety over excitement. As long as I have financial security, the love of my partner, family and friends, I can do anything I set my mind to. But it’s also important not to forget to actually set my mind to new ventures and projects, rather than the same old ish! I believe that this is what I mean by living “fortissimo”.

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Kylie Minogue – Aphrodite. (album review)

June 27, 2010

Aphrodite marks Kylie Minogue’s 11th studio album, and the general attitude is that this is the Australian star’s comeback album following her battle with breast cancer, after the scattershot effort of previous project X. Not only did X not allude to her personal life and struggles (to many fans’ dismay), it seemed determined to overlook them; however, the genre-hopping and quality rollercoaster displeased many listeners.  This is not to take away from the album’s strongpoints; for the gigantic misses of glam-rock lead single “2 Hearts” and the tepid, forgettable “No More Rain”, there were hits such as the excellently addictive “In My Arms” and the sensuous “Sensitized”, not to mention the beautiful closing lightweight ballad “Cosmic”.  X was a frustrating listen not because it ignored Kylie’s personal foibles but because it didn’t know where its head was at, and fired off moments of sheer brilliance and then of complete twaddle seemingly at will.  It’s true that in contrast to that album, Aphrodite is cohesive, focused and honed to target the fibrillating emotional dance-pop that so pleases the radio and Kylie’s gay fanbase.

Aphrodite bears much in common with that other Kylie comeback record, Fever.  Both are love letters to the dance floor, where the tempo and beats are relentless, while Kylie purrs over the top at once calculated and lascivious.  Both are pure pop, and neither of them take enough risks to stand with Kylie’s best albums: the daring, creative zenith of Impossible Princess or the seductive Body Language that was comprised of songs that were so off-kilter and curious that it was a pleasant surprise just how well the songs worked both individually and as a whole.  Nevertheless, Aphrodite aims to please, and on lead single “All The Lovers”, Kylie does just that with a lyric that pleads simultaneously for love and for the dancefloor.  Primed for the radio and for the gays with its pop-dance leanings, Kylie seems to have struck a home run.  However, this song epitomises much of one of my criticisms of Aphrodite as a whole: the sentiments of the lyrics (which are well-written) and the beauty in the melodies (which are often evocative and well-structured) get swallowed up by the uniform pop production of the album.  It at once unifies the record and smooths out most of its interesting quirks: if X was too schizophrenic, Kylie has gone too far the other way with Aphrodite to create a record that is too homogenous.  Like Madonna’s Confessions On A Dance Floor, Stuart Price oversees production duties here to melt the songs together into one continuous blur, making the decent songs fight to announce themselves as individuals to the listener’s ear.

With songs such as “All The Lovers”, “Closer” and “Everything Is Beautiful”, this is a problem: for example, “Closer” is structurally and melodically a ballad, fighting against production that wants to make it a bitter dance song.  “Everything Is Beautiful” should be a gentle, sweet ode to the joys of love, but the insistent drum beat transforms the song into an anthemic but ill-fitting upbeat pop song. These identity crises give much of Aphrodite the sense that it is trying too hard to be something it’s not, or that the tracks are not allowed to be themselves.  There are a couple of plain weak tracks: “Better Than Today” sounds entirely like a Scissor Sisters track and Kylie Minogue (who is not credited enough for her vocal and interpretative abilities) sings it in just that way; “Looking For An Angel” is listless filler which once again seems to have earned its spot on the record because it fits in with the overarching feel of the album as a whole.  It’s a shame that unlike on the quirky Body Language where the album’s moments of strangeness worked, a large part of Aphrodite feels like it is a square peg forced into a round hole.

This is especially highlighted when one listens to the songs that do work.  “Get Outta My Way” is a focused, upstanding anthem that takes its 4-to-the-floor beat and runs, creating an exhilarating standout; “Put Your Hands Up (If You Feel Love)” bears the essence of Fever‘s infectious “Love At First Sight” and is similarly lovely; the title track “Aphrodite” is a statement of self-worth and determination to triumph that totally suits its marching-band beat and lyrics that declare “Did you think I wasn’t real?… I’m fierce and I’m feeling mighty / I’m a golden girl, I’m an Aphrodite / Alright?” Its confidence and zest spearhead Aphrodite’s most successful moments.  However, “Cupid Boy” is the antithesis of this and still shines; a moody guitar-driven mid-tempo that proves that (unlike the aforementioned “Closer”) it certainly is possible to successfully deliver an emotionally-charged ballad-esque track while still keeping the overarching dance feel of the album intact.  Closer “Can’t Beat The Feeling” is one of the album’s poppiest moments, but its embrace of its own cheesiness is almost delightful, with Kylie’s vocal delivery transforming throwaway candy-floss lyrics such as “Feel the force of the reaction / Let it take you on a ride /… I can’t beat the feeling that I get when I’m with you” into a delirious proclamation of love.

Overall, Aphrodite caters to its target group, but a little too efficiently.  Some songs feel like they’ve been forced to be what they’re not, a couple seem to be present only by dint of the fact that they musically sound like Kylie Minogue tracks – facsimiles of songs rather than songs in their own right.  But at least half of the album works, and when the individual elements of Aphrodite react successfully and the songs stand up with the help of the production rather than being strapped down by it, the results are impressive.  I enjoyed this album more than I expected to, and it marks one step closer to a return to form for Minogue… even if she’s not quite at her peak.

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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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speechless.

February 25, 2010

So I’m sat in Starbucks in Cabot Circus having finally gained access to the internet (BT Openzone has a lot to answer for… hijacking my browser and not letting me get to the Starbucks page however hard I try – I do have better things to do than sit here and refresh the page!… probably.) and I have felt determined to blog since I got here.  I’m consuming far too much coffee lately and I generally need to cut down on food – not that it’s showing; I appreciate my new metabolism every day and I pray it never leaves! – so I thought I would take the time to write something to you all and write about things that are on my mind.  Usually this isn’t a problem for me, but now I’m at my keyboard and I don’t really know what to say.  I have my book (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – I’m only 100 pages through so far but I’m enjoying it, more than I expected to in fact!) and Sade’s fantastic new album Soldier Of Love is playing on my iPod, so I’m feeling chilled.  My fingertips are typing away but is any of this of substance?  I don’t think so.  So let me try and write something of value.

Yesterday I got a bit irritated with a couple of bossy people in uni, but it wasn’t really a big deal.  However, my mood lingered and wouldn’t quite lift. I went to WHSmiths (after a tour of central Bristol shops) and bought Mike and Caroline the first season of True Blood on DVD as a thankyou gift for everything they mean to me, and all that they’ve done for me in the past six months.  And then I went to Starbucks, sat and read my book, and decided to continue on my strategy of letting people know how much I appreciate them.  I spoke to Hannah and we conversed about love, life and self-esteem, and then I met up with Toby and decided to tell my boyfriend that although sometimes I’m a bit emotionally wary or quiet, I appreciate him so much and the reason I get nervous is because nobody ever really treated me, as a boyfriend, the way that he does.  He’s a good man and I’m going to hold onto him, and although I don’t always say it, I appreciate what he’s done for me and what he means to me too.  It was nothing to do with why I was a bit grumpy before, but it made me feel better, because generally we don’t tell people close to us enough how much we appreciate them.  So I’m going to try and do that a little bit more, rather than everyone just taking their friendships and relationships for granted.  I am good at speaking confidently, so while I’m doing that I might as well say things that are worth saying!

Today I finished my essay at uni with Mike, tried and failed to find Ness in the café, and now I’m here in Starbucks again.  Although I mainly come here because I don’t really want to go home before I have to (my parents have the week off this week and although we are getting on ok at the moment, I don’t want to prolong my contact with them.  Small doses!  I like my independence, as you know), I do enjoy having time to myself in a relaxing environment, and I can just turn my iPod on and type or read without any disruptions.  I do pay for the privilege, and I should be a little more careful with what I spend at the moment, but part of my philosophy is that as long as it’s not massively negligent of the bigger picture, we should treat others and ourselves the best we can, because tomorrow you could be dead.  It’s a bit blunt, but not wrong.  What have we got to lose?  I tell and show people how much they mean to me today (or at least I’m going to resolve to do that a bit more); I reward myself today (well, sorta quite often but hey!); I try and live in the moment, while being aware of my past and my future.  If I died tomorrow, I’m sure I would have some regrets, but I can’t think of anything major that I really see as a huge mistake in my life.  There are things that I would have done differently, but now that I’m in a pretty good space in my life I don’t really care because the mistakes I’ve made and avenues I’ve taken have led me to this point, and probably contributed to my character and the person that I am in some way.  Watching Keeping Up With The Kardashians at Toby’s last night, Kim Kardashian has money, looks, family and a decent career.  But listening to her speaking, there’s a tiny something missing… some sort of spark or soul.  I’m not saying that because she’s a celebrity heiress – I find Paris Hilton terrifically fun and I will always (well, almost always) stick up for her in a conversation – but with Kim there seemed to be little appreciation or conception of battling hard for the things she wants.  As much as I would love to have things fall easily into my lap, I’ve fought and struggled more than some people realise, and now that things are going my way I appreciate it every day.  I hope that it continues and I’m going to do my best to ensure that it does (although life is such that sometimes no matter how much you do, things go against you).  If I won the lottery tomorrow, if my heart felt like a glittering diamond and everything in my life were suddenly fulfilled, that would be nice, but I hope that through the course my life I can get to a state where I’m fulfilled by the things that I have, even if I’m not 100% satisfied and always striving for more (which I almost hope to be).  Appreciating what I have is something I try to do as much as I can, but I could still do it much more.

So I guess I found something to talk about.  It wasn’t anything momentous, it wasn’t anything groundbreaking, but I reread what I’ve just typed over the past 20 minutes and I stand by it.  Too often we are speechless, or afraid to speak for fear of the value judgments others place on what we say.  And sometimes what goes unsaid is the most valuable thing of all.  So to this end, I want to thank you all once again for reading, for following this little blog of mine, and I hope that you all stay wonderful and wish you all the best.  Until next time kids x

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empowerment.

February 18, 2010

Yesterday, I decided to get back on the horse and take my first steps towards accomplishing one of my goals for 2010, which is to pass my driving test and get a car.  I’m 24 years old, I’ll need a car for jobs once I finish my current university course, and I also just want to take this step towards freedom.  I feel a little guilty relying on friends who drive, and I want to repay the favour; I’m tired of getting the bus, I’m tired of having to leave Toby’s at 10:30pm just so that I can get home.  I want to do what I want when I want.  So I took my driving theory test for the first time in 6 years, and I passed it.  So onto the practical! I have a CD-ROM to help with this (though I have yet to view it, and unless the CD puts me in a car, I’m unsure as to how helpful it’ll actually be), and I’m going to book an intensive course for a week in the Easter holidays, hopefully with a practical test attached at the end which I can pass and then get my licence.

When I was 18, I took this practical driving test 3 times, and kept failing. The first time, I nearly passed (and perhaps should have), but the second and third time my nerves got the better of me and I couldn’t function effectively.  I know that driving is an industry and examiners are unnecessarily rigid, because they can get money out of people retaking tests.  But I just need to get my shit together and give them an excuse not to fail me.  I’m hoping that being a bit older with more life experience will give me the strength I need to get through the test, but I have to acknowledge the fact that I’m still nervous about it!  But I’m going to try a different strategy (blitzing it in a week rather than taking a lesson each week might hopefully give me less time to get nervous) and my determination to pass – it’s a necessity! – might just see me through.  We’ll have to wait and see.

The theme of this blog entry is in the title – empowerment.  So far, 2010 is shaping up pretty well – two of my three goals seem to be progressing towards successful completion and it’s only mid-February.  I have a wonderful new boyfriend and I am slowly learning to be in a relationship with him.  I am halfway towards my driving licence, with the next steps clear in my mind (and my wallet, *sigh*), and Mike’s neighbour Andrea has a car (Peugeot 306 – nothing fancy but it’ll get me from A to B) which he is going to sell for £800 that I am considering purchasing (not only does he have to go through Mike who can be fearsome if necessary, but I’ve met Andrea myself so he’s unlikely to rip me off – I know where he lives!).  I have got a fantastic best friend at university with whom I am extremely likely to keep in contact after the course ends, and I have shed nearly all the weight I’m looking to shed.  I have got two tattoos that I love, that are exactly right for me, and I am making plans for the third (watch this space! It’s going to require some considerable designing though so I won’t be blogging it next week or anything 😛 ).  In other words, life is good right now. I’ve tried to keep my blog even, to reflect the positives and negatives, the joys and heartbreak in my life in equal measure, in a way that means you can see and feel what is personal to me but also in a way that’s not so personalised that nobody else can relate.  I’ve also blogged about music, fashion, perfume and other things that are personal interests of mine, but which are also interesting to the general population.

This blog itself, along with all of the aforementioned things in the above paragraph, are steps towards my own empowerment.  It’s funny how much can change in six months.  I have a lot of growing to do, but I look at myself and I have come quite far in quite a short amount of time.  I feel like an adult, like I’m not an ugly person but someone deserving and strong.  I can’t be strong 100% of the time, and that’s ok, but I’m stronger now than I used to be and I can see it, I can feel it.  And this journey is only beginning, I have more steps to take (car, job, financial stability, my own place) before I am anywhere near satisfied (hah!) but I acknowledge my progress towards independence and I feel good about it.  I can do this.  We have to empower ourselves each day to get a little bit further towards where we want to be, and I refuse to ever be powerless. This is what I realise now, and I am empowered.

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Rihanna – Rated R. (album review)

November 14, 2009

Here is the album review I promised on my twitter yesterday!  Before I start, once again I want to thank you all for supporting my blog, both my music reviews and my personal entries.  I really appreciate all the views and I hope that you’ll keep it locked here because I ain’t stoppin’! 🙂 Thankyou.

You already know what I think of Russian Roulette, and the other 3 songs we’ve heard already from Rated R.  Generally, they portray a darker, edgier side to Rihanna, both in the production (deeper, more menacing beats) and lyrical content that includes a bit of cursing, a lot of swagger and references to pain, trials and tribulations.  “Russian Roulette”, “Wait Your Turn” and “Hard” are more or less indicative of the album as a whole.  In contrast to her previous smash Good Girl Gone Bad, it’s a lot less uptempo.  The songs are mainly midtempos and ballads, which may alienate a lot of fans who want her faster, danceable material (though “Hard” and “Rude Boy” cater to these needs, and do so well with swagger lyrics – the latter seeing Rihanna come on to a ‘rude boy’ as if she were the guy who is gonna “put it on you”).  However, the slower material allows for two major things: one, to prove that Rihanna can actually sing.  Okay, she’s no Beyoncé, but she holds her own a lot better than many people might expect.  “Russian Roulette” and closing standout “The Last Song” don’t employ lots of vocal runs, but they emphasise strong, clear vocals that prove Rihanna’s got a voice as well as a body – btw. the artwork for this era is immense! – and also go well with the more emotionally searching and vulnerable material.  Two, it allows for Rihanna to delve into her pain, and although it’s never made explicit that she’s referencing her love, abuse and love lost with Chris Brown, songs such as “Stupid In Love” and the epic “Cold Case Love” immediately bring that whole affair to mind.

Not every song is concerned with love lost.  “Te Amo” is about a girl who’s infatuated with Rihanna, and its undulating beats have been beefed up slightly on the album version to make it more hypnotic and possibly (along with “Rude Boy”) the song that would have slotted in nicely on Good Girl Gone Bad.  “Rockstar 101” is backed up by Slash’s guitar work and like “Hard” and “Wait Your Turn”, it demonstrates Rihanna’s confidence in herself – something she perhaps wants to emphasise.  She is fierce!  However, compared to some of the other tracks, “Rockstar 101” falls somewhat flat, as it doesn’t have as much depth as the emotionally-charged midtempos, nor does it ring as true as the harder-knocking songs.  It does demonstrate that Rihanna is not an urban artist – she’s a pop singer who encompasses a range of music. On this album, she combines elements of rock, pop, R&B and melds them together to create a dark album that works for the most part.  And credit goes to her for trying to improve on each album – like Good Girl Gone Bad, the amount of filler on the disc is fairly minimal (in contrast to her first two records) and she’s tried to do something different that has evolved as she has as a person.  So I must applaud that.

A couple of the ballads such as “Stupid In Love” and “Photographs” (which benefits from will.i.am’s synthed beats that kick in midway) are perfectly solid, but pale in comparison to the best tracks.  These are, in a nutshell, first single “Russian Roulette”, “Fire Bomb”, “G4L”, “Cold Case Love” and “The Last Song”.  These all work because Rihanna is putting herself out there vocally and emotionally.  The producers do a fantastic job (praise must go in particular to Justin Timberlake and The Ys’ work on “Cold Case Love”, which shows a gradual building of beatboxing, standard beats, guitars and strings to an epic climax that fades out by itself and underline Rihanna’s pain at a love misfired – “Release me now ’cause I did my time”) more or less throughout, but Rihanna herself carries the songs.  “Fire Bomb” has been compared to something by Kelly Clarkson, but in my opinion it knocks much harder and is a compelling contrast to expectations – most people would expect a club banger from the title, when in fact it’s a slow pop/rock ballad which essentially says “if I’m going down in flames, you’re coming with me”.  “G4L” is one of the darkest songs which shows Rihanna pledging to be “down 4 life”, ride or die until the end.  The off-key tweaks at the beginning signal something mysterious, and the lyric “I lick the gun when I’m done ’cause I know that revenge is sweet” is one of the best opening salvos I can remember.  The track brings to mind the tiny gun tattoos on the sides of Rihanna’s breasts, demonstrating that even if she may be a sweet person on the surface, she’s also a strong and determined one – her attitude is reflected in her music as much as her body art.

“The Last Song” was the track that stood out to me most from listening to the 30-second snippets, and it doesn’t disappoint – it’s a perfect closer to the album, not only in name but in texture also.  It employs a soaring guitar and heartwrenching lyrics, chronicling the realisation of a breakup.  “The sad song ends up being the last song you’ll ever hear.”  Rihanna’s spare vocals almost seem to cry the lyrics throughout the track, and the buildup throughout the song until near the end where all the instruments fade out is done perfectly.  Rihanna said that she wanted Lil’ Wayne and Kings Of Leon to like her album, demonstrating her desired blend of urban and rock. The album is definitely a mélange of styles, but apart from “Hard”, I don’t see enough hip-hop for Weezy to connect with, and the rock elements are nowhere near as indie-pop as Kings Of Leon.  However, the soaring guitars provide something edgier and deeper within the context of a pop album, and the hard-hitting beats and synths knock plenty – the combination of which provide something quite extraordinary and special within itself.  Rihanna should be proud of this record.

Rated R has a focused aggression to it that rings truer than it did on Good Girl Gone Bad. Despite the lack of uptempo smashes, it’s a fantastic record that hopefully will have as much repeat-play value as her previous record.  Whether it’s because of her personal struggles, maturity as a young woman or desire to experiment musically (probably a combination of all three), Rated R shows growth.  I pray that her label doesn’t re-release the album, since it’s perfect as it is and comes across as something sincere, rather than designed to make money as a light pop confection.  Why I’m impressed with Rated R, beyond the simple fact that most of the songs are solid or better, is because it’s cohesive.  All the songs work together to make the album more than the sum of its parts.  It has a big emotional impact, and it sets a musical mood (dark, edgy and yet heartfelt) that doesn’t let up throughout – in her own words, from “Hard”, “that Rihanna rain/reign”.  I didn’t know if she had it in her to best Good Girl Gone Bad, but even if it doesn’t have as many number 1 smashes and addictive beats, Rated R is a musical step forward that I personally value that little bit more.