Posts Tagged ‘iPod’

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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.

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switch off and breathe.

May 17, 2010

For all of the time that I do spend on my Macbook, texting on my phone, and attached to my iPod, lately I’ve started feeling that my personal reliance on technology, as well as our dependence on it as a society, is getting on my nerves a little bit.  I freely admit I could not live without my iPod, but to me that is an addiction to music rather than an addiction to electronics; music is something I know I could never give up, as I’ve always been around music since I can remember. As a child, if it wasn’t on TV, radio or the stereo as my mother and I danced around the living room to Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”, then I was singing it.

Even though I had my first mobile phone at 14, I can remember not even wanting one initially – I got it for my 14th birthday with a sparkly cover (my penchant for shiny things has always been well known) and I said to my dad “I told you I didn’t need one!”.  I didn’t really use it until I started my first part-time job at WHSmith when I was 16, and suddenly I had an exciting, interesting friendship group outside of school – people who were cool, who hadn’t known me for the last 5 years and had therefore formed preconceptions and misconceptions about me, and with whom I could socialise.  Suddenly I was texting and spending my credit like water, and my mobile phone seemed to come into its own.  Today, again I couldn’t be without one, and I use it to tweet, send messages, call people if necessary, record song ideas on the go and generally kill time.  But then, life simply seems to have changed in the last 10 years; it’s just expected for everyone to have a mobile phone, it’s convenient for meeting people (in the days before texts to say you’re running late or there’s been a change of plan / venue, you had to arrange meets in advance and be where you said you were gonna be, when you said you were gonna be there!), they can come in invaluable in unforeseen circumstances or emergencies… they’re a logistical and social necessity.  And yet we survived fine without them 10 years ago… Well, I’m glad in that instance that we’ve come 10 years further.

I adore my Macbook, and I couldn’t imagine getting through my university degrees without it.  I remember when my dad gave me his black ex-work laptop to take with me to university; I felt so grown up, 18 years old in a new city with my very own laptop!  When I knocked water all over that laptop approximately 3 weeks later and destroyed it beyond repair, I had to survive two weeks (!!!, though this felt like an eternity at the time) completing essays by hand, watching DVDs on my friend’s computer, and checking emails in the communal computer room.  It was a massive inconvenience, and it really made me appreciate just how much easier computers have made my working life.  In terms of pleasure, music allows me to keep up with (and download) all of the music that I’m interested in.  It allows me to write this blog and share it with you all.  It allows me to produce and record my songs and create albums like Quiet Storm which is my pride and joy, and I’ve felt so privileged to be able to share that with all of you.  It’s allowed me to make new friends through myspace and twitter, some of whom I now hold very dear to me.  I wouldn’t have gotten to know my boyfriend and realise just how compatible we are without MSN.

And yet, despite all of these obvious considerable pluses, I’ve felt myself getting a teensy bit annoyed.  I deleted my facebook a week and a half ago because all of the constant notifications (most of which I had turned off, except then they were clogged up on my profile every time I logged in), the tension between having high privacy settings and resulting awkwardness from restricting certain people who believe they have more of a right to my life than they actually do, the user-unfriendly profile format updates and general invasiveness of it all had just got to the point where I wasn’t enjoying it anymore.  Unlike twitter, which is quick, easy and on-the-go, I found that facebook was becoming a cumbersome site which does everything very well (and I will miss the photo-sharing facilities it had), but sorta places an onus on you to join in with every single aspect of it.  I like that only a select few of my friends have twitter; it allows me to have a little in-crowd, without having to either censor myself or let everyone in the whole world know exactly what’s going on with me.  On facebook, I found that people whom I barely knew were adding me as friends, and after a short period of rejecting them, eventually I just acquiesced because if they were that desperate to be my friend, they might as well inflate my friend count.  In short, it just wasn’t fun anymore.

And yet, I felt scared to delete it, because it’s become such an institution.  When deactivating my account, facebook’s last stand was to show me pictures of my closest friends along with “Nana will miss you.” “Sarah will miss you.” “Nathalie will miss you.” “Hannah will miss you.” “Toby will miss you.” “Mike will miss you.” My heart panged for a fraction of a second, and then I realised: all of these people have my mobile number, my email, my address.  If they really wanna talk to me, or I really wanna talk to them, I will make an effort to do so in a more personal way than facebook offers.  At that point, I got pissed off by facebook’s attempt to emotionally blackmail me into using their service, and decisively deactivated my account.  That was a week and a half ago, and I haven’t really missed it nor felt tempted to return.  I feel emancipated… I’ll let you know how I get on and if I eventually return to the fold!  But I’d like to say that I won’t 😉

I spend a lot of my weekends with my laptop taking advantage of the wi-fi in Starbucks in Cabot Circus.  Usually I’m getting work done that I can’t get done at home, but sometimes I’m blogging or doing various other things.  I remember having to steal neighbours’ wireless internet at home, and the signal constantly cutting out because I would move my laptop a fraction out of range.  I appreciate now how lucky and how convenient it is to have a stable internet at my fingertips.  But sometimes, if I don’t need to do work, dragging my laptop everywhere is somewhat cumbersome (and my laptop’s not exactly huge!).  Between laptop and power adaptor, it takes up a lot of space in my bag (leaving less for necessary cosmetics, obviously) and gets quite heavy.  So the last two weekends I’ve made a point of leaving my computer at home.  I use my Macbook most evenings, I usually fire it up in the morning while I’m getting ready for uni / work / placement / whatever I’m up to.  So in retrospect, I don’t need to carry it wherever I go (especially since half the point of my most recent mobile phone was that it has mobile internet browsing).  And that’s exactly it.  Technology is a massive convenience, a fantastically useful tool that has revolutionised my life exactly as it’s revolutionised yours.  Or if not exactly, then in similar ways.  I appreciate it and I can remember enough instances of it failing that I generally don’t take it for granted, despite being under 25 and therefore a “digital native” (if you’re over 25, you’re a “digital immigrant”, so now you know!!! 😛 ).  But I don’t want to turn into somebody who doesn’t know how to live without technology.  I used to be happy just singing songs, doing jigsaw puzzles, watching TV and reading books – no internet, no cell, no computer, no iPod, no Playstation.  I could spend days doing simple things like that, and while I’m sure that these days I’d get bored after a while, I want to know from time to time that I’m still capable of living independent of these things that I feel I need, that we’ve all become used to thinking that we need, but we don’t really.  We may need them to survive in our contemporary social landscape, but our lives won’t physically end without them.  I’m currently trying to teach myself that.

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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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spirit.

December 24, 2009

I never feel I am very good at doing rundowns of the year, because I always manage to miss out some insanely positive event and focus on the negative, or I feel I live too much in the moment to want to dwell on the past.  Likewise, I don’t really bother making New Year’s Resolutions because I don’t really ever feel I have to change anything instantly.  I don’t feel I have anything to give up in my life.  I guess I would like to finally pass my driving test and get a car in 2010, but I’m not going to make it a resolution, I’m just going to try and do it! If that makes sense.

Having said all of that, I feel as we come to the end of 2009 that I’m a lot happier now than I was this time last year. As I’ve said before, this is my first Christmas not working in retail, and in terms of the lack of stress and not having to deal with customers (nor low pay), it’s been bliss!  I’m away from the Perfume Shop and the people who work there, and that can only be a good thing.  What’s more, I’m doing my Careers Guidance course at uni and I finally feel like my life is going somewhere. I have some fantastic friends whom I’ve made this year, and my friendships which have endured for the last few years only continue to grow.  I feel like I’ve discovered more of myself as a person, and although I’m not 100% happy, who is?  I nevertheless recognise the improvement in my life, both in the things that have happened to me and in the evolution of myself as a person.  I hope it continues because I have plenty further to go and a lot more I want to accomplish!  But compared to my despondency about myself and my life at the end of 2008, things are looking up.

In terms of a blast from the past, today I was in town catching up with Hannah and Alex (we still have a lot to talk about!) and enjoying a Christmas coffee.  I treated us all to coffees in Starbucks (because it’s Christmas and I just got paid from the hospital – I think I have had a payrise! 😀 ) and it was just really nice.  Walking around the shops with Hannah, I saw some things I like (including a Juicy Couture iPod touch case.  I don’t have an iPod touch, and the case is hardly masculine in its pastel pink shade, but I want it.) but there was no point in spending money on Christmas Eve when the sales start Boxing Day, yknow?  Walking towards the bus stops at the end of our trip, I walked past Serena, the girl at the Perfume Shop who said that I was a thief, who said that I had bullied her – Hannah saw her first and offered a nice-bitchy comment (“I think she looks fatter?” Bless you girl!!!).  I didn’t really look, though I know she saw me.  I smiled at her, then walked straight past.

Hearing those untrue things said about me really hurt, but I have said my piece to my friends, and I’m over it.  Life goes on, and if they were talking about me 4 months after I had left the shop, then that’s a compliment in a way – I guess I made an impression!  But I’m over feeling mad, upset and angry about it – my life is a lot better now, and part of that is because the girls at the Perfume Shop are not part of it (excluding Henna, whom I see around uni from time to time).  I am in a good place – even if I get down about Mike etc., his friendship has really raised me up and helped me uncover and discover more about myself.  So instead of looking away, or storming past, I just smiled at her and went on my own way.  I’m on a new path, and it’s Christmas – why bother perpetuating any bitterness or regret? If that’s what she wants to do – well, she’s older than me and it’s sad that she doesn’t just move on because she should have more important things in her life.  I certainly have – and I know I’m talking about it now, but I really recognised that it just isn’t worth it anymore to cling onto anger.  I wish most people nothing but the best, and what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.  And I’m not dead yet!

So instead of being cheesy or cliché about Christmas spirit, I just wanted to say that even though this is applicable to any time of year (because hardship happens all year round), there’s nothing better than embracing the positive and letting go of the negative when you’re ready to and you feel you can.  I have a long way to go, but I’ve progressed from before and despite my own personal ups and downs, I’m in a much better place.  More than anything material, more than Juicy Couture iPod cases, that is the best gift I can give to myself this Christmas – allowing myself to be happy and to be proud.  I wish you all nothing but the best, please be proud of yourselves and recognise the good in yourself.  I know that Christmas is about giving to others and family, but we have to take some time to feel good about ourselves too.  We are all deserving of that!  So from the bottom of my heart, have a wonderful Christmas Day tomorrow, however you’re spending it – and take a moment just to look at yourself and appreciate who you are!  Love always. 🙂

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apples and oranges.

September 20, 2009

For close to 4 years now, I’ve been an Apple convert.  The time has passed by quickly, and I don’t regret making the switch one bit.  My first Apple product was technically my 40GB iPod photo which now looks like a giant brick! I can’t believe I used to carry that around with me! But then, I can’t believe I used to carry my walkman and 5 or 6 cassette tapes to school each day, nor that I used to have a little bag with my discman and a few CDs in it that I used to wear around me.  Something I forgot until my iPod had to be sent away for repair during my second year of university was that CDs JUMP.  How we’ve come to expect perfection!  Or I have, anyway – I have no patience for songs skipping, I have little patience for my iPod taking a while to get its head round a song I want it to play.

However, I never considered getting an iPod as becoming an Apple convert.  Once I saw how easily my iPod worked and how straightforward the menus were, I became interested in getting an Apple laptop, especially as my current laptop was slower than a dinosaur.  During my first year of university, I had lots of problems with anti-virus software and protecting my computer.  It became ridiculously slow, and in addition to that, the laptop I had had a poor attempt at imitating Microsoft Office.  In the end, I had enough, and just before Christmas 2005 I ordered my first Apple laptop, an iBook G4.  It took me a month to get used to the fact that there was no right-click button, that the tabs and x’s and everything were in different places.  Also to get used to the fact that as a Mac, my computer was practically already virus-immune without constant annoying updates from AVG and Spybot and Norton Anti-Virus.  The resolution and picture quality was far superior than what I had been used to, and although there were several software compatibility issues, they were a lot easier to overcome than I had feared.  The aforementioned Microsoft Office was no longer needed, as I didn’t require any spreadsheets, and I could open and create word documents in TextEdit.  So it was all good!

Of course, it’s not all been problem-free.  I’m now on my third iPod (which is just over a year old), a 120GB silver iPod classic.  I’ve had it just over a year, and apart from the fact that the click wheel only clicks in the headphones, it is behaving quite well. For a while it was working extremely slowly, but the iPod software update on Snow Leopard fixed it and it’s back to normal.  I have had a lot of iPod issues in the past, having to send back my iPod time and again and getting replacement ones.  Particularly in the case of my first iPod (the photo one), I got into a rhythm of hitting it and knocking it in order to get it to behave and function, which in retrospect was quite ridiculous.  My second iPod, a 5th-generation iPod classic with video, still works, though it went through a period of deleting itself of all my music which was why I got a new one.  Because I have such a huge amount of music (though 120GB is more than enough space, and I haven’t come close to filling this iPod yet, with 35GB still free!), having to reload it onto my iPod is a MASSIVE pain, and now I use a handy program called iLinkPod to back up my iPod every month or so.  It’s a great security blanket, and ensures that I never lose my songs (something which is a much more real concern with digital music – it’s far easier to lose a file than to lose a CD), nor my formatting – I am a little bit anal about how I categorise my songs and make sure that everything has the correct artwork.  So with my new iPod, I bought AppleCare to keep it under guarantee for a lot longer, and I feel a lot more secure now.  And everything is working fine!

The introduction of an Apple Store to Bristol has also been a great advantage.  Up until the opening of Cabot Circus last September, there was an Apple retailer in Temple Meads which was more or less hopeless when it came to fixing any issues that I had.  Problems with my first laptop and its CD drive went unrepaired because they were so pathetic in their service that I just preferred to persist with the problem than get it fixed by them. (When my CD or DVD would skip upon putting it in the drive, I would just beat the base of the computer and it would work.  Again, I am glad to say those days are long gone!)  When my hard drive finally corrupted (I think to be fair, that was my fault because in Spain, I would leave my computer on my bed and it would overheat lying on the thick blanket that I had bought), it was easier just to buy another laptop than get it fixed by them and face their judgement.  Also, their costs would probably have been close to the cost of another laptop anyways.  I bought my second laptop in Easter 2007, and I still have it today!  The one time that I had a problem with it, last Christmas when it would only work with the power adapter plugged in, I took it to the Apple Store in Cabot Circus, who repaired it and although they had said that providing a new logic board would cost £400 (a price I decided I was prepared to pay), they fixed it for no charge.  It was a lovely Christmas Eve present, and to this day I’m not sure if that was a mistake… I just got out of the store clutching my laptop before they could change their mind!

Updating my operating system to Leopard and recently Snow Leopard has kept my laptop current, and although it is 2 and a half years old now, I don’t feel that it’s been left behind or is lacking anything. I have got a Microsoft Office replacement now called NeoOffice, so that I can plot my anti-snacking spreadsheet and make a beautiful printable CV.  Using the real Microsoft at work has made me appreciate Apple all the more.  My Dell laptop starts up and shuts down so slowly; it installs updates at a snail’s pace; Microsoft Office is actually not that user friendly, with certain apparently-advanced functions being a rigmarole to discover.  And don’t rely on the help section – it only helps you with incredibly obvious things, and anything more technical is a struggle to even find according to their index system.  I conclude that their help sections must have been written by morons, and this week at work, I have solved my queries by using Google, seeing that the Microsoft help section had failed me so.  In short, I can’t see myself going back to Microsoft.

However, there is one area of my life where I’m not willing to let Apple in.  The iPhone, while I appreciate is a marvellous piece of kit and has so many useful (and useless! 😉 ) apps as well as a slim touchscreen, iPod capabilities and Safari web browser, is just far too common.  I see it everywhere. In addition, it’s expensive and I’m not really into buying phones on contract (I get easily confused), so I prefer to buy them SIM-free and then just keep my standard O2 Simplicity contract, which gives me unlimited web browsing, and enough free texts and minutes for £20 to keep me satisfied. I see iPhones everywhere, and while they are pretty and fantastic devices, I prefer to be a little bit different.  I have the LG Prada II, which is a beautiful sleek black touchscreen phone.  However, it also has a pull-out QWERTY keyboard (one of the main selling features for me) so after a little bit of teething, I can text pretty damn quick. I also have the internet and a camera and all the other important things I wanted in a smart phone.  But for me, it is more beautiful than an iPhone, it has the designer name which makes it a little more special to me, and I have never seen another one being used in public.  I am confident that the iPhone is probably a superior piece of kit, but not by much – I am happy without all the extra apps, as long as I have my QWERTY keyboard, free internet browsing, emails, beautiful phone and unique phone.  The LG Prada II has taken me a few months to get my head around (the instruction manual is not very clear, and it does randomly do crazy things such as restart when I receive more than one email), but I have grown to love it and appreciate its quirks as much as its beauty and functions.  As I’ve only had it for 5 months, I’m not really looking into what phone I might get next (iPhone or otherwise), as technology these days (particularly with smart phones) evolves so quickly that I won’t even think about it until my current phone starts getting tired and a new one will be necessary.  However, I know that Dior have got a beautiful phone on their website…

h1

caged bird.

September 17, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

h1

untouchable.

August 30, 2009

I was sitting in the back of the car on the way back from Tetbury today, where my parents and I went for lunch.  I was in a pretty foul mood, for several reasons: since upgrading my Macbook to Snow Leopard yesterday, I’d had numerous application faults, and the latest was that I was unable to use my printer, which meant that I was unable to make a start on the preparatory task I’d been given for uni.  (I’ve since fixed the printer, and after numerous re-installs and restarts, Snow Leopard seems to be working fine now, and has also made my iPod go back to working at normal speed! 🙂 ) I was then feeling apprehensive at the prospect of having lunch with my parents, because it’s always the same: we go to a pub out in the country, have some standard food and drink, either make stiff conversation or blend into the background while my parents talk to each other, and then turn around and come home again.  I just can’t be bothered to make the effort for something so boring, and playing ‘happy families’ feels so fake.  I then had to get changed to go on this lunch, and I realised that half of my wardrobe is effectively shit, which meant that I ended up throwing a pile of clothes across the room in search of something to wear.  When I found a garment that was suitable, I had to pick these clothes up and put them back on my chair.  I dumped too much hair gel on my head in the midst of this rage, and then had to make it work. (I did.) Then I got downstairs after my mother kept hollering at me to “hurry up”, and proceeded to wait for my parents!!!  If they were telling me to hurry up, why did I end up waiting for them?

So I was in a mega-sulk.  I was listening to Courtney Love / Hole on my iPod and saying nothing, reading American Psycho.  After walking around Tetbury (since it is so tiny, it did not take long), we ended up going for lunch in a place called The Crown.  For the first half an hour, I was quite unimpressed by The Crown.  The decor was a bit run down, but that wasn’t really an issue.  However, my mother ordered a tonic water, and received half a glass, which I brought to her and then brought back to the bar to check that it was meant to be that small an amount of water. (It was.) Then two dogs (why were dogs in the pub?!?! They weren’t guide dogs) proceeded to have a loud fight in the corner, and my father brought over the food menu, which consisted of 6 items, including “lazange” and “cod & chips in sause”.  After clearing up the residue from the bottoms of our glasses, because we were not provided coasters (nor did they seem to exist anywhere in this establishment), I settled on the “lazange” because my parents were getting irritated at my mood and the fact that I could not decide what to eat (they said that we might have to go elsewhere, and I did not want to deal with the combination of their annoyance at my indecisiveness, and prolonging our stay in Tetbury any more than was necessary). It turned out that the lasagne was lovely, and so was the garlic bread that came with it.  The food was that place’s saving grace; still, I don’t think I will be going back there again.

Eventually, my parents engaged me in conversation and things started to improve as my mood slowly lifted.  We talked about my mother’s friend who looks like she is going to die of cancer quite soon, then about certain friends and relatives of mine who have pissed me off either by criticising my every decision (I am not a moron: I know the risks and possible consequences of smoking / using a sunbed / drinking a coffee at Starbucks / spending a lot of money / not getting as much sleep as would be ideal.  I’m an adult and I can make decisions for myself and weigh up the pros and cons.  If I decide to do something, I don’t need you on my back asking me if I’m sure I want to be doing that, because this is my life and I don’t tell you how to live yours. Yes, you are criticising me and my ability to choose what I want to do, and I have had enough of it thanks, so please don’t ‘impart your wisdom’ in the future, because I don’t want it and I don’t need it.) or by suddenly getting indignant that I don’t want to see whatever crappy film they choose, because I am tired of wasting my money on films I have no interest in, and going to the cinema is not a particularly sociable activity anyway, so why is it suddenly such a problem if I don’t want to see your film and am happy just to go to a café and converse?  And when somebody else is busy, I politely accept it, but now that I have other commitments, it inconveniences them and I’m supposed to feel guilty?  No way.

So I let off a bit of steam, my parents assured me that I was utterly in the right and had nothing to feel guilty about, and that to just let the people who were on my back have some space and it would all be fine.  A sensible plan I shall try to adhere to!  We left Tetbury, and I started thinking about other people who have gotten on my nerves.  My thoughts turned to my ex, and my mind went over how I had sent a text message revealing my intent to break up with him to him instead of to my friend Hannah.  He chose to believe I had done it on purpose, that I had orchestrated the whole thing on purpose for an easy escape and to humiliate him in the process.  That was totally not the case, and I tried to explain it and was sorry to have sent him that message; it was an honest accident, and Hannah was meant to receive the message (it even said her name at the beginning!).  But his friends, who had never met me, told him I must have done it on purpose, so he chose to believe them rather than me.  That’s fine, that’s his loss.  I don’t apologise twice, I didn’t want to be with him anyway, so I let him believe what he wanted – I was emancipated at the end of the day. I regret causing somebody hurt like that, but I don’t feel guilty because it was an honest mistake that I had apologised for; to have that apology thrown back in my face by not only him, but other people who don’t know me at all made the whole thing easier for me to just move on.

But thinking about it, I thought that I couldn’t believe that I let him touch me, put his hands on me, kiss me.  It makes my skin crawl, not only because he was so clingy, but sometimes the thought of physical contact makes me shudder.  I’m generally quite at ease with physical contact – I’m quite close to my parents and my friends, hugging them and such.  Obviously, I’m not a virgin so when I’m in the mood to be intimate with someone, it feels right and I’m not forced into it.  But when I put my mind to it, I don’t like people seeing my naked body (and never have); returning to the idea of façades, I try to give off the idea that I am confident in the way I look and at ease with my body, because it makes me appear more confident and flawless.  But in reality, I don’t like feeling exposed and I don’t like being touched or kissed or anything like that.  I have major trust issues, I know that.  Every single person I have dated has let me down in one way or another, and quite a few of them have just wanted sex from me and then got bored, either because they weren’t going to get it, or because they got it and then they didn’t have to pretend to be interested in me as a person anymore.  At times, it makes me sick that I’ve let these people touch me, put their hands on me and use me to further their own pleasure.  Sometimes I wish that I were untouchable; sometimes I wish that I could just disconnect my heart and mind from my body and float off somewhere while people are doing what they want to do with me, to me, for me.  Sometimes I wish that I could be with somebody who really liked me for who I am.  Because I am tired of protecting my heart, only to let somebody in and then it all goes wrong and I am hurt and used anyway.  I guess that whether it’s physical or emotional, it’s the thought that I have been used that makes me really sick, hurt and regretful.