Posts Tagged ‘mirror’

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Monica – Still Standing. (album review)

March 21, 2010

Still Standing is Monica’s first album since The Makings Of Me 4 years ago.  Like that album, Still Standing stands at a brief ten tracks (bonuses excluded), and the font on the album cover is the same.  Missy Elliott has a strong presence in the album’s production, and in case you forget this fact, she grunts and shouts at the beginning of some of the tracks to announce “New Monica! Hot shit!” This annoying tic disrupts the flow of an album that is largely slow to mid-tempo, and is unnecessary since we know we’re listening to Monica and we don’t need Missy Elliott to bludgeon us over the head with her opinion of her own track.

Unlike The Makings Of Me however, Still Standing is “hot shit” from beginning to end.  Representing the strongest album Monica has released since The Boy Is Mine (or possibly  All Eyez On Me), Still Standing contains one uptempo track, “If You Were My Man”, which is tellingly the album’s only weak point, riding an 80s groove that sounds genuine and laid back even as the bass knocks hard.  Apart from this song, the album runs at a slow, leisurely pace that really invites the listener to sink into the songs and contemplate the alternately loving and lovelorn lyrics accompanying the tracks.  Despite the album’s slow tempo, the 10 tracks seem to be over too soon, and when an album makes you want to press repeat immediately, that’s a good sign that it’s a decent effort.  What’s more, although there was a real danger that with so many slow songs, they might melt into one another to become a big treacly mess, the lyrics, melodies and production are all immaculate throughout and each song is distinguished from the next.  “Still Standing” (the first song we heard from this project way back in 2008, which opens the album with a declaration of strength and resilient and deserves to be the title track) and “Mirror” employ persistent, menacing synths and underlying piano to emphasise the empowering nature of their lyrics, and are two highlights from the album.

“Everything To Me”, the album’s first proper single, has been an unlikely hit considering its radio-unfriendliness (a 3/4 time signature? How refreshing!).  However, its soaring declaration of love is elevated by Monica’s stellar vocal delivery, and while sonically she sounds more and more like a young Mary J. Blige (Still Standing is the album Stronger With Each Tear should have been), it is becoming more and more apparent that Clive Davis was right all along and Monica is truly the vocal heir to Whitney Houston.  “One In A Lifetime” (which couldn’t sound more like a Mary J. Blige track if it tried, robbing liberally from her mega-hit “Be Without You”) is radio-ready but still sincere, while “Superman” employs a plethora of hero metaphors over a slow-jam beat.

In contrast to these romantic songs stands “Stay Or Go”, another album highlight which takes the flowing piano from Chris Brown’s “So Cold” (the best song from his mediocre Graffiti), slows it down and adds more mature lyrics and beautiful vocal stylings to the mix to serve up an effective ultimatum to Monica’s love interest.  Album closer “Believing In Me” sees Monica heartbroken, defiant and finding her strength of heart and soul all over again in the wake of a broken relationship.  Just as “Getaway” was a declaration of vulnerability at the end of The Makings Of Me, so is “Believing In Me” a declaration of vulnerability but also independence, which one might relate to Monica’s recent split from her long-time partner Rocko.  It closes the album well, with Monica’s vocals on the edge of tears close to the song’s climax.

Still Standing succeeds because while it sounds current, it doesn’t pander to radio’s demands for disposable fluff and instead hews close to Monica’s strengths as a supreme R&B vocalist, giving her solid melodies to express heartfelt lyrics.  Every song is strong and uncompromising, standing on its own merits and together these songs form a cohesive whole.  Annoying grunts aside, Missy Elliott handles production duties well, as do the other producers (particularly Bryan-Michael Cox), and if the album is brief at 10 tracks, at least it serves up excellent quality and is markedly better than The Makings Of Me which contained the same number of songs.  It feels like Monica has really hit her stride after previous album wobbles, and it’s so refreshing in 2010 to find some artists making true R&B still enjoying commercial and critical success.

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fear and self-loathing.

March 11, 2010

Lately I’ve noticed something about myself that never used to be the case.  Part of the idea of this blog is that I can use it to look at myself, examine my emotions and think things through.  It’s cathartic for me to write, but it’s also a way of me holding up a mirror to myself and trying to untangle emotions and confusion in my brain and heart.  By ordering things on the page and trying to make them as logical / rational as possible (which it isn’t always!) I can sort things out so that I can understand them myself, just as much as so that you all can understand, relate to and empathise with what I’m going through (and hopefully touch those of you who are or have been going through the same).

However, I now can’t tolerate the idea of doing personality quizzes, self-assessment or delving into my past and my psyche in a semi-public arena.  For not the first time, on Tuesday afternoon we had a class about psychometric testing and using these tests to determine a person’s aptitudes and skills.  This was fine, it was quite interesting and we did some example questions on verbal & non-verbal reasoning, numeracy, and spatial and mechanical awareness.  We then moved on to those psychometric tests which can be used to assess personality.  Now, although our lecturer dutifully informed us that we were all a mixture of every type of personality, and that every combination was positive, my back was immediately up.  As the example questions began, I felt a violent urge to disengage from the class and decided to quickly fill in my answers and then doodle on my page, not talking to anyone and not joining in any discussions sharing types, answers and anecdotes.  I wasn’t interested, I felt that a quiz of 8 questions (we did a very shortened version, since the full test is 88 questions!) was NOT enough to diagnose who I am, and I wasn’t interested in what anyone else had to say, whether anyone else felt that they really were what the quiz said they were or whatever.  I just wanted to get out.

I was talking to Mike, and later Toby, about my reaction – I was in a bad mood for several hours after this.  Why had I reacted so negatively to it?  Part of it is genuinely that I do not think that any quiz has a right to put me in a box or tell me who I am.  Because of this, as a careers adviser I myself probably would not use psychometrics to “analyse” clients, since that would be pretty hypocritical seeing as I can’t complete one myself (though once I had calmed down, I later on looked up my answer to the quiz, and while it was pretty flattering and seemed valid enough, I took it with a pinch of salt and forgot about it).  So I don’t like being generalised, and I don’t like being told who I am by somebody or something which evidently thinks it knows better, and which claims to be able to penetrate to the core of me in a matter of minutes.  I’m much more complex than that – we all are! – and I think that should be respected.  That’s part of it.

But part of it, if I am totally honest, is perhaps that I just don’t want to analyse myself in that way, and certainly not in a room with other people.  If it truly is going to delve into my psyche (which I still doubt), then the result should be for me and me alone.  Maybe a little bit of me is scared about what if it says something that really is undeniably true, but also that I utterly detest and despise?  Does that mean I am scared of myself? I hate myself?  What does that mean?  The fact is that this isn’t the first time I’ve reacted like this to delving into my past and my background (educational and personal) during class activities.  It’s probably the third, if I remember rightly.  I never used to be like this, and it concerns me a tiny bit – what am I so afraid of?  Why do I have such a sudden, strong negative reaction?  This reaction is only worsened by the fact that I know I’m overreacting – Mike said that he doesn’t take the quizzes seriously as they are usually a bunch of nonsense, and I know he’s mostly right.  Is it the fact he might be a tiny bit wrong that fills me with dread?  Is it dread that I’m filled with, or is it self-loathing, confusion or ignorance?  What’s going on with me?

The most rational thing that I can think of is that I’ve worked so damn hard to become the best person I can be, to become the person I’ve always wanted to be.  Over the years I’ve raised my intelligence, lost weight, learned to write, sing and produce my own music which I now market (check it out here!), made a lot of progress towards looking the way that I want to, become a lot more sociable and popular, made some wonderful friends, and I am proud of the person that I have become, while I still acknowledge that I have plenty further to go before I feel remotely satisfied with my achievements in life.  I’ve changed a lot – superficially, I’ve lost a lot of weight, stepped my fashion game up, dyed my hair and exercise regularly while watching what I eat.  Even though I’m plenty insecure inside, I know how to portray confidence and appear secure because at the end of the day, if I chicken out and don’t do something, it doesn’t get done and I regret not trying.  I’ve made all this personal progress and tried to change and improve the person that I am so much to be the better man that I want to be, aim to be… so what if one of these personality tests shows all that progress to be an illusion?  What if I’m just the same person as I was before, before I came so far?  Deep down, can we ever evolve? I believe I’ve evolved, I’ve grown a lot… it doesn’t feel like a lie.  I know logically that a quiz cannot discredit the progress I feel that I’ve made – the only person that can measure that is me.  But if it cut me down and put me back at square one, what then? What if it all means nothing and I’m destined to be the same person I used to be?  Is that what I’m afraid of?

I just don’t know.

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the one.

January 28, 2010

The most honest and one of the most difficult things that I have come to realise about the whole Mike situation (read back if you don’t know, although this entry will no doubt catch you up more or less anyway) is that he is The One.  Not that I actually believe in the concept of “the One”: I find it extremely improbable that out of the billions of everyone on earth, there is only one single person with whom you are meant to be happy.  I don’t believe in God, so I don’t believe in that sort of destiny or pre-determined fate.  I don’t find it logical in the sense of considering issues like gender, sexuality, race, religion, culture, even people of different languages?  I mean, what if my one meant-to-be person happened to be a female homophobic person from a tribe with their own language, living in the middle of the African desert?  I’d be more than a bit screwed, and it’s an unlikely match to start with.  So I don’t believe that there is one soulmate.

So let me clarify: when I say that Mike is “the One”, I mean that in my 24 years of living, he is the most important and closest thing to a soulmate with whom I could imagine spending my life with, that I’ve ever met.  Of course, he’s straight, he’s 11 years older than me, he’s married, he’s a father – so again, it’s not going to happen.  Last week we were discussing our feelings, the situation and so forth, and he said “I truly wish I could reciprocate your feelings.”  That meant a lot to me, and what else could I say but be honest and reply “I wish you could too”? I know that if things were different and he could be with me somehow, we would do it and that would be it, end of story, happily ever after thankyou very much.  But things aren’t different, and I ended the conversation with “In another life, maybe.” and left it at that, and proceeded to talk about other, less serious things (and I later got very drunk, vomited over a bridge near a swan and then stayed at T’s place).  Nevertheless, that discussion will be one of the many things that I never forget about Mike – there are so many even after just 5 months of knowing each other.  And before you say it, I don’t know if I believe in reincarnation either, but my mind is a little more open to that than the “one sole soulmate in the world” concept.

After starting the week with some insecurities over my friendship with the third member of our little love triangle (which were proven unfounded – I overthink things, misinterpret little subtle gestures and take them far too personally), I’ve made a real effort to be the best friend I can be to both Mike and V, and to focus on my burgeoning friendship with T.  Things look good, and although I’m not really comfortable at letting someone get close to me in a more-than-friends way, I’m starting to feel a little more at ease with it.  I’d still like to slow down the pace somewhat, but I enjoy spending time with him and I feel so flattered that he appears to think so much of me.  I’d be a fool to just throw that away, and I’m glad (most of the time) that I haven’t.  He’s a really good guy, so why not see if it leads somewhere?  My feelings for Mike are there and I acknowledge that, but there’s no need for T to know about them because that would just cause needless questions and possible hurt.  I am glad to say that I consider Mike one of my closest, best friends, and everything I’ve been through and we’ve been through has ultimately contributed to that rather than broken it down, which I think is testament to the both of us.

I spent the day with Mike today as we walked his son up and down Bristol docks on the train tracks (he educated me about trains, I taught him about raspberries), got Mike’s first tattoo (it looks fantastic, and watching him get inked up was a tiny bit sexy but mainly really interesting – as well as enthusing to play off his jubilation when he saw it in the mirror and was so happy – just like my reaction!), booked my second tattoo – the revolver – for next week (arrrrgh here we go AGAIN! No doubt I’ll post up the picture just like with the first one 😉 ), spent time with his family, had chilli and smoked lots, and watched Snow White with his son.  I was so privileged that they wanted to spend time with me – not just Mike, but his whole family – and that really means a lot to me.  He is one of my very best friends, and I hope to death that that is something that never changes, because losing him would be a catastrophe.  I feel close to his son, his wife is absolutely lovely, and although sometimes I feel that it might be weird considering the way that I feel about Mike, I adore watching his family interact (especially considering my own family’s ups and downs in terms of emotional push and pull) and feeling as if I am part of them.  Knowing his wife so well, rather than infuriating me in terms of “damn, you got my man first!” (I occasionally feel that, but really very rarely), seems to normalise me and I don’t think of Mike romantically so much when I’m in his family’s presence – it’s just not appropriate and doesn’t enter my head.  He’ll always be a sexy man, he’ll always have a sexual magnetism for me, but in that kind of situation the pull is less.  And considering my possible relationship with T, my close friendship with Mike which I don’t want to jeopardise, and the many ways in which my romantic feelings are inappropriate, whatever minimises my attraction to him is welcome.

So I hope that T and me work well, I hope that Mike and me are best friends for many years to come (as well as tattoo buddies!), I hope that I can always feel comfortable with his family and that they can always feel comfortable with me.  Within one month of 2010, I’ve got one tattoo, one on the way, a possible new boyfriend, and I’m working on passing my driving test – all with strengthening my bond with Mike.  I sense a lot of positive accomplishments to come, and that makes me really happy. 🙂

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sexy fresh.

January 17, 2010

This weekend I haven’t felt particularly sexy or fresh, considering I have a cough like a foghorn and a proper stinking cold (as we say in England).  Yesterday I bought some new jeans from Topman, which are slim fit 32″ light grey.  Before Christmas (in anticipation of the sales) I had been appraising my wardrobe and working out what items I needed, considering I’ve lost a fair amount of weight since starting uni and a lot of my clothes are no longer fitted enough for my liking.  In view of my weight loss, I can’t believe I was ever big enough (read: heifer) to fit into my old clothes.  The problem which is slightly worrying, is that my old clothes were often no bigger than a Medium.  Now I’m a Small, I’ve got a slimmer waist (which still requires toning) and I feel a lot better about myself.  Ironically, swapping my gym membership for an increase in cigarettes and a closer monitoring of my evening snacking post-dinner (and reduction of it) has worked wonders for my frame and for my self-esteem.  But I do question my body image.  Is what we see in the mirror really ever accurate?  How do we know what to trust?

As one of my role models is Mariah Carey, so I can empathise with her desire to flaunt her body.  As a guy, I did this in a slightly different way, but after some really bad fallout from a broken friendship at school, at age 14 over the summer I shed a ridiculous amount of weight due to funnelling my anger through situps.  Suddenly, all my clothes fell off, instead of baggy t-shirts and jeans to hide my figure, I discovered fitted clothes, ways to expose a little bit of skin and just daring to dress more provocatively and wearing clothes and jewellery that my peers hadn’t thought of wearing.  In retrospect, it was perhaps a cry for attention, but I don’t think the emphasis was on “LOOK at me!”; it was more like “Look at me NOW!” For the first time in my life, I felt attractive, and I felt like a normal teenager like those I saw on television, like those who did lots of sports around me and appeared to have no body image hangups.  Between the age of 15 and 23, my weight fluctuated somewhat (again like Mariah 😉 ), but I never allowed myself to get out of proportion or feel “fat” as I had done throughout my childhood.  I learned how to dress and experimented with fashion during my time at university, and now I really like my sense of style, and having shed a lot of weight again, I feel attractive enough to wear whatever I want.

More or less.  I mentioned the grey jeans that I bought from Topman.  They look fine on, but the slim fit needs a slight bit of stretching before I can wear them in public without suffering from whatever the male equivalent of camel-toe is (TMI I know! but I’m getting there more or less, just another day’s wear I think), and pale colours make my legs look elephantine. Except I know that in reality, my legs don’t look massive.  Depending on the mirror I’m looking in, I see a completely different version of myself compared to the one I see looking down at myself.  What do I trust?  I know that my clothes sizes are shrinking down and down, and I can’t ever believe that I used to wear Large sizes, and even Medium sizes are baggy on me – yet I don’t see myself as Small or slim.  I know it must be true, because all the evidence tells me so.  But looking in the mirror, I still see a flabby stomach, a waist and chest which needs toning, situps and pressups (ceasing the gym hasn’t meant ceasing all exercise – I still try and keep fit in my own way), and all the imperfections that were there no matter what size I was.  I don’t know if I’m suffering from body dysmorphia, but sometimes I don’t see myself any differently to how I looked 1, 2, 5 years ago in terms of my body. I do feel better about myself, but that’s mainly from the sizes of clothing I’m buying, people’s nice comments and flattering compliments, and other positive things which have been happening in my life.  Buying a new wardrobe is a lot of fun, and I don’t aspire to go down another jeans size – I’m 6′ tall and anything less than a 32″ waist would look too skinny on me.  Except how would I know?  I can’t trust what I see, I just have to make my best guess.

I don’t know how to explain it any better, so I’ll say this: Before Christmas last year, me and a few of the guys from our careers guidance course ended up going for lunch together in Chipping Sodbury.  Because there was about 13 of us, there initially weren’t enough chairs around the table where we were all sitting, and I’d been upstairs watching Pete & Simon play pool. I came back, and there was a space next to Clare who was sitting on a bay window seat.  I asked if I could squeeze in next to her, and she looked at the space and said “Yeah, you’re only little!” We made a joke along the lines of “how rude!” but I don’t think I’ll ever forget her saying that, even though it was a throwaway comment which wasn’t supposed to mean anything.  I’ve never thought of myself, I’ve never felt “little” in my entire life.  She must see me in a different way to how I see myself.  Lately, people are falling over themselves to tell me how attractive I am, how I’m pretty, how I am sexier than them (even when giving an impromptu presentation at university, which is honestly not when I am trying my utmost to radiate sex appeal).  It’s bizarre, and it’s welcome and flattering because these are compliments and the validation that I’ve been aiming for my whole life (I know that I shouldn’t need it, and I don’t always, but other people’s validation feels awful nice).  I’ve never really felt attractive or sexy before, and now I do. Or at least, I’m closer to that now than I have ever been before.  But it also seems to have come at a price, and I wish that I could look at myself objectively and see what other people seem to see.  Because otherwise, will I truly know when to stop?  I feel that now is probably the time, but I know what improvements I still want to make and I just hope that I don’t go a step too far and mess it all up.  At 24, my looks haven’t come easy, and I don’t want to lose them before I can learn to appreciate them.

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edgier.

December 10, 2009

Having been on my new university course for 3 months now, and having made some really close friends who are generally a few years older than me (my closest friends on the course are 33 and 35), I’ve really been able to see how far I’ve come as a person.

Looking back at myself even 4 months ago when I had only started writing this blog, I knew myself, but myself was unsure and nervous.  I felt as if I was in a rut professionally after graduating with a good degree from a prestigious university, personally I had had “friends” who turned out not to be friends at all slander me and accuse me of things (theft, bullying) that I had and have never done, and would never do in a million years.  I took it all on the chin and just had faith that things would get better, but I knew in my heart that I didn’t know what would happen.  Would this careers guidance course be the right decision for me?  What was going to happen to me?  Had I peaked already in my life?

The answer to that last question, now I see, is an emphatic NO! Obviously I was only 23 (now 24) and to paint myself as an underdog who had it all and then lost it was more than a little unfair to myself.  I now know that I have so much going for me, so much to offer, and I am not an ugly or stupid person no matter how much certain people may endeavour to make me feel that about myself.  I deserve the best, and with this new qualification, new friends who seem to value me for me from the jump, and new confidence, I feel that I can get the best.  Once again, I’m back on track, and more than anything I’m so relieved.  I may paint myself as confident and assertive – and I am those things – but underneath I still get nervous and insecure.  Now, I finally see that I really am worth more.

I guess it’s a part of natural evolution.  I’ve grown up a lot, and although it took pointing out, I am older than my years.  I don’t feel out of place hanging out with 30-year-olds, because we have the same mentality and experiences.  People generally have trouble guessing my age (I still get ID’d for buying cigarettes on the one hand – which makes Mike LOL and envious at the same time!; on the other hand, a couple of people on my course originally thought I was late 20s because of the fact I can articulate myself and hold my own in discussions), but although I may tease my colleagues at university about receding hairlines, wrinkles and old age, I don’t feel any difference between us.  Aaliyah really had it right – age ain’t nothin’ but a number.  Usually it correlates to maturity, but not always.  At the end of the day, people are people, and we are all human.

These are things that I already knew to be true, but having them held up in front of me has forced me to accept these things as positives about myself.  It’s finally really sinking in.  And the truth of who I am as a man, as a human being, is finally coming out.  This is what I wanted to write about really, but it took the backstory above to get there! (Sorry… but I always give you the main course – no snacks here!)  I thought that I was an adult after university (by which I mean my undergraduate degree at Oxford), but it took me a bit longer.  Working at the Perfume Shop gave me a taste of the hard grind, working for not enough money and being treated like I didn’t have a brain (the saving grace was superficially decent friendships and getting to work with fragrance and deepen my knowledge of it).  My newer job at the hospital has made me see how people can be valued in their work, both monetarily and in terms of being treated like an intelligent human being.  My new course at university has helped me see what I really want to do, and now having that thrust forward has completed me and erased some of my doubts (not all, but some is certainly a step forward) about my future and my life’s purpose.

As things around me have been moving in the right direction, so I’ve been able to spread my wings and become more of who I am.  I love smoking – I’m not a moron and I know it’s not good for my health nor my voice, but I enjoy the feeling from it, the fact it kills time, and the socialising aspect of it – I think it goes hand in hand with being confident and conversational, as you often get approached by people who want a light / spare fag, and you end up conversing with strangers because you share an appreciation of nicotine!  In turn, smoking has reduced my hunger (allowing me to stick to my no-evening-snacking policy) and I’ve dropped a waist size – people at uni have christened me “good looking”, “pretty boy” and lots of other complimentary things referencing both my physical looks and my fashion style. I feel more confident in and out of my clothes – although I’m such a perfectionist that I’ll never be satisfied!  But looking at my vanity and my past issues with my own body and self-esteem, I’ve come a long way.  I feel happier in my skin physically as well as emotionally – and I’m feeling more confident to express the edgier, darker sides of myself which set me apart from others.

After years of deliberation, changing my mind and refining my ideas, I’m finally set on getting tattoos!  One is a stylised A, which you can see here; the other will be above my left collarbone mirroring it, and will be a gun.  I’ve been inspired by Rihanna‘s gun tattoo, but I want it because to me a gun is a symbol of strength and power, of aggression and conflict, of edginess and darkness.  These are all things that I embody – I am tougher than some people initially assume, and I want an emblem of that grit and fire.  I feel it’s applicable to me, and also quite exciting and sexy.  And whereas before I might have balked at the permanence of a tattoo like that, now I feel mature and comfortable enough in myself to be able to wear it and pull it off.  This is me – maybe I’m a good boy gone bad, but I still have a good heart; I have just spent too long in my life pleasing others, and now I’ve finally lunged for myself with this course and am reaping the rewards much more than I ever did listening to other people’s opinions on what was best for me, I believe in my own capacity to make decisions.  I’m not an angel, I’m not a good boy, and I’m tired of portraying that.  I am me and I have a good heart and an intelligent mind, but sometimes I enjoy being provocative or sexy or pushing the boundaries.  That is just as valid a part of me, and my new friendships embrace that part of me too and love me for it.  My infatuation with a married man who has become my best friend and is actively ok with my affection and flirting and actively returns it has been a revelation to me.  We understand each other, we can control our affections (he feels the same way about someone else) and be mature adults, but we also have fun with it – we accept each other and I never felt so comfortable to be able to be so emotionally honest with someone I knew would accept me for who I am. From him I learned what it is to be a good father, a good husband, a good man, and also that whatever I’m feeling, I am a rational person and I should never feel guilty for my feelings.  I should never feel stupid, and the sign of a good friendship is being able to admit how you’re feeling and that other person accepting you for it and not telling you it’s wrong or silly.  Again, these are things I superficially knew, but feeling and living them is a whole other revelation.  I hope that my friends can one day think of me in the same way.

So my embracing my dark side instead of being afraid of it; my becoming edgier is a natural emancipation, a natural evolution of me.  I am free to be who I am, and I am proud of who I am.  I’ve felt ashamed, even in small doses, for too long.  It took a long time to get here, and I’m sure in the future I will still make mistakes and waver, but hopefully I can come back and read this post and remember my feelings right now, and that’ll keep me going.  Once a good boy goes bad, we’re gone forever – but I wish I’d gone sooner and I look forward to where I’m going and whom I’m going with.