Posts Tagged ‘personal’

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last Christmas.

December 15, 2012

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

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

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

What the fuck.

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll let you know.

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Rihanna – Unapologetic. (album review)

December 2, 2012

https://i1.wp.com/www.thequ.co/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Rihanna_Unapologetic.jpeg

Unapologetic might be Rihanna’s best album yet. In truth, I’ve been struggling to work out how to start a review of this album without referring to her previous masterpiece Rated R, which was a tour de force that exposed an angry, vulnerable girl trying to figure out the aftermath of love gone wrong. This album came out when I was in the midst of trying to untangle and deal with my own feelings of unrequited love, and resonated with me on such a level. On the other hand, Unapologetic comes out when I am happily in love and settled in my own life. This time, Rihanna’s narrative is quite different to my own – and yet Unapologetic, to its credit, still connects with the listener, drawing them into her fury that this time is more simmering than explosive (on Rated R, all-out rage only begins to subside into a quieter, more vulnerable, bubbling – yet nevertheless powerful – anger at around “Photographs”, two thirds of the way through the record).

Of course, Rihanna’s life has changed considerably since then. An even bigger star now than she was 3 years ago with the ability to only release number 1 singles, now she has a number 1 album to match. Meanwhile, her atomic breakup with Chris Brown (precipitated by his fists) has metamorphosed into media-baiting behaviour, ill-advised collaborations with Brown and the rumoured (likely true, if the photographs and ineloquent tweets and confessions of her ex are to be believed) rekindling of their romance. Unapologetic: why shouldn’t Rihanna forgive her abuser, her first love? Why shouldn’t she work with a hot male R&B star? Why can’t she misbehave, smoke, drink, party night after night like anyone in their early twenties? Despite what naysayers like to purvey, her career certainly hasn’t suffered for it. But the material on the album – none of which was written by Rihanna but all of which has a stamp immediately more personal than the scattergun Loud that hit dizzying heights all too infrequently, and than the ultimately unsatisfying Talk That Talk that petered out halfway after such a promising start – displays a thoughtfulness that suggests that while Rihanna may be “unapologetic”, she’s not unaware of what is going on around her, what is happening to her and certainly of what is being said or claimed about her. Unapologetic continues where Rated R left off: there are certainly hits, but nearly every song carries a depth of meaning that exudes confidence, confusion, sex and honesty.

Opener “Phresh Out The Runway” is swag personified, and is effectively Rihanna making an entrance. While it’s great to start the album, and an excellent song to listen to for an immediate energy boost when you’re half-asleep leaving the house on the way to work, it’s not the meaningful content I’ve discussed above. Neither is the other David Guetta collaboration, “Right Now”, a club diversion that rehashes previous album highlight “Where Have You Been” to pleasant but unremarkable effect. But on lead single “Diamonds”, we get a childlike chant, a sparkling midtempo strut and a powerful vocal that lyrically echoes previous megahit “We Found Love”: where there were “yellow diamonds in the sky”, now we are “shining bright like a diamond in the sky”. Rihanna’s vocals have grown more impressive over the years (whatever she’s smoking, I would like some) and where she may have simply been a vehicle for delivering hit songs even on the consistent Good Girl Gone Bad, now it’s she who transforms a song into a smash. The chorus is powerful yet sincere, and lyrics such as the telling “I choose to be happy” betray a sense of desperation in trying to convince herself that a romantic relationship is truly infallible rather than fleeting (as are the moments portrayed in the accompanying video). It’s a fantastic performance, and a refreshingly downbeat choice for a lead single that nonetheless packs punch.

The next trio of songs could all be described as downbeat yet potent, but each has its own place on the album. “Numb” works atop a sensual Egyptian-sounding ostinato and pounding drums, while Rihanna drawls monotonously that nobody “can’t tell her nothing… I’m impaired / I’m going numb, I’m going numb”. Interestingly, the vulnerability continues as the lyrics imply that for all her power and “double-dares”, Rihanna sees herself as the defective one. “Pour It Up” in contrast is celebratory of women who are in charge (like Rihanna, of course)… and yet the vocals and beats are submerged in aural tar, as if Rihanna is high off the champagne, weed and money referenced in the songs. None of these songs are instant, and yet on repeated listens they reveal themselves as worthwhile and interesting – “balling out” may not be as fun as it’s cracked up to be. “Loveeeeeee Song” is also very chill, working from a traditional R&B template that’s chopped and screwed into something less recognisable. It’s a romantic ballad dressed up as a nonchalant come-on. So far, the theme of Unapologetic is that appearances can be deceiving – Rihanna is flawless, cocky, confident, nonchalant, vulnerable, determined to be happy, numb, impaired, intoxicated, worried about “sounding too desperate”, in need of love and affection… It’s a spiralling morass of emotion dressed up as a percolating limousine ride.

Things become much more straightforward with “Jump” – i.e. SMASH. Dubstep breakdowns done right and made fresh and dynamic; a sample of “Pony” by Ginuwine that could have easily been problematic (as is so often the case when interpolating excellent material) but instead elevates the music; Rihanna is cocksure and forthright. But within a couple of songs, we have an explosive ballad that I saw described by a user on Popjustice as “fire and ice blasting out of the ground”. “What Now” is flawless and one of Rihanna’s best works – a mid-tempo ballad that quickly becomes bombastic, overwrought and emboldened by one of her best vocal performances to date. As drums explode and guitars roar to a climax, lyrics profess that “I spent every hour just going through the motions / I can’t even get the emotions to come out / Dry as a bone, but I just wanna shout”. The emotions certainly do come out, so palpably that the cut is utterly absorbing and one of Rihanna’s best. “Stay” directly follows this and is the quietest track on the album, serving as more evidence of Rihanna’s improvements as a vocalist and interpretative singer – she is capable of taking a song and breathe life into it, whatever the subject matter or emotional standpoint. It’s just been confirmed as Unapologetic‘s second single and appears to be a fan favourite, though I wouldn’t go any further than saying the song is fine – I would certainly champion other tracks over this one. But its contrast with the other songs on the album and with Rihanna’s usual output gives it its own place on the album.

“Nobody’s Business”, the duet with Chris Brown, is the perceived “event” of the album, sampling Michael Jackson to boot. But musically it’s a little bit flat – the existence of the duet says more than its sonic attributes. “You’ll always be mine, sing it to the world… ain’t nobody’s business.” Yet another contradiction in an album full of them, both lyrically and musically. Is Rihanna purposefully spiting all of those who supported her during the fallout of her abuse suffered at Brown’s hands? Is it offensive? Or are they just teasing? It seems very pointed when Rihanna sings “Let’s make out in this Lexus” – as opposed to what happened in a car last time! It’s a trying sentiment that seems difficult to understand – but once again, let’s remember that Rihanna is “unapologetic” so what does it matter? She is going to do what she wants, she’s young and in love, and hopefully she won’t get hurt again in such a way. “Love Without Tragedy / Mother Mary” is the album’s centrepiece that, like “The Last Song” from Rated R, captivates the listener with exceptionally personal exposure. Where the previous track aims to provoke without any substance to back it up, here the confessional actually reveals a lot. “I was his Marilyn Monroe / Brown eyes, tuxedo, fast cars / A James Dean on the low.” We are clearly taken back to that fateful night of Rihanna’s being attacked (and interestingly, she hints at Chris Brown’s alleged bisexuality to boot, which may or may not have something to do with the night in question).  The bravado of “Nobody’s Business” is completely gone here, and as the song transitions into “Mother Mary”, Rihanna sounds less sure of her swagger: “I swear I wanna change”. The lyrics touch on the nature of fame, as does worthwhile bonus track “Half Of Me”, and implies that whatever we think we know about Rihanna, us outsiders never get to see the whole picture and so we shouldn’t judge… but Rihanna understands that we inevitably will. As much as “Nobody’s Business” claimed to be happy-go-lucky and ready to dive into love-as-sex, “Love Without Tragedy / Mother Mary” shows much more depth of thought (as in “What Now”) and heart that encourages repeat listens. This is another highlight of Unapologetic.

The closing songs of the album feel like a plane coming into land. “Get It Over With” is sublime, like a song-length interlude that urges the climax to “come on and fucking rain”; anger gives way to fatigue and surrender to whatever will be, good or bad. “No Love Allowed” is, contrastingly, a deceptively sunny reggae song that once again confounds expectations set up by the previous song. But the lyrics are spooky and uncomfortable, as was its precursor in spirit, Loud‘s “Man Down”. In direct opposition to that song’s subject matter, here it’s Rihanna yelling “911 it’s a critical emergency / Better run run run and charge him with the 143.” It’s a neat (perhaps too neat?) inversion of “Man Down” and seems to shed more light on the Chris Brown saga… but as highlighted in “Half Of Me”, how much do we ever know about Rihanna? We’re not privy to the whole story – according to “Mother Mary”, she’s going to “make the best scene they’ve ever seen.” “Lost In Paradise”, last but not least, is a bass-heavy closer that implies the story is not over, because now Rihanna has to find meaning to the paradise she claims to be stranded in if she ever hopes to find her way out.

For an album where Rihanna does not carry a single songwriting credit (though she is an executive producer), Unapologetic sure feels personal. And honest: an album filled with contradictions that are often calculated but nevertheless sound/feel like they have genuine meaning. The journey of the album is consistently riveting and reveals its complexities on repeated listens. There may be few answers to fans’ questions (however many sordid details it provides), but this rings less as Rihanna being deliberately elusive and more as she herself not quite knowing how to proceed. After all, she’s naked on the damn album cover – how much more vulnerable can one be, clothed only in a flimsy gauze of words, slogans and hashtags? In a world where her lover became her abuser and now may become her lover again, and where soundscapes and lyrics distort and contort around and through her voice, the one thing – no, two things – Rihanna clearly knows is how to release hit singles, and how to craft a powerful album.

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Describing Scent workshop at Les Senteurs. (review)

April 15, 2012

On a bright Saturday lunchtime in April, Toby and I headed to Marble Arch to attend Les Senteurs‘ “Describing Scent” workshop, hosted by my good friend Nick (who also happens to be the Store Manager of the Les Senteurs store on Seymour Place). We arrived and as the shop starting filling up with attendees, we made our way downstairs to be greeted by a large table, laid out with place settings which each had a slice of orange on a neon plate, a loop of string, a coin, a rubber band and a glass with ice. The dozen of us seated ourselves, introduced ourselves to the group (among us was a florist, a composer, a student of fashion journalism, a mathematician, a chemist, and the rest of us who were also fans of perfume via various avenues) and then Nick proceeded to explain the purpose of the workshop. Part of it would be smelling scents (starting with the objects on the table, and then followed by a range of perfumes passed around the room on blotters) and experiencing fragrances mostly stocked by Les Senteurs. But the real point, as hinted at in the name of the workshop, would be to describe the fragrance. Not only in terms of smell, but in terms of taste, colour, light, shadow, temperature, textures, shape, sound, the kind of place it evoked and so on. It’s extremely difficult to describe a scent effectively using only the limited vocabulary of adjectives normally ascribed to smell – scents are intangible, and so they evoke a range of images, sounds (interestingly, “notes” and “accords” are used in the language of perfumery), textures and emotions in each of us.

As we proceeded through the objects on the table, and then onto the eight fragrances, we discussed how each of them made us feel, and what they evoked in us. Nick guided us through each of the perfumes, which we firstly smelled ‘blind’ (i.e. not knowing anything about the fragrance – neither its name, nor the brand behind it) and then were tasked with describing as fully and accurately as possible. It was a comfortable environment for us to be honest and unguarded about what the perfume evoked, as we were all passionate about fragrance and we all understood that perfume is personal to each of us. Nick would eventually reveal the perfume’s name and brand, composition and concept. It was intriguing to see what notes each of us picked up (which frequently included ingredients not listed in the perfume’s composition), and how different our own thoughts were from others’. For example, Toby’s scientific knowledge was able to explain various smells and associations in a way that was completely beyond me, but at the same time I made other connections for different reasons. Moving through fragrances by Creed, Parfumerie Générale, Heeley and others, we exposed the different connections and our own varying preferences between a range of scents. But whatever we preferred, be it niche or “high street”; leathery or floral; warm and introverted or cool and expansive – this workshop worked because we were all passionate about fragrance, and because Nick facilitated the workshop in such a way that we all felt comfortable to express ourselves.

At the end of the session, we all filled out a feedback form which asked some intriguing questions – among which were:

  • “Is this kind of event something you would talk to your friends about” (evidently so!);
  • “What is most important to you in a perfume?” (for me, a fragrance has to smell beautiful, but also different to everything else in my collection, so that it complements one of my moods. I am far too fickle / moody to have a ‘signature’ fragrance that would suit me every day, day in and day out! I also think that it’s important that the fragrance has a well-chosen name and attractive bottle, as these are the things that will initially attract me towards trying it out.); and
  • “Are there any events you would like to see that haven’t been suggested already?” (I feel that I would love to attend workshops that would each focus on ‘classic perfumes’ – such as Joy, Chanel No. 5, Chanel Pour Monsieur, Poison and Opium).

I can’t recommend the Les Senteurs workshops highly enough for anyone even slightly curious about perfume beyond the Superdrug counter (for their list of events, please click here). Toby and I both had an excellent time, and it was both luxurious being able to spend an afternoon smelling such wonderful scents, and intellectually stimulating being challenged to describe them and contemplate how others react to fragrance. At the end of the day, there are few rights and wrongs in one’s experience of perfume, and this workshop served to underline how intangible and thus personal fragrance can be.

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creative instincts.

November 2, 2011

So I have been a busy bee and I haven’t had much time to write on this blog. But moreover, I haven’t really had anything that has come to mind as really worth posting… I have been too busy living life and not insightful enough to be reflecting along the way. But through talking and thinking about things in interesting conversations with Toby and Nick, I have decided that now that I am settled in London (I have been here nearly 2 months, which I can’t believe – it’s flown by!!!), I am going to pursue some projects. Here is a list:

  • Music. I have recorded precisely one verse since I moved to London. I love the new music I have been making, but it has trailed off. Partly because in my current flat, the only place I really feel comfortable singing is in the kitchen, as it’s the only space that isn’t close to the corridor, or to my neighbour’s room. (I don’t want to deafen them, or get a bad rep!) But I realise I need to really get myself back in motion and finish this new album!!!! In addition, Nick has been telling me about the fabulous Open Mic nights at the Cellar Door near Covent Garden. So in order to prove to myself that I can still sing, perhaps I shall slowly gather courage to perform something. I am aware that the sheet music for the Burlesque soundtrack, and for Lady Gaga’s Born This Way are both available. So what do we reckon? “Something’s Got A Hold On Me”? “Yoü and I”? “Bound To You?” “Marry The Night / Americano / Judas” medley?!?! I have to do something to keep my musical proclivities going, and to keep my performance and vocal skills alive.
  • Swimming. I have been fairly good (if not exactly excellent) with my walking to work. But obviously, winter is fast approaching and I will be less inclined to walk in bad / ridiculously cold weather, in warm clothes. So Les Senteurs (where Nick works) is opening a new branch in Marble Arch (you should go and check it out – fabulous perfumes!) and there is reportedly a swimming pool nearby. I have swimshorts from when Toby and I went on holiday to Seville, so Nick and I are planning to do some exercise at the pool there after work. It sounds like a good plan – I want to slim down a little bit.
  • Drawing. Once upon a time, I used to be fairly good at drawing. And watching Toby knit and create things, I know that I am not really a very crafty person and into handicrafts and the like. However, I am an artistic and creative person, and I am not bad at Photoshop and digital designing (my fashionista and styling instincts are ever useful in this regard). But recently I have been tempted to take it back to basics and get back into drawing. I think I will start out slowly and simply, and get myself a sketch book and a nice pencil or two, and start off by drawing what is outside my window. And as I gain my skills back and become more confident, I will hopefully be able to draw more elaborate, complex and inspired/imaginative pieces.
  • Cooking. Again, Toby is a fabulous cook. I am not a bad cook, but I have never ever had remotely enough patience to be bothered with it, unless I am cooking for someone else (which happens literally once in a blue moon). I admire the way that Toby instinctively knows what flavours go together, when a meal is ready, how to improvise with ingredients and flavours. I have never ever had an instinct like that as far as food is concerned. To be quite truthful, food has been an enemy of mine ever since I can remember – even though I am now no longer going through the weight loss issues I did as a child. I don’t enjoy food the way that a lot of people seem to – I can appreciate when something tastes nice or is artfully made, but I don’t derive pleasure from every meal the way that some do. To illustrate this, I have exactly the same thing for lunch every day at work. And it doesn’t bother me, because I don’t cherish the meal or the food. All I cherish is the fact that I have conditioned myself to be satisfied with a small lunch, and that this is good because it’s not going to add weight to me. (Sadly, by the evenings I am often ravenous and therefore often overeat – putting me back to square one!) But, back on topic after that brief digression, I feel that while the balance that Toby and I have of “he cooks, I clean” is totally satisfactory for both of us, I would still like to cook a little bit more. Because a real man knows how to cook, right?
  • London underground photo project. This is the big one that I have been contemplating for a few weeks now. Toby took me on a couple of photo walks around London, but I didn’t particularly enjoy them beyond the fact that I went to places I wouldn’t normally go. I wasn’t doing any photographing – Toby has a super-duper camera and so took lots of pictures, but I can’t be bothered to lug that around! Plus, a lot of the other people on the photo walk were basically being offensively touristy and taking pictures of everything and everyone (often in swarms like paparazzi!!), swarming upon the landscape without any respect for the world and public around them. It’s hard to explain, but that sort of behaviour basically appears to me as a little undignified. But each to their own. However, I have had the idea of documenting my life in London by taking pictures outside the tube stations I end up near, and expanding this to collect them all. A bit like Pokémon – gotta catch ’em all! But it will also be a fun project and spur me to explore the city a bit more. So perhaps that is something I will start doing very soon! What do you reckon?
So there you have it – my personal and artistic aims for the next few months. Let’s see how I do! xx
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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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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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love me.

May 6, 2010

Yesterday we were doing a magazine CV collage with some special needs students visiting UWE, and the idea of this activity is for the kids to divide a sheet into Hobbies, Future, Skills/Interests and School, and then they have a big pile of magazines from which to cut out pictures and annotate each section, to draw up a picture of themselves.  It’s quite a basic activity but the students always enjoy it, and often end up just flicking through the magazines.  Each time we seem to have to edit the content (for example, the story “I was battered by a 12-inch dildo” isn’t quite appropriate!) – usually from women’s magazines, you girls are filthy!!! – but generally a lot of fun is had.  I had brought in some old copies of Vibe and Touch to contribute to the magazines the students used for collages, and I found one with a Mary J. Blige interview, which I couldn’t help but start rereading.

Apart from talking about the backstories to some of her earlier songs, and stating that people seemed to support her more when she was making sad, introspective songs struggling with love and life than her newer, more lyrically upbeat material, Mary talked about learning to accept love, finding romance and getting through years of emotional abuse.  This was the most interesting part of the interview for me, and resulted in me deciding to keep the magazine and take it back home (as well as listening to My Life again)!  I reflected on my own love life, and thought about a variety of my favourite celebrities: Mary, Mariah Carey, Usher, Janet Jackson, Rihanna (among others) have all stated that they never thought they would find love; that maybe love just wasn’t for them.  For a while, I was starting to feel the same way, and even though I am now in a relationship I still often wonder if I’m capable of really loving someone, giving myself to somebody.  I never had anybody who treated me so wonderfully and who seems to really care for me, and yet I find myself trying to sort out the fantasy from the reality: what is falling in love?  What does it feel like?  Will I know? Or is it more realistic to be with somebody who makes life that little bit better, but still have your independence and feel like an individual person.  What is love?  Is love the former, or does it fall somewhere in between? I just don’t know, and I guess that different people have different opinions on love (depending on their experience; some people really do know when they have found the one, others believe they have and then get it wrong, other people again seem to say that no lover is perfect but being with somebody who treats you well is the most important thing).  I just feel like I’m tiptoeing through a foggy minefield and at any moment it’s all going to blow up in my face.

I think part of my confusion stems from the fact that I am stubborn, feisty and fiercely independent.  Over the last few weeks, it’s come to the fore that I have real problems with letting other people care for me, look after me or even do things for me.  I don’t know how to explain it, but I feel like I’m grown up now and I shouldn’t need other people to do things for me; I relish my autonomy and I almost feel like that’s being threatened when a family member, friend or partner tries to help me with something.  I understand that part of being an adult is knowing when to ask for help, but I still don’t like doing it because I feel like I should be capable. In some implicit way, I guess that I might feel that allowing somebody to do something for me is both their suggestion and my subconscious confirmation that I am incapable.  I don’t like feeling like that, but I’m also aware that it’s a complex in my head that doesn’t really exist; people do things for one another out of kindness and friendship bonds.  It’s also hypocritical of me to feel like this, because I am always one of the first to be willing to help another person.  I get afraid when I feel like I might be being too clingy or relying on someone else too much, and I like to have my own space and freedom – I get very edgy and uncomfortable when I feel like my independence is being compromised – even if in reality this isn’t the case. So this is one complex I don’t get.

I then think that perhaps this is related to my upbringing.  My parents had a very stormy relationship, with lots of verbal, mental and emotional abuse thrown in all directions (including mine).  Though I very rarely witnessed physical violence, it’s still taken its toll and it will never be forgotten.  I realise at times that my upbringing has affected the way I see and do things, particularly in relationships and friendships.  I find it difficult to totally trust people, and although I’m initially usually very open with somebody, it doesn’t take long for my paranoia to creep in and wonder why people do what they do, why they might be nice to me or acting a certain way, assuming there’s an ulterior motive or hidden agenda, and usually blaming myself for these things.  Ironically, especially in the past I used to be scared of ending up alone, wondering why I couldn’t find happiness and almost acquiescing to the fact that I might end up this way – and I’m 24 years old!!! To be thinking like this is a bit crazy, really.  And now I am in a relationship with someone who treats me very well, I often get scared that I can’t return his affection enough, that I don’t deserve this, that somehow I’m going to mess it all up.  Why this self-sabotage?  Things are great, and I enjoy our relationship so much when we keep it light, have fun and just relax.  Again, we’re both young, this is normal and natural – and I do deserve this!  But I can’t stop my brain working and I can’t seem to patch over the vulnerability at the core of my heart that whispers these things to me.  I guess that my upbringing and the relationships that have surrounded me (not just my parents, but throughout both sides of my family) have scarred me more deeply than I’m often aware.

It’s ironic that I’m able to be so frank and openly vulnerable on this blog: although I appreciate that some of my readers don’t know me or have never met me, I also know that some of my readers are my friends whom I know personally.  It’s like being able to write on here is a conduit to my innermost feelings, and I can express myself so fully here that I am truly grateful that I started this blog nearly a year ago (which is insane, it’s flown by!).  But being so honest and open is a little strange when in real life I act so strong, so confident and secure. I have a lot to be secure about, it’s true – but on the inside I often get nervous, afraid, insecure and I can be so vulnerable.  I don’t know how to fix that.  Can I really love someone when I’m still learning and having issues with loving myself, essentially?  Why am I so hard on myself?  And why do I have issues with letting someone love me, care for me and be there for me?  I know I am a good person, I know I am a lucky person, and I know that I deserve love.  I work damn hard professionally, educationally and personally at being the best I can be – I have goals I’m constantly working towards.  I also know that I am human, and I accept the humanity and imperfections of others a lot more readily than my own.  It’s just with all these things swirling in my head, I get so insecure about love, both giving and receiving love and letting someone in.  I feel like at times I offer my vulnerability with one hand and then snatch it away with the other if somebody gets too close.  Why am I like this, and how do I get better?