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Random Musings

Ever Tried Looking at it Upside Down?

Ever have a problem coming up with how to start something, especially a paper? Ever wonder how you should begin one or why it is so difficult to do so? I mean, do you just jump right into it, telling your readers about how they will be reading about a should-have-already-known revelation discovered through a 24-hour, technology-lacking retreat in the rest of your piece? Or do you try some clever way to draw in your readers attention and make them curious about what they’ve gotten themselves into? Yeah, I dunno which is better (or easier) to do, either. If you figure it out, please let me know. Introductions have always been my weak point and I’d love to learn how to conquer them!
Assuming you survived my lame attempt to avoid writing an introduction, there is a point to my latest rambling (at least, that is what I tell myself). Last weekend, I was lucky enough to go on a retreat with some members of my middle- and high-school youth group. It was a simple, loosely yet perfectly structured 24-hour get away that was meant to help escape the stress of life and reconnect with God. I didn’t realize that I needed it so badly until I was there, in a cabin in the middle of the woods out in 100 degree weather (though we did have A/C inside the cabin, thank goodness!). Stress has a way of taking over a person’s life in so many levels, on a multitude of varying degrees. Some stresses could be underlining and not really noticable unless you think about it directly — not have a boyfriend, summer ending in a few weeks, piles of laundry, etc.. Some stresses are very dominant, taking over the mind relentlessly until you either address it, fix it, or give into it: not having enough money for tuition that’s due in less than a month, trying to finish everything you need to complete before time runs out or declines approach (and deciding what has priority over what), or perhaps trying to have enough faith in yourself to complete the tasks before you. For me, all those things listed and more have been weighing me down this past week, as I am about to return to school — and in a way, reality — a week from Sunday. So being able to go to a retreat that allowed me to escape all this stress was an amazing opportunity that reminded me of a really important detail that I forgot about.
And it came to me through sweat and cobwebs.
I know, that sounds weird. Maybe be too much information for some of you, but you try hiking up hills from hell and not breaking a sweat. 😉 But most of our group went hiking through the woods during our time out and were instructed to just let God be with us and notice Him around us. And by golly, I think I did that. I’ve always been kind of a nature freak, so I was pumped to be trekking through the woods, despite the heat. Leaves would fall occasionally from above, we’d hear wildlife moving around us (even saw deer twice; this kid was STOKED) and it was just all around beautiful. (Nature and wildlife are so underappreciated, but don’t worry, a blog-rant about that is in the future! :)) So it was a great environment to be in. But I noticed something I never really noticed before: the huge masses of cobwebs. I mean, they covered huge distances in the opening between trees or overtaking plants. Massive bundes of tiny, thin and delicate threads that were woven together into a web by a creature a tenth of the size of the finished product. That web provided a home and food for a creature that I normally find repulsive. And as I walked through the forest, trying to not break my ankles on the narrow horse trails as my tanktop was drenched in sweat, those webs were what I noticed most. And it got me thinking, reminding me about perspective and angles.
Sure, normally I find spiders repulsive and yes, I admit, I’d rather have a man kill them for me than do the deed myself. But instead of thinking of the spiders in that light, I saw the homes they created in an impressed awe. Now, I don’t have any more love towards spiders than before, but I never found myself impressed by them before either. I mean, these ceatures, some smaller than the size of a quarter, make their home themselves in that forest — a forest that many will probably live their entire lives in, never seeing any other part of the world, ever. They fend for themselves, feed themselves, all in 100-degree heat or below zero temperatures, depending on the season. And here I am, complaining about the heat when I can return to an air conditioned cabin in a matter of minutes. Even though my father builds houses in that heat every day from dawn until dusk, his clothes looking like they just came out of the washer when he returns home. Even though there are those who have lived through this brutally hot summer without any A/C in their homes. Even though there are people that have no homes to return to at all.
When we did got back to the cabin, we did another activity about counting your blessing. I won’t go into too much detail, but we wrote down what we were thankful for. And that activity just strengthen the angles idea that had been forming in my mind throughout the day. I listed many things — food, clothing, shelter, family and friends, health, material items. You get the picture. But then I caught myself writing down things down before I realized what I wrote: stress, fear, sweat. I realized that while I may stress that I’m short on my tuition bill, I’ve been blessed to have the chance to be accepted into an amazing university that has offered me great chances in getting closer to my achieving my dream of becoming a published fiction writer. While my family and I have been struggling financially, at least we have the money — or the jobs and opportunity to make money — to stress over. Many are not that lucky, especially in this economy. We may have bills to pay, but that reflects that we have things that some people don’t have. I fear about failure and about not achieving my dreams. Yet that fear makes the dreams even more real, reminding me that I know myself enough to have dreams in mind. And through that fear, I will find courage. I may sweat a lot (even when it’s not terribly hot) and usually I get so embarassed because I’ll get pit-stains. Even now, I’m thinking to myself, “Nicole, why the hell are you writing that for the world to see? Now everyone will notice them more than before!” But even something as unattractive at pit-stains can be a reminder, a realization: I have clothes to sweat through, I’m healthy enough to sweat, or the fact that I am alive and breathing to sweat, are all examples of different blessings that can be realized from that simple thing, only by thinking a different way.
The fact of the matter is, life is all about angles and about choice. You can choose what angle you look at. You can look at a failed math class as a waste of a class or you can look at as an opportunity denied to many others. You can look at the stress that tries to take over you life as something negative and overwhelming or you can think about it as a chance to remember the things in your life you are lucky enough to stress over about. I feel like practically every aspect of your life presents you with different angles to look at it, and the choice of how you want to view it. And it is that choice that determines the direction of the threads in your life. It is the choice of perspective that determines how strong the web of your life is; how happy, how succesful. Or how sad and how hard it is. Personally, I hope to try and switch up the angles in which I have been viewing my life through. Instead of looking at it as what life is throwing at me, I want to look at it as what life has given me. Count my curses as blessings, my failures as lessons, my misfortunes as transformations. And I realize that trying to transform your whole mindset is a difficult task and not one that will happen overnight. I will still complain about petty things, still whine about my flaws, still beat myself up over my failures and forget about the blessings that appear in every corner and aspect of my life. But I figure that just realizing there is another viewpoint to see has to be a start. And everyone has to start somewhere, right? But, I implore you, just imagine: what if everyone looked at their life as a string of blessings and reminders instead of worries and misfortunes? Just how powerful do you think a simplistic, however difficult, change in mindset could affect the world? It’s definitely got my curious!
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” — Romans 12:2
Cheers,
Nicole

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Uncategorized

Infamous: CD Review

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I just wanna start this post off with a disclaimer. So, DISCLAIMER: I am in no way qualified to critique anything (especially music, since I can’t sing and have no talents with any instruments…yet *insert evil grin here*). But I thought that one of the uses for my blog could be for me to share my thoughts on the latest music, books, and films I’ve experienced. But I just wanted everyone to know that these are light-hearted opinions that I’m sharing just for the sake of sharing. I don’t want anyone to take my responses as law or get all up in a huff if they disagree with what I think. I do realize that I’m not qualified to really critique anything (but really, what makes a person qualified; interesting topic there) but I thought I’d share my thoughts anyway. END OF DISCLAIMER.

So, for my first CD review, I chose to do a new release from a band that I really enjoy listening to, yet after hearing the album, was left in a mixture of surprise, giddiness, and slight (a lot of emphasis on the slight) disappointment. Abandon All Ships (pictured above), an electro-screamo (some also label them as deathcore) quintet hailing from Toronto, released their second album on July 3rd, entitled Infamous. Needless to say, I was pretty stoked when they announced they were coming out with a new album, so I was anticipating this release. Before they album came out, they released the song “Infamous”, which I really loved. I definitely kept it on repeat for at least a week. I felt like the balance between Martin Broda’s smooth vocals and Angelo Aita’s unclean vocals was right on, whereas in some other songs I feel like Aita is almost overbearing. I also liked the guest vocals from A-Game on “Infamous”. I thought it fit in perfectly and added another element to the song that I didn’t expect. So, my expectations for the rest of the album rose.

Then, ’bout a week before the album came out, I read a review online from Alternative Press by Phil Freeman (can be found here: http://www.altpress.com/reviews/entry/abandon_all_ships_infamous/; much shorter than mine, prolly much more qualified, and I really dig his writing style — check it out!) that boosted my excitement, because it was a positive review. Then, July 3rd finally hit (also marking the release date for the latest from The Word Alive and Wolves at the Gate, both reviews soon to come) and I got the album.

My overall first impression was slight disappointment. I didn’t feel like it was on the same level as the pre-released song “Infamous”, which I fell in love with instantly. I felt like there was something off with the screams coming from Aita. But after giving the songs a second listen through (the album is only comprised of ten songs and barely thirty minutes total in length), the songs began to grow on me. I really like the breakdowns in some of the songs, but I definitely am in love with the dance-y, techno-y feel consistent throughout the album. I do feel like Aita could give a better performance, though on “Infamous” and “Good Old Friends”, I think his vocals are strong. I love that they included a slower song, as well, i.e., “August”. Broda’s voice was so smooth and clean, I just loved it. I think Broda was really consistant throughout. I really have fallen in love with his sound. He’s obviously confident with his voice and I really dig it. I think it is a great contrasting sound to Aita’s throaty growls and screams, yet both compliment each other perfectly.

This album was made to be jammed to; blasted from your stereo until your car shakes or blaring from your headphones while you dance like a crazy person. The song “Forever Lonely”, despite the suggestive slow song title, is definitely one I could see them opening up a concert with. It is threatening to take over as my favorite song from the album. I also couldn’t stop moving during “Less than Love” and “Faded” (and, of course, “Infamous”). Also, in “Faded”, though Aita grunts the words more than completely screams them out, I love how they mess with his voice and create breakdowns through him, then bring Broda’s clean vocals for the chorus. Great contrast, brilliantly crafted.

I think the thing that disappointed me was the fact that I didn’t feel that they were strong lyrically, something that I always look for in a band. I’m not saying that every song needs to be able to tell a story so intricate that you get lost in it, but man, do I just love a band who is able to write something that is not only musically captivating but lyrically inspiring. Despite the urge to headbang and dance throughout the whole album, I wouldn’t rank Abandon All Ships as a band that is lyrically inspiring, based off this album; at least, not compared to other albums that just came out that I’ve been jamming to. (Check out “Roger Rabbit” from Sleeping with Sirens or “Life Cycles” from The Word Alive for that.) “Brothers for Life” felt like a song left on repeat and by the end, I felt like I needed to say, “Yeah guys, you’re brothers for life, we get it.” And compared to some of their songs off Geeving, their debut album, e.g., “Family Goretrait”, “Take One Last Breath”, or “Heaven”, I feel like the boys from Toronto slacked slightly lyrically. (Although, I did really like “Forever Lonely” lyrically. That song is just all-around sick.) To quote Freeman’s review, he stated that the album weren’t songs, but “a collection of moments.” Thinking of it that way, perhaps the brothers of Abandon All Ships purposely wrote the songs the way they did. I dunno what their motives were, only that the band claimed the songs are “very Toronto”. And since I’m not from Toronto, perhaps their songs are written that way. Who knows. 

But, to counter they lyrically slacking statement, I still found myself drawn to the music and wanting to listen to the songs. And, this album DEFINITELY increased my desire to see Abandon All Ships live. I can tell they are really into their music and obviously want to put on a good show. which is huge with any band being good live. And I have no doubt that their show would be SICK. Just an amazingly awesome dance party. With luck, I’ll get to see them in August. I’ll let you guys know how they do. 😉

So, overall, I am pretty happy with this album and glad I got it. I love the feel of it, Broda is flawless, and the mixture of clean and unclean vocals is pretty solid. Although I wish it would’ve been stronger lyrically, I can’t complain. This is definitely an album I would recommend and one I will blaring for months. I’d give it 3.7 outta 5.

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“Turn me up when you’re feeling low. Stuck on repeat, I’ll never go. When you feel alone, put in your headphones!” — Lyrics from “Forever Lonely”

Cheers,

Nicole

 

Categories
Random Musings

A Warped Escape

Sweat licks down your skin as the sun’s rays relentlessly beat down on you. You’re surrounded by thousands of your unknown friends and by the end of the day, you leave sore, sticky, sweaty, bloody, bruised and in a state of euphoria that I feel is only found in one place, one enivornment: Vans Warped Tour. For you ladies and gents left in the dark, VWT travels across America during the summer, braving and conquering the heat to provide bands both old and new, both known and still attached to their roots, a chance to live out their dreams and play music; a chance for fans to see bands only heard through their stereos and headphones live, with the possibility of meeting the geniuses behind the lyrics that so many are inspired by. A chance to buy the sickest merch in order to publically represent the musicians who live to inspire, to create, and to play. I proudly jump on this bandwagon, as I attended my 4th Warped Tour this year. But for me, Warped is so much more than just a chance to listen, meet and greet and spend the money from my ever-dwindling bank account. For me, Warped is an escape. Warped is relaxation. Warped is expression. Warped is freedom.
Upon first reading that claim, I’m sure a few of you scoffed and some may have become perplexed. I mean, it’s just a concert, right? How can a day spend outdoors in 100-degree weather for ten hours getting burnt, sore and possibly bruised/bloodied be an environment for a person to be free and escape? Doesn’t quite sound like a perfect R&R paradise, but lemme explain before you continue to express disbelief. Lemme define what I mean. When I say that Warped is an escape, I mean it is an escape from reality, an escape from expectations, an escape from judgement. Simply, it is an escape from life. I’m ’bout to be a sophomore in college, attending an University that is not exactly cheap but I worked hard to get into, yet because of financial stresses, I am struggling to stay in. I’m trying my best to pay for it on my own in order not to burden my parents, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Money — or lack thereof — has always been a huge stress for me. It’s constantly on my mind. Then, of course drama always lingers in everyone’s life. Whether it is pointless fights between friends, spats with your siblings or disagreements with your parents, I feel like everyone can relate to some form of drama popping up unwanted in their lives. But those are just some things I know occur in my life on a more personal level. Then, looking on a broader scale, stress throws itself at me in so many ways. Trying to get from Point A to Point B without a car of my own. Struggling with self-image, caused both from the society’s distorted image on what defines beauty and the desire to live a healthier lifestyle in America; a place where, somehow, fast food conquers while skinny jeans are the latest fad. Trying to find yourself and be that person without worrying about what everyone else thinks. That is a huge one that I struggle with, because despite not wanting to, I worry about what others think of me. Especially because I am not easily labeled in an environment where everything has a label and a place. I am a devout daughter of Christ who cringes when His name is used in vain yet I have a huge cussing problem. I have two tattoos (hopefully three soon) and four piercings. I adore and thrive to screamo music yet live the straight-edge lifestyle (no alcohol, no drugs, period). Let’s just suffice it to say that sometimes people see me as a walking contradiction. Some people look at the ink stained on my skin and wonder how I can be wearing a cross around my neck at the same time. Some people become baffled as I blare a song complete with screams, bass drops and guitar riffs yet all I do in my spare time is read fantasy novels and write. And I am judged for all these things. And I let that get to me, even though it shouldn’t. Every single day.
So, let’s look at the ingredients my reality is mixed with: Pile on the expectations of being a stand-up daughter, an admired sister, a loyal friend, a 4.0 student desperate for scholarships. Add in the fear of not living up to these expectations, fear of failure, fear of disappointment. Pound in the judging eyes of peers and the constant inner-battle between apathy and concern towards those opinions. Throw in the relentless focus on money, self-image, school, and relationships. Mix it all together thoroughly and put it in the oven 24/7 for 365 days a year until boiling point. If spills, then start over.
Now, just lemme clarify that I did not mean for this to be a soup-box post, a post meant to invoke pity. Because it is definitely NOT. I definitely realize and recognize that a LOT of people deal with a lot more than I do. And I seriously love my life and the people and opportunities within it. I am seriously blessed. I just wanted to paint a picture on what I personally deal with, so that maybe when I claim that a screamo concert is my venue to escape, it may become a bit more believable. Because once those doors open, every single ingredient I just listed disappears, drifting away from my consciousness for the next ten hours, leaving me in a state of ecstasy and bliss. I don’t worry about spending twenty bucks on an awesome tank, because I know I’m supporting a band that I care about and will prolly get to have them sign it later; creating a memorable momento to keep for the rest of my life. I don’t worry about what anyone thinks, because in all honestly, no one really cares. Everyone is there for one, united purpose — rock out to the music that connects us, that brought us all together in the first place. It is the one environment that I don’t have to strive for perfection, don’t have to worry about failure, don’t think about what I look like or what others think about me. I don’t let the stress of reality in, because I’m too busy letting everything out: screaming along to the lyrics I’ve had memorized for years, finally crossing off meeting that band off my bucket list, jumping up and down to the beat of the bass, moshing amongst the closest strangers I’ll ever meet. It is the best and ultimate place to escape life, simply by living.
I wrote this not just to let people know how amazing and how freeing Warped Tour is (seriuosly people, if you haven’t gone, you are missing out!) but to express the necessity of having that place or event that allows you to escape. Life is such a blessing, such an opportunity for every person who is given the chance to live it. But it comes with hardships and stress, which can sometimes be overwhelming. If you don’t find a healthy way to escape it — even if only for an hour or two — then you will go beyond the breaking point. You will let your emotions boil over, burn in that oven until you shatter. Not only does it hurt, but then you have to pick up all the pieces and start again in the same place you were when you cracked. Whether it is by reading a book, journaling, watching a movie, hanging out with friends, or listening to someone scream into a mircophone, find that outlet. I promise you, even if it happens only once every blue moon, you will feel better and you will find the strength to overcome any obstacle, any stress that weighs against your mind and heart. You will feel renewed and ready to take on the world. Because you are strong enough to take on the world. Sometimes you just need a break to remind yourself that you are. So find that escape, something that you enjoy and will look forward to. Escape to live. Live by escaping.
“What are you so scared of? Judgements not unfair, it’s what we’ve learned to see. And what are you afraid of? This is not unheard of, nothing’s how it wasn’t always meant to be. Always meant to be.” — Lyrics to “What are you so Scared of?” by Tonight Alive
Cheers!
— Nicole

Categories
Random Musings

Finding an Outlet

Hello to any and all readers!
I have decided to write a blog (kinda obvious, I know, but hang with me, if you will be so kind). I have always had this curiosity about blogs. I’ve always wondered how they functioned, their purposes, the reasoning behind why people wrote them, and why people read them. And I’ve always had random thoughts that I’ve had a canny desire to share, yet was always unsure exactly how to share them. Whether it is my opinion on a book I just survived, advice I pretend to think is helpful, reactions to the latest movie I’ve viewed or CD I’ve blared, or just a random thought I must get off my chest, I always have ink stained on my fingers, the words ever flowing. So, I thought, why not use blogs as an outlet for all of these scattered thoughts? Not only will I get to share ideas, thoughts and opinions, I will discover the world of blogging and how it works (and hopefully get some reactions and feedback as well)! It’s a win-win situation, I think. I hope you’ll stick around and see what ideas and words lurk in the caverns of my mind, from the depth of my heart. I’m definitely excited to see what slips through my fingers and onto the electronic page! I also hope something that I write on this blog will affect you in some way. Whether it raises questions, reactions, or inspires you, I just hope that what you read makes you think or makes you feel. I hope it allows you to either escape the hustle and bustle of the world or focus more intently on it, but on a different angle. No matter how you feel about whatever I write, however, I hope we both enjoy the journey. I know I plan to. 🙂
“Words are, in my not so humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic, capable of both inflicting injury and remedying it.” — Albus D
Cheers!
— Nicole