10 THINGS I LOVE AND HATE ABOUT YOU

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Love

  1. The most entertaining modern-day Shakespeare adaptation since Scarface (Macbeth). I was schooled in England, which meant a lot of Shakespeare was read (and watched). I once played Romeo onstage. Undoubtedly a result of a burn-out of sorts, I have developed a tendency to ignore all things Shakespeare – a condition not helped by the ceaseless use of the Shakespeare “brand” to rip off tourists – much like how our brains will stop registering physical landmarks given sufficient exposure (I would pass the Palace of Westminster without so much as a glance returning home from Leicester Square’s casinos or the Southbank Undercroft). And whilst not all of Shakespeare’s work may have been entirely original, cough cough, it sometimes takes a disguise like 10 Things to remind me that whoever is really to thank for writing/plagiarising his (/her/their, depending on who you ask) stories definitely knew how to write/pick a good one. A pleasant surprise, that I was watching The Taming of the Shrew dawned on me only once the film was underway (if I had known before, I had completely forgotten); I sat down to watch it knowing nothing but that it is one of my girlfriend’s favourites.
  1. Not just another cheesy romantic comedy aimed at preteen girls. I believe this film is as good an example as any of why one should never judge a book by its cover. In my defence, I haven’t ever refused to watch it: I don’t care about genre (all have both gems and turds) and will never knock a film before watching it myself (don’t believe the hype). But nevertheless, over the years I have chosen other films (often significantly worse, in retrospect) over 10 Things I Hate About You, such as when spending loose change on movies in thrift shops, picking something on streaming sites, and the like. I don’t know why (possibly actually the incredibly boring cover), but I expected something more generic, more normal, more “ok”. That’s not to say this is the best comedy I’ve ever seen – and it’s possible the experience was enhanced by its following a week-long thriller binge – but it massively exceeded my (admittedly modest) expectations and was much less alienating (as a young adult male watching it for the first time) than I expected.
  1. Nostalgia. I know, weird right? As mentioned above, I hadn’t actually seen this movie before, I didn’t grow up in America, go to a co-ed high school (and definitely had less fun than the characters in the movie), or ever get paid to seduce a girl so a classmate could date her sister (unbelievable, I know). But as a young adult slowly adjusting to wage slips, bills, and taxes, it did stir up happy memories of both the pettiness of the worries of student life and the fun I so recently left behind (my university year were the most care free and enjoyable of my 24 on Earth so far). I was taken aback that a first viewing of a film could have a similar (albeit less intense) emotional impact to that of, say, each American Pie binge with my best friend since graduating (and yes we watch all of them, including the bad ones: “American Pie Presents” I’m looking at y’all) – a genuine nostalgia, given that it is the continuation of a tradition we ourselves started in our high school years over a decade ago.
  1. Chemistry. This film strikes a nice balance: genuinely funny yet emotional enough when it counts, whilst maintaining a sort of easy lightheartedness and innocence throughout. In my opinion most significantly, the film has captured a most authentic sense of friendship between the cast. Apparently Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles – whose characters (Patrick and Kat, respectively) date in the movie – themselves dated during filming and David Krumholtz (who played Michael) has credited the film’s success to the real-life friendships formed on set:

    The cast was experiencing what I’ve since found to be all too rare: a unified chemistry throughout the ensemble, without a single bad apple in the bunch. We all agreed that we were having the best summer of our lives.

  1. The cast. Whilst friends played by real friends and a couple played by a real couple arguably makes for a fairly straightforward job for the cast (all jokes aside, Stiles’ performance is particularly strong), many have gone on to have rather fruitful careers; Whilst protagonists Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Cameron), Stiles, and Ledger have had arguably the best careers in the (almost) two decades post- 10 Things, a surprising number of the young cast are still familiar faces on screen. Either way it’s always fun to see actors “back in the day”.

 

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“Hate”

  1. The cast. Ok, I don’t actually hate the cast. More accurately, it saddened me to see a Heath Ledger looking so young, relaxed, and happy, in the context of his untimely and tragic passing. A phenomenal talent from the start – 10 Things serving as his breakout performance in American film – to finish – winning the second ever posthumous Academy Award for acting with his perfect rendition of The Joker in The Dark Knight, and the youngest posthumous Oscar winner ever, by over a decade – it saddens me to think of the wonderful talent that was lost. But what really breaks my heart is to think of the future he had ahead of him but didn’t get to live, the daughter he didn’t get to see grow, and the family and friends he left behind.
  1. Nostalgia. Nostalgia is always a little bittersweet. But, with real-world adulthood looming, looking back at my youth and those beloved university years that came and went in a flash, the realisation that 1999 was nearly two decades ago (already?!), and a poignant reminder that life is both delicate and fleeting is enough to send me into an existentialist crisis if I pay it too much thought. Thank goodness it was a comedy and not a coming of age drama.
  1. Not just another cheesy romantic comedy aimed at preteen girls. On a slightly cheerier note, I really wish this revelation (mentioned in point 2) had come sooner, as both storyline and setting would have been more relevant and relatable whilst at high school myself, being force fed Shakespeare like there’s no tomorrow.
  1. The guitar.* (If you don’t mind a little spoiler or have already seen the movie, you’ll find this point if you scroll down. If you do, please ignore the paragraph after point 10.)
  1. That I didn’t hate it. Not even close, not even a little bit, not even at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* As if Kat, a strong, stubborn, and intelligent young woman, one scarred enough by past experiences to have literally chosen to transform herself from one of the most popular young ladies at school to a loner, having let someone past that tough facade into her surprisingly delicate world only to find out he was paid to do it would ever trust him again (or any other men, for a while at least), beautiful Stratocaster or not. Of course, as viewers we know how Patrick really feels, and it really is the right outcome, but – much like assuming a cat is a mammal because it has four legs like a dog, which is also a mammal – one can reach a correct conclusion through faulty logic (after all, a lizard also has four legs). Having witnessed the lengths needed to win her heart in the first place, I highly doubt any gift would be enough. Great guitar though.

Candour: a haiku trilogy.

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Don’t think I’ll forget
the way you spoke the things said
distant, reticent.

Pleas fell on deaf ears
like tears on comfortless sheets,
drowning me in grief;

today I feel fine,
and yet I still ask myself
why you had to leave.

– Alejo X.

P.S. Many thanks to my father, a detail of one of whose artworks accompanies this poem.

Everything you thought?

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I’m everything that you thought, ’cause I’m everything that you’re not.

 

Where did it come from? What does it mean?

The line is from the song “Stubborn Love” by Seaway, a Canadian band I’ve been listening to since discovering their music sometime during my first year of university, around four years ago. As for what it means, I obviously cannot speak on behalf of the band, but the beauty of music is that it invites everyone to interpret it in their own way. This is what it means to me.

First, a little context: I began this blog shortly after the end of a six year relationship, following which this song (already a favourite from their best album – in my opinion, anyway – Colour Blind) took on a new meaning. I have always liked how the song is energetic despite tackling complex emotional content, but it is how the lyrics capture the topsy-turvy roller coaster of emotion that I have been through following the break up that has given the song such significance during my healing process. One such example is the contrast between the chorus line “Cause tonight your hair falls around your ears / And it makes me want to stay”, later inverted upon its final repetition; “But tonight your hair falls around your ears / And it makes me want to leave“.

But it’s the line that I took inspiration for the blog’s name and tagline from that touched me most deeply; my ex and I always seemed to be opposites in most ways, and yet so compatible. It could have been easy to fall into a pattern of thinking in which I saw myself as no longer whole, or broken, but this line always reminds me to never forget the things I have to be proud of and love about myself – not only my strengths, but also the positive things that I brought to the relationship – instead of only focusing on what I’ve lost.

And so, that simple line became my personal mantra at my lowest moments; for I lost someone special and unique, but so did she.

X.

Blue is the warmest colour: love at first sight.

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Next week I turn 23. This means that two years have now passed since I came into possession of my beautiful Gibson Les Paul Futura. Prior to this I had happily played the same Yamaha Pacifica since age 11, a guitar I still treasure to this day. I had often promised myself that when I got good enough to merit a new guitar I would treat myself to a beauty, with the vision of keeping it forever, allowing it to age alongside me.

Fast forward some years and I feel ready to commence the search for my musical soulmate. I started to look into new guitars, obsessively looking online and making trips to an excellent guitar shop, Andertons, not too far from my home. I tried everything from hollow-body Gretsch guitars to PRS beauties, and everything in-between. Despite my love for the Les Paul shape, none within my price range had blown me away, and I ultimately narrowed my search to an Alpine White American Fender Stratocaster and a PRS S2 Mira. After some deliberation I decided that I preferred the feel of the Strat’s neck and its distinctive Fender tone (perhaps also swayed slightly by my love of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour’s strat tone).

Just before calling it a day, a shop assistant asked if I had tried the Futura. I had not. What happened next would change my life forever. At a first glance, I was blown away by the guitar’s looks – the beautiful wood and its stunning colour. Then I held it: heavy, and solid, a serious piece of kit; not something a child could throw over their shoulder. I was already falling in love. Next, I plugged it in…

… What I heard was incredible. Beyond a Les Paul’s usual three pickup options, and tone and volume pots, the Futura presents a range of features rarely seen on other unmodified iterations of the model: a conventional humbucker at the bridge, and a hum-cancelling P90H Sidewinder at the neck, both of which with the option of coil splitting for an even greater tonal range, putting two iconic Les Paul tones into a single guitar. The action is perfect and the neck fast. I knew this was the guitar for me.

The shop assistant mentioned that the guitar was the only one left in stock, but I had already made up my mind – I was not leaving without it. I told my dad (a phenomenal guitarist himself and never one to miss a trip to a music shop) that I was going to buy it then and there, to which he surprised me by revealing that he would like to buy the guitar for me as a 21st birthday gift. And what a gift it was.

It’s funny how two years later I get the same excited rush when I pull it out of its case that I got the first moment I saw it. I used to occasionally look at guitars and dream of maybe one day owning this one or that one, but I haven’t looked at guitars for sale since; but why bother when I can just take my dream guitar out of its case and play that instead?

 

X.

To my best friend.

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This weekend I am on the south coast of England in Portsmouth to catch up with my best friend and brother. Whilst technically we may not be relatives by blood, coming up to twenty years of unwavering friendship we may as well be – I have quite literally known you as long as I can remember.

Whenever I talk to anyone your name comes up sooner or later, and for good reason: the countless times we were sent to the headteacher together, the time you split your head open at my house, when you hit an old lady over the head with a plastic bottle in France in an unfortunate case of mistaken identity, the night we tried to ‘explore’ a barn and had a run in with an angry farmer and his dogs… All the best stories I have to tell aren’t mine, but ours. We started our first bands, and played our first gigs together; we learnt poker together, years later going to our first casino together; the first car I skitched was yours. But there’s more to our relationship than just mischief and adventure; some of my fondest memories of my teen years include singing along to your car radio, grabbing a drive through (often ordering in fake accents), and sitting by the lake to eat while chatting away about anything that came into our heads.

We share in each other’s successes and achievements, but also our pain; when my girlfriend of six years unexpectedly left me, waking the next day to you knocking at my door having dropped your plans and driven for hours to spend the day with me – to make me feel loved when I would otherwise have felt my most alone – is priceless.

For years I mistakenly believed that your house felt like a second home, but upon visiting you for the first time in your new flat I realised that it is you, not the house, that feels like home, and I hope that you will always feel the same. Thank you for bringing me so much happiness, and for being a source of light when things get dark; for being my confidant, and for never giving up on me.

 

Not too long ago I read one of those viral photos shared on Facebook (the ones with the unsourced and often dubious “facts”) that read something along the lines of “if a friendship lasts more than seven years, psychologists say it will last a lifetime”. Well, if that’s the case then I am a very lucky man.

 

Love,

X.

Battle scars: what skateboarding means to me.

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In life, everyone finds things they enjoy doing. I, like many others, enjoy doing a range of different things, with the extent to which I am likely to do any particular one of them on a given day generally subject to my energy levels, mood, the weather, and a host of other internal and external factors. Two activities stand out for me in that I never tire of doing either and am so fond of doing both that after day without either I always feel slightly unfulfilled. Those two things are music and skateboarding, and today I’m going to focus on the latter.

I can still remember the first board I ever owned, at six years old: an old-school shaped deck complete with tail bone and rails, large soft cruiser-style wheels, and plastic trucks. I rode that board until it was literally falling apart. I was hooked. My first proper ‘popsicle’ skateboard, with metal trucks this time, came shortly after, from a skate shop in Worthing on the south coast of England; a ¾ size as I was still too small to manage a full size deck. This time rather than just cruising around I took to skateparks for the first time, learning the ropes at a park exclusively composed of mini ramps not ten minutes from my house, inspired by VHS tapes of the X-Games that I would watch and re-watch until I knew my favourite lines by heart.

Since, I have ridden every board I possibly could: skateboards, cruisers, longboards, snowskates, snowboards, and surfboards. This love affair has been one of few constants in my life, spanning 16 years – a relationship eclipsed only by my best friend, who’s been by my side for over 19 years – and yet I simply never tire of it. In fact, this morning I bounced out of bed at 8am and hopped in the car to explore a new skatepark (which inexplicably has no lights, hence the early start to make the most of the trip; the sun currently sets around ten past four).

So why do I enjoy pushing myself around on a small plank of wood (well, technically several plies of wood) so much? Skateboarding frees me. Whether flying down a hill, dodging pedestrians on a busy street or cars on a road, carving a bowl, or doing tricks, I feel totally liberated. I couldn’t care less about any trends: I don’t ride a wide board despite my large feet (7.75s just work for me), my trucks are so loose I get wheel bite (even when riding park and vert), and my wheels softer than most. I’ll wear whatever I want, go wherever I want, and do whatever I want. I’m all about old school tricks, carving, powerslides, and goofing around, and I love it. When I feel good, skating makes me feel great, and if I am feeling sad or stressed, skating frees me. Not a bad thought even enters my mind. In fact, I hardly think at all: it’s the wind in my hair, it’s movement, it’s emotion. Every time I touch a skateboard I push my limits – faster, higher, further, smoother, cleaner, more aesthetic; there’s always something to work on – and when you’re pushing your limits you are forced to be totally focused. And in those moments, nothing else matters.

Sure, I am no pro. I can’t do the most technical tricks, or the biggest gaps. But that’s not why I do it, and it never will be.

X.