9 Things I Learned in 2009

Ah, another year is about to commence. Just as one of my favorite quotes read, “Every ending is a new beginning.” I stopped doing New Years’ resolutions a long time ago. Those resolutions seem to be nothing more than vows you’re bound to break. Instead, I take a moment to reflect and then I move the heck on. I read once that Madonna hates to reminisce and dwell on the past. That’s why she’s constantly reinventing herself and why each of her albums seems to be something completely new and different. I like that mindset and mentality. Yet, I also understand the importance of learning from the past so that you won’t make the same mistakes or won’t forget the good lessons learned. So, here’s a list of things I’ve learned in 2009. Just as the theme song goes for one of my favorite shows, “You take the good, you take the bad, you mix ’em up and then you have the facts of life.” Here are some facts of my life:

1. Don’t expect to get the praise and admiration you want (whether it’s well earned or just selfishly wanted) until you’re dead. Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson and Brittany Murphy learned that lesson the hard way.

2. You need to sit your behind down and just rest and veg out sometimes.

3. If you’ve earned time off at work, TAKE IT. Saying, “I’ll just save my days for Christmas or something” will usually mean you’re stuck manning the office by yourself or working on horrid days like Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve.
4. Disconnect for your health. The easier it is for people to connect to you or find you, whether it be through E-mail, telephone or even simply knowing where you live, the unhappier you’ll probably be because they’ll bug the Dickens out of you.

5. Always make the time to workout or exercise. You can easily do a total-body workout in 20 minutes pretty much anywhere without having to go to a gym. Do pushups, squats, lunges,  jump rope for 10 minutes … just do something. How many hours do you watch TV, listen to music or play with your iPhone or some other device? Enough said, you can spare 20 minutes a day (if not more).

6. It’s sometimes pretty awesome to be single. Marriage tends to make you pretty lame (ahem, Mariah Carey and her love ode to Nick Cannon, ‘Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel’ that tanked?) and monogamy is a bit overrated (Tiger Woods), though it’s a swell idea in theory.

7. Sometimes, the most satisfying way to spend money is to save it for a rainy day. The economy tanked but it taught me how to save and make every penny count. Learning the difference between a need and want was key. Plus, learning that it’s okay to indulge every now and then, within reason, after paying the bills, is the path to financial satisfaction. My biggest 2009 accomplishment in ’09? I paid off a credit card. No more credit cards for me! What did you do?

8. Be selfish and do what you want to do. Yeah, being considerate of others and their feelings is okay but what’s awesome is being totally aware of your own needs, desires and wants. Even if you’re just 20, you should have a plan or path you’re working on. Create a bucket list. It’s morbid, yes, but marking off things you’ve wanted to accomplish will be a great feeling.

9. Be aware and act. Whether it be a cause, concern or personal matter, being aware is something few people tend to be. Research and keep up with an interest of yours; a charity, your  health, your needs and wants … and then act on what you’ve found out. Give to a charity, get healthy and fit, invest in your needs and wants.

So, what have YOU learned from your life in 2009?

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John Mellencamp’s Tirade on Religion and Sexuality

“… But I don’t believe the Bible was written as a book of history, and I don’t believe in organized religion. The thing that gets me is all these people are so intolerant of homosexuals. You really gotta look hard to find anything bad about homosexuals in the Bible. But g-ddamn: When it comes to killin’, that’s all over the place, and nobody give’s a shit. “Let’s kill soldiers, let’s kill Iraqis, let’s kill Germans, let’s kill everybody!” But, man, you try to love somebody of your own sex and you’re going straight to tell.” – John Mellencamp, Blender Magazine (April, 2007)

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That’s Sketchy – Self Portrait 12/18/2009

Vector Illustration of Antoine Reid, 2009.

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Review: Mary J Blige’s ‘Stronger With Each Tear’

'Stronger with Each Tear', Mary J Blige (2009)I’m on the fence with Mary J Blige’s new album. I came in quite biased; I love Mary J Blige. Her angsty, melodramatic, heart wrenching music really vibes and clicks with me. Remember what Jenna said on a recent episode of ’30 Rock’? “Drama is like gay man Gatorade, it replenishes their electrolytes.” Perhaps it’s like that movie ‘Precious’; critics considered it an uplifting movie even though it is one of the most depressing things you’ll ever see because it reminds you that your life could suck even more than it does. So, Blige just has a way of taking drama and heartache and turning it into some good music. Yet, something’s happened with the past few albums – she’s been getting noticeably happier. She’s no longer singing about ‘no more drama’. Instead, she’s moved on to singing about … dare I say it … being happy and secure! What’s happened to our dear Mary?

Well, ‘Stronger With Each Tear’ isn’t horrible. I think it’s pretty good, but it’s not Blige’s best. Even though she’s been working on this album for what feels like an eternity, there’s something simply ‘off’ about it all. It’s taken me almost a dozen listens to feel like this album has any sort of direction or cohesiveness to it. Already, my review posted for Amazon has split the fans. I am not surprised. When I went to post it I saw, to my shock, that this was all of a sudden a five-star album! No reviews lesser than 5 stars. Hmm, did I pick up the wrong album? I posted my review anyway and gave the good and bad:

The Good: After two albums that felt somewhat similar style and sequencing wise, ‘Stronger With Each Tear’ feels like Blige’s move in a new direction musically. There aren’t as many ballads or deep, depressing tracks and instead, she seems more bent on finding her groove with hip-hop and dance tracks like “The One”, featuring Blige’s voice manipulated by auto-tune and a dancefloor-ready beat accompanied by hand-claps and an appearance by rapper Drake. A piano and string-backed “Hood Love” is catchy and soothing and has Blige singing of love and devotion rather than her usual theme of heartbreak and angst. “I Am” is this album’s version of “Be Without You”; it’s very mainstream, hip-hop but pop at the same time and (in my opinion) is Blige at her absolute best musically and vocal wise on the album. Blige also takes a few chances, deviating from her usual musical path by including a track that is rather fun with silly lyrics but again, features a more confident Blige who’s giving a warning to a woman coming after her man. “Each Tear” may have a title that screams of ballad and makes you think of Blige’s emotional singing but it’s a stark turnaround; instead, it’s an uplifting, inspiring song about learning from your heart ache. There’s a wide range of music and styles featured on ‘Stronger With Each Tear’, probably the first album from Blige in a while where she’s sticking to a theme but allows the music to vary and evolve for each track rather than fit into a specific sound and style for the entire album.

The Bad: What brings the album down is that no track really rises to the level of Blige’s biggest hits or her vocal abilities. In some ways, this album felt a bit tame and reserved. I kept waiting for her to let go and really dive into a song with heart, soul and raw emotion as she did with “No More Drama”, “We Ride”, “As” or even the last album’s “What Love Is.” She doesn’t really have a track like that on the album, though “In the Morning” and “I Can See In Color” come somewhat close. Some of the tracks are decent, but they seem a bit beneath her after all she’s accomplished musically in the past few years. The collaborations seem a bit much; you have Trey Songz, T.I. and Drake somewhat taking over some of the songs they’re featured on. It’s fine, but unlike the past albums, this one is shorter so it felt as if the listener is being cheated out of a real Mary J Blige experience. There are more than a few tracks that just seem okay or average and felt like filler or skip-worthy after one listen including “I Love U”, “Said And Done” and “Tonight.” It took a few listens for me to pick up on the theme of the music and lyrics but the album sounds as if it was somewhat rushed for the sake of getting it out before the holiday season.

Some comments I’ve received thus far: S. Martin wrote, “Excellent review, I agree. As I write this I am listening to MJB’s album “My Life”…You Gotta Believe. I absolutely love Mary but I feel her 90’s albums are where its at. So much emotion and soul in many of her songs, often times pain. But I am a Mary’s fan for life so I will add Stronger with each tear to the collection.” Another Amazon.com customer that goes by the name of windmuse felt my review was way off and later commented, “Pull in the claws, kitty, there are no professional reviews on this forum. Poor Antoine, let the guy speak for himself. Chill, kitty, and please have the people at the home assist you on use of spell checker in addition to the thesaurus.” I think I had more fun reading the user comments than writing the review!

What do you think? Is ‘Stronger With Each Tear’ one of Blige’s best or is it just an album rushed and pushed out in time for Christmas to make it debut high on the charts since the singles have had a rather lackluster reception thus far? Read my full Amazon.com review here.

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You Probably Think This Entry Is About You

So, once upon a time, I used to blog. Back in 2005 or so, I blogged everyday about my horrible living conditions in a dorm at some unnamed university. Don’t misinterpret what that means – the dorm room itself was decent enough and, from what I remember, newly renovated at the time. However, the roommate that came attached to a particular room was far from great.

This all does have a point. I’m wary of blogs to a degree because the internet tends to suffer from a small-town syndrome. No matter how vague you write, no matter what you say, who you say it to, who you say it about, when it comes to the Internet, doesn’t it seem that the person you least want reading your blog ends up being on it? Well, that happened to me back in 2005 and it’s actually a rather amusing story that also has a moral or lesson at the end. So, here we go …

I’m  not a fan of alcohol or drugs or any substance really. I know, I’m a just a barrel of fun at parties. At this particular college, I found out they were offering substance-free living. This was pre-Celebrity Rehab and I had no issues or addictions to escape from. I genuinely thought Substance-Free living on a college campus was a pretty nifty idea and that I’d end up with a roommate that I got along with and could relate to. A roommate who didn’t drink, who didn’t want to try to see me get drunk? (Note: In my college experiences, most of my roommates after one week would proclaim they wanted to see me get drunk, to which I’d reply in a very Spock-manner “That is highly unlikely). Anyways, I got accepted into the dorm (yes, people, you actually had to sign up for and be accepted into Substance-Free living. As if there would be a long waiting line?). I ended up with the most horrid, annoying roommate … and I’ve had some pretty bad roommate experiences (A roommate once fell on me while I was sleeping and he was drunk; a drunk girl made it into our room and threatened she’d stay unless I kissed her; I ended up with a roommate who snorted adderall and asked how to say certain phrases in ebonics so he could communicate with ‘our people’ (aka, BLACK PEOPLE).

Months passed and living in Substance-Free was not all I thought it’d be. Turns out people weren’t really all that substance-free in this place! Imagine! So, here was good ol’ boy me holed up with a big bear of a roommate who seriously looked to be about 10 or 20 years my senior, who slept during the day or hours when the sun was out because he worked nights, who wouldn’t let me use the fridge because he brought it and never cleaned it and kept it stocked full of wine coolers and beer. On top of that, he never cleaned his side of the room which gave the room a nice aroma of decay and fungus. MMmmmm, smell that? It’s my student loan being wasted! The resident advisor could see that I wasn’t at all pleased or happy.  Perhaps it was the fact I tried to find as many activities to stay out of the room. Or that I’d skip out on any hall meetings or activities? Oh no, maybe it was that warm and welcoming frown I wore most of the time I spent in that wretched room. I told him my issues but he told me just give it time. Bear (my horrid roommate) was a nice guy, he should know, they’d been friends for a while! Know what that meant? No help from the RA. So, my response? I blogged about my horrible living conditions. I exposed Bear for the wonderful (sarcasm of course) roommate he was, praised (ha, not) the RA for his wonderful show of concern and action.

One day, I walked into the room and found a note from housing. I’d been called to the office of the community manager. Turns out Bear had come across my blog and printed it out and read it. Reportedly, I’d made Bear cry! That really tore me up inside. Not really from sadness or remorse but from laughing my behind off. Suddenly, I was the bad guy! I was the roommate from Hell! The posting that really sent Bear over-the-top seemed to be one where I took a picture of him and put my graphic design skills I was learning in class to work by putting a circle around his head and scribbling “I’m with Stupid” beside him. This was before Perez Hilton made it trendy to draw drool dots and penises on celebrity photos – see, I’m quite  the innovator.

After much hoopla, it was decided that we could not live together. I was going to be moved to another room in the Substance-Free community. Oh joy. It did come with a few conditions. Bear wanted me to post an apology on my Blog for all to see and gander at. Of course, the “I’m With Stupid” post had to come down. Any posts about Useless Resident Advisor of the Year had to come down because his feelings were hurt as well. Well, I agreed to do some of it but then I pulled out an old card most of just journalist use. As I sat before Jabba da Community Manager (she was a whopper, trust me), I told her I’d do some of this out of the kindness of my heart but asked her, “What about my first Amendment rights?” I also told her I really didn’t feel remorseful for what I did considering I acted because of how the housing office failed me. I was being accused of violating some housing clause that everyone must be happy and get along at ALL times. Now, what fantasy world did this clause come from? Probably the same one that gave people like G.W. Bush the right to declare war when he had a hard time grasping the English language.

Well, I was exiled to the farthest reaches of the university’s campus to a vacant room. Yes, they determined I wouldn’t do well with others so gave me a double room all to myself! It was wonderful. I had a whole room to myself, didn’t have to deal with roommates, was able to go to sleep whenever I wanted, study without distractions. Best of all, I was able to come in after classes and watch ‘Dynasty’ on SoapNet and get my Joan Collins fix for the day. The lesson in all of this? Blogs probably shouldn’t be anyone’s soapbox to bitch and complain about all the idiocy that happens in the world. But still, speaking out and calling out the flaws in the world sometimes leads to some pretty good things. I know, not the pretty and neat lesson I should have learned from this situation but then again, I’m pretty hard headed.

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