Tanya writes stuff...and songs

Tanya Cristina and the I'm not dead inside just napping revelation 

I'm the sort of person to walk past Amy Winehouse in the street and feel the same level of excitement about her as the little old lady walking a dog behind her. I know because it actually happened a while back, when both women were still alive and well, although, to be fair I don't actually know about the little old lady: she may well outlive us all. Although I recognised the incredible singer-songwriter (and fragile looking human being) standing next to me I, unlike most people nearby, carried on as normal. Don't get me wrong, I have always admired Amy Winehouse's work and hope I can make music even a tenth as good as hers some day, but famous people, however clever and talented, just don't excite me. This may be because when people go left I tend to go right, and that when they become hysterical I tend to remain calm, a kind of equilibrium I feel honourbound to maintain. But more than that I think it's because I genuinely believe that people are equal, so unless I would jump up and down screaming if I got an appointment with my favourite GP or feel giddy because the friendly guy with the beautiful smile is working on the tills today in Tescos, I can't bring myself to go crazy about someone on TV. 

That being said, when a performer does something that changes me in some way I feel I should acknowledge it, just like I should probably tell the guy at Tescos that he has a great smile or my GP that she's my favourite. Because it's good to hear that you made a difference and that the work you do has meaning to someone else. Acting, or singing for that matter, is rarely seen as a noble profession. It's entertainment and not humanitarian aid relief or life-saving surgery after all, and for for years I know I struggled to tell people that my sister was a doctor whilst I was a singer. That was until I realised that performing is not just about a performer scratching an itch, fulfilling a desire to be seen and admired, it's about the audience watching the performance, who should and I believe do get something in return for their time, attention and in some cases money. I think it is possible to write and sing a song that connects with a person so that they feel understood, less lonely and even occasionally empowered, and that TV can do that too. In fact good TV can be therapy in lots of ways... 

When my mum had terminal cancer and I had a couple of weeks off from my day-job to help care for her, it was the Once Upon a Time season 1 boxset, lent to me by a friend, that got me through. It was the escape that I desperately needed when I was too tired and too sad to face my newfound reality. Many times since then, I have watched an episode of my favourite TV programme and found it held a mirror up to my soul, exposing the cracks and wounds within, showing me why I needed to find a therapist as soon as possible and what I should talk to him or her about when I did. Sometimes TV is the wake-up call you never knew you needed. 

I must admit I only started watching The Last Kingdom as a filler until Game of Thrones came back on, but season 2 was really great TV and made something inside me come alive that I thought was gone for good. For many months love stories were utterly repellent to me. Warriors beating each other senseless and Queens riding dragons were fine, but a couple in love? Not so much. People would talk about passion, romance and desire, whether in real-life or in fiction, and I would roll my eyes or scrunch up my nose as if to say 'yuk', like a 5 year old boy being asked what he thinks of girls. I even did some research into asexuality to see if maybe it was the key to my recent disinterest and disgust. Watching a particular episiode about Erik and Aethelfled's forbidden romance did something to my scrunched up nose though, it softened it. I began to realise that the part of me inside which used to appreciate and yearn for romance wasn't dead after all. It had just been having a nap, and so, to the writers, actors and director of that particular episode I am especially grateful. If nothing else I can start writing love songs again.

Tanya Cristina and the quest for a new name 

I was born Tanya Cristina. It was my mum's first choice and to this day I can't see my name written down without hearing her voice calling me down for dinner or telling me off for something or other (she would only ever use my full name if I was late and/or she was mad at me). Whilst they are not names I would necessarily have chosen for myself, I'm used to them and I can't imagine being called something else: a name she didn't pick.

My surname, however, I have often fantasised about changing. I longed as a teenager to be something nice and normal, to have a last name that people could actually spell. Perhaps Tanya Cristina Knightly or Tanya Cristina Darcy? Basically any name belonging to a Jane Austen character would do. I rarely ever used my family name, introducing myself as 'Tanya...just Tanya', like a child who had not yet learned the social ettiquette that comes with handshakes and formal introductions. I used to dream of getting married, not to wear a pretty dress and a tiara (that's a standard Saturday night in for me) but just so I could be called something simpler and less foreign sounding. Don't get me wrong, it's not a truly terrible surname like, say Hitler, nor is it akin to to a swear word or anything overly embarassing. It's just long, awkward to pronounce (even for me) and impossible to pinpoint. The number of hours spent spelling it out phonetically, explaining the origins of the name and how this relates to my mixed ethnic heritage has not been, in my opinion, time well spent. 

But my need to be rid of my last name without marrying the first Mr Smith I meet is not just a time saving exercise. It's a way for me to give myself an identity that better reflects who I am and who I belong to. As a woman you are traditionally given your father's name until you marry and take your husband's. Your father would have ownership of and responsiblity for you, until he paid someone some gold coins or, I don't know a flock of goats, to transfer you into the possession of another older (read old) man. I am not altogether comfortable with this history of womankind, but if I were to choose not to marry and/or choose keep my name like a man would, then surely I would be rejecting patriarchy without having to go through the hassle of changing a name on my passport, bank accounts etc... So there must be more to it than feminist ideology.

The history of the name itself is that it belonged to an Ottoman Armenian son of a henna maker (or so we believe) who adopted his nephew by marriage after a terrible genocide. I don't know either adopted father or son as they lived about 100 years before I was born, so I have no sense of attachment, good or bad, to either of them or to the burdensome name they bequeathed me. It is also a name that affords amost zero anonymity: it's a name shared by only a few people in the world, most of whom are related to me. Back when I still believed I might I might have a fan and/or stalker one day, I stopped using it when performing just in case. Arrogance and inflated ego aside, it is genuinely uncomfortable to feel so easily traceable. Although I'm not planning on going on the run for a crime I didn't commit any time soon, A-team style (I am terrible at driving and metal work so it's clearly not the life for me), I'd still like to be able to slip under the radar if I had to, and I imagine others with an easily identifiable last name will understand. And yet, with all these practical reasons to change my name, I must acknowledge that there has to be more to it than a desire to blend in.

Which leads me to the person who more specifically gave me my surname: my father. We have in recent years, after a complicated and difficult relationship breakdown, become estranged from one another. It's a peculiar estrangement, as he was once one of my two closest living relations, and responsible for bringing me into the world, but one who is now a stranger to me, knowing less about my life than most of you reading this blog. It has felt, bizarrely, like a break-up or a divorce, the way things changed and become so acriminious so quickly, and I'm aware that the fact I can refer to it this way on a blog for all to see is a sign of how messed up the relationship was to begin with. One of the last lessons my father taught me before walking away and causing me, in turn, to walk away from him, is that when something is toxic to you, you need to cut it out of your life in order to preserve your own happiness and sanity. Whilst I'm not sure I'm especially sane or happy yet, I feel so much better than I did last year, and am genuinely excited about giving myself a new name, one that belongs to me: to be able to say that I have possession of and responsibility for myself; that I will not abandon or give up on me; that I am safe in my own hands.

And now I have told you my most painful and most difficult truth and the real reason that three months ago I embarked on a quest for a new name. It was a journey which I believe has brought me to a new beginning, one where I can rise once again, where I can reemerge from the ashes stronger, braver and ready to fly.

Tanya Cristina and the mad as hell song 

I decided that once a month, instead of my usual blog, I would share a song that I've written instead.  So here is the first of 12 I will share over the course of this year. They were all supposed to be on my second album, 'Wild Card', but as that may not happen sny time soon, or ever, I figured I would share them here instead.

This one is my angry song. I figured it was about time I wrote one. After all, Adele wrote a few and she seems to be doing OK career wise, so she's probably on to something. I also like to sing it loudly in the style of Skin from Skunk Anansie, when I'm having a really bad day.

Is it about a no good, cheating, scumbag ex-boyfriend you ask? Nope. My last few blogs will no doubt have made you aware of my lack of boyfriends of any kind, but the lyrics were based on a few real life expriences, and at a time when I was feeling angry, hurt and let down myself. Enjoy...

PS I need to learn guitar.



Lyrics:

Hell's fury you know ain't got nothing on me
Your betrayal's git me raging like an open sea
Storm clouds are hovring blowing waves high as can be
Gonna crash down hard, knock you out, wait and see.

Whilst your sleeping soundly in your bed late at night
I lay awake raging 'til the morning light
How can this be? Why me? You know it ain't right
Teeth clenched, still seething, I'm about to ignite.

CHORUS
The depths of my pain now, too hard to conceive
Tears are relentless, can't find no reprieve
The fury of a wounded heart, thoughts you wouldn't believe
The rage has taken hold now, I fear it won't, it won't leave.

You dream of this woman you say you love more
It's all so typical we heard it a thousand times before
Warning bells peeling loudly, too loud to ignore
What hapoens to me now, the one you used to adore.

CHORUS

Covered mirrors in our house hide the pain from my face
From the knowledge that my love and my life has been replaced
I want to run back to a safer time, safer place
To the old you and me, our ever after embrace.

CHORUS

Hell's fury you know ain't got nothing on me
Your betrayal's got me drowning in this open sea.

Tanya Cristina and the women she loves 

People have often wondered if I'm a lesbian. Either because of my distinct lacking in hair or because of my distinct lacking in boyfriends. Or maybe it's because of the great many women I respect and love. The only offense I take is the assumption that if I were a lesbian, I would keep quiet about it. As if I think being gay is something wrong or shameful. I don't. I would have no scruples in telling the whole world if I ever had the good fortune of falling in love with a woman, in fact I might even find myself bragging a little to all the straight women I know with utter plonkers as partners. You see I have no problem with being confused for gay, but I do have a very big problem with being confused for a bigot. Gay, bi, trans and queer folk are part of the wondrous diversity on this planet that I will always marvel at and wish to protect. Bigotry on the other hand I firmly believe the world could do without. 

It was with enormous pride that I marched on Saturday alongside likeminded supporters of the rights of the marginalised, scapegoated and often threatened minority groups here in my own country, in the USA and the rest of the world. You see I was raised to have a voice and no reason to fear using it both often and loudly. My mother taught me that I was the equal of every human being on this planet just as they were mine. And so I have grown up believing that I will have no greater nor lesser worth than another regardless of my bank account balance, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual identity. I know not everyone was raised by a mother like mine, in the peaceful surroundings of North London, nor did everyone have the same freedoms, opportunities and cushion of safety and protection that I still have to this day. Don't get me wrong, people aren't always nice to me and I have had my share of insults from strangers on the streets, but I have never been afraid to be myself. I have never had to be afraid. This is my privilege. And with privilege comes a responsibility: to never forget those who do not share my privilege, to cheer them on when they speak out and to call out all the bullshit that would prevent them from speaking out again. And again. For as long as is necessary. 

I don't know what it is like to be feared or to be fearful of others, because of their narrow minds and flagrant prejudices. I don't know how it feels to be persecuted by my own police force or government. I don't know what it's like to have work opportunities denied to me because of my face, my skin, what's between my legs or the community I belong to. But I come from a long line of people who did...My great grandfather was accused of a barbaric murder, a crime for he was later acquitted, for no other reason than he was a kosher butcher and jews were considered to be dangerous and immoral. A generation later and my maternal grandfather fled Nazi Germany under the cover of darkness whilst most of his family were shipped off to die in gas chambers. I had great grandparents on my father's side who watched government officials decapitate their parents and slaughter their villages for no other reason than they were Armenians and therefore a very great threat to a once great but slowly crumbling empire. All of my grandparents before me were refugees at some point and my parents were both economic migrants looking for better opportunities when they came to the UK. I was the first one to be born into a peaceful middle class North London suburb and my sister and I were the first women to complete our schooling, without being pulled out early in order to support our families. I am of the first generation able to speak about my ethnic and cultural background and religious beliefs without consequence, or to withold these facts it if I so wish, especially as neither my face nor my skin will give it away first. I can pass as almost anything and was even once described as an aryan by a neo-nazi on a greyhound bus ride from Memphis (my German Jewish ancestors would have gotten a kick out of that one). The point is I am all too aware of the extremely fortunate position I am in, and my hope is that one day everyone will find themselves here too. Until that day I will sing, I will shout and I will march.

Tanya Cristina and crying on trains 

I cry a lot. This bothers some people. I used to spend a lot of time scolding myself for my tearful ways and wondering why I can't hold it together the way other people can, but over the years I've grown to accept that I am who I, and that person is someone who cries on public transport. Not exclusively, but regularly enough for it to be a thing. 

I have been known to sob on a platform after missing my train, sniffle at a ticket gate because I took too long and a couple of old ladies called me a stupid bitch for holding them up (the fact that I was too slow for two retired people on a jaunt in central London was all the more wounding), but mostly I weep when I see happy families travelling together, especially mums and dads with their grown up children. 

Today a man on a train to Chester made me cry big, fat, silent tears after I watched him eat a maltesers chocolate bar, and not because putting maltesers into a bar is a sacrilege and any self-respecting chocolate lover would eat them by the handful out of a sharing bag, but because he fed himself last. He sat at a table on the same coach as me, along with his 18 year old son and wife, and I watched him time and again peel open the wrapper of his chocolate bar and, without thinking, offer one piece to his wife and another to his son before allowing himself to savour his own little piece. It was instinctive for him to feed them both before feeding himself. It was such a little thing but I found myself marvelling at the man opposite me with the furrowed brow, grey v neck sweater, questionable taste in chocolate bars and selfless love for his family. I also found myself becoming unreasonably irritated by the wife and son who appeared to have no idea how heroic an act this was to the person sat next to them, a person who had become accustomed to coming last. 

Now I'm not saying this man is the best dad in the world. I know enough to realise that you can't tell the calibre of a man by observing him on a two and a bit hour train journey. For all I know he is prone to uncontollable alcohol induced rages on Friday nights or regularly gambles away his family's savings. I know enough of people's messy lives to recognise that only when you live in close quarters with another person, when they let their guard down and stop trying to impress you that their true nature can be known. All masks erode over time, and all the more quickly when life inevitably begins to unravel. I cried, even knowing this, because whatever man he was behind closed doors, he was almost certainly not a selfish man. And I have known too many of those. I have sat in the wake of the storms they created for their loved ones, trying to help pick up the pieces of broken lives and bandage the wounds of broken hearts. 

I believe my mum loved me that way; more than herself. She would rarely offer me chocolate for fear that I would get fat (I did anyway, in spite of her best efforts to prevent it), but chocolate aside I remember being looked after like that and to my regret, like the wife and son on the train with me, I acted as if it were a mere trifle until one day, in the silence of a heart that finally gave up beating, it was gone. I remember how before her heart went so unfathomably still, when her tiny cancer riddled tiny body was still capable of sitting upright next to me on the sofa, that she had darned my tights because she couldn't bear to look at me walking around with toes peeping out through holes created by my careless ways and poor footwear choices. She forgot her illness and focused back in on me, even though I was utterly undeserving and ridiculous. When she died I remember thinking to myself, 'No one will ever love me that way again'. And they haven't. 

I yearn for the kind of love that feeds me first. I long to know more men like the man with the furrowed brow and grey v neck jumper. I want to believe that some day I may not always come last.

Tanya Cristina and the bald-faced truth 

I am a failure.

Please bear with me on this one. I know it may seem like I'm fishing for a compliment here, hoping that some kind reader will interject with praise and reassurance, however this actually feels like a really empowering and life-changing thing for me to own publicly and unashamedly today. This one word sums up a lot of my life story so far and says a lot about both who I am and where I am right now. This is my truth.

I am also a liar.

I lie constantly about my failures, or at least I did. They were lies by omission but lies nonetheless. I pretended to have my shit together when I didn't. I hid my worst faults and fears. I put on my best face and set out to prove through wigs, make-up, photo shoots and social media accounts that I was doing a much better job of being an adult and a musician than I was. If you looked at my website you might have actually believed that I was making some semblance of a living as a singer-songwriter (I am not). If you followed me on Facebook you would have had little idea just how much I was screwing up on a day to day basis, both as a performer and a person. Some people who were duped by my smoke and mirrors have even gone as far as to tell me they think I'm brave following my dreams; that they wish they could be more like me. I wanted to scream, 'NOOOOO! Don't believe a word of it. Be you. You're so much better off being you than me.' But I never did because then my cover would have been blown. Like it is now.

Social media is often a giant PR exercise, and even more so for those of us trying to break into a career in the arts. With all the wannabe pop stars and xfactor hopefuls out there competing to be the next breakthrough music act, people like me are told to exaggerate and brag about our minor endeavours and achievements; to fake it til we make it. 'Looking successful leads to being successful' they say. Well balls to that! I'm done writing bios in the 3rd person or getting other people to write them for me because I just can't sell myself well enough. I'm done trying to curry favour, likes, followers and subscribers so that I can look marketable when clearly I'm anything but. I am, in fact, if we are being completely honest, too old, too fat and too bald to be a breakthrough anything. But I'm done lying to myself and others. I'm fed up trying to conceal my age, my weight and the condition I have had since a teenager that caused me to lose most of my hair. I'm so over wearing wigs and extensions that cost more money than I make in a year. I'm tired of pretending to be someone I'm not. Most importantly I'm no longer willing to play the game. 

Today is the day I start to tell the real truth about Tanya; the unadulterated, the unafraid (or at least trying to be unafraid) truth. Today is a day I tell you the bald-faced truth. 

I am currently 35 years, 2 weeks and 6 days old. I have no home, no car, no proper pension, no income, no love life (past or present), no children of my own, no parents to speak of and, after Donald Trump's election led me to shave off the little I had left in despair, no hair. 

2016 was by far my greatest failure to date. To be fair, 2016 seemed out to get us all, but nonetheless this was the year that I sucked at life more than ever before. 

I found myself forced to leave a flat I loved in West Hampstead, that I had foolishly made my home after my mum died back in 2013. I was subsequently taken in by my extraordinarily kind and long-suffering sister and brother-in-law, in whose spare room I currently reside. It was supposed to be the year I used the money left to me by my late grandmother to make a second album called 'Wild Card', but upon realising I couldn't afford to take such a gamble with the only money I had left, I spent a few months busking on the London underground, sang at the wedding of one of my best friends and performed at a handful of gigs where I could probably count the turnout on both hands. Hands which by the way have nails bitten down to the point that my fingers actually hurt. And then there's the weight gain. 3 whole stones of weight and counting. It's like I ate my body weight in cake and crisps. I think perhaps I did. 

My only real achievement of 2016 is getting out of bed at least once every day and not following through with a google search on the quickest and least-offensive-to-others ways to commit suicide (they were all fairly offensive-to-others by the way). I survived the year in spite of a heavy dose of mental cruelty and sabotage (my own and other people's). I made it to 2017 and yet even with this achievement, almost all the credit of it has to go to others more than it does to myself. My seeing the year through is purely down to those who loved and supported me when there was little to love and support, to those who believed in me, when there was little to believe in, and to those who still have faith that a total failure can and will do better in time. And I hope they are right. I hope 2017 will be a year where I suck less and succeed more. But whatever my failures over the coming months may be, I am resolved to be entirely honest about them. No more lies.