Friday, July 31, 2009
there is a line in a ramones song that is so relevant to you right now: "i want you to stay/but i guess it just can't be that way"... i realize that everyone must go- and of course people always go before we want them to. but as you once sang, "even though we're not together, i'll cherish my experience with you." this is why music will always be so relevant: it is the great narrator of universal struggles and joys. and the music you created will always be with us.
still, as i mentioned before, listening to some of your songs is not easy to do right now. and in writing to you every day i don't listen to any music at all. i'd like this moment to be just between us, with no distraction. a meditation in writing, so to speak.
in watching 'the wiz' tonight on a 35mm print on the screen (much better than watching the DVD i have) tears were coming to my eyes, because i knew the outcome of the film: that you would fade out, never to be seen again (until the next time i watch the film). it's like watching james brown's feet when you were a kid... you got mad at the cameraman whenever they lost the focus on his feet. i love looking at your eyes so much, how they'd be filled with so much, care, concern and sadness. like in the scene where you were saying goodbye to diana ross' dorothy and instead of using a quote from a philosopher or famous figure you used your brain to say: "success, fame and fortune. they're all illusions." you used your heart to continue that statement by saying that nothing is more important than a companionship that two people share. you found the courage to say this, despite never having made such a profound statement without quoting others.
you truly encompassed all of the characters.
(tonight, i did dress up with you in mind... inevitably getting the comments and photo requests. there were two older gentlemen who sat in front of us in the cinema, and after the film one of them asked if i usually make appearances... i told him that this is something i do all the time- this is my life).
i wrote an essay on the film at some point last year; i wrote about how i kept pausing at your image, looking into your eyes... how you gave nipsey russell's tinman an empathetic glance when he spoke of his desire for vulnerability in his life. watching the film i could only imagine certain lines or gestures you related to your own life at the time... i wonder if you thought, what WOULD you do, if people actually allowed you to feel, as opposed to being a performance automaton- this is not to say you were forced into performing. you loved performing very much; it was a safety net for you. but for many years you also didn't have the creative autonomy you desired. people did not see the tears behind the smiles as you performed.
and your line about "success, fame and fortune" all being illusions... did you take that to heart as well? because that seems to be the one thing you consistently told yourself, taking cues from a person your scarecrow quoted in the film: p.t. barnum. those things may all be illusions, but you utilized barnum's 'sucker born every minute' insight to the best of your abilities. you recognized and gave credence to the trappings of celebrity/popular culture yet struggled with it simultaneously. you felt that even though you could reach masses around the world with your status, you were at a disadvantage in terms of inter-personal relations with people outside of the world you cultivated your craft in.
i do wish you felt you had a sense of balance in your life, so that you were able to form significant inter-personal relationships with others outside of those who may have lived a similar life as you. i have also mentioned before that i don't think you believed in yourself, as others have believed in you. this was part of your eternal struggle, as the 'king of pop'. was the name barnum-like title constructed and applied in order to contradict any doubts you had about yourself? would you acknowledge or deny that anything you've done in your career correlating with such a grand title may have been slightly dictated by your struggles with self-esteem?
i don't particularly like to emphasize your role as a popular culture figure, because you meant much more to me than that. that is not necessarily how i see you. but inevitably i must acknowledge this, as that is how you spent a majority of your life; your need for a satisfactory companionship appeared to be compromised by your role as this kind of figure.
when i see you in 'the wiz' i recognize your struggle for creative autonomy. i am in awe when i watch you... you have grasped the technique of classic slapstick, and have displayed that 'jazz sensibility'. you channeled the hollers of our elders in the blues. you have mastered the qualities of the 'tragicomic' in this film, in ways not many others have mastered. you can moan the blues and have dancing crows to assist you in your lament, but that doesn't make your statement any less valid or remarkable. it only makes me like you more.
i hang on to every word you say in watching you as the scarecrow, because i know you are going to go away. i wished so much to have a pause button tonight, as i recited the lines right along with you. i wished to just keep looking into your eyes. and when dorothy began to say goodbye to you, the tinman and the lion my eyes began to water. not only because the message of the film finally comes to light; but also because i knew it was time for you to go. and the way you so lovingly looked at dorothy, i saw such a bond of years of experience there between you and diana, for better or for worse. what i saw in your eyes was true sincerity. i can't even describe how much watching that little scene meant to me. as dorothy sang about returning home i sang along with her, never wanting the song to end. because you then faded away in the background as one of the many she came to share her experience with. i wanted to pause these moments and take them home with me as i rode home. i wanted you to stay.
but i know that it can't be that way.
yes, i still struggle with you not being here. but "even though i feel so bad... inside" as you once sang, i can always take what you have taught me and apply it to the world... i can always return to your wisdom and humility as the scarecrow, which was also an extension of yourself (and i have the DVD so i can always pause).
i will pause and have these moments with you, because i am appreciative...
your humble student,
Thursday, July 30, 2009
it is exactly one month before your 51st day... i am sure there will be plenty of people honoring you on that day- me being one of those people. i know you didn't really celebrate those kinds of days for many years (as your spiritual practise did not allow for such events); i do not celebrate my own day either (as every day you wake up you are born). but i do not mind taking some time out to celebrate a day you were brought to us on this planet. you are my teacher, and i want to honor you accordingly.
i know you will be there with your children on that day, as you are with them every day... i am sure you know it will be a difficult time for them, as they reminisce over the virtues of your parenting skills, or how you made them laugh in front of their friends. and even though this pain, this loss is very real for them right now... when the 29th of august comes around they will remember how you shared your day with them, and they will most likely further grieve your loss. there have been times you shared this day with the world. people have reached out to you, presenting you giant cakes, cards and well wishes. there will be tears on this day. my hope is that there will also be love.
i don't think it's necessary you get a national holiday. anyone already celebrating your day will continue to do so. your name does not have to be publicly officiated by any governments to recognize the global impact you've made. we should have already seen this. the most perfect way we could honor you is to look to ways we can heal from our traumas, and to present this to our communities, and the world. if we could find ways to truly love ourselves and treat others with the same respect we reserve for ourselves- this is the best present we could give you.
i was at work today, and your image kept facing me much of the time. i just kept looking into your eyes; those big, beautiful eyes which just gazed assuredly into the camera as a popular culture powerhouse- but there was so much sadness beneath the makeup, the rhinestones and the beads. as i stared at the image the only thing i kept thinking about was your freedom. i said to myself as i looked into those eyes: 'you are free now, my teacher. you are free.'
i just watched your acceptance speeches from 1980, at the american music awards... there was a freedom you had there too- a sort of vindication. you were finally recognized as independent... as a sovereign adult, in a way. still, there was that sadness, that people did not see your range; people did not see your potential as that sovereign adult. and there must have also been the feelings you carried about yourself... i don't even think YOU realized your potential, despite the years of experience you've had, to get to the place you got to. you had a smile on your face, but in that was the pain. and with that pain came the drive to do bigger things. this is what we were speaking about yesterday: using that pain to fuel your art.
you have such a wonderful smile. it's one of those smiles that should be cherished, because you did not smile all the time. but when you did it lit up many peoples' hearts. when i looked at you from 1980, i saw myself reflected in that, that sort of looking down, not believing you are in the place you're at. no matter how many people say they love you, you never believe it. and you always strive to do better, but it's at the expense of your self-esteem. it's at the expense of that pain.
but now you are free, dear teacher. and you could now sit back and reflect upon how many people really did truly love you. i kept staring at that image at work, and i fell in love with you all over again. because your freedom gave me comfort. i ask you to be with your children right now, and give them comfort as well. i'm sure you are, but i just wanted to ask.
your humble student,
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
i am experiencing a bout of the 'empty nest' syndrome... rather, my heart is dealing with it. as i go through a process of cleaning my room i turn around and you are there, all over the place. your albums are sitting there, facing me. images of you meet me at eye level. my eyes dart across the wall chronologically, to see if i've missed out on anything. i grasp on to anything, to fill my heart with whatever is left of you.
my heart does not feel at home because it is empty. it feels better when i know you speak to it. i keep thinking of the songs you sang, and the one song in my head is so true for my heart right now. because in writing for two years, i searched to find myself in some way (that never-ending journey) but all i saw was you. you were in my thoughts, my dreams. you came up in conversations. i made significant friendships because of you. and now... i don't feel at home in my heart. and i want to go there.
i don't want you, or anyone else to mis-understand me... i am not saying that i cannot go on without you. i am just saying that there is a huge void since you left. and i don't know if it will be easy to fill. so many of your songs take me to places in my own life... "gotta find a way somehow/even though you're gone"... lisa (who is the editor of a paper which continues to honor you, with massive responses) told me today that there are a lot of people feeling this void- people like me who feel they have no others to grieve with.
there has to be a way for all of us to get together... there has to be a way for all of us to merge our grieving hearts together, to find a place where we feel at home in a world which isolates us. it is now a brand new world without your physical presence, and it still doesn't seem real in many ways, but one thing you have left behind is your legacy in seeking the truth of love (i cannot emphasize that more than i have been)- and that IS real. in this unfamiliar world we must look within to find that same truth- especially if we have to do it alone.
and if we look deep enough, we can really get home. it's been difficult thus far, but with our patience and your guidance we can find it together.
your humble student,
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
right now it's just the small things... right now it's associating images with words. it's about remaining silent, and watching it all happen.
can it be that suddenly the world has moved forward, and i am left behind? has the world finally stopped talking about you, or have i just not paid attention...? the truth is, i can't afford to pay attention, as they say... you are worth so much to me that i don't want to spend the time arguing or dissecting opinions.
but back to the small things... i was in the midst of writing to you yesterday, and i can only think it was you telling me to not write, that i need to take care of myself. that you know how i already feel, and there is no need to fall asleep at the keys in the midst of our conversation. that tomorrow will be another day, and we can continue to chat at that time.
and so i listened to you... still wondering what you must think of me, if you even think about me at all; still wondering about the dreams i've been having, which are getting closer to vividness, yet still too far to grasp.
i wonder how easy it was for you to laugh, and how often you cried. how often you kissed your children's wounds when they skinned their knees, or told them they did a good job when they spelled a word correctly.you know, the little things. that is all i can think about right now. i feel like i can only compose things in fragments. so much of my life reflects this right now: a series of fragmented events, where all thoughts return to you. if i am to return too deeply (as in my dreams) it could be a painful place.
there are still songs of yours i can't listen to right now. songs i have always loved, that when they come on now i have to skip them. they can never be listened to in the same way. even in joy, there is pain. both you and i have been conditioned by the system of pain. admittedly it fuels our art in certain ways. but as i am sure you have seen, one cannot survive off of this. which is why you did your best, in your own way, to seek the truth of love.
how often did the love and pain merge for you? did the pain you felt ever outweigh the love you felt for your children? if they asked you to receive some sort of treatment would you have listened to them as opposed to an adult? i ask you these things because in seeing what people have said about you-before and after your transcendence- there appeared to be the perspectives that you were either immortal (and could live through your pain simply because of who you were) or that your pain was relatively insignificant, due to the fact that your pain was of your own doing. none of those theories takes into account your humanity; there are no connections made in the context of your whole life's experiences. that way it's much easier to disassociate ourselves from the experiences, branding you as either an icon/idol, or another washed-up celebrity.
it's those small things that make life a bit more bearable, so we could get through our day without having to think about how our actions affect everything on this planet. it's like we never stop to notice... ourselves.
and it's me going throughout my day, not realizing the pain is still perched at my side. i can sit and smile and laugh with others now (i'm STILL seeking out that hearty laugh) but the grief is all too real still. i see it when i am alone. i stood and noticed today that i am still at stage one.
i still cannot believe you are not physically here. i have acknowledged your transcendence, but that grief is perched at my side, still in disbelief. i'm still having trouble seeing those 'three words'... at the same time preparing for a radio show in tribute to you. i see your name in rotation approximately 33 1/3 times a minute, just studying the label as you vibrato-filled tenor emanates from the speakers; just to make sense of your physical absence being real. the contradiction just nags at my hem. and so i still cry in hearing certain notes, or words which trigger that pain in me.
when people ask me how i am doing i don't really know how to answer... so i tell people i am okay, but still sad. i feel like i am a bit better at articulating my feelings through writing, if i am even good at articulating them then. but to actually explain, vocally, how i am feeling seems a bit too difficult; especially since there is such an encouragement to 'move on' with the grief. is it too much to ask how you dealt with the alone-ness, teacher? did you just wrap yourself in your work in order to deal, or did you simply cry?
i waver back and forth between alone-ness, because i'm not really sure who i should express it to in person... i must function throughout the day, and i am certainly not stuck in my grief; but who can i go to (short of a therapist), in order to find some sort of comfort? is a therapist the only one?
it's the small things that matter. of course, they may seem small on a larger scale, but it's those small things that make up who we are as people. those small things can make or break us on an emotional scale. your transcendence may be a small thing to a number of people (considering we are just small beings in a large world of people who transcend and come into the world every day)... but as my teacher, the pain of your loss is very real to me.
i don't want to appear as selfish; but i want to recognize myself as having these feelings, without having to suppress them for the sake of 'progression'. i want to find pro-active ways of co-existing and moving through the world with this pain, without wallowing in it. it may seem contradictory on the surface, but that isn't the intention...
i just want to be able to freely be myself. just as you sang in childhood so confidently and defiantly in the face of those who dare limit you, "what else can i be but what i am?"
in these times, those words still ring true.
your humble student,
Sunday, July 26, 2009
it is essentially impossible to trace silence in words; to trace silence in emotions, when you live in a place which does not cherish it. tonight, a friend said it best: in speech there is freedom, but in silence there is not.
this is why i write these things to you teacher... it's not just to you, but to communicate to others how i feel. but how do i communicate silently? if i did so people would tire of me, and think i was being difficult. it was quite evident in the heaviest aspect of the grieving stage for you. i felt impatience coming from various sides, prompting me to accelerate this stage, so i can laugh again. so i can 'be myself' again. i spend so much of my time in the presence of people, this is usually the only time i have to share with just you. and i am choosing for others to see it. i am hoping you don't mind.
i woke up with another one of these dreams... i didn't know who was coming or going; i didn't know where things began or ended. there was no connection as to any occurrence of events. everything seemed inconsequential, therefore unforgettable. i just woke up, looked at the clock and my body jolted because i had to get up to go to work. these dreams have been happening since you left. the dreams with you used to be so vivid; everything you did and said were so distinct. now i'm just trying to figure out if you can hear me at all.
it is officially one month exactly since you... transcended. i still don't know what to think of that. i have been saying this to people all day. some people knew exactly what i was talking about, and some didn't. one person said to me that he's lost track, because so many others in his life are transcending as well. we spoke a bit about the cycle of life; where one physical life begins when the other one ends.
as i said to you, your transcendence created a sort of birth for me. i spent two years with you; i had to have faith and figure out what decisions needed to be made in your physical absence. i'm still trying to figure some of that out, but at least i know the opportunities of options exist.
and music (YOUR music) continues to be either a source of rumination or sadness... and others' music continues to reflect my feelings on your absence, and what you represent to me.
'the wiz' kept popping into my head. inevitably it's because the film is playing in the cinema next week, in honor of you. whoever wrote the description of the event noted the film's "sheer insanity". to allude to a piece of art as insane is to find absurdity in it. i find the film to be an excellent representation of the diversity of black life, and the freedom which comes with that diversity. i wrote an essay on this film not too long ago; i don't need to expound any more on it. i do think you were excellent in your role as the scarecrow though, and i think you portrayed the character with a heart, brains, AND some courage.
the scene where you (as the scarecrow) are introduced to the audience is my favourite scene in the whole film; but it is not the song you sing that i've been thinking about. indeed, it is one of my favourite songs in the film- you have embodied the histories of the blues in your veins. however, 'you can't win' was not on my mind. because even though that may have been how you processed yourself at the time, straight until your transcendence (was it?) there was so much of you that also strived to be the best at what you did. there was that part of you that always strived to seek the truth in love.
and so, in the middle of working i wondered about you and where you are now... did you feel safe? did you feel loved? did you feel at 'home'... did you enter a place with 'flowers and butterflies', and could i look for the rainbow in the sky, to know you were okay? and i began singing to myself, and i began to cry. i had to find a place to be alone and cry.
with all your human weaknesses and flaws, teacher, you were, and are, a lion. if we all acknowledged our weaknesses and vulnerabilities we could also strive to be lions. we could all be present in the face of adversity and personal attacks. the idea is not to be perfect in this journey; the idea is to just try to live as free as possible, in a place which does not encourage freedom... to always ask questions- to remember the child in ourselves. you defiantly found your child-self as a result of not living it in the way you felt you could the first time.
all your assumed outer 'failings' do not negate the strengths you have had. in your own way, you're a lion. maybe since you're not on this plane anymore, you could see that a bit clearer.
how do we measure success? by how we've reached others? by how much we've obtained or physically accomplished? i think by this standard then, you can say you've succeeded tremendously. still, i wonder how you're faring... when you left us you appeared to be in some sort of deep emotional and physical pain. in my open curiosity i spoke with natalie (who has met you when you were physically here) and she says you're doing alright. she says she has made connections with you in the world you are currently in, and that you are in a much better place. she said you have people who care about you, there with you. she told me not to worry about you because you are in a much better place than you were when you were here.
she also said that you knew who i was. she said you were aware of everything i am doing, and i that should continue this. if this is true, that you're alright; this makes me very, VERY happy to know you are safe, and with people who love you. it brings a lot of relief to know this. if this is also true that you are aware of my existence, this would be amazing, to say the least... i am but one small being on this entire planet, and you know about ME? what about all of the fans who love you, do you know about them as well?
still... i would love to be assured you are okay. perhaps i will have a dream sometime, a DEFINED one; where you let me know. or, i could look to a rainbow, see a pretty butterfly. or meet a wide-eyed child. and i will know your spirit is there.
your humble student,
Saturday, July 25, 2009
i can actually smile these days, which is nice, but i'd really like to get back to being able to have a nice, hearty laugh again... you know, like the one where you were doing an interview in japan and you couldn't stop laughing because somebody's watch was going off... i would love to be there again.
i can smile, but my heart aches every time someone comes up to me and says, "i'm sorry" or "you're the first person i thought about when..." i am STILL receiving those comments, teacher... i am still getting people giving me the looks of condolence. and so one minute i CAN smile (finally), and then someone gives me that look and asks how i'm holding up, and my heart just breaks inside. i don't know if they see that or not.
i am certainly getting by... there's always albums, videos, clips of interviews where you espouse your wisdom and your search for the truth of love... i can reflect on those things and keep that in mind. but in that i know i will never hear your voice in the same way again; thus, my sorrow continues.
in your transcendence you have actually taught me that life is still, indeed, worthwhile. with all of the absurdity surrounding this whole thing, i have felt a need to go on and continue to seek that truth of love you strived for, and to honor you in the best way i know how. part of that truth is self-acceptance. the closer i think i am to it, the farther away i am. i realize it's a crucially long journey, but i know with the lessons you have taught me i can get there.
"we're almost there, don't give up..."
despite the smiles i am now able to produce, it is virtually impossible to hide all the traces of sadness... the truth is, i never know when i am going to begin crying again. what's the use of that, you ask? well, crying really does humble you, in a way. it's a universal sign of either pain or happiness, without the conundrum of words.
and today, a tear was ever so near... i spent some time thinking about how i was actually okay with being alone; just being free to not be committed to anybody (except i want kids really bad). i was thinking that it seemed like you lived your life that way too... i wonder if it's got to do with those trust issues... but i know i've lived a majority of my life NOT committed to anyone (and knowing that whenever i am it ends in sadness or rejection). today, at work i was thinking that i was really okay with that. in the midst of thinking about this a man walks up to me and asks how i am doing, giving me 'that look' (here we go again...). his two daughters were with him, and he mentioned how the oldest one was really worried about me. she said she saw you on the television when all of this happened, and wondered how i was. he said that she used the word 'friend'. i cannot even tell you how much my heart melted, teacher... this young child's concern for me touched me so much that i didn't know what to say.
i told you about that little girl a number of days ago, teacher... i am actually crying about it right now, as i am writing this.
but earlier, as he was telling me about this, i felt really touched. i just said 'thank you' and i waved at the two girls. they both sweetly waved back. the youngest one just kept waving and smiling at me. it touched me that they even thought of me at this time, or even at all. tears almost came to my eyes when i saw them, but they didn't. i walked it off. i didn't want them to see me cry; i don't know why.
later in the evening i saw my 6, soon to be 7-year old friend cada. you would be so proud of her, teacher... she's the one i developed a friendship with, because she used to call me 'michael' when i dressed up like you. we shared a bond because of you. and now i am watching her grow. the other day she made the decision to get a haircut, so she could donate her hair to make wigs for children with cancer. i remember discussing that with her mother that she was thinking of doing that; but she actually made the decision. i am so proud of her. i was having such a crazy day (sort of), and those two little girls and their smiles touched me so. and cada came in and gave me big hugs, and told me she loved me. and wanted to know when i was going to come and hang out with her next...
children bring such wonderful bits of wisdom to us, constantly. i know you know this, teacher. you spent much of your life trying to share your joy of children with the world. that wisdom is obviously not shared by the adult world...
in this day of relative calmness (with the children, anyway) i saw an article which disturbed me, teacher. this is why i don't read any articles on you pertaining to your transition. the article mentioned that there was a plan of sony releasing film footage of the rehearsals of your 'this is it' tour to cinemas, by the end of october. sony WON A BID, beating FOUR OTHER FILM COMPANIES for the rights to this footage. kenny ortega (yes...) is going to be credited as the director.
i'm sure you already know I AM BOYCOTTING THIS. i haven't even had a curiosity of finding out any news about you. had you still physically been here i would have leaned toward seeing this footage, to further explore my journey with you in terms of the book. but YOU ARE NOT PHYSICALLY HERE TO REPRESENT AND DEFEND YOURSELF. it's not fair.
i am just tired; i want this to stop.
"that's the time... you just keep on trying..."
i will try, teacher. for you, i will try.
your humble student,
Friday, July 24, 2009
my dear teacher, i wonder if you know exactly how wealthy you truly were, and still are to me... the knowledge you held in your possession held so much more value than any of the money you obtained.
i spent a good portion of the evening in communication mode- that is, doing radio. i still continue to honor you on the air, and i still am open in my grief for you. in light of all this i do the best i can to maintain a positive spirit, and encourage community building through sharing information. at times, the subject matter is so heavy, and leads to passionate dialog. this is why it's imperative to maintain a positive direction for the show, and to consistently remind listeners and callers of this fact.
i find it curious (and altogether humorous) that there is a huge assumption that i am a lot younger than i am. when people hear my voice on the air i get callers asking my age, assuming i'm at least 8 years younger than my actual age. the contradiction in this is the perpetuation of age-ism in these circumstances... is it really rare for someone in their mid-20s to have a knowledge of world affairs, or carry themselves maturely; do older people somehow automatically have more of this knowledge, whether or not they have travelled or studied? are people in their 20s really that unsophisticated?
when people hear my voice they become surprised when i speak of the subjects i do... this leads me to one of the other goals i have for the show i do: to encourage an intergenerational structure of communication and community. i want to make it plausible that age does not discount the abilities to learn and teach. age does not always define levels of knowledge, maturity or experience.
despite being in my 30s i call myself a kid all the time (because i am; i am a baby in the larger scheme of things). but when people seemingly discount my experiences and call me a little girl (at the same time telling me i'm doing a good job), it's more than a little insulting.
i admit to being naive about many things, teacher; i admit the mistakes i've made. in cases like this i refer back to you, teacher. i examine all the judgments people have heaved on you, in regards to your 'immaturity' and 'naivete'. inevitably, much of the comments made about your immaturity were in relation to your assumed sexual inexperience. i do not know the distinct, intricate details of that aspect of your life, and i do not care to know. what i am intrigued about though, is the connection between the perceived 'immaturity' and any sort of childhood trauma you've experienced.
i then return to the passage you have written so eloquently in 1993: "what we need to learn from children isn't childish. being with them connects us to the deep wisdom of life, which is ever present and only asks to be lived. now, when the world is so confused and its problems so complicated, i feel we need our children more than ever. their natural wisdom points the way to solutions that lie, waiting to be recognized, within our own hearts."
i am now looking at your face. i am looking at a portrait of you as a child, your eyes filled with such wisdom in your 11 years. you have witnessed so much by the age of 11, it's impossible to simplify these experience in terms of age. your eyes have a sadness which should not be carried by someone at that age.
i am also looking at this photo of you as an adult (you know the one: i described it to you the other day). and i still see the child. on the surface you have changed so much since 11, but i still see that frightened little boy. the maturity level of that little boy remained with you when you handled your business, but the frightened little boy stood out in interpersonal relationships.
no, my teacher... you may have had trust issues, but you were not naive. you may have been childlike once in a while, but i sense your perceived immaturity as being a derivative from the trust issues you developed, and never dealt with. let's just keep it real, teacher: you DID have trust issues... I have trust issues. i know i need to work on them in order to maintain healthy relationships. but who exactly could YOU turn to for that?
on my way home i rode past a billboard. there was an image of a notebook, close up, with the statement 'recession 101: it's a test, not a final' superimposed over the notebook. further riding led to the discovery of a church billboard announcing this sunday's sermon: 'matters of the heart'.
i instantly thought about you. i thought about the statements made in relation to your 50-date 'this is it' tour selling out within hours. there were claims that you were 'recession proof'. that statement makes me laugh, from the context of where i am coming from. from my perspective, true wealth comes from love, and the desire to take process in some sort of healing. you may not have found ways to heal yourself pro-actively but you used the tools you had in order to create a mechanism for healing around the globe.
you were 'recession proof' because you were a seeker of the truth of love, and despite all your struggles you opened your heart to so many- particularly children and to a lesser extent, fans. the test of this recession is visualizing how to engage with one another in ways we could open our hearts/childlike wonderment without fear. the money bit in terms of the recession is important to look at, but the final (and the test of true wealth) comes in what we do with each other in these times.
so i thank you for another day of realization.
your humble student,
Thursday, July 23, 2009
teacher, i am stuck with a dilemma of having so many things to say to you but really not knowing how to say them. i am back on a 'normal' schedule of our daily conversations (i had to pause a moment and let other people in on how i feel about you- so i wrote a so-called 'eulogy'. did you read it yet? i know you don't like reading things about you, but i'm sure you have much more time on your hands now to decipher what you do and don't want to read. but, if you DID read wheat i wrote, how did you feel about it?)
today is day 25 of our conversations (and about 26 total, since you... transcended), and i still feel such a wealth of sadness. i call out to you and wonder if you hear me. i can laugh now- someone even told me today that they were happy to see me smiling again- but i think people still recognize the sadness there... people still tell me to hang in there.people are still asking how i am coping.
the number 25 will forever be lodged in my mind when it comes to you now... it was the day i lost a part of myself in relation to you... it was the anniversary your childhood record label was celebrating its existence. it was the age you hit international superstardom. it was the age i found significance and autonomy in my name.
i spent so many hours processing this 'eulogy' to you; i am wiped out. i feel relieved (that i could share the gift you gave me with others, and discussing the meaning behind what you mean to me, putting a lot of myself out there) but also sort of drained (for the same reasons). i feel drained knowing there is still 'news' coming out about you that i want nothing to do with; i feel drained just knowing what i am dealing with, your children are dealing with it much worse.
i am drained because i realize this sadness is just not going away. i realize that i really do need to be with people in this time. when i am sitting here by myself my heart just sinks. when i glance at images of you the one pops up once in a while, where you are pronounced- 'dead'. i HATE that word, because YOU ARE NOT DEAD!!! you have... transcended. if you were dead your life force would not flow throughout the world; your energy would not be felt by those who still grieve. but when that image of you pops up: laying there, your presumably cold and lifeless (ultimately looking like a mannequin) body preyed upon by cameras- what i see from the corner of my eye for just a fraction of a second- can no longer take the imagery. and i scroll the image up, so i no longer have to see it.
i haven't even taken a closer look at it. i just don't wanna know. i would not be able to take that, i know. i don't want to know anything regarding you post-transition. the only thing i want to know is if your children are safe.
i have so many images of you surrounding me, it's not even funny. i can look at them now (one thing i could NOT do in the first few days); but if i saw sadness and tragic beauty in those images before... all i can see now is...
all i know is that, on the 25th day of our conversation (and the 26th day since you have physically left us) i began crying again. i stared straight into your eyes, and i began to cry. i know we can never estimate when our grieving periods are gonna be over, but you would think there would be some personal measure of progression. and i think i've definitely progressed (i can talk to people now, and i can sing!) but deep down inside i always feel like i'm reverting to step one of the grieving process.
i'm not asking for some sort of resolve (that would be asking for too much; nor is it pro-active to rush the grieving process). i would just like to know that i am in a process of healing.
thanks for listening,
your humble student,
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
we end our physical presence in the same way we came into this world: replete with contradictions. it's not hard to trace this in many ways, through both the physical and the spoken word.
let us first examine the spoken word in relation to a birth: once a baby is physically born and does not cry it is usually assumed something is wrong with the baby. so many of us float in the comfort of our mother's womb, receiving nutrients through a lifeline. once this space of comfort becomes too cramped for us we transition to another world, in hopes of receiving the same comfort. what happens to so many of us is unbearable for our small frames, so we express ourselves in the best way we know how: we cry. in countless cases the first thing we see in this new world is an ultra bright light... there are also strangers we have never met before, screaming and madly gesticulating. there is the possibility we have been snatched from our source of nurture and nutrition- our mother. the doctors want to say that the tears are symbolic for a newborn clearing his or her lungs, and not crying symbolizes some sort of deficiency. it is a curiosity to actually see a newborn silently smiling, once out of the womb. however, we know this curiosity exists.
the idea that a newborn displaying ultimate happiness can be considered a novelty, and crying is something which is 'normal' is telling in what we are presented with after this moment of being brought onto this plane. if the goal in life; if the one thing so many of us claim to reach for is happiness, at what point do we initially recognize it? how did we learn to convey this emotion; and, is the only way we are able to recognize it through sound?
i have spent a majority of my life enveloped by sound; the needles tracing the grooves on the vinyl... my parents fighting and throwing things most nights they saw each other. my sister and i creating songs in our bedroom to divert attention from their fighting. my childhood wealth of music developed an interest in me eventually playing music on my own, so i joined and co-started bands, and played live off and on over the years. one of the constants as i was growing up was the music of michael jackson. if 'wings of my love' (from 1972's 'got to be there') was not on repeat, then it was 'body language' (from the J5's 'moving violation' from 1975). every christmas the soundtrack was the holiday interpretations from salsoul, stax/volt- and the jackson 5. out of tune, my mother (i got my singing talents from her) always did her interpretation of the classic 'christmas song' they did; switching the 'jackson 5/wanna wish everybody...' to using our surname as a sign of defiance to her husband, who's name she did not yet take on. years later, beginning in 2007 i began writing a book on mr. jackson and i interviewed my mother for it. in the midst of writing the book i realized that michael's music was a constant in our home. he was probably the artist played the most, out of any. music was obviously my mother's way of coping with the violence in her life (amongst other addictions); however, as i was writing the book and discovered the similarities between michael and myself i instantaneously wondered if my mother was aware of the abuse that happened to him, and if she connected with him in any way.
"well i don't recall him elaborately say what his father did to him, but i kind of felt as if we were in the same shoes. i recall his father used to belittle him, and that was mr. sidney. i felt like we related to each other."
michael called his father joe, and my mother called her father mr. sidney. never father, dad or daddy. and i thought about how this played in my own life, because i stopped calling my mother by the title of mother, or mom, because of what happened to me growing up.
silence says everything. it took a while for the relationship to mend with my mother; but i do acknowledge that it's never too late to heal. when i began making connections between myself, my mother and michael a lot of opportunities opened up for me. it felt like another life had begun.
despite my aural relationship to him throughout the years, a true recognition of what michael jackson represented for me was through silence. it was in looking at his posture, how his hands were folded. it was in looking into his eyes. when i saw his eyes i instantly fell in love with them- they were the most beautiful, deepest shade of brown. but what made them ultimately beautiful to me was their unfathomable sadness. it did not matter if he was smiling; his eyes conveyed a contrasting message.michael jackson was a being of numerous contradictions, and that was the first one i noticed.
even though i have been writing my feelings every single day in relation to michael's transition, i still felt i wanted to say something of a general overview of my thoughts. i wanted to extend my sentiments beyond the 16 days of crying i did or the everyday frustrations in human relations whenever his name comes up. nor did i want to focus on my anxieties about whether or not it's pertinent for me to finish the book i began two years ago.
with this, i struggle greatly with what i want to say, not because the words necessarily fail me (and they do at times); but what i am feeling makes all the words seem somewhat insignificant. when processing about what to write, i associated this experience with how one may process a eulogy. but what i want to say is not in the classic sense, a eulogy: i did not personally know mr. jackson. i can't talk about the good times we shared together, i can't say i was the lady in his life (or his summer love), and he never owed me money.
i also think that for me to present a eulogy would be false. i am not implying that i want to prevent a dyslogy (which is the opposite of a eulogy); but for me to focus on completely lauding michael joseph jackson is to deny the relationship i have had with him. it is to deny his humanity.
the relationship i have had with him was one rooted in sadness. my relationship with him developed upon discovery of the similarities of our childhoods. i wanted to badly to meet him and just have a good cry over tea. i wanted him to read this book i was writing in honor of him for two years and have him tell me he either hated it with a passion, or he loved it. either way would have made me happy because i then knew he read it. i did not want to save him (it's impossible to save anyone if that's not what they wanted for themselves) but i wanted to communicate from this place of pain, and find ways to heal. i really wanted that for him, and yes, i wanted to be there with him as it happened.
eulogy... this is why words can be so limiting. michael jackson was a man of few words for the most part- when presenting himself to the public- but when he did speak, amongst all the syllables jumbled together there were some moments of truth. you just had to seep through all the syllables to find them. in his pregnant pauses lied a truth so potent. you could cut his loneliness and fear with an old rusted knife, and it'd still cut with precision. i became so deeply attracted to this person, and obsessed with him because i saw so much of that in myself.
i saw the difficult, distant and demanding person he was, because i saw that in myself. i recognized all the behaviors in him. i made connections and wondered to what extent he internalized the abuse he grew up with. i stopped thinking so much about him in externals: the plastic surgeries, the hair... and i began to find him beautiful. i could not stop focusing on his eyes. in the course of writing the book i pondered if he's struggled with thoughts of suicide. he always talked about having a strong skin (and would never kill himself), at the same time openly mastering a life's finale in his head should he be told there were no children left in the world. i wondered if he's ever attempted it when he was young, just like i had when i was young.
a couple of weeks after i had written about this for the book, he physically left us.
i actually stopped politicizing him after his transition (which may be a shock to those who know me really well), and i began thinking more about what he's actually meant to me in the two years i was writing a book on him. i came down to one word: teacher. when i thought about how much he's taught me i could not stop crying. his contradictions taught me so much about myself, and life in general.
everything in life happens for a reason.
last week i was waiting for someone to pick me up to go run an errand and i decided to wait for her outside. i only had a half-hour's sleep, and i needed to occupy myself so i would not fall back asleep. found a book by keith johnstone on 'improvisation and the theatre' sitting on a small green lawn table which matched with the chair i sat in. the writing had a beckett-like flavor, with some dali thrown in for good measure... in the midst of reading the first few pages (whilst trying to stay awake) my eyes lit up when reading johnstone's musings on teaching. he wrote of his experience in an art class in college as eye-opening. he learned that everything he had learned before this specific class was a "destructive process", because everything he had learned distinguished a relationship between 'teacher' and 'student' as 'dominant' and 'submissive'. there can be no exchange of learning in this way. we all share limitations in this model of learning. johnstone's teacher informed people that "(t) he teacher was not superior to the (student), and should never demonstrate, and should not impose values". if a student aims to learn something, they should know they have a world of options. "...the student should never experience failure. the teacher's skills lay in presenting experiences in such a way that the student was bound to succeed."
michael said this in 1983: "there's so much more... i don't like it when people limit themselves."
the contradiction was that he actually DID limit himself. because we all do. so much of his limitation to me, stemmed from how he seemed to feel about himself in relation to others. in 1983, he also stated in rock and soul magazine: "i am a prisoner of myself. i'm afraid to fulfill my potential."
when people say he's reached his potential i use this quote. it is one thing to say he's had a full life (which he did) but to say he's reached his full potential for me, is misleading. he was unable to reach his potential because he never had the space to do that. to me, that potential is that idyllic 'destiny' he sang of in 1978... even though he had a lot of things, those did not appear to be important to him. so many equate finances with happiness (and why he could have been seen as reaching some sort of potential). but what michael wanted was something he hardly saw in his life: solid relationships. he always spoke of being lonely, and grasped onto anyone he felt was receptive to his pain- this usually was others like him- ex-child stars. he never visualized that someone outside of this world could empathize with his loneliness, since any attempts to meet people in the 'real world' usually failed.
michael's mistake was in not seeking the interconnectedness of pain, when it came to his own life. he looked at pain on a universal level; he used his money to help people around the globe suffering from the ravages of war and destruction; he's assisted in educational programs and assistance for people who have no funds for food. these are all noble things. however, michael wanted to make so many people happy, perhaps to conceal a little (no, a lot) of his own struggles. i recognize this. i used to do it a lot. but there is a moment where everything sinks. and people become shocked when you self-implode, because they never suspected anything.
when i saw michael's public cries for help (in the many interviews he's given over the years) i absolutely fell in love with him. it wasn't a sexual type of love; it was more a love of finding that self-identification, and becoming so utterly enamoured with that. simultaneously i hated michael for the same reasons. i saw he was essentially asking people to love him unconditionally; yet cutting people off in a way who truly did love him, who wanted to help him.
i hated him because this was something i did. i identified with those trust issues people who have been abused have. part of me hated him because i recognized that part of me hated myself. just like he was told, i grew up being told i was ugly, i was told i was worthless. there were even some sly comments about my nose. and yes, there was the hair.
i think the race argument in referring to michael is too easy. i say this because i don't recall growing up saying, 'i wanna be white because i'm an ugly black kid..." i just thought i was an ugly kid. i did grow up with two parents who were indoctrinated with some form of self-hatred, but i still don't recall (like whoopi goldberg) wanting to have the long, blonde hair.
i will admit that i have thought to myself over the years, if i had money, i'd change everything about my looks. i'd still be black, but i'd change every part of my body. i used to look at images of the black fashion models when i was younger and aspire to look like them. to this day i still have body image issues. here lies a great contradiction with me as well: food for me is something i consume a lot of, in order to hide, or food is something i don't want to eat, because it's disgusting. either way my relationship to my body is that i don't want to be seen.
michael's relationship with his body is as if he wants to be seen and not seen at the same time. he wants to represent everyone yet no one at all. he is the prince and the pauper; the TEACHER and the student.
these contradictions serve michael's art very well. i am consistently intrigued by his rhinestone and crystal attire, accompanied by a pair of worn-down loafers... by his tiny frame (in the presence of other men, in particular) becoming larger than life when on stage. one moment which serves his contradictory nature (and his life) well was the jacksons' performance with carol burnett. as the brothers were singing with burnett, you heard michael's distinct tenor stand out from the rest, as if he was yearning to break free. as the brothers were describing their attributes (jackie was the oldest, tito the swingin'est, marlon the dancin'est, and randy the cutest) michael blurts out that he is the skinniest, as if his life depended on it.
the subjects in which michael evoked the largest wave of accusations and curiosities were for me the subjects in which he was the least contradictory: race and sexuality. to me, michael was so evolved beyond the limitations of social branding. he was a master at the art of sensuous performance; he honed this craft as a child. by the age of 8 he was singing about carnal desire; by 10 he was recording songs about the longing associated with sexuality. by 12, coercing girls into having sex with him (and re-creating pleasurable nights into the morning)... by 13 he sang the greatest co-dependent relationship anthem ever, and by 15, a lover's touch melted him like hot candle wax six years before he didn't want to stop till he got enough...
the difference between him and other children who sang about similar matters is that his voice rang with the authority of someone who experienced these feelings for many years over. with this authority also lied a sensitivity not many artists have ever been able to convey. his performances, despite their blatant characteristics of sensuality, gave more of a classic sensual reading. there were few times where his (along with his directors') perceptions of sexuality disturbed me (such as the 'way you make me feel' video/short film- as a person who has been grabbed, as well as stalked in the street (and have had other things happen to me as a child i will not get into here)- the film conjured up images of a gang rape fantasy). aside from those moments, michael displayed a sensitivity which is refreshing, in a world which dictates what black manhood should and should not be.
i identified with michael, in terms of being forced to define your sexuality, when you don't necessarily feel that's a priority. i grew up being called gay and confused because i didn't really talk about boys when i was a kid. in my adult life (to this day) i am called asexual, because i choose not to discuss that aspect of my life with people. people ask all the time when the last time i've been in a relationship was. i fail to understand why this is important to my character. i fail to understand why this is so important to michael's character.
it was also refreshing to see someone who defied the construction of what 'blackness' is. as a black person who loves the non-human world (ESPECIALLY CATS), who listens to rock n' roll, who loves to read, who is a vegan... i don't view michael as neglecting his roots at all, but rather expanding them. if we do not own a sense of history, it would be difficult to recognize that michael is a descendant in a long queue of artists and thinkers who defied labels. he was inspired by jack johnson as much as he was walt disney or p.t. barnum; he took artistic cues from cameroon to egypt, as much as he did russia (and some would say germany).
but he never forgot where his roots were.
michael jackson has been accused of being a poster child for selective racial memory. once again, this is unfair when looking within a full context of his life. it is way too easy to say he hated his ethnicity, without examining the circumstances of his life. surely he recognized the artistic trappings of blackness; as an artist you are ghettoized into an 'R&B' or 'soul' category. if you want to be on top of your game (like michael did) you must defy those categories. he created a strategically brilliant move and wrote 'beat it'. despite a guitar solo from eddie van halen there was nothing in the song which read, 'this man wants to be white'. no... he simply learned the skills from berry gordy on how to create a perfect pop record in which middle america (read: 'white people') would purchase.
in 1987 the song 'liberian girl' was released on the 'bad' album. an earlier incarnation of the song was written around 1983 or so. he did not have to put this song on the album but he did. people focused on his significant physical alterations on the cover (the original which was going to be his face covered in lace) and how much it didn't sell as much as 'thriller', but the polyrhythms were distinctly african.
'liberian girl' is to me, his major point of contradiction. the song evokes a similar spirit as marvin gaye's 'you sure love to ball' from his 'let's get it on' album in 1973: short on words but long on emotion. however, the film which comes with it makes no sense. while michael espouses his love to his african queen cameo after cameo of celebrities talk amongst themselves, pondering the whereabouts of michael. as the song fades he shows up in the director's chair, behind the camera. all the celebrities clap. does his pop sensibility (or desire to be all things to all people) translate in his refusal to share a screen romance with a liberian girl? or, did he just feel like making a silly video (because that's exactly what it was... it was also produced two years after the album's release)?
i suspect people opined that he corrected this perceived 'videographical error' in 1991, when he came out with 'remember the time' and 'in the closet'- with two dark-skinned ladies- iman and naomi campbell respectively, as his love interests. there were plenty of inuendos in those films (and plenty to run with, LISTENING to 'in the closet'), and it sealed some sort of societal deal that he had some semblance of a sexual nature.
lest we forget, sexuality has always been an aspect of michael's art, since he was a child. it's understandable, to me, that he'd want this to not dominate his private life, or his adult artistic life. however, if people want to view a blatant exploration of sexuality pertaining to michael's art in adulthood, one need look no further than 'moonwalker', released in 1988. specifically, the 'smooth criminal' segment. if i was perceptive i'd say this was an exemplary illustration of michael's psyche in relation to sexuality and adulthood. it's also structured around his fascination with mafia culture. nevertheless, the breakdown in the centre of the 'smooth criminal' segment of the film appears to be unrelated to anything else, and comprises of a mass of orgasmic harmonies and facial gestures. and as if none of this ever happened, they break back into the main theme of the song, and michael returns to saving children.
all the while remaining cool...
lest we also forget that michael was born in an america which recently made it illegal to segregate children in educational institutions, but had not yet made it illegal to discriminate in terms of obtaining housing. he was dropped onto a record label which made vague political statements, as america was burning, literally. he and his brothers were not allowed to speak on any political issues, regardless of how they felt about those issues. it seems inevitable to me, with all he's gone through artistically he'd have some sort of political self-awakening. the second part to 'black or white' (the part which was banned); 'they don't care about us' as well as his commentary in 2001 on the racism of the music industry could have possibly been ploys to remain centre stage in the scheme of popular culture- but they worked, in terms of creating a dialog. if supposedly harmless little michael jackson was turning into an 'angry black man', just imagine how the rest of us feel, right?
i feel it's important to note that the original version of part two of 'black or white' (which only appears on the VHS version of the HIStory video compilation) does not have racist commentary written all over the walls and car windows; this version actually relays the message more effectively.
i return to the concept of silence, and what michael has taught me. in this segment of the film, with no words... in his images in magazines, and books. through his silence i learned a lot about myself. i have learned that even though our common language here in the states may be the spoken word, it is possible to reach people globally with no words at all... just, as michael so sweetly wrote in 1993, 'the dance'. on the DVD depicting his 'dangerous'-era concert filmed in bucharest, he spent a minute and a half still, and in silence, after he was propelled into the air. the screams were deafening. after this minute and a half he slowly removes his sunglasses, to even more deafening screams. that one line of communication for them was not the words, but it was the dance.
in my own few moments of silence i try to tell him every day i appreciate what he's taught me, and that i love him. i have learned so much more i can't even convey through words... you just have to see me to get the message.
Monday, July 20, 2009
i was communicating with a friend of mine earlier, and she confirmed exactly what i was thinking: that it is STILL difficult to gather our thoughts. it's still a confusing time. we both thought the crying periods were over, but we've both encountered some type of trigger which could bring the tears on. for the both of us your transcendence is still difficult to take. she acknowledged that how she feels about you is not as intense as how i feel; but she still feels some immense amount of sadness.
inevitably, i still cannot see those three words without feeling some sort of sickness. is it possible to be in a 'denial' stage, just when it pertains to words, and not to the physical? i am still trying to make sense of this... i feel like i am getting closer and closer to what i really want to say to you- and then it slips away from me all over again. and i think to myself, WHY DIDN'T I WRITE IT DOWN?
because it wasn't yet meant to be. and if it truly needs to be heard you will hear it.
i am looking back at some things i wrote about you last year, in relation to the songs you sang, and these targeted words keep coming up; words that people were not using for you at the same rate they are today. words like 'counselor' and asking the question 'can michael simply be a kid- for ONCE?' and '...no matter what michael is singing there is always an element of sadness to it.' i actually wrote a booklet last year with little commentaries on your artistic career... but this is not the book i am struggling with, obviously.
i find it amazing that i became aquainted with you once again in october of 2007, and it only took me six months to 'see you as i do', as you so lovingly sang once.
in the six month gestational period of our aquaintance, you gave birth to a student. in learning about you i learned more about myself, and that acquaintance for me turned into a companionship (to the point where a friend opined you were the only relationship i'd had for two years)... because even though we didn't physically know each other, i knew you overstood.
i wrote in may of 2008 that i began to see you as an unorthodox 'peoples' poet'. you spent a majority of your life physically narrating the histories of our ancestors; i am not sure if we collectively saw you in that way, as we don't necessarily think of a child as taking on the role of a griot. traditionally we have neglected that children could be teachers and bearers of tradition. but i am sure when you stepped down into dakar when you were a child, the people of senegal recognized your gift. it is time we in the states recognize you as well. very few have told our stories in the way you did, and brought them to a global audience. you have presented us with a really rare gift.
i look at what i wrote a little over a year ago in context of all the things i am reading now (after your transcendence). and i struggle with all of it. i struggle because we still haven't figured out that ultimately, none of these words may be important. we will forever use these words to place value on you, and ourselves.
i think i use words, not only to make sense of what is going on (in a common sort of language) but also because it presents a potential to divert from a lot of pain. if i didn't write every day, where would i emotionally be, in relation to your transition?
it can be a very isolating world, when trying to explain things with words.
it's like, how can i actually say that i love you, when we have not met? it's easy, and i don't know how many times i have to keep saying it: all it takes is a little changeup on how we define love. you also just have to focus and remain quiet. and everything i've been writing each day may even seem like sets of rambling to someone else. and i will tell you the truth; my brain can not get quiet, with everything happening.
and how can i merge what i have already written about you, in a larger context?
i know the answer already, but i still have to ask, to see if you're listening.
your humble student,
Sunday, July 19, 2009
i sit here in quietness, except for a squeaky chair, wondering if all the news about you has passed... wondering if things are safe for you now. i know your spirit will never be at peace (in a true sense) for some time, but the quiet time sure is nice.
i find myself just skimming through words of magazines given to me, of documents sent to me. i am still amazed that i have no real interest in this right now. i try to read some things, and the first sentence begins on a high note- then quickly declines... all those labels come rushing forward like a river, and the publications are the dams holding it all in.
so what do i do? instead of attempting to grasp words which make no sense i just stare at your pictures and look into your eyes... eyes which, to me, captured the wonderment of a child or the vacancy of an old man who has known grief his whole life. either way, i have never seen total happiness in those eyes, for longer than short periods of time. in particular i stare at an image of you, taken in 2005, some time after your trial. your light make-up contrasts with your dark hair (wisps of it obscuring your face) and turtleneck sweater (or shawl). the prominent eyeliner contrasts just as much. the one thing which interests me more than anything in this photo is the vacancy of your eyes. your devastatingly beautiful eyes. in my estimation you look as if you'd just seen a ghost- or a reflection of your own soul.
that is one of the most beautiful images of you. it captures so much in its silence.
does it really take such a tragic experience to find this type of beauty in a person? i doubt it, but in stillness we say so much, without necessarily meaning to. i can only imagine the photographer taking this image and presenting it as some sort of document of your 'downfall'. but it's not difficult to find 'tragic' images of you all throughout your life: i can see it when i look at photos of you with your father, when you are on stage on the 'victory' tour; in 1993...
but this image, amongst others i have seen of you in 2005 i cannot help but think this is the point where you truly contemplated your place in life. you had three children who loved you dearly (and you loved them just as much) but this is my understanding (from my own experiences): when you are so much in a fog, feeling you can't escape, there isn't much to bring you out of it, even those who love you. the 1993 trial devastated you (and you were able to revive yourself in some ways) but in 2005 your soul; your spirit/life force was snatched away. this is what i see.
i am looking at these images of you in your practise, a couple of evenings before you... transcended, and most people who have mentioned it to me say you looked healthy. yes, i definitely do think you danced better than the others on stage with you; but i cannot say you looked healthy. i can't say you looked like you were going through the motions either, but i think you looked tired and frustrated. i think your eyes (what i could see of them) looked so vacant. it looked as if you couldn't keep your eyelids open. and this may be a bit controversial to someone reading this; but it looked as if you suffered a mild stroke, and the left side of your face was affected. it was not affected enough to paralyze your face (obviously) but there was something about your face, in looking at your left side it's about to twitch. i don't see your right side being affected at all... just your left.
my stepfather was the same age as you when he physically left this earth; and i found out after the fact that he had a stroke too. this is why i think about this. if you were addicted to as many pills as all these sources say you were, could that be the cause of what happened with your face? all the painkillers relaxing the face?
i'm not exactly concerned with the superficials of your face right now... i will say that even in these last images of you in the physical, your face (especially through those beautiful eyes of yours) told such an astounding narration.
and so i remain silent when people who actually notice the acknowledgement of you that i put up at work (most people call it a 'shrine' as a reference point, though it's not, as i don't worship you) will look in amazement, then make a comment as if they know everything about you, and everything about why i did it. and so i laugh to myself, because no one knows everything about anything. and because in the back of my mind i want to have the idea that people will just give in and open themselves up to just remaining still. and learning.
inevitably there are no words for that.
your humble student,
Saturday, July 18, 2009
after only getting a half hour's sleep yesterday, i think you understand why our regular conversation didn't happen as scheduled, teacher... i know you've spent many a night getting that much sleep, then having to perform with the same amount of energy as someone who's gotten adequate amounts... people always tell me, 'i don't know how you do it with that little sleep...' i don't know either. but i know i'm not up there performing intricate and sometimes complicated dance moves every night for two hours.
just because we didn't have our regular chat obviously doesn't mean i wasn't speaking with you... life certainly has an interesting way of presenting situations to you in order for you to learn from. i'm sure you know this... i'm sure you also know that in order to get a sense of what you are presented with you need to know you have options. and you also need a sense of humor to go along with it. i think this was one of the many messages you have conveyed to us down here. people point to your rendition of chaplin's 'smile' (which is one of the most beautiful songs in the history of music); but i also point to your sense of wonderment and willingness to learn as being part of your survival technique. people did not understand you when you were here; but how many of us truly understand OURSELVES?
the older i get (and especially now since you have been my teacher) i acknowledge that in life, you take the good and the bad, but you don't attach yourself to either one. if you have a so-called debilitating illness, you don't become trapped in that (i think your mother learned this at a young age; as well as STEVIE WONDER). you move into the world and demand respect. and if you present yourself as a force of positivity people respond in kind.
some people view age and growing older as a debilitating condition... me, i always couldn't wait to get older. i couln't wait to get a grayfull of hair, living with a houseful of cats. and i would adopt several children and they would so happily come over my and the cats' house, and they would bring their grandchildren... i know you thought of yourself as being like a child in many ways (this was your way of dealing with what you felt to be a cold world); but i am not so sure if you were afraid of getting older. i could be wrong, but i didn't sense this.
let me explain, teacher... part of adulthood is perceived autonomy. if you were still, literally, a child, you would not have been able to create history in the way you did. you would not have been able to create your idea of childhood in neverland. you'd still be at the whim of another adult. i think a large part of adulthood is that notion of freedom that we could create our own destinies. but! even with this, in adulthood you have to have that sense of wonderment. so i think you were more balanced than even you thought. i think you were certainly trapped by your childhood experiences- the abuse, the constant work... but all those things did create you into the (adult) person you became- the good and the bad.
i think you taught us far more than just how to have the drive to be successful, and to be a 'first' in something: you taught us to NEVER CEASE THE WILLINGNESS TO LEARN. i think we feel as adults, our 'schooling' is over; we've exited the traditions of educational institutions, and we bombard the world with everything we 'know'. how often do we learn from each other in our mistakes (or 'happy accidents' as bob ross called it) or just remaining quiet?
paula and i met this woman yeseterday (also named paula), who was 66 years old... and she did not look a day over 45!!! she had her heels on, her jeans and sweater and she she spoke about how people were jealous of her... how people don't speak to her. i kept thinking, why should ANYONE be jealous of this woman!!!? she was so welcoming; so warm-hearted. it wasn't even her looks which made her as beautiful as she was. she had a sure sense of herself, definitely founded by years of travelling and self-discovery. you KNOW this woman made self-healing a goal in her life, and she was more than willing to spread that philosophy to others who were opened to hearing her.
i saw no need to be jealous of paula; i felt so proud of her. and inevitably the question remains: are we so full of loathing and self-hatred in this society, that anyone who lifts their head up high is targeted as conceited? or someone who does anything outside of whatever our respective societies deem as 'not stirring the pot too much' is labelled 'weird'. with all our options in this world (and i'm not even speaking materially) people are still called 'weird' or 'different'. you've heard it all, haven't you, teacher?
even people we consider to be of the 'third world' (which makes me laugh, especially after the reaction of this so-called 'first world' country called the u.s. in relation to hurricane katrina) take the resources they have and create things. they survive. and when possible, they laugh. when we project ideas of ourselves onto other people, we begin pathologizing. but when we actually sit and learn and state facts, this is where we can do great things.
everything i am saying all amounts to one thing: never stop learning. find the inspiration in elders, children, plants, cats and spirits- and more!
i spoke with someone yesterday who just kept looking into my eyes as he was speaking to me and offering condolences (still, people have been offering condolences to me. people see how important you are to me). he consistently made attempts to counter my frustration in people labelling and not humanizing you- he wasn't arguing really, i felt he was just telling me these things are going to happen. with this, he gave me a long embrace and thanked me for being a positive light in the world, to bring people together, and ultimately finding the human qualities in you. to myself, i was like, i did all THAT? i still, to this day do not realize i've made an impact in peoples' lives in terms of my feelings about you. if anything i did gave someone one notion of looking at you as a full-dimentional being then i am very glad for that.
i want to do more of this, teacher. i want people to see the gifts you have given us, and me. you know what? there is going to be a whole day planned for you soon- ON THE DAY YOU WERE BROUGHT TO US ON THIS PLANET- 29 august. i just got a permit for this, and it will be in the park. i want to it be a day of positivity, and reflection. and community! i know you're gonna be all over the world on that day (you're gonna be a busy man) but come say hi to us here in portland when you get a chance...
i thank you again for all you've done.
your humble student,
today was a most challenging and trying day, teacher.. in life, the same challenges come up, but it's as if this connection with you has got me really looking at my priorities... in this time i have also learned to just sit back and realize that no matter what you do and how much information you can give, people will still hold firm to certain belief systems- until they are willing to open themselves to new information and experiences.
i went to renew some books at the library. the librarian told em that margo jefferson's book written ABOUT youeven thought its claim was to b4e Onyou in relation to society- 'on mchael jackson' was not renewed. 'of course' was the only response i could give. you see, i initially checked this book out from the library on- i kid you not- TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 27, 2007. i had this book in my possession for about A YEAR AND A HALF, before anybody even thought about it. i just kept renewing and renewing the book. and now that you are not physically here people aim to know more about you... why don't we honor people when they are HERE, teacher?
i told the librarian that i had been writing a book on you for two years. he proceeded to tell me that the book would be of more value now than when you were here... well... i had to hold my tongue. people are indeed entitled to their opinionsbut to place a value on someone's life like that is upsetting. once again, in case you didn't her me the first time- WHY DON'T WE VAKUE PEOPLE WHERE WHEN THEY ARE PHYSICALLY HERE?! as i walked out of the door hw wished me good luck on the book.
and all i could do was wish people luck on trying to obtain information from sources which are factually wrong (like jefferson's book). why do we need to seek out all this information, when all we need to do is just pay attention?
and why am i reading all these books you ask? that's a valid question. i don't think it's a bad thing to read this information; but it's imperative to look beyond the words in front of you, if you dig what i mean, teacher. i have just been so fruatrated with everything surfacing. and of course, something else surfaced in your physical absence.
i was sitting around talking with paula, when i saw something which essentially read 'burn footage'... i said to paula, why is this a big deal? yes, i remember vividly seeing your hair caught on fire at the shrine auditorium when i was 7 years old. the commercial which accompanied the incident frightened me deeply(and sort of secretly) because i knew what was coming.
it's so funny that a large portion of my childhood was fearing you, because of some assotiation with your art; with the 'thriller' film. with 'can you feel it' and its bombastic visuals. with 'somebody's watching me' and the pot-bellied pig walking across the hall... deep inside i was scared, and yet attracted... but this other footage which suddenly RESURFACED in your absence; but i don't know what to say. i keep trying to put things in perspective, and the one word i keep coming to in describing you is 'survivor'. you have lived with a survivor's spirit for so long, moreso than people could ever know...
the footage which resurfaced was obviously an 'official' account of what happened as the angles and film were quite professionally done. i just sat there and kept rewinding, over and over this footage, in disbelief. i wonder if this is footage you had in your possession, as you werre in control of what was filmed at that time. did you have a copy, as well as this source? i just kept watching it, trying to make sense of things... i saw your small frame being tackled by bodyguards, presuming you had been shot or something. i have been burned before, but not like this... my sister's hair had burned before, so she's a bit familiar with how that feels.
even with the lessened degrees of burns i've had, i still empathised with your experience, in sensing the initial shock, then the feeling of extreme pain once air hits it. when i saw what i saw my heart reached out for you, and i felt so horrible. i just had no words. i tried to explain this to paula but i couldn't. all i know is that if she were not in the room with me i would not have watched this at all. and if i DID happen to watch this by myself i would have cried immediately. it was just so painful to watch... everything just came crashing down in a way.
i wondered how you felt when you realized this happened. i wondered if you cried all night in the hospital room, not only due to pain but to the idea that thousands of people saw you in such a vulnerable, fragile state. and of course in all this people are now 'discovering' that you began taking pills even then. once again, this is outside stuff to me. i'm more interested in your feelings of vulnerability and mortality at that moment.
the worst part of it is after it all happened, and when the guards raise you up to take you to a safe place there is a HUGE bald spot that is unforgettable. the look of shock on your face was heartbreaking. the endorphins kicking in as a protective mechanism was so painful to watch. about a second later the endorphins wear off and you most likely feel a sharb breeze on your scalp. it was then you most likely realized you had no hair there, and were feeling a massive amount of pain, both emotionally and physically. that was hardest to watch, knowing you were in that much pain.
and it was even more painful to know you went out into the world like that, immediately, with no time to heal. you had appearances to make and performances to do. i know you loved being on stage, but it's unfair to ask someone to do that whilst in the healing process.
every day there is alwaya something, and everyday may have its challenges... but everyday is always an opportunity to learn...
your humble student,
Friday, July 17, 2009
today was a most challenging and trying day, teacher...in life, the same challenges come up, but it's as if this connection with you has got me really looking at my priorities... in this time i have also learned to just sit back and realize that no matter what you do and how much information you can give, people will still hold firm to certain belief systems- until they are willing to open themselves to new information and experiences.
i went to renew some books at the library. the librarian told me that margo jefferson's book written ABOUT you, even though its claim was to be ON you in relation to society- 'on michael jackson' was not renewed. 'of course' was the only response i could give. you see, i initially checked this book out from the library on- i kid you not- TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 27, 2007. i had this book in my possesion for about A YEAR AND A HALF, before anybody even thought about it. i just kept renewing and renewing the book. and now you are not physically here people aim to know more about you... why don't we honor people when they are HERE, teacher?
i told the librarian that i had been writing a book on you for two years. he proceeded to tell me that the book would be of more value now than when you were here... well... i had to hold my tongue. people are indeed entitled to their opinions, but to place a value on someone's life like that is upsetting. once again, in case you didn't hear me the first time- WHY DON'T WE VALUE PEOPLE WHEN THEY ARE PHYSICALLY HERE?! as i walked out the door he wished me good luck on the book.
and all i could do was wish people luck on trying to obtain information from sources which are factually wrong (like jefferson's book). why do we need to seek out all this information, when all we need to do is just pay attention?
and why am i reading all these books you ask? that's a valid question. i don't think it's a bad thing to read this information, but it's imperative to look beyond the words in front of you, if you dig what i mean, teacher. i have just been so frustrated with everything surfacing. and of course, something else surfaced in your physical absence.
i was sitting around talking with paula, when i saw something which essentially read 'burn footage'... i said to paula, 'i've seen this before, why is this a big deal? yes, i remember vividly seeing your hair catch on fire at the shrine auditorium when i was 7 years old. the commercial which accompanied the incident frightened me deeply (and sort of secretly) because i knew what was coming. i remember the clip playing over and over in my mind: you descending down the stairs and the back of your head in flames. even the song scared me, because i knew what was coming.
it's so funny that a large portion of my childhood was fearing you, because of some association with your art; with the 'thriller' film, with 'can you feel it' and it's bombastic visuals. with 'somebody's watching me' and the pot-bellied pig walking across the hall... deep inside i was scared, and yet attracted... but this other footage which suddenly RESURFACED in your absence; i don't know what to say. i keep trying to put things in perspective, and the one word i keep coming to in describing you is 'survivor'. you have lived with a survivor's spirit for so long, moreso than people could ever know...
the footage which resurfaced was obviously an 'official' account of what happened, as the angles and film were quite professionally done. i just sat there and kept rewinding, over and over this footage, in disbelief. i wonder if this is footage you had in your possesion, as you were in control of what was filmed of you at that time. did you have a copy, as well as this source? i just kept watching it, trying to make sense of things... i saw your small frame being tackled by bodyguards, presuming you had been shot or something. i have been burned before, but not like this... my sister's hair had burned before, so she' a bit familiar with how that feels.
even with the lessened degrees of burns i've had, i still empathised with your experience, in sensing the initial shock, then the feeling of extreme pain once air hits it. when i saw what i saw my heart reached out for you, and i felt so horrible. i just had no words. i tried to explain this to paula, but i couldn't. all i know is that if she were not in the room with me i would not have watched this at all. and if i DID happen to watch this by myself i would have cried immediately. it was just so painful to watch... everything just came crashing down in a way.
i wondered how you felt when you realized this happened. i wondered if you cried all night in the hospital room, not only due to pain but due to the idea that thousands of people saw you in such a vulnerable, fragile state. and of course in all this people are now 'discovering' that you began taking pills even then. once again, this is outside stuff to me. i'm more interested in your feelings of vulnerability and mortality at that moment.
the worst part of it is after it all happened, and when the guards raise you up to take you to a safe place there is a HUGE bald spot that is unforgettable. the look of shock on your face was heartbreaking. the endorphins kicking in as a protective mechanism was so painful to watch. about a second later the endorphins wear off and you most likely feel a sharp breeze on your scalp. it was then you most likely realized you had no hair there, and were feeling a massive amount of pain, both emotionally and physically. that was hardest to watch, knowing you were in that much pain.
and it was even more painful to know you went out into the world like that, immediately, with no time to heal. you had appearances to make and performances to do. i know you loved being on stage, but it's unfair to ask someone to do that whilst in the healing process.
every day there is always something, and everyday may have its challenges... but every day is always an opportunity to learn...
your humble student,