Saturday, June 27, 2009

A requiem, from an 80's baby

"Depending on when you grew up, each of us has a different Michael Jackson that we knew and lost."
- Oliver Wang (Though really, he was paraphrasing someone else. And I'm glad he did.)

I believe that having a successful life is not so much about our accomplishments - but is signified by a process of growth, and change which results in a life where we show the world several different versions of ourselves (each version an improvement, hopefully). I'm aware that the 27-year-old version (i.e., the current version) of myself is quite distinct from the 17-year-old version of myself, as that version differed greatly - of course - from 7-year-old me. You could call them different "stages" of life - but thinking of them as "versions" fits better with the idea that who you are at any given moment will be shared with the people who encounter you. They get to deal with the most current upgrade/downgrade of you at that moment. For example, those who only knew me and had to deal with me at 7, or even 17, would be dealing with a radically different version of me at 27 if they encounter me again. I've been through too many changes for there to be seen any smooth continuum flowing from the who I was then, to the person who I am now. No smooth continuum of change here or with anyone else in my opinion - each change is more like a revision. Thinking of our growth process as creating different versions of ourselves just seems a bit more accurate, in light of everything I've ever experienced when encountering others over long periods of time.

So, in considering my beliefs about "versions" of ourselves and the life of Michael Jackson, I'm reminded that the Michael Jackson I knew as a child was a completely different version than the man that passed away on Thursday. It's not something I ever gave any serious thought - I just accepted whatever version seemed to be out there in the public, for the good and the bad.

The MJ I knew in the early '80s scared me with the Thriller video. It's my earliest memory of him - cowering when he changed into Michael Jackson the ghoul. Little did I know that the video which I couldn't bear to watch actually made history - that the song itself (which I loved) made history.

MJ also gave me my first lesson in understanding just how much people could change. He went from brown to not brown - which confused me (I used to wonder HOW someone could change their color like that?!) He was my first lesson about the fickle nature of race in this country and I didn't even know it. I might have been 6 or 7 when I first learned that the boy singing "ABC - easy as 123" (I knew that song from when I was very little) was the man that sang "Billie Jean" and I remember being STARTLED at seeing a picture of what he looked like as a child. How could someone change THAT much physically?

The MJ I knew was also the first person (that I'm aware of) that premiered a video on prime time television. I remember well (though I can't remember when exactly - I know it was the '90's) when "Black or White" and "Remember the Time" showed for the first time on TV (and if I'm not mistaken, they both premiered on FOX). "Remember the Time" = one of the best videos EVER - definitely one of my favorite MJ songs.

I remember when he married Lisa Marie Presley. I remember that it was a big deal - though I didn't get why - and also that they were in the "You Are Not Alone" video appearing to be naked. I don't remember being fazed by this one bit but that some people made a big deal about it. (The hallmark of a 80's baby: lack of sensitivity to sexual references in the media? Probably.) Looking back, I know that this version of Michael Jackson is the version people started to have serious trouble with - when he started to have serious trouble - around the time there were whispers and then serious talk, accusations (and ultimately, court cases) about his dealings (potential misdealings) with children. I knew it wasn't good - but I was too young to fully understand. This version of Michael Jackson was just as magical as he was when I was scared by Thriller - but more obviously beleagured.

I remember the first time I saw the video for "Leave Me Alone." I remember wishing that they left him alone. Of course, they didn't. I remember learning, around the time I saw the video (the early '90's?), that he had been beleagured for quite some time.

I remember "Man in the Mirror" (by the way, these memories are not in chronological order). It was the first song where I can remember paying close attention to the lyrics - a habit that never went away. It's possible that when I listen to music, I am looking to have the same sort of connection to a song that I had when I first heard Man in the Mirror. I was young - like 6 or 7 - and I remember feeling like it spoke to my purpose, which by that point, was something of which I pretty aware. (I'm gonna make a change, for once in my life...). As I get older, and more solidified in my purpose, the lyrics are just that much more poignant.

I remember when SWV came out with Love Will Be Right Here (Human Nature Mix). I had absolutely no idea why this was the "Human Nature" mix when the song came out until someone on the radio said something about them sampling Michael Jackson's song, Human Nature. I guess I missed that one in my early years. So I ended up I finding the song - actually, they might have played the two songs back to back on the radio. I remember upon hearing it, being taken over with that same magic his music always seem to have. I was in love.

There's so much more I can say about the versions of MJ I knew. I remember when Michael Jackson came out with Butterflies - which I loved. I remember thinking that I hadn't really heard anything musically from him that I liked in some time. It was the first time I realized that Michael Jackson's significance in my life was more in the past than anything else.

And it's like that with some people - as they become different versions of themselves, their upgrade or downgrade just doesn't fit in your life the way the previous versions did. And you move on. The most recent version of MJ that I came to know - the one that passed away on Thursday, was the version that only came across in somewhat negative media. I heard about it - but it didn't fit in with my life. I remember hearing recently that he was sick - that he might have had cancer or something like that. I also remember hearing that he planning on a comeback tour. And I remember feeling a bit excited about that - even if the comeback just a walk down memory lane, recalling versions of him from the past.

Of course he'll be missed. I just didn't know, until Thursday, that I had been missing him - the version I knew - for quite some time.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Rivers, streams and puddles.

So I randomly started browsing the Jamaica Gleaner's website this morning (a random event which nonetheless occurs on the regular) and came across today's Letter of the Day, written to the students of Jamaica who recently received their results from the Grade Six Achievement Test. It's a placement exam the students of JA take to decide where they'll attend secondary school (that's high school, folks). It's a big deal (and apparently, unfair).

I can't help but to love what he wrote - maybe because I'm also preparing for an exam whose outcome has the appearance of deciding my fate - a supposed impact on fate that also hinges completely on my score.

And I also love the fact that he tells the readers to look up the word bifurcate if they don't know it. Encouragement and a lesson!

So read it nuh?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Be Optimistic?

optimism |ˈäptəˌmizəm|
1 hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something : the talks had been amicable, and there were grounds for optimism.
2 Philosophy the doctrine, esp. as set forth by Leibniz, that this world is the best of all possible worlds.*
• the belief that good must ultimately prevail over evil in the universe.
© 2009 New Oxford American Dictionary

*If this is the best of possible worlds... then does that mean it won't get any better? Almost sounds like pessimism - the opposite. Or is it?

à la Wikipedia:
...A number of scholars have suggested that, although optimism and pessimism might seem like opposites, in psychological terms they do not function in this way. Having more of one does not mean you have less of the other. The factors that reduce one do not necessarily increase the other. On many occasions in life we need both in equal supply. Antonio Gramsci famously called for "pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will": the one the spur to action, the other the resilience to believe that such action will result in meaningful change even in the face of adversity.

Hope can become a force for social change when it combines optimism and pessimism in healthy proportions.*

*So the Wikipedia entry writer says, so it is. Right?
(I like how he or she stuck her own philosophies about hope in there. I dig it though.)
Hope as a force for social change... hmm.

Consider Radiohead:

Apart from this being a good damn song (and I'm nobody's Radiohead fan) it's an interesting comment on optimism. If you try the best you can...meanwhile, just where are those dinosaurs lately? And how would they feel about Leibniz's ideas about this being the "best possible world?" Hmm...


So, as I study for the bar exam, I'm also studying myself, and just how my thoughts shape my world. Your focus shapes your reality... but why? And how? I've been coming up with lots of answers... which have lead to more questions, but the one thing that seems to be key to like, everything, is the understanding that my (our) subconscious can make you or break you. One day, I dug around my subconscious in regard to one particular question and, amazingly, the digging around unearthed this song as the answer:

So yes, be optimistic. Never say die.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The providence moves too.

... but when I said that nothing had been done I erred in one important matter. We had definitely committed ourselves and were halfway out of our ruts. We had put down our passage money— booked a sailing to Bombay. This may sound too simple, but is great in consequence. Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans:

that the moment one definitely commits oneself, the providence moves too.

A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.

William Hutchinson Murray, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition (1951) (Seems like good readin, don't it?)

No gun in my face.

There's a difference between being afraid of the gun in your face, and being afraid of the possibility for a gun to be put in your face. The former: a response based on present reality - a response based on the circumstances currently in your existence, in the moment. The latter: a response based on an abstraction of the mind - a response to what could be, what might not ever be.

Between the two, which one is really worth the stress - the taxing of emotions - that comes with being afraid?

Usually when I let my mind imagine what it would be like to not pass the exam, I respond based on whatever comes to mind with fear. I was just sitting here thinking about that response and it dawned on me - what am I really afraid of? Is it worth a response of fear?

In the present moment, I'm sitting in my bed with my laptop in my lap, typing out my thoughts. I'm completely comfortable. If I weren't comfortable with this laptop-in-bed situation I could do something to help it - NOW. Sure, something in the next moment could happen that I wouldn't want to happen - but worrying about what could happen in the future does nothing to help me out NOW.

Same with the exam, or any future event. Nothing wrong with being concerned about the future, working right now to make sure things go well in the future - but nothing in the future is worth being afraid.

Word to Jesus.


Dontcha just love it when you have one of those moments - where something in your head just snaps, clicks, buzzes, lights up (you know?) - and things just become CLEAR - where life just starts to LOOK different? Yup. Call it inspiration. And motivation for this post.