This blog is in response to Jay Smooth’s brilliant video blog, Dance You Into The Sunlight.
Recently, I had to confront something. Ever since that confrontation I’ve done some reflecting, asked myself a few questions, and toiled a bit with honing in on a perspective; all in efforts to learn a little more about two kindred concepts: creativity and love.
In watching Jay’s video, I had to (re)member (as in recall and reorganize) my feelings about MJ’s passing, my response to it, and how it all coincides with the ideas of virtual communication and consumption.
I’ll start with MJ’s passing.
Needless to say, I was online when I got wind about MJ being hospitalized at the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles. I was on Gchat, as a matter of fact. Instead of turning on the news or calling a friend, I went to The Huffington Post, and then logged on to Facebook. (Admittedly, I’ve developed a sense that tells me to automatically check two of the most rapid-response news feeds and communication tools known to human kind. Ironically, though, I managed not to check my Twitter page.) At that very moment, my heart was racing and my hands wouldn’t stop shaking. But I wasn’t necessarily in a frantic state because I realized MJ was dying, (and so too were countless childhood memories), but because I couldn’t stop typing status updates on Facebook. After about ten minutes hunched over my computer keyboard in hysteria, I turned on MSNBC. From that point forward, I became my network’s own virtual news feed; updating friends with one-liners like “MJ’s dead” to “No, wait, it hasn’t been confirmed, yet” to finally “MSNBC confirmed MJ has died.” I lost a sense of self for a moment in the midst of mindless messaging and a false sense of connecting.
Jay begins his video talking about having to “process memories without making media of it.” At that very moment of learning about MJ’s death I didn’t allow myself, nor my folks, the opportunity to begin processing without making media of it. And for that I’m so sorry. I apologize to my friends, myself, and most importantly, to MJ.
Six months prior to MJ’s passing, my father died. Though I ended up texting loved ones and friends about his death, I did so much later after allowing myself to actually sit with my father’s body immediately after he transitioned. I also allowed myself to process his death with family members before even thinking about sending a mass e-mail to friends and associates.
Since my father’s death, and even since MJ’s death, I’ve spent a lot of time in front of my computer, writing and singing into a webcam. As some of you might already know, I’ve been singing on YouTube for over two years now. I recognize that at times when I’m most lonely or in need of letting go, I record a song on YouTube, which ends up being views by tens of thousands of strangers.
Which brings me to my next point: (Re)membering my feelings about my response to MJ’s passing.
Jay also talks about how MJ was this type of tragic parable of consumption. While the microphone and camera provided, what I interpret as a kind of superficial love, it also, as Jay states “filled Micheal’s life with these transcendent moments of grace.” Jay adds that this idea of “limitless opportunity for liberation and imprisonment that the camera and microphone provide” is essentially a paradox. A paradox that even the most anonymous and no-name artists experience. Like me.
After somewhat processing MJ’s death, the first thing I did was turn on my camera and sing to the instrumental version of MJ’s “Gone Too Soon.” Once I turned the camera on myself, the real processing began. But at ultimately what cost? While the overall response to my tribute song to MJ was well received, I was still left questioning why I even did it. In thinking back, I recognize a silver lining of motivation. I began singing on YouTube during graduate school in 2007 as a way to escape the rigorous work load and as a way to feel a sense of validation when my father’s health took a turn for the worse. I was a 24/7 grad student taking care of my dying father, 24/7. . . alone. The man I knew to be my hero was dying in the room next to me, and to assuage the pain, I turned the camera on myself. Funny how that works.
Today’s media landscape pulls us all toward trying to validate our lives by making media out of it, Jay says.
I took to singing for strangers all around the world as a way to get through it, despite feeling a superficial kind of love. Two years after recording my first YouTube video, I still feel good when I receive heartfelt comments or messages, like one recently in which a viewer told me it was because of my rendition of Stevie Wonder’s I Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer, that he cried for the first time in three years. He thanked me for what he believed was a transforming moment.
I’d feel like I’ve lost something beautiful if I didn’t try to get in touch with you, he wrote.
This, I thought to myself, this is why I keep recording. While this type of validation and affirmation might be trivial to some, I understand why artists like MJ kept going. Not that I lack a foundation of ‘real’ love from my parents and friends – and not to ever compare my little YouTube shtick to MJ’s incomparable music legacy – but I understand how even the most superficial of love can keep us going, even if it’s in vain.
There is something to be said for reaching people you don’t even know exist, or come to find exist, but only because you chose to create something intended for the entire world to consume.
It’s this idea of feeling connected that pushes us to create. For me, I share in my favorite author, Gloria Anzaldua’s blessed curse; if I don’t create for an extended amount of time “I get physically ill.” If I don’t sing a song when I’m lonely, my head aches. If I don’t write an idea down, my stomach bubbles. If I fail to finish a written piece, I don’t sleep. Perhaps it’s the love for creating (in whatever form it manifests) that keeps us going; sustains us. Even if the love in return is seemingly disconnected, recognized only by a strangers, it still feels so damn amazing. Because creativity, like love, is fleeting. And if you ignore its beckon call, you risk losing it all together. Though it may come around again, the devastation of loss at that once very moment of recognized inspiration can, and will, bruise something precious within us all. We have to create because we have to feel loved love.
I get it, Mike.
Yet, perhaps unlike Michael, I’ve experienced a type of sustaining love from family and friends that doesn’t always require me to seek out validation from YouTube, or Facebook, or Twitter – despite me seeking it out anyway. It’s a kind of love that doesn’t rely on me having to be an amateur brand on a video hosting site or makeshift news feed in Facebookland or Twitterville. I can just be me. Just Tara.
For Michael, however, his life was like feeding that constant status update or uploading video after video on YouTube just to feel some sense of connection in an otherwise disconnected reality.
And like Jay says at the end of his piece, “we all deserve to be loved in a way that’s not about these cameras” because ultimately, love is everything; it’s in everything, it’s who we are, it’s manifested in how we create, and it pleads with us every moment we feel lost, sad, and lonely.
Love is the quintessential wo/man in the mirror.
All thanks goes to the Creator, my ancestors, my grandmothers, my father, and Michael Jackson for helping me create this piece.