Friday, August 28, 2009

Our Wounded Artists

Despite the fact that many of my friends and readers will be rolling their eyes and saying, "Jeesh, it's over! Move on already!" I just can't. Tomorrow, August 29, would have been Michael Jackson's 51st birthday. There is something about the death of Michael Jackson that stirs an anguish in me, an anguish that is begging to be named and brought to the surface. I don't intend to dissect the rights or wrongs of Michael Jackson's life. It's not my place to do that, but I cannot miss the brilliance and tragic irony of his life. It would be too great a waste, and I want to talk about it.

First of all, I believe there are many people, both living and dead, who are gifted in their particular genre of the arts-- people, who carry large sacks of pain from their pasts and from the generations before them. These gifted people, despite a lack of true personal identity or connection to reality, are able to delve into their art and there, touch their true selves. Deep within the arts they create are the touchstone moments of rejection, abandonment, and abuse. In their arts they are able to experience a part of the original pain of their lives and, thus, who they really are, both broken and whole.

Michael Jackson is only one of many people in our culture with whom we have witnessed this. We are a culture of abandoned, rejected, exploited, and abused children. We are a culture largely consisting of hurting children in adult bodies. There is something about the practice of the arts, whether music, dance, theater, or poetry, when done well, that sings the truth of our hurting culture. Now and again there comes an artist who reaches within the hurts of their own life and puts it out for the world to see. We see it, feel it, and the soul within it resonates with our own experience. I think for me and millions of others, Michael Jackson was able to do that. What then happens is that millions of us project our pain onto the artist. We also project our adoration onto the artist for his/her dance or song that speaks our truth and when we witness it, we cry out, "Yes! I feel that! That's it! You named it!".

I'm not certain what we, as a culture, can do to prevent these kinds of tragedies-- the tragedy of a gifted artist losing himself or herself within their art. Not only is MJ's death a horrible tragedy, I consider it tragedy that he lived with such suffering, physically and emotionally. The only thing I can think is that we collectively nurture and value our children, so that they grow up with a strong sense of who they are. In psychology we call this ego strength. If we can build children with good ego strength,then these are the children who have the ability to create and also stay within themselves. They will be able to create and not feel compelled to take on the pain of the world in the process. Children with solid ego strength can sing it, dance it, write it, and know it is a gift to God and the universe, not the sum of who they are.

So, I don't want to belabor this horrible event but really find some MEANING. It's necessary for us all. Whether MJ sang and danced the story of your life is not the issue really. Whether he harmed more than he rescued, I cannot say either, though I admit to a fondness for MJ and sincere belief that he loved children. I can say without doubt, however, that the pattern of his living and dying seems to becoming one that is all too common,and this hurts. This is the anguish of it.

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