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June 2009

Michael Jackson's death: an American metaphor

The death of Michael Jackson is a perfect symbol for America in 2009.  Like America itself, he was a man who lived a lavish, yet tasteless lifestyle while taking on massive debt.  Despite pissing away all the fame and fortune one could possibly hope for, he didn't even have much fun in the process. 

He was, indeed, one of the great Americans -- clearly a product of the culture which produced him.  Like Michael Jackson, America too will one day choke on its own pain-killers while TV personalities tell us how nobody could have seen it coming.  But we all saw it coming and, deep down, we all know the reasons.

I'm sad that the man who clearly possessed so much beauty in his heart, and was able to (at times) let us all see it...allowed the ugliness of shallow materialism and the corporate control of his life to ultimately end it. 

New video for my song Strangled Into Gray

You start to get a sense that a song means something to people when they feel compelled to not just listen to it, but reference it, analyze it, or use it in a derivative work. 

This video was taken from a short film created by an American film student whom I've not met.  One day I was searching YouTube and came across it, then asked him if I could use the footage to create a proper music video.  This wouldn't have been possible if I hadn't licensed my music under "Creative Commons", whereby anyone can do whatever they want with it.  In fact, this is precisely what I had hoped for when I freed my music into the public domain.

On a side note, I found another attempt by someone out there to create a video for this song.  This video is kind of cute and takes the song very literally.

Happiness isn't a right

It isn't uncommon to hear a friend express sentiments like, "everyone deserves to be happy" or, "one day the right person, the right job, or the right opportunity will come along and everything will work out."  The unfortunate reality is that things don't work that way.

Perhaps it is true that excitement can "come along", pain "comes along" does tragedy, bliss, and moments of beauty.  But happiness and contentment are different...more elusive because a certain amount of skill and work is required.  Happiness implies an ability to hold onto an ongoing state that lasts from day-to-day, week-to-week, even year-to-year.  The state of happiness can only be achieved after a certain amount of work, skill, and determination is applied to the chance situation of something "coming along".

In order to find happiness in a career, it is necessary to spend years in training, complete a degree, put in years of hard work to get experience, and then find the strength to get up each morning to do what you have to do.  Without putting in the necessary work upfront, there is no way for anyone to stumble into a job or career which is rewarding and satisfying.  There is a process, as imperfect and unfair as it might be.

The same is true in love.  While common knowledge makes us believe that we ought to do nothing but wait for "the right person" to "come along"...happiness can never be found in love without first opening our hearts and minds so that we might learn the skills, put in the work, and do what needs to be done each day to maintain the relationship: becoming more sensitive, solving problems, communicating, and growing.  Most people haven't found long-term happiness in love either because they don't have a long-term relationship or because, without the right approach, the long-term relationship isn't working.  Indeed, a truly satisfying, rewarding, happy long-term relationship or marriage is as rare and elusive as a satisfying and rewarding career.  Friendship is no different.

I am in no way saying that the only way to be happy and content is to find a long-term relationship and a great career.  I've known plenty of people who have been happy without either.  But, even in these cases, a certain amount of wisdom, skill, and work goes into negotiating that life of happiness and contentment.

The founders of the United States, in the Declaration of Independence, did not guarantee happiness; rather, the right to the pursuit of happiness.  All human beings should have the opportunity to get the education and experience necessary to succeed.  All human beings should have the right to love whomever they choose...and to pursue any kind of relationship they want with any other person.  In that sense, we all have the opportunity to find elusive as it may, indeed be in the day-to-day reality of our lives.

The end of isolation

I remember a time, before chat, MySpace, and Facebook when true loneliness and isolation was a part of life.  The structure of our society left us feeling disconnected from others.  Our deepest thoughts remained trapped inside of our heads.  If we were lucky, we had that one true love by our side or that one good friend with whom we could open up; but it was too risky or inappropriate to do so with colleagues or family.  So many of us felt deeply misunderstood and alone.

But today, the only excuse we have for feeling isolated is that we stubbornly choose to be.  Anyone can easily communicate with anyone else about anything at any time and from any place.  If we don't have "real-life" friends we can trust, we can open up to and form a relationship with a like-minded stranger.  What was once precious -- that feeling of being heard and of being understood -- has become common. 

Our lives are being made so much richer.  We are emotionally and intellectually evolving rather than stagnating in isolation.  But feelings of isolation, the frustrations of being misunderstood, were also a great source of artistic inspiration and life motivation.  Many of us would turn to writing, to music, or to art as an outlet.  Others would subconsciously pour that frustration into other ambitions: an education, a career.

The Church, oppressive governments, and greedy corporations all understood that people were more valuable to them, more dependent upon them, and more loyal when they were kept isolated, unhappy, and unfulfilled.  The Church invented the structure of marriage to limit our social interaction, oppressive governments make us afraid to share controversial opinions, and corporations want to keep us reliant upon them for subsistence, for information, entertainment, and for all of our material needs.  Institutions have kept us in isolation by design.  When starved of the satisfaction and the authentic fulfillment of deep, intimate, honest human connections...we are nothing other than loyal, obedient, eager subjects. 

So there is a flip side to this new social order.  Today, students are so often distracted from their studies because communicating with friends on-line is more compelling.  Employees are doing the same.  The end of isolation has left us not as motivated, not as hungry, and not as desperate as we were just a decade ago.  We have become more evolved socially, our thoughts are not controlled by institutions, and we are rejecting their rigid, inhuman ways. 

Enormous changes are coming.