R.I.P. Michael Jackson

I was sitting in a pub last night, waiting for my friend to go up on stage and perform for their open mic night, when I heard the news. At first, I wasn’t sure if it was just a rumour. My friend got a text from his mother saying that his girlfriend had heard from somewhere that Michael Jackson had died. I wasn’t sure whether or not this was a frenzied rumour, but for the most part, I shrugged it off. The ‘King of Pop’ had been through a lot. Whichever side of the fence you’re on, regarding his personal life, you can’t deny that. Despite all of the negative media attention, through harbouring a persona that people loved to hate, and despite all the controversy (without mentioning his piles of debt) he still managed to survive, and sell a ridiculous 40,000 tickets an hour for what was going to be his farewell tour. To me, at least, Michael Jackson was ‘Invincible’.

I whipped out my iPod Touch and started scowering the internet. The LA Times were the first news outlet to officially declare him dead, but finally, the BBC News website published the news, although all references to him being ‘dead’ remained in inverted commas for some hours. There was a small glimmer of hope, that I was refusing to let go of, but it soon dawned on me that he was actually gone.

I have always been a fan of Michael Jackson and his work. Contrary to his somewhat dubious court appearances, I did not think that he was a paedophile; instead just a very troubled and lonely man who was deprived of a proper childhood. In fact, I remember my first ever audio cassette was a collection of his songs recorded off the radio by one of my American cousins. Like many children growing up in the late ninties, Michael Jackson provided much of the soundtrack to my upbringing. While I was not an enormous fan, I was certainly aware of his material, and his presence on the social consciousness of the time. I still know all the words to ‘Billie Jean’, even though never actually having owned the track, and I can still do the ‘Thriller’ dance. Love him or hate him, Michael Jackson was undeniably one of the most seminal artists of the 20th century.

Facebook was awash with messages of condolence last night, and not much changed into the morning. Of course, as with every celebrity death, there are a group of sour individuals who feel it necessary to lambast Michael Jackson’s name, and spread horrible jokes about him, as they feel there are far more pressing issues at hand, than the death of one popstar. That might be true. The atrocities in Iran are nothing short of attrocious, but I think the public should be allowed to mourn one of their biggest icons. Love him or hate him, the death of Michael Jackson has affected us all profoundly. Whether we cry, mourn, laugh or shout, we’ve all been affected in some way, which will take some time for us all to digest. For such a big star to just disappear is shocking, to say the least. Although, certainly, I am sure that there will never be another ‘King of Pop’, certainly not in my lifetime, maybe not ever. Rest in peace, Michael. You shall be missed, dearly.

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Life/Death

It’s funny how life and death intermingle so utterly ironically, at the worst times. Today I went to a Christening. Before that, I went to see an old friend of my father, who turned 62 today. He’s dying of throat cancer. I’m not sure how many days, let alone birthdays, he’s going to see again.

I’ve never seen my dad cry so much before. I’ve only seen him cry a few times. He’s got a heart of gold, but he’s not one of those men you can catch crying very often. I’ve never seen him cry like this, though.

We knew this was coming. My father’s friend has had throat cancer for a while. They managed to stop it for a while, but when it reared its putrid head again, he refused to go into hospital again. He said he wanted to die at home.

The cancer has eaten away at his entire mouth, starting from the back of his throat. He can’t open his mouth anymore. He even finds it hard to drink. Over my last few visits to see him, I’ve watched him slowly turn into a skeleton. A few visits ago, he showed me his arms and legs, the muscle and fat gone from malnutrition. When we were with him today, all my dad could say was, “I can’t bear to see him like this. He’s a skeleton.”

I went out this morning to buy him a bunch of flowers. My parents weren’t sure what to get him for his birthday, as he’s no longer mobile, and no longer able to support himself. He likes flowers, though, so they decided upon that. He can’t see that well anymore, so I insisted on buying him the strongesst flowers I could find, so that he could at least smell them. The thing is, I’m not sure that he ever will.

My dad wrote him a card too. I don’t know what he wrote in it. I’m not sure if it was even my place to know. We went into his room today, and approached him two-by-two. First, my mum and my dad went up and held his hands. He’s not even fully conscious, but they managed to stir him. Next, I approached him with my sister and did the same. We gave him the card, which he held against his chest. He touched his heart, and then drew a circle in the air. He loves us, and we love him. I’m not sure if he saw the flowers.

Life is so cruel, sometimes. This is a man who was one of my father’s first good friends in this country, when he came here, 40 years ago. He worked alongside him, and followed my dad from hotel to hotel. He was always so full of life, even when he had the cancer. He’s had cancer as long as I’ve known him. One of mybest memories of him is from a few years back, when he gave me a lift in his car.  He started honking his horn at women, winding down his window and shouting at them. He told me it had been too long since he last engaged in any activity with a woman. That made me laugh. He still had that youthful spark about him. I take it that’s something he never lost. He was always a jolly guy, and he always joked around. He’d always go to thrift stores and buy things for me and my sister. I’ve got a couple of bottles of cologne behind me which he’s bought me. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see the pack of Frosties playing cards that he got me for Christmas, since he knew I was into magic, and into card tricks. Even today, when we saw him, he still gave us a thumbs up. He gave us a thumbs up, touched his heart, and drew a circle in the air with his hand.

It’s funny how life sets things up, and how certain events are arranged. I don’t know whether you believe in fate, or what not. I do, to a certain degree. When we left, we got in the car and drove to the Christening party. We’d gone to the church for the actual ceremony beforehand, and then left to see my dad’s friend. It was the first birthday of the child being Christened, so the party sort of doubled-up as a birthday party. He’s a bubbly one year old with a head of thick, curly black hair. I didn’t get to hold him, but I got to play with his brother, who’s almost six, and his friends. Children are so delightful, and so innocent. Their heads aren’t troubled with worries of politics, government, climate change, or anything of the sort. We are a nation of worriers. Their only worries are about running around and having fun. The kids I was playing with were showing me their karate moves, as the young fellow I’ve mentioned, who’s nearly six, is quite the master, as I found out today. They took turns showing me their moves, before deciding to ‘attack’ me in unison, all in jest. We played on a see-saw for a little while. Some of the kids climbed on one end, with a girl sitting alone, in the air, on the other. She complained that the other children were too heavy, so I helped her out.

I’ve always been able to get on well with children. I think it’s because deep down, I’m a child myself. I don’t want to be burdened by the rubbish we have to face daily. I just want to be happy. I don’t want to face losing people. I just want to sit on my see-saw and bounce up and down and up and down.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. It’s a damn shame, but I’ve got responsibilities to myself, and to others. I have responsibilities for my friends and family, for the environment, for my university, for everything, really. I’ve got to accept the fact that we always need to say goodbye to the people we love. What have we learned, though? I’ve never encountered such a surreal intermingling of life and death. I guess, all that we can learn is to make the most of each and every day that’s given to us. That’s granted to us. To thank God, or Jesus, or Allah, or Buddha, or Science, or whatever you believe in, that we’re still alive today. That we can still move our legs, and have the strength to speak, and use our voices to shout, and sing. We are so lucky to be here today. All of us. We’re all constantly teetering on the edge of oblivion. Life is so fragile; who knows how long we have left here. All we can do, I guess, is make the most of it.


The Rat Race (The Race for Normalcy)

It’s astounding how the choices we make, both in the short, and long-term, affect us greatly. It’s quite ironic that the smallest action causes gargantuan consequences, that could haunt you for a long time. Now that I think about it, it’s not really worth it, really.

We all have our neuroses and insecurities, and we’ll all out here just trying to seek validation that we’re not absolutely crazy. Life is just one competition to be ‘normal’. Everything, from society to the media, furthers the belief that life should be one mad dash to normality. That we should all try our hardest to refine and alter ourselves and our behaviours to be deemed ‘normal’, and so we can finally be accepted by the system of misinformation that has power over all things.

In a similar way, smaller decisions (by which I mean, decisions on a far smaller scale – something more personal) can still affect us, and bother us right to the proverbial edge of oblivion. However, it’s a recurring trait of ‘nice’ people that no-one wants to offend anyone either. I’d say it’s a rather prominent precept of human nature that we all like to be liked; we like people to like us, and we like to be perceived by others as a likeable person. Someone can make a mistake, easily, with the largest of consequences, and be completely oblivious to it. People are certainly weird. In an ideal world, I think it’d be best to just be more honest with each other. If someone messes up, tell them. Let them know, so they don’t succumb to the wraith of the same bad mistakes again, and get stuck in a downward spiral of bad decisions. I guess that no one really wants to be ‘that person’ though, although I think it’s perfectly acceptable to retain your reputation in someone’s eyes while giving them some constructive criticism. Don’t forget to offer praise, however. We’re all neurotic, deep down, and we all need validation of some sort that we do retain some semblance of normalcy. It’s nice, at least for me, but it’s becoming increasingly apparent to me that I’m a lot more neurotic than most, and that I hold slightly archaic views about some things.

I’m just doing the very best I can, to be the best person I can be. That’s always been my mantra, and I hope it always will be. Although, sadly, I do have my own doubts about myself. Contrary to what people think, I’m not really that confident a person. Outgoing, yes. Confidence, I struggle with. We’re all stuck in this rat race, with our approximate destination charted only as ‘sanity’. Acceptance. This is a funny word. Its definition varies from person to person. Some people are concerned with impressing everyone, while others just want to impress their peers, and the ones they love. I think I fall into the latter group, as I’ve got absolutely no time at all for rude people, like those I encountered when selling the Big Issue. Still, I do have a tendency to be masochistic to a ridiculous degree, but I guess that might just define me as a person, and explain why I believe the things I do, and why I see everything in a certain way. Yes, I think that’s it. It’s the race that drives me. Regrettably, it makes me very sad to think that I’m going to spend the rest of my life poring over every social encounter, every gesture, and every word of my interactions, looking for somewhere I messed up, and looking for something I could do better. Indeed, even in situations that turn out well, I still repeat the same, stolid process of over-analysation, and find one little thing to hate myself for. But, you know what? I wouldn’t change that for the world.


Passive-Aggressive Bullshit

You know one of those nights where you go out, and no matter how much you drink, you can’t get drunk? Tonight was one of those nights.

It’s 3:44 am at the moment. This evening, I went for a run, followed by a brief appearance at a barbecue at a friend’s house. As I was so late, we all soon left to peruse the local clubs. I went to get money out of a cash machine, and lost the people I was following. It just so happened that I ran into a friendly man who I’ve often stopped to talk to, who sells the Big Issue. As he’s such a nice chap, I decided to stay and talk to him, especially seeing as I didn’t really have anything to do at that moment in time. I decided I’d try to help him sell his magazines, which I did, as well as reminding people to vote in the upcoming European parliament elections. If you’re currently undecided as to whether to vote, please do your country and your fellow man a service, and vote on Thursday. I told the gentleman selling the Big Issue that I’d had experience with direct sales, which I did, and he seemed very impressed. He eventually left his ‘pitch’ to me, as he went off for a cigarette, and as I tried to talk to complete strangers, I remembered the anger I felt last summer at people who completely ignore you, and pretend you’re not even there. I explained this to him when he returned, and he said that he didn’t feel that at all. He just kept smiling, and did the best he could.

Eventually, I left, having sold one magazine, and decided to walk around and see if I would bump into anyone from the barbecue. Instead, I ended up bumping into an old friend of mine, who I explained my situation to. He told me to accompany him to a nearby pub, where he was drinking with his coursemates. As soon as we entered, he insisted on buying me a drink, which was very nice of him. He then persuaded me to move to a club, which I did, and where I returned the favour.

In one of the quieter parts of the club (which was Jesters, for those of you who know Southampton well) I ran into another old friend of mine, who I hadn’t seen for months. We began talking, and he soon introduced me to his sister, who was visiting, and her friend April. I got talking with April (his sister was completely out of it) and it soon came up that she was a vegan. She’d been a vegetarian for seven years, but she’d only become a vegan in the past six months. I guess, due to this, I instantly took a shine to her. It takes a special kind of person to make a stand for any type of cause, and I’ve got a heck of a lot of respect for anyone who does so. We talked for a while about vegan cooking, the current lacklustre state of animal welfare in the world, and politics. We then went to have a dance.

This is probably going to be the most honest thing I’ve ever written. I used to be horribly conscious of my dancing, and it used to really hinder me from getting out there and…well…dancing, really. This is a shame, as I’ve got vivid memories of always wanting to dance as a child. I always used to get up and dance with my dad at family get-togethers. He’s a great dancer, but sadly he’s succumbed to old age, recently. I’ve always wanted to learn the ‘proper’ way to dance in the old Greek style, but I always had fun getting up there, spinning wildly, and clicking my fingers, with my arms out.

Unfortunately, something then happened which stopped me dancing. I’m not sure what it was. Probably the onset of adolescence, or something of the sort. I remember being at a family gathering of a close friend of mine, in my early teens. He comes from an Iranian family, who were also crazy about dancing. This friend is rather shy, and so, when the time came to dance, his mum encouraged me to get up on the dance floor, and ‘show him how it’s done’. Something stopped me, however. For the first time in my life, I was too shy.

Fast-forward many years, and I grew up, started drinking, began going to clubs, and yet I still couldn’t dance. When I reached university, there was still a barrier there. In my first year, I remember doing the robot in front of my flatmates, in a club, and them looking at me very oddly. I don’t blame them, I would have as well. I eventually made friends with people who could dance, though, and through observing them, I figured out that dancing is, well…dancing. It’s all about listening to the music, and moving along with it. There wasn’t really an art to it – at least, as not as much as most people think it to be. It’s mostly about rhythm. I would go out with these amazing dancers, watch them closely, and simply follow along, copying their ‘moves’.

I saw the same thing happening tonight, but the strangest thing was that it was myself who was being copied. The friend (whose sister I was introduced to) complemented me on my dancing, and I saw that his actions mimicked mine, somewhat, with a short delay, just like when I had mimicked my friends. It was…flattering. I don’t know how else to explain it. I felt very humbled, but was just…flattered.

I didn’t dance with April, though. It seems that whatever you do, however well you try to perform, or think you’re perfoming something, you can always do better. On the walk back to my friend’s house, where April was staying, along with his sister, we talked more in-depth about veganism. My friend’s sister told me that I had very nice hair, and asked if she could plait it. I’ve always prided myself on my hair, and I do my best to take care of it. I revealed that I use Loréal Fructis shampoo and conditioner, and then asked April what type of conditioner she used. She told me she used a conditioner called ‘Veganese’, and that Loréal test on animals. I lost points here. We somehow moved on to the topic of palm oil. I said that I always make sure that the products I use that contain palm oil, ensure that the palm oil comes from sustainable projects. In case you don’t know, there’s a problem in the rainforest. Trees are cut down to harvest palm oil, destroying various animal habitats. Orangutans are dying out, now. Go figure. April simply told me that you can’t trust anyone who says that their palm oil doesn’t come from the rainforest, which I suppose is right. Still, I lost points here.

That’s a funny thing. I talk about points, as if life is some kind of game that you can win or lose – like our karma is somehow linked to an overarching points system. I told April that as a vegan, she got a lot of points. She told me I shouldn’t think of people, and about life so plainly. She does have a point. Being vegan doesn’t mean that you care any less about the environment than omnivores. Indeed, I have omnivorous friends who have very finicky standards when it comes to eating meat. I’m also not saying in any way that I’m better than anyone else, especially not because I’m a vegan. Why does talking to this one vegan make me feel like I’m doing all of these things, then? Am I a bad vegan? Does that make me a bad person? I honestly don’t know.

All in all, I’m just trying my hardest to be the best person that I can be. I guess I’ve just discovered that sometimes there’s absolutely no difference at all between damnation and salvation. The time is 4:35 am.