To Get Through This Thing Called Life

Composite of photographs. Used within "fair use."

Composite of photographs. Used within "fair use."

Sometimes when I write, it is to make sense of pain. It is to try to carve it out of my body as if the pen is a scalpel, making careful incisions to hopefully make me somewhat better...until I need surgery again. Alas, it is a temporary procedure because experiencing pain is permanent. To be alive is to hurt. And maybe to die is to actually gain. Not gain for those left behind, of course. All those left behind know is loss. In this moment I feel the great sense of loss that is the death of Prince. I write this because I am trying to make those incisions again, to get this pain radiating through my body, my mind and my heart away from me. I want to run in the opposite direction of the pain. But the only way out is through. Thus, maybe I cannot rid myself of the pain. Maybe I cannot even make sense of it because grief is not just about the five stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) and moving through them, but about how I continue to exist knowing that the pain is not an anomaly but is a part of me as much as the joy that his music brought to my life is. I cannot deny either one. So I will live with both. 

I am in so much pain from Prince's death. I am definitely in denial at the moment as I play his music and write and it fills my quiet, relatively-safe home, something that I have not always had. To have the space to sit here and grieve without qualifier or apology or worry about who will harm me, who will want my tears dried so that I can be the emotionless problem-solving mule and Fact Portal to fix everyone else's lives while everyone denies the reality of mine. I can cry in quiet with the aroma and steam rising out of my tea cup, with the house dark save the bright light from my computer, as I pause from writing to look at photographs of this incredible human being who just seemed like too much for Earth; Prince. Ethereal. Otherworldly. Magical. And still so very human. I keep saying to myself "nah, he isn't gone; wait, did he really die?" I have been somewhat scarce on Twitter for the last couple of days, but every hour since I heard the news that Prince passed away, I check Twitter again just to make sure that this really happened. I look at the photographs that people are sharing and videos and jokes, remembering how shady Prince could be sometimes. He was like the uncle who knew the family and other people ain't bout shit sometimes, but still managed a smirk. It is like he had the insight on who people are in ways that other artists seem to lack at times, and his smirk made me think he was thinking "oh, here we go again; humans..."

I feel how I did when Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston passed away. During both times—June 2009 and February 2012, respectively—life was already difficult for me and then they passed. I am experiencing the same thing now; life is difficult and painful already and then something that helped me make sense of life, incredible Black artistry, feels ripped away from me.  This time, it is Prince who is gone and I feel kind of lost. His voice, his writing, his musicianship, his art, his beauty, his style, his vision, his genius, his impact and his unapologetic love for Blackness means the world to me. In a society that presents so many reasons to hate Blackness, to engage Blackness as a consumable good, as bodies without lives, as the absence of humanity, Prince consistently reminded the world that Black artistry and Black life matter. 

Prince feels alive and always feels really close when I listen to his music. It hurts so badly, but at the same time I keep shifting between crying and smiling as I listen right now. I do not presume to intimately know Prince; obviously I am not his friend nor his family. But grief does not care about the formality of relationships. Besides, if I am honest with myself, his music has done more for me than some people who call me "friend" or "family" has. It has healed me when some people who would say they intimately know me could not. It has brought me joy when some people who know me have brought me pain. To deny the gravity of what Black artistry and Black music has done for Black imagination and reality seems unfair to myself. Thus, I recognize it and I am willing and honored to hold a place in my heart for it. Prince does not have to be my friend or family to have this honor. 

Prince created 39 studio albums and that is only a part of his genius. We who are Prince fans or Prince aficionados or Prince stans that will snatch wigs if he is ever spoken of incorrectly, know that the music—while utterly sublime—is only part of the gift that he leaves us. We as humans consume. It is what we do. We take, take, take. But for some reason, in regards to Prince, it feels like he gave more than he took. He probably gave more than we ever deserved. What did we ever do to be so lucky? Why do we deserve anything from him or anyone like him? This is not me putting him on a pedestal, as he was very human, but me questioning what he gave versus what we all consumed. Such an imbalance, if we are honest. All we can do, all I can do, is be grateful.

Prince said things that I thought I disagreed with but in fact he was simply ahead of his time. He said things that I thought I disagreed with when in fact it was my job as an artist and as a fan to catch up. I did not understand why he did things the way he did with protecting his music or critiquing social media and the Internet years ago. I understand now and so well that I just laugh at my younger self for ever questioning his path and vision. At the end of the day, it is his art that he graciously shared with us and not our property to make demands of. In fact, thinking about the way he held his creations with such high regard made me rethink how I engage other people's art and how I want mine engaged as an artist. 

Prince gave the world so much; I hope that before he passed away, he felt that the world offered him something good in return, as if it could ever be enough. Even so, I am so thankful that I got to live during a time where people would even question who is better, him or Michael Jackson. I have a specific answer for that: 

It never mattered to me what the answer to that question was. Because no matter what, I was still discussing two visionaries. Black musicianship is so vast that even when we lose one icon, there is still so many to engage. But it is not about quantity in this moment. It is about Prince and the loss feels so vast that it feels as if not just one man died but a vision, a way of life, a force. A flame that was cruelly extinguished too soon and I wonder how will I see my way through music and through art without this light? And yeah, some of that light was purely aesthetic. Like...how was this man so beautiful? I recently joked that even his passport photograph surpasses our glamour shots.

I was really looking forward to his memoir; he recently signed a deal to write one, with a working titled called The Beautiful Ones, to be published in 2017. I find myself desperately hoping that it was already written or whatever he did write will still somehow be shared, even if it is not a completed book. 

I never got to see Prince perform live; I wanted to before 2017. I tweeted so many times that if I get to see him live, I can die happy thereafter; die without complaint. Yes, I was being hyperbolic to emphasize how much I wanted to see him live, but at the same time—as I wrestle with almost a full lifetime of dealing with suicide ideations, and with a difficult adulthood dealing with Anxiety, Depression, and PTSD, and with the knowledge that very few people that I know will even engage the gravity of what I just mentioned—I know that the moments of joy and of music are moments that leave a permanent imprint of happiness on my life, if even for a few songs or a few hours at a time. I regret that I was not able to afford to see him perform live before, or thought that I would have enough time to, but life is what it is, and so is death. I too am trying to get through this thing called life; it seems even harder when grieving. I better live now, before the grim reaper comes knocking on my door; this is Prince's advice in "Let's Go Crazy." This is hard to do sometimes, but I will keep trying.

Rest in peace, Prince: June 7, 1958 – April 21, 2016