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Michael Jackson Couldn't Sleep and Neither Can I
As the stories surrounding Michael Jackson’s death began to swirl wider and wider about his sleep issues, this idea began forming in my head: I think I understand. Michael had trouble sleeping because he couldn’t shut off his creativity. So I get it. Though only “mildly creative”, I often can’t sleep because I can’t shut off my creativity.
Hagia Sophia Mosque
Dolmabahce Palace on the Bosporus
Granted, there were many factors contributing to the early death of Michael Jackson. There were issues of addiction, excess, and indulgence. There were the demons of drugs, child abuse allegations, and a troubled childhood.
I’m not a crazed fan, rationalizing and defending Michael Jackson, regardless of any bad press or evidence of wrong-doing. I think he was a prodigy, an entertainer for the ages. I would have gone to see him just as I went to see Frank Sinatra, for the sake of history and being a part of history.
I tried to go see Michael in Istanbul when I was stationed in Turkey in the early 90s. I flew with my tour group to Istanbul, and had a great tour of the city. We saw St. Sophia Mosque, Topkapi Palace and Dolmabahçe Palace. Many of the tourist sites, including those visited by my tour group, had been closed to the public the day before for Michael’s party to tour. So I know he was in Istanbul, he just canceled the concert. I guess I was not surprised.
What surprised me was that he ever agreed to the location in the first place. It was a huge venue, a soccer stadium as I recall. I’m not saying it was not safe in Istanbul, but Turks have different sensibilities and a different sense of urgency about safety. So maybe Michael backing out of this concert was not yet another irrational whim, like so many others attributed to him in the news.
I know that with years of drug use, beginning with pain medications, comes dependency and tolerance issues. More drugs are craved, taken, combined. Extremes and excesses were cultivated and indulged in all aspects of Michael Jackson’s life. There were reports of anxiety and anxiety medication. If he weren’t already anxious, he certainly would have become so after child molestation charges. So I know there were many factors in his life and death. Life is complicated for most of us. His was complicated on a grand scale and in a fishbowl arena. When it comes to causes, it’s rarely just one thing right? So I say, Michael also died in part from his creativity.
To borrow from a gentleman named Ken Roberts, I’d call myself mildly creative. Sometimes I paint and decorate my sister’s woodcrafts. I recently designed a series of patriotic wall hangings and started making them in mosaic tiles. I did the initial designs in a single all-nighter I might add. When I used to write military performance reports and awards packages, my brain would be so wound up I would only doze that night, still crafting words in my sleep. Since my military retirement I’ve started writing self help articles on clinical topics like arthritis, computer ergonomics, breast cancer and pediatric topics. These topics come from the education I’ve provided for clients and families for years. Now I finally have time to write down all of these “lessons”. Many of them have been written or published at 2 a.m., or 4 a.m. or 6 a.m.
I had to suppress my inner night owl until I retired from the Air Force. I had good intentions of establishing a 2 a.m. to 11 a.m. sleep schedule when I retired. I know plenty of winding down things to do, like taking a warm bath, cutting the computer off, not watching anything exciting on TV, and not reading anything provocative. But if I’ve gotten involved in something creative, I don’t want to comply. So I work through the night, and go to bed at 6 a.m. or 8:00 or 11:00 a.m., for 2 or 3 or 4 “nights” in a row. It takes me days, and sometimes weeks to get back to a 2 a.m. bedtime.
Michael Jackson with the Reagans
I don’t think it’s unusual for creative people to revel in their creative endeavors, though observers might draw parallels with addiction. Many of us enjoy the hyper-focus of ADD that fools those close to us into believing that we can’t possibly have attention deficit disorder. Bipolars enjoy their manic episodes, the ongoing temptation of their creativity, and go off their medications. There are many permutations. But for the most part, most of us are only mildly creative.
In recently aired interviews, Quincy Jones noted when working with Michael on their first album together, they were awake and working in the studio for 4 or 5 days. He said this as though it were the most normal thing in the world. Maybe not the norm, but understandable to me. I get this. Creativity is like an alluring elixir that you want to continue enjoying. And you can’t shut it off even if you wanted to. Michael’s creativity is in a stratosphere beyond my own. To me, this only serves to explain the extremes of his trouble sleeping, and the desperate lengths he was willing to go to. Without drugs, he probably would have needed days, maybe even a week or two between rehearsals and shows to get to the point where he could gear down enough to sleep and recharge before the next performance.
So, among other things, Michael Jackson died of creativity. Thankfully, I am only mildly creative.