I don’t journal like a normal person. I’ll do a few entries in a book, but a lot is on random sheets of paper, random thoughts on random things, nothing that really provides a decent, day-by-day narrative of my life, because who needs that. Consequentially, there are sheaths of paper in my files that would probably paint me as a crazy person if someone didn’t know the circumstances or if it was some sort of exercise or automatic writing or something.
Case in point, I have no idea why I wrote this or when, other than it was pre-2011, most likely. I go through my files every now and again, and this one has special meaning for me lately. Not only does it obviously speak to my Bowie fixation, but I’ve got to work on a piece that let’s just say takes inspiration from a certain song. So yeah, these are the things that ramble through my head at two am sometimes.
Lord, I talk way more formally in my ramblings than I do in daily life. Just sayin’, never expect me to be this insightful in real time in real life.
Is there life on Mars? It’s something I’ve randomly discussed with everyone from my best friends to my grandmother. It’s fun to think about, or it was for a long time. Maybe that’s why the song first appealed to me.
The first time I heard ‘Life on Mars?’ was when I was a freshman in college and no more than a baby in the scheme of life. It was on a reissue of David Bowie’s hits, and being the new fan I was it seemed reasonable to run into Wal-Mart at six in the morning before my first class of the day. I still have the CD somewhere, still remember the blue and purple coolness of the Ziggy-era face that graced the icy cream cover. I had no motive other than to learn what I was missing, to add to my growing collection.
I have absolutely no idea what drew me to that song. My guesses were endless. It was by my favorite artist, an artist I wanted to imagine I could grow up to be in a female form. It was a ballad of extraordinary depth and skill, which appealed to my classically- trained elitist nature that was yet to be stomped on by my growing love of rock. Every note from the intro on coalesced with the imagery of the lyrics to provide a certain, elusive something that I couldn’t quite catch no matter how many times I hit the repeat button on my stereo. I went for years falling in and out of love with it, hearing it on soundtracks, comparing the original to cover versions that ranged from decent to atrocious. When I finally saw Bowie perform live I nearly lost my mind when he opened with that song. He somehow put life back into a song that I almost had shoved away with the equally elitist thought that it was something everyone liked but wasn’t up to par with the Berlin-era songs, every stupid excuse that kept me from simply enjoying the music.
It was only after years of triumphs that were really small little victories that got me no closer to my grandiose dreams than when I started, of speed bumps and tooth and nail fights for what I wanted, of time spent in and out of the abyss and then nursing myself back with what-if’s, if-only’s, and fantasies that numbed instead of nurtured, that I realized why I felt so deeply during the opening chords. I suddenly knew why I’d always felt a pang of soul-sickness in the first verse, knew too well why it was all too easy to picture the scenes in the chorus.
All those years I’d been listening to a song somehow inadvertently written about me and I hadn’t even realized it.
I don’t like to think or harp on the times in my personal life the melody conjures in my head. The association and cold realization at the time was almost too easy to ignore. My hair has been many colors over the years: red, auburn, blonde, green, but somehow it kept returning to an unassuming mousy brown. Sure there were tensions at home, but nothing worse than most middle-America families. Sure, at times the folks didn’t understand and had their own opinions about me, but that was how parents were, wasn’t it? Sure I had bouts of loneliness, trouble explaining my inner workings. I’d been accused of escapism and pop-culture referencing and association, but I’d been out in the world! I was living life. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t “there” yet, that I couldn’t rub my prowess in the face of those I went to high school with. That really didn’t bother me.
I wasn’t ashamed of myself. It wasn’t like I was hiding. It wasn’t my fault the economy made it hard. Not my fault if I kept trying to climb the ladder to no avail. Not any big deal that I had ideas but couldn’t get anyone to listen because they were so different. Not a huge issue if I was shy beyond what I liked to admit and covered it up with bravado and a cultured crassness. And besides, didn’t everyone find it easier to sit in front of a DVD and proclaim “I could do that!” instead of being kicked down repeatedly for not having the right connections, for not knowing how to get C from A plus B no matter what their schooling and experience?
Then why was I so scared? Why so dejected? Why couldn’t I ease up on myself even when making progress? Why, despite compliments and sincere good intentions did I feel so completely tired of it all, a burned-up match stick of creative fire, mousy inside and out?
Oh, God, it was about me. It didn’t matter if it was more archetype than exact, didn’t matter if it was written before I was born. Didn’t matter at all. The lyrics were my entire life being belt out in time to a piano that seemed to display everything I felt but couldn’t express.
So then what? How does one convince the lawman he’s got the wrong guy? How do you stop the sailors from wrecking the dance hall or put the cavemen back into their proper times? Is it a matter of something drastic? Should I go to another country, secede from the shouting? Should I do the reverse, admit defeat and cram everything back within the confines of myself? Could I even do that?
No. As suddenly as I recognized myself and was horrified at the recognition, the solution hit and hit was much, much more difficult in the scheme of things — for my personality, anyway.
There would be no spitting in fool’s eyes or even the foolishly well-meaning, no waiting around for those that won’t show, and no sticking around hypnotized by the flashing colors on the silver screen until the end credits. I had to wipe away the tears, the frustration, everything that gained me only perverse sympathy that was well-meant but not useful. I had to sit up, get up, and walk a step at time out of the cinema to untangle myself from the enchanting what-ifs and start to discover the magic in the is, the unpredictable, the real.
It’s not easy, especially when the whole world seems to be fixated on the Mouse selling out and Lennon is for sale everywhere there’s a Wal-Mart. A step at a time. A word at a time. I don’t pretend like I won’t find myself back there at times; it’s bound to be writ again and again and again.
But it helps to know that that fear isn’t all I am. I can leave the dark cinema of frozen, bewitching dreams at any time and go see what’s hidden in the street, the sun, the dirt, and other people.
And I’ve also realized that if I look close enough, my hair’s not mousy at all, but a plethora of little colors making up the whole. Life is far more complex than a bold assumption or a lofty statement. Is there life on Mars? Who knows? All I know is that mine is right here and right now, wherever I’m at.