There has been a ripple in collective consciousness with the passing of David Bowie this week, and this morning I felt the urge to take to my keyboard to try and capture some of what is pulsing through so many people. I only write poetry occasionally but when I do I’m caught up in an insistent need to funnel a feeling into words. Today was no different. The opening phrases dance around in my head insistently, hinting at more to come. I have learned not to ignore it because those words don’t come back – it’s a specific function of time, receptivity, and stimulus and it’s then or never.
As a college art student there were many discussions had about the role of the artist and art in society. We pondered its purpose and effects. Often it provokes, challenges, creates connection, and causes us to emote. Sometimes it broaches a whole new idea. Bowie did all those things, and his life itself was clearly a work of art. My response is to create something in return.
For my own profession in natural and holistic beauty I do a lot of talking about living authentically and loving oneself radically and completely. This is no small task. The world is always full of messages that we should doubt ourselves. I can’t help feeling, though, that David Bowie had mastery in these practices. The fact that he was able to live such a brazenly shameless life defying social norms and coloring outside the lines is a testament to his self assurance. He knew what it means to be really free.
Freedom is not to be confused with selfishness or myopia. I’ve seen some Bowie quotes where he describes that his creative process is strongest when he is selfish and does what he wants rather than second guessing what the audience might want. Some artists do have issues with being myopic or only self referential, but you can look inward and be tuned into others at the same time. In fact the most pure life and creative direction I’ve ever gotten has come from that insistent voice inside myself. The second guessing is just nagging doubt or a lack of steadiness. When you have a creative vision, or are even just living your life as a regular person that doubt can interfere like radio static with you being tuned into your purpose.
The magic and freedom and that people are ascribing to David Bowie is really something that belongs to us all. We just forget it for a lot of reasons. Some secrets of life aren’t complicated. Remember to be you, have confidence, show the world what you’ve got… All basic, but they get murky amid the chaos of life sometimes. Other people’s insecurities can do a fantastic job of casting shadow on the rest of us, which is a real shame. Bowie did a fantastic job of reminding us of our true formless, rainbow, space-cadet, unique nature by simply being himself. His freedom empowered us all.
I wish I could say that I don’t experience doubt, or that I don’t ever dim my light for the sake of trying to get along or not make waves, but unfortunately that would be untrue. I absolutely let doubt get the better of me and occasionally still minimize myself. That has got to stop. It’s important for my work and more importantly for the fact that I have this one chance to be free. I want to live it with the brightness knob turned up all the way. So from now on anytime I start to worry too much about what other people will think or feel myself tamping down on my spirit of provocative play inside I’m going to remember Bowie and if I’m authentically feeling something I’m going to go for it. My inner guides will steer my ship, not other people’s hangups. That’s a promise.
This poem is not historical, obviously. Half the work is purely imaginative. But I’d like to think that with all the characters that Bowie created he might not mind another riff on his theme. In fact I hit closer to the mark than I even knew when the idea happened upon me, as I saw this article on how David Bowie nearly committed himself to becoming a Buddhist monk only just this afternoon. Previously I had never heard of that happening in his life, so it’s extra interesting to me that the following is the way I felt and portrayed his character.
Another Silly Boy Blue
by Julie Longyear
She had spent several lifetimes already
Living alone at high altitude
Amid the stark quiet
And unyielding surfaces
That marked geologic time
Instead of the soft, bruising years of flesh.
It was alright really.
She spoke mostly to herself,
Enjoying the way she could echo
Into the recesses of her rocky home
Or tell inside jokes to the wind
And know the eagles nearby would giggle
From their perch on a nearby peak.
Visitors were rare,
As might be expected.
Living at 16,000 feet is not exactly
Like laying out a Welcome mat.
Every day she watched the sky paint itself,
Playing shamelessly with every color.
The hotshot heavens and the spunky feathers
of rollicking flocks of airborne friends
Pressed themselves like paint
Into her insides, which she had emptied out
With generations of meditation.
And at the end of that life she found
That she was brim-full of fantastic visions
And the quiet had taught her
A hundred songs that no one else knew
She longed to hear them sung by
A thousand voices that never knew
They could sing together so well,
A spontaneous choir spread across time and space.
Besides, living in caves had become trite
And people had become busy
With so many cacophonous distractions down below
That they weren’t listening to the wind
Or looking at the sky like they used to
When their ancestors foretold more than just
The Weather from the clouds and stars.
So as she drew her last breath she bade
Goodbye to the crystal-built rocks,
The shiver-crisp air,
It was time to go back to Earth.
Not long was spent inbetween
Moving directly like current in wire
Spirit infused its sparkled-song-electron-attraction,
Meeting flesh in the warm dark of wombly dreams
And when he awoke the Inter-Body Express
Had erased most of what had come before.
(it’s part of the price of the ticket)
And he found he wore
An unremarkable name
That cloaked him to walk amongst those
Who had never had eagles for friends.
He had forgotten words
And the doings of previous days,
But he found that he was so full
Of colors doing sunset dances behind his eyes
That he longed to show them
On his skin.
And the songs that had sprung up
From the barren rocks and air
Like tenacious flowers still clung
Around him like his pores
Oozed unrelenting perfume.
But people no longer sat around fires
To tell stories and sing.
Instead they gathered around boxes
To broadcast sound and light.
And the stars they knew
Were no longer in the sky.
Even in his time-travel amnesia the guru knew
There were many things to do.
He painted his face and wrote poems,
Which really all gurus riddle and rhyme
Because it’s against the rules to just
Hand out the answers.
And his songs spun themselves, shimmering
From his lips, throat, and chest
Entwined with secrets of being
And smacking of the strangeness
That living alone in open spaces
Tends to impart.
And when those more earthbound
Would see him
They felt suddenly, uncommonly free,
Intoxicated by the peculiar lightning bolt brother
That electrified their cells with epicine energy
And caused them to erupt into
Sudden colored-cloud, secret-joke joy.
He lured them to lessons
Where dancing their own way
Was the master class
And the only way to fail was to
Follow someone else.
And he shined up his plain name
With a plucky new one
And then took a few more names besides
Because just one wasn’t enough
To fit the whole of himself into
Alongside every he and she that had come before.
It’s not easy to teach
How the light of the stars isn’t steady
And is made of ever-burning cataclysmic pulses
And that even subatomic particles
Prance with one another
To music we are too distracted to hear.
But for those that were listening
He sang and woke sleeping cells in their bones
That still remembered being space rocks.
It wasn’t equations
It was strange experience
Infused from soul to soul
And carried as if by solar wind,
Circuits overloaded with sudden brightness
And a deep, discerning sense of self.
Prophets don’t preach
Like they used to and you know
That anyone too loud about themselves
Has something to hide.
And so when he knew
That his song and dance was ending
He orchestrated it with quiet determination.
One last lesson
On how to live
And how to die.
This time instead of leaving for one life
His soul sent transmissions
Outward like a noble supernova
Planting spark-bright seeds
and shining his prism-split colors
Wherever they landed,
Like breath for hungry lungs,
Leading us to live fearlessly