David Bowie has, as far back as I can recall, been the soundtrack to my life, though the setting unexpectedly, and seemingly indiscriminately varied, largely as a result of my dad’s work. From the sweltering heat of Houston, to perching on coral in the warm Indonesian waters at night looking out towards the ominous glow of the child of a volcano whose namesake wiped out thousands of people over a century before; from the lazy summer recesses playing tetherball on an Oklahoma schoolyard to checking for scorpions and tarantulas in warm places before submitting to sleep in Venezuela; from the London flat where the drummer from Motörhead lived (and frequently had parties) upstairs to the rugged, unpredictable, but beautiful, countryside of the Scottish Highlands. It would be wildly ungrateful to say I had anything but a privileged childhood (I mean, shit, we had maids).
But one of the enduring aspects I’ve taken away from my transient existence in some of the world’s most spectacular places is that I have always had the sense that I am an outsider looking in; observing the lives and cultures of other people whilst having nothing concrete or persisting or meaningful in my own life. Friendships were often fleeting, so I learned to be an open book, giving everything about myself away and voraciously discovering everything I could about the new strangers around me. Relationships with anyone felt like having a passionate love affair, knowing that your days were numbered until you had to leave them behind, ignoring the knowledge that gut-wrenching heartache was ultimately what there was to look forward to when, inevitably, the setting altered.
It was easy to become quite adept at shutting off my own emotions and cutting people out of my life. Especially in the days before technology became a catalyst for communication with lives lost over the years, itself falling into the trap of being unsure of its place in the world. The ability to interact with millions of people is both amazing and overwhelming; enabling and restrictive. In a world where people seek instant gratification, what point is there taking the time and effort to do something considered and thoughtful, like write a letter, when an e-mail or a text message will – ultimately – suffice? My enthusiasm for writing lengthy cards at Christmas has been noted (but not acted upon) by my friends, but my letter writing ultimately went to the grave with my grandmother, for whom technology bamboozled.
I’m often asked where ‘home’ is, and I usually struggle to answer. “Everywhere and Nowhere” is my stock reply, but I feel like it encapsulates both my desire for acceptance and my need to roam in order to feel in control of my life. Entering the dating world in your 30s and you’re faced with an overwhelming number of men who allude to wanting to ‘settle down’. There is no other single phrase that strikes more dread in my heart than this; if anything, it’s a repellent. When you’re in a relationship you have someone other than yourself to consider, which in the past has translated to feeling trapped – harnessed to one place with one person. It might sound selfish, but when you have been dealt a single life to live, why accept something that doesn’t make you happy? I’ve learnt that I’d much rather face the thought of being alone for the rest of my life than resentful of someone – through no fault of their own – for not sharing my outlook on life and my sense of wanting to discover more.
Even the phrase ‘settling down’ has connotations of disappointment – a sense that you’re unwilling or incapable of striving for something you really want.
Ultimately, I think that the majority of people want to find someone to share their life with – a soulmate – and I’m not unrealistic enough to realise that nobody will be perfect, but it should be someone who shares your general view on life. In my case, someone who doesn’t want to be rooted to a single space until they turn to dust. Someone who I want to pounce on. Someone who becomes almost obnoxiously enthusiastic about trying new things, visiting new places, throwing caution to the back of their mind because the potential pay-off for trying something far outweighs the possibility of something going awry, or, worse yet, the regret of not trying in the first place.
Death is something that both terrifies and fascinates me, and throughout my life I have always felt a vivid sense of my own mortality. I would shoot bolt upright in bed with a suffocating knowledge that I won’t be around on this Earth forever, that life is a flash in the pan, and I’m not even ashamed to admit that sometimes I need to phone my mother or watch old repeats of Friends to quell any thoughts of my transitory existence that happen to be invading my thoughts. In Bowie’s Cygnet Committee he claws, repeatedly, urgently, “I want to live” in the chilling culmination that has an almost primal desperation to it, and that’s exactly how I feel right in this moment. I want drama that can’t be stolen. Memories to bank for my 100th birthday (glass half full).
I used to observe people and enjoy imagining what their lives were like – what made them tick, what they enjoyed, what their scars that can’t be seen are. I’m now making it a conscious decision to stop wondering (but keep wandering) and start knowing. Open myself up to embarrassment, to failure, but also to success, awe, and life.
And if I happen to meet someone who throws the same enthusiasm for learning back in my face, who has that intrinsic yearning to experience everything new, who wants to be my duprass (read Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Cat’s Cradle’. Incidentally, ‘Cats in the Cradle’ by Harry Chapin is a haunting lyrical song – originally a poem by his wife – about life slipping by that tugs at my gut every time I listen to it) – then great! Hopefully one day I will meet somebody who doesn’t make me feel trapped: who is the David to my Iman.
And so I start my new life with eyes completely open, but nervous all the same. I want to make mistakes. I want to live.
This way, or no way/
You know, I’ll be free/
Just like that bluebird