Fri 31 Dec 2010
the rumours are true: David Bowie and i celebrated our twenty-fifth anniversary this past week.
for Christmas 1985, i requested and received the ChangesOneBowie album on tape. in the week that followed, i played that poor, beleaguered tape over and over and over. and i fell deeply, incontrovertibly in love.
i’d already liked him, in my limited knowledge of Let’s Dance and China Girl and Space Odyssey when it came across the late night airwaves. but i liked him like i liked twenty other fleeting passions of the moment, all of them embodying some kernel of cool that i didn’t really understand but clasped to my bosom in hopes of enhancing it.
at that age, i was wide open, looking for someone to be, desperate for visions of adulthood that made sense to me. i wanted a life of art and ideas, and had no clue where to begin.
there’s a quote from Changes that opens The Breakfast Club, about children being spit on as they try to change their worlds. its presence in the film twigged for me that Bowie might know more than i’d given him credit for. and so, sans internet or mentorship, i searched through record stores and old issues of Creem trying to figure out which album would magically hold the key. ChangesOneBowie threw me head over heels into the world of Ziggy Stardust and the plastic soul of Young Americans and the queer ironic rebellion of Rebel Rebel and John, I’m Only Dancing. and i had come home.
after that week between Christmas and New Year’s of 1985, i was a one-man woman. or a one-man thirteen year old, rather. if i’d had a passport and any money and a sense of where David Bowie had actually lived, i’d have shown up on his doorstep and offered myself as concubine and songwriter, innocent of the ridiculousness of either offer.
what i wanted, really, was just to be his shadow, his partner in adventure, his doppelganger.
and for twenty-five faithful years, i kind of have, even if he’s never once called.
ten years ago this week i ended a marriage.
it was hot and there were cockroaches, and trails of ants drowned in the sticky stream of Southern Comfort we’d left on the night table. we sat across a Formica table in a cheap hotel in Bangkok over triangles of white toast and fake whipping cream. it was him who made the final move, spoke the decisive words. but it was me, really, who made the decision. i’d driven us to the cliff and handed him the keys, thus orchestrating joint ownership of the implosion. he played his part, because that was how the part had been written.
i think. maybe i’m misremembering.
i thought it was an amicable and sad ending. i thought it made perfect sense.
what he really thought, i’ll never know. because what i lost in the end of that marriage was the relationship that it grew from. i hadn’t expected that, which seems achingly naive and yet was the foundation of my position. i thought the relationship was forever, a central part of who i was: i thought just the marriage had been a mistake.
he won out.
ten years seems like an impossibly long time, when you look back and realize you made a life decision that big that long ago.
i bought Dave two books for Christmas. the other day, i read one of them, cover to cover.
it was Just Kids, by Patti Smith. rock-n-roll and a young Robert Mapplethorpe and the Chelsea Hotel in its seedy bohemian squalour and glamour. from the hide-a-bed in Dave’s parents’ rural New Brunswick basement, i lived out the NYC part of the fantasy of my adolescent dreams. i read the book half-breathless, as if it were a sacred guide and i once again an initiate, looking for someone to be.
and then i laughed at myself. i turn thirty-nine next month. and still, some small part of me is wide open, hopeful about the magic around the next corner.
mixed in with Just Kids, in the orgy of quietude that i squeezed in while the children slept and everyone else watched football and hockey, i also read from next term’s reading list, a stack of books on human identity and narrative.
according to that purdy pile of Christmas presents, different personalities and circumstances and experiences lead people to gravitate to particular imagoes (and ten bucks to the first person who can tell me how to pronounce imagoes so i don’t mortify myself in fancy company) or character types.
the maker, the lover, the sage, the caregiver, the escapist, the friend: these here are your stock characters, people. these are the stuff we mortals are made of. we come to understand ourselves through the stories and roles we cast ourselves in.
now you know. you’re welcome. drop your nickel in the “The Doctor is IN” bucket at the door.
sometimes our imagoes don’t transcend all life stages, so we get stuck, need to expand our internal narratives to include new stock characters we can incorporate into ourselves. or incorporate ourselves into. tomato tomahto, imago a go-go.
it occurs to me that some part of me has been stuck since thirteen in a rock n roll fantasy imago. that the consummated and bonded but still ephemeral Smith-Mapplethorpe friendship that Just Kids describes guided most of my life decisions up until the point i had kids myself. but i’ve never seen it overtly described before, and the recognition resonated like a shock.
if Patti Smith had been thoughtful enough to write her retrospective a couple of decades earlier, i’d have had a much clearer map to my early adulthood. i’d have understood that the boy i married and i were simply working from two different scripts: mine one where marriage was a contingent experiment aimed at giving each other safe harbour while we struggled to learn to be grown-ups; his, the cultural norm, the one in which endings are betrayals, the worst thing that can happen.
it has taken me a decade to completely understand. it has taken me twenty-five years to realize that what i’ve been looking for in my devotion to Bowie is not Bowie himself but me, a version of me.
luckily i have other imagoes or stock character guides that have carried me and my relationship with the real-life Dave through the last five or six years of our entry into parenthood. the mother and the storyteller and the teacher have sustained me as the rock-n-roll fantasy has withered in the domestic hothouse.
but this is the last day of the year, the last day of a decade that has been rich and strange and full of growth and changes.
i want more. i still want rock-n-roll, even in the midst of parenting and studying and bills and laundry. i want a life of art and ideas.
and perhaps the biggest difference between me at thirteen and me at nearly thirty-nine is i can almost see my way there. i’ve lived enough to be my own guide.
i don’t really want to be Mrs. Bonnie Bowie, even if that pesky Iman does drop outta the picture.
i want to be Bon, partner to Dave. i want to be mother and writer and thinker and witness and friend…and maybe middle-aged rebel rebel, whatever imprint that makes in the warm, impermanent sand.
bring it, 2011.
happiest of New Years, my friends.
who are your models, your imagoes, your mentors? what do you hope for from the coming year, and the coming decade of your life?