My family and I finally saw "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" last week. I felt like my relationship with Star Wars was so terminally unique that I couldn't possibly stand in a long line or share a noisy theater with too many average fans, so I waited. I put myself in this special category of fandom because of a research paper I wrote in college twenty-five years ago where I explored Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey structure and George Lucas' little trilogy, after which he penned. I'm sure I half-assed the paper, but the muscle memory is still there. My old roommate Anya turned me on to Joseph Campbell, as she had a framed piece of circular art with the tiny words Follow Your Bliss, words that he made iconic. Anya's bliss usually led her into the kitchen most mornings for a cold glass of boxed Franzia, so I really thought there was something to him.
I thank the Universe for my Asperger kid on most days, especially when I get to ignite his little brain with things that I know will blow it open. He had his planets memorized frontwards and backwards before the age of four, so it's no surprise that the original Star Wars trilogy was on regular rotation at our house for many years after. I didn't really tire of them either and loved to play out Luke's character through J.C.'s hero blueprint (and, by the way, it's probably no coincidence that he shared initials with the other Hero Laureate J.C.). My son and I really got to indulge each other's nerd and the first time I put the head-phones on him blasting "Space Oddity", he looked at me like, "I get this, Mom, I profoundly get this."
When I heard that David Bowie's lungs exhaled their last song yesterday, after overcoming my own initial lapse of breath, I thought that his journey really fit the hero schematic. He was birthed in an ordinary world, called to adventure, reluctantly took on the fame that poked holes and left scars. He collected personalities like stories: misfit, alien, nerd, outsider, junkie, superstar, and made art unabashedly reflecting each faceted front. With every challenge and redirection, he faced the consequences of a new life, which in turn became the world's next favorite David Bowie incarnation. If cancer was his final test, "Lazarus" was his last sacrifice and the circle is complete. He is resurrected now through song and legacy.
I probably wouldn't be here writing this if I wasn't convinced that even though I felt so many times that I was floating untethered, I was going to be okay. Or the times I was feeling stuck, I just needed to turn and face the strange. Life was always a polarity of the monotony, the grind, the American struggle against the ripped-dress-make-up-from-last-rebel-whore-still-drunk-mess that was me. Yes, I can just lick 'em by smiling. Yes, I do love to be loved. Wam bam thank you ma'am.
Did the weight of responsibility for saving someone's life feel heavy, David Bowie?
In an interview in 1973, Russell Harty asked David Bowie, "Do you indulge in any form of worship?" and he thought for a second and replied, "Life. I love life very much." Joseph Campbell said something similar in telling one of his favorite stories in which a social philosopher conveyed to a Japanese Shinto priest that his ideology and theology was something that he just couldn't wrap his head around. The priest's response, "I don't think we have ideology. We don't have theology. We dance." We can't all be heroes on an epic journey, but we can be for a day. Art does that. It can persuade us regular people that hero status is accessible if we stay curious, not lose our sense of wonder. That message came in clear to my twelve year old when last night he claimed, "People that are sad about dying probably didn't live a good life." So let's dance, little buddy.
I love to paint now, even though I'm not very good at it. What I see in my head doesn't always match what ends up on the paper, and that's okay. When my son came home from school and saw my masterpiece, he said, "Can I hang it in my room when you're done?" Ah, we can be each other's hero today.