On Life and Art

Damn. January. Am I right? I was crushed by the news of David Bowie's death. I never saw him in concert, certainly never happened to meet him. But I so clearly remember the night I heard Space Oddity for the first time, and I really believe my perception of creativity and artistic expression changed permanently at that moment. David Bowie hid his cancer from the world, channeled his experience as someone dying of cancer, and created a final album. He managed to release this album as a final defiant, creative act, the very same weekend he died. I listened to the album for the first time knowing he was dead. I can't imagine what it must have been like for people who purchased the album and had a chance to listen to it from a living David Bowie, and then after from a ... let's call him legendary David Bowie. For my first listening, every word dripped with tremendous significance. I have never listened to Bowie with the intention of deriving a message. I let the messages come organically. Appear, shift, revert, evolve with every time I listen to a song, reacting to my life around that listening. This time, I listened to Black Star as reacting to his life. And his process of moving toward death. I think I listened to the album probably 3 times. Then I watched the video for Lazarus. And I cried. Not out of sadness, though certainly that added depth to my reaction. But dear God look what this man did with his death. He sculpted it into a performance. He manipulated it like the instruments making the music. He transformed himself, his art, his disease. And it wasn't a fuck you to cancer. It wasn't a goodbye. It was "this is how I live." And even with the end in mind, the songs - as I hear them now - were about being alive. He wasn't looking back, opining on a successful career. He said, "How long do I have? Okay, that's enough for another album, let's get started." Every minute of his life was spent in creation, and he dedicated his death to his creative process. He owned it. Nothing about cancer owned him. I cried because I was in awe. You can have a conversation about what you would do if you had cancer. And actually, my husband and I did have this conversation the very weekend Bowie died. We were talking about Lemmy at the time, and about other people we knew who were undergoing cancer treatments. So there we stood, saying we would die like we lived. We would continue our lives as we enjoyed living them until the very moment we couldn't anymore. No months, or years, in hospitals. No degradation of our bodies as we engage in total and complete warfare on our cells. Art, and life. And here, HERE. Bowie did just that. And made it beautiful. I am still sad about Bowie's departure. But I am so moved by his final artistic project that I also felt that Monday was the most artistically uplifting experience I've had in a long time. I wrote poetry that night. Poetry. I haven't written poetry in decades. I haven't had little bubbles of quippy words surface like that in ages. Or maybe I hadn't let them. Tuesday and on, as I struggled to wake in time to write before my day job, as I fell asleep in the evenings attempting to catch up on lost words, I feared that motivation and inspiration was slipping away, disappearing like the vapors of a previous night's dream. I wondered if I loved anything the way Bowie loved his art. I wondered if I ever wanted anything as desperately as Dame Ellen McArthur wanted to sail. If I didn't want anything that badly, was any of it worth it? Then Alan Rickman died. And the quotes, and the anecdotes that his friends and family shared, said, "Do not give up on your art. The world needs your art." And it's back. I can feel my skin tingle with the words I have to write. With the layouts I will design. With the illustrations I have yet to sketch and realize. Suddenly instead of the single book series I have been working on for years, I have ideas for at least four different universes. And that's just this morning. I want to draw. I want to design. I want to code. And I want to make sure it matters to me. Do what I do, with all my heart. I'm planting the seeds of life with these deaths. I am so in awe of these people, and I can't shake their hands and thank them for their wisdom, or for their legacy, or for what their presence inspired in my imagination. But I can do something. I'm going to live, I'm going to create, and I'm not going to look back.