Otherness, Identity And Bowie Books Left In The Lobby

Last time I checked, there were a pair of roller blades and a Polaroid camera in the lobby of my building. Someone’s moving out, so in the past few days there have been an assortment of pots and other kitchen items up for grabs. This happens a lot where I live. Either I have generous neighbours or we have a high turnover of residents. (I think it’s a combination of both.)

Yesterday there was sitting in the lobby a paperback I’d never heard of, “Talking to Girls About Duran Duran,” by Rob Sheffield, a memoir of teenage life in the 1980s, published in 2011. Each chapter is a song and Chapter 2 is entitled “David Bowie, Ashes to Ashes.” I put aside my normal aversion to used items — I feel like they hold their previous user’s energy which I don’t want in my home (a quirk of mine, or some version of OCD, paranoia or simply a benign aspect of my personality) — and picked it up to read if I got bored. (As a general rule, I don’t read, not even when traveling anymore).

Today I scanned the chapter and note it’s a lot like this blog, except condensed and much better written. (And no YouTube videos.) But Sheffield hits the high points about what makes Bowie a favourite among fans, the “hook” for those of us who find it. He talks, almost in subtext, of the kindness and hopefulness that is evident in even the darkest of Bowie’s work. He mentions his friend Josh dying his hair orange for a Bowie concert and getting teased, to which Sheffield writes, “I still think about that. I like to think a real citizen of Bowie World would never be that mean.” And despite the destructive overtones of some aspects of Bowiedom, Sheffield writes, “Even Ziggy, his most glitzily self-destructive concept project, ends with a big ballad that’s explicitly anti-suicidal, insisting you shouldn’t destroy yourself or cower from life, you should just find somebody as fucked-up as you to love (or at least be nice to)…”

And it got me thinking about difference, and where it comes from. I had a flashback to law school and my work-study hours spent with an unusual and creative professor, who was doing a long-term project on judicial dissent. She’d discovered that, looking at the sheer numbers, dissenting opinions in Supreme Court of Canada rulings were written overwhelmingly by women (one in particular, who was nicknamed “The Great Dissenter,”) and other “outsiders” by virtue of gender, race or religion. She was trying to target the “outsider voice,” not only that the dissenter chose to disagree with the majority of the court, but how that dissenting opinion was expressed. (Even knowing that often judges don’t write the opinions, their clerks do.)

The concept was interesting and she received substantial research funding to pursue it. I just now did very preliminary checking to see if I could find any articles written about that project and could find none, but it could be I wasn’t looking hard enough — or she’d done a few pieces 9, 10 years ago and that was it, because the threads of the argument — when you really got into it — were pretty tenuous. It is in many ways too easy to categorize race, gender, religion, sexuality and deem them difference. They do not always equate with identity. The counter argument to that, of course, is that they do — but in hidden cultural influences, the invisible patriarchy, the white-washing of art and society. In other words, you may not think you are seeing the world “as a woman,” but by virtue of how things are set up, you are. If your “norm” is the majority’s norm, you will see it as impartial truth instead of perspective.

But when I think of what defines me, and my identity, I cannot equate it to a cultural norm. I define myself by my sensitivity to energy (but that is experience), vegetarianism — by choice and sustained over two decades, compassion, genuine appreciation for other people… whether those count as qualifiers of my “identity,” objectively I am not sure — but I know “difference” is not something that can be objectively defined, although some would say it is. Difference is experienced, and felt; identity, similarly, is experienced and felt… and maybe transcends the false dividers that keep people apart.

Or something.