Ziggy Stardust Saved My Life One Teenage Summer: Life Itself

 Doing my own make-up like I'm in 1999.

Doing my own make-up like I'm in 1999.

They say to write about what scares you.

One of my favorite ways to put it is Nayyirah Waheed’s advice to young writers- “The thing you are most afraid to write, write that.”

But what if I’m afraid of everything?

And then I write about everything and everyone realizes I’m afraid of everything.

Then what?

 

I’m not that girl that cowers in the corner.

 

Or am I?

 

Here’s a short list of things that scare me. Better to be straightforward and bullet point this than writing long, metaphorical, semi-poignant and somewhat cheesy anecdotes or parables.

·         Roaches

·         All other insects

·         Cancer

·         Unsupervised children

·         Angry dogs my size or larger

·         Summer

·         Guns

·         Failure

·         Life

 

Everyone has different things they're afraid of and sometimes you don’t even know you’re afraid of something until it comes crashing at you like a beer bottle being angrily thrown across the room, heading right at your face.

Which is what happened on one particular film set. The mosh pit got a little real, just enough to be exciting while still being safe, and that sugar glass beer bottle was a fucking thrill because you know you don’t want to get that shit in your face but you also know it probably won’t fuck you up. There was a wonderful stunt choreographer making sure everyone knew precisely where and when to jump aside. You feel a split second injection of life and the next thing you know you’re seeing broken glass on the floor sparkle after bursting into shards like a furious firework, each break with each take more and more seductive in its destruction. Playing a punk rock concert audience member in Webster Hall was an easy job for me to get- I even think my check-in number might have been #1. It was like jumping back into my high school self, back when I didn’t know enough about life to be afraid of it.

At least I wasn’t afraid ¾ out of the year, and the other quarter...

Summer. 

It happens every year.

It’s happening right now.

 

And I am VERY scared of summer.

 

I was never a fan- the days are way too long; it’s like the night is afraid of the sun, things are sweaty, fried food feels unhappy in my stomach, and I’m constantly struggling with the heat that threatens to make me faint like a damsel in distress.

But it wasn’t until the summer of 2000 where I knew summer to be scary.

 Yours Truly at 15 years old. Photo courtesy of my own damn self. 

Yours Truly at 15 years old. Photo courtesy of my own damn self. 

I spent the last couple of days writing this blog entry while listening to the music I listened to growing up- David Bowie, Nine Inch Nails, The Clash, Sex Pistols, Marilyn Manson, Nirvana, Garbage… Just like being on the set of Life Itself, the music put me right back there, right back in 2000 when Ziggy Stardust saved my life one teenage summer.

With my mother taking a long vacation in Italy and me being underage (as if staying home alone at fifteen is even that big a deal in NYC), I had been deposited for three weeks (which besides being 21 days is also 504 hours, which is 30,240 minutes, which is 1,814,400 seconds) at my father’s house. Or more specifically Maspeth, Queens. Even more specifically- NO MAN’S LAND. NO SUBWAY. NO ESCAPE. NO FREEDOM.

FUCKING HELL.

I spent each day in that house in my childhood bedroom, still decorated with fluffy bunnies and baby pink walls. I stared at the ceiling all day and all night, my face only a few feet away as I lay in my top bunk bed covered with The Little Mermaid sheets and cried. Just cried, silently, tears slipping all over Ariel.

But I was okay because I had Ziggy playing in my ear the whole way through. I must have gone through at least a dozen batteries. I particularly connected to the last song on the album, Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide, playing it over and over again and trying to feel less alone, less in between child and adult, less miserable.

Less of life while simultaneously starving for more of it.

 

No one knows how scared I was.

I was the "scary girl", not the scared girl.

 

A week before classes restarted that Fall I experienced my first panic attack. I didn’t know what was happening, didn’t even know what a panic attack was but I felt like I had to do something, anything, or I would die right there and then.

So I painted. I covered a moderately sized canvas with just three colors of 99 cent acrylic paint. That’s all I had- that and one paintbrush and a non-serrated butter knife I had taken from the kitchen with some sort of half manic intention knowing I wouldn’t be able to slit my wrists with a butter knife, but that I would be able to paint with it. And I did.

This was the result:

 Don't ask me what this is, I don't fucking know. Interpret away. 

Don't ask me what this is, I don't fucking know. Interpret away. 

I would not have survived that summer without David Bowie. Never mind Velvet Goldmine being the film that made me want to make films or that the boy that introduced me to both Bowie and VG was one of my best friends and the love of my teenage life. David Bowie was so much a part of my every day existence, especially for those three weeks.

I don’t know what I learned staring at that baby pink ceiling of my childhood bedroom. Honestly, I don’t think I learned anything besides the song lyrics by heart, and I don’t think it was about learning anything. David Bowie got me through that summer and that’s exactly what I needed- I just needed to make it through.

Just like painting that painting got me through the panic.

I’d like to tell you more about the film Life Itself- the set, the beautiful actress Olivia Cooke and the music she sang on stage, but I guess what was the most interesting part of that day for me wasn’t the scene or the celebrities. It was both my homes colliding and combining for maybe the first time in my life- my film set home and that summer when Ziggy Stardust was my only home. Doing BG on Life Itself was life sliding back into my past and feeling safe for the first time in it.  

Less afraid, less lonely, and just a little more alive.

Like a tiger on Vaseline.

Like a Moonage Daydream.

Like a fucking Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide.