Starman, waiting in the sky


David Bowie has died after battling cancer for 18 months. He used that time to realise two very special goals: the release of his 25th album Blackstar and the opening of the off-Broadway musical Lazarus, which he co-wrote as a sequel to The Man Who Fell to Earth. It is an extraordinary achievement from anyone, let alone someone suffering from cancer and enduring cancer treatment.

Lazarus has a Greek chorus of sad brass and a breathtaking key change; the 10-minute title track is as awe-inspiring a piece of music as you could ever expect from an established artist. The final track tantalises and reassures, all fuzzy keys and wry harmonica. ‘I can’t give everything away,’ sings Bowie, as though raising an eyebrow at the frenzy of allusion that has just played out. Kitty Empire - The Guardian

Bowie, an established artist with a creative legacy already spanning over five decades, chose to spend his final days creating music and theatre. Was it a farewell gift to his fans, a therapeutic escape from his struggles, a deep response to his own creative fire, or the realisation that the footnote at the end of a remarkable career could only be written by Bowie himself?

At its core, Lazarus is a two-hour meditation on grief and lost hope (with no intermission).... It’s all strange and wonderful and funny in alternating measure. Kory Grow - Rolling Stone

We can be heroes, just for one day

If there is one term absolutely over-used in social media it is ‘bucket list’. The term comes from the 2008 movie of the same name starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. It refers to the list of things you want to do before you die or ‘kick the bucket’.

At its worst it is a selfish lesson in hedonism and excess. At its best it is the opportunity to find ways to live a 'richer', more meaningful life.

Do you have a bucket list? Does it focus on ownership? Collecting things or experiences? Does it benefit just you or others?

For big business the bucket list has been a marketing dream. The fatalistic idea that you should live every day like it is your last is helping to spur on consumer spending and to increase consumer debt. Why save money or pay down debt? Why not draw on the equity in your home and enjoy an overseas holiday (or two)? Why not get a credit card and max it out on concerts and restaurants? You only live once! Right?

The bucket list ‘movement’ compels us to consume more and more. It throws our lives off-balance, seduces us into believing that life should be fun and exciting all of the time. It fools us into thinking that we are in total control - absolute masters of our own destiny.

Life should consist of an endless round of adventures not mundane tasks like working to pay off a mortgage or planning for a comfortable retirement. The pursuit of fun = the pursuit of happiness.

Central to this lifestyle is travel, preferably to exotic locales around the world. Heck, why just one exotic country? Why not all? Carpe Diem!

Now to conceive of some way to fund this extravagant lifestyle without the drudgery of, you know, work.

Ground control to Major Tom

Forbes Magazine reports that those who earn more than USD$21,000 a year are part of the richest 4% of people on the planet. Chances are that this 4% have everything that they need. It is therefore safe to predict that only 4% of the planet have the time or money to focus on the things that they would truly like to do, including travel. The other 96% are focused on the most basic of Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’, you know boring things like clean water, food, clothing, shelter, and physical safety. If they travel it is for more practical reasons: fleeing from war or natural disasters, or seeking work.

‘Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer’! Right?

Well, actually no. An education will make you richer. Good health will make you richer. Strong social ties will make you richer. An absence of debt will make you richer. Growing food from your garden will make you richer.

Elevating travel to some type of a religious epiphany is a silly (and bourgeoisie) concept that only the 4% could even understand.

Travel is fun. Stimulating. Exciting. It is given special social status totally unrelated to effort or skill. You travel to some exotic country, have a good time, post some flattering photos on social media (including from time to time your impressive travel map), launch a travel blog and are lauded by family, friends and acquaintances. I can see how you could ‘get the travel bug’, but I am fairly confident that it will leave you financially poorer.

Travel can be educational. All of those ‘free’ lessons in art, history, geography, sociology. There are plenty of other lessons, if you want to learn them. How about the ever widening gap between rich and poor countries? Consider this: 783 million people do not have access to clean water and almost 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation. Or this: diarrhoea is the leading cause of malnutrition in children under the age of five and the second leading cause of death – AND it is both preventable and treatable.

Travel, in itself, can act as a powerful catalyst for personal change. Our experiences of the world are not filtered through the media or our friends or family. We are free to experience and to see things independently; we can think for ourselves. Our normal 'safety nets' don't exist. We are strangers free to reinvent ourselves.

Do we use these experiences to benefit ourselves or others?

We can see what we receive from travel but what do we give back? Travel is expensive. Where does the money go? Has travel helped to improve the lives of people across the world or has it lined the pockets of the rich and led to even greater consumption of scarce resources by those who can afford to pay?

Turn & face the strange Ch-ch-changes

Life is a long series of choices. The choices that we make define us and tell our life stories. We are fortunate that at any time we can effectively write a new chapter.

Our lives can focus purely on self interest. Or our lives can focus on transforming the world.

We can travel to change stereotypes about other cultures, to support the preservation of endangered species, to provide financial assistance to people in need, to volunteer to build houses or to teach in schools. We can reduce the amount of travel that we undertake in general, but particularly to fragile environments. We can support eco tourism.

There is much in life that we cannot control. We should be more mindful of those things that we can.

We can evolve, adapt to change, and seek out opportunities to perform life's ultimate 'alchemy': to find something negative and to turn it into something positive. Just like music's ultimate chameleon: Mr David Bowie.

'No one exists forever and it seems our elegant gentleman was well aware that his last mortal chapter was about to reach its conclusion. “Blackstar” was his parting gift.’ Annie Lennox

*Cover image taken from The Sydney Morning Herald