I have always felt like an alien among human beings. Or maybe I thought I was the human and almost everybody else was an alien. I’m not certain.
I’ve never hated the creatures among whom I walked. I just felt disconnected. I felt as if I was in the wrong place. I felt as if I was looking for something — someone? some place? — where I would find my own kind. Somewhere I would feel loved and understood. Somewhere I would feel at home. With someone I could trust. No longer the strange alien who didn’t fit.
I’ve recently found a line from an old song playing over and over in my head when I encounter things which make me feel this way. It happened again tonight. When I feel detached and troubled about what’s all around me, I feel myself withdrawing emotionally and I hear David Bowie singing bits and pieces of a song — and I always hear, over and over — the line which goes, “Is there life on Mars?”
And I feel like an alien who’s spent years looking for what he needs on Earth and he turns away in hurt and sorrow, asking whether there might be love and life for him on Mars instead.
Although many music critics consider this Bowie’s best song, the lyrics confuse most people. The words make sense to me, though, especially in light of Bowie’s explanation of the song. He admitted that the song was his reaction to having fallen in love with a woman and having the relationship not work out. Without being specific, he explained that the song is “a sensitive young girl’s reaction to the media.”
“I think she finds herself disappointed with reality,” Bowie said in an interview. “Although she’s living in the doldrums of reality, she’s being told that there’s a far greater life somewhere, and she’s bitterly disappointed that she doesn’t have access to it.”
That describes my place in the world, too. The girl looks at the world around her — and she looks at the cess pool of popular media described in the song — and she asks in frustration, “Is there life on Mars?”
Tonight at dinner in a restaurant, there was a television blaring anger and discord from a news channel. The people around me were arguing with one another, some in nasty ways. There was tension between couples. Children were ignored or rudely controlled. I didn’t feel love or affection between these people. I didn’t sense peace or contentment. I just sensed discord and anger and resentment and disillusionment.
If this is what life is like on Earth, is there life on Mars instead?
What would life elsewhere be like? It wouldn’t be perfect, because there aren’t any perfect people. (And if there were any perfect people, I wouldn’t fit among them, would I?) But if there were love and life on Mars, there would be loving families and loving couples. There would be heartfelt talk about things that matter. There would be more happiness about being together instead of a desire to separate from one another as quickly as possible. There would be hope and there would be genuine communication. There would be trust and honesty.
Why do I see life somewhere else in that way? I can’t give you a good reason other than to say it’s fantasy. Don’t we fantasize about life being what we lack where we are? This is the world I’m looking for. These are the people I’m looking for. These are all the things I need — love, understanding, trust, honesty, communication, hope, sharing and so on.
When I was a teen-ager, I read all the science fiction I could get my hands on. Most of it was filled with action and adventure and fighting and winning. But “Journey Between Worlds” was very different. The protagonist is a young woman whose father gives her a ticket to Mars as a graduation present. She doesn’t want to hurt his feelings, but she doesn’t really want this trip. She has a relationship with a man who she plans to marry. He’s not very attentive, but he’s impressive to others and he’s what she assumes she needs.
Over the course of the book, we spend a lot of time inside that young woman’s head. We see her interact with the man she believes is the man of her dreams. We also see her interact — more and more as the story develops — with another man. This guy is going to Mars as a settler. She can’t imagine why anyone would value something other than the wealthy life she had wanted on Earth with the guy of her dreams.
By the very end of the book, she finds herself faced with a choice between the two men — and the two worlds they represent, which is really about two entirely different ways of living and thinking and loving.
In the real world, I haven’t found a way to make that nice, clean choice that the woman in the book got to make. I face the world that I know every day. I see what I don’t want. Every now and then, I glimpse a promise of what might exist somewhere else — but then it disappears in smoke and I’m left more alone than ever.
If I can’t find what I need here, where will it be? Is it nowhere on Earth, at least for me? Is there life and love for me on Mars? Or is there life and love for me anywhere, with anybody?