Guest Post:: KT Speetzen is the founder of The Mother Cluckers, a comedy troupe in the Chicagoland area. Here, she details how David Bowie influenced her decision to put on her red shoes… and launch a business.
I decided to launch a business because David Bowie died.
Thanks to David Bowie, I returned to my first love — stand up comedy — something that I had taken a 10-year sabbatical from. My comedy troupe, The Mother Cluckers, currently has a roster of 30 rotating female comics throughout the Chicagoland area. We have monthly shows designed to connect parents and laugh about the insanity we all put up with daily. I make people laugh and bring joy into the world, and I also help other women tell their stories. It’s the coolest thing I’ve ever done.
What I’m writing about today is how Bowie was trying to tell me I could launch a business all along. I just should have listened sooner. After all, he did say, “Changes/(Turn and face the strange)…Time may change me/But you can’t trace time.”
Labyrinth was my jam.
Before we go any further: I’m not your typical superfan. I didn’t grow up with Ziggy Stardust posters on my wall, I never saw him in concert, my parents didn’t blast Fame from a hi-fi. In fact, I probably introduced David Bowie to them (they’re more Motown people).
I was, however, a Labyrinth nerd as a kid.
For those uninitiated, Labyrinth is a seriously trippy kids movie that involves David Bowie as a Goblin King in a codpiece, a super young Jennifer Connelly sort-of looking for her kidnapped baby brother, and a bunch of Jim Henson’s Muppets running around looking like they just spent too much time on a meth binge. I’m not going to lie, people, it’s really weird. But hey, this was 1986, it was on VHS, and I was apparently a Goth-in-Training. But that’s neither here nor there. The movie has a happy ending, and I didn’t know that I was beginning a relationship with a man I’d never meet but who would also change my life.
When I was seven, after watching the movie maybe 2,000 times, I saw a commercial for a Bowie concert TV special. I was so pumped to watch it and (much to my shock) my parents let me. Sitting in my cotton pajamas, my mother looking skeptically on, I remember David Bowie gyrating in front of a paper mache spider. I was seriously unimpressed. Where were the songs from Labyrinth? Where were the meth Muppets obviously meant to join him onstage? I felt gypped. The Goblin King I adored was merely a character?!
At that point, I swore off Bowie forever.
But, over the next 25 years, Bowie kept slipping into my life, covertly. I played “Under Pressure” on a tape I recorded off the radio on my Walkman before cross country meets. “All the Young Dudes” at a sorority formal (which I’m embarrassed to admit I knew from the movie Clueless). Dancing around to “Young Americans” in my Lakeview apartment, getting ready for a night out, trying on different lipsticks.
Looking for Bowie.
Then, I became a mother. My daughter, Gwen, was born in 2011 and I was totally, absolutely, wholeheartedly unprepared.
Well, I prepared in the traditional sense: planned pregnancy, my husband, Chris, is a loving and supportive partner, etc. I prepared from a logical sense: I had the gear, I knew I could keep a kid alive (before I decided to launch a business and become a mom entrepreneur, I had been teaching middle school for the Chicago Public Schools and had a good track record with my students). But in meeting Gwen, despite the motherly L-O-V-E that came with her, I also became as lost as I’ve ever been.
It’s not easy, or necessarily natural, to become the whole one being’s whole world. I’m not ashamed to say I became pretty unmoored. If my pre-adolescent film choices give any hints, I’m kind of a weird girl. I taught middle school because I love the challenging, funny banter of my students. And, unlike my newborn, they understood my native language of sarcasm. Gwen just screamed at me and had an undiagnosed GI issue to boot (btw, she’s fine now). I was also the first of my friend group to have kids, so I can’t stress how alone I felt. Unconsciously, I started looking for Bowie.
It began by singing “Let’s Dance” to Gwen as I would swing her around the room, trying to distract her from one of her reflux attacks. Soon it just became something we did: “Let’s sway… sway through the crowd to an empty space.” She would smile, I would laugh, we’d share a moment. Through this little ritual, I was becoming a Mom.
As Gwen grew bigger, and the initial shock of new parenthood wore off, I realized that my newly minted role as Stay-At-Home Mom was not my bag, even though it was the best thing for my family at the time. As my old life of writing, teaching, and being an independent person fell away, the loneliness I felt became a chasm. I looked in the mirror and wondered what had become of me.
Why Not Me?
Then in 2013, with Gwen a toddler and heavily pregnant with my second child, David Bowie released his album The Next Day. I downloaded it on iTunes almost by accident and listened to it on repeat for months. When I found out that it was his first album in 10 years – a sabbatical put in place partially because his daughter was young – I was floored. David Bowie could leave the game, could come back when he was ready, and could still kick ass.
I’m not David Bowie, not by a long shot, but holy hell. If he could do it, why not me?
Over the next few years, I began listening to his other records more, reading articles, checking out the truly awesome “David Bowie Is…” exhibit at the MCA in Chicago. I heard a new album, Blackstar, was coming out in 2016. I bought it on January 8th, the day it came out, again on iTunes. This time, however, was different.
Two days later, Bowie died from cancer.
I’m not one of those “OMG a celebrity died; we must mourn” people. While I appreciated his gifts, I wasn’t his friends or family. I couldn’t qualify the loss. So when Bowie’s death haunted me, I was surprised. I kept listening to his music, thinking about the art he put out into the world. The remembrance of his sabbatical circled me. And one day I woke up with the guts to launch a business and get back into the game, all because he had the guts to get back into his.
Face Your Strange… and Launch A Business
In addition to my comedy troupe, I’m also excited to announce that my comedy education company, Cluck U, is launching this fall at the Boss-Mom retreat in Charlotte, North Carolina. In addition to in-person training, I’m offering online coursework for small business owners and entrepreneurs to connect comedy techniques to public speaking, confidence and team engagement. I couldn’t be more excited about this chapter in my life.
If you’re scared to face your strange, don’t be. Embrace your weird, the ideas that keep you up at night, the things that you want to do but are afraid to jump off a ledge. And if you need a sabbatical, take it. There is always tomorrow to step back in. Life’s a strange trip. Find your Bowie. Put on your red shoes and dance the blues.