Lessons learned from the Laureate of American Lowlife

October 25, 2016 — Leave a comment

Charles Bukowksi is a nauseating creature.

He’s disgusting. Repugnant.

Charles Bukowski is the savage of American low-life.

These characteristics might not sound like the most uplifting reading experience, and you’re right — it isn’t.

It shouldn’t be either. That’s not life.

Realness is another word that comes to mind when describing Bukowski’s writing.

Bukowski is raw. He’s total emotion. And he delivers what he sees around him uncooked — with ZERO FILTER.

And that’s exactly why I’ve read a dozen of his works.

He writes about it all. Literally.

He elaborates extensively about his problems with women, his thoughts on taking a shit, alcoholism, his abusive father, his horrible acne during childhood, not fitting in anywhere as a teenager, the bosses he hates… he doesn’t miss a thing — he pukes it all out.

Bukowski writes about daily, ordinary life in a way only he could.

Through his style of writing he’s produced some of the most straightforward, direct — and certainly offensive — writing you will ever encounter.

Bukowski raises honesty to a level that might get too real for most. You either appreciate his stuff or choose to not tolerate the products of his mind. I don’t think there are many who kinda like Bukowksi. You either do or you don’t.

Similar to that other great in American lowlife writing, Henry Miller, Bukowksi chose a life of regress, not progress:

“What I want is to halt evolution, to go backward down the path we have taken, to back to the world before childhood, to regress, regress, regress, further and further, until we get to the place we have only lately left behind, where culture and civilization do not figure… It is time that we start to think, to feel, to see the universe in a way that is uncultivated, primitive — but this is also without doubt the most difficult thing in the world to do.” (as quoted by Brasaï in Henry Miller: The Paris Years)

Bukowski’s way of life, his books of literature and poetry have deeply influenced my thinking in the past couple years. Even though I don’t agree with everything he said or did, I do think there’s a lot of value in what he wrote.

Below I wrote down a couple of subjects he taught me about — along with a paragraph of his writing or poetry to state the point.

ALONE IS THE HUMAN DEFAULT, RELY ON YOURSELF
No one’s going to do anything for you. In the end, you’ve got to do it all yourself.

“to create art means
to be crazy alone
forever.”
(What Matters Is How Well You Walk Through The Fire)

“What’d Picasso say?”
“Well, I asked him. I said, ‘Master, what can I do to make my work better?’”
“He said, ‘I can’t tell you anything about your work. You must do it all by yourself.’”
(Factotum)

“the price of creating
is never
too high.

the price of living
with other people
always
is.”
(You Get So Alone Sometimes That It Just Makes Sense)

“there is a loneliness in this world so great
that you can see it in the slow movement of
the hands of a clock

people so tired
mutilated
either by love or no love.

people just are not good to each other
one on one.

the rich are not good to the rich
the poor are not good to the poor.

we are afraid.

our educational system tells us
that we can all be
big-ass winners

it hasn’t told us
about the gutters
or the suicides.

or the terror of one person
aching in one place
alone

untouched
unspoken to

watering a plant.”
(Love Is A Dog From Hell)

THE OBSTACLE BECOMES THE WAY: TAKE IT AS IT IS & MOVE ON
Face the situation at hand as it is and work around it. Only your mind can make unbearable what happens to you—don’t be like that. Everyone has a hard time, not everyone feels the need to whine about it. Do what you can with what you have and keep moving towards what you want.

“contentment-
I wouldn’t call it
happiness –
it was more of an inner
balance
that settled for
whatever was occurring
[…]
what matters most is
how well you
walk through the fire.”
(You Get So Alone Sometimes That It Just Makes Sense)

ON BOOKS
Bukowski frequently mentions the authors he read (Fante, Céline, Knut Hamsun, Hemingway,…) during childhood and how they found him/saved him at just the right time.

“To me, these men who had come into my life from nowhere were my only chance. They were the only voices that spoke to me.
[…]
“Turgenev was a very serious fellow but he could make me laugh because a truth first encountered can be very funny. When someone else’s truth is the same as your truth and he seems to be saying it just for you, that’s great.”
(Ham On Rye)

“I like to think about these people
they taught me so many things that I
never dreamed of before.
and they taught me well, very well
when it was so much needed
they showed me so many things
that I never knew were possible.
those friends
deep in my blood
who when there was no chance
gave me one.”
(What Matters Is How Well You Walk Through The Fire)

ON SOLITUDE
Solitude is ok. My first positive experience with solitude was when I read a quote by Picasso: “Without great solitude no serious work is possible.”
Before that I thought I was weird for enjoying time alone. Extroversion seemed to be a trait you needed to have to do something in this world — something I had to work on. But I didn’t like it — I’m an introvert and I got ok with that by finding out about authors like Bukowski, who became like companions in getting to know myself. I learned this thing that extroverts get energy by being around people. With introverts it’s the opposite: they stock up on energy by being alone. If you know who is you and what you need, acting upon this really helps a lot.

“I was a man who thrived on solitude; without it I was like another man without food or water. Each day without solitude weakened me. I took no pride in my solitude; but I was dependent on it.”
(Factotum)

“I didn’t like parties. I didn’t know how to dance and people frightened me, especially people at parties. They attempted to be sexy and gay and witty and although they hoped they were good at it, they weren’t. They were bad at it. Their trying so hard only made it worse.”
(Factotum)

“people need me. I fill
them. if they can’t see me
for a while they get desperate, they get
sick.

but if I see them too often
I get sick. it’s hard to feed
without getting fed.”

(Live Is A Dog From Hell)

“the walls are your friends.
learn your walls.”
– What Matters Is How Well You Walk Through The Fire

ON TRAVEL AS ESCAPISM
My first real thinking on the motivations behind travel came up after a quote I read of Emerson. Basically Emerson said that before you decide to travel, you should realize that you are taking YOURSELF on the holiday as well — it’s not like you’re leaving your problems all behind when leaving the country. Therefore mental clarity, clear reasoning should precede travel. Mindless traveling just because you don’t like your current situation isn’t going to fix a thing — thinking through your issues might not fix a thing either, but it’s what you should start with.

“my holiday is an
evasion, my reasoning
is not.”
(Live Is A Dog From Hell)

ON PEOPLE SEEING YOU AS THEY WISH YOU’D BE
Other people will often feel the need to expect you to become who they want you to become. Parents often do this for example. Most people don’t know what the hell they’re doing and often judge themselves unfavorably so don’t take note too much of what others tell you.

“you invented me
and I invented you
and that’s why we don’t
get along
on this bed
any longer.
you were the world’s
greatest invention
until you
flushed me
away.”
(Love Is A Dog From Hell)

“I get too many
phone calls.
they seek the creature out.
they shouldn’t.”
(Love Is A Dog From Hell)

“if you get married they think you’re
finished
and if you are without a woman they think you’re
incomplete.”
(You Get So Alone Sometimes That It Just Makes Sense)

ON FEELING BAD ABOUT YOURSELF
Everyone has bad days. Some more than others. Bad days don’t matter, what matters is to how you react to the situation. Some people spend their whole life feeling bad about themselves: it’s their standard reaction to everything — everything that happens to them is an excuse to, again, feel miserable about themselves. Their drama is the only thing that keeps them alive, they actually crave it: it’s all they have, it’s their driving force. If you meet these people, you’ll know immediately because they love to tell you all about it, and would love it if you’d become part of their let’s-all-be-miserable-together gang. Murakami, in Norwegian Wood, wrote this about self-pity and he’s right: “Don’t feel bad for yourself, only assholes do that.”

“amazing, how grimly we hold onto our
misery,
[…]

not hours of this or days or
months or years of this
but decades, lifetimes
completely used up,
giver over
to the pettiest
rancor and
hatred.”
(What Matters Is How Well You Walk Through The Fire)

“things get bad for all of
us, almost continually,
and what we do under the constant
stress
reveals
who/what we are.”
(What Matters Is How Well You Walk Through The Fire)

“there’s no courage there, just the desire to
possess something — admiration, fame, lovers,
money, any damn thing
so long as it comes easy.
so long as they don’t have to do
what’s necessary.
and when they don’t succeed they
become embittered,
ugly,
they imagine that they have
been slighted, cheated,
demeaned.

then they concentrate upon their
unhappiness, their last
refuge.

and they’re good at that,
they are very good at that.
they have so much unhappiness
they insist upon your sharing it
too.

they bathe and splash in their
unhappiness,
they splash it upon you.”
(What Matters Is How Well You Walk Through The Fire)

“I’m not a priest.
I’m not a guru.
I probably have more bad moments and self-
doubt than any of those who
phone me.”
(What Matters Is How Well You Walk Through The Fire)

“I have gotten so used to melancholia
that
I greet it like an old
friend.”
(Love Is A Dog From Hell)

“Life’s as kind as you let it be.”
(Hot Water Music)


TO SEE PEOPLE AS THEY WERE, BEFORE LIFE DID IT’S MOLDING
We only see the results of people. They became the person you see in front of you by living their life. They didn’t start out this way, they became who they are now by going through the process of life. Everyone has a story. Don’t just judge the result.

“but, under all that, to me she’s the flower, I see her as she was
before she was ruined by the lies:
theirs and
hers.”
(You Get So Alone Sometimes That It Just Makes Sense)

ON NOT DOING ANYTHING UNTIL IT HAS MEANING FOR YOU
Working just for working — because we like to be busy all the time — doesn’t add much value. Yes, that’s what people do. Work. Work. Work. But often it’s just senseless activity that pays the bills — or keeps you from getting bored. It doesn’t have any real value — either for you personally or for the people around you. What Bukowksi taught me is to look for meaning first, thén work at something that has meaning for you. Or if you don’t find it right away, to keep looking around ALL THE TIME. Whatever you do, never stop looking. As Steve Jobs said: “If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.” If you don’t, you might become part of — what Bukowksi calls — the dead-before-death gang.

“The problem was you had to keep choosing between one evil or another, and no matter what you chose, they sliced a little more off you, until there was nothing left. At the age of 25 most people were finished. A whole god-damned nation of assholes driving automobiles, eating, having babies, doing everything in the worst possible way, like voting for the presidential candidate who reminded them most of themselves.”
(Ham on Rye)

“the real miracles are the thousands of tiny
people who know exactly what they are doing.”
– What Matters Is How Well You Walk Through The Fire

“Any damn fool can beg up some kind of job; it takes a wise man to make it without working.”
(Post Office)

“Only boring people get bored. They have to prod themselves continually in order to feel alive.”
(Hot Water Music)

ON NEVER COMPROMISING
Last week I read this interview with Nicholas Nassim Taleb. When asked about his greatest achievement in live he answered: “I learnt to never compromise.” From his writing — and basically the way he lived—Bukowski seems to have agreed.

“and you realized that the promises
you made yourself were
kept.
that’s plenty.”
(What Matters Is How Well You Walk Through The Fire)

ON FAILURE & REGRET
You can only really say it’s failure if you haven’t given it a fair try. Never bothering to try, will start eating your from the inside. Ignoring the voice inside will kill you eventually so when you start boiling — when the Beast of Intuition tells you you should do it—act upon it! As René Crevel said: “No daring is fatal!” If you fail, at least you get the lesson. Our time here is short. Memento Mori! Remind yourself often of the fact that you will be dead soon. If you realize this you’ve got nothing to lose. Don’t waste time being shy about what you want out of life.

“regret is mostly caused by not having
done anything.”
(You Get So Alone Sometimes That It Just Makes Sense)

“I wanted the whole world or nothing.”
(Post Office)

“In the morning it was morning and I was still alive.”
(Post Office)

“and if you have the ability to love
love yourself first
but always be aware of the possibility of
total defeat
whether the reason for that defeat seems right or wrong –

an early taste of death is not necessarily
a bad thing.”
(Love Is A Dog From Hell)

And to finish up, one of my favorite Bukowski poems “Roll The Dice”:

“if you’re going to try, go all the
way.
otherwise, don’t even start.

if you’re going to try, go all the
way.
this could mean losing girlfriends,
wives, relatives, jobs and
maybe your mind.

go all the way.
it could mean not eating for 3 or 4 days.
it could mean freezing on a
park bench.
it could mean jail,
it could mean derision,
mockery,
isolation.
isolation is the gift,
all the others are a test of your
endurance, of
how much you really want to
do it.
and you’ll do it
despite rejection and the worst odds
and it will be better than
anything else
you can imagine.

if you’re going to try,
go all the way.
there is no other feeling like
that.
you will be alone with the gods
and the nights will flame with
fire.

do it, do it, do it.
do it.

all the way
all the way.

you will ride life straight to
perfect laughter, its
the only good fight
there is.”
(What Matters Is How Well You Walk Through The Fire)

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