Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘Charles Bukowski’

12 AUGUST, 2014

Bukowski’s Letter of Gratitude to the Man Who Helped Him Quit His Soul-Sucking Job and Become a Full-Time Writer

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“To not have entirely wasted one’s life seems to be a worthy accomplishment, if only for myself.”

“Unless it comes unasked out of your heart and your mind and your mouth and your gut,” Charles Bukowski wrote in his famous poem about what it takes to be a writer, “don’t do it.” But Bukowski himself was a late bloomer in the journey of finding one’s purpose, as his own “it” — that irrepressible impulse to create — took decades to coalesce into a career.

Like many celebrated authors who once had ordinary day jobs, Buk tried a variety of blue-collar occupations before becoming a full-time writer and settling into his notorious writing routine. In this mid-thirties, he took a position as a fill-in mailman for the U.S. Postal Service. But even though he’d later passionately argue that no day job or practical limitation can stand in the way of true creativity, he found himself stifled by working for the man. By his late forties, he was still a postal worker by day, writing a column for LA’s underground magazine Open City in his spare time and collaborating on a short-lived literary magazine with another poet.

In 1969, the year before Bukowski’s fiftieth birthday, he caught the attention of Black Sparrow Press publisher John Martin, who offered Buk a monthly stipend of $100 to quit his day job and dedicate himself fully to writing. (It was by no means a novel idea — the King of Poland had done essentially the same for the great astronomer Johannes Hevelius five centuries earlier.) Bukowski gladly complied. Less than two years later, Black Sparrow Press published his first novel, appropriately titled Post Office.

But our appreciation for those early champions often comes to light with a slow burn. Seventeen years later, in August of 1986, Bukowski sent his first patron a belated but beautiful letter of gratitude. Found in Reach for the Sun: Selected Letters 1978–1994 (public library), the missive emanates Buk’s characteristic blend of playfulness and poignancy, political incorrectness and deep sensitivity, cynicism and self-conscious earnestness.

August 12, 1986

Hello John:

Thanks for the good letter. I don’t think it hurts, sometimes, to remember where you came from. You know the places where I came from. Even the people who try to write about that or make films about it, they don’t get it right. They call it “9 to 5.” It’s never 9 to 5, there’s no free lunch break at those places, in fact, at many of them in order to keep your job you don’t take lunch. Then there’s overtime and the books never seem to get the overtime right and if you complain about that, there’s another sucker to take your place.

You know my old saying, “Slavery was never abolished, it was only extended to include all the colors.”

And what hurts is the steadily diminishing humanity of those fighting to hold jobs they don’t want but fear the alternative worse. People simply empty out. They are bodies with fearful and obedient minds. The color leaves the eye. The voice becomes ugly. And the body. The hair. The fingernails. The shoes. Everything does.

As a young man I could not believe that people could give their lives over to those conditions. As an old man, I still can’t believe it. What do they do it for? Sex? TV? An automobile on monthly payments? Or children? Children who are just going to do the same things that they did?

Early on, when I was quite young and going from job to job I was foolish enough to sometimes speak to my fellow workers: “Hey, the boss can come in here at any moment and lay all of us off, just like that, don’t you realize that?”

They would just look at me. I was posing something that they didn’t want to enter their minds.

Now in industry, there are vast layoffs (steel mills dead, technical changes in other factors of the work place). They are layed off by the hundreds of thousands and their faces are stunned:

“I put in 35 years…”

“It ain’t right…”

“I don’t know what to do…”

They never pay the slaves enough so they can get free, just enough so they can stay alive and come back to work. I could see all this. Why couldn’t they? I figured the park bench was just as good or being a barfly was just as good. Why not get there first before they put me there? Why wait?

I just wrote in disgust against it all, it was a relief to get the shit out of my system. And now that I’m here, a so-called professional writer, after giving the first 50 years away, I’ve found out that there are other disgusts beyond the system.

I remember once, working as a packer in this lighting fixture company, one of the packers suddenly said: “I’ll never be free!”

One of the bosses was walking by (his name was Morrie) and he let out this delicious cackle of a laugh, enjoying the fact that this fellow was trapped for life.

So, the luck I finally had in getting out of those places, no matter how long it took, has given me a kind of joy, the jolly joy of the miracle. I now write from an old mind and an old body, long beyond the time when most men would ever think of continuing such a thing, but since I started so late I owe it to myself to continue, and when the words begin to falter and I must be helped up stairways and I can no longer tell a bluebird from a paperclip, I still feel that something in me is going to remember (no matter how far I’m gone) how I’ve come through the murder and the mess and the moil, to at least a generous way to die.

To not to have entirely wasted one’s life seems to be a worthy accomplishment, if only for myself.

yr boy,

Hank

Complement with Bukowski’s “so you want to be a writer,” then revisit this essential compendium of advice on how to find your purpose and do what you love and the spectacular resignation letter Sherwood Anderson wrote when he decided to quit his soul-sucking corporate job and become a full-time writer.

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04 JULY, 2014

A Breathtaking Animated Adaptation of Bukowski’s “The Man with the Beautiful Eyes”

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A visual interpretation at the intersection of the touching and the haunting.

Charles Bukowski was a creature of perplexity and paradox, oscillating between romantic pessimism and luminous wisdom on the meaning of life, propelled by an outrageous daily routine. His expressive poems explored everything from the myths of creativity to his “friendly advice” to young men.

In 1999, British animator Jonathan Hodgson and illustrator Jonny Hannah teamed up on a breathtaking animated adaptation of Bukowski’s 1992 poem “the man with the beautiful eyes” from his final and arguably best poetry collection, The Last Night of the Earth Poems (public library).

when we were kids
there was a strange house
all the shades were
always
drawn
and we never heard voices
in there
and the yard was full of
bamboo
and we liked to play in
the bamboo
pretend we were
Tarzan
(although there was no
Jane).
and there was a
fish pond
a large one
full of the
fattest goldfish
you ever saw
and they were
tame.
they came to the
surface of the water
and took pieces of
bread
from our hands.

our parents had
told us:
“never go near that
house.”
so, of course,
we went.
we wondered if anybody
lived there.
weeks went by and we
never saw
anybody.

then one day
we heard
a voice
from the house
“YOU GOD DAMNED
WHORE!”

it was a man’s
voice.

then the screen
door
of the house was
flung open
and the man
walked
out.

he was holding a
fifth of whiskey
in his right
hand.
he was about
30.
he had a cigar
in his
mouth,
needed a shave.
his hair was
wild and
and uncombed
and he was
barefoot
in undershirt
and pants.
but his eyes
were
bright.
they blazed
with
brightness
and he said,
“hey, little
gentlemen,
having a good
time, I
hope?”

then he gave a
little laugh
and walked
back into the
house.

we left,
went back to my
parents’ yard
and thought
about it.

our parents,
we decided,
had wanted us
to stay away
from there
because they
never wanted us
to see a man
like
that,
a strong natural
man
with
beautiful
eyes.

our parents
were ashamed
that they were
not
like that
man,
that’s why they
wanted us
to stay
away.

but
we went back
to that house
and the bamboo
and the tame
goldfish.
we went back
many times
for many weeks
but we never
saw
or heard
the man
again.

the shades were
down
as always
and it was
quiet.

then one day
as we came back from
school
we saw the
house.

it had burned
down,
there was nothing
left,
just a smoldering
twisted black
foundation
and we went to
the fish pond
and there was
no water
in it
and the fat
orange goldfish
were dead
there,
drying out.

we went back to
my parents’ yard
and talked about
it
and decided that
our parents had
burned their
house down,
had killed
them
had killed the
goldfish
because it was
all too
beautiful,
even the bamboo
forest had
burned.

they had been
afraid of
the man with the
beautiful
eyes.

and
we were afraid
then
that
all throughout our lives
things like that
would
happen,
that nobody
wanted
anybody
to be
strong and
beautiful
like that,
that
others would never
allow it,
and that
many people
would have to
die.

Complement with an equally beautiful animated adaptation of Bukowski’s “Bluebird” and his poetry illustrated by the great R. Crumb.

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04 OCTOBER, 2013

Charles Bukowski on the Ideal Conditions and Myths of Creativity, Illustrated

By:

“Air and light and time and space have nothing to do with it and don’t create anything except maybe a longer life to find new excuses for.”

Charles Bukowski — man of outrageous daily routine, curious creature of proud cynicism and self-conscious sensitivity, occasional pessimist with a heartening view of the meaning of life — had a singular way of conveying immutable wisdom in his seemingly simple, often crude, but invariably expressive verses. His 1992 poem “air and light and time and space,” found in the altogether fantastic anthology The Last Night of the Earth Poems, is a poignant and soulful reminder that “inspiration is for amateurs” and grit is the real key to creativity — or, as Tchaikovsky famously put it, “a self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood.”

AIR AND LIGHT AND TIME AND SPACE

”– you know, I’ve either had a family, a job,
something has always been in the
way
but now
I’ve sold my house, I’ve found this
place, a large studio, you should see the space and
the light.
for the first time in my life I’m going to have
a place and the time to
create.”

no baby, if you’re going to create
you’re going to create whether you work
16 hours a day in a coal mine
or
you’re going to create in a small room with 3 children
while you’re on
welfare,
you’re going to create with part of your mind and your body blown
away,
you’re going to create blind
crippled
demented,
you’re going to create with a cat crawling up your
back while
the whole city trembles in earthquake, bombardment,
flood and fire.

baby, air and light and time and space
have nothing to do with it
and don’t create anything
except maybe a longer life to find
new excuses
for.

Now, Gavin Aung Than of Zen Pencils — who have previously illustrated such cultural treasures as Bill Watterson’s timeless commencement address on creative integrity have adapted Buk’s beautiful poem into one of their signature comics:

Complement with Buk illustrated by the great R. Crumb.

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