Charles Bukowski

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“A portion of mankind take pride in their vices and pursue their purpose; many more waver between doing what is right and complying with what is wrong.” – Horace

“Complying with what is wrong” is the key phrase here.

Bukowski wrote about gambling, drinking and women. That was the surface. You would have to indulge consistently in all three, in one way or another, to understand any of them as a vice. But, they are vices. Barring drinking, women and gambling can be locked down to a certain extent and understood. Take marriage and professional poker players, for example. Pursue either with intelligence and wit, understanding, patience and respect for the curveballs both may throw, and you have yourself a manageable vice. Drinking – well, drinking is a slippery slope.

When you live your life in absence of purpose – that being the stuff outside of the natural, primal desires of lust and procreation – you are no better off than the ants.

Below the surface of Bukowski’s writing was something else: pursuit. He may not have known it at the time (and, in fact, I find myself humbled even trying to analyze), but while his stories harnessed the primal desires of flesh, fucking and drinking he did not allow these things to control him. He may have died by their hand – sure – but he was who he was, and he towered over these vices, at lease in perspective.

I do not recommend that anyone use Bukowski’s life as a model for living. He was a man that lived sloppily and recklessly, with abandon to his health and well-being. But, at his core there is a great lesson: live or pretend to live. He was an extreme. He dangled from the rungs of excess, wishing and dreaming (there is no other cause for “rational” gambling), and in his own way searched for a life that made sense. His gift was observation. By looking at him, by reading his life, we can see possibility in our own world: do not sit back and dream; try and learn from losing. And if you lose, do it again.

Our world has embedded in us a collective of mores that say to play the game. And it is true to an extent. But, once in the game, when vision contradicts the norm, we owe it to ourselves to break through the wall and scream above the complacency. It may be wrong, it may be ill-fated. The people around us may be confused by what we are putting out there, by our thoughts, by our ideas: but as individuals we must express our dissimilarities and hold true to our individuality. We must inject into the models and crafts of which we are a part and throw into the mix our voices and ideas. To live any other way is unfulfilling. We may be thwarted, we may be shot down, we may falter and lose to the powers that be. But, in simply putting forth what we truly think comes the ability and strength to do it the next time. This is victory.

This is what I’ve learned from reading Charles Bukowski.


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