Charles Bukowski on living the life you aspire to live despite all odds

Charles Bukowksi as the voice of God if God smoked too many cigarettes and drank alcohol to the point of cirrhosis.

There’s a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out, but I’m too tough for him. I say, stay in there, I’m not going to let anybody see you.

Charles Bukowski

Mark Manson opens his latest book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck with Charles Bukowski as his principle example on how to live the life you aspire to live despite all odds, despite what others may think of you in the process. Manson writes:

Charles Bukowski was an alcoholic, a womanizer, a chronic gambler, a lout, a cheapskate, a deadbeat, and on his worst days, a poet.

Read: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson (blog post version)

While studying at the University of Virginia, I read Women by Charles Bukowski, and upon completion wrote a poem in summary called:

A summary of Charles Bukowski’s novel WOMEN starring Henry Chinaski

Have sex

Surprisingly, no literary magazines accepted my submission.

For those of you familiar with Bukowski, you know how the story goes. If you’re not, to make a long story short, Bukowski aspired to be a writer and was rejected over and over for more than 30 years. Save for two short stories he published in his early 20’s, nobody wanted anything to do with his writing of any kind, be it short stories or poetry (which he turned to at age 35). He persisted nevertheless.

Fast forward to Charles Bukowski at age 50, when finally, after more than 30 years of what most would consider failure, a small independent press offers Bukowski a contract. He writes his first novel POST OFFICE in three weeks and dedicates the book to “nobody.”

Which is perhaps the most Bukowski thing you can do.

Love him or hate him, Bukowski went on to publish more than 18 books and would be cemented in American literary history for eternity, often, though not a Beat writer specifically, with the likes of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.

It’s been quite some time since I had last read anything by Bukowski — college actually. Until last night…

The voice of God if God smoked too many cigarettes and drank alcohol to the point of cirrhosis

Last night, I woke at 12:50. My throat was raw and sore, and so I made my way downstairs to make a cup of hot tea in hopes of soothing it. Before I did so, I lay in the floor on a yoga mat and opened the YouTube app on my phone, and on my back sat in the darkness listening to a reading of Charles Bukowski’s “The Laughing Heart” by Tom O’Bedlam, followed by “Roll the Dice.”

A life hack I have perhaps never shared on my blog is that in times of high anxiety that wakes me from my sleep occasionally I will turn to YouTube and listen to Charles Barkley commentary and interviews.

Some don’t like the Chuckster, but I find him hilarious and incredibly insightful in his usual blunt, humorous way, and I credit Charles Barkley, yes, “The Round Mound of Rebound,” as a tool, along with meditation, music therapy, reading, exercise et al, in my anti-anxiety toolkit.

As a bonus, when the overly sensitive monotone big man Shaquille O’Neal starts talking, I quickly fall asleep.

And so, while I was not woken by anxiety last night, instead a sore throat and body aches, as I was typing in the search for Charles Barkley on YouTube, as I finished Charles… in the suggested search tool below populated after Barkley was Bukowski.

There was a strangely comforting and powerful feeling that overcame me as O’Bedlam’s frayed baritone voice entered my headphones. It was as if the voice of God if God smoked too many cigarettes and drank alcohol to the point of cirrhosis of the liver.

And while I would never advocate some of what Bukowski involved himself in during his time on earth, because, frankly, it was rather self-destructive and depressing, I can nevertheless tweeze out the philosophy that is inspiring. Is Van Gogh’s painting not to be admired because of his madness?

Read: Inspiration from Charles Bukowski – You Might Be Old, Your Life May Be “Crappy,” But You Can Still Make Good Art

Below is the YouTube video I listened to, succeeded by the full text of the Bukowski poems. I’ve listened to these two poems on repeat about forty times since I woke in the middle of the night last night.

The Laughing Heart, by Charles Bukowski

Your life is your life
Don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
Be on the watch.
There are ways out.
There is a light somewhere.
It may not be much light, but
It beats the darkness.
Be on the watch.
The gods will offer you chances.
Know them.
Take them.
You can’t beat death, but
You can beat death in life, sometimes.
And the more often you learn to do it,
The more light there will be.
Your life is your life.
Know it while you have it.
You are marvelous
The gods wait to delight
In you.

Roll the Dice, by Charles Bukowski

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,
and maybe your mind.
Go all the way.

It could mean not eating for three or four days.
It could mean freezing on a park bench.
It could mean jail.
It could mean derision,

Isolation is a gift.

All the others are a test of your endurance
Of how much you really want to do it,
And you will 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.

All the way,
all the way.

You will ride life straight to perfect laughter.
It’s the only good fight there is.

Photo: Joey Zanotti. “Charles Bukowski Wall Portrait.” Licensed under CC BY 2.0

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