These past few days have been particularly challenging to say the least. Other than a few minutes here and there to do nothing or use that time to share my articles on social media, I find myself busier than usual. I know this state of being won’t be permanent as every month I’ve learned to schedule a bit of “time off” from my work and responsibilities. I do this consciously in order to self care, which I have come to understand is imperative in my life. Whenever I find myself getting mentally drained and inspiration starts to leave me, I try to leave responsibilities behind and do what I love; whatever that may be for that specific moment, in whichever form it may express itself in me.
A friend suggested I should give up on writing for a while until my schedule settles up a bit; she asked me to promise I would think about it. The more I taught on it, the less her advice made sense to me; I know she meant well and cares for me but the idea of simply not writing when my whole being aches for it seems like torture. It is true I cannot choose when I will compose, when I will write an article, share something I learned, use dance as self expression, etc. but if I don’t do as my spirit demands, I am only lying and torturing myself. After a bit of mental wrestling I submerged myself on Bukowski’s advice “Don’t try”. I will elaborate on its meaning as this article unfolds, all I can say for now is his advice helped me regain peace of mind and spirit. His advice also inspired me to write about the life of those who without a doubt are my inspiration in every way; my next few articles will be on them.
If someone were to ask me whom do I look up to, I would have a list of about 7 or 8 people. However, those whose works have impacted my life the most have been without a doubt: Carl Jung, Charles Bukowski, Friedrich Nietzsche, Vincent Van Goh and my favorite composer Frederic Chopin (I could listen to his Spring Waltz for hours). I am not only familiar with the works of these amazing souls but have come to acquaint myself with their life stories; their inspirations and challenges. The connection arises from what may feel as “similarities” in life or self; hence I don’t believe one finds a role model or hero to look up to, rather life unfolds in such a way that your hero finds you.
After years of consciously becoming introspective and analyzing how life unfolded for me and for those around me, I have come to believe with all my heart, mind and spirit that life life offers us plenty of help to learn and develop by providing us with opportunities, as well as examples through the life of others; it is up to us whether we choose to make the most of those opportunities and develop consciousness. We are given the opportunity to exercise “Free Will” in all its magnificence, with all its benefits and responsibilities. I do not believe we should live attempting to copy the life of those we admire, for doing so would defeat the purpose of finding yourself and the process of individualization, instead we should utilize their examples; adversities and accomplishments; as fuel, so when things in life get tough we don’t give up. They are the people who have shown the world over and over again when a person is willing to focus where his passions and talents lie, that person can thrive.
Perhaps you have found yourself doubting your current life path, your work, etc. Perhaps you are kept at night wondering “should I keep doing what I am doing now?” or maybe you wonder how you can find your passion amidst all the voices around you. If you have, then let me introduce you to a man who not only wrestled with himself but whose life experiences provided him with wisdom for when one feels lost and confused. Without further ado….let me introduce you to Henry Charles Bukowski:
Charles Bukowski was born in 1920 in Germany. Two years after his birth his parents decided to move to Los Angeles. To say his childhood and adolescence were difficult would be an understatement. His father was an arbitrarily strict man whom eventually became a deeply resentful and violent being. His mother was quiet and submissive; this in fact did not help matters when it came to the tyranny of Bukowski’s father.
During the passage of his childhood and adolescence, two factors turned Bukowski’s life into a real torture: On the one hand, he developed acne so extreme, that the doctors at the public hospital where he was being treated said they had never seen a case such as his. On the other hand, his father began to systematically beat him with a leather belt; one used to soften the edge of razors.
Bukowski lived in a lower-class working-neighborhood, the already precarious life quality his family endured deteriorated more after the Wall Street Crash of 1929. His father lost his job; he would wake up every morning and disappeared until late in the evening, pretending he was going to work when in reality he would spend all his day getting drunk in bars. In order to compensate for the lack of income, Bukowski’s mother took on odd jobs which forced her to leave her family behind.
The atmosphere in his neighborhood was violent and hostile, for both adults and children. Due to Charles’ predisposition to loneliness added to the horrendous condition of his skin, he was ostracized, mocked and beaten. At the end of his adolescent years, Bukowski discovered writing and drinking which were to become the main axes in his life; aside from his constant need to “save” women and horse races.
The first time he tried wine; which was stolen from one of the barrels of his friend’s father; Bukowski said “It was magical. Why had no one told me? with this life is wonderful, man is perfect, nobody can touch me”. He discovered his talent as a writer when his fifth grade teacher asked her students to attend a public function of who was then president; Herbert Hoover; who was visiting Los Angeles. Bukowski did not dare ask his father to take him, so he invented an excuse which although quite imaginative was poorly made. When his teacher realized he had made an excuse in order to attend, she made him stand in front of his class and praise him for his determination and for his imagination.
At the age of 14 he started “treatment” for his acne. Doctors had to pierce the pus-filled boils which covered his face, chest and back; that episode was literally traumatizing to the young man. To top it off he had to endure a condescending nurse who was also cruel on how she dealt with him. About his hospital stay and treatment he wrote “Doctors experimented on the poor without any limits to their human dignity. If their savage practices worked, they used them for the good of the rich; otherwise, there would always be more poor people willing to be mistreated”. Bukowski decided to abandon “treatment” and left the hospital looking like an Egyptian mummy.
During his recovery time at home, Bukowski started writing. He wrote stories about a German aviator and his quests. The notebooks where he wrote his stories were destroyed by his father during one of his episodes of rage; he felt indignant his son should “waste” his time foolishly. Something else would mark his life; he discovered reading. He would go to the public library where he would get lost in reading for hours. He merit his discovery of reading the same way he merit wine. Reading cause him to feel relief from his otherwise torturous existence. He later on wrote “What joy, in that place words were not boring, they had the potential to make your mind hum. If you read them and let yourself feel the magic, you could live without pain, with hope no matter what happened to you”.
Bukowski went to Public University for 2 years; there he would begin to seriously drink and write. In 1939, at the beginning of WWII, Bukowski left university and moved to New York where he was arrested by the FBI in 1944 for evading mandatory army enrollment. Bukowski refused to enter a war and he was willing to be arrested; nonetheless he was forgiven as he did not fit the psychological profile they were looking for. During those years, he dedicated himself to write with a maddening passion. He would travel a lot, wondering from place to place, working at odd jobs which would allow him time to write. He would send his stories to great literary and cultural magazines such as the Atlantic and the New York Times. Bukowski would often say during those times he survived on chocolate and wine. Most of his stories were turned down but he would not give up.
At the age of 24 one of his stories was accepted by a small but prestigious magazine. This cause an important literary agent from New York to contact Bukowski hoping to represent him. Hundredths of stories had been needed before someone gave him a chance. Nevertheless, something not many would understand happened; Bukowski was being given a great opportunity to become famous yet for him it become the pivotal time which forced him to confront his demons. To the surprise of most, he told everyone he was not ready to be thrown to the public eye. He abandoned almost everything and for the next 10 years he submerged himself to his writing and heavy drinking. He fell victim of a vicious cycle, working enough to survive and staying in places most would consider “rat holes”. Those ten years he wrestled with his past, his pain, his anger and his regrets. Those years were to become the heart, the propeller for his future life. He accumulated the lessons which would later become his main material.
At the age of 35 his life did a 180 degree turn; he was diagnosed with severe stomach bleeding which almost killed him. The doctor who treated exaggerated by telling Bukowski if he were to drink one more glass he would die. Bukowski later on discovered the doctor had exaggerated but he had also saved his life. Once he was release from the hospital, he gave up his job at the post office in order to dedicate himself to writing full time, yet none of his works from that specific time were to become known. When he started running out of savings, he had to go back to working odd jobs yet he never gave up writing. That is how he continued life; from time to time some of his stories would get published. Bukowski was no a fame seeker, he had no care for it; he only wrote because his spirit demanded it. He did not get recognition for his work until the age of 55, when he signed a contract with a publicist who would finance his work. Little by little, Bukowski started to get recognized and was praised; something he had never had experienced before.
Most would think around 50 is the beginning of life’s decline, for Bukowski it was the other way around; he was to start a new chapter. His fifties were the beginning of a wonderful chapter; two marvelous decades were to follow, doing what he loved while being recognized nationally and internationally. He lived to the age of 73, writing and drinking. He became recognized as one of the best writers of all times.
What is the lesson?….
Given all his life dedicated to doing what he loved, it is odd to think the words he would choose to summarize his life were “Don’t try”. How is it possible that a man whose life example is the epiphany of submerging yourself in your work would choose these words? It all comes down to interpretation…perhaps by reading the words he wrote to his friend William Packard, you will better understand his meaning “Too many writers write for the wrong reasons. They want to get famous or they want to get rich or they want to get laid by the girls with the bluebells in their hair…When everything works best, is not because you choose writing but because writing chose you. It’s when you are mad with it. When it’s stuffed in your ears, nostrils, under your finger nails. It’s when there is no hope but that”. Perhaps now you understand why earlier I mentioned how reminding myself of his words calmed my spirit. I am no Charles Bukowski nor Carl Jung, I am me. I do what I do because I love it. I started writing in English because I have always loved writing. When I first chose to write in English I was mocked by some for not having full command of it grammatically. Something similar happened when coaching/counselling chose me; I questioned wether someone who struggles on her own, who wrestles with life, would be the best person for the job, yet no matter how much I tried to push ot away, to focus on other things, it kept manifesting in my life. Despite all of these, I learned to push past the mockery, the insults and my own self doubt and self sabotaging. I didn’t do it out of a need to prove anyone wrong, I did it because I had no desire to do anything else….both these things fill my life with joy, besides “practice makes better” … when you practice, when you fine tune whatever it is you love, life gets better. That is the lesson I’ve learned from one of the individuals I have chosen as a “role model”.
“Don’t try”, his message doesn’t apply just to writers but to all of us. Think about it, when a child is asked what his favorite color is, the child doesn’t go around thinking which answer is going to make him famous or rich, he simply says what his spirit resonates with. We can describe why we like a color or how it makes us feel but we can’t choose which color we are going to like the most. The configuration of your biological traits in addition to experiences, influences, circumstances, and other factors is what summarizes why you like what you like; something similar happens when it comes to our passion. Our logical thinking, combined with society’s expectations which have become indoctrinated in us, contribute to the clouding of the real “I” and what that “I” really likes and needs in order to expand and shine on its own.
On the same letter from Bukowski to his friend he said “We work too hard. We try too hard. Don’t try. Don’t work. It’s there, looking right at us” Far from his words being a discouragement to effort, his words are trying to leave something clear….when you have found your passion, it doesn’t require work. Your passion will make you feel alive, it will reenergize you, help you expand. It won’t be work, it will be relaxing because in it, your true “I” can simply be.
Give in to your calling, for in it lies a life of plenitude; besides when you do what you love, you are bound to do it well. You are bound to get even better every day which in turn can help you build a comfortable life…the most important part is to give your all to your inner magic. You are not here to fit in, you are here to expand and shine.
“If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. 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. It could mean 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. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.”
― Charles Bukowski