Around the time I was a freshman in college, I was turned on to Bukowski. I was reading a lot of Henry Rollins’ books, and from his works I fell into a rabbit whole of subversive literature; Henry Miller, Chuck Palanuik, Irving Welsh, and so on. I think most people get into subversive fiction when they’re young and at their most angst-ridden and confused. Reading Factotum as a teenager was like, I imagine, how a first shot of heroin feels. It felt to me like my brain and my feelings were having a brawl inside of my mind. It felt that the first time I read A Catcher in the Rye and listened to Chopin for the first time. I look for that feeling over and over again when I read. It’s so rare to come by. So many books are dumb down these days.
How was I when I was young? Even worse, how were my friends? Ever had a friend that was deep into absinthe and Steampunk cosplay or got into goth, rap metal, and writing vampire fan fiction? We were all frustrated, overwhelmed, trying to carve out our identities, to find out where and how the hell we belonged. We were fire balls of frenzied emotions, of emotional turmoil, and mental anguish. It was the only time when being dysfunctional was valuable. I don’t know how most people live life without experiencing a little bit of anguish. Everything I was attracted to was solemn, vulgar, dark, exploitative, brooding, but, in my mind, cool. The countless times I’d sat in my room with my windows blacked out with newspaper, drinking bad beer and writing shitty poetry while listening to blues records (I’m talking Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, not that bullshit Eric Clapton wastes his our time with instead of giving us Cream fans an appropriate album AND tour. Rest in Paradise Jack Bruce). My friends look back on that time of their lives, photos included, with a code red level of cringe. But, I feel that it was their most expressive time, a time when they were at their most creative and free. Now, they’re afraid of chaos, or they suppress it with prescription drugs. I don’t know. I sympathize with their fear. Some people get older and feel that it’s probably safer not to feel anything, I guess. I don’t know. I don’t mind being a loser. Living’s a lot easier, I feel good. I just don’t think that you should go through life being completely numb. Face your failures, the stuff that saddens you, just a little bit.
Bukowski was a shrewd dude. He was also a pretty vile dude, but he was conscious. He had a thumbprint on life that I admire and try to maintain for myself, though without the influence of drugs or alcohol. He saw life for what it was, human beings living in a whirring madness of boredom and wasteful living that he just couldn’t understand. Neither do I. But, I’m empathetic to those who continue to live this way. They haven’t figured out how to escape the asylum. I suppose people get older and that’s when the pointlessness of life hits them. Bukowski and his Chinaski alter-ego broke free with sex, women, gambling and booze. And because of the way he lived, he is seen as a hero, or an anti-hero depending on your level of cynicism. Like Bukowski/Chinaski, you want to walk into work drunk off your balls and tell the boss to kiss your ass. Because, somewhere underneath the squander and grind of it all, we all want to believe that happiness exists, unaffected. Far from all of the disappointment and apathy, we want to believe that there is still a resistance within ourselves driving us to live in our own way. It’s a feeling that drives us from our youth that into our adulthood, and we hope to hold on to it for as long as we can.
But, nah. That ain’t reality.
Most people live with both feet on the ground and their head on their bills, and then others are comfortable with permanence and find a rhythm in being broken in like a dog by habituation and routine. I’m not judging those people, but they can only live vicariously through other people’s lives, and that has to be a painful reality, I think. Not being brave enough, so that as an adult, that that six pack of beer and that joint starts to become things that get you through the daily 9 to 5 bullshit. Most people are going to sit on our asses and watch the clock hit five and sweat it out on a packed smelly train on the way home, because home is where your food and bed is, and then do it all again tomorrow. But, hell, you can laugh about it someday when you look down at the joke of a pension check you’ll have to retire on. I’ll probably be that bum you see coming out of work, selling her shitty poetry pamphlets and knitted loves that you’ll throw your unwanted pennies at. We’re all end up losers in some sort of way in this life, I guess.
What Bukowski is saying is, just have the fucking courage to embrace it.