Pico Iyer once called Charles Bukowski the “laureate of American lowlife,” and that’s because he wrote poems for and about ordinary Americans — people who experienced poverty, the tedium and grind of work, and sometimes frayed relationships, bouts of alcoholism, drug addiction and the rest. Bukowski could write so eloquently about this because he came from this world. He grew up in a poor immigrant household with an abusive father, took to the bottle at an early age, worked at a Los Angeles post office for a decade plus, and had a long and tumultuous relationship with Jane Cooney Baker, a widow eleven years his senior, who drank to excess and died at 51, leaving Bukowski broken. And then there’s the depression. Bukowski experienced that too. But he knew how to channel it, how to turn days of darkness into sources of personal and creative renewal. He explains it in some characteristically NSFW detail above.
To gain a more in-depth understanding of depression and its biological basis, we’d recommend watching this lecture by Stanford’s Robert Sapolksy.
Here’s a transcript of what Bukowski has to say:
I have periods where, you know, when I feel a little weak or depressed. Fuck it! The Wheaties aren’t going down right. I just go to bed for three days and four nights, pull down all the shades and just go to bed. Get up. Shit. Piss. Drink a beer down and go back to bed. I come out of that completely re-enlightened for 2 or 3 months. I get power from that.
I think someday…they’ll say this psychotic guy knew something that…you know in days ahead and medicine, and how they figure these things out. Everybody should go to bed now and then, when they’re down low and give it up for three or four days. Then they’ll come back good for a while.
But we’re so obsessed with, we have to get up and do it and go back to sleep. In fact there’s a woman I’m living with now, get’s around 12:30, 1pm, I say: “I’m sleepy. I want to go to sleep.” She says: “What? You want to go to sleep, it’s only 1pm!” We’re not even drinking, you know. Hell, there’s nothing else to do but sleep.
People are nailed to the processes. Up. Down. Do something. Get up, do something, go to sleep. Get up. They can’t get out of that circle. You’ll see, someday they’ll say: “Bukowski knew.” Lay down for 3 or 4 days till you get your juices back, then get up, look around and do it. But who the hell can do it cause you need a dollar. That’s all. That’s a long speech, isn’t it? But it means something.