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

Now more than ever, there’s tremen­dous pres­sure to make it big while you’re young.

Pity the 31-year-old who fails to make it onto a 30-under-30 list…

The soon-to-grad­u­ate high school­er passed over for YouTube star­dom…

The great hordes who creep into mid­dle age with­out so much as a TED Talk to their names…

Social media def­i­nite­ly mag­ni­fies the sen­sa­tion that an unac­cept­able num­ber of our peers have been grant­ed first-class cab­ins aboard a ship that’s sailed with­out us. If we weren’t so demor­al­ized, we’d sue Insta­gram for cre­at­ing the impres­sion that every­one else’s #Van­Life is lead­ing to book deals and pro­files in The New York­er.

Don’t despair, dear read­er. Charles Bukows­ki is about to make your day from beyond the grave.

In 1993, at the age of 73, the late writer and self-described “spoiled old toad,” took a break from record­ing the audio­book of Run With the Hunt­ed to reflect upon his “crap­py” life.

Some of these thoughts made it into Drew Christie’s ani­ma­tion, above, a reminder that the smoothest road isn’t always nec­es­sar­i­ly the rich­est one.

In ser­vice of his ill-pay­ing muse, Bukows­ki logged decades in unglam­orous jobs —dish­wash­er, truck­driv­er and loader, gas sta­tion atten­dant, stock boy, ware­house­man, ship­ping clerk, park­ing lot atten­dant, Red Cross order­ly, ele­va­tor oper­a­tor, and most noto­ri­ous­ly, postal car­ri­er and clerk. These gigs gave him plen­ty of mate­r­i­al, the sort of real world expe­ri­ence that eludes those upon whom lit­er­ary fame and for­tune smiles ear­ly.

(His alco­holic mis­ad­ven­tures pro­vid­ed yet more mate­r­i­al, earn­ing him such hon­orifics as the ”poet lau­re­ate of L.A. lowlife” and “enfant ter­ri­ble of the Meat School poets.”)

One might also take com­fort in hear­ing a writer as prodi­gious as Bukows­ki reveal­ing that he didn’t hold him­self to the sort of dai­ly writ­ing reg­i­men that can be dif­fi­cult to achieve when one is jug­gling day jobs, stu­dent loans, and/or a fam­i­ly. Also appre­ci­at­ed is the far-from-cur­so­ry nod he accords the ther­a­peu­tic ben­e­fits that are avail­able to all those who write, regard­less of any pub­lic or finan­cial recog­ni­tion:

Three or four nights out of sev­en. If I don’t get those in, I don’t act right. I feel sick. I get very depressed. It’s a release. It’s my psy­chi­a­trist, let­ting this shit out. I’m lucky I get paid for it. I’d do it for noth­ing. In fact, I’d pay to do it. Here, I’ll give you ten thou­sand a year if you’ll let me write. 

Relat­ed Con­tent:

4 Hours of Charles Bukowski’s Riotous Read­ings and Rants

Hear 130 Min­utes of Charles Bukowski’s First-Ever Record­ed Read­ings (1968)

Rare Record­ings of Bur­roughs, Bukows­ki, Gins­berg & More Now Avail­able in a Dig­i­tal Archive Cre­at­ed by the Mary­land Insti­tute Col­lege of Art (MICA)

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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  • Julian Malone says:

    There was more pres­sure to suc­ceed at a younger age in gen­er­a­tions past than now. Today we have full wel­fare rolls end­less debt slav­ery, poor econ­o­my and a lot more hope­less­ness for youth. Many are still teenagers well into their thir­ties. The wun­derken of YouTube, et al are a small frac­tion of the demo­graph­ic.

  • Federico Correa says:

    …he is right..the “manure pile” is rich.

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