Charles Bukowski Explains How to Beat Depression: Spend 3–4 Days in Bed and You’ll Get the Juices Flowing Again (NSFW)

Image by Graziano Ori­ga, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

I felt like sleep­ing for five years but they wouldn’t let me

—Charles Bukows­ki, Ham on Rye

I don’t know about you, but the grind gets me down. Day in, day out, the same rou­tine, nev­er a break but the odd vaca­tion. And you know what they say about vaca­tions; when you get back, you need anoth­er one. Used to be days were more reg­u­lar, in the hey­days of the unions. You put in your time and you get some back, enough at least for a good night’s sleep. No more. The machine nev­er sleeps, and nei­ther can we. If you have the good for­tune to live in the U.S., you and I can call our­selves blessed res­i­dents of the most over­worked nation in the world. Euro­peans may have it bet­ter, but maybe not by much.

Screw it, you want to say some­times. I just want to get some rest. We’re enti­tled to it. Accord­ing to that great folk the­o­rist of the grind, Charles Bukows­ki, three or four days in bed may be just the thing to get the juices flow­ing again when spir­its are low, and we don’t even have enough gas in the tank to revolt against a cul­ture that’s try­ing to work us all to death. At the dawn of the age of dereg­u­la­tion and sup­ply-side dom­i­nance, Bukows­ki saw the per­ils of mind-numb­ing, soul-killing, work, cas­ti­gat­ing the “9 to 5,” which is “nev­er 9 to 5,” in a bru­tal­ly hon­est let­ter to his pub­lish­er and bene­fac­tor, John Mar­tin.

Bukowski’s pre­scrip­tion for the depres­sion engen­dered by mod­ern life (aside from black­out drink­ing, that is): Sleep, a need as phys­i­cal­ly urgent as food or water. It wards off mor­bid rumi­na­tion: “sleep­ing in the rain,” he wrote, “helps me for­get things like I am going to die and you are going to die and the cats are going to die.” And when “the Wheaties aren’t going down right,” he says in the spo­ken word piece above, “when I feel a lit­tle weak or depressed,” it’s sleep he rec­om­mends.

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 now and then 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.

Can you get time off for three or four days in bed? Prob­a­bly not. But hey, maybe there are more humane days ahead, as Bukows­ki fore­casts in a rare moment of opti­mism, when jobs won’t lit­er­al­ly kill us, when med­ical sci­ence will give us license to take “sleep leave.”

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?”

It’s not a long speech at all, but it’s a damned good one.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Charles Bukows­ki Rails Against 9‑to‑5 Jobs in a Bru­tal­ly Hon­est Let­ter (1986)

“Don’t Try”: Charles Bukowski’s Con­cise Phi­los­o­phy of Art and Life

The Last (Faxed) Poem of Charles Bukows­ki

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (3)
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  • Mike Anderson says:

    “Can you get time off for three or four days in bed? Prob­a­bly not.”

    Hey, if you have a reg­u­lar job, Uncle Sam’s got your back. You most like­ly get the big three week­ends, MLK, Jr. Day; Memo­r­i­al Day, and Labor Day. Go home after work, order a cou­ple of piz­zas (one for now, one for lat­er), knock back 4 or 5 shots with sup­per, and hit the sack until lunchtime on Mon­day.

  • Tamara says:

    I pro­pose harsh pun­ish­ment for those who can’t get lay/lie right.

  • Woke1-1979 says:

    Crap edit­ing with audio. Why??? … can’t hear due to obnox­ious duck­ing.

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