14 February, 2009

I Pick Up My Books, I Read Bukowski

I've been reading a lot of Bukowski again, lately. It comes and goes. Sometimes when you feel like you've descended into a new place dirtier and grimier than any other place you've ever been, it's best to have Bukowski in your pocket. He's like a tour guide through Hell.

Not that I'm in Hell, or anything like that. It's just a dark state of mind to sink into when you're carrying old Buk with you everywhere you go. I think that so much of his work can be likened to this time we're having now, this endless depression, where all the stakes are changing once again... There are experts saying we won't ever recover from this if we collapse... that unlike Soviet Russia we have all tasted too much wealth to ever recover if our economy falls apart.

Well here's the thing. I grew up in a house with two brothers and a sister. We were only four children, but during the eighteen years I lived at home with my family, my parents were always on the verge of losing everything they had. That was why mother stressed the importance of not only dreaming, but standing on the tips of your toes until they break to reach those dreams. So that is what I do. That is what I will do all the days of my life.

Believe it or not, I've been places, seen things I hope to never be exposed to again in this lifetime. The first year we lived together, my husband and I shared a house with three other roommates. We spent an entire winter without heat and we rarely had enough food to get us by. We literally lived off of rice and ramen noodles for days and days on end, until some miracle presented itself and we were able to buy food. We spent a week on a bus going out to Arizona, where we couldn't get jobs because we had no place to live, and despite having enough money for an entire year's worth of rent, we couldn't get a place to live because we had no jobs. I was pregnant at the time, and desperately afraid of the kind of life I would provide for my child. In Arizona less than a month, we felt like we had failed, so we headed back to our hometown, and wound up living in squalor for about a month with my husband's friend.

It was the most disgusting place I had ever lived in my life. I should have known it would be bad. The guy's car had always been a virtual nightmare-you know, the kind when half a bag of garbage came rolling out whenever you opened a door. You had to arrange the garbage to make yourself comfortable in the back seat. Imagine how his apartment looked. He had a cat. An old Tom he'd found inside a car or something, but never got him neutered. The cat walked around and pissed on everything. Furniture, clothes, blankets, food.... anything he could lift his leg on, he did. And the guy we lived with chewed tobacco, so all over the apartment were cups, bottles and cans filled with putrid brown ooze.

I cleaned the apartment from top to bottom because I was not raised that way. How anyone could live like that and think it was normal, I never understood. Even after I cleaned it, he worked very hard to mess it up again. I remember an instance shortly after I had sterilized the apartment from top to bottom that another guy who was staying with us woke up because he felt something crawling on him... it was a maggot. Talk about never wanting to close your eyes again.

Shortly thereafter, my parents found out what kind of conditions we were living in and came to the rescue. Sometimes I think it was a miracle that we had their help, but we sacrificed a lot of what we believed in by going to stay with them. It was a year and a half that we stayed with them, and in that eighteen months, spirits were crushed, dreams were lost and our small family was nearly torn apart. But we made it through. We finally moved out into our own apartment, and while it wasn't exactly the Ritz Carlton, we made it into a home, and there we stayed for nine years.

During that time we struggled to maintain that which we felt was important to both of us, while also trying to keep up with our financial obligations. In order to provide the best family atmosphere for our daughter, we worked opposite shifts, so someone was always home with her. It wasn't until she started school that I actually got a day job so we could all be home at nights together.

After September 11, 2001, I felt like I'd been hit with a reality check. I was twenty-six, and still hadn't gotten any closer to achieving any of the goals I had set for myself throughout the years. I had no success with publishing, and even worse, had no idea where to start. Within weeks of September 11, I had decided to go to college. And I did.

The thing is, the quality of our life improved dramatically during the time I was going to college. Our finances were looking good, we had gotten rid of past debts and had finally started to save enough money to buy a house. Eight months before graduating, we bought our house. I had the promise of a college education behind me to help me get a better job, and it looked like some of the things we wanted in life were finally going to pay off.

Then the housing market took a dive. Our very first winter here was difficult, as my husband struggled to maintain his job. It wasn't until June that he went back to work full time, but come December he was right back on the same boat. The next year he didn't go back to work full time until July, and by the time September hit in 2008, they were already back to working three day weeks. He's been laid off since the second week in January.

Sob story? Not really, but after everything we've been through it's a real motivator, let me tell you. Not to go out and work nine jobs to maintain material happiness, but to step up our game and start doing some of the things we hesitated on in the past out of fear. Fear of failure, fear of loss, fear of whatever.

I know that so many of my friends are in this same boat. So many of us struggle from day to day to make sure there is food on our table, while our big bosses go on elaborate trips around the world, deny their employees security, claiming that the economy is bad. How bad can it be when they are out living it up like celebrities while the rest of us worry from day to day whether or not we're even going to get our next pay check. My husband's employer has sent the salesmen group every year on a week long cruise to the Bahamas as a reward for work well done... Well guess what, the salesmen haven't sold anything in months, but they leave to go on their cruise at the end of next week.

I very rarely talk politics, and I certainly don't like to blog about them because differences of opinion often tear friendships apart, but this bailout garbage is like trying to stuff a wad of chewing gum into a dam already about to burst. The same people who have always had it easy get another leg up while the world crumbles underneath them, while we're left down here at the bottom wondering NOT where our cruise to the Bahamas or our full-sponsored trip to Pokerfest 2009 is, but whether or not we're going to lose our home or have enough money after paying our mortgage to feed our family. Our jobs, which were propositioned to us as full-time employment just a year ago, waver in the balance, thin as spiderwebs about to break.

The thing is, and I know you're wondering what the hell does any of this have to do with Bukowski, Charles Bukowski defied odds during the depression, World War II, after the War... He painted accurate portraits of the world around him that we can look back on today. If you are a writer, a poet, an artist or a musician of any kind, now is your time. Catalog these days. Paint portraits of the world as it falls apart and rebuilds itself again. There is more than enough inspiration right now to go around. Draw on the misery around you and turn it into something pure, something beautiful.

I know that this blog was probably one of the more depressing blogs I've penned this week, but don't miss the underlying thread of hope glimmering within the darkness. We write our own future, our own destiny, and right now, as it seems like sky is falling, there's a pen or a paintbrush or a guitar waiting for you to pick it up and show the world what you've seen.

Read Bukowski

The Aliens, by Charles Bukowski

you may not believe it
but there are people
who go through life with
very little
friction of distress.
they dress well, sleep well.
they are contented with
their family
they are undisturbed
and often feel
very good.
and when they die
it is an easy death, usually in their

you may not believe
but such people do

but i am not one of
oh no, I am not one of them,
I am not even near
to being
one of
but they
are there

and I am


Matthew Wayne Selznick said...

I was introduced to Bushmill's Irish Whiskey, the works of Jonathan Richman and the poetry of Charles Bukowski on the same night in 1987 or 1988. At the time, me and my friends were all living like little baby Bukowskis... drinking and screwing and making art and just trying to be true to whatever it was we thought we were.

(Hm... there's a webcomic idea: Baby Bukowskis. Like Muppet Babies, only with gambling and smoking and drinking and fighting and making art and listening to Mahler, and their mascot is a little gargoyle-faced dog from hell. Everyone would have great big manga eyes. Anyway....)

I was living in San Pedro when he died, and despite telling myself I should and would, I still haven't visited his grave. I think Buk himself would have thought it a little stupid to do so.

Like you, I revisit Bukowski now and then, when things are sliding toward bad. His work reminds me to be true and be strong, to be defiant just short of the point of stupidity... and sometimes, just to see, beyond that point.

Remember... what matters most is how you walk through the fire.

Mindy Lee said...

Wow! What a moving piece you have written. It comes at a perfect time when so many of us are struggling in these situations, your perspective is appreciated.

Jenny Beans said...

Matt, I had a few of those times myself, the hazy periods of intoxicated artistic bends. Everyone on the roof standing close to the edge philosophizing what it would feel like if you just stepped off... You're right though. All that matters in the end is how you walk out of the fire. Thank you for sharing your story. I always enjoy reading about your experiences.

Thank you, Mindy. It really is something so many of us can relate to, which is why I wanted to blog about it. No matter where you've been in the past, all that matters is right now. I just know in my own life, I have no desire to travel down that dark road for any extended length of time. Not as long as I can help it.

Nicole Ireland said...

Yet another very moving blog post, Jenny.

You are so right about some people living like nothing is wrong while so many of us struggle and try not to worry about what lies ahead for us.

Try as I might, some days I have all I can do to keep negative thoughts out. I don't want to lose my home, but we are doing all we can to get by. I could have stayed with Mahalo, but in the end, the stress of not being paid outweighed the stress that I feel now.

Yes, money is tight, but I'm still happy. My kids, for the most part, are healthy. We still have food in our stomachs, which is more than I can say for some. These are blessings that should not be discounted.

As each day goes by, I see more of my dreams coming true. I'm finally seeing my writing dreams become a reality. As a family, we're working towards having plenty of food and necessities stocked up so we don't have to worry as the economy takes a nosedive around us. That's very important to me. my grandparents did it and they were better off because of it.

I've never read Bukowski, but from what you and Matt wrote, maybe it's time. I know I could continue to use inspiration in any form. It's little pearls of wisdom that can make things easier to cope with.

Susan said...

Ah, Jenny--this post was the antithesis of depressing...it was art. Art that celebrates the triumph of the spirit...and the importance of focusing on that which is true, pure, and stripped of the distractions the world clutters our lives with.

A pleasure, as always, to read your writing.

Morgan Mandel said...

That poem at the end sums it all up. We all have our misfortunes to deal with. Thanks for sharing yours.

Morgan Mandel

Jenny Beans said...

Nicole, the fact that you are happy despite the hardships is one of the most important things, because it proves wrong the "masses" who continually try to shove "money=happiness" down society's throat. Sure, money makes things a lot easier, but I know a lot of people with tons of it that don't know the first thing about happiness.

Susan, I think right now, for me it's been a retrospective week under the pressure of a lot of circumstance. It seemed a little depressing when I laid it all out on the table, but looking back and seeing all the things I'd been through just made this stuff right now seem like opportunity. Dark times are ripe for artistic endeavors. Who else but the creators and artists will not only catalog what's going on around us right now, but start writing and painting us out of it in the end.

Morgan, everyone, thank you for reading and for commenting. I'm glad to hear everyone's thoughts on the state of the world and Bukowski.

Jacquéline Roth said...

I've not read this particular poet but I do like this.

Great post.