How the Champion Of the Down and Out Brought Me Up & Out
I did. I really did sleep with Charles Bukowski. What? Don’t look at me like that. At least hear me out. You’re so cynical. Charles is too, but he’s not as bad as you.
Look, it went like this. I have bipolar disorder and I’d just charged through a manic stretch to end them all. Mostly I went on grandiose shopping and drinking sprees, that left me utterly broke and in possession of little more than six empty boxes of wine and an antique sewing machine which cost around $600 Australian dollars. This also included around $100 worth of high quality buttons and thread. What I planned to do with the wine is now a thing of history, but the sewing equipment still has me bewildered. I know a new quilt for my son was on the cards, but that’s about as much detail as I can give you.
Anyway back to Bukowski. He’s my King. A past tense American poet, author, accidental philosopher and champion of the down and out for the count. People like me.
Once my mania left me, I went on a white knuckle, jagged rock downward spiral where my mood disintegrated from gorgeously amped and gregarious, smashing through the pleasant terrain of slightly chipper, pausing briefly for breath again at an equilibrium of sorts, before plummeting into depression and then making the hard out, icy dark plunge into ocean’s trenches, literally the lowest place on Earth. I can’t tell you what the precise longitude/latitude coordinates are, but I can tell you the trenches are in my bedroom.
I can have a little fun with it now, because my damaged soul needs the levity desperately. But at the time it was quite a thing. In fact if it wasn’t for Mr Bukowski I may have been sectioned in a psych ward or worse. Quite seriously, I was in a state of razor sharp hopelessness where I was struggling to find those reasons, the really good reasons, that pull me out of the trenches. For me it is my son, writing and…well nothing else really. These are the only two things that matter to me in that soulful sense.
I began to disassociate and disconnect from the people I live with and I began to feel paranoid that I would lose custody of my son, and that I might even become homeless, such was the financial ruination I was confronted with. I thought my new bipolar memoir, Clown & I, was destined for failure and that I was doomed as a writer. I’m not long out of a broken marriage, my bipolar episodes have been more frequent and, in short, I was shipwrecked doing a black run.
That’s when my best friend came round and opened the door to my humid, stinking room, without knocking I might add, and introduced me to Mr Bukowski. Mr Bukowski isn’t attractive but still I took him by my hand and sat him in my lap. He seemed quite comfortable and from that point forward I didn’t say a word, just the occasional laugh out loud moment. Mr Bukowski was grand company, quite funny to begin with but then very quickly he got serious.
He said Ryan, it’s okay, “The future’s only a bad hunch; Shakespeare told us that – we’d all go flying there otherwise. But it’s only when a man gets to the point of a gun in his mouth that he can see the whole world inside of his head. Anything else is conjecture, conjecture and bullshit and pamphlets.”
You can tell right away that I slept with Bukowski whether you want to admit it or not. That statement is too real for me to have made it up. Only Bukowski could say that. I wept as those 52 words shifted my perspective like a boulder from the front of a treasure cave. The purity of truth in those few words cannot be denied.
I’m sure those same words mean different things to different people. For me they mean, own my now. There is no future. The only thing we are guaranteed is now. Very importantly in my case, it is also means that if you have been to the sheer cliff’s edge, and perhaps the ledge, you have seen some things, and you know some things. I now believe that my own missions to the brink have not been a wasted exercise. There are lessons there in the suffering. Big lessons. Like seeing the whole world inside of your head. Nothing for me has been the same ever since. It was all I could manage to absorb Bukowski though, so I had to sleep. Bukowski slept next to me.
In the morning I didn’t get out of bed. I stayed there because I needed to hear everything Bukowski had to say while the chance was there. He was only on loan to me, sadly. But he became my overnight obsession. I could tell he wasn’t far from winding up when pulled this one out:
“Endurance is more important than truth because without endurance there can’t be any truth. And truth means going to the end like you mean it. That way, death itself comes up short when it grabs.”
I wept again at this. And I smiled broadly. And I wept. Then I couldn’t stop smiling.
Then I got up.
Then I moved.
I slept with Charles Bukowski and he saved my life.
I’m still smiling, but with a steely glint of determination.
Endure fine people. Endure.
*This story was inspired by the book Charles Bukowski On Writing (2015).