( Tuesday, December 26, 2006 )

Bukowski On Writing

I read this recently and loved it. I can't say I'd agree with everything (considering I re-write everything a bajillion times), but still--it made me think. So maybe it'll make you think. Or not. Or maybe yes. Either way.
(Note: This was before blogging ever existed, so I think we're exempt...)

if it doesn't come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don't do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don't do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don't do it.
if you're doing it for money or
don't do it.
if you're doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don't do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don't do it.
if it's hard work just thinking about doing it,
don't do it.
if you're trying to write like somebody
forget about it.

if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you're not ready.

don't be like so many writers,
don't be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don't be dull and boring and
pretentious, don't be consumed with self-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don't add to that.
don't do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don't do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don't do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.

--Charles Bukowski On Writing

( Friday, December 08, 2006 )

A Boy Goes to Wal-Mart: A Semi-Non-Epic Tale

My mind has been conditioned to think in analogies. I’m not sure if it’s because of my time at Bible College or the countless church services I’ve sat through or a combination of both. But little things will happen, and my immediate reaction will be something like, "Boy, this would make a good sermon illustration” or “Gee, that’s kinda like [life; love; puberty; the struggle for racial/gender/planetary equality; etc…].” Bah!

Take last Friday night, for example. I had to walk to Wal-Mart to grab something for school, and I figured I could go and get it done quickly and be back home with the rest of the night ahead of me. Before I'd left I'd roughly estimated in my head how long the whole outing would take: 15.3 minutes to walk there, 2.6 minutes to get from the door to the shelf holding the holy grail of my quest, 34.21 minutes to wander aimlessly through the rest of store looking at crap I wasn't going to buy, 3.8 minutes to make it through the checkout, and 12.34 minutes back home (the return trip is mostly downhill, so it’s quicker). Beautiful.

To get from my house to Wal-Mart I have to walk through a big park, a journey I have undertaken successfully many, many times, and expected to successfully complete once more. Yet that night everything was different. Much different. [Cue music from Psycho.]

A few minutes into my trip I came to the point where normally I have to cross a little bridge. Unfortunately this time the entire bridge was gone. In fact, half of the distance of the path I had to walk between my residence and my goal was missing, submerged under what was apparently a very misplaced Mississippi River. Instead of there being a quaint crossing over a quiet, serene creek covered in a thin layer of ice, there was a flowing body of water carrying large, unhappy trees from one end of the park to the other.

My first thought was something along the lines of, “Wow, that’s pretty cool…” But then my reaction turned to something more like a huff and a puff and an internalized tantrum (it’s better if it’s internal, because you never know who might be watching). I mean, I had mapped this trip down to the nanosecond, sure I'd be back home within 68.25 minutes with spoils in hand. But no. This...river, this insensitive, inconsiderate, selfish river decided to screw me. ‘Curse you, Mother Nature! How dare you stand between me and Wal-Mart.’ I knew that in order to one-up Nature and make it to the store despite her best efforts, I would have to find another way there. I could either go back to where I started and take the long, un-scenic route beside the road, which would take me approximately 23.4 minutes, or I could turn up a different path that was on higher ground but that also ran around the park, only from a different direction. My dilemma was that I knew how to get to the store if I took the ugly, boring route along the road, but I didn't know where the other more pleasant looking path would lead me--I knew I'd get to Wal-Mart eventually, but how long it would take was anyone's guess.

I really didn't feel like walking along the busy road around the park, or walking the few minutes back to where I started from, so I threw caution to the wind (and it was windy) and took the other path.

Now here' s the part where I insert a quote to, A) give you an idea of where this is going, and B) show you that I do in fact have a point in sharing this ridiculous story with you. So here you go:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

--Robert Frost

Different people have different interpretations of that poem. But for the sake of my dumb analogy, the important points are that he had to make a choice between two paths, he chose a path, and that choice has obviously had an impact on his future.


Moments after I made up my mind the wind picked up and almost knocked me into the river. I admit I was thinking maybe I should just turn around and go home, but I figured, I'd already started this stinking walk, I might as well finish it. But I wasn’t feeling happy about it. I mean, not only was it going to take me longer, the whole stupid trip was for something I didn’t even necessarily need that night.

And then it sort of hit me: why was I feeling so inconvenienced? Could it be because I was a big, 23-year-old baby? Historically, when things don't go according to Mr. Stewart's genius 12-step plan, someone must pay; vengeance must be had; small animals must suffer.

It's silly, I know. I do. I realize that it's ridiculous to get upset about such a minuscule problem. And yet--and here's where I introduce the long-awaited analogy--it occurred to me that it was a pretty accurate portrait of my life. While I might do my best to create some perfect plan on how my life should go, say A to B to C, life is never that easy or that simple. It usually looks more like A to B to C back to B then up to E staying at E for awhile then falling back to A skipping to D and then C again.

While I was walking and thinking about all this, a verse kept popping into my head:

In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.

--Proverbs 16:9

I love that verse because to me it says that God is in control, not me. Yeah, it's up to me to make decisions, to make the choice to go down one path or another, like Frost says. But ultimately I can rest easy in knowing that nothing I do is outside of God's capability or knowledge. My responsibility is to make the choice, and relish the adventure that will inevitably follow. Because that's what it is: an adventure. Consider these definitions, courtesy of the aptly-named Dictionary.com:

Ad•venture /ædˈvɛntʃər/ –noun

• an exciting or very unusual experience;
• participation in exciting undertakings or enterprises;
• a bold, usually risky undertaking; hazardous action of uncertain outcome;
• peril; danger; risk;
• to risk or hazard;
• to take the chance of; dare.

I like that. I like that "adventure" doesn't mean happy-go-lucky-piece-of-cake-12-step-program. It requires risk and uncertainty and danger. It means that things won't always work out, circumstances won't always be pleasant, paths won't always be clear and welcoming. I like that, because it means my life is an adventure, on account of the fact that I do choose to take risks, to take chances, to jump without seeing where I'm going to land.

I'm not always the brave explorer, obviously. In fact, more often than not my feelings in life are the same as they were on my epic journey to Wal-Mart: irritation that things aren't going according to plan, with a dash of self-pity thrown in for extra flavour. But then I remember that it all boils down to choice--choosing how to react is as much my responsibility as, say, choosing what way to get to Wal-Mart or where to live or what house to buy or whether or not to continue growing a beard. It's impossible to say, "I'm not going to feel this way." No one can choose how they feel. But there is a choice in how I deal with those feelings and what I do with them.

I don't want to mislead you and paint a picture of myself as being something that I'm clearly not (because right now everyone who has spent any amount of time with me is probably thinking I'm just completely full of crap). The truth is that I really suck at choosing the best response to those overwhelming feelings in my gut/intestines, be they fear or anger or jealousy or apathy or the million other emotions we all feel at one time or another. But it's a growth thing, something I have to continually learn to do, over and over and over again. And really, all I can do is hope that the next time I’m faced with a situation, I decide to embrace the choice and make the best one I can. That's where I'm at, anyway--I'm in the hoping stage. Call it what you will—blind optimism, faith, idiotic ramblings of someone with too much time on his hands. I don’t mind. I just know that life=process, and the day I meet someone who isn’t under construction, well, I’ll send you all a personalized apology card.

And for the record, I did choose to enjoy the rest of my walk. In fact, I purposely took a couple more detours to trick myself into soaking up the relatively warm weather and get some exercise. So see—I am learning! Maybe slowly, but it's still progress, right?