Lately I've been thinking an awful lot about parallel themes in artist's lives. Problematic. Comforting. Unavoidable. Or is it something else? Tonight I'm gonna go with comforting.
Prior generations loved Anton Chekhov. Mine loves Charles Bukowski. And I love them both. Soaking it in until I'm soaking in it. Like Palmolive. To my mind, Chekhov and Bukowski offer a kind of venn diagram of the human condition. One lived his life in pre-Soviet Russia as a dapper medical doctor by day and writer by night. The other was a sensitive, defensive, degenerate drunk 24/7, typewriter at the ready or not. One shaved every day, wore a monocle, carried a pocket watch, and strolled thoughtfully with a rather useless cane. The other carved his face up in bar fights and backroom boxing matches. Especially when his stories and poems were met with rejection letters.
Bukowski was born in Germany one year prior to the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, soon thereafter emigrating with his parents to Los Angeles. Sixteen years before the world gave us The Dirty Old Man, Chekhov died from Tuberculosis at age 44. He'd spent his entire life in a Russia ruled by the Czars. It was a very different world from the one Bukowski would inherit as a 20th Century writer. For Chekhov there would be no WWI, no WWII, no atom bomb, no Israel, no Buddy Holly, no bullet trains, no Coors Light, no NASCAR. No God Particle or Large Hadron Collider menacingly (or mercifully) appeared on his horizon.
Their places and times were quite different in most day to day ways. And yet, each spent his writing hours expressing similar universal truths and artistic ideas; their observations on the human condition overlapping more than one would at first imagine. Each spent his creative life adding his stories to an ever expanding pile stretching back 10,000 years. Trillions of words and depictions. Cubes within cubes with cubes...wheels within wheels without end.
It is not important to say new things. By design the human condition is redundant. Repetition, repetition, repetition... endless, mindful repetitiiiiiiiiion ad infinitum, until one day it is all done. All gone. Day to day life is an exercise in loneliness, laughter and death. Eating and waking. Running around and laying in wait. Bleeding out and drinking in. Crying and trying to forget about the crying. Walking in the light. Willfully wandering into darkness. Violence and doubt. Moments of grace and impermanent reprieves. Does it get easier? Does it all get more complicated as the centuries roll on? Or is it all just variations on a theme? Does any of it matter? I have no idea. All I know is this—life is long. And it is longer still without something to creative to do.
At some point I determined that the only thing of importance in life is to say things in your own way and in your own time. That's it. All the rest of it is just window dressing and hard lessons learned. Kids, marriage, parents, siblings, home ownership, jobs... All of it is just totally pointless without the aid of an inner creative life and some sort of external conduit for getting one's creative works into the world.
Little by little, however, over the past six years I've begun to forget this. When it comes to mind, it strikes like a revelation. It comes on like a flashlight. Suddenly a fog is lifted and I recall that I'm supposed to do this thing that I'm doing here. I'm supposed to write. I'm supposed to spend my time thinking about writing. Reflecting on writing. And then writing some more. Songs and stories, this is supposed to be my path through life. It chose me as much as I chose it. Otherwise, Carver's rivers would not come to mind and move me as they do.
Time is everything and nothing. Drew O'Doherty recently reminded me that time is the weapon of time. To live in fear of it, you get little done worth calling an accomplishment. To wait for your life to become more than it is, you accomplish even less. I do not worry about the past or crave a better future so long as the work I do in the right now feels like its worth a damn.
But it is the doing and then the waiting that can become one's undoing, isn't it? The seesaw. The climb up the summit and the tumble down...for infinitude. Every word has been written, every note has been played. True. Every day it is my blessing and my curse to select the words and play the notes I like. In whatever ways I can. Otherwise, all of this day to day living offers too little and takes too much.
a woman, a
tire that’s flat, a
desire: fears in front of you,
fears that hold so still
you can study them
like pieces on a
it’s not the large things that
send a man to the
madhouse. death he’s ready for, or
murder, incest, robbery, fire, flood…
no, it’s the continuing series of small tragedies
that send a man to the
not the death of his love
but a shoelace that snaps
with no time left …
The dread of life
is that swarm of trivialities
that can kill quicker than cancer
and which are always there -
licence plates or taxes
or expired driver’s license,
or hiring or firing,
doing it or having it done to you, or
roaches or flies or a
broken hook on a
screen, or out of gas
or too much gas,
the sink’s stopped-up, the landlord’s drunk,
the president doesn’t care and the governor’s
lightswitch broken, mattress like a
$105 for a tune-up, carburetor and fuel pump at
and the phone bill’s up and the, market’s
and the toilet chain is
and the light has burned out -
the hall light, the front light, the back light,
the inner light; it’s
darker than hell
and twice as
then there’s always crabs and ingrown toenails
and people who insist they’re
there’s always that and worse;
leaky faucet, christ and christmas;
blue salami, 9 day rains,
50 cent avocados
or making it
as a waitress at norm’s on the split shift,
or as an emptier of
or as a carwash or a busboy
or a stealer of old lady’s purses
leaving them screaming on the sidewalks
with broken arms at the age of 80.
2 red lights in your rear view mirror
and blood in your
toothache, and $979 for a bridge
$300 for a gold
and china and russia and america, and
long hair and short hair and no
hair, and beards and no
faces, and plenty of zigzag but no
pot, except maybe one to piss in
and the other one around your
with each broken shoelace
out of one hundred broken shoelaces,
one man, one woman, one
By Raymond Carver
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.