Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Truth Is Not Ugly To God (Bono)

I seldom read novels. I never read poetry. I am probably intellectually poorer as a result of it. I’ve never heard of Charles (Hank) Bukowski until yesterday. I went to the local library and picked up a DVD documentary on his life. Not sure why I checked it out, probably because it was a story of a writer. I watched the short film of his life last night and went to sleep depressed. Not just for the gloomy life of Bukowski, but the seemingly meaningless life of most of humanity.

Bukowski is interesting to me for many reasons. He was born the same year of my father, 1920. My dad is still living, Bukowski died in 1994. Hank, not his pen name but the name he preferred, spent most of his life in Los Angeles, the city where I spent the first fourteen years of my life. Though he was the product of the preceding generation than my own, I identify with him more as a contemporary. He came into his own during the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, the years of revolution and turmoil, a time of political upheaval which altered the course of our nation.

Bukowski’s life started out miserable and ended the same way. He grew under the thumb of a harsh father, drank, smoked and never had a meaningful relationship until late in life. He was depraved, irreverent, irresponsible, though not necessarily reckless. He cared for little in life except for writing. In one of his poems he states that he smokes and drinks too much (he calls alcohol the blood of cowards), but can’t write enough. His motivation for writing was not for fame or for riches, but out of a sense of pain. Bukowski wrote about the things he loved and hated as a means of escape from the agony of his existence. He was brutally honest in his assessments, which played well to his audience in the era of Vietnam, Watergate and the Carter years.

I suppose it is the impertinence of people like Bukowski that I am sometimes drawn. We live in a world that it dictated by the institutions of government, corporations and religion. Along with those structures of society are boundaries. Regulations on what is acceptable behavior, philosophy, even theology, are so prevalent that original thought is often seen by the mainstream as a threat. The only way to make it in life is to conform. People like Bukowski are intriguing, not because they are wholesome role models, but because they live with little pretense and who can articulate, in some fashion, what most people feel and think but are afraid to say. Based on the documentary, I assume Bukowski’s writing’s are a bit like Solomon’s last book, Ecclesiastes, in which the futility of life is highlighted. Of the many differences, Bukowski was profane and wasn’t looking for meaning in life and had no conclusion. His life ended as miserably as it began. Solomon at least had more to say than "all is vanity," and had a remedy.

On Bukowski’s tombstone is written, “don’t try.” Did he mean life is not worth the effort? Or, as his widow suggest, it means that life should not be lived trying but being? Most of my life is trying. Since all the truth is God’s truth, even if a godless poet pens it, perhaps Bukowski has something of eternal value to offer. Whether one is traditionalist or nonconformist, life is best lived being rather than trying to be.

1 comment:

Jeremy said...

Richard,
You perpetually surprise me. I have read many of Bukowski's books and know his story well. I appreciate that you are learning something from this very fallen and forlorn person and not just writing him off as most evangelicals would without a second thought. If you ever had the gumption, his novel "Ham on Rye" is probably the best and autobiographical about his early life - brutal though. As for poetry, Bukowski had a wry attitude towards the genre. "Pretty poetry always did make my eyes water..." is one one of my favorite, though sarcsatic, lines. Nevertheless, he did write poetry and the title of one of of the books is precious, "The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills."