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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Number 256: Charles Bukowski "The Laughing Heart"

The Laughing Heart

your life is your life

don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.

be on the watch.

there are ways out.

there is a light somewhere.

it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.

be on the watch.

the gods will offer you chances.

know them.

take them.

you can’t beat death but

you can beat death in life, sometimes.

and the more often you learn to do it,

the more light there will be.

your life is your life.

know it while you have it.

you are marvelous

the gods wait to delight

in you.

-- Charles Bukowski

Hap Notes: Well now, this poem is a big window into the compassionate heart of Charles Bukowski, whose gruff and often ribald public persona dominates his reputation. Bukowski had plenty of what the nine-to-five world would call troubles and what the world of struggling artists would call, ironically, "business as usual." Doubly ironic because the "business" of being who you really are is the hardest and most frustrating job you will ever tackle and does not really resemble business in any way.

The business world has co-opted phrases like "coloring outside of the lines," "thinking outside of the box," "pushing the envelope," "left brain thinking" to illustrate their own "creativity." One assumes these phrases are used to placate their discomfort with selling their souls to the devil. So let's them have them, even though it's a very clever way of clubbing themselves into submission.

No, what Bukowski is talking about is the frustrating life of someone who has a drive to do something which may or may not ever be successful. If you are an artist and you are always working at your vocation/avocation with relatively little remuneration or what the nine-to-five world would call "success" what you do get is your life, your own life.

Yes, but, Hap, those nine-to-five people keep the world going, keep things moving, allowing artists to live on the fringes. Everybody can't be creative, can they? Everybody can't be satisfied with what they've chosen do to, can they? Well, quite frankly, sure they can but the kind of dismantling of contemporary culture that would have to take place in order for that to happen makes my head hurt just thinking about it. We'd all have to agree to give up some things, live a little differently and choose to be happy. As long as there are people who think making money is actually making something real and significant, this ain't gonna happen. (Quick– name the richest person from Van Gogh's era, or Tolstoy's, or even Bukowski's. Who the hell cares?)

So what is Bukowski talking about by saying "the gods will offer you chances"? It's probably not wealth, but it does mean survival. It may not mean "success" but it does mean the satisfaction of doing something you have a fire within to do. It may not mean recognition but it may mean the appreciation of a few people who understand your work. It will be enough to help you to continue.

If you've ever looked up at the night sky with its stars and galaxies and been filled with awe and wonder and inspiration, you are experiencing the ride the universe is willing to give you if you will let it. Maybe for you it's not the stars. Maybe it's a car engine or an algebra problem or a crushed up tin can on the side of the road or a bird or a butterfly or a tree that gets you thinking, inspiring you to write or paint or sing or invent. This ride is often slightly dangerous (no net!) and it won't always be exactly what you want it to be but it will be amazing. And the more you feel connected to this cosmic cruise, the more "light there will be."

Because you, and everybody else, has marvelous stuff embedded in them. It's just waiting for us to discover it. Then, hang on for the ride of your life, your own life. This minute. Right now. Your heart will laugh with glee.

Here is where we have talked about Bukowski before:

Here is Tom Waits reading today's poem:

The pictures are the "universal form" of Lord Krishna, who reveals himself to his friend and follower Arjuna, in the Bhagavad Gita. Arjuna is, understandably, freaked out by the revelation that Krishna, is the universe, is everyone.

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