Indulgence, abstinence or both?
Charles Bukowski may have redefined the words “religious experience.” In a life of self-denial and indulgence, he mirrored the path of so many righteous men before him, in such contradictory ways. We have all heard of the hard knock life and the spiritual growth obtainable through such a path; but most growth, we are told, comes from abstinence, and the power of the will. Buddha tried to abstain from pleasure and security in a search for purification. Jesus Christ traveled the countryside, with no more than the clothes on his back, trying to find peace. Monks and priests and nuns have followed these guidelines for centuries, as well as have writers and poets, searching for similar goals such as purification and enlightenment.
But what then is to be said for indulgence, in any and all forms of the word – sex, drink, smoke, fear, power, words, thoughts, actions, etc … There comes a point when the body fails, when the mind weakens, the skin falls and the hair just disappears; what then? Is it not a battle of will to continue drinking when you can’t even open your mouth? Or to bet the horses on the 12th when you haven’t but $5 and an empty apartment, “rent (due) on the 13th, child support the 14th, and car payment the 15th,” as Bukowski writes. Or to be 60, looking an easy 70, and still trying for the young ones? The mind and all things good tell you to quit, but you continue “stomping on the tera” (as Hunter S. liked to call it) to see just how much you can endure. Seems an awful lot like spending time in isolation, without food or drink, on some heavy meditation trip in the middle of some jungle. Only it is a concrete jungle, and the reason your head hurts is not from a lack of food, but copious amounts of drink, and it’s not love you feel pulsating through your being, but hate and desire. It all breaks down to the same ritualistic punishment of the self, to cast out the past, the weaknesses of yesterday, the faults of tomorrow. And just like abstinence, it is not the deed that gives reward; it is the survival of the test, and the knowledge that you can survive it again tomorrow, if you choose.
Can you see where I’m going with this? Maybe it is something about indulgence and abstinence leading to the same peak of human potential, only arriving from very different faces of the mountain, maybe. While this theory may or may not be viable, it is a path that many have chosen, and Bukowski writes about like no other. Sacrificing fame for independence, wealth for freedom, family for solitude, and happiness for unending self-inflicted punishment, Bukowski lived the life he wrote about. In his book “Tales of Ordinary Madness” (a reprint of the second half of his 1967 publication “Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions, and General Tales of Ordinary Madness”) Bukowski shows the world his power over words and the raw side of life. Writing about the ugliness that most of us spend our lives ignoring and turning away from, he embraces this as a reality worth fighting, rather than giving in to. With reflections on everything from the few “happy” days spent with his young daughter who thought daddy was king, to the habitual abuse he took as a child, and continues to take from the world as an adult, this book is a realistic look into the lives of one of America’s best known poets. Poetry may have been the writer’s forte, but there is no significance lost in his short stories. Minor glimpses into an underground world of drunks, whores and the generally forsaken give us all something to be happy about, and maybe something to be guilty about as well.
Samuel D. Massa received his English literature degree from Michigan State University with a double minor in religious studies and history. Massa works at Weber’s Books and Drawings in Breckenridge where this title can be found.
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