by Rob Ulrich
This is exactly the sort of thing that drove Bukowski to drink. Then again, what didn't?
I have boundless respect for someone with that much discipline. His father was a hard man, used to beat him with his belt if the grass wasn't cut precisely that way the old man saw fit. If one blade was left longer than the rest, the boy got a whuppin' with a belt. If something else wasn't precisely the way dad wanted it, even more leather. It was in that respect, Bukowski later reflected, that his father was actually a great literary teacher. The incessant beatings gave Bukowski a hard varnish, taught him how to remain focused, even when you didn't see fruits of your labor, even when you didn't especially feel like writing, even when it hurt the most. In your darkest moments... Endure the pain. Stay tough. Keep going.
Thanks to a violent father and rather unpleasant childhood, it's no wonder that Hank (his name was Henry Charles Bukowski) drank to ease his pain. But he also used it to stave off the excessive boredom he had in a menial job, hand-sorting mail in the bowels of the district branch post office. He drank to forget the past and also the present tedium of life- of just making it to the next day without going completely over the edge- teetering on the razor-thin line of sanity. He escaped inside the bottle and by spending off-hours betting the horses at Hollywood Park, before going home to face the monster; the old, black, heavy, ribbon typewriter. He did this for years, all while living literally on the edge of stardom, in the ruinous skids of West Hollywood. I like to believe that drink mostly helped him chase the muse. And that focus- that discipline- kept him writing and diligently mailing his poetry to would-be publishers and agents for dozens and dozens of years in lonely obscurity. The man was more than tough as nails, he was a ball peen hammer with a pen. He wrote prolifically, exposed his madness and won fans and admirers of all creeds. In his own way, he found stardom. He even prospered. And ultimately, he lived with some measure of true happiness in his waning years. In the long run, it all paid off. Cheers, Hank.
So what does this have to do with a blog? Well, I can't help but wonder what kind of discipline it's going to take to get a 50-something guy to write a regular journal to a world that only seems to value the fashion of the moment in so-called journalism broken down into tweetable, hashtagable, blips and re-posts of things "liked" and "shared" and "liked" again. It's a world particularly obsessed with targeting to Millennial sensibilities and re-emphasizing the kind of sensationalized, embarrassing stories of failure found in any given reality TV show. Fantasy sports, foodie idealism and political rants also seem to be high in demand. If Guy Fieri were to make an incendiary comment on geopolitics while simultaneously having a sex change operation during his fantasy football league's draft, it'd be social media gold!
Then there's the chicken and the egg question. Which came first? I believe this question is really about the existence of God. But in terms of my purposes here, obviously the writing has to exist before the reading of it. So that's that. It's settled. I'm writing this stuff. But I would also like to believe that there'll be some sort of payoff here, some purpose beyond just "the joy of writing," which one of my colleagues calls it. For me, there's little joy in waste.
So why do it? What's this all about? Perhaps it's really because I don't fit in, that I do. If the muse is sweetly talking to me, she's telling me not to chase fashion, but to challenge it... Ask. Provoke. Deconstruct. And report. As members of Monty Python have expressed; what they did in their humor wasn't simply to challenge authority willy-nilly across the board, whatever the authority was. It was to challenge and poke fun at authority that was poorly exercised. Therein lies the humor and the lesson (if there is one)- that there's room for improvement with everything and with all of us, in this great circus of life in which we find ourselves playing. Why is this idea or trend fashionable? Who's deciding it is or isn't. Why are the prevailing perceptions what they are? And why does everyone care? I want to know who the gatekeepers are. Who's really pulling the strings? Why do they make the decisions they make? Perhaps more importantly, why does the public willingly take the bait? There's got to be a lot of comedy and sadness in there.
I tend to see room for improvement in pretty much everything- a good deal of it in myself. This comes from a comedian's point of view. And self-deprecation has always been a mark of really good comedy. Chris Rock once said that a comedian lives in hell because he sees everything and has to point it out, examine it, and comment on it. Chris Rock is a brilliant comic but for that observation alone, Chris Rock is another one of my heroes.
So, I live in hell. And welcome to my world! You lucky devil!
I truly hope to earn your readership. We'll chase that muse. Or as Phil Lesh and Keith Richards might put it, respectively; we'll be searching for the sound, searching for that elusive, lost chord. With luck, it'll be a weird ride. And we'll all prosper some from it.
Now back to that age-old question, lest anybody still be mulling this one over... If a tree falls in the forest and nobody's there, does it make a sound? The answer of course is.... no. No, it doesn't. And here's why... Since nobody (or let's assume no living animal) is around to hear- to sense sound- then naturally, the phenomenon of sound simply doesn't occur. No hearing, no sound. And there you have it. Glad to have solved that problem for y'all!
Now, as for that chicken and egg question? I have no friggin' idea!
Yours, for now...