Missing ingredient is courage
Charles Bukowski on seeking validation for lives frittered away on nonsense
Greetings from Barcelona—
It’s Saturday morning, the day of El Classico. I.e., when FC Barcelona plays Real Madrid.
The kiddo and I will be watching from the stands in the Olympic Stadium at the top of Montjuic, which amazingly is only the temporary back-up stadium where FC Barcelona is playing until the much better, bigger, and more impressive Camp Nou stadium is done with renovations.
This is the one thing I promised him before moving here, that we would go to an FC Barcelona game. I gave him the option of going to a few games with lesser teams or this one game, with Barcelona’s main rival: he picked this game. (Tickets were an arm and a leg, in case you’re wondering).
Yesterday, we did our usual Friday night volleyball. Even in late October, the weather is quite glorious. Tomorrow, we will go climb in Montserrat.
Life is good.
And now, I offer some notes on courage.
I. Bukowski on lives frittered away on nonsense
Poetic Outlaws recently sent out a Charles Bukowski poem, one I hadn’t seen before. It starts (bolding is mine):
too often the people complain that they have
done nothing with their
and then they wait for somebody to tell them
that this isn’t so.
look, you’ve done this and that and you’ve
done that and that’s
you really think so?
but they had it right.
they’ve done nothing.
shown no courage.
they did what they were taught to
they did what they were told to
they had no resistance, no thoughts
of their own.
they were pushed and shoved
and went obediently.
they had no heart.
they were cowardly.
If you’ve never read Bukowski, I offer this caution: his books are a bit repetitive (how many scenes of getting day drunk and trying to sleep with someone do we really need?).
If you must read a Bukowski novel, I suggest reading Factotum. Then, promptly move on to his poetry.
But you also musn’t take his poetry as some sage fount of wisdom. Bukowski isn’t here to offer Truth—he’s here to be provocative and offer a swift kick in the pants. You read him for pleasure and maybe to challenge your thinking, not because he’s always right about things.
For example, I think So you want to be a writer?, his famous screed about art and inspiration, is dead, flat wrong about the creative process. (No, it doesn’t need to come “bursting out of you.” See this takedown, one of my favorite discussions of the creative process on the Internet).
Still, Bukowski’s musings often get me thinking. As did the idea that courage is one of the prime missing ingredients if you’re unsatisfied with your life. Those who “complain that they have done nothing with their lives,” he writes, have “shown no courage… they were cowardly.”
My first thought here was to question whether there were enough opportunities for courage, such that you could fault someone for not displaying it. I mean how many times in your average week is courage really called for?
Modern life is mainly designed to remove danger and add convenience and comfort. But the danger of civilization, as Jim Harrison wrote, is that you will “piss away your life on nonsense.”
I put myself into this bucket, at least on occasion. How much time have I frittered away on nonsense? Quite a lot. When the reckoning comes for me, I’ll have plenty to answer for.
But I think what Bukowski clarified is that to craft the life you want requires a kind of courage. In other words, you are afraid to do the thing and you keep going anyway.
Or, to paraphrase Aristotle: courage is the midpoint between two vices. On one end, you have those who aren’t afraid of anything. These are the boastful, shameless, rash. On the other, you have those who are afraid even of things they shouldn’t be—they lack confidence or are overly pessimistic in the face of fear.
In the middle are the courageous.
For me, I find that middle ground all the time. I find it every time I go climbing.
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