your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness
– The Laughing Heart by Charles Bukowski
I have watched creative people go to places with no exit. It’s called depression. It never gets easy: there’s no icing, fluff, or extra stuff to be served on the side that will make it more than a horrid, seemingly everlasting entree. You call for the waiter to take it back; the waiter never comes. There you are, staring at this pitiful meal with a shitty garnish on the side. Just add the fact that you’re a writer, musician, or painter, and now you’re a stereotype. Cue the sad trombone.1
The Bukowkski poem you see above, The Laughing Heart, is a conquest over deadening misery. Pity. Loathing. I have never seen such hope coming from easily one of the most depressing writers of modern history. Bukowski’s early life was characterized by loneliness and abuse. His former veteran father tried swaying him to zealous patriotism and American ideals. He had severe acne which alienated him from his peers in high school. He spent ten years as a drunk on skid row in Los Angeles and started writing seriously after contracting a bleeding ulcer from excess alcohol consumption. He is a scorched, beaten up SOB, but not without a note of redemption and light.
Yet our modern portrayals of creative people are cartoonish and bland. They don’t touch mental illness with a ten foot pole. No longer are artists the martyrs of our society, exiles living in depravity, familiar with crippling depressions or brutal living conditions. They’re not rebels or deviants. Movies like Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl; RENT; stars like Zooey Deschanel, Lena Dunham, and other poster-people of the “quirky creative” type make art and suffering seem… safe. Fun. Charming. (Maybe this is because contemporary, real-life artists play it safe.)
In my experience, artists who take their work very seriously are familiar with ditches, valleys, and prolonged suffering and despair. It’s essential to be brave in this way, but also to never let it destroy you as it has destroyed other famous artists. Bukowski, a depressed creative himself, makes the shitty sound hopeful and inspiring in the following three vitally important sound bytes.
The area dividing the brain and the soul
is affected in many ways by
Some lose all mind and become soul:
Some lose all soul and become mind:
Some lose both and become:
Remember to be wary of feeling “accepted.” It feels great until you realize you’ve lost parts of yourself or your work to be considered something to everybody else. You should be especially cautious if you want to create something, because that something will always be new and different if you’re doing it right. You’re inherently taking the risk that people will turn their nose at your work. Instead of this becoming a preoccupation, let your work become a product of your mind and soul. Otherwise, why do it?
2. Blessed with a Crappy Life
I was blessed with a crappy life, that’s all. A crappy life to write about. A lot of writers they get famous at 22, 23 and then…they’re in the “literary world.” They’re going to cocktail parties. And nothing’s happening but…that. So then, they’re on the manure pile.
Bukowski said this in an interview a year before he passed away. When he was 23, he stopped writing and dropped out of the community college. He worked crappy jobs at a dog biscuit factory and the post office. By no means did he live an exhilarating or even outrageous existence. No matter how mundane, droll, or crappy you perceive your life to be, remember just how much beauty and humor can come of it.
3. Depression and Sleep Can Rejuvenate Creative Juices
I have periods where, you know, when I feel a little weak or depressed. Fuck it! The Wheaties aren’t going down right. I just go to bed for three days and four nights, pull down all the shades and just go to bed. Get up. Shit. Piss. Drink a beer down and go back to bed. I come out of that completely re-enlightened for 2 or 3 months. I get power from that.
I think someday…they’ll say this psychotic guy knew something that…you know in days ahead and medicine, and how they figure these things out. Everybody should go to bed now and then, when they’re down low and give it up for three or four days. Then they’ll come back good for a while.
Easily, over-sleeping is a surefire sign of depression (though humans have, contrary to popular belief, the ability to hibernate). Research shows that sleeping more than 10 hours will likely make you feel more miserable. Yet Bukowski had a point in that sometimes, when you fret over what you should do, maybe it’s best to do nothing at all. Let your subconscious work on the grind. Let it chew on the ideas for you. If you have to force creativity out, why do it? The answer is: don’t.
Light travels faster than anything, so it won’t be too long that you spend in the dark until you see it once more. Keep doing things differently if that one thing isn’t working. Even if you’re afraid your creative pursuits won’t do you justice, that they won’t be perfect or even any good at all, let yourself fail. Then see how you feel.
1. The idea of the suffering and pitiful artist is a deeply ingrained one. So much so, we might conceive it as a conceptual metaphor: creativity = misery?
Melanie Falconer is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles, California. Her writing mainly concerns philosophy, personal experiences, cultural commentary, and her love of the visual and performing arts. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can do so here.