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People simply empty out
August 16, 2013 6:59 PM   Subscribe

"They call it '9 to 5.' It's never 9 to 5, there's no free lunch break at those places, in fact, at many of them in order to keep your job you don't take lunch."
posted by Memo (82 comments total) 61 users marked this as a favorite

 
"To not to have entirely wasted one's life seems to be a worthy accomplishment, if only for myself."
posted by maudlin at 7:11 PM on August 16, 2013 [18 favorites]


amen, brother
posted by pyramid termite at 7:18 PM on August 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Would it be inappropriate to have this framed on my desk?
posted by furnace.heart at 7:25 PM on August 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Dear Mr. Bukowski:

It seems you have forgotten that the reason you were able TO give up that job is because someone was funding you a guaranteed $100 a month for the rest of your life no matter what. Most of the rest of the poor slobs who have to work 9 to 5 do not have that luxury.

Piss off,

EC
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:26 PM on August 16, 2013 [49 favorites]


I don't think he forgot:
So, the luck I finally had in getting out of those places, no matter how long it took, has given me a kind of joy, the jolly joy of the miracle. I now write from an old mind and an old body, long beyond the time when most men would ever think of continuing such a thing, but since I started so late I owe it to myself to continue, and when the words begin to falter and I must be helped up stairways and I can no longer tell a bluebird from a paperclip, I still feel that something in me is going to remember (no matter how far I'm gone) how I've come through the murder and the mess and the moil, to at least a generous way to die.
posted by maudlin at 7:31 PM on August 16, 2013 [16 favorites]



They never pay the slaves enough so they can get free, just enough so they can stay alive and come back to work. I could see all this. Why couldn't they? I figured the park bench was just as good or being a barfly was just as good. Why not get there first before they put me there? Why wait?


I might be one of those that he would assume I wasn't "seeing" what he was seeing and I guess I'm not, because... what are you supposed to eat? How are you supposed to afford your bar tab? Why just assume that everyone else is an idiot. We're not idiots we're just trapped.
posted by bleep at 7:31 PM on August 16, 2013 [8 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: "It seems you have forgotten that the reason you were able TO give up that job... "

You think he was forgetting when he wrote "So, the luck I finally had in getting out of those places, no matter how long it took, has given me a kind of joy, the jolly joy of the miracle"?

He knew he was damn lucky and expressed gratitude to his benefactor.

Also, isn't it usually considered a *good* thing when one of the fortunate recognizes the futility of modern work? I mean, I don't need to be an MD to realize Pasteur did some good work.
posted by notsnot at 7:31 PM on August 16, 2013 [14 favorites]


crab mentality
posted by fleetmouse at 7:34 PM on August 16, 2013 [10 favorites]


(Was $100 a month even a living wage in 1969? At best, it might have been just enough to scrape by in shared housing. Maybe he had some savings, too, that helped him make it through the first two years until that crucial sale. But he would have had to write and sell his writing to continue to live in even a modest apartment after that, I think.)
posted by maudlin at 7:37 PM on August 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


No, I saw that he realized he was lucky and grateful - but then he turned all that on its head by saying, in essence, "I don't know why anyone would subject themselves to this". And, well, the reason that people subject themselves to this is because we haven't had the fairy godmother give us a monthly stipend yet - they're not doing so willingly, like he's making it sound. It just feels like a sort of roundabout "boy, glad I got mine, fuck you if you don't."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:43 PM on August 16, 2013 [9 favorites]


"Slavery was never abolished, it was only extended to include all the colors."

No, no they really didn't. I dislike the commute, grind, bust ass, commute, sleep routine as much as the next guy, but slavery it aint. My chains aint iron - they are the misery of no health insurance and no money in retirement. It's a faustian choice, but a choice nonetheless.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:43 PM on August 16, 2013 [29 favorites]


Sure, whatever. I love what I do, work for myself, and am not emptied out. Grownups who still get all starry-eyed by this guy must be on some other wave length than I am.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:05 PM on August 16, 2013 [8 favorites]


Q) What do they do it for?
A) I haven't got a fucking choice.
posted by Mario Speedwagon at 8:08 PM on August 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


Grown ups who get all starry eyed often see themselves in his work. The sadness, the futility of a subsistence level job and existence. Glad that you've got an awesome life but not everyone does. The part where someone sees that others may not have it as good, it's called empathy.
posted by evilDoug at 8:35 PM on August 16, 2013 [35 favorites]


Some of these reactions are making me feel like all of a sudden Dr. Huxtable arrived to teach his son Theo about paying the rent on his first apartment. And I kinda think Bukowski was aware of the grim realities of life by then, indeed had spent his writing career examining them, hardly requiring a lecture. I get that people think talking about work, survival and the ideal of materialism from the perspective of a poet might be unseemly, especially if that poet was given a stipend in order to free up writing time, but it's not irrelevant. Also, this was a personal letter to his benefactor, the person who gave him the freedom to write, and not meant to be a manifesto.
posted by krinklyfig at 8:45 PM on August 16, 2013 [25 favorites]


Hmm, I think I take more issue with this paradigm that he seems to have set up. On the one side, him, aware that he is trapped, and on the other, every other person he seems to have met in his young professional life, people unaware that they are trapped, closing their eyes hard to the fact every time he raises the issue, except for flashes of horrific realization that they quickly stuff down - sort of 'plato's cave-ish'.

I appreciate the fact that he feels lucky, but it's a little eye roll worthy because it sounds so extreme. I mean, it seems to me that individuals in unions realized unfair labor practices, and that's why they organized. It also seems to me that he is also somewhat trapped - in that just as he realized those bosses could come in and cut off any of those staff, his benefactor could have cut him off at any moment as well. Yes, he realizes the miracle, but it's odd that he could only focus on the differences between him and those other workers, rather than the similarity.

On the other hand I appreciate that the letter is only his experience, and it was written to a specific audience. I don't think he so much requires a lecture - but I am really tempted to ask him if he really never, ever met anyone who apparently had such clear eyed awareness that he had as a young man, regardless of his life as a poet. Was no one else 'trying to get out'? Maybe he did, maybe he didn't. This letter doesn't really tell us, and I accept the fact that if I want the answer to that question, it is on me to do the work and delve a little deeper into his life.
posted by anitanita at 9:08 PM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


No, no they really didn't. I dislike the commute, grind, bust ass, commute, sleep routine as much as the next guy, but slavery it aint. My chains aint iron - they are the misery of no health insurance and no money in retirement. It's a faustian choice, but a choice nonetheless.
I think that's the point. You aren't literally a slave in the sense of being legally bound into servitude. You are bound into servitude by debt and financial insecurity. It's a system more akin to serfdom than slavery. Your fear and uncertainty keep you where they want you to be – powerless, tired, distracted, and unlikely to organize politically. So long as you keep churning out those widgets/reports/PowerPoint slides and smiling in front of the customers/clients/partners, you'll be guaranteed a stable, albeit uncertain, future. This situation does not describe a "choice" in my understanding of the term.
posted by deathpanels at 9:18 PM on August 16, 2013 [48 favorites]


Grown ups who get all starry eyed often see themselves in his work.

Some of that. And also some grownups get starry-eyed over his absolutely superhuman talent with words.
posted by The Bellman at 9:21 PM on August 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


It would be great to write my next great novel at the bar whenever I felt like it. I've had terrible menial jobs with a family that depended on me dragging myself in to do them. I remember feeling like a wage slave. It really sucked. The problem is that once everyone has figured out that working is for suckers, how will us new non-suckers pay for things? We can't all be writers. Somebody has to make the doughnuts.
posted by double block and bleed at 9:25 PM on August 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think if you know nothing about Bukowski or don't care for his work, this might not seem like something worthwhile. A lot of people who are familiar with his work don't like it, but reacting to this letter as if it were just another entitled or privileged point of view is missing the forest for the trees here. He's a writer, not a labor organizer, and indeed very few people become or are meant to be community leaders or to act or think purely in all circumstances. Some people are better at sharing their experiences as writers, artists, etc. As a writer, he confronted his personal weaknesses openly, embraced them, as much as he tried to document the bleakness of existence, but he was not trying to achieve social justice or make people feel better either. If anything, Bukowski does tend to dwell in the gutter more than necessary, which makes his work difficult for me if I take in too much of it at once, but he is a phenomenal writer. I don't have to agree entirely or at all with his view on life to appreciate his work.
posted by krinklyfig at 9:26 PM on August 16, 2013 [13 favorites]


I don't think he so much requires a lecture - but I am really tempted to ask him if he really never, ever met anyone who apparently had such clear eyed awareness that he had as a young man, regardless of his life as a poet. Was no one else 'trying to get out'? Maybe he did, maybe he didn't.

Well, I think you're sort of missing the point because it's not quite as plainly stated, but the undercurrent is if there were all these other people who were aware of their serfdom, why in the unholy name of God did they keep shuffling forward like cows to the slaughter?

And that's sort of answered in this very thread: Because if you dare to even raise the question, the well-meaning others will descend on you like a flock of crows in Cosby sweaters (or crabs in a bucket, if you prefer) to give you very stern lectures about how Being An Adult is all about Paying Rent and Having Health Insurance and the alternative is some vague but obviously terrible horribleness so better to not buck the system because outside the confines of the system There Be Dragons, my friend. And that's before you even get to the bosses and monied classes that have an obvious interest in keeping such heresies out of our tender minds.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:27 PM on August 16, 2013 [43 favorites]


Was $100 a month even a living wage in 1969?

Average salary in California in 1969 was circa $9,000. So it would have been pretty minimal.

You aren't literally a slave in the sense of being legally bound into servitude. You are bound into servitude by debt and financial insecurity.

But isn't that just recognizing the human condition? I mean, we're mortal beings who need to expend constant effort in order to survive and that's kind of a drag. Unless we're imagining a world in which we're all trust-fund kids or titled nobility or something being alive means having to work to keep that way. Some of us will be lucky enough to find work that we actually enjoy doing, most of us--regardless of the economic system--won't feel quite that upbeat. But comparing this to slavery or "servitude" seems like riding a metaphor beyond the point of reason. The big problem being that it's essentially saying "oh yes, person in actual, literal slavery, I know exactly what you suffer and I share exactly the same burdens you do because, you know, I really hate having to get these quarterly reports in." And that's insane.
posted by yoink at 9:29 PM on August 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


Little bluebird in the clip cup by the outbox, who watches over you?
posted by tilde at 9:29 PM on August 16, 2013 [11 favorites]


I think that's the point. You aren't literally a slave in the sense of being legally bound into servitude. You are bound into servitude by debt and financial insecurity. It's a system more akin to serfdom than slavery.

That's what I'm saying. Still, calling it slavery both diminishes slavery and obfuscates the real problem which is a denigration of idleness.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:30 PM on August 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


yoink: "But comparing this to slavery or "servitude" seems like riding a metaphor beyond the point of reason."

I dunno. It's not anything new, kind of the point that socialism attempts to correct.
posted by krinklyfig at 9:32 PM on August 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


The problem is that once everyone has figured out that working is for suckers, how will us new non-suckers pay for things?
Um, what? This is such a dad argument
posted by deathpanels at 9:32 PM on August 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


if there were all these other people who were aware of their serfdom, why in the unholy name of God did they keep shuffling forward like cows to the slaughter?

And that's sort of answered in this very thread:


Yes, it is: by all the people saying, 'I have to eat; what the fuck would you have me do?'
posted by Sing Or Swim at 9:33 PM on August 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


I have my reservations about Bukowski as Greatest Poet Ever or whatever, but this letter is pretty on-point and well written. Half the thread seems to have either skimmed it, misunderstood something, or not read it in good faith.

Step it up, guys! I rely on comments when I don't have the time/inclination to read the links.
posted by jsturgill at 9:34 PM on August 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


Unless we're imagining a world in which we're all trust-fund kids or titled nobility or something being alive means having to work to keep that way. Some of us will be lucky enough to find work that we actually enjoy doing, most of us--regardless of the economic system--won't feel quite that upbeat. But comparing this to slavery or "servitude" seems like riding a metaphor beyond the point of reason.
Bukowski is using the term "slavery" to rouse up the passions of the reader. He's not writing an academic paper, he's writing a letter. You are taking the rhetorical usage of a word wildly outside of the context in which it was employed.
posted by deathpanels at 9:45 PM on August 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


maudlin: "(Was $100 a month even a living wage in 1969? At best, it might have been just enough to scrape by in shared housing. Maybe he had some savings, too, that helped him make it through the first two years until that crucial sale. But he would have had to write and sell his writing to continue to live in even a modest apartment after that, I think.)"

$646.76 a month in today's money, give or take.
posted by Samizdata at 9:48 PM on August 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I could live on 650 dollars a month, like bukowski, but I could do it. My children can't though, and therein lies the rub...
posted by Annika Cicada at 9:55 PM on August 16, 2013


I take Bukowski's point - that since there is such injustice, why don't people do anything about it? But my sense from this thread isn't that people are descending upon him with a 'stop shining a light on a problem we don't want to look at' or 'you need to put on your big boy pants' and suck it up like an adult. My read here is that people are saying, 'We see what you see. Please stop suggesting otherwise'.

So it seemed from Bukowski's letter that he was suggesting that people were just denying the reality. I don't think people here are - they are saying, okay, you're right, what to do? Bukowski's response was to find/be blessed by a benefactor. And he realized and appreciated the gift and the freedom that afforded him. But what should everyone else's response be? Once again, he may illuminate that in other writings, and perhaps there is a gift in being able to identify a problem. But it doesn't seem to me that problem identification is the problem - it is wrestling with what to do about the facts that everyone can see that's the problem.

Which I admit might also might require each person to respond to individually, and isn't necessarily Bukowski's job to figure out for everyone.
posted by anitanita at 10:11 PM on August 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


In regards to his insinuation that his fellow workers couldn't "see" the mire that they toil in every day - and that you might be one of those workers - I think no insult was intended. I think his insight is couched in different terms...and it reminds me of this wonderful passage by Mark Slouka:

" I recognize that work of one sort or another is as essential to survival as protein, and that much of it, in today’s highly bureaucratized, economically diversified societies, will of necessity be neither pleasant nor challenging nor particularly meaningful. I have compassion for those making the most of their commute and their cubicle; I just wish they could be a little less cheerful about it. In short, this isn’t about us so much as it is about the Zeitgeist we live and labor in, which, like a cuckoo taking over a thrush’s nest, has systematically shoved all the other eggs of our life, one by one, onto the pavement. It’s about illuminating the losses."

I think that cuts to the core of the issue. No one likes to be reminded of the inanity of 21st century modern working life. There are those of us out there, however, who wish people complained just a little bit more when the gears of the system crunched them. To the degree that you are saying "Suck it up," you are part of the problem.

When I balk at having to stay late at work, the wind begins to whisper that I am someone with a "bad attitude" and not a "team player." Fine I guess. I see myself as someone voicing my displeasure at being constantly chaffed by overwork, no overtime pay, lunch at the desk, weekend work, and general disrespect. If my attitude were a chorus, then maybe things would change...but everyone else is too scared to be the dreaded odd man out on "the team" - and to save my own ass I have to fall in line, or risk a tarnished reputation.

Its goddamned frustrating, and like Mark Slouka says, I wish people would be less cheerful about it.
posted by jnnla at 10:12 PM on August 16, 2013 [51 favorites]


When I look back on all the difficult and meaningless work I've successfully avoided, I think to myself, I win.
posted by fleetmouse at 10:18 PM on August 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


The problem is that once everyone has figured out that working is for suckers, how will us new non-suckers pay for things? We can't all be writers. Somebody has to make the doughnuts.

It doesn't have to suck so much to make them, though.
posted by jason_steakums at 10:18 PM on August 16, 2013 [13 favorites]


Woke up this morning and it seemed to me, that every night turns out to be a little bit more like Bukowski. And yeah, I know he's a pretty good read. But God who'd wanna be? God who'd wanna be such an asshole? God who'd wanna be? God who'd wanna be such an asshole? —Modest Mouse
posted by five fresh fish at 10:56 PM on August 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


fleetmouse: "crab mentality"

Lobster bucket.
posted by barnacles at 11:28 PM on August 16, 2013


Bertrand Russell (1872-1970): In Praise of Idleness (published 1935)
posted by Mister Bijou at 11:31 PM on August 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sure, whatever. I love what I do, work for myself,
posted by Ideefixe


Huh. I'm ambivalent about what I do, work for others. But then I guess you're just a better human being.
posted by Mike Smith at 11:39 PM on August 16, 2013 [8 favorites]


Many if not most 9-5 jobs are shit and life could be a lot better: a functional first-world civilization could be run with considerably less work for most people, and much better work at that. Yet many people do think that this is about as good as it gets (for the time being), that life is about doing unpleasant things, that civilization requires most of these unpleasant things to function, and that society would mostly be worse off if we tried to change things significantly.

This is not a new argument -- it is the fundamental basis of most political disagreement: the first sentence is (a part of) the foundation of (economic) liberalism, and the second sentence is a foundation of conservatism. And it is certainly true that many people subscribe to the second sentence, including perhaps many here: many people sincerely believe the conservative position that significant attempts to improve things of this sort would simply make things worse, and that therefore one should make the best of it and face the situation like an adult; often they add to this the implication that to do otherwise is to be childish.

I personally subscribe to the first position, but this is certainly not to say the second doesn't exist, and just as they decry us as pollyanna-ish and childish, we decry them for being both cynical and self-deluded into a false happiness the fundamental premise of which is that there is no realistic alternative. These seem like the issues raised in the letter, the discussion here, and basically all of (economic) liberal-conservative disagreement. Unfortunately, Bukowski starts the discussion off on the wrong foot by forgetting in the middle portion of his letter "What do they do it for?" They do it because they have to (as he himself knows at the beginning and end of his letter), and if they turn away from that horror and adopt a self-deluded cheer, it's because that's often the local maximum in a bad situation. The alternative is an active, vivid, and effective liberal movement working to significantly change things -- something which may or may not even be possible in many circumstances.
posted by chortly at 12:15 AM on August 17, 2013 [14 favorites]


Holy Cow!

Who can Internet-hate or any-hate on that guy?

He did what we all wish we could do.

He made art on his own terms! (Good fuck, Bukowski is all about art on the individual's artist's terms... you can trace him all the way back to knut hamsun!). i cannot internet-rage believe he is getting second guessed here here!, of all places!

cripes. step it up. bitch about the Bukowski misogony (fair, deserved), but no how can you hit him that he is privileged. Fuck. read ham sandwich.

sheesh.

(also, read some john fante and some celine, for you Euro fuckers) there's some mother fuckin tradition at work here.
)


San Pedro (LBC) Represents! Drunk, as usual. It's been a long week.
posted by notyou at 12:21 AM on August 17, 2013 [10 favorites]


Also, Bukowski's big point is that we should all have the freedom of $650 ($100 or whatever) per month. What would that buy you? Why can't your nation afford it? (It can. Why can't it?)
posted by notyou at 12:42 AM on August 17, 2013 [14 favorites]


The "piss off" tone comes across as strange.

The man was considered talented, he made time to cultivate that talent and get exposure while working uninspiring jobs and got a little bit lucky with a gift of about 15% of the average annual income.

I can live with the idea that in this case, luck is the residue of design.

I mean, isn't this the hope of everyone who's half-way serious about something that's a little bit in their heart, be it writing, making music, building furniture, helping dogs?

What's wrong with makes effort, gets break (and expresses gratitude for said break)?

If the internet were around when CB was alive, I wonder how much time he would have spent on sites to relate disparaging comments about people who were a lot more successful than he would ever be.

Bitter, party of one?
posted by ambient2 at 12:58 AM on August 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


and now having RTFA'd?

For shame, Metafilter! For shame! read the Godamned Link!

Look: "To not to have entirely wasted one's life seems to be a worthy accomplishment, if only for myself."

There is no reason here to hate C. Bukowski, here. There may be other reasons, but those reasons are not here. bring them.
posted by notyou at 12:59 AM on August 17, 2013


ambient2: "If the internet were around when CB was alive, I wonder how much time he would have spent on sites to relate disparaging comments about people who were a lot more successful than he would ever be."

Probably a little, actually. He really liked computers; people are often surprised at that, but I enjoy the idea of CB on the Internet.

Generally, I think people just dislike Bukowski, and are venting that a bit here. I admit that I have a general distaste for his work. That doesn't stop him from being damned right in this accounting of work in the modern age. There's also the fact that it's sometimes hard, as a working person, to hear the truth like this from those who escaped.

It's funny that this came up now, because just yesterday I was rereading the great trade unionist and socialist Jimmy Reid's famous rektoratsrede. I like it because it goes even farther than Bukowski goes here; more than just diagnosing the problem, Jimmy Reid cuts to the heart of the moral problem and offers a solution, along with a stirring call to nobility:
To the students I address this appeal. Reject these attitudes. Reject the values and false morality that underlie these attitudes. A rat race is for rats. We're not rats! We're human beings. Reject the insidious pressures in society that would blunt your critical faculties to all that is happening around you, that would caution silence in the face of injustice lest you jeopardise your chances of promotion and self-advancement. This is how it starts, and before you know where you are, you're a fully paid-up member of the rat-pack. The price is too high. It entails the loss of your dignity and human spirit. Or as Christ put it, "What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?"
That's probably the most famous bit. The whole thing is worth reading, though.
posted by koeselitz at 1:19 AM on August 17, 2013 [19 favorites]


Thanks, koeselitz.

Jimmy Reid is the bee's knees.
posted by Mister Bijou at 1:30 AM on August 17, 2013


Man, two authors that it seems Metafilter gets all worked up about with reliability: David Foster Wallace and Charles Bukowski. Trick with Wallace is it takes him seventeen pages (plus six of footnotes) to get people as worked up as the Buk can with one line.

LONG LIVE THE BUK!
posted by turbid dahlia at 1:30 AM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hmm, I think I take more issue with this paradigm that he seems to have set up. On the one side, him, aware that he is trapped, and on the other, every other person he seems to have met in his young professional life, people unaware that they are trapped, closing their eyes hard to the fact every time he raises the issue, except for flashes of horrific realization that they quickly stuff down - sort of 'plato's cave-ish'.

I'm not entirely clear what you're talking about. Not everyone has to love Bukowski, obviously not everyone does. But this isn't a letter from his "young professional life." From poets.org,
He worked a wide range of jobs to support his writing, including dishwasher, truck driver and loader, mail carrier, guard, gas station attendant, stock boy, warehouse worker, shipping clerk, post office clerk, parking lot attendant, Red Cross orderly, and elevator operator. He also worked in a dog biscuit factory, a slaughterhouse, a cake and cookie factory, and he hung posters in New York City subways.

That's not a professional life. And he wasn't young. He was 49 years old when this publisher (who presumably made money publishing authors) offered to pay him to write more.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 1:31 AM on August 17, 2013 [9 favorites]


I am not a fan of C.B. and his point of view is grating in that is comes off to me as self congratulatory and condenscending. So much contempt for the poor schmucks slaving away for a TV set and food for the kiddies.

However, it would be pretty damn hard for me to work a lifetime in type of jobs he had. Especially if there was someone constantly reminding me that I was just a rat in a cage running on a wheel. His observations about the tedium and the dehumanizing nature of working for an oppressive entity is spot on.

At least he feels gratitide for what was offered to him and that he put the effort into creating his dream.
posted by moonlily at 3:33 AM on August 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


THROW OFF YOUR CHAINS!!! WHO'S WITH ME???
posted by Joseph Gurl at 3:40 AM on August 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Knee jerk reaction: I'm someone who just found stable work in his 30's. Charles Bukowski is insane.

Not knowing where your rent is going to come from, trying to find the cheapest possible gifts that you can give your family without wanting to excuse yourself from Christmas dinner to kill yourself, figuring out how to live on a $2.00 bag of dried pasta for a week... these are all as corrosive and soul destroying as any office and not all people have the luck, skill, and social graces to survive without money.

If you can't live on the park bench or surf couches, well for you anything is better than having to go begging to relatives. Anything is better than having to fill out 3 pages of forms detailing where you applied for jobs in the month so you can get $700 (in 2013) in welfare. Anything at all is better.

There was a point in my life when it was either find a place in the machine or open an artery on a razor blade. Opening the artery would have probably made for better poetry. I'm in the machine now.

Ontological paradox as applied to art. Only those who can survive outside the machine survive outside the machine. So mostly art is created by those who can survive outside the machine.

Kill your dreams. Roast them on a spit then eat them. It might give you the fuel to keep you going.

The idea of an alternative must be insane.
posted by Grimgrin at 3:54 AM on August 17, 2013 [12 favorites]


Our culture has a way of convincing everyone with an yearly income between $25K and $500K to feel that they're trapped in a subsistence job.
posted by klarck at 4:02 AM on August 17, 2013 [8 favorites]


I love Chuck, and I have lived happily as a dirt poor whatever and could do so again. But there are good things about working in an office too. The fake life that exists there gets easier and has rewards beyond monetary once you figure out what you want to do, and the people there are all people, which means they are wonderful.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:55 AM on August 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Who can Internet-hate or any-hate on that guy? He did what we all wish we could do. He made art on his own terms!

No, he made art on his own terms and with the financial help of a benefactor.

And since I was the one who first said "piss off" - all I mean is that there's a difference between "wow, I remember working those jobs and it sucked, and I'm grateful I don't have to do it any more, and all of those other people deserve better too" - and what he said, which is "I remember working those jobs and it sucked, and I'm grateful I don't have to do it any more, and I don't know why those people still choose to".

It just smacks of him feeling like his good fortune was a personal choice, rather than a stroke of luck. And that's straight outta "fuck you, I've got mine."

So I guess I don't understand why this particular letter is being lauded. I mean, hell, if you wanted to feature some kind of internet tribute to Bukowski, why not either of his Zen Pencils features, which are at least more egalitarian?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:08 AM on August 17, 2013 [8 favorites]


he made art long before he had a financial benefactor - i guess he couldn't help himself

and there's a lot of people who choose not to live that work a day life - they hustle, they take odd jobs off the books, they beg, they scrounge, they steal, they drop out - it doesn't always work for them, but that's what they do - it doesn't get them anything more than working does and often a lot less - but they can blow off what they don't like

back then you could actually make it on a part time job for awhile

or you could work for awhile get yourself fired for some questionable reason and survive on the unemployment checks while you found odd jobs off the books - in fact, i know people who still do this

and a lot of the kind of places he worked - not the post office, of course, but others - they really don't expect you to stay there for life - they set it up so no sane human being is going to stay there in life - you work your ass off for awhile, get overwhelmed with the suckiness of it, quit, or get yourself fired - and the owners don't really care because there's another batch of suckers to take your place - they know they're going to have high turnover and they don't give a shit

people gamed the system back then just as they game it now - it's harder now - but when bukowski talked about people having choices he wasn't just blowing privileged bullshit - he knew plenty of people in those situations who would blow it off eventually, without getting a better job or having someone support them for their non-existant writing career, and he's puzzled by those who won't
posted by pyramid termite at 5:38 AM on August 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


he made art long before he had a financial benefactor - i guess he couldn't help himself

Yes, that was kind of my point - that this is a far more notable fact about him.

and there's a lot of people who choose not to live that work a day life - they hustle, they take odd jobs off the books, they beg, they scrounge, they steal, they drop out - it doesn't always work for them, but that's what they do - it doesn't get them anything more than working does and often a lot less - but they can blow off what they don't like

But even here, these people have the ability TO make that choice. There are plenty of people who don't. And wondering why people "choose" to do something which you have been lucky enough to not have to do overlooks the fact that you have an advantage which these people may not have. He gamed the system, yeah, but his $100 a month was a handicap that let him have an advantage which other poeple DIDN'T have. Some of the people he was wondering why they "chose" that kind of life may have had a DIS-advantage (a couple kids, a lot of debt, a sick parent they were taking care of, etc.) which forced their "choice" - I mean, yeah, they could have "chosen" to not work 9-5 and hustle with a part time job, but then who would pay for the kids' shoes?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:11 AM on August 17, 2013


"To not to have entirely wasted one's life seems to be a worthy accomplishment, if only for myself."

Insisting that other people have entirely wasted their lives, whether or not they see their own lives as wasted, is not a good look.

But maybe I'm just annoyed because that hundred bucks a month could have gone to produce art, and instead it was used to produce Charles Bukowski stories.
posted by escabeche at 6:22 AM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


notyou: Who can Internet-hate or any-hate on that guy?

He did what we all wish we could do.


This is known as "answering your own question."
posted by tzikeh at 7:20 AM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


He really liked computers

I'd hope he'd use a Burroughs computer.
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:44 AM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Piss off,

EC
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:26 PM on August 16 [35 favorites +]


glad to see Mr. Bukowski is still stirring the shit, provoking reaction -- proof, I guess, of at least some level of immortality.
posted by philip-random at 9:37 AM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


It seems you have forgotten that the reason you were able TO give up that job is because someone was funding you a guaranteed $100 a month for the rest of your life no matter what. Most of the rest of the poor slobs who have to work 9 to 5 do not have that luxury.

Perhaps our reaction to this shouldn't be "ah, Bukowski, you layabout, you only got away with it because you had a guaranteed minimum income!" Instead, maybe it should be "ah, people have better lives and do better things when they have an unconditionally guaranteed income."
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:10 AM on August 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


Perhaps our reaction to this shouldn't be "ah, Bukowski, you layabout, you only got away with it because you had a guaranteed minimum income!" Instead, maybe it should be "ah, people have better lives and do better things when they have an unconditionally guaranteed income."

Actually, it's more like "ah, Bukowski, you personally seem to have forgotten that people have better lives when they have unconditionally guaranteed income." Or, rather, that Bukowski is the one who you should have been nudging about the need for a basic income, because he'd have been in more of a position to try to lobby for one more so than the people he claims are "choosing" to work 9-5.

Believe me, we get that Basic Income is important. We get how much it sucks to work 9-5. But we don't have another choice, and being regarded as if we do really looks about as clueless as someone being born on third base and thinking they hit a triple.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:50 AM on August 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


It seems you have forgotten that the reason you were able TO give up that job is because someone was funding you a guaranteed $100 a month for the rest of your life

In 1969, $100 was probably enough to rent a modest room for a month. By the time Bukowski died in 1994 it might have got him a shitty motel room for a week. You're making it sound like he was whisked away to join the court of a wealthy patron and expound on mockingbirds between mouthfuls of quiche. He got a bit of seed money, and relatively little at that.

The myth of the Individual needs to be put down. Everyone gets by to some degree on what comes from others. Once you get above a certain tax bracket, you're among people who are almost exclusively doing this, and in a much less consensual arrangement. But the vitriol only ever comes out when someone dares to make some art (or whatever it is Bukowski did) and accept a small bit of help that's freely given, rather than a huge amount forcibly taken (sorry, "earned.") Bukowski wrote heaps of awful poetry and was by many accounts a misogynistic shitlord, but his crimes are a hair on the mole of the atrocities committed - and daily mundane violence allowed - by many of society's actual layabouts up at the top.

I'm no Bukowski fan, but when he wrote, "As a young man I could not believe that people could give their lives over to those conditions," it seems perfectly compatible with the criticisms people have been making here. There's acknowledging the need to do bullshit work, and then there's giving yourself over to it, believing, as chortly points out, that there's no sensible alternative. All sorts of people choose to fight the system that grinds them down. It's not easy. It's often incredibly difficult, occasionally even mortally dangerous, and it's not always going to be an option. But simply wondering aloud why people choose not to fight still seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to do-- and the fact that people are so primed to explode when someone does it just suggests how deep and complicated the problem really is.
posted by Mike Smith at 11:17 AM on August 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


In 1969, $100 was probably enough to rent a modest room for a month. By the time Bukowski died in 1994 it might have got him a shitty motel room for a week. You're making it sound like he was whisked away to join the court of a wealthy patron and expound on mockingbirds between mouthfuls of quiche. He got a bit of seed money, and relatively little at that.

I promise you I know that $100 wasn't too much, but it was still something. And I agree that we all get by on the help we get from others. It's not the accepting-of-help I am criticizing him for - I'm critical of what appears to be his forgetting that everyone else hasn't had the same amount of help as he had. It's not his gratitude towards his benefactor I'm looking at, it's his statement that "I don't get why people would choose to do that to themselves," because it implies "they are too stupid to choose different".

If instead, he'd followed up his expression of gratitude with some kind of "I wish I could help someone else out of that shithole the way you helped me", or had said "I wish others could have a helping hand from someone so they could escape too", my reaction would have been ENTIRELY different. But his reaction wasn't that, it was "I don't understand why people choose to do that". My speculation is that if he hadn't gotten that stipend - small though it was - he'd have "understood" alright.

All sorts of people choose to fight the system that grinds them down. It's not easy. It's often incredibly difficult, occasionally even mortally dangerous, and it's not always going to be an option. But simply wondering aloud why people choose not to fight still seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to do-- and the fact that people are so primed to explode when someone does it just suggests how deep and complicated the problem really is.

See, I don't see the need for wondering why people choose not to fight, because it's right there in your comment - "it's not always going to be an option". Rather than wondering why people choose not to fight and leaving it there, how about finding out why it's not an option for everyone and doing your wondering about how to rectify that state?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:33 AM on August 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


You don't need to quit your day job to produce art. William Carlos Williams was a pediatrician. Wallace Stevens was an insurance executive. I don't know enough about either man well enough to know whether they joyfully embraced their jobs, tolerated them and made the best of them, or hated every moment. But they were able to write damn fine poetry for decades while they dealt with 9-5.

On the other hand, Bukowski did need to quit all his day jobs to create most of his art. His output was erratic and often non-existent for years as he drank, worked shit jobs, married, divorced, drank, and took more shit jobs. Getting that $100 a month didn't make him a much more likeable or stable person, it didn't stop his drinking, and his personal relationships didn't improve much.

So yes, when you look at Bukowski as a single writer, he would have wasted his life as a writer if he hadn't taken the offer and quit the 9 to 5. His history shouted this loud and clear. Stevens and Williams took a different path. And there are probably some artists and writers out there deciding whether they could and should take the leap. They have their friends, family and everyone around them insisting that they shouldn't. Bukowski, Mr. Bad Example, may or may not be offering appropriate advice for everyone, but it may be just the thing for some.

On preview: I see Bukowski was a talented writer and the furthest thing from a social activist you could find, EC. But as I say above, his value is to get some artists considering whether they can make the leap even if they don't get the specific type of help he got.
posted by maudlin at 11:42 AM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or, rather, that Bukowski is the one who you should have been nudging about the need for a basic income, because he'd have been in more of a position to try to lobby for one more so than the people he claims are "choosing" to work 9-5.

EmpressCallipygos, you usually are on target but here I'm really confused by your take on the letter. He compares the 9-5 to slavery; lack of real choice is the only thing that makes the comparison sane. And the sentiments in the letter are, I think, actually lobbying for the working class. As much as the phrase "lobbying" makes sense with this type or correspondence.

To read this letter and imagine a rich, fat cat, silver spoon Bukowski reclining in a divan, twirling his mustache and chortling while being served caviar by high-class call girls... is sort of what I hear a lot of people saying in this thread, and it seems bizarre to me.

I could easily see this letter being read on a stage after some Woddy Guthrie covers, followed by The Internationale and a recording of a Studs Terkel interview. Do you think it wouldn't fit in that lineup for some reason?

Early on, when I was quite young and going from job to job I was foolish enough to sometimes speak to my fellow workers: "Hey, the boss can come in here at any moment and lay all of us off, just like that, don't you realize that?"

They would just look at me. I was posing something that they didn't want to enter their minds.


This is an anecdote about people on a death march, who know they are on a death march, who just don't want to talk about it any more than soldiers in the trench sit around discussing whether the rats are going to gnaw off their ear or toe first. To read the letter in its entirety, rather than picking out specific turns of phrase, is to clearly see that Bukowski believes these people know about their oppression, that he is somewhat frustrated that his fire to fight it is not shared, and that he is extremely lucky to have found an escape.

I remember once, working as a packer in this lighting fixture company, one of the packers suddenly said: "I'll never be free!"

One of the bosses was walking by (his name was Morrie) and he let out this delicious cackle of a laugh, enjoying the fact that this fellow was trapped for life.


The letter isn't about how great Bukowski is, and how stupid these other people are.

As a young man I could not believe that people could give their lives over to those conditions. As an old man, I still can't believe it. What do they do it for? Sex? TV? An automobile on monthly payments? Or children? Children who are just going to do the same things that they did?

That's not a condemnation, or it's not just a condemnation. It's also a call to arms; a wake up call. And it's a sign that Bukowski isn't totally ignorant, blind, or unaware of the pressures people find themselves under. He knows the score, he just doesn't like the game.

The idea of what you value, and what's worth fighting for, and how to fight that fight, is something explored by labor organizers and civil rights leaders all over the world. The sentiments in this letter fit comfortably in that tradition, though of course Bukowski was neither a labor organizer nor a civil rights leader.

Mostly he was just a drunk.
posted by jsturgill at 11:51 AM on August 17, 2013 [8 favorites]


You don't need to quit your day job to produce art.

No, but the output is severely limited by it.

Currently I'm in an office job, but in my spare time I write video games and draw. It's incredibly hard at the end of a very stressful day to come home and fire up a code editor. It's also frustrating to have to give up after 3 hours, because it's 1am suddenly and I have an early morning meeting that day.

It's also hard to give up a social life to do so, because I need time to clean my apartment, do random errands, and cook for myself. And since my time is limited, I'm often anxious about what project I choose to work on, since anything else I want to work on I'll not have time for.

Comics and video games are incredibly time intensive things to work on, since I can only devote 5% of any given working day to them, over my lifetime whatever output I have is going to be 5% of what it could be were I not in a cube from 9a-5p. This is not an arrangement I am happy with.
posted by hellojed at 11:56 AM on August 17, 2013 [8 favorites]


That's not a condemnation, or it's not just a condemnation. It's also a call to arms; a wake up call. And it's a sign that Bukowski isn't totally ignorant, blind, or unaware of the pressures people find themselves under. He knows the score, he just doesn't like the game.

Can you explain how this
What do they do it for? Sex? TV? An automobile on monthly payments? Or children? Children who are just going to do the same things that they did?
can be parsed as a "call to arms"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:06 PM on August 17, 2013


Well, it's a sobering thought to me that might, if I had kids, make me stop long enough to really take stock of the things in my life that I otherwise try not to think about because they are painful and beyond my control.

As I mentioned before, I could hear the same sentiments in that letter being aired at union and civil rights ralleys. I have heard those same sentiments aired in those contexts.
posted by jsturgill at 12:13 PM on August 17, 2013


You don't need to quit your day job to produce art. William Carlos Williams was a pediatrician. Wallace Stevens was an insurance executive.

Bukowski's letter was about wage slaves. A doctor and an executive are not wage slaves. Know anyone who's worked for the postal system? There's no comparison.

See, I don't see the need for wondering why people choose not to fight, because it's right there in your comment - "it's not always going to be an option".

Right. So, my comment clearly wasn't directed at them, and neither, I suspect, was Bukowski's letter. So let's talk about relevant things.

Rather than wondering why people choose not to fight and leaving it there, how about finding out why it's not an option for everyone and doing your wondering about how to rectify that state?

How about I do both? How about acknowledging that they're intrinsically connected?

How are we not agreeing here? Work sucks, lots of people are trapped, we should figure out a way to change it. The only way I can imagine that being objectionable is if we can't agree that there are plenty of people who have the option to fight but are choosing not to. I've sometimes been one of them, because, as we agree, it can be fucking hard. Even fucking harder when people who seem like they're probably on your side jump down your throat anyway the moment you dare to think out loud about how to change that.

ps. goddamn you all for making me defend Bukowski of all people
posted by Mike Smith at 12:13 PM on August 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


But even here, these people have the ability TO make that choice. There are plenty of people who don't. And wondering why people "choose" to do something which you have been lucky enough to not have to do overlooks the fact that you have an advantage which these people may not have.

all i can say is that you're setting the bar too high when it comes to the ability to choose - it doesn't take 100 bucks in 1969 dollars or any money being given to you, for nothing

what it takes is knowing, or finding, people who need certain things done and being able to do them, whether it be landscaping, putting up dry wall, fixing cars, roofing, spreading drywall sealant, baby sitting - you don't even have to rustle up the jobs yourself in some of this - there are people who find the jobs and hire their friends and accquaintences to do them, under the table, of course

i don't know how many tens of millions of people are supplimenting their official income, if any, in this way, but it's a lot

the point is that perfectly ordinary, un special skilled people choose to do things like this instead of working a full time job all the time - or they're forced to do it because they CAN'T find a full time job

you're making it sound like a person has to be very lucky to do this - but they don't - and in fact, sometimes they end up doing it because they're unlucky
posted by pyramid termite at 2:23 PM on August 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


Wow, it's been a while since I felt I was in a conversation where it seemed like people were talking past each other. I'm not sure if the 'internet-hate' accusation about Bukowski was directed towards me. I don't hate the guy at all. I don't know him, appreciate that he had a love for his art, sounds like he had a complicated life, and lived as he wanted to.

I assume that Bukowski just ran in different circles than I - in every job I've been in I've been in where there was some type of exploitation, there seemed to be both what Bukowski spoke about - people who perhaps can short handed as 'employees blaming the victim rather than the system' - and people who were clear eyed about what was happening. There were also people who were clear eyed, and took steps to protect and/or free themselves. People who were clear eyed and in fact decided to work to get on the other side of the exploitative system. People who were clear eyed and in fact rose up in the system to try to make their particular corner of the organization a healthy oasis. People who were clear eyed, and in response engaged in personally destructive behavior. People who were clear eyed, and made perhaps a faustian bargain because there was something compelling them to do so - like a sick family member who needed insurance. In short, there was a lot of diversity in people's responses.

All I'm saying that that 1) I didn't get the sense from that particular letter that Bukowski was talking about that range. 2) that perhaps his other work - which I'm still acknowledging is on me to read - did.
posted by anitanita at 2:31 PM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


yoink: "But comparing this to slavery or "servitude" seems like riding a metaphor beyond the point of reason."

I dunno. It's not anything new, kind of the point that socialism attempts to correct.


Yeah, I guess my point was that the problem I have is when people stop seeing the metaphor as a metaphor and start taking it as literally true. That is "workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains" seems fine to me, because obviously you don't literally mean that the workers spend their lives in chains, and obviously you don't think that the workers who DO spend their lives in literal chains are no worse off than those who don't. When people say, though, that "wage slavery" is just the new form of serfdom, or whatever, it seems like they're literalizing a metaphor in ways that really do violence to the stark moral differences between the condition of being a "worker" in a capitalist economy and the condition of being a serf, or a slave, or an indentured laborer. It simply isn't the case that ending slavery was a waste of time, or morally insignificant, because the freed slaves became "wage slaves." It is not the case that it would be morally neutral to take you from your current 9-5 office job at Widgets Inc, no matter how dull and sould destroying that job may be, and hand you over as chattel property to the owners of Widgets Inc--even if they assigned you exactly the same tasks and kept you in exactly the same material conditions in which you currently live.
posted by yoink at 2:42 PM on August 17, 2013


I don't why Mike Smith thinks that I'm a " better human"-- I made different choices. Why get personal?
posted by Ideefixe at 6:50 PM on August 17, 2013


Until capitalism and the state are dead we are all slaves to capitalism and the state. You're still a subject regardless if you manage to dodge the 9-5 and carve a more reasonable life for yourself. This situation fucking sucks and we need to fix it.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 11:27 PM on August 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


So I think one reason why I avoid using slavery as a metaphor for having to sell one's labor in a capitalist system is that the metaphor isn't bidirectional. While it's totally plausible that an office worker might say "man, the boss is working me like a slave today," it's a much sicker joke for a slave to say "man, it's rough, my owner is treating me like an office worker today."

Nevertheless, it is completely worthwhile to note that those of us here who have nothing to sell on the "free" market but our skins — or, to put it nicely, our labor time — it's worthwhile to note that we are in a condition that is without a doubt far from free. Instead of the concrete experience of being free, we're stuck with the thin satisfaction of knowing that we have abstract freedoms that we will never be able to access, because in concrete terms we have to spend all our time and energy and brainpower working for food, shelter, and (if we're lucky) insurance.

It says something about our utter, thoroughgoing wretchedness toward each other that wage labor under capitalism is how powerful people treat the weak when they're being relatively nice to us.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:45 AM on August 18, 2013 [4 favorites]



"All I'm saying that that 1) I didn't get the sense from that particular letter that Bukowski was talking about that range. 2) that perhaps his other work - which I'm still acknowledging is on me to read - did."


Read the work. Ham on Rye is a good start. But let's be frank, and I'm still drunk, or drunk again (lost weekend?), but he is talking about that range you mention but that I can't copypaste.. He is always talking about that range. The context... he was writing for a local to him weekly and in the late 60s with Marcuse (really, marcuse and other Americanized Frankfurter Marxists were current!), this is revolutionary, but really, and he is bringing it, or trying to, to his workmates. You WANT the tea party on yer side.

Don't be haters.
posted by notyou at 1:30 AM on August 18, 2013


Also yes, last night I wish I had typed Ham on Rye instead of Ham Sandwich, but really, cheese and salami on a bowl of risotto.
posted by notyou at 1:41 AM on August 18, 2013


On preview: I see Bukowski was a talented writer and the furthest thing from a social activist you could find, EC. But as I say above, his value is to get some artists considering whether they can make the leap even if they don't get the specific type of help he got.

There's the context... the 60s and so he's iconoclastic versus that, but also he's working in a particular artistic tradition.... the intense interior first person that goes back (West Coast) through buk, fante, the beats (sideways) celine, joyce, hamsun, with lots of off shoots and fellow practitioners (nat west and the la disaster novel... day of the locust) and so! if you could point the way, several ways, that reached those dudes and gals you had been on the line with, well it's both narcissicism and revolutionism! And that's the best of everything! In America.

The 60s really were awesome, behind the music.
posted by notyou at 2:24 AM on August 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Folks frequently misunderstand where Bukowski was in his life when he took the $100 monthly stipend from John Martin. He was a star of the Los Angeles poetry scene, with a syndicated monthly column in the underground press. He was doing well at the track. And he was on the verge of being fired by the postal service.

John Martin was making a relatively meager investment to ensure a continuing business relationship with an important American writer whose work sold consistently then, and has continued to sell. Smartest $1200 a year anyone ever spent.

A hundred bucks took the edge off and demonstrated John Martin's commitment. It didn't pay the bills, and wasn't expected to.
posted by Scram at 4:41 AM on August 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't why Mike Smith thinks that I'm a "better human"-- I made different choices. Why get personal?
posted by Ideefixe at 6:50 PM


You'd already made it personal: you reduced capitalism to personal choice and compared the products of an entire economic system to the results of your life. "Sure, whatever. I love what I do, work for myself, and am not emptied out." So, what, anyone who's struggling just "chose" poorly?
posted by Mike Smith at 9:55 AM on August 18, 2013


Smartest $1200 a year anyone ever spent.

A hundred bucks took the edge off and demonstrated John Martin's commitment. It didn't pay the bills, and wasn't expected to.


... and it's worth pointing out. A few years ago, I stumbled across the fact that he was America's best selling poet, living or dead. So yeah, money well spent, Mr. Martin.
posted by philip-random at 10:44 AM on August 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


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