so you want to be a writer

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.
if you’re trying to write like somebody
forget about it.

if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.

don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.

--Charles Bukowski

That's the poem I sometimes read when I have writers block. It was written by my great uncle Hank. I didn't know Hank very well, he died when I was 17, and certainly never came to visit. But we'd visit him and my aunt Linda in San Pedro every so often. We talked on the phone a couple of times. He'd send gifts, like a little gold and opal heart-shaped necklace (my first real jewelry) that was torn from my neck the first time I wore it out of the house and lost in the tall grass of my neighbor's unmowed lawn.

I didn't realize he was a well-known writer until I started college at Evergreen, where a Bukowski course was offered. I didn't consider taking the class, but in my arrogance, wondered if they'd like me to come in and share some old family photos? No?

The older I get, the more I can appreciate his work--as I am able to get beyond the misogyny and addiction and violence and vulgarity--I see what is really behind it--what Maria Popova describes as his "characteristic blend of playfulness and poignancy, political incorrectness and deep sensitivity, cynicism and self-conscious earnestness." Yeah, I can relate to that.

The older I get, the more I also wonder when I'm going to find my one true path, when I am going to figure out what my purpose is in this world, when I am going to know that I am doing the right thing, when the words or images or sounds or whatever just start pouring out of me effortlessly, the way they seem to do for geniuses. When am I going to bloom? Have I already bloomed? Was that it? Or maybe I am one of those plants that is always growing a new flower, and by the time a new bud has formed, the old flower has shriveled and dropped?

Speaking of getting old, I went to church the other day with my mom, sister and grandma while I was visiting Boise. Yes, church. One thing that stood out was this: "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin." (Matthew 6:25-34). I have admittedly never read the bible, and I barely know the context that this quote is in (that has never stopped anyone from quoting the bible) but it really struck me: I am working and worrying very hard about making a meaningful life, but my life is already full of meaning. The lily of the field does not worry about it's lily-ness, Hank didn't worry about his writer-ness, nor should I worry about my artist-ness or my mother-ness or my human-ness. It will happen. It is happening. Let it happen. And so it is. (That's what they say in church!)

Prints  here .

Prints here.