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Bukowski, Puttering, Typewriters, and Writing for Survival

What if you stopped taking the efficient path?

Hello friends and welcome back to Life Reimagined, a free weekly elixir designed to make you feel good and live better. A special welcome to the 325 readers who have joined since the last edition.

📝 I. Charles Bukowski

I’ve been immersing myself in the work and mind of Charles Bukowski, a poet and novelist known for his works of dirty realism. I read Bukowski’s first novel, Post Office, earlier this year, but it wasn’t until I found On Writing in a used book store that I became fascinated with this wildly prolific beast of a man.

On Writing is a posthumously published collection of letters that Bukowski wrote to publishers, agents, writers, and friends from 1945 to 1993. His letters offer incredible insight into what it means to pursue a creative path in an authentic way through both failure and success.

Steph and I recorded a podcast about the letters, focusing on Bukowski’s life, philosophy, and use of writing as a means of survival. You can listen here.

Bukowski’s letters led me to a collection of his poems, which are more digestible than most poetry, and to Ham on Rye, his novel about living an impoverished, lonely childhood in an abusive household during the Great Depression. I recommend both works as examples of simple, honest writing that reveals some of the less palatable truths about people and the world.

Finally, Bukowski’s love of the typewriter, which he expresses often in his letters, inspired me to find, buy, and start using this mechanical relic of the past. I’ve only had the typewriter for a week and am already obsessed.

It’s tapping me into different forms of writing (like this poem I wrote about my mom) and unlocking different creative pathways than what I’ve experienced writing by hand and on the computer.

I’m still forming my thoughts on this machine, but I think it offers extraordinary potential when used in conjunction with modern technology.

P.S. If you’re not into reading and want to learn more about Bukowski, check out this short YouTube documentary about his life. The first two minutes give you a good sense of what he was like as a person.

Steph and I with our new 1945 Smith-Corona Typewriter

🏝️ II. Puttering Around

I’ve written a dozen poems with my typewriter in the last week. I used to write poems as a kid, mostly to family members as a way to express feelings. And the typewriter has inspired me to start tinkering with poetry again.

I know nothing about poetry and what I’m producing is certainly no good by any standard. But I’m having fun and that’s enough to keep going.

This week, after spending most of my days surfing and recovering, I wrote a long poem about the joys of puttering around. My younger, productivity-obsessed self would find this mode of living horrifying, but no one asked him.

“Puttering”

I woke up at dawn ready to

make the most of the day

Sleepy anticipation filled my soul

on the drive to Santa Cruz

I arrived at Steamer Lane with

walnuts, raspberries, and espresso in my belly

The sun was rising and bathed the

fat, crumbling waves in a welcoming golden glow

The surf was no good and

I wished I was still sleeping

But then I watched a large seal eat

And accepted the ocean’s offering

I put on a damp wetsuit, waxed my board, and

traversed down the slippery rocks

I entered the water safely,

which was better than yesterday

90 minutes and 3 unremarkable waves later

I exited the water shivering but with

no injuries, dings, or angry water mates

A success by surfing standards

I undressed and nearly headed home to

make something of this fine day

But a coffee and a short read called me

What harm could a little puttering do?

I sipped a sweet Turkish coffee and

picked at a blueberry-banana muffin while reading

Bukowski’s Ham on Rye on a dirty bench

and in an intensifying morning sun

Young mothers congregated with their babies

and enjoyed another morning in paradise

A young couple quibbled about their young dog

and I finished my muffin

Two policemen arrived and began speaking to

a trembling man who stood in front of my car

I tried not to watch but had a clear view through

a window in the swaying trees

“Hands above your head, sir”

A dozen small bags were pulled from

his shirt, pants, shoes, and groin

The handcuffs arrived and clicked shut

I wondered what Bukowski would have thought

“Leave the bastard alone”, he would say

“A jail cell won’t save him or anyone else”

A plump stranger said as much and was shooed away

My insides began rumbling and I headed to

a church with a cafe down the road

A chipper teen prepared my chai latte

and I headed for the bathroom

I sipped my chai and read more Bukowski

He recounted his miserable childhood, which was

filled with nasty boils, abuse, and poverty

No wonder the bastard drank so much

I considered buying a bible

But today was not the day that

I would find the comforts of religion

That day would come later

It was time to go home

I still had a good chance to stop puttering

But on the short walk to the car,

old surfers talked about surfing

A short, tanned Brazilian held a board and

said his new fins made all the difference

The old suffers agreed heartily and I smiled

These fools suffered from my same addiction

Surfing, while intoxicating, is a pointless exercise of

dancing with nature and following its rhythms,

always feeling that the perfect wave,

the perfect dance, is just around the corner

I drove away thinking about fins and waves and

old surfers and made a wrong turn

I was headed toward Four Mile, an unfamiliar break

What harm could 15 more minutes of puttering do?

I arrived at Four Mile and talked to an older man

“How was it,” I asked

He said I would need some volume and

patience and it would be just fine

I admitted I was from out of town and he grimaced

until I said I used to live in Encinitas

He knew Beacons, Swamis, and the charms of Leucadia

Santa Cruz was not all that different and now neither was I

I walked the dusty path to the ocean

and ran into a young surfer who had exited the water

He was tense and said it was madness out there

Guys were yelling and coming to blows

I watched the waves and considered going out

A French lad with a boogie board walked by and

I asked him if it was any fun

He said it was a grand time

A squat man with a mustache came from the beach

He said it was too crowded and crummy to surf

I agreed and he told me about the break and swells and wind and

a deep-water canyon surfable in Big Sur

I had enough new knowledge to fill a novel or a poem

and decided that I would not surf

Better to drive home without dancing on

crummy waves and risking a bloody nose

I cruised back with a close eye on the ocean

Maybe I could find a time and place for another session

But the wind had already done too much damage

and I needed to write that novel or poem

The drive up 101 had many cliffs and farms with

strawberries, pumpkins, and nuts

I wanted to stop and meet the farmers but

the day was slipping away

But then I saw the sunflowers

Big, yellow, and dancing in the wind

I stopped at a farm and gathered 6 sunflowers,

3 pumpkins, and a bouquet of bright flowers

I would give this harvest to my wife

She was not puttering and deserved it more than me

Perhaps she would enjoy a small glimpse

into all that I had done on this fine day

I avoided any more stops and arrived

home at two in the afternoon

Nine hours after my dawn departure

Not too bad for a Thursday

I wanted to write about this adventure, but

the sun and puttering had made me thirsty

I bought a bottle of Italian orange wine

and cut the sunflowers while sipping a heavy pour

I prepared a small lunch of

lamb, cheese, olives, popcorn, dark chocolate, and

a vanilla cupcake that tasted good with the orange wine

I would need a small nap before writing

Now I sit here at a 1945 Smith-Corona typewriter

The sun has set and I’m clanking these keys,

telling my tale and listening to classical tunes

Just like Bukowski said he did

I can’t say that I’ve done much today

But I feel alive, satisfied, buzzed

I lived and lived as well as I could

And for now, that seems like enough

🧠 III. Something I’m Thinking About

What could your life become if you let go of the idea that you need to take the efficient path? Maybe not for a lifetime, but just for today.

“Why do we do inefficient things? Because sometimes we don’t want life to be seamless—we want to feel resistance, we want to take our time, we want to savor the experience. When what you’re doing isn’t just a means to an end, you’re in no hurry to get it done.”

The Typewriter Revolution by Richard Polt

That's all for now. See you next Sunday.

— Cal

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