In Boozo Veritas #2 by Teege Braune
Don’t Bet on the Muse
This is a literary anecdote that I hope is true despite everything else I’m going say in this post: I once heard that Charles Bukowski’s nightly routine, after he finished another grueling day at the post-office and had a quick bite at his favorite L.A. greasy spoon, was to sit down at his typewriter with a bottle of whiskey and hack out page after page while drinking prodigiously until he slipped into a booze-addled blackout and awoke the next morning slumped in his chair, or prostrate on the floor having fallen out of his chair, or rarely, in his own bed having crawled into it at some unremembered point during the night. Upon reinvestigating his writing desk in the head-pounding hours of the morning, Bukowski would discover an empty bottle of whiskey and a handful of stories that he didn’t remember writing. These tales typed out in a state of absolute mental annihilation must have seemed less like Bukowski’s adventures with booze as they did booze’s adventures with Bukowski, stories actually composed by the morbid imagination of alcohol itself.
Why would this tragedy of another man’s addiction and desperation hold so much appeal for me? As a young aspiring memoirist, before I even became a drinker, this fairy tale embodied my philosophy for good writing, that the two, and only two things a writer needed were a willingness to be completely honest and dedication to live as interestingly as possible. It is funny to me that my vision of an interesting life did not include bettering myself or helping other people. No, living interestingly was synonymous with selfish and self-destructive behavior: drinking, using drugs, and being promiscuous, activities I had only read about in books. The hilarious thing is that the essays and short stories I wrote at that time are tediously dull and affected, dwelling obsessively on my own boredom and sexual frustration, while simultaneously attempting to appear both better read and more debased than I actually was. Even if occasionally the rays of self-awareness parted the cloudy skies of my adolescent ego, how could I be expected to be a good writer when I wasn’t actually having sex, dropping LSD, or getting drunk?
I had fantasies of checking into hotels with suitcases full of nothing but liquor and emerging days later with perfect manuscripts, novels thinly veiled as fiction completed in a single furiously written draft. As ludicrous as this sounds to me now, I understand the motivation behind this daydream more than ever. After all, what could be easier? If only it were as simple as this: the drunker I am, the sharper my imagination will be. The pages of popular culture magazines are filled with the personal essays of young writers who seem to cling desperately to this notion. Who can blame them? Many writers besides Bukowski have become famous perpetuating this myth.
After all, Bukowski’s life was a sort of literary fairy tale. After gaining an underground celebrity as a poet, he was encouraged to quit his awful job and write full time by his publisher Joe Martin who personally covered all of his living expenses until his writing paid for them itself. Despite being nobody’s Prince Charming, he began to meet a barrage of female fans eager to sleep with the bard of decadence, eventually marrying Linda Lee Beighle, an attractive admirer half his age who tolerated his philandering because she was doing plenty of her own. To this day Bukowski is adored not only by immature and emulating young writers, he is also championed by other defenders of the dispossessed like Tom Waits. Never mind, Bukowski was already an old man when this unexpected success finally befell him or that his relationship with Beighle was tortured, toxic, and mutually abusive. Bukowski is remembered as an alcoholic as much as he’s remembered as a writer. That to me is a rather heavy distinction and not a price I, for one, wish to pay for fame and literary success.
So why do I want this anecdote about Bukowski’s creative process and ritual to be true? Why do I still love Santa Claus and Wonderland? There’s a part of me that never wants to grow up. Though I know his mythos, like his work, is a hazy blend of fiction and autobiography, there is a dark magic wavering in those indistinct borders. When I’m feeling crushed between the cogs of endless revision and rejection, I often wish some soppy muse was waiting behind one more glass of bourbon to whisper strokes of genius into my vacant mind just as she came to Bukowski in his own blackest hours.
Teege Braune is a writer of literary fiction, horror, essays, and poetry. Recently he has discovered the joys of drinking responsibly. He may or may not be a werewolf.