Don’t Try

Charles Bukowski’s grave has the inscription:

Don’t Try

His widow explained in an interview after his death:

“See those big volumes of books? [Points to bookshelf] They’re called Who’s Who In America. It’s everybody, artists, scientists, whatever. So he was in there and they asked him to do a little thing about the books he’s written and duh, duh, duh. At the very end they say, ‘Is there anything you want to say?’, you know, ‘What is your philosophy of life?’, and some people would write a huge long thing. A dissertation, and some people would just go on and on. And Hank just put, Don’t Try.”

It also referred back to what he once wrote in a personal letter:

“Somebody asked me: “What do you do? How do you write, create?” You don’t, I told them. You don’t try. That’s very important: not to try, either for Cadillacs, creation or immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more. It’s like a bug high on the wall. You wait for it to come to you. When it gets close enough you reach out, slap out and kill it. Or if you like its looks, you make a pet out of it.”

“Don’t Try” is also an idea that crops up in the practice of mindfulness. The idea being that the concept of “trying” to pick up a glass of water (for example) is inherently preposterous. You either pick it up at you don’t. You can’t set out to try to do something in a premeditated way. You can only set out to do something, and will either succeed or fail (with some degrees, and your definition of success may be a point in question).

And, like most of the concepts of mindfulness, the idea has roots in Buddhism. Bukowski had a Buddha on his writing desk (he wrote a fine poem about it) and his funeral was conducted by Buddhist monks. I’m not sure if the drunken, womanising pain in the ass ever went so far as to describe himself as a Buddhist, but he certainly leaned in that direction, on some level.

I referred to all this in an early post Charles Bukowski Ate My Hamster (I was likely being a pain in the ass when I wrote that too) and to his annoyance that people asked him for advice on how to succeed at writing rather than how to write. Writing, for him, was simply something you did or did not do. Don’t Try.

Sometimes, I get sidetracked by the “Why?” question. I over-think and overcomplicate. Some reflection is inevitable and beneficial, for sure, but I’m not in any real danger of never reflecting enough, frankly. I should learn to stop worrying and love the bomb.

Only tonight I nearly got sucked into a conversation about this. Why write? Why blog? If you write, why publish on a screen rather than in a journal you keep under lock and key? What do you gain? What do you expect? Validation? Is it simply entertainment? For you or for others?

Why, in fact, do we do anything at all? This question haunts me. It does so because it doesn’t have an answer. But you can drive yourself crazy looking for one. One thing you can certainly hold on to is

Don’t Try

…and I have given it up for Lent. Am I a successful writer? Sure! Just look up the page, there are words. There are letters. Some spaces too. I did it. I wrote that. Success! I’m writing this sentence too…. [Ed: that’s enough of that thank you]


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