The Newsletter is officially back from the summer! Now, let’s discuss death.
Today our ambassador to this rather profound topic is Mark Manson, great blogger and the author of the must-read book The subtle art of not giving a f*ck. His main source of inspiration for this article is actually another writer, Charles Bukowski, one of the great writers of the 20th century and one of those love-it-or-hate-it kind of writers (for those interested, my personal recommendations would be Ham on rye, together with Factótum and Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions and General Tales of Ordinary Madness… which from the titles alone probably give you an idea of why he might have been so corrosive). No further introductions today, let’s jump right into it:
<< “We’re all going to die, all of us. What a circus! That alone should make us love each other, but it doesn’t. We are terrorized and flattened by trivialities; we are eaten up by nothing.” – Bukowski
Yes, we’re all going to die. You and me and everyone else. One day and eventually that fateful moment will come calling and take us all away.
When we die isn’t even really the interesting question, as once you’re dead you won’t be around to care about what you did or didn’t do. No, the interesting question is how we die. Will it be cancer? Cardiac arrest? Anthrax attack? Choking on a pretzel? (…)
When we think about our own deaths we typically think about the final moments. The hospital beds. The crying family. The ambulances. We don’t think about the long string of choices and habits which led to those final moments. You could say that our death is a work-in-progress over the course of our lives — each breath, each bite, each swallow, each late night and missed traffic light, each laugh and scream and cry and crashing fist and lonely sigh — they each bring us one step closer to our own dramatic denouement from this world.
So the better question isn’t when you’re going to die. It’s what are you choosing as your vehicle to get there? If everything you do each day brings you closer to death in its own unique and subtle way, then what are you choosing to let kill you?
The title of this article [and the Newsletter] is a quote from the author and poet Charles Bukowski. (…) Bukowski was a shameless drinker, womanizer and all-around fuck up. He would get drunk on stage at his poetry readings and verbally abuse his audience. He gambled a lot of his money away and had an unfortunate habit of exposing himself in public.
But underneath Bukowski’s disgusting exterior was a deep and introspective man with more character than most. (…) the honesty in his writing — his fears, failures, regrets, self-destruction, emotional dysfunction — it is unparalleled. He will tell you the best and worst of himself without flinching, without shifting his eyes or even muttering a “sorry about that” as an afterthought. (…)
And what Bukowski understood, which most people don’t, is that the best things in life can sometimes be ugly. Life is messy, and we’re all a little screwed up in our own special snowflake kind of way. He never understood the baby boomer obsession with peace and happiness or the idealism that came along with it. He understood that you don’t get one side without the other. You don’t get love without pain. You don’t get meaning and profundity without sacrifice.
The concept of life purpose has exploded in popularity in recent decades. We don’t just want to make money or build a secure career. We want to do something important. We want to be noticed. We want to be looked up to.
Meaning is the new luxury.
But like any other luxury, we idealize meaning. People believe that all you have to do is find the thing — that one bloody thing! — that you are “meant” to do, and suddenly, everything will click into place. You’ll do it until the day you die and always feel fulfilled and happy and prance with unicorns and rainbows while making a million dollars in your pajamas.
(…) [Yet, ] as Bukowski said, “What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.”
Finding the passion and purpose in your life is a trial-by-fire process. You don’t simply wake up one day and become happy doing one thing forever and ever. Like death, it’s a constant work-in-progress. You must try something, pay attention to how it feels, adjust and then try again.
And then, when you do get it right, it’s liable to one day change. Because you change. Put it another way, what Bukowski understood more than most was that doing what you love is not always loving what you do. There’s an inherent sacrifice to it. Just like choosing a spouse, it’s not choosing someone who makes you happy all the time, it’s choosing somebody who you want to be with even when they’re pissing you off.
It’s something that feels like an inevitability, like you have no choice because this is simply who you are, dysfunction and all. It’s your chosen vehicle towards death. And you’re happy to let it take you there. But you’re under no illusions that it won’t be a bumpy ride or without surprises along the way.
(…) “We’re here to laugh at the odds,” Bukowski said, “and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.”
So, when Death does come, how will he take you? >>
Hope you liked this one – I found it rather thought-provoking, as I believe we all have a tendency to think that after a certain thing changes, after we achieve X, suddenly life will blossom for us and “ride the unicorns” ever after… and tend to forget that (perhaps unfortunately?) it’s more about the journey and the process than it is about the destination and the goalposts. Especially because I’m almost 100% sure that we all think “what a stupid thing to say” when we consider this notion of forever riding the unicorns into the rainbow… and yet, if we stop on our tracks for a couple of minutes to think about it, we’ll find more than enough proof in our own lives that we actually behave as if it could actually happen.