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On Bukowski, 'Women', Women and Freedom

Tahlia Palmer: Steady Eye

On Bukowski, 'Women', Women and Freedom

Andrew Ryan

I’ve been a book worm my whole life. Well, sort of. The last few years have been a little lacking in the reading department in comparison to the amount I would churn through as a teenager and as a child. Reading was more interesting than pretty much anything else, until I discovered escapism through other things- cinema, computer games, sex, booze. I still love to read a good book though, and now that I finally have some time to myself, I was able to sit down and read one in two days.

The book was Bukowski’s “Women”. I swear I’ve read Bukowski before, but I can not for the life of me remember which book/s. It must have been years and years ago, maybe when I was still in high school, maybe during the period when I was stoned for 4 years straight, the period when very few long-term memories were formed. I believe that any reading of his work I might have done before reading “Women” would have been absolutely wasted on my younger self anyway. There is no way a 16, 17, 18, 19 year old can relate to ANYTHING the old alcoholic had to say, and anyone who says they did or can at that age is a liar. Whether or not I had read him before last week, I’m going to count this one as my first. It’s the first one to really count and was the perfect book for me to read at this stage of my life.

When I read Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms” about 2 years ago, I would lie in bed next to a boy who confused and excited me, having conversations with him in my head in Hemingway’s style. Short sentences. Straight to the point. No fluff. No games. Every movement of the sentence is a considered jab into the mind. My dreams were full of these sentences. I obsessed about the sentences for a while. It wasn’t until I finished this Bukowski novel that I realized Bukowski is an angrier and sadder Hemmingway, with a filthy mind. He’s got those same sentences, but instead of jabbing they’re thrusting. Thrusting really, really quickly. The recognition of the jabbing, thrusting sentences was instantly comforting to me, made me want to drink a daiquiri. Oh Bukowski you dirty old fuck, I love you and I hate you, just as you loved and hated Hemingway.

This was the book I needed to read right at that moment. Coming out of “Women” was like emerging into an alternate universe, and this rarely happens to me. “Narnia” did it when I was very young. “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” did it when I was a bit older… and I remember saying it approx. 3 times in the last 8 years, but I have no idea what the books were now. Evidently they were perfect for the time, but not memorable for a different time. This one’s going to stick though.

Having recently become a “free woman”, both in terms of relationship and housing situations, it’s been difficult to keep tabs on everything. I’ve become (more?) self absorbed as I try to cling to some sense of normality, some sense of home and belonging and comfort, feeling like a jellyfish getting buffeted around by salt water, getting stuck in seaweed, pushing myself up always towards the moonlight, drifting into the mouth of an oncoming turtle, getting nibbled and let go, then there’s another turtle and he’s pretty and nice and has great taste but you know, I need to get to that moonlight, shouldn’t be bothered too much about turtles right now but that nibble feels pretty good…

Now is the time to learn about all of my appetites, and the appetites of others, which was a daunting thought at first… but decided to read “Women” made the process far easier, more easily comprehendible than before. Spending more time in bars and music venues than any other building, attempting to make money from the artistic pursuits I love, getting lost on my way back to the place I’m house sitting, being around casual drinkers and drunks and musicians and actors and artists, watching them flirt with each other and me, watching them try to seal the deal with each other and me, flirting with them and wanting to seal the deal with them, it’s all been put into a different perspective. I was warned that it was difficult to read by a female friend of mine, that it made her so angry she couldn’t finish it and that I might experience that same frustration, but instead I devoured the words and was left with nothing but satisfaction.

When you’ve got Bukowski hunched over a bar in your mind being all seedy and loose, representing hedonism and masochism at the same time, being the light to guide you through the weirdness, everything feels a little better. Because you know what? No matter what happens from here on, nothing I ever do could be as ridiculous as the things done by Bukowski. I don’t have his kind of heart, nor do I have his nature. I’m safe, because I’m not him. I wonder what he would think of that?