Aug. 16, 2012

War Some of the Time

by Charles Bukowski

when you write a poem it
needn't be intense
can be nice and
and you shouldn't necessarily
concerned only with things like anger or
love or need;
at any moment the
greatest accomplishment might be to simply
up and tap the handle
on that leaking toilet;
done that twice now while typing
and now the toilet is
solve simple problems: that's
the most
satisfying thing, it
gives you a chance and it
gives everything else a chance

we were made to accomplish the easy
and made to live through the things

"War Some of the Time" by Charles Bukowski, from Sifting Through the Madness for the Word, the Line, the Way. © Ecco Press, 2003. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

On this date in 1989, a geomagnetic storm shut down Toronto's stock market. The primary and backup computer systems at the Toronto exchange failed, one right after the other, for the first time since the systems were installed 26 years earlier. Since no one could access the market information that was crucial for trading, the exchange shut down for three hours and all trades were diverted to Montreal.

Scientists blamed the Sun. The geomagnetic storm was caused by an increase in solar flares. These in turn produced in a coronal mass ejection (CME), flinging high levels of solar radiation toward the Earth. The radiation affected microchips and caused computer problems across North America. A similar storm the previous March had taken out the Hydro-Quebec power grid, depriving 6 million people of power for nine hours. And a five-day megastorm in 1859 fried telegraph wires all over the United States and Europe, and the aurora borealis was seen as far south as Mexico, Hawaii, and Italy.

Now that scientists are aware of the effects of CMEs, they monitor solar activity and keep an eye out for such events, which usually take at least a day and a half to reach Earth's magnetosphere. With that lead time, power grids and satellites can be temporarily taken off line to protect them from permanent damage.

It's the birthday of the man Time magazine called "the laureate of American lowlife": Charles Bukowski (books by this author), born Heinrich Karl Bukowski in Andernach, Germany (1920). His father was an American soldier, and his mother was German. They moved back to the States when the boy was two years old, and he grew up in Los Angeles, a scrawny kid who was frequently bullied. He had his first drink at 13: "It was magic," he later wrote. "Why hadn't someone told me?"

He published his first short story when he was 24, but got discouraged by all the rejection slips that followed, and didn't write again until he was 35. He published his first book of poetry, called Flower, Fist, and Bestial Wail, in 1959. He once said that his work was 93 percent autobiographical; it featured his alter ego, Henry Chinaski, a writer who works at a variety of unskilled jobs, drinks heavily, and takes up with loose women.

Bukowski said, "Bad luck for the young poet would be a rich father, an early marriage, an early success or the ability to do anything well."

On this date in 1896, gold was discovered in the Yukon Territory in Canada, sparking the Klondike Gold Rush. George Carmack, Skookum Jim Mason, and Tagish Charlie found the gold in Rabbit Creek, near Dawson. They christened the creek "Bonanza Creek," and word spread among the locals, who staked claims and were soon gathering up the plentiful ore.

The discovery of large amounts of gold didn't hit the Seattle and San Francisco newspapers for almost a year, but when it did, a hundred thousand people set off for the Yukon to make their fortunes. A few thousand did indeed strike it rich, but the rest made the arduous journey for nothing. There are famous photographs of the long lines of prospectors and their pack animals trekking through the snowy mountains, all of them heavy laden because the Mounties required everyone to bring a year's supply of provisions. But starvation was not uncommon, and one man reportedly boiled his own boot so he could drink the broth. His story inspired the famous boot-eating scene in Charlie Chaplin's silent feature The Gold Rush (1925).

It's the birthday of one of Africa's most celebrated poets, the Nigerian Christopher Okigbo (books by this author), born in Ojoto in 1932. There was no single moment that he realized he had to be a poet; there was just the moment that he realized he couldn't do anything else: "It's just like somebody who receives a call in the middle of the night to religious service, in order to become a priest in a particular cult, and I didn't have any choice in the matter. I just had to obey."

Okigbo was killed in the war for Biafran independence in September 1967. He published only three volumes of poetry in his short lifetime: Heavensgate (1962), Limits (1964), and Silences (1965).

Today is the birthday of fantasy author Diana Wynne Jones (books by this author), born in London in 1934. In 1953, she entered St. Anne's College, Oxford, where she attended lectures by C.S. Lewis ("a superb lecturer") and J.R.R. Tolkien ("almost inaudible"). She wrote nearly 40 books, mostly for young readers, and she's best known for her series The Chronicles of Chrestomanci and Howl's Moving Castle (1986).

She said: "If you take myth and folklore, and these things that speak in symbols, they can be interpreted in so many ways that although the actual image is clear enough, the interpretation is infinitely blurred, a sort of enormous rainbow of every possible color you could imagine."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
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