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People Simply Empty Out (1986) (lettersofnote.com)
399 points by simonebrunozzi 38 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 226 comments

From Bukowski's Factotum...

"If you're going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don't even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery--isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you'll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you're going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It's the only good fight there is."

Wow, I'm kind of surprised at all the "Woah, so inspiring!" comments. This is the kind of cultish "advice" that results in boatloads of jaded, isolated folks. It's shitty advice for 2 reasons:

1. First, most people who follow the "only follow your passion" advice WILL fail, so not only will they have lost their "girlfriends, wives, relatives", etc., but they'll feel the dejection of it not being successful.

2. More importantly, and this is really my main point, but I think most people who follow this advice and succeed will find it is a pyrrhic victory. When you've reached what you thought was they pinnacle of your success, but you look around and you see you've burned most of your bridges to get there, it turns out to be a very lonely place.

I think the vast majority of people will find that if they give appropriate attention to their self care and their relationships, it will make achieving their goals easier, not the other way around.

I don't think he means that you have to follow your "passion" per se, but just to put effort into whatever you're doing, make big leaps, compromise yourself, and fail a lot.

"If you're going to try, go all the way."

This is beautiful. This is my experience as a 30 year serial start-up man.

When I say to myself - "I will do whatever it takes to make this work" vs. "We'll see what happens" these have always been two distinct universes in terms of the journey.

"Whatever it takes" is always a nightmare filled with anxiety and stress, but the second attitude - I've rarely experienced any kind of real success with.

Both journeys are pain. The first is racked with anxiety and obsession the second is mostly fear and indecision.

The end state of both is relief. But "We'll see what happens" most always ends with some form of regret - perhaps I didn't do something I could have. Woulda coulda shoulda. And then it's over.

"I'll do whatever it takes" is always a crazy ride towards an unknown destination, has cost me far more than I anticipated, and the rewards are never what I predicted to begin with. But it's this universe I rarely regret (and reportedly those that were along for the ride with me).

So yeah, "If you're going to try, go all the way" resonates strongly with me.

Beautifully put, thanks for taking the time to write it.

It's also a perfect summary of why I'm struggling mightily with working a predictable job (that anyone should love) vs working on my next business or other volatile pursuit.

I need to get Go All The Way tattooed on my forehead. I hope it's a mindset I have the courage to maintain for the rest of my life.

So what does your user name mean? Was it still a lottery and not the result of going all out?

Bukowski may have said, "If you're going to try, go all the way," but Bukowski's tombstone reads, "Don't try." Bukowski spent most of his life as non-functioning alcoholic, a lifestyle which is unenviable even in the slightly-romanticized form he presents in his writings. If you ever want to watch something truly unpleasant, pull up YouTube and watch him berate his wife on public television (possibly drunk). Bukowski was insightful on a lot of things, but his life doesn't look like a happy one to me, and I'd be cautious about taking life advice from him.

I did and gosh, my life is not where it should be, but I don't want to learn from this guy: https://youtu.be/EJmQHT_HLOo

That link isn't to the interview where he yells at his future[1] wife.

However, I think if you linked the actual interview, it would be inappropriate according to HN's content standards: Bukowski uses some very colorful language.

[1] I was slightly incorrect in my previous post, she wasn't his wife yet at the time of the interview.

I'm pretty damned sure that the tombstone advice means "Don't try ... do!" (As I recall, that was a line in a popular movie. Taking poets literally is risky.) IOW, 'go all the way' is not like a new-year's resolution.

Bukowski spent most of his life being Bukowski. Better results than the post-office position. Beats the great, grey middle all to hell.

> Bukowski spent most of his life being Bukowski. Better results than the post-office position. Beats the great, grey middle all to hell.

For us it's great, we get Bukowski. For Bukowski, it seems less enjoyable.

I believe most of you are missing the point. Bukowski was arguing this in favor of doing something you truly feel passionate about regardless of whether it succeeds or not. The philosophy doesn't work well for highly specific, practical-minded goals of an emotionally ambiguous nature: If you really want to be an artist that gets his paintings on display in the met, but see that you're not getting anywhere with it, you can easily let go and move onto something else. The important thing however is that if you have a wider, more fundamental dream (say to simply live for your art and experiment with it as long as you have the faculties to do so) for which you can spend your life struggling and be happy with the process itself, despite frustrations, then you can try different practical paths to success, experiment flexibly with them as needed but take sheer pleasure in knowing that the all-in journey was worth it even if some specific ideal destination wasn't reached. Considering it this way takes survivorship bias, luck and low probabilities into consideration but with an awareness that even if they might sideline you, the overall effort was simply how you wanted to spend your life.

It's not often that I find myself wanting to quote Cavafy:

    When you depart for Ithaca,
    wish for the road to be long,
    full of adventure, full of knowledge.
    Don't fear the Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
    the angry Poseidon.

Whatever dream or wish you have, sooner or later, whether "successful" or "failed" by whatever measure, you realize that you've reached its bounds. Please don't reduce his words to pursuing something material, because it's much more than that, as hinted by:

> You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter.

If you say I reduced his words to pursuing something material than you've misunderstood my point. In the most basic sense of us all having to make use of a material world to achieve anything over the course of a lifetime, then yes, all pursuits are material in some way. Beyond that however I was simply using a specific example to explain that a more fundamental understanding of what Bukowski was saying can take into account things like survivorship bias and the danger of completely impractical dreams being pursued too far while still being coherent advice about how one should live their life. This is to pursue a larger meta-dream through practical, flexible steps and never give up because the meta-dream you've chosen fulfills you spiritually in the simple pursuit. It thus does this regardless of success or failure and specific hardships. You ride life to perfect laughter because you've chosen your fundamental calling knowing its cost and sacrifices.

This is the "never give up" fallacy, a sort of magical thinking in our times. But sometimes giving up is the smart thing to do. You rarely hear anyone emphasise that though, due to survivor bias.

I agree with tagirb that Bukowski was talking about a different thing. But I wanted to expand on the "never give up" issue, even if it might be slightly out of topic.

Giving up doesn't sound sexy. It's definitely something everyone should learn, but hey, maybe we aren't "selling" the concept well enough.

In my experience, in most cases where you have to give up, what you really have to do is to stop trying to achieve a certain abstract goal through a certain specific method. Not renounce to the goal, the drive, the passion itself, but renounce to the methods, the rigid views you might hold.

Maybe you want to write great songs, but you are failing because you are just trying to repeat something similar to what your favourite artist already did. Maybe you want to get better grades, but are just re-reading the lessons, expecting something to stick, when you are not even focusing on it or trying to understand the previous lessons that lead to the current one. Maybe you want to jump a 2 meter fence, but you are just running against it, without ever having tried with smaller ones first.

It's never so simple, but this is the main point.

Sometimes we have to face reality. In many cases, the only thing we need to give up is our naive views and past mistakes. Some people will repeat the same mistake over and over and call that "trying really hard". Sorry, but no. Trying really hard is not that. Trying really hard is being able to let go your naivety, to keep exploring alternatives, to keep learning, and learning, and failing, and going back and retry in a different way.

[and this is still not what you were talking about]

For me this "never give up" does not mean fighting through this life, it means "never give up on yourself", on that sparkle in your eyes, on your inner smile, on the light inside you, call it however you want.

Go all the way with it, don't trade yourself for whatever "benefits" offered to you, well, by your own mind, first of all.

Once you're out of _that_ slavery, then you're truly free wherever you are and whatever you do.

That’s why we’ve rebranded it as pivoting.

And more: people who write stuff like this (from experience) are usually the lucky ones with hindsight bias.

Similar but different I think is also walking away, if it is just a situation you don't want to be in or negative I think it is effective to just cut it off hard and come back later

I must be too cynical for this. Seems like the sort of slogan MLM people could have.

I like to imagine a tribal villages before civilization went into overdrive. That’s the lifestyle humans originally adapted to. I imagine that in the village, there are niched personalities. One guy is way spiritual and offers guidance and spiritual support. Another is a warrior spirit, always eager to conquer and to gain more resources for his village. A third is the carpenter. Society today must accommodate these same people types, or they’ll feel out of place. It’s okay if you (like me) don’t respond to the Don Quixote type narrative; I think it sounds naive, but it’s always easy to be a critic.

Tribal villages like constant strife and either going all-in Spartan with daily military drill or else getting swallowed and seeing all you love die and get savagely raped? The ancients had it hard and we have it really, really easy with our peaceful freedoms.

Is this comment historically accurate? How often are lands conquered? I think not, to what you say. Also, this only accomodates the last ~3000 years of human history. Before the agricultural revolution, humans lived a very different life as apex predators. It was not until we can grow and store crops that armies could exist.

It’s not. Even in their own time, the Spartan bullshit was a myth pushed by themselves. Some civilizations such as the Chumash in what is now Los Angeles worked as little as 8 hours per week in order to survive.

> Some civilizations such as the Chumash in what is now Los Angeles worked as little as 8 hours per week in order to survive.

What was their life expectancy?

It makes more sense to me to calculate how much total free time they had compared to now. So even if they lived to be only 40-50 years old they would still have more freedom in hours/days than the modern worker.

I worked remotely for a whole year and it was 100x better than working in an office. I can only imagine what only working 8 hours a week is like.

> It makes more sense to me to calculate how much total free time they had compared to now.

You won't have much free time if you and your family can only aspire to reach the ripe old age of 30, if you manage to be the lucky ones who are lucky on the infant mortality lotto.

> You won't have much free time if you and your family can only aspire to reach the ripe old age of 30

That was never the case though; ancient societies had much lower life expectancy at birth because they were very likely to die in early childhood. People who made it to adulthood, sure, didn't live as long as today on average, but the difference is much smaller than life expectancy at birth numbers would suggest. You seem to recognize the high infant mortality, but not understand how it affects the other stats like life expectancy at birth.

Their mortality rates were 100%, as are ours. Their life expectancy was infinitesimally small relative to the eternity they'll be dead for, as are ours.

> Their mortality rates were 100%, as are ours.

You're desperately trying to avoid the question. Their free time doesn't mean anything if they die in their 30s while living a life where they are forced to endure famines and the deaths of loved ones for avoidable problems such as lack of medical care.

Life is suffering, this is ancient wisdom, and an absolute. Serfs suffer. Billionaires suffer. Ants suffer. We suffer in a variety of different ways, but nothing changes the fact that we suffer. Talking about our ancestors like their lives were exclusively miserable is like pitying kids in the 80s because their video games weren't as good, it's ridiculous. They just played different games. There's nothing meaningful here to measure quantitatively, it's all a matter of perception.

> There's nothing meaningful here to measure quantitatively

Yes, there is - their age.

I'm must be out of the loop, because I've never met a dead person who is the least bit upset that they're dead. It's only the living who freak out about it, and they aren't even qualified to have an opinion on the matter.

Cool, nihilism it is. Nothing matters, everything is awful, and we're all just dead flesh anyways.

That's silly - otherwise we can rationalize infant death as a perfectly acceptable length of time to live.

Didn't Sparta lost quite a few fights? For all the myths,they were not succesfull at creating imperium.

Or not sufficiently cynical. What you describe sounds run of the mill caution


Is this a serious comment? Wagecuck? Really?

What is your criticism? Working for someone else? Not everyone can own a business.

A person who makes a good wage and carves out a life for themselves is successful by any metric. As far as erections, I hope when you reach the twilight years you will have more on your mind than getting hard.

>A person who makes a good wage and carves out a life for themselves is successful by any metric.

Just not by the metrics discussed in TFA, which is the whole point. It's not like everybody agrees that "a good wage" is success.

Some suggested edits to your comment:

wagecuck -> working stiff

when you can no longer maintain an erection -> when you are past the prime of your life

With these simple substitutions you can once again sound like a reasonable human being who is not overly fixated on unnecessary crude sexual imagery.

>With these simple substitutions you can once again sound like a reasonable human being who is not overly fixated on unnecessary crude sexual imagery.

Considering that we're discussing a Bukowski letter (who was "overly fixated on unnecessary crude sexual imagery" and proud of it), this is not necessarily advisable.

It sounds like a suggestion for the parent to "empty out" and adopt the officially tolerated sensitivity/language, lest some office drones be outraged.

I don't see anything in TFA that says being a wage slave is equivalent to someone sleeping with your spouse and that the implied appropriate response is to be hyper "masculine" for some definition thereof. But this is dripping in the parent comment and when I google "wagecuck" that is the kind of misplaced anger I see from a lot of apparent confused kids, many identifying with alt-right, alpha male or incel culture. It is anger and paranoia. I don't know Bukowski's work well but I sort of doubt that is what he was about.

"too cynical for Bukowski", that's a good motto :)

Reads like an ad for a potent drug, written by an addict. Add survivorship bias to a good measure.

How does survivorship bias apply here? He’s practically laying out a tautology: if you are willing to sacrifice everything for a goal, you’ll beat out everyone else purely due to attrition.

You’re saying that only seems true because people who succeed repeat it?

I feel like survivorship bias is more about obscure tricks that happen to work well for a random group of people who happened to succeed. No?

But that's nonsense. Even if I gave up everything today to practice basketball every waking moment for the rest of my life, I'm not going to be an NBA star. Some dreams simply can't come true for some people and can for others.

> Some dreams simply can't come true for some people and can for others.


The text reads like a lottery winner praising the virtues of spending all their savings on lottery tickets just because he got lucky. Will and determination alone are not relevant if the main factor -- opportunity -- is out of our control and might never materialize.

Yes of course you need to start with a goal that will still be physically possible after 20 years of trying.

I’m not claiming that magic exists, that’s a straw man.

> How does survivorship bias apply here?

Because he got lucky. No, sacrificing everything for the goal does not always get you the goal. There's 1,000 Bukowskis out there, many better, and we'll never hear of them.

Sometimes you waste it all, and then you're supposed to look back and say, "Well, at least I gave it my all, and I just had bad luck." Yeah, that's really fucking comforting.

> Sometimes you waste it all, and then you're supposed to look back and say, "Well, at least I gave it my all, and I just had bad luck." Yeah, that's really fucking comforting.

It's about intrinsic vs extrinsic rewards. For him, writing poetry was a reward in itself, and he didn't see himself joining the standard nine-to-five society anyway. So, even if he had failed after 40 years of writing during evenings and weekends, he wouldn't have any regrets. Of course, if someone does say startups just to get rich, and hates every minute of it, then it, if the spoils never materialize in the end, it will lead to bitterness.

There are not 1000s of Bukowskis out there in my experience. Some artists are undeniable and they don't have problems becoming famous. For example I've seen a lot of really good musicians in crappy venues. I've also seen musicians of the same caliber who are famous.

But I've never seen a great musician in a crappy venue. And when I see a world class musician it is undeniable that they are great.

In my experience there are 1000s of writers not quite as good as Bukowski and some of them will make it but very few. When a truly great writer comes along I believe the hard part is actually writing the great literature and not finding a publisher.

> There's 1,000 Bukowskis out there, many better

What does being better have to do with it? Are you arguing against the idea that the best people always succeed? I don’t think I said that.

I know people who spent bitter decades 'never giving up: to try and make it in the music industry. Ultimately they were angry with the world for not giving them what they wanted. They might as well have played the lottery instead.

> How does survivorship bias apply here?

Because he is evidently a survivor. I guess we need more info on other who tried the same and succeeded or failed to really decide, but nonetheless it's one person reporting on their experience. It has all the hallmarks of it.

> if you are willing to sacrifice everything for a goal, you’ll beat out everyone else purely due to attrition.

Big assumption that persistence assures success. It likely is a significant factor but that does not seem to be what you are saying.

I'll put it another way - I don't accept it is a tautology.

Man, I wish any of that were true. It seems that life is just too random to have that end up being true. Too many things happen that you can't control that then come along and wreck it all.

My SO achieved so much, had it all, got through grad school great, was going to teach at a University I know you have heard of, do amazing research all over the world, help out humanity in a very real way, all that jazz. Then, bam, the pain started up and has never left. The chonic pain disorder my SO has is a real sumbitch. I love my SO, terribly so. But all that my SO had just evaporated into the pain. Just one bad infection, like about 2% of the US gets, and there it all went.

No amount of drive is going to fix it. No amount of work. My SO can't work through the pain as it exacerbates the condition. Lord knows my SO spent months and years just trying to ignore it, making it worse the whole while. That pain just winds you, for days at a time. Takes it all.

And the shame that my SO feels just kills me. All the desires, all that motivation and drive that my SO had, it's all still there, clawing at my SO's mind, telling itself that my SO is 'just not good enough'. That person is still there, just enveloped with pain, trying to break out and work again. What gave my SO everything, all that honor and accomplishment, is not tearing into my SO and making it all worse.

Bukowski isn't wrong, per se, but he is not right either. That fire is dangerous in the wrong circumstances and it's very difficult to tell when you are in the wrong place.

One quote that has really changed as it has aged is that Bourdain quote:

> “I understand there’s a guy inside me who wants to lay in bed, smoke weed all day, and watch cartoons and old movies. My whole life is a series of stratagems to avoid, and outwit, that guy.”

Yet Anthony died by his own hand. That drive, that spark and thumos, it was his undoing as much as it was his making. Would he have been as a sucess if not for that drive? The only person that could tell you is dead.

So, sure, sleep on the benches for it, go to jail for it, but remember, there are worse things than just temporary discomforts, mockery, and dishonor waiting in the weeds along that path.

Well said. Really this kind of discussion and debate tends to revolve around whether people assign importance to the destination or the journey.

If you're constantly striving and chasing some personal goal, ie. "once I achieve this, THEN I'll be happy" then there are two major risks. The first is that you'll fail - the fallout from this is obvious since your happiness was a self-imposed condition of achieving said goal. The second risk is that you do not live to see your goal, or, unfortunately as you've described in your personal story, the goal will become worthless for one reason or another - such as a major personal crisis or illness.

That's not to say you shouldn't strive for great things or have lofty goals and plans. I personally don't have the answers on the "key to happiness and success", but I do know that always chasing and never stopping to reflect or enjoy what you actually have can't be healthy either. I suppose that's where a lot of the power of things like meditation and mindfulness come from; because they're about being in the moment.

Personally, I think it's important to take each day as it comes and aim to be the best version of yourself you can be that day. You win some, you lose some, but hopefully, the cumulative effect of more good days outweigh the bad, and you can one day reflect on that without too much regret and with some sense of happiness.

On another note, Bukowski's requested that "Don't Try" is engraved on his tombstone. Some feel it is a comment about being authentic, not pursuing or pushing for something that isn't you, and about letting the work you naturally enjoy flow from you, as opposed to forcing it - or trying too hard.

Chasing personal goals is more or less how I fucked up my life. I thought I was doing the right things, I trusted that someday I’d feel happy and fulfilled if I achieved them. And I did achieve many of them, but instead of feeling happy, I just kind of felt like an asshole. I tried way too hard, I faked it till I made it, and when I looked back, I saw I basically lived a fake life, and had no one I could connect with on a genuine level. I had no “journey”, my journey was all about faking my journey, reflecting on it was just thinking about how I was thinking of getting to my destination.

This hits incredibly close to home. Have you figured out how to...for lack of a better phrase...be a person again? To have a real journey, to enjoy it, to be your authentic self? Has anything changed thanks to this realization?

Yet you still breathe. The journey is not yet over and you may still have some time left. I'd take what you learned and try to synthesize it for the rest of us to understand, I know I would benefit from such a thing.

> "once I achieve this, THEN I'll be happy"

Sometimes people achieve their goal only to realize that happiness didn't follow.

Of all the people I know who have made a similar statement and then found success, this was the most common outcome.

Being happy can be a surprising amount of work, and there aren't any instructions. It's better to figure out how you can be happy while also spending time on the goals you think are worthwhile. If you need them, there are other tricks you can use to motivate yourself that don't involve deliberately sabotaging your own well-being.

This is just one anecdata, but its really a timeless parable. So much of your life is wildly out of your control and not your doing. Hard work is neither necessary nor sufficient for great success.

It is the human condition told by the laws of large numbers. Devilish people prosper and divine people suffer. The only option is to do your best with what you got, and help your community do the same.

You gotta keep on keepin' on. Life's a garden, ya dig?

> Hard work is neither necessary nor sufficient for great success.

It does, however, make it a lot more likely.

Conversely: Not working hard makes failure a near certainty.

It's a point that is universally disregarded in these discussions as though it's not relevant, even though it's at the very core of the discussion. One can easily guess why it's intentionally disregarded: it's inconvenient to the mindset being broadcast (ie it's not a supporting element to the worldview being subscribed to).

Success requires luck and doing, action. The odds are strongly against you in most all cases, even with some luck. In the equation of success, those two things cannot be separated, they are bound together in all cases.

Not doing, not taking action, guarantees you will not succeed, you will simply never start at all. Luck will have no role in that for you have already reduced the possibilities to none other than no success / no attempt.

The more cynical view can be summed up as saying that because luck is a requirement, effort is mostly futile because you can't control everything. It's a personal mindset projection (someone is telling you their bias, giving you insight into their experience, their fears, etc), rather than any kind of useful insight into how you can or can't create something successfully.

Yeah, this. Also, I suspect there are significantly more people who give up too early/don't put in enough effort than there are who work on doomed projects/ideas for years on end and put tons of effort into something that'll never work out.

Our definitions of success are arbitrary. If you're feeling unsuccessful you can just change your benchmark.

I think this is only true for certain definitions of success and failure.

I read something different into that Bukowski quote.

Specifically, I read it as a warning against voluntarily putting your destiny and satisfaction in the hands of other humans or organizations; it is a call to independence of thought and action.

Your SO’s situation is an unfortunate roll of the dice. Any of us could get hit by a bus tomorrow. But these seem orthogonal to Bukowski’s point.

Your SO is very lucky to have your understanding. While personal torment in a situation like this is probably the biggest issue, the fear of others judgement is a very real problem to deal with. So many things that people say are just wrong in these situations, things that are well meaning but misguided. So having the support and understanding of a partner is a great thing, and probably a rare thing. From your comment you appear to have a good understanding of what your SO is going through and that will help keep your relationship strong.

Look after her. And yourself.

It sounds like you have a very special bond.

Thank you for sharing this.

Why do you assume OP's SO is female? OP went to great lengths to avoid pronouns.

Thanks for writing this.

Relentlessness doesn’t mean “keep doing the same things you always did forever and get your fantasy life”. It means “pick one game, keep playing even when you have every reason to think you already lost the game, and you just might win it”.

No disrespect, I don’t want to diminish the utter torture that is chronic pain, but nothing you mentioned sounds like it’s preventing your SO from maintaining a posture of relentlessness every day until she dies.

It might not be what she wants, it would probably destroy her relationships and her mind, it would probably require her to do things that she abhors, but the door is still there.

> it would probably destroy her relationships and her mind

What then is left of a person?

Something new can be made. Some things can’t be lost.

“Worse things” await us all no matter what path we’re on.

Very true, thank you for pointing that out.

Thank you for this perspective.

That fire really is dangerous.

But some sort of other drive may help put it out. Look into Ayurveda and the source of inflammation (infection), i.e. pitta energy, and the sorts of anti inflammatory diets she could pursue, or reply for some links and pointers. Alexander the Great was going to create the most cultured empire out of a seat in ancient Babylon but then died of the fire, a fever after too many military campaigns and Indus conquest. Incredibly ironic too, since Aristotle was his personal tutor and Ayurveda (from India or the ancient Indus valley vedas) was the basis for Aristotle and other Greek natural philosophy, but they lost contact with the sources.

If geniuses like Alexander and Mozart had known about these philosophies out of India they might not have died on the prime of their third decade of life. But as you put it, the human condition is not so simple as only having drive.

Also avoid prolonged screen time, look for kindle or paper books and conducting work or research out of plain (or fancy) old notebooks as much as possible.

Screenshotted and saved for inspiration, thank you for sharing. I’m starting my own business right now and everything keeps telling me just lay off the accelerator. My natural mode is complete obsession.

"Burn the boats."

If there is no way to successfully retreat until you've won, then you win or die. Great way to focus the mind on winning (success) once casual retreat is no longer an option.

And it leaves only those who survive to extol the virtues - the countless legions of failures are dead.

Mother tells me, the immortal goddess Thetis with her glistening feet, that two fates bear me on to the day of death. If I hold out here and lay siege to Troy, my journey home is gone, but my glory never dies. If I voyage back to the fatherland I love, my pride, my glory dies…true, but the life that’s left me will be long, the stroke of death will not come on me quickly.

- Achilles, the Iliad IX, 500-506

Ah, so people have delusions of grandeur and think they stand with demigods of ages past? That's neat.

I'm not a big believer in time travel, but I like watching/reading time travel stories. To my mind, it's a way to try to envision the two different futures that grow out of a single decision point.

You don't really get to A/B test your own life. You don't really get to know for absolute certainty where the road not taken would have taken you had you turned left instead of right at that moment on that day in that place with those people.

What you can do is develop mental models and compare against first-hand experience. Most actual choices in life don't literally involve life and death, at least not in an immediate sense.

Some can be life-or-death decisions -- casually sleep with the wrong person without protection, die of AIDS some years down the road -- but if you run around telling other people that every little thing you do in your life is life or death, they will soon decide you are a lunatic. So taking a reference to "burn the boats" too literally and acting like I'm the drama queen is really you being dramatic.

In practical terms, "burn the boats" is shorthand for "Make an actual decision and then commit to it. The longer you spend trying to leave your options open, the more time you waste."

If you stand at the cross roads forever trying to make it possible to choose to go either left or right, you stand there going nowhere at all. Just pick one, start walking and don't spend a lot of time looking back, walking back to the crossroads over and over, wondering if you should go the other way instead.

But that's not what that quote is saying, nor is the article - they are aiming for some amazing life, where you reject the easy path and take the hard one - where you end up in a land of glory. Otherwise Achilles saying "I'll go home" is equally valid based upon what you're laying out here. But that's not what the quote is saying at all.

But I'll remember to shout "burn the boats" before my next choice of soup or salad.

The writing is great but the message is bullshit. It's easy to focus on one thing and let yourself devoured by it, to drop every responsibility while fighting your challenge. What's hard is to juggle everything while trying.

On a tangent Yoda in Star Wars is also bullshit. You should always try.

You’re misunderstanding the Yoda quote. He means that trying simply doesn’t exist — you either do the thing, or you don’t do it. Aim to do the thing, don’t aim to “try.”

I need this right now. I've read it before, but thank you.

Thank you, that was a wonderful and inspiring read :)

A friend of mine is currently going all the way when it comes to animation. He produced 52 animated shorts in 1 year (one per week). One of them features this exact quote! https://vimeo.com/303537395

Sometimes I do wonder... how many people I see with regular jobs feel like they are using 10% of their abilities at those jobs? At this very moment I am making an effort to re-enter the corporate world... studying Python or Ruby or Elixir any of the other 5 languages I have used in the last 10 years to convince a company that I can do their work. But inside, I know I'm doing it 99% for the money. It's only because I didn't run the gauntlet in the past and strike out on my dreams with 150% effort (I tried once, at probably 90% effort. I failed.)

I had a friend and consulting boss who once told me, "I don't care what work I do; it's just a day job, and it's money." And as with people who can happily do hookup after hookup on Tinder, I sometimes wish I were like them. But when you really care about shit, it ties you up. And when the stuff you care about is just one or two cogs in a big machine that isn't really worth supporting, you die slowly for a wage.

My advice to young people (those of you who are in your first 5 years of employment) is to realize now that unless you want to become a business owner or want to do 12+ years of good effort in one of the big 5 (4?) consulting firms, you should just never grow your personal cost of living and instead focus on doing stuff you love - money be damned. You may just find yourself in the enviable position where doing the thing you loved resulted in a windfall (Google bought you), or at least funds you 5+k/mo while you travel the many other awesome parts of the world which cost way less than the US and western Europe.

From the point of view of the individual, do what you love.

From the point of view of the working world, do what people pay for.

From the point of view of simple optimization with no bias, find the ideal intersection of both.

From the point of view of taking it easy in life, find the highest value, lowest energy activity.

From the point of view of working on impossible problems that you find fulfillment, put yourself in situations that are constantly above your capacity and fight for every step of the way.

Or, just do what you think is best according to what you know, no need for "absolute best" ways to approach life.

But while doing that, remember to be happy with what you have at present.

I like working. It doesn't need to be on a project of passion either, I enjoy digging holes as a labourer just as much as I enjoy working on an interesting engineering problem. As long as it's useful work, I'm reasonably happy. The worst I've ever felt in a job is working on doomed or failed projects, where none of your work ever comes to light. It's a waste of time and a waste of my life.

I wouldn't say that I live to work, and I definitely need my breaks, but I haven't been without a job for more than 2 months since I was 15. If I made a windfall, I couldn't quit my job and travel the world for a decade, I'd go crazy. On the other hand, I have some friends who simply don't like working. They can't hold down a job for more than 6 months, and just bounce around doing whatever odd jobs they find.

Indeed, I like working when it serves some purpose. I don't mind some idle periods (recovery, thinking, travel and experiencing).

The challenge comes when we put our energy into work in places where our output is squandered. For a great example, imagine the game developers who built entire AAA games, only to see their games canceled just before release. Yes there may be many reasons for the cancellation, but the feeling of wasted time and creativity is real.

Manual labor is practical, and it can be useful and even meditative. Unfortunately, it usually doesn't pay enough to live in most modern areas of the world.

I don't know the age of your friends, but I would posit that they bounce around because they have a strong sense of "this is not right" when they get into a job. I have had more satisfaction from some of my days waiting tables (providing a really good dining experience!) when I was young, and I have had some soul-crushing days sitting in futile meetings about projects that were doomed from the start at big companies. If you asked me during those meetings, I would have rather been a waiter making $3/hr + tips. At least then I would be making people happy.

> it's just a day job, and it's money.

I've heard many people claim this, and yet, I have some doubts on whether that is REALLY what's going on in their mind. I won't call them liars; perhaps they don't even realize that something deep inside is not going the way it should.

I think this is a protection mechanism. The absurdities of the corporate world are a lot easier to deal with if you consider filling out request forms for a day just ‘a day job’.

And you absolutely need that, because the reality is soul crushing.

A day job? More like a lifetime.

When you are surrounded by people who want to be consumers it's hard for that not to rub off on yourself. I think the trick is to find some like minded people and run away to another country (choose carefully) and live cheaply and without the pressure to buy real estate, cars, gadgets, diamond rings and whatnot.

That's very true. But I think the reason people want so much to be consumers is because they are trying to fill an emotional gap/need.

Finding a pursuit that helps others leads to a greater sense of satisfaction than the purchase of a new thing.

Now good food - good dining - is something I haven't yet reached a satisfaction saturation of ;)

Ironically, that emotional gap / need is probably a symptom of the societal conditions that created the need to constantly consume. It's a hard to break cycle because as the other commenter pointed out, people will make up silly excuses for why they "love working". I would argue that in most cases the people that love working actually love how they are spending their time and not necessarily the outcome of that work. Maybe your work involves interacting with other brilliant, like-minded and positive people. Maybe your work allows you to support your family. Maybe your work makes time passing not as boring. All of those things can be addressed with activities that do not involve work.

> Ironically, that emotional gap / need is probably a symptom of the societal conditions that created the need to constantly consume.

Nothing ironic about it - it's the plan, it's how capitalism has always been intended to work. It creates disvalues in order that the working classes must consume their way to a modicum of satisfaction. Ivan Illich was good on this, or read some of the early 20th century marketing literature.

A simple, undemanding, cooperative way of life in a healthy ecosystem is the capitalist's worst nightmare.

>And as with people who can happily do hookup after hookup on Tinder, I sometimes wish I were like them.

That's an illusion. I used to think so. I was one of them and I burnt out. I knew many of them and most of them did burn out. Maybe there are a few that don't burn out. But going hook up through hook up is just textbook for: I'll pretend there is nothing wrong here and I'll just keep "happily" going. At some point you'll hit the wall. And the longer you keep at it, the harder is the downfall.

I dunno, wanderlust doesn't afflict everyone, and having a stable routine matters to some folks.

It's not necessarily about travel, though.

I actually enjoy working, but there's something deeply unsatisfying about the 9-5 5 days a week grind. It's just so... inflexible. It consumes you; particularly if you specifically have to live somewhere for it (e.g. SF, London) and so you're tied to living there for good or bad.

It really sucks. I used to work maybe 11-6 5 days a week, so 35 hours a week. I’ve got a new job now. I work 4 days a week about 5 hours a day. I show up around 1pm and finish up around 6. There’s zero time pressure on the project and we’re probably going to open source what we’re doing. Having three day weekends every week is a game changer. I’m hiking, seeing friends, working on projects, doing some major cleaning...

Seriously, the “full time” schedule sucks. I was extremely lucky to be able to get out but if you’re wondering... yes it makes a huge difference. It’s worth every minute saved.

I think this is obvious. If you can get the same salary in 20 hours that you previously made in 35, no sane person will opt for the 35 (I hope).

Well I’m not getting the same salary. I intentionally negotiate for hourly so I can come and go as I please without feeling like I owe anyone anything. But I did negotiate an hourly increase so I’m still paying all my bills and saving.

Most people opts for keeping doing 35 hours (or many more) for twice the salary they previously made in 35.

One thing I do like about the 9-5 grind is the consistency.

I know when I'm working, and I know when I'm not. Yes, it's inflexible, but it's also predictable. I don't need to work at night, or on the weekend, I don't miss important events in my loved ones' lives because I'm away on a work trip.

I would like more flexibility in my ability to take time off (it was a really nice day yesterday and I wanted to go to the forest), but I enjoy the security and stability I get. Running a business, or contracting, or any kind of hustle isn't really how I want to live my life. I've got enough stress and other shit going on in my life, having 40 hours a week where I can switch all that off is actually quite nice.

I would argue that those people have not yet wandered, and don't know what is possible in life.

I have not studied this scientifically, but my experience is that the more places a traveler has been, the greater their desire to explore.

I think it is a bit paternalistic to assume that people who don't want to wander the world just haven't done so yet.

I love having my stable job, getting to come home and spend time with the wife and kids after every work day, and knowing they have a stable life where they aren't having to move schools or worry about constant change.

People are different.

How possibly could that concept be paternalistic? Is it just men that have a desire to travel and find their place in the greater environment/world? Why not women also?

Nobody says that you cannot have stability. But clearly you are in a stage of life that I have passed through. (Although, I did take my kids to a very new environment when they were 10-ish, and they got to experience snow skiing as a regular Friday activity, and hiking and mountain biking in good weather in the non-winter months.)

If your energy is focused on your family, and you are happy, and your job doesn't make you feel like your talents are wasted, then great! That's enviable. But it doesn't have anything to do with people who have experienced travel wanting to do more of it. It's a bit saying there's no value in trying foods other than what you grew up eating.

I meant paternalistic as in 'assuming you know what is best for someone else', not anything to do with gender.

My issue with the original comment was the assumption that the ONLY reason you wouldn't want to wander is because you haven't done it enough. Some people have wandered, and just aren't drawn to it.

This goes for any statement like that; "If you don't like x it is just because you haven't had a good one" or "You only like y because you haven't tried x yet"

People have different preferences, and it is not always simply because of lack of experience or knowledge... people like different things.

Fair enough. Age and life situation is also a major element in the consideration. Traveling as a child is different from traveling as a parent of small-ish children, and those are different from traveling solo or otherwise without children.

I think you misunderstand paternalism. It has nothing to do with men v. women: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paternalism

I don't see the paternalism in your previous statement either tho.

Ahh thank you. I thought paternal was just related to fatherly, from Latin. I did not realize it had a broader meaning.

People also go through stages or phases. Some day you may be surprised at how you've changed. Or not.

Nope, some people just aren't wired that way. I used to think I was a traveller, but then I discovered I was running from my problems. Not saying that everyone else is the same, but that was just me. I didn't have a desire to explore new places, it was a desire to escape familiar places.

In the end I found a place I liked and I settled down. I still enjoy travelling, but I've got a home and a community and a life here.

There seems to be an asymptote. At some point novelty in places, food, people, experiences in general becomes increasingly rare. Everwhere and everyone seems just like that other place or person. Novelty as a drug has downregulation problem. And also, not everyone is wired to be novelty seeking as hard as that is for us to imagine. They even found one of the genes for it.

What you describe depends greatly on the level of interaction and relationship building that the traveler does with the people they meet in their travels. Obviously at one end of the spectrum there are travelers who remain insulated from locals while traveling, and at the other end of the spectrum there are those who integrate and even become connected romantically or otherwise with locals.

I would venture to guess that some people who travel thrive on the connections and relations they make along the way. Chances are I've only met those types of travelers, because the opposite type was busy in the malls?

Like anything else, if you've done a LOT of one thing (say you've traveled 100+ countries, tasted everything, learned 2-3 extra languages), then maybe you get bored with travel for the sake of travel. Even still, that cannot be as mundane as spending the same period of time at one job in the corporate world.

I'm not a 100+ country taveler; I'm a 10+. And for me, meeting nice people and experiencing new foods is my lure. But once I get someplace, exploring the architecture, sampling the music and local culture, and meeting other travelers to share stories are the attractions. Likely 10 years from now I'll care a lot more about stuff that involves less travel.

So to your point, yes there is probably an asymptote. I bet it's far beyond what most people have experienced. And without being too peace-hippy-ish, I would argue that the more people get out and meet others from distant lands, the less conflict we would have globally. It's much harder to say the Chinese are evil Communist thieves when you've met a number of really great, kind, thoughtful Chinese people. (I just use this as an example.)

People don't like traveling that much, people just like fantasizing about it. So the more realistic expectations you have the less you will care about travels. It can be hard to separate these two at first, especially with all the social pressure that we should like traveling, but ultimately it is mostly just a chore.

> The anticipation of travel was a more powerful driver of happiness than anything participants experienced overseas or conjured up in post-trip nostalgia.


Perhaps as a counterpoint, this poem:

The Men That Don't Fit In [0] By Robert W. Service

There's a race of men that don't fit in, A race that can't stay still; So they break the hearts of kith and kin, And they roam the world at will. They range the field and they rove the flood, And they climb the mountain's crest; Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood, And they don't know how to rest.

If they just went straight they might go far; They are strong and brave and true; But they're always tired of the things that are, And they want the strange and new. They say: "Could I find my proper groove, What a deep mark I would make!" So they chop and change, and each fresh move Is only a fresh mistake.

And each forgets, as he strips and runs With a brilliant, fitful pace, It's the steady, quiet, plodding ones Who win in the lifelong race. And each forgets that his youth has fled, Forgets that his prime is past, Till he stands one day, with a hope that's dead, In the glare of the truth at last.

He has failed, he has failed; he has missed his chance; He has just done things by half. Life's been a jolly good joke on him, And now is the time to laugh. Ha, ha! He is one of the Legion Lost; He was never meant to win; He's a rolling stone, and it's bred in the bone; He's a man who won't fit in.

[0] https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/58012/the-men-that-do...

If you want to delve into his work, please note that his editor John Martin/Black Sparrow heavily defaced most of his original work with mediocre edits that bordered vandalism [0]. The manuscripts is where the better stuff is.

[0] https://mjpbooks.com/blog/the-senseless-tragic-rape-of-charl...

Wow, that is amazing. I don't see how anyone could look at the poem referenced in the post [0] and conclude that the editor did not intentionally change a work of art into something only loosely connected to the original.

And this is poetry, where specific word choice is incredibly important to the work. I would feel uncomfortable even adding missing filler words like "the" and "and" to the output of a respected poet. "Vandalism" is a good name for what John Martin did.

On top of that, I'm not really a "literature person"... I'm wholly unqualified to defend my opinions of why one work is good and another is bad... And my opinion was primed by the author's negative opinion of Martin...

But the Martin version of this poem, in addition to not being faithful to the original material, is really awful.

[0] https://a902e479034e684a62a7-1e94d668f4cdc59b83cfdb5f186933f...

Vandalism (in its original use, the pillaging of art) implies a need to cause destruction, hostility; it's vengeance, comeuppance. In this case I think "rape" is the correct description. Rape is asserting your power over someone against their will, to humiliate, dehumanize; it's forced submission to make oneself superior. What Martin did is much worse than simply destroying Bukowski's art; he forced himself upon it, corrupting it, like a necrophiliac with a pen.

It seems like he's saying it was mostly the posthumous poetry, not necessarily the novels or earlier poetry.

>> I could see all this. Why couldn't they?

Having worked mind-numbing jobs like packer at a warehouse, I can assure you that most people can see "all this" just as clearly as Bukowski. Like Bukowski, they are unable to do anything to change "how things are", but unlike Bukowski they don't have a guaridan angel to lift them off the daily rat race and into a successful creative career. More importantly, perhaps, unlike Bukowski, many of those people have responsibilities, specifically to their families and particularly their kids, responsibilities that they recognise and that they usually accept. Or in any case, those who accept those responsibilities give up any dreams of a "free" life and do what best they can to fulfil those responsibilities. If that means working at a 9-to-not-quite-5 job that eats you from the inside, because there is no better option, then that's what it means.

But Bukowski asks: why do people have children? Because that's what people do, if you look around you. People make more people. Perhaps we are all slaves of evolution that has programmed us this way but a sizeable chunk of people find that they love their children even before they have them, even if they find that they can never have them. Some people are not like that and some can't even stand the idea of having children. Perhaps those people are lucky, perhaps they are the real unlucky ones. Who knows.

Traditionally, your kids work to support you when they grow up. In rich countries this doesn't happen because it has been financialized into pensions, but in the rest of the world it's very much a reality.

Bukowski was writing for people in the USA, correct?

I was a cubicle worker for years, making too much money doing too little work during the dot-com bubble. I was not happy with my life, so I took my dot-com savings and left the country to go to a Latin American country to live there, learning the local language. I ended up becoming a professional English teacher and translator there. I made enough money to support myself, and only had to work mornings.

One thing I really like about Latin America is how important connections are. People are on the street meeting and talking to each other on a level I don’t see in the US; personal connections have more value there.

Now that I am a single father to a young child, I’m back in the states working again, but it’s not the grind it used to be, much less the grind it was back in 1986. With work at home and flex hours being a thing that it wasn’t two decades ago, I can handle work without having the horrible burnout I had before.

To save you the search: "$100 in 1969 is equivalent in purchasing power to about $699.10 in 2019." 1960 median rent in NYC was about $545 in 2019 dollars.

Bukowski, coming from the working class (like Jack London and others), has a real view about what work is indeed. He is not an outsider like many writers or artists. If you have a chance, read a short story written by him, Kid Stardust on the Porterhouse. I bet must of us already felt that way.

This touches on a fundamental issue with our society which that employment just does not generally lend itself to real agency.

If you are single, have few obligations and live frugally in the Bay Area as a software engineer for a massive company making $200,000 per year and able to save up thousands of dollars per month, it may be difficult to see that issue. But just try to realize that most jobs and situations aren't like that.

I always wonder what people who complain about the 9-5 feel should be the alternative.

People need hope and agency to find meaning. The problem is not that people work between 9:00AM-5:00PM, it's that their job overwhelms the rest of their life with demands that they have no control over and cannot ever hope to escape.

If you are a well-compensated tech worker, you probably have some measure of control over what you work on, even if that occasionally means voting with your feet. And you are probably able to save enough to leave and arbitrarily pursue your passions at least once a decade, whether that means going back to school, trying to start a business, getting more involved with your family, or just escaping a toxic environment.

It's easy to lose sight of the fact that not everyone has those sorts of choices available to them.

Well, as someone who went from bankruptcy and low wage job to low wage job to college to my current tech job, I disagree to some extent. It may not be easy to get out of a low pay career trajectory but it's doable. It takes hard work and effort and a certain amount of social and mental intelligence.

Ah, so if you don't have a certain amount of social and mental intelligence, then fuck you, right?

You're reply is basically an example of survivorship bias.

I mean, vast majority of people have an adequate level of intelligence to improve their lot in life and most do over the course of their life. My reply is an anecdote, not survivor bias. It's also peppered with observations of people in my own family and friend group. My dad started out as a mobile home factory worker, shifted to firefighting in his 30s then after 15 years of service became a chief and earned a lot more as a result and he's set to retire at 60. That's not bad, my dad doesn't have a college degree or anything like that. He just worked hard and was consistent.

You can take a similar path in retail, manufacturing, construction, or any other number of industries that don't even require degrees.

But you can't just do the minimum and do it poorly and expect to advance. It's not a bad thing that the system works that way. Rewarding hard work, and smart work, is what we want in an economic system.

What if I told you there are people who are smarter than you and who have worked harder than you and will continue doing so, but for all their hard work and social and mental intelligence, these things are not sufficient on their own?

There's such a thing as affordance[1].

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affordance

You're a qsort implementation who wasn't so unlucky as to be spammed with only pathological inputs. There are heapsorts who will fare worse for no other reason than being matched up with workloads that would've choked you, too.

I usually takes luck too. Sometimes the good kind. But more often, not the bad kind.

Wow, what was the trigger for that, if you don't mind me asking?

Because this is meloncholic. Both the article and the comment are fatalistic. First of all, it frames a 9-5 job as something to hate, which is a loaded opinion in and of itself. Rather than being grateful for having a job in a first world country, author and commenter choose to disdain it. Or frame it as slavery. It's privileged nonsense.

If you have a job, you have something to be grateful for, first if all. Secondly, you always have free agency in a free country. If you don't like it, move on, but don't project your own self loathing or dissatisfaction onto other people. Plenty of people get a lot of satisfaction out of their jobs and provide for their families from 9-5s and don't look at it from this pessimistic angle.

Those patterns of thought are either great if they inspire you to move onto other industries or toxic and bad for you if they cause you to become cynical.

Y'know, we're supposed to try to look at comments on this site in a charitable way since it's hard to convey tone with text.

I was actually disagreeing with the idea that 9-5 jobs need to be soul-sucking, and speaking from the perspective of someone who is able to decide what I work on.

But it's important to understand why some people hate their situations and feel unable to escape them. Poverty traps are real, especially in the United States, and we should be doing more as a society to help people escape them.

Also, I disagree that having a job is inherently something to be grateful for. Having a job is something to be paid for.


9-5 three days a week.


40 hours labour just isn't necessary for all of us.

We need to work to actually produce things like food and transport and so on. Services.

The vast majority of people I know are not working for that. It's a side effect. We're in this absurd zero sum race to outbid each other for housing (and not just in SF/London, it's all over nowadays).

Like, come on. Once you have an income at a level sufficient to spend, say, 50% on a house, get a mortgage etc, you have truly terrifying amounts of funds left over in terms of normal material goods in the prosperous towns.

I don't know... I like all the 'extra' things I can get with money. Cool electronic toys, nice stuff for my house, a luxurious car with all the cool gadgets, vacations, etc.

I like stuff. It is fun to play with.

Stuff can be good for distracting from your problems, but they're a terrible end for life. I really don't need most of the things that differentiate between being financially successful and not—really it's mostly healthcare and access to higher quality food.

Several grand in debt now and I think I'm starting to realize this. Half the shit I buy I never touch a month after I buy it,and then it's on to the next thing

What do you mean "terrible end for life"?

Of course you don't need the things, but they are enjoyable. I like to live a life beyond bare necessities.

Meaning, they are not a good life goal and a poor substitute for very basic things like socialization, enjoying nature, enjoying time with yourself, accomplishing goals, and exercising. Money and what it can buy are a means to pass time between the parts of life that are “really” worth it.

Of course I may be wrong here but it sure doesn’t feel like that; I’ve had the blessing to be able to compare my life with a lot of money closely with my life with very little money.

Well, I certainly agree with that... money is not a good life goal. Money is an enabler, not an end in itself.

I have also lived having money and not having money. It is way better to have money. Not having to stress about bills, not having to stress about things breaking or needing repair, being able to eat good food when you want... it makes life better. The stresses of figuring out how to get by when you are poor really hamper your ability to enjoy life.

I'm not sure who you're trying to convince but it sounds like you should think about why you're so eager to defend that as it's not a very controversial statement.


I tend to bounce around from low to high cost of living locations. My mindset changes a lot without it really being under my control.

In a high CoL area the limits to what you want can be truly absurd because there's so much wealth swimming about. It's normal.

It takes some grounding, but also interaction with a community that accepts you for who you are, to temper that.

If you found out you had a week to live, what stuff would you play with the most?

I would spend the week with my wife and kids, talking and helping them prepare for my absence.

I am not sure how that changes me liking to play with gadgets.

In my 20s I would have completely agreed with you. Now in my 50s, these toys don't seem quite as attractive. What I crave now is understanding. Being able to get a whole day without distraction to understand an algorithm or a theorem is vastly more valuable to me.

Electronic toys don't cost much. Luxurious cars, a lot more. If you pick and choose instead of just buying everything, you probably could still buy a lot of little toys while earning less (working less).

But it's no problem of course if you're happy as you are. Good for you. The problem is society expects everyone to work 9-5, 5 days a week, 45 to 50 weeks a year. That's a little insane, and for many people, intolerable.

Working for yourself. Creating your own business, not being a slave to the system and being manipulated by media and the collective unconscious into thinking it's normal to work for someone, to sell your SELF, not your products (as it should be, in a rational society). Sadly, nothing about todays society is rational. But hey, if you wanna spend 1/3 of your life working a job you think is "OK", fucking have at it.

I would be ashamed to have written on my tombstone "worked 1/3 of his life as a sys admin".

There is no meaning in that. Just an empty job to have money, for what? For more stuff? To teach your children to do the same? Keeping materialistic corporations afloat with me taking care of the servers and stuff.

If you create your own business are you going to hire people to work for you 9-5?

I would never do that. I am a jack of all trades and I intend to keep it that way. One man business.

If you are making it work for yourself then congratulations, but this is pretty unrealistic advice for almost everyone else.

You’re still beholden to the people who pay for your products/services.

You will notice the different though. Those people only care about the end product, you can work however you like to get there. There's freedom in there.

If you have your own business you'll definitely work 9-5 but you'll also probably work 5-9 ;)

The alternative is working for results, not methods or statistics like time-at-desk. That means working from home if it's best for you, or coming in 3 days per week, or working 10-4, or 8-12 and 2-6, or 9-5 if that happens to fit you best. No one's going to take away your 9-5.

Exactly. Even in a factory you could tell employees that this is what they need to produce for the week. If they can get it done in 2 days, then so be it. If they cannot meet standards, you can just reassign them to a different task or let them go. You could also pay more/less for those who produce more/less. Work just needs to not be tied to time.

That works great until there is some sort of supply chain - either you rely on someone else, or they rely on you. In that case having everyone working at the same time is probably more efficient.

Ask again when you have kids and discovered that there is soooo much more to life than being a cog 99% of your life.

how little imagination you have

You might share some of yours, instead of just making dismissive comments...

Here are a few off the top of my head.
























Or if you insist on keeping 9-5, then why not do it 4 days per week? After all, why do we only work 5 days/week? Could it be that maximizing the output of corporations is not the sole priority of a country?

After all, why do we only work 5 days/week?

"In 1908, a New England mill became the first American factory to institute the five-day week. It did so to accommodate Jewish workers, whose observance of a Saturday sabbath forced them to make up their work on Sundays, offending some in the Christian majority. The mill granted these Jewish workers a two-day weekend, and other factories followed this example. The Great Depression cemented the two-day weekend into the economy, as shorter hours were considered a remedy to underemployment." - https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/08/where-t...

Then, influentially, Henry Ford dropped it down from six days of 14-16 hours, in 1926. http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2016/09/five-day-wor...

So you wasted all our time with this, and your answer is just "fewer hours"? That's your imagination? I'm unimpressed.

And, for most of us, "less hours" is going to equal "less pay". How do you imagine that we should deal with that? Or do you imagine that the corporations (or the country) are just going to pay us anyway?

I addressed this in my comment.

Most people earn enough to live, and would do if they worked 20 hours less, it's just sucked away with various zero sum games like rent.

Imported goods make up a fairly small fraction of the average person's budget with the exception of stuff like, a German car say.

This is precisely what "cost of living" is; in higher competition areas, everything is more expensive.

Considering that the original question was "gosh, what could we possibly do besides 9-5?", not much imagination is required.

Perhaps not. But saying, essentially, "you go figure it out" is a really lazy response. "You're stupid for not figuring it out" is even worse.


How should I interpret the end? Does he mean 'yr boy' literally, as in 'your slave'?

>To not to have entirely wasted one's life seems to be a worthy accomplishment, if only for myself.

>yr boy,


Is Bukowski acknowledging that he has exchanged working for a boss to writing for Martin? Does this change the message of the letter to the point that he actually doesn't see his life as an accomplishment?

For what it's worth, I interpreted that ending as showing fondness, familiarity, friendship, gratitude.

I thought "yr boy" could mean that the publisher was an older father figure. Just checked, John Martin was born in 1930, Bukowski in 1920. So that theory is out.

"Boy" doesn't always have a racial undertone in American culture - it's commonly used as a familiar term, among good buddies.

You're reading too much into it - it's just a funny/relaxed/informal way of signing off.

Reading this essay made me think of this book that I recently read: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1319.The_War_of_Art

How much of the obstacles that we face are there just to 'resist' the shining light we each could bring into the world? Or the work we were meant to do?

So I knew hacker news was a place to go for tech stuff. But... HN denizens, you have now officially impressed me with your interest in literary matters. (but don't get a big head, impressing me is sometimes not that hard.)

People think I'm crazy not to go prostitute myself for a job at Google; I think they're crazy for volunteering to be bridled and ridden around for 20 hours a day for years without having equity or ownership in the profits.

Equity is a significant, and often the largest, part of most Google employees' total compensation.

20 hours a day o_O

How many programmers can truely leave work at work, even if they really want to.

Mental tasks occupy all your waking hours, and its very hard to avoid.

"Sometimes you have to pee in the sink."

"Everyone pees in the sink. Gentlemen push the dishes aside first"

I’m not sure what I think this means, but it does sound very profound.

Ugh, such a huge mix of emotions reading this.

Just thank you for sharing that.

What stands out the most about Bukowski is his incredible lack of empathy. He looks at people working regular jobs and all he sees are empty bodies. He can't imagine that maybe these people go home to loving families, interesting hobbies, or rich creative lives.

If you've found yourself at the end of a bad economic bargain (which is most people), you tend to rationalize your ambitions and switch attention away from work to more fulfilling things outside of work

He wasn't talking about their home life, he was talking about their work life. He was talking about how they were trapped at work, and how being trapped turned them into empty things. It's true that many people that work monotonous, bureaucratic jobs can turn spiteful and disinterested in anything other than towing the line to get along. They are the empty people, the ones who will put up with ungodly amounts of shit, just to have the privilege of continuing to put up with that shit. They can't see a way out, and it eats a hole in them.

I know few people with a "rich, full life", and a lot more people who work all day, buy fast food for dinner, and then play League for 5 hours until they fall asleep. It's not fulfillment they're after, it's distraction, comfort, escape. Self-medication comes in the form of drink, food, tv, gambling, drugs, even other people.

I think a difference of purpose is to be mentioned here. Not all people are the same, some strive for different aspects of life than others.

Using your example, some seek family, a close social circle, a white-picket-fence life. There's nothing wrong with that, but another group seeks relative solitude, doesn't see a purpose in creating a family or having a nice house, and fills some kind of intellectual hole, be it with creative writing, or relatively non-conformist research.

My point is, I don't see Bukowski as one who lacks empathy, rather, someone who follows his own purpose, though, potentially blind to some others' happiness doing other things.

Lastly, the workforce ethics back then were quite different from today's. It's my understanding that the pay was significantly lower compared to costs of living while progressing in ranks was near impossible without a degree.

It's exactly the other way around - it is now it's harder to progress without a degree and cost of living is higher.

> What stands out the most about Bukowski is his incredible lack of empathy. He looks at people working regular jobs and all he sees are empty bodies.

He's describing the people he saw every day for decades. If you think you understand those people you've never met more than he did, you're the one who lacks an understanding of empathy.

Yes. Projection is a terrible thing to waste, but often contrary data points fall on deaf ears and empty bodies.

If society wanted to be more humane and empathetic, it would force all young adults to be homeless and impoverished for some time, and working three jobs to get a taste for how it is for everyone else that isn't sheltered or privileged. The golden rule and empathy isn't practiced as much anymore because there are greater convenient distractions, selfishness, ignorance and lack of community that has the effect of atomizing people from each other... we are mostly divided-and-conquered and enslaved.

I may have read something quite different than you, but he wrote about how it's almost impossible to escape the types of jobs he was in, even out of regular working hours. He writes about always being on the brink of being fired, no matter what.

His further writings talk about escapes hes tried: drinking, gambling, abusing women. He was abused himself. He didn't have an easy life. He was homeless. He won the proverbial lottery but that didnt let him escape himself. Not fully.

We must have read a different letter! Did you click the link at the top of this page?

I prefer to think that he writes down what work turns people into: empty bodies.

He (or at least his characters) certainly seems to have that belief, but as a reader it always seemed like the alcoholism was a much bigger factor than the daily grind of work.

The emptiness of the daily grind probably drove the alcoholism. But the alcoholism left him more empty.

yeah, I haven't read much Bukowski but what I have is often characterised by a distinct lack of empathy. Especially for women.

It hurts my brain to imagine being a 66 year old man writing angsty letters that read like that of a highschooler.


There is no hint of a contrived disaffected and put-on teenage style angst here (even if that is a thing!). He is celebrating his freedom from bondage at age 65, from the tyranny of a boss wielding his fate at a whim, from suffering the fate of “emptying out” as a consequence of slaving at jobs that are no better than slavery was for folks living in ancient times.

You read that as “teenage angst”? May I ask how old are you? And may I ask kindly also: was there ever a choice in your life when you thought being a barfly would be better for you than toiling at your “post office”?

If we can’t countenance his exposition of our pathetic working lives (and he does this in brutal and lucid prose), it’s only because we are likely deluding ourselves we aren’t living the way he sees it.

Cognitive dissonance may be at work here.

Ugh, comparing modern 9-5 office jobs to slavery is privileged hyperbole. Our ancestors were nearly all farmers and they all worked 12 hour days of back breaking labor. Modern office corporate jobs may be a bit soul sucking, but they're far from blue collar labor. In some respects they're almost too easy (in that they aren't physical enough to replicate the conditions our bodies adapted to).

Lighter perhaps, but if living were that much easier we wouldn't have the levels of anxiety, depression, burnout, and suicide we have. The levels would then be much, much lower. Especially as we do know so much more about these issues than we did even 50 years ago. But it seems, it's not that simple, something has changed that makes many people miserable in a way that seems to completely offset the material, for lack of a better word, decrease in strife in our lives.

Something about our psychology that meshes terribly with society, but obviously not for all members of society. However, those it hits seem to get hit quite hard.

You are assuming levels of anxiety and depression were lower in the past. But we can't know that since these were not reliably diagnosed in the past. You suggest the levels should be lower today because we know more about these issues - I would expect it would be the other way around: The more we know (and the better overall healthcare) the more instances will be recognized and diagnosed.

I suspect it's that people nowadays have less of a community and feel more alone. Even our way of consuming materialism has become more individualistic. I dislike religious organisations, but I'll admit they did do wonders to bring a community of people together.

A 9-5 quintessentially involves:

- no ownership of your physical and intellectual contribution to your employer

- devoting at great cost to your own personal life the most productive time of your own life to your employer

- running the very real possibility of marooning your skill sets for the exclusive benefit for and relevance to your employer (you do as told)

- running the risk of being fired at a whim especially at later stages of the “career”, becoming of zero value economically in a system designed to create humans as obsolete - much like when a slave is “freed” by a master when he is of no use to him.

I’d take toiling all day in the farms if it meant it’s my farm and it’s my time, and my way of farming. And my kids are toiling with me too.

Yes, this is quite the Marxist way of thinking ... but this perspective needn’t require a Marxist eye - see it for what it is from a value-system that doesn’t dehumanize and disenfranchises the individual from his works.

> Yes, this is quite the Marxist way of thinking ... but this perspective needn’t require a Marxist eye - see it for what it is from a value-system that doesn’t dehumanize and disenfranchises the individual from his works.

I agree that it certainly doesn't require a Marxist eye, and I'm not sure that it is even specifically Marxist in it's analysis. It sounds closer to a Distributist model of thinking. As G.K. Chesterton said, "The problem with a capitalist society is not that there are too many capitalists, but too few". Too few who own their own means of production, too few who can rely on their own capital and community to weather the storms of life or prevent the encroachments of monopolists and the state alike.

> I’d take toiling all day in the farms if it meant it’s my farm and it’s my time, and my way of farming. And my kids are toiling with me too.

This is doable, there are people living like that even in first world countries.

Lies. Farmers didn't work that much.

If it's not contrived and disaffected, that's even worse. This particularly:

"They never pay the slaves enough so they can get free, just enough so they can stay alive and come back to work. I could see all this. Why couldn't they? I figured the park bench was just as good or being a barfly was just as good"

Could have been posted on Reddit IAmVerySmart or im14andthisisdeep for the style of writing. He genuinely believes that he is more clever and seeing something they cannot see? (Why does he think they are unhappy at all if they can't see that?). And is somehow working under the idea that he could have no income and a bar would still serve him alcohol, because if it's his role in life to be the more-intelligent-than-you outsider, of course the bar would fall in line with this vision (narcissism). And note that after seeing this truth which they were too dumb to see .. he didn't go and live on a park bench. It clearly was not "just as good" to him, he only wants to posture that it was as good so he looks better. So much for deep insight nobody else possessed, he was doing the exact same thing they were.

They know this. Everyone knows this. Everyone who has had a job they don't like for more than a month realises they have no way out. He even quotes several of them saying that exact thing he claims they can't see, in his letter.

I now write from an old mind and an old body, long beyond the time when most men would ever think of continuing such a thing,

Oh fck right off, 66 at the time of writing and still singing his own praises like that? The USA and UK are raising state pension age to 67 as we speak, and that's for labouring jobs as well. Working at age 66, Writing at age 66, is no superior feat of endurance. Admiral Grace Hopper retired at age 60, was recalled to the Navy within a year, retired again four years later. Returned to active duty again, was promoted again, retired again at age 79, then went to be a senior consultant at DEC and stayed employed there until her death age 85. And she wasn't boasting about how great she was, she was talking about the younger people she was training and supporting.

Even Heinlein doesn't explicitly self-promote this hard, at least he tries to lecture the reader with "worldly wisdom" for the reader's own benefit, and you just get the superiority as a secondary effect from the way every wise character is Mary-Sue, and it's never done in a "plus you're a loser" way.

He is celebrating his freedom from bondage at age 65, from the tyranny of a boss wielding his fate at a whim

According to the article his income depended on him being a full-time author, and the whim of a wealthy patron. And his "freedom" was age 51.

from suffering the fate of “emptying out”

Jobs he somehow survived thirty years of, and didn't quit to be on a park bench, and didn't consider himself empty and broken and devoid of anything to write about. I guess that's just another way he's better than all those other shlubs, eh?

You're getting downvoted, but I just want to let you know that you're absolutely right. It's a very adolescent thing to reduce life-meaning down to career, and project one's angst onto everybody else. I'm all for finding a way to enjoy the 1/3 of life that is your career, but the "wake up sheeple" alarmism is not higher vision, it's a failure to see both the restrictions of a scarce economy and the joys of family and responsibility.

Have you ever considered that his angst is what highschoolers are trying to emulate?

It's like shitting on Hamlet because it's just a "recycled Lion King".

What does angsty mean? I am never sure if people are using it as a fancy word for 'angry' or they're adopting the german meaning of 'fearful', or 'anxious'.

Honestly, when people use it, they really mean "anger that I personally disapprove of". The choice to say "angsty" instead of "angry" says more about the person making the word choice than it does about the person being described.

UrbanDictionary definitions are quite apt (possibly NSFW link) https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=angsty

the feeling of not being understood by anyone and that the person is alone in the world. When in reality about a million other people are feeling the same thing.

Whining about how much your life "sucks" even though you live in the richest nation in the world and are a pampered little while [white?] boy/girl. Usually teenagers desplay this quality of "No one loves me or understands me".

and https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Angst

A feeling of despair, anxiety, and depression. It is usually applied to a deep and essentially philosophical anxiety about the world in general or personal freedom.

a feeling of dread, anxiety, or anguish that is commonly associated with the teenage years. And angsty teenager tends to wallow in these feeling melodramatically, wanting pity from others while also simultaneously wishing to remain tragically misunderstood, much to the annoyance of his friends.

The difference between fear and 'Angst' is that fear has a tangible object of which somebody can be afraid and 'Angst' doesn't.

So as far as I understand it, people are angsty because they feel afraid but they can't put their finger on the cause, so the only way to react is being angry at each and everybody.

From my point of view, people are using 'angsty' to distance themselves from a problem that they have chosen to ignore. E.g. there are some problems with global warming, but even now, you can ignore them by telling yourself that it's teenage angst that makes people care about it.

He’s not wrong though.

Huh? Bukowski is a world-known writer and poet.

Someone can be world known and still criticized - though it does make you somewhat of a social pariah to do so openly. I'm afraid to tell HN what I think of Picasso, for example.

Yes...let's all just leave our jobs and start writing or directing a movie or start singing.

And praise this alcoholic.

I love my '9-5'.

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