trouble with spain

By Charles Bukowski

I got in the shower

and burned my balls

last Wednesday.

Met this painter called Spain,

no, he was a cartoonist,

well, I met him at a party

and everybody got mad at me

because I didn’t know who he was

or what he did

he was rather a handsome guy

and I guess he was jealous because

I was so ugly.

they told me his name

and he was leaning against the wall

looking handsome, and I said:

hey, Spain, I like that name: Spain.

but I don’t like you. why don’t we step out

in the garden and I’ll kick the shit out of your

ass?

this made the hostess angry

and she walked over and rubbed his pecker

while I went to the crapper

and heaved.

but everybody’s angry at me.

Bukowski, he can’t write, he’s had it.

washed-up. look at him drink.

he never used to come to parties.

now he comes to parties and drinks everything

up and insults real talent.

I used to admire him when he cut his wrists

and when he tried to kill himself with

gas. look at him now leering at that 19 year old

girl. you know he

can’t get it up.

I not only burnt my balls in that shower

last Wednesday, I spun around to get out of the burning

water and burnt my bunghole

too.

“trouble with spain” from Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame: Selected Poems 1955-1973 by Charles Bukowski. Copyright © 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1974 by Charles Bukowski. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

Source: Burning in Water Drowning in Flame: Selected Poems 1955-1973 (HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 1996)

Society is a fishbowl. The populous of the world swims around and around living their everyday life confined to a container. The container is the social standard set by the media, figureheads, and the perception of others. Every individual believes they must swim around in this container to survive because if they deviate from the standard they will die from the suffocation of the unknown atmosphere that surrounds the fishbowl. The unknown atmosphere is said to foster self-doubt, insecurities, jealousy, and death.  However, unknown to most, the most valuable treasure lies deep, hidden in the unknown. It is hidden in your soul. The hidden treasure is self-acceptance. The fish will swim for the entirety of their lives without even pursuing this treasure because they are satisfied. They are satisfied with their social acceptance and will happily die in this illusion.

 

Many conform to the standard of the container, but it is the very few that swim to the edge of the fishbowl and take the leap of faith into the unknown that change happens. Yes, it’s scary. Yes, you might see things that make you uncomfortable. Yes, it might even lead to your inevitable realization of your own self-image. However, at the end of your fall, you will find the key to unlock a new path of growth.

 

One of these brave few was Charles Bukowski. Charles Bukowski was a prolific, underground writer who composed countless works of art that sold millions of copies. However, Bukowski was also a failure. A loser. For half his life he was a drunk, a womanizer, a deadbeat, and whatever other negative connotation that can be associated with the lower percentage of the population. Even after his success, he remained a drunk, a womanizer, a deadbeat, and so on. Bukowski allowed his well-earned titles to define who he was, but he was okay with it. He wrote about how much of a deadbeat he was and the sheer magnitude of his acceptance of himself captured his audience.

 

Trouble with Spain, by Charles Bukowski, perfectly captivates the purest form of Bukowski’s personality through literature. Trouble with Spain exposes the ideology of self-acceptance versus social-acceptance by proving that no matter the direction of action taken to be socially-acceptable there will always be critics watching your every move.

 

These people fucking suck. You can’t sneeze without someone breathing down your neck, reminding you of your position in society. It’s demeaning and kills your self-esteem. These parasites feed on past actions and relate them to who you are now. Instead of focusing on your efforts in the now, critics leech on to your shortcomings that live in your past.

Charles illustrates this by writing:

but everybody’s angry at me.

Bukowski, he can’t write, he’s had it.

washed-up. look at him drink.

he never used to come to parties.

now he comes to parties and drinks everything

up and insults real talent.

Critics relate the past to the present. That is where their power lies. Bukowski tried to connect with his peers by coming to their generic ass party, but his critics focused on the fact that he never used to come. However, Charles had the secret sauce. He was authentic. He knew who he was and battled criticism with self-acceptance. It is apparent in the stanza:

he was rather a handsome guy

and I guess he was jealous because

I was so ugly.

Charles had the ability to see the interior of this handsome guy. He knew this dude only projects his social position through his exterior. This guy has no depth. He has no personality because he is confined to the fishbowl as a result of the confirmation and validation of his exterior.

 

Now, I’m not saying if you are handsome and pretty, it makes you automatically shallow. I am saying that those who only focus on pleasing the eyes of others are like the Platte River. A mile wide and only a foot deep. Charles saw the depth of this guy and knew this handsome dude was jealous of the depth of his soul. Charles knew he had an edge on this guy because he had the ability to defeat the scrutinization of his critics because of his self-acceptance.

 

The most vital element of this poem, however, lies in the first and last stanza. Charles writes:

I got in the shower

and burned my balls

last Wednesday…

 

I not only burnt my balls in that shower

last Wednesday, I spun around to get out of the burning

water and burnt my bunghole

too.

Charles is able to illustrate that no matter what you do you will get burnt. No matter how you try to maneuver through society you will come in contact with the pain of criticism. The key, however, is to only allow the pain to stay on the surface. Charles only burns his skin. Skin heals. The most destructive damage occurs when you allow criticism to burn your heart. Your soul.

 

By burning your soul, you allow critics to change the perception of who you are. You begin to worry about things in life that do not matter. The only way to counter this damage is to thicken your skin. By accepting who you are and understanding yourself, you thicken your skin by another layer. Then another layer. And another. Until you thicken your skin so much, it is as if you are wearing a fucking Iron Man suit (I know sick, right?).

 

It is when you allow the scrutinization of critics to influence you to swim confined to the social standard that you poison and limit your soul. You don’t have to be socially acceptable. Protect your soul. Be different. Be authentic and take a leap from the fishbowl as Charles Bukowski once did.

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