8824 NE Russell St.
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Black Lamb

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Where there’s smoke…

November 1st, 2006

BY CERVINE KAUFFMAN

pensivegal.jpgThere’s fire. Smokers are sexy, smokers are uninhibited, smokers drink, sensual smoking-and-drinking persons combine alcohol, tobacco, and sex in the most amazing combinations… An Irishman once told me that two things will get you through life when nothing else will: sex and drink.

That has not been my experience. I wish it had.

Life seems so simple for the lush and promiscuous, living in the now, moment to moment, as everyone is advised to do. The simplest task is charged with promise because anyone — that messenger guy whizzing by on the bike, the delivery man at the house next door — can become the next bed partner, the next booze partner, the link to the bed and booze partner after that. A regular whirlpool of sensation and sociability that makes the people swirling in it seem very happy for a while, sometimes a long while. The benefits can last, the way smoke permeates your drapes and wine stains your carpet. When the bed partners fade away, or break your heart, you can take comfort in the leaf of the bush and the fruit of the vine. If they, too, must be given up, you can dine out on your bon vivant adventures as someone with a certifiably rich and fearless approach to life.

I have never smoked anything, not even oregano. As for intoxication, I once availed my underage self of the Cold Duck on offer at a relative’s champagne brunch and felt not quite right the rest of the day. There was no retching and no putting my foot on the floor by the bed to stop the room from turning. That’s the closest I’ve ever been to being drunk.

It’s puzzling, because the blood of the grape has many of the qualities I cherish attached to it, such as beauty, antiquity, ceremonial value, myths, accoutrements… yet I have never developed a taste for wine. I have however, developed a taste for wine drinkers. Seeing that I do not regard wine as essential or even desirable on a daily basis, they sometimes wonder if I belong in their company. I wonder myself. We all like words, and writing, and music, and the other arts, but because of these two abstemious habits, I worry that I’m seen as blocked, boring, and frigid, not only by the living but also by the dead.

When I read of Mary McCarthy’s smoke-and-wine-accompanied amorous adventures, including three men in twenty-four hours, I am utterly baffled. How does she do it? I’m not casting aspersions on her attractiveness, I really want to know: how does she do it? Do you block out the time with the three blokes in advance, or do you take your chances and arrive unnanounced — and get lucky three times? Or does the second man happen because the first one reminds you of the other exciting fellows in your life, and the third one happens because the second man has the same effect? Do you give a lame excuse to each chap on your way out, a frank one, or are they, too, eager to see you to the door? How do you get through any of the social customs and preliminaries and still manage to get into bed with all three, with no claims on your time for the other days when you really just want to write? When Anaïs Nin gave her recipe for happiness as the bodily fluids of three men consumed in one day, I could see it happening. She was so strange that such a feat would probably be seen as ordinary by her circle. But Mary, though a randy one, found time to read and formulate opinions, got her writings written and published, made deep frienships, kept up old houses — and spent a lot of time in bed. Or not.

In her work on creativity, Julia Cameron says that the boozing, promiscuous artist is a blocked artist, and that it is not necessary to smoke, drink, or sleep around to create art. What a relief. I trust Julia because, in her memoir Floor Sample, she candidly describes her party days fueled by alcohol, cocaine, and heroin, and her marital and sexual adventures, including a brief lesbian interlude. None of the substances or affairs helped her writing, and many times they hindered it. I was struck by her courage in getting clean, and also by her preoccupation with staying sober. Every time she moves, she gets into contact with other sober alcoholics for her support base. It seems that sober people who have been addicts have a religion of their own, called sobriety. I plan to do a comparison of its teachings with those of the other great religions.

Mostly, I admire Ms. Cameron’s tenacity in writing prose and music every day, no matter what. I admire her courage in staying clean, and I envy, too, her recovered-person’s joy in the simple things in life, and the pride she feels in one more day of not taking a drink. At the same time, I find myself thinking, “I’ve never been drunk my whole life, yet I do not believe that a sober day is necessarily a successful day.” This would be followed by shame that I have not consecrated my life to creation the way Ms. Cameron has.

It’s hard enough for me to make art while sober; I can’t imagine functioning while drunk. Maybe that’s my problem. Maybe I don’t appreciate sobriety enough and need to spend a pathetic lost weekend to have proper appreciation. To do it right, I’d have to smoke, but I don’t want to — nothing ages a person faster, and it reeks. Maybe I’ll just keep trucking along in my semi-nerdy fashion and let my work speak for itself, with a twist. •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Smoking & Drinking Issue, Kauffman | Link to this Entry

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