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Black Lamb

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Now in its 14th year of publication, this magazine was created to offer the discerning reader a stimulating selection of excellent original writing. Black Lamb Review is a literate rather than a literary publication. Regular columns by writers in a variety of geographic locations and vocations are supplemented by features, reviews, articles on books and authors, and a selection of “departments,” including an acerbic advice column and a lamb recipe.

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Living below the radar

March 1st, 2007

BY SAGE COHEN

When I was a little girl facing one of the endless Important events du jour that inevitably went Terribly Wrong, my father would say to me, “Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.”

My father knows many things. I have collected his gifts of wisdom as a kind of spiritual dowry. He has much to say about pain, truth, energy, healing, love, and kindness. But it is this aphorism about experience that has been my little lifeboat of truth, helping me navigate the farthest waters of disappointment, the darkest hours of alone.

I remember that when I broke up with my first love, Andres, at age nineteen, I felt as if my heart — blind with starvation — and lungs — empty of his breath — would simply quit. I stayed up all night sobbing so hard I suspected one of these useless organs might be vomited out of my convulsing, now-meaningless body. Squeezed into a little phone booth in the lobby of my dorm so my smugly jealous roommate could not revel in the told-you-so revenge of my pain, I asked my father for instruction on surviving heartbreak.

“It’s just pain,” he said. “It can’t kill you. Let yourself feel it, and it will move through you and be gone.”

I wanted Andres, but I didn’t get him. Or more accurately, I didn’t get him on the terms I wanted. What I got was heartbreak that I learned how to survive. Approximately a year after Andres and I went our separate ways, I remember thinking, “Thank God this happened. Now I know I can live through anything.” This was my first conscious investment in the Experience savings account that has been paying long-term dividends ever since.

It’s been eighteen years since I met Andres at age eighteen. My practice of welcoming, sitting with, and learning from this great teacher Experience has cultivated in me the still well of wisdom through which my father first spoke. To this day, I call Andres and thank him for making things so deliciously impossible for me. Our love was the launching pad through which I committed to being grateful for every pain that broke me open to something more possible.

My father taught me how to drive, how to swing a tennis racquet, that when you are given extra change at the cash register, you always return it. Together, through his patience of repetitive testing, we letter-pressed an entire vocabulary of synonyms and antonyms into the pulpy paper of my teenage mind. I remember the look on his face after reading my tenth-grade essay on The Once and Future King. “You are a writer,” he said with reverence, handing me back the carefully typewritten, double-spaced pages. And I believed him. Through the mirror of my father’s acceptance and insistence, I have come to see myself as a woman of worth.

The city of Portland, Ore. sees things a little differently. I’ve been photographed driving under the influence of poetry. Rather than appreciate the alternative interpretations my daydreaming mind might bring to the concept of “speed limit,” Big Brother has said, “Enough is enough.” Driving 36-38 mph in a 25 mph zone four times in two years is grounds for a thirty-day license suspension. I have been grounded.

I didn’t want to break the law; I didn’t want to be punished. It is, of course, much more convenient to drive. But I have too much experience stumbling upon feast in the paradox of famine to get myself tangled up in worry about my temporary license suspension. Because of my father and his willingness to welcome what comes, I am eager to experience thirty days without a car. What will life be like below the radar? Who will I be without the privilege of driving, which I have enjoyed my entire adult life?

Maybe I will be cured of daydreaming. Maybe I will learn that driving is a reckless endangerment of my creative mind and will choose to give it up altogether. Maybe not driving, not talking on my cell phone while driving, will result in my discovering a phone booth in my neighborhood. Maybe I’ll scrunch myself up in that booth and call my father. What we say will be underscored by the unspoken pain we have each in our own way learned to appreciate and survive. •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: Cohen | Link to this Entry

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