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Alex Carnevale

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Mia Nguyen

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Ethan Peterson

This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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In Which We Postpone A Decision Until Some Later Date

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to justhardtosay@gmail.com.


I met someone a few months ago, and we really clicked. I have been seeing a lot of her and I have never had so much fun with someone. The issue is that she says she never wants to have children. It struck me as odd that she would bring this up kinda soon, but maybe it was an issue in a past relationship? I did not feel comfortable pressing her further.

I have not thought extensively about having a family beyond a vague desire to have kids "someday." I have been thinking a lot about this though, and I do feel I would like to reproduce with someone I love. Is there any hope?

Jerry C.


Dear Jerry,

Imagine what a distorted view of the world an individual has to have to in order to be told something in the strongest, simplest terms and wonder if the exact opposite might be true. I have been asked if I wanted kids before, and the truth is I just said whatever I thought the other person wanted to hear. It does not sound like this is a case of that.

Many women and men who announce this may not be able to have children. It is a sensitive topic and you were most likely right not to press it further. Can women and men be convinced or blackmailed into having children even if they say they don't want them? Sure, but this may not be the sort of life accomplishment you can feasibly brag about to St. Peter.

With that said, maybe let it alone for now and get to know your new partner better before bailing because of this. She may explain her reasoning later on or you might decide no kids is worth it to be with the one you love. Not every relationship has to be for life.


I recently moved in with my boyfriend of one year, who I will call Davis. Things are going tolerably well, but as with any change, there are some stumbling blocks. Now that we are living together, Davis frequently asks "What do we have to eat?" or begs me to make him something. I do enjoy preparing dinner from time to time but due to my schedule I can't do it every night, nor would I want to. He occasionally makes a meal for us but it generally tastes like garbage. I really don't feel I should be responsible for the culinary work in the apartment and I'm already resenting it every time he puts me in that position. What is the best way to approach a discussion about this issue?

Mila F.


Dear Mila,

It sounds like a small thing, but this probably indicates that Davis is going to look to you to be his mother for the duration of this relationship. You need to nip this in the bud, fast. It sounds like it is too late to fake an allergy to kitchen implements. Davis needs serious help with his dietary approach – "What do we have?" is not really a plan for proper caloric intake.

It doesn't seem unreasonable to ask each person to be responsible for one meal one night a week. Inform Davis in no uncertain terms that this will be end of your responsibilities in this area, and act extremely withdrawn for a significant period after this proclamation.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.


In Which Emotional Math Remains Due For A Renaissance

Raw Work


I showed you the lesson plan. Here it is without the Archimedes or the Joanna Russ. You rejected my idea of an emotional math, and you don't believe in similes. I don't know what your problem is with Joanna Russ – she could not be more ripe for a renaissance.

A short track, to simply take us through the first part of summer, before regret really begins to set in.

First week – The Classics

Herodotus (Tom Holland translation)
Gass, Omensetter's Luck
Lee, A Gesture Life
Acker, Blood and Guts in High School

Do you feel like maybe you should stop after the first week? You could, but you would be so sad, and your mouth would flap open a bit but no one would care what you said after that.

I can't waste my time with clever books or books that want to make me feel like I'm clever. I'm not going to pretend I respect anyone who takes this more seriously than I do. I wanted you to love all these novels. Some are stories grouped together, but who cares? There is no such thing as a novel, which reminds me that I forgot to put the David Markson on.

Are you afraid you are the type of person who threatens to quit but never does, while I am the type of person who never admits it but wants to give up the whole time? (Fear is week 3)

I broke in on something I should not have, is the feeling you get from the literature I require you to understand now and in what remains of the day. We are broadcasting on the fine, wet line. Understanding, a true cohesion that exceeds that of our parents and relatives, is expected in the near future. A license to meal.

Second week: So much water, so close to home

Macdonald, The Dalton Case
Anna Joy Springer, The Vicious Red Relic, Love
Kavan, Ice
Lispector, The Passion According to GH

It feels so much better to be dissociated from all this, floating through like an upper respiratory infection. I had an idea to do a section on medicine, but I don't want to remind those of you with illnesses of our essential frailty (Sebald). Instead it is better to believe something else the whole time, before realizing the truth at a convenient moment. Isn't this the basic outline of every story you have been told by me?

Why I keep saying the same thing about how you would probably come back to me given enough time, I don't know. A picture of you is worth something. All the writing was worth something, or this was more waste. Fantastic lead-in to our next group of texts. Cortazar is always just falling short in these things. I guess Hopscotch could be optional or we look at it in class.

Third week: Fear as contagion

Shepard, Beautiful Blood
Ozick, The Cannibal Galaxy
Egan, The Clockwork Rocket
Lydia Davis, Almost No Memory

Life in the upper atmosphere pleases me greatly. We fought a specific war, which had its meaning altered by the years. Whatever we bled for is all we remember. I would prefer to see you in your finest.

You have caught on to the half-step in this routine.

I am coming together like the first island you came to in a dessicated group. Marked back and forth among the California people, the permanent ones. Place wakes, and whatever I made from eggs and the rest of the meats and cheeses was more typical than not. How awful it is to have to focus intently on not being myself. Solve it all with science.

Final week:

Powys, Porius
Sam Beckett, Molloy
Novik, Uprooted
Baldwin, Go Tell It On The Mountain

I enjoy teaching the sort of writing I like to read, although I admit my tastes are not to everyone's. You will read the rest elsewhere, and someone will understand it/you far better than I do. You would have the worst time understanding us in this context, and I would never be proud of what I said to you.

I guess to see the filth you would have to know something about it first. Next semester you can count on a much grittier group. A literate poverty will radiate through every step, maybe a prison memoir will show them how it's done. Ask Joanna Russ.

There is a realistic, true-to-life aspect to any bout of reading. It has become so verbose, the world – a collection of so many words? This many? So many? All my favorites. (Sarraute, Elkin, Malamud). All my old places, that I walk by to remember. After this, think of the thick, penetrating style you will have developed. You will basically be Saul Bellow without any of the dysfunction at that point. It's only a patina.

Dina Barraclough is a contributor to This Recording. This is her first appearance in these pages. She is a writer living in Illinois.

lydia davis


In Which We Help Make Sense Of It All



Quantum theory and general relativity are increasingly finding skirmishes across science, with physicists hoping to finally resolve their incompatibilities. A simple way to describe their conflict is one of scale. It can be hard to shrink down the properties of gravity, a relativistic theory, to the purview of small things; the corollary, extrapolating quantum rules to macroscopic phenomena, is also messy.

A patchwork fix was proposed decades ago: string theory. If it helps make sense of it all, maybe there are eleven dimensions, or 26 or ten, and they bend around on themselves. I like this idea because it's ambitious and bizarre and hasn't actually, to date, reconciled anything.


Some events, like immigrating to the so-called first world, seem to be so profound and improbable that it might as well be crossing over from one universe to another. At age 30, my father left Bangladesh for the U.S., seeking asylum; although I know it happened, it still vexes me.

When you cross an ocean, how can you tell if you've made it completely?

Physical space is often regarded as infinitely divisible: it is thought that any region in space, no matter how small, could be further split. Time is similarly considered as infinitely divisible.

However, the pioneering work of Max Planck (1858–1947) in the field of quantum physics suggests that there is, in fact, a minimum distance (now called the Planck length) and therefore a minimum time interval (known as the Planck time) smaller than which meaningful measurement is impossible.

Even if you split a mortgage, marry a white woman, and speak fluently in a new tongue, by all appearances looking assimilated from the outside, you likely know that there remains some distance unbridged, ineffable.


I moved from DC to Berlin this year to study carbohydrates at the Max Planck Institute. In tenth grade I believed chemistry to be a lingua franca. Now, in the 23rd grade, simple questions can return dizzying answers.

My father sent an insane e-mail and is maybe moving back to Bangladesh because my sister and I didn't become the Muslim adults he expected. But is there anything more speculative or experimental than having a child, much less with someone from another continent?


A month ago I fell down near Kottbusser Tor and I think I tore my meniscus. I want to talk to God so I was sober all Lent as a cover letter. I am also not religious but I wonder if He cares.

I think I owe, cosmically — it's an intuition, like the feeling of being watched. I’ve coasted for too long thinking I am mostly a decent person, and that is not enough in a world that trends towards hell.

Other debts: a long letter requiring a precise amount of contrition, several thank-you notes, 33000 USD, polite wedding declines, a DC Public Library fee.

String theory etiquette: if you have a dream about someone you can tell them or fuck them but not both.

If you find your friend’s doppelgänger at Hermannplatz, it’s okay to hit them with a tire iron. If you text your ex from a German number, you have to expect nothing in return. It is essentially a message in a bottle.


Half third-world, half second-generation. Only Americans call the children of immigrants "second-generation," elsewhere it’s first. Now that I am elsewhere, I am everything from a 2.5 to a 1.5 to a one (my friend says these things are up to me.)

We’ve killed the coral reefs and the ice caps are on the way out. In Arrival I thought the aliens had more faith in us than I do. In Interstellar we went through a wormhole to find a new planet and I wasted three hours.


I have always felt like somehow my life was out of sync. I assume living your life commensurate with time feels like walking smoothly, you don’t even notice it at all.

I used to think my asynchronicity was because I skipped first grade. But maybe the hubris or fear involved in crossing an ocean, from this generation or a previous one, comes with a penalty. Maybe I'm off by a Planck time and a Planck length, a debt to an uncertain and unknowing collector.


If we are in one of many possible universes, it feels cruel to be so limited in accessing them. In crisis we always wish to break the rules: I want to go back to this time, I want to be in that place.

We like the corollary in our high points: There is one path governed by fate. I was meant to meet this person, or to have that experience.

One measure of maturity is your ability to invert these instincts. Having the faith — it feels like a leap — to resist escapism during the lows, accepting that bad things can be done by or to you; and the humility to be grateful in happiness, knowing that it very possibly may not have met you.


Still, we can make choices, the venue by which we can slip from one universe into the multitudes. These possibilities, of course, seem tied to youth, and watching them disappear can be darkly mesmerizing.

Avoiding one-ways is limiting in itself, and after a certain point evading permanent choices is a somewhat petulant attempt to resist time.

It took until my late twenties to realize that not making a decision is, ironically enough, totally still a decision, and often the worst one.

Jamal Malik is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Berlin. He last wrote in these pages about reasons to run. You can find his twitter here.