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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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Tuesday
Jan172017

In Which This Was Not Going To Be Roses

Sex By Other Means

by LINDA EDDINGS

for E.

Sleep's our disease, the heart's adagio. – William Logan

That season with the yardarm, the scrupulous derrick, reaching low into the marsh. Reminders call back the dressings around us, opaque. Another option is the reservoir, draining inaudibly whenever I am near. Stupid to find any consolation in the rejoinder, hankerous, insincere. A metaphor never suffices in such situations, but the mouth will have to do.

E. 3rd and Bowery could be strewn with tumbling bags of garbage or easy women at one time. Now a failing bookstore and a nail salon bookend the cuisine of the Himalayas. Molten is the precipitation, the wind simply a frugal exhale. Arrival in a warm place, departure on one knee. Taking things into your body is a fool's errand. Best practice is a few furtive licks and a jangle at the seam. This could take all day.

Two years later it is sex I never planned or imagined. There is such thing, time persists in informing me, as pleasure that is too virulent. It almost always leads to conception; in the rare case that it does not blue balls are likely to ensue.

Duty to recall these dark moments: the proper thrill of a morally fervent eroticism is that it can always be retrieved.

I think it was Elias Canetti who said the thing he found most repulsive about people were their plans. I called the rest of my contacts first. During the act, weakness is a pause the stronger participants feeds on, attacks, makes use of. At such moments, the tongue is akin to a dangling preposition, with the feet and toes to match. Never asking to leave, a named orifice loses all value as a point of repose. Lines along the face mete out all the demarcation. A rogue emotionality is of no consequence among the salt.

For when the man is on top, you can draw a straight line. Her phone is nearly always in portrait mode. I have noticed the more appealing the person, the less likely they are to have a protective case on their device. This is an analogy that stretches through the eons.

Better to think of the leftovers as a happy bunch, who sampled all you could provide. Not only did they survive it, but they managed you the dignity of never bringing it up again. The fairness of the world overwhelms the moral sense of any one individual. The more decisive any sexual act is, the less likely it is to be ethical. I know that when someone misses you, that is never enough in itself. They have to want you inside them, or them inside you.

These strange words are written on top of a building at 141st street. Roof access is for everyone, makeshift ashtrays congregate like coral. This vantage offers the rear view of everything that once mattered. At times I sense how useful it remains to not be alone. Practically, when you put someone's ass in your face, the smell is never going to be roses. I realize I may have an oversensitive nose, and I freely admit I may have scented worse in the marsh.

Let's talk more about sex, and what it means when we have it.

The first eddings as scurrilous toes in my old bed. Winter was always the wrong part of the year, a smelting could have eradicated what was once thought permanent. I am new to being atop, but it does seem best to guide the flow of events from up there.

Yes, a man could determine the flow of penetration from a great height, and the larger his member the less he actually has to effect. Averting his eyes simply means he pictures someone fairer, who would not even imagine begging for breakfast.

Reaching back to that place reminds me of all who overhear my proclamations without wishing to do so. On the street a light beam enables swift movement through crowds, eddy and rock formation. Inside my clunky and obstreperous, oversized shoes. From dawn, avalanche. At sunset, liminal. If I knew how to talk another way I would do so, sparing this indignity. For that is what it to be written to in such a cloaked fashion, scribed around the echo of allegro.

What I wanted for us beggars this form.

I am new to provisional attitudes, an uncertainty flashed like a badge or cameo. After mere kindness evaporates, better to have something there, between the two, which feeds on more than blithe engagement. After this intimacy, we tiptoe through an altered prism, searching through time to reclaim it.

Linda Eddings is the senior contributor to This Recording.


Friday
Jan132017

In Which She Was Only Beginning To Get Well

The Tiny Gospel

by ALEX CARNEVALE

America is going through a period of luxury and unrest bordering nearly on madness.

Alfred Stieglitz had left New York for Vienna in 1881. When he returned in 1890, the Big Apple was a completely changed city. The dark, dangerous metropolis Stieglitz had left grew incandescent in the evening, revealed by the onset of electricity.

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One aspect of the city became open to him, another closed. His parents wanted young Alfred to marry a spoiled 20 year named Emmeline, called Emmy. Before his wedding, Alfred Stieglitz burned the diary he had kept since he was nine.

Emmy refused to have sex with her new husband, but this was nonce to him. He continued photographing the city and its denizens, and even improved his piano-playing. He gave his new wife the silent treatment. Four years into the marriage, Alfred and Emmy Stieglitz conceived their only child.

Edward Steichen's photograph of Kitty and Alfred Stieglitz

To commemorate the occasion, the family moved into a new apartment on Madison and 84th. Their daughter Kitty quickly became the center of their conflict, with Stieglitz insisting on photographing the girl almost every second of her life.

Emmy and Alfred were now on speaking terms, but it never got much better than that. As Kitty grew older and remained under the influence of her mother, daughter and father too liked each other less and less. Stieglitz had little time for his family spreading the tiny gospel that was still photography occupied most of his waking hours. "I would rather be a first class photographer in a community of first class photographers," he pronounced, "than the greatest photographer in a community of non-entities."

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Kitty graduated from Smith with honors in 1921. She had written her father many letters during her senior year at that Massachusetts college, bonding with him for the first time in her life with her mother in absentia. Since her parents were not speaking again, Alfred could not attend her commencement, but the two grew closer in the years that followed her marriage to a Boston salesman named Milton Stewart.

In June of 1923 Alfred became a grandfather when Kitty gave birth to a son. Severe bouts of postpartum depression dominated Kitty's days. She alternated lashing out at her father for his neglect of her with expressions of closeness. "I certainly failed in so many ways in spite of all my endeavours to protect and help her prepare herself for life," Stieglitz wrote. "I realize with every new day what a child I have been & still am absurdly so. It sometimes disgusts me with myself."

O'Keeffe and Stieglitz much later, in 1944

This experience completely convinced Alfred that having a baby with his girlfriend, an artist named Georgia O'Keeffe, was a terrible idea. He continued affairs with other women as well, and he did not want babies with them either. He wrote romantic letters to the wife of his friend Paul Strand, although a relationship with Rebecca Strand would only ever be consummated by Georgia. O'Keeffe was annoyed by Alfred's behavior, rebelling against it whenever she could, but she did tolerate it.

"Stieglitz wants his own way of living," Rebecca Strand told her husband Paul, "and his passion for trying to make other people see it in the face of their own inherent qualities really gets things into such a state of pressure that you sometimes feeling as though you were suffocating." Meanwhile, Kitty's condition had put her suddenly doting father in a weakened state. He made peace with Emmy and together they admitted Kitty into a gorgeous sanitarium in upstate New York.

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Alfred Stieglitz was suddenly 60 and one of the world's most celebrated photographers. Kidney stones made his nights restless. He passed the time by reading Ulysses. The divorce from Emmy was final. The following summer his daughter was discharged from the hospital to a summer house at Sagamore Beach. He proposed to Georgia; she declined.

By the fall Kitty had been returned to the sanitarium. Her doctor came to Alfred with a proposal. If he married O'Keeffe, they suggested, Kitty might come to a peace of mind that would aid her recovery. In light of these circumstances, Georgia accepted her boyfriend's proposal after considerable pressure was exerted.

Kitty Stieglitz photographed by her father with her uncle Joseph

The hasty marriage would change nothing, however, and Kitty's behavior was that of an indolent teen. She never left the care of doctors, spending the next fifty years trying to get well before her death. Kitty never permitted her father to visit, but her mother Emmy came every single week.

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"Marriage, if it is real must be based on a wish that each person attain his potentiality, be the thing he might be, as a tree bears its fruit - at the time realizing responsibility to the other party," Stieglitz explained to himself. He was impressively dedicated, even in old age, to thinking of very good reasons why he could not be a faithful husband.

Georgia's health problems complicated their new union, restricting her to bed rest. She was only just beginning to get well when Stieglitz met 21-year old Dorothy Norman. The girl who incessantly hung around Alfred's gallery, asking question after question, was married to the son of the founder of Sears. Edward Norman was a deeply disturbed person who was mentally, physically and sexually abusive to his wife.

Dorothy Norman

Stieglitz initially tried to put Dorothy's at an arm's length. By the time he really got to know her, she was pregnant with her first child, a daughter. Like Kitty, Dorothy was a Smith graduate. Georgia noticed her husband's admiration of the pregnant woman, and it upset her greatly. To appease O'Keeffe, Stieglitz tried to confine his expressions of love to secret letters. "I want to incorporate knowing you into my life," Dorothy wrote back, and in order to position herself as closely as possible to the photographer, commenced work on an article about Alfred that would become a book.

Georgia was more and more skeptical of Alfred's protestations that the friendship was not intimate. In her own interview with Dorothy, she found the college graduate annoying, pretentious and transparent. When Dorothy talked with Alfred at the gallery, he told her to sit far from him, "out of danger."

Into his life at this time came Lady Chatterly's Lover, his new favorite book.

When Georgia went off to a retreat, Stieglitz finally consummated the relationship with his young admirer. His descriptions of that moment are nauseating at best: "It was as I have never dreamed a kiss could be." He wrote, "We are are one - Every day proves it more and more to be true. Dorothy, do you have any idea how much IWY." The innovative use of acronyms made the tryst appear more than it really was: at first, the couple only kept things above the belt.

This consummation pushed Alfred in the other direction. Georgia was happiest in New Mexico, and Stieglitz endlessly complained about the time she spent there away from him. She felt his pull  "It is always such a struggle for me to leave him" but New York was not her favorite place. "I think I would never have minded Stieglitz being anything he happened to be," she told a friend, "if he hadn't kept me so persistently off my track."

Alfred's photograph of Dorothy Norman from behind

Even though Alfred thought nothing of cheating on his wife, he flew into a fury whenever he suspected that she might be unfaithful. The balance of their relationship was changing, however, as Stieglitz was increasingly financially dependent on his wife's flourishing artistic career. He was determined to improve his marriage.

Stieglitz still saw much of Dorothy, who had given birth to a second child. He photographed Dorothy Norman for the first time in 1930, when she was 25 years old. Alfred bought Dorothy a camera, and told her that he loved her. Each saw the relationship as a supplement to their marriage, and sought nothing more from one another. A friend wrote to Alfred that talking to Dorothy was like "talking to a mirror in which one didn't see oneself but someone else. She presents no problem, no burden or personality to be dealt with. One can be with her and at the same time alone with oneself."

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"He was perhaps the most impressive person I have ever known," Dorothy wrote later. "Yet the greatness of what he expresses was in terms of how people must be non-possessive." Alfred Stieglitz demonstrated this principle by comparing his wife and his young girlfriend in a 1932 exhibition that was the talk of the art community.

Their professional ties were solid as well. Dorothy involved herself in Alfred's fundraising efforts at his request, for a gallery that she would run in his name. This closeness rankled Georgia even more, and she sunk into a depression partly brought on by a friend of Alfred's suggesting that she befriend Dorothy.

Stieglitz's self-portrait, 1890

When Dorothy could not find a publisher for her manuscript of poems, Stieglitz demanded he publish them. This final insult pushed Georgia into the arms of the poet Jean Toomer, who she invited to stay with her on Long Island.

In the spring of 1936, Elizabeth Arden asked Georgia to paint a massive mural in her salon. More flush with cash than she had ever been, Georgia rented a penthouse on 1st Avenue to work on it, a cold, drafty, beautiful workspace. There Alfred suffered his first heart attack, ending his photographic career.

Alfred was now 74 years old. In his feebleness, the arrangement with Dorothy could be nothing more than close friendship. The affair dissipated without ever having a formal break. Both had provided something the other needed, is how Dorothy saw things, something essential and something clandestine. "There was a constant grinding like the ocean," O'Keeffe wrote of her husband. "It was as if something hot, dark, and destructive was hitched to the highest, brightest star. He was either loved or hated there wasn't much in between."

In the days that followed Stieglitz's small funeral, Georgia called up Dorothy Norman. She told Dorothy to clear all her stuff from the gallery, commenting that she found Dorothy's relationship with her husband "absolutely disgusting." After Alfred's death, Georgia O'Keeffe lived forty more years.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

Thursday
Jan122017

In Which We Hoped For The Abundant

Bouquet

by HEATHER MCROBIE

Running alongside the events of those years was like in the cartoons where the animated out-sized character doesn’t realize he’s run off the edge of a cliff, until he looks down and so – to comic, cartoonish effect – suddenly starts falling. 

Sometimes I thought of Tahrir Square like a coral reef, everyone moving as one, shoals darting between the barnacled city walls.  Sometimes I thought of breezy, light Tunisia like a dandelion clock that all the young people and sad people blew at once, scattering the seeds of it everywhere, like this would be the first and last birthday cake whose candles we’d all ever get to blow out. At other times I thought of it like a grapevine, each bunch ripening in tandem, and at other times I couldn’t believe any of it at all.  A lot of metaphors also ripened during this time and because we were still growing up we overused all of them, and I’m sorry for that.  There are lots of stupid, easy things to say about spring.

The man I was in love with then did algebra and never used a metaphor, which I respect now more than I did when things were starting. For the purpose of this story I’ll use his brother’s name, Ibrahim, not so much for anonymity but more just because things between us were always a bit dislocated like that, like someone forgot to carry the one in an equation.  Something always got left over from the last thing, or nudged down one unit in a row.

He wasn’t Brahim, my friend from early Cairo-unbelievableness, with whom, in the infinite possibilities of this outside-time year-zero, I carved out a perfect friendship uncorroded by the complications of politics and sex.  “Guess how short my skirts are when I go out in London? And guess how short they are when I go out in Manchester? And guess how short my skirts are when I go out in Liverpool?” Brahim would put his hands to his face like two giant leaves covering the centre of a sunflower but you could tell from the glow that peaked out that he was always laughing.  We were laughing in our language classes and laughing on the balcony and only not-laughing when he took me to the cemetery and even then afterwards he made jokes, of a kind. 

The man I was in love with who studied physics and was bemused by all of this came with me on a boat to Tunis where we imagined all the ancient Greek shipwrecks that must lie between his port-city home and the port-city someone with his surname had once left for the lower-lip of southern France.  We became professionally annoying with our photographs: every flag and every protest, me taking my dress off in our bedroom in the heat (later after Ibrahim left I was working at home in my underwear because it was too hot and heard the clicking of a camera by an amateur creep who was peering in through the window). We photographed the hospital and photographed the morgue and photographed the bars called Facebook and the cafes called Twitter. I sent e-mails to professors in Europe and North America telling them all their theories were outdated now, after this miraculous blossoming of spring. I mainly got out-of-office replies.

Since Ibrahim grew up in the south of France but studied in Paris I came to understand a relationship that had nothing to do with me, a north-south tension that didn’t play out in my life.  The ‘grandes ecoles’ of regimented Napoleonic education and the starched northernnesses of his classmates were as alien to him as they were to me, and he moved around Paris as half-bemused as he was half-bemused in Tunisia, home of his father.  I thought of him – because I loved him and he loved mathematics – as the mathematically-precise centre-point between these two, Paris and Tunis, held comfortably in his smiling certainty that this would all turn out alright, don’t worry my love.  I started to think of the Mediterranean like a mouth, with southern Europe as the upper teeth and north Africa as the lower teeth, how they had once slotted together, before some tectonic shift exposed the wet middle of sunken Greek ships.

Years later in Odessa I thought similarly and differently of the Black Sea: Ukraine glistening above and Turkey propping it up assuredly from underneath.  The heartening enclosed-ness of it all.  I liked to hold on to enclosed things, after the places and events since the start of the revolution that unraveled and just kept on unraveling.   I thought maybe the Mediterranean Sea was Ibrahim’s mouth beaming in the sun and the Black Sea was Amela’s mouth in that period when I thought about Amela’s mouth all the time, when she’d sit out by the library, and say funny and clever things and purse her lips in between so that they looked, improbably, like an exact map of Australia coloured in with lipstick.  ‘Amela’ is also a fake name for someone whose identity I need to smudge into imprecision, but her lips really did shape themselves, perfectly, just like that.

The best and worst thing about growing up motherless is you have to learn the artifice of femininity really carefully, like you’re learning algebra – when to carry, when to drop, when to press a little, when to stop.  I remember thinking of this in the Tunis hospital where the blue corridors were casually lined with dirty bandages.  How the hands of the nurses wafted at me in unison like seaweed in some sticky, maternal mauling.  How had they learned to touch bodies like that? It seemed as definite as maths but whole in natural-ness, precise but organic, like a starfish.  They sent me back to the apartment in Tunis with my own bouquet of bandages.

Ibrahim grew up in a town in France that had the same position as the town I grew up in in England: unromantically run-down, un-special, near to a famous port-city.  Walking around it in the spring before the hospital I remember thinking how at least the Runcorn of France had palm-trees, and there was something to be said for what sun can to do wash away any kind of ugliness.

Much later I stood in a central station looking up the bus schedule to Tripoli and I realised that my period was late because I was looking at schedules; later I was looking at the bandages that lined the blue corridors of the hospital and realised we were all too late.  But I couldn’t tell anyone because the doctor was so kindly and quietly explaining to me that it wasn’t meningitis, I was probably just overcome by events. Everyone was overcome by events. 

Three years after the revolution in Egypt, Bassem Sabry, the brightest, truest young writer of those times, fell to his death from a Cairo balcony and I couldn’t stop thinking of him.  I re-read his recent writing, shocked that he had touched something now as complete and grown-up as death.  I couldn’t stop thinking of him and of how everything just tumbled like that.  As the revolutions buckled under themselves everything was either the swollen pregnant pauses of the curfew or the sudden internal caving-in of blood.

All I want to remember from these years of my life is that night when he and I were taking pictures of each other in the dark.  This was in Tunis before the hospital visit and before I found out that I needed glasses and I didn’t know how the pictures or anything else would turn out.  I thought that it was going to be something blossoming and abundant – like spring, or a revolution. Instead of what it really was: something mutant and unsustainable – like a miscarriage, or a lie.

Heather McRobie is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Oxford. She has written for the Guardian, the New Statesman, Al Jazeera, Foreign Policy, the Times Literary Supplement and Salon. You can find her website here.

Photographs by Sumeja Tulic.