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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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Thursday
Jan152015

In Which She Receives Frequent Kindness On The PCT

Up and Down

by JULIA CLARKE

Wild
dir. Jean-Marc Vallée
115 minutes

As a heterosexual woman who grew up in the late 90s/early 2000s, I watched a lot of Brad Pitt movies--Legends of the Fall, A River Runs Through It, Meet Joe Black - and every time I popped one in the VCR, my dad would eyeroll, “If it has Brad Pitt in it, it’s going to be the same story: he’s going off to find himself.”  Finding oneself - in that mounting a horse and ruggedly galloping away from Julia Ormond kind of way - is the shining theme of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir-turned-film, Wild.

Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon) is walking the Pacific Crest Trail (or PCT) until she gets over her divorce, or until she forgives herself for dabbling with heroin, or until she comes to terms with her mother’s untimely death, or, in her own words, until she can “be the woman my mother raised.”

Wild, which is adapted from the memoir by novelist Nick Hornby, opens with Cheryl grimacing at her bloody and blistered feet and then, whispering a Paul Simon lyric about living without fear (“I’d rather be a hammer than a nail”), ripping off a couple of loose toenails. “It was me against the PCT when it came to my toenails,” Strayed writes in the memoir, and the book is punctuated by score updates. By the end, she is left with only four toenails, so the PCT takes the win. 

As a self-proclaimed inexperienced hiker, she buys too-tiny boots that result in several toenails hanging by a thread, a likely fate after walking hundreds of miles. This predicament left the theater audience audibly sighing at her lack of preparedness. To be fair, though, Cheryl does pack care packages for herself at checkpoints on the trail, so it isn’t like she went into this dumb as a brick. She ensures herself food for the duration of her hike. We learn the reasons for her painful journey as the film unfolds, almost as though the film is, as Reese Witherspoon said in an interview, “a mystery” rather than an adaptation of a memoir.

Much of Wild features Cheryl pausing to observe the beauty of the PCT--her profile frames an impressive mountain overlook; a wide shot features her walking beside several small joshua trees that pepper the Mojave desert; she desperately stumbles after a fox in the snow. Her hike is enriched with flashbacks of her “real” life, which boasts her unraveled marriage, her drug habit, her abusive father, her abortion, her college education, her therapy, her promiscuity, and most heartbreakingly, her bad and beautiful moments with her mother, who died suddenly of cancer before the age of 50.

Wild is self-consciously dealing with a woman in her twenties hiking the PCT alone. In one particularly tense scene, a couple of camo-clad, buzzed hunters look her up and down and lick their lips, threatening rape. They eventually leave--it’s getting dark and they need to get back to their truck--but the scene proves, interestingly, to be one of Cheryl’s more dangerous moments on the PCT, despite bears and mountain lions lurking in the dense forest. One of the hunters lifts his beer can and toasts “to a young girl all alone in the woods,” and as soon as they leave, Cheryl packs up her things and runs. 

In another scene, she meets a female hiker called Stacey (Catherine de Prume) and is ecstatic, solely because the hiker is a woman. In the memoir, Strayed confesses that Stacey isn’t someone she would be friends with in real life, that they only connected because of their mutual female PCT hiker status. And a group of three men Cheryl meets on the trail she calls them the Three Young Bucks point out her femininity, saying her trail name should be “Queen of the PCT” because as a woman, she always has help along the way. “I’d been the recipient of one kindness after another,” Strayed writes in her memoir. “Aside from the creepy experience [of the hunter]...I had nothing but generosity to report. The world and its people had opened their arms to me at every turn.” 

At its most cynical, Strayed’s book suggests that hacking it alone on the PCT is feasible if you’re pretty and blonde and twenty-something, and writing a mediocre memoir about the experience will grant you a bestseller. The film notably and perhaps despairingly adapted by a man picks up what the text leaves out: the expansive scenery, rattlesnakes suddenly appearing on the trail, icy rivers, what it means to be out in the wilderness by yourself, what it feels like to be inside your own terrifying thoughts, the gaping hole that is losing your mother unexpectedly. 

The book has more than one instance of Cheryl staring at and detailing her naked body in a hotel room or a public shower, of her limitless crushes on fellow male hikers, of sex with a stranger she meets during a break in her hike. She is more motivated by a black bra she packs than she is by the snowcapped Sierra Nevada. “It is always disheartening for me when a woman protagonist has zero self-respect,” a friend of mine familiar with the narrative told me.

At the end of the day, though, we have the story of a woman who let go of her drug habit and finally grieved her mother and, more importantly, accepted her mother’s love. In one particularly moving scene, Cheryl falls to her knees on the trail and looks toward the sky, tears streaming down her face: “I miss you. God I miss you.” That’s what was absent in the book and what came through in the film strategically placed flashbacks, poignant moments of reflection, and exquisite, National Geographic-worthy shots of the PCT, a major character in the film that barely got any airtime in the novel. 

My mom and I read the book together before seeing the film, and at one point, after reading aloud the series of meaningless sentences that present themselves as voiceover in the adaptation “What leads to what. What destroys what. What causes what to flourish or die or take another course” my mom said, “This is only successful because she’s blonde.”

Julia Clarke is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. She last wrote in these pages about Chef. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

"Summer Love" - Yseult (mp3)

Wednesday
Jan142015

In Which We Feel Very Crushed By Her Decision

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 or by dropping us a note at our tumblr.

Hey,

I recently was dumped by my girlfriend of two years. While she was in med school, I was always there for her. She says that she has met someone in her school who she has really clicked with, and although nothing happened yet, she realized it wouldn't be fair to either of us to continue the relationship when she is having doubts and feeling more attracted to someone else. She wants to take a break and reevaluate things in three months.

She also says that she doesn't know how she is going to feel in the future. I was her first serious relationship, so I understand she might want to explore other options. At the same time I think about how good we are together and don't understand her decision. I feel very crushed and can't stop thinking about how I could have made this work. Am I wrong to think that some time apart could make her realize what we have?

Andrew B.

 

Dear Andrew,

 There is only one possible way to regain a woman's interest when you have lost it, and that is by dating a more impressive woman and flaunting it before her very eyes. This strategy has worked throughout history - remember when Rachel on Friends was jealous of that British girl Emily even though Em was a personality b-minus? Ross unwittingly woke a dragon.

You need to start showing this young female Doogie Howser that you have moved on extremely quickly and that women desire you.  Post pics of your new relationship on every social media. If you cannot find a woman, hire someone to play a credible stand-in. This ruse will drive your ex crazy.

In addition, immediately after doing this, call up your ex and be like, "I met someone else. I'm sorry. What we had was great, but I'm too much of an alpha male to ever wait in the wings. My penis is shaped like a scimitar. Goodbye forever. I have had you, and now I move on to greener pastures." Then stroke a small dog (a Yorkshire terrier named Kale, perhaps?) and enter a helicopter.

 Hi,

I’m actually trying to start my own advice blog and I was hoping you could give me a few tips to get an audience and how to be good at giving advice. I just want to help people and I think a blog is the right way to go.

Betty R.

Dear Betty,

1. Nobody wants advice; they just want to know they're not alone. 
2. Check a lot of self-help out of the library.  
3. Get a therapist. 
4. Listen especially to what the person is not saying. 
5. Avoid whatever's a truism, whatever's trite, whatever's tired. 
6. What would you want to hear? 
7. It helps to have an orgasm before you start writing. 
8. As long as you make people feel understood, more will come.
9. "Start a blog" is the answer to more queries than you know. 
10. The person asking is rarely right.
 

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

Tuesday
Jan132015

In Which Her Struggle With Knausgaard Rages On

What We Do For Our Friends

by PENINA EILBERG-SCHWARTZ

Two of my best friends hurt the people around them in ways that astound me. An acquaintance once said she was okay with Natasha, because she directs the worst of it against herself. I saw what she meant but came to a different conclusion. Natasha hurts herself brutally, volcanically, and then turns the same thing outwards, stomping around in pain and accidentally crushing things. We are hurt by her self-destructiveness.

Sam hurts just as much, as it seems to me, but turns very little of it against herself. This is where our worst hurt from her originates; knowing that there is a wall between her and herself that keeps the violence out. It bounces off that shield, like light on a lens it refracts and it blinds us and we spend whole years of our lives curled up, unable to catch our breath. To our acquaintance the hurt Sam causes is unforgivable, but the kind Natasha causes demands sympathy. To me, neither kinds of hurt are forgivable, or maybe both are, I’m not sure, but both demand sympathy. To me, one is not better than the other. Both fail at a certain kind of self-interrogation. The two kinds of hurts are the same and cannot be ranked one over the other.

I am hurt by and drawn to both of these friends equally. They are both able to convince me of things no one else could. This is why they are beautiful and this is why they are dangerous, like Knausgaard.

+

I arrived late to the cult of Knausgaard’s My Struggle. It has been raging for years now. A few months ago I gave in and started reading the six-volume thing. For the most part, I’m a convert. I agree with much of what’s been said about its brilliance, and have little else to add here that would be anything new. I am, however, struck by the sexism that shows up in it once in awhile, and by how this has seemed to slip away unnoticed in much (though not all) of the criticism I’ve read.

If we are going to choose something as our new bible, it will of course not be perfect, since it hopefully does not need to be said that nothing is. But if we’re going to choose a bible, we should ask  as we should of all sacred texts  which parts we have to leave out. What do we keep and what do we lose? Another way to ask this: what are we willing to forgive?

On multiple occasions, or arguably throughout the whole of the first and second books, Knausgaard blushes about his ruined masculinity. Women used to catch his eye on the street (and we know from multiple drunken anecdotes and from the cover of the book what a hard, handsome man he is) but when he’s pushing the stroller with his child in it, women don’t look at him anymore. When he looks down at his flabby belly, he is soft, he is feminine, he is less than.

He agonizes when he is unable to free his wife at a party by knocking down the door. Another man has to do it and Knausgaard is cowed. It seems sometimes that Knausgaard questions everything except for the reasons he feels humiliated by feeling feminized. For all the questions of himself he asks, why doesn’t he interrogate this? Why does he find femininity inferior to masculinity?

Pointing this out, we run the risk of turning ourselves into the butt of one of Knausgaard’s jokes about the ultra-parodically-liberal world he lives in in Sweden. Although I think that the people he makes fun of are more right than him politically, if there is such a thing, I liked his jokes at their expense. At their best, they expose the hypocrisy of a certain kind of sterilized liberalism that a lot of us are familiar with. As here:

Sweden hasn’t had a war on its soil since the seventeenth century and how often did it cross my mind that someone ought to invade Sweden, bomb its buildings, starve the country, shoot down its men, rape its women, and then have some faraway country, Chile or Bolivia, for example, embrace its refugees with kindness, tell them they love Scandinavia, and dump them in a ghetto outside one of the cities there. Just to see what they would say.

The kind of liberalism he’s critiquing turns itself into a kind of joke. It does this because, like the systems being critiqued, it fails to ask questions of itself. To me it seems worthwhile to poke fun at anything that does not ask the hardest questions of itself that can be found. This is the funniest, and most frightening, thing we can do.

But if these people are not asking certain questions of themselves, neither is Knausgaard. This is why, along with the deserved applause, Knausgaard deserves some pushback. This, I think, is what we should do for our friends.

It seems that in some of the literary critiques of My Struggle, with the notable exception of Katie Roiphe’s article on Slate, we have erred too much on one side or the other. In the most common type of response, Knausgaard is the new god. In another kind, he is an unforgivable chauvinist, racist, gay-basher. In either case, we fall into the same trap both Knausgaard and his Swedes do  we forget to ask questions of ourselves. 

None of what strikes me as sexist in Knausgaard’s beliefs, or his failure to name and question them, detracts from this work’s literary merit, nor do I think that it’s necessarily Knausgaard’s responsibility to call attention to or question this within the work itself. At least not his sole responsibility. He may write these scenes of humiliating emasculation with the same motivation that led him to choose the title, knowing that it would reek of Hitler and make people uncomfortable and also, inevitably interested. He’s more than smart enough to know these scenes, as the title, will be challenged. It all strikes me as a kind of fuck you, though if we give him the benefit of the doubt, it’s a sweet fuck you, a laughable one, an invitation even. If we give him the benefit of the doubt we can imagine him luring us into a conversation, as if to say it is not just his responsibility to call attention to these flaws, it is ours  his readers.

At Knausgaard’s best he pushes us to be truer. At our best, we push him to do the same. This is what criticism should be. An offering of anger as an offer love. A set of tools to help us see better. This is just as relevant in today’s political climate as it is in the backrooms of literary conversation. When lives are at stake, who will we blame, what  if any  questions will we ask of ourselves, and how will this determine our efficacy in making the world into a different thing? Which of our friends will we make into heroes and which will we turn away from? What will we keep and what will we lose and what won’t we forgive?

Penina Eilberg-Schwartz is a contributor to This Recording. This is her first appearance in these pages. She is a writer living in San Francisco and the founder of the lecture series Wundercabinet. She has written for The Rumpus, sparkle + blink, SEMIPERFECT, and Neutrons Protons. She tumbls here.

"Nobody Knows My Trouble" - Ryan Bingham (mp3)

"Snow Falls In June" - Ryan Bingham (mp3)