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Alex Carnevale
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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
Oct222013

In Which He Moved Here While I Lived In California

The Difference

by CARMEN AIKEN

Around ten years have passed since I’ve been seventeen. When I go to the free screening of the Chicago independent film Maydays, I am one of the few people at the high school who barely skews the mean age in the auditorium to maybe eighteen. Maybe. I didn’t have a chance to go to the Latino Film Festival in the spring to see it and regretted it. I have been waiting to find a copy or a screening, so when my friend e-mailed me about a community showing, that’s where I spend my Friday evening.

Filmed in Chicago during the NATO/G8 summit, the film is a hybrid documentary-love story, focusing on Alicia, a high schooler at Benito Juarez High School, living in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago. She meets Daniel, a lanky boy from the North Shore (portrayed as tony as we all talk about it in the City), at a Model UN conference and their relationship begins. Pilsen, officially named by the City as the Near West Side, was first home to “Bohemians”, or people from the Czech Republic and Poland, but now currently houses one of the biggest Latino populations in the city, predominantly from Mexican origins.

I am not from Pilsen but am almost from the city of Chicago, although not quite. I have lived in the neighborhood since I graduated college on the West Coast, slowly moving from three flats and their combination of terrible landlords, elevated track lullabies, and the continued seeping soot of the Coal Plant.

My neighbors and friends worked on the campaign to close it. Sometimes I pretend I can still see the END COAL graffiti on the smokestack out my window, from Greenpeacers two years ago. Benito Juarez is about five blocks from my apartment now, and many nights I’d cut through the courtyard with brass sculptures of Mexican heroes, often defaced, either seething to warm copper smells on the summer nights I got off work late or avoiding the frigid and dangerous metal on my way to the bar.

And I’m not Mexican-American. I go around the world calling myself a halfie, blithely assenting to whomever has decided to play ethnic-guessing games on our first impressions that yes, I’m Latina, no, my Spanish isn’t that great, but thank you for the compliment on mi accento. The movie, however, and Alicia’s story (who I share a name with, sort of, and if you are pronouncing it with a “Sh”, you are doing it wrong) kept me watching the trailer for weeks as I waited for Chicago’s summer to finally show the hell up.

Maybe I would have been less impressed, less happy with how much the movie met my expectations if I had seen it in a quiet theater with four screens, or at a college screening. But surrounded by high schoolers who are probably background extras, who walk along the alleys and corner stores and fruit ladies every day, the movie gained more of its verite.

When Daniel requests Alicia on Facebook after their day downtown at Model UN, the auditorium cheered. When Alicia’s friends throw shade on Daniel and his suburban lifestyle, we gave the appropriate, “Ohhhhh!” burns, snickering when he drops her off on the North side with a, “Go play Pocahontas and John Smith, right?”

Maydays is a paean to being young and falling in love, how falling in love with someone in a city makes you love that city, too. In the first days of their relationship, Daniel skips class and travels via bike, commuter and elevated train to Alicia’s house. She takes him around the neighborhood. I remembered the moments I have been in love, or trying to be in love in this neighborhood, doing the same things. Walking on sunny afternoons buying vintage clothes only to abandon them on closet, sharing mango con chili, pointing out murals, all the things a date should be that I never get to do anymore, by virtue of the ease of drinking beer after work.

At the end of this adventure, Daniel and Alicia end up in the suburbs, where she pointedly corrects his mother on her Anglo-pronunciation of her name. As a teenager, Alicia’s mother frustratingly has to come pick her up at his suburban house. The scene where her over-extended mother smacks her on the head for Alicia calling her mother an embarrassment brought back to me the fury of adolescence. I remembered how the face sets on car rides full of nothing but fighting or alienation, how furious my family made me, but how they at least knew where I came from. My mother will tell how guera she is, but always pronounces my name correctly, especially when I’m in trouble and it involves the entirety of the conjuring.

Daniel, it seems, works to widen their contact zone. In scenes he is in the city, interested in her friends, her zine she makes with the help of her abuela, a former neighborhood activist, her endless curiosity. She is more of an artist than I ever was in high school, taking photos and using old Mexican films to express her vision of the world.

I barely dated a boy who was white in high school, and I say this because I kept the relationship going through college. He was part of the reason I ended up in Pilsen he moved here while I lived in California. I spent summers and winters at their house near the Western boundary. When I stayed in that apartment, four tiny rooms and a view of the warehouses, I told my parents I needed to because of the jobs I worked downtown, which was partly true and partly because I wanted to drink and fool around with him, pretending we were adults already.

There were many reasons we didn’t work out, most of which I’ll pin on age (to be kind). The fights we had about privilege and race, and the things he wouldn’t understand, gnawed at me, never left. He moved to Pilsen with our mutual friends at the time (who he gave up, but I still live two blocks from), Mexican-American, who gave me shit for being pigmentally challenged, whose parents speak Spanish with me and berate these boys to do the same, and they live here now.

We would drive down Ashland in the summer with Manu Chao’s “Me Llamen Calle” blasting out the windows, hungover, and I felt something I’d never felt in the suburbs. By this time I was in college, where people tried to be respectful of things like mixed-race, transnational identities, la frontera, apologizing for assuming where my tongue could go.

But the difference I needed him to understand was the difference he felt threw before him, an axe, a border. Partners and friends I have had since them have had the same problem a white woman lover, now friend, who I took Spanish with (the only Latina in the class), who couldn’t understand why it hurt me that she told me to do better because I should’ve been able to, an abusive older man who left me voicemail slurs over the phone, friends who tell me, Well, since you pass, it doesn’t really hurt you, right?

And mostly these hurts were combined into others, like Alicia. It still amazes me that any of the friends I’ve known and still love since high school survived it. Her confused feelings for Daniel notwithstanding, her pains hit me: parents who fight and a father who is absent but doting on her, her mother who calls her “gordita” and criticizes her eating.

In a scene explaining exactly how fraught young adolescent relationships are, she tries to explain to Daniel on the phone how awful it is when your mother is constantly noting what you eat, and he responds with an awkward story about how he used to sleepwalk, and ended up one night atop his mother’s SUV. In my case, it has always been my father and my tias who are happy to tell me when I’ve lost weight, or how going to the gym is a bien awesome hobby.

During the NATO summits in Chicago last year I worked downtown at a bike store, waiting to start graduate school. The streets were empty and for weeks I’d been hearing talk everywhere my coworkers telling me leftists were going to molotov out our store windows, my leftist friends encouraging me to attend sign-making parties. Like Alicia I have no shortage of comrades in my life, people who have made real change, whereas I am happy to cheer on the striking teachers at the three schools in a six-block radius of my six-flat. I would ride home on alternate routes, thinking how quiet it was in River North during the G8. Watching this movie, and the footage shot during the protests, I wondered how much I was missing out on.

Daniel and Alicia, and their friends from both the neighborhood and the suburb, attend the protests, and the people interviewed are real: Code Pink, the ISO, the Black Block, the CTU. During this time, she attends a party at Daniel’s house, where his father first asks if she’s from Brazil, and then he and a friend comment on how the changing landscape of Pilsen is ultimately for the better.

Of course no movie can encapsulate the complexities of something like “gentrification”, a word I hesitate to use. All it does is scatter everyone into thoughts like pepper around a bar of soap. I hope one day to watch this movie and try and explain to someone what it was like living here, in Chicago, when I can still buy Hamms at the 4 a.m. bar and carry, and walk by the bar selling ten dollar cocktails. I realize I am an outsider too. I just also realize I’m an outsider with the safe feeling of this neighborhood I can’t explain and don’t want to try to.

But I also want to make sure I can see this movie in the years to come. As the winter arrives, it made me miss Chicago, even though I live here. The days of Chicago, in May, in my neighborhood with paleta carts and block parties and micheladas and bandannas around our necks and bicycles, are beyond compare. Filled with the post-rock soundtrack I have come to love, Maydays makes me think I want to continue my adult-adolescent years I have cultivated in Pilsen.

This year I have started to feel a bitterness towards Chicago (again), and how I am still riding bicycles, and trying to do community work I don’t make enough money for, and writing poetry. I am still losing friends to other cities, or worse fates. Maydays gave me those afternoons and nights back, riding in borrowed cars along the Stevenson, jumping into our dirty, frigid third coast, nights on stoops and back porches with forty ounces of beer.

The movie doesn’t even end with the close of summer, which is a truth. And it does not end how you’d think, which is how everything works at age seventeen. In this city we’re always hoping and pretending that warmth will come again, and what will we do to our streets when it does? How many nights can we spend on them and where are all the places we will go?

Carmen Aiken is a contributor to This Recording. This is her first appearance in these pages. She is a writer living in Chicago. She tumbls here.

Photographs by the author.

"King of Bongo" - Manu Chao (mp3)

"Bienvenida a Tijuana (live)" - Manu Chao (mp3)

Monday
Oct212013

In Which Margaret Atwood So Impotently Loved The World

illustration by jason courtney

Old Fashioned

by ALEX CARNEVALE

MaddAddam
by Margaret Atwood
331 pp

I once knew a writer who created, in a series of novels, a charismatic detective. Over time he began to loathe his own sleuth, and dreamed of killing him. Something like that happened with Margaret Atwood in the ensuing years since her brash novel of the future, Oryx & Crake, induced a subgenre of speculative fiction. 2009's The Year of the Flood followed, and the trilogy is concluded with MaddAddam, out from Bloomsbury this year.

The inviolable, elusive Crake was her detective. There is still so much we do not know about Crake. What is certain is that he had parents, but that they died. His father was murdered by the government, and his mother took up with another man who Crake called his uncle. After this/because of this, at some indeterminate point, Crake decided to change humanity permanently. To inculcate his plan, he started playing a computer game online with some friends.

The singular invention of Atwood's novels is the existence of the Crakers, the homo sapiens spin-off that Crake made with his online friends in order to ensure Earth would be a better place for everyone to live. They are small, gendered creatures of mirth and happiness who speak to animals and feel no shame of their sex. Their genitals, penis and vagina both, glow blue in excitement.

In 2003, Usenet groups and stuff were recent history. Atwood updated the cultural references for the satire in MaddAddam, since the original corporate puns (Helthwyzer, AnooYoo) that constituted her ridicule were dated at the time she wrote them. The important thing is that we do and do not recognize our world in this bleak parody of it.

Usenet is old-fashioned like Crake, who played an online game called Extinctathon instead of a more fashionable tract. Atwood rewrote the story of Crake from the perspective of all the women in the novel in the next two volumes, shedding light on Crake in small mysterious scenes told by those knew him before. He was sort of a creep, really, but we cannot say that for certain, since there is still so much about those who made us that we do not really know.

The central figure of MaddAddam is a woman named Toby who knew Crake. The main thing about her that engenders our sympathy is her love for a man in their group, Zeb, and her rage at the possibility of his betrayal.

Toby's relationship with a Craker named Blackbeard is actually the central one. He appears to be her bedmate at times. (Humans and Crakers produce small, green-eyed offspring with blue genitals.) Blackbeard is a young Craker, the first Craker to learn how to write in the short history of the Crakers. He writes:

And in the book she put the Words of Crake, and the Words of Oryx as well, and of how together they made us, and made also this safe and beautiful World for us to live in...

And Toby set down also the Words about Amanda and Ren and Swift Fox, our Beloved Three Oryx Mothers, who showed us that we and the two-skinned ones are all people and helpers, though we have different gifts, and some of us turn blue and some do not.

So Toby said we must be respectful, and always ask first, to see if a woman is really blue or is just smelling blue, when there is a question about blue things.

And Toby showed me what to do when there should be no more pens of plastic, and no more pencils either; for she could look into the future, and see that a time would come when no pens or pencils or paper could be found any more, among the buildings of the city of chaos, where they used to grow.

And she showed me how to use the quill feathers of birds to make the pens, though we also made some pens from the ribs of a broken umbrella.

An umbrella is a thing from the chaos. They used it for keeping the rain off their bodies.

I don’t know why they did that.

This language is childlike, but it is not childish. It is the most fun to watch Atwood communicate in these ways, when it feels like she is rewriting language itself in order to speak more honestly. As Chesterton wrote, "Satire may be mad and anarchic, but it presupposes an admitted superiority in certain things over others." MaddAddam mostly abandons the hit or miss satire of Oryx & Crake, replacing it with descriptions of Atwood's improvements to Earth.

In MaddAddam, Atwood discovers a new standard, a better way of living. Here all the detritus that filled the streets and avenues branding, high level MMO play, government spying has been cleared out. Things really are better because of Crake, we come to understand, and that is a more bracing critique than a pun or the recording of a cliche.

Atwood's perspective demands so much of the world. She holds mankind to the same standard she holds individual people, which is a rather high one. Like all liberals she is not as concerned with the method of control so much as humanizing its victims. In disordered Earth she even hypothesizes that man might not even be the most intelligent species on the planet. (That honor belongs to Earth's genetically altered pigs.)

illustration by jason courtney

While some may find it a bit tiresome at times to relive all the ways Ms. Atwood finds our current predicament lacking, excitement levels increase substantially in her vision of what is to come. MaddAddam is a parable, and all parables tend to insist it is the darkest before the dawn. Atwood delights in the breaking down, futiley attempting to resist her own inner desire for an anarchy she finds both horrible and necessary.

Having Crake live over and over again through the eyes of those who knew him is an enticing thought; two sequels may not be enough. What about Crake's barber? Even though Crake's base psychology (revenge) was obvious, he was also a thoughtful God. It's obvious that Margaret Atwood would have better at being God than almost anything or anyone.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Lost Land" - Alela Diane (mp3)

Friday
Oct182013

In Which It Is Not The Most Beautiful Word In The World

Night Film: A Review

by SHAHIRAH MAJUMDAR

Night Film
by Marisha Pessl
624 pp.

Witness the novel as a madcap scavenger hunt, a magpie’s nest, a Chinese puzzle box with selected pieces missing, a video game in 3D unfolding in 2D dimension… It is a novel that speaks exuberantly — like a mash-up of Sorkin characters talking at once with great purpose and urgency. And Pessl herself, the author as tripmaster, hovers at its center, a slender figure with candy-hued hair melting softly down her shoulders like an L.A. sunset, the lilting kind that dissolves slowly as Sara Bareilles “Love Story” floats over the final credits. The characters are archetypes for the ages, a masquerade puppet show, a revolving door of doomed or romantic figures that shimmer for a moment — or sometimes, for that moment only, blot out all stars, snuff out all light — and then disappear, leaving only a whiff of something achingly human in their wake. 

And the narrative itself? A cipher, a sewer, a cut & sew spectacle of metaphor and IMDB facts and alternative radio references. The tics and tricks that make the cool kids tick.  In fact, you might have lost your virginity on just this sort of fractal fun-filled quilt. Not unlike Scott McGrath, our hero, our dear, disgraced ace investigative reporter for whom everything is at stake. Everything, including the love, the universe, Perry Street and more.

But, after all this, is it possible to remember what life itself, what narrative experience—which, after all, is nothing if not a scintillating synecdoche for the crystalline container of life itself — was like before you clicked through to that 624th page, one mind-melting sentence at a time?

Well. Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”


+

Let’s start at the beginning, although that’s not where Scott McGrath — a fine man, doomed by his own crack instincts to keep itching a scratch that just won’t crust — would begin, nor where Cordova — the shadowy auteur, “a myth, a monster, a mortal man” — would probably begin either. But we’ll begin there, because the beginning has a way of creeping up on you, like dandruff off that inescapable party guest who spends the whole evening soft-shoeing at your heels.

Everyone has an adverb story; whether they like it or not.

Maybe your roommate used three in a sentence, got an C on her essay, and never used one again. Maybe your boyfriend made you a DIY Valentine’s card full of fervid adverbial expressions, and you never talked to him again.

Remember what Steven King and Elmore Leonard have to say about the use of adverbs and adjectives? Adverbs, my assNight Film asks you to ponder the question: what it is like to be sucked you into a vortex of adverbs and similes and adjectives and syntactical constructions so twisted and tortured as to resemble Duchamp’s staircase no. 2?

There are lessons here. There are traps, which Pessl, our nimble tripmaster, has left visible for our own contemplation and, perhaps — if we can stare long enough without the light — even our eventual education.

Oh yes… Yes! (“The most beautiful word in the world.”) This is what it is really like to step into the darkness, to dive deep into a churning southern sea where “no mermaids sing,” where ye olde rules of good writing are just murky runes, spindrift on the wind, Navajo sand paintings drifting on a salty sea…

Clearly, your humble reviewer should have held off her fourth Scotch.

ms. pesslIt’s possible that Pessl considered presenting the book with no narrative at all, that, instead, she had the brilliant light-bulb-flash of the idea to tell the story as merely a mixed media collection of clippings from sources as varied as newspaper obituaries, blog posts, twitter feeds, text message exchanges, online messages boards — a veritable potpourri of materials as rich and varied as the detritus of modern life itself. It would be up the reader to the string the story together based on the clues contained between the twin wings of Random House pasteboard.  One can imagine Pessl’s conversation with her agent, the legendary Binky Urban.
 
Transcript of Phone Conversation –
Author Marisha Pessl
Agent Amanda “Binky” Urban
May 11, 2011. 11: 06 - 11: 11 P.M.

There is a long silence. Her voice is older, a little I’ll-take-Manhattan-grande-dame, with an undertow of New Jersey.

BU:     You know the book is dying.

Agent “Binky” is sighing strangely, apparently having regrets about this conversation.

BU:     Do you remember that I rejected you about 90 times before you were declared a wunderkind by the New York literati?

MP:     Yes.

BU:     There was nothing I could say. They sat, they read, they highlighted. They found you clever. The Times put your first book on their list of best books of 2006. You remember this? Or am I repeating things that you ought to already know?

MP:     Please refresh my memory, Binky. You know how I love it when you explain this inscrutable industry to me. You always reveal new layers, unspool underpasses to new dimensions.

BU:     James Wood thought he had vanquished hysterical lyricism to its lair with his review of White Teeth in the New Republic. He thought he had bearded the dragon and restored the old order of things.

A pause.

BU:     But he never reckoned on you.
MP:     So you liked the antepenultimate, penultimate, ultimate endings that I sent you?
BU:     They were a signal to me to break out of my lockjaw, real or imagined. Marisha—
MP:     That’s thrilling, Binky! That’s exactly the reaction I wanted! Listen, I want to run an idea by you.
BU:     What kind of idea? What, like a real estate investment idea or a narrative idea?
MP:
     Binky, what you said before is so true. The book is dead. There’s a revolution happening. It’s spot on. So here’s what we do. We give’em the Pessl special.
BU:     The Pessl special?
MP:
     The Pessl special is like a one-two punch.
BU:     Marisha?
MP:     What?
BU:     There’s something you do to metaphor.
MP:     Oh…

I wait for her to elaborate, but there is only silence.

MP:     Thanks, Binky. You don’t know how much that means to me. Now what did you want to talk to me about.
BU:     Stay the course.

The line goes dead.

+

Let us marvel at Pessl’s knowledge of pop culture; her love affair with noir tropes; her fondness for pastiche and palimpsest and parataxis; her lusty way with comma, italic, em dash, and (oh, that old favorite), the ellipsis … It’s a stormy orgy with which she gifts us. We sink, we sail, we swim into the darkness.

And, “just when you think you've hit rock bottom, you realize you're on another trapdoor.”

Then finally, with a hiss and a plash and a mermaid moan, the tripmaster finally brings this party back to the harbor, you are left with the sense of something unrequited. All goes black, and you are alone with the noise, the fierce and frantic static which you now realize — perhaps for the very first time — is only absence. Only nothingness. Only tricks that mask the blinding emptiness. 

And Binky Urban's quiet breathing. Nothing more.

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