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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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Friday
Dec272013

In Which We Write An Unanswerable Letter

Dear Girl

by VICTORIA HETHERINGTON

Dear child of undetermined sex:

This is Mozart – here, I’ll bring my belly close to the speaker, a shiver of cold contact, there – his Soave sia il vento, yes, it’s vibrating all through me and through you. Listening to Mozart is like running a comb through my brain. You won’t know yellow or red, the ecstatic whiteness of the sun through leaves and over water or the remarkable formation of ice on black branches, the full-body sensation of roast beef sandwiches when you’re ravenous, or lips on your skin. But you feel the vibrations of Mozart, and maybe the sensation of cold when I’m outside a long time, and the itch of heat while I drowse by his fireplace. He says don’t get attached, but how can that be? You’re neither asleep nor awake but alive, growing helplessly and amazingly on whatever I ingest – however you lie in my amniotic sea.

Dear child of undetermined sex:

Here’s how you erode someone’s love for you, your love for them, the love between you both that – not unlike a child – throbs with life: you lie still when he begins roughly kneading your breasts with frustration, and indicate that you feel nothing aside from guilt. You chastise him for snapping at you and inform him he’s difficult and testy, though when you were happier you deftly elevated him, and felt pride in understanding him better than anyone else. You say, wearily, that his limited emotional intelligence is wearing you down. You ruin a winter walk in the icy dark, the snow under streetlamps illuminated in beautiful colors; you begin shivering and focus on the limits of your body, you wish the rabbit crouched near the frozen pond could make you feel something. You say so, and watch him stifle a sigh.

You realize that you’ve been a loser all your life – a wealth of evidence glows in your memory – and you’ll become more and more of a loser as you go. Just like your fucked-up father but far worse off because he’s a man and a baby boomer and had the goddamn world at his feet as your mother used to say, long after she’d had her decade of giving up and had come out the other side. Your face will fade and by 40 you’ll be invisible, unhirable, the seeds of pariah-dom your father sowed within you and your mother didn’t bother plucking the poisonous shoots from will grow around you entirely, the vines are already curled around your wrists. You voice this to your companion, who is expected, he knows, to be really empathic and understanding about this development, instead of exhausted. When he finally cracks and tells you there are people in the world with real problems and demand you tell him what’s so wrong with your life, you laugh and tell him OK you get the picture, you’ll go home, as soon as you get back to his place you’ll gather your stuff, and you’ll go home – but for now he’s stuck with you. Poor him.

You’ve gotten a little fat and you don’t shut up about it, and watch the rabbit twitch its head and lope towards a larger tree, and you think if you had to live the life of a rabbit yeah it’d be hard, but at least you’d be skinny. You think, if I walked into traffic right now and got killed it might make the news and a lot of fuss would go into saving my life, but who cares? I’m just one animal, and a terrible one: I’ve used so many resources and given back very little, and now I won’t even allow myself to reproduce. You walk briskly into the street and feel the relief of the dark, of the pavement – no ice – and he yanks you back, screaming. You scream at each other. You suddenly stop screaming, stop speaking, stop looking at him and curl gently down, lie down on the slushy sidewalk and become immediately soaked. Might the squirming life within you register cold, might it flip or twist faintly, might it shiver? He looks around quickly, steeped in sudden social agony – you recall, from the ground, that he hates humiliation more than anything.

You feel heavy sobs come out of you, you start wailing, you shriek like that rabbit might in the jaws of a dog – horrible, horrible the thoughts you have. Guts and dying. Violent, violent thoughts. One day your father will die. This is how. This is how: he loves you so much that to ruin your love, you must become completely unrecognizable. But you know the truth: this is the real you, it’s just taking over. You’ve always been sick, haven’t you?

Dear child of undetermined sex:

I realize I’m addressing you as a girl. I’m addressing you as myself. I’m being hard on you, I was imagining you imbued with all my neuroses and crevices and sex spots worn threadbare and brain spots rubbed blank, with the crusted-over gashes and heavy milky bulges I nurse and pick at, not yet born but curled and ready to adopt them as soon as your lungs open and dry, born into them without a prayer of becoming anything else. A girl. Already I resent you, but I feel for you too. If I’d begun addressing you as a boy I’d become coy and a little distant – halfway flirting and halfway maternal – an arrangement of ciphers, nothing of me. It’s dangerous to ascribe you humanity but I can’t help but think: so you’re a girl – or at least, you would be. Could have been.

Just now I was pitying myself through pitying you, but at least I’ve been alive. Even the bus ride to the clinic had its pleasures. Even the dreary repetitions structuring my life aren’t repetitions at all, every morning is new and my will and that of others makes them newer still. Despite the nurse’s tone and her tiredness her wrists glittered with rhinestones, and his phone vibrated in his jeans as if the outside world was nudging us along. Even in the clinic there were reds, there were yellows. And knocking against the window an icy, dripping bough.

Dear girl,

I was sitting on his couch, and he had his arm around me but twisted up, with his hand pressing my head to his shoulder. The TV is flashing in front of us, and between us and the TV a bag of ketchup chips sit half-eaten, and I am locked against him and cannot reach them. I felt a deep pain like hunger – amazing to have different pits of self, one full and one empty – but even if it’d be OK for me to move, I’d know not to reach for the crinkly bag. He’d understand this eating as dutiful maternal fattening, eating for two, which is contrary to our decision.

A news story comes on and I forget about chips: just this afternoon a woman of about thirty had run staggering from a home, clung to a postman and hadn’t let go. She’d been kept in a heavily insulated basement for thirty years, it turns out, deprived of everything except for what her twisted captor brought her in on grimy plates. And I can’t help it – though you’ll never know different, you won’t in fact know anything – you have a face now and it’s that woman’s face, her eyes squeezed shut against the unimaginable brightness of day, shaking and clinging to the postman’s big body like an impaled matador struggling for breath. I ask him to turn off the TV.

Victoria Hetherington is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Toronto. Dear Girl is an excerpt from her novel manuscript I Have To Tell You, for which she gratefully acknowledges the support of the Ontario Arts Council. You can find her website here. You can find an an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

Paintings by Vincent Giarrano.

"Don't Smoke In Bed" - Peggy Lee (mp3)

"I'm A Woman" - Peggy Lee (mp3)

Thursday
Dec262013

In Which There May Always Have Been Trash In The Yard

The Second Story

by JOSIANE CURTIS

My mom doesn’t go upstairs anymore.

The entire second story looks disheveled and crowded and lonely, as if the contents of an unorganized attic have spilled out into it. I expect that my old bedroom would look unlived in but hers, too, what used to be hers, is like an overgrown garden. A junkyard. Things I can’t find in any of my memories litter the ground – literally, not like scattered but littered like trash, unwanted things thrown where they don’t belong. Two old mattresses, one propped up against a wall and one sheetless on the floor. Empty baskets and board games and stacks upon stacks of tired books. The blinds on one window hang crooked, a tapestry haphazardly draped across the other. In the bathroom, the showerhead drips and I wonder how long it’s been dripping. Days? Years? I haven’t been back in years, and so, maybe.

And outside. In the movie The Lion King, Simba runs away from home after his father is killed. Eventually, he returns to the pride lands, and where he remembers a lush, green kingdom, the landscape is black and barren. There is no food. The animals that remain exist among leafless trees and charred bones.  

I drive up to the house about four p.m., and even though four p.m. this time of year is late enough to wash everything in the golden light of the setting sun, it just looks sad. Dry and dusty. Mostly sad.

This is partly a symptom of winter, I know. But it isn’t just that the trees are bare and the bushes of flowers that once lit up the sides of the driveway have all gone brown and dry. Everything is out of place. At the top of the driveway, in a ditch to the side of the gravel road, an empty fish tank greets you before the house comes into view. There is a crate on the front porch with what looks like car parts and a half dozen half-drunken Snapple bottles, the color drained from the labels. There are discarded pieces of furniture and appliances that I’ve never seen before. Four wicker chairs are barely balanced on top of each other, legs skewed outward at odd angles, and I’m sure they never fulfilled their duty as chairs, at least not at this house. A dresser that appears to have once been white, the wood now splintered and paint peeling and parched, is leaned up against the pump house, with another crate of trash and trinkets atop it.  

Vultures circle overhead, and that’s not even a Lion King reference; that is the dirty fact.

I feel most sad for the stained glass windows. My mother built the house herself, for herself. She designed it according to the life she had planned or at least for the future she imagined. She gave the east wall to her bedroom so the sun would kiss her awake in the morning and she would dive into the day instead of pulling covers over her head. She placed the stained glass windows where they could create sunsets across the walls upstairs from dawn until dusk. The second story makes me wonder what else in life is like the question of the tree falling in an empty forest. I know that designs still dance across the white walls of the staircase, across the carpet of her old room, but for what? For who?  If no one sees them, are they still beautiful? If no one lives in it, is it still a home? How do you define alive?

This has turned into a place where things and people are discarded and forgotten. Things and people fall and stay fallen. There are no kings here. Who will pick it all up?

+

My mother can recite the addresses of nearly everyone in her extended family at the drop of a hat, down to the zip code, but she can’t remember the conversation she had with me five minutes ago. She tells me the same three stories over and over for an hour; the one about the dog fight, how she lost her credit card, the reminder to pick up my brother on my way back from Berkeley. I know, mom. Every time there is a moment of silence between us, she jumps to fill it by restarting the story she finished a few moments before.

When I am gone, I carry around a guilt so heavy that knots grow like gnarled tree roots across my back and shoulders. Every time I make plans to return, I tell myself things will be different – that I will be different. I will be better. Kinder. Lighter. This is a story I tell myself over and over, forgetting all the times I have told it before, and it wasn’t true then either. Then I am here, and I try to talk to her and I feel like I am having a conversation with a goldfish. Then I am here, and I am overwhelmed and guilty and scared.

Is this why I write? Because I am afraid that one day I will stop making new memories? How will I even know when it’s happened? Will there be someone to smile and say, in a more gentle voice than my own, if I am lucky - I know, I know, you told me that already - ?

I wonder if it things are really as different as I think they are. Maybe it’s just that I’ve changed. The house is smaller because I am bigger. Or, maybe I notice things now that I wouldn’t have noticed as a child. I’ve wondered about this before, too. Did my mom actually start getting sick and sad when I was a teenager, or is that when I started being able to see it? Maybe there was always trash in the yard; maybe my memory already betrays me. How would I even know?

I watch the stained glass displays for as long as I can, let the light burn itself into my mind so that I can, if I am lucky, remember what 10 a.m. looks like inside that stairwell, and two p.m., and six. And I know there is something flawed in me for pitying the loneliness of these inanimate objects while speaking to my family from separate rooms, for wanting to comfort the house, running my hands over the rotting wood of a door frame while pulling away from my mother’s touch. For coming and going, and being always glad about the going.

I shower before leaving, after waiting for water to recall the climb upstairs through atrophied pipes. The water is rusty at first, but it is hot, and the showerhead is inches above my head so I don’t have to bend my legs or curl my back to wash my hair. I can look up into the falling water and let it pour over me, and forget for a moment, or remember, where I am. The showerhead is high because, like me, my mother is tall, and she built the house for us, and that, there, is something I miss.

I turn the faucet all the way off, wait for quiet to be sure, and leave.

Josiane Curtis is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Portland. She last wrote in these pages about walking through the rose garden and getting close to someone. You can find her twitter here. You can find her website here.

"Home" - Oliver Tank (mp3)

"Different Speed" - Oliver Tank ft. Ta-Ku (mp3)

Tuesday
Dec242013

In Which We Traded All Our Thoughts In For An Hour Of Sleep In The Snow

Tinseltown

by DAN CARVILLE

for D

You asked me, picking at your lower lip, did I see you as a person or a woman?

I guess what bothers me the most, besides you retching when I told you the score, is how you said you gave up on people. It was not for you to decide that bit of business. I had all this faith in you. I know now that it was not faith in your desires, but only faith in mine. The way I love you almost appalls me, too.

Since that day, I saw again an image I cannot forget, of a round window there in a place that I know. I always search for myself in it, as a fool looks for what he remembers of his own face in the mirror.

You said you were below a bridge, looking out on the canal. Your throat closed (you had pertussis last year). I credit you for this everything in the world that deserved to be taken seriously, you gave it that allowance. But you did not laugh a lot.

I know I sometimes go on and on about reflections. But I really only love them when nothing is reflected, and I get to thinking, whatever might belong there. Is that now a sadistic way of looking at the world? That is what you said to me. You did not admit you wronged me, lied to me, destroyed the feeling there.

I have never forgotten anything either. I only pretend to so I can seem more like other people.

Slipping away from the city, all the trees shed their lights when the train swings near. Place aches, so I will not go to any of ours again, half-hoping to find you swiveling your neck to absorb the next scene. Within the frame, one man calls to another, hidden beyond a door. God, you said you loved the chaos. I tried to forget that, and here it is.

We talked sparingly of my true theistic beliefs. You see, I do not care who views me praying for you, or against you. When a person does not care where they are going, only with whom they have been, it makes a sorry sight for any decent deity. I have to admit I am the one who did all this, tracing a new pattern over the old. It resembled the original too closely, I see now.

I grew to trust the writing advice of Derek Lam when he was first my instructor, and then my friend. I showed him some of these lines, especially the one where you did not realize what you had managed. He said that the second person, used it in this way, was so overdone. He'd had enough of the editorial, worldly You. Who gave these writers, he said, the right to make their primary subject all of ours as well? I told him this struck me as a kind of disturbing fastidiousness to one particular part of speech, and I also mentioned that he didn't know you.

That address comes before the invention of self, incarnate in us all. It reforms speech as the primary act. Calling to a person so radiates truth, because I would never lie to you, my darling. (See how this statement excuses both of us from culpability?) Calling to a woman is no different. In stockings and tights, denim or polyester fleece, the sullen take their bows. I looked for you there, among the carollers, thinking I had heard your gravelly voice.

There is a Manichean residue on what you touch, as well as the oil from your hands.

A laminated card, or a picture shifting out of its frame. A half-eaten sandwich that resembles the skull's refractions in brightest light or unexpected darkness. A ramshackle, bouncing strategem. Rumors of insanity in final days, last strokes. A telescope tripping on its legs.

I showed someone else the things you said. "She was probably just confused," my correspondent wrote, "don't you ever feel that way?" I said I did about various things, including bocci and Old Maid. A moment later my phone rang. The voice on the other end of line said, "You can't understand why a person would be wary of someone who is never confused, or at least not very often?" I hung up the phone.

The thing about the second person is, 'you' constitutes the highest form of address. It will always be what we call a king, or a queen. You (you) can never take that away from me (again, you). In the border wars of Apollonia, men would bring their wives to see the fight, and the fight to see that they had wives. I have been party to this general type of thing before, but never as completely as when you exposed who you are to me.

I should not have listened so closely to you.

Take, for example, a capsule. Sealed inside, a daring pilot knows nothing of the world he enters. Each cadet is equipped with the same rations, the identical equipment. Of maybe 1000 pilots, one or two turns over the possibilities within the fragile walls of his enclosure. He emerges from it like the rest, but what he sees will be different from his fellows. The place he has come to is not unfamiliar.

I told all those pilots that they also didn't know you, not like I thought I did.

A couple of days before I told you to go away you sent me some pictures of yourself. I nearly did not recognize you because you looked so unhappy in them. The light I saw was only my own light, and the stars their reflection.

Imagine how the world would be completely changed if only everything limited itself to one chance. Or don't, but that is how I plan to live out my days. It is as you said. From high enough up, they all look like ants.

We always have a right to defend ourselves. I hope you are done, and that no one heard you.

Taking another form (not the tu form) comes beset with danger; this vibration of language is what gives time all its legerdemain. On occasion, I prevented myself from turning towards you, where you sat, arraying your things around you like the function of a light disorder. You showed me the inside of the capsule: exactly what was foretold when the man wrote, "Not to be pulled in." Pressing indistinctly on the high cheekbones of your face. You could hardly call such a thing beauty.

Dan Carville is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Brooklyn. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here. He last wrote in these pages about the falcon and the angel and the light in the trees.

Paintings by Albert York, photographs by the author.

"I Couldn't Say It To Your Face" - Ben Sollee (mp3)

"Monster Love" - Goldfrapp (mp3)