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Alex Carnevale

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Mia Nguyen

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Brittany Julious

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.

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John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

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Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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In Which We Are Prisoner In Downton Abbey

Mourning Sex


Downton Abbey
creator Julian Fellowes

For the most part, two people always belong together. Sometimes, they do not, and whenever you see them, you know it. Instead of getting that sticky, reassuring feeling on your right hand, you get that nauseous, disgusting feeling in your mouth and anus. Once when I was campaigning in New York I saw Lindsay Lohan with her tongue on a pole like in A Christmas Story. That was the only time I can recall there being a grey area.

For many months, I can admit that I did want Matthew Crawley and Lady Mary to get together. I hated Matthew's wan, blonde girlfriend Lavinia. She had no hobbies except for staring at Matthew and she seemed vaguely embarassed to be taking up with a barrister. Her hair was a fucking disaster. I'm pretty sure she gave Sir Richard Carlisle a blowjob in his office. She was not the right woman for Matthew, but now I can conclude that neither is Lady Mary.

the saddest honeymoon wardrobe in all of England!

If you have someone upstanding in the culture, their partner must in some way bring them down to earth, degrade them. Matthew cannot possibly degrade anything. When he urinates, it's absolutely clear even if he is dehydrated at the time. (The English make a point of drinking water only in tea, grapes, or pastries.) Lady Mary's sexual history consists of a brief run in the sack with a Turkish prince. She can hardly have asked any probing questions about the act while her mouth was bound.

Downton Abbey barely addressed Mary's past sexual history at all. When Matthew is overly chatty in the bedroom, Lady Mary is like, "Go on then and kiss me before I get cross." Jeez, Mary you're in your underwear, I would hope you don't have to ask your new husband to show you affection. (Unless "cross" is a British euphemism for lesbian?) "It still feels wrong to be in your bed," Matthew tells her the next morning. Uh-huh.

you taste like old money, Lady Mary

Here are some of the grim facts about the lovemaking of Lady Mary and Sir Matthew Crawley of Downton Abbey:

- He places a single box of Juicy Juice by the bedside to replenish his fluids

- He can't say the word sex, because it's been mixed up into too many legal definitions in his work. He says "lovemaking," or on rare, less formal occasions, "fisting."

- He refers to cunnilingus as "sawing down the old tree."

- Instead of using a safe word, Lady Mary tosses a scone in the air when she feels uncomfortable.

scones all over the floor

- He shakes the loose bodies in his elbows (gained in combat during WWI) around like maracas during orgasm.

- Lady Mary's keenest delight is licking the blister on his writing hand.

- He is vaguely unsure of the meaning of the word "poignant," so after orgasm he looks out at the lawn and says, "Very poignant lovemaking, Lady Mary." Or, "Very poignant fisting, Mary." (It is customary to omit the title in such circumstances.)

more excited for the car than anything

Whenever I see these two lovebirds onscreen, I audibly gag. They are wrong for each other. It's a Jodie Foster/Hotel New Hampshire situation all over again. I didn't realize it because the macabre cloud that was Lavinia Swire obscured and obstructed my view of the truth. There is romantic love, and there is familial love, and these two have got it completely mixed up which is which.

Perhaps their relationship could approach a kind of realism if it were not for the issue of money. Downton Abbey is suffering from deep financial losses, and will have to be sold. Matthew Crawley has, at the same time, inherited his second massive fortune as a result of an outbreak of malaise in the Swire family. There should be conflict, because he refuses to give any of it to his own family. His wife naturally wants him to use the influx to save Downton, but he refuses out of principle.

Matthew's attitude does seem slightly ungrateful, because the Crawley family was legally forced to give all their money to him. When they had it. There's a joke about the amount of money Joe Biden gives to charity here, but I'm determined to rise above all that.

The take-away is, Downton will have to be sold. Such a state of unrest has pitted a variety of allies against each other, mostly in the serving quarters. The message seems to be that while the upper classes come together in times of tragedy, the servant class is undone, like watching their parents get divorced.

lady edith and sir anthony strallon sharing a joke about croutons

But who cares about all that, when there is the burgeoning relationship between Lady Edith and Sir Anthony Strallon to think about? The only thing better than having Lady Edith give chaste kisses to a guy with his arm in the sling was watching her break up other's people's marriages. I'm not sure what the end of the story is here - possibly Sir Anthony Strallon will reveal his first wife's body, laid out on his bed like a mummy. Maybe he collects them, I don't know.

The important thing is that Shirley MacLaine is finally off the show. Her rude-American act was so completely over the top it was impossible to buy into at any point. She offers Lady Mary vacations in Newport and New York, as if anyone could seriously vacation in Newport after living at Downton Abbey. There is no American, no matter how rich or uncouth, who could upset the Downton apple cart. The whole thing just made me think less of everyone, like when I saw Jeff Kent and the girl from The Facts of Life on Survivor.

NEVER speak that way about Lord Grantham again

Still, those are the only bad things on Downton Abbey. For the most part the show is on far better footing than it was when Matthew was magically rising from his wheelchair at the end of last season. The vignettes concerning Bates' stay in prison are absolutely hilarious; Dickens has never been satirized so completely or well.

An entire season of making us think that Bates may have actually murdered his wife should have really been spun off into A Great Escape-type TV movie. The problem with that would be they would have to cast more than one other prisoner. After learning of Downton's imminent financial collapse, Bates is so shocked he says, "I wouldn't have thought anything could touch me in here." Bates, there's one other prisoner and he's deathly afraid of you. Your wife comes to see you every other day, this is not exactly Riker's Island.

might be time to finally read that book Moseley gave you

What Downton has never had, and what it requires now, are children. The problem is that all of the Crawleys are in some significant way impotent. Why else should there be such a paucity of heirs? The TV ratings of any show will drop if you don't refresh the world with some new blood, and they have dropped in the case of Downton Abbey, proving once and for all that it's always dangerous to remind any empire of its own mortality.

This could have all been avoided if Sir Richard Carlisle had just been a teensy bit smoother. All he had to do was publish an article in his newspaper about how marrying your cousin is wrong, for example, and casually had Lady Mary read it at morning meal. For some very unlucky people, life seems like an elongated breakfast.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is the former vice president of the United States and a writer living in an undisclosed location. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here. He last wrote in these pages about Boardwalk Empire.

poring over the Kama Sutra

"Revenge of the Flowers" - Malcolm McLaren (mp3)

"In the Absence of the Parisienne" - Malcolm McLaren (mp3)

he looks like a mole


In Which We Remove Ourselves To Iowa

The Right Word


Ellen says we’re taking an extended vacation from New York.

We’re on vacation with our books and our beds and our furniture. We’re on vacation with renewable yearlong leases and nails in the walls and energy bills and stocked pantries. We’re on vacation with Hawkeyes tank tops and New Pi Co-Op sweatshirts and the coveted t-shirts they sell at Wal-Mart that say, “What Happens In Iowa City Stays In Iowa City.” Any time in a bookstore will tell you this isn’t true at all, but it’s a sentiment I can’t help but admire even if, for the first time in a while, I’m not doing anything I feel compelled to hide.

Most days, it is just me and my unrelenting body, which wakes me up earlier than it ever did before, and refuses to be overridden by any of the old sedatives: whiskey, Xanax, late night talks. I get out of bed and make a cup of tea and sit down at my desk. What I’m working on is very boring, even to me, but the beauty of what happens here, the equation that delights me daily in its simple formulation, is this: there is nothing more interesting happening at this hour anywhere in Iowa City, so I might as well stay where I am, in my oversized t-shirt and last night’s unravelling bun, typing until I can’t.

The desk where I work in these hours is situated between two walls of windows. When I sit here, cross-ventilated tunes float in from the sorority houses nearby: “Tonight’s! The night! Phi Beta Pi!” drifts in from Washington Street, while the girls on College Street sing, “Build Me Up Buttercup” in a complicated canon. I don’t mind it, not in the way I sometimes used to mind the slow squeal of the M8 bus, the clatter of sidewalk café cutlery.

I idle my time in new and different ways here. I used to spend half of every Saturday roaming Union Square, comparing bunches of greens at six or seven farm stands, searching for the most colorful carrots or the right kind of apple. I would spend evenings drinking gin at bars, or consuming wine and pasta at someone’s house, and I’d wake up a sort of paralyzed the next day that was a little bit hung-over, a little bit something bigger, a kind of paralysis born of too much pleasure: how could I possibly top the day that had preceded the one at hand?

It’s a quieter hedonism here, time spent chatting New York when I should be revising, reading the books I like instead of the ones I’m supposed to, cooking elaborate meals precisely to my own taste, doing translation work rather than tending to homework. As for writing, that open secret of a thing I’m here to do, despite all the days it feels utterly unbearable, it is its own kind of hedonism for me. But, I think, that was never not true.

There are no bodegas here, so I make my own breakfast sandwiches. I also kill my own bugs, page absentmindedly through my own phone book, and scream FUCK at myself when I reach for the pot without mitts. I portion leftovers into Tupperware for lunch, pack Luna Bars to eat on class breaks, lug my groceries up the hill. I sweep meticulously while I talk to my mother on the phone; dust absentmindedly while I check in with my dad. They call often because this is my first time living all alone. There’s the one toothbrush in the bathroom, the one half-gallon of milk in the fridge, the one person responsible for turning the deadlock, shutting off the lights, setting the alarm.

I leave my shoes in the bathroom, let the trash linger a day longer than it should. I congratulate myself on not throwing clothes all over the floor, as if that serves as some real accomplishment. I sleep with the fan on, its sound of artificial bustle lulling me from wakefulness. Ellen says the sound of the bugs outside at night make her think she’s at some country oasis. They make me think I’m about to get murdered. “Iowa City is very safe,” my landlord assures me.

I’m in Iowa but what I didn’t say is that when I first got here I thought I might be in love with someone far away.

It was a surprise to me as much as to anybody. I hadn’t said that phrase in a few years, not since I began to sense the futility of those kinds of declarations in the face of real, manifested love: the nights you stay up touching a person’s forehead while they panic and veer, peering at the back of their heads through hospital curtains as they watch their parent fade away, riding through the Badlands with them in a car full of arguments to which there are no solutions except for that there you are and deep down there’s no one with whom you’d rather be fighting. The things you might think to say in moments of excitement are nothing next to what can’t be said in moments of grief, of anger, of fear. Those three famous syllables hold very little. They are, in their compactness, too small to contain the half of it.

And yet I allowed myself to consider that maybe I could be in love with someone. This seemed unlikely, but so, of course, was the very fact of being here. Anything is possible somewhere new. For a while, at least, all bets were off. Why not Iowa? Why not love?

As with any questions you hope to remain rhetorical, the answers eventually made themselves known.

I think of time differently now that it is in such abundance. It used to be units; now it’s a landscape. There are hills, peaks, valleys. It’s lavish and freeing and completely cruel.

I whittle away afternoon hours downtown at Prairie Lights, where I sit in the upstairs café translating for extra money. Translation is just as much a feat of words as everything else I do, but it allows me to access a different part of my mind, the part where the stakes are low and it’s just for money. I miss things being just for and about the money: everyone acts like there’s an impurity to that, but lately it seems simpler. I want more than ever what is quantifiable. I am interested in what exists on a scale outside of the one inside my head.

For just this reason, everyone I know here runs. We jog around Hickory Hill Park in tees advertising our undergrad institutions, trying to give ourselves an activity by which to judge the day that is not just writing, miles and minutes instead of a word count or one of the many other less objective ways of adding up what you have done: the good sentences, the structural failures, the rotten, unsalvageable mediocrity of the okays and in-betweens.

At night I walk over to Ellen’s house, through the alley and around the white clapboard bend of her house to sit with her on the front porch. All I have with me are my keys, phone, and a mug. I used to believe that the only possible manifestation of physical freedom was a 24-hour public transit system, but it turns out my feet are more reliable than the L train. We watch the rain from Ellen’s porch swing, talk about dying trees, talk about books we’ve read, talk about friends who are far away. You have to talk about them so you don’t lose them, but you have to talk about them, too, so that you don’t get submerged alone in your memories of them.

Those friends write me e-mails from New York saying, “You’re not missing anything.” What I miss is the people writing these emails, but they can’t know their own absences; we are all doomed to inhabit our bodies until we don’t, and until then we can say, “I miss you too,” but we can’t know what it is like, precisely, to be missed. One friend can’t possibly know the way I miss watching her chop onions while we’re cooking dinner, sliding the knife inward with the assurance of an expert; another can’t know how much I wish to hear her immensely endearing, “It’s me!” when she rings my buzzer. I thought it’d be the big things, the buildings and noise and neverending list of things to do, but instead I miss most the quiet details, for instance catching the occasional blue-skied swath of Broadway on a clear, sunny day, the kind that could take you by surprise in spite of yourself. 

This isn’t to say Iowa is without its charms. You can, for example, go to a bar and order a cheese sandwich with everything, which really just means a cheeseburger, hold the burger.

And there are moments of what Ellen calls Iowa euphoria. These occur when you find something as good as or better than you could find in New York. I find Iowa euphoria in the triple-dipped caramel apples at the farmer’s market, at night when there’s a bite in the air and I careen home from the bar with limitless energy, scrambling up the hill on Governor Street. At those times, stumbling up deserted Iowa Avenue, the joy is amplified, seems to bounce in waves off the frat houses and come right back at you in greater force. In those moments of euphoria I think, This is it, this is really what it’s all about. I know enough not to ruin things by asking myself what “it” actually is.

A question I do allow myself to ask is how long this pleasant sense of impermanence can be maintained, how long the thrills of the Midwestern safari will endure before they come to seem normal: the “POP HERE” recycling bin label you have to read twice, the jarring “WHITEY’S ICE CREAM” sign, the throngs of undergrads unanimously clad in yellow Iowa gear as if under contract. I think often of what might happen when this is over — the age I will be, where I will go, who will be waiting — but I do not think about what will happen in the years between, the unavoidable changes that will take place, the ones within me and without, the ones in my head and on the page. Here, in Iowa, the central pleasure lies in how easy it is to take one day at a time, to not think too hard about what comes next. The days, even as they grow shorter, are long; they pass quickly.

Lucy Morris is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Iowa City. She tumbls here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about turning the dials.

Photographs by Jim Dow.

"You Get What You Give" - New Radicals (mp3)

"Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too" - New Radicals (mp3)


In Which Neither Of Them Had Seen It Before

Experience the archive of our Saturday fiction series here.

Your Pawn


Q: What do you think about when I mention the idea of self-expression?

A: I picture something closing, then opening again.

Q: You were the third of four children.

A: My mother worked as a veterinarian. She loved animals when she began her practice; by the end she was completely indifferent to them.

Q: Can you suggest a particular incident or anecdote to illustrate that point?

A: Yes. Self-expression... it isn't that the concept itself is a fallacy, it's that what we usually think of as self-expression is actually more like lies which benefit us the moment they are announced.

Q: I have noticed you are fascinated by what something isn't.

A: You're right. It's a problem I have.

Q: Do you mean an actual problem or is that simply a flip statement designed to ward off future questions on the topic?

A: I honestly don't know.

Q: When I was thirteen I was taking a bus to visit my father. Tunneling through some bad part of town, I saw a family roasting an animal on a spit. It was a cat.

A: That's not what I call self-expression.

Q: Do you dream?

A: Only when I have had too much to drink.

Q: For the rest of our conversation, I want you to speak without using the verb "to be."

A: All right.

Q: For the rest of our conversation I want you to speak without thinking of what I will think.

A: My father worked as a physician. He never developed my mother's indifference. He spoke often of his patients. Posssibly this was unethical, I always felt in my heart that it was unkind. When he hugged or kissed me I felt in his embrace that the act meant something but perhaps no more than it meant for him to shake the hand of an acquaintance.

Q: Go on.

A: He always seemed impossibly old.

Q: That word "seemed." It is overused. Be careful.

A: It refers to a perception.

Q: It's not as if, comparatively, he was young.

Bird with Truck and Pawpaw, 2009 Marian Drew

A: My mother's 68 now. She looks a decade older. When I visit her, I have to remind myself the person I knew left some time ago.

Q: It is the same person. Numerical age means nothing except insofar as we adjust our own behavior. It's all preconditioned.

A: Why do you lie?

Q: A nightengale, for example.

A: A bird.

Q: One can never exactly know how old it is. (pause) A moment ago, you used the word "is." Before that, "was." Just because you used a contraction doesn't mean I did not notice.

A: When I have had. Don't. When I have had too much to drink, I begin to anticipate my dream, hoping for certain things it might contain. The idea that how old something is does not matter is an invention of the old and the young.

Q: In my dream, a white lion went down on all fours. She screamed in agony. A bird in flight caroused back and forth, slamming down a forty. The lion shuddered and arched her back. The bird ceased its flight. The lion's front paws turned into licorice. The bird began its ascent.

A: If you were the bird, it means you're going to die someday. If you were the lion, it means the same thing.

Linda Eddings is a writer living in Brooklyn.

Dusky Moorhen with Chinese Teapot, 2008, Marian Drew