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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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Monday
Mar112013

In Which We Do Not Care If They Are Smug About It

Never What You Think It Is

by SARAH WAMBOLD

I am not a lover of crowds. Or networking. Or the hype. So I have never gone to AWP. I don’t mind every community having a national gathering to celebrate themselves and I do not even care if they are smug about it. I am not originally from Austin and because of this I have never felt like I could really be critical of our own crowded, networking, hype-fest South By Southwest. Plus I end up participating in some fashion and always enjoy myself without ever buying a badge or a wristband.

This year I decided to start my South By experience earlier than usual, attending a panel entitled Platforms for Haunting: The Talking Dead. I occasionally contribute to my friend Caitlin’s website about death and dying because I want to open a funeral home in Austin and I thought this would be a good thing to write about.  I was happy this panel made it into the festival; I started imaging really smart conversations about what death looks looks like in the 21st century, particularly with technological intervention.

SXSW interactive badges started at $695 and mid-festival can be picked up for $1150. Music and film badges mid-festival are between $650-$800. The Interactive festival goers are the tech-world’s finest or its hopefuls. Many of them have start-ups. Most of them are men. A few of them paid for their badges with their own money. Regardless, they all understand the internet and how to share information on it much better than the rest of us.

I received a free t-shirt on the train downtown because I listened to a promoter explain how to use a rewards card for Belly. I have no clue how to use it and I never got the e-mail I was promised would explain it.

When I got to the hotel ballroom where the panel was being held, I realized I had a half an hour to wait and decided to enjoy the river view from the hotel’s TGIF bar. I eavesdropped on a group of pilots having a most disgusting conversation about bathroom malfunctions mid-flight while they got bombed on ‘ritas and Miller Lights. 

I took my time because I knew I would have to wait until all the badge holders got in. I knew this from all the times I went to film screenings or music shows without a badge or wristband-you must wait until those who paid more have gone in and if there are still seats, regular folks who merely bought tickets are granted attendance. As I trudged up the steps to the ballroom, I saw there were many miles of rows of seats still open. I crossed the threshold into intellectual superiority.

Two steps later I was greeted by a lackluster SXSW volunteer who promptly told me Interactive is different and you don’t get in anywhere without a badge. WTF and beyond? "Because they are so expensive," he said.

As this kerfuffle happened at the door, the panel started to talk death. “I should be in there!” I think. So I hover near the door to listen in. All was not lost!

John Troyer introduced the topic and mentioned how they want to explore ways to connect the present with the past through technology. There were about 20-30 people scattered throughout 200 seats. Two girls rushed by me, flashing their badges only to realize seconds later I am not a volunteer, just a grunt with no cred.

The first panelist, Tim Cole, described his work. Something to do with mirrors and historical spaces and using the mirrors to see ghosts or something while they film or photograph it. I could not quite make out the details as I straddled the threshold between the educated and total darkness.

Lucy Heywood, the second panelist, took the podium. She spoke louder, so I caught her telling the audience that she loved old things for their stories and liked them much more than new things but was excited by the possibility in new things. She also prefers non-digitized archives and her work tries to make digital archives as much like the real thing as possible.

At that moment a man in a red GoogleDocs jacket walked up and asked which panel this was.

“Death,” I said in a low tone.

“Death,” he whispered back wearily, “It is death.” He flashed his badge and reluctantly entered.

Ms. Heywood was still talking about her idea, which from my dim perspective looked like a microfiche reader but had a slower pace, like looking through a real archive. Just then, GoogleDocs jacket appeared again, this time with a friend, both looking relieved, nearly running out the door and down the steps.

I asked the slack SXSW volunteer if they might be recording this so that I might be able to listen to it for free on the internet.

“I have no idea,” he said, complete with an eye roll and head shake.

Now the fourth panelist spoke, who I believe was David Kirk. I could hear him slightly better and I made more of an effort because I liked what he was talking about. There is a toxic man-made lake in Slovenia underneath which is 500+ bodies who were put there after the Red Army slaughtered them during WWII. There were some survivors, who returned to the spot and attempted to mark the surrounding trees with symbols indicating it is a bad space. Mr. Kirk’s project sought to commemorate the space and digitize it. From the slides, it looked like a sort of walking tour of the mass grave.

Finally Mr. Troyer began his portion, which was just like his TED talk which I had thankfully listened to before so I did not have to endure any more peasant embarrassment while the nobles talked on.

I left the hotel and walked back toward the convention center wondering how I would ever write about the panel accurately. I could barely understand what the discussion was about. I gathered that people seem to bristle at digitizing death. Each of the historians gave disclaimers of using technology in the most respectful way possible or insisted they loved what is old. They all wanted the past to come alive again.

I decided to just cobble some information together and put it on the internet, where other people who couldn’t attend could access it and maybe think differently about death and run with it.

Sarah Wambold is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Austin. You can find her twitter here. She last wrote in these pages about Grant Wood. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

Photographs by the author.

"At Midnight" - The Besnard Lakes (mp3)

"And Her Eyes Were Painted Gold" - The Besnard Lakes (mp3)

Saturday
Mar092013

In Which We Take Off The Gloves

To The Touch

by GREG AMELIAN

"My first week on the job," Samuel told me. "I can't forget."

They had transferred my new partner a few weeks earlier, but Samuel had been forced by his previous department in Algonquin to take all his unused vacation days before showing up for work in Botter.

Samuel stood considerably shorter than me, but he would not turn his head up to my face; it was not his habit to do so. I was forced to stoop slightly to make any eye contact. His eyes examined me in turn, but never really met mine. The sun bounced off his bare head.

Samuel explained that he had been paired with an older officer who had a bad reputation in the department as a sort of hazing.

I asked the man's name but Samuel would not reveal it. "I shouldn't," he said. "He would not want me to and I am not like that." He ran hands covered in soft, leather gloves over his scalp.

At that moment we got a call about a domestic disturbance south of the river and the story suffered from an interruption.

The offending man was large and drunk, and had to be cuffed and transported. I should not say it this way, but I was shocked by Samuel. For one thing, he was maybe the most agile thing I had ever seen. Possibly I'd observed a cat as quick as he was at some point, I cannot say for sure. But he moved fast, and always knew exactly where to go. And he was strong. When I saw him lift his foot in the air and put this muscled individual on his knees I have to admit I was smiling.

But he made no mention of this display over lunch at a Sbarro. (They know me there, and I wanted him to see how others treated me.) Finally I decided to see if I could get him to talk about it. Casually, I moved my arm across the table, catching his mug of coffee enough to topple it to the floor.

Without even looking, it seemed to me, he caught it. And from his face, when I moved it into view, I suspected he was about to let me in.

He told me he was a Jew, and I said that I knew it, someone had mentioned it to me. His face drained of blood, so I said, "My wife's Jewish. That's probably why they said it." He relaxed some then, but resumed his already irritating habit of rubbing his scalp with his gloved hands.

"There was a tornado in Norwich last year," he said. "Maybe you had heard about it." I said I had seen it on the news.

"It's not really tornado country," he said. "I don't know if I've ever been to a place that was. We were, like most of the department, poking through the wreckage. Looking to find anyone who might have been trapped. The smell was incredible."

I nodded.

"It never blew away," he said. "Sometimes it filled my nostrils when I woke." I told him that I understood, and after a few moments he continued.

"There was a home that had not been decimated as the others. Downed trees filled the yard certainly, and the corpses of birds. But the home still stood, even when those around it did not, and the gate leading to it had been torn off its hinges."

By this time we were no longer in Sbarro. I pulled the car into the most scenic spot I knew. It overlooked a small lake.

"For obvious reasons it was the last place we went. My partner knocked on the door, and when no one answered, we opened it. It was unlocked, you see. Once we went inside, we found that it had locked us in.

"My partner began to panic. He would not stop pounding the door. Finally, he slumped against it while I went off to look for another exit.

"Nothing in the house, so far as I could see, had even been disturbed. The smell of death that had been following us that week had disappeared. I called out but no one answered.

"Finally, I descended rickety wooden stairs to a basement level. It was splendid down there."

"Splendid?" I said.

"Magnificent," he said. "It was a den as some men have, maybe even you have. The den where the first man slept. But everything - the bar, the pool table, the chairs - was painted a brilliant shade of gold."

"The Midas touch," I said.

He laughed. "It was not actually gold, you see. Simply the color of it. At the rear of the room, an older man, perhaps five or ten years older than yourself, reclined in a rocking chair. I called out to him, but he did not answer. When I took his pulse I found he was still alive, but most likely unconscious. I could not move him by myself, and he did not seem in any immediate danger.

"I thought to make my way back to my partner. It had been a trying few days, and Jim was not a young man. That is not his real name."

I smiled.

"I began to ascend the stairs, but I had trouble balancing. I felt light-headed, but I slowly made my way back to the foyer and the front door. I told Jim what I had found and suggested we carry the man back to our car. Getting an ambulance was unlikely, we might have waited all night.

"He agreed, and we went back downstairs. I was not feeling myself still, but I did not want to show it, and have Jim expose my weaknesses in front of our peers when we returned to the office."

With a motion of my hand I stopped his story.

I said, "You found you could lift the man in the chair by yourself, I suppose."

He only stared.

"I noticed it when you came into the car just now. You weren't paying attention when you opened the door." I indicated the passenger side door. "You almost ripped it off its hinges. Look at the damage there."

He apologized and fell silent. I told him to take off his gloves. He did not.

"It's communicated by touch," I said. "You touched the man in the chair."

"Yes."

"When you came back, was the man in the chair already dead?"

Samuel shook his head. "He was still breathing."

"I noticed you took off your gloves to apprehend the drunk we cuffed this morning," I said. "How long does he have?"

"He abused his wife," Samuel said. "You must know that's why I did what I did."

"I suppose it's one reason you did it," I said. "I suspect you can't go very long without touching something. Your old partner - how long did he live?"

"He never found the exit of the house," Samuel said, and started to weep.

I fought the urge to console him, to take him in my arms. "It's all right," I said. "It's all right. It doesn't matter now. It doesn't matter at all."

Greg Amelian is a writer living in San Francisco.

Paintings by Pham Luan.

"The Waiting" - Angel Olsen (mp3)

"The Sky Opened Up" - Angel Olsen (mp3)

Friday
Mar082013

In Which We Flee The Masters

Savoir Faire

by MICAH RUELLE

“This is an artificial environment,” the professor told the class. “Generally, you all work alone — most writers have to. It’s unnatural to shove all of you in a classroom and have you work together for three years.”

This sentiment has acted as the premise of an argument against Master of Fine Arts Programs. It follows that fine art programs might force incompatible writers (unlike the Beats or The Inklings) into murky waters, diluting individual talent. The romantic in me couldn’t help it, though; I looked around the room at the faces of poets I was sure to see in nearly every class for the next three years.

But I was wrong. I wouldn’t be looking at those faces for the next three years. Two months ago, I left an MFA program in southwest Texas — and no, not for the sentiments above, or for the politicized reasons that Franz Wright and others have against graduate level fine arts programs. I left for “personal reasons” according to all my recent applications to entry-level and retail jobs. A month before starting the MFA, I had just finished a year of intense theological studies in the U.K. and was burnt out before I even started an equally intense course.

I signed my letter of resignation and finally began the break I needed. Christmas break proved to be a reflective time. My thoughts returned to the program — the various writers’ readings, literary magazine meetings, workshops, parties, and dinners. The longer I thought about it, the more I came to realize I had been uncomfortable for most of the program, but I wasn’t sure why. Over the next few weeks, I’d run on the trails by my parents’ house in Kansas. I’d been running the same paths for years, on and off in between school breaks and summers. The familiarity allowed me a safe space to process.

A week or so of running had gone by when I finally narrowed it in: my social dynamics with the writers was nothing like those that I had had with my friends from undergrad, nothing like the other non-profit workers I had assisted, nothing like the theologians I had trained with, nothing like the painters I had lived with, and nothing like my childhood friends from my hometown. My relationship with the writers bordered on enigmatic, but with enough banality during the academic work week to hold the levee.

“Saving face” is a term that is used both in the U.S. and the U.K. For Americans, it’s a term used to reference the act of trying to preserve pride or the pride of others in the heat of a humiliating moment. But the British seem to have a more all-encompassing use of the phrase. For them, it does reference maintaining dignity in embarrassing moments, but it’s also a particular stance or attitude toward social circumstances in general. If you’ve watched any Downton Abbey or have read any Jane Austen, you can see how “saving face” is embedded in social interactions between characters: Mr. Bates concealing the bullying he endures by the house staff in season one, or the secrecy that Darcy preserves until the accusations against his character are made by Elizabeth. The characters that are able to absorb and conceal information are likely to do well in their lives in general, and seems to be an essential quality to earning the trust and respect of others. Perhaps I had witnessed more examples of “saving face” than I had realized prior to starting a masters program, but it seemed to saturate every social circumstance I had found myself in with the writers.

During one of the first MFA parties I attended, I drank too much because I was nervous and like a stupid minor, locked myself in a bathroom till I could sober enough to conserve an ounce of dignity to rejoin the party. When a fellow poet found me, I apparently instructed them that despite whatever state I was in, I was not to be left in the same room as a certain individual, a predatory-looking fiction writer.

My friend later told me that he used our exchange for a poem in his thesis and, “hoped it was okay.” I nodded, and felt weirdly flattered. At least I was disguised as an animal. However, I didn’t begin to question the ethical complications of using real-life material from genuine relationships and transferring it to art until I read my own words on the page of someone else’s poem. I had been quoted while on the phone during a very vulnerable confession in the midst of a panic attack that had long been warming in my consciousness and had finally erupted. At least the quotes weren’t cited. (Ironic, no?)

The social dynamics between all of us felt odd enough. At parties, what could’ve been simple questions and general musings felt like a continual set-up to gather more information. It’s only when you are speaking with a poet or writer that you can doubt the motives when they ask you, “Can I see your room?” It could be a pass. But, for all you know they are cataloging items, a color palette, and essence of a living space for a potential character. For the record, in both interpretations, I advise the answer to that question be “no.”

To the former situation, you need only read a little of Sylvia Plath’s bio to begin to see that romantic relationships have trouble surviving the battle of writerly egos. (Also, see the marriages of Hemingway and Gellhorn, along with Fitzgerald and Sayre.) Not to mention the running tagline, never directly expressed, but understood: the MFA is where women go to get divorced, and where men go after they’re married.

As for the latter, the creation of a private space is essential for sanity since the writing will continue to oust you in workshops. Preserving a space is, more than anything else, an act of self-preservation. Once, a few years ago, I had visited an author’s home. He had placed a baby-gate between a room and the dining room. When I was about to climb the gate that I assumed was for his kids, he gently stopped me and said, “I’m sorry — I don’t let anyone in my writing space.” It’s a view that, as eccentric as it sounds, I am beginning to understand. The need for a physical and mental space that was mine, that I could measure somehow, never felt more necessary to construct.

Herein lies the complexity of an MFA program: writers extract ideas for characters, situations, dialogues, experiences, etc. from real life to inform (consciously or unconsciously) the creative process of making their art. While out in public, writers can observe and take mental notes anonymously and discreetly. However, when writers are amongst each other, the carnivorous pursuit for raw-life material can be sensed during exchanges after workshops, at parties, and before and after readings. Writers understand that they are watching and being watched, and in an MFA, this experience is looped. Artists understand that their lives are free game to other artists, which means that we are all in the line of fire of having our quirks, speech patterns, facial expressions, and behavior converted and used for someone else’s art.

It’s not all bad though. I know I am making us all out to be a brood of vipers. And we’re not. Well, not all the time, anyway. After you have just sent your writing to the workshop slaughterhouse, they’ll offer profound feedback, usually accompanied by a beer. And it’s not limited to hard times, either. One of the most profound moments of my life occurred rather inconspicuously at MFA Halloween party this last year.

The hosts had been generous, constructing Martha Stewart inspired creepy-crawly snacks and concocting an alcoholic punch that almost glowed in the red hues of the lights. Nearly all the guests came in full-costume and a six-pack. If you had driven by the house, you would’ve spotted a cowboy, Wonder Woman, and Annie Hall all smoking on the porch while an intoxicated Bumble Bee stumbled up the steps. Since my Stepford wife dress proved defenseless to the cold, I camped out with Ke$ha and the cat on the couch to keep warm. I was just starting to unwind from all the hype and was standing in line to use the restroom when a very sloshed Buddy Holly found me. Prior to that evening, I could only account for one moment when this friend had been vulnerable with me, despite sharing classes and free time on the weekends. So it came as a surprise when he put his hand on my shoulder, and gave me one of the most profound compliments I have ever received about my work. It is one of the few compliments I have accepted fully, as an almost-prophesy. And it has since acted as a source of encouragement as I continue to work independently.

Despite my reservations, I hope one day be able to reenter an MFA program when I feel ready. But, what I miss already is the thrill of being amongst people that love — foolishly perhaps — but completely, the same thing I do. One night at a party, a writer pulled a book of e.e. cummings off the shelf and after the first poem was read aloud - we were all clapping and screaming for more. I’ve yet to see this happen during an art gallery, university, or bookstore reading. Where is all that joy hiding?

A week before Christmas, I got a whiff of what my life would be like post MFA when visiting a bookstore with a friend I had known since junior high. The 2012 Best American Essays was on display, and in my excitement said, “Hey, maybe I should buy it for my dad.” She laughed and said, “Who would want that?” I was surprised. My friend is a knowledgeable person, and someone who supports the arts. She, herself is an artist - a painter who studied art in college. After the initial surprise, I felt a sudden sadness wash over me. It hit me that my social circle had been small, and that there had been a familiarity in it. We had been a bunch of loners, grouped together artificially — maybe more like a pack of sardines than any kind of family, but it had been dysfunctional and strangely nice. I had been one of ten other people who would’ve at least entertained the thought, and maybe would’ve leaned over to me to say, “Yeah, a book of essays is a great idea.”

Micah Ruelle is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Austin. This is her first appearance in these pages. You can find her tumblr here.

Photographs by the author.

"The Next Day" - David Bowie (mp3)