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This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Thursday
Nov082012

In Which There Is Nothing I Can Really Say

My Life As An Object

by DAN CARVILLE

It was as stupid a piece of advice as I ever received when someone told me to do what I love.

You know those old cartoons where the eyelashes of women are so carefully managed they appear to twinkle, extend and shine? That is what I felt like in the world. Seeing anyone more than once was either too often or not enough.

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The last time I saw her she met me after a salon appointment. The fact that when her hair was viewed from the correct angle it substantially improved her countenance only added to the trauma. She looked bored. But then she said, "How's work?" and for a gripping second I thought that something more important hinged on the small talk.

After that, I knew the only reason she had come was because she did not know how to tell me no. She said, "Can you ask your mother something for me?" A moment later, she received a phone call from her friend. I never did find out what it was she wanted.

+

In Portland the shapes of the others changed, becoming more ethereal. I could stand on one corner and see something completely desirable, so much so that I felt like crossing the street, but never did. There is a politeness that restricts me from making a fool out of myself, and it constitutes a retaining wall impervious to anything except for lust and coincidence.

Waking leaves me in this same body again. So many have taken it in, pressed against it for one reason or another. Even if the number were only a few, the sensation it gives me now is inexhaustible.

Everyone that I know is thinking of another place to be other than the one they are.

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She had moved in with me on a Friday with the thought we'd have the entire weekend to ourselves. She only took the drug when she was alone, and she did not use at all until I came home from work on Monday. She was watching Adventure Time with a glassy smile. Under the influence of the drug her features became more refined, her body assumed an enticing flow. Of course she was more detached, I had to keep telling myself. Watching her, it felt like one part bled into another.

To write of this when I had not lived before with someone in this way still strikes me as bracingly familiar.

+

I read Susan's story, and it seemed like a nightmare and heaven in equal parts. She makes a kind of sense, but only a kind, like seven slices out of a pizza. I read Tropic of Cancer and felt like a scarecrow. In these last months I have learned to accept the wandering mindset, even let it infect me for a time. But I cannot imagine, even for a moment, their fantasies.

The words which trigger the onset of understanding are all the first ones I learned, and the last.

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I did not want to give her something to do. I knew that if she did well at anything writing, fashion, her relationships with friends and it went sour, it could come back on me. I might be blamed for it. When I told this to my therapist, a grim look came over his face. He said, "That is not very loving."

We argued a lot. I have heard that is not a good sign. We constantly went back and forth about sleeping arrangements. She was not comfortable at rest. She was lactose intolerant, but always drank milk in her coffee. It took her a month for her to say that she sometimes left our bed out of embarrassment. I bought her a dairy free creamer but she never used it.

+

When I talk to someone on the internet, I try not to construe them as a virtual, a computer program designed to respond to me and only me. I am shocked all I say will not be remembered.

I drove from Omaha to Austin with a wedding present in my backseat. I went from San Jose to San Diego; even up close the cars seemed like ants. Sensing the presence of another hinted at a prelude to intimacy, but in fact the reverse was true, or as true.

Do you like the poetry of Dr. Williams? Do you think that any of it is a lie?

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The drug would put her to sleep. I will not say what it was, not out of respect for her, but for myself. Whether that is loving or not, I don't truly know.

+

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In New York things speed up or slow down completely. Now, in the darkness, the others sit or stand. I can make nothing of strangers and to try to know them is a losing battle. I want them to know me, not the other way around. It's easier.

Whatever I did, I take it back.

When I go online, there is a reminder written in ink on my hand, twisted into a circle, but many-sided. The green icon, percolating like water on a stove. To step faster, per diem, and allow the change to render itself completely. Available.

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Two months before she left, when things felt like they had reached some kind of pleasant equilibrium, I bought a kitten. I know that's a dumb fucking thing to do. My therapist told me that I did not do this for her at all, but for myself as a reaction to the change.

She would use in the morning and fall asleep. By the time I walked in the door she was happy to see me. She wanted nothing more than for it to be the weekend. I came home one night and she'd prepared dinner, a task she had never shown interest in before. 

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In San Francisco, where even the wind blows mild in comparison, someone once told me that the way you could tell between a human and an automaton was the manner in which they held a book. I asked the man who said this what would happen if books disappeared and he said, "Do you have a Kindle?"

Running in place. Everybody does it. I hate that word, everybody.

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My therapist told me that there is nothing wrong with a personality shift if it is conscious. The only unintended personality shift that is positive comes from conditioning, whether it be in a military setting or a prison.

The cat died the third week we had her. First she went blind, and then she died. 

+

My mind feels sharper and I know that I am myself more educated, due to an increase of neurons firing in the brain. On one level I find this invigorating, filling me with the thought I have changed and the process by which others notice will, at the end of any given moment, start to begin.

When I do carry a book, I struggle to figure out how I should hold it.

Dan Carville is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in New York. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here. He last wrote in these pages about the moon.

"When A Woman Loves A Man" - Paul Kelly (mp3)

"Cold As Canada" - Paul Kelly (mp3)

Tuesday
Nov062012

In Which We Are All Basically Winners

My Scandalous Fantasy

by QICHEN ZHANG

Scandal
creator Shonda Rimes

Contrary to popular belief, I know people aren't really concerned with who's going to win on Tuesday. No, the million-dollar question is much more relevant to the general American public: who was the brilliant genius at ABC who cast Tony Goldwyn as the President of the United States, and how much of a bonus is this person getting?

Oh, Tony. So we gonna play it like that?

Scandal is one of those shows that would be ridiculous in any other historical context other than right now. Only during an awfully polarized and a mind-numbingly exhausting presidential campaign year could ratings for a glorified soap opera about the White House post-West Wing perform decently (it's just been signed on for a second year). Revolving around a — wait for it — scandal and a lascivious affair between the POTUS Fitzgerald Grant and his campaign crisis manager Olivia Pope, the show mashes together this strange political fantasy that somehow criss-crosses the British royal family's high-profile and inconvenient adulterous tendencies with the blue-blood backstabbing found in Americana, Republicana, Brooks Brothera stereotypes. Basically, all the things that I am afraid of admitting I secretly enjoy via choice, given the natural-born liberties that this free country guarantees me. So sue me.

"The Perks of Being a POTUS" by Jed Bartlet

Innocent or guilty pleasure notwithstanding, I consider myself a relatively informed if not arrogant citizen. But I will also admit that I'm one of those media and pop culture consumers that corporate marketers and "strategy consultants" love to capitalize on. I'll shamelessly believe not only anything Hollywood shoves in my face but also anything that gently wafts in my direction.

My inability to distinguish fact from fiction makes turning on the TV amazing and turning it off devastating. Even more so if it's any form of historical or political fiction. Took me three attempts to figure out why Downton Abbey was not returning any pins on Google Maps. (Sounds real enough, doesn't it?) I was equally distressed after realizing Julia Louis-Dreyfus did not win — nor run, for that matter — for political office. (Would've been a hilarious administration.) And to this day, I'm still living in a fantasy world in which Rob Lowe ruled this nation instead of Pawnee, Indiana.

If only.Scandal provides the same level of political make-believe as The West Wing did, but to a greater and more sex-driven extent. As gratuitously and physically provocative as I am making this show appear, though, somehow, it accomplishes this weird gratification of my primetime guilty pleasure with actual, unexpected finesse. Some detractors may say that it's just due to the visible fact that Kerry Washington and Tony Goldwyn make a ridiculously attractive on-screen couple. But am I that superficial, if not culturally crass? Well. Let's just say I wouldn't take an oath on it.

Hard at work leading America. Really.

Sincerely attempting to put Tony Goldwyn's silver fox virtues aside, I would say that my affinity for the show is based on elements more substantial. Pleasantly surprised by Scandal's relative nonpartisanship, I spent the first half watching the show's premiere wondering whether the writers were depicting a Democrat or a Republican administration. Ultimately, Olivia Pope's Goyard bag and the First Lady Mellie's bulging pearls told me what I wanted to know.

The fashion clues, however, did not deter me from tuning in the next week. In indulging in Kerry Washington and Tony Goldwyn's steamy (and pretty damn good) hotel sex scene, I was also pandering to another political fantasy — that I wouldn't have to suffer through more commercial breaks listening to robotic female voice harping about "China's cheating" and how Obama encouraged it. Or hearing more from Democratic PACs shake their verbal fists at Romney hoping to raise middle-class taxes so all of his rich friends could buy their wives Goyard bags and bulging pearls.

Just makes you wonder what would happen if Michelle Obama were photographed carrying a $1500 bag. With Scandal, I am happily and necessarily commiserating with other American viewers that we have had to withstand months of nasty and very public verbal abuse from the two most upstanding men our country supposedly has to offer. Literally, I haven't been this wound up since watching Tracy self-implode in Election, and at least that was fiction.

Remember that one time when you watched a teen drama post-puberty and realized how fortunate you were that you weren't in high school anymore? Yeah.

To some, sticking my head in the sand may be seen as cowardly. But if ABC is offering me a fictional POTUS who they created to be "earnest, but overly idealistic" AND is a Tony Goldwyn-lookalike AND who goes by Fitz during off hours? Well. Consider me checked into this Hotel Fantasy for the unforeseeable future with the biggest "Do Not Disturb" sign hanging on the door.

See you after November 6… or maybe not.

Qichen Zhang is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Cambridge. She last wrote in these pages about Up All Night. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. You can find her website here.

"Black Sonar" - Born Gold (mp3)

"Fires of Disappearing" - Born Gold (mp3)


Monday
Nov052012

In Which Ben Affleck Summons Good Intentions

Argo & the Myth of America

by SHAHIRAH MAJUMDAR

Argo
dir. Ben Affleck
120 minutes

The palimpsest of America’s history and the history of Hollywood illustrate how intertwined the two are in the imagination; how, in powerful ways, they are one and the same and that the myth of the movies is the myth of America: the myth of the hero, that the good guys win, that we are the good guys— and that, though the dark lands beyond us are wild, impenetrable, often unknowable, always we fumble for order, always we grasp for meaning, struggling to emerge as finer, stronger, wiser (if somewhat chastened) selves.

Argo’s opening scenes treat us to a history of the U.S. involvement in Iran’s (and Afghanistan’s) political affairs. Floating above scenes from the streets and the revolution, a disembodied female voice reminds us that the tangled skein of modern geopolitical conflict is shot through with American interventions, secret and overt. The voice itself is a warning – velvet but distant, a quiet survivor’s voice, the accent soft and radio perfect – inflecting nuance and understanding to the senseless scenes of militant students outside the gates of Tehran’s U.S. embassy clamoring for a kind of justice and baying for American blood (#muslimrage).

These scenes are intercut with scenes from inside the embassy: diplomatic staff, pale and hushed, destroy classified documents, hands shaking, fear blanking all emotion in their eyes. As protesters crowd the door, one man –a security guard – decides to be a hero. He’ll go talk to them. He opens the heavy doors in an attempt at civilized negotiation and the next thing we know – these scenes are supremely cut – a gun is to his head; now he is the enemy banging at his own gate. He is his own Trojan horse, punished for his naivety by becoming the entry point by which the militants enter the walls. 

It’s an old story to be betrayed by one’s good intentions, for one man’s sincere attempts at heroism to backfire in hellishly spectacularly ways. What’s interesting is the macro and the micro of it all: the man who breaches his own embassy doors becomes an emblem of America. The 52 Americans who are taken hostage for 444 days can be read as a metaphor – if an inexact one – for the many ways that rash American action in Iran, Afghanistan and beyond have led to further chaos and greater global bloodshed, and to a world that feels more unsafe for Americans to be American than it did before.

In the end, however, Argo is a Hollywood movie made by a big Hollywood machine, a big Hollywood star. There is redemption to be offered, a myth to be made, an audience to be assured and entertained, and the enduring figure of the American cowboy to be reified for new American generation. We must be astonished. We must have meaning. We must have our heroes and reasons to go on.

And so a movie whose foundations are littered with the bones of anti-heroes becomes a classic heist flick. The 52 hostages still in the embassy are put on the backburner and the story’s frame tightens around the six Americans marooned in Tehran’s Canadian embassy who must be extracted by Ben Affleck’s lonesome CIA agent: a man with a sad haircut but with a hero’s moral code. Also in the foreground are John Goodman’s Hollywood make-up artist and Alan Arkin’s movie producer. Both are classic types, brash but good-hearted, ingenious in that scrappy American-style and devoted to the idea of a challenge: to the fashioning of a triumphant fiction, however limited the tools. Together, our heroes select a real script (an intergalactic fantasy screenplay called “Argo”) and erect a fake movie, which will become the vehicle by which they whisk the six Americans from under the noses of the Revolutionary Guards.

A script is a powerful metaphor. When Affleck’s agent Mendez plucks “Argo” from the heaped piles of Hollywood hopefuls, it is a moment on which history seems to turn. Why this script and why not another? How, with one gesture, do we choose our fates? Once we set down that path, does it become inexorable? Is it possible to derail the narrative? Or is the script actually a thing that coalesces only in the rearview mirror? Always, all around us, we are choosing and following scripts, sometimes with, sometimes without knowledge of what we do.

When all the movie critics in all the movie rags talk to us about how Affleck the unremarkable actor has buffed brass to gold with his unexpected directing chops, that’s a script from a bag of tricks they have used before. When Mitt Romney talks to us about American exceptionalism, about how America is one of the greatest forces for good that the world has even known, that’s a historically resonant script from which he’s riffing. Obama’s election in 2008 was all about a script we wanted to write for ourselves as a nation. And the Wednesday morning after this election, we’ll wake up to another script about who we are as Americans and what kinds of heroes we envision and need.

In Argo’s script (Argo the Affleck film, not Argo the film within a film), Affleck’s character – our space age cowboy in the Middle East – has a choice to make. When best laid plans starts to crumble and the higher-ups say lets the chips fall where they will, when everything is stacked against him and everyone with power stands in his way, he has to make a decision to do the ethically correct thing. In one whiskey-fueled, dark night of the soul, he makes that choice, of course — though, cinematically-speaking, it appears to be largely dumb luck and Hollywood logic that make the fake movie-crew plan succeed. Argo’s finale is nail-bitingly tense, dense with action, finely wrought, and filled with all sorts of split-second timing decisions that — if they had gone the wrong way — would have led to failure and capture. But this time, when the hero makes the brave choice, no one can stand in his way.

You wonder how Affleck/Mendez’s decision is any different in nature than the embassy guard’s decision at the beginning of the film. The success of both are contingent on circumstances outside of their control. We are given to understand that the guard’s decision was absolutely mad – there wasn’t enough time, or prep, or forethought to make it work– while Affleck’s could lean on long, careful consideration and planning. Yet, qualitatively, we are meant to read both decisions as made on the basis of emotion: decisions made less with the head than with the heart and the gut. Neither man could stand to do nothing. You have to do what feels right. But one fails, and yet the other succeeds. We want to believe that there’s human verity to be extracted from the plan’s success: that there’s right and there’s wrong and that right will triumph. But the lesson from the film’s beginning is that sometimes the script fails us… And when that happens, what can we do?

A few days after I saw Argo, I spoke with a friend who had been young and full of fire in the 1960s and believed in the change that, together, we could bring to the world. She remembers vividly the hostage crisis and what it was like to endure day after day of not knowing what would happen, how it would end, of not understanding why it is that they seem to hate us so. She remembers this as a time when everything felt like failure, a time of great American anxiety about our sense of safety, and the good or evil we could do – or could be done to us – in the world.

Over 30 years later and this breakdown of mood and meaning feels as fresh as ever. Have any of the events that have since unfolded restored America to the longed-for position of hero? How do we help ourselves? How do we help this world be better? Can we, as individuals or as a nation, ever truly be heroes in the sense we want to be? When oh when will we feel safe again? In this age in which the enemies at the gate seem to have become more and more unknowable, is the choice between the script of electing Obama – the introspective guy with a sense of fairness who advocates diplomacy & understanding – and script of electing the hawkish, neo-con-tainted Romney even a choice that effectively makes any difference at all? The fact is that, not only do we have fewer horses and bayonets, but we have fewer cowboys and more (and more dangerous) Indians... Only we call them terrorists now, and they call us the same. (As an American-born Muslim who grew up half here and half in a troubled, insecure Muslim nation, I don’t know how to reconcile who is “us” and who is “them.”)

The film ends with an ode to heroes. There are homecomings. There are medals. There is an elegiac voiceover from Jimmy Carter as a final bracket and a parade of a child’s Star Wars figures that texture the frame. It’s an odd choice — but perhaps what it tells us is that there are no lessons to learn. Perhaps there is no sermon in the suicide. Perhaps the world is arbitrary and Luke Skywalker only a figure limned in plastic. Even when we isolate where things went wrong, how we could have done it differently, is understanding just a story we tell ourselves? And, even if so, isn’t it still a story that must be told? In the end, we turn inward and Argo is about us: about American subjectivity (in fact, there is only one Iranian character, the lovely Sahar, who is granted any subjectivity at all) and how we try to make sense of our place in the world.

If the film asks a lot of interesting questions only to elide them in favor of mostly feel-good answers, what of it? We have our movies, our Hollywood, our myths: the America that endures forever in the rearview mirror. The irony is that it is, after all, Hollywood – all those silly movie people with their foibles and tricks – that offers us something redemptive, that does what a hero does by allowing us, if not to transcend history, at least to transcend ourselves.

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 a premonition of enlightenment.

"Future Past" - David Bazan (mp3)

"Strange Negotiations" - David Bazan (mp3)