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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
Jan072013

In Which It Used To Be The Only Bar In The Neighborhood

On Repeat

by JEN GIRDISH

"Your Hand in Mine" is a slow burn. A few ascending notes from a shimmering guitar build into a patient, but deliberate, melody. Over 8 minutes and 16 seconds, the song crescendos into fuller, brighter chords, adding more guitars, cymbals and drums. It sounds like the sun coming out on a day when you weren’t sure it was going to.

According to my iTunes playlist, I’ve listened to the song over 170 times, adding up to one thousand, three hundred eighty seven minutes of my life that I’ve devoted to a single instrumental track. That’s nearly 24 hours devoted to a single song by a Texas post-rock band called Explosions in the Sky — more if you could count the unarchived listens on vinyl, CD, or the times that my husband’s computer was closer.

I listened to "Your Hand In Mine" right before I walked down the aisle, while taking long baths, while I write, after I got laid off, walking home from the Metro. I included it on a mix CD for my grandmother's 92nd birthday on a gamble that she’d like it, and we could talk about it like we once talked about the last man she kissed before my grandfather.

+

I listened to "Your Hand in Mine" on repeat on a plane to Boston a few years ago. Right before takeoff, before I could slide my phone into airplane mode, a friend that I rarely talk to on the phone called to tell me that our mutual friend Alison had fallen waiting for a bus in New Jersey. “She just collapsed, she’s dead.”

I promised to call back when I landed in Boston. The woman sitting next to me handed me an aloe scented tissue, and I closed my eyes. As soon as the seatbelt sign went off, I pressed play and tried to process the words: New Jersey, collapsed, and bus stop.

Alison was 28, and was five weeks away from graduating from Brooklyn Law School. She was coming home from a class project, and “she just collapsed.” She had not been sick. She didn’t have a previous medical condition. Her only known ailments were lactose intolerance and a shellfish allergy. She was in New Jersey, she stopped breathing, and she fell to the ground.

I sat on the plane, with my knees digging into the folding tray, and I hoped that what I had heard was that she had collapsed but was going to be fine. Or, that she has collapsed but only might die. Might is better than nothing. I begged to whatever kept the plane in the air that there was a might.

She wasn’t, of course. She was dead when I got to Boston, just as she had been when my plane took off from the BWI runway.

I listened to the song again alone on the fourth floor of the Boston Hilton, on top of a billowy duvet in room that I didn’t pay for. I was there for a conference with no one to talk to, no one to hold, no one there who would understand how this was the last person anyone expected to die. I listened to the song as I shopped for funeral-appropriate shoes, and wondered why all black shoes that are worth wearing pinch your toes. Then I listened to it again on an 8 a.m. train to Penn Station, as I noticed that the zipper on my indigo wash jeans had broken. I sat down in the window seat, and I wondered what Alison would have done to fix them. I pressed play so I wouldn’t have to keep asking.

+

Explosions in the Sky will never spawn a thousand think-pieces. They never make the top of the Pazz & Jop Poll, but when they play Coachella their name gets the second or third-biggest font on the poster. They’re solidly midlist. Though I've lost the colonialist appetite to claim a favorite band or a favorite song, "Your Hand in Mine" is always the right song.

It’s incredibly accessible. When we talk about accessibility in music, it’s usually meant as synonym for commercial, fluff, not complex, minor, sentimental. Whatever connotation that word has for you, I mean accessible in the most straightforward way. It’s hard not to like the song. It’s pretty.

+

I met Alison through a few mutual guy friends who were just as afraid of sentimentality as I had been. Alison and I latched on to each other, and joked about forming an alliance, because we were often the only women at the table. She and I had been the type of women who were used to being friends with guys, and celebrated it as if it set us apart.

We were both only children, and judiciously deployed eye rolls. I had never seen anyone else use humor to diffuse tension so deftly. When we ate brunch, it was often in silence — she did the crossword, and I read a book. We would rage over gchat about the newest proposed anti-abortion bill, and complain about the underlying misogyny in that week’s Times trend piece. We mourned the boys we had crushes on who didn’t like us back, and we distrusted the ones that did. She knit me fingerless gloves, and I bought her a teal, 1970s Olivetti typewriter. I was occasionally her emergency contact. I learned how to use her EpiPen in case she ever came in contact with lobster.

We lived less than a block away from each other on 13th Street in a Washington, DC neighborhood that was a lot like us: full of anxiety of what we were turning into. When I’d walk home at night and see her light on through the balcony window, I’d call her to make sure she didn’t fall asleep on the couch.

“Don’t tell anyone, but I’m watching a special on the myths and truth of Indiana Jones,” she would say. “For the second time.”

And I never told.

+

Explosions in the Sky’s second album, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever, was in the class of albums released right before 9/11 that suffered from unfortunate parallels. Beyond having “die” in the title, and “Greet Death” as the first track. And though the cover is a reference to the Angels of Mons who protected the soldiers during World War I, it does have an angel guiding an airplane. The liner notes have the inscription: “This Plane Will Crash Tomorrow.”

Truth’s follow-up was called The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place, and that’s where Explosions in the Sky broke from the pack of late nineties post-rock and came into their own sound. After The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place, you could hear music that sounded like Explosions in the Sky, and for the first time that didn’t mean warmed over Mogwai or Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

+

You could say that Alison was my emotional emergency contact. The night I found out that my father died, I called Alison before anyone else.

Instead of listening to music, we sat in a bar that used to be the only bar in the neighborhood, next to the door in case I needed to escape. It was midnight, but she didn’t let on that she cared how late it was.

My father’s death came after a decade of anticipatory grief. His heart valve was calcified and inoperable, he was too stubborn to give up the things that were killing him, and it was always only a matter of time.

Hugging was not Alison’s thing. She bought beer, encouraged me to take small sips, and listened. She let me say ridiculous things like my father is the only man who ever loved me.

After I ran out of things to say, she looked at me and said, “It’s okay if you just need to be sad.” That’s the moment I no longer thought about myself as a girl who was mostly friends with guys.

+

In its eight-something minutes, "Your Hand in Mine" manages to capture the transformation of grief and hope. It seems to understand that the earth can shatter in good ways and bad ways. Like a good essay, the song allows you to fit your emotions in the space between the guitars and the marching drum patatattat. Is there anything more simultaneously hopeful and aching than the sound of a marching pattern on a snare drum? It literally asks you to put one foot in front of the other.

+

A month before Alison moved to Brooklyn, I cut the shallow part of my finger — right near the knuckle, down to the bone — on a piece of broken picture glass. It was a cut that could have gone either way. I could have put a bandaid on it, and it would eventually stop bleeding. Or I could have run screaming all the way to the emergency room. I called Alison, and she was in my bathroom in five minutes.

She came with bandaids and gauze, simultaneously Googling “knife wound” and rolling her eyes at me. She helped me clean up the wound, and she asked if it was okay for her to go ahead and put the bandaid on.

“I might need a mantra,” I said as I looked at the thin, flap of flesh that was barely hanging on to the rest of the finger. “I seem to have forgotten mine.”

“You think you’re Jeff Goldblum in Annie Hall? Stop it. Just say that it hurts.”

While we were deciding whether or not I needed to go to the hospital, we went to dinner. We called her mom. We ate pasta and drank wheat beer with notes of coriander. I kept lifting up the edge of the bandaid to see if it was still bleeding, which would only make it start bleeding again.

On the way home, she flagged down a throng of nurses who happened to be on their way to happy hour, in full scrub attire. She convinced them to stop on the corner of Mt. Pleasant and Irving and look at my finger.

“We normally don’t do this,” they said, but they did anyway because Alison had just received her letter of acceptance to Brooklyn Law School on a full scholarship, and there wasn’t a person that could tell her no.

By the time my finger healed, Alison was already living in Brooklyn Heights.

+

I sidestepped Explosions in the Sky for years because of my distaste for the first wave post-rock bands they were compared to. Had I known that the band was named after fireworks and it wasn’t some kind of moody machismo reference to war or destruction, I might have listened to them sooner. I might have listened to Your Hand in Mine while I still lived in Austin. I might have listened to it driving down South Lamar, and then I might have fallen too much in love with the city to leave, and I might not have ever met Alison.

+

After my father died, I overheard a woman in a grocery store tell the check out girl that she could only listen to power ballads after her mother died. Whitesnake’s "This Is Love' was blaring over the speakers. The check out girl nodded blankly and kept popping her gum.

I started avoiding music aggressively. I didn’t want to be that person listening to Def Leppard and oversharing in the Less Than 12 Items aisle. I wanted my grief to be dignified.

I became so afraid of not listening to power ballads, I thought about them all the time.

I read that Coldplay frontman Chris Martin had written "Fix You"  after Gwyenth Paltrow lost her father. This fact burned a hole into my head. I didn’t want anyone fixing me, I didn’t think that I was broken. Or I didn’t want to be broken.

If  "Fix You" was a modern day power ballad in disguise, were there other power ballads hiding in my record collection? Was Kip Winger hiding behind Isaac Brock’s crusty flannel shirts?

I felt like I had been grieving for my father for ten years. I wanted to something meaningful with all that preparation. I didn’t want my grief to be average or accessible. I had already taken all the AP classes and wanted the college credit.

+

When Explosions in the Sky stopped trying to sound like other “critically acclaimed” post-rock bands, they started selling more records, got licensing deals, and composed scores for films. In other words, they made money.

One version or another of Your Hand in Mine is featured on Friday Night Lights (the movie, not the TV show), Paul Blart: Mall Cop, a Jennifer Anniston/Aaron Eckhart vehicle Love Happens, a documentary called The Street Stops Here, a Reliant Energy radio and TV ad, and The Weather Channel.

People who seriously listen to music prefer Godspeed to Explosions in the Sky, but I find Explosions easier to relate to these days. Those who love Godspeed say they excel at expressing the extreme emotions in life—terror, existential dread, overpowering joy. Explosions take a subtler approach, aiming for catharsis by evoking a joyful possibility, or channeling loss. Their music is like that proverbial Chinese character that means crisis and opportunity.

+

I was my father’s emergency contact. I got the first phone call from the hospital. I decided who should know first, and what happened next. I controlled the narrative.

When Alison moved to Brooklyn, I was no longer her occasional emergency contact. I was at least several calls down the relay chain. My instinct was to spread the news, to take charge of the information, but I had no idea who was left to call. I couldn’t remember the names of her friends in law school. I wasn’t in charge of the next steps.

When you stare down the barrel at grief for a second time, you assume that you know the ropes. You assume that you understand the order in which things will happen next, and you tell yourself having an order makes it more logical.

That is just something that you tell yourself in order to keep going. Every grief works in its own pattern. The only thing you can predict is that mourning will always be a slow burn.

+

There are 10 seconds of silence at the end of "Your Hand In Mine." When you listen to the song on a loop, you have 10 seconds to feel, to know, that the song has definitively ended. It’s not a pause — it’s no glitch.

When you listen to a song on a loop, the idea is to keep the melody going, to not break the feeling. It’s an obsessiveness, a vigilance of not letting a moment die as long as you can. It’s not about keeping the sun coming up again and again; it’s about not letting the sun out of your sight.

Those 10 seconds of silence make it impossible to keep the song as one infinite track. No matter how many times it loops, there will always be an ending. There is nothing you can do to keep it going. But that never stops me from trying.

Jen Girdish is a contributor to This Recording. This is her first appearance in these pages. She is a writer living in Washington D.C. You can find her website here. She twitters here.

"Human Qualities" - Explosions in the Sky (mp3)

"Let Me Back In" - Explosions in the Sky (mp3)

photo by Michael Eastman

Saturday
Jan052013

In Which We Notice Something Odd About The Whole Scene

The Houseguest

by ISABELLA YEAGER

It wasn’t long after Ian died of an asthma attack that he started hanging around my apartment, asking me if I could check out books from the library for him and complaining that he was hungry and bored. It was fine at first but when he realized during the introduction to Swann’s Way that he couldn’t turn pages by himself I realized I’d taken on something I was maybe too busy to deal with at the time. We got him working on being more self-sufficient and he would sit in the windowsill in the evenings and do solidity exercises. Eventually though he began to have sneezing fits that he attributed to exposure to dust caught in sunrays between the hours of four and six p.m., so he started spending time before dinner lying under the bed in the dark.

I found out he was back when I woke up one night with what I thought was a bad case of dead hand. My arm was flung out over the edge of the bed and felt cold and numb and tingly. What I didn’t expect was that when I wiggled my fingers around to wake it up and blinked into the dark room I’d see Ian standing there, orblike eyes and a stomach full of my forearm. Later he said he’d positioned himself in a ray of moonlight so that I was more likely to see him.

“What the hell are you doing?” I asked. We both thought this was stupid. He asked me if I had any milk in the house. I reminded him that I was lactose intolerant and he said he was sorry to have forgotten. I said it was fine.

After he died Ian’s parents had moved to Minneapolis but no one had told him. He wasn’t sure whether he should write to them or call and even less sure that he was prepared to travel. I told him he could stay at my place for as long as he wanted and then it was just like old times for a while, since Ian had spent most of his time at my apartment in life and hadn’t been very social then either. He had always liked to read and was neat as a pin. These things were the same.

During the days after he’d relearned how to make a physical impression on the world around him, Ian worked on some experiments he was doing in physics and sent me to the library with a list of books on light and the cosmos that he wanted for his work. He didn’t really explain what he was aiming at but some nice things came of it. One of his favorite tricks was to spread his body thinly over the entirety of the kitchen window, which faced east and got great light in the morning, and make refractions on the wall opposite – colors I haven’t seen anywhere else. Another time I found him compressed neatly into a Ball jar with the lid sealed. We didn’t talk about it.

He took to gardening a few weeks into his stay and I picked up a copy of Audel’s Gardeners and Growers Guide to Beautiful Flowers – Successful Cultivation, Propagation. He noticed a week or so in that he had quite the green thumb and would stand for hours, sometimes overnight, with his fingers plunged into the soil of newly seeded pots. Within a day we’d observe life pushing up through the dirt, sometimes moving so quick we could see it happen, rushing up and out and curving hungrily towards Ian’s body. Since he had other projects to attend to, Ian worked to wean them off whatever they liked about him by standing with them in the sun until they leaned towards the windows instead.

We actually talked a lot about what was going on –  not at first, but after Ian had stumbled on a collection of English ghost stories I’d carelessly left out. He said he’d been working on moving between gliding and walking at will around my bedroom and had tripped over the book because he was very focused. He fell against the radiator and waited for several days for a bruise to appear. None did and he was vocally disappointed.

He wanted to talk a lot all of a sudden about what it was like to be a ghost and in particular about the politics of horror writers trying to express things they hardly could have had personal experience with. He told me that one of the worst things about being a ghost that he’d noticed so far was an inconsistency with human beings’  concept of time – the hours I spent out of the house, he confessed, felt like days, sometimes weeks, to him, and he got pretty lonely. I asked him if this was why he was able to get so much done in what seemed like such short periods and he said he wasn’t sure but probably. He wrote furiously in a half-filled notepad he found in one of my drawers and asked to use. He was protective of his writing and sometimes tried to shield the page with his body when I’d come into the room. I’d look away to avoid reminding him of his transparency. Once though when he had taken a rare foray out onto the fire escape I snooped, fearing that all this research into dark subjects might cause his mental state to take some sinister turn.

It was mostly lists. Even more books he hoped to read, about the supernatural and spiritual; a string of activities he thought might be enjoyable to try around the house, involving food coloring, filling the bathroom with steam, and miming, to name a few. He had written down some things I figured were dreams, which answered a residual question of mine about whether what he was doing at night was anything like sleeping as I knew it, and in the back, a chart of things to watch out for. When he vanished once for two days, I searched this list frantically for clues, and finally positioned myself in the bathroom between the two mirrors in there that created one of those endless hallways of reflection. I waited for him and he finally came out, looking rough. He went straight into my bedroom and I took one of the mirrors off the wall and covered it with a towel.

Christmas was coming up and Ian figured out a way to make long-lasting bubble garlands out of his own spit. One night he put on Bing Crosby and strung these up around the doorframes. They looked really nice and I asked him to make a few more that I could send to my mother and sister as gifts. When my mother called later on to thank me for the weird present Ian picked up the phone by accident and after they had chatted for a few minutes passed it to me. He looked worried and when my mother asked who that had been on the other end she added, “and why did he sound so bizarre there right before he got off? It’s like he forgot how to talk.”

I didn’t see Ian for the rest of the night and the next day. I knew he was in my room but I kept busy and didn’t bother him. When he emerged he said he really needed to prioritize some things because he had a bad feeling. I didn’t really know what he meant –  I figured things could either get no worse than being dead or drastically so in ways I couldn’t fathom but either way, that’s all he wanted to say on the subject and I didn’t push it.

Maybe the only time I was afraid of Ian was a few nights after the day he decided to reprioritize his time. I was sleeping and got hot and woke up thinking I’d go get some water and Ian had pulled a chair up to the bottom of my bed and was sitting there crying, I could hear him crying – only his face was longer than usual and there was just blackness where his eyes should have been. I heard him say that he couldn’t see anything and then he asked me if there was a problem with the pipes or the boiler in the basement or something, that there was a lot of clanging and loud noise while he was trying to sleep. I didn’t say anything to him and he stood up from the chair and was taller than I thought I remembered him being. He was sniffing loudly like a little kid but his eyes stayed black and too big and when he put his hands up to wipe them the hands sort of sunk into the blackness up to the wrists and didn’t come back out. I shut my eyes and lay there until I guess I went back to sleep. The next day he looked normal but wasn’t hungry and for the first time I noticed something jilting in his speech that reminded me of what my mother had said on the phone about him forgetting how to talk. I had to go out and left him with some hot tea, which he liked to smell, and sitting staring out the kitchen window into the sun. The spots where light passed through his body left the crystals, those indescribable colors, scattered all over the floor.

It was mid-January and he was curious about the snow so I scraped a bit up and brought it inside for him to do some experiments on. He melted the chunk of it pretty quick by passing through it happily several times, swallowing it and reaching into his stomach to pull it back out with his hand; but the feeling of the snow in his belly bothered him a lot and he put the rest of the snow into a cup and told me he couldn’t be around anything cold right now, that he hated the cold and that it had been a stupid idea. He wrapped himself in blankets and sat in the living room with his eyes shut. Later on he threw up on the floor like a cat and it looked like icicles and smelled tart. He tried to apologize but couldn’t seem to find the words and started to cry again so not knowing what else to do I brought him a book on fishing and also the copy of Flatland I was reading for a class and they seemed to soothe him.

In the last few weeks of his stay he needed to be by a heat source at all times. When the radiators weren’t enough I turned the oven on for him and he’d pull up a chair and sit by it for hours. I couldn’t be in there because it was so dry I’d get nosebleeds but he liked it. In the last week he complained of poor eyesight and that it was exhausting for him to turn pages and so I got him some books on tape, which he enjoyed a lot, among them Dante’s Purgatorio and Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millennium. They were both homemade tapes I’d found at the university, recorded by students maybe to make multitasking easier while cramming for exams, and then dropped off in a bin near the librarian’s office.

After a while Ian stopped listening to the Dante and just asked that I put Calvino’s chapter on visibility on repeat for him. He had grown to love the smell of lapsang souchang tea and I made a pot for him to sit near while he listened. He lost a lot of his vocabulary or rather, seemed unable to speak at all except to repeat things that I said, or that the tape said. I would hear him in the next room reciting the tapes word for word as they played.

“The link between the three worlds,” said the tape, and immediately after, Ian, “is the indefinable spoken of by Balzac: or, rather, I would call it the undecidable, the paradox of an infinite whole that contains other infinite wholes.”

And later,

“Still, all realities and fantasies can take on form only by means of writing, in which outwardness and innerness, the world and I, experience and fantasy, appear composed of the same verbal material.”

“…appear composed,” Ian echoed.

The last time I ever saw Ian was one afternoon when I came out of my bedroom to make dinner. I had left him in the kitchen by the oven and there he sat, writing. I was surprised mainly because he hadn’t done anything this industrious in weeks. He had just completed what seemed to be the first line of something but before I got a chance to comment I noticed something truly odd about the whole scene. Ian finished the line and in the time it took for me to blink he was starting the line over as though for the first time. The page seemed to clear and Ian’s movements exactly copied themselves once and then again. I can only describe it by saying he looked like that moment where Princess Leia gets projected out of R2-D2 and tells Obi Wan he’s her only hope, like forty times. He was even sort of flickering around the edges and when I went over by him it was like I got in the way of a light source that couldn’t pass through my body. He disappeared behind where I was standing and that was it, he was gone. I read what he’d been writing, picked up the paper and took it to my room. I tacked it up above my bed. It says,

“Fantasy is a place where it rains.”

Isabella Yeager is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She twitters here and tumbls here. She last wrote in these pages about Rilke and Rodin.


Friday
Jan042013

In Which We Have A Good Idea Of What Needs To Be Done

Is This Allowed?

by KARA VANDERBIJL

I am civilized. My feelings are not.

- Jeanette Winterson

I have planted a nice garden here. Tracing over the past two years, my writing has visibly improved. This is good. I get emotional thinking about it. I nearly gave up writing. You know? It’s easy to be confused. Introspection can be just as dense as the lack thereof.

I have only been happy in short bursts, some of them terribly short. It is my fault. I inherited resignation, the tendency to blame outside of myself. The pendulum swings back to extreme guilt, self-deprecation. I have allowed happiness to become digital, or at least, sublimated. As if thinking correctly could make you happy. As if wrapping emotions into layers of text and subtext could produce joy.

I don’t think that happiness is the goal of a life. At least, it’s not the goal of my life. I don’t believe that unhappiness means necessary doom. But in long stretches it is indicative of a lack of gratitude. I am certainly disconnected, not only from what is most important but also from myself. From others. I’ve divorced parts of myself that need tending. I need to touch and feel and smell and smile. I need to be touched. I need to feel very small and allow myself to slowly be built up.

Because everybody keeps telling me I have so much time I don’t want to waste a second of it. I want to laugh and laugh some more and admit that I’m wrong. Is this allowed? Is it really any more complicated than this?

+

Everybody loses something. Keys. Bus passes. A comb.

I don’t lose things. Circling around a board game, I nominate myself the dice-thrower of one team or another. I throw some good pairs, some mediocre, three great. I can’t be blamed for the outcome. It is a game of weight, of fate.

Lost: receipts, bookmarks, socks.

Soon after moving to France, I had my mother dye my hair auburn. I did not want to blend in. When I didn’t know the right words to formulate my thoughts, I kept quiet. I did not want to stick out.

A mitten. A penny. Phone reception.

Cheap sweaters disintegrate in the dryer. Misguided intentions, spooning rent money into my mouth, living month to month. I can’t even afford what I need, how can I give? This is a lean time, but give out of weakness. Fold the two dollars bills in your wallet, stuff them into a frozen cup on the sidewalk.

Wallet. Passport. Country.

Thirteen years ago today my family moved into another language, took up residence with the irregular verbs. Humans don’t conjugate easily. I wasn’t happy with my handwriting, and so I rewrote my lessons over and over again. I learned the verbs by accident. None of us live there anymore.

A slim, crinkled roll of paper towels fell into the kitchen sink when I tried to put it back in its proper spot and I looked at it and said, “Fuck you,” without thinking, because if I had been thinking in that moment I would have realized what a terribly ridiculous thing it is to a. insult a roll of paper towels, especially when they’re more absorbent than the leading brand and b. to do this so vehemently, as if the rogue paper towels had killed my family before my eyes.

Later, I was baking with a very hot oven (Wikipedia tells me that anything between 450-500 degrees Fahrenheit classifies as a very hot oven.) As it popped and clicked its way to that infernal temperature I worried that the expansion of gas was going to blow the door open or that it was simply going to spontaneously combust, which I imagine is altogether within its range of capabilities. The oven beeps so faintly when it is done preheating, as if to belie the roar of the ignitor and the dull orange flame I can just see when I open the door to peek inside. I cannot let my guard down with this appliance. I have often dreamed of sacrificing small odds and ends in its favor, building a shrine, much like the employees of a hair salon in Los Angeles I once frequented, who offered up bowls of rice and day-old donuts to a particularly moody blow dryer.

Here begins the smaller subplot with the smoke detector. This is one I do not intend to flesh out any more than strictly necessary. Two minutes before the raisin buns were done baking, it came shrilly to life. The next thing I remember, its parts were exposed and I was holding two 9-V batteries in a floured hand. What if there is a fire in the next two minutes and I don’t even know about it? What if when I put the batteries back in, it resumes beeping and doesn’t stop, ever? What will I tell my landlord? Why doesn’t this have a mute button?

I consumed several buns to fortify myself and left the windows open. I replaced the alarm’s batteries and mask; it cried out once, and I shook my finger at it. “Now you behave,” I said.

At the front door of my building, the button next to my apartment number is the only one illuminated. It is a beacon in the night, drawing drunks from the bar kitty-corner to my door like moths to a flame. Punctuate the night with the doorbell ringing. 2 o’clock, the first wave of sloshing bellies spill into cabs, catch the last train south. 3 o’clock, raucous laughter, ring. 4 o’clock, the stragglers shuffle by, think they are somewhere that they are not. At 5 a.m. the first bus passes by on my street, its automated voice more faithful than any alarm: “It’s morning.”

I live alone but I have not been lonely, although perhaps my voice has tended towards disuse. This home and the street speak to me daily; I’m just too young yet to talk back.

With a dream, my feelings change. I feel soft as clay when I wake up, like a child. I am not afraid of all the things that I could be: good, better, worse. The only thing that frightens me is no longer being able to change, no longer being able to study the interminable facets of any given person or situation.

It’s you that I choose to study. I’m a poor student, but even when I’m baffled, I pull these books to my lap. I leave a finger between the pages when my thoughts fly elsewhere.

I can’t imagine a single right answer. In the early morning, I often hear arguments out on the street. Often it’s between two men, a father and son, or two friends who have had too much to drink. The yelling wakes me up and I’m frightened. From the outside, my apartment doesn’t seem secure, but when I’m inside it feels like a fortress. I’m not sure which perception is closer to reality.

Almost nothing is as I expected. It’s better. As I open myself up to possibility, my ideals, these ghostly dreams, disappear for something more painful, more instructive, more creative. I am being chiseled down to the beautiful bits.

Kara VanderBijl is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She last wrote in these pages about the scavengers. She tumbls here and twitters here.

Photographs by the author.

"That Baby" - Grouper (mp3)

"Early November" - Grouper (mp3)