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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
May212012

In Which Edna St. Vincent Millay Comes Undone

A Poet's Appetite

by SHAHIRAH MAJUMDAR

CHART 
MISS MILLAY 
Dec. 31, 1940 
 
Awoke 7:30, after untroubled night. Pain less than previous day. 
7:35- Urinated- no difficulty or distress 
7:40- 3/8 gr. M.S. {morphine shot} hypodermically, self-administered in left upper arm... 
7:45-8- smoked cigarette (Egyptian) mouth burns from excessive smoking 
8:15- Thirsty, went to the ice box for a glass of water, but no water there. Take can of beer instead which do not want. Headache, lassitude... 
8:20- cigarette (Egyptian) 
9:00- " 
9:30- Gin Rickey (cigarette) 
11:15- Gin Rickey 
12:15- Martini (4 cigarettes) 
12:45- 1/4 grain M.S. & cigarette 
1.- Pain bad and also in lumbar region. no relief from M.S.

At age 48 – looks fading, youth fading, genius (she thought) also fading — the extravagant American poet Edna St. Vincent Millay found herself staring blankly into the abyss that had moved with her all her life.

Once she had written ecstatically of that “conscious void” (her first encounter: a passage of poetry from Romeo & Juliet when she was five years old), of both “the tangible radiance in which I stood” and “the edge of nausea” that bordered it. Once it had left her thrilled, transcendent, outside herself; the “radiance” and the “nausea” had been intertwined. But, at 48, interred at the farmhouse she and her husband had converted near the Berkshires, worn out by her lifelong hungers, that abyss was now dark to her — and it took it took two gin rickeys, a martini, eight cigarettes and several morphine shots, all before 1 p.m., to be able to face it.

All her life Millay sought wild moments of ecstasy to which she could submit herself fully and come undone. Her childhood in turn-of-the-century Camden, Maine had been provincial, but Millay — called “Vincent” by her mother and two sisters — was the product of a clan of fiercely independent, literary women who nourished the wildness and the ambition within her. Her mother Cora was a woman who had “dazed all her people” by divorcing her charming loafer of a husband and taking work as a nurse to support her daughters.

Cora loved music, books, poetry and — despite the family’s constant, visible poverty — fed her girls on the riches of her organ and her attic library. “Vincent” herself wrote poetry from a young age, gifting her mother with a handwritten collection of 61 poems titled The Poetical Works of Vincent Millay when she was 16.

In school, she was similarly extravagant, always a performer. She acted in all the school plays, gave piano recitals, edited the school newspaper. She was larger than life but not very popular: the girls thought “she was the type… to make a lot of almost nothing” (yesterday’s high school parlance, I suppose, for, she’s so fake!), and the boys actively made fun of her. She longed for escape, and she longed for a bigger stage.

For a while, she thought it was a man who would provide it. Her limits of her world seemed so small, even while eternity gaped within her, and the only rescue she could conceive took the shape of a man.  In the end, however, she made her escape with her own hands.

At age 20, her poem “Renascence” (“The world stands out on either side/No wider than the heart is wide; Above the world is stretched the sky,—/No higher than the soul is high.”) was selected as a finalist in the The Lyric Year, a significant contest of American poetry. She became a star, a bit of a cause célèbre since — as many people said, even in the pages of the New York Times and the Chicago Evening Post — her poem was far superior to the poems that had actually won.

She had been flirting madly, purposefully (via post) with the editor of The Lyric Year for the months leading up to the announcement of the winners, and her own sense of injustice at having been denied the prize was confirmed and amplified by the reaction of the public. But, like an American Idol runner up, she discovered that the real first prize wasn’t the putative one; it was celebrity itself — adulation, recognition, an adoring public. This hunger, once awakened, was to stay with her the rest of her life.

Things moved quickly, gloriously after that. A coterie of wealthy ladies took “Vincent” in hand. Deciding that it would be a good thing to educate her, they removed her from the rambles of the Maine coast and off to New York. They gave her cash, gifts (including shopping trips to Lord & Taylor, but also boxes of cast-off clothing), lots of life advice to temper their praise, and sent her to Vassar. Her patrons adored her, but they also wanted a piece of her. Nancy Milford, author of the Millay biography Savage Beauty, writes: “They wanted to assist her in any way they could, perhaps because in the careful structure of their lives, they felt diminished. Her life would be grand, sweeping, urgent. Incapable of this themselves, they would help her.”

And her life was to be “grant, sweeping, urgent”: a life that one could dream upon, that she herself could dream and feed upon. At Vassar, Millay’s persona was as carefully constructed as her poetry. Her poverty — and the fact that she was there on charity — was known, but she was determined to be an entity.

Her years there were a performance, a practice for the wider stage that lay ahead. She dazzled her classmates, who fell in love with her, and her teachers, who allowed her unimaginable leniencies. She took regular trips to the city, and leisurely country weekends — which gave men, also, the chance to fall in love with her, and gave her the chance to play, at least, at falling in love with them.

For Millay, love (& lovers, both men and women) were as much a substance as food. She burst with hunger for love, just as she did for poetry, freedom, beauty, adoration… and, later drugs, sex and alcohol. Her desire gave shape and momentum to her life, and the “radiance” and the “nausea” that haunted her were two halves of the same whole. She was wild for the thrill of standing on the edge of the abyss and for the radiant colors moving within; it fed her sense of self and her creativity, and her poetry was to be the means and the remains.

Desire and the performance of desire are Millay’s subjects, particularly of the sonnets. Her work, as Mitchell Kennerley, publisher of her first book of poems (black binding, gold letters, creamy Japanese vellum paper), blurbed, dealt “as poetry should, primarily with emotion; with the sense of tears and of laughter, with mortal things; with beauty and passion; with having and losing.” Her themes were always what was personal to her: love, death, nature, longing, sex and self.

In terms of form, her meter is light, lilting, iambic; it hardly strays; and her rhymes are always clean and sweet, often sharp and witty. She writes in a voice that is direct, intimate, sometimes coy but never shy. Her imagery is infused with a sensuality that is both pure and coarse: the well from which it spring from is deep, irreducible, pure unto itself — but the substance itself has a thick grain, is fat with pathos and groans under its own gorgeous, aching weight.

When I encountered my first Millay sonnet (#41 from her 1923 Pulitzer Prize winning collection The Harp Weaver & Other Poems), I was 14. Years later, I can still recite it from memory:

I, being born a woman and distressed  
By all the needs and notions of my kind, 
Am urged by your propinquity to find 
Your person fair, and feel a certain zest 
To bear your body's weight upon my breast: 
So subtly is the fume of life designed, 
To clarify the pulse and cloud the mind, 
And leave me once again undone, possessed. 
Think not for this, however, the poor treason 
Of my stout blood against my staggering brain, 
I shall remember you with love, or season 
My scorn with pity – let me make it plain: 
I find this frenzy insufficient reason 
For conversation when we meet again. 

It was such a fun sonnet, so not like Shakespeare, so unambiguous and good to read out loud. There were shades of it that I didn’t get until I was older and had been myself “undone, possessed,”  but I have come back to it again and again over the years and, though I no longer find the rhyme of “breast” and “possessed”  as inventive as I once did, it still arrests me with its play of high purity of form with unapologetic coarseness of sentiment. It’s a dirty poem fashioned with skill and grace, and to make the exalted sonnet disturb the way this sonnet does is in itself enough to give you pause. During Millay’s time, in the heat of a Jazz Age, for a woman to be writing sonnets of such rigorous craft and bold content made her a kind of literary rock star.

It didn’t hurt that Millay was one of those poets who used her life as practice for her art. The mythos that she invented — the starry-eyed creature of enormous appetite left incandescent (in all senses) by its own hungers — was both for her poetry and her daily bread. Her poems were always a portrait of herself: as she was or had been or wanted to be.

If the speakers in her sonnets come undone, they pose first; they vogue a little, they protest too much. Everything they do is mannered, meant to be observed. For Millay, the poem itself is a performance — a series of stylized acts — and the form itself carries meaning: every foot of iambic verse is a coy gesture, every rhyme a teasing glance, every image of birds and songs and lips and breasts a signal flag that says come hither, says love me, adore me, leave me dispossessed.

In a short scholarly piece in Millay at 100: A Critical Reappraisal, Stacy Hubbard Carson writes that Millay’s sonnets demonstrate how “sexed bodies attach themselves to poetic forms, tropes and narrative structures.” Read this way, Millay’s [sexed] body is the poem’s body, and that she shoves herself into such a series of conventions and constraints — like a person in drag — is the very point of the endeavor. The fun lies in witnessing how she throbs against them, how the sensual charge of her poetry is defined, finessed and magnified by the conservative prettiness of the tropes and narratives that cloak them. Thus Millay’s genius is exercised not in double vision, but in double play: the way she uses her skilled formalism to trick the mind — leave it dazzled, “undone” — while simultaneously flooding and exhausting the senses.

The contradictions in Millay are what people worry over. She adopts masculine and feminine masks, is masked and unmasked, is consumed and consuming. She is her own double: burning herself (“my candle”) from “both ends,” eating from the inside what she has begged others to eat. In life, she was a tiny creature, often described in terms of the startling intensity of her coloring: all pale limbs, bright eyes, fiery hair and lips. In imagination — her own of herself, her public’s of her — she was magical and godlike, an unquenchable Amazon who gave wholly of herself to everyone but remained undiminished.

She thrived in her own duality. Often, she managed to perform the imaginary into reality but even “Vincent” sometimes had her heart broken. As Milford writes, the headlong satiating of the senses in which she routinely indulged could leave her both “stunned by beauty” and “sickened by loss.” The sonnet that follows #41 in The Harp Weaver & Other Poems is this one:

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning, but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

The tone is different here, though the formal methods and manners recognizably the same. We observe the same hungers — perhaps even the same encounter — but through the lens of a quieter emotion. The speaker aches from the void within her and lacks distance from it; here, however, she also lacks the earlier sense of triumph or thrill. It’s a lovely poem, simple, as elegant as the one that came before, and also just as childlike in its helplessness before its own unknowable feelings. There is such sadness in the imagery, in the spareness of the language and its slow slide into memory, but the sentiment pools without deepening or expanding. It exists as an emotion bottled in time, wallowing in its own moodiness, dazzled by its own dignified, moody splendor. On the surface, sonnets #41 and #42 might appear to differ in terms of purpose, but the truth might be that they differ simply in terms of the way that they achieve a very similar purpose — which, in Millay, is nearly always to seduce us with the figure of her exquisitely unraveling self.

In her bohemian New York years, post-Vassar, Millay was a star. She gave readings, acted, published often and created a ferocious one-act anti-war play called Aria da Capo that was a runaway success. She became involved in both political and poetical causes, championing poets that she cared about who had less celebrity than she did, and loved and drank and partied to legendary lengths.

In 1923, the year of her Pulitzer, she married a man 12 years older whose only ambitions seemed to be to bask in her bright flame and to husband her writing. They bought a farmhouse in the mountains and began a town & country life. In 1931, she published Fatal Interview, her best and most popular volume of poetry, a collection of 52 sonnets written about a love affair with a much younger poet, a handsome but weak man about whom — after the affair went cold — the gossips said she had simply worn out, or that he had always been homosexual.

Millay’s husband Eugen gave her space to conduct the affair, letting her run about Paris with her lover on a Guggenheim she had helped secure for him while Eugen wrote her effusive, pining letters from home. Fatal Interview sold 50,000 copies in its first few months. This was the peak of her fame and her acclaim. Afterwards, she would be famous, even notorious, but something had begun to shift: her poetry, for all its skill and vigor, began to fall out of sync with the fashion of the age.

And the less control Millay had over others — her adoring public, whether near or far — the less control she had over herself. She began to drink more, take drugs, turn up naked in the rooms of female houseguests, asking them for “good old Elizabethan lovemaking.” Her hungers grew larger, and her ability to fulfill them less and less certain.

She was exhausted by her own performances, by the myths she made and played for herself and others. Millay — the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, the most famous poet in the world for a while, a woman who thrilled adoring audiences by radio, who jam-packed readings across America, who was acclaimed as the lyric voice of the Jazz Age, whose voice was described as “the most beautiful voice in the world,” “the sound of the ax on fresh wood” – lacked the same thing her poetry lacked: distance, the ability to step away from the grand emotion, away from the “edge of the nausea,” to drop the act and undouble herself. She was unable see things plainly, without the dulling glaze of lyricism or romance, nor to accept that certain things were outside the make of her own hands and not be destroyed by that knowledge.

In 1949, Millay’s husband Eugen — a man who had loved her selflessly, nearly unconditionally since their first encounter — died and she immediately suffered a nervous breakdown from which she never recovered. She was to follow him just a year later, emblematically, epigrammatically, just as she had written, just as she had lived. One night, overcome with the “tangible radiance” of cigarettes, wine, Seconal and a new poem, she finally tumbled over the “edge of nausea” and down the length of her staircase. Her head, on its broken birdlike neck, came to rest on a pile of books and papers, including the draft of the new poem.

It’s funny how Millay, once adored as a luminary, has so definitely had her star fall. Though she is still ranked as a major American poet, she is no longer discussed as a great one. Millay is too much the whirling dervish, the Delphic oracle, too self-conscious and theatrical to suit our modern sensibility. Her poetry is the poetry of the young, the very romantic, those who long to make and remake their own innocence. We know too well what happens when you burn the candle at “both ends.” It may “give a lovely light” but, as anyone who has ever taken a drink before noon knows, nothing ends well when you come undone.

Shahirah Majumdar is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is assistant professor of writing at the Asian University for Women in Chittagong, Bangladesh. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends -
It gives a lovely light.

Saturday
May192012

In Which We Allow You To Have Your Privacy

The Flies

by DAMIAN WEBER

The first thing Suzanne asked when she came in was where they went and why she couldn’t go, but the girl wouldn’t tell.

“Nowhere.”

“Not nowhere,” Suzanne said, “you went somewhere.”

The girl didn’t say anything, she didn’t know what to say so she just went to her room.

“You have to tell us,” Linda said.

“I can’t,” the girl admitted, walking up the stairs.

“What can’t you tell us?” Suzanne shouted up the stairs.

After Suzanne went up the stairs and tried the door, she called down to Shirley that the door was locked. Shirley didn’t let the girls lock their rooms and when they did she always came up the stairs and told them to unlock it. But this night she let the girl have her privacy.

The girl knew she would eventually have to unlock the door for Linda, but went over to her fish instead. She picked up the little tin of fish-food and fed her goldfish, Blackbeard, who wasn’t in a fishbowl but instead in a big glass jar. Richard named him Blackbeard because he wasn’t gold at all, but black with yellow cheeks. He’s not taking Blackbeard, the girl thought, he can’t, he’s my fish.

“Let me in,” Linda whispered through the door. The girl went over to the door, unlocked it, then quickly went back to her fish and thought of different ways she could hide him. She could always put him under her bed or maybe even in the garage or even put him outside where he was born, where his mother was. Linda didn’t ask about the ride and the girl was free to wonder if she would also be leaving when dad left.

Were any of them going with him or was he leaving them all? What about Arla, would he take Arla?

Arla was a black lab, originally the property of a family named Foss who was trained as a seeing-eye-dog but failed. Arla couldn’t be trained; as Linda would say, “She has her own agenda.” Still Arla could be the mother of other seeing-eye-dog puppies who were taken from her and trained. Guiding Eyes for the Blind would keep her for a week before and a week after each litter but would pay all veterinarian bills even those not relating to the pregnancy.

The family had many names for the dog: Arla, Arla Doo, Arla Moo, Arla Girl, Arla Dog, Arla the Black, Black Dog, and Crazy Dog. When they called her she wagged her tail, when they fed her she wagged her tail, and when someone new came to the house and when someone old came. The poor dog was always being yelled at, she was always in the way or as Linda would say, “She’s always in your face.”

Arla was a ridiculous dog because she was afraid of the floor. There were gaps in the carpeting she refused to step on, bounding from one to the next, and only after she was finally safe would she sit back on her bottom. Also there were certain rooms she would not enter which usually contained her in the hallway upstairs. She wouldn’t go in the kitchen and eyed the wood floor with a look that said, “I couldn’t possibly ever dream of even thinking of going on that.” Linda would call but the dog wouldn’t come. “Arla Girl, you want to come in the kitchen? Come on Arla Dog.” It was the most ridiculous thing the girl had ever seen. The poor dog, the girl thought, if she knew how ridiculous she was she would laugh.

Maybe the house was too small for Shirley, Richard, Suzanne, Linda, Theresa, Cocoa, Peaches, Blackbeard, and a Labrador, not counting Tammy the ladybug, all the flies and all the ants. Plus there was Cuppy, but Cuppy died.

Shirley thought it wrong to not do whatever she could to relieve the suffering of all creatures, making the small house a zoo. When Richard complained she referred to Matthew.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

Cuppy, Linda’s cat, was black with a white face which Linda said made him look like he was wearing a tuxedo. The white patch on his face looked like a heart, at least it did to Linda, who always said it made him handsome even though the girl knew a cat couldn’t be handsome, only people, like her father. Linda was in first grade when he developed “this stomach thing.” The girl couldn’t remembered Cuppy because she was not yet two but later Linda would repeat the story even though she had already heard it.

“One day we looked at him and he was so thin. Dad didn’t know why, or how he became so sick, so quick. He was almost falling over, he couldn’t even lift his head to eat. Mom brought him to the vet but he said it was iffy. Then they just put him to sleep, I was at school, we were at school and came home and they killed him.”

Linda would always tell the girl she just wanted to hold him one more time. She didn’t even get to bury the body because the vet kept him. Cocoa, the oldest of the cats, was both deaf and blind and looked like he was always about to die but just wouldn’t. He had cataracts and had been losing his sight but was now completely blind. His eyes looked like marbles, cataracts covered both the iris and the pupil until his eyes were just balls of milk. The girl thought he looked like a sorcerer, a magic cat, but one that didn’t like her, a demon cat. He was Shirley’s since before the girl was born, and Suzanne was there when they picked him at the shelter. They went to look for a kitten but when they saw him they had to have him because as Suzanne said, “He picked us with his eyes.” The girl wasn’t sure what she meant but she believed it. It wasn’t difficult to convince Richard and Shirley to get him, he was a wonderful cat. Linda always said he was Richard’s cat, that dad was the one Cocoa really loved. He used to love Cuppy too, but Cuppy died. Now Richard was moving out and the cat wouldn’t have anyone.

Peaches was Richard’s mother’s cat and he certainly didn’t want another cat in the house but nobody else would take her. Shirley fed the cat when Nana went to St. Jerome’s but after they learned she probably wouldn’t ever leave again she brought the cat home. The family called the cat it even though they called the other cats respectively he or she. It was a miserable cat and hissed at anyone who came near and when the cat first came to the house Cocoa chased it from the kitchen to the bathroom and from the bathroom back to the kitchen. Peaches browned the wall trying to get away, creating the largest mess in Linda and the girl’s room but neither of them learned about it, they were at school.

Later when the girl was told about it, she could only imagine the cat running around her room, browning the walls while her mother figured out what to do. What could she have done? The girl thought there probably couldn’t have been much to do except shut the door.

The girl asked mom what could have happened to the cat to make her so unloving and so unloved. Linda said it wasn’t affectionate because Nana Manning wasn’t affectionate but Shirley disagreed, Nana Manning was too affectionate. That was the first time the girl learned her sister thought less of Nana Manning than she, later she would learn why. Maybe mom would make dad take the cat now that he was leaving.

Besides the dog, the two cats, and the goldfish, there were other pets in the house, like the ladybugs. The girl named one Tammy (she didn’t know why) and kept it all summer and into the winter and was still alive. She didn’t keep the bug in a jar however, she just let it fly around her room. There were many different ladybugs in her room but she was pretty sure she knew which one was Tammy especially since they were best friends and best friends could always find each other even if they were separated by three seas or a thousand years. She would come home from school and look all over for Tammy and then when she found her she would tell her how beautiful she was. Richard told her that ladybugs only lived two weeks but she said that wasn’t true because Tammy had been alive forever. Richard wouldn’t be able to take Tammy when he left, he wouldn’t be able to find her because they weren’t best friends.

Besides the ladybugs there were also the ants which came in the spring crawling out of the cupboards and out of the cabinets. They would even crawl in her cereal, until they put rubber bands around the bag. There wasn’t anything Richard could do, he sprayed once but it didn’t work. He didn’t use it again however because Shirley said she didn’t want him to spray poison in her kitchen.

They were fearless ants that weren’t satisfied to hide in cracks, they walked right out in the open, right up the kitchen window completely ignoring gravity, making the girl think they must be angels. The girl knew with the way dad tried to kill them he wouldn’t be bringing them with him when he left. Besides the ladybugs and the ants, there were also the flies which the girl thought were aw-ful. They stayed the longest, not leaving until after fall and when the girl asked her mother where they went for the winter Shirley told her in the garbage. After that the girl always looked in the garbage to see where they were hiding but could never find them. Richard could take the flies if he wanted. Richard, however, didn’t take Arla nor did he take Cocoa or Peaches or Suzanne or Linda or the girl or the ladybugs or the ants and the flies.

Suzanne announced dinner was ready by stomping down the hall and pounding on the door but the girl motioned to Linda not to answer. Coming down the stairs she saw dad already at the table and since Suzanne and Linda were still moving around she thought it a perfect time to ask.

“Are you taking Arla?”

Richard looked at her.

“Take Arla where?” Suzanne asked. “Where is Arla going?”

“Arla isn’t going anywhere, Arla’s staying here.”

“Who’s going somewhere?”

“I’m leaving.”

“Where you going?”

“Not far.”

“Where?”

“88 North Spruce Street.”

“For what?”

“I’ll tell you later, after dinner.”

“For what?”

“Your mother and I,” Richard started, but stopped before he used the word divorce.

Suzanne knew what a divorce was, she didn’t need to be told.

The girl didn’t say anything. She saw that her sisters didn’t know what to say and waited for Suzanne to say something but Suzanne didn’t say anything. Then to break the silence or maybe just because she wanted to,

Linda stood up, pushed in her chair, left the table, went up the stairs, and to her room. The spell was broken.

“Dad,” Suzanne said, “you can’t move.” Richard didn’t say anything.

“Just stay here, you don’t have to go.”

“I’m sorry, I have to.”

“No you don’t.”

“Why?” she shouted, “why do you have to?”

“Because I have to.”

“Because why?”

“This is crap!” she swore.

The girl let out a little expiration of air at hearing her sister swear and was left sitting at the table alone with mom and dad when Sue stomped up the stairs, stomped down the hall overhead and into her room.

“Why don’t you go upstairs,” Shirley told her, “you’re all done.”

The girl pushed out her chair, stood up, pushed in her chair, went up the stairs, in her room, and locked the door.

A few minutes later Arla scratched at the door and she let her in, watching the magnificent dog cross the room and lie on the floor. The girl went over and sat down next to the dog. Arla was big and beautiful, it was something to pet such a magnificent dog and there was no way he was going to take her.

It was only seven and not yet time for bed. Usually around eight (or if she was lucky, a little later), Shirley would come up the stairs and tell the girl to brush her teeth. But tonight she thought mom probably wouldn’t come up.

Linda was on her bed and still hadn’t said anything but then finally did. “Is dad really leaving?” she asked. “I think so.”

“You know when?”

“No.”

“Is he taking Arla?”

“No,” the girl said, “he said so.”

“He can’t take Arla.”

“No.”

“What happened after I left?” Linda asked.

“She told dad not to go.”

“Who did, mom did?”

“Suzanne.”

“Then what?

“He said he had to.”

“Do you think he’s really going to?”

“He said.”

“He doesn’t have to.”

When Suzanne knocked on the door the girl didn’t object and Linda unlocked it. She had been crying. She came over and sat on the girl’s bed and then Linda came over and sat on the girl’s bed. The girl had the smallest bed in the house besides Arla and now all of her sisters were on it with her.

“You know when he’s leaving?” Suzanne asked the girl.

“No.”

“He can’t leave,” she said. “He doesn’t have to.”

“This is such crap!” Suzanne swore. The girl gasped.

“What did dad say to you?” Suzanne asked the girl bringing up the car ride again.

“I don’t say.”

“Well, it doesn’t matter now.”

“I don’t.”

“Terry, he’s leaving, it doesn’t even matter anymore.”

“I don’t.”

“You can tell us who lives on North Spruce though,” Linda said, “Right?”

“Miss Bernice.”

“Who’s Bernice?”

“Dad’s new wife.”

“Dad has a new wife?” Suzanne asked.

The girl nodded.

“What’s she like?” Linda asked.

“She’s nice.”

“Dad has a new wife?” Suzanne asked again, “You mean they’re married?”

The girl nodded.

“They can’t be married,” Suzanne said, “he can’t be married twice.”

“I met her.”

“That doesn’t mean they’re married.”

“She seems nice. She has witch shoes.”

“She has what?” Suzanne snapped.

“She seems nice.”

“I can’t believe this!” Suzanne said standing up, “This is all such crap!”

The girl gasped again, she always gasped when someone swore.

Suzanne stomped out of the room and slammed the door then stomped down the hallway and slammed her door.

“She has witch shoes?” Linda asked.

“They’re pointed,” the girl said, “like a witch.”

“Does she look like a witch?”

“No, she’s nice.”

“He’s going to live by the school?”

“I don’t know.”

“Does mom know?”

“She was there.”

“She was where?” Linda asked. “She came with you?”

“At dinner.”

“But, does she know about Miss Bernice?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, I guess she does, right, she has to?”

The girl nodded.

“She has to,” Linda said getting up, straightening the covers on the little bed and putting the pillow back.

“Okay, go to bed, goodnight.”

Like the girl thought, Shirley didn’t come up the stairs and tell her to brush her teeth and neither did Richard which Linda said was even more than rude.

Damian Weber is a writer living in Brooklyn. The Flies is an excerpt from a longer work.

"No One Ever Sleeps" - The Walkmen (mp3)

"Line by Line" - The Walkmen (mp3)

The new album from The Walkmen is entitled Heaven and will be released on May 29th.

Friday
May182012

In Which We Are The Only Shadow You Need Concern Yourself With

Tim Burton Was Dead Already

by DICK CHENEY

Dark Shadows
dir. Tim Burton
113 minutes

Dark Shadows cost $150 million dollars, which is about as hard to itemize and account for as the budget of the Pentagon. If that really is how much a film set basically in one, dark decrepit mansion cost to make, then Michelle Pfeiffer potentially received a career encompassing honorarium totalling $69 million, since there is nothing in this movie that suggests that even an ounce of care went into it.

Tim Burton obviously never got his hands on a Hollywood memo that originated in the late 1980s from the office of Robert Towne, Syd Field or Robert McKee. I can reconstruct it almost from memory.

Dear Everyone,

Guys. Writing to let you know that one level of irony is no longer enough.

For example: a baseball player is afflicted with a life-threatening disease, but each time he hits a home run he feels a little better. One level of irony.

Same situation, but the baseball player is a woman. $$$$$$

An alien wants to return to his ancestral home planet and enlists the help of children (small adults) to get there. One level of irony.

Same situation, but the alien resembles a Jewish grandmother. $$$$$$

Two levels of irony, guys. (Or three if it's a remake of an old Ronald Reagan movie.)

Carry on.

I'm not even sure the concept of a vampire out of place contains any irony at all by now, although the concept of Michelle Pfeiffer looking like this at the age of 72 is certainly akin to rain on your wedding day, or a free ride when you've already paid.

you know what you have to do

Dark Shadows concerns Barnabas Collins, a lovesick eighteenth century gentleman who employs a witch (Eva Green) as a maid. Envious of the love he offers to another white girl, she enchants the woman to throw herself off a cliff. Barnabas follows in short order, but instead of dying, he just rolls around next to the corpse of the woman he loves. He's immortal, and upset about it for some reason.

Barnabas returns to the seventies and is extremely surprised by modern inventions like the television. Actually, this is the only new development he is alarmed by at all. In fact, it's almost more astonishing how little has changed since 1792. This itself might have been that elusive second level of irony, but this is Tim Burton we're talking about here. The only new thought he's had since Beetlejuice is, we should add the color purple to that.

But no, you say. Surely Johnny Depp couldn't be doing the exact same voice he used for all eleven Pirates of the Carribbean movies and The Tourist? He must have really thrown himself into the role offered by his close friend and goatee groomer! What wouldn't one dark lion do for another, unless the other dark lion was Grover Norquist?

Depp looks to be half asleep for most of Dark Shadows. It's clear he's only really trying when he's involved in a scene with Helena Bonham Carter, who is so much more beautiful than the other women in the cast that it makes absolutely no sense she's treated like an old woman who wants to replenish her body's vitality with undead platelets.

act bad everyone, act bad!

This is Burton's inner sexist at work — he gives people what he thinks they either want or don't want to see it here, because he lacks the human concept of empathy and he's colorblind as fuck. The fact that he would do this to someone he cares about in real life makes the betrayal even more disturbing.

Try to watch the original Dark Shadows on YouTube. It's hard to decide which of the two is worse, although at least the original was at the time presenting a somewhat novel concept. Dark Shadows appeared during the day like any other soap, although by virtue of the fact it was breaking the conventions of the genre, it managed to stand out and garner an audience. Today the concept itself is utterly normal; what would be genre-defying would be to have a movie not about a vampire living in modernity.

Sometimes you have to zig when others zag. Tim Burton left his first wife for Lisa Marie, and then later when he ditched Lisa Marie she auctioned off all his stuff. This was the only time he zigged, and I guess it didn't turn out too well, so he started to take the gothic thing to the extreme and acted like he made it up.

People would be like, "Tim, you know you didn't invent the whole gothic aesthetic, right?" and he would just sob and prepare a maudlin adaptation of The Bob Newhart Show before leaving it during preproduction. Have you ever seen Tim Burton's visual art? Just squint your eyes at a VHS copy of Edward Scissorhands, twist your penis slightly to the right and you'll get the fucking picture.

designing this room alone cost $40 million dollars

Perhaps the most predictable scene in Dark Shadows occurs when Barnabas manufactures some reason to get high with a bunch of young people. A scene where the main character gets high and the camera pans around the circle as in That 70s Show is now a familiar staple of every picture, I think this even happened in the Margaret Thatcher movie I refused to see because Meryl Streep makes me sad about my life. After he exchanges various insights with stoners on a beach, he murders them and drains their bodies of blood. In the theater, this "idea" did not even get a single laugh or chuckle from the audience. You can't murder someone if they're already dead.

OK see you guys later. And don't watch Veep. It's totally unrealistic.

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. He last wrote in these pages about Game of Thrones. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

"Home by the Sea" - Genesis (mp3)

"That's All" - Genesis (mp3)

The new album from Genesis was tremendous.