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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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In Which The Bird Flies As Long As It Must

Migration Pelagica


for Lawrence Durrell

You put it all together: the glimpse of white, the farcical pardon, the Sunday caress. I was the author of all these motions, and so you hate me for it? Do you even know I'm alive?

Lake Michigan stretches out like a forest. Hiking is just another way of answering, locomotion an alternate method of standing. What I gave to you was a lot better than that, and I'd like very much to hear you admit it.

What a mess I am these days. A car comes for me and takes me to a place that should seem familiar. The girls around me debraid their hair. Gallinules always desire a place to go, never an environment to reside.

More fortunate than good, a desert cisticola, a warbler, a gull. A falcon in the right light resembles paved cement. You could look at something so close that the larger structure is obscured; now is that what you did?

You should probably answer me if you value your emotional life. A murder of fantoccinis, marbled into fine tire and sanded down by our feet. The car takes me to an open room. The ceilings loom massively, they swoop and descend on prey. Nothing wrong with talons so powerful. A grip can tighten without even knowing what is held.

Here is what really happened, if you care, if you are not reading this out of spite. You left the room. You had given me a kind of reward for doing something you thought was objectionable. It doesn't make me cynical that I assume the worst, it only makes me tired.

After you left I could not think of anything but completing what was begun, all over your mother's sheets. A man in August is just a figure redrawn on paper. By January should he still be a sketch?

Writing is not the best way to tell anything. Speech doesn't mean much either. Remember I caught a glimpse of you in a parapet, no ceilings, all sky. Allow that thought to pervade your mind at odd times, like when you are at the hair salon or the dentist, or when you smell something off in the refrigerator.

When posed a question, answering is merely polite. I was asked, do you think there is any way she had met someone else? I said I was not sure, but tried to explain. I said swans mate for life, although they will try to find another if the original dies. Perhaps in a hunting accident? We never know exactly how we will go, Justine.

Subsequent to the high-ceiling room, I arrive at a further destination. Your apartment has cockroaches and we all know why. Riverside Park genuinely shimmers, and I brought Silly Putty, which you can make any shape and it won't resist.

A mold is an underappreciated aspect of modernity. Whatever the impression. Could we all be molds for something larger or greater? What do you think? Am I perhaps onto something there, or is that the kind of vacuous statement your new boyfriend might make?

Anger. We talked about this once. The first time rage enters the countenance is so shocking. I try to never display this aspect of myself, but this gives off a mistaken impression, Justine.

It is on the whole more efficient to parse out the disappointment in drips and drops. Each might feasibly be wiped off the floor, but the splash a pot of tomato sauce would create makes me walk away. I want to be with someone who never minds cleaning up, you see, not you.

Here are some more potential aspects of the new woman in my life. Whenever she is self-effacing, the minor joke gives over to a broader compliment of sorts. She cares for animals. It is not that she herself rides a scooter, but if one were around, she would give it a shot to see how fast she would go. In the car afterwards, she reads, "A few trees still stand in a brand-new landscape, but the sea road is impassable." She wriggles and leaps to catch her orphaned breath. How I wish you were here.

A series of rooms, all given over to divergent purpose. Occlusion is one, introspection another. My new wife will heartily believe that the way I delineate place for myself is more than an affectation, it is more of a solid coping mechanism. I looked for a ring for you, but I never found anything quite right. I did feel well being in your arms.

Observed from that vantage, sunset rendered opaque, I retract all my goodbyes. Your arrival would begin with the alteration of all my most prized, substantial pants. The first phase is a getting to know you, and the last is like copying data to a drive. Only we operate at different speeds, I know that. Deceleration is not a particular strong suit; it is productive to know our own weaknesses. Any relocation, whether it is only temporary or a consummate replenishment, relies on the endurance of time. The only one of us who was flighty was you, and I mean that in every conceivable sense. I did have a girlfriend, and this was a long time ago, far enough from now that it would feel impudent to mention her by name or Myers-Briggs, who found my diary. She said that some things in it were awful. I said, how was the rest?

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.

Paintings by Sebastian Blanck.


In Which Which Walter Benjamin Is Far Too Late For Rosh Hashanah

Your Letter Which I Read With Greatest Concern

The light cast by substantive references, illusions and details.

Gershom Scholem had fled Germany when things started to get complicated. He begged his friend Walter Benjamin to join him in Palestine where, he argued, they would be safe from whatever was going to happen. Benjamin constantly demurred - instead he fled to Paris, while making arrangements for his vast library to be cared for in his absence. Soon, his brother Georg had been imprisoned at a concentration camp at Sonnenburg. (He later died at the last concentration camp to be liberated by the Allies at Mauthausen.) Scholem's advice to Benjamin therefore seems prescient even at the time it is being delivered. But Walter Benjamin had other things on his mind.

The following abridged letters to Scholem relate his growing desperation at this perilous time.


I'm using a quiet hour of deep depression to send you a page once again. The immediate occasion is receipt of your utterly remarkable article, which I received only this morning from Kitty Marx from Koenigsberg, along with your letter of introduction and the announcement of your arrival. The rest of the day was taken up with work and the dictation of a radio play, which I must now send in, in accordance with a contract the better part of which has long been fulfilled and which facilitated my flight to the Balers.

The little composure that people in my circles were able to muster in the face of the new regime was rapidly spent, and one realizes that the air is hardly fit to breathe anymore - a condition which of course loses significance as one is being strangled anyway…

Publication of my work has now been suspended for more than a fortnight.

Prospects of seeing the work published as a book are minimal. Everyone realizes that it is so superb that it will be called to immortality, even in manuscript form. Books are being printed that are more urgently in need of it.



My constitution is frail. The absolute impossibility of having anything at all to draw on threatens a person’s inner equilibrium in the long run, even one as unassuming and as used to living in precarious circumstances as I am.

Since you wouldn’t necessarily notice this if you were to see me, its most proper place is perhaps in a letter. The intolerability of my situation has less to do with my passport difficulties than with my total lack of funds. At times I think I would be better off if I were less isolated.

The odd letter now and then gives me hope that acquaintances might put in an appearance, although experience of course teaches me not to put great faith in their plans.




Regarding my condition, I am once more again lying sick in bed, suffering from a very painful inflammation in the leg. Doctors, or even, medicine, are nowhere to be found here, since I am living totally in the country, thirty minutes away from the village of San Antonio. Under such primitive conditions, the facts that you can hardly stand on your feet, hardly speak the native tongue, and in addition even have to work, tend to bring you up against the margins of what is bearable. As soon as I have regained my health, I will return to Paris.

It hardly needs to be stated that I am facing my stay in Paris with the utmost reserve. The Parisians are saying: “Les emigres song pies que les boches” (“The émigrés are worse than the Krauts”) and that should give you an accurate idea of the kind of society that awaits one there. I shall try to thwart its interest in me the same way I have done in the past.

Please write me if you have read Wiesengrund’s Kierkegaard in the meantime.


Dear Gerhard,

Even if these wishes arrive far too late for Rosh Hashanah, they will at least reach you in time for the long-sought and now official establishment of your academic duties, not to mention the title of Professor.

Before I touch on this or anything else from our last exchange, let me just sketch out my situation. I arrived in Paris seriously ill. By this I mean that I had not recovered at all while on Ibiza, and the day I was finally able to leave coincided with the first in a series of very severe attacks of fever. I made the journey under unimaginable conditions, and immediately after my arrival here, malaria was diagnosed. Since then, a rigorous course of quinine has cleared my head.

Friends have transported the major part of my archives to Paris, at least the manuscript section. The Heinle papers are the only manuscript material of any importance still missing. The problem of securing my library is mainly a question of money, and that by itself presents a formidable enough task. Add to this that I have rented my Berlin apartment out furnished and cannot simply remove the library, which is an essential part of the inventory. On the other hand, the person renting it only pays what the landlord demands.

Whether or not I will be able to move into the quarters Frau von Goldschmidt-Rothschild promised me has become rather problematic because of a series of oversights and delays far too complex to recount here. It is also gradually becoming clear that the apartment is by no means free of charge.


Dear Gerhard,

The 15th of December is drawing near, and after this date the grapes of the press will be hanging even farther out of reach for an old fox like me, and what little fruit still beckons from over the shard-strewn walls of the Third Reich has to be snatched away with the nimblest of bites indeed. I had to select this shabby stationery in order to keep the narrow temporal frame set for my letter in front of me in spatial terms. And I could say a great deal more. If I could present things to you as they truly are, I would most certainly not need to ask you to pardon my longish silence: you would understand.

But, as matters stand, I can only allude to things and say that someone who was a close acquaintance of both Brecht and myself in Berlin has fallen into the hands of the Gestapo. He was freed after someone from the same circle of friends intervened, and he subsequently turned up here and filled us in about the dangers threatening the few who are still close to us.

All this is complicated in the most fateful way by the fact that we may one day have to face the possibility that the denunciations originated from a man in Paris we all know.


Dear Gerhard,

Even though you haven’t written for quite some time, I want to return the cordial wishes you so regularly send me for Rosh Hashanah on the threshold of the European New Year. But you will have to take into account my profound weariness with the moment. For some time now, these moments have turned into days and the days into weeks. It’s not surprising that the pressure to put three new irons in the fire daily should lead to severe fatigue. I am not achieving much in my dejected state because I am convinced that I cannot ask very much more of myself.

The top priority among the little I am still capable of would probably be a change of scenery. Paris is much too expensive, and the contrast with my previous stay here is much too harsh. I see nothing encouraging when I survey my surroundings, and the only person I find of interest finds me less so.

Otherwise the town seems dead to me now that Brecht is gone.

He would like me to follow him to Denmark. Life is supposed to be cheap there. But I am horrified by the winter, the travel costs, and the idea of being dependent on him and him alone. Nevertheless the next decision I can bring myself to make will take me there. Life among the emigres is unbearable, life alone is no more bearable, and a life among the French cannot be brought about.


Dear Gerhard,

I am writing to you with unaccustomed promptness and in a unaccustomed form. I do not want to fail to make use of the rare constellation of events that puts a typewriter at my disposal, the more so since your letter of the 19th of this month as already preoccupied me.

Intensely and sorrowfully. Is our understanding really threatened? Has it become impossible for such an expert on my development as you are, an expert on almost all the forces and conditions influencing this development, to keep up to date? Do you and I stand in danger of your interest one day taking on the color of pity?

A correspondence such as we maintain is, as you know, something very precise, but also something calling for circumspection. This circumspection by no means precludes touching on difficult questions. But these can only be treated as very private ones. To the extent that this has happened, the letters in question have definitely been filed — you can be sure of that — in my “inner registry.”




In Which We Hand The Bite That Fed Us

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to justhardtosay@gmail.com.


I have an old friend named Carina who I have stuck with through thick and thin. Carina's been through some tough times in her life and I'm really proud of the person she has become.

With that said, I feel like recently Carina has been making some decisions I find concerning. She has met a guy and within a few months she feel like they are going to be together for the rest of their lives. I haven't even met him yet but I know that if I don't support her she is going to be crushed. They are already living together.

How should I handle this?

Jamie I.

Dear Jamie,

Some people don't mind when those they care about make mistakes, because they recognize that every one of us is capable of making one. It's not like I have never heard of two people who knew they wanted to be together really quickly working out; it is just that this kind of arrangement has an absolutely terrible success rate.

At some point, it is key to determine which you value more — Carina's continued friendship, which will presumably exist regardless of how deep down the rabbit hole she goes, or doing what you feel is right. We can't protect those we love completely, so say what you feel and drop it after that. This gives you the best chance of preserving your feelings for this woman.


The amount of time my girlfriend Harper spends with her friends is truly astonishing. It is like she is in a cult — they plan constant outings, talk on the phone every night, and their world revolves around each other. I have never quite seen anything like this. On some level I am probably jealous of Harper paying attention to other people besides me. It isn't really the time it takes away from our relationship that is the issue, but maybe I'm just sick of these other relationships? What can I do about this, if anything? I love Harper and the feeling is mutual.

Brent D.

Dear Brent,

Wanting to change the people we love is the only valid use of the slippery slope argument. If you want to spend more time with your girlfriend, do it. She likely will not say no. If it conflicts with the attention that she pays to her friends, complain. But a general band-aid on this situation is not impossible without destroying your relationship. The only thing you can do is slowly arc her towards you over time by offering superior experiences. People do not have just one life.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.