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Alex Carnevale

Managing Editor
Kara VanderBijl

Features Editor
Mia Nguyen

Senior Editor
Brittany Julious

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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In Which We Discover How Choice Is Structured

What We Think About Them Leaving


Three things happened in quick succession, two in perfect order, one lagging. In late fall, my brother drives my parents to the airport where my father boards a plane to interview for a job. On the way driving to his afternoon classes he is blindsided by a woman turning right on red. When he calls me at my job, I’m between client calls and can only make out hysteria and suburban traffic. He hangs up and in a panic I kill my phone line, run to the bathroom and call him back to ascertain how fast I need to be by his side. Later that night I catch a ride to the suburbs and buy him dinner, have a few beers. I ride back out on the train that weekend and we talk on the way to pick up my parents. We plan our questions, we resolve to listen.

The second thing is that afternoon the parents ask us what we think about them leaving the country and the question is their decision and our answer. Over the next few hours of contracts and timetables, distance in miles and wine (me, mostly) we make the joke that at least the car, totaled, is one thing they will not have to get rid of.

The third thing. I break up with the boy who I've been spring-summer-no-pause-in-love-with. It could be called mutual: he didn't know how to leave me. I believe now, and think I knew it then, that if I had to start letting things go he had to be one of the first things to try and release.


We controlled our reaction and were far from indifferent, although the components were not unfamiliar. Parents on their way to some idea of retirement, a job offer, children with their own jobs and beers and the ability to vote. And so? So Sweden? It could be Houston, Bogota, Mumbai, anywhere. The parents returned from a visit, which was really an interview, which was really an almost-yes and sent a missive through the satellites: When u free? Need to talk

Talking. Constantly, more than in years, as if each word would fit every synapse firing, each question could find its way to  answer. After the ride back from the airport, parents spilled maps, postcards, brochures, two candy bars from Heathrow. The questions came down to needs and wants and expectation. Do you want to work for these people? (Yes). Will they pay you money you feel is fair as a payment to work for them? (Yes). Did you like Sweden? (Yes). When will you have to leave? (Soon. Sooner than anyone thinks, soon sans holidays, soon sans time, always the loss of time.)

Do you want to go? An answer read in the excited face of a father who may or may not have faced redundancy in a changed world and who has worked for the same company for longer than the children have been alive, or the marriage. This is the father telling stories and making plans from percolated anticipation on a plane or taxi or train ride: a trip to Spain, a birthday in Copenhagen, a father who went from the Air Force to school to job to marriage to children and what lasted was travel, was work that took him so many places. This is a joy impossible to qualify or verbalize. This is a face and a quiet. 

And none of this worked without wife and mother. What are the reasons people stay together for thirty years, when one person is constantly back and forth in other lands? What is the reason two people decided to join when mother has taken off from the nest she grew up in to live a year in a fascist country four thousand miles south? What is the reason she says yes when a proposal comes in airmail with a bouquet of flowers? This is a hardiness, an inquisitiveness, a need to move, keep moving, keep going and finding written into some vein.

The honesty of the afternoon peaked with: if the world were different, and secure, and children older and tied to a career or person or children of their own or land, would there still be a life away from them in a land 4,250 miles away? And the answer: yes, we would go in a heartbeat, yes. Yes yes yes. Then go, the children say. Go.


The house had to go. Not everything, not all at once. My mother would stay for another half a year or so to sort it out with my brother and I. The Swedish company would pay for a cargo container of furniture, mementos, a bicycle, for movers to pack and send it across the ocean.

In the beginning I tried to imagine Sweden and the apartment their bed, sofa, kitchen table, pots and pans and silverware would land in. I’d traveled to so few places and could only create a generic European city from my study abroad months in London or people who populated those streets as tall, pale, androgynous electronic musicians.

But the work of the move threw me out of my family’s future into too much of the recent past. I returned from visits on the weekend laden with backpacks and paper shopping bags of adolescent detritus, college paperbacks from the 1970s, stuffed animals. The weekend before my father officially moved, six weeks to Christmas and his garage full of mechanical wares and used chemicals cackling at its corpulence, I cried morosely in my junior high bedroom over a pile of book reports. My father threw up his hands and my mother told him to leave me be.


At the time I worked as a virtual personal assistant and receptionist for a niche startup, whose clients were middling consumer attorneys across the United States. Consumer attorneys meant they trucked in the bad luck of humanity, a way to play the last hand via the legal system. This is just to explain I fielded phone calls and correspondence from thousands of citizens bankrupt, foreclosed on, wounded in surgery, dividing their possessions in dissolving marriages, drunk, arrested. It was a job I held for two years, which seemed miraculous and was the refrain of the burgeoning decade: desperate searches for work, low pay, relief. When I try and tell about this to people who have not known me very long I say, I wanted to go to law school. Like a few other tales I have said it so often it has now become true.

I felt lucky then but also miserable and stuck and all of it coagulated into months of thinking I could separate my work from my life. In the beginning of my job I worked a night shift (lawyers in California also need girl fridays) and spent much of my non-work hours biking, cooking, reading books, trying to write. When I worked Midwest business hours I slipped into the hazards of dating, into whiskey, into trying to write with some wine, but then just the wine.

After two years of incentives, shiny middling-startup company culture made up of beer and happy-hour parties, three rounds of mass layoffs and every day full of sobbing or cursing clients, I was out. I interviewed at startups, bars, a couple nonprofits: in general anything directed at young adults across the city for months. I’d go to work full of anticipatory rage and cold biking fury and take weekends to ride out on the Blue Line to the suburbs.

Over Thanksgiving, one family member down, I cleared through wine and bits from the liquor shelf that was to vanish before next summer (with the exception of several fine bottles of Venezuelan rum, still in storage to this day). I felt extraordinarily weepy, worn down with winter too soon, with the house emptying about us. At one point before I pulled the turkey breast out of the oven, my brother confronted me with my bitterness and the lashing that came with my tongue running off the wine, told me I was worth more.

By January, a clear and cold winter that year, I quit the job, gave them ten days notice, and applied to graduate school. In March I found work at a local bike shop, two days after I traveled to Washington D.C. with my mother to the Swedish Embassy to pick up her paperwork. That June I jogged out the doors of the store to drive her car to my grandparents house a week later, where it would sleep until whenever they returned or it had to go somewhere else. The last night we stayed in the house, before it filled with open house furniture and flowers, I tried to sleep in the middle of the first-floor living room on the laminate floor I’d put in a few years prior, staring at the swingset through the glass door.


I don’t tell many people, right away, about my parents. I learned because after starting new jobs and paths in life where after the obligatory inquisitions about origins, I say I grew up in a nearby suburb but my parents live across the ocean. This is met with a thousand things and I’ve never liked explaining. My reticence has graciously allowed most people to forget and so whatever version of this life I live with my family now cast across countries (as has been true for many limbs of my ancestral tree) is mine. My brother shares the same sentiment.

For so many months that year, though, the anger I felt lapped around the bits of mantle built of (including, but not all): feeling like a dutiful heir, channeling all the others who have loved their families even when they go to frontiers or borders or jobs, the fear of someone who has kept rebellion to individual wounds secret to try not to burn my family’s bridges or barns, questions of pricing air travel.

What I have settled on is that I came to exist because of persons who decided to leave where they came from. The past century drastically changed how we view place, how we can be (or not be) tied to it, the ability to move rapidly. I learn this over and over again in graduate school, how everywhere is anywhere. I could say its true, but as anyone who has ever been in a long distance relationship or unable to attend a wake or caught in a land with too-fast tongues can tell, this has changed less than we think. My parents do not live around the corner or down the train from me and no skype chat can change that, but we make it work. The contents of my suitcase on my first visit where I joked to my brother, “I’m a space smuggler, kid,” included corn tortillas, hot sauce, harina pan and hibiscus tea.


Moving is its own unique exhaustion and tedium, which is why everyone hates even talking about it. I didn’t even have to move. Before then I’d gone from Midwest to Coast, Coast to Island, Coast to Midwest, city flat to city flat, and at that point three times over three years.

My brother and I reveled in ditching detritus in our old high school’s dumpster in the dark, hoping our parents’ property taxes would cover whatever apparent lack of education we received. Our friend who worked at a hardware store told us the store had a legal obligation to dispose of used paint and people often ditched cans of it on their curb. We loaded my brother’s small car’s trunk with all the paint I’d used to redo their garage door, bathroom, kitchen and counted down ONE TWO THREE!, running outside like it was a traffic game, ditching the boxes full of cans and drove away, exhilarated and guilty and sad.

Even with the housing market and the numerous families fleeing the suburbs, the house sold by the end of the summer. My brother lived nearby, for at time, and would ask if I wanted to drive by. I have not seen it since.


So we got rid of or packed up: my mother’s piano from her double-wide childhood my grandparents drove up to her first residence after she married in their truck (in storage), tax documents and medical files (shredded and recycled), metal tools, ladders and furniture (picked up by men at dawn from the curb), photo albums of the dead, diplomas, graduation photos (in storage). This list is why I find it less than useful to explain what happened in the move. Most of us will understand this sooner or later.

But at the time it seemed impossible for anyone to understand, which made my own acceptance and agreement that much harder to hold on to.

Incredulity. From everyone. Faces slackened or eyes widened, and they repeated, “SWEDEN?” How was that possible? Half the people who heard this understood the implications of a farther side of the world, the other half tossing off, “Oh, cool” as though retirement meant moving into a condo somewhere warmer. Fact about Sweden: it is comparable in climate to the Midwest. The incredulity comforted. The telling of the same telling over, and over, and over. Everything must go, and the house must sell. There was a job there, and reindeer, and a transparent government.

But the anger. No more possibilities to take up heroin or join the Peace Corps or move to Paris. And anger when people didn't understand the bewilderment. Why did people keep mentioning no one died and no one disowned anyone? Why are those questions thrown into the air? Those are too many words. Who can go to the hospital if there's an accident? Who can come for a Thanksgiving meal? What is a Thanksgiving or Christmas or Easter meal? Does anyone really enjoy turkey breast? Will they enjoy turkey or tortillas or pizza if they chose to spend time with family near or far, or chose to not see anyone at all?

I have never professed to enjoy change. I work hard to present the idea of myself as laid-back, able to turn on a dime. It may not make sense but I know it comes from my dislike of making choices, of how growing older has taught me how choice is structured, how few of them actually exist for so many people in this day and age. Then I didn't want those possibilities which was how I ended up where I was: accepting the work that came to me, the reverberations of the break-up, driving down suburban streets to second-hand stores with a backseat full of my family's possessions. Mostly it was how easy to feel angry at whatever passed that seemed not the way it was supposed to be. That was my choice and it was no choice at all.

But it was finally on some days staring at the top of a building in an alley downtown, the smoke curling into the new winter blue. And knowing how beautiful the top of that building was and how beautiful the tops of buildings must be in all of the other places to live.

Carmen Aiken is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She last wrote in these pages about the difference. You can find her website here.

Photographs by the author.

"It Comes Back To You" - Imagine Dragons (mp3)

"Dream" - Imagine Dragons (mp3)


In Which This Is How She Manages To Stay In The Public Eye

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 or by dropping us a note at our tumblr.


I recently met a woman through some mutual friends. Dee is a social worker who is very devoted to the people she helps get on their feet. She is great at her job. 

Frequently, our dates or hangouts are postponed because things come up unexpectedly. Dee doesn't have a lot of faith in the people with which she works, so she feels like she has to handle these things herself. I try to accept that I am not always going to be her number one priority, but I am starting to worry it might be this way forever. She is apologetic and feels really guilty when she cancels the plans, and I try not to make things worse. I don't feel comfortable bringing it up to her since we have only been dating for four months. Should I give up now, or is it possible things will change in the future?

Henry P.

Dear Henri,

Dee probably is balancing a lot of things on her plate at one time, and since she deals with people who are used to letting her down and feeling bad about it, she is reflexively adopting their behavior. A good psychologist could probably fix her in a month or two.

We don't have that kind of time. It seems like she likes you because you are the one person she can disappoint, which means you may be very special to Dee. The irony seems to be lost on you.

Your instinct to wait until further in the relationship to make this an issue seems sound. By six months she will have bonded to you further, and you can influence her decision-making without her openly wondering where you got the nerve to tell her what to do. Four months in, you're just another aspect of the patriarchy holding her back.


Last year for Christmas our friend Jaina gave all of us very expensive presents, including jewelry and clothing. It was something of a surprise, but she now can afford to give more lavish gifts. Since it was unexpected last year, it wasn't really reasonable that we would have such expensive gifts for her.

This year she seems to be planning on making a big deal out of the Christmas gifts again. None of us either want or in some cases are not able to give gifts of commensurate value. Speaking for myself, I feel uncomfortable accepting them as well. Is there a way to bring this up to Jaina without sounding ungrateful? She has never demanded equal value, although she does bring up what she got us last year quite often.

Allison O.

Dear Allison,

Inform Jaina that you "can't wait" to give her what you got her, and pass along your present earlier. It is an abstract expressionist drawing of her that makes her look substantially larger and more annoying that she actually is, which from the sounds of it is a whole lot.

What has this Jaina done for you lately, except been an expensive pain-in-the-ass? Find friends who do not celebrate Christmas, and if they give you something for Hannukah, burn it with the flame of a menorah to make your point.

But seriously, proposing a gift system where one person in your group has to give only one gift to another person in your group will likely alleviate this problem. Jaina will probably know this is about her, so when she asks, tell her, "We were on a break!" You deserve better.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen. Access This Recording's mobile site at thisrecording.wordpress.com.


"Come Down" - Nite Fields (mp3)

"Pay For Strangers" - Nite Fields (mp3)


In Which This Often Delays The Life We Want

painting by Tadeusz Bilecki

All This Desire


The Naughty Sins of a Saint.

Being Barron.

Forgive Me Father For I Have Loved.

I wish these were the titles of my journal, but instead, they are a few of many books I keep tucked away inside of my kindle. They are not featured in The New York Review of Books or excerpted in the New Yorker. No, they are cheap, quick, impulsive buys meant for late nights when I am lonely.

That happens a lot.

At my old, terrible day job, a girl I never particularly liked briefly mentioned that she secretly worked on a romance novel.

“Really?” I asked.

“I feel like I can tell you this,” she said.

“And why is that?” I asked. “Am I wrong in thinking that you don’t like them, too?” she questioned back. Like me, she was an English major. And like me, she kept the public books and the private books separate. You know, White Teeth by Zadie Smith on a black wooden bookshelf in our living rooms. The President’s Girlfriend by Mallory Monroe on a locked Kindle. But I wasn’t going to let her know about that. Some things we just keep to ourselves … at least until right now.

I turned away in a huff.

“I have to get back to work,” I mumbled. That was the last conversation we ever had. The next week, she moved to a different department, and a month later, she left the company.

“I don’t feel…STIMULATED here,” she used to say a lot.

“Like, what am I doing here?” she once asked.

And yeah, what ARE you doing here? I wanted to ask. SOME of us appreciate our jobs, appreciate the fragility of this situation in the face of this job market.

That was what I used to tell myself. I tried to, at least. But within two months, just a few days after she was gone, I began applying for new jobs and writing whenever and wherever I could. Maybe she was right. If writing – and reading - a romance novel was a method of escape for her, who was I to judge? Especially, you know, because I read them too.

I began reading first romance, then erotic novels during my senior year of college. My interest stemmed from a love of fan fiction and a desire to both write and read beyond the characters I saw on the screen.

I am one of those women you hear about, those weirdos, those freaks who sit in front of their computer screens and keep the fantasies of our favorite characters alive. I guess I understand Harry Potter fan fiction or Twilight fan fiction. I’d never read them though because that’s not me. Those stories are rooted in fantasy. And the fantastical breeds the fantastical.

I prefer expanding on the mundane and the regular. I would rather create a reality that seems possible and in that way, make it more of mine. I have written stories about My So-Called Life and Gilmore Girls, stories about Love & Basketball and other romantic comedies. And also, perhaps worst of all, if you dive deep enough into the archives of the Lizzie McGuire subsection of the website Fanfiction.net, you might be able to find a story I wrote about a love triangle between Lizzie and best friends Gordo and Miranda.

On the show, Lizzie’s internal thoughts were expressed through an animated version of herself. In my fan fiction, this animated self talked about “falling in love” and “making love” and “being in love.”

I was 12. I had barely been kissed. Well, not truly, not of my own accord. But in my stories, there was sex and violence and lots and lots of yelling. These were the things that made adult life for me. This was romance. This was passion. This was a future reality.

In romance novels, I like that the men represent a validation of my fantasies and my fantasies are not merely of the physical, but also of the potential for triumph, for personal redemption, for overcoming the things about ourselves — whether articulated and open or deeply stored within — that often delay the lives we want and the people we want to be.

I think of myself as a woman coming back to her optimism. It was lost for a number of reasons in a number of different ways, but a part of me seeks out an interaction with the world that makes risks possible and chances worth taking. What I fear rests in me is a deeply-ingrained thought practice that ultimately makes living and loving seem like things other people do. I used to think, you are not happy because you are not meant to be happy. You are not in love because you are not meant to be in love. Instead, you get … everything else.

Like ONE.

One summer, the season came late. At a bus stop, I rested against the brick wall of a local bank and waited to head north after a long day at work. A man crossed the street. His face was angry and his eyes bore into mine.

"Those shorts are too short," he said.

I’d never heard that before, at least from a stranger. Every summer before that moment, I thought those same thoughts, worn down by interpretations of flesh. By September, I anticipate the fall. I like tights, I start to think. They reflect my quietness, the “goodness” that exists in me that this man implied did not. I am sexual, but the world does not need to know. I am sexual, and you can’t judge me for it.

"Too short?" I asked that day at the bus stop.

"You look like a slut."

Like TWO.

Years ago, my mother and I went to a Chernin’s Shoe Outlet on the West Side of Chicago to pick up a pair of day-to-day gym shoes. The young man helping me gave these long looks that complicated his deep brown eyes and thick eyelashes. He smiled a lot and was thin, slightly gawky, but in a charming way that made me wish that I would meet a man like that when I was OLDER, when I knew more.

He took off my gym shoes and gave me a small foot massage. I turned around, cautious, but soon realized that my mother wasn’t looking. She was nowhere to be found. I panicked, assuming she had left me in the store with the young man who was quickly moving away from charming to lascivious. He licked his lips and

THREE … it reminded me of a family member from down south that I met, earlier that year, at a reunion.

"I bet you don’t remember me!" the older man said that afternoon at the reunion as I sat on a bench, in the shade, eating a plate full of macaroni and cheese.

"Nope!" I said annoyed, and turned away.

That day at the park, the older man hovered above me and I did my best not to look up, afraid of what he would say or do next to grab my attention. Hoverers always recognize those who hate hovering. They sense it. They take advantage of it. They manipulate those who cower.

"I’m talkin’ to you!" he shouted. He licked his full lips and smiled. I ran away.

BUT, back at the shoe store, the young man said, “You’re very sexy.”

Right then, my mother reappeared. I don’t know where she was beforehand. Perhaps she was there all along, and I didn’t notice her because I was too caught up in the moment with my new shoes and new acquaintance.

"How old are you?" she asked him angrily.

"Sixteen," he replied.

My mother grabbed my arm and squeezed tight.

"Well, she’s EIGHT, so I suggest you look somewhere else." We quickly left the store but came back. I was only wearing one shoe.

Like FOUR.

Two weeks ago, a man masturbated at me on the train. When I saw, he stood up and cornered me in my seat. When I yelled at him, he put his body on top of mine. When I tried to push him away, he kept at it. He was too big. And I am strong, very strong, but not strong enough. He looked me dead in the eye. He came on my leg.

And then he strolled away.

Like FIVE.

The time, at three a.m., when a cab driver said, “You know, if I wanted to, I could lock you in this car and do what I wanted with you.” And then he locked the door and laughed.

Like SIX.

My swim instructor.


The summer after I hit puberty. The man with the blood-shot eyes, with alcohol on his breath. The alley.

These things, they shape the way you look at life and the way you encounter the people around you. If you are like me, it stifles your freedom, creating an existence of confusion. What does it mean to be loved? What does it mean to be happy?

The black heroines in many of the novels I read are not traditionally beautiful, but they are interesting. They struggle and weep alone; keep their heads up and minds focused in private. They do a lot and feel a lot and often find peace through extraordinary circumstances that are more difficult than their lives pushing toward success and the desire to overcome a challenging society, a prejudiced society, an unforgiving society.

Last year, while sitting on my couch with my ex-boyfriend, I noticed my Kindle on my coffee table. I tried to put it away, embarrassed by what it might imply. I remembered a conversation a year ago between my friend Katie and I.

“I used to read romance novels when I hadn’t had sex,” she said.

But I had sex years and years ago. Girls like me, girls who’ve seen it all, crave something real and think we’ve found it when instead, we’ve warped our sense of reality. I dated all sorts of men. My personal stories are long and weird and represent a self wandering again and again for something that will fit if not in the pages of fantasy than through a sense of normalcy.

“I just need to think about something that works out in the end,” I said to Katie. I want happy endings.

Back in that moment with my ex, he quietly asked, “What do you have on that?”

“Games, apps … and lots of books,” I replied.

“What kind?” he asked.

“Well … mostly romance,” I said.

“Why read that when you’ve got the real thing?” he asked. But I knew how it was going to end. This was before the possessiveness, the health scares, the questioning, the ridicule. I could sense it through every inch of me.

“I just need it, OK?” I said.

The ways in which I can overcome the world at large are through myself. I can not depend on outcomes of others, but must instead push myself to work harder, to think more, to pursue more. And in my favorite novels, the heroines must overcome the limitations of affection by challenging their willingness to love and trust. When will I learn?

“I am worthy,” she said.

“I am worthy,” she said.

“I am worthy,” she said.

“I am worthy,” she said.

I took that from four different stories with four different characters who were like and unlike me. What connects them is their visibility and humanity. They are worthy. I forget that.

I am worthy too.

Britt Julious is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. You can find her website here. She is the founder of Inland.

Paintings by Tadeusz Bilecki.

"Pay Attention" - Colleen Green (mp3)

"Deeper Than Love" - Colleen Green (mp3)