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Mia Nguyen

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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 We Mean Well At The End Of Our Line

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 recently began dating a guy I'll call Allen. Allen is somewhat different from my previous boyfriends but not in a bad way. He did not grow up in the U.S. and is sort of acclimating to being here, I would say. My family and friends at first were apprehensive about Allen, but those who have gotten to know him really enjoy his company and don't mind the different ways he sometimes goes about expressing himself.

My sister and a few friends have made it clear they do not really like Allen, and this is where the problem lies. I've asked them not to badmouth Allen when I'm around, but I know it is something they talk about, and they do passive-aggressive shit because they liked the last boyfriend I had. Is there any way to get people close to you to change their mind about someone you love?

Isao C.

Dear Isao,

Think about how rare it is for two people of different ages and backgrounds to get along with each other, and you will realize it is probably pretty natural that not everyone is going to immediately like a person who takes away time previously spent with you, who comes from a different place, and who probably smells like hot bologna.

This really is not about Allen — there is no perfect human being you could be with that would please everyone in your life. If Allen makes you happy, it was naturally going to upset other people you care about. In discussing this with the people close to you, be sure not to defend Allen or make the issue about him at all. If your friends and family care about you and want to be part of your life, they will accept and support your decision. If they don't...

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen. 


My girlfriend, who we will call LeAnn after legendary country-western singer LeAnn Rimes (sp?), has put on quite a bit of weight over the past year. It has definitely affected how attracted I am to her even though I have tried everything I can think of not to let that happen. But I need to be honest — when I look at her, she doesn't look like herself.   

I haven't mentioned this at all to LeAnn, but she is definitely aware of the weight she has put on and she talks about it quite a bit. Drawing attention to the change has not made it go away, and only serves to remind me of the stress that caused it and that things are different. 

I have mentioned working out together and stuff but LeAnn's schedule is not really conducive to this and she does exercise, but it is not really helping at this point. Is there any conceivable solution to my issue?

George M.

Dear George,

Over time, it is completely reasonable to change your view of a significant other. You are not going to be able to have the novelty of sexual discovery you possessed when you first met LeAnn. Sure, some people are so easily stimulated that the mere presence of a woman is enough to express lifelong devotion, but in most relationships you have to work to have that stimulation come from within and not the surface. 

Whatever the reason, getting to know LeAnn better has no doubt thrown a wrench in your view of her. Extra weight is not the entire story; you will find that even if she suddenly discovers hot yoga, things will never quite be exactly how they were. 

I would try finding the thing that is holding you back from loving LeAnn as she is. Once you find whatever that thing is and remove the obstacle, you probably won't care very much about the weight, and you will need further therapy. Maybe get out of this relationship now before it's too late.

"Automatic" - Wolf Parade (mp3)



In Which These Are The Reasons She Was Shunned

The Oracle


But who knows what good might come from the least of us? From the bones of old horses is made the most beautiful Prussian blue.

- Joy Williams, Dimmer

There’s the pelican child. The orphan boy whose eyes ooze a milky substance. The girl named after the genus of crows and ravens, whose friends find her presence nearly as portentous as the birds’. The shallow boy who laughs in a noblesse oblige fashion. Kate who, even as a child, had the glimpse of extrication in her eyes. The stroke victim who dreams of thirst. The cowboy with the blood of lambs caked beneath his nails. Doreen the sorority girl who rubs self-tanner on her nipples. Deke the wino whose tight leather pants suggest no knob. Alice who has been told she gives the concept of carpe diem a bad name. Corinthian Brown who sleeps in the junkyard and has an unpleasant skin condition. The fitful lady in a bookstore ordering a copy of The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets so as to read about Coatlicue, the Aztec “protectress of lone women, of female outsiders who had powerful ideas and were therefore shunned.” God driving a pink Wagoneer. The piano player for hire, sly with a greedy body and wayward mind — in short, a pervert.

These are the characters that populate the work of Joy Williams. They can be cretinous and difficult to look in the eye. “Escapees from some pageant of atrocities” is how one critic described them. However, most aren’t miscreants, just daydreamers with primitive social skills. They love and yearn to be loved, but in a distorted, unbecoming, predaceous, careless way. A Williams character is often an orphan or an alcoholic or both. They spend a lot of time grieving in peculiar ways. They greet the suffering of others with ambivalence or, at best, curiosity. Their grip on reality is tenuous, making action and thought difficult to sort out.

Despite their vulgarities, her characters are endearing. They are more familiar but still comparable to those of the gothic menagerie: Flannery O’Connor’s Enoch Emery, Carson McCullers' jockey who dines on rose petals, Katherine Dunn’s family of geeks. Or Karen Russell. In her review of Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove, Williams could have been talking about herself when she complimented Russell on “the wily freshness of her language and the breezy nastiness of her observations.” Williams has a favorite way of carving out the details of her characters and their mise-en-scène. That is, through simile. She relies on it heavily, especially in her earlier work, but not to a fault. Her skill is such that I welcome each one. A long but not exhaustive list of my favorites: 

Freddie Gomkin’s wife, who had a face like an ewe, gave birth to twins in January, when everyone knew that poor Fred had been gelded in the war.

She could hear Tommy’s voice faintly in the air, but it seemed contained, as though in some heart’s chamber.

She touched her tiny ears, which looked as though they’d been grafted on in some long-ago emergency operation by an inappropriate donor.

Miriam had once channeled her considerable imagination into sex, which Jack had long appreciated, but now it spilled everywhere and lay lightly on everything like water on a lake.

The brandy rocked like mud in the paper cups.

The moss feels like Father’s hands, which were always very rough although there wasn’t any reason for their being so.

“Oh remember that my life is wind,” he kept bringing up like yesterday’s breakfast.

Spreading decline like a citrus tree.

Writers are like eremites or anchorites — natural-born eremites or anchorites — who seem puzzled as to why they went up the pole or into the cave in the first place.

The rain was clattering like teeth in a cold mouth.

Gestating is like being witness to a crime. And I am furtive, I must admit.

The words so clear and useless like a mirror hung backward on a wall.

He had straddled the baby as it crept across the ground as though little Mal were a gulch he had no intention of falling into.

She began kissing his neck, sucking up the skin beneath her teeth as though she were chewing on an artichoke.

It is as though she had bones webbed in her throat.

Heartbreak surrounds her, though she seems unaware of it. She moves through it like a leaf, like a feather, like a falling piece of soot. It is as though she is living out some event that is not part of her life.

Everything in the world was slick and trembling like a gland, like something gutted, roped and dangling from a tree.

Words are macerated like bones being cleaned, and new meaning comes from the sentence assembled. Coca-Cola becomes an eccentricity. A palmetto bug becomes a widow’s amulet. A voice’s bitter tenor becomes the pith of a tree.

A practiced objectivity is necessary for Williams to successfully put together these similes where the pure and putrid hold hands. Critics and Williams herself have pointed out that the idea of “seeing things without preconception” often comes up in her writing. Besides aiding in her simile construction, this perspective is also key to how her characters relate to the world. It allows for the people, animals, and objects in her work to all share the same possibility of thought and emotion. To build on one of Williams’ phrases: Her attitude of impartiality allows for her work to navigate the straits between the living and the dead and the unliving and the undead.

This navigation is exemplified in Williams’ short story “Congress.” It begins with adorations for forensic anthropology professor Jack. His life is filled with praises from those who can finally move on now that Jack has reconstructed the last moments of a loved one’s life through hair and bone fragment. The pieces don’t fit together as well at home; while Jack is an expert gardener with prized rose bushes, his girlfriend Miriam has taken to stealing dying plants from supermarkets and lawns with the intention of nursing them back to health in their yard. Her attempts never thrive like Jack’s flowers.

The dynamic changes when Jack is severely disabled in a hunting accident. The accident is described in a slew of similes: “Then late one afternoon when Jack was out in the woods, he fell asleep in his stand and toppled out of a tree, critically wounding himself with his own arrow, which passed through his eye and into his head like a knife thrust into a cantaloupe. A large portion of his brain lost its rosy hue and turned gray as a rodent’s coat ... He emerged from rehab with a face expressionless as a frosted cake.” After the accident, Jack is doted on by the student who introduced him to hunting. The student, Carl, even replaces Miriam in the bedroom.

Now finding herself freed from Jack’s judgments, Miriam develops an affection for a wobbly lamp Jack made from deer hooves. They read together daily. (At one point, they argue over a book of verses. Amusingly the lamp finds it repellent that the verses confuse thought with existence.) And when Carl decides Jack needs a road trip through the Southwest, Miriam insists they also bring the lamp. In the end, Miriam and the lamp stay behind at one of the desert towns, home to a taxidermy museum, where she is asked by the taxidermist-in-residence to take over his duties of answering questions posed by tourists who come from all over seeking an oracle.

It’s a story brimming with Williams' favorite subjects — taxidermy, the desert, misfits, mortality — and in it the corpus has as much to say as the living; the people can be as impassive as the landscape. With prickly humor, she explores the desire for purpose, for meaning in life and death. That Williams doesn’t elaborate on motivations gives the story its poignancy.

In the early ‘80s, Joy Williams was sometimes lumped with the “Kmart Realists” — writers like Raymond Carver and Ann Beattie. It’s a descriptor that seems fit for a William Eggleston photograph, but Williams’ work is more analogous to Diane Arbus. It’s a glimpse of the underbelly of ordinary. John Barth called it cool-surfaced fiction. And indeed there is a distantness to Williams’ fiction. She doesn’t coddle our species. Hers is the writing of someone who loves humanity but refuses it authority.

Helen Schumacher is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She tumbls here and here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about recess.

"In the Backyard" - Henrietta (mp3)


In Which We Miss The Stolid Romance Of Our Thrones



Now that Littlefinger is back, I don't have to cry myself to sleep anymore. I don't have to, but I still do, mainly because The Grinder was canceled and I have no way to feel better about things besides googling the words "Rob Lowe old." We all need small comforts. I don't know what Littlefinger does when he is feeling a little down; maybe masturbates a dire wolf? Possibly he just takes a day off from plotting and feeds the birds.

Littlefinger's return could have presaged the death of an honorable warrior of the Vale, but I have truly no idea what the point of this character is anymore. In the coming war against the Lannister-Tyrell armies Daenerys faces an opponent who cannot even evict a bunch of religious wretches from their city. What possible match could the armies of Westeros be for dragons?

In two out of three episodes of Game of Thrones, Emilia Clarke displays her chest. This feat has gotten progressively less interesting over time, especially since in this episode she slaughtered a bunch of guys who only made vague threats along the lines of, "You are subject to the patriarchy," and "You will not be reading Jezebel in the near future." If they were going to harm her, they probably would have already.

Sexual violence is indistinguishable from actual violence in Game of Thrones, which is how you know this is a series conceived by men so that they can imagine women in their own image. Whether there is any actual difference between the sexes I don't really know, except to say I would not be caught dead in Dame Tyrell's outfit.

The conversation between her and the Lannisters was long overdue — I mean how long were these people going to sit around having small council meetings, like another three seasons? Queen Margaery has been eating gruel and her own hair this whole fucking time.

The writing for Tyrion Lannister on Game of Thrones is more painful than ever. He has zero chemistry with Grey Worm and there are no romantic options for him in the East at all. Daenerys gave him someone to play off of, but they were separated as soon as he got to Mereen, which turned out to be a terrible dramatic decision.

The set design in this episode was really on point, though. The temple where Tyrion met with the slavers, giving them seven years to end slavery seemed like a livable house, and the big tent that Daenerys burned down had a ghostly symmetry reminiscent of Braavos. It's disappointing that the only history we get into is the events of Robert's Rebellion — I long thought that the later part of Game of Thrones would explain such mysteries as the environmental disaster that was the doom of Valyria. I don't have much hope for that anymore.

Last episode probably should have ended with the triumphant Jon Snow-Sansa Stark reunion, instead of him tromping south but then returning when he realized he did not have any of his things. Now that Jon has an entire ginger army ready to fight for him, I hope he takes out Ramsey Bolton quickly. Then we won't have to see Ramsey doing something kind of mean each week to remind us of what a dick he is.

Like most people, I have no memory of Sansa Stark being cruel to Jon Snow. I guess she said he was just a bastard. Given how things went, it would have made more sense to have them be friends when they were children, which suggests George is just throwing shit at the wall.

I was going to say we only saw one death this week, but I guess it was more like fifty or sixty. A lot of unimportant characters will be on the chopping block soon. Tommen Baratheon is so ineffectual I expect that his mother will slaughter him every time she goes in for an embrace. As an aside, the constant weekly emphasis on how Cersei would do anything for him seems to be leading to a betrayal of some kind, but I suppose it could also be leading to the end of Cersei. The Lannisters don't seem to have a lot of clear direction and I'm really unsure if we are supposed to hate or love them at this point.

I don't really remember the Onion Knight meeting up with Brienne, but I suppose if they could find love with each other, that could potentially be a best-case scenario for all involved. They could pillow talk about who loved which Baratheon brother more, and fantasize about the two becoming close friends again and ruling Westeros in a partnership for the ages. 

Maybe that is stretching, but Game of Thrones needs some romance, badly. It used to be someone was getting fucked right and left, but now sex has been relegated to the alleyways of the Dothraki settlement, where one young lady was having the best feast night in recent memory. No one has fallen in love in some time in the land of Seven Kingdoms, and even Samwell has been unable to consummate things due to his seasickness. Time to couple up you guys.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

"Gamma" - Rodion (mp3)

"Colazione" - Rodion (mp3)