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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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Wednesday
Dec262012

In Which We Embark On An Unsettling Endeavor

A Way Out

by EMILY ROSENBERG

How we need another soul to cling to, another body to keep us warm. To rest and trust; to give your soul in confidence: I need this, I need someone to pour myself into.

The Unabridged Journals, Sylvia Plath

So many poetry readers think that Anne Sexton considered Sylvia Plath a rival to her poetic genius. It is tempting to believe something that corresponds so well to the two women’s similar poetry about the darker, feminine experience of the American dream. The truth is, however, that such an unsettling endeavor was hard enough without making enemies.

Readers of modern poetry might as well say that Francis Ford Coppola considered ending his Godfather-fueled reign over American film as soon as he found out Martin Scorsese was making a name for himself in the same genre. This story is, as many movie fans know, also false. But it sounds just as reasonable as the Plath v. Sexton rivalry. The hypothetical Coppola v. Scorsese fight could have run off any tabloid and become a fact for many who would believe the rumor until another flashy piece of written evidence told them it was a lie. The more reasonable story is one that tells how Martin was inspired by Francis’ films, using his people and settings to tell new stories that may not have existed without The Godfather.

Luckily for Anne and Sylvia, there js enough evidence to prove the rivalry between the two canonical figures of confessional poetry was more like an angry symbiosis. Anne’s 1965 copy of Sylvia’s last poetry collection Ariel looks nothing like what avid believers of mid-twentieth century literary talk would expect. The copy does not resemble a bleeding, marked up semblance of a Normal Mailer draft. The one-way correspondence, reading as a broken-up eulogy from Anne to the dead Sylvia, is more like a college student’s notes on a poet or writer - one whose voice is different, maybe more uncomfortable to digest, than what the student labored over in high school textbooks. The notes, as well as Anne’s more connected eulogy to her friend in “Sylvia Plath,” show that what the women had in common, more than a need to come out on top, was an unavoidable empathy with each other.

The two poets met at a seminar in 1958, ten years after Alfred Sexton II, who called himself “Kayo,” turned Anne’s pen name from the forgettable Harvey into the Sexton that now accompanies almost any image of a witch in poetry. Anne and Sylvia had much more in common than they thought, from their unavoidable notice of death, to their desire to become poets, to their decision to talk about both over martinis after class at the Boston Ritz-Carlton.

The two always talked about the seminar and its professor, their confessional predecessor Robert Lowell, while downing at least “three martinis,” as Anne remembers. Another student from the seminar, George Starbuck, would often join them for drinks. He could not distract from the bizarre talk spiking the usual yuppie conversation with an unfamiliar idea that could have been almost progressive. What made Anne and Sylvia stand out from their male classmates and professor was their unique, yet mutual, idea that death would make them even freer, even more insightful, than anything else they could find in life.

Anne and Sylvia’s realization that they both had this faith in death increased their closeness and only made the line between male and female poets at the time bolder. Unlike the fondness and nostalgia for traditional, American values that became Robert’s signature, Sylvia and Anne’s view of what these values did to their independence is what almost completely separates them from other confessional poets. They could have been drawing each other into a friendly twofold bet every night at the Ritz, one that would allow them to write about death’s true nature and eventually find it out for themselves. To George or to anyone else in the bar watching, they might have been witches. Even Anne and Sylvia may not have known they were casting irresistible spells on each other, wrapping themselves in natural, sometimes pagan ideas that did not yet have a place in the American life.

Anne had married Kayo ten years before she met Sylvia. They had two children and Anne was smitten with him, even without a complete sense of monogamy, for at least twenty years after she met Sylvia. Their marriage was another way for Anne to show how much her love for a man meant to her, even though the institution of marriage meant little. Anne did not hide her several affairs from her husband, but she didn’t divorce him until only a year before her death. Like Sylvia, who wanted someone to “pour herself into,” Anne needed Kayo to be there, to hear her and be the voice that she could listen to without any degree of repulsion. She admitted to her first psychiatrist Dr. Martin that “when my husband is away, I fall apart.”

Sylvia started in the same place as Anne in 1956, marrying the British poet Ted Hughes and having two of his children within the next six years. Sylvia fell in love with Ted in Cambridge, Massachusetts at the release party for a magazine that was publishing four of his poems. The night was an ecstatic one for Sylvia. She remembers how Ted was the only man at the party “huge enough” for her. He soon became the only one who could doom her into the marriage that would add a new spark to her poetry.

Nevertheless, Sylvia suffered several periods of writer’s block throughout her time living with Ted and their children in London and Devon, England. Every time her anger with Ted grew strong, she’d break through the writer’s block. After learning of Ted’s affair with their London neighbor Assia Gutmann, Sylvia wrote her most famous poems. She wrote twenty-five more in less than a month once she divorced the openly unfaithful Ted. Perhaps one of the things Anne and Sylvia could not absorb from each other was the idea of love, the lack of it fueling the stories Sylvia’s poems and the overwhelming abundance of it spilling into Anne’s words.

Both men and women in the 1960s likely thought it was strange that Anne and Sylvia wanted to escape the world that Robert, and other male poets like Ted, built for them. Women were also holding onto the faith that theirs wasn’t a world of households, children, and endless bee-like droning during that time. Anne and Sylvia met and wrote in order to tell them that their world included these, but also a way out.

One of these escape routes was the ocean. The ocean was the place where Sylvia and Anne would run into Robert… the same ocean that he thought was supporting his American dream as he stands on a beachside cliff in his less known poem “Castine Harbor.” Robert felt a kind of faith to the ocean. He made it similar to the 1950s to 60s values that made his life as a poet, a husband, a father, and an independent person possible. He goes so far as to make the ocean equal to “God, who must forgive us for having lived.” His guilt is one for the progress of humanity, one that lets people “fly like angels” and leave the foundations of the familiar home forgotten. But Anne, who wants to walk straight into its dangerous waves in “Wanting to Die,” and Sylvia, who realizes in a scene of The Bell Jar that she doesn’t have nearly enough courage to do so, have a different reason to almost worship the ocean. It’s one of the first times that both Anne and Sylvia find something natural that will free them from the household, something that would drown rather than compose itself of the values that stunted what they knew of Robert’s independence. At this coastline, the one between normal, imprisoning life and terrifyingly free death, Anne and Sylvia realized that together, there could be more than one way to dive into what nobody could know for sure.

By underlining and annotating those parts of Ariel that struck her the most, Anne made a blueprint of some things she learned from Sylvia, as well as other things that Sylvia learned from her. It would be hard to remember Anne’s poem “Her Kind” without including the image of the “possessed witch” who “waves her nude arms at villages going by”… the one that stops moving so fervently when Anne leaves her “arms stretched out to that stone place” where she knows Sylvia will always live in “Sylvia Plath.” That witch is the same one who takes “the skillets, carvings, shelves, closets, silks, innumerable goods,” so familiar to Sylvia in her kitchen and basement, and turns them into a sorceress’ tools. They please the ones she has to look after as a mother and a wife, but they can also be the tools of a witch… a woman who Anne was at one point, who wouldn’t have been afraid to walk into the ocean if it were facing her. The idea that an escape could be as natural as the ocean, but that one needed bravery as supernatural as witchery to face it, made dying an available challenge. Its attainability, however, was impossible for her to doubt, especially when Sylvia looked at nature and the woman in the same way.

The supernatural bravery of the woman in Sylvia’s poetry is not of a witch figure like the one of Anne’s dark, female-centric fairy tales, but it grows out of a similar isolation from others that seems almost pagan. Like the witchy Anne in “Her Kind” who retires to “warm caves” in the woods, Sylvia wanders away from neighbors and loved ones into the woods in the poem “The Moon and the Yew Tree.” She writes in her diary that she constantly remembered feeling the intoxicating, almost intimidating energy of the moonlight whenever she walked through the woods to visit her father’s grave. She made the graveyard a common sight in her poems and a constant presence in her own life, perhaps to make up for the nineteen years she refused to visit her father’s grave after his death.

You would think the graveyard would be a place to rekindle Sylvia’s loyalty to her father. Iinstead it becomes a haven for other non-human spirits of the world. The feminine moon in the poem is the only female figure that does not let masculinity hold her back. She is as “bald” as the “nude arms” of Anne when she was a witch. She is unashamed to be “wild” like the witch who has few fears and even less self-consciousness. One of the more heavily marked poems in Anne’s copy of Ariel, “The Moon and the Yew Tree” would have been a dark world without a moon had Sylvia not been able to see Anne writing and finishing “Her Kind.”

Whether or not one did better than the other, Anne and Sylvia couldn’t avoid becoming friends once they both became poets. They were the ones who could turn the thoughts of their contemporary house-bound American women into a story when others before them could not. They knew that every housewife was different before her marriage. They also knew how their thoughts could take either a submissive or a resistant path away from the droning work they were doing every day. Anne and Sylvia were the ones who wanted to resist, even though during their friendship it seemed like their story would have the same ending as every other woman’s story did. They’d put their sons into the world and their daughters into a house, and die in the happiest, most natural way they could as old, compliant women. But Anne and Sylvia, knowing they couldn’t venture back to the girlish independence that died in their twenties, decided it’d be best to escape to the only place without age.

Before they could court death with lone witches and living moons, Anne and Sylvia met in poems about men, but their ideas did not crash into each other. Sylvia’s most well-known poem about men, “Daddy,” did not take form until she met Anne’s poems on the men in her life. Anne’s poem from 1959, “My Friend, My Friend,” takes on the chanting, accusatory “you” rhymes that those who remember “Daddy” cannot forget. The idea that Sylvia might be a Jew also comes from “My Friend, My Friend,” when Anne gives up her “calm white pedigree” in favor of something she doesn’t even know.

Anne tried to escape from her life, especially from the people in it, several times. Nobody could, or wanted to, understand why. Anne started attempting her escapes even before she was writing poetry, when she was twenty-eight and had been a housewife for almost ten years. It was her first psychiatrist, Dr. Martin T. Orne, who told her that writing poetry might be a good path for her, one that would let her stay in the world a little longer if it couldn’t entirely cure her from insanity.

By the time of her first visit, Anne had already started some of what her family remembers were her signature ticks. Her daughter remembers Anne moving her eyes up and down a wall every night after dinner, widening them as if she were expecting it to do something for her. For “Dr. Martin,” her mental instability was a sign of her creative potential, but for anyone viewing her without a psychological perspective, she was showing more signs of a destructive potential. Her first way to escape with a pill overdose only spawned new ways, even after she started seeing Dr. Martin and writing poetry. Anne tried to find new ways to leave the world, sometimes in a car filling itself with carbon monoxide, and other times just by staying at home to try the first route with pills again.

The attempts constantly brought her back to Dr. Martin and poetry. After only three months of therapy with him, Anne wrote her first collection of poetry, To Bedlam and Part Way Back. The collection more than anything else was “frank,” as Anne’s other poet friend Maxine Kumin called it. The directness of its words seduced women of 1957 into thinking that their anger was more normal than anyone wanted to admit. It had sent one of them into a prison of self-doubt, psychiatric therapy, and constant plans to escape it all. But it had also sent that same woman into fame, admiration from thousands of American women, and a hyper-sexuality that made Anne more dependent on the world than she would have ever liked to think.

The sessions with Dr. Martin led Anne to do more with her energy than write poetry. She’d had affairs with several men, including her second psychiatrist who she called “Dr. Zweizung,” as well as one woman. Her open sexuality, and her lack of an effort to hide her affairs from Kayo, came as a little surprise for someone who wrote about masturbation, menstruation, incest, abortion, and rape almost as much as death in her poetry. Anne’s need to “sexualize everything” in her sessions and in her poetry, as Dr. Martin noted, was something that Sylvia, although not nearly as sexually liberal as Anne, could understand. The stories about sex, as vulgar as they were, in Anne’s poetry did not come only from her own mind. They were a mixture of several men, from her psychiatrists to Kayo to her own father, that was more taboo but just as dark as the men in Sylvia’s poetry.

Both women thought that death could be a good escape from the madness that men provoked in them. Sylvia’s “Daddy” takes this idea to its zenith. Although she borrows the idea that “might as well be a Jew” from “My Friend, My Friend,” Sylvia’s anger at her “Aryan” father, “the man in black,” is all her own. To Sylvia he is “not God but a swastika, so black no sky could squeak through.” He is the man who betrayed not only his family but the entire world with his sympathies for Nazi Germany. His support for the mass murder of Jews echoes in Sylvia’s words, those same words giving in to the unconquerable power that Ted wielded over her poetry and her life. Anne’s notes on the infamous “Daddy” drip with the same anger that Sylvia felt when she looked at the protective glance of the father that she could not trust – the glance that Anne wrote she could see “devour” Sylvia “in a single glance.” Just like the cult-like group of readers that identified with Anne’s poetry, Anne reached out to Sylvia’s words about her father as a traitor instead of a guardian.

Anne talked often in her sessions with Dr. Martin about her own father’s molestation of her, something that fascinated her as an adult and took a dark form in her own molestation of her daughter Linda. Like Otto, Anne’s father was the first man who made Anne find that domestic life was not a free one, not even a good one. Even though Sylvia took Anne’s rhymes and ideas from “My Friend, My Friend” and turned them into a near-canonical American poem, Anne’s note in Ariel makes it clear that she couldn’t be angry now that, finally, another woman’s innermost anger was in print.

Anne may have appreciated “Daddy” in her notes because Sylvia was able to tell a story in it that transitioned from a girlhood of short poems and essays to a womanhood of dark, now famous poems that partially grew out of Anne’s own words. Otto Plath was the first of two major male influences on Sylvia’s poems. A German immigrant and biology professor, Otto first disturbed his daughter with an unmanageable gangrene infection in his foot that, as something he ignored, took him away from her life when Sylvia was eight years old. She loved him very much as a child, swearing that “she’d never speak to God again” after he died. She only started to despise him for his sympathy with the Nazis after his death.

She waited much less to address the second man she loved… the one who catapulted her name with his own before “Daddy, you bastard, I’m through” became one of the signature lines of female rage. Even with these now-famous words, Anne’s copy of Ariel shows how Sylvia’s work could not exist without some amount of regards for her husband Ted, whose reviews and accolades star one of the book’s cover flaps.

Ted was the man who publicly discussed Sylvia’s neurosis surrounding her writing, her father, her marriage, and her death. He even burned some of her diaries after he inherited her estate, claiming in one interview that he didn’t want his children to read about what she was feeling and thinking during her last days. Ted didn’t know that these acts would earn him another ironic reputation that connects itself to Sylvia rather than his poetry. After years of writing her most angry and famous poetry, yet remaining the caretaker of Ted’s children, Sylvia committed one of the most famous suicides in history by locking herself in the kitchen and sticking her head into its running gas oven. She escaped the world while her children ate lunch in the next room.

Before Sylvia’s escape, Ted had already married his mistress Assia Gutmann, who had moved into the family’s house in Devon. She spent seven years sleeping in what was once Sylvia’s bed, using perhaps the appliance or household good that Sylvia might have been hesitant to open in “A Birthday Present.” In a tragic, ironic twist that Ted may have only predicted in a nightmare, Assia locked both herself and their daughter “Shura” in the kitchen with a running oven, following Sylvia to her freer existence. Assia, even if she took the monogamy away from what was still a conventional marriage, needed to escape from her stifling marriage to Ted just as much as Sylvia did. The combination of Ted’s continuous affairs and Sylvia’s words constantly running through English presses was enough to make her listen to the wife who was in the house before her. Nothing could have convinced Ted more that Sylvia’s words said something about being a woman at the time that his could not.

Listening to some words from Kayo, who remained Anne’s husband for almost twenty-five years, may have helped Ted realize how Sylvia never wrote anything alone. “Daddy” exists because Sylvia listened to words from Anne and felt the anger that grew out of her discoveries about Otto and Ted. Anne must have agreed with her own words as well… neither she nor Sylvia had a “special legend or God to refer to.” Everything from the pagan life they give to the moon and the trees, and the human anger that men constantly hurled onto them, were all a part of the world. These qualities were not there only poetic devices. They were undoubtedly real, pushing Anne and Sylvia more and more towards the freedom they deserved but could not receive, even in the poetry field that now defines one of its time periods with their voices.

Unlike their mentor Robert Lowell, who combined the roles of father and writer with invisible seams, Sexton and Plath tried repeatedly to rip apart the nightmare that the American dream had become for them. After writing the enraged, revolutionary words that would shine an uncomfortable new light on American femininity, Sylvia was the first to gas her voice into a much quieter death in 1963. Anne was left without one of her greatest friends, but she toasted the death, the one she “drank to” with Sylvia at the Ritz, as well as “the motives and the quiet deed” itself. These words from “Sylvia Plath” and the notes in her copy of Ariel were some of Anne’s last gifts from her lost friend.

On October 4th, 1974 Maxine Kumin was having lunch at Anne’s house to talk about Anne’s latest and last collection with the intentional title of The Awful Rowing Toward God. At some point in the afternoon, Anne excused herself from the room to put on her fur coat, proceeded to the garage, turned on her car engine, and asphyxiated herself on the carbon monoxide she’d flirted with so much throughout her years of psychiatric sessions, occasional psychiatric affairs and consistently frank poems.

Neither poet stayed too close to the obvious images, both wild and domestic, that haunted their shortened lives. Honey, and the manmade Tate and Lyle substitute that became too familiar for their housebound lives, was one of the less memorable but more disorienting features of their poetry. Not as grand as the moon but more intense than a description of their actual families could be, the artificial sweetener is something that women still face every day. It is more economical than honey and less fattening than sugar… it’s still the ideal standby sweetener for the ideal woman. In Sylvia’s “Wintering,” honey becomes simply interchangeable with the artificial sweetener of the day. Whatever she uses, it will put her in the droning role that female bees take on as they usher honey between different chambers of the hive.

For Sylvia, honey is more of a trap than a kind of natural sugar. It threatens Plath’s independence and reinforces marriage. Like the poems on Otto and Ted, these poems on the droning modern woman is what attracted Anne’s pen the most in her copy of Ariel.

In “Sylvia Plath,” Anne remembers Sylvia as devoted to these daily tasks of “raising potatoes and keeping bees,” the meaningless ones that somehow became important when they became part of poetry. Even for the poet trapped in the role of a wife and mother, honey is better than Tate & Lyle. What could be less threatening to a woman’s creativity and her own words than honey? Even as a household object, it somehow feeds the creativity that we may have thought mundane life had killed. Anne and Sylvia’s words have become honey for me. If I stick onto them, even if I let go of myself and feed off of what they have already written, I might be able to escape whatever bothers me for a little while. But without their words, I never would have found those cracks in the wall of the world that sometimes seems, as Sylvia feels in “Wintering,” to be “without a window.”

Emily Rosenberg is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Atlanta. She last wrote in these places about Russia. You can find her website here. You can find her twitter here.

"Organized Scenery" - Au Revoir Simone (mp3)

"Shadows" - Au Revoir Simone (mp3)

Tuesday
Dec252012

In Which The Seduction Is More Complicated

25 Verifiable Facts About Marlon Brando

by ELLEN COPPERFIELD

1

When I first saw Marlon Brando, he looked like a bowling ball with a lisp emitting from the finger holes.

2

He was a hellion as a teen. His parents sent him to the same military academy his father had attended. He wrote, "I'm kinda homesick and want my mother, but I guess I will get over that. I've received exactly one letter since I've been here. Fine support for the baby of the family." The next month he added, "I had to read Wuthering Heights for English and I never enjoyed a book in all my life as much as that one."

3

He fled the set of Darryl Zanuck's The Egyptian, dressing up in the most expensive clothes he could find because they were looking for the Marlon who always wore a t-shirt and jeans.

4

While filming Mutiny on the Bounty, Marlon spied a Tahitian island and purchased it from the blind elderly American woman who lived there with forty cats and dogs. She had to go to Vallejo, CA for medical treatment. He bought the place for $200,000. Shortly after she moved she died.

5

A Harvard Medical School psychologist who slept with Marlon observed, "There are casual ladykillers and serious ladykillers. The casual ladykiller is a person who doesn't try to involve you in a relationship but seeks to get you only by the magnetism of his sexuality. A serious ladykiller has much more imagination and tries to capture you in more intricate ways - meaning that he involves you with his ideas, his thinking. The seduction is much more complicated - only then he has more trouble because women inevitably fall in love with him."

6

When he was trying to get his break in the theater, he was offered a part in a new play by Eugene O'Neill, The Iceman Cometh. Marlon later wrote, "I'd always thought he was dour, negative and too dark." He argued with a producer about "why I thought the play was ineptly written, poorly constructed, and would never be a success."

7

After he filmed the movie version of A Streetcar Named Desire Marlon moved into an apartment near Carnegie Hall and seduced the entire group of young actresses at the Actor's Studio. He met Marilyn Monroe when he elbowed her in the face by accident. She replied, "There are no accidents." She invited him over for sex the week before she died. In his autobiography Songs My Mother Taught Me he wrote, "I didn't sense any depression or clue of impending self-destruction during her call. That's why I'm sure she didn't commit suicide. If someone is terminally depressed, no matter how clever they may be, or how expertly they try to conceal it, they will always give themselves away. I've always had an unquenchable curiosity about people, and I believe I would have sensed something was wrong if thoughts of suicide were anywhere near the surface of Marilyn's mind. I have always believed she was murdered."

8

Jean Cocteau said of him, "Marlon is the only man who can make noise without disturbing anybody."

9

Marlon hated having sex with a condom on. He regarded it as base.

10

After meeting Marlon before they began shooting Last Tango in Paris, Bertolucci said, "In Bacon you see people virtually throwing up their guts and doing a monkey's job on themselves with their own vomit. I found this same kind of appeal in Marlon."

11

He would always willingly supply the money for an abortion.

12

When The Godfather came around, Marlon was desperate for a role to revive his career. Francis Ford Coppola could not possibly ask him to audition, so he asked Marlon if he could come by the actor's Mulholland Drive home and "improvise" in front of a camera. After he saw the tape, producer Bob Evans said, "He looks Italian, fine. But who is he?" He did not recognize the man before him.

13

Marlon's mother was a furtive alcoholic. She would take quiet sips from a small bottle whenever she could. "When my mother drank," Marlon said, "her breath had a sweetness to it I lack the vocabulary to describe."

14

In the wake of Dr. King's death, Marlon felt an affinity for the Black Panthers. They did not share this positive feeling. "They told me that they despised me because I was just another knee jerk white liberal to them."

15

The day before A Streetcar Named Desire opened at the Ethel Barrymore, Marlon telegrammed his father to say, NEED MONEY BY TONIGHT SHOW SPLENDID LETTER TO FOLLOW MARLON.

16

He believed that by dripping a wet towel soaked with hot water on his head, he would never go bald.

17

On the set of A Countess From Hong Kong, during a close-up, he asked Sophia Loren if she knew small hairs were coming out of her nose. She never spoke to him again.

18

After watching his performance in The Godfather, he said, "When I saw it the first time it made me sick. All I could see were my mistakes and I hated it."

19

If he liked you, he wanted to be close to you, even if just briefly. "Like a large number of men," he eventually admitted, "I too have had homosexual experiences and am not ashamed. I've never paid attention to what people said about me. Deep down I felt ambiguous and I'm not saying that to spite the seven out of ten women who consider me - wrongly perhaps - a sex symbol. According to me, sex is something that lacks precision. Let's say sex is sexless."

20

When Lew Wasserman tried to change the title of The Appaloosa to Southwest to Sonora, Marlon did not take it very well. He hired a group of mariachi players to go around Universal singing a song they had written called "Southwest to Sonora" until the studio aceded to his wishes.

21

In later years, Brando became very uptight about his weight. He would pull up the curtain whenever he changed clothes.

22

Marlon's son Christian spiralled out of control with drugs and alcohol as a teen. He would steal pot from neighbor Jack Nicholson's stash. If Jack caught him, Christian Brando would imitate his part in Chinatown, saying "You do that again and I'll break your fucking fingers, man."

23

On the set of Guys and Dolls, Sinatra and Brando just did not get along. One man never blew a line, the other wrote his dialogue on his hand. Frank's thugs followed him everywhere; Marlon was most happy completely alone. The only way they could get Marlon to go through with it was to buy him a white Thunderbird convertible.

24

On the set of The Fugitive Kind, Tennessee Williams screamed at Marlon, "I need radar equipment to hear what you're saying. If I can't hear my fucking dialogue, I'm going home."

25

As he traveled through France, he once spent the night with a woman in Ascain. "It's a terrible story," he told his friends, murmuring, "awful, awful, awful." They asked what happened, and he said, "I had a very nice time with her, and she made me a wonderful breakfast. I was thinking, 'Thank God she hasn't asked me for anything', but then when I was leaving, she did just that. She said, 'When shall we meet again?' It's too awful. That's what I had been afraid of all along."

Ellen Copperfield is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in San Francisco. She last wrote in these pages about her regrets. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

"531 Miles From Aberdeen to Cardiff" - Barefoot Dance of the Sea (mp3)

"Sea Shanty" - Barefoot Dance of the Sea (mp3)

Monday
Dec242012

In Which We Ransack Our Mind For What Is Not There

You Live Alone

by LUCY MORRIS

For many months, here in New York, we lived each day like it was the last week of summer. I trust you know the kind: the late August nights when you stay up until dawn, as though – all knowledge to the contrary – it is the last time you will ever do so, cradling a glass in your hand as though you will never hold a drink like it again, and confiding to your friends like it’s the last chance to get it all out before winter arrives. Only winter did not come. Yes, the days got shorter. I stood some lone, dark evenings in the flashing lights of First Avenue Indian restaurants, pretending they were the full-spectrum lamps used to treat seasonal depression, but it was by no means wool coat weather.

In late November, against all better judgment, I found myself steering someone home through Houston Street’s aisles of Christmas trees. But the branches were snowless, and I took this as a sign that I could act without consequence: even nature doesn’t know what’s happening tonight. Suspended as we were in perpetual autumn, no ice in sight, it all seemed slightly intangible, like some Hollywood director's vision of winter – delirious on beer and promise, I told myself we were touring a movie set, not my own neighborhood.

Our sense of summer had never quite ended. I wondered if maybe it never would.

+

I was in no rush for summer to end, because it had been a constructive one for me. The apartment I had moved into with my older brother was finally complete after months of renovations. The walls were a pristine white, for at least a few weeks before bikes and boxes and daily life scuffed them up. The floors were so shiny I felt actually, deceptively, rich in a way I had not thought possible – considering my account balance.

Fixtures and furniture started to arrive. A crew from P.C. Richard came to cart the thirty-year-old stove away and, a few hours later, another team arrived with the new one. I greeted a locksmith late one night when our front door surrendered to age and humidity and simply refused to open. If I had been in another kind of mental space, the kind I’d been in for much of the preceding year, this might have seemed like a metaphor. But, I was finding, something happens when you are genuinely content: you spend less time thinking in figurative language. The literal suffices.

By the end of May, I had an apartment where I was happy to wake up, a room where I was thankful to fall asleep. I wondered how just having my own bed might have altered the last few years. The majority of that time had been spent living in the homes of boyfriends. I phrase it that way because I mean that I moved into their lives with heaps of boxes and duffels. The homes were not mine to make, but ones to try to make my own. This was not a task I ever accomplished, perhaps because I was never quite confident that the payoff would be worth the inconvenience of packing it all up again. That I was right to be hesitant about digging in – to hang onto my dingy college-era sheets, to keep my books on separate shelves, to hold onto the boxes I came with – does not bring me the same satisfaction that intuition proven correct usually does. When I left – and I always did – I had no furniture to take with me.

The last delivery that arrived was a new bed. It was the first one that I could say belonged strictly to me. The first night I slept in it, I thought it was the most restful sleep I’d ever had.

+

 

At the same time as I settled into my new apartment, I returned to my office translation job after months of telecommuting from other cities. It took just a few weeks of long days ticked away in a windowless room while summer erupted outside to convince me I had to quit. Something had changed: it seemed that this was no longer what I wanted. It was still months before Zuccotti, when the sentiment appeared in op-eds and Times Square protests and tents in the park, but it had begun to dawn on me that there might be some alternative to spending the majority of my waking hours helping other people get rich.

Living especially frugally seemed like a reasonable tradeoff for being in control of my own time. I was acutely aware that this is a privilege of my age, a privilege of someone without real responsibility but with the reckless conviction that one day I will be able to make up for what I am deficient in now: for a lack of sleep and unbalanced diet and utter absence of savings.

But as it turned out, I picked up one freelance client, and then another, and still one more, until I could afford greens and happy hour drinks again. The sense of poise and control I felt perched at my living room desk with Cyrillic texts on my screen, even as early summer sweat dripped down the crevices of my back, was one I had never before experienced. No relationship I’d ever been in had brought me the same sense of command.

You see, I had for some time been using my youth and the presumed shortsightedness that accompanied it as an excuse for dubious relationship decisions: I’m twenty-two was the fundamental justification for everything I did in 2010 and then, even when I was no longer in fact twenty-two, for much of 2011. Although little of it was productive, the pursuit of romance above all else was, to my constant surprise, accepted by almost everyone around me. The common narrative is that doing anything for love is okay, provided that it works out, even if it doesn’t last forever.

I was realizing, in my own slow way, that if you are going to use age as a pretext at all, it might as well be for more interesting risks than dramatic, costly gestures and the kind of absurd late night declarations you make just to see if you can. To my surprise, waking up to a job I love is on the whole much more satisfying than waking up next to someone I loved once was. When you are young, it can be alarmingly easy and not even especially scarring to forget someone with whom you once spent every night. But I can say now with some minor authority that it is significantly more wrenching to forget, even just for a little while, what it is you want to do, and who it is you want to be.

+

Working from home changed everything, including my schedule. I awoke not to a succession of alarms that ensured I make the train, but to e-mails from courteous clients in Moscow whose faces I had never seen, whom I came to know only through pleasantries and requests and invoices. I adjusted to daily deadlines not of five p.m. but of one a.m., the hour at which Russia starts waking up. I began to live eight hours ahead of myself. But rather than feeling rushed, as I had in my old, harried office life, time started to seem open and infinite. There was my entire New York day, and then there was my Russian day, too, if I wanted it. And I often did, because in the daytime it was too hot to do much of anything besides work.

Our apartment had one ancient air conditioning unit left behind by former tenants, but its very hum made me anxious, a constant reminder of an escalating ConEd bill, so I refused to turn it on. When it got too hot to think, I shut my eyes for a while. When it got too hot to sleep, I slipped on my shoes, stuck three $1 bills in the waistband of the boxers I slept in, and went to Ray’s on Avenue A for frozen yogurt. “I’m going to have to order more chocolate just for you,”  ancient Ray himself told me late one night, but his lopsided grin told me that he didn’t mind. During the day here, when the heat is pressing in from all sides, the actions of every fellow inhabitant feel like a personal affront. But at nighttime, when a slight breeze starts to blow in from the water around us, a kind of broad generosity returns: you remember that nobody really minds much of anything when it is night and it is summer and it is New York.

In those moments, weaving gingerly, cone in hand, between towers of trash bags and tipsy, tottering women, I could see how different things can be when you live alone. In the presence of someone else, a two am ice cream run might have seemed at best indulgent; at worst, embarrassing. But now I could come and go at any hour I pleased. I wasn’t obligated to text anyone my whereabouts. I no longer experienced that tug to leave the party early, to go home to whomever was waiting. No boyfriend had ever explicitly asked this of me — it was no fault of theirs — but like many people, and perhaps women in particular, I had for a long time been unable to distinguish between habit or expectation and actual desire. As is also common, I had not felt the weight of this unvoiced obligation until it was lifted.

+

Lying on my bed reading with the windows open to the roar of St. Mark's Place, on winding late night walks home alone through Greenwich Village, on jogs along the East River and standing still in the rush of a cold shower afterward, my mind kept returning to a piece of a poem in Eileen Myles’ Inferno. I turned it over in my head and lobbed it in emails to friends scattered around the world, recited it aloud to an audience of just myself:

I don't think

I can afford the time to not sit right down &

write a poem

I don’t write poetry, but I was beginning to spend the hours I no longer wasted commuting writing instead. Something unexpected was happening: in the relative absence of men, who had staked out space in my brain for so long, there was new mental real estate opening up. It was as though when I had moved my belongings out, I had cleared way for the psychic space to think seriously about writing the poem – in my case, a metaphorical poem – to which Myles referred.

I hauled my laptop to Think Coffee on Fourth Avenue, where the conversation of the NYU summer school students around me proved sufficiently uninteresting as not to distract me. I couldn’t begrudge them their revelatory undergrad discoveries of Foucault and Marx: I, too, was undergoing internal transformations, and like them I wanted to espouse it to everyone I encountered. I wanted to tell the friends holed up at home with their boyfriends, the ones who still left the party early, to resist the impulse, to stay out just a little longer, to see what might be available if they did – a bevy of rooftops, new people, glimpses into other apartments and psyches and lives that, too, could be theirs, if only they allowed for it.

Aware that this would make me the most insufferable kind of friend, I said nothing, just as they had said nothing to me when I had been doing the same as them. I recalled that there was a hedonism to living with someone you loved: whiling away Saturdays in bed, goading each other into take-out, succumbing to the lazy pleasure of not even having to leave the house to see your favorite person. Meandering my own neighborhood paths on weekend afternoons, I spotted these couples: ice coffees in hand, limbs intertwined on the benches of Tompkins Square Park, adrift on planets of two. I readily recognized their happiness. But with a clarity that startled me, I recognized, too, that this was no longer – or at least for now – the kind of happiness I wanted.

+

Without a live-in companion, and after a day of working in the solitude of my apartment, I found that I was newly outgoing. I had my whole life identified as shy, perhaps even socially anxious in a clinical sense, but now I wondered if my sociability had simply been a gene late to come to fruition, much in the way my hair abruptly turned curly at age twelve.

When I met my daily deadlines, I closed my computer and went out. I walked to my budget gym, where East Village girls in harem pants and Converse sweated on treadmills. I came home and cooked collards in a partial state of undress, sweaty but aware that a chill was now in the air, that eating warm meals was again an option. I went out again after dinner for drinks, to readings, on walks around Alphabet City. “Headlines” and “I’m On One” were blaring on car stereos. I thought I might break into a sprint at any moment. It did not seem inconceivable that nobody would notice, and that in itself was comforting, a confirmation of the liberties of being alone.

What I felt for my friends, which had always been somewhat romantic in its profundity and complexity, was suddenly unconfined by the pressures of loving someone else.  I went for evening beers with new friends and afternoon coffee with ones I hadn’t seen in years. With the serious friends, the ones I thought of essentially as long-term partners, the mutual infatuation was limitless: when we went home for the night, we texted; from our desks the next day, we e-mailed. It was unambiguously pants weather now, and I kept expecting the real cold to come and hibernation season to set in. But it never quite happened. We kept venturing out.

Many evenings I would go to Brooklyn and hours later careen myself home on the L, barely conscious of my own itinerary. On these subway nights alone, my awareness of where I was extended just far enough to know that I was glad to be there alone. I had been feeling some appreciation for this late night solitude for a while, six or seven months now at least, the knowledge that I had for a long time been by far my favorite person to go home with and wake up to and cook breakfast for.

I recalled a time when I lived with a boyfriend, and the subway rides home to the life and house we shared felt excruciatingly long, an MTA-contrived plot to delay the pleasure of his company, our shared dinner, a movie on the couch. Now the ride itself was its own pleasure. Each time I got on the train, I wondered how far it could take me.

+

Eventually, in barely perceptible ways, independent of the weather and the spirit in the air – that summer commitment to no consequences, that sense of urban invincibility – a real seasonal change began to manifest. The tomatoes at the farmers market gave way to squash, to Brussels sprouts; the greens I’d hauled home in tote bags all summer began to dwindle, the potatoes appeared. One by one, I took fans out of windows. The temperatures were in the fifties on Thanksgiving Day, but there were sweet potatoes all the same. The seasons had changed in spite of themselves; no matter how late we stayed out sharing our secrets, there was nothing we could do to halt the cycle entirely.

The morning I awoke with the guy I’d led home through the Lower East Side, I was hit with a sense of something new: this was what it meant to bring someone home. It was not that I was new to the practice, exactly, it was just that I had never before had the sense of having a home, Tolstoy prints on the wall, all my shoes, all my books, all my thoughts in one place.

There were already e-mails on my phone from the Russians. I walked the guy to the train and then I continued on alone, no destination in mind. With a gratitude that originated deep in my chest and swelled upwards, out into a wide smile, I felt the limitless promise that I had begun to sense when I woke up every day in that bed of my own: the promise of Lower Manhattan streets stretched out around me and a pocket full of songs to guide the way, of croissants and morning conversation with a friend at a café on Avenue A, of hours of translating – that special retreat into the world of words that both pleased me immensely and paid the rent on the place that I liked so much. The sun was pulling up into the sky over the East River, which I had come to think of, selfishly but in a mental effort to distinguish it from the Hudson, as my river. I had my river. I had a new book to read.

Lucy Morris is the contributing editor to This Recording. She is a writer and translator living in Iowa City. She tumbls here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

Images by Kurt Knobelsdorf.

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