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Alex Carnevale

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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

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Felicity's disguise

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In Which Once Jesus Leaves The Building He's Out Of Mexico For Good

Chapter Nothing: The Epilogue


So I don't know about you, but I thought the Eastbound & Down finale was perfect. People seemed wary of this episode because the penultimate one was already so perfect it seemed mere folly to try topping it. But that's what Kenny Powers is all about; the dramatic gesture, the needlessly flamboyant exit, topping your own prior self-top.

I may have teared up slightly when we found out the baby was Kenny's. I didn't see it coming because I am very good at not jumping ahead in plots. I know everyone else figured it out the moment we saw April was pregnant, but I am kind of an idiot. Or maybe I just didn't want to think about it! Like Joan Holloway's baby being Roger's!

I don't understand anyone who didn't enjoy this season of Eastbound & Down. You will all miss Mexico secretly forever, just like Kenny. Comparisons to season 2 of The Wire are apt. Maybe it is my own personal affection for Mexico borne out of growing up in Southern California but I thought it was just as good as last season. I had no problem adjusting to the new setting and new set of characters. I miss them already. 

The best way around the sophomore slump is a curveball. And after your debut you're always a sophomore. Somebody will declare you over every time you come out. Like as much as I wish the new Kanye album were all Workout Plans I respect that his creative journey zigzags. Although seriously cool it with the guest appearances Ye. And stop trying so hard to impress the elite rich white art world. They're not worth it at all. 

Michael Peña's performance in this season of Eastbound & Down is my favorite thing of all time ever lately. His performance in Observe & Report is also a fucking tour de force, as is Danny McBride's cameo in that film. Several people whose opinions I really respect told me they hated Observe & Report, but they were ALL TOTALLY WRONG. One person who liked it a lot was Quentin Tarantino, another person is Molly Lambert.

jody hill and seth rogenI think Observe & Report is awesome. I think Seth Rogen is not totally right for the part, which seems tailor-made for Danny McBride, but that actually makes him way scarier because Rogen is so believable as a normal repressed guy who's kind of a wingnut. I think Anna Faris gives the best supporting performance in her already stellar career of supporting performances. I could write a sonnet about Jody Hill's direction.

I guess I love Jody Hill's direction so much because it's exactly what I aim for as a writer: sloppy enough that it looks like you're barely trying, but then the sloppiness is actually totally practiced and honed and purposeful. I like Jody Hill's Eastbound episodes a little more than David Gordon Green's precisely because they just fit my own aesthetic so deeply, which I kind of feel is Eastbound & Down's true aesthetic.

David Gordon Green is just more interested in traditional visual composition and nice shots and framing and other film school shit, and Jody Hill is decidedly not and always nails the tone perfectly. Tonal inconsistency is its own kind of tone. Some of the funniest things from the first season involved the complete personality shift in Principal Cutler. Fuck consistency. Fuck a direct route. Take the long way home

I am still thinking about the Mad Men finale weeks later. Mostly I am still thinking about Megan, but that is the effect she seems to have on people. I know I didn't spend this much time thinking about Mad Men after last year's finale, where Don marched into a shitty bachelor hotel on a downtown New York City set in the rain. I don't even know if it was really raining or if that is just my imagination embellishing things.

But this year's finale I have felt compelled to watch again since the moment I saw it, although for whatever sado-masochistic pleasure-delaying reason I haven't watched it yet. Maybe because it will remind me again that Mad Men is over (and now so is Eastbound) and I need to find other things to enjoy in the world in the seasonal interim and I know nothing I replace them with will compare to my two truest televisual loves.

At least there's still 30 Rock, for the time being. And in a just world Parks & Recreation will come back soon. I would like Liz Lemon's next boyfriend to be McNulty. Can you make that happen world, since you have been so decent about granting my innermost wishes lately? God already greenlit a third season of Eastbound & Down, so I'll catch you motherfuckers on the flip next year in Myrtle Beach. I'M FUCKING AUDI.

Molly Lambert is the managing editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Los Angeles. She tumbls but not all that much, twitters all the fucking time, and is our nation's foremost producer of fuego.

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STRIKE 1: Spring Training

STRIKE 2: Regular Season

STRIKE 3: World Series

BALL 4: Extra Innings



In Which We Pass The Bottles Back And Forth

Coming Up For Air


In my room here in Beijing, my child-sized desk sits opposite a window that looks out on decrepit socialist-style apartment buildings and great capitalist skyscrapers. I came here in the great tradition of escape. I write from here, a glass of Mandarin orange juice beside me, because I thought that I could not write any closer, because that had always been the plan after a tumultuous year and a half of post-grad life: to parcel up the concerns and heartbreaks – the break-ups and broken leases, protracted job searches and abrupt job desertions – into a big red suitcase, dump them in a black duffel bag, strap them like a passport holder to my chest, and only then unpack, only then rehash in the comfort of my best friend’s apartment here, with dumplings steaming away on our two-burner stove in the kitchen.

Catherine lives in Wudaokou, a student neighborhood, sort of like a Communist built Madison, WI. It contains both of what people call the MIT of China and the Harvard of China. I have stayed in this area once before, three years back, when my brother was studying in the foreign language program of the Harvard; now, he lives and works as an editor a couple more grown-up neighborhoods over, and Catherine bikes to the MIT-type campus every morning before I wake up. We joke that I am her housewife even though she is better at both cooking and cleaning than I am. In reality, I rarely venture beyond the neighborhood alone because I haven’t yet learned my way around and feel embarrassed about not knowing more Chinese.

The city is whiter – as in more Caucasian – than I remember it being. The air seems denser with khaki hued pollution, although supposedly air quality has been improving, and the humidity is so negligible that the clothes we hang on lines to dry are quickly ready to wear. More wireless networks appear when I try to connect, but my e-mail is still inaccessible without a VPN, as are the triple procrastination threats of Facebook, YouTube and often gmail, with all its capacities for video chatting with friends back in the States. We have not yet succeeded in setting up our own wireless; instead, we share a single ethernet cord on the premise that limiting our internet usage will make us more productive at what we call our “work work.” For Catherine, that is her research job (re-search, she pronounces it, emphasis on the second syllable, like we are professionals, or British), and for me, it is Russian business translation for a company back in New York. It is not lost on me that I came across the world to work in two languages still not (in the case of English) and no longer (in the case of Russian) really spoken here. But that is the point, I guess: to say things in writing that could not be understood aloud.

For a while before I came here, I was dating a man who was half Chinese and who would lecture me on my white privilege while professing that he was terrified of China, for reasons that ranged from the hazily racist to the half-heartedly political. “Stick to the Cantonese Diaspora and Hong Kong,” he instructed. Alex had never been to China, and in fact his ancestors left in the nineteenth century for Japan, where he had spent some time. I asked him if he liked Japan; I have never been and might consider it now that I’m on this continent. “It’s fine,” he said. “But ask me if I like the Japanese.” I did, and he does not.

Before I left, Alex and I would go out to eat at the only good Chinese restaurant in Milwaukee, where we were both camped out for varying stays – mine two months, his ten years – on tenuous loan from our real homes and lives in New York. Most of my fall clothes were in storage so I wore a Quiksilver hoodie everywhere that he had gotten for free on a rap tour he was managing.

Alex was eighteen years my senior and about my height. I had often summed up romantic entanglements of mine with the phrase, “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” but with him it did not even seem like a good idea at the beginning. He had a daughter not significantly younger than me, and during our second meal at Fortune, he showed me the booth where he usually sat with her. On our next trip, the first where they gave us the for-Chinese-only menu, we were seated in that same booth. I thought about switching, but did not want to create an issue if he didn’t see one. “What if we are just working out our own issues on each other?” I asked him once. “What if we are?” he said. “I guess I don’t see what’s wrong with that exactly.”

I passed this onto Catherine, then busy settling in and finding us a home in China, and she was of a different mind. “Buy your ticket,” she advised. "Be careful with love declarations. And don't get in too deep."

Alex and I spent autumn afternoons after late nights and even later wake-ups eating fatty-tasting faro in red bean sauce and double-fried Cantonese-style Chow Mein, piles of shocking green Szechuan string beans and deep bowls of soft tofu. We ate so fervently we barely spoke to each other, not until the post-meal tea and oranges, and then we took the leftovers home to eat after bar-time. I was occasionally so drunk I had to lean on his shoulder to stand, but still somehow adroit enough to eat with chopsticks, albeit the stupid American child way, thumb sticking up and the tips of the chopsticks crossed, not held gracefully near the top like everyone does here.

And this was not the first time I had chosen Chinese food over meaningful discussion. During our second year of college, Catherine and I had discovered that we could lug pounds and pounds of frozen Chinatown goods – scallion pancakes, red bean or meat bao, dumplings – back to our dorm kitchens outside of the city. With wrists weak from typing and mouths sore from explicating, we dug into our dough products like it was the only assignment we truly cared about. We didn’t talk about our futures, internships and jobs and apartments for the summer ahead, or the relationship psychodramas we were playing out together but separately, with different men. She delicately flipped the green-flecked flour pancakes in a roommate’s cast iron pan and then onto a shared plate, and we ate, and we were quiet for once.

A year after that, I was studying in Russia, and it was over winter break that I took the train from Siberia to Beijing to see my brother. My host mother had packed me off with a giant Macy’s-sized shopping bag of food, bland cheeses and black breads, pickled beets, expensive grapefruits imported from the very country I was headed to, homemade pirozhki and plastic pouches of instant mushroom soup. After 65 hours of train travel, I arrived in China with the bag still half-full. I handed it off to my brother; I was done with Russian food, the beiges and yellows and starches of it all. I had lost 15 pounds in four months, and all I wanted to eat was greens. So we did: garlicky sautéed greens like our mom used to make, steamed greens, leafy greens dunked in hot pot and allowed to fan out in the broth, lacy raw greens edging plates of stinky tofu. We ate Uighur food and Korean food and on New Year’s Eve we had Thai food, none of which could be found in my provincial Russian city.

The night before I left we had an expensive and indulgent Indian meal, in a kind of remembrance or honor of the Indian Sunday brunches our family ate weekly back in America. Neither of us were sure when we would be home next, let alone at the same time. In the end, it would not be for more than two years.

Here, I am living and loving less hungrily this time around. I write e-mails to Alex, and he responds promptly but also stoically. I compose laborious questions about current events like it will evince whatever it is I want to hear from him.

He writes how odd it is to him that my class of young Americans is migrating to one of the more oppressed countries in the world in search of some vague sense of post-grad freedom. He is not wrong about this: I am here “doing me” in a culture where “doing you” is not encouraged. But in the mornings when I am alone with this ambivalent knowledge, I still get up and pour a glass of a lassi-like yogurt drink from a jug that looks like dishwasher detergent, purchased at the combination supermarket-department store a block away from our apartment. I dismantle a pomelo with more care and patience than I make love, easing off the thick skin, gently plying apart long pieces and peeling back the membranes to get right to the flesh of the fruit. I wash yesterday’s wok before Catherine comes home for lunch, yielding bags of fresh noodles (2 kuai) and eggs or tomatoes purchased at the makeshift stand just outside our door. She sautés everything in sunflower oil, crushes Szechuan peppercorns in her hands and dusts them over the wok, and we douse our bowls of food in sesame oil and soy sauce, passing the bottles back and forth with greasy, ravenous hands. We don’t have a dining or living room, so we sit on her bed and plan our afternoons.

The Western bakery goods at the cafes here where we spend those hours are better than in New York. The pies at The Bridge on Chengfu Lu are fresher, the crusts flakier and fillings richer, than the ones at Think Coffee on Mercer Street, where Catherine and I spent a lot of our job searching or telecommuting afternoons a year ago. I think I could stay here for a while, maybe get really good at something. I tell myself that if I write 2,000 words a day, I’ll have a novel in a month. Or I could start a Chinese-Russian tea export business, like Alex once suggested. I could study for the LSATS, retake the practice tests at the back of the prep guide I brought until my score is pretty good. But in truth, our talks about the future are only hypothetical: travel plans and visa renewal plans and, very distantly, grad school plans. We could take the bus to Mongolia in December, or the train to visit my friends in Russia and then onto Germany. Maybe we’ll go to Thailand for spring break.

For now we’re planted here in Beijing. The food is excellent, and it is cheap. The giggles I share with Catherine are free, $12 cheaper than the movies I’d make Alex take me to when I needed laughs back home, sometimes so badly it felt like its own kind of hunger. It’s true that hot pot, eaten athletically and excitedly on the third story of a building not far from here, steams up my glasses, but so does kissing someone on one of those frozen winter afternoons that seem, although they are probably not, unique to the Midwest.

Lucy Morris is a contributor to This Recording. This is her first appearance in these pages. She is a translator and writer living in Beijing. She tumbls here.

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In Which You Must Now Proceed Elsewhere

How And Why To Write

The best writing advice contradicts itself, because there are not a finite number of ways to create a masterpiece. Advice about writing is more importantly writing itself, and it defines its own rules and strictures as much as it instructs its adherents directly. In the words of these masters we find the strength to go on. You can find the rest of this series here:

Part One (Joyce Carol Oates, Gene Wolfe, Philip Levine, Thomas Pynchon, Gertrude Stein, Eudora Welty, Don DeLillo, Anton Chekhov, Mavis Gallant, Stanley Elkin)

Part Two (James Baldwin, Henry Miller, Toni Morrison, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Margaret Atwood, Gertrude Stein, Vladimir Nabokov)

Part Three (W. Somerset Maugham, Langston Hughes, Marguerite Duras, George Orwell, John Ashbery, Susan Sontag, Robert Creeley, John Steinbeck)

Part Four (Flannery O'Connor, Charles Baxter, Joan Didion, William Butler Yeats, Lyn Hejinian, Jean Cocteau, Francine du Plessix Gray, Roberto Bolano)

James Baldwin

I don't know if I feel close to them, now. After a time you find, however, that your characters are lost to you, making it quite impossible for you to judge them. When you've finished a novel it means, "The train stops here, you have to get off here." You never get the book you wanted, you settle for the book you get. I've always felt that when a book ended there was something I didn't see, and usually when I remark the discovery it's too late to do anything about it.

It happens when you are right here at the table. The publication date is something else again. It's out of your hands, then. What happens here is that you realize that if you try to redo something, you may wreck everything else. But, if a book has brought you from one place to another, so that you see something you didn't see before, you've arrived at another point. This then is one's consolation, and you know that you must now proceed elsewhere.

Henry Miller

Sometimes I would sit at the machine for hours without writing a line. Fired by an idea, often an irrelevant one, my thoughts would come too fast to be transcribed. I would be dragged along at a gallop, like a stricken warrior tied to his chariot.

On the wall at my right there were all sorts of memoranda tacked up: a long list of words, words that bewitched me and which I intended to drag in by the scalp if necessary; reproductions of paintings, by Uccello, della Francesca, Breughel, Giotto, Memling; titles of books from which I meant to deftly lift passages; phrases filched from my favorite authors, not to quote but to remind me how to twist things occasionally; for example: "The worm that would gnaw her bladder" or "the pulp which had glutinized behind his forehead." In the Bible were slips of paper to indicate where gems were to be found. The Bible was a veritable diamond mine. Every time I looked up a passage I became intoxicated. In the dictionary were place marks for lists of kind or another; flowers, birds, trees, reptiles, gems, poisons, and so on. In short, I had fortified myself with a complete arsenal.

But what was the result? Pondering over a word like praxis, for example, or pleroma, my mind would wander like a drunken wasp.

Toni Morrison

Very, very early in the morning, before they got up. I'm not very good at night. I don't generate much. But I'm a very early riser, so I did that, and I did it on weekends. In the summers, the kids would go to my parents in Ohio, where my sister lives - my whole family lives out there — so the whole summer was devoted to writing.

And that's how I got it done. It seems a little frenetic now, but when I think about the lives normal women live — of doing several things — it's the same. They do anything that they can. They organize it. And you learn how to use time. You don't have to learn how to wash the dishes every time you do that. You already know how to do that. So, while you're doing that, you're thinking. You know, it doesn't take up your whole mind. Or just on the subway. I would solve a lot of literary problems just thinking about a character in that packed train, where you can't do anything anyway. Well, you can read the paper, but you're sort of in there.

And then I would think about, well, would she do this? And then sometimes I'd really get something good. By the time I'd arrived at work, I would jot it down so I wouldn't forget. It was a very strong interior life that I developed for the characters, and for myself, because something was always churning. There was no blank time. I don't have to do that anymore. But still, I'm involved in a lot of things, I mean, I don't go out very much.

Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

I guarantee you that no modern story scheme, even plotlessness, will give a reader genuine satisfaction, unless one of those old fashioned plots is smuggled in somewhere. I don't praise plots as accurate representations of life, but as ways to keep readers reading. When I used to teach creative writing, I would tell students to make their characters want something right away — even if it's only a glass of water. Characters paralyzed by the meaninglessness of modern life still have to drink water from time to time.

One of my students wrote a story about a nun who got a piece of dental floss stuck between her lower left molars, and who couldn't get it out all day long. I thought that was wonderful. The story dealt with issues a lot more important than dental floss, but what kept readers going was anxiety about when the dental floss would finally be removed. Nobody could read that story without fishing around in his mouth with a finger.

When you exclude plot, when you exclude anyone's wanting anything, you exclude the reader, which is a mean-spirited thing to do. You can also exclude the reader by not telling him immediately where the story is taking place, and who the people are. It's the writer's job to stage confrontations, so the characters will say surprising and revealing things, and educate and entertain us all. If a writer can't or won't do that, he should withdraw from the trade.

Margaret Atwood

1 Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can't sharpen it on the plane, because you can't take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.

2 If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type.

3 Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do.

4 If you're using a computer, always safeguard new text with a ­memory stick.

5 Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.

6 Hold the reader's attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don't know who the reader is, so it's like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What ­fascinates A will bore the pants off B.

7 You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there's no free lunch. Writing is work. It's also gambling. You don't get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you're on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don't whine.

8 You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You've been backstage. You've seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a ­romantic relationship, unless you want to break up.

9 Don't sit down in the middle of the woods. If you're lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page.

10 Prayer might work. Or reading ­something else. Or a constant visual­isation of the holy grail that is the finished, published version of your resplendent book.

Gertrude Stein

You can tell that so well in the difficulty of writing novels or poetry these days. The tradition has always been that you may more or less describe the things that happen you imagine them of course but you more or less describe the things that happen but nowadays everybody all day long knows what is happening and so what is happening is not really interesting, one knows it by radios cinemas newspapers biographies autobiographies until what is happening does not really thrill any one, it excited them a little bit but does not really thrill them.

The painter can no longer say that what he does is as the world looks to him because he cannot look at the world anymore, it has been photographed too much and he has to say that he does something else. In former times a painter said he painted what he saw of course he didn't but anyway he could say it, now he does not want to say it because seeing it is not interesting.

Vladimir Nabokov

The force and originality involved in the primary spasm of inspiration is directly proportional to the worth of the book the author will write. At the bottom of the scale a very mild kind of thrill can be experienced by a minor writer, noticing, say, the inner connection between a smoking factory chimney, a stunted lilac bush in the yard, and a pale-faced child; but the combination is so simple, the threefold symbol so obvious, the bridge between the images so well-worn by the feet of literary pilgrims and by cartloads of standard ideas, and the world deduced so very like the average one, that the work of fiction set into motion will be necessarily of modest worth.

On the other hand, I would not like to suggest that the initial urge with great writing is always the product of something seen or heard or smelt or tasted or touched during a long-haired art-for-artist's aimless rambles.

Although to develop in one's self the art of forming sudden harmonious patterns out of widely separate threads is never to be despised, and although, as in Marcel Proust's case, the actual idea of a novel may spring from such actual sensations as the melting of a biscuit on the tongue or the roughness of a pavement underfoot, it would be rash to conclude that the creation of all novels ought to be based on a kind of glorified physical experience. The initial urge may disclose as many aspects as there are temperaments and talents; it may be the accumulated series of several practically unconscious shocks or it may be an inspired combination of several abstract ideas without a definite physical background.

But in one way or another the process may still be reduced to the most natural form of creative thrill — a sudden, live image constructed in a flash out of dissimilar units which are apprehended all at once in a stellar explosion of the mind.

Part One (Joyce Carol Oates, Gene Wolfe, Philip Levine, Thomas Pynchon, Gertrude Stein, Eudora Welty, Don DeLillo, Anton Chekhov, Mavis Gallant, Stanley Elkin)

Part Two (James Baldwin, Henry Miller, Toni Morrison, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Margaret Atwood, Gertrude Stein, Vladimir Nabokov)

Part Three (W. Somerset Maugham, Langston Hughes, Marguerite Duras, George Orwell, John Ashbery, Susan Sontag, Robert Creeley, John Steinbeck)

Part Four (Flannery O'Connor, Charles Baxter, Joan Didion, William Butler Yeats, Lyn Hejinian, Jean Cocteau, Francine du Plessix Gray, Roberto Bolano)

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