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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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Monday
Nov282011

In Which We Tribute The Sweetheart

Gift of the Mundane

by EMMA BARRIE

While You Were Sleeping
dir. Jon Turtletaub
103 minutes

I have an idea that some men are born out of their due place. Accident has cast them amid certain surroundings, but they have always a nostalgia for a home they know not. Sometimes a man hits upon a place to which he feels he mysteriously belongs. Here is the home he sought, and he will settle among scenes that he has never seen before, among men he has never known, as though they were familiar to him from his birth. Here at last he finds rest.

– W. Somerset Maugham

As a child, movies taught me what it meant to be a real family. Real families only exist in late fall or winter. They must live in New York or Chicago, not in sunny Los Angeles. If you have a real family you will know it, because on Christmas your house will be magically outlined in twinkling lights. Everyone will wear hounds tooth coats and cable knit sweaters, oversized to perfection. You will sip grandma’s much-too-potent eggnog, and talk over each other in a comforting rhythm, perfected by decades of practice. To be a real family, you must have inside jokes, history, layers, and an emotionally charged instrumental score. The camera must pan up and away, over you and your snow-covered, neighborhood street.

For me, the Callahans have always been the perfect family. They remain intact in my mind, even though two members (Peter Boyle and Jack Warden) have since died, or become more famous for other things like their roles on The O.C. (Peter Gallagher and Peter Gallagher’s eyebrows). Their loving and realistic family dynamic was one of many things that separated While You Were Sleeping from every other 90s romantic comedy. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say the cast of the film spent 15 years living together in house on a tree-lined block in preparation for their roles, arguing about what makes a good pot roast and putting together scrapbooks.

Jon Turteltaub's film tells the story of Lucy Moderatz (Sandra Bullock), a lowly orphaned tollbooth operator in Chicago (hey — it could happen) who one day saves a man when he is pushed onto the tracks. At the hospital, while he’s in a coma, his entire family mistakes her for his fiancée. A rom-comedy of errors ensues. Lucy immediately latches onto this family, and while Peter is in a coma, she falls for his hot but relatable furniture-making brother, Jack. You follow?

But While You Were Sleeping isn't just about two people falling in love. The film doesn't leave you with the idea that as long as you find "the one" you'll be set, rather it's about finding your tribe. Lucy doesn't have any family left, and aside from a few work acquaintances, she can't really call anyone a friend. We learn early on that Lucy has been wandering through the world alone and restless, searching for some sort of connection.

Peter remains in a coma for a majority of the film, and Lucy, as his phony fiancée, is invited to every family holiday event. On Christmas, the Callahans plus Lucy sit around the tree opening presents, and Lucy is given hers. She doesn't expect to get a gift, nor does she care what's inside. The fact that she was given one is enough. She cradles her wrapped present, watching as everyone else exchanges theirs. They rip open wrapping, drown each other in hugs, and exhibit genuine excitement about mundane gifts like mittens or a cordless glue gun.

Lucy couldn’t be happier. She's finally found what she’s been looking for. The camera pans away and we see that on the fireplace, a new stocking with Lucy’s name has been hung. The initiation has begun.

I realize the risk of talking about this movie to someone who hasn’t seen it is that Lucy comes off sounding like a creep. "No no, you don't understand, she just pretends to be a coma patient's fiancée for a few weeks so that she can infiltrate his family! …Oh."

But Saul (Jack Warden), the Callahan’s neighbor and the kids' godfather, is there to sanction the lie. Like Lucy, Saul is not blood-related to the Callahans, yet he belongs with them. When Saul discovers the truth early on — that Lucy was never engaged to Peter — he confronts her. Though she is immediately apologetic and says she will come clean to the whole family immediately, he tells her not to confess. As one outsider to another, he says, "They need you, Lucy. Just like you need them."

Jack, Peter's brother, is played by the most charming guy in the world (I took a poll), Bill Pullman. Clad in light Levi’s and workman’s boots, his hair in a perfect swoop like a bird’s wing caressing his forehead, Jack is a 90s dream man. He even builds rocking chairs, owns two different trucks, and you can practically see the calluses on his hands. He knows just how to banter (Lucy: "You don’t have to walk behind me." Jack: "I'm blocking the wind!"), makes eye contact with her in crowded rooms, and mutters "I doubt it" under his breath when she says she’s not photogenic. He is the perfect first love for any pre-teen. And Lucy is the perfect role model.

Sandra Bullock, in her best role ever — forget that Oscar win for The Blind Side — plays loveable, vulnerable and tough all rolled into one big bundle of knitted sweaters. As Jack says to his coma-ridden brother, "She drives you so nuts you don't know whether to hug her or, or just really arm wrestle her." The answer is, of course, both. In every scene, Lucy follows the dress code of adorable frumpy casual. Her hair is so perfectly messy, her dead father’s coat hangs off her narrow shoulders, her fingerless gloves make her look like she’s about to rob Kevin McCallister’s house.

Watching this movie in your adolescence, hoping for connections to people that don’t yet know you exist, Lucy has lines that feel like they were written specifically for you. She asks a still-asleep Peter, “Have you ever, like, seen somebody? And you knew that, if only that person really knew you, they would, well, they would of course dump the perfect model that they were with, and realize that you were the one that they wanted to, just, grow old with.” I think I have that scribbled in margins of notebooks somewhere.

Not only is she likable and human, Lucy is resilient. In fact, she’s kind of a badass. To the untrained rom-com eye, she may seem like a pathetic and spinstery lady who dips Oreos into her cat’s milk bowl. But the truth is, Lucy doesn’t crave pity. Her parents died and she works in a tollbooth. I would pity her if she asked for it. But for Christmas, she gets her own tree and pulls it up through her apartment window with a rope. Sure, the rope breaks and the tree crashes through someone else’s window, but she’s doing it. While we want Lucy to get out of the tollbooth and visit Florence like she’s always dreamed, we don’t ever really feel sorry for her. She doesn’t whine about the lack of stamps in her passport. She never succumbs to going on a date with the tenacious and obnoxious Joe Jr. — the landlord’s son who asks her out relentlessly. If she really felt sorry for herself and was so depressed about being alone, she would have gone to the Ice Capades with him years ago. Lucy is one tough cookie, not some helpless waif.

Watching Lucy and Jack fall in love is an absolute pleasure. (That’s what I would have written on their report cards if I was their fourth grade teacher and they were falling in love before my eyes. An absolute pleasure.) Unlike most rom-coms of its time, While You Were Sleeping lacks the Motown montage. We don’t see them repaint a room or bike ride on the boardwalk or go into a lot of stores and try on outfits. Instead we see them gradually fall in love one night as Jack walks Lucy home along the water. We hear the jokes they make, and the conversation that endears them to one another. Then we see them slip and slide across an icy path, because what is a rom-com without some physical love-humor?

While You Were Sleeping was written by Daniel G. Sullivan and Fredric LeBow, both who only have the one credit to their names. Most mornings, I consider writing them a letter. I want to know what they’re doing now. I want to know if they’ve written other things as touching and perfect, but for whatever reason every studio has passed. I want to know if they quit the biz after While You Were Sleeping because they told the story they needed to tell, and then decided to become carpenters or school teachers. Most importantly, I want to know if they want to collaborate with me on a variety of projects.

As a tribute to those dialogue-geniuses, I will leave here this lovely family dinner scene, transcribed, forever immortalizing it on this webpage:

Elsie: I could never make a good pot roast.

Saul: You need good beef. Argentina has great beef. Beef and Nazis.

Ox: John Wayne was tall.

Saul: Dustin Hoffman was 5’6″.

Ox: Would you want to see Dustin Hoffman save the Alamo?

Midge: These mashed potatoes are so creamy.

Saul: Spain has good beef.

Midge: Mary mashed them.

Saul: Cesar Romero was tall.

Elsie: Cesar Romero was not Spanish!

Saul: I didn't say Cesar Romero was Spanish.

Elsie: Well, what did you say?

Saul: I said, Cesar Romero was tall.

Elsie: We all know he’s tall.

Saul: Well, that’s what I said. Cesar Romero was tall. That’s all I said.

Towards the end of the film, Lucy admits to the Callahans she was never Peter's fiancée, but instead kept up the act because she fell in love with Jack and, more importantly, she fell in love with the entire family. "I went from being all alone to being a fiancée, a daughter, a granddaughter, a sister, and a friend," she says through tears.

It is possible the first time I saw the film, I thought the Callahans might never forgive her. But watching it now, I know they have to — and not because the film is formulaic or because it needs a happy ending. I know Lucy will be forgiven because I have come to know this family, and I have learned how strong their bond to Lucy has become. Saul is right: they do need her, just as much as she needs them.

In the last scene of the film, Jack shows up at the train station to propose, slipping a ring into the token slot. In the spirit of the movie and in the spirit of the family, all the Callahans join in, a gesture sure to convince Lucy she is forgiven. With hearts made of gold and full of warm hot chocolate, they all crowd around the token booth, instructing Jack on how to propose. "Lucy, I have to ask you something," Jack says in a voice so gravelly and rugged you’re just waiting for his muscles to pop through his Gap denim-lined jacket.

The peanut gallery pipes up from behind: "Get down on one knee, it’s more romantic." "He’s proposing, let him do it." "I am letting him do it." Lucy, in true Lucy fashion, places the ring on the tip of her index finger, inspiring lonely middle school girls everywhere to take note in their diaries of what adorable gesture to someday mimic.

Halfway through While You Were Sleeping, Lucy’s boss Jerry chastises her, "You’re born into a family. You do not join them like you do the Marines!" But the film proves otherwise. It proves that if you are wandering the world feeling restless or alone, it's possible, as Maugham said, to come upon a place where you "mysteriously belong." As a lost and misplaced adolescent, I never tired of watching the film. Never tired of the pot roast, the chatter, the reassurance. Yes, we have a place in the universe and yes, when we find it, there will be people waiting to welcome us home.

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

The 1990s Really Seem To Have Occurred

Elena Schilder on American Beauty

Elizabeth Gumport on Wild Things

Hanson O'Haver on Airheads

Alex Carnevale on Indecent Proposal

Emma Barrie on While You Were Sleeping

Jessica Ferri on The Devil's Advocate

Molly Lambert on Basic Instinct

Alex Carnevale on Singles

"Wherever Would I Be" - Daryl Hall & Dusty Springfield (mp3)

"This Never Happened Before" - Paul McCartney (mp3)

"Don't Tell Me" - Madonna (mp3)

Friday
Nov252011

In Which It Is The Only Thing That Matters More Than Beauty

Manhattan in Middle Age

by ELIZABETH GUMPORT

New York is a city that looks better from a distance. The gap can be temporal – the poverty of youth becomes, in time, one’s golden freedom – or spatial. A friend from Chicago complained that Manhattan lacked alleyways: in the summer, our garbage stunk and burned on the sidewalks. On the Brooklyn Bridge, the smell disappears, and all you can see are buildings massed at the edge of the island, the offices crowned with lights, glowing like bottles in a dark bar. The boundaries of other cities blur – at what point do the sprawling lights become suburb? – but Manhattan is an island, cut cleanly against the night. As pure image, New York is flawless: tidy, discrete, simple to hold in your mind, and for this reason particularly easy to romanticize. Emblem, icon, colophon: its skyline stands for a story.

It is this fantasy that makes the reality bearable. “There is really only one city for everyone, just as there is one major love” the novelist Dawn Powell wrote in 1953. “New York is my city because I have an investment I can always draw on – a bottomless investment of twenty-one years (I count the day I was born) of building up an idea of New York – so no matters what happens here I have the rock of my dreams of it that nothing can destroy.”
 
Born in Mount Gilead, Ohio, Powell arrived in New York in 1918. The city was the largest in the Western Hemisphere: 2.3 million people lived in Manhattan alone. Her life sounds like the life of many new arrivals: she moved frequently, first renting on West 85th Street, and then West End Avenue, and finally a series of apartments in Greenwich Village. For a time she worked as a typist; once she appeared as an extra in a film. Before she became a novelist, she freelanced: American Agriculturalist, Southern Ruralist, Oil and Gas Journal, a piece on “Pekinese poodles” for Dogdom. She went through a phase of screaming in her sleep.

In 1920, Powell and Joseph Gousha took the ferry to Staten Island for their first date. That November, after addressing a brief letter to her aunt – "please come and give me away next Saturday" – she married Gousha at the Church of Transfiguration, known as the Little Church Around the Corner, on East 29th Street. In the following years, Powell would give birth to an autistic son, who once beat her so hard she had to be hospitalized. Powell drank a lot, Gousha drank more, and they were almost always broke or near-broke.

In Powell’s New York novels, scenes and images accumulate; parties propel, or stand in for, plot. Restaurants and cafes figure prominently in many of her novels; Café Julien, which serves as the hub of The Wicked Pavilion, was inspired by Powell’s beloved Hotel Lafayette, on Washington Square between University Place and Ninth Street. The hotel was demolished in 1950 and replaced with apartments.

Powell’s novels feature artists and editors, writers and failed writers, the "quartette of midnight friends (male) who would not know each other by day but view everybody’s business (particularly their catastrophes) with a philosophic pleasure" and the "completely New York people" who "only remember you when you’ve gone into your fourth printing." Her subject is the man who believes, or once believed, that "New York loved him as it loved no other young man."

“… spangled skyscrapers piled up softly against the darkness, tinseled parks were neatly boxed and ribboned with gold like Christmas presents waiting to be opened. Sounds of traffic dissolved in distance, all clangor sifted through space into a whispering silence, it held a secret, and when letters flamed triumphantly in the sky you felt, ah, that was the secret, this at last was it, this special telegram to God — Sunshine Biscuits. On and off it went, Eat Sunshine Biscuits, the message of the city.”
 
In many ways Powell’s life was what one imagines the life of an author to be, at once glamorous and sordid: drinks and debts, famous acquaintances (Edmund Wilson was one, Hemingway another), pithy asides ("I don’t make beds," Powell said. "I break them."), and perpetual professional dissatisfaction. Over the years, she bounced from publisher to publisher. For a time she worked with Maxwell Perkins, after whom she named her cat.
 
Powell saw herself as a descendent of Edith Wharton, and her novels as Menippean satires, but believed their subject matter caused critics to dismiss them as frivolous. “This is obviously an age that can’t take it,” Powell complained. "When someone wishes to write of this age — as I do and have done — critics shy off — the public shies off." No subject is in itself serious or unserious: whether something is drama and comedy depends not on the events of the plot but the attitude of the author.

“Thirty is really the most important age for women. . . They have to be started towards fame or a family by that time, and if they’re not, they’re done for. So you see it’s very necessary that I should crowd the next few years.” Powell often lied about her age.

People think New York changes, but it never does. It doesn’t matter whether the year is 1919 or 2009: the city has always been too expensive and too vicious. A letter Powell wrote to a college friend shortly after her arrival in New York touched on what would become the central themes of her novels. “Beauty,” she stated, “is after all the only thing in the world that matters — not mental or spiritual beauty or any of that lying rot, but splendid physical beauty. . . Let us not mention money — it is so obvious that it is money that makes beauty possible, so that very likely money is the only thing that matters more than beauty.”

What is true is not always nice, and it is true that happiness begets happiness. People who luck into money or beauty find more of it, and more; its early absence only makes its later arrival more unlikely. Money burns, youth melts away, and the failure of one person makes possible the success of another: in Turn, Magic Wheel, a young author uses his friend’s failed marriage to a Hemingway-like figure as fodder for his novel. To survive here, you must protect yourself: "I will be absolutely free," Powell wrote when a long-term affair ended. "No affections can touch me.” The city demands a novel as hard as itself: "Nothing will cut New York but a diamond."

Powell’s novels are like New York parties, where familiar faces – ravaged by alcohol, the hour good for going home having long past them by – appear again and again. A number of characters who figure or are mentioned in Turn, Magic Wheel return for A Time To Be Born, set in the early days of World War II.

“Drink,” muses one, “seemed the only protection against the lacerations of his mind, now that he was back in New York, his foot rocking away once more on the touted ladder of success. At this time the famous ladder was propped against nothing and led nowhere, and anyone foolish enough to make the world his oyster was courting ptomaine; yet the ladder tradition was still observed, and until the flames reached them young people were still found going through the motions of climbing.” Later, he tells another character, "Youth is all I demand of a woman."

A title Powell considered but never used: Promiscuity Recollected In Senility

The city that unduly privileges youth also extends it. Powell called Manhattan “the town for middle age. Elsewhere, middle age is surrounded by its grandchildren or young and chaperoned into discretion.” We become addicted to our endless childhoods. Trying to leave proves futile: if New York is bad, everywhere else is worse.

On a trip home to Ohio, Powell found in Cleveland “private homes as big as our public libraries, the beautiful country clubs, the glorification of material conveniences, the vast invincible Magazine Public that in New York we can thank God forget. . . I caught the language again quickly and the familiar combination of open hearts and closed minds that represents so much of the country except New York, where we have closed hearts first, and minds so open that carrier pigeons can fly straight through without leaving a message.”

While working at the MacDowell Colony, Powell learned Edward MacDowell had gone mad on the estate, and wondered if his wife “started this place after his death to see how many other artists would be driven nuts by it, too.” Once you get out of the game, it’s hard to get back in, and for some people this is reason not to play at all. Even those like Powell, who love the hustle, or are addicted to it, know a world exists across the river. Powell always retained an image of herself as outsider.

In the autobiographical short story “What Are You Doing In My Dreams?” she envisioned a split self, half of which lived by day in New York and “the other half by night with the dead in long-ago Ohio.” Edmund Wilson described Powell’s real theme as “the provincial in New York who has come on from the Middle West and acclimatized himself (or herself) to the city and made himself a permanent place there, without ever, however, losing his fascinated sense of an alien and anarchic society.”

Located to the north of the Bronx in Long Island Sound, Hart Island – accessible, like Staten Island, only by ferry – has served since 1869 the home of New York Cemetery, the largest tax-funded cemetery in the world. New York Cemetery is a potter’s field, and each year inmates from Riker’s Island inter over a thousand bodies in its mass graves. When the executor of her estate declined to claim her remains, Powell was buried on Hart Island.

She was lucky: those of us raised in New York have no other half, no dream-island to fall back on when the real city disappoints. We are all New York, and it is the rest of the world that seems unreal. Failure here means failure in full; a life lived elsewhere would be less than a life. In the end, of course, it hardly matters. Nobody wins the game: youth is all anybody demands of a woman, and we are not so long young. The best we can hope for is to die and be buried in New York.

Elizabeth Gumport is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. You can find her website here. She twitters here.

"Love After War" - Robin Thicke (mp3)

"For You (live on Radio K)" - Sharon Van Etten (mp3)

"Rolling in the Deep" - John Legend (mp3)

Wednesday
Nov232011

In Which We Contemplate Our Daemons

The Spirit Animal

by KARA VANDERBIJL

At the shelter, they recommend that you sit on the floor and wait for the right animal to approach you. Ideally, you will connect with an animal that best fits your needs, based on any number of inexplicable factors that draw a cautious prowler to the hollow of your lap.

If you have a 9-5, it will be fine home alone during the day. If you like to have loud company, it won’t have to hide under the bed. If you don’t have money, it will never require medical attention. If you are insecure, it won’t look at other humans. This highly anticipated encounter, like going unescorted on a Friday night to any local watering hole, is a game of pheromones that eludes the human subject and thus makes it ridiculous.

neil gaiman by kelli bickman in 1996

Any understanding between man and animal (as with man and man) is nothing but a profound misunderstanding. When claws or fangs draw blood, we expect a beast’s empathy, if not its complete understanding that it deserves death and punishment. Why then, in the subtle lairs of our living rooms, do we endow upon the creature our wildest animal instincts? How can we laugh at the proclivity to chase sunbeams across a wood floor?

elizabeth taylor

The natural state of any living thing, except a Happy Meal, is birth and death. What happens in between those two is the great debate. Before the spirit animal, men and women were driven to hide their essences elsewhere: gaudy containers, pieces of jewelry, bottles rolled away to the safety of the sea. Like what people did before blogging, it is something we may never know for sure. There was nowhere to hide in plain sight.

Of the first cat I remember, auspiciously named Plato, we saw only snatches of dark fur, a paw flung carelessly over the edge of an armchair. When unprovoked, he remained indifferent, although ornery for such a handsome and well-fed specimen. Provoked (easily), he appeared twice his usual size, producing unearthly growls that eventually got him banished to a curtained back bedroom. On one occasion he stalked angrily around the coffee table while my brother and I trembled on all fours behind the sofa. He suddenly appeared in front of us only to leap, claws extended, and we screamed. Only his mistress, my aunt, and sometimes my uncle, could coax him into their arms – a privilege no doubt acquired by the blood sacrifice of many small and unfortunate creatures. Left to his own devices, we felt sure that he would murder us in cold blood.

Did philosophy or religion exist without this animal? At the incline of its head nations tumbled, empires fell to dust. Nepalese peaks rose in imitation of its clever ears. At the very least, corners proved darker for its playful ambush of passing feet, windows larger to frame its wise face. The arts owe more to the feline than to any other creature, save perhaps the horse. Somewhere in the desert, an ancient Sphinx rests on time and mankind’s imperfect worship.

Unlike its feral counterparts, the housecat is a follower of Epicurus, its basest passions restrained by a constant striving after pleasure. Survival is less important than aesthetics, a subject explored by the animal in great detail as it reclines fluidly on the rug. Its ennui humanizes it, as it progressively forgets (intentionally, unintentionally) why it was placed on earth.

grace kelly

We inherited our first family cat in California, when my parents managed an apartment building. An elderly tenant moved or passed away, and according to standard apartment procedure the managers ended up with whatever was left beneath sinks or in the back of the closet.

Mikey was an ancient orange and white tabby and I think we saw him a grand total of five times while we were in his possession. He spent most of his time wedged underneath my parents’ bed, although we made sure he was still alive by shaking his box of dry food and calling his name, a clever ruse that got him to frolic like a kitten down the hallway. In the mornings he mewled outside shut bedroom doors, awake only when nobody else was. Shortly thereafter we moved, and another tenant took him. In all likelihood he still lives in the San Fernando Valley surrounded by Koreans.

The survival of a species depends entirely on the ability of its hunters, on the secrecy of its cache. Infamous tiger-slaughterer Jim Corbett shared pleasantries with many a man-eating feline at dusk over bait. If they lunged, he fired his gun. An otherwise grandfatherly-looking man, he mostly hunted alone with his small dog Robin. In tales about the Chowgarh tigress it is unclear whether he was hunting or wooing her. Concrete slabs mark the spots in India and Nepal where he finished them; we can imagine him tenderly composing pet epitaphs at night to the howl of nearby monkeys. He devoted his later years to the preservation of endangered species, no doubt fearful of karma.

Dad kept a freshwater aquarium for a few years, and Mom indulged in parakeets and a couple of yellow canaries. My parents provided us with a cat every few years, despite their general reserve towards the animal kingdom. It showed a remarkable ability on their part to see our potential for compassion. Still they were the first to pick up the slack when it proved once again (as it always did) that we were still very young, and that we could not yet grasp how another living thing might need us. They allowed disquiet at the foot of their bed and shoveled through litter boxes and patiently satisfied another hungry stomach.

aldous huxley

To identify with or as is the siren song of this generation, an ongoing game of association in which the subject pinpoints behaviors, fashions, morals, or ideologies and appropriates them to himself. (e.g. I must be Liz Lemon because I think and act and speak like Liz Lemon. Ryan Gosling must be my boyfriend because Ryan Gosling speaks and looks and thinks and acts like I want my boyfriend to act.) The spirit, it would seem, has become as much of a consumer as the body. This is vanity.

For a long time the most desirable relationship was such a one as existed between Calvin and his stuffed tiger Hobbes, or between Lucy and Aslan, a bond in which similitude transcends any differences of kind or quality. In any case, this relationship seemed highly preferable to any story in which animals only talk amongst themselves, which is believable only inasmuch as reality television is believable.

In the early 00s, my parents somehow became acquainted with farmers in the Haute Savoie, a portion of France irreversibly wrinkled by that majestic mountain range known as the Alps. From them we received goat’s cheese, lessons in vocabulary, and a chaton – a tiny ball of brown and white fur we unorginally named Simba. We brought him home in a cardboard box. He peed on a towel. From the very beginning, we strove to teach him the difference between right and wrong using a squirt gun. He chased our ankles and climbed papered walls. When he took to running in wild circles around the apartment day and night and howling at the moon, we released him in a meadow near a friendly-looking barn and stacks of warm, plush hay. He did not look back.

Otherwise, it was our constant hopping from one location to another that prohibited a long-term relationship with a pet. It was also our own inability to remain constant, our chameleonesque capability to blend into language and space, adopting the same awkward ease with which an academic handles reality: drawing on a vast well of knowledge, but with very little practice.

Domesticating an animal, like educating a child, rationalizes its wilderness of instincts, robs it of the power quivering on its whiskers.  An oblong box filled with sand might just as well be a place to shit as a place to rest in peace. If eternity is man’s natural habitat, he cannot be blamed for chasing it by dividing his soul into parts.

Kara VanderBijl is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She tumbls here. She last wrote in these pages about Jeffrey Eugenides‘ The Marriage Plot.

ava gardner

"Lúppulagið" - Sigur Ros (mp3)

"Popplagið" - Sigur Ros (mp3)

"Flijotavik" - Sigur Ros (mp3)

george plimpton