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Alex Carnevale

Managing Editor
Kara VanderBijl

Features Editor
Mia Nguyen

Senior Editor
Durga Chew-Bose

Senior Editor
Brittany Julious

This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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In Which We Place Boundaries And Accept Fate

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to justhardtosay@gmail.com or by dropping us a note at our tumblr.


I recently met a guy who I will call Toby. Toby grew up in circumstances very different from my own, and has a very complicated relationship with two sets of parents - his adoptive parents, and his birth parents. Without boring you with a family history, both sets of parents come with their own foibles and nuances. Although neither is what I would call a destructive influence on Toby, the resulting time commitment from maintaining these complex relationships takes it toll. For example, one of his dads expects Toby to watch football with him all day Sunday, which seems asinine to me.

I think I am in love with this Toby, but the incredible amount of baggage the situation represents is immense now and only threatens to become moreso as things become serious. Toby has asked for my advice in dealing with this, but not only am I not sure what to say to him, I have little idea with how to deal with this myself or if I should just bail before things get worse. Thoughts?

Eliza H.

Dear Eliza,

Sounds like Toby's coming down with a classic case of the, "I'm a young adult who needs to learn how to create and enforce boundaries with my parents." You can suggest this, but making him do it would overstep your boundaries as a romantic partner.

Position it like this: "Honey pot, you seem stressed, and I don't see you as often as I'd like. Is there a way for you to scale back your commitments? It seems like it might be good for everyone."

We all have parent issues, but allowing them to encroach on our burgeoning adult lives is madness. If Toby's addicted to the drama or too scared and won't even consider it, it's time for you to exit the cluster.


Is it possible to be in love with two people? I'm seriously dating this one guy, but have been falling for a close friend at the same time. When I'm with one, I barely think of the other. When I'm alone, I fantasize about both, at different times. What should I do?!

Clarissa R.

Dear Clarissa,

Yes, it is possible to be in love with two people at the same time, especially if you are Shia LaBeouf. It is a common fallacy that all our needs can be satisfied by one person; I believe this hokum was perpetuated by Jesus or Margaret Thatcher, I forget exactly which one. Since you are not married to either of them, enjoy these precious days.


There is a more limited kind of love we can have for people who we respect and treat us well. There is no word in English for it, but the disgusting substance called ambergris that come from the digestive system of a sperm whale is perilously close. This kind of love comes from inside us, is expressed when we are being loved and cared for and appreciated, but in truth is not "true love" as you probably thought of it after you finished Frozen.

You will know the real kind of love when you find it, and if you never do, perhaps it is something that you cannot actually feel. Then you might be regretful that you didn't keep playing these two saps longer.

Transitioning a boyfriend into a friend is impossible, but transitioning a too-close platonic friend into a boyfriend is as easy as waking up. Platonic friendships that contain the seeds of an unrealized sexual chemistry that is never fully consummated are one of life's great pleasures until you are 25. After that it's just bullshit.

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


"Love Gone Wrong" - You + Me (mp3)

"Break the Cycle" - You + Me (mp3)


In Which When It Happens We Have Already Slipped Out

photo by thomas bollier

Heavy Sleeper


I’m not telling the whole story. There are intentions to which I am blind, which have almost certainly dictated that certain parts of the truth have been be occluded. I can’t tell you which parts, because I am engaged in hiding them from myself. So I’ll tell a story as if it were true, and hopefully it will hold together by some mutual tensions of its component parts.

Pete and I met early in the school year at a party. It was cold for October, but the room was so warm that the windows dripped with condensation like the walls of a shower. I can remember noticing his body first, seductive with a drumming energy.

“Good evening.” His teeth were surprisingly white for a musician, and square. His hooded drunk eyes slipped open and closed around the room until they landed on me.

“I’m sorry, I don’t think I know you,” I replied. It was a lie; I saw him almost everyday in the back of the library. McGill had a strict no-shoes policy to protect the library’s wooden floors, and I blushed, realizing that I even recognized the socks he was standing in now.  “And what’s the story with the dog tags? Are you planning on dying in battle?”

“If I die, it will be doing my duty, baby.” He swung a leg over the top of the grubby couch and climbed down next to me. The corroding leather sagged and our bodies edged together. I breathed in his smell –  nicotine and old spice.

“I’ll tell you what though,” he smiled at me with those big white teeth. “I’m bored to death here.”

That night I felt so alive I could barely breathe. We left the party together and he kissed me hard in the bitter winter cold. I wanted more of him, and had to fight a compulsion to scream. As he unlocked his door I tried to slow my breathing. Entering the tight stairwell, a wave of heat rose from his body in front of me on the stairs. Shadows fell over us as we wrestled in the darkness. Mystery made me hungry and my hands reached for every torrid part of him, felt the weight of him, untamed and rapacious. His dog tags swung from his neck and the cold metal hit my lips. I grabbed a hold of them, pulling him closer. My sense of time and space refracted, and everything collapsed into this minute.

photo by thomas bollier

I woke up to the taste of metal in my mouth. I was jarringly sober and naked, breathing in the unfamiliar smell of his apartment, moist, sultry and far from fresh. He stirred and I slowed my breathing, allowing only my eyes to slit back and forth. Who was this man? His bedroom didn't tell much. A basement apartment, it was claustrophobic and sunken, with a tiny window above the bed that looked out onto the ankles of passersby. His bedside table hosted an array of things and I began to conjure up an idea of him. This was a man who chewed spearmint gum, and had a sewing kit. He owned an antique portrait of a woman propped up on the floor next to crumpled up athletic shorts. He read Descartes in French, and bookmarked passages with guitar pics. He was also a heavy sleeper, indifferent as I slunk out of the bottom of the bed against the wall. As I tiptoed up the stairs, giddy from my escape, I began to piece together the night. Unwittingly, I’d already started crafting a story.

I woke up beside him the next night, and the night after. Everything about this romance felt novel, and Pete glistened with newness. I was obsessed with the way that I must look to him, and would glance at myself in windows as we walked together to try and see what he saw. I loved the way he said my name. His voice had an exotic color, not the flat metallic tone of the Great Lakes, with it’s clear hard r’s and absence of theatricality.

It was cold out now, the bitter cold of a Montreal winter. I stood in his doorway peeling off layers covered in snow, and dumped my boots in the corner. Pete strode over and pulled out a clear plastic baggie. “You wanna?” He placed two white pills onto my palm. Asking what they were would only reveal my innocence, so instead I looked into his beautiful bright eyes and swallowed them down without hesitating. He laughed and kissed me. “You have to come see our new strobe light.”

photo by thomas bollier

I sprawled out upside down on his roommate's bed, my arms cactused out and blood rushing to my head. Blue pink and purple lights rushed across the ceiling. I had started to feel a great pull on my heart, as though gravity had taken a hold of it, but didn't stop with a gentle downward force. It pulled in all directions, leaving me paralyzed. Where was Pete? He’d disappeared and I needed him. I was starting to panic, and even with my eyes squeezed closed I couldn't turn off the swirling lights. I opened my eyes and watched their pattern unfold above me, trying to make out voices above the booming techno. Then his face appeared above me. He sat down cross legged and cradled my head upside down in his lap. From this angle, I noticed a nick under his chin from a razor, and could smell the cigarettes on his worn in jeans. “Kiss me,” he said, and I flipped over onto my belly. I closed my eyes and pressed my lips to his. They felt so perfect, so smooth, I almost couldn't stand it. This was an impossible world I’d entered, in which I could give everything I had to him, but lost nothing of myself.

It was a winter of firsts: first high, first quiet come down, first pull of addiction, first love, first impassioned goodbye. Falling in love is spectacular, so much so that it necessitates a rapt consciousness. I was so busy jumping, falling, diving into Pete that I forgot to notice him, his lifetime of sorrows and beautiful triumphs. My memories of those months exist inside a teacup amusement ride; I’m sitting on the ride in focus, and he’s somewhere out there, a blur.

I think I remember the moment when things started to go south, but I can’t be sure. 

“I know how to tell a joke,” Pete says absentmindedly. “You can’t telegraph the laugh.”

“What’s the joke?” I ask.

“That was the joke. You didn't get it?”

“What was?”

He sighs.

Years later, I have a longing for truth. If only, for a moment, I’d thought to step off the roller coaster. As irony would have it, it is far too late in the story for that sort of transience. Instead, I’m left with the worn out stories I've reimagined too many times. What would the first layer of the palimpsest look like, before time and fantasy pressed out the creases?  There are the things I definitely remember. These are usually brought on by something sensual, and I’m transported through a perception time-warp. Late for work, eating eggs over the frying pan in my kitchen, I recall the morning we went out for breakfast at 2 p.m. after staying up all night.  I wanted to leap across the table and push my face hard into his, consume him. Instead, I piled both my eggs onto a piece of toast and shoved them into my mouth. I can still call to mind the feeling of the yolks breaking open in my mouth. Memory is like that – it conceals with a great nonchalance until suddenly, standing over a hot skillet, you are struck with deep loss.

photo by thomas bollier

Then, there are things that I think I remember, like the way his wallet fit in his back pocket, or the sheen of sweat across his brow that gave him a look of aliveness. I sort of remember how I used to try and walk on the lower side of the sidewalk so that he would be slightly taller than me. Did Pete actually like Mark Lanegan, or am I confused because it is on a playlist I titled “Thinking of Pete.” I think I remember that we had a beautiful thing, whatever it was, before it went cold and I was alone again.

Finally, there are things that I can’t remember at all. Squeezing my eyes closed, I try to picture him. Colors swirl and expand on the backs of my lids, muddling the outline. I can’t stretch out a face shape, or the perfect fine hairs that caught the sun as they turned. When we lose someone we lose the color of their lips, the way lashes curl around bright curious eyes. I feel my memories jumbling, thickening, my mind sagging with the effort, growing old by the second. I look down at my hands as I ride the subway. They curl in my lap like empty flower pots. I think about how they once held his broad shoulders, felt the blood pump in his temples as I drew him closer.

When we tell stories, do we agree to trade fictions that both of us know – with a strategically suspended knowledge – to be fictions; and is that enough? If histories are built on distortions and lapses, accounts of the past that we pack away without the messiness, are we destined to step into the same river twice? The great irony, of course, that in this sea of fictions there is only one ending we can rely on: death. It is the only thing in this world that is objectively true.

Maureen O'Brien is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She twitters here and you can find her blog here. She last wrote in these pages about her time in Mexico.

Photographs by Thomas Bollier.

"The Wild People" - Mark Lanegan (mp3)

"Judgement Time" - Mark Lanegan (mp3)


In Which They Write To Us From Someplace

This is the second in a series. You can find the first part here.

photo by jun hongh

The Other Inbox


The act of writing a letter, or even receiving one in the mail, has become almost obsolete in an age where technology has taken over the majority of our precious time. These last years I found myself being drained from the lack of romanticism in receiving empty e-mails and text messages. I wanted something to hold onto.

In 2011 I started exchanging handwritten letters with strangers online, incubating long distance friendships. The intimate exchange of handwritten letters lets me connect authentically and compassionately with others on a level to which we are no longer accustomed.

by jun hongh

Dear M,

I am writing you this letter with both fear and excitement. The pressure to be witty is at its strongest rigor, but yet it's difficult for me to contain my excitement?!

Currently: sitting with my cat and eating my earthquake emergency supply food in case you wanted to check up on my well-being. It's near five in the morning and, as usual, I can't sleep. I'm sure by now you're awake! Running and being productive as I sit on my ass.



by jun hongh

Dear Mama Mia,

I'm sorry I didn't get to see you over break, I think I need to accept the fact that I live in CT now. I've got roots here and it's hard to come home. Regardless, I hope you had a wonderful Christmas with your family!! I miss you soooo much!

I'm going through a really hard time right now with Adam :( Right before Christmas I felt weird about us and felt like we were changing. I hate saying it, but I felt like the more desired one at the beginning and use to try so hard, now I feel like the one who shows all this affection and am constantly waiting for applause. I didn't want to ruin the holidays, but I finally couldn't hold it in any longer. We discussed everything and I felt better, but I still felt like he didn't respect why I was upset.

Recently we got in a little spat that started over a stupid comment, this led to a 5 a.m. argument, which we finally resolved. However, once again there wasn't really a compromise on his part, just an agree to disagree.

The following day however he asked me via text how I felt about our "discussion." I basically summed up my feelings about everything.

I've been too scared to say it, but I really love him. You know how long it takes me to be comfortable with a guy and I'm really scared. I do want us to work out, but at the same time maybe are are too different and want different things.

I know you just broke up with your boyfriend, and even though it wasn't your first I know it was really hard for you. But if you could give me some advice I could really use it. I'm scared, and I love him and I'm afraid he doesn't love me as much I love him. But it's not that I'm scared to be alone. I'm afraid I won't find someone who will wait for me to be comfortable with them before starting a relationship. I'm just scared.

Anyways I really hope you are well and feeling better. Good luck next semester! Miss you tons!!!



photo by jun hongh


I got your letter a few days ago, but its taken me some time to respond. I don't know if it's been a lot going on or I simply can't motivate myself or what, but I'm taking some time to write.

This Newtown shooting is horrendous. I can't imagine the impact it has had on the community. Those poor kids who went through something like that at such a young age. And here comes the old gun control debate. I hope that this time around something will change. I think the bigger issue at hand is mental health, and also, we as a culture should reevaluate our morals and what's important. There's a lot of readjustment that needs to be done. With that, I'll stop writing about it. It's too heavy of a topic for a grey morning.

I've done a lot of Christmas shopping. I usually don't, but this year I've done quite a bit. It's unfortunate, but shopping for gifts gives me this weird sense of guilt and anxiety. I always feel that fundamentally, our consumer culture has it wrong, but here I am looking for deals on a pair of leather gloves my mom wants. Ugh. I just want it to be over.

Speaking of which, winter is another thing I'd like to be over (even though it hasn't even started yet). I miss the warmth, green trees, birds, grass, sunshine. I'm really not made for New England.

My two friends from high school and I are going to hike Mt. Monadnock on Friday, "la fin du monde." I haven't seen them in a while, and also, hiking is just a good time.

I'm glad to hear that you've got an internship out in California. I hope that it goes well for you, and who knows, maybe that will be your foot in the door to a new life out on the West Coast!

I'll close now. I'm doing my work laundry before my shift today at 11 a.m. Hooray to serving Brown professors lunch!

Your friend,


photo by mia nguyen

Dear Mia,

I loved getting your letter in the mail...much more exciting than bills! I used to have many pen pals in college before the internet and email hit the scene.

Where are you from? I don't think we ever met. Did you ever meet my husband? He has been teaching middle school art for over 15 years, so he knows a lot of people...and many are all grown up now! It makes me feel old :)

My kids loved Halloween this year. R is 5 and went as Frankenstein and M is 3 and dressed as a princess doctor. T and I ate a lot of their candy and I suspect we won't be getting away with that for too many more years before the kiddos notice. Did you do anything fun and exciting for Halloween?

How is the new stove? I enjoy baking. As a matter of fact I am making a spaghetti pie for dinner. Did you make anything special yet? I get most of my recipes from Pinterest. I like to cook whatever my kids will eat, which is not too much right now. R is a pretty good eater, but M is so picky.

What are your plans after graduation? I have my undergraduate in Communications & Performance and Elementary Education. I also have my Master's in Instructional Technology. I taught for a while, but now I spend time with my two kids and managing our household. I plan to return to work when the kids are a lot older. A job will always be there, but my kids won't be this young forever!

I am so happy you wrote and had so much fun writing you back. Although, I think my hand is cramping up...I haven't done this much handwriting since high school! I am happy to do my part to help the post offices. Have a great day!



Mia Nguyen is the features editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Rhode Island. You can find her website here.

Photographs by Jun Hongh.

"A Fistful of Flowers" - Zun Alak (mp3)

"Sunshine Dust" - Zun Alak (mp3)

photo by mia nguyen