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Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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In Which We Softly Close Our Eyes In Water

Lotus Born


dir. Mia Wasikowska
14 minutes

Mia Wasikowska’s short film Afterbirth begins with a single woman and her bare shoulders in a bathtub filled with blood. A crying newborn is taken away just as soon as he is brought to her chest. She sits. She slides beneath the blood-water surface. What follows is Wasikowska’s quiet and sensory study on both maternal and self-love.

Igor Charkowsky, midwife and swimming instructor, had been experimenting with water births in Russia since the 1960s. It wasn’t until the 1980s that they came into widespread practice in the U.S., U.K. and Australia. After visiting and observing Charkowsky in practice, midwife Susanna Napierala writes in her book, Water Birth: A Midwife’s Perspective, “Charkowsky likens an ‘air’ birth to someone freefalling and then colliding with the solid ground.” Charkowksy considers the immense pressure and force of gravity on a newborn as she’s pushed out of her liquid environment and into the world. He encourages adults to relate to newborns on a deeper level; to understand that they feel everything because all they are is feeling. Charkowsky meditates on the sensitive, open nature of our biological and psychic energy fields at birth and during embodiment. Birth doesn’t have to be precious. Living is traumatic. It is a form of labor. Water can ease the difficulties of labor and serve as a gentle transition for both the parent and the newborn.

Slightly preceding the practice of water births in the U.S., Clair Lotus Day, a clairvoyant, nurse, and teacher in California, questioned the practice of cutting the umbilical cord. Although it seemed to distress most newborns, it remained a widespread standard. Letting the umbilical cord fall off on its own was something that had previously only been observed in chimpanzees by Jane Goodall. In 1974, Day got pregnant and planned for a lotus birth. Dr. Sarah J. Buckley defines it as, “the practice of leaving the umbilical cord uncut so that the baby remains attached to the placenta until the cord naturally separates at the navel—exactly as a cut cord does – at three to ten days after birth. This prolonged contact can be seen as a time of transition, allowing the baby to slowly and gently let go of the attachment to the mother’s body.” Day found an obstetrician sensitive to, although skeptical of, her desires and was able to bring her baby home, placenta intact. In a few days, the cord dried out and fell off on its own. Clair’s baby was lotus born. While every person is entitled to whatever birthing method makes her feel safe and happy, many accounts of lotus births advocate for the period of restful transition that the practice allows.

mia wasikowska

While Buckley emphasizes gentle detachment from the mother’s body in her definition of lotus birth, she doesn’t exactly emphasize the significance of the child’s attachment to the placenta itself. It is almost genetically identical to the newborn and sustains her life during gestation. The two and the mother can be considered a single unit with the placenta as an essential, external organ. Considering the placenta not an anatomical waste but as much a part of the baby as the heart or lungs can make cutting the umbilical cord prematurely seem unwarranted and cruel. The only difference is that once out of the womb, the placenta begins to die. Disrupting the connection, while life-threatening in utero, is not as physically threatening after birth. In recent years, delaying cord cutting three to ten minutes after birth has become a standard practice. Enough research has been done to suggest that nutrients are still being delivered to the newborn from the placenta during this window of time. Delaying cord cutting is necessary. Complete umbilical nonseverance serves no apparent physical purpose. But that doesn't tell us anything about its necessity.

In the 2011 book Lotus Birth, midwife Alice Scholes imagines that any discomfort associated with the idea of preserving the placenta could arise from the discomfort we have in acknowledging death. Lotus birth involves preserving, salting and drying the placenta as it dies. According to Scholes, being born is death of life in the womb. But there is nothing immediate about it, as the word death and our experience with it might suggest.

Shivam Rachana, who compiled Lotus Birth, writes, “with the placenta still attached, the sense of being in the space between worlds is very apparent. The baby is here but is still there. The time of transition from the beyond into the physical plane of existence is obvious.” Lotus birth acknowledges the significance of coming into consciousness. It draws it out and emphasizes its nature as a transition. Birth doesn’t need to be a jolt, but an awakening, slower, resembling a tide or a wave. In Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, Bernard considers "into this crashed death—Percival’s. ‘Which is happiness?’ I said (our child had been born), ‘which pain?’ referring to the two sides of my body, as I came downstairs, making a purely physical statement.” Birth and death are not opposites but entry points; ways to cross through the porous boundaries of consciousness. Sometimes death comes on slow. Other times, it crashes. Birth might crash, but it doesn’t need to.

Birth is at once deeply personal and universal. It is a product of a community and research, no matter how a person decides to deliver. In Lotus Birth, authority resides not in one person, but in the collective voices of those invested in lotus birth, in those who have experienced lotus births, and even in those who are not voiced, who do not advocate for these particular birthing methods. Living in a techno-medical birthing culture instills skepticism for those who provide alternatives to the widespread practice of hospital births. I have long associated birth with fear and images of a woman in pain lying flat on her back and being told by a man wearing a green mask, to push. Even so, I don’t need to read an argument against gentle or lotus births to make me wary of these alternatives. I already am.

To get through the day or a pregnancy we collect information from our environment. Information that guides the choices that added together might resemble a lifestyle. We let our information take on a general direction that feels personalized but is not entirely unique to ourselves. It’s like how Maggie Nelson wonders in an interview, whether it really is a “great throbbing consciousness” that we all lean against and share, “even if that sharing is characterized by dissensus or mirage of separateness rather than a blurry unity.” Like Virginia Woolf in The Waves, she wonders about the boundaries of the individual and where culture starts. What separates us is not as solid as it seems. With faith that this idea has a way of slowly but surely finding its way to the surface, we can think about lotus birth and come closer to this understanding.

In Lotus Birth transpersonal psychologist Renuka Potter writes about placental consciousness, which is not unlike Nelson’s idea of a “great throbbing." Potter writes, “It is quite likely that the trauma of birth causes the baby to lose its hold on the deep consciousness of itself as a being grounded in placental/earth consciousness, the unconscious wisdom of the body, the mammalian brain. If the cord is not cut, this familiar wisdom or sense of being that still resonates in the placenta can be accessed by the baby.” The placenta is both organ and circumstance. It anchors the newborn to the earth and reminds her from where she came. I It is dilation, concentration and a direction to look towards if you’re all right with its death. And if God is anything it’s that.

Potter’s mention of access lends itself to the idea that my ideas and my sense of being don’t come from me, but from my physical interactions with and across a bigger consciousness. I am born into consciousness, but it’s not my own. And just like anyone else, I’m intelligent at birth. Stephen Gaskin — husband of Ina May Gaskin, Mother of the Natural Birth Movement — writes in Spiritual Midwifery, “A newborn infant is just as intelligent as you are. When you’re relating with her, you should consider that you are relating to a very intelligent being who just doesn’t speak your language yet. And you shouldn’t do anything gross to her before she learns to speak with you.”

Not doing anything gross to each other is the dream. But that’s not enough because I want to be individual. I want there to be something that separates me from you. (A couldn’t-be-more-human motivation that changes color and tone as your point of view changes, as it runs the gamut between thoughts of a young emotional white woman to the underlying cause of every racial, gendered, classist, ableist and ageist form of oppression.) My sense of individuality and the expression of my intelligence relies, moment to moment, on the position, time, size and place of my body. Whether or not I can or want to communicate it to you depends on yours.

I continually drift, towards and away from assigning individual traits to you and myself. So does the woman in Afterbirth. She floats through the days in both playful and eerie ways. Her struggle to recognize her newborn is the same as her struggle to recognize herself.

My movements, as singular as they may or may not be, are what grant me access to different parts of a collective consciousness. Potter suggests that we have a greater connection to it around birth. And that’s because this consciousness potentially resides in the placenta.

Lotus birth addresses anxieties of embodiment and perceived separateness. Lotus birth stems from a desire for children to enter the world feeling alright in their bodies, a luxury we probably didn’t have, in order to more easily access a fulfilling mode of being. A lotus born child is not secure for life. But it’s not a bad way to start. With lotus birth, we are momentarily secure in knowing what is firm about the boundaries between ourselves and others. And in being so, we are less distracted, confused, or weighed down by our sense of being individual. It is like feeling the earth beneath your feet after searching, treading water. It is like in The Waves when Bernard thinks, “I have had one moment of enormous peace. This perhaps is happiness. Now I am drawn back by pricking sensations; by curiosity, greed (I am hungry) and the irresistible desire to be myself,” or when Rhoda thinks, “The still mood, the disembodied mood is on us, and we enjoy this momentary alleviation (it is not often that one has no anxiety) when the walls of the mind become transparent.” Lotus births are multiple and continuous. A lotus birth is not a single occasion that we’ve missed. We come up over and over again, experiencing lightness and alleviation just to be drawn back to the self and the everyday, knowing or at least hoping we’ll come up again.

I was born in air, in a hospital and without a midwife or drugs. A doctor cut my cord. My birth may have been more traumatic than it needed to be but I don’t remember and I will never know. In recognizing lotus birth and the placenta, though, it is easier for me to think about being and my body. Newborns are sentient beings at a vulnerable stage in their embodiment. Transitioning doesn’t have to be cut abruptly with the cord. Time can be manipulated. Birth can be elongated. With lotus birth we can realize our time between worlds and grant ourselves a period of grace and rest.

Afterbirth takes place between these worlds. We never encounter the placenta or see the cord cut in Mia Wasikowska’s film, and at first glance, the title seems synonymous with postpartum. But the themes and the tones are placental. The film spans the days that follow a birth. The woman, played by Kathryn Beck, is blonde with wide and calm eyes. There are no visitors. Her contact with anyone but her baby is limited. Their contact with each other is not void of emotion or care. It’s mechanical. Our focus is drawn in and lingers on the woman as she fastens a pair of lettuce leaves to her chest. She performs typical mothering responsibilities but imagines her baby born to a pair of wildly social caricature parents. When asked to watch another woman’s baby in a restroom, she picks him up out of his stroller and switches him with her own. The mother returns, horrified, and asks what she’s doing. Surprised by both herself and the other woman, she smiles and sputters gently, “It was a joke.” It feels like she’s experiencing a time lag, or time underwater. It’s both serene and melancholic. It’s without particular focus until she’s brought back to the surface and reminded that at some point she’s had a child; and that this is only the beginning. Birthed in water but having his cord cut, the baby hasn’t been wholly born and so it could be said that the woman hasn’t been wholly born into being his mother. At the end of the film, as the infant cries, his mother sees a strand of hair wound tightly around his finger. She unwraps it and he’s calmed. She picks him up and strokes him between his eyes, which he softly closes. It’s through this isolated moment that we sense the beginning of deep love and security between bodies. The two, for the moment at least, are lotus born.

Melissa Hutton is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. This is her first appearance on This Recording.


In Which Brendan Behan Was At The Height Of His Powers

The Gift


What really interested Brendan were my impressions of life on the Left Bank, which was then the intellectual capital of post-war Europe. The underground clubs like the Tabou, and the Rose Rouge, where Juliette Greco sang, the terraces of the ‘Maggots’ or the Mabillon were all well known to Brendan Behan. And they had already heard of him as a writer: Sinbad Vail, son of Peggy Guggenheim, had printed Brendan’s delicate story “After the Wake” in his magazine Points, though Brendan later repudiated it because it exposed his liking for boys.

In the exuberant bohemian atmosphere of Saint Germain, where Genet and Baldwin were leading lights, and Gide was the local Nobel laureate, no one cared a ‘fig’ about homosexuality. But back in melancholy Dublin, such sexual diversity was dangerous, and the naturally loquacious Brendan had to try to keep his mouth shut.

Brendan’s sexuality was complex and seldom fulfilled. He liked women but his early years in prison had given him a feeling for the fine manly forms of his fellow felons. He confided to me that what he would really like was ‘a boy on top of a girl, and myself on top of that,’ a pyramid not easily choreographed in the pious Ireland of our youth, or indeed, anywhere west of Bangkok.

Brendan Behan

When we re-met three years later, in 1954, we were both young married men, and by lucky chance, living more or less side-by-side, in Dublin’s genteel Herbert Street. It was noticeable that Brendan was migrating steadily from the North Side slums of his youth to the more sedate south, perhaps in a curve towards respectability?

Few people think of Behan as a husband, but that was the role in which I finally came to know him best. And my own wife took to him immediately, as she was meant to. When they first met, as Madeleine and I were walking by the misty Canal, he surprised her by asking if he could put his finger in her mouth.

”Bite, daughter,” he cried, “bite as hard as you can, on the knuckle.” A surprised Madeleine did as she was instructed, until Brendan’s face whitened.

”Jaysus, girl you’re a fine specimen, and may you have many children. But,” he continued, his eyes narrowing with mischief, "do you know what you’ve gone and done? You’ve married an Ulsterman. A grand girl like yourself, you’d expect a bit of appreciation and affection. But all you’ll get from one of that lot is a pair of cold feet in the bed.”

Madeleine Montague, John's first wife

Then he launched into a fluent stream of street French, which delighted her exile’s heart; she found his command of argot unusual and impressive.

Brendan was now at the height of his powers, a formidable little bull crackling with energy and affection for the world. A trip to the Markets for an early morning cure, home to heavy breakfast, a few hours hammering at his antediluvian typewriter: that was how he completed Borstal Boy and began The Hostage, plus a new novel that opened sensationally: “There was a party to celebrate Deirdre’s return from her abortion in Bristol.” If he spent the rest of the day in the pubs, it seemed a natural enough reward, and, if you caught him early enough, there would be a gas session.

We did not discuss writing much, but there was a mutual respect despite the disparity in our achievements; Brendan’s fame was now worldwide, and I was only getting back to real writing after three years of wandering and teaching in the States. If I published a poem or review, he usually found something decent to say about it, although he still smarted from what he regarded as the unfair treatment he received. Dubliners like Iremonger, Jimmy Plunkett and even John Jordan he always spoke well of, but beyond the lingua franca of Dublin men and oppressed and besieged by culchies, there was his simple belief that writing was something sacred. He might joke about it, as he did about everything else, but it was what mattered. “You may roll in the gutter, as long as you don’t destroy the gift.” It seemed to me a very romantic attitude but later I came to regard it as almost a prophetic summary of his descent into the toils of self-destruction.

During these early years of marriage, Brendan tried his best to harness his demons. He was very proud of Beatrice and her extraordinary capacity, at least at the beginning, for quiet amusement at his antics, even when they were sometimes excessive. There is a lovely picture of him crushing his great animal head against her pale face, and his imitation of her, brush in hand before her easel, was one of his new party tricks. If the daughter had arrived earlier, I am convinced that Brendan would have lived, because he loved children as much as or more than he desired young men. I have a favourite image of him festooned with children at Blackrock Baths, performing elaborate belly flops for delight. And whenever Madeleine’s pretty little niece came to stay with us, Brendan would fire bags of bon-bons through the window, ‘pour la petite.’

Montague, center

By eerie coincidence, my first marriage was also childless, and I recall a sadly hilarious exchange with Brendan cross-examining the novelist Benedict Kiely, in genuine puzzlement, as to how he had managed to have so many children, while Ben mumbled some vague consolation. It was as if he truly believed that he might be doing something wrong in the love department. For, despite the casual exchanges that sometimes prevailed in Dublin’s bohemia, we actually knew very little about sex in those days. And almost certainly nothing about problems like infertility, which even doctors discussed in hushed tones.

In my experience, in a childless marriage there is a tendency to revert to former habits, because the anchor that children provide is missing.

What aspects of his ‘peculiarly complicated personality’ brought about his downfall? There was his sexual ambiguity, for Brendan was, to use a Dublinism, a ‘bicycle’, or bisexual, pedalling forlornly with both feet. Most of his younger male contemporaries endured the occasional pass from Brendan, if he took a shine to you. But the advance usually so shy and stumbling as to be easily brushed off: the publicity-hungry Behan, who sought the crowd’s applause, was also deeply vulnerable. At the height of his fame, when he was staying in a West End London hotel, he took a fancy to a telegraph boy, who was bringing him messages of congratulation. Brendan was afraid to lay a hand on him, but liked him so much that he began to send telegrams to himself, just in order to see the boy and exchange a few pleasantries.

For all his impulses in that direction, Brendan seemed reluctant to pass through the mirror, to use Cocteau’s image. For, after all, one does not love in a vacuum, and declaring his homosexuality would have entailed a whole change of lifestyle that Brendan ultimately shied from. Or perhaps his real torture was that he was more or less equally attracted to both sexes, an ambivalence which might have been an albatross.

The above is excerpted from John Montague's memoir Company: A Chosen Life, which was published in 2001. Montague passed away in December in Nice at the age of 87.


In Which We Forgive Her Almost Everything

Did You Morph Yet?


Power Rangers
dir. Dean Israelite
124 minutes

Rita (Elizabeth Banks) returns to American society in the year 2017. For 65 million years she has inactive in the deep sea, but a fishing net trawling the bottom of the Pacific Ocean finds her body. She was consigned to this bitter, watery fate by Dr. Heisenberg (Bryan Cranston). She subsists primarily on gold and water, so obviously a jewelry store makes a useful target. Before she presses a silent alarm, an employee at Jared offers her a variety of gold rings, which she consumes orally. When a single cop arrives he is armed with a shotgun, and when she does not turn around in sufficient time, he tries to put her down.

All I could think during this was how great all of it was. Power Rangers has tons of exciting moments, for example a black teenager (RJ Cyler) explains to his new friend Jason (Dacre Montgomery), the former star quarterback, that he is "on the spectrum." Someone actually was like, "We should make the Blue Ranger an autistic comedy figure!" and another person responded in the affirmative. This was a real moment that happened in our world. Once this unlikely pair discovers a underground cavern together, Bryan Cranston (Heisenberg) informs them they must save the world or at the very least, their small California town named Angel Grove.

In another equally fantastic scene, Kimberly Hart (the ravishing, important Naomi Scott) is explaining to Jason why she was put into detention. It emerges that the reason for her punishment is because she cyberbullied her friend for taking a nude photo and sent it to everyone. Jason registers this information with sufficient interest, before responding, "You should focus on being the person you want to be." It was unclear whether this meant more or less cyber-bullying, but I really did not care at that point. I was just so happy.

There are a lot of montage sequences as well. Such summaries were not the better part of this Power Rangers reboot, since they felt a bit forced and were composed mostly of Bill Hader one-liners – he plays an annoying robot. He wasn't as bad as in Trainwreck, but that is not saying much. Fortunately, Dr. Heisenberg (Bryan Cranston) is mentoring all these young people so he can teach them how to kill Elizabeth Banks' character. Hilariously, Heisenberg (Bryan Cranston) has zero faith in them whatsoever and spends all his time thinking about how he can materialize outside of being an aspect of his starship's AI so he can lead these hopeless fuckers.

After eating up that gold, Rita is sufficiently strong and she finds out there are all these new rangers around. (She used to be the Green Ranger and I guess in a way she still is.) You know how sometimes actors will just phone in roles they believe are beneath them, like Bryan Cranston in everything since Breaking Bad? Elizabeth Banks gives you your money's worth in every single scene, in what feels like a subtle apologia for how terrible Pitch Perfect 2 was. She tracks down the lesbian ranger (Becky Gomez) and almost chokes her to death, and then tracks her to find the rest of the Rangers. Within an hour she has imprisoned them all, and she even kills the autistic one because whatever.

This is not even the height of Banks' performance. As soon as she finds out that these new power rangers do not have the collective camaraderie to "morph", which is some kind of code for a communal sexuality which would allow them to display post-pubescent armaments and weapons, she is constantly being like, "Holy shit, you guys haven't even morphed yet?" and laughing hysterically. A great villain has emerged, and even when she is excommunicated from Earth at the end of Power Rangers and begins to freeze as she hurtles through the deep recesses of space, I began to feel seriously envious that I will never be Elizabeth Banks or even be able to get to know her in a casual, friendly setting like doubles tennis or carpooling.

It is not even Banks alone. The cast of Power Rangers is all completely perfect, even the irresponsible Michelangelo of the group, a Chinese-American teen named Zack (Ludi Lin). He is the Black Ranger, which seems a tad racist but whatever. I have never heard of a Chinese person named Zack, but that's probably more my fault than Zack's. That is what is so wonderful about Power Rangers. It is such an empty vessel that no one even cares what you put into it.

Director Dean Israelite has surely earned the right to make a sequel to this amusing film. I am not totally sure what it would be about, but I have some ideas. The pregnancy of the Pink Ranger seems imminent, and also could she at the same time be cyberbullying the Yellow Ranger? Could the robot played by Bill Hader be really into Grey's Anatomy? Could Jesus be the villain turned hero, and be made an honorary ranger? Where does Aaron Paul play into this? Could he be the Blue Ranger's Magic: The Gathering buddy? The possibilities alarm me in their vividness.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.