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Alex Carnevale

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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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Robert Altman Week


In Which You Should Probably Sit Down For Our Explanation

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.


Two months ago I started dating a man named Shawn. We met through mutual friends and immediately clicked. Shawn runs his own business, a restaurant, but he is pretty good about making time for me. It's a new relationship, but we have agreed not to see other people and give things a chance.

Shawn has asked me extensively about my dating past, and I have been truthful to him; granted there is not very much to tell. He is five years older than me, and when I ask him about previous girlfriends, he gets a bit uncomfortable. He did tell me about his most recent ex, a woman named Sheila. Naturally, I googled the fuck out of Sheila - she is an actress who has appeared in various television shows and resembles me to a certain extent. When I asked Shawn what happened, he just says it didn't work out.

I want to be able to just let things go, but Sheila (not her real name) seems really amazing and it concerns me that I don't know exactly what Shawn is thinking concerning her. How do I get over this?

Julia F.


Dear Julia,

(Un)Fortunately for you, this is one of those few, rare times where a situation gives you exactly two options.  You can either

a) trust that Shawn will open up in the future, since this is still an early time in the relationship, or

b) have a few whiskey sours at happy hour and demand an answer as to why he and Sheila broke up right before going to bed on a Tuesday. Hint: only one of these involves maintaining your dignity.

Exes are a touchy subject. To quote my friend, it’s a sens-y time. Some people, like you and me, want to be as open from the beginning of the relationship as possible. To us, being completely up front is a way of saying “I’m trusting you and us.” This makes it hard when others are not as eager, or willing, to share.  What we assume is a negative reflection on ourselves is really just a different way of processing a relationship. People like Shawn view complete, detailed honesty as earned, rather than deserved from the beginning. That’s not to say he’s texting Sheila on the sly, but maybe he’s just not ready to dig in to all of the reasons they broke up and all the feels it accompanied. It sounds like Shawn is just the Ron to your Hermione in terms of emotional expressiveness. Then again, Ron was a soulless ginger, but nobody’s perfect – not even this she-devil Sheila. She's clearly the worst.

As a side note, if months pass and he’s still not fessing up – have a mature conversation as to why it is important to you that he shares more of his past. If he’s reasonable, he should be open to discussing it at least somewhat further detail. If he’s still being super sketchy, then maybe take route b and prepare for the hangover to follow.


My sister Melanie is a loving person with many wonderful qualities. She has recently started visiting an astrologer. She doesn't spend too much money on this aspect of her life, and in any case, she can afford it. My problem is that she is actually abiding by this woman's suggestions. Recently, she broke up with a perfectly good guy because her astrologer suggested it was time for her to move on. I'm already worried about her, but how worried should I be?

Chelsea P. 

Dear Chelsea,

The thing is, Melanie won't find a love match with that kind of devotion to an astrologer. Even if her astrologer advised her not to break up the "perfectly good guy," he would probably jump ship as soon as he realized his girlfriend is paying someone to make her life choices.

I am sure Melanie is a person who will realize this in time, but if you are anxious to speed the process, maybe test it out a bit. Ask her if she wants to get dinner.

If she texts her astrologer about whether or not this is a good idea, then bring it up by quietly saying "Why the hell can't you make your own decisions?" Many people have strong influences in their lives. Seeking spiritual guidance is an important and sometimes even admirable move toward enjoying and growing in this wonderful life we have. It becomes a problem when it eclipses our own thoughts, feelings and judgments.

Gaining independence is realizing you have to trust yourself, not the woman who is charging money for what you can read for free in Glamour. Melanie will figure this out with your subtle nudges.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

"Emily's Rain" - Peter Bradley Adams (mp3)

"My Love Is My Love" - Peter Bradley Adams (mp3)


In Which We Experiment With Ludonarrative Dissonance In The Life Of Elizabeth Bishop

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

A Quick Kid In A Caper

Elizabeth Bishop met Lota de Macedo Soares in Mexico in 1942. Lota was traveling with her girlfriend at the time, the American dancer Mary Stearns Morse. When she visited Lota in Brazil, she fell victim to a violent allergic reaction to cashews. Nursing Bishop back to health in 1951 led to the two falling in love and spending the next 15 years together. A talented architect, Lota built a studio for Bishop on her property in Rio.

In the late sixties, Lota suffered a nervous breakdown brought on in part by political circumstances in Brazil. Eventually, Bishop couldn't take it anymore and returned to New York. Lota followed her there in 1967 after a year of threatening suicide. Upon her arrival in New York, she took an overdose of valium and went into a coma before passing away. The following excerpts from Bishop's letters to Robert Lowell as well as her therapist and various amateur biographers detail the years following Lota's suicide.

I'm afraid you thought I was drunk when I called you, but I really wasn't — just closer to hysteria, or more hysterical, than I have ever been in my life, and although I realized there wasn't much you could do or say all those thousands of miles away it helped some just to hear you. I am afraid by now you are pretty bored with me and my neurotic friends, etc. — but I thought you liked and admired Lota when you were here and I sort of wanted you to know, maybe, that I wasn't entirely wrong in my complaints from Seattle. I felt at the time that you thought I was being loyal and unsympathetic about her work, etc. — but as you can surely see now, it is all much worse than I thought, even.

I suppose the person closest is the last to realize how terribly sick someone is — but things have been getting worse and worse for several years now.

I only wish to God I knew if they are doing the right thing. Her nurse comes here to see me once in a while and yesterday said she is staying awake more now, and eating more — but talks of me constantly, etc.

She has had violent fights with all our friends except two — and it seems they all thought she was "mad" severally years before I did. But of course I got it all the time and almost all the night, poor dear. I do know my own faults, you know. But this is really not because of me, although now all her obsessions have fixed on me — 1st love, then hate, etc. I finally refused to stay alone with her nights any longer — she threatened to throw herself off the terrace.

I have almost decided to try the U.S. thing. I don't know what is right really, and wish God would lean down and tell me. I hate to leave Lota like this, but it seems almost as if it were a question of saving my own life or sanity, too, now.


Have you ever gone through caves? I did once, in Mexico, and hated it so I've never gone through the famous ones right near here. Finally, after hours stumbling along, one sees daylight ahead — faint blue glimmer — and it never looked so wonderful before. That's what I feel as thought I were waiting for now — just the faintest glimmer that I'm going to get out of this, somehow, alive.


One phrase I can't abide — it may be what everyone says at present, but it always offends me — is "to have sex." (Even Isherwood has used it.) If it isn't "making love" — what other way can it be put? (I first heard about it years ago when the famous fan dancers was talking about her pet snake — maybe that prejudiced me.) It seems like such an ugly, generalized sort of expression for something — love, lust, or what have you — always unique, and so much more complex than "having sex."


I've never studied "Imagism" or "Transcendentalism" or any isms consciously. I just read all the poetry that came my way, old and new. At 15 I loved Whitman; at 16 someone gave me the book of Hopkins that had just been re-issued. I never really liked Emily Dickinson much, except a few nature poems, until that complete edition came out a few years ago and I read it all more carefully. I still hate the oh-the-pain-of-it-all poems, but I admire many others, and mostly, phrases more than whole poems. I particularly admire her having dared to do it, all alone — a bit like Hopkins in that. (I have a poem about them comparing them two self-caged birds, but it's unfinished.) This is snobbery — but I don't like the humorless, Martha-Graham kind of person who does like Emily Dickinson.

In fact I think snobbery governs a great deal of my taste. I have been very lucky in having had, most of my life, some witty friends, and I mean real wit, quickness, wild fancies, remarks that make one cry with laughing. (I seem to notice a tendency in literary people at present to think that any unkind or heavily ironical criticism is "wit," and any old "ambiguity" is now considered "wit," too, but that's not what I mean.) The aunt I liked best was a very funny woman: most of my close friends have been funny people; Lota de Macedo Soares is funny. Pauline Hemingway a good friend until her death in 1951 was the wittiest person, man or woman, that I've ever known. Marianne was very funny — Cummings, too, of course.

Perhaps I need some people to cheer me up. They are usually stoical, unsentimental, and physically courageous.

I have a vague theory that one learns most — I have learned most - from having someone suddenly make fun of something one has taken seriously up until then. I mean about life, the world, and so on. This is again a form of snobbery. I dislike extremely bookish people (I do happen to love some, but I think they'd be better off if they weren't so bookish), and I don't enjoy writers who talk literary anecdotes all the time or are preoccupied in putting other writers in the proper pecking order. Criticism is important, "weeding out has to be done," (R. Lowell), but I don't want to do it. I feel that art would probably struggle along without it in very much the same way, probably. I trust my own taste and usually don't want to explain it — at the same time I occasionally wish I could explain it better.


I had meant to remark that I have been seeing some poems around by an Anne Sexton that reminded me quite a bit of you and also were quite good, at least some of them — and the same day your last letter came Houghton Mifflin sent me her book, with your blurb on the jacket and that sad photograph of her on the other side of it. She is good, in spots, but there is all the difference in the world, I'm afraid, between her kind of simplicity and that of Life Studies, her kind of egocentricity that is simply that, and yours that has been —what would be the reverse of sublimated I wonder — anyway, made intensely interesting, and painfully applicable to every reader. I feel I know too much about her, whereas, although I know much more about you, I'd like to know a great deal more, etc, — oh well it is fairly obvious, isn't it?

I like some of her really mad ones best; those that sound as thought she'd written them all at once.


I liked Roethke when I saw him — huge people like that often have that lightning quickness. I went to Grand Central with him in cab; he was almost missing his train to the west and I suggested my doing something while he did something else — I forget what, but to help him catch the train, and his last words to me were, "You're a quick kid in a caper."


The biographical note in Who's Who is correct — or was, the last time I saw it. I never lived in Worcester, however —  I left before I was a year old and spent only a few months there was I was 6-7, with my father's parents. The rest of my childhood I spent with my mother's parents in Nova Scotia - mostly long summers, although I started school there — and with a devoted aunt, in or near Boston, until I went away to school at 16. I also went to summer camp on Cape Cod for 6 summers. I've never lived in Newfoundland — I took a walking trip there one summer when I was at Vassar. Since Vassar I've lived in New York, Paris, Key West, Mexico, etc — mostly New York, and Key West until about 1948. Then since late 1951 Brazil — with several trips back, of course, one of 8 months or so.

Robert Lowell compressed my life even more, recently, into a very short poem that was in the Kenyon Review, called "The Scream."


A scream, the echo of a scream,
now only a thinning echo . . .
As a child in Nova Scotia,
I used to watch the sky,
Swiss sky, too blue, too dark.

A cow drooled green grass strings.
made cow flop, smack, smack, smack!
and tried to brush off its flies
on a lilac bush—all,
forever, at one fell swoop!

In the blacksmith’s shop, the horseshoes sailed through the dark,
like bloody little moons,
red-hot, hissing, protesting,
as they drowned in the pan.

Back and away and back!
Mother kept coming and going—
with me, without me!
Mother’s dresses were black
or white, or black-and-white.

One day she changed to purple,
and left her mourning. At the fitting,
the dressmaker crawled on the floor,
eating pins, like Nebuchadnezzar
on his knees eating grass.

Drummers sometimes came
selling gilded red
and green books, unlovely books!
The people in the pictures
wore clothes like the purple dress.

Later, she gave the scream,
not even loud at first . . .
when she went away I thought
“But you don’t have to love
your heart won’t let you!”

A scream! But they are all gone,
those aunts and aunts, a grandfather,
a grandmother, my mother—
even her scream—too frail
for us to hear their voices long.


The trouble is — excuse my clichés — as people grow older, non-artists, that is, they do have to steel themselves so much, forget so much and try to pretend everything's all right so much. They are afraid, probably rightly, that poetry — any art — if they take it hard, might upset them — so they pretend they like it at the same time they resist it absolutely — Nao e?

I'm feeling so much better these days.


"A Quick and Tender Love" - Tim Knol (mp3)

"You Don't Miss Your Water" - Tim Knol (mp3)


In Which We Have Sexual Intercourse In The Past

Sex and the Scottish Woman


creator Ronald D. Moore

I recently curled up with Lynne on our recamier to revisit the 1986 classic Nine 1/2 Weeks. Kim Basinger plays a young woman who, when blindfolded, is able to consume an almost unlimited amount of fruit, vegetables, honey and milk. It stunned me that an ice cube could accomplish so much, and I remarked as much to Lynne as she began to lightly scrape my balls with her fingernail. She said, "A lot of weird things turn people on. Did you know that Mickey Rourke is completely smooth down there?"

They screened Nine 1/2 Weeks for 4,000 people in 1986. All but 40 walked out, and all but five trashed this masterpiece, from which 50 Shades of Grey is essentially plagiarized. Director Adrian Lyne went on to make Jacob's Ladder and Indecent Proposal, but outside of those two movies, his life in Hollywood was over.

It was in this spirit that I sampled the Starz! adaptation of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander. Claire (Caitriona Balfe) is a Scottish nurse who has hard sex with her history professor husband, but only when he is feeling particularly nostalgic about the fifteenth century. She lulls herself into a particularly emotional voiceover during penetration: "Frank and I always returned to each other in bed," she explains before she is abducted to the 18th century.

Women used to allow themselves to be touched by Mickey Rourke around the turn of the century.

There is nothing more boring than the 18th century in Scotland. I never really understood what Braveheart was about; I assumed it was just Mel Gibson's wet dream in which he dressed Jews up as Englishmen and murdered them in cold blood. Four centuries has done nothing to improve matters. Scotland is a lovely place, but the racial diversity is next to nil and there is absolutely nowhere to get good hummus.

Presumably Claire will travel to a variety of different time periods, sampling the penii of the area and reporting back to her husband, who will note her travelogues with clenched disdain before attempting to please her in the ways of various eras:

Ned Stark would not have done this.

Cinematic sex is nearly always dull, especially socio-historical depictions of copulation in the 1940s. As we see in Outlander, no exchange of fluids ever occurred in the wintercourse of this period. Women were only allowed to kiss their partners once or twice, and when men kissed their women, it had to be on the forehead, and they had to murmur "I'm sorry" as they did it. Homosexual sex was restricted to members of Parliament.

Women received a bottle of champagne at the conclusion of their menstrual cycle in the 1940s. What a decade.

All p & v was unprotected until the 1980s, when the condom was invented by Ronald Reagan as a subversive tool to quell population uprisings in Latin American dictatorships. When that failed, copies of Outlander were sent to Brazil, Nicaragua, Honduras, Chile and all of Bill Clinton's mistresses in the 1990s. The book had the opposite effect of what was intended. Along with Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love, it got all the women of these areas in the mood for love. Hearts and hinds.

It's like Thrones without the midgets or saying "Where do whores go?" every other sentence. Basically, if Thrones were written by a woman.

When Claire and her husband Frank find a Scottish Stonehenge and a coven that sashays all night around it, they hide in some brush and mutually masturbate until morning. Claire wants to go back with her husband to investigate further the next day, but he thinks of some errand he has to do because it's really awkward the day after they make love. She visits the site alone, and is transported to 1743, where things are even more excruciating, and where Claire details her reaction to them in an extensive, throaty voiceover. His lips touched mine, and slowly his head brushed my speckled clitoris. I tasted like almonds.

If a woman is wearing a shawl, that pretty much rules out oral.

All writing about sex, unless it is by Rachel Kramer Bussel or Shakespeare, is utterly prosaic, coming across either as so brief as to be nonstimulating, or essentially braggadocio. Showtime's Masters of Sex has gone to great trouble to prove just how unexciting sex is, especially in the Midwest. I have seen Lizzy Caplan's butt more often than I have my own. It's a nice posterior, but is it really good enough to carry an hour long drama? The answer is no.

After a promising first season, the show has descended into melodrama punctuated by scenes where Caplan is fucked in some new position; last week she got it against a wall, and in the trailers for the next episode, she shows her unadorned bottom to Lyndon Johnson.

The Peggy Olson archetype taken a diaphragm too far.

"Just once," Lynne complained, "I want to see sex in art the way that it really happens." This would be a more suitable kind of birth control for our young ones. An Oregon school district recently found itself with a 5 percent pregnancy rate across its schools, and took the modest step of offering condoms to any students who wanted them. When the community learned of this policy, not a single parent came forward in support of the decision. The Daily Caller article about this was the most embarassing thing I have ever read, and I read BuzzFeed. There's nothing more pathetic than grown adults getting upset about a couple of raincoats.

How about a pink shawl? Did they not have pink fabric in this entire fucking country?

If the adults themselves were having good sex with each other, they would naturally understand what an attraction the act holds and support the raincoat policy. We can only assume these parents are having the fumbling, two minute variety, or sleeping in separate beds like Lucy and Desi. Usually art reflects society, but in more discreet and, for some, shameful matters, it is the other way around.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

"This is Tinder."

"Patience Gets Us Nowhere Fast" - Capital Cities (mp3)

"I Sold My Bed, But Not My Stereo" - Capital Cities (mp3)