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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
Sep122016

In Which We Generally Take What We Can Get

The Condo

by ELIZABETH J. THEIS

I’ve wanted to write about The Condo for years, so when I was approached and given a deadline, I did what any gal would do: I put my blinders on and pretended it didn’t exist for a while. See, I’ve developed a defense mechanism that doesn’t allow my mind to go there very often. So, after a solid day of lying around in the fetal position, I’m sitting here with only a couple good hours left in me, and I am Totally Ready to Write This Thing. This is a story about a very distinct time period in my life that Built Me Into Who I Am Today.

It’s funny how the 90s have recently made a comeback. It seems like everyone is passing around click bait like “50 Signs You Grew Up in the 90s” with images of Crystal Pepsi and other nauseating reminders of the chemicals and dyes that were in snack foods at the time. But for me, the age of slap bracelets and TGIF elicits memories that make me sick to my stomach on a psychoanalytical level. Just seeing a certain shade of floral print thrusts me back to my stomach churning pre-teen years. So let’s start where many 90s stories begin: in the 80s.

In 1988, I remember going to lots of doctors’ appointments with my mother. Well, I remember sitting in lots of dim, brown-carpeted waiting rooms, anyway. I was 6 years old, and it was the year she was diagnosed with relapsing/remitting Multiple Sclerosis. Those were some pretty big words for me at the time, so if there was ever a family discussion about it (and I don’t remember it if there was), I’m sure it was simplified for my tiny ears by saying “sometimes Mommy won’t be feeling well.” Relapsing/remitting MS is the most common form of the disease, which creates lesions along the nervous system, and is characterized by phases of symptoms that come and go.

In the years following the diagnosis, my mother looked and acted reasonably healthy, and we continued to live as we had up until then. We had a comfortable-enough suburban, working class family – myself, my two elder sisters, my mother a nurse and my father a lineman for the telephone company. Vacations were to Disney World and vegetables came from a can. We grew up on a cul-de-sac and had an aboveground pool with a deck my father built himself.

My mother even started her own crafting business, an artisan craft where she would frame stamps and first-day covers and sell them at craft fairs across Connecticut. Sometimes one or more of the daughters would accompany her to help her sell and set up under a pop-up tent.

Then, as most do, my parents’ marriage came to an end. It was 1992 when my mother ended it. She had decided she’d had enough of “being controlled” by my father, an ex-marine who worked long hours and liked to finish his day with a Coors and a can of sardines.

When my mother was working out her thoughts of whether or not to leave my dad, she spoke to the people around her that she felt were most equipped to tell an adult woman what to do. Those people were her three daughters.

The day she brought it up, my mother took me for a walk around the perimeter of a nearby playground that was named after my eldest sister’s teenage friend, who was killed in a drunk driving accident. I remember distinctly the playground and my mother to my right and Surf Avenue to my left, with nothing between myself and the road where that drunk driver skid into that young man years prior. She asked me what I thought about her leaving my father and taking my sister, Tricia, and myself with her. The eldest would have already left the house by the time the change occurred.

Are you kidding?! I thought. Of course I wanted her to leave my father! As an 9-going-on-10-year-old child, I knew quite well that a man who gruffly tells you to eat your vegetables, finish your homework, and take out the garbage is a tyrant, and such wonders would lie before me if I were to relocate to the magical, lawless land of Momsylvania.

My mother purchased a condo on the other side of town, a brand new one, which meant we got the exciting task of picking out the color of the rugs and the Formica countertop patterns. We went with “mauve,” a dusty rose-colored carpeting for the bulk of the house. She even had contractors build out the basement so “the girls” would have a bathroom and three separate bedrooms (even one for the daughter who’d never live at home again), and each daughter got to pick out the color of the carpeting of our room. We went and picked out new furniture, including table lamps that you turned on merely by touching. They were sooo cool.

One day, before coming into the condo, my mother told me there was going to be a surprise for me. When I got inside, above the brand-new floral couch hung a $400 pastel painting of racehorses (I was a horse girl) that I had begged her to get while in a furniture store picking out the aforementioned floral couch. Our new house was a home. A 90s ladies’ lair.

Life with mom in the new condo became the norm. There were few home-cooked meals. We’d switched to more fun things like takeout from Little Caesars and McDonald’s. The only foods my sister and I absolutely remember having in the house were hamburger meat and Jell-O. (My mother was on the Adkin’s diet.) Sometimes, when I was hungry, I’d simply microwave some bacon between paper towels, and snack on that while watching Nickelodeon. If that wasn’t enough, I’d do it again.

During these years, Tricia and I became incredibly close. We shared a thin wall between us in the basement where our rooms were, but I’d often spend nights in her room, sleeping on the flip-and-fuck because it was just a little bit scary down there. Those are the last, blissfully innocent and ignorant times that I remember from my childhood. We’d laugh well into the night—we still do over text messages, her from her family’s home in Baltimore, me from my one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn.

On nights Tricia was out with her friends, I had a TV in my room where I’d watch back-to-back episodes of Mama’s Family followed by back-to-back episodes of Family Feud. I’m sure Channel 20 had some sort of clever “family” lineup thing going there. Even though I’d had a fresh start at a new school across town, I still didn’t have a ton of friends at school, but home life was pretty cool. It was a constant TV and takeout party. I had it pretty good.

Slowly, though, the honeymoon period began to fade. I’m fairly certain things began to decline following the death of my maternal grandmother. She was 72, and was diagnosed with liver cancer. She didn’t live more than six months after that. She was beloved by everyone in the family, and the glue that held together my mother’s family. So her passing began the unraveling of my mother’s personal family life, but also her own diagnosis changed. She went from relapsing/remitting subtype of MS to a more rare, progressive type of the disease where an individual experiences a steady neurological decline.

The beginning of her decline marked the beginning of my coming-of-age.

Like it had been in the past, my mother’s condition was simplified for me. I must have been told that she would be getting sicker, but I was still at an ignorantly blissful age that couldn’t comprehend the future. I didn’t really understand why my mother started walking funny, or why her voice was sometimes raspy, or why her moods got the way they did. If friends came over, they’d often have a lot of questions, “what is your mother doing…” when they would see her stop in her tracks in the parking lot, coming in from the car, and stare up at the sky for what seemed like a little too long.

“I dunno. She’s weird.” I’d say. Because “weird” is a word that any tweenaged girl loves to throw around. But having few friends and few engaged adults in my life, I had no perspective on just how different my life was from most kids my age.

See, I was navigating middle school social horrors during all of this. I was pretty much at the bottom of the popularity food chain during those years. It didn’t help that I went to school in dirty graphic tee shirts and one of the many pairs of stirrup pants I had with holes in the crotch. One day, while waiting for the bus, two older girls giggled behind me because they could see the distinct bulge that told the world I was wearing a maxi pad underneath those skin-tight pants. My mother also splurged and got me a very difficult to maintain spiral perm that quickly fell flat and made my hair resemble our cocker spaniel’s.  

I figured it was just me that was the problem, that I was just an ugly person. And many times, my sister and I were told that we were the problem. Fights became more frequent as my mother neglected us, and all the while we were slowly being boiled alive as my mother’s health worsened. My sister would drive me to school and picked me up, and sometimes we’d just drive around just to not be in the house.

Around the time Tricia left for college, my mother was spending a lot of time with a friend she’d made at meetings she was attending at a nearby church. Her name was Gail, and although she was nice at first, she soon gave me really bad vibes like she was taking advantage of my mother. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I started to resent and dislike Gail.

One night, my mother and Gail were watching television in her bedroom. I went to ask my mom permission for something. Oddly, the door was closed, and when I tried the handle, it was locked. Unusual, I thought. They must have locked it accidentally and then fell asleep watching TV.

It wasn’t even my mother, it was Gail who told me that the two of them were having a lesbian relationship. Fucking Gail. The two of them called me into the dining room for a talk. I burst into tears and ran into my room. I think during this time my mother called Tricia and asked her to talk to me and tell me everything was going to be all right.

In the years that followed, I bounced back and forth from the condo to my old house, where my father still lived. I wanted to go back to school with my old friends, and my mother’s health had deteriorated so much that she was no longer able to take care of me. Though I often spent the summer at my mother’s house, which became a popular destination for sleepovers, because we could get away with smoking cigarettes and weed in the basement (she had no sense of smell) and sneaking out in the middle of the night with friends. I practically spent an entire undisciplined summer sleeping at my friend Adriana’s house, because my mother let me stay there night after night. When we got older and started spending time in a nearby city, my mother would sometimes pick us up with shaky hands in her Grand Marquis while I helped her by telling her when to turn the wheel.

My mother’s relationship with Gail eventually ended, and when I was 17, I had to drive over to a nearby restaurant to pick up my mother, who had fallen down in the parking lot. In that same year, the condo flooded, destroying much of the things that were left in the basement, papers, unicorn posters. I remember salvaging a pink and black Beverly Hills 90210 water bottle. It wasn’t long after that my mother moved into an assisted living home. Some of her belongings went with her, and some went to storage.

The condo was left behind, an entropic pastel shell. The metaphor of faded colors is too rich to spell out on paper.

My mother now lives in a nursing home about a mile from the house that was once home to a comfortable-enough, suburban, working class family, while across town, a new family is living in a condo with three different colored carpets in the basement. I haven’t visited her in about two years. It’s like I am wearing blinders and pretending it doesn’t exist. The times I have seen her, the visits are short, and I never go alone. The last time, she thought I was my sister’s daughter.

Mother’s Day recently passed. It is a holiday I would rather not be reminded of, but that’s just short of impossible once I start seeing the advertising, the sales, and now, my facebook feed filled on the second Sunday of May with lovely maternal dedications. I put on the blinders once again, because for me, I have fewer fond memories of my mother than I have questions I’ll never get answers to.

My father is gone now. He passed away almost a year ago now. That is still a fresh wound and a story I’ll hesitate to tell on another day. I am still coming to terms with essentially being an orphan, flailing out in the world, feeling unequipped as an adult woman at 32 years old — every day getting further away from the feeling of having a mother hold me close and tell me everything would be OK. But I’ll never know if she really did only marry my father to escape her family, or if she meant it when she told Tricia she never even wanted children, or why, during the divorce, she emptied the college funds that my father worked so hard to build up and squandered it on a brand new condo.    

The answers, I’m afraid, lie somewhere under a horse painting and three different colored carpets in the basement.

Elizabeth J. Theis is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer, filmmaker and video artist living in New York. You can find her tumblr here and her twitter here. You can find her vimeo here and her facebook here.

 

Friday
Sep092016

In Which Queen Sugar Delights And Amazes Us All

Dandelion Wine

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Queen Sugar
creator Ava DuVernay
OWN

The two sisters at the heart of Ava DuVernay's first original series are always waking up in a man's house, a place not quite their own.

Charley (Dawn-Lyen Gardner) rises in a bedroom that looks through prismatic glass windows down on Los Angeles. The entire domicile is transparent, which affords very little privacy when her husband is charged with participating in a group rape with other members of his professional basketball team. She is so disgusted when she finds this out during one of his games that she charges onto the court and begins screaming at him. Strangely, they haul her off instead of him.

Nova (Rutina Wesley) is dating a white guy and practicing some serious herbal medicine in her and her half-sister's hometown in rural Louisiana. She wakes up in this man's arms, but for some reason she feels she cannot introduce him to her family and friends. Actually, we know the reason: it is because everyone else on this show, with the except of a land developer who wants to buy her father's farm, is black.

Charley soon returns home to Louisiana, where her siblings and her aunt are generally uncomfortable with how bourgeois she has become. The rest of Charley's family seem to be struggling financially even though their father Ernest (the enigmatic and charismatic Glynn Turman) dies in the first episode of Queen Sugar, leaving behind a massive tract of farmland.

Charley's husband Davis West (Timon Kyle Durrett), who plays power forward, checks their residences in Aspen and Palm Springs and eventually discovers her whereabouts in time to attend the funeral. He claims he is innocent of raping anyone, suggesting that he merely brought the victim into the room where the alleged crime took place before excusing himself to play Candy Crush. West is a fantastic character — because DuVernay is invested with giving all her creations an elemental human dignity, he is not just brushed off as a sociopath.

I remember reading Magic Johnson's autobiography when I was eleven. Boy was that an eye-opener; I can't believe they had this thing at the local library. He had sex with a different woman in every American city. The real mystery is how he didn't contract AIDS more quickly. NBA players do some unfaithful things to their wives; it is unclear as of now how much of this Charley expected or could be willing to forgive.

Her immediate response after confronting her husband is to retreat to bed. She takes a serious amount of pills to dull the pain of being who she is, but not so much that she is unable to hear when her son comes into her room to tell her that her father is on the verge of dying.

The concept that we know what kind of people with which we are involved is an important theme in Queen Sugar, the best American serial to premiere in many years. DuVernay has the most important writing talent there is — she is able to make us feel distinctly for people when we are already predisposed to see a situation or circumstance as manipulating our feelings, without then also feeling controlled.

The incredible cast she has assembled for Queen Sugar begins with the tremulous intensity of True Blood's Rutina Wesley, but Wesley requires strong presences to play off in order to be at her best. As Charley and Nova's brother Ralph Angel, the Ghanian actor Kofi Siriboe portrays a man fresh out of prison. He struggles to take care of his young son financially and resorts to intermittent crime to meet his financial obligations. The boy's young mother is a drug addict who has abandoned the child in the past.

Ralph Angel is reluctant to make a connection with his son's teacher, Reyna (Marycarmen Lopez). The low-key sexual energy projected by Lopez gives Queen Sugar the shot in the arm it requires at various intervals. DuVernay's long experience in the industry has allowed her to make quite a few stars in such a short time, and she really reveals how terrible most black roles are in Hollywood just by proving these new performers are capable of star-making performances.

All the main sets in Queen Sugar are absolutely gorgeous, and Louisiana is perfect as a place that can switch between paradise, limbo and hell within the space of a few blocks. The only disappointing scene takes place when Davis West comes to visit Charley in Louisiana in order to tell his side of the story to his teenage son Micah (Nicholas Ashe). Instead of probing the area for a landscape that would show Davis to be sufficiently out of place in Louisiana, DuVernay shoots the moment in the gym of the local high school.

DuVernay herself is from Los Angeles, although she spent summers in Alabama where her father grew up on a family farm. The Bordelon patriarch's house borders land which he stopped maintaining in his last years, forcing him to take a job as a janitor. What DuVernay is consistently successful at as a writer is allowing us to see particular situations through her character's eyes. She recognizes what should be obvious to anyone alive: that we are more shaped by what we observe in others than anything else in our world.

She extends her empathy, which is more serious than anyone working her medium, to the lives of children, which are so often ignored or simplified in drama. Queen Sugar is rife with the possibilities of different intersections that a family drama affords; individuals in the Bordelon House relates to each other person in a specific way, changing them, altering their presence in our own lives. This gives Queen Sugar a feeling of versimilitude that has been missing from television since The Sopranos.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.


Thursday
Sep082016

In Which We Slow Down Now For Your Benefit Alone

Everyone Says They Know You

by DAN CARVILLE

There is a hike I do every so often, when I am feeling up to it. It is good to take in the air and see something of the world I live in. Maybe this sounds incredibly stupid to you, but sometimes I forget that people are not the only thing in the universe. This self-aggrandizing attitude perpetuates and feeds upon itself until days like one a month ago, when I found myself examining every part of my body with the flashlight on my phone.

On the hike you can still see humanity. Families dot the trail, sometimes carrying a cooler which means they won't be going very far. Divorced parents abound; their children looking overfed and undernourished. There is a man-made part of the path that suggests a sandbar, and you can see things submerged on either side of you. You can't go down and touch them, but you know they're there. That, someone with brown hair once said to me, is what being in love feels like.

I only tell women I love them when they meet the following requirements: they have no idea that I will say it, they are unsure of how to respond, they are unclear on whether I even believe in love in general, and they have made no serious commitment to me or anyone in a long time. Once those givens are established, we move past a sandbar to a small inlet where a little boy found a body when I was in middle school.

Coming back home makes my moods inelastic. This is a good thing, because otherwise I will miss the one I used to be with. You know that echoing part of mourning, when you just feel a twinge and nothing more? I wish for that, but it never comes. In the first gust of September, I had to close the curtains because the trees have lost their leaves.

On a regular basis everyone I know and trust feels insatiable for a certain element of their personality, which if they embraced fully would manifest itself as insanity. What I want to avoid is the panic I feel at waking in a strange place, with a person I love but worry it is not entirely or not enough. Panic fills my lungs then, and each individual action feels irrevocable. The biggest difference between people now and a decade ago is how forgiving they are in the light of day. Secrets that we keep from ourselves or others subsist in a stasis that belies the seasons.

A clean, sweaty smell akin to sidewalk after a rain. Oblong erasers sharpened to a small, thin point. Magnets oriented away from the most of them, praising whoever is in the vicinity. I have been to many natural formations, but none so fine as this, in the place where you said the only sense in turning back is to make sure your head is still on a swivel.

Now I can articulate what I could not before – more than acceptance I desire an understanding completely sexual in nature, simply of bodies intersecting. Once that is achieved, beyond the railroad tracks where boys more zany than me found the juiciest cigarette butts, there is a sort of serendipidity that should flagellate itself on self-worship. It is loving yourself, but it is also loving through someone else's eyes. They are not yours, the lenses merely borrowed, the irises ground into a ceramic paste that is fed to dogs. I loathe falling in love again.

You can go off the path. These two girls in Panama wandered away from their maps. One hurt her leg, and the other took a fall when she went for help. All they discovered of the women was a pelvis. My only thought upon reading that was that at least they found something. Alone here you can come across nothing valuable, since everything in the forest has been abandoned, multiple times. I think you know the metaphor I am drawing, but I miss her too much to explicate it if you don't. I drew a parallel reminiscent of Herodotus at the gates; let that be enough for you.

What bothers me most in isolation is how much I tried to reach out and explain my mistakes. On a long enough timeline, we can experience regret for any one of our actions. I cringe thinking about this. Once when I was a boy I ran into my grandmother's arms accidentally. Another time I laughed when I meant to cry. Vice versa.

You might think me cruel or vain, but you're wrong. It's the opposite. You only believe that because it's what you come to expect, in this year of our lord.

What if I could take back some of it, all of it? Then I would retract without analysis, all of it. Experience of love is pointless without a happy ending. There is no learning experience. Read a memoir of an alcoholic – by the end they want it even more than before, every time. If they say they don't, they lie. If they say they don't want love, what they want is to call love by another name: yours.

Slowing down now. It's all coming to me without any pressure, close enough to matter but not enough to hurt. Our own power, personified on a license plate or a bough. The birds of this area have a distinct call that pushes on the inner ear, asks for a recognition beyond the species. I yearn to find those little ones.

What have I been listening to? The new Head and the Heart is pretty good. I like positive songs, ones that make me feel the evil in the world is just tremors, a muted reflection of the good. Put it back, the tremors tell us, replace the milk in the refrigerator. You know it only gives you gas and makes you bloated. Forget how good it tastes.

Dan Carville is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Brooklyn. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.