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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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Entries in brittany julious (24)


In Which We Follow Her Inside The Prison

True Nature


Orange Is The New Black
creator Jenji Kohan

No one holds Piper Chapman’s hand. Not really. Instead, she is groped and ignored and ridiculed. This stays true to the fish out of water narrative of Orange Is The New Black and Piper is a classic fish out of water. Nice, quiet white ladies do not end up in prison. And if they do, it is because things happen “to” them rather than “because” of them. But as Orange Is The New Black unfolds, we soon learn that Piper is not hapless or innocent or quiet. She is certainly not nice. No, like the other women in the prison, Piper is a woman who made choices and must now face the consequences.

Piper (Taylor Schilling) is serving 13 months in prison for helping smuggle drugs across the border for her ex-girlfriend, Alex Vause. It is no surprise then to learn that Piper must now serve her prison sentence with Alex. For the first few episodes, Piper makes her animosity toward Alex well known, ultimately blaming her for her prison sentence. In true Piper form, she has neglected to take responsibility for her own actions and her complicity in the crime.

Orange Is The New Black is about finding the humanity in people we often assume have none. We stigmatize the experiences of people in prison without knowing what led them to this environment. For Piper, the reality of prison has not sunk in. Her only possibility of survival is to accept both what she’s done and her true nature as a woman who is not as perfect and nice as she thinks she is.

It becomes evident as the show progresses that the most compelling characters and stories have little, if anything, to do with Piper. There are no magical negroes or spiritual guides for Piper’s experience in prison. The show is a powerful and overt representation of race relations both in and outside of prison. The stereotypes are thick with vitriol in the show’s initial episodes, though they dissipate as the show progresses. As Piper begins to acclimate herself to the culture of prison, there is a real possibility that for Piper’s sensibilities, even speaking openly about race (prejudiced or otherwise) is a shock.

Elsewhere we are drawn into the romantic yet troubling “relationship” of Daya Diaz (Dascha Polanco) and correctional officer John Bennett (Matt McGorry). We are fascinated by Miss Claudette (Michelle Hurst), Piper’s roommate and an older woman who must come to terms with the possibility of her own parole. And Sophia Burset (Laverne Cox), a transgender woman and a truer protagonist of the show, is all glamour and wisdom and heart. She could certainly warrant a spin-off on her own.

The opening credits of Orange Is The New Black are particularly compelling. Featuring a theme song by Regina Spektor, we view a series of close-ups of different women’s faces. None are particularly “pretty” and really, that is not the point. The credits go on for a long time and they linger.

What we find ourselves more drawn to is the sheer abundance of faces – young and old, wrinkled and baby-faced – that represent the varying demographics of the prison system. Yes, jails are disproportionately filled with black and hispanic men and women. But there are many different “types” of prisoners, and the circumstances that led to their imprisonment are as diverse and distinct as their faces.

In a recent interview for Fresh Air, Orange Is The New Black creator Jenji Kohan noted that a show featuring a rich cast of multidimensional and racially and sexually diverse characters could not “sell” without a protagonist (a white and blonde and pretty protagonist) like Piper. Granted, the initial source material for the television show is the memoir of the same name written by Piper Kerman. But many elements (such as Piper “reuniting” with Alex) were created or altered specifically for the show.

In the interview, Kohan said:

In a lot of ways Piper was my Trojan Horse. You're not going to go into a network and sell a show on really fascinating tales of black women, and Latina women, and old women and criminals. But if you take this white girl, this sort of fish out of water, and you follow her in, you can then expand your world and tell all of those other stories. But it's a hard sell to just go in and try to sell those stories initially. The girl next door, the cool blonde, is a very easy access point, and it's relatable for a lot of audiences and a lot of networks looking for a certain demographic. It's useful.

Still, Orange is the New Black represents a teachable moment for its lead. It is OK to hate Piper. In fact, as the show progresses, the writers and creators have made sure to highlight Piper’s flaws (and there are many). Within these walls Piper finds herself. And as nauseating as that reads, what she unwraps is someone who is not as great or insightful or “good” as she thought she was and what other people have told her she must be. In prison, Piper discovers what makes her like anyone else. That she must be locked up to understand this only speaks to the ways in which her privileged life has sheltered her from the realities of her own adulthood.

Brittany Julious is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She tumbls here and twitters here. She last wrote in these pages about a solitary existence.

"Your Face" - Delorean (mp3)

"Unhold" - Delorean (mp3)



In Which Seeing Myself Everywhere Makes Me Want To Crawl

Can You Be Quiet Now?


Chicago is not a solitary city. I don’t know why I am just now realizing this. Perhaps because it was so easy to fill my time with friends, half ones and real ones. Once they began to fall away through big moves, growing up and growing apart, I began to realize the reality of this city. Not much has changed since college except that I feel it more now. I see it more. This is a moment of transition. Everyone is moving on in life and love and the solitariness that is fertile most in older age is beginning to settle into normalcy.

This is a city of friendships and communities. When we talk about Chicago as a city of neighborhoods, we mean it truly and deeply. You know your neighbors here. You make your friends and keep them close here. This is not a town for acquaintances. This is not a city for silence and oneness and the self. And yet here I am, alone for years, still surviving, but barely.

There are many activities that people say you must do with other people, but I’ve often found that other people can change the dynamic of environments. I am someone that likes to be with other people and alone. This means two things: I like to go out with actual friends and I like to go out alone. This also means that I like to go out alone, yet be surrounded by other bodies. I like to be one surrounded by groups of many.

I’ve always felt comfortable eating alone, my meals born out of a weird relationship to food: always a little chubby as a child from eating a lot, then obsessive about exercise as a teen and bingeing or not eating much at all, then more or less normal as an adult. A restaurant has been one of the easiest ways to experience the city on my own. I love going out with friends, but costs and coordinating often means that a get together can take a lot of effort. Sometimes I just want to go out and eat a delicious meal and do it right then and there. So I do.

People say you need a book or your cell phone or some other activity to eat alone, but I’ve been at a cafe with just a glass of red wine and a window seat and that’s been enough. That is why a true cafe is my favorite place in the world. Not a restaurant and not a bar. Certainly not a coffee house. Cafes have bits and pieces of everything, but mostly, they have the ability to keep one confident in the face of aloneness. Cafes are for secure aloneness, free most distractions, yet public and surrounded by people not alone. They are perfect places to be lonely because people can see this loneliness, but they won’t question it. In the back of their mind they might think: perhaps I will be in the place too. It is not a place of pity, but a place of understanding.

I go to concerts alone more often than with friends. I had to make a decision around my sophomore year of college: do I love this music enough? And the answer was yes. Often my friends don’t listen to the same music that I do. Often, my relationship to music is deeply personal and raw. I don’t need other friends there to want to go and see my favorite musicians. And often, I’ve found some friends to be a distraction from the music itself. Sometimes I just want to say: Can you be quiet now?

I regularly purchase tickets for myself alone, regardless of whether or not they’ll sell out. I don’t have time to convince people to go with me. As a college student, I regularly reviewed concerts and had multiple +1s. I could sometimes get a friend to go to a show with me if they had to pay, but I could always get them to go if I had a +1. That rubbed me the wrong way. I know why that happens, but I didn’t (and don’t) like it.

I’m surrounded by dive bars that make nice cocktails. No one goes to them during the week. Sometimes I outline my essays with a gin and tonic and my writing notebook. No one bats an eye. But also, there is no one there to say anything to you. Men usually occupy space at the bar, they are alone but not afraid to start a conversation with a stranger next to them. These trips to the bar alone for me are not in pursuit of friendships. Those men feel lonely to me in a way that I could never be publicly, even through my writing. When I go, I go alone and stay alone. I don’t pursue other people. I am there to fulfill a need. I am there to fill a hole that can not be filled inside of my office, my bedroom, or underneath the covers.

Going to a nightclub is weird, but can be done alone. I could never do it at those same dive bars mentioned above on a weekend. But a nightclub? Yes. Certainly. Here, when I say nightclub, I only really mean one place and that is Smart Bar. Maybe because it’s so dark and it is underground. Maybe it is the music rule at play: do you love this DJ enough? Last week I wrote: We are so alone together. I wrote it thinking about technology, how these screens often reveal a longing and loneliness, how we share these feelings with others. But maybe it can also mean the experience of being alone with others around you. Not everyone can handle it. It is intense and scary. The dance floor for me has always been a place of transformation. It doesn’t require knowing the people around me. It is personal.

If I am feeling in control of the situation, I love meeting strangers. I’ve gone to raves and Chinatown disco loft parties alone. I’ve taken cabs at midnight to desolate streets, climbed walls, knocked three times on old metal doors, and said the password alone. I have gone to corners of the city I never knew existed just to listen to Diana Ross and Giorgio Moroder records and I’ve done it alone. And I’ll say hello. I’ll flirt and I’ll make new One Night Only Friends. Or I won’t and that’s okay.

Sometimes I like to stay at home and re-watch My Mad Fat Diary, my favorite television show. Sometimes I’ll cry and wish I saw my real, true friends more. Sometimes I’ll cry a lot and wish I was still 19 when a friend was so easy to find and you were surrounded by these huge groups of people. It didn’t matter that you loved them or even liked them. They were there and that was comforting. But now I’m 25 and everyone is moving away and moving on. I am too. I know this. So sometimes I’ll just say fuck it and do what I want because I need to not be there, wallowing, wondering, getting trapped by the pull of the internet. Online, everyone is having a better time than you. I am not strong enough to deal with that. At the end of the night, at least I can say: I was not here.

My friend Gabriel recently said that I am a very solitary person. This was a compliment. It was about staying in Chicago versus leaving. I don’t want to stay here. I know where I want to go, to places where this solitary life makes more sense. The cities are busy and loud, yet still beautiful. More importantly, they are congested, full of people, full of opportunities to be alone together and not feel worse for it. This solitariness was also about doing the things I’ve always wanted to do. It was about being the person I’ve always wanted to be. It was about seeing things myself, staying curious, learning, laughing, confronting my fears, finding what I love and never letting go.

Brittany Julious is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She tumbls here and twitters here. She last wrote in these pages about status.

"Without You My Life Would Be Boring" - The Knife (mp3)

"Ready To Lose" - The Knife (mp3)


In Which She Stopped Attending Years Ago

When Will You Come Home?



We don't talk about status. We pretend that we are black like everyone else and that we are still "real." But our conversations over holiday dinners acknowledge the separation. There's a lot of "them" and and a lot of "us." Blackness is not a monolithic culture. I know this inherently as a woman whose tastes run counter to what I've been told I should like. These tastes were not a choice to be different, but the things that shaped me as an individual. They continue to evolve and so too does the notion of blackness. 
I think of this in relation to my parents, my family, and our summer holidays together. Fourth of July or Memorial Day barbecues were a way to connect to the other side of the family that didn't live in the suburbs and live like we lived. My sister stopped attending years ago, first due to her job, then college, then friendships and adulthood. But I always went, in the back of my mind feeling like these trips down to the South Side were a means of rectifying the wrongs of breaking away from the community. 


This summer, my mother called from her car. She was outside of my new apartment, ready to pick me up so we could ride together to join the other side of the family for the Fourth. 
"It's not happening," she said. 
"What does that mean?" I asked. 
"It means they celebrated and didn't tell us. It means we're not going down there." 
There was a visible anger in the tenseness of her body and the direct stare she gave me as I entered her car. I sat in the passenger seat as we drove to Oak Park.  

"I knew this would eventually happen. This is so like them. This is what they do," she said.

What they do is stay down South. They like where they live. This is their home, their streets and sidewalks. This confused me as a child, but as I've grown older, I've understood the symbolism and importance based on where one lives. Place holds meaning and meaning changes with age and time.  

What we do is take the expressway past Chinatown and Bridgeport and straight to the neighborhoods that "blend together." I went to school on the north side of Chicago. Years later, I still live up here. When I discuss this part of the city, I break things down by neighborhoods, official and emerging. I live in Wicker Park. I live in the East Village. I live in West Town. I live in Ukrainian Village. These names encompass large areas and then smaller groups of streets. But to me and to many Chicagoans, this makes sense in a way that saying Back of the Yards or the South Shore may not. Everything is just the South Side past 35th street. This is not the reality, but place also builds stereotypes and laziness. It is easier to dismiss than understand. 


Our new part of town, the South Side of Oak Park, was about the same in terms of beauty. We lived off of a major avenue filled with boxed businesses that attracted temporary visitors. Before, we had a run-down Dominick's, a Subway, and a Blockbuster. Now we had a Walgreen's, a car dealership,and a laundromat. 

Our blackness existed on the other side of town. Blackness as a whole existed on the other side of town. The Austin neighborhood, predominately Black and predominately troubled, was across the street. We lived over there too, nearly two decades ago, but I still claim the vast, cold, and penetrating neighborhood as my own. 

When I mention Austin to New Chicagoans, they don't understand. It is a part of the city that is not: is not nice, is not new, and is not desirable. It is not where they live and walk and ride. It is the city that is vast and the city that we tend to forget about, or the city that we ignore.  

My memories are of my grandmother's living room, the expansive backyard, and the few friends I made on the street where my grandparents live. To the Chicagoans who were born and bred here, a mention of Austin is a point of fear and respect. Even they don't meet a lot of people from that side of the city. It shuts them up. There is no question of authenticity. It is an unknown Chicago, and therefore a respectable one. It is not for tourists, but people live and work here. They have done so for years and will continue to do so.  

The other Oak Park was no less beautiful, but the residents were largely black and they moved into that part of town perhaps because they could see faces like their own. Or maybe, as my parents did when we first "crossed the street," to be close to the place they were before. That part of Oak Park was a reminder of that part of Chicago. It was a reminder of where they came from, where they're going, and the structure of this city. 
On Madison Avenue, past Taylor Boulevard is where the Black businesses begin. They are not always Black-owned, but they cater to the Black customer, and in particular, the Black woman. A number of beauty supply stores sit next to and across the street from one another. They are always large and always packed, but I've grown to love them the older I get for their convenience and comforting familiarity. I can always find heavy, curly wigs or tiny bottles of neon-colored nail polish or make-up that is sustainable for exactly one day. No one store is owned by the same person, but you can walk into any and find your way around with ease.  

I came home during the holidays and I pointed out the new beauty supply store across the street. It was the first such business to exist outside of the segregated neighborhoods this town pretends don't exist. It was a bid deal, at least to me, and symbolic in its arrival. It took over an old pharmacy. Neon lights shine long into the night. This store, this space for this particular culture that I know and participate in, but does not define me, surprised me.  

My mother hadn't noticed it, or perhaps she blocked out its existence along with the new cheap shoe store, the other hair braiding salon just a few doors down from the one she's gone to for years, and the low-income housing apartments being constructed from the long-dormant remnants of a local cable company.  

These spaces were empty before, a true dimming on the small community within the local community inside of the town. But it is these new businesses that inspire a fear of change. It is a gentrification of the dilapidation that arose from the break in the economy. It is a renewal. It is an expansion of what it means to live here on this side of town and in the town as a whole. It's not just us anymore.  

At first she said, "You know what kind of store that'll be," but last week, the lights were on and the doors were open.  

"There are mannequins in the windows, modeling clothes," I pointed out as we drove down the street.  

"Hmm," she said. "That's unexpected. Maybe it won't be that bad."

Brittany Julious is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She tumbls here and twitters here. You can find the first part of this series here.

Photographs by the author.

"Thank You" - Dolly Varden (mp3)

"Why Why Why" - Dolly Varden (mp3)