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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

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Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Entries in chicago (17)


In Which We Can Feel It All Over And Through Us

Places of Escape


“I’m a little tired,” I said to Sonia when we met for the first time at a cafe in Lincoln Park. “I stayed out late.”

“How late is late?” she asked.

“4 a.m.”

But really, 4 a.m. is only the beginning. I have danced until sunrise. I have waited and wandered home during the morning rush, a cup of caffeine in hand, walking against the tide of bodies going to while I'm coming from.

This is not a point of pride or contention, but I can recognize it now. Three years ago, I could not feel even black inside. There is a blankness to a state of depression that can only be understood after the fact. Black is absence of light. Blank is absence of order. But my closet was filled with delicate, sequined tops in blues and reds and greens, a balm for something it would take me years to fully articulate.

The night before, Crystal asked if I was attending a performance at SpyBar by George Fitzgerald, a young house musician and DJ. I wasn’t, but all of the lights were on in my home and all I could see was what I saw the night before.

It is so easy to wallow in your own problems. We often forget other people struggle too. I had forgotten until the night before. How many others do we forget until it is too late, until they are gone?

“In a cab,” I typed while still clothed in a bra and pajama bottoms.

The greatest thing I have learned in the past two years is how to escape myself. I envy those people who can stay inside, comforted with their things and self. I will forever be a work in progress. In the future, I hope I can stay home and have that be enough, but right now, my walls close in on me. At first, they are protective, but quickly, they keep me trapped in thoughts born out of 26 years of insecurity.

Not all places of escape are the same for all people. We each develop something that speaks to our everyday, our tastes, our sorrow. I know mine more than many other things in my life: the dance floor; the blinding, shimmery lights; the weight of the bass.

One of the first things Marion ever said to me was that negativity breeds negativity. Positivity does not act the same. No, positivity takes constant effort. Happiness is effort. Joy is work. People who tell you differently are dangerous and lying to you to mask the things they’d rather not be.

I understand that. It is the illusion of attraction and beauty, things that feel less natural, more the work of the self and how it wants to move through the world.

I think that negative memories work in much the same way. Unless the night was truly spectacular, we rarely remember solid pleasantness. Moments that are just good fade until weeks and months bleed into one another. But the bad has a way of staying, an unwanted acquaintance that takes root on the couch of your mind and forever overstays.

The bad can direct the ways in which you move around in the world. I am learning to unravel the negativity in my soul that has shaped me precisely like millions of other young women in the world. Imagine thinking that unpleasantness is born within you. Thinking that your mind and body are made to be used and discarded and your future is to forever watch other people simply breathe and live. This is what I am trying to escape once and for all.   

We ignore our need for places of escape because if one does not work as it is intended to, then what value could we possibly find in the search? The dance floor is nothing new to me, but I opened myself up to it, all of it, as if discovering dark walls of sound and the pleasures of anonymity for the first time.

I see these sidewalks and storefronts everyday. Keep your head down to tolerate the cold. Keep your head down to not seem too proud, too confident, too sure of yourself. Get into the building and sit down and stay there in front of your screen and your work and your things to do.

We are told to believe in the grind and when we finally wake up from that fever dream of things to do, we realize it is too late. All around you is a world that has moved on.

The escape then is the bridge between the grind. It is the pulse. It keeps you moving. I used to think that I could only find it in another person. But the only person you can ever truly know is yourself. Know yourself and your needs and everything falls into grace.

That is the thing about beginning to know yourself. You can see things as they are and stay the same, or you can see them and try to change. Change is rawness, is destruction of the familiar and the usual. And even if you are forever in pain, it is easier to know pain or anger than it is to try for something better. Eventually, you must confront the things that have caused this state of permanence. Most people hide from the truth. I have and will forever refuse to be most people.

George’s set started late and the more I waited, the more frustrated I felt. Is the dance floor the drug or the cure? Is it pure of intentions or masking reality?

If you repeat something enough times, it can grow from what you need to do to what you want to do. That is what the dance floor became for me, a place that I actually liked and understood more than my own home or the job I fear I will never escape.

But I reverted back to its core purpose this time and waiting became a test of the self.

“Is that George?” I asked myself, even though I knew it wasn’t true.

Eventually he took to the booth and what I thought would take hours to feel pleasurable took only moments. “Magnetic,” a song that sounded just OK months earlier thumped through the speakers, the bass a complete jolt to the system. I could feel it all over and through me. To know this feeling is to know it can never truly be articulated. But also, to know it is to love it so fiercely.

“I don’t know how you can go out all the time,” a man I cared for said to me once.

But I don’t go out all the time, I thought. I go out enough. I go out when I need to. I go out sometimes and then I come home and then I keep going about my life.

I left barely an hour into his set. That was all I needed. 

Outside, cabs still roamed the neighborhood as if dawn was not quickly approaching. I got a friendly cab driver, something I find happens late at night. There are stories to share and time to listen. This works both ways with both passengers.

“You had a good night?” he asked. 

“Yes!” I said still brimming with enough energy to last me through the rest of the weekend.

“Yeah, yeah. I can tell,” he said. We locked eyes in the mirror and sped down the expressway.

Chicago has something special in its electronic scene, a specialness that is recognized on its surface and for its history, but not for how it connects people, how it keeps something surprisingly warm alive for music felt to be so cold.

I remember standing on the corner of Chicago and Halsted after coming from a party in the River West neighborhood of the city. It was that biting cold you’ll only ever understand if you live here. It was that cold that makes people move away from here, makes people give up on the city, makes people see the city for what it is and believe that it will never get better.

But the party ran very late and like many times before, I was one of the stragglers refusing to go out from what felt warm and good and pure because of the music. Lots of deep house and UKG. Lots of music that feels instantly familiar. Lots of music that sounds from the future and forever.

The wind whipped against my face and I opened my mouth to breathe in deeply the air that finally felt clear. I saw a young man I met earlier in the night, but had forgotten quickly. He found a cab before I did.

“Here, you take it,” he shouted.

“No, it’s fine. I’m going South,” I said.

“Really? You sure you’re okay getting back?” he said. 

I just nodded my head.

Britt Julious is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She last wrote in these pages about Orange is the New Black. She tumbls here and twitters here.

Photographs by Isabel Muñoz.

"Magnetic" - George Fitzgerald (mp3)

"Bad Aura" - George Fitzgerald (mp3)

"Daily Spirals" - The Cyclist (mp3)

"All I Need" - Daniel Avery (mp3)

"Drone Logic" - Daniel Avery (mp3)


In Which Nearly Everything Has An Expiration Date

Something There


I live on the top floor of, supposedly, the oldest building in town.

It is a modest place — two bedrooms, creaky floors and the narrowest kitchen you can imagine. A long hallway leads to the bedrooms, shared among the three of us, and adjacent to the dining room is a disproportionately vast living room, the quintessence of my domestic tendencies.

The size of maybe a small dive bar, my living room is a perfect square space of tan hardwood and Ikea furniture (both of my roommates happen to be Swedish, but that’s just a very blonde and button-nosed coincidence). On the far right, French doors open up to a balcony that overlooks a courtyard. When I stand out there on a temperate autumn night, three stories up with dim but majestic stars above, I feel like I rule the world.

The living room walls are a wedding cake shade of off-white, with built-in shelves on the left and a fully functional fireplace. I’ve never actually used it, but I like that I could. The mantelpiece is cluttered with trinkets — old books, a One Step Rainbow Land Polaroid camera, a Grace Jones record cover, Klimt’s Water Serpents II reprinted on canvas (Ikea, of course), and the empty bottles of certain beverages to remind visitors that yes, though my place is thoughtfully decorated, it is still a college apartment and that in this thoughtfully decorated college apartment, we like to have fun.

And we do. My roommate recently put up a poster of John Belushi from Animal House, the one in which he wears the iconic “college” sweatshirt and an expression of simultaneous awe and disgust. The poster is strategically placed so that Belushi’s impenetrable gaze falls on our couch — a stiff, brown futon that’s currently missing a leg — where we spend about 80 percent of our time when conscious. Belushi’s glance is misdirected, however, because his bemusement is unwarranted. At worst, he’d witness a raunchy game of truth or dare amidst smoke and booze, slurred secrets and all — maybe rated R in extreme cases, but only for language.

Most of the time, we’re as tame as college students could be. In the daytime, the room is fantastically well lit. On Sunday afternoons, it’s the loveliest place to do schoolwork or, I’d imagine, for a fat house cat to nap.

But it’s all the more charming after dark. Without an overhead light, we use lamps, candles and Christmas lights that accidentally create the perfect séance every night. There must be something about the color of the floor and the walls that complements the yellow lights against the darkness outside, because the room, along with everything in it, glows.


When I first moved in a summer and half ago, I had to live alone in the barely furnished apartment for almost a month. For some silly reason that I can’t remember now, I had a lot of trouble setting up the internet. Finally, AT&T came to install their service one day, but left before I got home from work. It happened to be an exceptionally drab day but it got worse when I found that the internet still didn’t work. And after two hours of angry 1-800-number calls, I collapsed on the hardwood floor and burst into tears.

That was the first night I cried here. And hell, I sobbed.

The next week, my roommates moved in, the couch arrived from Target.com and all was well in the household. To christen the apartment together, we lit an entire bag of tea lights in the living room and drank wine in our pajamas — the first night of many to come.


Instead of stuffing myself into marshmallow goose down for the four relentless months of Chicago winter, I spent the first part of 2013 in Washington, D.C. There, I saw Beyoncé lip sync at the inauguration. I witnessed Hilary Clinton cry at a Senate meeting. I ran into Ted Cruz right before he starred in Rand Paul’s filibuster, which we endearingly nicknamed the “filiblizzard.” But most bizarre of all, I felt homesick. Homesick for not my home in Pennsylvania, but for this one in Evanston.

Historically speaking, homesickness for a specific residence is a rare sentiment for me. The longest I had ever lived in one piece of property was eight years, and that was the first eight years of my life, in China. Then I moved to Morgantown, West Virginia, where my parents and I relocated to different houses twice. After the ol’ Mountaineers, we moved to Grove City, Pennsylvania, where we also relocated twice. And then at Northwestern, I lived in a dorm for a year, and finally, I moved here, on the top floor of the oldest building in town.

When I was in D.C., my heart was in the living room of this apartment, eating macaroons with my roommates and listening to Grace Jones on vinyl.

When I came back in April, my roommates threw me a surprise party. I came home one Friday afternoon to find balloons, champagne and a dozen familiar faces lurking in my living room. Surprise, they yelled. I was confused and happy and it was bliss.


Last Thursday, I caught one of my roommates — we’ll call him Blonnor for the sake of anonymity — on the balcony at 3 a.m., after I heard a splattering sound while brushing my teeth. When I walked into the living room, he turned around and said, “I aimed for the trees.” I found out the next day that it was a lousy attempt.

On most nights though, nothing really happens here.

I sit on my couch that is missing a leg, supported by a stack of old Vogues instead, and I read. Buttery lights flicker around me, emitting an illusory heat that glazes my skin. I look to my left and there’s Blonnor, also reading or writing or playing a Chopin prelude on the keyboard. If it storms outside, I’d open the balcony door, and the symphony of thunder and rain would accompany his melody. It would be one of those nondescript moments in time that eventually, inevitably disappears from memory because of its bareness. What remains is a familiar comfort, a visceral sort of nostalgia that could only be kindled by an unsuspected scent or a haunting refrain. That is what makes this living room perfect — these lights, the Klimt and my Scandinavian companions — the loveliness of a fleeting moment. From the tea lights to the Belushi poster in its exact placement on the wall, everything here has an expiration date.

But when that day comes, I hope my heart remains on the top floor of the oldest building in town, even if the details become hazy.

Cathaleen Chen is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. You can find her twitter here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about Chopin and wormholes.

"So Says I (live at Third Man Records)" - The Shins (mp3)

"The Rifle's Spiral (live at Third Man Records)" - The Shins (mp3)



In Which They Cover Our Faces With Tissue Paper

Insult to Injury


I am always a little surprised to discover that I have a body. Soon after I’d moved to Chicago, someone brushed my arm on the train and I almost cried because I could not remember the last time someone had touched me.

In the summer I bruise easily. The backs of my calves bloom with purple-black spots at the impact of bike pedals. Now, on my thigh above my knee, there’s a yellow-green spot from when I walked into a drawer that I had opened just moments prior. It’s disappointing, as an adult, to discover that you cannot pass unseen or untouched as easily as you did when you were a child.

I would rather reveal a deep, humiliating secret than have somebody invade my personal space. In the city, there are degrees of closeness. A certain touch in the train is formal, compartmentalized into what we refer to as “rush hour”: the slow sludge movement of hundreds of people trying to squeeze through doorways and turnstiles, through the curled spaces between other humans.

Even if they never reach the same physical proximity as these commuters, someone who means harm can be detected almost immediately. The bodily threat hangs pungent in the space between us. I remember a strange boy putting his hand on my knee when I was in high school, but perhaps he just lifted it from his own and began reaching towards me.

“Don’t touch me,” I warned.

I’m taller than almost any other woman I’ve met, and of a serious, unsmiling disposition. On the street, men whistle, but I don’t know what they’re whistling at. These hips? These breasts? I spent years trying to wish them out of existence, not because I was ashamed of them, but because the fantasy of being admired for simply my mind held an undeniable lure.

When a boy I liked in high school kissed me on the cheek one morning in the hallway before class, I felt it all the way down to my toes. I wasn’t kissed on the mouth until later, long after most people my age had already lost their sense of physical wonder. It was a little bit like being picked last for a sports team, except I was great at it right away, like my body knew things that my mind didn’t, answers to questions that have circulated since the beginning of time.

I took to water like a fish, not afraid of its depths like most children but terrified of the man-made box it was in, the feats of engineering that drained it and filled it and filtered it. When I was seven, I went swimming alone in the deep end by myself. I slipped underwater and reached down to touch the bottom of the pool, near the drain that I feared so much. As I let my body float to the surface of its own buoyant accord, I closed my eyes. My right cheek struck something sharp. I surfaced, bringing my hand to my face, and opened my eyes to see blood covering my palm and running down my arm. I’d gashed my face open on the ladder. At the hospital, they covered my face with tissue paper as they stitched up the wound with a needle shaped like a fish hook.

I forgot to drink water during my freshman year of college. I woke up in the middle of the night sometimes so parched I’d search the whole room, in the dark, trying not to wake my roommate up, for enough change to go buy a bottle of water from the vending machine. Sometimes I couldn’t find enough change and I had to wait until breakfast. The water in the bathrooms tasted metallic, with a twist of chlorine strong enough to make me reminisce about entire Southern California summers spent in the pool. It was a cocktail of childhood, of living in a place I’d lived in before after I’d lived in a place that obliterated all other places for me. My body was the only constant between here and there, and it has never been constant.

I bit my nails for years. Never until they bled, but close. Now, when I see someone on the train with badly bitten fingers, my stomach turns and I have to look away. I wish I could remember how I stopped, or why when I’m taken almost completely out of my body by a book or a film, I resume the old habit.

Eating a lot, and eating well, has always moored me to the physical. But it’s a transient activity. If only I could pick up some sort of tic, a discomfort that would constantly remind me of my body. If I could tap my toes obsessively. If I blinked more than the usual amount. If I possessed one superhuman sensation, even at the expense of another. I realize that these wishes are nonsensical, even offensive. But the desire to change, mutilate, or enhance one’s body has been around forever. It is simply the desire to be a body that we are also proud of, instead of this paradoxical creature that we happen to be but cannot always identify with.

My thighs are touching again. I’m wearing a sundress and the humidity makes my legs stick together uncomfortably. When I’ve felt unbeautiful, I’ve known deep inside that it is simply a result of my own feelings, not the physical reality of me. I’ve always thought more about what I could give to people in terms of my presence or thoughts; giving my body to friends or lovers to embrace and study seems foreign and bizarre even now. I enjoy it with the same wonder as I enjoy pondering a new and difficult concept.

We copyright them sometimes, but in truth, our thoughts are universal. Once you share an idea with someone, you’ve put it out into the universe, and you can’t take it back. Our bodies are the only things that truly belong to us, truly are us. Even in our most intimate physical sharing, we remain separate. You can pass an idea off as your own but you cannot pretend to own somebody else’s body. It’s the part of us that keeps us from becoming truly universal, perhaps from fully belonging.

Kara VanderBijl is the managing editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She last wrote in these pages about a Provence state of mind. She tumbls here and twitters here.

Photographs by David Drebin.

"Strep Throat" - Georgia's Horse (mp3)

"A Long Ride Home" - Georgia's Horse (mp3)

The debut album from Teresa Maldonado is called The Mammoth Sessions.