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Alex Carnevale

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Mia Nguyen

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Ethan Peterson

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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Entries in chicago (17)


In Which We Think Of A Reason For Our Trip

photo by xaviera simmons

Ripped Bodice


I used to work on the block where a man tried to force me into his car. This was not the first time.

The Rhona Hoffman Gallery, the reason for my trip, is located on a block of Peoria Avenue, off the expansive Randolph Street, and filled with other galleries and artist spaces. On certain Friday evenings, the block is bustling and busy with young people leaning against old meatpacking and industrial buildings smoking cigarettes and tying their shoelaces just so. I never fit in around here, even when I worked on this very block, day after day, during the fall after my college graduation. I never fit in around here, even when I visited two friends, former store owners, now embarking on the next chapter of their lives together outside of the city.

I think about this block because it represents different facets of my changing life and the way I see the world. That fall after college, it was a space of learning and responsibility. I hoped my job would lead someplace else. I hoped I had found a sense of place and purpose.

It was also a space of trouble, of quiet evenings and brisk temperatures. For a while, my greatest memory of that block was not the galleries and stores, but the way my neck hurt again and again while walking against the fierceness of the wind. It is a beautiful block, but like many corners of Chicago, it makes more sense during the day. At night, one realizes how long the blocks are, how wide the sidewalks are, how the only thing one passes by are more buildings and more pieces of trash, but not more people.


I began reading first romance, then erotic novels during my senior year of college. My interest stemmed from a love of fan fiction and a desire to both write and read beyond the characters I saw on the screen. I've noticed with my friends who appreciate either romance or fan fiction, a love of films and movies. There is the underlying devotion to storytelling and later, the ability to build on what was there. We can always keep going.

I like that the men represent a validation of my fantasies and my fantasies are not merely of the physical, but also of the potential for triumph, for personal redemption, for overcoming the things about ourselves — whether articulated and open or deeply stored within — that often delay the lives we want and the people we want to be. I think of myself as a woman coming back to her optimism. It was lost for a number of reasons in a number of different ways, but a part of me seeks out an interaction with the world that makes risks possible and chances worth taking. What I fear rests in me is a deeply-ingrained thought practice that ultimately makes living and loving seem like things other people do.

The black heroines in many of the novels I read are not traditionally beautiful, but they are interesting. They struggle and weep alone; keep their heads up and minds focused in private. They do a lot and feel a lot and often find peace through extraordinary circumstances that are more difficult than their lives pushing toward financial success and the desire to overcome a challenging society, a prejudiced society, an unforgiving society.

The ways in which I can overcome the world at large are through myself. I can not depend on outcomes of others, but must instead push myself to work harder, to think more, to pursue more. And in my favorite novels, the heroines must overcome the limitations of affection by challenging their willingness to love and trust.


The older I get, the more aware I am of how I lack a true understanding of normal. To me, normal is pure and right and exact. There is a real idea of normal love, of normal relationships, of normal intimacy. And even though a rational part of me knows that there is no way that a unique, individualistic, surprising world could produce a tried-and-true normal, I still hold on to the idea that there is a “right” way, and I am not doing it.

A friend once asked me what it was like to date as a black woman. She was asking not as a point of othering, but because I told her that “things are different.” We were discussing our parents’ relationships and how rare and strange it was that they are still together. This idea of marriage, of happiness, seems more like an exception to the rule of confusion, pain and regret.

Two years ago, a group of black teenage girls sat across from me on the 66 bus. An older black man, much older, at least in his 50s, began hitting on them, blatantly and disgustingly and physically. They were obviously turned off, because he was crass and because they were young, and this man thought that he could say and do anything he wanted to because these young women tickled his fancy. One girl, agitated, yelled, “I don’t care. Leave me alone! Leave us alone!”

It could have only been the culmination of years of frustration and annoyance because I too felt that anger and grief. This was not a random occurrence for them. This was the everyday, the day-to-day, the moment they stepped outside until the moment they locked their door.

There are slight come-ons, cheesy pick-up lines, catcalls which in hindsight are child’s play, and then there is harassment — physical and verbal — much like these teenage girls on the bus suffered, and what I’ve faced numerous times in the past. Harassment is different, and terrifying, and traumatizing. But once you’ve faced it, in all forms, whether it is a man calling you “A stupid stuck-up bitch” or another grabbing you off the street, a block away from your own home, attempting to rape you before you’ve even gotten your first period, you learn to toughen up, to always be aware, to call out the aggressors from the get go in the hopes that this time won’t turn dire. It’s not about hate but about safety and street smarts. As a black woman, unfortunately, I believe it’s something we become accustomed to at a young age.

It shapes the way you look at life and the way you encounter the people around you. If you are like me, it stifles your freedom, creating an existence of confusion. What does it mean to be loved? What does it mean to be happy?

I still think of the moment when everything changes, when that loss of youth shapes one’s days from here on out. It is that critical age of post-innocence, yet pre-adolescence. In my head, the other girls were able to still feel somewhat young and somewhat free, but I remember knowing more than I should, and feeling angry about it at 12 years old. Even now, I yearn for my age, meaning, the ability to be young and feel young and have that be enough. A co-worker said, “What do you have to stress over?” And I thought, most everything. It’s the same as it ever was.


Last Thanksgiving, we sat around my aunt's great big television — the place of common gathering for my family — and my grandmother tried to run her weak hands through my thick hair. She couldn't get far. She made a comment about it being unkempt and unright.

A friend shared a conversation she had with a mutual editor and they discussed not my fear of the body, but my fear of the expectations of the body. I am fearful that I lack ownership, fearful that my personality is not good enough or pleasant enough or funny enough to warrant love. If I only have the physical than these interactions must be representative of something inherent in me, something others see but I am unable to recognize or know. There is the me I know and the 'real' me, the me everyone else sees. That distance makes me uneasy.

At the holiday dinner, I tried to talk to my family. We’ve spoken before, held conversations and shared jokes, but the older I get, the more I recognized the full formation of my internal self. The older I get, the more I recognize my dual selves, the one that thinks and sees and feels so much that emotions manifest in stomach pains or stiff joints, and the one the world sees.

“I just don’t like it when people make comments about my appearance. I don’t like being touched without knowing,” I said. But what I actually meant was, I don’t like knowing that there’s something wrong with me, that it is visible, that what I sometimes feel and think deep down can be confirmed through appearances.

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

Photos by Xaviera Simmons.

photo by xaviera simmons

"Ruby Blue" - Róisín Murphy (mp3)

"Sow Into You" - Róisín Murphy (mp3)

photo by xaviera simmons


In Which They Tap Us Quietly On The Shoulder

Freeze Tag



There was a time when I used to be someone else, someone who used to play outside all day until my skin was as dark as mahogany. I tan so easily. I used to climb trees until sap glued my fingers together.  I used to run in forests so that the trees would lovingly slash my forearms.

I am obsessed with the idea of who I used to be and am not anymore. I used to live in Hinsdale, Illinois from the ages of 4 to 9. These years were the most formative years of my life. As far as I can remember, I spent all of these years out of doors. My memories of sitting in front of the television, of reading books in my bedroom, or even of playing with Barbie dolls with my sister are fuzzy. They wane into the background as brighter moments are happily recalled.

I grew up in a small, 3-bedroom, rented townhouse in front of an abandoned hospital campus. On one side of the campus were thickets of forest in a district park, and on the other was a massive field with a single tree in the middle. The tree, a solitary symbol of stability, had once been struck by lightning in the summer of 1992. It had a gash across its bark that I used to run my fingers over to feel the break in roughness. I remember the thunderstorm well, because it had been the first thunderstorm where I had learned to count the seconds between lightning and thunder. Each second that passed meant that the storm was farther away.

The field used to sprout dandelions in the summer. These were weeds, of course, but I have always thought of dandelions as beautiful weeds. They peppered the green grass with yellow. I used to call them sunflowers.

Adjoining our house were two rental apartments. Our neighbors to the left were a Bosnian family my uncle had sponsored through a Muslim charity to live in America during the war. A mother and her two older children, they shared with us their Bosnian bread. Their son, Nihad, had lost both his legs during his service, and rode around in a wheelchair. Above them lived a middle-aged man named Mr. Carson, who used to entertain us with illegal fireworks shows every Fourth of July.

The only other people who lived in the small townhome complex were my extended family: aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins. Over the years in the early 90s, we had all come to be in that complex. One family at a time had packed up its life and left Karachi and unpacked it in Hinsdale, Illinois. We were a band of kids, now that I think of it. All of us were just children learning to live in a new world.


We used to spend all of our time out of doors. We did this, because when we were young, we ached to be free.

We were all afraid of that lightning tree, for it was surely haunted with at least one or two jinns, but not quite as afraid of it as we were the abandoned hospital building. It loomed behind our houses – we could see it from our back patios. It was a constant reminder that we did not own this place, that this place was a soon-to-be decrepit piece of property that we would abandon. It would be replaced with something shiny, new, and subsequently unused.

Katharine Legge Memorial Park was a park for people richer than us, but we snuck into it through the gaps in the fence. We watched dog owners walking as we played tag among the bushes and in the playground. I once met Ruby Bridges in the Katharine Legge Community House. I had begged my mother to go see her. She signed a copy of my book and told me to be a brave girl. I wanted to be like Ruby, because she was a little black girl that was brave. I was nothing like Ruby; I was shy and sensitive. But I was equal parts afraid and empowered by my education, like she was.

When we told each other ghost stories, we told them as dusk fell and as the lightning bugs emerged. After a while, we would gather them into our palms and through the slit between our thumbs we would watch them. Once we had had our fill, we would let them free. Sometimes, though, they would die in our hands, and we would bury them two inches into the dirt. A brief moment of silence for the life lost, and then a celebration of life in the form of freeze tag.

At school, we went to our separate classrooms and sat into our separate seats. We divided our lives between home and school at a young age. I would cry in school on more than one occasion. Once after a fellow student had pushed me off the swing set, another time when a boy had told me my mother smelled bad. Another time when I was told no one wanted to play foursquare with me. But at home, I would sit on the warm portable dishwasher plugged into the sink faucet and tell my mother I got top marks in penmanship that day. I would tell her in Urdu, and after I was finished, I did not think about school until the next day.

We were not afraid to talk about school with each other, but school was irrelevant. Only when my cousin was reprimanded for forgetting English did we joke about it, but even then we forgot soon afterwards. We had no time to think of school, we had only time to climb trees or ride our bikes around the circular driveway for hours.

Sometimes, when we felt daring, we would elect someone to walk into the abandoned hospital building. When I was elected, I cried for ten minutes until everyone told me I didn’t have to go in. I cried later, too, but not because of the hospital. I cried because I was a coward.

When one of my cousins would walk into the hospital, they would scream loudly at only fifteen feet in and run back outside to join us. There were dead birds in there, with their eyes staring blankly at the rusting ceiling tiles. We would peer in through a broken window to stare down at the black feathers on the ground, before someone would shrug and say, “Let’s just get out of here before someone catches us.” None of us were allowed to go into the abandoned hospital building. Then we would go play house, where we pretended to serve each other hot dogs, even though we never ate such things for dinner.

Summer in Chicago is warm and muggy. We would pile into the grey van our uncle had bought for our collective use and drive to Highland Queen in LaGrange to fill ourselves up with soft serve ice cream with peanuts and chocolate sauce. It became a tradition for us, and we hastened to get seated in the grey van after dinner during summer vacations. The cashiers would stare agape as twenty brown faces stood in line.

Even in the winter, we spent our Christmas vacations outside if the weather permitted. Bundled up in brightly colored snowsuits with plastic bags over our boots to keep the snow out, we had snowball fights and built snow forts. We were particularly unsuccessful in making a snowman: for some reason our round snowballs would fall apart. An older cousin, in America for college, once had the brilliant idea of using an empty trash bin, the giant ones we used to keep in our garage. Handfuls at a time, we stuffed the trash bin with snow. We pressed on it to pack it in, and once we were finished, we turned it upside down. As we pulled the trash bin up, a rectangular snow pillar remained. We put carrots on it for a nose, stones as eyes, sticks for arms.

When we were at home, we spoke Urdu, but with one another we spoke a combination of Urdu and English. We learned English in school through a speech tutor the district had hired to help students with lisps or reading disabilities. We were treated like we had a disability, too, because when it was time for us to have our English lessons our teachers would tap us quietly on the shoulder. We would walk silently through the hallways as the other students stared through the open doors. We were stuffed into a small office, where we would then learn English words with a thick Chicago accent.

And so, one word at a time, we became Chicagoans.


When they tore down the houses, they built a subdivision over the land and the surrounding field. Though sometime around 2008, the property development company went bankrupt and the project was postponed until a later date. We never drive that way anymore, and no one was ever sure if there were other people living over the abandoned hospital building or where the lightning tree used to be.

They had torn everything down: the berry trees where my mother used to pluck blackberries and hand them to us to eat, the climbing trees next to the fence, our stone back patios where we would watch Mr. Carson’s illegal firework show.

We were not there to save the abandoned hospital campus next to the small, old, brick townhomes. We had slowly moved out of Hinsdale, family by family, to nearby Westmont. Westmont was where we owned our own homes that came with dishwashers attached, where the schools were diverse enough to have Asian kids like us, where we each had our own backyards with old trees. We had left behind the Bosnian family who used to give us bread, Mr. Carson grilling on his deck.

The longer we lived in Westmont, the more English our parents learned, and more Urdu we forgot. It was a gradual shift, but now we speak English with one another as freely as if we had never needed the speech instructor. We went through middle school and high school as those parts of our existence slowly took over everything else. You can be who you want to be outside of elementary school, but high school is a place that controls every part of you.

When we see each other now, it is subdued, but familiar. When you know who people were as children, and when they are your blood, you can never un-know them. We are older now, most of us past college age, and enveloped in lives that were unforeseen for us as children. We are young professionals, students, artists, soon-to-be doctors or engineers. And one by one, we become part of the blend, unable to stand out any longer.

Hafsa Arain is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living outside of Chicago. She tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

"Dam Mast Qalander" - Nusret Ali Khan (mp3)

"Wada Na Tod" - Lata Mangeshkar (mp3)



In Which We Heal Ourselves By Proxy



This morning in the emergency room, an elderly woman across the hall from me leaned out her doorway as she poked thin arms through the holes in the paper gown. She had left her own dress on, and her own shoes too; turquoise socks were pulled up over her ankles. She looked at me as if she were squinting through her sunglasses. 

“Hi, do you know how to turn on the television?” 

“I don’t, I’m sorry,” I told her. 

“Do you know, I collapsed on Friday because my ankles and feet were so swollen, and I told my friends to call an ambulance for me, but they just laughed!” 

“That’s awful,” I agreed. 

“Finally the security guard at CVS called one for me, and he carried my bags too, even though the nurse wouldn’t.” She looked me up and down, as if to ascertain what might be the matter with me. I straightened my back instinctively. 

“You don’t know how to turn on the TV, do you?” 

“No, I’m sorry.” 

I inspected my own wound - a deep gash, right at the tip of my thumb. It was the mandolin slicer that did it, in every other way a perfectly ingenious invention designed to make sure your potato slices lie in uniform piles at the bottom of a bowl while you sprinkle them liberally with olive oil and salt. I don’t remember what it felt like to put my finger through the porcelain blade, nor do I remember the sound I made, somewhere half between a groan and a chuckle. Half a roll of paper towels sat spotted red on the living room floor as I brought my thumb to new altitudes above my heart. There was very little pain.

It is a risk of the trade, you might say, an inevitable casualty when a particularly stubborn sort of girl has decided to spend more time in the kitchen cooking wholesome meals. Decisions rarely come without consequences. If you decide to do without convenience, choice made for you, some form of pain shows up punctually. 

I’ve often wondered, crazily, whether ridding your life of the extras - processed foods, sugar, caffeine, stress - any of the things that seem to preserve us in a state of placid complacency, of somewhat-awake mostly-asleep knots sitting not quite ergonomically in an office chair in an airless room - puts you at more risk. I feel more vulnerable with a clean body. I feel more exposed to danger, but danger in the way that it is dangerous to wear a skirt on a very windy day. 

I listened to the lady across the hall chat with one of the paramedics about how her bags were so heavy and her father had just been in surgery and could he bring more water and how could she change the channel and I just kept thinking that the hospital, like the sole possession of a friend’s listening ear or the arms of someone beloved, can make you feel safe and protected. It’s a little bit more expensive and it smells funky and they ask you personal questions about your bowel movements and when was the last time you took recreational drugs. But you can buy care, sort of like you can buy a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.

A few weeks ago I was riding a bike with very little brakes through a dark, warm night to the beach. At one point I miscalculated the width of a ramp and slammed into the curb; I knew it was coming, because the shadow of it became apparent approximately two seconds before my front wheel made contact, and I began to push myself backwards off the seat in anticipation of the pain. I managed to straddle the back wheel rather awkwardly, crotch lifted ceremoniously above the seat and bars that would do it harm, but then the left pedal slammed into my lower calf with a force. My eyes fogged over. I thought blood had been drawn, but when my hand touched the warm spot there was only a throbbing bulb. 

By the morning a bruise had blossomed there. 

It was the largest bruise I have ever had, and fascinating. Resembling a large, noxious flower or perhaps the quivering bacteria that we observe under microscopes (outer, dark membrane, lighter liquid inside), it hugged the bottom of my calf muscle. It was black, then green, then yellow, then black again. It was a bump, an extra surface. It’s mostly gone, now, except for some lingering tenderness and a dark border. The skin is shaded slightly blue. 

Once I have given a title to somebody, everything they do fits under the umbrella of their prescribed role. It allows me to be pleasantly and unpleasantly surprised by the flowering of their character, the variance of their colors. When a serf becomes a knight, both pride and envy wrestle inside of me. I have never been sure where I fit in this schematic, what rags cover this heart. I wonder, am I poorly cast for this part?

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

Photographs by the author.

"Unless You Speak From Your Heart" - Porcelain Raft (mp3)

"Something In Between" - Porcelain Raft (mp3)

The latest album from Porcelain Raft, Strange Weekend, was released on January 24th.