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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 dan carville (25)


In Which We Were Not There To Take His Place

Composting Now


Around late January, when Christmas was just the echo of an echo of crumpled wrapping paper, I ran out of ways to convince you to come back. 

Apologies in advance for the second-person. I know it is the dirt worst, even worse than consecutive semi-colons, but you can lay the blame on my total lack of composure. I was pricing a belt at T.J. Maxx on Wednesday and tears ruined the buckle, rusted it out. 

A lot of bad things have happened, if I'm being honest. I know in a relationship, a real relationship that is what you have to be, or it catches up to you. A phone call out of the blue announces the lie has evaporated. 

I don't lie anymore, not even to myself. 

One of these unfortunate occurrences put me inside of a hospital. (It was nothing you did, and it was not really happening to me, anyway. He only goes after those we love, especially when we love ourselves too much to risk it.)

Hospitals all look the same, halls too wide for human occupation. Signs point us in the wrong direction, away from the place we need to be. I remember one time I was in a hospital; I was just a little boy, I had seen The Rocketeer; it was supposed to keep me awake, only the thing was it put me to sleep instead. 

I should have known that basic irony would be the defining jest of February. The reason I give a gift is to show who I am, the kind of person I might be under better, more favorable circumstances. I guess what I started thinking is, what if I am that person now, and the gift just proves how much further I had to go. 


Why you left is nuncupatory. The fact is you are not down in the Metro when I go there, and believe me I questioned city personnel. I keep thinking to myself how I never did anything bad to you except not take the trip you wanted me to. You never suggested I go, but you should not have had to ask. It eats at me a lot that I did not do that for you, but it is not even the biggest bite. 

Day one of therapy was like a bunch of swarming minnows, taking plankton-size chunks. My metaphors run away from me. Writing is inadequate to this particular task. There is something missing from it that can only be conveyed by the actual passage of time, not the gasp between paragraphs. 

I did go back. I also returned to where we first met, hoping I would glimpse you through an aquarium. That first day we met I was not really looking forward to seeing you. I canceled the night before, wrapping myself in a thin black blanket and reading until all my bad thoughts went away, of how maybe I was not the person you thought I would be, and would I hate myself for the lack of authenticity?

My therapist gave me this idea. He asked me what kind of person I thought I was. The only way I could answer is this: I never do things for the sake of them. He told me that some people might view that as a character flaw. I wanted to scream. 

But I did not. There is no anger there, even that has faded with the time we are given to get over ourselves. The training for this in the life of a man is minimal. I am, like plenty of others, not unfamiliar with being dismissed, but the way you did it.

That has nothing to do with it. It is what I tell my class (I am teaching now, you never let me tell you, it is great fun and you always told me I should do it and I did, I'd talk to you about it in these warmer nights if you let me, my lips brushing against a pillow like a perpetual greeting). What I tell my class is, the way you say something doesn't matter at all. If you're saying the right thing, you could tell it backwards and we would still shake at the end. 

March comes on like a refrain. Everyone is telling me to be social. "Don't retreat into yourself," a friend says. "It takes too long to realize nothing's there." I have my books and movies. I finished Carrie: the ending was just awful. I tried another Theodore Dreiser, and I noticed a theme. A woman is humbled, and she takes a man with her into the gutter. She makes a choice to save herself or save him, and whatever decision she lands on, she regrets. 

You must have some regrets. I never met anybody that didn't second guess themselves, but I suppose that is why you are not here right now. I would have liked to watch that movie with you, and I wish we had never disagreed. It is another character flaw, to enjoy bouncing hard against something soft, and then doing the reverse. I'm working on pushing the soft parts together, says my therapist. 

It is the opposite of what you are supposed to do in writing, and maybe that is what I find difficult about relationships at times. It feels like pressing the cathodes of a battery against each other, nuzzling their charged tips. 

I pray a lot now, which is funny considering I told you how silly I thought it was. Well, now I know why people do it: it is for when you want something real bad and divine intervention is the only way they can think to get it. I pray for you to come back in my life, and sometimes for wonderful things to happen to you. I figure if you are happy maybe it doesn't improve my chances, but it couldn't hurt them. Plus, you'd be happy.

That's not where these pleas to God end, however. I don't imagine just having you around. That's peanuts. I imagine marrying you in front of everyone I know. It gets worse. Even though we're already wed, I propose again. We could renew our vows. I was looking for a ring, but it wasn't good enough. The only thing that would say what was in my heart right now is seaweed and grass. I go back to the earth — I'm even composting now. I miss you. When you walk through the door, you won't recognize me. I ran to lose weight, and I kept doing it because I know you would have wanted me to. I'm volunteering for Hillary. I've seen so many places on these travels — the end of the park, choruses of concrete, metal detectors exchanging compliments, lightning bugs kneeling and circling my big stupid head. That's not all. You're here and praying too. My clothes are better, my spirit is larger. I am king of all the animals, and I sprinted a block to return a dollar that had dropped out of a girl's pocket. You won't recognize me at all. 

Dan Carville is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.



In Which We Calmed Down After The Screaming In The Sky

Second Person


I like a girl with personality. I have a lot of personality myself, and when I see someone else that has it, my heart goes out to them. – Ross Macdonald

The thing about the second person that is a mistake is that writers like you think it is the only form of address. Maybe your ex will feel it is him or her you are really saying this all to, and when they realize that, they will come to their senses. Only if you had ever become important enough to be addressed in the medium of literature, most likely you never even took the time to read about all the people whose hearts you tore up, stomped on, and drowned off the dock at Pacific Point.

There are other modes of address, and I will tell you about them after I get through this. There is a way of writing that is therapeutic, sure. Afterwards, this bracing feeling floods me, like my body is filled with nature, if I am in nature. Coleridge said that you see the beauty if it's inside you, otherwise the viper thoughts are all that's left in the remarkable scene. Then again the man was addicted to opium. After he wrote, he did some more, so each feeling was artificial and he could no longer discern what was therapy, and what was trauma. I don't do drugs anymore: you made sure of that.

Well, the first month we were dating, I was not so sure it was going to last. I told you I was going to Oregon for the weekend and the phone service might not be the best. You said, "You'll get a lot of writing done." You said, "Isn't it beautiful up there?" I had taken a lot of pictures on my phone from another time I was in Oregon. If you really look at a picture you can tell the time it was taken, but I knew you weren't going to go to all that trouble, and that you believed me. I was in Oregon.

I guess it's not really cheating, only I wasn't going to tell you or anyone else about it, and I never have until now, because it is so far past making a difference to anyone. Her name was Patricia, I mean was it really? No, but what do I get out of saying her true name. We already established that I lie. She had this vitality that was something apart from her, feeding off who she was. For that reason Patricia could never get whole. I gave her some Valium I had – I don't remember where I got it, and we went to the museum down here.

It was the exhibition that they have every two years, and she told her friend to come. The friend was a local who was very frumpy and obviously in love with Patricia. She also dated some guy who had been in prison and I think this made her interesting to Patricia, because Patricia's boyfriend was also something of a bad guy for other reasons, not like he went to jail but he had very specific sexual requirements and yelled at her when he drank. In contrast, I realized after listening to their discussion, I must be the most milquetoast fucking person in the world.

I never let myself love Patricia, because I knew nothing would ever come from it. She was a tourist in my life, and that only gives you a sad feeling if you let it. If you (and I don't mean the editorial you) shut down your emotions at the first moment they occur, then they have only happened once, and are unlikely to repeat themselves. That kind of emotional control is priceless, only I do not have it anymore.

I may end up going east for school. That's one of the things I wanted to tell you. I decided it would be better not to have to walk around this place getting reminded of where we got ice cream, or I took you to some dinner on your birthday. Those are sad details now, and the park across from your apartment (that you never went to) is not so bad either. It is quite painful to think of all the misapprehensions I have had about the world, because they make me realize that I see people in that mistaken way as well. For God's sake I trusted you.

When I write 'you', I feel like there is another you, waking up somewhere. That's all I need to get by. But there are other forms of address — more indirect ones.

I visited one school the other day. The students are noticeably younger than I am, but not so much that they will know I have had a hard time up until now. I plan to pretend I am like them: full of this contained grace. It is an asset, as we enter middle age, not to be soured by what we have experienced, but I do think I needed to be touched by the world in order to claim it. Standing at a distance will not help in your writing, or any profession you select. It only means you will not get to pick the moment you are drawn into things.

After the museum, when her friend had gone to sit shiva for her grandmother, Patricia and I fooled around on the beach. It felt like I was alone because you were not there, so I sent you a picture of Oregon. Later I called to hear your voice. I did not like to talk on the phone much before then, but I remember the first time I called you. Outside, a plane was streaking across the sky and I took a picture, since nothing ever seems that close to the moon. We told each other what we knew about ourselves. I know you liked what you heard. I barely even knew you to say hello at that point, but I hoped you did. And those marvelous months together. How did I screw up that up? Oh well.

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


In Which The Bird Flies As Long As It Must

Migration Pelagica


for Lawrence Durrell

You put it all together: the glimpse of white, the farcical pardon, the Sunday caress. I was the author of all these motions, and so you hate me for it? Do you even know I'm alive?

Lake Michigan stretches out like a forest. Hiking is just another way of answering, locomotion an alternate method of standing. What I gave to you was a lot better than that, and I'd like very much to hear you admit it.

What a mess I am these days. A car comes for me and takes me to a place that should seem familiar. The girls around me debraid their hair. Gallinules always desire a place to go, never an environment to reside.

More fortunate than good, a desert cisticola, a warbler, a gull. A falcon in the right light resembles paved cement. You could look at something so close that the larger structure is obscured; now is that what you did?

You should probably answer me if you value your emotional life. A murder of fantoccinis, marbled into fine tire and sanded down by our feet. The car takes me to an open room. The ceilings loom massively, they swoop and descend on prey. Nothing wrong with talons so powerful. A grip can tighten without even knowing what is held.

Here is what really happened, if you care, if you are not reading this out of spite. You left the room. You had given me a kind of reward for doing something you thought was objectionable. It doesn't make me cynical that I assume the worst, it only makes me tired.

After you left I could not think of anything but completing what was begun, all over your mother's sheets. A man in August is just a figure redrawn on paper. By January should he still be a sketch?

Writing is not the best way to tell anything. Speech doesn't mean much either. Remember I caught a glimpse of you in a parapet, no ceilings, all sky. Allow that thought to pervade your mind at odd times, like when you are at the hair salon or the dentist, or when you smell something off in the refrigerator.

When posed a question, answering is merely polite. I was asked, do you think there is any way she had met someone else? I said I was not sure, but tried to explain. I said swans mate for life, although they will try to find another if the original dies. Perhaps in a hunting accident? We never know exactly how we will go, Justine.

Subsequent to the high-ceiling room, I arrive at a further destination. Your apartment has cockroaches and we all know why. Riverside Park genuinely shimmers, and I brought Silly Putty, which you can make any shape and it won't resist.

A mold is an underappreciated aspect of modernity. Whatever the impression. Could we all be molds for something larger or greater? What do you think? Am I perhaps onto something there, or is that the kind of vacuous statement your new boyfriend might make?

Anger. We talked about this once. The first time rage enters the countenance is so shocking. I try to never display this aspect of myself, but this gives off a mistaken impression, Justine.

It is on the whole more efficient to parse out the disappointment in drips and drops. Each might feasibly be wiped off the floor, but the splash a pot of tomato sauce would create makes me walk away. I want to be with someone who never minds cleaning up, you see, not you.

Here are some more potential aspects of the new woman in my life. Whenever she is self-effacing, the minor joke gives over to a broader compliment of sorts. She cares for animals. It is not that she herself rides a scooter, but if one were around, she would give it a shot to see how fast she would go. In the car afterwards, she reads, "A few trees still stand in a brand-new landscape, but the sea road is impassable." She wriggles and leaps to catch her orphaned breath. How I wish you were here.

A series of rooms, all given over to divergent purpose. Occlusion is one, introspection another. My new wife will heartily believe that the way I delineate place for myself is more than an affectation, it is more of a solid coping mechanism. I looked for a ring for you, but I never found anything quite right. I did feel well being in your arms.

Observed from that vantage, sunset rendered opaque, I retract all my goodbyes. Your arrival would begin with the alteration of all my most prized, substantial pants. The first phase is a getting to know you, and the last is like copying data to a drive. Only we operate at different speeds, I know that. Deceleration is not a particular strong suit; it is productive to know our own weaknesses. Any relocation, whether it is only temporary or a consummate replenishment, relies on the endurance of time. The only one of us who was flighty was you, and I mean that in every conceivable sense. I did have a girlfriend, and this was a long time ago, far enough from now that it would feel impudent to mention her by name or Myers-Briggs, who found my diary. She said that some things in it were awful. I said, how was the rest?

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

Paintings by Sebastian Blanck.