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Alex Carnevale
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Kara VanderBijl
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Brittany Julious
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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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Entries in kara vanderbijl (78)

Wednesday
Mar122014

In Which We Are In The Breach Position

Deliver Us

by KARA VANDERBIJL

Call the Midwife
creator Heidi Thomas

The year is 1957. It will be another four years before Britain’s Family Planning Association adds the pill to its list of approved contraceptives, and fifteen years before all women in all U.S. states will have access to it, thanks to Eisenstadt vs. Baird. Commercial ultrasound machines won’t be available for another twenty years. If you’re lucky, you might get a gulp of laughing gas to manage the pain, but on a normal day in the impoverished East End of London, giving birth looks a lot like lying on a rubber mat in your own bed, hoping that you and your baby will come out of it relatively unscarred. If not, it’s just as well—you probably have four or five others to feed, anyways, and without contraception, it won’t be long before you’re back on that rubber mat.

Enter the midwife: your best friend, your lord and savior, your own personal Florence Nightingale.

Directed by Heidi Thomas, Call the Midwife follows nurse Jenny Lee (Jessica Raine) as she disembarks from a life of relative comfort into London’s rough-and-tumble Poplar neighborhood. She, along with three other RNs — Trixie, Cynthia, and Chummy — live and work at Nonnatus House, an Anglican nursing convent which provides medical care of all sorts for the community. 

When the phone at Nonnatus House isn't ringing in some new crisis, the nurses navigate their life in Poplar as any young woman in the late 1950s would: making friends, listening to records, smoking, and going to dances. But with the post-WWII baby boom still in full throttle, the nuns and nurses spend most of their time staring down a birth canal.

The BBC drama is based on Jennifer Worth's bestselling memoirs, and has proved to be a runaway hit in both the United Kingdom and the United States, its number of viewers surpassing even that of Downton Abbey. Since I started watching it several weeks ago, I’ve been trying to put my finger on what makes the show so very appealing (besides the British accents). I must admit that I was also looking for something to assuage my massive guilt, as I gave up television for Lent and still returned home every night to watch Call the Midwife.

For starters, it’s a medical drama, which people love, and it's a drama set in the late 1950s, which is terribly in vogue right now. However, as it's set in a poor neighborhood, there's very little of the glamour we associate with the time period; instead, it only serves to remind us of all the medical problems that had not yet been solved, and the comforts that were not yet available to expectant mothers. For example, let's all be grateful that hot soap and water enemas are no longer de rigueur before childbirth.

And for a medical drama, Call the Midwife isn't very dramatic. There are no mystery illnesses to solve, no adrenaline needles being shoved into the nearest unsuspecting patient's heart. In fact, the show relies on the same plot device over and over to keep it going: some poor woman goes into labor and phones Nonnatus House to send over a midwife. The midwife spirits away on her bicycle in the dead of night, arrives at the scene, and delivers the baby with or without incident. Crying ensues on everyone’s part. Even the lack of modern technology, which does add to the suspense, cannot conceal the fact that the show revolves around a process with limited outcomes that is as old as the world.

Childbirth. Do you remember that episode of Friends where Chandler finds a tape of what he thinks is lesbian porn, but what is in fact a video of a woman giving birth? His reaction to it is basically how I imagine every human has been conditioned to react to childbirth: disgust, horror, pity, and fear. Childbirth is violent and should be hidden; childbirth is shameful, and it should belong to women, and women only, and even women should only be allowed to talk about in terms of pain, and fear, and horror, especially to one another. As soon as a woman gets pregnant, she should know immediately what she’s in for: hell. With a pink bow on it.

Maybe this reaction to childbirth is relatively young itself, born along with the generation that is being born in Call the Midwife, once contraceptives became widely and legally available and childbirth became a choice, not a consequence. So much good has been gained from the introduction of the pill that it’s hard to see what we lost with its arrival: namely, the knowledge that women are strong, that women shelter and give life, that childbirth is a raw, mysterious, beautiful thing that belongs only to women in the sense that women, and only women, will ever be able to do it.

Granted, the women of Poplar do it because they have no choice; that’s the sad irony, one that Call the Midwife examines with grace. The forty-two year-old mother of eight who simply can't have any more children, yet finds herself pregnant despite all her precautions; the fifteen-year-old prostitute who will get kicked to the street if her condition is discovered, and who will lose her baby as soon as it's born because she is considered unfit to raise a child; the two women who deliver black babies, because they had an affair, and will do anything to keep their jubilant husbands out of the room; the many twentysomething women who are already on their third or fourth pregnancies, aged beyond their years, and now destined to spend the rest of their lives in an endless cycle of washing, cleaning, drying, soothing, and cooking. Each woman is different, but when they are in labor or holding their babies for the first time, they are all the same. They are universally and absolutely Woman; they have accomplished a terrible, wonderful thing and they know it. It's nothing short of mesmerizing.

When the pill was introduced, Jennifer Worth writes that childbirths in Poplar went from somewhere around 80 to 100 babies born each month to 4 or 5. "Now that," she writes, "is some social change!" Women were not only able to choose when they'd have their families, but they were also able to begin pursuing the things that society frowned upon once they'd become mothers: careers, or further education. The fabric of the neighborhood began to change. 

When babies aren't being born, the rest of Call the Midwife is full of what you'd more readily expect to see on television: romance, friendship, and copious amounts of tea-drinking. But the female friendships are anomalies as well: they're completely natural, and provide the foundation for a show that is as much about the community of women as it is about womanhood in general.  Jenny, Trixie, Cynthia and Chummy form a solid bond despite their differences in personality and taste, which may seem like the most rudimentary definition of friendship you've ever heard until you think of all the friendships that have dissolved, or have never happened, for much less. 

This may have happened because, as Jennifer Worth writes, the world of men was still very closed off to women, and there was nothing else for them to do but band together. But who would accept such an explanation? Throughout history midwives were often the community eccentrics, trained only by experience, and the bringing of life into the world happened behind shut doors, underneath the gentle ministrations of sisters, mothers, and aunts. Women banded together because they knew what they were doing, who they were, had the power to change everything.

You’d be hard-pressed to find another show on television right now that celebrates women from all stages, walks and choices of life with as much compassion and humor as Call the Midwife does. It honors the aged, the infirm and the unlovely just as much as it honors the strong and the gorgeous. It deals with religion, politics, race, handicap, age, sex, education, beauty, parents, money, and eating cake, all without stooping to moralism or ridicule. In fact,  I’m tempted to send it in a care package to Lena Dunham right now. 

Kara VanderBijl is the managing editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She last wrote in these pages about subplots. She tumbls here.

"How Can I Drop You Without Gravity" - Plainfire (mp3)

"All So Nostalgic" - Plainfire (mp3)

The new album from Plainfire is entitled But When Words Fail, and you can find his bandcamp here.

Friday
Feb212014

In Which We Leave A Finger Between The Pages

Subplot

by KARA VANDERBIJL

I am civilized. My feelings are not.

- Jeanette Winterson

I have planted a nice garden here. Tracing over the past two years, my writing has visibly improved. This is good. I get emotional thinking about it. I nearly gave up writing. You know? It’s easy to be confused. Introspection can be just as dense as the lack thereof.

I have only been happy in short bursts, some of them terribly short. It is my fault. I inherited resignation, the tendency to blame outside of myself. The pendulum swings back to extreme guilt, self-deprecation. I have allowed happiness to become digital, or at least, sublimated. As if thinking correctly could make you happy. As if wrapping emotions into layers of text and subtext could produce joy.

I don’t think that happiness is the goal of a life. At least, it’s not the goal of my life. I don’t believe that unhappiness means necessary doom. But in long stretches it is indicative of a lack of gratitude. I am certainly disconnected, not only from what is most important but also from myself. From others. I’ve divorced parts of myself that need tending. I need to touch and feel and smell and smile. I need to be touched. I need to feel very small and allow myself to slowly be built up.

Because everybody keeps telling me I have so much time I don’t want to waste a second of it. I want to laugh and laugh some more and admit that I’m wrong. Is this allowed? Is it really any more complicated than this?

+

Everybody loses something. Keys. Bus passes. A comb.

I don’t lose things. Circling around a board game, I nominate myself the dice-thrower of one team or another. I throw some good pairs, some mediocre, three great. I can’t be blamed for the outcome. It is a game of weight, of fate.

Lost: receipts, bookmarks, socks.

Soon after moving to France, I had my mother dye my hair auburn. I did not want to blend in. When I didn’t know the right words to formulate my thoughts, I kept quiet. I did not want to stick out.

A mitten. A penny. Phone reception.

Cheap sweaters disintegrate in the dryer. Misguided intentions, spooning rent money into my mouth, living month to month. I can’t even afford what I need, how can I give? This is a lean time, but give out of weakness. Fold the two dollars bills in your wallet, stuff them into a frozen cup on the sidewalk.

Wallet. Passport. Country.

Thirteen years ago today my family moved into another language, took up residence with the irregular verbs. Humans don’t conjugate easily. I wasn’t happy with my handwriting, and so I rewrote my lessons over and over again. I learned the verbs by accident. None of us live there anymore.

A slim, crinkled roll of paper towels fell into the kitchen sink when I tried to put it back in its proper spot and I looked at it and said, “Fuck you,” without thinking, because if I had been thinking in that moment I would have realized what a terribly ridiculous thing it is to a. insult a roll of paper towels, especially when they’re more absorbent than the leading brand and b. to do this so vehemently, as if the rogue paper towels had killed my family before my eyes.

Later, I was baking with a very hot oven (Wikipedia tells me that anything between 450-500 degrees Fahrenheit classifies as a very hot oven.) As it popped and clicked its way to that infernal temperature I worried that the expansion of gas was going to blow the door open or that it was simply going to spontaneously combust, which I imagine is altogether within its range of capabilities. The oven beeps so faintly when it is done preheating, as if to belie the roar of the ignitor and the dull orange flame I can just see when I open the door to peek inside. I cannot let my guard down with this appliance. I have often dreamed of sacrificing small odds and ends in its favor, building a shrine, much like the employees of a hair salon in Los Angeles I once frequented, who offered up bowls of rice and day-old donuts to a particularly moody blow dryer.

Here begins the smaller subplot with the smoke detector. This is one I do not intend to flesh out any more than strictly necessary. Two minutes before the raisin buns were done baking, it came shrilly to life. The next thing I remember, its parts were exposed and I was holding two 9-V batteries in a floured hand. What if there is a fire in the next two minutes and I don’t even know about it? What if when I put the batteries back in, it resumes beeping and doesn’t stop, ever? What will I tell my landlord? Why doesn’t this have a mute button?

I consumed several buns to fortify myself and left the windows open. I replaced the alarm’s batteries and mask; it cried out once, and I shook my finger at it. “Now you behave,” I said.

At the front door of my building, the button next to my apartment number is the only one illuminated. It is a beacon in the night, drawing drunks from the bar kitty-corner to my door like moths to a flame. Punctuate the night with the doorbell ringing. 2 o’clock, the first wave of sloshing bellies spill into cabs, catch the last train south. 3 o’clock, raucous laughter, ring. 4 o’clock, the stragglers shuffle by, think they are somewhere that they are not. At 5 a.m. the first bus passes by on my street, its automated voice more faithful than any alarm: “It’s morning.”

I live alone but I have not been lonely, although perhaps my voice has tended towards disuse. This home and the street speak to me daily; I’m just too young yet to talk back.

With a dream, my feelings change. I feel soft as clay when I wake up, like a child. I am not afraid of all the things that I could be: good, better, worse. The only thing that frightens me is no longer being able to change, no longer being able to study the interminable facets of any given person or situation.

It’s you that I choose to study. I’m a poor student, but even when I’m baffled, I pull these books to my lap. I leave a finger between the pages when my thoughts fly elsewhere.

I can’t imagine a single right answer. In the early morning, I often hear arguments out on the street. Often it’s between two men, a father and son, or two friends who have had too much to drink. The yelling wakes me up and I’m frightened. From the outside, my apartment doesn’t seem secure, but when I’m inside it feels like a fortress. I’m not sure which perception is closer to reality.

Almost nothing is as I expected. It’s better. As I open myself up to possibility, my ideals, these ghostly dreams, disappear for something more painful, more instructive, more creative. I am being chiseled down to the beautiful bits.

Kara VanderBijl is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She last wrote in these pages about the things they carried. She tumbls here and twitters here.

Photographs by the author.

"The Most Immaculate Haircut" - Metronomy (mp3)

"Love Letters" - Metronomy (mp3)


Tuesday
Jan142014

In Which We Have A Lot Of Baggage

The Things They Carried

by KARA VANDERBIJL

Mary Poppins had less baggage than today’s women, although, as a turn-of-the-century governess, it is quite certain that less was expected of her. If only we could empty the average woman’s bag onto a semi-aesthetic surface and study its contents! Not only would we see a reflection of her unique personality, but we’d also get an almost archeological glimpse into the history of ladies everywhere.

Since asking women to dump the contents of their purses onto the floor seems rather absurd, not to mention sexist (first they question our reproductive rights, now this), we’ll settle for imagining the things they carried.


33 less cents

Little to no simple carbohydrates  

iPhone 4s with a cracked screen in a dirty mint green rubber case

A small, sharp elevator key

Quinoa

Two tampons blooming from applicators in shades of teal, dark purple, royal blue

Clear nail polish for nylon runs

A bag of chamomile tea

Twenty tarnished pennies

A wadded up Trader Joe’s receipt

An aborted baby

Three Tinder profiles laid aside as conversation starters or party jokes; three others to follow up on when she’s a little tipsy 

A Moleskine, the first two pages the beginning of a dream journal, the rest messy grocery lists: cherry pie Larabars, sparkling water, frozen chicken breasts

Winona Ryder circa 1994

A sailor, a soldier, a spy

A Kindle full of self-help books: Find Your Inner French Girl, It’s Not a Diet It’s a Lifestyle, How to Please Your Misogynist Boyfriend

The ever-narrowing definition of liberated femininity

Her best friend’s spare keys

At least one story of how she was touched against her will 

Dull black eyeliner pencil

Two transit cards, she’s not sure of the value left on either of them

Assorted good luck talismans: a bag full of lavender, a vial of holy water, an expired condom

Knock-off Ray Bans

A passport for those last-minute trips overseas

Band-Aids for blisters

A photogenic cat

Dubious ointment

Chewing gum of a fruity or minty persuasion

A hand that historically could have been given in marriage

Oscar predictions

A scarf for passing drafts

Advice columns

The conviction that all men are awful; the conviction that she would very much like to date a man

Wallet in a pink chevron print containing quarters from all fifty states

The book she’s been reading during her commute

Earbuds for what she’s really doing during her commute

Unpopular opinions such as, "I really like my body" 

Pepper spray

Extra underwear

The occasional juice cleanse

Her mother's personality, set to unlock in about fifteen years

A pair of black pumps in case she wants to transition this outfit from day to night

A Post-It with phonetic pronunciations of words she’s only seen in books

For protection, at least least four fake boyfriends who have addresses, names, and occupations

The belief that she should be able to sleep with a stranger and feel breezy about it

Lingering Disney princess vibes

An angry resting face

Business cards from the men she meets in bars who still hand out business cards

Weird old tricks from the internet to cut down belly fat

A ziploc bag full of wasabi peas

Jennifer Aniston's hair

Leopard-print earmuffs

Four pens

A ticket stub

Meryl Streep's secrets for beautiful wrinkles

Residual sand from that one summer afternoon

In one compartment, her career; in the other, whatever she cares about more than her career but obviously can’t talk about because it’d make her a bad feminist, duh

One, two, three pickup lines thrown at her between her apartment at the train, between vulgar gestures and kissing noises and gyrating boy hips

Another bag

Red lipstick 

The unbearable urge to bodyslam women with perfect hair 

The belief that Sylvia Plath is an appropriate role model for young women

Enough patience to hear, "Wow, that's actually a good idea", in a surprised tone, from all her male coworkers

Beyonce

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

"Was It A Dream" - Marissa Nadler (mp3)

"Nothing In My Heart" - Marissa Nadler (mp3)

The new album from Marissa Nadler is entitled July, and it will be released on February 4th.

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