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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 (75)

Wednesday
Oct302013

In Which The Reason For Her Visit Is Obsolete

Pioneers

by KARA VANDERBIJL

Four things:

a trip to Cape Cod, Massachusetts,

Little House on the Prairie,

the first story I wrote,

my mother’s piano.

Baring ivory keys chipped like old teeth, the piano smiled at the Canadian border officials. These pearly assets made my small mother out to be some kind of elephant poacher, however unlikely; she was 5’2’’, charming, with the appropriate lilting accent. Her American children watched from the backseat. They could not let the instrument cross onto maple-soil, the officials informed her, she should take back her tainted spoils.

It offended me at the time that my mother would so easily part with the old brown upright, since it had been a gift from her father, who soon afterwards passed away from cancer. Now, though, I think that my reaction was not so much directed towards her own loosely-clasped hands, but towards how tightly my own fingers held onto objects. The piano was the oldest thing I knew. It was older than my mother was for me, because it had existed before I knew her. My brother and I had leaned against it on toddling trips across the living room. We’d taken lessons on it up until complex “Good King Wenceslas”. My mother had moved it, bent in half and pushing all of her weight into its side, around the living room with the changing of the seasons. And here she wanted to move it away forever.


Of course, we didn’t actually drive the Steinway all the way up to the border. The proceedings happened over the telephone. But so stricken was I by this great abandonment, that I visualize the event as I told it above, a bartering for greasy Canadian change. Because Canada would not take it back, we packed it in quilts with the rest of our things in a shipping container that took it across the Atlantic to Europe. In the months before we saw it again, I imagined it tossing through stormy nights, its homesick cries pitching deep.

+

Moving to France was only our most recent adventure. These moves, they’d become like yawning business travelers on long-haul flights, permanently jolted out of a familiar time zone, accustomed to vacuum-sealed meals and blinking blue and green maps. Moving to Europe was just back to business for us. At twelve, I knew how to roll my underwear into the tiniest possible crevices of a suitcase. I did not yet know that it was a bad idea to bring along as many books as I could fit into my backpack for the trip. This heavy, shoulder-shrugging habit of mine continued well into college, when I filled a dorm room with one suitcase full of clothes and six full of books. 

What stories I couldn’t fit in a suitcase, what stories were too close to tell or even to share with others, I wrote for myself.

I couldn’t write adventure stories, because adventures meant leaving, and that was filled with a personal pain I wasn’t even aware of at my age, and also, a hero leaving her hometown for a quest seemed banal to me, on par with a knock-knock joke, “Knock knock, who’s there, the Vanderbijls, the Vanderbijls who? They moved again.” When I was six we’d packed all of our belongings into a yellow moving truck and made the drive from Washington State to Southern California. Then, in our six years in California, we lived in four different houses, and it was in the fourth — a non-descript apartment in a complex with two pools —  that I began to write a story about staying.

It centered around a place called Red Brick Inn and about a family that lived in and managed it. It was about illnesses that fascinated me like tuberculosis and love stories culminating in the chastest of kisses. It was about visitors arriving in the night, cold and wet and wandering, to  a warm hearth within and a family that never left. It was about a home. I wrote the story of two generations in six books, and then the last three books were dedicated to a distant descendant who, orphaned, searched for the truth about her birth parents and discovered the dilapidated remains of the Inn.

Of course, in true Hollywood fashion, she restored it in the end. And got married.

+

Laura Ingalls was also a girl who Didn’t Stay and I think it was this underlying frontier spirit that made me reach for her books again and again when I was very young. She, too, did not complain when she was told that her family was moving yet again; she too was caught up in the adventure of it, the newness of the land and the blind opportunities a person might find if they just kept moving. That she settled, later, and lived out the last portion of her life in one place, though, made me feel as if she’d caught the bug second-hand, that she’d become tired, too, of living out of a suitcase on a never-ending journey.

I was haunted by the image of the Ingalls family slowly leaving their little log cabin in the prairies of Kansas, and I wonder if the girls knew at that point that it wasn’t the destination, the promise of cheap land, that kept Pa Ingalls going but the idea of movement itself.

As much as I shivered reading The Long Winter, and as much as I know that the Ingalls family was starving and was near death for the greater part of that book, I could not help but envy the coziness of their home, the snow blocking their front door and preventing them from leaving the space around the hearth. But snow melts, and the end of the book filled me with a sense of claustrophobia. Does this mean that they will have to leave again, I wondered, now that the winter is over?

+

It should not be easy to leave a home behind. I have friends who moved once in their childhood and tell the story with tears to this day, the trauma of new rooms and new schools and new friends barely compartmentalized into the cardboard boxes of their hearts. But for my family, it was eerily easy. We flung off extra clothes and furniture and memories until we reached the few bones that held our frame together. Our idea of home grew more and more emaciated, its holy body rolled behind a stone.

Our old homes should be kept sacred likes shrines, like street corners decorated with crosses or clusters of dead flowers. Why is it so do we spend so much time memorializing a place where someone has died, when we move so easily from the places where we’ve lived? Doesn’t living leave a greater mark than dying?

I’m a mystic, and now, in my adulthood, it takes me the time of a few tears to tear myself away from a place. I mopped the floor of the little bedroom in my last apartment with the devotion of a monk. Empty, it looked even smaller than when it was full of bed and dresser and discarded hair collecting dust. When I’ve been camping it’s taken me longer than others to stop looking at the spot in the grass that the tents flattened, the imprints of our bodies left to be raked away by wind and strangers, touched by the sparks of strangers’ fires.

This week, some dear friends of mine are moving out of their apartment. It is an attic unit with sloping ceilings and what is quite possibly the lowest rent on the North Side of Chicago. The big tree that used to be in the backyard rotted away and got cut down. Since it only has one exit, the apartment is technically illegal, and the landlord is grossly negligent on a good day. But it’s the first home I was invited into as a friend, just as the weather was turning after a hot summer.

I had made a mental list of places to locate immediately: a Bank of America, the closest dry cleaners and a pizza place within delivery distance that wasn’t too expensive. But I did not think about places that are not open to the public, the sanctuaries that existed behind the glowing golden windows of the row houses and bungalows on my street. I thought about making friends, but I did not consider that moment in a warm living room, winter outside, when a sense of family hangs heavy over fledgling acquaintances and empty bottles of wine. I thought about nights out, about bars and restaurants, but I did not think about home. I have not yet made the habit of thinking about how to stay instead of how to get out.

+

Before we moved to France, we visited Cape Cod, Massachusetts. It was fall. The cranberry bogs were crimson with ripe fruit. Colorful cottages dotted roads carpeted in yellow leaves. On the horizon, a gray sky hung low over the Atlantic. This was the birthplace of our country and I felt like I should remove my sandals on hallowed ground and also because my feet were cold and tired from walking.

The reason for our visit is now obsolete, thus rendering it impossible for me to recreate an experience that felt like coming home. I cannot explain what about these small villages on the easternmost side of our country, territories I’d never visited before, made it seem like I was coming home at last. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that ‘disorient’ means to lose the east and that the further you march from the east, the further west you search for your elusive frontiers, the more you lose yourself.

It was after visiting Cape Cod that I began writing my Red Brick Inn stories, placing the Inn off a main road from one of the villages we’d visited during our time there. And I know it’s not there, but I almost can’t bear to visit the East Coast again without hoping it will appear like a beacon, like a warm glowing window on a winter night.

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

"Love in Stereo" - Sky Ferreira (mp3)

The new album from Sky Ferreira, Night Time, My Time, was released on October 29th.

Friday
Sep272013

In Which The Amber Shapes Of Sunset Dance On The Wall

by Raimonds Staprans

How To Be Kind To Yourself

by KARA VANDERBIJL

Closing up the lake house after a weekend is like tucking a child into bed. Perishables are taken out of the fridge and lined up on the counter to be claimed by parting guests, tossed in a grocery bag in the back seat of a car alongside sandals and dirty beach towels. Blinds lowered over yawning windows, closed like sleepy lids. Run the dishwasher. Sliding doors pulled shut against the cooling evening, locked. Lights extinguished, except the one over the kitchen sink which will stay on until we come back. Summer has been put to sleep. 

by Raimonds Staprans

This weekend, it was cloudy and almost too cold to be on the lake. As the boat cut through the blue waves the wind rushed up against me and took my breath away. There was nothing to do but to lean into it, to look into the glass of the sky and predict what the next months will be like. Hibernation. A little wine by the fire and a stack of books. 

My summer was fat, spilling over its own edges with a sort of frenetic hilarity. I flowed happily, from one party to the next, one drink to the next, with a sense underneath that I was overflowing. Tired circles. Thighs softening. One day, sucking in a soft tummy to button my pants.

by Raimonds Staprans

Beneath my joy I’ve always lived a bit like an ascetic, bread to bread. I like this simplicity because I know at all times what’s going in and what’s coming out, what I’ve consumed and what I’ve created. I’ve been an emotional explorer but in everything else I’ve been monastic. Closed. Shut up young, beautiful, to pray and wait and pray some more.

But I felt — this summer, at least — that I should bathe in the wine of youth. That you can be kind to yourself in small snatches between the times you’re tuckering yourself out, by eating an apple, by slowly sipping a glass of water in meditation. It’s not much. I’ve felt guilty for my lack of discipline, for my propensity to excess.

by Raimonds Staprans

Now is not the time for settling. We’ll be old and tired soon. When our summer’s gone, we can shut the doors against what’s loud, confused, chaotic. We can settle into our foundations with a creak of contentment; we’ve seen what we meant to see. We can rest, simple.

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

"Heart of Gold (original dean street demo)" - Birdy (mp3)

"Light Me Up (kid harpoon demo)" - Birdy (mp3)

The new album from Birdy, The Fire Within, was released in the UK on September 23rd.

 

Friday
Sep202013

In Which This Pencil Gets Sharper With Time

Marie

by KARA VANDERBIJL

This is how I learned to be angry. It was like connecting dots in tightening concentric circles until I reached the bullseye, using a pencil that gets sharper instead of duller with time. 

First, I had to hate a place. Have you done this before? Hating a place displaces the hatred you have been taught you are not allowed to feel ever since you were in white Sunday-school shoes. Hating a place takes the white-hot lava of anger inside of you and erupts it into the far reaches of the Milky Way. You will feel it with a telescope. You will feel it groping around in the dark.

The place I hated was a small farmhouse in a small town outside of San Antonio in the big state of Texas. I hated the way that the road you take off the highway ended at this house. I hated the way that drivers had to be careful not to go too fast down this road, or else barrel into the small farmhouse or into one of the trees beside it. I hated the chain-link fence around it and I hated the garden hose hanging off its left side like an open artery and I hated the road that curls away from it into the countryside. I hated the big field behind it and the rusty tractor parts lying in the tall grass around it. I hated the old sash windows and the way they rattled during big Texas sky thunderstorms. 

This farmhouse was my friend Marie's home and in the summer after our sophomore year of college she invited me to come stay there with her. I did not have enough money to go to my own half-home half-not halfway across the world and I did not think I could find a job in the state of California. I was promised that the big state of Texas did in fact offer jobs to blonde college sophomores. I was also promised crushed ice in Sonic drinks and hill country and deep nights. "We are going to be happy this summer," Marie said to me as we waited unhappy for our plane. 

We had a layover in Las Vegas. As we sipped Dr. Pepper's, I watched people play the slot machines. 

At first it seemed like we might be happy. Marie's father, a big Texas man, picked us up at the airport in cowboy jeans. He had an intimidating mustache but a kind smile and deep leather skin. His eyes were diamond blue. He drove us to the small farmhouse just outside of San Antonio in a large black sports utility vehicle that was pristine inside. The large black sports utility vehicle was almost bigger than the small farmhouse; it swallowed up the driveway and the canned burnt air-conditioning smell. Marie warned me about centipedes as we crossed the gravel to the kitchen door, which faced the main road. This was the door we used, and it was almost always open during the day; the front door sealed shut like a mouth in the front room, behind the corner of a chair, the end of a piano. 

From front to back: a tiny hot kitchen, syrupy sweet tea bubbling on the stove; the parlor, with high school pictures of Marie and her two older brothers hanging on the walls; a tiny hot hallway, off of which there was an office and the master bedroom; a narrow bathroom papered with magenta rosebuds; and Marie's room, in the back of the house, next to the enclosed back porch. 

Her day bed was sunken soft in the middle and she sunk softly into it, her face tired, gray. I didn't ask her how she was feeling then, or even later when she chose to stay in bed instead of eat chicken and cheesy broccoli and corn out of can around the table with her parents and myself, the stranger, while the old house hummed. "Marie, come out and eat," her mother drawled. A centipede scuttled underneath the furnace in the darkening hallway. 

The next morning, Marie was sick. She got up before the house and I heard her retching in the bathroom over the whir of the window air-conditioner in her bedroom. I lay stiffly on the trundle and listened to her cough and sputter. When she came back, hugging her tummy, she whispered in a tight, hoarse voice, "I'm so sick." She lay on her belly and turned her gray face to the wall. It was Memorial Day, and hot. 

Later, her mother came in. "Marie," she said, "Wake up. Wake up, it's time to get ready. Remember, you have to sing at the ceremony today." 

"I'm sick," said Marie's voice from under the covers.

Her mother shook her shoulder. "Marie, they will be so disappointed if you don't come. Now, get up and get ready. Is it something you ate? You know you're not supposed to eat cheese. You ate some of that cheese, didn't you? Well, that was your choice. Now get up. It's time to get ready." 

Marie protested, weak voice growing angry, desperate under the covers; when her mother finally left the room, she said, "I'm not making excuses for you," and slammed the door. 

While Marie stayed in bed I went to the ceremony at the cemetery and listened to another woman sing the National Anthem to dead men and listened to a speech about how America is the best country in the world. Marie's dad fired a gun into the air alongside three other men.

I thought about Marie, about the disease that like a worm was eating her up inside and making her sick. I thought about the classes she'd missed over the course of the semester and how her lips turned blue sometimes and how her arms were thin because the nutrients from her food never really made it into her bloodstream. I thought about how she said she'd had this condition since she was five years old and that no matter how many doctors shook their heads and said the word "incurable", her mother wouldn't believe it, wouldn't accept that it wasn't something her daughter was doing on purpose. 

I'd heard Marie throw up before, I'd heard the strangled noise she made and the way she didn't complain about it, only lay on her belly and waited until the nausea and the pain passed. I waited for Marie's mother to acquiesce, to look up one day as we sat uncomfortably in the parlor, glasses of sweet tea sweating rings onto the side tables, to say, "I've done you so much wrong," but in the morning she put her hands on Marie's shoulders and shook her on the sunken day bed until Marie turned around to yell. The screen door popped shut as I left the house to run. 

The road that curled away from the old farmhouse shimmered in the heat as I ran. My thighs shook as I ran. I pumped my arms backwards and forwards. The sun was yellow and bright already at nine in the morning, hot, and my music seared my ears. I walked the last half-mile back to the house, from the old tree on the corner. A few hundred yards from the house, I heard a high shrill noise, just a pitch lower than the hum you sometimes hear lifting off electric fences. I thought it was an echo from the interstate, or maybe a television turned too loud, until the pitch deepened into a throaty sob and I knew Marie and her mother were screaming at each other. 

I sat on the little step outside the kitchen screen door and waited, sweaty, until I heard the back screen door pop shut and Marie's sniffles as she moved through the backyard. I waited a few more minutes and then walked inside. Marie's mother was sitting in the parlor turning the pages of a book, her glasses on the end of her nose. She looked like she'd been sitting there for days. A glass of sweet tea was sweating on the side table next to her, the ice cubes melting. 

The sink was full of dishes; I silently filled it with soapy water and scrubbed until my hands were red and raw. 

As the summer grew deeper the fights grew louder and my hands got chapped from doing the dishes. One night, Marie was sobbing in her room after a fight with her father and as she swallowed hard she told me that she'd gone outside to get away from his yelling and he'd followed her and turned on the hose and sprayed her in the face so she'd stop crying. And then she told me how when she'd been small he'd duct-taped her mouth shut so she couldn't talk back. I held her as she cried, small, gray, frail, and I felt my insides crumble. I cried, too, and it was the first time I ever cried for somebody else. 

The next morning, at church, I listened to a woman tell Marie's mother how brave she was, how hard it must be to have a child so ill, how sacrificing she was. I escaped to a stall in the bathroom and sat for a long time and felt my insides churning, the anger growing like a worm, eating me from the inside out. 

But it wasn't the drunk brother, discharged from the Army, who'd sat on her and tickled her until she cried from pain as a child, who now twisted her arm sharply behind her back as a greeting, who made me angry; it wasn't her father, who came to me meekly on evenings when she escaped the house for a long drive in the dark country night and explained to me how he was worried about her, how he just wanted her to listen, who made me angry, it wasn't her mother standing at the stove stirring the sweet tea brewing like everything was fine, who made me angry. It was the people around them, the people who saw everything and then turned a blind eye, the people who heard what had happened and rationalized, justified. It was the people who said, "Honor your parents." 

When Marie and I finally left the small farmhouse, a few weeks later, it was to housesit for people who hadn't cleaned their large suburban kitchen for months. Spaghetti sauce stains spattered across white cabinet doors. Cockroach corpses littered the stairwell. We drank Dr. Pepper's and watched reality television and I thought for what seemed like the thousandth time that summer why life couldn't be as easy as loose ends neatly tied up, as purging when you've bitten off more than you can chew. Marie wasn't sick at the house, not at all, even when she ate a little bit of cheese.

When I left Texas that summer I thanked Marie's parents because they had put a roof over my head and cheesy broccoli on my plate. I hugged Marie goodbye and told her to call if things got really bad and told her again gently that I thought she should take her brother's car and drive away, far away, as far as she could go. She said she might but I also knew she needed them to pay her school bills that year and that after that she'd be free and it made me feel angry sick inside to know she thought an education that'd eventually get her far away from them was worth this, these sharp diamond blue eyes, this woman silently standing at the stove stirring sweet tea. 

When Marie passed away, a year after graduation, it was from complications from her illness. Still, I wrote a letter to her parents telling them everything I had seen and heard, telling them that no matter what they thought of themselves, that I knew the truth. I learned to be angry when I learned that the world still protects the powerful. I learned to be angry like you learn to love: by discovering that there are things that defy logic.

You can see them with a telescope. You can feel them groping around in the dark.

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

"Puerto Rico" - SPL (mp3)

"Drop" - SPL (mp3)

The new EP from Sam Pool, The Baleric Bass EP, was released on September 3rd.


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