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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 mark arturo (17)


In Which We Bargain With A Frightened Man

Painting of a Thousand Faces


We are angry. We are angry with you for what you did.

You further reproach me with having promised you that I would paint your picture with the greatest possible care that I ever could, Dürer wrote. That I certainly said unless I was out of my mind. For my whole lifetime I could hardly finish it. Now with the greatest care I can hardly finish a face in half a year. Now your picture contains fully one hundred faces, not counting the drapery and landscape and other things in it. Besides who ever heard of making such a work for an altarpiece? No one could see it. But I believe that what I wrote to was: to make the painting with great or more than ordinary pains because of the time you spent waiting for me.

We imagine modernity began with the last man to speak, the last man that we recognize. (Or woman.) Did you know that the ancient Egyptians had indoor plumbing? Civilizations are circular, cyclical, and we return to the end of the line.

The central posited fact, that remains through the ages, is an image in my mind. A man sits on the edge of a sunset and bakes himself into a landscape. Perhaps he would rather be with a man or a woman but he is unmoving in the firelight. I want you to know for all my days I have never begun any work that pleased me better than this picture of your which I am painting. Till I finish it I will not to any other work, Albrecht Dürer wrote. I am only sorry that the winter will so soon come upon us. The days grow so short that one cannot do much.

Life at the turn of the sixteenth century was all double entendres and unprotected sex. Man considered visiting the moon before deciding he had other things on his mind. 1503 was the kind of year where you wondered why there had been any other. Dürer had three journeymen on his payroll; all were named Hans. Dürer was the type of guy where a part of him was in the present and a part was in the past.

He felt he had missed out on books of art written by close friends. "Phidias, Praxiteles, Abelles, Polteclus, Parchasias, Lisipus, Protogines." He wondered what they wrote about the thing he loved. There were times in history where mankind thought art was a pejorative, a casting of evil. Maximilian asked Dürer for a design of a knight; it would adorn his tomb at Innsbruck.

Sometimes it seems odd how little Christ is talked about by nonbelievers as a historical figure. He is a character as much as Dürer, although he was not as light in the face as Dürer, and he did not smell of turpentine, bleach, and painting oils. When a man understands the thought of another, he can only understand it on as many levels as he can comprehend at one time. Some, like Dürer, could simply hold many more thoughts. The expression of the additional levels was present, here for example:

We are eight to a side, we are sitting at the table until we fold beneath it, our wings pressed down, facing the ground.

Erasmus writes of Jesus Christ that, He despised the eating of his own flesh and drinking of his own blood, except it were done spiritually. This is an analog for history. The history of our people is different somehow, because there is no longer such thing as flesh and blood.

Dürer's mother gave birth to eighteen children. Her name was Barbara. Dürer wrote, God be merciful to her. On her deathbed he drew her. We had the chance to make peace at the end, but we only stayed away. Mankind, in its infinite wisdom killed something precious, and the only way to move on emotionally was to kill something else precious. A few years later, Dürer began to lose his eyesight. He left Nuremberg for a time, determined to see other surroundings.

Mark Arturo is the senior contributor to This Recording.


In Which We Pretended Not To Notice Her

I Think You Understand Why That Can Never Work


You were sitting on a stool in midtown, perfectly erect even without the backing of the chair. It was not unusual for you to look your best when I was at my worst.

Later, I looked up a place to meet another woman, who I will call Sam. When I arrived, nearly an hour before she did, the waiters applauded. She kissed me goodnight next to the 6 train. She wanted to go to another bar, one that was not so stiff. I said, no, I had to get home. The subway is the most fulfilling place to cry that time of night.

Sam worked for this internet company that was on the verge of unprecedented wealth. For the first time in her life, she was going to become seriously rich, even though she had done very little to merit it. However, there was an expectation that she would amass considerable wealth at some point; this just happened to be the way it occurred.

At the same time I was dating another woman, Kelli, who lived downtown. Kelli is a secretary at a law firm. Neither of the women knew anything about the other, and it was a few months into this whole thing that I realized they would not have liked each other very much.

It is a gratifying and useless thing to be admired. In every good pairing I have seen, a mutual admiration at least develops over time, if each is the sort of person they represent themselves to be. If that feeling never develops, they are unhappy.

Kelli did not respect anyone who did not work hard. She took her own work very seriously, more seriously in fact than I have ever seen someone take their work. This was a positive commentary on whatever was inside her. During sex she shuddered like a mouse in a trap.

So that bar in midtown is supposed to really take you back to the day. I went back a few times, mostly when I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t run into Sam because I knew she hated the place. You feel like Don Draper but the music is even more terrible than that. Some Sinatra is expected but they played the worst kind of jazz, like what white people believe in their hearts that jazz should sound like.

The bartender would always have her girlfriend and her girlfriend’s mother come in and sit at the bar. She made them all kinds of crazy drinks and would describe how she made them. It was the only thing she ever had to say. In contrast, Sam talked a lot. Her family was from Mississippi, but I think she had been glad to leave. All her brothers were married now, and her father had been in the merchant marines and was a very hard man. She was the smartest person in her entire family, and she did not come from money or anything like that.

Sam shared her apartment with a Korean woman who was always traveling with her boyfriend to some far flung place. The first night I ever went over there, her kitchen looked like it had never been used. The only thing in her refrigerator was water because she worked so much. Her bed was insanely low on the floor and uncomfortable. She probably lives in a really nice apartment now, but this was not one. It was on a great street in Brooklyn though with a bar I still go to. The bar has this massive fireplace and they give you tons of free drinks and food, I have no idea why. I have never been in a place like that.

Maybe they were nice to me there because of Sam, or because they thought I was Sam’s boyfriend. (I wasn’t.) Despite working for a tech company and coding very well, Sam did not love the internet or being on it, so I doubt she is reading this right now. When we were together she seemed to melt on me. She had been in a relationship with a not-so-great guy. I think because of that, she didn’t want monogamy, which was fine with me because whenever I was in Manhattan, walking through Central Park just felt like a ghostly visitation of you. The boats moved in and out, and a glass window protected me from them.

It was too confusing seeing both Sam and Kelli, and things sort of petered out. I will say why for the sake of completeness. With Sam she had a lot of friends from her company and she was always drinking and getting wasted with them, and it sort of turned me off. They got high all the time and when she was high she was a disaster. Some parts of it were actually nice, but mainly it was like anti-therapy: the steps a person takes that make them less mentally well.

With Kelli she was really into fighting and I think she wanted someone who was also into it. That is sort of me, but I like serious arguments with emotional conclusions. She liked emotional arguments with serious conclusions. I think you understand why that can never work.

For awhile after that I was alone, and I spent most of my time walking along the Hudson. Remember that park we went to? I sometimes went there, and eventually met an anesthesiologist walking a poodle-cocker spaniel mix. She lives on your street; well not exactly on your street, but closer to the projects. At times how emotionally unavailable she was made things easier; naturally soon after that it made things harder. After we broke up, she brought my coat back to me.

I think she could probably never love me, or anyone. I longed to tell her how much I loved her and how great she smelled and how perfect her skin was. You could tell her maybe one percent of that and she would accept it, but any more and she would smile and roll her eyes. Here was someone, I thought, who just did not give a fuck whether anyone admired her or not. It was obvious it could never work, but her apartment was so clean and cold. It was like making love in an icebox. Actually it was making love in an icebox.

The winter’s dangerous, and you might not live in the city anymore. Meeting someone now is taking a chance, I know, and it is both fortunate and unpleasant that it buries you still deeper. I told you I bought plane tickets for us, and for a second you believed me. I told you I was willing to do this or that, and that I wasn’t willing to do some other things. You believed me. I told you that I loved you and that you were a mystic of the north and south and east and west, and that I had never met anyone like you. You believed me.

Mark Arturo is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan.


In Which John Cage Believed He Was Not A Writer

Eating His Words


I have no piano now. But that doesn’t bother me much. What I want is time.

John Cage thought he was not a writer. This is a scary thought, because I sometimes wonder what kind of writer he could have been if he gave up music and focused on writing full-time. There is a whole class of people who spent their entire lives pursuing one thing when they should have focused on another talent they had. For example:

Mark Wahlberg (waste management)

Jesus (community manager)

Damian Lillard (rap music)

Thom Yorke (pro-Israel advocacy)

Maybe my list makes this sound like a distinctly male problem, but I guess this would also apply to Joan Didion, who would have been a hell of a full-time model.

Back to John Cage. Mr. Cage's letters are completely unself-conscious, which is the mark of every great correspondent. He never bothered censoring himself, since there was nothing terribly bad in his heart. He would go off on people when necessary though. Since he knew a lot about music, and most people writing about did not, he felt it was his duty to educate them.

I appreciate your interest in my work and the trouble you have taken to write the enclosed article. For many reasons, however, I am certain the publishing of this article would not serve either your or my best interests. People are accustomed to saying that anything printed about anything is “good publicity”; such a point of view doesn’t interest me. I am anxious that the article you publish be accurate as to facts and present some true and sensible critical evaluation of the work in percussion and its objectives. I have not really delayed answering your note; I have instead written several letters to you, each of which attempted to point out the errors in your article. I have decided, instead, that it would be better for you to write a new article entirely; and that I could best help you by giving a brief statement about facts and objectives. 

I think he was a lot more generous in person. He married a woman, then spent the rest of his life with Merce Cunningham after she divorced him because of all the gay sex. His love letters condense ardor into a fine, tempered feeling, that pulsing with an orgasmic joy of infatuation. He makes love into something so tangible it could be held on the tip of my tongue.

My own feelings towards you were always those of wishing to flow in where it looked like water was absent (mixed with an inherited missionary attitude, itself not practicing what it preached). At any rate I feel very free that you are loving.

I don’t know when it was that I found out how to let this month go by without continual sentimental pain. It’s very simple now, because I’m looking forward to seeing you again rather than backward to having seen you recently.

For Merce he saved his most exquisite remainders.

My whole desire is to run up and down the sea coast looking for you.

Send me some little twig or a hair from near enigma or a piece of grass you touched and sunbathed with, mon prince.

Cage usually condensed his formal writing into the form of anecdotes. It was an aspect of his overall respect for how form shaped his thoughts and ideas. In his private writing, he drops this entire pretense, and it is disappointing to know it is a pretense. As a vehicle for theoretical thoughts about subjects like politics and man's place in the world, the terse aphorism remains very effective. Cage usually pared these observations with choreographed dance by Merce. He was a stickler for detail on any project he pursued, even if the eventual outcome of the project was something as hilariously conceptual as 4'33".

Silence is generally conceived as Cage's first and best book, even though all his other collections of essays revolve around roughly the same topics. His view of the world has held up very well today, because while it does put faith in a variety of odd places, like Schoenberg, Zen Buddhism, and the I Ching, it never settles on any one of them more definitely than the other.

It is important to bring the concept of random chance into my life, and I am usually bad at allowing such things to happen. Arnold Schoenberg had a fear of the number thirteen and then he died on Friday the 13th. I think my main fear now is putting everything I have into something, and it not working out. If you only let a part of yourself, into the venture, maybe you will be like John Cage was with writing. You will have published books, but you will not have said anywhere near enough.

Mark Arturo is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan.