In Which This Is Inspired By Acute Depression And Envy

i mean itssssss

Baking the Egg


The way it goes for not that pretty girls with freckles and wavy hair is to adopt a survivor mode that enables anticipations associated with pretty girls. And that is exactly what I did. I chose rich and to some extent delusional interpretations of my reality and coupled that with curiosity and outspokenness.

Of course, if you are raised in a confused patriarchal family – where your mother is your father and your father is a mother with short outbreaks of bad temper – this will get you into lots of trouble. For instance, the first time I was punished for my curiosity was when I asked why Jews and Muslims wear small hats and should one give it up? Had I not had my own interpretation of the slap that surprised both me and my father, I could have gone through life blaming him for my subsequent lack of courage, sense of adventure and maybe even lack of academic ambition, but I took pride in the fact that I felt fear and anger in my father’s eyes more than the warmth that seared my cheek. I just knew I had to.

Luckily, amongst the decomposed layers of things, ignorance and fear that made my 1990s, fragments of narratives slipped in. I never got the whole story or the accurate chain of events. All I knew was fueled by the excitement that rushed in while realizing that I had nowhere to go with my questions. My mother was a sad beautiful woman trapped in a desert, my father was tired and worried and most he could do was to explain verses from the Quran in a puppeteer sort of a way. Our school textbooks were the well-implemented thoughts of a poorly educated submissive male.

keeepit tup dontstop sdonfr

My knowledge on sex came from few completely different formats and sources. My school friends and graffiti could give speculative information on the subject in form of nervously written “Fuck.” However, in one of the houses my family lived in, the former attendant left a stash of Van Damme movies and what I later in life figured out was a porn collection. I never got to the porn, but the action films that my parents kept contained a few riddling scenes. Some disturbed me, others – such as the one in which a man literally bakes an egg on women’s chest – made me confused.

Later, while visiting a friend, I stumbled on One Thousand and One Nights. Strangely, my parents didn’t mind me sitting by myself on a green couch in their friend’s house; reading soft erotic tales dipped in a sea of adventures every time we visited. Up to this day I don’t really know how did I learn what sex technically meant. Actually, when I think of knowing about it, it is sort of a memory. A defused and blurred collection of cinematic fragments starring random people I knew, places and walls in dusty towns I lived in.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that intertextuality doesn’t only come to the well read amongst us. Of course, well read people can line up few legitimate footnotes beneath their claim. Others can’t. I hope I don’t come off as a completely ignorant and smug, bragging about one’s self-credited genius, because, in all honesty, I’m not trying to. If anything, this is inspired by acute depression and envy that I regularly feel when reading and listening to some of you, dear peers from other places.

take me down to thei isd

The drama of it all is that I can divert myself from my own fault by rightfully blaming few dictators and warlords along with my teachers and parents. All those were members of a gang that crippled the education and wider academic upbringing of entire generations. And it was so easy: they took books off shelves and put nothing instead. Literally nothing.

During the lunch breaks at school, I would sneak out and cross the highway. I would run very fast to a newspaper stand. The vendor was used to being confronted by angry fathers demanding a refund, so I lied, telling him my parents gave me money to buy a kids’ magazine. Once I was back at school, beneath my blue school uniform, the colorful pages of the magazine would be glued by sweat to my body. I knew I did my part. The rest was up to somebody else.

Coming back to not that pretty girls with freckles and wavy hair: when you grow up to be a not that pretty woman with very cute freckles and God knows what kind of hair, you realize that your survival mode fails you badly when you are talking to that attractive guy who seems very smart. But this is something completely different and I am not comfortable talking about it just yet.

Sumeja Tulic is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer and photographer living in Sarajevo. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about her childhood in Libya.

Photographs by the author. You can find more of her photography here.

haunted by what went wrong

“Joan of Arc” – Madonna (mp3)

“Borrowed Time” – Madonna (mp3)

it was cold and the r

In Which We Are The Only Russian Poet You Need Concern Yourself With

This is the first in a series.

A Youthful Dream

The first modern Russian poet was Valery Bryusov. He also happened to be the first modern Russian diarist. Despite writing of his experiences in the early part of the twentieth century, Bryusov’s perspectives on the world that surrounded him could easily count for recollections of today, minus a few technological advancements.

By 1907, Bryusov was no longer focused on describing his experiences — all his free time was devoted to research on the subject of black magic. He also met a woman, a poet named Nina, who would ruin the next seven years of his life. “What did Valery Bryusov see in me?” Nina Petrovskaya openly wondered. “Desperation, a fatal yearning for a fantastically splendid past, readiness to hurl one’s worthless existence into any bonfire…”

The excerpts that follow detail Bryusov’s early days as a young poet.

moscow meow

January 2

Welcome to thee, New Year! The last year of the second decade of my life, the last year in the gymnasium. It’s time. Get on with it my friend.

Here is the program for this year: (1) Enter the literary arena. (2) One way or another break it off with the K—-ovs. (3) Graduate from the gymnasium brilliantly, (4) Take up an independent stance in the university. (5) Put all my convictions in order.

March 4

Talent, even genius, by honest means earns only gradual success, if that. That’s not enough! For me, that’s not enough. I must choose another way.

March 10

At first things were dragging, but after supper Elena and I managed to be alone: at first we hid behind the map of Moscow and kissed, then we coolly went into another room.

I recall that I babbled some kind of incoherent, decadent declaration — talked about the moon floating out of darkness, about a pagoda smiling in a stream, about a fantasy which burned out in the shape of a youthful dream. Nevertheless, she made a rendezvous with me for Friday and for Sunday.

May 20

Elena’s dead! Dead! She died of smallpox.

May 27

Today was my exam in Roman history. I — did well, spoke about Herodian, talked about my tragedy, about poetry.

August 30

An interview came with me in News of the Day. Naturally this is far from distasteful. We move forward.

September 16

If there is one thing I am proud of, it’s that I have never permitted myself to keep in my verses things I knew would please others, but which didn’t please me.

December 27

I am spending the end of 1894 quietly, mostly staying home, but working little. Went to see Balmont nd wandered the streets with him all night. He spoke of purity of soul, of how sinful it is to drink wine and touch women. He spoke also of his via nuova.

February 1

Have seen Balmont several times. Most of our meetings have been semi-Decadent, but — alas  they’ve ended with a tavern and a “dive.” I’ve come to see Balmont as he really is,, and he has lost much of his previous attractiveness. This is why I almost made fun of him Sunday at Kursinsky’s.

June 7

The last few days in Moscow I had a plan for publishing Chefs d’oeuvre that involved pawning my gold watch, but the pawnshop wrecked that.

July 1

I finished reading The Count of Monte Cristo with tears in my eyes, not becase this novel reminded me of years gone by when I read it for the frist time, but simply out of sympathy for the character’s fates. Stupid sentimentality about novels when one has none to spare for the events of life.

August 30

Am writing little and mostly prose. My Chefs d’oeuvre has produced — I have to admit — the very worst possible impression on my friends. They don’t condemn it directly but keep quiet, which is even worse.

December 18

Balmont just dropped by, exultant, mad, Poe-like. Of course a great deal in his mood was affected, but nonetheless he cheered me up and distracted me. As if a moonbeam slipped through the clouds nd scorchd the waves with a brief kiss.

The pitiful irony of fate. Now, when I am disillusioned with Chefs d’oeuvre, people begin to praise it — even Balmont! Balmont!

February 6

My future book It Is I will be a gigantic mockery of the whole human race. There won’t be one sensible word in it — and of course it will find admirers. Chefs d’oeuvre is weak precisely because it is middle-of-the-road: too poetic for critics and the public, and too simple for the Symbolists. Fool! I thought I was writing seriously.

February 27

Yesterday Balmont came by before his departure for Petersburg. O Lord, how untimely “fame” comes! Six months ago I’d have been ecstatic from half the compliments he paid to me, but yesterday I felt cold disdain.

March 5

I have been feeling that to live as I live is impossible. Monotonous sameness, silence and longing. On Sunday I was in such despair I couldn’t even read Edgar Poe.

March 6

Balmont was here today. We’ve become very close.

July 4

Man is a strange and stupid creature. Yesterday I was reading Dostoevsky’s The Insulted and the Injured, and suddenly I was overwhelmed by the maddest desire to take in a little orphan or a ward. Funny, crazy, but I began to walk back and forth in the room and imagine my whole conversations with her, where I would lodge her, what would transpire later, etc, etc.

July 31

Have been reading Tolstoy. Here is the relationship about the three followers of Gogolian prose; Turgenev depicts the exterior, Dostoevsky analyzes the sick soul, Tolstoy the healthy one. If only these three were combined into one!

November 25

By chance I was at the university during the student disorders. I got interested and asked question, but in such detail that apparently they took me for a spy — espion.

December 11

For half a year I’ve done almost nothing for myself, not for poetry, nor even for the university. Now I am being resurrected.

January 8

I roam the streets. There is a secret beauty in the way the churches disrupt the cold regularity of the boulevards. Petersburg women are more distinctive than Moscow women. Here there is a special style, a special chic, which we don’t have.

March 11

Life is rather bitter just now. Little faith in myself, no goals, the past dark. Unpleasant clashes at the university. Guerrier said: “I’ve seen your new book. Perhaps that is enough to call yourself a poet, but it is not enough to make you a historian…”



“Boy Who Cried Thunder” – Daniel Wilson (mp3)

In Which We Build Up A Bit Of Steam

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to or by dropping us a note at our tumblr.


My girlfriend of a few months Vanessa is a very sweet-smelling person. She takes a lot of time and pride in her appearance and I for one think she looks fantastic.

Recently we have begun experimenting with a few new sexual positions, and I have noticed than I can detect a strong smell coming from that region.

It is difficult to know exactly what I am smelling, but it is troubling to continue to completion with the everpresent odor. Is there any way to tell her about this, or is sex like the puppies do pretty much not in my future?

Andy G.

Dear Andy,

Congratulations. A woman has permitted you to enter into the sphere of her intimacy. You must be very proud. Handling any noxious smell coming from your partner is a tricky business. If you rectify the situation, you are probably just making it easier for him or her to sex other people.

If you really want to fix this specific problem, you are going to have to get her to notice the smell. So encourage her to bring a strap-on into your love making, and prepare for life as a bottom. No, you don’t want to do that? Just maybe, neither does she.



I met my boyfriend Lincoln two years ago through mutual friends. He is kind, caring and very attentive. We have a lot of fun when we are together.

A friend of Lincoln has encouraged him to get involved with his church. I saw nothing wrong with this but recently he encouraged Linc to attend a singles event so he could meet a fellow Christian. This surprised me, because even though I do not attend church on a weekly basis, I do consider myself a Christian.

I kind of blew up at Lincoln when I found out about this, which was maybe not the best move. Certain words were thrown around; I may have claimed to be a god. I don’t want to stop him from being involved in the church, but what if this kind of stuff keeps happening?

Adeline P.

Dear Adeline,

Complaining about Lincoln’s friend or dissing his new church is only going to start trouble. You need find out what the opiate of the masses is in this case, and give him a similar but different experience. Has he tried molly or cocaine?

A man needs something else in his life. For George Stephanopolous, it was his local salon. For Tony Hawk, it was his beautiful children. For Steve Jobs, it was being a total asshole to everyone he knew. Simply replace his faith in our Lord with a greater faith. I hear The Wire was just remastered in high definition. Also, that Tea Leoni show would convince anyone that there is no God.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen. Access This Recording’s mobile site at

“But It’s Hard To” – Tigers on Trains (mp3)

“Stalking My Pulse” – Tigers on Trains (mp3)

In Which Alan Turing Comes Across As Gay In Name Only

Sweetums and Gonzo the Great


The Imitation Game
dir. Morten Tyldum
114 minutes

The most important thing about telling the life story of any gay man on film is to never show a penis. Alan Turing presumably had a penis, but we will never really know. Benedict Cumberbatch refused to do full frontal in his role as Turing in The Imitation Game, causing the film’s most important scene – the one where he penetrates a code-breaking computer he has named Christopher with the precision head of his Dr. Pepper – to be left on the cutting room floor.

Instead of showing Turing’s relationships with men as an adult, The Imitation Game settles for depicting an innocent crush he had on a classmate as a boy. When the object of his affection drops dead of tuberculosis, Turing is briefly upset. Gay relationships are still only palatable if they are completely unrequited, making The Imitation Game the most cowardly biopic in history.

After his codebreaking days in World War II ended, Turing cruised a local bar for a hot bang. This would be a fascinating moment to depict on film, but instead all the exciting parts of The Imitation Game happen offscreen or in montage. The movie has about as much respect for its subject as Angelina Jolie does for the Japanese.

Cumberbatch’s spastic overacting reaches a nadir here. The newly engaged actor is fun to watch at times, particularly when he is shaking and crying as he jogs around the small English village that serves as The Imitation Game‘s main set. Director Morten Tyldum falls on his face by never giving him much to do – Benedict even wears the same fucking outfit for the duration.

Although the period sets are great fun – U-boats steaming through the water, children donning gas masks after the bombing of London – the larger costume design of The Imitation Game is tragically boring, along with pretty much everything else in it.

We never even see Turing with his shirt off: he’s one of the good, non-threatening homosexuals, you see. After a police officer terms Turing a “poofter”, a man in the audience loudly whispered to his wife, “He’s a gay” so that she would funderstand the rest of the movie.

Despite his devotion to never being with a woman in that way, Turing asks Joan (Keira Knightley) to marry him so she can help him crack the German code machine and finish the Nazis off. Because her teeth look like hot garbage and she has little in the way of other options, she agrees. He ties up a piece of twine and presents it to her as a ring. Even though he never kisses or touches Keira, her knowledge of his sexuality never goes beyond, “Alan’s a bit strange.”

Turing’s death was quite poetic, but The Imitation Game does not show that part of Alan’s story either. Instead it focuses on a dogshit voiceover; by the end the film is scrolling text across the screen that reads, “Today, we call them computers,” treating its audience as a bunch of six year olds. The Imitation Game seems intent on driving anything the slightest bit controversial or unflattering out of the man’s story, so much so that I feel I will never know whether or not Alan is a top or a bottom.

As to what actually constituted Alan Turing’s genius, The Imitation Game never seems overly concerned with that. It seems he was very good at crossword puzzles. He puts one in a newspaper in order to attract codebreakers, which is how Knightley comes into his life originally. (She has never met a dentist, at least not one she likes.) Those revolting dark eyebrows make her look slightly insane. They should never have allowed Keira to appear onscreen looking like Sweetums from the Muppets.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

In Which We Refused To Maintain An Attachment

Letter to the Father


I realize now that all that time he wanted me. And that’s really hard for me to say, because I never think anyone wants me.

I see people I want everywhere, on the train, in a café, at a bar, riding their bikes down the street craning their necks to check for oncoming traffic (I love necks. I run my fingers down the backs of necks, bite into them, watch the little hairs standing up.) I stare at these objects of lust, hoping they’ll stare back with a look in their eyes that says, “I want you too. I want you so bad, I dream about you.”

But it never happens. They remain preoccupied with their phones, coffees, beers and bikes and don’t even notice me staring. So it is only after years of reflection that I am able to state that what he wanted was me. For so long, I couldn’t believe someone like him would even look at me in that light. Or I thought that only happened to other girls, those self-assured femme fatales or whatever. But maybe that’s what got him going, my naiveté, my lack of prowess, my obliviousness to his desire. Maybe he liked that I was delicate, that if he lay me down I might shatter. Maybe, just maybe, he really did care. But how many girls have fallen for that. How many had fallen for that.

I remember the second class I had with him. I don’t remember the first. I think we just went over the necessary formalities. Grades, deadlines, dates and downloadable resources. The humdrum admin of academic life. Later, he talked about the constitution. I didn’t know Australia had a constitution so I guess that’s why it stuck in my mind. During the second class, he stated the specifics. He talked about indigenous law and land rights. I had a head full of questions. How could the foundational legal system result in one group getting everything of value while the other was stuck with arid land? After the lecture I approached the front to ask him what would require a long and complex to answer. Before he tried, he asked my name. “Ruby.” He said, turning it over and over on his tongue. “Ruby. That suits you.” He began to answer, but realizing the time – about 9:30 – suggested I come back the next day during his office hours.

I had a full time job and was trying to complete a Master’s degree with a full-time load of three evening classes and countless assignments and group projects. There was little chance of me making it up the hill to the university during his office hours. It was almost impossible to finish all my teaching paperwork in time to be a student in his class. I was wrecked from the insomnia. I would lie awake at night, unable to sleep, my brain so full and churning. Night after night. I would doze off sometime before dawn and, an hour or two later, rise to splash cold water on my face.

In his third class, I fell asleep. Not a deep, head down on desk, faint snores emitting kind of sleep. I was listening intently, and then I just drifted away. When I came back to the room, I saw him staring at me and I felt embarrassed. When he’d finished the lecture I walked down the front to apologize. I explained that I was an insomniac and he said he was an insomniac too. He hadn’t slept properly in over ten years, he crept downstairs after his wife was asleep and read, watched movies, went online. He mentioned his cellphone was always on and he would always answer.

“Are you in theater as well?” he asked.

“As well as…?” I asked.

“As well as your parents,” was his response.

“H-h-how did you know my parents were in the theater?” I stammered.

“I googled you.” And then, seeing my expression of surprise, he added, “I do it to all my students,” as though to put me at ease.

I thought it was strange, but not suspicious. Not then. Besides, I had other worries occupying my brain. The lack of sleep was dangerously altering my work mode, my position at my school at come up for review. Teaching jobs are not good for insomniacs anyway, the requirement to be switched on and lucid at all times, the expectation to be charming. I was close to flunking one of my evening classes and I didn’t care about the other. I began to seriously question if an advanced degree was going to help me. I had borrowed thousands of dollars in the hope of escaping teaching for a “career” which was such a vague concept at the time it seemed laughable.

Still, something continued to draw me to his law lectures. There was a formula, and at the time my brain required stability. The case studies were engrossing. Copyright law intrigued me. I was set on writing my final project on sampling in hip-hop. He was very supportive, finding book and journal titles for me in his spare time.

During his lectures, he kept his eye on me, making sure I was awake, enjoying seeing that I was fully engaged. Afterwards we would go straight to his tutorial, where he took relish in repeating my name. “And what do you think, Ruby?” He’d ask in front of all the other students, not caring that he said my name the most. “Surely Ruby has some thoughts on this.” And he’d catch my eye and smile. The day of his sixth lecture I took off from work. I had an appointment with the university counselor who advised me to drop two of my classes. The workload was too much for my fragile, sleepless body, my fragile, sleep-deprived mind. “You should keep going to one of your classes,” He said, “It’s very important that you maintain an attachment to the university. Or you may fall into the abyss.” I weighed up the options. I felt I could drop the film module, I felt it would hardly be relevant to my vague future career. Besides, the instructor hadn’t seen one film I’d describe as decent. That left Public Relations, where I had a 100 percent pass rate, but could not stomach the thought of another group project on how to minimize a media disaster for major oil companies accused of spills. I wanted to keep going with Law, but I was so far behind. The counselor advised me to take the easier option.

I went to his sixth lecture anyway, and afterwards made my way to the front, one last time. His face sank: “Are you not enjoying my lectures? It can be a bit of a boring subject at times, but I do my best to make you laugh.” I tried to smile.

“I love your lectures” I said. “But we’ve only completed 10% of the final grade. I’m sinking and I’m fairly sure I’m going to fail.” He said I was one of the smartest students in the class and with a little help would pass easily, with merit, even. He said we should talk about it, outside of the confines of the classroom. He took out his business card and wrote his cellphone and personal e-mail address on the back. “Don’t bother with my office line,” he said. “I rarely answer it. Try my cell. And remember you can call anytime. I’m awake through the night.” He gave me a smile that seemed nervous, rather than suggestive, but if it had been the opposite I wouldn’t have noticed. Sleep deprivation is a strange hallucinogen; I walked around with a veil over my eyes, never knowing if what was happening was actually happening.

I sent him a message that read, “Ruby”, and he replied with a smiley face. We agreed to go for a coffee the following day. I didn’t go to his seventh lecture, or eighth, or ninth. The tenth lecture was the final one, and there was supposed to be a party after, but I wasn’t there. I had reached a stage where words on a page no longer sat neatly next to each other. I had attempted to search the library database for articles but drowned in a sea of titles that hurt my eyes. I finished 75 percent of my final Public Relations grade and stopped going to classes after that.

I got a one-year grace period from the department, one year to pull my act together and re-enroll. But a year later, I had abandoned this project all together, turned my back on my accumulated debt, my half complete degree, the school where I hated teaching anyway. I moved to New York City, had a string of strange part time jobs, made new friends, began to sleep. He was all but forgotten. Even now, I can barely remember what he looked like. What his voice sounded like. How his inelegant accent butchered the two syllables of my name.

Years later, a scandal slash publicity stunt exploded over every social media outlet. A Toronto lecturer professed his undying allegiance to great male authors. All the sexual radicalism he needed could be found in books written by men. The most sexually explicit novel to garner his praise was The Dying Animal, which naturally piqued my curiosity. A condensed version told the story of a 62-year-old male professor who knows exactly how to seduce his 24-year-old student, having done it successfully countless times before. I didn’t suddenly view my own lecturer as a predator, but the blinders fell from my eyes. He was not some lame séducteur falling on every female that walked through his door.

But he had wanted me. He had attempted to solidify his presence in my life by offering me the fatherly support I had been missing for the previous ten years. He had wanted to take care of me.

I arrived at the café late, and he had already found a table. He stood up when I arrived, and kissed me on the cheek. I had been advised by my doctor not to consume alcohol or caffeine and so I ordered a chamomile tea. He ordered a glass of wine. I told him more about my research topic, the articles I’d read, the cases studies that related to my thesis. He asked me about my family, where I grew up, my plans for the future. As I spoke, his eyes bore into me; his toes touched mine under the table. I grew distressed, thinking of how much money I already owed the university, how I may have been about to lose my job, how impossible the idea of producing 5,000 coherent words on copyright law seemed. He placed his hand over mine, and it stayed there until it was time to leave. His fingers stroked the back of my hand. I don’t know why I didn’t pull my hand away.

The café was closing. He had office hours, I had decisions to make. The last words he spoke to me were, “I’m here for you, Ruby. Anytime. For anything.”

I never saw him again.

Ruby Brunton is a contributor to This Recording. This is her first appearance in these pages. She is a New Zealand-raised, NYC-based poet, writer and performer. You can find her twitter here and tumblr here.

Sketches by Tracey Emin.

“Relax” – Trees (mp3)

“Who Do You Think You Are” – Trees (mp3)

the detailals

In Which We Can Only Hope For A Good One

Miss You


× The time will never be right for a family vacation.

× It’s been years, nearer to a decade, since the last one.

× Somehow, plans for one are hatched.

× By way of Reply All, one family member will threaten to withdraw from the trip.

× It will happen more than once.

× Compromises are remarkably easy.

× Keep in mind, the art of bargaining with empty threats can often appear like a compromise.

× Once the tickets are booked, doubts about a family vacation are directly proportionate to an increasing yet delicate sense of anticipation.

× This type of anticipation is expressed through practical (but thoughtful) text messages.

× Some examples include: “thinkin of buying one of those 360 degree spinner wheel suitcases. thoughts?” Or, “Have you seen how hot it’s gonna be!?”

× Or (attached with a picture of your passport and approved travel visa) the words: “I win.”

× Bottom line: “The youngest” will never grow out of wanting to be “first.”

× Family vacations provoke immediate regression.

× Reverting to childhood habits is embarrassingly easy.

× For instance, you will pack little, expecting to borrow shampoo, toothpaste, and mosquito repellent from your parents.

× Clothes, from your older brother.

× Coveting an older sibling’s t-shirts is an irrefutable fact of life.

× Book choice, on the other hand, requires much deliberation.

× Tip! Pack one re-read. Two brand new books (your choice). And one recommendation/gift (someone else’s choice.)

×Also suggested: print and pack a few longreads that you’ve recently read and enjoyed and want to share with your family.

× On the way to the airport, you’re unexpectedly charmed by the idea of this trip.

× Following a series of delayed flights, bad food, and interrupted sleep, spotting your parent’s face at the airport in Mumbai, shouting your name from a crowd, feels like a hallucination.

× A hallucination immediately made real by comments on how tired you look.

× Or how thin your face has become.

× Or how your jacket sleeve has a hole.

× It takes a couple days, give or take, for parents to adjust to being around their kids who are no longer kids.

× Stuff gets said that isn’t meant to hurt.

× More often than not a parent forgets that you exist in a world where you work and pay rent, and get angry and sad, and have your heart broken and mended, broken and mended.

× Still, that initial hug will briefly dissolve all that currently feels unwieldy in your life.

× You will spend the rest of the vacation dodging all topics related to what is feeling unwieldy in your life.

× Avoid deflecting to your sibling’s life.

× Just dodge.

× Dodge. Dodge. Dodge.

× Until that one afternoon, a very sunny one where your skin feels warmed from within and everyone is off doing his or her thing, and you suddenly feel compelled to put down your book and talk to someone.

× Less the actual conversation, but the desire to speak candidly and kindly, is the vacation’s sweet spot.

× Similar examples: Drinks at the hotel bar with your brother on your father’s tab. A wedding reception at the hotel keeps you both distracted enough to not get on each other’s nerves.

× Or, watching as a parent delights in a snack he or she hasn’t delighted in in years.

× Better yet; if you find the snack particularly gross.

× And a personal favorite: The four of you walking in a narrow line. (The market was too crowded and loud to walk and talk side by side.)

× Inevitably, when a family is forced to walk in a line, the eldest member always appears the youngest.

× At a spice plantation, biting into a peppercorn and burning your tongue, you are more present than you have been in a very long time.

× Parents look older the more present one feels.

× But their happiness looks freer too.

× E-mailing a friend frequently — as frequently as possible that is — is essential.

× But just one friend.

× Choose someone who won’t expect elaborate details about the trip, but a continued conversation from before you left.

× E-mails concerning the vacation, unless funny, are rarely enjoyable to read or to write.

× Choose a friend who you’ve recently felt emotionally near to.

× One that your parents do not know or have the knowledge to ask about.

× These emails will feel secret and with ten hours separating the two of you, your good mornings will be her good nights. Her insomnia will feel like company.

× She will be, for the next two weeks, that side of you which is witness to yourself. An orbit.

× Long car rides through windy mountaintop roads in Kerala will make you devastatingly nauseous.

× Nausea is the most regressive sensation, ever. All you want is parents, and luckily, they are there!

× Offering to sit in the middle is both a literal and figurative way of hoping to take up the least amount of space.

× Missing an ex when travelling with family is expected.

× Missing an ex’s body, especially when sleeping in hotel sheets, will feel cruel and comforting, both.

× An “I miss you” e-mail will be sent and regretted.

× Nostalgia becomes unusually relevant on family vacations.

× One morning, late in the trip, a big fight will push someone to his or her limit.

× Your stepmom will walk away from breakfast having not eaten a bite.

× Do not follow her.

× Irritability levels are higher than usual when one isn’t accustomed to eating three meals a day with a father, a brother, and a stepmother.

× It’s to be expected.

× Out of the blue, hugging your brother seems vital.

× He does not hug back.

× It looks like this.

× You will spot and study other families also vacationing.

× All fathers have Beckett legs.

× Grown-up siblings speak in a code they themselves are trying to decipher.

× Everyone dresses down and wears hats.

× Other families seem quieter than yours. Laugh louder sure, but are by some means quieter.

× If you’re not someone who naps, don’t be surprised if you do on a family vacation.

× Activities are tiring.

× Tours are exhausting.

× So rarely do you do or attend things that aren’t urgently interesting to you.

× Parents enjoy the company of their adult children, remembering them as babies.

× Adult children are suddenly moved to sit very close to their parents.

× Or to knock on their hotel room doors for no reason.

× To sit on the edge of their bed and watch as your stepmother chooses from a very tiny box, which earrings she will wear.

× Vacation photographs:

× Hope for a good one.

× Anticipate terrible ones.

× On the last day, take slow and steadied bites at breakfast. Have seconds.

× Read a newspaper.

× Go for a walk with your brother.

× After a long journey home, it’s cold in New York and nobody is there to greet you.

× But you turn your phone’s data on again and a slew of text messages pop up.

× Pop. Pop. Pop.

× Text your roommate: “Shady’s back.”

× In the cab ride home, you send a quick email to your family. “Landed! Love you.”

× You send another one: “Home first!”

Durga Chew-Bose is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

“Echoes” – Phoenix Foundation (mp3)

“All Comes Back” – Phoenix Foundation (mp3)

In Which This Must Not Be The Place


Panic Room


The One I Love
director Charlie McDowell
91 minutes

Every relationship has its house rules: put the toilet lid down, don’t cheat, listen to what I have to say before telling me what I should do. But Ethan (Mark Duplass) has broken the big one, so he and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) visit a therapist to see if they can salvage their marriage.

Call me when you get there, don’t make fun of me in front of your friends, make yourself more emotionally available.

Ethan and Sophie try so hard it’s painful to watch. Attempting to recapture the magic of their early courtship, they break into a stranger’s yard in the wee hours and jump into the pool, failing to understand that what thrilled them early on wasn’t the act itself but performing it with someone attractive they didn’t yet know.

When his initial methods fail, the therapist suggests a new approach: the couple should escape for the weekend to a remote retreat, a huge, beautiful house on lush grounds complete with a guest cottage.

Pick up your socks, pick up some milk, will you, honey can you pick up some beer?

Taking a trip: like telling the truth or trying a new hobby, it’s one of the great relationship rejuvenators that can also double as a death knell. At first, Ethan and Sophie bask in the opulence of their getaway: they poke their head in magazine-perfect rooms, begin to laugh, explore the guest house, open a bottle of wine. The film’s mood — earlier dominated by discord, deep shadows, and disconnected dialogue — lightens. Ethan fires up a joint and they pass it back and forth. Somebody, we sense, is about to get lucky.

And somebody does. But in the morning, Ethan has no memory of their encounter.

We immediately cry “Drugs!”, of course, but McDowell’s film takes a refreshing turn for the weird and ends up revealing more about the rules within a relationship than another rote story about a difficult relationship could.

Slowly, Ethan and Sophie realize that they’re not alone at their retreat — in fact, another Ethan and Sophie live in the guest house, which only one of them can enter at a time. Mostly identical, these doppelgangers embody aspects of Ethan and Sophie’s personalities that have fallen by the wayside the longer they’ve been together. Sophie becomes enamored with faux Ethan, while real Ethan’s suspicions grow and fake Sophie cooks bacon.


In every relationship, an (unconsciously) agreed-upon dynamic guides the couple’s interactions, and the longer the relationship lasts, the more this dynamic cements and resists change. Ethan and Sophie remember the wildness of their early days because these rules didn’t yet exist: they “did Ecstasy at Lollapalooza” and jumped into strangers’ pools. Ironically, of course, the very freedom to be wild and oneself at the beginning of a relationship is what determines one’s role in the relationship later on, a role that’s very difficult to break out of — unless, of course, you meet someone new.

Ethan cheated on Sophie — it’s the whole reason they’re in therapy, after all — and now Sophie cheats on Ethan with his shadow, a foil that apologizes for all the wrong he’s ever done and wants to be as close to her as possible. This allows Sophie to see herself as a generous and forgiving spouse, which, ironically, fake Sophie also embodies — the doppelganger is so accommodating and domestic she’s basically a transplant from the 1950s.


Moss and Duplass deftly impersonate both the classically boring, married couple that dresses in neutral tones and goes for jogs around the property, as well as the doppelganger duo. It’s especially easy to imagine Moss as a blonde and icy cool Hitchcock heroine, which adds even more interest to her character as the film dives deeper into fantasy.

McDowell doesn’t draw any conclusions, and by the end it’s hard to tell the difference between what’s real and what’s false. Ultimately, the film’s greatest success lies in the subtle suggestion that Ethan and Sophie were in fact in a better place at the beginning of the film than at the end. It’s better to build a safe atmosphere in which to be uncomfortable with your partner, than one that is comfortable but unsafe.

Kara VanderBijl is the managing editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She last wrote in these pages about Outlander. She tumbls here and twitters here. You can subscribe to her letters here.