In Which We Attempt To Remove Ourselves From The Situation

pearlsrtrkt

When We Finished

by TRACY WAN

The caveat is that the feeding hand gets bitten, but no one warns against the bitten hand that keeps on feeding. It’s a process I was largely unfamiliar with, having never been the type to linger, having built up immunity against the very idea. Most of what we think of as virtuous — patience, tolerance, forgiveness — depends on stasis. To forgive, you have to stay. And I’ve always despised still life: a shark’s death.

But it’s almost June and the air is intimate, pressing tightly to skin. When your body temperature approximates that of the breeze, there are few movements that feel necessary. Of those that do, few are sharp; everything is covered in a sleepy gauze. If we close our eyes, it’ll be morning again.

In summer mistakes don’t feel real. Everything is equal parts possible and impossible; attainable without consequence, and forgettable in the same way. One day I returned home from the lake with a mild sunstroke, and found out he was sleeping with a girl — much in the same way he had been sleeping with me for the past two years. Intimate, pressing tightly to skin. She was the one who told me.

I laughed to myself, and wondered why I was laughing. Was it because I did not expect this life? Was it that I knew this would happen? Nothing made sense except the fact that I had to leave, be in a space that was not decorated by his clothes, a space in which I could degenerate and reconstitute as someone who would survive this. I grabbed a bottle of whiskey, put on lipstick.

Around midnight I came home and told him to come over. I wanted to throw everything he owned out of my window but couldn’t; I wanted to slap him, but held his face in my hands. He cried while picking up his things, but it was then three a.m. and I wasn’t feeling cruel, just devastated. It is almost impossible to retain anger in its purest form; it takes years to be able to speak the body language we covet. The hand that was bitten keeps on feeding.

When he asked me why I let him stay, I replied: to remember that we once gave to each other. He cried more. I kissed him – salty. In the tar dark he whispered I’m sorry and I said treat my body like it’s yours for the last time. He misheard: Like the girl I was with last time? I don’t want that. But he did. This was the proof. This was the fruit.

I cried when we finished, without moving, the tears falling ripe onto his face. It pooled with his into a dark puddle across my pillowcase. We slept with his knees folded into the small of my own: a first. I shifted away upon wakening.

+

It takes a rare degree of mastery to untie knots with the same grace and speed at which you secure them. This is because the knot is usually what we desire, far more than its dissolution: in shoelaces, ties, most boating situations. It’s a skill, something to learn as a child and practice frequently. Knotted, things stay together, and they do not part lest we want them to. The sheer numbers of this life dictate that we are more often apart than we are together; only endeavour, and will, bring people to each other. They separate effortlessly.

In life we “tie the knot” happily, willingly, but when the relationship nears its end, these bonds “dissolve” and “fall apart” — responding to a force that is bigger than us, or so it would seem. We rope ourselves in when it’s good, but are cast away by circumstance when it’s not. I watch this happen weekly. “Things just didn’t work out.” “I don’t know where it went wrong.” “We did all we could.” This was not a narrative that I was going to accept for myself.

+

As my relationship ended, the most common advice I received was to make a clean cut of it. In other words, violently pull yourself away and tend to the wound later — at home, in the company of friends, sad music, dairy products. This did not appeal to me for several reasons. For one, sad music played the role of any music in my life, which was going to be unremarkable. Lactose intolerant, I also found french fries to be a far inferior wallowing food than ice cream. As for friends — I didn’t believe in breaking up in their company, since I didn’t really fall in love in their company. Intimacy where intimacy was due.

When you make a clean cut, the sacrifice is always a part of yourself. I did not want to emerge from this with a phantom limb — after all, one with a proclivity for devastating music should not be expected to recuperate quickly. The alternative, I reasoned, would be a gradual, self-dictated breakup; so that by slowly slipping out, I could loosen the grasp in time to make it out unblemished. This’ll be like kicking a caffeine habit, I thought,  the dynamics of which I was painfully familiar with. If a relationship is formed through an accretion of time with one another, then it can be taken apart in the same way.

not to be pouoeof

+

Hours before the discovery that led to our dissolution, I had booked tickets for us to Montreal — where he lived, and where I was from. We were going to spend two weeks together before I began my internship in Toronto. Those two weeks were allocated to moments we were going to share — brunch at a favourite restaurant where the owner knew us by name, trips to the mountain at sunset, lying awake in a bed that I left him when I moved. When all that became no longer viable, I stared at the tickets until my eyes lost focus. Time seems to fall to half its rhythm in solitary. What was I going to do?

And, true to the constitution of anyone struggling to kick an established habit, I said ‘fuck it’ and went anyway. If choosing the structure of this breakup was something I wanted for myself, I wasn’t going to give up two weeks in my favorite place in the world — even though it had shifted during my own earthquake.

+

When the métro slowed to a halt at my best friend’s subway stop, he reached over to grab me, and kissed me on the cheek. We had spent the previous six hours fluctuating between touching and not touching each other, unsure of its degree of consequence and regret. In many ways, the end of a relationship (should you opt for the one I did) mirrors its beginning: every decision seems more crucial and paralysing than the last, every gesture ripe, almost fermented, with meaning. The first night we met, at the same subway station, I leaned over to kiss his cheek, and his mouth had met mine. He was nervous, the same way I am nervous at this point in time, two years later. This time, I wasn’t going to kiss him. This time, I didn’t want to get closer.

“I’ll call you every day,” he said — in the way that boys do, revealing, without a doubt, that they did not believe the rules of the universe applied to them — “You can pick up whenever you’re ready. I want to know what your days are like and how you are. Every day. I love you.” It seems hypocritical, but isn’t, in the same way that hurting yourself does not imply a death wish. Advocates of clean cuts hate this. They want to throttle him, pull him from sight. I just wanted to touch his face, the very instinct that I’ve felt since the day we met.

I took a step back.

“I’m going to go. Before this gets complicated, you know?”

Tracy Wan is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Montreal. She twitters here. You can find her website here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

legion crime

“Song on the Radio”  – Amelia Curran (mp3)

“I Am The Night” – Amelia Curran (mp3)

In Which We Make A Convincing French Woman

Blame the Mob

by ELIZABETH BARBEE

The Hundred-Foot Journey
dir. Lasse Hallstrom
122 minutes

I ate a microwavable chicken fried steak, several under baked cookies, and a couple handfuls of reduced fat Cheez-Its while watching The Hundred-Foot Journey. My meal felt ironic and a little perverse, because this movie is a two hour ode to good food.

It opens in Mumbai, where Hassan’s family has owned a popular restaurant for generations. His mother, the head of the kitchen, is superstitious and takes a mystical approach to cooking. She says obnoxious, new-agey things like, “To cook you must kill. You cook to make ghosts.” While this sentiment leaves me squeamish, it only whets Hassan’s appetite. He learns to prepare dishes using curry, cardamom, and sea urchin. He develops a fetishistic relationship with the last ingredient, one that haunts him throughout the film.

When he is in his early-twenties and terribly handsome, the restaurant, and the sea urchins contained within it, is destroyed by an angry, fire-wielding mob. The source of the rabble’s wrath is unclear even to the protagonist. “There was an election of some kind,” Hassan offers in way of explanation. “And there was a winner, and there was a loser.” He leaves it at that. Everyone escapes the flames but his mother, and even she lives on in spirit. When Hassan’s father later mutters to himself in Hindi, it doesn’t mean we need to turn up the volume (I tried that) it means he’s communing with his dead wife.

Her influence leads the family to make a series of terrible decisions. They move to England and then France, where they purchase an abandoned building just a hundred feet away from Helen Mirren. She plays Madame Mallory, a raging bitch and the proprietor of a Michelin starred restaurant that operates more like a boarding school. All the chefs seem to live on site, and their artistic impulses are frequently stifled by their rigidly traditional boss.

Mirren makes a convincing French woman. Her accent slips at times, but she has the stereotypes down. She walks with her nose stuck in the air, wears lots of scarves, and believes no other culture is worthy of existing.

When Hassan’s father decides to convert the abandoned building into an Indian restaurant, she is at equal turns disgusted and threatened. Why she thinks people craving quiche will suddenly decide they’re in the mood for Tikka Masala is beyond me, but I don’t have a fickle palate.

Her fear of losing business turns out to be baseless (obviously). Maison Mumbai is empty the night of its opening, and Hassan’s family essentially pimps themselves out to get customers. The father changes into his most elaborate turban and instructs his daughter to stand on the side of the road so passing cars can see how pretty she looks in her sari. You can hear Edward Said groan in the background. This isn’t the only instance of Orientalism in the film, not by a long shot. Though the French characters usually walk in silence, sitars follow Hassan’s family everywhere they go.

The movie is rated PG, but it is highly sensual. Every bite (and there are lots of bites) is accompanied by an orgasmic sigh. Women’s mouths are a camera favorite. Hassan falls in love with one of Madame Mallory’s employees, a French girl named Marguerite, presumably because she picks her own mushrooms and chews with her eyes closed. Marguerite is frustratingly coquettish. She rejects Hassan’s advances, but gifts him suggestive recipes. “Mix until silky to the touch,” one instructs. “Pour into a pan. Spread your cherries over the top and bake until the skewer inserted into the batter comes out clean.”

Though this is clearly a metaphor for sex, she doesn’t let Hassan touch her until he starts wearing blazers and working at a Parisian restaurant that is more science lab than brasserie. The blazers are hot, as is the new gig, but Hassan was a babe from day one. I suspect Marguerite has some deep seeded childhood issues that prevent her from accepting love. What she lacks in openness she makes up for in Anthropologie dresses. Practically every scene features a new one: some plaid, some lace – all ethereal, gorgeous, and much more expensive than they appear.

It’s no surprise this movie was produced by Oprah Winfrey. Her aesthetic is everywhere. I’m familiar with Oprah’s taste, because my mom subscribes to her magazine, which I flip through every time I visit. The pages are always filled with brightly colored images and stories that are inspiring without being controversial. The Hundred-Foot Journey is similarly luminous and nonthreatening.

I had an ex-boyfriend who refused to watch movies unless they were rated PG-13 or higher. He said sex and violence contributed significantly to his enjoyment of a film. I was initially horrified by this reveal. “What kind of freak am I dating,” I thought. But when I ran through the list of the movies I love most, they were all a little scandalous, a little gritty. There is something unsettling about a movie for adults that ignores, or in this case talks around, some of the most important facets of adulthood. The Hundred-Foot Journey wasn’t bad, but I might have enjoyed it more if an F bomb had been dropped or Marguerite and Hassan had consummated their love. That’s just the kind of depraved individual I am.

Elizabeth Barbee is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Dallas. She last wrote in these pages about an apartment. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

“The Damned Atlantic” – David Ford (mp3)

“The Way The Heart Breaks” – David Ford (mp3)


In Which They Recently Met Through Mutual Friends

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 justhardtosay@gmail.com or by dropping us a note at our tumblr.

Hi,

I recently met a woman through some mutual friends. Dee is a social worker who is very devoted to the people she helps get on their feet. She is great at her job.

Frequently, our dates or hangouts are postponed because things come up unexpectedly. Dee doesn’t have a lot of faith in the people with which she works, so she feels like she has to handle these things herself. I try to accept that I am not always going to be her number one priority, but I am starting to worry it might be this way forever. She is apologetic and feels really guilty when she cancels the plans, and I try not to make things worse. I don’t feel comfortable bringing it up to her since we have only been dating for four months. Should I give up now, or is it possible things will change in the future?

Henry P.

Dear Henri,

Dee probably is balancing a lot of things on her plate at one time, and since she deals with people who are used to letting her down and feeling bad about it, she is reflexively adopting their behavior. A good psychologist could probably fix her in a month or two.

We don’t have that kind of time. It seems like she likes you because you are the one person she can disappoint, which means you may be very special to Dee. The irony seems to be lost on you.

Your instinct to wait until further in the relationship to make this an issue seems sound. By six months she will have bonded to you further, and you can influence her decision-making without her openly wondering where you got the nerve to tell her what to do. Four months in, you’re just another aspect of the patriarchy holding her back.

Hi,

Last year for Christmas our friend Jaina gave all of us very expensive presents, including jewelry and clothing. It was something of a surprise, but she now can afford to give more lavish gifts. Since it was unexpected last year, it wasn’t really reasonable that we would have such expensive gifts for her.

This year she seems to be planning on making a big deal out of the Christmas gifts again. None of us either want or in some cases are not able to give gifts of commensurate value. Speaking for myself, I feel uncomfortable accepting them as well. Is there a way to bring this up to Jaina without sounding ungrateful? She has never demanded equal value, although she does bring up what she got us last year quite often.

Allison O.

Dear Allison,

Inform Jaina that you “can’t wait” to give her what you got her, and pass along your present earlier. It is an abstract expressionist drawing of her that makes her look substantially larger and more annoying that she actually is, which from the sounds of it is a whole lot.

What has this Jaina done for you lately, except been an expensive pain-in-the-ass? Find friends who do not celebrate Christmas, and if they give you something for Hannukah, burn it with the flame of a menorah to make your point.

But seriously, proposing a gift system where one person in your group has to give only one gift to another person in your group will likely alleviate this problem. Jaina will probably know this is about her, so when she asks, tell her, “We were on a break!” You deserve better.

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

 

In Which We Wake Up Each Day Knowing We Are Tom Cruise

Sleepyhead

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Before I Go To Sleep
dir. Rowan Joffe
89 minutes

“I don’t think I’m the kind of person who would cheat,” Christine (Nicole Kidman)  says in Before I Go To Sleep. “Do you?” Her therapist, Dr. Michael Nasch (Mark Strong) eyes her suspiciously, sort of like the way a reindeer eyes a sleigh.

Things are already out of sorts. Before I Go To Sleep is set near Greenwich, England, but Nicole Kidman does a weird approximation of a half-American accent for some reason. Christine wakes up every day remembering very little. “You think you’re in your twenties,” her husband (Colin Firth) tells her. “But you’re forty. You’re forty.” He tells her this like eight more times as he mansplains who she is, and again when she’s sitting on the toilet.

Christine’s daily amnesia is supplemented by a video camera she keeps in her drawer, where an earlier version of herself does not want her to trust the husband man sleeping next to her – if he indeed is who he says.


In this new film from director Rowan Joffe, Kidman looks pretty good all things considered. (Marriage to Tom Cruise is the only thing I considered.) They shoot a lot of the movie in a car so as not to emphasize how much taller she is than the men around her. She has always seemed like the kind of person who needed be given lines to say anything.

When Christine starts having feelings for her therapist, she becomes worried that he may be the man who attacked her and caused the memory loss in the first place. He explains that transference is natural, but counter-transference means that he must recuse himself from her case. He does not mouth the words ‘I love you’ but it is implied that for some men, a woman who can easily forget their flaws is something of a virtue.

Strong is a fun performer to watch: no one seems as natural vacillating between various facial expressions. He doesn’t fit a more reserved role of a psychologist falling in love with his patient because his Achilles heel is showing two things: vulnerability and erudition. On the plus side he is as subtle as a mace, which perfectly suits the events of Before I Go To Sleep.

Meanwhile, Christine’s husband Ben (Firth) is perpetually rotating his head so we don’t see the bad side of his face. He plays his part a bit upside down, since when he turns on Christine because she can’t enjoy their relationship, it’s way overdue. No one could stand being forgotten on a daily basis except Adam Sandler, and Christine is far from nice about the difficulties Firth faces in caring for an invalid. She has driven everyone in her life away, to the point where we wonder why she can’t just pretend to remember for a little while.

It turns out that Christine is the kind of person who would cheat. The fact that she in any way caused her own amnesia is basically a gussied-up version of blaming the victim. Whatever life she idealizes instead of the one she has probably seems better because she lost it. (Tom Cruise wakes up each day not knowing who he is, get it?)

The concept that you should never allow yourself to be betrayed twice by the same person is an important principle of self-respect. The repeated shattering of her trust that Christine suffers almost renders her inert, but it is great fun to watch her survive by feeding off her own frenzy. Kidman’s constant glancing everywhere is meant to portray her shaky emotional state, but at times she resembles a spectator at a ping-pong tourney. Her too-short hair, suggesting a recent cut, is always the first betrayal in her life. She does not look the way she feels.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

“You and Me” – The Veronicas (mp3)

“Mad Love” – The Veronicas (mp3)

In Which We Find It Difficult To Write About Him Not To Him

Eight Percent

by CEILIDH BARLOW CASH

My office is on the first floor, fourth window in from the left. I have an aloe plant in the window that I watered for the first time in weeks today. I wasn’t intentionally neglecting it, I think it’s more accurate to say that I was waiting to see if it would eventually wilt and beg for water. It never seemed to change, although I think it’s fair to say that changes of that variety are often imperceptible. That is, it’s not hard to overlook the things start hurting around you if you go fast enough. And as I breeze in and out of this office, riding highs and lows (think weather fronts, pressure systems, wind and rain) I know I sometimes miss the things that aren’t moving as forcefully as I am.

The last few months have been a balancing act between “I have adequate skills and real goals” and “I would like to throw it all out the window to find an apartment in Montreal.” I’m thinking the Mile End, something with enough windows to hold a few more aloe plants, and maybe a cactus. Sometimes I’m not sure I want to be responsible for myself, but I think I could handle watering a few plants through the winter  especially the cactus, which I’m told is a lazy person’s plant. I don’t care. I would arrange them on the sill to admire as a testament to my adult self.

He lived in Montreal for a while too  graduated from the same school my best friend is now attending. I think they would approve of one another, and I would smile coyly knowing each had seen me naked, and approved of that too. That’s the trouble with me these days: I’m not sure how to reconcile the part of me that wants to curl my lip and say I win when someone lusts after me. It’s not a game, but I will play you. I’ve boiled it down (because rationalize would be too strong a word) to animal instinct. I figure I’m about eight percent animal. The kind with docile eyes and fangs that I’ll flash if you look at me the wrong way. Watch out, I bite. That’s usually the way I approach these matters  I’ll smile pretty just so long as you know that I could have your head if I wanted it. I’ve thought about sharpening my nails into claws more than once.

Things didn’t unfold in that way with him though. It all unraveled in the most dangerous and subtle way: with immediate trust. I emerged from a drunken stupor when he first padded towards me, offering a hug and calm eyes. If I was an animal in that moment, I was wounded and sulking on my way home. There was a distinct moment of clarity when I first saw his face, then wrapped my heavy limbs around his and collapsed. He didn’t catch me (that would be too poetic) but I remember looking up to his lips as he said “I would very much like to kiss you.” Yes. Yes, I want to kiss you too. I bit my lip and nodded my head so furiously I’m not sure how he slowed me down enough to catch my mouth.

Mid-kiss, a new character swooped in, screeching and crowing about our matching hair colour, which was either a spectacle or an insult, I couldn’t tell. In those moments, as he lashed out at her and I reined him back in, I decided we were a team. A friend once told me the best way to make friends is to declare that the friendship already exists. I’m not sure it works the same way with lovers, or if I could have just told him: You’re mine. He might have believed me. I wanted him to.

I learned he was an actor. A talented one. One whose act I couldn’t outperform, and so I abandoned mine  the Bio-Medical sciences major who was too sophisticated for medical school, or the poet with a dangerous mouth. These things are all true, but they’re embellished, shiny. Not the things that really matter about me. That’s the thing with actors  they know when you’re acting, too. So I sat in the vulnerability of my particular self, thinking about the definition of serendipity. I decided it wasn’t a pretty enough word for what this felt like.

He was carefully handsome. I remember clearly the pale geography of his shoulders, dappled in the same freckles that dance across my cheeks in July. I think there’s a direct correlation between sunshine and my happiness which you can measure by counting the freckles on my face at any given time. I’m good at math it’s called a linear relationship. But it was October and my freckles, like most other things, felt like they were fading from me.

I slipped on his plaid shirt after I’d taken mine off. It was soft and rolled carefully to the elbows. It fit me well. He began picking up my things as I tossed them on the floor one by one  my scarf, my bra, my watch. I was recklessly losing all important belongings that night  including my phone, a single sock and maybe the idea that I had to protect myself with claws and teeth. Maybe I could sit still and not have to rely on them anymore. Trust, like serendipity, just isn’t a pretty enough word for it.

The rest of the night was still and warm. We slept under hotel sheets that were insincerely soft for how much we paid for the room. He told me the names of his parents, which I was dead-set on knowing, and I told him that I was very particular about my coffee. I admitted that I wasn’t sure if I could survive in Montreal without country roads and large animals. I also admitted that I wanted to go right now because there was no right time to do something that scared the shit out of you. Go now, shoot it all.

The next morning was loud as we tumbled into breakfast alongside ten other hungover twenty-somethings. They’d picked the venue: a classic diner with linoleum tables and ketchup on the table, even at breakfast. I sat between him and a boy with a ponytail who looked startlingly similar to my best friend. It felt like a family affair: ten siblings arguing, negotiating and outlining the merits and pitfalls of eggs benny versus breakfast poutine for a hangover. I ordered French toast. When I discovered he was left-handed I nearly dropped my fork on the table. It was a strange quirk, that every boy I categorically decided I loved was left-handed. If the prevalence of left-handedness is high, I don’t want to know  I like to consider it a rare trait associated with boys who can handle me.

So far I’ve left out that he was in a band. The lead singer of a band who was in town for one night on their tour  which was for charity, I might add. So yes, I may have been a groupie that morning, but I definitely wasn’t the only one. And even so, I didn’t feel like an addendum to his trip. I didn’t feel as though he had sat beside a new girl at breakfast all week.  I felt like I had walked on stage right on cue, as if he and I were expecting each other.

The reality that it was late-October and I was only wearing a thin (albeit fabulously stylish) leather jacket crept up as we left the diner. I’m Canadian, but I am not designed for the cold. The rest of the band wanted to examine the massive church on top of the hill, which they thought was the only interesting thing in this town (they’re wrong, but that’s beside the point). So I left. I could have lingered, but I wanted to leave just as elegantly as I had entered. Lingering is never elegant. He kissed me goodbye, looked at me earnestly and I walked away.

I scampered back to my bed, hazy from the hangover and hoping more sleep would ease his storyline into mine. I wanted to stay very still, not risk another move that would rearrange the potential we’d pushed together in the past twelve hours. I wasn’t sure what it would be, but I didn’t want it to disappear. I’m not very good at staying still though, and I found myself smiling as I washed my hands that night  his phone number on one palm and his email address on the other. He wrote in purple ink. I don’t know if I was smiling because his handwriting was there, or because it wouldn’t be tomorrow. Some things can go away so easily, so unnoticeably. I doubted he would be one of those things.

He hasn’t reappeared in my life since. I bite at my fingertips occasionally to see if I can taste him anymore. I can’t. It hurt for a while, the silence between us that felt void, unexplained and inflating. Not all silences are like that. It still feels absurd that he could waltz into and out of my life so effortlessly, when everything else I do is so deliberate. I’m the kind of girl who intentionally doesn’t water my aloe plant for three weeks to see what happens. Maybe he’s that kind of guy  maybe he’s doing the same thing to me. Maybe he doesn’t even notice that I’m wilting, I’m such a small a plant sitting in the windowsill of his office. Except I doubt he has an office, or that he spends his afternoons staring out the window  first floor, fourth one in from the left  lusting after the sunshine. But I swear I’m not a plant  I’m eight percent animal. And all eight percent of my animal self is still thinking about his flesh between my teeth.

Ceilidh Barlow Cash is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Guelph, Ontario. This is her first appearance in these pages. She tumbls here

Photographs by Amardeep S

“Uncatena” – Sylvan Esso (mp3)

“Coffee” – Sylvan Esso (mp3)

In Which This Constitutes A Troubling Question

What I Do

by MOLLY CAMERON

“So, what do you do?”

This is my most dreaded question in a social setting. And it’s an inevitable one when you’re meeting new people, especially in New York City. After everyone in the group has shared where they live and which train they take and how much that train sucks, we all move on to what we “do.” Most people have simple answers:

“I’m a copy editor.”

“I run a catering business.”

“I teach high school English”

And then it comes around to me and I say something dumb like:

“You mean, where I work?  Or what I do outside of work? Or, like, a combination of both? Because it’s complicated.”

But it’s not, really.  The truth is that I work a mentally exhausting day job and I’m not succeeding on a real, tangible level at the things I pursue outside of my day job and honestly: I don’t know what I “do.” But how do you say that to a group of people you’ve just met at a birthday party?

I’ve tried emphasizing just one thing, hoping that would end the conversation, but it never really works.  I often start with my day job:

“I do customer support for a tech company.”

But then people want to know more about the company and I have to try and sound smart about it.  Or, even worse, in a room full of creatives, I just get a small “oh, cool” with a fake smile and then everyone wanders back to where the beers are, with a mixed look of pity and confusion for me being in such a boring industry.  And I want to chase after them and say “I know!  It feels like a waste of brain activity to me too!” but I also don’t want the panic in my voice to come out too quickly.  But it’s too late and they’re all taking about their new web series or podcast or McSweeney’s article so I swallow and smile and try to live vicariously through them for the next hour.

If I try to emphasize my real passions I’m just as doomed:

“I’m a writer.”

Because we all know the next question.

“Oh cool, what do you write?”

Crap.

“Um, I write a short pieces on websites and stuff but right now I’m really concentrating on blogging.  I’ve got a few Tumblrs. I’m also sort of working on a memoir-ish thing.  Oh, and I do Morning Pages. Have you heard of The Artist’s Way?”

But they’re already backing away towards the beer, desperately trying to make eye contact with someone over my head.  So I smile again and pretend it didn’t happen.

It’s just as bad if I focus on other things:

“I’m a performer.  Mostly comedy stuff.”

Because then, like saying you’re a writer, people want details.

“Oh cool!  Like stand up and stuff?”

“Ummm, yeah, I’ve done stand up before.  Like five or six times.  In my life.”

“Oh.  So you do plays?  Or TV or something?”

“Well… um… I do sketch comedy sometimes.  I use to have a sketch group back in 2011.  Oh, and I did some background work last year!  Do you watch the Investigation Discovery channel?”

And they’re gone.

One of these days I want to tell the real, absolute truth.

“You want to know what I do?  What I really and truly DO?

I ramble in a journal for 30 minutes every morning and I save all the completed books in the hope that someday I might discover a work of genius in their pages.  Or maybe someone else will after I’m dead and I’ll feel fulfilled from the beyond.

I hoard magazines so I can cut them up and make dark and weird collages and birthday cards.

I daydream about the ‘70s music scene, wishing so badly that I could see David Bowie play a Ziggy Stardust show and go to CBGB before it became a John Varvatos.

I imagine what my mom was like at my age and think about how she already had two kids while I still live with two roommates.

I create iTunes playlists for every mood or occasion: wake-up music, concentration music, getting-pumped-to-go-out music, cooking-dinner music, let’s-be-thirteen-right-now music.

I go to hip hop dance classes and fantasize about getting good enough to be a backup dancer for Missy Elliott, whenever she decides to tour again.

I stand in my kitchen and eat chocolate chips out of a shot glass and wonder how the microwave got so gross but I don’t clean it.

I walk around downtown with my boyfriend and we pick out the very old brick houses and try to guess who might have lived there in the 1880s.

I watch that scene in Boogie Nights where they try to rob Alfred Molina just to appreciate the segue from “Sister Christian” to “Jessie’s Girl” and see if the firecrackers still make me jump.  They always do.

I flip through all of my cookbooks and daydream about what I might cook when I decide to spend money on specialty ingredients.

I go to happy hours that last three hours and I drink Jameson and play every Bowie song in the jukebox and laugh with my friends about dumb things we’ve done that day.

I think about what I might be doing right now if I had accepted the offer to train at Circle in the Square in the summer of 2004 instead of getting a job.

I tell embarrassing stories about myself to large groups of people and melt with relief when they laugh.

I sit in coffee shops and tap thoughts like this into my computer to see the white space fill up with words and feel like I’m getting somewhere and accomplishing something.  Now that life isn’t evaluated by good grades or audiences who feel forced to applaud, every period to a sentence is my own tiny award for finishing a coherent thought.  I keep going.  I don’t have a path or a vision board or a career strategy, but I just keep moving in this direction and trusting that something cool will eventually happen.”

That’s what I do.  And if anyone knows how to condense all that into a single, crowd-friendly phrase, please let me know.

Molly Cameron is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. She last wrote in these pages about her hospital stay. You can find her website here.

“Sound & Vision” -  David Bowie (mp3)

In Which On The Inside We Are Ascending Glass

Hotel City

by ALEX M.F. QUICHO

The Hyatt Regency, Manila

When I return to Manila, fleeing winter at the age of twenty-three, we drive the main drag looking for the hotel that I grew up in. Josh is ill from something contracted in a previous paradise. He sweats and shivers in the vehicle’s air-conditioned micro-biome, but I’m selfish, and we continue our hunt. We see: the National Theatre, a few casinos, pink high-rises streaked with soot. The ocean is not the blue it ought to be in this weather, but instead a dirty slurry. Trash blows down the grand boulevard. We do not find the Hyatt. Turns out, it had been torn down years ago. I feel this loss as one would a childhood home, despite its existence  as only abstraction.

My memories of the Hyatt are constructed entirely of other places altogether, conflated with murky recollections of the restaurants, casinos, and other hotels our lives circuited around. All these spaces linked in my child-mind to comprise a city-sprawling Grand Hotel. Seeking images of it now, almost none exist. I find four on a blog and see that they’re incongruous with the Viewmaster slides squinted into by my mind’s eye. The cool marble of the nearby Peninsula Manila, where girls in pearl earrings still slurp glasses of rainbow halo-halo, had been subbed for the Hyatt’s capiz shell screens; the Shangri-la’s emerald carpets for the Hyatt’s polished sandstone floors.

Designed by Leandro Locsin, whose modernist leanings gave linear heft to colonial nostalgia, the Hyatt was nine white stripes punched, parkade-like, into the relentlessly blue sky. Its imposing concrete quietude was percussed by the leafy rustle of the coconut palms that flanked each of its blank sides. The lobby was huge in the way that they don’t make them anymore, its treble-height ceilings gridded widely with tropical hardwoods. Floor-to-ceiling windows let in a richness of equatorial light. Guests would leave their sunglasses on to check in.

Hotels in Manila are the locus of both celebrity and political life. You could say that the health of a city’s hotel culture signifies the health of its wealth. Fran Lebowitz would say, What culture? I would say, What wealth? If anything, the revolving door of politicians, celebrities, and the simpering rich that followed them was indicative of our country’s thriving industry of corruption. It was at the Hyatt where my father would be approached by a certain agency. Not such a big ask, they said, regarding a particularly sensitive task. He closed his eyes and heard the shuffle of millions of pesos being siphoned into dollar bank accounts, typhoon wind through the slat blinds. It was a big ask, he said — and, as far as I know it, refused.

Exiting the elevator, away from the lobby’s sheen, we end up treading the hotel’s neutrality. The ascending warren of closed doors and corridors is an architectural predilection within which anonymity lies latent. Save for the numbers, there’s no telling one room from another. It is privacy by design: secrecy that becomes cliché catalyst to illicit desires. To have been raised in such an environment was to learn, firsthand, the world’s duplicitous nature. How else could one approach it, reared in a place where public lives would slide suddenly into private view?

That brutal home was mine and I nearly destroyed it. I can’t remember the fire, though I’ve certainly imagined it into high relief: two stripped wires crossed in an air-conditioner spontaneously combust, thick black smoke a sudden intruder in my room. Mum, in silk nightie, was nearly too modest to descend the fireman’s ladder. Dad mourned the Stones and Beatles records that had surely melted into an unplayable puddle. It was 1991, and the Hyatt Regency was still the centre of the world. Crowds of beautiful mestizas carried on barely eating the famous tempura niblets, dancing until the club closed at 6am — dawn in the tropics, so regular you could set your watch by it, marked by a periwinkling and then a gilding of the sky. And so it came to be that the fire was barely a hiccup in the prelude to the Hyatt’s eventual demolition. But like any defecting Catholics, both parents took this all-consuming conflagration as a sign. If not the end of times, it was the end of a time. And I, with smoke-clogged lungs that I’d never quite recover from, was plucked from the night-dark danger by a vigilant caretaker and delivered, penultimately, to suburbia. Our new house, in its dark woods and shell-tones, reflected Locsin’s Hyatt design.

Hotel de Nevers, Paris

In my memory, architecturally nonsensical, spiralling up around a staircase from the street. A turret into which would be inserted two unlikely princesses, squinting out the arrowslit. The only bathroom was located halfway down the irregular, wall-hugging stairs. It had a dim light and no mirror. There we’d wash up and get ready, seventeen in Paris, not even the slightest bit trepidatious. We ate mostly bread, drank mostly wine, and went dancing at an ex-pat bar where the second boy I’d ever kissed would slice his hand open trying to feel my ass up. I washed his blood out in that lonely bathroom sink and hung the dress to dry there. I expected it to be gone the next morning. When it wasn’t, I was genuinely surprised.

Last I was in Paris, I stayed in an apartment. I texted a man whose mouth was late enough in my makeout lineage that I’d already lost count. “Last I was in Paris, I hardly left my hotel,” he said, and I thought suddenly of the moldy room where Michelle and I shared our sleepover bed. Drowsily, I looked up the Hotel de Nevers on google images. Renovations had made it unrecognizable — the only familiar thing being its block-lettered sign.

If a hotel is already transportative, why name it after another place? In my Anglo-ignorance I read ‘nevers’ as a multiplicity of refusal; a dream of a hundred neverlands; a fantasy of escape. In truth, Nevers was a separate city that made history around 55 B.C.E., when it was, primarily, Julius Caesar’s war-loot depository. Archaeologists were still pulling medals out of the ground well into our own century. I wondered if the hotel’s proprietors hailed from there, and if in naming their business they had committed themselves to longing for a home they no longer lived in.

When the weather turned on us, we took a train down to Marseilles. Michelle and I skirted the city to get our bearings from a higher point. Squinting through our cheap sunglasses in the dry, flat heat, we watched as sun-bleached ferries to Algeria came and went in the bay. I never found love in the city of lovers, only Jӓger-sticky kisses and a kind of longing I’d come to know so intimately I had no choice but to call it my own. Many years later, watching Hiroshima Mon Amour, I saw one lover mouth to the other: “You are Nevers.” By then, I knew for certain that if I loved someone from somewhere else enough, they’d become the place I lived in.

The Park Lane, Hong Kong

At this point I felt so content in the city that being lost in it felt just like navigating it. Old friends, Ted and Pat, hosted us sweetly in their sky-high hotel. The Park Lane, deep in Causeway Bay, was surrounded by shops so absorbed in vibratory neon it never quite felt like night. My room overlooked a second, lesser building swarmed by air-conditioners; I could get a glimpse of the harbour if I stood at the window’s edge and craned my neck. Kept up by jet-lag, my brother and I would wander this not-night, covet mink coats on mannequins and sliced watermelons under blacklight. There it was: Hong Kong, a chandelier density, infinite credit and a sun-pure playground in the sky. Bodies were conspicuously absent on billboards but French models populated the SoHo streets. The sky fell in ribbons between residences. In certain compositions, one believed their own arrival at a wealthy and limitless future. In others, it all seemed distant; impossibly so.

The Park Lane served noodle soup well past midnight and the steam rising off it warmed cheeks chilled by a winter we never quite expected. Like any dumb tourists we went to see the giant buddha and lucked out because it was sundown, and we were alone. The trams were threatening to close. We have only one picture from this trip, and it’s of my hair whipped over my face in the wind, the dusk just a gradient behind me. Upon returning, we thought ourselves hopelessly lost until we recognized our hotel, spying the driveway crowded with black Bentleys, their surfaces smooth and new enough to suggest a small stoppage in time.

Ted died the next winter in the hotel room that he lived in. I thought about how we were raised in a paradise so absolutely occupied that finding solitude was a wonder alone. His voice was already shorn raw by the time we had met — a lifetime of shouting over the city’s din — and his laugh, a British cackle, was a garrulous encapsulation of his entire personality. Through him, I learned how a city could become the only measure of itself.

 The Vancouver House, Vancouver

Speculative new futures for Vancouver have been hologrammed up for as long as I can remember, for whoever will look. 126 years young, the city is still startlingly new, with mostly-untapped potential beyond its persevering reputation as a haven for extreme-sportsmen and well-heeled retirees. In Massive Change, the 2003 exhibition curated by industrial designer Bruce Mau, models for hyper-density were drafted up in Hong Kong’s shadow, a transmogrified counter to the anti-Chinese xenophobia that stretches from British Columbia’s racist nascence to present-day rallies against too much “foreign investment.” The logic was that Hong Kong, also bounded by the Pacific on one side and a ridge of mountains on another, shared enough with Vancouver to be its premonitory mirror across a gulf of culture and time.

A full decade has passed since that initial optimism. Vancouver has not densified so much as it has diamondized, all ascending glass with nothing in it. One could swear that that, from the right angle, you could see clean through the whole city. A sharp contrast to Hong Kong, which brims with human life at all hours of day or night. (“Forget nature,” said a friend. “Being able to bike down a street with no one on it is what’s bliss.”)

Vancouver’s Vancouver House is the newest development for the super-rich. An exercise in excess, a publicity campaign that excuses the extravagance of its luxury by linking up with the art world: it’s a “living sculpture,” a “gesamtkunstwerk,” a condo development ludicrous enough to stick a Rodney Graham under an overpass. Having lived here for so long, I know the city well enough to guiltlessly witness a common gripe. A new city faithfully entraps itself in wanting to become the kind of place around which culture is realized. It exerts itself in trying to make landmarks where before there were only lowlands, concocting new visions as soon as old ones — in which history has already been latent — are destroyed.

The Vancouver House isn’t a hotel, but it follows in the dream of one. Who, with the means, wouldn’t want luxury twinned with convenience? A fleet of black vehicles, a troop of concierges, a room that defaults to spotless each time you return to it, a lobby where you can see and be seen fetching your mail from a mailbox shaped like a giant, cancelling X… The development is advertised as “as a giant curtain at the moment of being pulled back to reveal the world to Vancouver and Vancouver to the world,” but riding past its showroom, headed eastward on my bicycle, I think it looks just like a tornado twisting back into thin air.

Alex M.F. Quicho is a contributor to This Recording. This is her first appearance in these pages. She is the editor of Highway Magazine, and a writer living in Vancouver. You can find her twitter here.

Photographs by the author.

“Wasserfall” – Juli (mp3)

“Hallo Hallo” – Juli (mp3)