In Which This Fickle Heart Guides Us

The Breakup

by LUCY MORRIS

1

I am home in the Midwestern city where I was born, and I am not entirely certain how I got here. I know that I have taken a lot of trips in the last year, to two continents and three countries, over and across the United States a handful of times by air and once by car. I know that my pockets are filled with bar coded baggage tags, and that I never have the clothes I need for the right seasons. I am rarely dressed for the occasion at the best of times, but lately I have been looking stranger than usual, hoping a smile and a pair of earrings can compensate for living out of a suitcase. 

I am not exactly sure why I am here, but like a lot of things I have done this year, I suspect it has something to do with a boy. Twelve months ago, the idea of uprooting myself for that reason seemed unfeminist and absurd to me. Back then I was working long hours and eating Goya beans every night for dinner with produce retrieved from dumpsters by a fregan acquaintance who was spending some months on my couch. Cutting the mold off a block of cheese, he would ask incredulously, “How can you eat something straight out of the can?” The Squatter, as I affectionately called him, also advocated following your heart. I had never before considered my heart to be a particularly reliable compass, and following it is not the marketable experiment that a year spent following Oprah or the Bible is, but nothing else was working for me so I decided to give it a try. 

I had lost my bearings and two consecutive Metrocards during a period when a lot of things in my life were turning over. I’d moved from a two-story house I shared with my boyfriend to a basement apartment with three roommates and a number of mice. I thought of the former house as the place where I had learned to cook soups and invest in quality tights. It was easier to eulogize it that way, rather than as the first place where I made someone important to me cry, and then learned to look away, in a way that seemed like self-preservation but was in lieu of having to change, a callous made thick from gardening instead of just buying gloves or learning to hold the spade right. 

Once settled in my new apartment, I began the process of something many people I know have done in reverse: New York was breaking for me and so I decided that I was in love with someone far away. The super of our building was ejected from his nearby home over marital issues, so he began converting the laundry room off our kitchen into an apartment for himself. Bugs crawled through the new incisions he made in the walls. It seemed like the city sanitation department never recovered from holiday weekends, the trash mounting in lolling piles around lampposts. I had developed a difficult relationship with the man at the laundromat, and when I walked to the bodega at night, a guy on the corner had started saying things like, “I would do anything to touch your legs.” I loved my neighborhood anyway, the sudden jolt from the smell of dried fish in cardboard boxes at Nostrand Avenue produce stores, or Saturdays sprawled in Prospect Park’s islands of shade. But sometime last summer I thought I might be able, for a while at least, to love this boy more than I loved the city. For a while I did.

2

His name was Jonah and it had begun as friendship five or six years prior, but the events that find me here now started late last winter, when I was visiting family in Milwaukee for a week. In a dark bar, illuminated by the torch I’d carried for Jonah for years, I made up my mind to try something – someone – new, even though I had a boyfriend back in New York. Our big house in Bay Ridge, with its old-lady-and-new-smoke smell that still clings to my sweaters, was not enough to contain whatever quarter-life crisis I was having. A week before, I had a cinematic panic attack in a dressing room over a jammed zipper on an expensive dress, which seemed, as these things do, prophetic only later. From the B train home from work the next day, I called and told Jonah what had happened. “I’d do anything to see you in a dress,” he said, which I knew was both the wrong response and exactly the one I wanted to hear. I was both old enough to see that he knew this and too young to mind his transparency. 

Back in the Midwest, he drove me around his hometown, where the snow banks were pockmarked with grime and the storefronts were empty. The palette of winter in Wisconsin was lunar in a way I had forgotten, and the realities of the 2010 economy were visible in a way they weren’t in my daily New York life. We talked unemployment rates, and then some hours later, Jonah reminded me in a decidedly different, slurring tone, “You have responsibilities,” by which he meant a boyfriend, a good deal on a place in Brooklyn (and how New York a perspective! I thought through the gin – the real estate consideration). To silence this line of reasoning, I kissed him on the forehead and then the cheek and eventually the mouth. We went back to his freezing attic bedroom. I hadn’t slept next to a different boy in years and because of that I was mostly struck by the ease with which we melded into each other, curled like cavatappi right down to our toes. At first I thought this was indicative of some greater compatibility, and then later I knew it wasn’t, that once you spend enough time sleeping next to another person, it becomes natural to anyone who comes after, that your body – or is this just women’s bodies? – is memory foam adaptable to whoever touches it.

 

3

Back in New York, it seemed to suddenly, aggressively become spring. My ventilation-less office in Brighton Beach acquired the inexplicable vomitous smell of an aquarium, and so I spent lunch breaks on the boardwalk listening to “Hounds of Love” in regular, repetitive doses, as though it was some kind of medicine. I broke up with my boyfriend and moved out. The walls of my new bedroom were Mexican restaurant-style orange sponge paint and the slats under my low bed never stayed in place, so my mattress sank to the floor under my weight. Rent was the only physical check I wrote each month so my checkbook was always piled under detritus on my desk: behind some bottles of beer, underneath mass mailings from politicians, in a tangle of computer and printer cords. “It is unclear why we are here and what we are doing,” is how I described the life of my post-college peer group in a note I wrote to Jonah from the boardwalk one day. I asked him whether he thought it was normal to forget the spelling of your landlord’s name every month, and if it was weird to eat breakfast on the train or drink coffee in lieu of lunch. I suppose I was hoping his distance, his Midwestern common sense, or the four years of life he had on me might afford him the authority to comfort me. But deep down I must have known those were not resources he had in him, because I never sent that letter.

I believed I was having a lot of fun – and in the absence of any other unambiguous passion, the blanket pursuit of fun seemed logical – by making meals for one, chatting with my roommates, and drinking more than was advisable and yet not enough to be of real concern. But I was growing impatient, and while I knew perfectly well that this was an internal shift, daily city life seemed to validate it. I felt that impatience in the insufferably slow lurches of the Q train I rode each day past station construction in Sheepshead Bay. It was in the slow lines at Key Foods, where customers rifled for coupons and food stamps while clerks tapped their nails on registers. It appeared among the crowds that gathered on the steps of Union Square as days stretched toward their summer limits, everyone lethargic but urgent, ready to meet their friends and start their nights. When I thought about it later, it was the tactile elements of these months that seemed especially if inexplicably poignant: the thick envelopes my pay stubs came in (LUSYA M, my Russian boss wrote in polite cursive), the slick of my Metrocard when I reached for it in my purse every morning at the Park Place stop, or the scrape of the brownstone under my legs when I sat on the stoop at night with a glass of cheap gin and sour juice, talking to faraway Jonah on my phone, the screen of which swirled with sweat when I was finished. 

4

Halfway through June, after months of long calls and coyness, I stood up straight and wrote Jonah a love letter, offering to come spend the rest of the summer with him. “Some Letters Are Failures, But Few Are Lies,” is what I called it, a line from Amy Hempel’s stories, which I’d been reading on late night subway rides. Although it did not seem strange at the time, I now have to wonder what kind of person titles a love letter, and what’s more, why I was compelled to include in it these details of life in my neighborhood: “Gyptian is playing on car stereos on Franklin Avenue by my burger place and Bushwick boys with jeans pegged just above the ankle ride their fixed gears up Bedford. I told K. he was an asshole but I liked him anyway, and the Squatter, beard freshly washed, asked how my writing is going.” I wrote: “These nights in the gardens of Brooklyn when around 4 AM I reach that moment of sobriety and all I can think of is Milwaukee, or nights in the bed of my friend where he says we probably shouldn’t do this again because I am clearly in love with someone else – these are making me (crazy) restless, sending me pacing the aisles of the E train or up and down Eastern Parkway trying to Be Present with the farmers market boys I’m with or just by myself.” Who were those farmers market boys? Where was I coming from on the E train? Why was I so concerned with being present, and what did that even mean? These are the questions I am compelled to ask when I read what I wrote then. And, finally: why did a love letter to a boy really read like a love letter – an ambivalent one, maybe a failure of one, but hardly a lie – to New York? 

Jonah called me a few days later to reciprocate my sentiments. I was flustered by the sudden fact of getting what I wanted. I wished to put him on hold and confer with the Squatter, whose Spanish guitar melodies were wafting down the hallway. “Let me call you back,” I said, and when I did I demurred, telling him I had to give my boss a month’s notice, although that wasn’t true. “I just need some time to wrap things up,” I said, although what was left? All my good friends seemed to have wisely evaporated to less humid climates for the summer. I booked a ticket to Wisconsin, and then I moved it up a useless four days. During the intervening lonely weekends, I took buses to visit friends across the Eastern Seaboard. I went to the MoMA, hoping the steep price of admission would at least force me to focus on my immediate surroundings, to provide the present-mindedness I thought I lacked. Half the time I was radiant and half the time I suspected I was making a terrible mistake, but my friends disagreed. “Nothing matters before we’re 30,” my writerly roommate reminded me by way of reassurance. “Nothing matters ever,” the Squatter added from his perch on the couch. And what more authority did I have than any of them? How could I argue?

5

Soon I was in the Midwest again, camped in the attic of the house where I’d grown up. I never fully unpacked, but I spent a lot of my time out with Jonah, and plus I wasn’t staying more than two months: why commit to placing dresses on hangers or shoes in neat pairs? In fact, I was afraid. I made the mistake of thinking it was still summer, although it was August now, and people around me were already registering for fall semester classes and anticipating autumn leaves. Undeterred, I bought a swimsuit and drank iced coffee at outdoor cafes where I typed away for my Brooklyn Russians, who’d asked me to work remotely. At night, Jonah and I walked all over town, drinking malt liquor and stumbling home on empty streets, past bar after bar and successions of blinking stoplights. Sometimes we built fires and slept in hammocks, which felt very rustic, although one night during a tedious bar argument I texted a boy I had barely and briefly been intimate with in Brooklyn to say, “I miss New York,” and I meant that. I did not mean, “I miss you,” but like most of that summer, I was tipsy and I was tired, and didn’t know who to tell. 

I started to worry that my heart’s directives had led me wildly astray. I wished the Squatter had a phone so I could call and ask him to remind me that nothing mattered. I was as desperate to believe there were no consequences as I was determined to believe I still had summer ahead of me. I knew things with Jonah were breaking, that I didn’t want to be drunk all the time, and that it was getting too cold at night to sleep outside. One night I made cocktails out of my mom’s last melons and I meant to leave a note of apology, but first we were out on the porch arguing and then we were in my bed pretending we could make things right again. But it wasn’t like the cold night in his attic room. It was sticky now, we coiled in opposite directions, and I slept with my phone pressed to my cheek, a half-composed text to my best friend on the screen.

I went west for three weeks to see her, and there I cried in cars and at Catherine’s kitchen table, because what was I doing, anyway? I sat on her lawn and had a long phone conversation with an old friend who had last called a few months earlier when I was at a party in Brooklyn. At some point I stopped listening to him and just mentally returned to that night in late May, when it had been disconcertingly, amazingly windy and on the walk over from my apartment, Catherine and I had stopped outside the Brooklyn Library to allow the wind to push us around, surrendering to the moment at hand, a custom I had come to think of as uniquely New York, although I had been enough places to know it was not. In the garden in Park Slope, people attacked a piñata filled with condoms and miniature bottles of liquor, and everyone there seemed set on a kind of self-destruction that alienated me in its deliberation, the agreed-upon premise that we might work good-for-the-world jobs during the week, but we’d still drink too much and go home with the wrong people and have to beg cab drivers to take us back to our out-of-the-way apartments in early morning hours. Months and miles removed, I now found I missed those strangers the way you miss exes in spite of their flaws. They did do good jobs, they made mistakes but endeavored to fix them, they even hired a mariachi band to make a spring night more festive for their friends. Where was that ingenuity, that ambition back in the Midwest? It was time to go, but I wasn’t sure where.

6

Catherine moved to China, so I bought a one way-ticket there, and then I started seeing someone new in Milwaukee, someone even more ill-advised than the last, for reasons of age, acquaintance and temperament, and most of all my reasons for engaging: what were they, exactly? I couldn’t remember – the heart I’d followed for thousands of miles was like a crazy cult leader full of bad ideas I couldn’t escape – but I kept finding myself at his house, and I wasn’t unhappy. He was from New York and we mostly talked about that, our vocabulary a glossary of street names. Like the last relationship, it had an expiration date – my departure for Beijing – but like the past-sell date yogurt from the dumpsters of Gristedes that had formed my breakfast diet all spring, sometimes that doesn’t have real significance.

Fall came while I was in China, evident in boot displays in store windows and the slow fade of the sky around 5 PM every day. I thought frequently of falls past, which is to say I thought of New York, where I had spent the last five of them, seasons rich with foliage and laughter. Happy Chinese girls perched on the racks of their boyfriends’ bikes couldn’t distract me from the chasm of nostalgia and anxiety that always opens at that time of year – or is that just in us overly sensitive, us seasonally affected types? My excitement for my eventual return to New York made me lightheaded, but it was counteracted by the dread that swelled in the pit of my stomach when I thought of actually going back. Waiting there in the improbably clean metro stations, so untarnished you almost expected new-car smell, I thought of the early evenings I had spent staring down the train tracks in Brighton Beach, willing the B to arrive and whisk me from work back to non-Russian speaking Brooklyn. Listening to boilerplate subway recordings on the train in Beijing, I thought of the pleasant impatience I felt those nights, ready to get home and sink into my boyfriend, but also of the panic I felt transferring to the R to go home to him once things with us were breaking. I thought, as surely everybody has at some point, that I could get on the train and just keep going, right until the end of the line, and start over there. But our house was just three stops from the terminal one. Nowhere seemed like it could be far enough.

7

And with this fickle heart guiding me, maybe nowhere could be, which is why I’m calling off the experiment and heading back to New York. Recently I have been back in Milwaukee, spending time with someone and waiting for a place to open up for me out east. My old place in Crown Heights is now occupied by strangers. This year’s exes have new girlfriends. Most days, I am less certain of my own growth, but as I’m packing, I keep finding old Metrocards – maybe the ones I thought I lost a year ago – at the bottoms of my bags, tucked inside yellow papered notes to Jonah. These objects are like relatives I haven’t seen in years, familiar but foreign: I recognize my handwriting but not the sentiments I express in it, which is comforting and alienating all at once. Someone told me recently that your heart, that misguided compass of an organ, gets less resilient as you get older, not more. If most of us believed this, I am not sure that living or loving would be bearable rituals, but by some miracle of human nature they are. At least for me. At least for now.

Lucy Morris is the senior contributor to This Recording. She last wrote in these pages about living for love alone. She tumbls here.

Photographs by Vivian Maier.

In Which Alfred Stieglitz Remains Possessive At All Times

Stieglitz’s self-portrait, 1890

 

The Tiny Gospel

by ALEX CARNEVALE

America is going through a period of luxury and unrest bordering nearly on madness.

Alfred Stieglitz had left New York for Vienna in 1881. When he returned in 1890, the Big Apple was a completely changed city. The dark, dangerous metropolis Stieglitz had left grew incandescent in the evening, revealed by the onset of electricity.

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One aspect of the city became open to him, another closed. His parents wanted young Alfred to marry a spoiled 20 year named Emmeline, called Emmy. Before his wedding, Alfred Stieglitz burned the diary he had kept since he was nine.

Emmy refused to have sex with her new husband, but this was nonce to him. He photographed the city and its denizens, and even improved his piano-playing. He gave his new wife the silent treatment. Four years into the marriage, Alfred and Emmy Stieglitz conceived their only child.

Edward Steichen’s photograph of Kitty and Alfried Stieglitz

To commemorate the occasion, the family moved into a new apartment on Madison and 84th. Their daughter Kitty quickly became the center of their conflict, with Stieglitz insisting on photographing the girl almost every second of her life.

Emmy and Alfred were now on speaking terms, but it never got much better than that. As Kitty grew older and remained under the influence of her mother, daughter and father too liked each other less and less. Stieglitz had little time for his family spreading the tiny gospel that was still photography occupied most of his waking hours. “I would rather be a first class photographer in a community of first class photographers,” he pronounced, “than the greatest photographer in a community of non-entities.”

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Kitty graduated from Smith with honors in 1921. She had written her father many letters during her senior year at that Massachusetts college, bonding with him for the first time in her life with her mother in absentia. Since her parents were not speaking again, Alfred could not attend her commencement, but the two grew closer in the years that followed her marriage to a Boston salesman named Milton Stewart.

In June of 1923 Alfred became a grandfather when Kitty gave birth to a son. Severe bouts of postpartum depression dominated Kitty’s days. She alternated lashing out at her father for his neglect of her with expressions of closeness. “I certainly failed in so many ways in spite of all my endeavours to protect and help her prepare herself for life,” Stieglitz wrote. “I realize with every new day what a child I have been & still am absurdly so. It sometimes disgusts me with myself.”

O’Keeffe and Stieglitz much later, in 1944

This experience completely convinced Alfred that having a baby with his girlfriend, an artist named Georgia O’Keeffe, was a terrible idea. He continued affairs with other women as well, and he did not want babies with them either. He wrote romantic letters to the wife of his friend Paul Strand, although a relationship with Rebecca Strand would only ever be consummated by Georgia. O’Keeffe was annoyed by Alfred’s behavior, rebelling against it whenever she could, but she did tolerate it.

“Stieglitz wants his own way of living,” Rebecca Strand told her husband Paul, “and his passion for trying to make other people see it in the face of their own inherent qualities really gets things into such a state of pressure that you sometimes feeling as though you were suffocating.” Meanwhile, Kitty’s condition had put her suddenly doting father in a weakened state. He made peace with Emmy and together they admitted Kitty into a gorgeous sanitarium in upstate New York.

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Alfred Stieglitz was suddenly 60 and one of the world’s most celebrated photographers. Kidney stones made his nights restless. He passed the time by reading Ulysses. The divorce from Emmy was final. The following summer his daughter was discharged from the hospital to a summer house at Sagamore Beach. He proposed to Georgia; she declined.

By the fall Kitty had been returned to the sanitarium. Her doctor came to Alfred with a proposal. If he married O’Keeffe, they suggested, Kitty might come to a peace of mind that would aid her recovery. In light of these circumstances, Georgia accepted her boyfriend’s proposal after considerable pressure was exerted.

Kitty Stieglitz photographed by her father with her uncle Joseph

The hasty marriage would change nothing, however, and Kitty’s behavior was that of an indolent teen. She never left the care of doctors, spending the next fifty years trying to get well before her death. Kitty never permitted her father to visit, but her mother Emmy came every single week.

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“Marriage, if it is real must be based on a wish that each person attain his potentiality, be the thing he might be, as a tree bears its fruit – at the time realizing responsibility to the other party,” Stieglitz explained to himself. He was impressively dedicated, even in old age, to thinking of very good reasons why he could not be a faithful husband.

Georgia’s health problems complicated their new union, restricting her to bed rest. She was only just beginning to get well when Stieglitz met 21-year old Dorothy Norman. The girl who incessantly hung around Alfred’s gallery, asking question after question, was married to the son of the founder of Sears. Edward Norman was a deeply disturbed person who was mentally, physically and sexually abusive to his wife.

Dorothy Norman

Stieglitz initially tried to put Dorothy’s at an arm’s length. By the time he really got to know her, she was pregnant with her first child, a daughter. Like Kitty, Dorothy was a Smith graduate. Georgia noticed her husband’s admiration of the pregnant woman, and it upset her greatly. To appease O’Keeffe, Stieglitz tried to confine his expressions of love to secret letters. “I want to incorporate knowing you into my life,” Dorothy wrote back, and in order to position herself as closely as possible to the photographer, commenced work on an article about Alfred that would become a book.

Georgia was more and more skeptical of Alfred’s protestations that the friendship was not intimate. In her own interview with Dorothy, she found the college graduate annoying, pretentious and transparent. When Dorothy talked with Alfred at the gallery, he told her to sit far from him, “out of danger.”

Into his life at this time came Lady Chatterly’s Lover, his new favorite book.

When Georgia went off to a retreat, Stieglitz finally consummated the relationship with his young admirer. His descriptions of that moment are nauseating at best: “It was as I have never dreamed a kiss could be.” He wrote, “We are are one – Every day proves it more and more to be true. Dorothy, do you have any idea how much IWY.” The innovative use of acronyms made the tryst appear more than it really was: at first, the couple only kept things above the belt.

This consummation pushed Alfred in the other direction. Georgia was happiest in New Mexico, and Stieglitz endlessly complained about the time she spent there away from him. She felt his pull  “It is always such a struggle for me to leave him” but New York was not her favorite place. “I think I would never have minded Stieglitz being anything he happened to be,” she told a friend, “if he hadn’t kept me so persistently off my track.”

Alfred’s photograph of Dorothy Norman from behind

Even though Alfred thought nothing of cheating on his wife, he flew into a fury whenever he suspected that she might be unfaithful. The balance of their relationship was changing, however, as Stieglitz was increasingly financially dependent on his wife’s flourishing artistic career. He was determined to improve his marriage.

Stieglitz still saw much of Dorothy, who had given birth to a second child. He photographed Dorothy Norman for the first time in 1930, when she was 25 years old. Alfred bought Dorothy a camera, and told her that he loved her. Each saw the relationship as a supplement to their marriage, and sought nothing more from one another. A friend wrote to Alfred that talking to Dorothy was like “talking to a mirror in which one didn’t see oneself but someone else. She presents no problem, no burden or personality to be dealt with. One can be with her and at the same time alone with oneself.”

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“He was perhaps the most impressive person I have ever known,” Dorothy wrote later. “Yet the greatness of what he expresses was in terms of how people must be non-possessive.” Alfred Stieglitz demonstrated this principle by comparing his wife and his young girlfriend in a 1932 exhibition that was the talk of the art community.

Their professional ties were solid as well. Dorothy involved herself in Alfred’s fundraising efforts at his request, for a gallery that she would run in his name. This closeness rankled Georgia even more, and she sunk into a depression partly brought on by a friend of Alfred’s suggesting that she befriend Dorothy.

When Dorothy could not find a publisher for her manuscript of poems, Stieglitz demanded he publish them. This final insult pushed Georgia into the arms of the poet Jean Toomer, who she invited to stay with her on Long Island.

In the spring of 1936, Elizabeth Arden asked Georgia to paint a massive mural in her salon. More flush with cash than she had ever been, Georgia rented a penthouse on 1st Avenue to work on it, a cold, drafty, beautiful workspace. There Alfred suffered his first heart attack, ending his photographic career.

Alfred was now 74 years old. In his feebleness, the arrangement with Dorothy could be nothing more than close friendship. The affair dissipated without ever having a formal break. Both had provided something the other needed, is how Dorothy saw things, something essential and something clandestine. “There was a constant grinding like the ocean,” O’Keeffe wrote of her husband. “It was as if something hot, dark, and destructive was hitched to the highest, brightest star. He was either loved or hated there wasn’t much in between.”

In the days that followed Stieglitz’s small funeral, Georgia called up Dorothy Norman. She told Dorothy to clear all her stuff from the gallery, commenting that she found Dorothy’s relationship with her husband “absolutely disgusting.” After Alfred’s death, Georgia O’Keeffe lived forty more years.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

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“Had to Hear” – Real Estate (mp3)

“Paper Dolls” – Real Estate (mp3)


In Which We Desire A Certain Male Individual

The Method

by ALEX CARNEVALE

A Most Wanted Man
dir. Anton Corbijn
121 minutes

Aesthetics are not my forte; and then, how is one to talk about color? It might be reasonably left to the blind to discuss then, just as we all discuss metaphysics, but those who have eyes know how irrelevant words are to what they see. – Braque

Philip Seymour Hoffman looks the part of a heroin addict in Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man. Breathing heavily through his nose, puffing on disgusting menthol cigarettes through the entire film, he is a walking suggestion to children of all ages to avoid the rigors of injectable drugs. Shaking at times to even lift a cigarette to his mouth, he mumbles through this adaptation of a John Le Carre novel that begins when a Chechen terrorist enters Germany by sneaking in through a port.

Unfortunately, he is not playing a heroin addict, only a spy. But he doesn’t let that stop him.

Robin Wright Penn observes Hoffman the way we would a water buffalo stranded by a bask of crocodiles. Reduced to a short-haired brunette so as not to outshine the beauty of an actress decades younger (Rachel McAdams), Penn plays the soft version of Claire Underwood she will be typecast as for the rest of her career. She and Hoffmann attempt to banter back and forth to keep A Most Wanted Man from slowing down to a crawl from sheer lack of inertia. 

There is not a whole lot going on in A Most Wanted Man. Hoffman leads a small anti-terrorist unit trying to set up the Chechen by getting to his lawyer, played by McAdams. It turns out that the reason the Chechen turned to the Muslim religion was because his mother was raped and murdered by a Russian. Subject to his rapist father’s inheritance, he wishes to give the money away. Because his lawyer is cute, he gives her his mother’s necklace.

Before he can do that, Hoffman and McAdams have an incredibly awkward interrogation scene in a bare cell. Neither has quite mastered the intricacies of a German accent, so the ensuing dialogue is mumbled by both parties. Despite the vagaries of lawyer-client privilege, McAdams gives up her client in a few hours. At some point you wish they would drop the pretense of the German accents and talk to each other like human beings.

Riding around Hamburg on her dopey bicycle, McAdams’ face is a cartoon capable of surprise and polite apprehension; she barely even changes clothes in the movie. There is exactly one scene in A Most Wanted Man where she even moves her body at all, and that is to get on a train that allows her to lose an entire anti-terrorist task force. (Like much of what happens here, her escape is implausible.) McAdams’ bleached hair and tired face make her arguably more disheveled than the Chechen refugee. I wasn’t sure if the whole thing was a joke on Katherine Heigl’s career or what.

McAdams negotiates with a president of a Hamburg bank (Willem Dafoe) over the massive inheritance her client is to receive. Dafoe, like his female counterparts, puts on a look of intense empathy for Hoffman throughout A Most Wanted Man, indicating that if his colleague were to say, keel over during a particular scene he would be there to catch him. You can’t hide a basic look of concern and fear, and it is lucky for director Anton Corbijn (The Constant Gardener) that it fits with the theme of A Man Wanted Man.

Dafoe played characters older than this when Hoffman was in his thirties. Unlike his portly opposite act, Dafoe seems to be going backwards in time like Benjamin Button, while Hoffman hurtles towards an ignominous ending in a Greenwich Village apartment.

Watching a cast of non-Germans play residents of Hamburg doesn’t really work at all, and so A Most Wanted Man comes across like a bizarre stage show enacted for no discernible reason.

We know these are a bunch of American and Canadian actors. They show it in the faces, their movements and even their dress. None of them know very much about Germany, but this should not really matter, since A Most Wanted Man is only concerned with the global war on terror, a subject completely dull in its intricacies and depressingly obvious on a macro level. Making it seem complicated or fascinating is a waste of everybody’s time. 

It is impossible to faithfully portray any of these people. A Most Wanted Man reminds us how ineffectual acting can be at times, how little such fakery hinges on. Corbijn’s spy thriller is partially ruined by the fact that we know Philip Seymour Hoffman is about to expire, that there is no chance whatsoever he is actually a man named Gunther. Obscured by his coming death, Hoffman’s subtle gestures at character for his policemen are similarly useless  his hints of homosexuality and a relationship with a young Muslim scion he has employed as a spy resonate only with his own private life rather than any actual aspect of the character.

In one scene near the end of the film, a vignette only included to memorialize his star, Hoffman plays a few lonely bars on his piano. Corbijn tries to be impressively restrained in his eulogy, but it is hard to care about a vague sting operation that climaxes in the signing of a few documents when larger matters outside the diegesis are at stake, such as whether the world is even worth living in.

I used to think acting was easy. Then I tried it, and learned how difficult it was. It’s lying, isn’t it? That takes a toll.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

“What You Did To Me” – The Verve Pipe (mp3)

“Here In The Dark” – The Verve Pipe (mp3)

In Which Into Each Life Some Construction Must Fall

At St. Patrick’s

by MARK ARTURO

He’s the the only man I regret.

Stress comes and goes in waves at this time. Recently I read a novel about the adventures of a bird in a human’s body. The bird becomes very depressed, as you might imagine, and eventually catches a cold because he gets claustrophobic in rooms and has to walk the streets. Eclipsing what I believed the basic difference between a bird and a man, he is disappointed to be so large.

This is the first fact of being a man he understands as difficult, and strains at it.


I have been a man since the early 1980s. This was a low period for St. Patrick’s Cathedral. They had plenty of money, but not so many parishioners. This is what the security guard at the North door tells me. I am not allowed to bring the only object into St. Patrick’s that I would really like to, which is a miracle.

The bird eventually, and I read this on wikipedia since I could not finish the book, becomes obsessed with Ella Fitzgerald and wishes to meet her. The novel kind of had Blade Runner vibes. I wouldn’t recommend it.


I remember my first teacher on the subject. She told me that the thing people do most often that gives them away is they blink too much. You can’t measure a heartrate from across the room.

Spending a lot of time in the cathedral has its perks. You’ve never seen construction workers so well-behaved and giggly. Jesus, I think, would love these men. The only thing that reminds me of our lord, then, is something outside of the church, that seems to be preying on it as it reinstates a fastidiousness of purpose I have always found entirely at odds with faith.

There was a certain amount of time, as a mere child, when I questioned the ways of this place.

If faith was for everyone, then it would be meaningless. Defined by his most moral enemy, Michael came to earth, not bothering to disguise the fact that he was the greatest of angels. He asked all his devout, “Do you think I appear this way to those who displease me?” and they shook their heads.

Some believed. You can walk out that north entrance to the cathedral to Saks Fifth Avenue, and it always feels seamless. When I knew the bishop here, he would never do any shopping – he hated the long escalators, the feeling of being in a rat’s maze. He said, “A holy place can be nicer than a store, a factory, a restaurant. But it seems it always is, and that’s what makes me wonder. I keep waiting for someone to take iconography away from Christians, but they never grab the mantle solidly enough.” I recall that I replied it was never ours to begin with.

Of course the bird in the human body misses flying the most. He goes to a man who he believes can restore him his wings. The man refuses to engage with the project unless he knows the reason the bird was changed into a man initially. So the bird inhales the laboratory air, and tells his best, last lie. He says it was an accident.

Keeping the cathedral open during its renovation was half a stroke of genius, half a gauche mistake. It makes me realize that this is a just a place like any other. You can’t take pictures in the chapel area, because it’s where the saddest of the believers position themselves, and one condition of their grief is that they not be observed by technology.

The bird man meets Ella Fitzgerald. Both of her legs are missing, and she is depressed. The bird man leaves disappointed.

I wish to meet Michael one day. I dream of it. I hope he will come to see me here, in this place, so I wait for him. If he does not come, I know it means he does not like this place. If he comes to Saks Fifth Avenue, I might assume he does not like St. Patrick’s Cathedral, but it could be just that he slightly missed his mark. If he visits in my sleep I will try to tell him the miracle, which is this: sometimes I feel I have been on this earth for too long.

Mark Arturo is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Brooklyn. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here. He last wrote in these pages about JMW Turner’s theory of color.

“Super Love” – Nick Howard (mp3)

“No Ordinary Angel” – Nick Howard (mp3)

In Which We Sorely Desire To Expiate All Of This

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 have an etiquette question. I chased after a guy (coworker) I liked for a solid month, coming on strong and trying to get him to ask me out. Well, he must have just needed some convincing, because he finally took the bait and we got dinner one night. It was horrible. So boring, predictable conversation, nothing like the guy I’d been imagining. Turns out he’s exactly the sort of guy I don’t want to date. The worst part is that at the end of the date he seemed REALLY happy, and said, “I’m so glad we finally did this, can we go out again?” I felt really bad – I had chased HIM, after all – so I sort of mumbled yes and then ran into my building. Now I have to go out with him again, even though I’m pretty sure my brain will melt out of my ears while I listen to him talk. Is there a way for me to magically take back the time I spent chasing him like a crazy person? Should I just go out with him and hope for the best? Is there a nice way to say “Thanks, but no thanks?”  

Jenny F. 

 

Dear Jenny,

This is hardly a matter of etiquette. You’re asking for permission to do something you already know you have a right to do: not like somebody as much as they like you. This is not a tragedy. It happens every single day.

Since I can easily see you “nice-ing” yourself into cohabitation, marriage, and children, here’s what you’re going to do. You are going to remind yourself that you are a human with complicated desires (maybe watch several seasons of House Hunters in a row to help yourself come to this conclusion). Maybe ask yourself why you didn’t see how boring this individual was in the month you spent chasing him.

Then, give him a call (no text, no approaching the guy at work) and explain, “Pinky, thanks for the other night, but I don’t see this going anywhere. Good luck with the office shuffleboard tournament.” 

Hey,

 

 

I’ve been seeing this guy who chews gum all the time. Like, literally, from the moment he wakes up until he goes to bed. He takes it out of his mouth and puts it on the side of his plate when he’s eating, and then picks it off after the meal to continue chewing it! If this wasn’t bad enough, he also chews gum during sex. He once went down on me… I think you get the picture. Anyways, would it be too nit-picky to ask him to stop, at least during meals and sex? I’ve never thought of myself as a controlling person before, but now I’m not so sure. Otherwise, he’s a great guy.

Allison A.

Dear Allison,

Oral fixations are only fun when they’re… well, I think you get the picture. Suggest to your paramour that you think he may have been weaned prematurely, and that he should speak to a licensed mental health professional about it. While he’s pondering this, hide his Doublemint stash.

When he goes berserk and starts smoking, chewing on pen lids, or sucking his thumb, you’ll come to the realization that you are not the problem in this arrangement. It’s not a crime to have preferences and to voice them, especially with humorous aplomb.

Example: “Darling, last night when your Juicy Fruit got caught in my pubic hair, it was really funcomfortable.” Or, “Snookums, recycling is only cool if what you’re recycling hasn’t been in your mouth or on your plate where I could see it while I was trying to choke down escargot.”

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

“Rainy Taxi” – Spoon (mp3)

“Inside Out” – Spoon (mp3)

In Which We Thought We Had Spent Too Much Time Apart

Days of Discipline

by TAYLOR HINE

I was an anxious child and grew into an anxious teenager. As such I often found it difficult to make and keep friends; I thrived on the approval of others, a quality that I have come to fully realize only recently.

It makes sense that my oldest friend – whom I met when I was six years old, though we didn’t become very good friends until a couple of years later – was someone whose approval I sought consistently. I did not have many girl friends when I was younger. Vicki and I formed a friendship in which she dictated what games we played and suggested which series of books we should read together next; she was the leader and I was the follower. I wasn’t disturbed by this friendship because she and I were similar in many ways; she introduced me to the books I would treasure for years to come, as well as many movies and TV shows.

I lived for sleepovers at Vicki’s house. I didn’t dare invite her to mine, for fear of her witnessing one of my parents’ all too frequent screaming matches. Her house was comfortable and, really, it was tranquil compared to mine. It always smelled of dogs and was covered in a very fine layer of dust and pet hair that went flying whenever someone sat down on one of the overstuffed couches. She had an older brother, about ten years older than us, who was heavily into science fiction; his model ships were often in the process of being built atop the glass-topped coffee table, underneath which were stacked dozens and dozens of Star Wars and Star Trek novels. A hamster cage sat in front of the fireplace; her cat, Aramis, dozed on a cushion nearby. The tall trees surrounding the house rarely, if ever, let in direct sunlight, despite the windows extending from the floor to the ceiling; this was deep in southern Louisiana, after all.

Vicki and I would stay up late reading and watching VHS tapes in her parents’ room while they watched Frasier or Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the living room. Sometimes we would sit in opposite corners of her room (it was painted purple – it never occurred to me that I could ask for a different paint color in my own room) with notebooks propped on our knees and write stories, which we would then swap and read. Her stories were magical and full of mystery – more imaginative than my adventure stories, or so I thought at the time. She was an incredibly talented artist, and this was something I vaguely felt like I had to compensate for in my own creative life. This is not the reason I turned to writing at a young age, because she wrote, too.

Her parents were always kind to me and facilitated our friendship by taking us to places like the aquarium, the zoo, and even out to dinner. I felt like an integral part of their family. Their voices were foreign and kind; her mother, Stella, was born in England, her father, Peter, in Scotland.

About a year and a half later, my family and I moved back to Denver, Colorado, where I was born. This was just a few short months before 9/11. For the next few summers, Vicki and I would visit one another; first my parents and I drove back to Slidell and stayed for a few days, two of which I spent at her family’s house. There had been a blizzard back home before we left – at least five feet of snow was still on the ground when we made our way through the snow-plowed streets – and it was completely melted by the time we arrived home, and everything that grew was the greenest and brightest I had ever seen.

The summer we were eleven going on twelve was different. Throughout our time apart, Vicki and I wrote relatively frequent letters to one another, but they had become less so around that time. We were both inside our own heads; it was just beginning to dawn on us teenage girls that we had bodies and real thoughts that could potentially matter. Vicki flew out to see me for the first time. When she arrived, she had grown significantly taller, she looked thinner, and her hair was cut very short. She looked far more grown up. I wasn’t sure how I looked compared to her, but I was shorter and felt, well, stocky, even though I’ve never come close. As is the case with girls just growing into adolescence, she had also become incredibly self-assured. I noticed her self-assurance and took it as arrogance without ever quite acknowledging that I, too, thought I knew everything. She stayed for two whole weeks, the longest time we had ever spent together at a stretch. I was ready for her to leave about a week in, and this worried me. I thought our friendship was flawed, or that we had spent too much time apart to ever be able to be best friends again.

The following summer, I flew down to spend two weeks with Vicki and her family. Stella had a teacher’s conference in Nashville, Tennessee, so we loaded up the car and drove. This was the same summer that the sixth Harry Potter novel was released, as was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – you know, the one starring an especially eccentric Johnny Depp and the especially creepy Oompa Loompas. Vicki and I got along better during this trip; there was more to occupy our attention. Her parents took us to the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince; we were sixth in line, and we read the novel all the next day on the drive back to Slidell.

I will never forget this trip because of what happened on that drive back. We stopped to eat at a Cajun restaurant called Copeland’s when we finally reached Slidell. Vicki and I were in the backseat, each looking out of our own windows when I smelled something strange and metallic. The skin between my legs was moist, but I assumed it was from the hot humidity. I pulled my legs apart slightly and looked down; the crotch of my denim shorts was darkly stained. I didn’t know what was happening, and I didn’t know when it was going to happen. I wasn’t told it was going to happen now. I put my hands underneath me to keep the seat traceless.

“Vicki,” I said softly. She turned, noticing the odd way I was sitting.

“Yeah?”

Peter parked the car outside the restaurant.

“I’m bleeding,” I whispered. Her eyes widened. She understood. She leaned forward to her mother in the passenger seat and whispered into her ear. Stella glanced back at me fleetingly. She got out of the car and untied her jacket from around her waist. I waited for her to open the door for me; I didn’t want anyone to see me. I felt small, changed, ashamed, ashamed of being changed and of being small.

Peter opened the door for me and Stella stood there with the jacket, ready to help me tie it around my waist. I took it from her and tied it myself while staring at the ground. I lingered behind the parents, behind Vicki even, as we walked inside. I walked with my inner thighs pressed together; I was certain that everyone around me could smell the blood.

After the hostess led us to our table, Stella said to Vicki, “Take her to the bathroom.” She did not say this unkindly, but she was brusque.

“I don’t know what to do,” I told Vicki as soon as the bathroom door swung closed. “I didn’t know when this was going to happen. I’m sorry.” I couldn’t look at her; I stared at her shoes.

“It’s okay. Are you feeling okay?”

I looked down at myself and threw up my hands. “Yeah, I mean, I feel fine.” Then, suddenly, a knife was being pounded into each of my hips.

“Ow.” I winced. “I have sharp pains here.” I put my hands over my pelvic bones.

“You should stuff some toilet paper in your underwear to soak some of it up until we get home. My mom has pads you can use,” she said impatiently.

I went into a stall, embarrassed that I didn’t think of that first. I looked at her feet underneath the stall door and heard her sigh. I ripped through the toilet paper and made a makeshift pad. Now I knew what the silver dispensers in women’s restrooms were for.

I swung the stall door open; its penetrating squeak broke the silence. I looked at Vicki, and she stared back at me, unblinking.

“Has this ever happened to you?” My voice was barely above a whisper. She shook her head.

“Let’s go order our food,” she said, and held the door open for me. I walked through, making sure the jacket was tight around my waist. I let her slide into the booth first, just in case I had to make another dash to the bathroom.

Peter offered me a small smile and I returned it.

“You can call your mother when we get home,” Stella said. “Are you all right?”

“Yeah, I’m good,” I said assuredly.

I don’t remember the rest of the day now. My mother asked me every detail of what happened and I told her.

“Well,” she said, “you’re growing up.”

“I had no idea what to do, Mom,” I said angrily. “Why did no one tell me this was going to happen?”

“Well, did you pay attention in your sex education class?” she snapped.

“Of course I did. At least, I paid attention until I was too embarrassed to pay attention to anything anymore. I didn’t know how old I would be before this happened. I’m twelve. You should have told me.”

She was silent. “Well, it happened,” she said finally. “Has Vicki ever had her period?”

“No,” I said. “She didn’t seem very understanding. She was a little impatient,” I added.

“Well, there you go, then,” my mother said, as though this should so obviously explain her reaction.

I thought about this for the next few days as Vicki talked to me less and less. She avoided my eyes. She often went off on her own, into the dining room to work on her art, or into her room to read. I stayed in my own room and tried to forget about the pains that were still there. When Vicki finally was ready for me, she would invite me to come and watch a movie with her, and I would eagerly accept.

We spent the last few days of the trip like this, and again, I was relieved to part with her again. We didn’t talk about what happened; I thought about what my mother said and how she and her mother had both reacted and didn’t want to bring it up because the last thing I wanted was a conflict. Stella had had to help someone other than her daughter through her first period; Vicki had had to witness my first period without having it herself. We never talked about it again.

The last time we saw each other was when my parents were still together; it must have been at least seven years ago. Vicki and her parents flew to Denver to meet up with her older brother, Richard, for some reason I can’t remember now. We lived a short distance from the airport, so we picked them up, and Vicki ended up spending the night with us while her parents went back to their hotel after visiting with us.

She and I stayed up swapping stories about boyfriends, a ritual denied us in the past; we only wrote about such things in letters and had never had the chance to talk about them face-to-face, giggly and coyly, as girls do. She showed me her sketchbook, and I showed her what books I had been reading recently. We watched the 1970’s cartoon movie of The Hobbit and, for whatever reason, laughed our asses off. We were always able to find humor in everything we watched.

We’ve never stopped writing letters. She’s told me several times that even though we’ve lived apart for the majority of our friendship, it has meant the most to her over the years. I tell her confidently that I feel the exact same way. Our letters throughout college have taken an especially personal turn; this is a time of more than just boys and lost friendships, though I do not mean to belittle our histories. We expect to be seeing each other in the very near future; after all, we’ll both be graduating soon, and there will be no excuses this time.

For a long time, I thought that we wouldn’t remain friends. I thought a good deal about how we were as children; she led the way and I followed her into whatever she found interesting. I resented her for this, when really, we were bound to grow apart somehow, whether it was geographically or not. We held on to the friendship and didn’t let it dissipate. That’s all that we can really ask of each other over such a great distance – that’s all that we want to ask of each other.

Taylor Hine is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Denver. She last wrote in these pages about Cat Power. She tumbls here. You can find an archive of her writing for This Recording here.

“She’s Not Me” – Jenny Lewis (mp3)

“Slippery Slopes”-  Jenny Lewis (mp3)

 

In Which We Fly Perilously Close To The Ordinary Sun

Did You Ask Me?

by DAN CARVILLE

I saw her at a stoplight, through the window of my car, long afterwards. Early morning. The first inches of dawn touched her shoulders. I had a passenger in my car, a friend of mine who I have not seen since he moved to Salinas. He sang along with what was on the radio. As we passed her, trailing a suitcase with a long handle, my friend stopped his singing. He said, “Can there be a single hour left in this night?”

I drove cars many times after that. But I did not enjoy it anymore. How could I, when the possibility remained of passing by another person I know better than myself, moving so fast momentum alone might take me miles beyond her?

I dislike rhetorical questions intensely, but I have to admit the world is filled with them.

I never understood the intimacy of others, or could see myself taking part in it, until I met her. Since she left, I lost whatever understanding she gave me. A key frame, redrawn on paper. One conversation I had with her keeps recurring in my mind.

Flashing her blue eyes, she said, “Dan, you have to stop.” I asked what she meant.

“You know, of course, the story of the acolyte?”

I said I did not. She told the fable. It was about a student who invested nearly everything in his instructor, until he heard himself referred to by his teacher as a slave. The student was despondent and suicidal until the master explained that he had done it on purpose in order to shatter the student’s imperfect view of him. 

I did not ask the relevance of this tale, both because I dreaded the answer, and because there is no real way to make a woman tell you anything she does not want to. I explained this to her. Her face wrinkled, like she was about to spit something disgusting out of her mouth. She was silent for a few moments.

Then she shouted, “But did you ask me? But did you ask me? But did you ask me?” She forgave me in minutes.

She would not let me touch her for the first month. The anticipation was a monkish ritual to be enjoyed and loathed in equal part. I wondered aloud why she chose this. Did she not want to be with me the way I wanted to be with her?

She laughed and said, “What are you thinking now?” She repeated herself a lot, usually to be silly. I could not help loving that aspect of her, and when she was gone it was the first thing I mocked, quietly to myself. I was at the airport, flying back to New York. I watched a woman repair a wheelchair with one hand. Families and couples criss-crossed each other, alternately wiping off and enclosing their hands in soft, white, slightly damp paper. I said to myself, “What are you thinking now, Dan?” and I said it more than once, more than enough.

I first met her when she was dating a TA I knew from college named Mark. Even though I rarely kept up with my college friends, I would catch up with Mark from time to time. In those days he had a marvelous mind: vindictive, forceful and empathetic all at once. I remember us both walking out of some seminar on the Palestinian situation once we saw the syllabus.

Mark saw the world as an ancient husk. I will not say he hated it. He felt that the idea of improving it was completely in vain, and self-important besides. It was difficult but not impossible to reconcile this idea with the little goatee I never saw him without.

Mark had told me his girlfriend was a musician long before I met them for drinks, and even sent me a few of her songs. I never planned to listen to those mp3s, but I did find it very sweet and maybe a little childish that he wanted my approval. I am not sure what he saw in me, really. It only occurs to me now that he may simply not have had many friends in the husk.

I remember coming home from a Greenwich Village bar at the end of that night. I see myself then as a flame shaped like a man, so excited was I at being able to hear her music; somewhat upset that I had possessed this kind of treasure days prior without knowing it. (But it was not just that. It was also the idea that I might also have, within the walls of the apartment I shared with a computer science PhD named Amil, so many other secret delights waiting to be found.)

She took a job at Columbia and now lived uptown. Mark visited and wrote her from Ann Arbor. I knew I had to break them up somehow, but my options were limited. If she would willingly deceive Mark to be with me, I could not respect her; if something trivial could cleanse her feelings, then I could not really trust her.

After a few days, I just called her. I did not really care at that point, so many times had I given myself over to her voice, her fey discretion, the blush in her face. (I would have also been similarly thrilled by the girl in Willy Wonka who turned into a massive blueberry, had she only become a round, shy cherry instead.)

Dumbly I asked if she remembered me.

“Yes, Dan. I am glad you called,” she said.

Despite myself, even though every part of me knew I should not say the word, because I am always frowning at good fortune and expecting bad, I asked why.

She said, “Do you know the story of the falcon, the angel and the death adder?” I said I did not. She e-mailed to me.

I read it quickly and asked, “Which one am I?” I already knew which she represented.

On the other end of the line, I heard her laugh again, chalky and solid like her lower half. “That is the right answer, Dan. I only want to know those who cannot immediately tell which they are.” That in her delicious accent.

I met her in the park regularly after that. She would talk to me for hours, never flinching when what I wanted to discuss seemed flimsy even for me. (Once I asked her what she thought about the death penalty and she just rolled her eyes.) We would write when we did not meet, posing each other so many questions. Finally, in Sheep Meadow, I broached the subject that had been on my mind, although I would be lying if I said it was torturing me.

“Have you told Mark about us?” I said. Her first answer would be definitive, final – anything else would be merely apology or confession.

She said, “Dan, what did he tell you? That I am his girlfriend?” I nodded.

She said, “That night we met, do you know what he said to me before we went to you? I can see that you do not, and I am sorry. I thought you knew.” Her hair shivered and she touched my body with some blunt instrument. It may have been her hand.

“It was just before we left. He said, ‘If you don’t like Dan, I will futilely try not to hold it against you.'”

I said that seemed like a nice compliment, but that that I did not fully understand. She watched a group of babies fight over a toy shaped like a fat orange cat and brushed strands of dark hair back from her face. She said, “It may seem like we stop…”

She said, “It may seem like I stopped loving him, but that’s not true. I only stopped acknowledging his love.”

I think about that almost every morning, since she is no longer here, since she will not say something more destructive to replace that original thought. At first I concluded that those who always gave so much of themselves were by their nature also the cruellest. I hope I am not like that, but I think what she was saying is that we all are.

But then, it seemed like she would never stop wanting me. Unlike anyone else, she never made demands on sex, attaching it to no other part of our lives. Amil moved in with his boyfriend in Prospect Heights and she took his room. Because I snore, we often slept in separate beds. The other reason was that she used her sleeping place also as a sort of office, although she would allow me in it if I asked.

(Do you know how hard it is for me to say or hear her name? I know I cannot put it down here, either. For her to recognize me in real life, putting her suitcase aside for one moment, dropping it fully to the ground, would be nothing. She cannot see me in my writing, she must only see herself.)

After I saw her at the stoplight that day, I again started every morning with thoughts of her. I replayed the most eventful of our past conversations constantly. Paranoia enveloped my brain; I tried and failed to distrust her in retrospect. I thought of e-mailing Mark and asking questions I had held close for so long, but if he felt the same way I did, then I would no longer be suffering alone. (Had he given her to me?) I dreaded the idea of not being original.

Here is the story of the falcon, the angel and the death adder:

The falcon always soared as high as she could, and descended as low. One day an angel appeared to her at the top of her flight. The angel told the falcon that she could soar even higher than the sun, but that she might not be able to return to Earth. The falcon asked how she would feed herself. The angel answered that he, the angel, would provide an appropriate source of sustenance. The falcon asked for a day to consider and the angel agreed.

The falcon flew as low as she could, until the sun dropped out of view. There, in the bowels of Earth, she met the death adder. The death adder told her that she could fly even lower, into the world beneath the world, where she could eat and laugh and love forever with others like her. The falcon asked what she would have to do in return. The death adder said nothing, except that she could never again go to the top of the world, but would have to be content with the space between, where other birds flew nearby.

The falcon asked for a day to consider things. The death adder stuck out his long tongue, but agreed.

The falcon dropped to an old man’s porch while she considered these two fine offers. The old man came out to give her a few scraps and leftovers such as he had. He asked the falcon where she planned to fly next.

“I don’t know,” the falcon said, shaking her dark little head. She could not meet the old man’s eyes, knowing that if she did, the man might sense an inclination in her twisted face. “I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know…”

Dan Carville is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Brooklyn. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here

“When She Comes” – EMA (mp3)

“Satellites” – EMA (mp3)