In Which We Derive Our Self-Image From Canned Meat

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


My friend Anna quickly took to me at school. She follows me around everywhere. She had a boyfriend for two months and that gave me some breathing room, but they broke up because she cheated on him and now we’re back to square one.

Anna does have some good qualities, mainly in the way she treats me. Her attitude towards other people is what bothers me very deeply. She judges them immediately for their worst qualities and mocks people using a series of impressions that ranges from the mildly amusing to super hurtful. I feel that she is bringing me down.

How do I rid myself of Anna without destroying her and making an enemy in the process?

Ellie S.

Dear Ellie,

Lie. Tell her that you have feelings for her and it’s difficult for you to be around her. Granted, this could backfire and you two could end up adopting a Malaysian child named Tomas, but if you are fairly sure she is a heterosexual, this is a safe bet. Before you “come out” to her, make sure to listen to a lot of Elliott Smith and when you hear about Kristen Stewart’s latest girlfriend, exclaim how brave she is.

If this gambit does not work to maximum effectiveness, then change tacts. Make a list of all the things you like and dislike about Ellie and fax it to her on the letterhead of a local attorney. Celebrate with a margarita; you’ve earned it.


Recently, I got drunk and cheated on my boyfriend Mark with a friend I will call Ian. I realize that alcohol does not excuse my behavior, but there had always been a longstanding attraction between Ian and myself and while it was something I probably never would done while sober, I was in good enough shape to know what was happening and sleep with him.

After what happened, I felt extremely guilty and realized that I wanted to be with Mark and never betray him again. Here are some other pertinent facts and events that happened since the “incident”:

1. I told my friend Wen what I did and she has told me that I should tell Mark lest he find out from someone else;

2. Mark would probably be upset by this news but I think he could probably get over it given enough time.

3. I have put off Ian’s followups on this incident but he seems to be making more of it than it really was.

How do I handle this?

Megan A.

Dear Melanie,

Many people don’t have the patience to get what they want from others. You want forgiveness from Mark, and to put this ugly debacle behind you. On the one hand, it would be great if Mark never found out about this, but given the close proximity of the individuals involved, it seems like that is not an option. This leads us to the conclusion that Mark must know what you have done, and in the easiest way possible for him to move past it.

A lot of men cheat, so it is possible that Mark has already stepped out on you, Megan. Tell him, “We need to talk,” and make extremely subtle references to the idea that if he has done something he is not supposed to have done, you will understand, but you would prefer to hear it from him. There’s a 30 percent chance this will yield some kind of confession from Mark. If yields nothing, don’t double down. Apologize and say you are sorry for doubting his word, but observe his behavior over the next week or so. If he is extra-nice, he is probably guilty and you can get the full story by following up strategically, even using alcohol to get the information you desire. It worked for Ian.

Assuming that Mark is more proficient at holding out under scrutiny than Edward Snowden, you are not going to get what you want by giving him the CIA treatment. That means we move to Plan B, which entails the following: create a personal crisis to put in the context of the event. Wait until Mark has something important to do when you will not be able to contact him. At that time, have a “personal crisis”, e.g. someone you know is in the hospital or an old friend passed away. Sent him a million frantic texts like, “I need you,” etc. Then shut off your phone, after telling a friend to inform Mark that you are okay but you are sleeping it off.

The next time you contact him, let him be in person. Inform you got drunk, something awful happened, and where was he? The road ahead may be a bit tumultous, but if Mark really loved you, why wasn’t he there for you? 😉

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

“Unwavered” – Basic Soul Unit (mp3)

“Restless In Thought” – Basic Soul Unit (mp3)


In Which We Analyze What Has Become A Cold Sore

For Shame


creators Sharon Horgan & Rob Delaney

Rob Delaney is a recovering alcoholic who lives in London with his wife Sharon (Sharon Horgan) and their two kids, Frankie and Miren. He sees his wife drinking when they are at dinner, when he comes home from work at a pharmaceutical company, when they are out at parties. He thinks about maybe drinking at some point down the road, when his children are grown up, and he can employ a bodyguard and a driver to protect him from exactly how inebriated he wishes to be.

He works in a cubicle across from an attractive woman who flirts with him constantly, both of the desire to tweak his modest, sober nature, and possibly because she harbors a genuine attraction for a man ten years her senior. He finds himself masturbating in the company bathroom in the new season of the BBC series Catastrophe, which he recognizes as both an important necessity and an all-time low. What working woman doesn’t want to stroll up to her cubicle mate and utter those fateful words: “Can I suck your cock?”

Things are clearly very different in England. They once had a female prime minister, but now they just have an American expat who is forced to marry the mother of his son. He pretends to love her, of course, but there is the creeping feeling on Catastrophe that maybe they aren’t all that suited to each other. Sharon and Rob fight a lot: sometimes it is the sort of play-fighting that many couples use as a transition to sex and intimacy, but other times the debates are reflective of a deeper resentment.

The subject that Rob and Sharon fight about most often is sex. This is exacerbated by the stress of Sharon’s latest pregnancy, but it is a difficulty that haunted their partnership before they were even married. The two were brought together by a rampant, exhausting physical chemistry: Sharon was obviously attracted to the massive amount of hair featured on Rob’s body, and Rob likewise by the possibility of a human woman finding that appealing.

Their close friends have reached no better acclimation with their lives as they approach true middle age. Close friends Chris and Fiona stopped having sex and decided to get a divorce, with the husband hiding under the covers. Sex is not only the foundation of every single relationship on Catastrophe, is it something like a canary in coal mine.

Alcohol has a varying effect on human sexual performance. It can loosen the inhibitions of a shy or modest individual, causing greater pleasure. Drinking also has the possibility of dimming the penis’ primary function. Deprived of the possibility of inebriation, Rob always seems overly pent-up, and as the co-writer of Catastrophe, he does little to mitigate the idea that his straight self might not entirely be his best self — and he constantly apologizing to Sharon and the world for that.

This second season of Catastrophe is even darker than the first. Sometimes Rob and Sharon come to a grudging happiness at the end of their trials, but most often the results are far sadder. In one scene, Sharon and Rob run into a couple at the movies who have actively defriended Sharon. Rob calls the woman “a cold sore,” and Sharon is immensely pleased by this. They have passed on some aspect of their unhappiness to others, and lightened the load.

What is finally so unrealistic about the laugh-out-loud hysterics of Catastrophe‘s situations is that Sharon and Rob seem to exist in a world that is completely without empathy. They have no ability to feel for others, and ask nothing of the other people in their lives, even those that they depend on. This is a harrowing way to live, but there is a disturbing element of truth in it. Like that woman said of Kramer’s painting, “He’s a disgusting, offensive brute, but I can’t look away.”

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

“Firestone” – Kygo ft. Conrad (mp3)

In Which She Has Googled All Of Your Information

Strength of the Cat


Jessica Jones
creator Melissa Rosenberg

Krysten Ritter’s pale face lingers over her computer. She has an ability long sought after among detectives: the ability to use the Google search functionality to dig up information her clients need. It was somewhere around the time that she searched Wikipedia for a list of New York’s hospitals, and then printed out a hard copy of this information on her deskjet printer that I began to get somewhat cynical about Jessica Jones.

In other scenes, Ritter is on the receiving end of the penis of Mike Colter, who plays Luke Cage, a man with impenetrable skin. This presumably would lead to chafing during sex, but Ritter never complains or asks him to use a condom. Their child will be a wizard with instant messaging clients.

The bathroom of this hovel was not so well appointed. Where are the damn sconces!

Ritter’s detective is deeply afraid of a man named Kilgrave (a bored-looking David Tennant), who manipulates people by telling them what to do. In this way, he is no different from any other man in Ritter’s life — although there are precious few of them present on Jessica Jones. Ritter lives in a netherworld of supportive women, whether it is her lesbian boss (Carrie-Ann Moss), her best friend Trish (Rachael Taylor) or her client Hope (Erin Moriarty).

Now this is a reaction to the male gender that I am more comfortable with overall.

You would think that a relationship with an overly controlling man would give Ritter some kind of distrust of all men. She treats the opposite like they are sort of besides the point, informing her lovers that “I won’t break” and allowing them to penetrate her from any angle. Sex is a major part of Jessica Jones — at one point she even breaks her own bed from slamming down on a cock. Jessica really enjoys wintercourse, which is a wonderful, refreshing approach on one level but honestly lacks nuance for a character who has been violated and tortured by a past partner.

Every casting director in Hollywood was a huge Deadwood fan.

Rosenberg has a decent handle on Jones’ two main relationships, and it is a joy watching her go back and forth with Carrie-Ann Moss, who makes Ritter seem decidedly warm in comparison, and Rachael Taylor, who humanizes Ritter by making her seem like a silly younger sister at times. It is the character of Luke Cage who has already been appointed his own Netflix series, even though Colter is absolutely atrocious to watch and a series based around Taylor’s ethereal beauty and martial arts would make a lot more sense.

A gorgeous vision hosting a radio-only show. No.

Taylor’s Trish is actually the most fascinating character on the show, because she is afraid of both men and women. Her apartment is a kind of fortress, and when a fan approaches her to ask for an autograph she she knocks him and down and screams, “He grabbed me!”

I think that is what is missing about the character of Jessica Jones. She does drink a lot, and maybe isn’t the nicest person at times, but she never makes any mistakes whatsoever, even putting search terms into her computer. We would not need a cast of characters dedicated to making her seem likable and relatable if she had these qualities as part of her intrinsically.

What kind of person has no hobbies except for Donald Rumsfeld?

The series succeeds mainly on the basis of Rosenberg’s snappy writing and upbeat pacing. Few scenes in Jessica Jones are longer than a minute or two, and we virtually never lose track of our lead actress, who is something like a super charismatic ghost. She has grown up a lot, but she is not really all there yet.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

“Best of Intentions” – Mutemath (mp3)

In Which We Weep Quietly By The Turkey

Do You Like Italian Food?


dir. John Crowley
112 minutes

My dad has an annoying habit of reminding us all that the moment is fleeting. “Cherish these times,” he’ll say darkly when we’re innocently eating waffles at the breakfast table. “Soon they’ll be gone.” To be fair, my dad is Australian and has been living in America for decades now, so he personally understands the meaning of familial separation in exchange for opportunity.

Brooklyn is about such opportunity and the heartbreak that comes with it. Based on Colm Tóibín’s novel, Brooklyn tells the story of a young woman named Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) traveling from a small town in Ireland to BK. A priest helps her adjust to a job at a department store and pays her tuition for night school so she can become an accountant. The reasoning behind her departure from Ireland is precisely the same reason why millions of immigrants braved tumultuous seas and homesickness to go through Ellis Island: opportunity.

Brooklyn is advertised as a nostalgic, 1950s love story: trailers show Eilis and her plumber boyfriend Tony (Emory Cohen) eating cotton candy on the Coney Island pier and chastely hugging each other in a classic New York diner. She wears charming cardigans and full 1950s skirts, and he says, in a thick Brooklyn accent, “Do you like Italian food?” It’s adorable, and it’s New York.

But the real love story is in fact between Eilis and her sister Rose (Fiona Glascott), who has heroically arranged for this journey in the first place. Rose tells her that there are very few career options in Ireland, and indeed, right before Eilis moves away, she’s working part time at a subpar family grocery that overcharges its customers and has an owner who is a gossipy, vengeful woman. There weren’t many options for women in the 1950s anywhere, and even fewer in a small town in Ireland.

I cried pretty much the entire time watching Brooklyn. My sister lives in Dublin at the moment for the same reason Eilis comes to America: when my sister lived in the U.S., she wasn’t getting the same opportunities career-wise that she could get abroad. She moved to Dublin to earn an MBA and is now in charge of some twenty people at a rapidly growing company. I’m forced to keep in touch through texts and skype. I see her once or twice a year if I am lucky.

My sister and I lived together for about a year when we were both out of college. It was very tumultuous at first because I didn’t like her boyfriend, and I was something of a brat. Despite that, she was patient. She helped me grow up: when I was working two jobs to pay the rent, when I had no friends, when I had no boyfriend, she would make me laugh, would pick up a sandwich for me from our favorite coffee shop. She brought me breakfast in bed on holidays; she would often leave notes on the bathroom mirror if we missed each other in the morning rush. We went to the movies together a lot. Most of all, she loved me when I felt most uncertain, most vulnerable: I was in a new city and had no idea what I wanted to do. Like Eilis, I feel deeply indebted to my sister, and I credit her for showing me who I needed to be.

Performances are solid. Saoirse Ronan is believably innocent and kind, a woman we easily care for deeply. In one particularly moving scene, she helps cook for and serve some down and out men at a Christmas dinner. None of the other girls she knows want to do it, citing the men’s horrible smell. The priest tells Eilis that most of these men built the tunnels and bridges of New York, and all of them are Irish. Prejudice, presumably, means they’re now out of jobs. One gentleman sings a traditional Irish song in Gaelic at the end of dinner, and Eilis weeps quietly by the turkey. As did most people in the audience. It’s strange because the scene is in many ways begging for a tear: able-bodied men unable to work, persistently singing the song of home despite the unspeakable distance. It’s nearly cliché, and yet it works.

In one scene in Brooklyn, Eilis waves from the ship to her mother and Rose. Rose waves furiously, maintaining a brave face, but her mother tries to pull her away because the parting is too traumatic. Years ago, when my sister was visiting me in New York, we shared a cupcake in Penn Station, desperately trying to enjoy every moment we had together before she got on the Long Island Railroad to JFK. As the train pulled away, I ran after it, waving earnestly. It’s not the same as it was in the 1950s — not at all — and yet, it is exactly the same.

Julia Clarke is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. She last wrote in these pages about Suffragette.

“River Lea” – Adele (mp3)

In Which We Would Have Really Loved To Be A Woman

View Of A Wet Nurse


Jules Verne was pleased he resembled his sister. “How I’d have loved to be a woman!” he famously crowed. The writer’s bisexual proclivities consumed him. Sex with women had its many pleasures; sex with men was more of an incidental directive. Consumed with one fling or another, he left off the writing of the second and third volume of his history of human exploration to a ghostwriter.

By the age of 60 Verne was no less productive than ever, but the toll his behavior took on his wife Honorine was extensive. She wept at his controlling and domineering treatment of her. In fall of 1876, Verne complained to a friend that “life in Paris with my wife, such as you know it, is impossible.” The worst thing he ever did was get married, from his point of view.


Verne still wrote every morning from five to eleven, like clockwork. He had lost whatever ingenuity he possessed by then, and replaced it with a commonplace commercialism. The ideas were there, some of them, but the connections stayed unbound.

Brothels had occupied his attention since he was a young man. Yet it only hinted at a very disturbed sexual pathology; once in a letter he expressed his jealousy of a wet nurse. Such topics were not even off-limits in correspondence with his mother. Frustration was either the symptom or the cause. Before Verne met his wife, he struggled to attract one, whining that, “The lover of a married woman saves on two servants and a maid.”

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Sexual symbolism constantly plagued his novels as well. Few other bad writers had been read so widely, and the public was about fed up with the spewing geysers and tumescent erections in a decidedly female Earth by this time. No one took him seriously as an artist, but his paint-by-numbers adventures continued to sell decently even after his editor and publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel died.

After visiting the Pope in Rome for over an hour, Verne was approached by his nephew Gaston in front of his Paris home. The boy shot at him, aiming for Verne’s penis and hitting him in the ankle. Rumors circulated to the effect that the would-be assassin had been the author’s biological son. Verne was buried with the bullet still lodged there in 1905.


After the attempted murder, morphine became the better part of Jules Verne’s life. He decided to run for political office and won a position as a city councillor in his hometown of Amiens. His local views revolved largely around the importance of preservation; on a macro level he despised both socialism and capitalism for their absolutionist qualities.

His one trip to America revolved around a six-week stay in the New York metropolitan area. He and his companions had no English, or suitable translators. There was something about the wildness of the place that amazed him, but after that elation had dissipated he was left only with the loss that follows. “Members of English speaking races make good heroes,” he recalled, “because of their coolness and go-ahead qualities.” Provisionally he added, “Americans are undoubtedly the most practical, but they surely lack taste.”

Ellen Copperfield is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in San Francisco. She last wrote in these pages about the director Luis Buñuel. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

see you without makhnhhe up on

The Best of Ellen Copperfield on This Recording

Dorothea Lange’s Failed Marriage

Sex Life Of Marlon Brando

Lifetime of Threats and Insults

The Onset Of The Western Canon

Entitled To Madonna’s Opinion

Barbra Streisand Grows Up In Flatbush

A Sneaking Suspicion of Literature

Anjelica Huston Falls Off The Horse

Prefer To Be Simone de Beauvoir

The Marriage of Mia Farrow and Frank Sinatra

Elongated Childhood of Jorge Luis Borges

Jokes At The Expense Of Tom Hanks

Which One Is The Gay?

“Photograph” – Love of Diagrams (mp3)

“In My Dream” – Love of Diagrams (mp3)

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In Which We Need To Subtly Tarnish Everything Around Us

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


My girlfriend Marilyn is a charismatic, loving and caring person. She does one thing that has grown to bother me over time. Whenever she is walking around the city, examining various buildings, she says one thing over and over again, “Who lives here?” with a quizzical tone.

I don’t know if she genuinely wonders who is living in the domiciles, or if she just thinks it’s a funny thing to say. I’ve told her in a nice way that she might want to give “Who lives here?” a rest for awhile, but she just thinks it’s a wonderful inside joke between us. How can I make her stop uttering these words?

Randolph B.

Dear Randolph,

“Who lives here?” seems a perfectly reasonable thing to say. Your girlfriend harbors a wonderful curiosity about the world and its denizens, and you may never find her ilk again.

Still, even the most introspective and important questions can get a bit grating if repeated often enough. In order to get her to stop asking, each time that she poses the question offer an intricate analysis of the residents’ socio-economic levels, day-to-day rituals, grocery shopping lists, possible medications and television viewing habits. Become accustomed to uttering the phrase, “Nielsen viewing patterns tell us…”

After a few times, she will never ask “Who lives here?” again. Did you know most sociologists are divorced?


My daughter recently became pregnant by her longtime boyfriend, Anthony. They decided that they should get married and had a bridal shower, bachelor party and a lovely wedding. The expense to our family was considerable, and even more so because my husband recently had to take a lower-paying job.

Last month I found out from my daughter that her and Anthony had not actually gotten legally married in this ceremony. When I confronted her about this lie, she blew me off and told me that “marriage means different things to different people.” Am I right to be upset?

Louise F.

Dear Louise,

No. The American Wedding Industry exists to take money from vulnerable, naive individuals such as yourself. Did you know that in some cultures, such as those of the Incans, a married couple was required to administer blow jobs to everyone who showed up at their nuptials? A gift bag was also provided.

You gave a gift of your own free will. If it was conditional on something, you should not have given it. If it bothers you that much, ask for your money back. You won’t get it, but everyone will know you’re an insanely gullible person whose devotion to cultural norms will only be eradicated through shock therapy or divorce.


I recently got into a very bad argument with my fiance Steven. In the wake of it, I have asked a lot of different people for advice about the argument in terms of who was wrong and who was right, and I feel like I still don’t know the right answer.

Most things are great with Steven, but one issue keeps coming up again and again with us, and that is his relationship with his mother. I try to understand how close he is with her, but I just feel he doesn’t put me first at times. Things came to a head when she had one of her many doctor’s appointments and he had to drive three hours so he would be there to take her.

While a serious medical issue is one thing, Steven’s mother Dorothy seems to be a bit of a hypochrodriac. She is nearly always developing a new ailment, and I can’t help but feel she does it to get attention from him, her husband David and even me at times. When I brought this up to Steven finally, he admitted that it might be true, but that his mom did have health issues and suggested she is understandably wanting to feel better.

I don’t know how to deal with this and not come across as the bad guy or overly controlling GF. Help.

Melanie T.

Dear Melanie,

Deconstructing the relationship between a boy and his mother is always difficult. Keep in mind, he literally emerged from her uterus. “Well,” you might say, “this was long ago.” No, it was not. It feels like just yesterday he was in the womb, deriving nutrients from the quinoa she was eating during her pregnancy.

Telling a man to change that relationship is never going to accomplish your goal. You need to subtly tarnish her in his eyes. Does she have any racist or politically incorrect views you can bring to his attention? Perhaps she fears men who wear hoodies, or foolishly purchased an Xbox One? Any anachronistic behavior makes her look like a crazy loon who needs her son too much.

It’s important to get a handle on this soon, Melanie. No one wants a Norma/Norman Bates type situation.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

“Perfect” – One Direction (mp3)

In Which Absolutely Nothing Is Taken For Granted



by Margo Jefferson
Pantheon, 248 pp

“There are so many ways to be ambushed by insult and humiliation,” writes Margo Jefferson in her new memoir Negroland. Reviews of the book so far focused on Jefferson’s class, implying that she had set out to write a history of the lives of upper class blacks in America.

There is that history here, but it is strange to call it the story of the bourgeoisie. When we tell the history of other peoples and places, focusing exclusively on the most wealthy and powerful people of the time seems pretty much conventional. With African-Americans, some special dispensation must be made.

Jefferson grew up in a white area of Chicago. She was one of the only black students in her school, and as such, she dealt with a condescending type of racism. It is this kind of subtle racism that has replaced the good old Confederate flag waving kind, for the most part.

When students at the University of Missouri confronted their president, they were aggrieved by his tone more than anything. They asked him whether he knew what systematic oppression was. He responded by saying, “I will give you an answer, and I’m sure it will be a wrong answer. Systematic oppression is when you don’t believe that you have the equal opportunity for success.”

In the first part of her book, Jefferson tells the stories of black Americans who achieved success in the white, racist world of early America. These are inspiring stories, in some cases moving ones, although Jefferson tells them with a scholarly distance that makes of them no more than the facts of their lives. The point of this approach is to pretend unbias — but we cannot really manage this, since every black person who lived during this time is a hero even for existing.

sky ride rest aiyc

“Nothing about us is taken for granted by anyone anywhere in the world,” Jefferson explains of a guided tour through the black magazines of the period around her youth. Ebony was set on explaining the black experience in a facile way, and looking back on the headlines from the time betrays the fact that there was no such consistent experience.

The story of Jefferson’s own life reiterates this message. She believes on some level that her tony upbringing isn’t representative, that it does not tell the full story, hence the inclusion of so many other histories as a preface to her own. She moves through each excruciating grade with a memory that exceeds most conscious descriptions of childhood.

In gorgeous prose she lays out the specific details, careful to avoid any and all cliche. There is a fear of being critiqued that haunts her writing, a preemptive self-critique that is at times welcome and in other moments a source of frustration. “We were the third race,” Jefferson explains at one point, though we know it is not true.

Ms. Jefferson was a profoundly unhappy high schooler. She remained on the outside circles of her cliques, orbiting them like a moon. “I crave the gift of recreational shallowness,” she admits, perhaps not entirely sincerely. Eventually she switches to telling her story of disillusion from a third person perspective, as though she is not herself at all.

In its last third, Negroland nearly dissolves in anger. In the absence of sense-making, the book becomes a spirited intellectual recollection of blackness, mostly avoiding Margo’s unhappy time at Brandeis. More history introduces on the ending of Negroland, as Jefferson decides exactly how pessimistic she should be about the immense volley of racism she has experienced, most of it underhanded and hinting, like the light stroke of a pen.

There is something more pernicious about such an assault. It is why freedom of speech remains valuable; for if we exterminated the most vile viewpoints from our society we would never know of this other, skulking racism that follows people of color from place to place. By the very end of her book, Jefferson has no idea what exactly led her to construct the sense of the self that she currently has. “It is too easy to recount unhappy memories,” she sighs, and tries to write something encouraging to make Negroland less of a eulogy. There is a feeling there beyond her exhortation to “Go on” that we have not come very far at all.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

12-28--new public housing