In Which Absolutely No One Likes Them Soft

No Blood Stain

by INNAS TSUROIYA

Mustang
dir. Deniz Gamze Ergüven
97 minutes

“If the stuffing is too soft, they’re no good,” Grandma (Nihal Koldas) says, teaching the girls how to fill the cooked fig leaves. “Nobody likes them soft.”

I like it soft, literally, I see the embodiment of softness onscreen — white gown matching with white drapery, gently blown by the breeze, parallel to the carefree long hair of the girls who run around so gracefully, like a scattered bouquet. I see soft daylight from a crack that seem to keep so many secrets, I see soft touch between the skin of the characters that signal reliance in each other. I see grape trees as a tender warning to the violent sound of gunfire, the celebration of happiness during a double wedding. I see running montage of the city at early morning. The end feels soft and dreamy.

Mustang is a very powerful watch, to say the least. It tells the story of five flourishing orphan sisters raised by conservative family in suburban Turkey, whose every movement can always be interpreted subversively regardless of its intention.

Sonay (İlayda Akdoğan), the eldest of them, bold and sexually alert; Selma (Tuğba Sunguroğlu), just as sexually woke but shyly discreet; Ece (Elit İşcan), the quietest of all of them but a surprise to many; Nur (Doğa Doğuşlu), reading every occasion but remaining unbothering; and Lale (Güneş Şensoy) looking up to her sisters. Despite being the youngest and smallest-looking, Lale is whom the film belongs to. As the narrating voice of Mustang, director Deniz Gamze Ergüven knew that Şensoy is fit to be the others’ blindspot in her first feature film.

Being the elders’ blindspot is a major advantage when you’re starring in a film about escaping the agony of patriarchy — catering to the system that is in no way beneficial to you is full of paradoxes and ridiculous contradictions. Soon after their grandma hits them one by one, their uncle takes the girls to the hospital for virginity test because they were caught playing in the Black Sea with a bunch of boys. As an aftermath of the “obscenity” they are obliged to dress in plain tunic (“shit-colored”, to paraphrase Lale) to escape the male gaze, while at the same time being displayed to a neighborhood of potential suitors. They are discharged from school after the quote-unquote accident to get particular education on becoming a wife and mother.

Lale observes everyone else’s eyes. Like how Sonay’s are locked with her boyfriend’s while slowing down her window-cleaning hand, blowing kisses from afar. Lale senses how uncomfortable Selma is, serving drinks to a bunch of strangers that will later ask for her hand in marriage. Or how Nur — arguably the closest to her of them all — angrily destroys a chair in response to grandma’s accusation in the beginning of the film. All through Lale’s eyes.

In Mustang, I’m moved back and forth between Lale simply providing innocent observance of the rules imposed (remember when she kissed the picture of a soccer player in a newspaper?) or thinking about strategic calculation to the rules imposed (remember when she kept noticing the plate on which her uncle placed the car key?), but it doesn’t matter because she’s brilliant either way. Brilliant in general, to conclude her brief driving lesson and find help via random phone numbers on used plastic bags. I’m reminded that as much as she was all that, Lale is still a kid possessed by the impulsive urge to run away to Istanbul on foot.

As much as everything is measured and/or exposed by sight, there were a few exceptions, or if I may, variations. The girls kept from the world’s sight by “imprisoning” them. Selma wants to be out of sight completely (“I wanted to disappear”). Grandma deceives herself, saying, “Children are happy, it seems.” Ece blocks the view as she closes up the car window, leaving only assumptions. Nur and Lale create the world in their bedroom after the rest of their siblings part ways.

Every joke made by any of the sisters feels like an inside joke to any women ever. Lale trys to stuff her chest — first with stolen apples, secondly with socks — to look like she had fuller breasts; “one tit bigger that the other”; childbirth role-playing; ripping off ugly dress; “access denied to male fans”; naive hand gestures; kamasutra book; or sunbathing in peace. Even the most harrowing scene in Mustang might be a dark, bitter inside joke according to how often it is to happen: marriage as a safe haven for women who have been touched by their own seemingly holier-than-thou relative. I cried when I learned everything forbidden through, again, Lale’s innocuous eyes. Nothing could be more hurtful. (Sometimes I wonder if Orhan Pamuk also sobs watching this film.)

Mustang is often compared side-by-side in reference to other equally stunning films: The Virgin Suicides for the scene in which the camera shots all five sisters hugging while almost sobbing from under, or Melancholia for when Selma lay down with her wedding dress still on (“I fucked the entire world” sounds like a mantra as much as it is like a sigh out of desperation). It was very heartbreaking, especially to see the grandmother blamed for the systematic cruelty inflicted on the girls. Mustang‘s aesthetics transcend the grasp of time, aside from resonating youthfulness and freedom, for its Turkish specificity is what emphasizes its universality. Not only is softness conveyed onscreen, but also female pain.

Innas Tsuroiya is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Indonesia. You can find her twitter here and her tumblr here. This is her first appearance in these pages.


In Which They Were Taking His Wife Away

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ted berrigan by alex katz

Ted and Sandy

by DAMIAN WEBER

Ted Berrigan met Sandy Alper and seven days later they were married. She wrestled him to the ground, sat on his lap, and asked him to marry her. He agreed. She dropped out of college and boarded a bus with him to Houston, where she pawned her watch to pay for the marriage license. She said she dropped out of college because she could tell, in an instant, that “living with Ted would be far more educational than staying in school.”

Sandy writes in the introduction,

I lugged a big suitcase out of the dorm, announcing that I was taking some props to the drama department, and we got a bus to Houston. We could stay with Ted’s friend there, Marge Kepler. In Houston we had a blood test and I pawned my watch to pay for the marriage license. We bought Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island of the Mind as a wedding gift to ourselves. That afternoon we made love (I for the first time), in Marge’s bed. It turned out that she had been his lover in Tulsa. Later the three of us had to sleep together because there was only one bed in the house.

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The letters between Ted Berrigan and Sandy Alper were published for the first time in Dear Sandy, Hello. In it Sandy explains that she was young (19) but she knew what she was doing. Once married, they visited her parents in Miami, who searched Ted’s things and found letters from Ron Padgett about the drug scene on the Columbia campus. The next day the police arrived to take Sandy to Jackson Memorial Hospital mental ward.

Ted writes,

Sandy, get out of that place. If it takes a month, a year, years, get out of there. Lie, steal, cheat, do anything, but get out and come to me. I will be trying every way I know how to get you free. But they have us where they want, they think. I am sure they are going to have this marriage annulled. They are going to find you “disturbed,” and have the marriage set aside. Well, we don’t need to care about that. Our marriage can’t be set aside, no matter what legal authorities say. What is important is that we be together again. We can’t fight them their way. What we have to do is do anything they say, resisting only when we feel we have to. Don’t sign anything. We’ll do what they say, but when their backs are turned, we’ll be gone.

Come here any way you know how. If you think I can help by coming there, tell me, and I’ll hitchhike there tomorrow. Once we are together, we’ll vanish from their sight until such time as they recognize our love, our marriage, our dignity as human beings. Honey, don’t ever let them make you think you are sick, or disturbed, or anything of the kind. We are all sick, and disturbed, but if you ever believed anything I said, believe me when I say that you are the best, the healthiest, the most good of all of us.

She writes,

I found something about love life in The Brothers K. I am going to show it to the next doctor. Maybe he will see that I am not going to destroy myself and you aren’t. I seem to be struggling for both of us instead of just me. You will be part of my whole self forever.

I think I would like to read more Ibsen.

I talked to the Negro maid today. She is a great lady. She ran away with her first husband at the age of twelve and was married to him for twenty-seven years. He then died. She is good. She thinks the whole business is silly. I wish you could meet her. I wish you could be here. These people need much hope. You show people that sometimes dreams do come true if the dreamer works hard and believes. If he has faith and courage.

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She writes,

They are putting the annulment papers in tomorrow. I asked them if they would harm you if you came down, and my father said he might even try to kill you if he saw you or lock you up. The doctor has recommended treatment with an analyst or psychiatrist and I would live at home. They  have accused you of much. Mainly of being schizophrenic and not realizing it or trying to do anything about it. Also you are a moocher and live off of others; Anne, Pat, Margie, your mother. They have evidence, letters etc. and what they have said about you. They also said you were not given your master’s degree, not even awarded it, but your letter of non-acceptance was a front and so many more things.

I wish you would write a letter telling me about all the truth about you. No matter how bad you may think it may be. Ted, even though I believe in you and your love for me, they have created doubts. I am not even sure I will believe either of you.

I do believe your love and many of the things you have said to me because I have seen myself the truth in life and the communication we have had is real.

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Ted responds,

My darling Sandy, I don’t know where to begin this letter. Are we losing? Are they coming between us? Honey, I love you so very very much. I want to answer all your questions very carefully. I want to tell you everything, give you everything you ever want to ask of me.

But forgive me, I must talk a little first.

Sandy, they’re beating us. They’re getting us down. All this about the annulment, and the detective reports, is something we knew from the first. I told you that this is exactly what they would do. Their plan is to separate us, to annul the marriage, and to use your sympathies and your natural feelings for your parents to drive doubts between us like a wedge until finally we are apart for good.

I beg you, I beg you again, don’t defend me. Not to them, not to doctors, not to other patients, not even to yourself. Remember how it was when we were together, remember how I look and seem to you. Remember the love we have for each other. Have faith in your judgment, your feelings, yourself, in me. If you try to argue with their ideas about me, their supposed “facts,”  you cannot win. Their logic is superior to yours, and mine, their age and experience and their determination are something you cannot cope with by fighting them according to their rules. They know how to handle you. In only five weeks they have gotten you to write a line to me which reads “I am not sure I will believe either of you,” meaning them or me. What will they accomplish in another five weeks? or ten? or fifty?

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Ted with Anne Waldman

Honey, I haven’t heard one word from your parents. I have received no legal notice from anyone. What right do they have to decide whether it is all right for you and me to be married? We must not allow them to even question us except as equals. We cannot act like all they want is what is best for you, when they have locked you up. It seems that all they want is what they say is best for you.

Sandy, don’t forget that Sunday night in Miami. Don’t forget your mother asking if you wanted to use her leather coat in New York, your mother and father handing you over to strangers. Don’t forget.”

Ted goes on to admit every weird or incriminating thing he ever did. He was completely honest, and that section of Dear Sandy, Hello reads like an autobiography. She believed him, she believed in him again.

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There was a boy in the ward with Sandy who was disparaging of Ted, and whom she grew to dislike. He was also a writer, but didn’t like beatniks, and became convinced Ted was one.

I just met the new male patient. He is a writer from New York by the name of Barry Weiss. He doesn’t know you or Joe. He lived on 11th street. He doesn’t like poetry much and is very wary of your type, he says. He is cynical. He loves Henry Miller and says he can only read 25 or fewer pages at a time and then he must stop. He has sad eyes. Things writers can only write in aloneness and desolation.

On a different day she writes,

Barry talked to me a little, he thinks perhaps you are just an ordinary beatnik. He doesn’t know you. I wish you could give him a good working over. Send me Tropic of Cancer if you can. Barry did give me some candy and apricots so I can’t hate him. He has a few good qualities. He doesn’t think I have the stuff it takes.

And finally, “Barry is rotten as ever. He may leave. I hope so.” We can only speculate he was a know-it-all who knew nothing, and that Sandy didn’t like pretentious no-fun sourpusses.

They were both reading Henry Miller. She noted, “I just finished reading Tropic of Cancer, Barry loaned it to me. I did underestimate it. But still don’t think it is the greatest book. Some parts I liked a lot. I will read them again. He does have great vitality and life. It makes me want to be out even more.”

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He writes, “I’m not really incoherent. I’m in a kind of trance from reading Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn. It is so great I have to stop every few pages and wonder.” After speaking of killing birds to eat (a fantasy) he writes:

If I killed a little bird and roasted it over the fire and ate it, it was not because I was hungry but because I wanted to know about Timbuktu or Tierra del Fuego. I had to stand in the vacant lot and eat dead birds in order to create a desire for that bright land which later I would inhabit alone and people with nostalgia. I expected ultimate things of this place, but I was deplorably deceived. I went as far as one could go in a state of complete deadness, and then by a law, which must be the law of creation, I suppose, I suddenly flared up and began to live inexhaustibly, like a star whose light is unquenchable.

Sandy, my beautiful, innocent wife, Miller has just said simply much of what I have been struggling to tell you. If I eat dead birds in vacant lots, it is not because I am hungry, but because I need to discover Tierra del Fuego, the land of fire, the fiery earth. I people my poems with nostalgia. They are in part my bright land. And through the past few months, and most of all through my loving you, through marrying my soul, my self to yours as was preordained, I have now flared up like a burning rose, like a dove, and begun to live inexhaustibly, like a star whose light is unquenchable, good to eat a thousand years.

On a different day Ted writes,

I finished Henry Miller’s book called Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch today, and it really was a good book. Miller continually fills me with the joy of life. Right now I am living like the fox lives. All my senses have become sharper, and I smell, see, taste, and hear much more acutely than before. Food tastes marvelous, because we eat little. The weather is simply exciting all the time. We walk up and down all the streets. And all the time I think of you. I want so much to touch you, to lie with my eyes closed and feel you watching me. I do love you so.

Sandy writes,

I am entranced by Miller. Entranced and re-injected with faith. He is great. Your letter was sad because I want so much for you to be writing but I can’t do much now. I certainly don’t want you to be locked up or anything. It doesn’t torture me too much that you are out and free…

I have started reading Big Sur. It is great. I do have faith and courage. We too someday will be able to live our life. This book so far isn’t as wild that’s why it’s easier for me to take. Anyway he was a lot older. Life gets quieter after 50 or 60 I guess.

big gem spa

They exchanged ideas. They listed the books they were reading at the time, and what they thought. No slouch, Sandy was reading the best books, and open to suggestions from Ted, Joe Brainard, Dick Gallop, and Ron Padgett a fine group of instructors.

He writes,

I have some new good books of poetry, and I’m reading a lot, not writing too much, except for the series I’m doing with Joe. I’ve read Go, a novel by Clellon Holmes about New York in the 50s, finished Henry Miller’s the Tropic of Capricorn, read a lot of poetry by a lot of people, and am now reading Frederico Garcia Lorca’s Poet in New York, and the selected poems of Vladimir Mayakofsky, the young Russian poet. Dick has finished a book by William Styron called Lie Down in Darkness, and is reading Styron’s second novel, Set This House on Fire. Styron is a young Southern writer, and he is very very good. Both these books are as good novels as have been done in America since A Farewell to Arms.”

His letters read like his poems.

Joe is sitting over on his bed writing a postcard to you. My fingers are sore from pounding the typewriter. When I first get up my hands are not as loose as later in the day, and I miss the keys sometimes and bang up my fingers. We are making hot coffee now, and preparing to work on our collages some more. We’re still working on our religious one, although Joe has done two of his own, without writing, since I wrote yesterday. So, Dick and I are walking the streets, waiting for his check, and reading our books. I’m reading Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch by Henry Miller and Dick is reading The Tropic of Capricorn. I want to send this (my) book to you as soon as I finish.

She writes back,

I finished Daring Young Man. I am going to read some parts again. Oh! To be with you. Someday I would like to meet Saroyan. I will hope you will not be mad but I started Rebecca by Du Maurier. She reminds me of Conrad only not so intense. Her books so far is atmosphere. The second wife is painful in her ineptitude and shyness although I am sure she is a good soul. I want to finish it so that I can start Bread and Wine….

I read “Kaddish” and “Howl” and “Thank You” and “Fresh Air” and scattered other poems today. Nothing else. I have so much nervous energy. I don’t know what to do. Oh Ted just to walk the streets with you would be enough, to talk to you and hold your hand….

I read Lorca every day. He is good — sounds beautiful — very simple, lyric, and clear. Have been reading in the New Yorker about a beautiful grand modern cathedral. We must remember it in case we ever go to Europe.

He writes, “I’m reading Henry Miller (Tropic of Capricorn), poems by John Ashbery, Joe’s notebooks, and a novel by a writer named Clellon Holmes called Go. Dick is reading the newest book on the pre-Socratics, Tom is reading a book by Edward Dahlberg (who wrote the poem Dave said is very great, remember). Tom and I wrote a collaboration today called ‘O’Hara’s Sources.’ It’s a fourteen-line poem using ground rules.”

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Ted was working on his translation of Arthur Rimbaud’s The Drunken Boat, which wasn’t a literal translation, but instead an homage. She mailed to him to say,

Read “The Drunken Boat” again and I like it of course I can’t be too critical of it as a free translation because I can’t read French. I’ll read it again tomorrow. I like the “Spooky Winds” especially where you put it. The last two stanzas seem much different than the other—tone I guess.

Later she says,

I read the revision of “The Drunken Boat.” I feel so good that you dedicated it to me. I wish you were here so you could explain the various changes. Some of them affect the flow and rhythm and style a lot. Later we can do it. Many of the good parts you left the same. I am going to read them a few more times.

And finally,

I went carefully over “The Drunken Boat” the final version is more idiomatic and modern and concise—less 19th-century I guess. We can talk about the fine details later. I think it’s good to know the reason for picking certain words over others in translation. Some sound better but there must be other reasons.

Ron Padgett insists that Berrigan’s The Sonnets were written by having Sandy pick her favorite lines, which he then arranged randomly based on their sound rather than their meaning. In his writing about his friend, Padgett explains that it was a long growing process for Ted to outgrow formalism and become loose. Ted says of The Sonnets, “Wrote by ear, and automatically. Very interesting results….All of this partly inspired by reading about DADA but mostly inspired by my activities along the same line for the past 10 months…working on collages with Joe.”

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“Ted,” Padgett says, “with Sandy’s help, had set in motion the creative machine he had been assembling over the past two years, the machine that would enable him to create a ‘big’ work.”

The letters span two months and end when Ted went down to Miami to rescue Sandy. She received permission from her doctor to go to the local library. It was her first time out of the hospital and she used it immediately to meet up with Ted. (Many of their letters back and forth contained secret plans for what to do if she escaped, but there was no mention of this attempt.) They hitched to Denver, then decided to head back to New York. They settld near Columbia University. She learned to shoplift and wrote a friend about it, who showed her mom, who showed Sandy’s mom. Her parents hired a private detective, again, to get dirt on Ted, and to find out where they were.

Again, Sandy was committed to a mental hospital, this time Bellevue in Manhattan. None of the letters are from this period — maybe he could visit her, and didn’t need to write. There was a little poem he scribbled then: “I never thought . . . / that I’d come so much to Brooklyn / just to see lawyers and cops who don’t even carry / guns taking my wife away and bringing her back.” Then a judge freed her, and her parents gave up the pursuit.

Damian Weber 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 the flies. His most recent album is entitled earnest kid, and you can download it here.

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In Which Studio Ghibli Is A Top Priority This Spring

Family Time

by DICK CHENEY

Grandchildren are absolute garbage except if you are a younger-type dog. If you are older, dog or man, they do nothing but create noise. In order to sedate them during the week their parents are in Turks and Caicos, my wife Lynne has been screening the films of the Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli. I have been complaining throughout, although these empty days allow me to create content that you will enjoy. Here are my reviews of all the movies I have been forced to watch.

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Castle in the Sky

The obsession with blimps begins in this first Ghibli feature, which concerns a militia pursuing powerful ancient technology that is carried around a little girl’s neck. The animation was rough in parts and Castle starts with two excruciatingly long action sequences in order not to lose the kids’ attention. The main female character was acting a lot younger than her age, which I guess made sense because she was a princess. James Van Der Beek turns in one hell of a performance as a tiny little boy in the English dub. I really wasn’t too keen on this overall – too much of it came across as feel good nonsense to keep the audience from falling asleep. The sheer number of guns on hand was also quite shocking. C+

The Castle of Cagliostro

This predated Studio Ghibli. Really neat island setting that Miyazaki would return to. The dialogue is proto-Palladino and fun to listen to given that the basic plot is darker and more serious than most Ghibli films. Lots of nods to Miyazaki’s own influences, and the feeling of a madcap caper. Could conceivably be a decent live-action movie without many changes, which you can’t really say for many of these. Ultimately there was not a whole lot going on and I was bored halfway through, but a great example of how style can triumph over substance. B

Princess Mononoke

Art direction is majorly improved here. The long scenes in the forest are just gorgeous, while the relationships and setting are relatively underdeveloped in comparison. Maybe the most Japanese feeling of his movies due to the various references to Kurosawa and others. The titular female character is a bit sedate, but Miyazaki compensates through the presence of a much more entertaining antagonist. Really cool setup where you have three groups and none are completely wrong, they simply have different views. It’s hard to think of another movie which is anything like that. Some great action and jaw-dropping scale, but the character work was noticeably weak. B-

Only Yesterday

Two hours of watching a 28 year old single woman apologizing for who she is. It’s all explained eventually when she flashes back to her father slapping her. “He only did it the once,” she cries out, in what may be her final lie. Some really great dark stuff here that you don’t see in a lot of movies period, let alone animated ones. It was a little heavy-handed on the proletariat brainwashing, but maybe I just have an aversion to the idea that farmers are closer to nature than the rest of us. But who cares? This is a timeless message, that we can love ourselves and others at any time, and in doing so change our lives for the better. A+

Kiki’s Delivery Service

Good god was this fantastic. Complete waterworks from everyone in the room. Imagine you had a cat you could talk to and one day it stopped talking to you just because you sucked. That actually happens here. Kirsten Dunst is excellent in the dub, and you really feel for this witch. It sort of avoids a stretch where it could have feasibly considered some more mature topics, but who cares? The city by the sea (Stockholm?) is such a lively setting and every single tiny house is a palace in my black heart. A better ending would have ascended this to Miyazaki’s very best. A

Whisper of the Heart

Miyazaki wrote this for his protege, who promptly died from overwork. Ironically the teenage female protagonist falls asleep at her desk from pushing too hard on her novel. At times this young woman was genuinely unlikable and her ambition to write a story seems to come out of nowhere. She meets a guy who is a decent violin maker, and suddenly she is so jealous she can’t shut up about herself. Just intolerable. Tokyo also looks like fresh hell, but a city has never been more realistically depicted in any medium. The scenes with an older man were kind of creepy, but I guess it’s Japan so everyone magically becomes Santa Claus once they turn 60. As much shit as I could talk about it, the family dynamic is stupendous and the movie really stays with you. B+

My Neighbor Tortoro

Easily the best opening sequence of anything ever, after which it kind of falls apart. The neglectful father lets his children wander off, twice, and they’re so ill-raised that they trust a furry beast who lives in their nearby woods. At least the girls take care of themselves and don’t need some boy to promise to protect them. Art direction was incredible, stupendous, but there really is not much there, there. I admit I cried at times, but there is a weird coldness to this, like Miyazaki really wasn’t connecting with these people and maybe even loathed them on some level. A-

Pom Poko

What a crazy movie. A prolonged, unnecessary voiceover explains the encroachment of the suburbia on the lovely habitat of a group of racoon dogs. The environmental message was left on deaf ears with me, and showing kids all those raccoon testicles was beyond the pale. At the same time you can’t help but be astonished at the amount of work that went into animating this fucker, which is Isao Takahata’s masterpiece. No fear at all about making a super-depressing movie: almost no one is ever happy, families break-up, heroes get all their bones broken or are left dead in the road. I can’t even believe this was a cartoon. A

Howl’s Moving Castle

Easily the worst thing Ghibli ever did. A boring local woman convinces herself that a witch cast a spell on her to make her look like she is 75. Feeling useless, she wanders into a castle and nominates herself to clean it. The concept of the elastic living space was completely overdone way before this, and Miyazaki has nothing really to add to it. The plot makes very little sense from any angle, and if you just view it as an art piece, the various cinematography and art direction is nowhere near good enough to carry the action. A complete waste of time unless you’re on mushrooms. C-

Spirited Away

An extremely annoying main character becomes slightly less annoying by rescuing her parents from the spirit world. Sen, as she starts to call herself, is embarrassingly immature for her age. Lots of great details in the diegesis you can watch again and again; can’t even imagine how much work went into this. They were on the verge of some more interesting themes here that were sorted out in future films. An amazing achievement but is it on the level of a bunch of other movies which made me care a whole lot more? No. B

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

The monster that created this disturbing fable was Mr. Takahata. I was not a huge fan of the animation, but it worked for the subject matter. I appreciated the fact that everything in this was completely screwed up and unsalvageable; however there is something innately frustrating about watching people who do nothing to help themselves. I would not watch it again except by force. B+

Ponyo

There can never be enough movies about how wonderful your mother is. The concept of a five year old boy falling in love seems a little odd until you realize it was a substitution for the love denied him by his father. At the end he and his girlfriend’s father also have this weird handshake that I loved. The water-flooded town was so much fun, this movie could have easily been like six hours and I would not have gotten bored at all. A

The Secret World of Arriety

You really never go wrong with tiny people, it is simply always great. This sick wimp goes to visit his grandmother, who has this really mean servant who lives in a cute apartment near the house. When the servant finds out there is someone lower than her, and it’s tiny people in the walls (!) she goes crazy, which actually makes sense, because they are living in a nicer domicile than she herself. A lot more could have been done with the concept but since Miyazaki was working off a book adaptation they don’t really get much farther than the basic theme of how much we can trust even the people who are closest to us. A-

We also watched Ice Age: Collision Course. It starred Neil deGrasse Tyson as a weasel.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.


In Which We Postpone A Decision Until Some Later Date

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.

Hi,

I met someone a few months ago, and we really clicked. I have been seeing a lot of her and I have never had so much fun with someone. The issue is that she says she never wants to have children. It struck me as odd that she would bring this up kinda soon, but maybe it was an issue in a past relationship? I did not feel comfortable pressing her further.

I have not thought extensively about having a family beyond a vague desire to have kids “someday.” I have been thinking a lot about this though, and I do feel I would like to reproduce with someone I love. Is there any hope?

Jerry C.

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Dear Jerry,

Imagine what a distorted view of the world an individual has to have to in order to be told something in the strongest, simplest terms and wonder if the exact opposite might be true. I have been asked if I wanted kids before, and the truth is I just said whatever I thought the other person wanted to hear. It does not sound like this is a case of that.

Many women and men who announce this may not be able to have children. It is a sensitive topic and you were most likely right not to press it further. Can women and men be convinced or blackmailed into having children even if they say they don’t want them? Sure, but this may not be the sort of life accomplishment you can feasibly brag about to St. Peter.

With that said, maybe let it alone for now and get to know your new partner better before bailing because of this. She may explain her reasoning later on or you might decide no kids is worth it to be with the one you love. Not every relationship has to be for life.

Hi,

I recently moved in with my boyfriend of one year, who I will call Davis. Things are going tolerably well, but as with any change, there are some stumbling blocks. Now that we are living together, Davis frequently asks “What do we have to eat?” or begs me to make him something. I do enjoy preparing dinner from time to time but due to my schedule I can’t do it every night, nor would I want to. He occasionally makes a meal for us but it generally tastes like garbage. I really don’t feel I should be responsible for the culinary work in the apartment and I’m already resenting it every time he puts me in that position. What is the best way to approach a discussion about this issue?

Mila F.

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Dear Mila,

It sounds like a small thing, but this probably indicates that Davis is going to look to you to be his mother for the duration of this relationship. You need to nip this in the bud, fast. It sounds like it is too late to fake an allergy to kitchen implements. Davis needs serious help with his dietary approach – “What do we have?” is not really a plan for proper caloric intake.

It doesn’t seem unreasonable to ask each person to be responsible for one meal one night a week. Inform Davis in no uncertain terms that this will be end of your responsibilities in this area, and act extremely withdrawn for a significant period after this proclamation.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

In Which Emotional Math Is Due For A Renaissance

Raw Work

by DINA BARRACLOUGH

I showed you the lesson plan. Here it is without the Archimedes or the Joanna Russ. You rejected my idea of an emotional math, and you don’t believe in similes. I don’t know what your problem is with Joanna Russ – she could not be more ripe for a renaissance.

A short track, to simply take us through the first part of summer, before regret really begins to set in.

First week – The Classics

Herodotus (Tom Holland translation)
Gass, Omensetter’s Luck
Lee, A Gesture Life
Acker, Blood and Guts in High School

Do you feel like maybe you should stop after the first week? You could, but you would be so sad, and your mouth would flap open a bit but no one would care what you said after that.

I can’t waste my time with clever books or books that want to make me feel like I’m clever. I’m not going to pretend I respect anyone who takes this more seriously than I do. I wanted you to love all these novels. Some are stories grouped together, but who cares? There is no such thing as a novel, which reminds me that I forgot to put the David Markson on.

Are you afraid you are the type of person who threatens to quit but never does, while I am the type of person who never admits it but wants to give up the whole time? (Fear is week 3)

I broke in on something I should not have, is the feeling you get from the literature I require you to understand now and in what remains of the day. We are broadcasting on the fine, wet line. Understanding, a true cohesion that exceeds that of our parents and relatives, is expected in the near future. A license to meal.

Second week: So much water, so close to home

Macdonald, The Dalton Case
Anna Joy Springer, The Vicious Red Relic, Love
Kavan, Ice
Lispector, The Passion According to GH

It feels so much better to be dissociated from all this, floating through like an upper respiratory infection. I had an idea to do a section on medicine, but I don’t want to remind those of you with illnesses of our essential frailty (Sebald). Instead it is better to believe something else the whole time, before realizing the truth at a convenient moment. Isn’t this the basic outline of every story you have been told by me?

Why I keep saying the same thing about how you would probably come back to me given enough time, I don’t know. A picture of you is worth something. All the writing was worth something, or this was more waste. Fantastic lead-in to our next group of texts. Cortazar is always just falling short in these things. I guess Hopscotch could be optional or we look at it in class.

Third week: Fear as contagion

Shepard, Beautiful Blood
Ozick, The Cannibal Galaxy
Egan, The Clockwork Rocket
Lydia Davis, Almost No Memory

Life in the upper atmosphere pleases me greatly. We fought a specific war, which had its meaning altered by the years. Whatever we bled for is all we remember. I would prefer to see you in your finest.

You have caught on to the half-step in this routine.

I am coming together like the first island you came to in a dessicated group. Marked back and forth among the California people, the permanent ones. Place wakes, and whatever I made from eggs and the rest of the meats and cheeses was more typical than not. How awful it is to have to focus intently on not being myself. Solve it all with science.

Final week:

Powys, Porius
Sam Beckett, Molloy
Novik, Uprooted
Baldwin, Go Tell It On The Mountain

I enjoy teaching the sort of writing I like to read, although I admit my tastes are not to everyone’s. You will read the rest elsewhere, and someone will understand it/you far better than I do. You would have the worst time understanding us in this context, and I would never be proud of what I said to you.

I guess to see the filth you would have to know something about it first. Next semester you can count on a much grittier group. A literate poverty will radiate through every step, maybe a prison memoir will show them how it’s done. Ask Joanna Russ.

There is a realistic, true-to-life aspect to any bout of reading. It has become so verbose, the world – a collection of so many words? This many? So many? All my favorites. (Sarraute, Elkin, Malamud). All my old places, that I walk by to remember. After this, think of the thick, penetrating style you will have developed. You will basically be Saul Bellow without any of the dysfunction at that point. It’s only a patina.

Dina Barraclough is a contributor to This Recording. This is her first appearance in these pages. She is a writer living in Illinois.

lydia davis


In Which We Help Make Sense Of It All

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Tunnelling

by JAMAL MALIK

Quantum theory and general relativity are increasingly finding skirmishes across science, with physicists hoping to finally resolve their incompatibilities. A simple way to describe their conflict is one of scale. It can be hard to shrink down the properties of gravity, a relativistic theory, to the purview of small things; the corollary, extrapolating quantum rules to macroscopic phenomena, is also messy.

A patchwork fix was proposed decades ago: string theory. If it helps make sense of it all, maybe there are eleven dimensions, or 26 or ten, and they bend around on themselves. I like this idea because it’s ambitious and bizarre and hasn’t actually, to date, reconciled anything.

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Some events, like immigrating to the so-called first world, seem to be so profound and improbable that it might as well be crossing over from one universe to another. At age 30, my father left Bangladesh for the U.S., seeking asylum; although I know it happened, it still vexes me.

When you cross an ocean, how can you tell if you’ve made it completely?

Physical space is often regarded as infinitely divisible: it is thought that any region in space, no matter how small, could be further split. Time is similarly considered as infinitely divisible.

However, the pioneering work of Max Planck (1858–1947) in the field of quantum physics suggests that there is, in fact, a minimum distance (now called the Planck length) and therefore a minimum time interval (known as the Planck time) smaller than which meaningful measurement is impossible.

Even if you split a mortgage, marry a white woman, and speak fluently in a new tongue, by all appearances looking assimilated from the outside, you likely know that there remains some distance unbridged, ineffable.

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I moved from DC to Berlin this year to study carbohydrates at the Max Planck Institute. In tenth grade I believed chemistry to be a lingua franca. Now, in the 23rd grade, simple questions can return dizzying answers.

My father sent an insane e-mail and is maybe moving back to Bangladesh because my sister and I didn’t become the Muslim adults he expected. But is there anything more speculative or experimental than having a child, much less with someone from another continent?

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A month ago I fell down near Kottbusser Tor and I think I tore my meniscus. I want to talk to God so I was sober all Lent as a cover letter. I am also not religious but I wonder if He cares.

I think I owe, cosmically — it’s an intuition, like the feeling of being watched. I’ve coasted for too long thinking I am mostly a decent person, and that is not enough in a world that trends towards hell.

Other debts: a long letter requiring a precise amount of contrition, several thank-you notes, 33000 USD, polite wedding declines, a DC Public Library fee.

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String theory etiquette: if you have a dream about someone you can tell them or fuck them but not both.

If you find your friend’s doppelgänger at Hermannplatz, it’s okay to hit them with a tire iron. If you text your ex from a German number, you have to expect nothing in return. It is essentially a message in a bottle.

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Half third-world, half second-generation. Only Americans call the children of immigrants “second-generation,” elsewhere it’s first. Now that I am elsewhere, I am everything from a 2.5 to a 1.5 to a one (my friend says these things are up to me.)

We’ve killed the coral reefs and the ice caps are on the way out. In Arrival I thought the aliens had more faith in us than I do. In Interstellar we went through a wormhole to find a new planet and I wasted three hours.

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I have always felt like somehow my life was out of sync. I assume living your life commensurate with time feels like walking smoothly, you don’t even notice it at all.

I used to think my asynchronicity was because I skipped first grade. But maybe the hubris or fear involved in crossing an ocean, from this generation or a previous one, comes with a penalty. Maybe I’m off by a Planck time and a Planck length, a debt to an uncertain and unknowing collector.

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If we are in one of many possible universes, it feels cruel to be so limited in accessing them. In crisis we always wish to break the rules: I want to go back to this time, I want to be in that place.

We like the corollary in our high points: There is one path governed by fate. I was meant to meet this person, or to have that experience.

One measure of maturity is your ability to invert these instincts. Having the faith — it feels like a leap — to resist escapism during the lows, accepting that bad things can be done by or to you; and the humility to be grateful in happiness, knowing that it very possibly may not have met you.

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Still, we can make choices, the venue by which we can slip from one universe into the multitudes. These possibilities, of course, seem tied to youth, and watching them disappear can be darkly mesmerizing.

Avoiding one-ways is limiting in itself, and after a certain point evading permanent choices is a somewhat petulant attempt to resist time.

It took until my late twenties to realize that not making a decision is, ironically enough, totally still a decision, and often the worst one.

Jamal Malik is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Berlin. He last wrote in these pages about reasons to run. You can find his twitter here.

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In Which We Live In Detroit Until We Find Something Better

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Alcohol-Related Pun on Steel City

by ETHAN PETERSON

Detroiters
creators Tim Robinson, Sam Richardson, Zack Kanin and Joe Kelly
Comedy Central

detroiters-casting-call-detroit-520x245Sam Duvet (Sam Richardson) lives in a crumbling Detroit one-family home by himself. Without a woman in his life, he has to find solace where he can. He loves his city more than anything, and why not? He knows everyone in it. When Duvet and his partner in their advertising agency Tim Cramblin (Tim Robinson) go out to a business lunch, they have six or seven drinks, because they will most likely not be paying. Detroiters focuses on the day-to-day lives of two compulsive, functioning alcoholics in a realistic way we are not used to seeing on television, let alone on a network like Comedy Central.

For Sam, drinking is a way of dealing with the fact that his sister Chrissy (Shawntay Dalon) has a successful marriage with Tim, while his happiest romantic entanglement comes when a local woman mistakes him for a prostitute. We see Sam when bartenders and other service employees accuse him of drinking beyond his limit – this is the only time he is really mean to anyone in Detroiters. The rest of the show consists of him making allowances for other people in the same fashion as he chooses to do so for himself and his terrible disease.

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One particularly tragic episode consists of Sam and Tim trying to round up money to pay for an employee’s health insurance. They ask a local attorney for the money that they are owed. Sensing their inebriation, she does not take their entreaties seriously, and they end up with $20 from her son, who purchases a t-shirt from Sam for the purpose of ejaculating into it.

Sam and Tim’s other acquaintances are equally seedy, and most of the locations they visit in the city of Detroit consist of either an abandoned school, a restaurant or bar that has not altered in any significant way after the year 1985, or a dilapidated urban residence with few windows or open spaces. Given the dire surroundings, there is plenty of reason to drink in Detroiters.

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It is less clear why Tim Robinson (Saturday Night Live, where he was a staff writer) and his character are so focused on consuming alcohol. Tim Cramblin has a productive, loving relationship with his wife and a business he inherited from his father. Later on in Detroiters‘ nine episode first season (the show has been renewed for a second) we meet Cramblin’s massive father (Kevin Nash), who was confined to an insane asylum after portioning out platters of feces to the participants in a pitch meeting. Seeing Tim’s biological family ostensibly should help explain his life, but instead it only gives rise to more questions.

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Richardson and Robinson are both Detroit natives themselves, and there is a consistent insistence on casting actors who are actually from Detroit, which does give Detroiters a weird verisimilitude. Their attachment to place as a defining factor in their lives is probably simply another byproduct of their alcoholism, but it is a relief to see this illness in a context that is not out-of-control abandon. We sense that Tim and Sam will be alcoholics for their entire lives, and the only thing that will stop them from abusing alcohol and drugs would be to leave Detroit, which they will never do.

There is something a bit perverse about portraying emotionally stunted versions of yourself, but the broadly talented Richardson has already made a short career out of doing this in Veep and in feature films. At times, it is disappointing that in a role he wrote for himself he offers no real introspection in his character. We see Sam reflected in his city, and this view represents only part of the whole. Robinson and Richardson’s humor is usually confined to the expectations we have for other people and the world relative to ourselves. When people or events let them down, they are momentarily disappointed, but the combination of alcohol and their own perverted friendship allows them to take the righteous view.

There is this crazy scene in a Mary Karr book – actually this might happen in every Mary Karr book – where stranded for an indeterminate period of time, she unpacks an entire bottle of vodka she plans to continuously sip from for the duration. Sam Duvet has the crutch of his best friend to enable him even when drinking alone cannot cure his sadness or even annoyance at the city where he was born. In its best moments, Detroiters shows how different individuals find something, anything, that allows them to go on.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.