In Which We Seek A Higher Power Than Our Own

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


For the past couple of months I have been dating a guy I’ll call Michael. So far, we get along really well and share a lot of the same values. There is definitely an intense physical chemistry between us also. 

A concern that I do have is that while are backgrounds are not markedly different, Michael is not as intelligent or educated as the guys I usually date. He’s not stupid or anything, and he also seems to recognize that sometimes I think about things in a more contextual way than he does. I don’t know if it worries him or not, but I could see it becoming a problem if we were to become more serious.

Am I the one being stupid or is this a valid concern?

Hayley U.

just plain afraid to fail


There are lots of different types of intelligence. No, I’m just kidding, there are only two types. Of people in the world. Of cats, or sandwiches. I hope this resolves your question.

At a very young age, this column was praised for its burgeoning intelligence. It was also very cute. Women appeared in large numbers, from which we can conclude that yes, intelligence can be attractive.

The caveat here is that by and large the most unhappy people in the world not suffering from any diagnosed mental illness are brilliant. I mean, look at Stephen Hawking. He’s got to be so pissed off. He even hates robots now, the guy is so miserable.

Hayley, I’m sure that some guy could come along and think he was more intelligent than you, and wonder whether your relationship could work on that basis. How would that make you feel? If annoyed and shocked is the answer, then you can probably detect whether or not you’re standing on moral high ground in your own situation.

Just be like, “Smarten up!”

hard to say mia nguyen


I have been dating my current boyfriend, James, for five months. I have started to question our long-term compatibility as well as the sexual side of our relationship. To explain a bit: my faith is really important to me, and James has shown no interest really. The sex is okay but not incredibly adventurous, which is what makes me come. 

I still like and respect him, and in a perfect world I’d love to be friends or at least stay on good terms. I also don’t want to hurt him with my rejection. What’s the best way to let him down easy?

Harriet H.

Dear Harriet,

No one reacts well to rejection. If he’s the excitable type, I would just tell him on the phone. If he’s not, you can do it in person. If you really want to stay friends and ensure he’s hung up on you for significantly longer, this is your choice. But don’t bring it up, except in passing, while you’re dumping him and make it clear that if he’s interested in that he should contact you later on.

Considering your reasons for moving on don’t seem so hurtful, why not just explain them? I think he’ll understand. It’s fairly rare that one person is sexually fulfilled when the other isn’t at all. It does happen. And he should know that the fact that he abhors God is responsible for his current misery and loneliness.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

In Which No One Ever Missed Will Smith This Much


Alien Queen Blues


fdgsdgdfgdsIndependence Day: Resurgence
dir. Roland Emmerich
120 minutes

You know what Independence Day needed, when you really think about it? Charlotte Gainsbourg. Sure, Char might be a little young to play Jeff Goldblum’s love interest. Then again she is eleven years older than his wife so what am I saying.

You know what Independence Day needed more than Char, when you really think about it? A Hemsworth, any Hemsworth will do. Chris would have been ideal but since he was busy Roland Emmerich settled for his second choice, Liam. Liam is in a committed relationship with Bill Pullman’s daughter Patricia (Maika Monroe). Although Patricia is of course a trained fighter space pilot, she retired before Independence Day: Resurgence begins to take care of her Da.


Don’t worry though, because right after Vivica A. Fox dies falling off a building, a female fighter pilot from China named Rain (Angelababy) emerges to capture the all important international market. Women are quite powerful from the shadows, as the casting of Sela Ward as the president of these United States indisputably proves. “There will be no peace,” she screams as she is murdered by aliens halfway through this impressively wretched movie.


Independence Day: Resurgence features a cast as a massive as Gosford Park. This is a shame because the actual plot has tons of potential. A devious queen alien plans to milk Earth of its sensational molten core. Do you ever just drive around and think, wow, below me thousands of miles beneath the Earth’s crust is something infinitely more valuable than Maika Monroe’s mediocre acting abilities?

A lot of stuff is dated in this movie. There’s no sex or love except one guy who has a crush on the Chinese girl. (He disappears shortly thereafter confessing his crush and she refuses to kiss him later on.) Generic alien-type aliens are no longer sufficient to inspire fear or wonder. Just looking at Charlotte Gainsbourg’s neck generates more apprehension than all the special effects in Independence Day: Resurgence combined.


In order to battle the queen alien, Jeff Goldblum discovers this sphere on the moon. White tendrils emerge from the object, incensing the queen for whom it acts like a kind of beacon. She puts on a very cute suit of armor and heads to where Jeff is, so she can presumably lecture him about an obsession with younger women. The sphere learns English and explains it originates from another alien species opposed to the queen.

Eventually Liam Hemsworth sort of forgets about Maika Monroe, suggesting she may not have been affectionate enough for his tastes. He starts flirting with Will Smith’s sexy son from the first movie. Young W.S. isn’t quite the pilot that his father was. Near the end of the movie Maika strips down to a tank top and everyone is happy, even though her dad died. Earth is saved, and Will Smith is just a guy in a painting in the White House.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.


In Which We Woke Up This Morning And All The Direwolves Were Gone


Fully Thronesed


Game of Thrones
creators David Benioff & D.B. Weiss

It was a show that barely got a second season order, so constrained by budgetary limitations that in early seasons Jon Snow’s direwolf Ghost was portrayed by a toy poodle from Tom’s River, New Jersey named Lady Sunstein.

All the direwolves are gone now, and all the Lannister children as well. They were all the product of an ill union between brother and sister – and, it is intimated, so too may some of the Stark children be the product of a similar relationship. The way Ned Stark looked at his sister as she was dying in childbirth was a bit on the creepy side. Maybe we find out later, in the vast books of the Citadel, that Rhaeger was impotent.


There was something a bit trite about these climactic scenes as they finally arrived. The first twenty minutes of this show was brilliant and probably should have been in last week’s episode. It was amazing how Cersei sort of gave up on her son and left his bay windows open for a deadly fall. I was so happy that I would never be forced to watch Natalie Dormer or Jonathan Pryce act again that I almost cried.

Grandma Tyrell’s indignation at this state of affairs seemed rather forced. I don’t really understand why the Golden Girls need to be affliated with Daenerys, since she seems destined to enter into a love relationship with her nephew Jon Snow. On the other hand, the absolute insane amount of people that have been killed off means that the remaining characters are necessarily inhabiting a larger role.


The worst part of the finale was undoubtedly the turgid scene between Daenerys and Tyrion. What kind of woman throws out a perfectly good terrible actor and replaces him with a much shorter terrible actor? Tyrion as a character would have a lot more relevance if he exhibited any emotion at all. Like, what is even the point of this mutual appreciation party? Cersei may not have liked him very much, but didn’t he already get his revenge?


The power struggle in the North is a nice wrinkle, but a couple things. The Onion Knight was absolutely fine with Melisandre for like a year, but suddenly he’s accusing her of being a murderer? He’s been acting like they were best friends the entire season. Also, I’m pretty sure the little girl was going to die from greyscale any day. Melisandre could have plausibly used that in her defense. I guess it’s time for her to meet up with the Brotherhood without Banners. She could finally bring Catelyn Stark back from the dead.

So many people were and are still caught up in thinking that Arya Stark never left that little shit room in Braavos, and the Waif is now Arya Stark. I guess it’s possible, although why she would go and eat all of Walder Frey’s children I truly don’t know. I felt like that probably could have used an episode in itself. Arya should have infiltrated the camp and shown all her skills. This way it just seems like she teleported to her destination and the kill has so much less effect.


Cersei Lannister should be a tremendous villain, but I’m sort of failing to see where she went wrong in any of this. Bran saw her fucking Jaime in Winterfell. She took mercy on the boy and never killed him. She returned to Westeros. Her husband was a dangerous alcoholic so she got rid of him, but in the nicest possible way. She did kill Ned Stark, but in her defense, he was very nosy and anyway I doubt she could have stopped it from happening. The Golden Girls killed her daughter and the Tyrells killed Joffrey. So exactly how did she lose the moral high ground in any of this? This entire season she’s been nothing but trod upon by a group of religious fanatics who stole her remaining son.

I honestly don’t know why he even bothered finishing the series of books. It feels like we are so close to end of things that the rest of Game of Thrones will just approximate the feel of this episode. The finale was just a big epilogue, a Where Are They Now? for a group of people that have already experienced all the tragedy they will ever know. How do you punish the punisher, or torture the tortured? There was a finality to everything, a sense that we could watch these shifting alliances forever, until we decide ourselves to leave well enough alone.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. He will return to his reviews when the remake of Lost hits ABC in the year 2026, or when Game of Thrones returns, whichever occurs first I guess.


In Which Diane Renders All Other Faces Useless In Comparison

Sob Story


What I noticed about Diane first was actually something about myself. When I saw her I cycled through so many different reactions, unable to fixate on one in particular. First came a kind of mental thrust, a movement towards an indiscernible affection. Then lust, at how she was arranged. I only felt that bracing sadness afterwards, reminiscent of when I was a boy and saw a bird lose its sight.

I love animals, humans especially. Last week I witnessed an earthworm wriggling on the sidewalk. I put it in the ground. I thought to myself, “Is this what I think I am always doing?”

Her real name is not Diane. At times I wonder what this looks like from above.

I have told so many people I cannot be with them over the years. I suppose we all have, but when I think back on telling Diane, I realize on how little hinged my choice. The others held something messy and incomplete inside that I could not really ignore. Maybe that sounds harsh, but I am not really thinking of these women as they are, only what I saw in them. It’s awful to think you want to make someone else more whole. It is no reflection on her, only on you.

On occasion I imagine my life if every time I had said the word need, I replaced it with want, and vice versa. Because that is what I meant to say, really. Whatever I wanted, I actually needed. Whenever I said need, I lied.

I suppose I could be the worm, wriggling. My metaphors are relatively less substantial, the further I get from the one I love.

She had marvelous taste. I know there is nothing in that except my own admiration. She spoke of everything outside of me with wild abandon, as though it were being described for the first time.

painting by patrick hughes

Diane was impressionable. Unfortunately she realized this, and took various measures to guard against it. I learned quickly, going over her lithe body, her arrested torso, that cruelty was useless. She was unconcerned by such things. She called them waste. (Like so many, she was the only one who could harm herself. If she was going to suffer, she and only she would know what she was punished for.)

To impress yourself on such a person, as is my habit and function, seems impossible at first. I used the internet. She came over at all hours; sometimes she would agree to come but not show up. When I asked her what had happened, promising myself I would be restrained, she waited for a long time before responding. Or maybe it just felt that way on gchat.

From time to time she would text me, but exclusively aphorisms and quotations. Largely they bore no relation to me, every once in awhile one would seem to comment on my lack of humility. It felt like we were never reading the same book.

Diane was a musician. I don’t know why I say ‘was’, probably she still is. I am afraid to bing her and find out. I am happiest when I am writing, gleefully explaining this chronicle of her so I no longer have to force sense on it in my own mind. She has a marvelous voice, dusky and gravelly. I loved how she said my name, but I loathed myself for thinking there was anything substantial in it.

Our sex was high level. It transcended intimacy, since no other emotion could have been brought to these events without being overwhelmed by their intensity. Other writers make sex sound so similar to my own experience, or so foreign from it. I do not trust what they say about it, nor do I think I am ever supposed to.

We rarely went out together. Once I asked why that was, and she answered that no one asks why a blouse cannot nurse a child. I was quiet for a long time after that.

Yesterday I went back to a grotto she took me to once, a natural elision in the rock. Fog swarmed over beetles dancing between the parapets, oak and pine shivered and turned away. She was always saying how light went through objects; to be honest I thought it was kind of horseshit, but sometimes disbelief can turn around and become a kind of wonder.

Possibly I should have said this before anything else, but Diane had a serious addiction. Still, she was never high all the time, and she never used in front of me, for which I was grateful. Once I was so ashamed when she did not come to see me, as she promised. I typed to her what I suspected. She typed that it was inappropriate for two drugs to bicker amongst each other.

I thought it was a compliment when she said it, but I now believe the statement lacked any inflection at all. Diane excelled at unadorning the truth while still softening it.

Sex really had nothing to do with Diane. It was something she exuded, as I said, but then it would be replaced by what she was. Her lower body was a bit larger, and depending on what she wore, my attention could be drawn anyplace. How is it that a woman can be something and never say what she is?

Reading that back, it sounds sexist. I am not really talking about women, only Diane who is not Diane. I hope she reads this, because it will prove everything to her. She will hold this webpage in her arms like carrion. Most of what I said is true. Diane typed that it is wonderful to relinquish something that has already been destroyed. When I wake I see that mouth; I’d be lying if I said I was not entirely consumed with her in these moments, when the light hits any tender face other than her own. She seemed to absorb envy.

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. He last wrote in these pages about the falcon and the angel.

In Which We Have More Hair Than We Know What To Do With

Dream People


creators Ryan Griffen, Michael Miller & Jon Bell

Watching Cleverman on SundanceTV this week I was reminded of how completely America has erased its indigenous people from contemporary culture. In Australia, a different state of affairs exists. Aboriginal people are always at the edge of Australian culture, but their mature concepts and themes have a deep influence on how Australians define themselves as the people.

Koen West (Hunter Page-Lochard) has integrated himself completely into this people. He runs a bar with a best friend and fucks the guy’s girlfriend in the back between serving pints. On the side he makes money relocating Hairies (a native species divergent from humans with immense strength and speed) to secret housing and then reporting their whereabouts to the government, who persecute them out of fear.

Every single character in Cleverman has this potential for evil, and while it would be farfetched to say this is an Australian characteristic, it reflects a basic guilt for the essential crimes against the aboriginal people that the United States pretends to have resolved through casinos and lenient tax situations.

Koen becomes a cleverman in the show’s pilot, which among other things gives him the power to see individual’s futures through touch, as well as almost unlimited healing. This gift from his uncle alters the fabric of who he is, and gives him a new perspective on his shitty, drug and sex-fueled life.

His primary antagonists on Cleverman carry most of the action, and they are what make the show so much fun to watch. The first is Jarrod Slade (Iain Glen), a media executive much closer than Ser Jorah Mormont to Glen’s natural strengths of steely resolve and an unclear sense of what is moral in the world. His wife Charlotte (Frances O’Connor) looks to have barely aged in the nearly two decades since she starred as Fanny Price in Mansfield Park.

The casting of the two as a couple with vague sympathies towards aboriginal people and Hairies makes the de facto Australian point of view. Cleverman features a somewhat light commentary on how we view the various problems of immigration and cultural minorities with different beliefs. Cleary and Slade’s waterfront home is a metaphor for how their literal positioning of privilege keeps them apart from the realities of such debates, and the protection of their wealth seems a tad bit convenient for this fractured milieu.

The other antagonist is Koen’s brother, the wonderfully certain and slightly demonic Waruu (Rob Collins, in a breakout role). Collins has a young daughter and a wife he cheats on with a white woman. Besides his infidelity, his only crime is that he is not the cleverman he expected to become when his uncle died. The concept of a character who is ruined by being denied one thing – when he has everything else – is kind of Oedipal. In any case, it is somewhat unusual in serial television.

The weakest part of Cleverman is the plight of a family of Hairies who Koen betrayed. Their incarceration by a bunch of vindictive and malevolent prison guards is the only part of the show without shades of grey. It seems too grim an indictment on the Australian people that they would allow torture and murder of any species. Observing these creatures of transparently applied makeup is hard enough without seeing them shocked and bled.

While British shows have found an easier time appealing to American audiences, a more difficult accent, lower production values and a less similar environment have slowed the inroads of the up-and-coming Australian film and television industry. Cleverman hurdles these difficulties through impressive production values, a variety of gorgeous locations and Ser Jorah Mormont and his wife. Initially the political messages seem a little abstruse, but that can be solved over time.

Despite small missteps, Cleverman‘s blend of horror and near-future science fiction gives the series an exciting base. The show is noticeably short on action so far, but that energy seems to have gone into showing us all the angles of its conflicted, embattled characters. Cleverman is the only show of recent note that gives me the feeling that actual life conveys at moments – of a difficult slog dotted by brief moments of incandescent beauty and love.

Ethan Peterson is the senior contributor to This Recording.

In Which No Communication Rivals This Key Technique

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


My friend Davia broke up with her last boyfriend over two years ago. (He cheated on her with prostitutes.) Since then, she has compared every new possible mate with him, and usually found the new prospect unfavorable. She finds the littlest things to fixate on in order to dismiss me — they don’t text her enough, they text her too much, they use emojis, she doesn’t like their smell (ok that’s possibly valid). Often she says she they don’t share the same values, although I am a loss as to what that means since Davia doesn’t seem to have extraordinary values, and I say that as a friend. She is a good person though, and I want her to find happiness. Is there any way I can snap her out of this funk?

Ellen C.


Often men and women will think of reasons to reject potential mates that don’t necessarily strike at the core of why they are not pursuing the relationship. The fact that it has been two years of this on Davia’s part, however, indicates a greater problem. It is not simply that she is not finding anyone that she likes well enough to get serious, it is that she is in no position to have a committed relationship with someone to begin with.

For some people, cheating is a deeply troubling act that strikes at the core of how they value themselves and the opposite sex. This might come across as sexist, but I’m going to say it anyway. The reasons men cheat are sometimes, but not always, different from the reasons women cheat. I tend to have more sympathy for women who cheat on their partners. Maybe this is fucking stupid, but it’s what I feel inside.

If this guy was really stepping out just for sex, maybe Davia has some problems thinking she is decent in the bedroom. You can alleviate some of her concerns for her. Ask what her particular techniques are. What school of sex did she study at? Does she know all the most sensitive and erogenous zones on a man’s body? What about a woman’s body? Getting over whatever hangup is holding her back should end the nitpicking.


I have been trying without success to meet people on various online sites. I think I’m an attractive guy, but I tend to stumble when I’m introducing myself and who I am. I just end up saying a “hi” or a “hello I’m Evan” since I can’t think of anything better. More often than not I get no response. How can I get better at initiating these troubling conversations?

Evan S.

Dear Evan,

It’s not my job to tell you what specifically you should say to meet women. Maybe the type of woman you should be with is the kind who responds to a simple “Hello.” She hears your cry in the dark and she reaches out for the echo of how boring you are.

Don’t be discouraged by the lack of replies. The fact that you are not receiving any replies is a warning sign you need to change things up, but think of all the possible reasons a woman is not replying to your message:

– she gets a million messages

– she’s not even single and likes the idea of getting messages from strange

– she forgot to delete her account

– she’s a bot

– she’s deeply bored by the fact you are the seven hundreth person she has seen on top of an elephant. Like, why would we care that you rode an elephant or touched a snake? Get over yourself.

– she matched with you by accident

– she’s upset with you and has chosen the silent treatment as her delicate revenge

With that said, a bare hello is never going to get the job done. When you’re writing something, throw out an introduction that can’t help but make her reply, and she’ll reply. Comedy is usually best, so hire ghostwriters. I’m not paid enough for that.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

In Which We Climb The Tower In The Substitute Castle




This is the only way I can explain it. You’re on a long walk and the ground becomes unstable, vacillating from side to side. You have the option of jumping to more level ground beneath you. Once you’re there, it may take everything in you to rise.

She is the youngest child of a very old family. She braids her hair, always. I may as well address you directly, even though you are not here and will never be again. It was my choice, but it was also yours.

Your first boyfriend vanished without a trace. Later, you discovered he had emigrated to the Ukraine, where money stretched a lot further. This is the kind of world you lived in. As an American, I could claim to know nothing of it except for this: we place a different value on people. What value that is, whether it is truly better or worse, I don’t feel confident enough to say.

painting by chris ballantyne

In six months or thereabouts, she will be a citizen. Her children, if she ever has any, will be citizens. But I will just be Mark. It feels good to know it is possible to become something else; it does not necessarily mean I will become it. The further south I have been is Colombia, where I met a girl with long legs and a gruff way of deciding even the smallest problem. It took me some time to realize I was just another problem. The furthest north I have been is Nova Scotia, maybe.

I’ll look at a map, later, after I finish writing this. It is nearly morning where I am: rain and thunder lash at the brocades. Get an idea of the place you are in as a kind of jail and it never leaves you. Here, I never touch myself or offer absolution to others. I am not a monk, but I wish I was.

C.S. Lewis was strongly against masturbation. He never made himself come, which seems to me like a waste. Masturbation, he said, was just an expression of interiority. The point of life is to come out of ourselves, and masturbation – I’m paraphrasing – is a substitute for that which should be sought in the real world. “The danger is that of coming to love the prison,” he wrote.

Lately, on my garden walks or hikes I have been cataloguing scent. There are not many other human bodies around here, but thinking of what my nose found in them, it is easy to recall a variety of sweats, anxieties and garbage-type smells. Once, a woman queefed an odd scent. She stood by the window and a dog howled. She should have laughed, but only I did, and I know she felt wronged by that. We were both there, under the mountains.

Here the tiniest market imaginable provides my own sustenance. There is fresh fish always, and though I never liked the texture of the beasts before, I have grown to find certain varieties appetizing. The proprieter is a rough woman of sixty who would be quite unsettling if she was not clearly so happy with who she was. I told her that I envied her, and she nodded. “The old envy the young, and vice versa. If that wasn’t so, the young would never become old.” I was like what.

How long it will take me to get over this latest heartbreak, I’m not one hundred percent sure. It becomes a lot harder to trust people each time, even though I know it’s not them I ever put my faith in, but my own perceptions. I don’t want to think that I am incapable of certain things: commitment, prolonged desire, friendship. I think it is more that I don’t truly know what they mean until I am absorbed in them. Being conscious makes things so difficult.


Christians are not the only reading material in this place. Hegel was not really a Christian although maybe he was. Reading him is no fun at all, and I disagree with what he is saying on almost every point except this one — there is no self-consciousness without another self. And you are not here.

When I take a trip someplace, the last moment of my departure inculcates a feeling of immense sadness for the person I have left behind. Not the last one I saw, or cared about, but you. That is how I know I loved you beyond any of the others. Women represent the limit of my conscious thought. They are a stop sign, a fevered pause. You are the word go at last.

Mark Arturo is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Toronto. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

Paintings by Chris Ballantyne.

painting by chris ballantyne