In Which We Are Not New To This Part Of The World

cairogroppi

Pros and Cons of Cairo

by HEATHER MCROBIE

PRO: The elevators, I’ve always thought, are like how H.G. Wells imagined time machines. So rickety, so brassy, buttons like old saxophones and levers like The Future. The way the past imagined the future. I know logically it’s because I don’t live in Cairo. When I lived in Amman the elevator just signified nuisance, especially after that time it broke down, 3:30 p.m. in late summer, in an air-conditionless purgatory and my useless fists hitting at the door. It felt like a sign of my uselessness in those years, that I’d be using my energy punching things while obsolete engineering suspended me between two actual places.

Cairo elevators, as a novelty, are the opposite of purgatory — you are in the past and future together, up and down all at once and with such handsome structure for the journey. When the doors close the stutter noise is so elegant, like the machinery is speaking a second language it learned at a school where uniforms were compulsory. You get in and your companion is a neighbour still smoking indoors or someone coming to fix something else inside the building or just your daydreaming. If the elevator is going up, your daydreaming is that you are Charlie in the Chocolate Factory, except instead of chocolate you are being given the gift of an evening. If the elevator is going down, your daydreaming is that you are plunging, like Jacques Cousteau, in a complicated apparatus whose confines are a small price to pay for the endless expanse it buys you, to explore — a sea, a city. In this Jacques Cousteau daydream Cairo is a coral reef wide as the side of Australia, street corners covered in star-fish. Elevators are the second-best thing made out of iron in this city. The first best thing is bed-frames.

CON: In a taxi, this is not in any of the many views I respect The Way To The Airport.

cairoelevator

PRO: The stray cats have never forgotten that they were once worshipped. Like many people on the periphery of my life, I get the tingling sense that they are biding their time — that they know their turn will come again. They have never gotten into the elevator with me, the way they did with my friend. Instead they get me just outside the door, tail-up and too-clever and insistent. When I lived in another Middle Eastern city, the rule I had with my housemate was that a cat had to follow me all the way home — cross the threshold like a bride — and then I’d be allowed to keep it.

Here both I and the cats are too proud to make the necessary moves, and instead share lunch and afternoons as I take cigarette breaks too often between my solitary report-writing. But since I do not have a companion or rule-making housemate here, I indulge them in my afternoon-daydream literary allusions. I talk about Colette’s cats, and T.S Eliot’s. And the other Eliot. My favourite George Eliot novel is the unshowy, graceful Daniel Deronda, a wrought iron elevator of a novel if ever there was one. But even in her maturity Eliot gives in to the literary clemency that cats inspire. The house cat in Daniel Deronda, the opulently-named Hafiz, offsets the handsomeness of the human characters, a single pure indulgence. In breaks from my work I talk to the creatures on the doorstep about which works of contemporary literature would have been improved by the presence of cats. The unanimous verdict we reach is ‘all of them’.

CON: In a taxi, I think of all the people who may have opinions on the act — perhaps doctors or bureaucrats.

PRO: Some of my friends here laugh and others roll their eyes when I tell them that I have come up with the name the ‘Ikhwan Ice-cream Van’. It is the truck that goes round in the run-up to the December constitutional referendum, telling the neighbourhood during the lull of the afternoon that “the people demand the implementation of shari’a”. This is a reworking of the Tahrir Square cry that “the people demand the overthrow of the regime”. Like a bad 2012 remix. The ‘Ikhwan Ice-cream Van’ truck drives up and down the streets with its loudspeakers and its lack of tact. The neighbourhood replies with children running around in groups of five or six, the voices of soap operas tentacling out of windows, and the dissenting mewling of the cats. I love this neighbourhood; it is the first time I have stayed here. It is also the first time I have been here since the revolution. I love it even when, living-alone and lost in my thoughts, I hear things in the night that make me hold the edges of anything I can touch. I should probably state here that the Muslim Brotherhood did not — as far as I am aware and according to my sources — hand out any ice-cream to Egyptian citizens in the run-up to the December constitutional referendum.

cairojeffblack

CON: In a taxi, I curse — of all things — my fingernails.

PRO:  My landlady lives in the same apartment building, some floors directly above. With the complications since Morsi’s decree in November and the referendum in December, prices of things have warped, the economy buckled like scrap metal. As it gets colder, the price of staying warm goes up. I know this from the newspapers and from friends but still my landlady tells me I need to stay warm, she has a spare electric heater. From high up in her apartment, she lowers it down to me in a basket, making a pulley system which we also later use for me to send paperwork up to her. The basket dangles past my window. The basket makes me think idly about Moses. This makes me think idly about scrolls. I unwrap the packaging of the sweets I’ve bought like they’re sacred. I lie back into the blank-page of the iron-framed bed. In text and in reality, it is one of the best afternoons the world has given me. I dream that everything I have to write will be sent to me from baskets, from stone tablets, or via elevators. Delivered to my door as certain as a cat.

CON: In a taxi, I make prayers I don’t believe and no-one else believes and even if they did believe they would say it was too late anyway. 

PRO: I met you at the church at just the time you said — the traffic mushed all over the bridge couldn’t keep me. Evening was falling in great chunks like stubborn shop-front shutters: a section of sky, and then another, and then another, dimmed itself in turn. Cafés are opening now like oysters or like flowers or like scrolls. Café after café unfolds. The streets are thick with people and also some roadblocks and also some cats. I tell you about my research and all the things I didn’t write properly. I tell you about all the places I haven’t seen or should have seen more properly. In general my way of looking is — all there is still to do, to be done. This is early-evening thinking. You look like early evening too, lashes falling. You look like Moses baskets falling from the sky, the way your eyebrows shoot up when you are explaining something. You wave your hands around like palm trees. You laugh like copper or brass. We go into one café where I take photos and you laugh at me. We go to another one where I’m really feeling all these things so then you don’t laugh at me. When we walk back out and into the thick of the street the church makes a noise like pearls or the sea or something and I don’t want to leave. I explain to you about coral reefs and cats and Costeau diving-suits and the Moses baskets and all the everything-all-at-once that I love. At least, I try to explain things.

CON: In a taxi, weighed against all of that, is the inconvenience of bodies.

Heather McRobie is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

cairoapartmen 

 

 

Advertisements

In Which We Effort With All The Subtlety Of The Period

Clap Your Hands Over Your Eyes

by ETHAN PETERSON

Happy!
creators Grant Morrison and Brian Taylor
SyFy

Happy! begins with Nick (Christopher Meloni) alone in a bathroom of a bar. The unavoidable irony (the first in the completely expected series of many such switcheroos) is that he is miserable. Nick – a former cop turned killer for hire – throws up and imagines blowing his head off. In his fantasy, his cranium spurts with blood as go-go dancers accompany his distress.

Distress was also the name of a 1995 science fiction novel by Greg Egan. It is the kind of actually meaningful project that SyFy could approach if it wasn’t constantly trying to copy the dismal success of The Walking Dead. Distress concerns an African scientist who develops a theory that makes her the target of a disturbed cult, and an intersection that changes humanity completely. Egan, unlike Grant Morrison, was the sort of writer to take seriously, because his development of characters doesn’t solely turn on making a cop a hitman, a prostitute a sensitive soul, and an Italian mobster the victim of molestation.

Such ugliness makes Happy! an adult comedy, except in typical SyFy fashion, it shies away from any true unpleasantness. Death as conveyed by Nick is painless, efficient and actually somewhat boring. Meloni, who is the classic case of an actor of limitless talent who never found the right role (he came close in Oz), is tries his best to save this tonal mess of a series.

Worst is Happy himself, an imaginary friend voiced by newly remarried comedian Patton Oswalt. As usual, Oswalt does a fantastic job trying to make the awful material Grant Morrison writes for him sound the least bit humorous. Unlike say, the stuffed bear Seth MacFarlane created in Ted, the joke is not that Happy says things that are amusing coming from a cartoon unicorn. Actually his dialogue is quite dull, and before he emerges to haunt Nick so he can save the little girl whose daemon he is, the show is considerably more exciting.

While the art direction in Happy! is up and down, Brian Taylor (Crank) clearly brings a joy to the production design. Happy! looks just as good as feature films which cost a great deal more, and Taylor’s energetic gambits with angle, lens and mood all pay off. If you didn’t actually have to have a story, and could focus merely on acting performances and visual composition, this show would be in a class of its own.

Unfortunately, the source material is lacking. In the tradition of his brother-in-spirit Mark Millar, Morrison’s only instinct is to splatter more blood, and have Nick say things that could be construed, optimistically, as parting shots even Bruce Willis would leave on the cutting room floor. Like Millar, Morrison seems to think there is a puritanical aspect of America that is shocked by such gruesomeness. But who can even be shocked by their own way of life? With or without an invisible friend, Happy! is a dreary ride through the mind of a self-involved person. Ultimately, this is a trip that each of can take at any time, simply by closing our eyes.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.


 

In Which We Would Like To See You Again

Christine’s Piety

by BOBBY VOGEL

Lady Bird
dir. Greta Gerwig
93 minutes

Lady Bird is a phenomenon now, but it is still hard to be prepared for this film. We are simply not conditioned by current cinema to notice what it notices: the way an awkward young woman falls back on words like “cool” and “awesome,” not because she is inarticulate, but because she is nervous and confused and in love; or the way she suddenly feels desired when a young man says he’d like to see her again; or the way her voice deepens and grows in confidence when she responds to him.

Or the way when sitting in a group and something astonishing happens, and you hear others reacting, you might immediately look not at the event but at your best friend’s face, to see her reaction. Or the faintly attracted, disinterested way you notice a handsome new boy when you already have a boyfriend. Or how, when stuck in a car with friends who are bad to you, at the very moment you realize it, you muster the nerve to get out by sneaking proud glances at yourself in the rear-view mirror.

This is the stuff of clichés, but there are no clichés in this coming-of-age film. It proceeds in vignettes. What feels clichéd in a single scene is every time redeemed by a detail that would be missed by one who is critical of clichés. The film avoids them not by daring to be different but by daring to be similar. It seeks common ground, that is, between itself and its audience. It trusts its audience to trust it, which is a radical thing to do in a time of inhuman cinema, destructive of the qualities needed for that trust. A pervasive inhumanity can only prepare us for alternating evils: give in to the false pleasures and manipulations of Hollywood, or be made mistrustful and cynical, be made to always be on the lookout for clichés. Those of us who have chosen the second option out of necessity are challenged by this film. Lady Bird rejects this problem and suggests itself as a third way.

It is, then, truly an ambitious film. Its director-writer, Greta Gerwig, positions herself as a wise woman, as a filmmaker that the defiant and radiant Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) could have learned from. A character who renames herself is not the kind of person who would listen to just anybody. Gerwig understands the way Christine smiles at New York City the first time she sees it, emerging out of the stairs from the subway as if she had lived her whole life underground until then. But Gerwig also understands how the excitement of a new home won’t make you happy if you’re running away from an old one.

She understands how Christine might, on one random Sunday away from home, almost inexplicably, walk into a church service and listen to the music. She also understands why she might only watch from the balcony, or not stay for very long, but be moved nonetheless, and walk away with new hope and a little more self-understanding. Gerwig’s religious scenes are like Eric Rohmer’s in their almost muted piety and in their full confidence in that quietness. Gerwig knows that piety is a powerful thing and need never be loud. She also knows that piety can be ridiculous, inflamed, or very disagreeable, and that it might especially seem so to someone like Christine.

Lady Bird is a love letter to its characters, and to those watching who might also love its characters, and learn from that love modeled by the director. But love letters sometimes never rise above platitude; they sometimes lack the tension of stinging self-awareness. It can be the mark of both a cynic and a mature man to be skeptical of love letters. The cynic doesn’t want to feel his feelings. The mature man wants to feel them thoughtfully and in proportion. He wants to feel them in a way that leads to a deeper understanding; he wants to leave room for his reason. The immature person might want to obliterate his reason; he might want to feel his feelings too much, or linger in his memories for too long. Lady Bird proceeds in vignettes because we remember our lives in vignettes. One feels that Lady Bird the character is remembering her youth as an adult via Lady Bird the film. This is an accomplishment by the director. It is not a crutch of autobiography, but an invitation to remember with her.

Still, one worries that Christine lingers too long in her memories. Understanding the film as a succession of memories illuminates at the same time as it disturbs us in its overwhelming affection for them. Christine seems to be unusually invested in and attached to her adolescence, or rather, to its very end. The cusp of adulthood is brilliantly remembered and depicted, but perhaps overly loved.

That heightened love has the tendency to hide or impoverish Christine’s inner life, especially its darker moments of guilt or regret. It is conceivable that our decent director does not find “guilt” to be helpful, or has not reflected that reflecting on guilt can change the quality of that guilt, from something that haunts you to something that saves you. One scene shows a young man, guilty of hiding a secret from his unaccepting family, suddenly sob. Guilt, here, is portrayed as something to overcome or escape from, and secrets are shown to be special, inviolable, and at the core of one’s identity.

Other scenes recommend the notion that privacy, secrecy, and safety make up the sanctuary where one can become who one is. The family bathroom, door locked, is the only place Christine can be her true self. The film obscures the interplay between public and private in which one contemplates, in private, what one has done and said in public, and what one will or will not do in the future. Thoughtful, public action implies private thinking. Otherwise solitude is self-absorption.

It is a mark of Lady Bird’s realism that this complaint may be read as description. Unbearable family life destroys the dynamic between public and private. When the family-authority cannot maintain its power without belittlement or manipulation (not unlike how Hollywood works), then the private becomes a shelter from that authority. One escapes from the public to the private. The private becomes a place to contemplate, not reality, but fantasy. This is why teenagers like Christine might decorate their bedrooms. It is healthy for young people to fantasize or decorate their future selves. But they should imagine becoming someone they could admire and respect after hard work and experience. Christine wants to become someone now, without sweat and without failure. Early in the film, she admires a favorite song because it was “written in 10 minutes.”

We shouldn’t expect Christine to grow up immediately. But we should expect it, hypothetically, in five or ten years, if we are to expect adulthood from the film itself. Lady Bird sometimes seems to assume that identity comes easily, that conflict can be solved by sentiment or a phone call, or even that watching TV news is political engagement. Christine follows the American wars overseas, but she never talks about them, just as she never really talks about who she wants to be outside of the near future. The gist of her voiced introspection is that she wishes her house had a dedicated “TV room.” It is perhaps the saddest remark in the film, full of hope yet on the verge of stasis.

Bobby Vogel is a contributor to This Recording. This is his first appearance in these pages. He is a writer living in Texas. You can find more of his writing here and here. You can e-mail him at bobbyvogelfilm@gmail.com.


 

In Which We Have A Lovely Circle Of Infidels

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

Hi,

My fiancee Jerome and I have a lovely circle of friends. We want to include everyone in our pre-wedding preparations, but Jerome doesn’t get along with one of my college friends, a woman named Kaitlin. I honestly don’t know who to blame for the impasse, but the two seems like polar opposites in every conceivable way. Last time we all had dinner, the two got into a twenty minute debate about Christina Hoff Sommers. I cried.

I know there is a type of fighting that is kind of like flirting in a way, and I am worried this is an example of that. I mean why would they be talking about her in the first place? This has gotten out of control and I’m really worried. I have tried to avoid taking sides but being a peacemaker has officially ended its utility and I just want this resolved.

Brenda N.

Dear Brenda,

If you are picking up on some kind of sexual tension, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. It is more likely that Jerome is assigned some residual anger/upset about his commitment to you on someone else, which is not exactly the worst case scenario. Christina Hoff Sommers is not really something to get upset about. She is just a person, like Meghan Daum or Carly Simon. They wake up, take shits, and go to bed; the things that everyone does.

Any argument that is not between family members, no matter how pervasive, annoying or visceral cannot keep building strength. It must either culminate in what could very well be an exciting murder, or fizzle out into discontented silence. If you have to side with someone, side with your fiancee by excluding Kaitlin from events if necessary. Otherwise, pretend they are having some tiff akin to the feuds between seventh graders. By diminishing it in your mind, you will diminish it in theirs.

Also, I suggest you never discuss anything other than Chris Pratt at dinner parties.

 

Hi,

My boyfriend Hal and I were recently watching a reality show for reasons. One couple on the show renewed their vows in Las Vegas. It was absolutely disgusting.

Hal started talking about his only trip to Vegas seven years ago, and confessed that during the trip, after some encouragement from his friends, he had sex with a prostitute in a brothel.

I guess I didn’t really know how to react at the time. Maybe I still don’t. I know STD-wise that Hal is clean, but I’m having trouble dealing with this admission. Am I right to be upset?

Joan R.

Dear Joan,

I’m more worried about Hal’s judgment. He could have lied about this and you would never know the difference until the prostitute in question came looking for child support. I had a friend who looked for sex on Craigslist for years before his marriage. He also patronized Asian massage parlors quite frequently.

Whether or not his wife knows about this period, I couldn’t say, but I told him what I would have told Hal. Nothing good comes from telling the truth about sex with women for money. As is, there’s no going back to the place where you did not know this information.

The bright side is this: not only do you have a get out of jail free card for anything you want, you can be sure Hal is super into you. Finding a man who can’t lie is not the worst development. Make sure this is the case by going all “Did you order the Code Red?” on him and try get him to admit to other prostitutes. Also, ask the woman’s name. It always helps to get all the information first.

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


 

In Which There Was A Freedom She Searched For And Did Not Find

goergemaryoppen1968

Travelling

by MARY OPPEN

from Meaning: A Life

The people I see and talk to, the ways they earn their livings, the children I watch, the courting customs, the ways of parents with their children are all to me learning, and I re-evaluate my own ways and my country’s ways every time I travel.

It is not comfort, ease, or previous knowledge that takes me travelling; travelling is never as comfortable as being at home, and I am thrown out of my accustomed style and habits on meeting situations and people for whom I have no preparation.

I think I go travelling in order to be jostled and jolted and confronted with the necessity of thinking faster to meet fast-changing occurrences. Happiness comes in the conversations and the learning that I have to master, even in the barest knowledge of how to get from here to there. It is culturation simply to gain insight to yet one more country or city I never saw before; if I do not learn it well, at least I meet it freshly at the moment I confront it.

In Paris the Impressionists were not yet all dead; in 1930 even their art was not yet in the old established museums, and we went to a private gallery to see Picasso’s latest show. I noticed Picasso himself watching us to see our reactions to his paintings, which were the first I had seen of women distorted into their social and emotional meanings, beyond the portraits of previous times. Meanings which were painful to accept I later found to be profound class judgments and beautiful in new ways, in their colors and design. After seeing these portraits, women on beaches and bourgeois women in cafes had a different meaning, in which Picasso had caught and held them. His contribution of fifty years as a painter, most of which time I have been alive, has put him on a list of those who will speak for us to a future time.

the line of scrimamg

Apprehension mixed with elation as we disembarked at Baltimore and began the drive to New York City. As we approached the first stoplight, grown men, respectable men stepped forward to ask for a nickel, rag in hand to wipe our windshield. This ritual was repeated every time we paused, until we felt we were in a nightmare, our fathers impoverished.

Manhattan loomed across the New Jersey flats; it grew into pinnacles as sunset lit the windows, and we entered the long tunnel under the Hudson River. In Brooklyn we rented an apartment on Willow Street, the first of many apartments we have lived in at one time or another in that same neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights.

Louis Zukofsky, the slender dark young man, sloping along on his long stalk-like legs, head forward, shoulders hunched, a little close-visored cap on his head. Louis so delicate I didn’t think he’d live out five more years, Louis in my mind associated with his own Mants.

super daxzx

But as his long life has proven, Louis is hardy, more hardy than we knew. He has survived with Celia, refusing the attentions of the young who have come admiring him and his place in poetry. He survives, perhaps strengthened by his bitterness and feeling that he must be the only poet or he will not accept acclaim. Louis had not been to Europe; he had only corresponded with Pound. The problem was that Louis had no money; the trip required that Louis’ friends help to pay his way. Somehow this was done, and several of us made contributions.

Lorine Niedecker, a student of Louis’ at the University of Wisconsin, followed him to New York; we invited her to dinner, and after waiting for her until long after dinner-time, we ate and were ready for bed when a timid knock at the door announced Lorine. “What happened to you?” we asked.

“I got on the subway, and I didn’t know where to get off, so I rode to the end of the line and back.”

“Why didn’t you ask someone?”

“I didn’t see anyone to ask.”

New York was overwhelming, and she was alone, a tiny, timid small-town girl. She escaped the city and returned to Wisconsin. Years later we began to see her poems, poems which described her life. She chose a way of hard physical work, and her poetry emerged from a tiny life. From Wisconsin came perfect small ms of poetry written out of her survival, from the crevices, that seeped out into poems.

Walking with Louis when Discrete Series was in manuscript, George was discussing it with him before showing it to anyone else. Louis turned and with a quizzical expression asked George, “Do you prefer your poetry to mine?”

“Yes,” answered George, and the friendship was at a breaking point.

with linda

We went exploring with our friends Mary and Russel Wright, through the East Side of the city where lines of drying clothes festooned the area-ways and back yards of the tenements. Fruit stands and vegetable stands and wagons drawn by horses were piled with heaps of color created by oranges, lettuce, tomatoes and watermelons. Russel wept at the color.

Women leaned with their elbows on pillows at their window sills, idly gazing at the street scene, or shouting at children in the street, or engaging in conversation with a next-door neighbor, window to window. Everything seemed to be going on at once; men hurried across streets pushing loaded racks of clothing, and boys carried bundles of cut cloth to be sewed at home for bosses, who sent out the cut pieces and later collected the finished garments. Sweatshops in every block hummed with their machines, and small industry crowded in among the workers in the neighborhoods where they lived.

At Coney Island we went into the hall of mirrors and laughed at ourselves, then as we stepped out onto the promenade, a blast of air raised Mary’s skirts above her head; her arms went up too, and she was a pretty Hower, a half-naked shrieking girl. We rode the giant Ferris Wheel which lifted us up above the city and the sea, and when our car reached the top, high above the surrounding city, a system of rails started the car in a slide of its own as the rest of the wheels stood still, and rocked us in a violent pendulum motion before it came to an abrupt stop. Russel bellowed, and we screamed. His voice rose above the noise of the holiday makers, “GET US OUT OF HERE!” The Ferris Wheel made a half revolution, without any stops, brought us to the platform and let us out.

We took Mary and Russel sailing on the Hudson before we laid our cat-boat up for the winter, and we found that our boat, so roomy for two during the previous summer, was crowded with four. On our return to the mooring, I lost my balance in excitement and misjudgment, and in what seemed to be slow-motion comedy I fell in a forward somersault into the water. I seemed to see myself fall, and I clambered out in chagrin.

There was no way to be adequately myself while, soaking wet in a new red sweater and skirt, I entered the hotel lobby and dripped up in the elevator to change clothes. Zukofsky went with us to strip our boat for laying her up at the end of summer.

like urlacherrr

I took off the sail and tied it into a bundle, Louis continuing to talk. I started up the steel stairway to Riverside Drive, with Louis right behind me; George followed with his burden, up the stairs, across the tracks, and up the next Hight of stairs. Louis gallantly protested, “Mary, let me carry it, Mary please.” Near the top I turned and handed him the sail. He staggered and went down a few steps before he landed against the railing to recover himself. I gathered the bundle again in my arms and dragged it to the top of the stairs.

Aunt Elsie took me to lunch one day to ask me if we intended to have children. I thought it was none of her affair and said no, but I did not have any kind of birth control and we had gotten no advice from doctors we had asked. She took me to the birth control clinic the next day and I never had to have another abortion. I wrote to Nellie and to my sister-in-law Julia, who had so many children, and told them they must find birth control clinics at once. Nellie replied in high glee, with cartoons, but Julia could not arrange getting from Oregon wilderness to a San Francisco birth control clinic, and she had one more child. At that time there were only eleven states that allowed even doctors to give birth control information.

During those years Linda and I did not laugh much. In pictures we look like refugees — remote, thin and bleak. Linda looked like a little wild girl; she would not have her hair combed. When George came home at last I told him, “Linda does not understand what a joke is; laughter is threatening.” George made little jokes for her, and we laughed, but we needed time to recover our spirits.

Linda also needed to learn that George and I were equal as her parents — she would turn to me for permission when George had already told her what she might do.

New York City was not a place we understood in ways we needed to understand to bring up a child. George and I visited the school I would have chosen for her to attend in the fall; we tried to imagine what life was like for a child growing up on city streets, and we quailed from it.

We needed to get out of New York City, where tension and too much argument had to be faced; we needed to get away from the scene of wartime living and be a family again. We needed to be free of close neighbors and be together, just three of us, free of the tight living of New York City. We needed space, sky enough to see the sweep of it, stars at night, forests, to have a garden and ride horses.

We retrieved an old open trailer from New Jersey. George parked it at the curb in front of our house in Sunnyside and began to build it into a camping trailer for our trip west — we were going to California. Our neighbors were incredulous, and fathers brought sons on Sunday to watch George at work on the little camp trailer, making a place to sleep, a little shelf for a stove and food, a hitch for the car to pull it. They said, “That trailer will never make it over the Rocky Mountains.” At war’s end these neighbors were buying their first automobiles and learning how to drive them.

In March 1946, we drove west. Linda stood behind the front seat and kept up a constant conversation, happy that she had us where she could touch us. We had barely started to be a family when the war came upon us, and Linda had had only stories of a father. Her love was for us, and to be with us was her life.

Mornings we drove until we found a roadside place open for breakfast. We discussed farms, animals, horses; I told Linda an endless story about Hoppy the Frog until she began calling me “Hoppy.” We passed horses on the prairie, and George caught one for Linda; he has a poem:

“Horse,” she said, whispering

By the roadside
With the cars passing.

Little girl welcomed,
Learning welcome.

In France in 1930, from the art of the Louvre, paintings speaking out of different times, from the streets of Paris which make their patterns and take their names from the earliest use the ancients gave them, from a cafe for writers, tourists, artists or students, we looked on and tried to absorb the meaning to us of a culture which accepted living artists, writers and students into the social fabric with a freedom we had searched for in the United States and had not found.

 

I think I travel to ask the questions which are hard to formulate about one’s own times because one is in the midst, at home, of all that one has seen so often that one does not receive the jolt that might confront one with the uncomfortable but important question. Not with answers — answers are not possible for one’s own times and in one’s own place. The answer only becomes obvious after time has passed, and we can see, if we have survived it, the predicament that we have passed through.

Mary Oppen was an artist, photographer and poet. She was also the wife of George Oppen and this is an excerpt from her autobiography Meaning: A Life.

 

In Which We Have Been Sad A Lot Lately

cary-grant-dyan-cannon-et-jennifer.jpg

Cary Grant’s Penultimate Wife

Historians and archeologists now recognize Dyan Cannon’s memoir of her time with Cary Grant — Dear Cary: My Life with Cary Grant — as one of the great foundational documents of an age. In another reality somewhere, Dyan Cannon is marrying Cary Grant because he is Cary Grant. After their wedding and the sex, she finds out he is really a terrific asshole, like a huge one, who takes LSD as often as he can. But just as soon as this realization occurs, she is marrying Cary Grant again. Excerpts from all different places along this fragile timeline follow.

On almost every occasion when I have met somebody, I have met somebody else. – G.K. Chesterton

I was a spirited Jewish girl from Seattle who’d only had sex once in her life.

The fact is, Cary Grant had spent sixty-two years not being a father.

“Cary, I wasn’t trying to displease you.”

I was aware that I was using food to fill the void that I’d been using drugs for.

“You’re turning into a ghost of yourself.”

The LSD experiment was finally permanently over and done with. “I can’t even describe for you what’s waiting for you on the other side,” Cary said. “Only that it’s a whole new universe.”

Maybe I was not enough of anything and too much of everything.

“Picnic bar for your thoughts?” I said.

“You lived through two world wars,” I reminded him.

“Why don’t you call up Sophia Loren? I get the impression she knew how to please you in all sorts of ways.”

He gave me a bottle of champagne.

“Where do you think we’re heading? Is this a temporary relationship or do you think we have a future together?”

At this Cary nodded approvingly.

“Howard Hughes just generally prefers to keep as much distance between himself and the human race as possible,” Cary said.

“You look very nice tonight,” Cary said.

RELAXED THOUGHTS RELAX YOU SIT BREATHE NICE LOW EASY HAPPY SHOW TONIGHT CERTAINLY LOVE CARY

Cary devoted a full day to pointing out my flaws and imperfections. He had developed an obsession with knobs and handles.

0SDYocm.jpg

She was perfect. Her name was Jennifer.

“You know I’ll never get married again.”

Halfway back to Los Angeles I noticed that my wedding band had begun to feel a little tight.

Finally he said, “You’ve changed.”

“Silly girl.”

“I’ll be in the bedroom for the next few hours,” he said around noon. “Please see to it that I’m not disturbed.”

Since our wedding, he was rarely pleased with what I chose to wear.

“That doesn’t sound like love,” she said softly.

I was Mrs. Cary Grant. I was in heaven.

I’ve been sad a lot lately.

In Which We Build A Bond Off The Court

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,

My daughter Jessica is two years old. Recently, we’ve made an arrangement with another couple in the building that also has a child around the same age named Theo, e.g. he will come over to our home and vice versa on certain days. 

Theo’s parents are wonderful, educated people. They are very focused on teaching him all sorts of things. A recent lesson I walked on concerned me, though, as it did not seem terribly age appropriate. Theo’s mother was explaining the historical plight of the Jewish people to the kids. Maybe they can’t process it at this age, anyway, but I’m not sure I want my daughter hearing about this stuff without me present. 

Am I crazy, and is it all right to say something to Theo’s mother about that?

Janet S.

Janet,

Ideally you would just be near your daughter at all times to mitigate what Theo’s mother is saying. “Many other minority groups faced similar discrimination!” you could crow as a kind of victory lap. I don’t know what you think you are protecting your daughter from, but she lives in the world. Lots of stuff will happen to her that she can’t control. I mean, who knows, in a decade she could be referred to as a member of the Trump generation. 

If you want to give her a different narrative to latch onto, consider the work of the Catholic writer Garry Wills. I believe he does a fantastic set of flash cards.

Hi,

I have been dating this guy I will call Nate for around five months. He is very difficult to make plans with and will often want to do things on the spur of the moment. I am the type of person who needs to know where I am going to be and what I am going to be doing at all times. At first it was nice to be around someone capable of spontaneity, but recently Nate and I have gotten in fights because he claims I don’t make him a priority, like I should be waiting by the phone for him to call?

Is this a fundamental lack of compatibility or is there something we can do to make this work?

Ilana W.

Dear Ilana,

I think probably you just need to think of better excuses. When you tell Nate that you can’t do something that he suggests, here are some foolproof ways to get out of that activity without hurting this man-boy’s feelings:

– I’m going to see a local production of The Cherry Orchard. Would you like to come?

– I have to work on a long research project that could be a useful excuse for the next six months

– Actually, it’s Uncle Vanya. Still want to come?

– I want you so much. But like, not at this time.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.