In Which We Marry Margaery Tyrell At Our Leisure

Sex in the Final Hour

by DICK CHENEY

I have been to a lot of weddings. When I think back on my favorite ones, I remember Jeb Bush tonguing Eliot Weinberger’s balls after a chorus of “Feliz Navidad” and Donald Rumsfeld smashing a juicebox on a woman’s face when she called him “Little Terminator.” If I ever get married again, I am not serving alcohol at my wedding, because it only encourages people to think that they should be the center of attention. I have that honor.

It’s how Roger Ailes looks at a woman in power.

Tommen getting married and consummating his nuptials with a vaguely unwilling bride has already been thematically superseded by Amy Schumer’s Friday Night Lights parody. Tommen seems a little childish for his age; also I’m not sure why Maegary couldn’t just use a condom.

I actually give Tommen a lot of credit. A lot of men can’t perform in the final hour. I once tried to reach orgasm during the series finale of M.A.S.H. and all that came out was a mixture of semen, tears and ground-up Fruit Loops.

“We call that splooge, Young Tommen.”

Margaery couldn’t have ended up with a finer product of incest to be a product of whatever she has planned for him. I’m guessing it involves lipstick, a pig and her brother’s bloated member.

There’s no shame in birth control. The tradition of a nice condom on your wedding night was brought to Western civilization by the Chinese nobleman Jang Wao. Unfortunately, Game of Thrones has a strict no Asians policy. Even if they did cast someone of that ethnicity, it would likely be the guy from Lost and he would be eaten by Drogon within mere minutes.

When did he find the time to get highlights?

Watching Tyrion get kidnapped into yet another Odd Couple situation caused me to roll my eyes at length. “I’m bringing you to the Queen,” Mormont bleated. At this point Cersei would probably welcome Tyrion with open arms. But now, we have to have him advise Queen of the Dragons/Sarah Connor about the right table settings for state dinners.

Reunite the Lannisters! I hope that Cersei throws a hot bang at that cute Dr. Frankenstein wannabe. Maybe he could turn Tommen into a man or something like one.

He was probably going to have to play Dumbledore in the HP prequel, so this is a step up.

Jonathan Pryce at least brings more intrigue to the character of the High Sparrow, since you know for sure he will never display a penis, even as a show of charity to a homeless woman on the streets of King’s Landing. At least he makes a useful foil to Cersei, because the hammy, overplayed shit between Margaery and Cersei is getting on my nerves. There is no world where Cersei Lannister would not automatically destroy anyone who criticized her day-drinking.

Cersei’s wedding must have been quite the night. If I recall correctly Robert Baratheon drank himself into a distinct amalgam of gas and human being from all the kegs and hot peppers he consumed. Twyin Lannister really did not like his daughter in hindsight. It’s a shame she won’t be present for the ultimate GoT nuptials: the happy union of Sansa Stark and Ramsey Snow.

She really treasured that phallic object her dad gave her. Don’t worry. One of the Braavosi will lend you a cute pen you can keep in your purse.

Arya’s goodbye to Needle was perhaps the only moving part of this episode. I have had enough of her weirdly washing bodies and learning how she doesn’t need her name anymore. This is basically Going Clear all over again. I need to focus on the positive things: a wedding between two people who basically no one else would ever be interested in.

Here are some useful wedding tips for the ginger bride and her Winterfell psycho:

1. Whenever you move quickly in your wedding gown, you have to breathlessly hrter swish and sneak a humorous look at Roose Bolton.

2. Jam on everything: jam on chicken, jam on your bannermen, jam on toast, jam on Littlefinger’s tiny Mr. Finger, jam on your eunuch’s blank parts and jam on you.

3. All the bridesmaids must shout in unison, “Y’all know nothing Ramsay Snow jk!”

Kind of looks like the country club where I tied the knot with Lynne, except less ostentatious.

4. After the ceremony but before the reception, sneak in a hot sob in the underground cemetery where you recall how your dad’s sister was not too into Robert Baratheon either, and wasn’t there a storyline that kind of fell by the wayside about one of his illegitimate children?

5. At the moment of consummation, scream out for Brienne’s aid, and then when she arrives, take it back and subtly suggest she killed Renly Baratheon.

6. Invite Lady Stoneheart (R.I.P.)

shouldn’t she be happy to be free of her uncle? She can run to the north and have a weird on again, off-again relationship with her half-brother perhaps?

7. If a small shitling formerely known as Theon Greyjoy starts badmouthing the new love of your life, threaten to cut even more of his scenes from A Feast for Crows.

8. If you watch enough episodes of Bates Motel, maybe you’ll forget how bad this season is so far.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

“Love Your Loved Ones” – Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers (mp3)

“Heart Gets Tough” – Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers (mp3)

In Which Edna St. Vincent Millay Stares Into The Abyss

th4ererhv great news

Worn Out

by SHAHIRAH MAJUMDAR

CHART
MISS MILLAY
Dec. 31, 1940

Awoke 7:30, after untroubled night. Pain less than previous day.
7:35- Urinated- no difficulty or distress
7:40- 3/8 gr. M.S. {morphine shot} hypodermically, self-administered in left upper arm…
7:45-8- smoked cigarette (Egyptian) mouth burns from excessive smoking
8:15- Thirsty, went to the ice box for a glass of water, but no water there. Take can of beer instead which do not want. Headache, lassitude…
8:20- cigarette (Egyptian)
9:00- “
9:30- Gin Rickey (cigarette)
11:15- Gin Rickey
12:15- Martini (4 cigarettes)
12:45- 1/4 grain M.S. & cigarette
1.- Pain bad and also in lumbar region. no relief from M.S.

At age 48 – looks fading, youth fading, genius (she thought) also fading — the extravagant American poet Edna St. Vincent Millay found herself staring blankly into the abyss that had moved with her all her life.

Once she had written ecstatically of that “conscious void” (her first encounter: a passage of poetry from Romeo & Juliet when she was five years old), of both “the tangible radiance in which I stood” and “the edge of nausea” that bordered it. Once it had left her thrilled, transcendent, outside herself; the “radiance” and the “nausea” had been intertwined. But, at 48, interred at the farmhouse she and her husband had converted near the Berkshires, worn out by her lifelong hungers, that abyss was now dark to her — and it took it took two gin rickeys, a martini, eight cigarettes and several morphine shots, all before 1 p.m., to be able to face it.

All her life Millay sought wild moments of ecstasy to which she could submit herself fully and come undone. Her childhood in turn-of-the-century Camden, Maine had been provincial, but Millay — called “Vincent” by her mother and two sisters — was the product of a clan of fiercely independent, literary women who nourished the wildness and the ambition within her. Her mother Cora was a woman who had “dazed all her people” by divorcing her charming loafer of a husband and taking work as a nurse to support her daughters.

Cora loved music, books, poetry and — despite the family’s constant, visible poverty — fed her girls on the riches of her organ and her attic library. “Vincent” herself wrote poetry from a young age, gifting her mother with a handwritten collection of 61 poems titled The Poetical Works of Vincent Millay when she was 16.

In school, she was similarly extravagant, always a performer. She acted in all the school plays, gave piano recitals, edited the school newspaper. She was larger than life but not very popular: the girls thought “she was the type… to make a lot of almost nothing” (yesterday’s high school parlance, I suppose, for, she’s so fake!), and the boys actively made fun of her. She longed for escape, and she longed for a bigger stage.

a very bad match

For a while, she thought it was a man who would provide it. Her limits of her world seemed so small, even while eternity gaped within her, and the only rescue she could conceive took the shape of a man.  In the end, however, she made her escape with her own hands.

At age 20, her poem “Renascence” (“The world stands out on either side/No wider than the heart is wide; Above the world is stretched the sky,—/No higher than the soul is high.”) was selected as a finalist in the The Lyric Year, a significant contest of American poetry. She became a star, a bit of a cause célèbre since — as many people said, even in the pages of the New York Times and the Chicago Evening Post — her poem was far superior to the poems that had actually won.

She had been flirting madly, purposefully (via post) with the editor of The Lyric Year for the months leading up to the announcement of the winners, and her own sense of injustice at having been denied the prize was confirmed and amplified by the reaction of the public. But, like an American Idol runner up, she discovered that the real first prize wasn’t the putative one; it was celebrity itself — adulation, recognition, an adoring public. This hunger, once awakened, was to stay with her the rest of her life.

Things moved quickly, gloriously after that. A coterie of wealthy ladies took “Vincent” in hand. Deciding that it would be a good thing to educate her, they removed her from the rambles of the Maine coast and off to New York. They gave her cash, gifts (including shopping trips to Lord & Taylor, but also boxes of cast-off clothing), lots of life advice to temper their praise, and sent her to Vassar. Her patrons adored her, but they also wanted a piece of her. Nancy Milford, author of the Millay biography Savage Beauty, writes: “They wanted to assist her in any way they could, perhaps because in the careful structure of their lives, they felt diminished. Her life would be grand, sweeping, urgent. Incapable of this themselves, they would help her.”

them onstetr gofur

And her life was to be “grant, sweeping, urgent”: a life that one could dream upon, that she herself could dream and feed upon. At Vassar, Millay’s persona was as carefully constructed as her poetry. Her poverty — and the fact that she was there on charity — was known, but she was determined to be an entity.

Her years there were a performance, a practice for the wider stage that lay ahead. She dazzled her classmates, who fell in love with her, and her teachers, who allowed her unimaginable leniencies. She took regular trips to the city, and leisurely country weekends — which gave men, also, the chance to fall in love with her, and gave her the chance to play, at least, at falling in love with them.

For Millay, love (& lovers, both men and women) were as much a substance as food. She burst with hunger for love, just as she did for poetry, freedom, beauty, adoration… and, later drugs, sex and alcohol. Her desire gave shape and momentum to her life, and the “radiance” and the “nausea” that haunted her were two halves of the same whole. She was wild for the thrill of standing on the edge of the abyss and for the radiant colors moving within; it fed her sense of self and her creativity, and her poetry was to be the means and the remains.

Desire and the performance of desire are Millay’s subjects, particularly of the sonnets. Her work, as Mitchell Kennerley, publisher of her first book of poems (black binding, gold letters, creamy Japanese vellum paper), blurbed, dealt “as poetry should, primarily with emotion; with the sense of tears and of laughter, with mortal things; with beauty and passion; with having and losing.” Her themes were always what was personal to her: love, death, nature, longing, sex and self.

In terms of form, her meter is light, lilting, iambic; it hardly strays; and her rhymes are always clean and sweet, often sharp and witty. She writes in a voice that is direct, intimate, sometimes coy but never shy. Her imagery is infused with a sensuality that is both pure and coarse: the well from which it spring from is deep, irreducible, pure unto itself — but the substance itself has a thick grain, is fat with pathos and groans under its own gorgeous, aching weight.

When I encountered my first Millay sonnet (#41 from her 1923 Pulitzer Prize winning collection The Harp Weaver & Other Poems), I was 14. Years later, I can still recite it from memory:

I, being born a woman and distressed
By all the needs and notions of my kind,
Am urged by your propinquity to find
Your person fair, and feel a certain zest
To bear your body’s weight upon my breast:
So subtly is the fume of life designed,
To clarify the pulse and cloud the mind,
And leave me once again undone, possessed.
Think not for this, however, the poor treason
Of my stout blood against my staggering brain,
I shall remember you with love, or season
My scorn with pity – let me make it plain:
I find this frenzy insufficient reason
For conversation when we meet again.

It was such a fun sonnet, so not like Shakespeare, so unambiguous and good to read out loud. There were shades of it that I didn’t get until I was older and had been myself “undone, possessed,”  but I have come back to it again and again over the years and, though I no longer find the rhyme of “breast” and “possessed”  as inventive as I once did, it still arrests me with its play of high purity of form with unapologetic coarseness of sentiment. It’s a dirty poem fashioned with skill and grace, and to make the exalted sonnet disturb the way this sonnet does is in itself enough to give you pause. During Millay’s time, in the heat of a Jazz Age, for a woman to be writing sonnets of such rigorous craft and bold content made her a kind of literary rock star.

It didn’t hurt that Millay was one of those poets who used her life as practice for her art. The mythos that she invented — the starry-eyed creature of enormous appetite left incandescent (in all senses) by its own hungers — was both for her poetry and her daily bread. Her poems were always a portrait of herself: as she was or had been or wanted to be.

eighteen seeeconds

If the speakers in her sonnets come undone, they pose first; they vogue a little, they protest too much. Everything they do is mannered, meant to be observed. For Millay, the poem itself is a performance — a series of stylized acts — and the form itself carries meaning: every foot of iambic verse is a coy gesture, every rhyme a teasing glance, every image of birds and songs and lips and breasts a signal flag that says come hither, says love me, adore me, leave me dispossessed.

In a short scholarly piece in Millay at 100: A Critical Reappraisal, Stacy Hubbard Carson writes that Millay’s sonnets demonstrate how “sexed bodies attach themselves to poetic forms, tropes and narrative structures.” Read this way, Millay’s [sexed] body is the poem’s body, and that she shoves herself into such a series of conventions and constraints — like a person in drag — is the very point of the endeavor. The fun lies in witnessing how she throbs against them, how the sensual charge of her poetry is defined, finessed and magnified by the conservative prettiness of the tropes and narratives that cloak them. Thus Millay’s genius is exercised not in double vision, but in double play: the way she uses her skilled formalism to trick the mind — leave it dazzled, “undone” — while simultaneously flooding and exhausting the senses.

The contradictions in Millay are what people worry over. She adopts masculine and feminine masks, is masked and unmasked, is consumed and consuming. She is her own double: burning herself (“my candle”) from “both ends,” eating from the inside what she has begged others to eat. In life, she was a tiny creature, often described in terms of the startling intensity of her coloring: all pale limbs, bright eyes, fiery hair and lips. In imagination — her own of herself, her public’s of her — she was magical and godlike, an unquenchable Amazon who gave wholly of herself to everyone but remained undiminished.

She thrived in her own duality. Often, she managed to perform the imaginary into reality but even “Vincent” sometimes had her heart broken. As Milford writes, the headlong satiating of the senses in which she routinely indulged could leave her both “stunned by beauty” and “sickened by loss.” The sonnet that follows #41 in The Harp Weaver & Other Poems is this one:

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning, but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

The tone is different here, though the formal methods and manners recognizably the same. We observe the same hungers — perhaps even the same encounter — but through the lens of a quieter emotion. The speaker aches from the void within her and lacks distance from it; here, however, she also lacks the earlier sense of triumph or thrill. It’s a lovely poem, simple, as elegant as the one that came before, and also just as childlike in its helplessness before its own unknowable feelings. There is such sadness in the imagery, in the spareness of the language and its slow slide into memory, but the sentiment pools without deepening or expanding. It exists as an emotion bottled in time, wallowing in its own moodiness, dazzled by its own dignified, moody splendor. On the surface, sonnets #41 and #42 might appear to differ in terms of purpose, but the truth might be that they differ simply in terms of the way that they achieve a very similar purpose — which, in Millay, is nearly always to seduce us with the figure of her exquisitely unraveling self.

In her bohemian New York years, post-Vassar, Millay was a star. She gave readings, acted, published often and created a ferocious one-act anti-war play called Aria da Capo that was a runaway success. She became involved in both political and poetical causes, championing poets that she cared about who had less celebrity than she did, and loved and drank and partied to legendary lengths.

injufefdnfifn bs

In 1923, the year of her Pulitzer, she married a man 12 years older whose only ambitions seemed to be to bask in her bright flame and to husband her writing. They bought a farmhouse in the mountains and began a town & country life. In 1931, she published Fatal Interview, her best and most popular volume of poetry, a collection of 52 sonnets written about a love affair with a much younger poet, a handsome but weak man about whom — after the affair went cold — the gossips said she had simply worn out, or that he had always been homosexual.

Millay’s husband Eugen gave her space to conduct the affair, letting her run about Paris with her lover on a Guggenheim she had helped secure for him while Eugen wrote her effusive, pining letters from home. Fatal Interview sold 50,000 copies in its first few months. This was the peak of her fame and her acclaim. Afterwards, she would be famous, even notorious, but something had begun to shift: her poetry, for all its skill and vigor, began to fall out of sync with the fashion of the age.

And the less control Millay had over others — her adoring public, whether near or far — the less control she had over herself. She began to drink more, take drugs, turn up naked in the rooms of female houseguests, asking them for “good old Elizabethan lovemaking.” Her hungers grew larger, and her ability to fulfill them less and less certain.

She was exhausted by her own performances, by the myths she made and played for herself and others. Millay — the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, the most famous poet in the world for a while, a woman who thrilled adoring audiences by radio, who jam-packed readings across America, who was acclaimed as the lyric voice of the Jazz Age, whose voice was described as “the most beautiful voice in the world,” “the sound of the ax on fresh wood” – lacked the same thing her poetry lacked: distance, the ability to step away from the grand emotion, away from the “edge of the nausea,” to drop the act and undouble herself. She was unable see things plainly, without the dulling glaze of lyricism or romance, nor to accept that certain things were outside the make of her own hands and not be destroyed by that knowledge.

In 1949, Millay’s husband Eugen — a man who had loved her selflessly, nearly unconditionally since their first encounter — died and she immediately suffered a nervous breakdown from which she never recovered. She was to follow him just a year later, emblematically, epigrammatically, just as she had written, just as she had lived. One night, overcome with the “tangible radiance” of cigarettes, wine, Seconal and a new poem, she finally tumbled over the “edge of nausea” and down the length of her staircase. Her head, on its broken birdlike neck, came to rest on a pile of books and papers, including the draft of the new poem.

It’s funny how Millay, once adored as a luminary, has so definitely had her star fall. Though she is still ranked as a major American poet, she is no longer discussed as a great one. Millay is too much the whirling dervish, the Delphic oracle, too self-conscious and theatrical to suit our modern sensibility. Her poetry is the poetry of the young, the very romantic, those who long to make and remake their own innocence. We know too well what happens when you burn the candle at “both ends.” It may “give a lovely light” but, as anyone who has ever taken a drink before noon knows, nothing ends well when you come undone.

Shahirah Majumdar is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

shahirah 2

My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends –
It gives a lovely light.

 three of theme at one time

In Which We Try To Find Marsden Hartley’s Name In A Book

This is a first in a two-part series about the American painter Marsden Hartley.

Wanted

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Give somebody a careful look and say it’s from me.

No one liked Marsden Hartley very much. He was eight years old, a lonely child in Lewiston, Maine, when his mother died. He saw her “lying in her bed, her face so white, and she was so quiet, and eventually she was gone and there was,” he told his niece, “horrible experience of a funeral, a black hearse, and relatives and friends following, going to the cemetery.” His father reached out for Marsden’s company, but a segment of the boy had parted with the world from that point forward.

His father and new stepmother moved to Cleveland. Marsden got along with his new mother decently well and took a job at a marble quarry besides the Cuyahoga River. There he fantasized about the more attractive men who worked there and soaked in the colors: dark onyx, devastating granite, a possessed green with white striations. He gathered some of the marble itself, describing the practice as “the collection of objects which is a sex expression.” He also used the money from his job to purchase his first book, which he would call the first book he ever read: Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Essays.

After taking art classes in Cleveland, he moved to New York City in 1899 to attend the New York School of Art. He did not last in the structured, conservative environment and transferred to the National Academy of Design. His classmates were taken with/alarmed by his almost psychotic focus and intensity. God was foremost on his mind; he would not even write on Sundays. He told a relative,

I go somewhere every day to watch and study the birds and the butterflies and insects. I have a pair of fine opera glasses that I use so when I see a bird on a tree or bush I can see him near to without disturbing him or frightening him away. Then I write down what his color is and how big he is and what his movements are. Then too, I have a nice net for catching the butterflies and bees and insects and have a bottle with poison in the bottom to kill them right away so that they won’t suffer. Then I try and find out what their names are in a book and get familiar with them. Then at sunset hour I go out to sketch.

He met fellow homosexuals in the missions at Saint Mary’s Church, which served down on their luck men from the local community. He shared a home with three young women and their chaperone at W. 65th Street. There he learned of a gay paradise, and organized himself to get there. Berlin in the 1920s was a very special place and time to be a part of. “One nice fellow said, ‘If you were a girl I’d make love to you at once.'” He had never been wanted in this way before in his life, and it thrilled him.

Getting rejected by men he desired was a much more regular routine. He propositioned William Carlos Williams, who said of Hartley, “He told me I would have made one of the most charming whores in the city.”

Hartley moved to Maine where he lived in a backyard tent behind the house of his friend, a schoolteacher. He found work portraying a painter in a local play; he visited New York when he could. Without any transportation, he walked five or six miles each day out of necessity. He tried writing and teaching as parallel occupations, telling his friend Helen in a utopian community he worked at for a summer that he was “seething with repulsion at the superficiality of art and of men – and it all boils up the blood in me and I am an uninterrupted flame of revolt these periods.”

Hartley returned to painting, hopefully that his first show would sell enough canvases that he could live in Boston for the summer. Things did not work out in Boston, but he attracted enough notice to be introduced to Alfred Stieglitz in 1909. At Stieglitz’s gallery Hartley was still an unwanted malcontent, but he was their malcontent. More importantly, Hartley actually respected Stieglitz and the more positive attitude he tried to foster. 

With moderate funds from one of Stieglitz’s many benefactors, Hartley moved into an apartment at W. 15th between 8th and 9th avenue. A block over lived the painter Albert Pinkham Ryder, who invited Marsden into his dark studio.

That first year his work was displayed at 291 he could not afford to live full-time in the city, so he returned to Maine when he ran out of money. There he fell in love with a barber in Lewiston who wasn’t interested in him. “I only wish I were a great husky brute,” he told his niece, “a prize fighter or something like it as I would love to be powerful and excel in bodily strength. It makes me terribly envious when I see men swimming or running or boxing.”

In 1911 he caught scarlet fever and had to be confined to a hospital in New York on 18th Street. He loved the attention he received, and because his sickness was mild, enjoyed talking to the patients. Stieglitz gave him fifty dollars when he recovered, as well as a show of his still-lifes at the 291 gallery. This was enough to get Marsden Hartley, at age 35, to Paris for the first time.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

“Ruby” – Dustin Kensrue (mp3)

In Which We Inculcate A Slow Burn To The Future

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 girlfriend Susan recently suffered the loss of a member of her extended family with whom she had a close relationship. In the wake of this undoubtedly awful event, she has begun acting increasingly childish. For example, she inserts the word ‘meow’ into every other word. I recently received a promotion at work, for example, and when I informed her of the news, she told me, “That’s meowrific!” That doesn’t even make sense for meow to be there. The word doesn’t start with an M or sound anything like ‘meow.’

Anytime she sees a baby, a child, or living creature of any kind, she reverts into a cooing state where all she does is obsess about the object’s intrinsic beauty/innocence. I can take this every now and then, especially when the subject of her admiration is a Yorkshire terrier, but this weird behavior is getting all too constant. How can I tell her to stop without seeming like an ass?

Evan P.

Dear Evan,

In the absence of something to focus on, a person will direct their attention to anything that makes itself known to them, like Scott Eastwood or Demi Lovato. We want to see something, anything beautiful in moments like these. I’m not going to breakdown the psychological implications of your girlfriend’s, um, breakdown. It’s too soon and my hair is wet.

What you need to do is give her something to actually focus on. A fish sometimes works, especially if it doesn’t live for an extended period of time. Don’t get her an actual animal that she will have to provide and care for, please. Never give pets as gifts unless you can’t think of anything better.

It sounds like Susan just needs to find the right project. Giving back to others via community service is a bit dangerous because a lot of attractive men are in that field looking for women who love cute things. (Habitat for Humanity is basically an extended orgy with 2x4s.) I don’t know that you have much choice at this point. The word meow only belongs in the mouth of a cat.

Hi,

I go out with a group of friends who always order wine at every meal. At first I didn’t mind not being the only one drinking, but our dinnertime conversations are becoming progressively sloppier and it makes the evening something of an ordeal. Is there any way to improve these circumstances without coming off as a killjoy?

Maureen A.

Dear Maureen,

Wine, or sad juice as it is called through the greater Pennsylvania area, was created for Europeans who have less problems and anxieties than Americans. Wine is highly addictive: some experts believe it is even more compulsive than cocaine.

Your friends are therefore ensconced in the saucy, grapey grip that won’t let go. The only way to free them from their urges is to take things even more thoroughly in the messed up direction, until the entire group can barely wake up the next morning. Next time y’all meet up at dinner, you can meekly ask for a dry evening. It will be that day that each of your liquored-up friends will understand one of life’s most important lessons: sobriety can, at times, be as exciting as chardonnay.

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

 

“Traveling at the Speed of Light” – Joywave (mp3)

“Bad Dreams” – Joywave (mp3)

In Which We Were Thinking This Would Be A Place To Hide

Cold Room

by HECTOR LEGRANDE

Five years ago I inherited a house. 2010 was a very good year. Let me describe the house for you.

I lived there with my sister Jeanie. It was her house, too, but because I paid the taxes on it, I got the master bedroom on the second floor. Jeanie and her boyfriend Enzo lived in the downstairs bedroom. When we had friends over, they stayed on the porch if it wasn’t too hot or too cold. If the weather wasn’t amenable, they slept on the floor.

My sister didn’t really care for Enzo’s friends, but I didn’t mind them too much. Most of them he met at work, and they would stay for a bit if they lost their jobs, or if their girlfriends threw them out.

I met one of these friends in the early morning. I was drinking coffee, and he was on the railing of the porch, which I regarded as unsafe.

“Get down from there,” I said, and he hopped to the floor so quickly that it took me a second to see he was afraid.

“No, it’s all right,” I said. I brought him to where the porch met the rock underneath the house. “An inspector came by here. He said we had to replace that railing. We didn’t do it.” He nodded. “What’s your name?”

“Victor,” he said. I made him coffee, the kind I never drink that Enzo likes. They call it mate here.

I didn’t see Victor for some time after that. But I was telling you about the house.

At the top of the house was a little room. It was too small to sleep in, or really, to do anything in. It was Victor who eventually would tell me what it was for.

There was a fisherman who used to come by the house all the time when we first moved in. He would offer us fish and I would decline, because they looked rather unsavory sitting there in his cooler. He stopped coming by when I never accepted any of his gifts. The night I’m about to tell you about, he did come by. He offered me three fish, and because I felt so bad about not being friendly when we first moved in, I took them, which made him smile.

That night my sister got into a fight with Enzo. He had this dog, Enzo did, and he never walked him. The dog’s head looked like a scrunched up bear cub, and he called it Honey because of that. Jeanie always walked Honey and I don’t think she even liked to either, but the difference was that she knew Honey needed a walk.

Enzo was therefore persona non grata in Jeanie’s bedroom, so he tried to sleep in a bunch of places. It was too hot to sleep outside, and he refused to sleep on the floor. Because it was something his ancestors did, it was something he could not do. So he crammed himself into that small room.

There is no word in English for what they call the room in Enzo’s country. The phrase that is most frequently substituted for it in English is ‘open cell’.

I should mention that Enzo had a job with the government. The department he worked was the geological survey, but he was not a specialist in that field himself. He was the guide they used when they went out to measure a place, because he was handy with all kinds of tools and things. I hated to admit it, but when I was out with Enzo I felt a lot safer than when I was with Jeanie just the two of us, or alone.

Victor had been fired from the department, Enzo had told me in the weeks that followed his first visit. Enzo told me that he did not know why Victor had been let go, but I thought I had a fairly good idea. I didn’t say anything.

In the morning Jeanie went up to get Enzo in the open cell. He wasn’t there.

This is not one of those stories. (Or maybe it is.) He was outside in the yard, and he was playing with Honey. They played fetch: although the dog wasn’t good at bringing it back, he could certainly go get it. He said he’d slept like an angel and he couldn’t believe it. Enzo always had a back problem from when he fell off the side of a cliff in his teens. Now he said he barely felt it.

Things were good between my sister and Enzo after that. I was glad they had each other, because otherwise I would been spending most of my time with her. She is a fine person, but she does not like doing the things that I do.

There were a few decent clubs in Enzo’s country. Most of them served cheap swill and if you complained about it, they’d show you the door. Others were a bit nicer, and wouldn’t take advantage of tourists by watering down every drink: they only did it every third cocktail or so.

I was out at the best of these places one night. It was called The Turtle, because it was underground. I was about to go home when I saw Victor sitting up on the bar, kissing the blackest man I had ever seen. Part of me didn’t want to interrupt, and I worried I would scare him worse than the first time I saw him.

Instead of walking up to him, I sent Victor a drink. The black man was the one who drank it, and he came right over to me and introduced himself. That was Markel, and I still see him sometimes – he’s the manager of a tequila distillery.

Victor came over, and he told Markel where I lived and how we knew each other. Markel seemed to relax a bit, and I suggested we all go back to my house. They both agreed, but by the time we left Markel had found an ex-boyfriend, or an ex had found Markel, and they were arguing. Victor said it might last a lot time, so we left.

It was late when we got to the house, and I noticed Honey was outside, worrying some of the plantings I had put in that spring. I let him back in the house and I checked on my sister, who was fast asleep by herself. We didn’t wake her up, but went to the open cell to see if Enzo was there.

I should tell you it’s quite the climb up to that cell. It must be twenty feet at least above the second floor, and if you keep going there’s a little bell at the top of the ladder. I asked Victor what it was for, and he said that was so you didn’t have to scream your lungs out to get someone’s attention. You could hear the bell in the whole house.

Victor was so fast. He climbed up to the top before I had even made it a few steps.. Do you know what we found up there?

Nothing and no one.

In this country, there were a lot of hiding places. The open cell wasn’t one of them. There are places that seem like hiding places, but they are not. They are just specific places where it is actually easier to look for missing things and to find them, and to alert others to what you have found.

Victor showed me to the basement after that. It was dark and bit creepy. The house was built on a massive rock. Where the rock met cement, Victor pressed a depression to reveal a small cavity within the stone. I said I wouldn’t want to stay there, and Victor agreed. “No one would want to.”

We looked for food in the fridge, but whatever was in there, Jeanie and Enzo had eaten. I found two of the fish left, wrapped in foil, so Victor cooked them on the grill. They tasted incredible, and after I had eaten mine I wanted another.

Victor had an odd face on after he ate his. He asked me where I had gotten this late dinner, and when I explained, his face paled. He ran to the bathroom and so did I, leaning against the door, wondering what was wrong.

We went to the open cell after that, and made love.

I thought I knew what it was like to hide, from my neighbors and from myself, but Victor knew even better. No one could know that he was gay, he said, not even Enzo. He would leave in the early morning, and if he ran into him he would not say I had invited him.

As it happened, when I saw Jeanie the next evening she told me that Enzo had moved out. They were still together, but he did not feel right about staying here rent-free anymore, and had gone to crash with one of his colleagues until he found a place of his own. I told her that he didn’t bother me, but why didn’t he take his dog with him? She made a face and went to her room.

A few days later I showed her the hiding place that Victor had discovered in the rock. She was not as surprised as I expected her to be. While we were looking at the cramped spot, Honey crawled in there and started to cry. I said that Victor had showed me. Did Enzo ever introduce them?

You have probably already figured out what she said. She told me Enzo had no friend or colleague by that name.

I only saw Victor one more time. It was so hot in the house that I was up in the middle of the night, drinking mate. (By that time, I had grown to tolerate the substance fairly well.) Thinking I could catch a fresh breeze in the open cell, I started the climb. But before I could get to the top, I heard a bell.

Hector Legrande is contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in New Jersey. This is his first appearance in these pages.

“A Heartbreak (Odesza remix)”  – Angus & Julia Stone (mp3)

“From the Stalls (Fever 105 remix)” – Angus & Julia Stone (mp3)

In Which The Racists In Dorne Never Disappoint

I’ll Make Thrones To You

by DICK CHENEY

The new Star Wars trailer came out last week, and it was like the prequels never happened. Harrison Ford appeared to be desiccating slowly into Jabba the Hut, and the rest of it looked like a hot mess as well. Star Wars never had a consistent theme outside of George Lucas’s insane passion for random politicals parallels, and the situation in Mereen right now is even more of a thematic disaster. The writing is just so bad across the Narrow Sea. Game of Thrones already has great special effect, so it is missing the other thing that saved Star Wars from becoming Plan 9 from Outer Space: a love story.

“Perhaps. Perhaps.” “Perhaps.” “Perhaps.” “Perhaps perhaps.”

I am not even looking forward to the mansplaining to come from Tyrion Lannister about how Daenerys should be ruling Mereen. The number of times Tyrion will say My Lady will probably make Ser Barristan Selmy faint from an overdose of chivalry.

Whether he has truly given up whores or not I don’t care. I do know that a love story is infinitely more fascinating than another conversation with Varys where he says perhaps fifty times, and Varys complains about the little guy’s drinking. The two of them alone in a carriage to save money on production is more than I can bear. And girl, can you please wear a bra?

There’s never been a woman in history, let alone a queen, who has changed her wardrobe this seldom

One thing Game of Thrones almost never has time for is something essential in drama, which is to watch what people do when they are alone. It is what makes watching Arya threatening boys with her shit sword so compelling — she has no one else to rely on, and so must make her own choices. Pairing everyone else up — Bronn and Jaime, Pod and Brienne, Sansa and LF, Jon Snow and Sam leads to twelve different renditions of The Odd Couple: two slightly different people bickering among themselves. It is far easier to write and keep track of such arrangements, but it leads to a simultaneity that jars me like the gross face of Stannis’ wife.

Maybe she could have the Sons of the Harpy over for dins. They look hungry.

I realize that Game of Thrones does have a lot of female characters, which is great and everything considering how bad most of the male ones are. Still, the women do seem to be acting in great haste lately. Cersei’s moves are entirely emotional and Daenerys can’t drop a No. 2 without getting the advice of some old guy and her boyfriend. Brienne’s “plan” to save Sansa Stark consists of going up to them. Wow, how devious. Did Renly teach you that at a gay saloon in Storm’s End?

“I know what I’ll do. I’ll randomly swear loyalty to someone who doesn’t even know me!” This show needs Lady Stoneheart, bad.

I don’t understand Cersei’s moves to stack the King’s council, either. I think they should have just recast Jack Gleeson (he played Joffrey) as Tommen, except maybe given him a moustache.

The unceremonius departure of Sir Kevan Lannister was a real kick in the nuts. That guy was pretty cute, maybe the cutest old guy on the show besides Margaery Tyrell’s mom. (Where is that old bat? She just straight up disappeared one day after Oberyn Martell had a disagreement with the Mountain.)

Don’t go Kevan. We’ll give you the honored position of Hand of the Hand of the King.

Jon Snow murdering dudes right as left as Lord Commander has potential, as does the ambiguously sexual relationship he has with his newest charge, who I shall call Lord Molten. (Camile Paglia would be pleased.) I hope Jon eventually comes into conflict with Sam, because the unexplored sexual tension between those two could fill Craster’s belly.

YKNJS, the peacocking is getting a bit much. You look like a fat pigeon in the outfit big guy.

Thrones is missing romance right now, the essence which moves us from moment to moment, the substance Chelsea Clinton was sadly born without. Even Sam and Gilly have yet to consummate their love, which should probably have occurred years ago for warmth/survival related reasons.

These days Sam mostly just stands around insisting that he will protect her from guys like Slynt, while it’s Jon who does the actual dirty work. I swear to God Samwell hasn’t done anything except turn coyly to look behind him since he killed that white walker.

would not be surprised if Melisandre sifts through his stool looking for treats

It’s kind of odd how nobody gives a shit about Winterfell anymore. I mean, Ned Stark came across like such a pious ponce and a strong leader, but in the end he just was a dumb shit who let himself get outfoxed. His wife forgot about him in two seconds and his kids aren’t exactly aching to retake Winterfell either. With that said, Stannis’ annoying illiterate assistant really seems to have been entranced by Jon’s brotential. Ser Davos reminds me of a Terry McAuliffe who can’t read.

Stannis looked like FDR behind the desk. “I don’t punish brave men, I reward them,” he said in the tone of someone who has just passed a kidney stone and is happy to be alive. I’m really sad that Stannis can’t change from this emasculated state into a real hero. Given that this is Thrones, he’s already on death row.

Arya’s trip to the House of Black and White exploded HBO’s budget and created a lavish setting surround the Braavosi/Israeli stronghold for no real reason. Arya is supposed to become one of these assassins, but in doing so it seems she will have to lose everything that brought her to this point. Bringing back Jaqen H’ghar was a waste of time, and Maisie Williams looks to have not aged perceptibly in the past five seasons. I hope she meets a cute Jew while she is training to be a Faceless Woman. There’s a lot riding on this.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

“That’s My Shit” – The-Dream ft. T.I. (mp3)

“All I Need” – The-Dream (mp3)

In Which There Are Absolutely No Substitutes

photograph by jerry siegel

Notes on Changing Direction

by LAUREN CIERZAN

When I was young, magnolia trees were synonymous with South. Even though one dove over the driveway of our Wisconsin yard in a frozen, fat-blossomed wave, shedding petals as thick as tongues onto the concrete, the books I read pinned magnolia trees to plantations, weeping Spanish moss, the hot air sick with their perfume. They shaded dust-choked cotton fields and country roads parched by a year-long July, a world thick with grotesques — deaf-mutes, Boo Radleys — and manic preachers, dark secrets and surges of strange violence.

At some point of middle school desperation, I fell hard for Southern Gothic. Stories that moved and unsettled me, writing that, in all its gloriously creepy thematic splendor, was a teething ring for teen angst. I read Wise Blood on the bus. A frenzy of Capote, Jackson, and McCullers that ended shell-shocked over The Heart is A Lonely Hunter in the school library. Through them, the South was slicked with a cartoon glaze, its whimsy grim enough to make depression seem cozy. I considered it an anti-Disneyland, real enough to claim a spot on the map yet doused in a thin magic you willed yourself to believe. The dry facts were skimmed over in history class. Fiction alone informed my understanding of life across an invisible line, the ghost of the Mason Dixon.

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I was thirteen the summer my parents unfurled their plans for a proper family expedition. Not five hours tracing the shoreline towards Canada for a sunburnt week in a cabin. Not us, not this time. We were going to drive to South Carolina, our van pinballing its way through landmark cities in the process. Thrill and dread unspooled in my chest. I anticipated a modern version of what I knew South to mean — drawls and Civil War monuments, miscellaneous macabre activities — only now swimming in plenty of asphalt and fast food chains. I wasn’t entirely wrong. In memories, most of these exist dimly, spectators that circle a disaster unfolding in slow-motion.

The Trip, and it more than earned its capital letters, will forever exist in fragments. When strung together, these excerpts read like a script, or more specifically, National Lampoon’s Vacation as ghostwritten by Flannery O’Connor and directed by David Lynch. It opens at dawn on Family Vacation, Day One. My sister begins retching before our tires touch the street. A flu bug bends her in half, head buried in the bathroom trash can pinched between her knees. Miles pass at a hitching rate, a few hours going, a few hours stopped to sight-see and breath clean air, her misery more infectious than any stomach virus. In the Appalachians, we swelter in stand-still traffic that lasts through an afternoon. Car doors splay open like wings and people wander along the side of the road, queasy from the altitude.

photograph by jerry siegel

Following dinner at a local restaurant, food poisoning strikes with a vengeance. My mother and I twist in sweaty knots on the bathroom tiles of our hotel. A rooming mistake in Charleston lands us in a party-torn suite, its broken lamp leaning dejectedly in the corner. We eye the mysterious hubcap-sized stain on the carpet and elect to sleep on top of the beds. Bad luck edges into darker territory.

While touring the Biltmore Estate, my mother goes momentarily blind. What she blames on the sun is, in actuality, a small stroke. Relief requires too much effort by the time we finally touch the ocean. Perched on a sweeping beach, the resort is peaceful, its rooms tidy and smelling sweetly marine. We loosen our shoulders and pick along the sand, hoping to swim, as thunderheads roil merrily behind us. The next three days are a solid unbroken rain. On the fourth, we turn home under a suddenly clearing sky. Fade to black. The End.

There is a particular strangeness to experiencing what you have only read about. Words written and moments lived merge like bodies in a crowd, milling together into indistinguishable details. I remember very little of our surroundings during those two weeks. There are exceptions; Charleston’s slicing heat, the view from an Appalachian road, but the rest recedes into shadows skirting my family’s immediate chaos. In our time there and afterwards, my impression of the South dissolved further, into something more like a dream. It was the backdrop of a story rehashed at Christmas dinners, it lived in the novels I fell in the love with and surfaced occasionally on the television screen, but otherwise escaped my awareness as anything tangible. A blank plain yawned below the Illinois border, a sketch erased and waiting to be reshaped.

+

In the lull of this past winter, my boyfriend and I deliberated where to relocate after his graduation in June. It could have been anywhere, but our individual preferences were clear. I missed Chicago. He lobbied for Nashville. We were both surprised when I agreed.

After years circling Lake Michigan, an attempt to settle elsewhere seemed to steady my restlessness. The decision felt like an accident, not in the way of regret but in arriving of its accord. I tried to imagine what a day there would be, the light striping my face as I woke to an strange ceiling, and I realized again how little I knew outside Midwestern life.

Twice in the spring, we drove to Nashville to scout for housing and visit friends. I tried to shake free of the vacation haze of time off work and nights curled, drunk and satisfied, on an air mattress and make note of this new place, allowing its features to ease slowly into focus. What I saw, what I still see, is a city decidedly in-between. True middle ground, pinned towards the center of the country’s chest. Its sprawl spills into the foothills, the simmer between flatlands and the mountains’ rolling boil, a landscape that oscillates between marshy groves and sloping rock.

The population is wildly outsourced, natives swallowed by a widening stream of transplants. Music hopefuls and artists, immigrants, entrepreneurs, form a tributary that eddies an indeterminate local culture. I wonder at the result — a pidgin of national identity fed by American’s full spectrum, with certain regional distinctions rising more deliberately to the surface. Northern and Southern sensibilities meet and muddle. Tradition keeps anchor in a tide of new ideals. I warmed to the idea of ‘Yes, here,’ charmed by its confusion, the erratic beating of its heart.

+

The differences are subtler than expected. It’s the heat mostly. All the finer details stem from its heavy pulse. I keep track regardless, slipping every nuance into a mental pocket. The crazed plant life is a marked change, unfamiliar vines and shrubs and low-bowing trees clambering all over each other, made ruthless by the warm damp. Thick boughs muscle their way onto sidewalks and claw desperately towards the curb. A snaking bush ripped our back gate clean off its hinges.

The insect world breeds with the same deranged abandon. Spiders, fat and round as robin’s eggs, dangle above doorways on legs substantial enough to be small fingers. If garden variety spiders spin lace, these ogres weave like looms, stretching thick yellow swathes across stray branches. Paper wasps the length of my finger Houdini their way into our apartment. Likewise with tiny ant battalions and enough flies to work a saint into a blind rage. To them, RAID is an adorable joke. I’ve learned to read the cicadas in the way I once glanced at a thermometer. There isn’t a word existing that bottles their sound, the way it swells with each rising degree. Keening comes close. A drone, a grinding of teeth with no teeth to speak of. In the end, it’s too alien. I’m spooked by the noise despite small efforts at acceptance. What I hear is a warning, inescapably ominous, like the whisper of something coming. Menacing, simply because it’s anonymous.

I slip my fingers through the blinds and peer out at the air cooking above the empty street or the house next door with its own drawn shades to prove to my knotting shoulders that there’s no threat at all. Windows are almost always covered here, as if everyone feels under the same siege. In a way, they are. Curtains bunched tight, sheets haphazardly hung and shivering from some unseen fan, anything imaginable to block out the sun. The indoors is sacred ground, blessedly air-conditioned. Outside, even in shade, humidity is as merciless as a wool glove. Porches gape sulkily, empty of anything but a few jilted chairs, a crouching table with a coffee pot glowering at a closed front door. Every house keeps its secrets until sundown. Afternoon cools to evening and windows fly open like eyelids, lit rooms lively with shadows as dinner is made. Figures bathed in porch-lights’ murky gold tangle voices and flash the glint of raised bottles. Night feels thicker. Moonbeams clot in the dark air, palpable enough to cup in open palms.

photograph by jerry siegel

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It is hard to see the truth of a place through the coating of assumptions. The presupposed smears vision like a dirty pane, enough for me to doubt my observations. Are they honest or influenced by words I clung to more than a decade ago? Down the street, a house built into the hillside stands on a broad, well-kept lawn. Someone has mown the word HOPE into the manicured grass, each letter arching 12 feet long. I stare each time I pass by and fend off a conviction that is this somehow significant. Yards in the city’s satellite neighborhoods often dwarf the homes they belong to. The buildings themselves squat low to the ground and bob at the edge of their private expanses like rowboats in a bay, the disproportion a truce with the undergrowth snarling along property lines.

I speculate about these things. I imagine. I swear to myself that the light here is more yellow, that there is a certain weight of mystery that belongs to this climate, this region that has a shared yet separate history to the states that I know well, and then remember that all of it is only unfamiliar. I’ve romanticized the South with a potency that lingers. It will be winter soon and I wonder how that sense will shift with the seasons. An urge to venture downward and deeper — weekends in Baton Rouge, wandering to Little Rock, Savannah — stirs quietly in me, an emboldening and a need for experience uncolored by outside opinion. First impressions are their own brand of fiction. Stories are held captive on shelves for good reason.

+

Nowhere is without lacking. I miss the lakeshore, the waves and the wind’s cool stroke. Rhubarb and lightly sweetened tea. Wine is no longer bought with groceries; liquor laws confine it to specialty stores that are few and far between. While there are no substitutes, fresh discoveries fill those gaps, things that will become new longings when I leave here. A month has come and gone and I sit motionless in our living room, listening. Underneath the cicadas’ whine, I am beginning to hear a song.

Lauren Cierzan is the senior contributor to This Recording. She last wrote in these pages about claustrogoraphobia. She is a writer living in Nashville. She tumbls here.

“Saturday Come Slow” – Massive Attack ft. Damon Albarn (mp3)

“Paradise Circus” – Massive Attack ft. Hope Sandoval (mp3)