In Which We Treat Them Mean

This is the first part of a two-part series by our senior contributor Karina Wolf. Go inside

The Rabbit Hole

by Karina Wolf

On Wednesday, Julia says she doesn’t want us to read for an entire week. No, she amends, not just no reading, also no talk radio, no music with lyrics, no television, no email, no web browsing, and no chatty phone calls that we wouldn’t ordinarily make. “I’m not going to tell anyone not to see a movie,” she hedges. “But there may be other things you can do with your time.”

The Artist’s Way is the perfect workshop for an aspiring Left Coast-ist. There are affirmations, visualizations, and the idealization of synchronicitous events. The author of the book and workshop, Julia Cameron, also talks about her ex-husband, Martin Scorsese (Sicilian Scorpio) and about herself (sensitive Pisces). She’s writing a musical and, sometimes, there is group singing, which she insists puts us in touch with our better nature.

It’s a strange group, between 50 and 70 students, a salad of Westchester moms, brides-to-be, guys with broken hearts and broken limbs, students who are doing NIA dancing, whatever that is, and a photographer who’s following the Diamond Approach. A latently angry lot. This is group therapy for artists, creative recovery according to Julia.

I’m open-minded about personal betterment strategies. I’ve been subjected to a lot of them, thanks to all the therapists in the family. I’m also starting to think that, like my dogs and my niece, I’d have a greater sense of security from a better set of rules. But as a freelancer who works from home, I know this will be an interesting experiment in madness.

On the way out, I check for texts, emails, and Facebook updates, call my dad so that he can recount the plot of two nights of In Treatment and walk to Magnolia to buy a fortifying dose of sugar. I suspect that the instrumental Arvö Part on my laptop will only heighten this Bergmanesque austerity, so I stuff my iTunes with Charlie Parker and Miles Davis (no duets with Ella, though: no lyrics!). I am now hopped up on green tea latte and chocolate cupcake. There is nothing to do but spy on the naked neighbors, clean the refrigerator and listen to “In a Sentimental Mood” 45 times.

Before I fired my acupuncturist, Dr. Y determined (through muscle testing) that all my problems stemmed from “the concept of living through others”. I want to congratulate him—the entirety of my thoughts and memories seem to come from media, ether- and other-generated materials. I linger nostalgically over my most recent media forays: that puzzling YouTube clip about John “Walnuts” McCain; the wiki entry about Charlie Parker’s recording of “Lover Man”; those Asobi Seksu songs.

Certain half-measures occur. Can I, for example, flip through the Maira & Tibor Kalman book of photos that I just bought? No words there. But I’m bargaining. It would be a little like when I went to the fascist nutritionist who nixed sugar, dairy, wheat, starches, fruit, caffeine, and alcohol from my diet. Sometimes the desire for bread became so intense that I’d have to unfasten a bag of sourdough just to sniff at the contents. If I’m still craving it, I’m probably not cured.

On Thursday, I’m perfect—most of the day. It’s raining so I can’t get Hector to install the pigeon wires. There is nothing to do but walk the pups and write.

I had already made plans to see Gemma Hayes and Mundy at Mercury Lounge, and I decide to soak up every locution and lyric that comes my way. Nourishment for my inner artist. Gemma Hayes has West Coast malaise: she was shopping for a bikini in LA and discovered the one she liked was dry clean only. Get it? Her remarks are a little evolved for the crowd, a rowdy Saint Patrick’s day warm up. But she is gracious when someone’s mobile phone interferes with the sound, and her song “Back of My Hand” echoes pleasantly in my word-parched brain.

Gemma admits that kids are cruel. When she was 9 or 10, there was a little boy in her class who kissed her while the teacher was writing on the blackboard. All the other students jeered. Gemma waited after school, beat the crap out of him, and threw the boy and all his copybooks into a puddle. A few days later, the boy came over to her, apologized and gave her a present. “So treat ’em mean, I guess,” she says, after apologizing to the memory of the humiliated schoolboy.


“No Ordinary Love (Sade cover)” – Gemma Hayes (mp3)

“Hanging Around” – Gemma Hayes (mp3)

Mundy is a little rough around the edges. “Someone up here farted?” He waves his hands around. “It’s a fart with wings, then. Or someone has a very high ass.” He plays a couple of songs. I even get a shout out before his single from the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack. There are a couple of wolf whistles, though my name means, obviously, nothing and Mundy also dedicates the song to some stewardesses, buxom blondes, and bartenders who are following him around.

Afterward, we find ourselves at the Scratcher, where Paddy Casey is sitting at the bar like a gnome on a toadstool. Mundy comes along, then the cabin crew from his Aer Lingus flight, then the guy from The Frames who just won the Oscar.

At the bar, we talk to a transplanted record producer, Shuggie, whose eyes are springing from his head—think Susan Sarandon with hyperthyroidism. Can you guess where my name comes from, he challenges us. The most famous Shuggie of them all. Can you guess. Guess.

I take a stab. Shuggie Otis?

No. He’s crestfallen. Sugar Ray Leonard.

I met Mundy in Monaghan. Recalling this, he pulls out the book he’s reading—Patrick Kavanagh, he believes, is going to inspire the final song for his new album. I’m three paragraphs into the Monaghan poet’s The Green Fool before I realize I’m having Word Rush. I feel exhilarated and slightly queasy, the sensation you’d have shopping at the Columbus Circle Whole Foods after exiting a sensory-deprivation tank.

I hand back the book and start talking to Paddy, who is a cross between Vladimir Putin, Crispin Glover and Lyle Lovett. Discretion of Putin, stare of Crispin, frizzy hair of Lyle. He also has the tiniest, most recalcitrant mouth I’ve ever seen. His cure for writer’s block, he tells Mundy, is to unplug everything in the house and lie in the dark until something happens. Seems to work; he’s being followed around by MTV for a documentary about his new album.

We notice that Paddy is wearing seven layers of zip-up jackets. He is his own nesting babushka/tootsie roll pop. We set about unlayering Paddy Casey. He is resistant. He leaves at four because he has to make an in-store appearance at ten in the morning. How are you going to wake up, we ask him. I don’t have to wake up. He smirks. Someone will do that for me. This reinforces my thought that everyone needs personal support staff.

Karina Wolf is the senior contributor to This Recording. She lives and writes in New York City. The Rabbit Hole with conclude with Part Two tomorrow.


Beard season brought out the bears of fall.

Jess vs. boys.

We engaged the enemy on its own soil.

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