In Which We Cry Inside A New Bedroom

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This Is Up Front

by MARK ARTURO

NEW YORK – Three men walked all the way back from the front of the line, coming up to us. Their arms filled with packages, they said they wrote the future of the world. Now they were purchasing supplies and the like, lumber or metal, to make palatable the less fruitful aspects of the dedicated life. I said, “What will happen, in the years to come, that we should know about?” They thought for a while and tossed Starbursts into each others’ mouths.

Outside of Home Depot, one man had a parrot in a cage and another men was heckling him. The parrot repeated both of what they said in a slightly less horrifying vernacular. Traffic was moving backwards on the parkway. I was saying goodbye to everyone, and the way I was saying goodbye was with tiny backwards motions of my fingers, alternating even and odd.

Central Park. In the shallow water, my cousin Arlo sails a paper boat. The crest of the fake boat rejects the shadow of a wave. Further down by the Polish statue, in 2007, I was told I was loved next to a seal. I think of him (the seal) on Easter, and alternate Wednesdays. Ash is a language, sailboats are a language, lost to us.

Arlo is the type of cousin one regrets not having at a younger age. He moves in time with the waves, but there are no waves other than the sound variety, massacred by the chattering of finches. The slow onward progress of events impresses an echo but nothing further at this time. Arlo repeats non-sequiturs to himself. They say that is the habit of a growing, learning child, but I disagree, having observed it up close. It is more like a reflex.

After I drop him off at his mother’s, I walk the shadow side of the street past the hospital. A group of monks are harassing tourists. A bunch of men, all 5’5″ and shorter, are comparing different bowling balls in the courtyard of a church. When I come back on Sunday, there is a pile of Christmas lights as high as a man.

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My new apartment is painted a color two shades from the natural repose of a man ensconced in brick. “I would like to see you on Tuesday, maybe Wednesday if I can get off work,” an e-mail reads, and I send it to a specific archival folder where it can be reconsidered as if it were a legislative proposal. Someone else’s best efforts are bound to be disappointing.

Regrets:

 

a) Made the left turn, never went to Philadelphia

b) Partial prints, partial apologies, men in auburn-crested suits

c) Offered up under my name, Mark, also the name of many others. We should have one way of addressing ourselves known only to the animals

d) I wish I had touched the heel of a vessel to the top of this gangly haberdashery, crossed and languid in the molten core

e) or even said her name aloud

f) not voting for Hillary Clinton

g) more caution can always be used upon the crossing of an avenue

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God repeated a statement of fact as if it were a divisible question. We know the query is an answer to whatever other question there was before something existed. Now, to the time where nothing existed. Who made the first word in the first mouth, and abdicated the rest to the imaginary?

It is great to be able to talk about these things in a city, because no other setting can handle it properly. When I get home the men of the future are engaged in a vesting and intricate argument. They believe, as do I, that the key is the measuring unit, and then the amount. Without knowing how much of anything we can desire, and survive, we must test out the correct volume. Anything else would be a broken promise.

Mark Arturo is the senior contributor to This Recording.

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In Which We Are Patronizing Of Everyone Including Ourselves

Ghostbusters Without Ghosts

by ETHAN PETERSON

Annihilation
dir. Alex Garland
115 minutes

The only remotely interesting aspects of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy were his ideas about faith. To summarize briefly: once certain people became intoxicated with alien spores, they begin to have different priorities. The resulting erosion of the self began with the title of this first, well-intentioned book.

I didn’t particularly agree with where VanderMeer went with things next, but if Annihilation is successful, they will probably have to do a completely different story for a sequel. There was no way to film the changing of a person’s mind, so Annihilation begins with a scene where Lena (Natalie Portman) is beginning her class on how a cell changes. This introduction is meant to convey that we will see, in the following, a mutation of human cells.

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Portman has not seen her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) for an entire year at that point, since he departed on a military mission. They met in the military, which is so surreptitiously convenient that it sounds like a cover story. Director Alex Garland (The Beach) loves these kind of chicken or egg moments, because he believes they describe some aspect of the human condition. “Most of us here,” a woman later explains to Lena, “don’t exactly come from happy lives.” Lena’s depression is existential — practically, it is not related to Kane at all.

Suddenly, Kane returns. All he can do is to take a single sip of water, in what he believes is what should be human behavior. In order to determine what has befallen him, Lena is introduced to the concept of Area X: an alien-affected area near a lighthouse which is slowly expanding until it takes over the entire planet.

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No one returns from Area X, and certainly not groups of men. Jennifer Jason Leigh’s psychologist character, Dr. Ventress, has cancer, so she is not expecting to come back from this survey of the area they call “The Shimmer.” Lena “agrees” to join.

Garland manages some exquisite visuals, but they lose a lot of the earthly feeling in the novel. In the book, there is a sense of being tied so close to your own biology that every breath is either a vindication or a repudiation of it. It would be a lie if we said there was not something essentially patronizing and transparent about this all women group of explorers. Relationships between any of the major characters in Annihilation are not fleshed out whatsoever, which I guess leaves a lot implied.

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Portman is always entertaining for a max of 45 minutes. After that every director runs out of ways to make her react, so they inevitably go with some cheesy scene where she is giggling a lot, like more than a person should or would ever giggle. It happens in Annihilation, as the movie slows to the kind of placid place where the audience has to collectively pretend to agree it has not run completely out of ideas.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.

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In Which We Mime The Motions Of The Jungle Cat

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The Words That We Know

by ETHAN PETERSON

Black Panther
dir. Ryan Coogler
Forever

If the aggressively mediocre Ryan Coogler had not at one point found Michael B. Jordan, is it too harsh to say all would have been lost? Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) is a most unusual Marvel villain in that he is not strictly speaking a villain at all. This is not a novel concept, since was Judas all that bad considering? But Killmonger is way better than Judas in almost every way.

Last week, a student at Christ the King high school in Queens wasn’t allowed to wear a jersey with his birth name on it. His birth name is Malcolm Xavier Combs. Was he also named after P. Diddy? Time will tell on that one, but white administrators at Christ the King were evidently not enthused by the controversial career of the civil rights leader.

According to National Action Network crisis director the Rev. Kevin McCall, school administrators actually ranked different black leaders as appropriate or inappropriate.

While former President Barack Obama and civil rights leader the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. received a thumbs-up, Malcolm X and the Rev. Al Sharpton both were given a thumbs down.

I guess some people have a long memory about the whole Tawana Brawley thing. But I can’t blame Al for that – how was he supposed to know a fifteen year old was lying? Getting even more short shrift in this tawdry affair is Malcolm X himself, the man who was born Malcolm Little. Everyone who has read The Autobiography of Malcolm X knows that Mr. X was a very fine Mr. X, maybe the best Mr. X except for Mr. X.

Malcolm dealt with some struggles. He grew up in a pervasively racist society. There was no such thing as rap. LeBron was just semen in a man brewery. Michael B. Jordan’s mother was living comfortably. Malcolm X was not. For what he endured, he should never be villified. Plus as I recall he had exactly the right amount of anti-Semitism a human being is capable of ignoring, pretending it doesn’t exist.

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Anyway, there is a lot of time to sit and think during Black Panther. I don’t personally (and this is not a view I extend to any of you) feel that a white character created, some might say, to take commercial advantage off a militant movement of African-Americans of tremendous historical and academic importance, is something that should be supported. I heard Harrison Barnes, a small forward on the Dallas Mavericks, took an entire theater of boys to see Black Panther in Texas. That sounds like a tedious afternoon.

My heart goes out to the family of Malcolm Xavier Combs. It is great that Ryan Coogler can just make these weird African epics now but I have a lot better ideas for stories he can work on. You see, my concepts for Ryan Coogler’s career involve actual African-American authors, and yet box office success is assured because of the three most important words in Ryan Coogler’s and my life: Michael B. Jordan. These are the words that we know.

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Just in general here is a list of characters I would love to see Michael B. Jordan play. (I would like to see Chadwick Boseman work in local theater.)

– Jesus

– Hamlet

– Fortinbras

– protagonist in a remake of Big

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– Richard Wright

– a remake of Marshall but without Chadwick Boseman and only Michael B. Jordan

– Michael Jordan (too on the nose?)

– Lacan

– Deleuze and Guattari in the same movie

I think you get the idea. Black Panther features a fictional African nation. But there were great nations made of African individuals that you don’t even have to make up!

Anyway, it is sad what they did to Killmonger, but it is also great for those of us who imagine that something besides a safe action movie could be produced from that enduring historical culture. Then again, lowering your expectations leads to unhappiness in the long term.

Malcolm X was a great American purely because of what he overcame. He was an inspiration to so many people, and he probably wasn’t that bad of a guy.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.

 

In Which We Resleeve Ourselves Into Something More Familiar

Important Men

by ETHAN PETERSON

Altered Carbon
creator Laeta Kalogridis
Netflix

In this future story from novelist Richard K. Morgan, we are thrust into a world where anyone can look however they want. That James Purefoy wants to look like James Purefoy makes sense on its face, but who would want to look like Joel Kinnaman? Joel Kinnaman looks like the “before” picture in one of those old advertisements in Archie comics, the shrimp who would get beat up at the beach or a dinner party (see below). Kinnaman explains fairly early on that he is an Envoy, which is some kind of soldier. The basic point we are meant to get across about this individual is this: he has a rich and storied history, and could tell you things of which you are probably unaware.

Instead of doing so, Kinnaman’s version of Takeshi Kovacs is only interesting when he is thinking about killing himself. It would have been an important moment to have a suicidal main character if I already didn’t want to cut myself when I saw Matt Damon’s goofy face.

It was a mistake to cast Joel Kinnaman in this role for so many reasons:

1) He admits he has never brushed his teeth.

2) His cloying overacting may have singlehandedly torpedoed House of Cards in retrospect, sparking a sexual harassment revolution.

3) The only time he ever had chemistry with a co-star was in The Killing, and that co-star was ostensibly a corpse,

4) His penis is shaped like a soda can and from some angles cannot be viewed by the human eye.

5) His transparent overtraining to look like a soldier (what a fucking Christian Bale wannabe) makes him have the practical dimensions of the star of Where’s Waldo,

6) He is Asian when he dies in the show’s opening scene, and when he wakes up, he’s Joel Kinnaman. We lost so much just right there.

There comes a point in your life when you realize you’re dating yourself. In real life, the Swedish-born Kinnaman is married to a tattoo artist. Her skin resembles a sheet of paper that’s been written over too many times.

Kinnaman’s main antagonist is a Latina police officer named Kristin (Martha Higareda). Kristin is pretty tiny, and the two have so many scenes together that it is very awkward to see them both in the same frame. Perhaps wisely, creator Laeta Kalogridis puts as much focus on the surrounding mise-en-scene as she can. (She even refers to it as mise-en-scene.) The future, in Morgan’s imagining, is basically like now except some people can live forever if they have enough money. What they are really paying for is for a version of themselves to be hosted on satellite and beamed back into a new cortical stack should they be murdered.

This has in fact happened to Mr. Bancroft (The slovenly James Purefoy, who has the biggest mole imaginable, gross, disgusting). He wants Kovacs to solve the murder, but despite his ample resources and connections within the resleeving industry, he cannot find an Asian body for his private detective to inhabit. That this is racist is indisputable, so Altered Carbon papers over it with a bunch of roles for African-Americans in which they play second bananas or omnipotent, advisory god figures.

If you think I’m trying to discourage you from watching Altered Carbon, think again. There may in fact be a future, or even a present where someone would want to look like Joel Kinnaman – all gangly and soda-canesque. I’m pretty sure Kinnaman has ruined everything he has ever been in. I don’t even remember who he was in Suicide Squad, which is probably for the best.

The worst part of his casting is that Altered Carbon would basically be John Wick if Keanu Reeves would do television. In any case, an actual actor was required for the role.

Ethan Peterson is the senior contributor to This Recording.

 

In Which We Ask If He Moves His Mouth

I Wrote This By Hand

by LISA GETTY-FRANCIS

Monday

He is riding the 2 train and getting off four stops before mine. He has that glazed over look. Something has gone terribly wrong.

Tuesday

I think of the right book to be reading, the one that not only piques his interest, but piques his interest in me. My roommate Joann suggests a novelization of the Jim Carrey movie The Cable Guy. My mom suggests a book about training puppies written by a bunch of a monks. “He’ll know, on some level, that it is about him,” she says without a trace of irony.

Wednesday

Irony is the only thing never in short supply. He is reading now. Well, he is playing a game on his phone also. The object of the game, I can reveal to you all now, is to put a series of frames in sequential order.

When he becomes frustrated or unable to put them in the right order, he pulls out a book. It is a rather tawdry biography of Johnny Carson, who never trusted anyone.

Thursday

I decide on a book that will suggest a variety of nuances about myself. You don’t know me, but I am like a parade: you can have brief snippets of fun, but you can also be trampled.

Friday

I notice that when he is reading, his mouth forms some but not all of the words. My roommate Joann says that he is probably learning disabled. My mom says a lot of people do that when they read, which is code for her saying she has been known to mouth a word here or there.

Saturday

I went to the Met. All the paintings seemed woefully inadequate. Why didn’t they talk, or dance? Remaining still is only useful in death.

Monday

OK. I have heard his voice. It sounds like when someone who is a bit too much up his own ass says the word ‘research.’ He talked to a latino girl who admired his shoes (they are gorgeous, they should be in a museum). He told her that they do not feel as good as they look, and turned back to his new book: a paperback copy of Rosemary’s Baby. I am ashamed to say I was a little turned on by that.

Tuesday

Some ducks climbed up on an old woman’s leg in the park. She was feeding them too much. When they reached for her hand, she said she had to go.

Wednesday

My roommate invited me to the Hamptons, but I can’t/don’t want to go. The faces of the people there remind me too much of scars.

Thursday

He wore his workout clothes around five, which suggests that he changed into them at the office. He is quite fit, but his arrangement suggests an almost accidental theme. He took out a gym bag and changed his shoes. I would be lying if I said they looked great, but the last time I looked at a pair of feet and felt pleased was in the shower.

Friday

Look-alikes:

Me, Audrey Hepburn’s mediocre sister
My mom, Katie Couric
Him, An incredibly handsome velociraptor
Joann, a female birthed from Channing Tatum’s embryo

The possibility of being someone else is the rabbit dogs chase around the Aqueduct.


Monday

What a weekend. I did not see him once, and I rode the subway back and forth too much. It used to be that the very first car was always the emptiest, but people caught on, and now it is as crowded as the others. Then a train crashed in Valhalla, and it was only those in the first car who perished in the flames. It goes back and forth like that.

Tuesday

He is back! On an impulse I sat down next to him. He looked up at me and smiled! He was reading The Interestings! (What crap!) I searched for what I would say, and it did not take me very long to come up with something that I believe we can all agree is compelling on the merits: “I’m Lisa. You are? Wait, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.”

Wednesday

Joann made me go to the Guggenheim. It is like being inside an egg, which leads to us spending most of our time there reading the wikipedia article about eggs. We need something to distract us because the Kandinsky exhibit is so bad.

Joann thinks it is best not to overthink a first date. “A great first date sets up too many unrealistic expectations,” she says. She also believes you should always drink on a first date, as a sort of litmus test to find out if he is an alcoholic. Her last boyfriend drank too much, and his skin smelled like Crown Royal Apple.

Thursday

The date is on Saturday, so I just take the bus until then. Buses are full of divorced dads with their kids and seniors wrapping their wrists in gauze. Someone had the not-so-bright idea to put fabric on the seats instead of plastic, and it is all worn down and discolored, like hair dyed too many colors. When someone (a male) first asked me to describe myself, I found I could not do it. Since then I have put some real time into knowing what to say in response to that question. This makes it seem like I know who I am.

Friday

Joann and I cleaned the apartment today. We found three twenty dollar bills in the sofa cushion and paused the mopping for a real meal. She thinks they belonged to her ex-boyfriend. “Don’t date a guy who is always losing things,” she said. “It’s a waste of time.” I almost tell her that I lost a pair of earrings she gave me last year, but I decide to wait for a better time. They are probably on the first car of a train somewhere.

Saturday

How did it go? How did it go? How did it go?

He was working in Rhode Island, he tells me. He says the explanation is going to sound weird, and I don a solemn countenance, preparing myself to say, “But that’s not weird at all!” (In this restaurant, all the flames shine in candleholders shaped like golden retrievers.)

He (his name is Jeffrey) was in charge of all the lost and found in the entire state of Rhode Island. It was a job his uncle got him after he dropped out of law school, he says. I ask him what things people lost that were recovered.

“Oh anything,” he says, and launches into a list that it feels like goes on for the better part of an hour. Honestly I mostly start touching him just to quiet the barrage, but also because I always wanted to.


“I saw you on the train a few weeks ago,” I say.

“What made you notice me?”

“Oh, you were reading some trash.”

Saturday

His apartment is more meticulously arranged than any museum. I used to like going to those places, the kinds of empty environments you could fill with your own thoughts and turn into a completely idiosyncratic experience. I think that possibility has vanished or is at least seriously diminished. (My youth!)

He applies a full layer of cocoa butter to his body before sleep.

Sunday

An arm and a leg.

Joann met someone, too. His hair is short but oddly covers his ears. She sent me a picture. I asked if he moves his mouth to form the words he is reading, and she says so far, no, but the only books in his apartment are by Jacques Pepin and Foucault.

Monday

In the last car, where you are the least likely to run into anyone you know, a chorus sings, “I Think We’re Alone Now.” The train breaks down at 96th.

Lisa Getty-Francis is a contributor to This Recording. This is her first appearance in these pages. She is a writer living in New York.

 

In Which We Could Not Be This Married If We Tried

Our Home in Aspen

by ETHAN PETERSON

Fifty Shades Freed
dir. James Foley
105 minutes

Sex during the honeymoon. At the beginning of Fifty Shades Freed, Christian (Jamie Dornan) and Ana (Dakota Johnson) are married in a lovely ceremony. The resulting honeymoon is incredibly tame. At one point, Christian is chaining Ana’s arms to her legs, but he never really goes anywhere after he secures her. He just performs cunnilingus for a bit and I guess she can’t move, but why would she have to or want to? Later, Ana is punished by her husband for disobeying her, and she is angry that he brought their dispute into the bedroom. She does not scream, “Never go to bed angry!” but it might as well be the subtitle of this inoffensive film.

Previously, Christian Grey was something of a maniac who acted extremely rashly and would use the excuse of a troubled childhood to explain the various trials he put Ana and others such as his brother Eliot (Luke Grimes) through. As a married man, Christian has mellowed. He is very protective of his new wife, and she feels much the same. When a lively blonde architect (Arielle Kebbel) flirts with him, Ana attacks like a mealy-mouthed tiger. She is so brave we forgive the fact that her teeth look horrendous.

Methods of birth control. Although Ana tells Christian that she is taking the depo-provera shot to prevent his demon spawn from incubating within her, she actually “forgets” to take her shot. She never admits to this passive-aggressive dereliction of duty, but perhaps she can think of no other way to convince her husband to bear her the children she feels she deserves. The Depo shot is about 99 percent effective; that is, one out of every hundred times a baby will be born who is unexpected and possibly even unwanted.

Later – much later – we see Ana and Christian’s daughter. Both parents are happy in the glow of their child. The implication is that even though the conception of the child was a mistake, the result is a pleasant one. I try to apply this basic philosophy to all the unintended consequences in my life, but it does not tell us what is probably more important – how to react to the things we chose for ourselves.

A marriage’s rules. Ana’s friend Kate (Eloise Mumford) is in an unhappy relationship with Christian’s brother. When he proposes to her, she happily accepts, except it escapes no one’s notice that he is doing such a thing in an Aspen nightclub. Onlookers don’t know whether to applaud or cry. Christian’s Aspen home is configured much like his other living spaces, featuring large open rooms complemented by small kitchens. He does not prize the excess of a large kitchen because in all his time spent learning how to control women, he never figured out how to manage a stove.

When Ana goes out to a bar and has a few drinks with Kate, Christian is incensed. “Keep the martinis coming,” Kate tells their server, and Ana explains that “Christian will be so mad” and “I’m going to get in so much trouble.” Kate never responds by saying, “Do you think this is maybe an unhealthy marriage if you can’t go out for one night without having the fetish of the month (were those butt plugs?) foisted upon you?” Ana just sips her martini and returns home an hour later, where she is almost killed by one of Christian’s disgruntled employees.

Cooking a marital stew. Christian senses that Ana is uncomfortable in this apartment where she was almost murdered. Fortunately, he has begun making plans for a home where they can both be completely comfortable. It looks something like a haunted house, so understandably Christian hires an architect to tear the entire thing down. Ana is grief-stricken at this thought – you see, she likes authentic things that retain their own charm as ages pass. In other words, she is attracted to someone who is not like her.

Instead of differentiating herself from her husband, the newly-named Ana Grey seeks to become more like him – mysterious, at times even beguilingly aggressive, but with a warm and chewy center. As the most phenomenal soundtrack plays, including an ironic song by Sia, the two fight over whether or not she should use his name in her professional life. Even though she works as a fiction editor at her husband’s publishing company, Ana’s friends and coworkers keep emphasizing that she has attained her position entirely through merit.

Like most caricatures, Christian and Ana Grey never do anything wrong, or contemplate something we would not do ourselves. In one scene, Ana finds a loaded gun her husband has left in a drawer. (The drawer was evidently not child-proofed.) She walks into the next room and asks him why he has it. I was stunned by this, since if I found a loaded gun in my husband’s drawer I would never tell a soul. But he just calmly tells her to get rid of it.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.

 

In Which We Know All Of Our Weaknesses

Anger

by LINDA EDDINGS

I make the dark sea out of my hands. It is a restless, needy dough that presents itself as salve and illness both. Are you expecting someone (me) to get so upset she can barely breathe? I am not that kind of person. I am the sort of individual who packs the snow in my hands before the rain breaks.

I had done a lot of things for you by that point. I never made a list, or even counted them. I knew it was a lot because of the way you thanked me.

Your pet peeve — what you hated — was feeling worthless. A therapist named Dr. Walters had imprinted into your brain an incredibly dangerous word: value. She neglected to mention that the phenomenon went both ways.

When we place value on ourselves, we call that self-esteem. (Some people also call it snitching.) When you placed value on me, you neglected to mention that it was entirely conditional on the converse. But actually, once I recall asking you if you believed in unconditional love. You said, “Like, no matter what?” It was the same as telling someone what a pencil was.

I knew I was an angry person at the age of 12. I saw a girl print out an encyclopedia entry and submit it as a book report and I wanted to put her on a raft and push her out into the ocean. Now I feel a weird compassion for her plight. At least she knew, without the slightest shred of doubt, that she was a fake.

As a teenager we made repeated trips to a lighthouse where an old man lived with his wife. He let us go to the very top. I couldn’t help but think we were not seeing very far from there. Certainly not as far as we should have been able to, given the height. Fog stopped us, rolling in off the ocean.

Twenty years have passed since those days, and I do not even think about them anymore. I think of the pope’s attitude towards women in the clergy, the mileage on my car and my next meal.

I talked already about what you hated most, You disliked many other things: my mother, my tendency to repeat myself and apologize for doing so. You rolled your eyes when I said “The long arm of the law.” Why do I remember that so vividly?

Most people I could pick apart. It’s a matter of knowing their weaknesses, as well as your own. I deliberately did not do that to you — not because I thought it was important to be nice, but because I was afraid you would return that attitude in kind. I think it is the real me.

Linda Eddings is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn.