In Which She Never Talked About Men Or Clothes

A Thing Worth Cherishing, Worth Fighting For

by SARA BIVIGOU

Nina Simone makes me feel ready. Which is to say whenever I listen to her I spring up — black, female, alive.

I met Nina a couple of months before she died, was introduced to her on a BBC2 music programme which was snippets of archive interviews strung together with live performances. It ran through the ups and downs of her story and showed clips of her most electrifying performances — Village Gate 62, Carnegie Hall 64, Harlem Cultural Festival 69, Montreaux Jazz Festival 76. I learnt what a formidable presence she was on and off stage and what a hard won thing it was to command an audience the way she did. All that childhood rehearsal, all the rejection, everything you’ve got to take from yourself to give to a crowd. (“…using everything you’ve got inside you sometimes to barely make a note, or if you have to strain to sing, you sing” she said, “so sometimes I sound like gravel, and sometimes I sound like coffee and cream.”) That sacrifice as dangerous blessing, exquisite curse. It was transformative for me to see a black woman live her life as art, as a thing worth cherishing, worth fighting for, though the 70-minute programme has a sad closing act — Nina portrayed as a doddery old has-been, her fall from grace exemplified by an incident in which she fired a gun at a boy outside her home in Southern France.

Liz Garbus’ documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? is more detailed but similar in pace to the BBC outing. It whips breezily through the difficult beginnings of Nina’s life until it gets to its textured middle which focuses on her participation in the Civil Rights movement. “How can you be an artist and not reflect the times?” Nina answers a reporter rhetorically when he wants to know why a sophisticated jazz pianist such as herself has taken to singing protest songs. Nina’s participation in the movement, the mentorships and friendships she forges inside it might make a film all of its own. A narrative that could expand to explore her talent, her work ethic, her demons, her quirks and what it means for any black artist to live in the fullness of loving, creating, fighting for black people. Nina was besties with Lorraine Hansberry and their camaraderie alone would be worthy of 120 minutes of silver screen exploration. “We never talked about men or clothes,” Simone wrote of their friendship in her memoir “It was always Marx, Lenin and revolution — real girls’ talk.”

Nina lived in a Mount Vernon, NY house with 4 acres of land, next door to Malcolm X, Betty Shabazz and their six daughters. There what is loosely described as ‘the intellectual wing’ of the movement — Hughes, Hansberry, Stokely Carmichael, James Baldwin — gathered to play, laugh, eat, think, be. I so want to peek in on Nina and her friends at dinner, watch them go about their days in their excellent black bodies. See how they got fired up to do their work and how they wound down from violent setbacks. I want to listen to them pour each other drinks and tell rude jokes.

It wasn’t all good though. Nina married Andrew Stroud, a police sergeant who became her manager. Presumably because he is too juicy a primary source to ignore Garbus lets Stroud hold court in archival footage. He speaks sideways to a blurry lens of managing Nina to success and discouraging her from activism. I’m not objective but Andrew is hard to like. When he’s on-screen I find myself glaring a little, snarling a lot. Andrew admits to hitting Nina. He likens her to a barking dog for the way she “put down white people.” He and Nina had a child, Lisa. (It’s important to learn that your heroes aren’t saints but human and capable of the indefensible, which I did while listening to Lisa’s painful accounts of her mother’s abandonment, impatience and violence towards her.)

Garbus shows us Nina’s diary, a series of urgent scribbles reveal Nina’s battles with her depression, how burnt up she was by the twin flames of hope and anger. Her faith in the movement becomes exhaustion. She is unfulfilled in her marriage. She contemplates suicide and then death begins taking her friends. Activist Medgar Evers is murdered, Hansberry is lost to pancreatic cancer, Malcom X is killed, Hughes dies from complications relating to his prostate cancer and on 4 April 1968 Dr Martin Luther King is assassinated. Nina’s bass player writes “Why? (The King of Love Is Dead)” in the hours following King’s death. Nina and her band perform it three days later at Westbury Music Fair dedicating their whole show to him. Nina ends “Why”? with a protracted monologue on love and loss. Current versions of the album ‘Nuff Said preserve the 6-minute speech in its entirety though for a time, on vinyl, it was cut out.“Who can go on?” Nina asks, her voice crumbling, her whole body sounding on the verge of collapse.

Nina eventually leaves Andrew, writes a note — “I ain’t got nothing to give, Andrew. And I’m too tired to even talk about it. You go your way. I’ll go mine” — and flees what she would from then on call the United Snakes of America.

Nina goes to Barbados and at the suggestion of Carmichael’s wife Miriam Makeba to Africaaaaaaaaaaa — which is how Nina pronounces it in her booming near baritone. For two years she lives in Liberia, a country founded in 1847 by former slaves. She is a free black woman in a free black state. No pressure to perform, no desire to please, no white sensibilities to coddle or endlessly confront. Her life in Liberia is one long exhale until she runs out of money.

The final third of the film is the story of tragic Nina. So, what happened? Miss Simone was too black and too angry, apparently. So many of the reviews I read pick up that thread. Cool, critical voices calmly conclude that Nina’s blackness and her anger meant that yes, she was destined to be unappreciated, to live unfulfilled. All compounded by her longstanding mental health problems — on unknown meds in the 60s, she was diagnosed as bipolar in the 80s. While it’s true that her world didn’t — our world doesn’t — know how to appreciate black female genius, making that failure the sum of Nina’s story diminishes her. I am uninterested in Nina’s life as a tragedy or worse a cautionary tale. I’m uninterested in the hypothetical fortunes of a less black, less angry Nina. She’s the woman who introduced herself to Dr. Martin Luther King in this way: “I’m not non-violent.” (His response: “That’s okay sister. You don’t have to be.”) You hear it in “Mississippi Goddam”. That black female anger as textured as it is misunderstood. Nina blew her voice out singing her indictment of America’s racism; it never returned to its former octave.

Garbus’ film barely mentions Nina’s love life, nothing on her first marriage, her affairs in Barbados and Liberia. Nothing of the Nina who sang “Be My Husband”, “Do I Move You”, “You Can Have Him”, “Images”, the Nina who trilled of finding true freedom, who had moments of living with no fear. Without real reference to any of this her story feels muted, incomplete, a downer. Maybe I’m taking my fatigue out on What Happened, Miss Simone?, but I am tired of sad tales of talented black lives, all nuance crowded out. I am tired of solemnity, tired of thinking about how black artists (people) suffer. And ugh, how noble our suffering is! Nina has always meant much more to me — and so many black girls — than suffering. We listen to her and we spring up.

Sara Bivigou is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in London. She tumbls here and twitters here.

“African Mailman (Nina Simone cover)” – Lauryn Hill (mp3)

“Don’t Let Me Be Understood (Nina Simone cover)” – Mary J. Blige (mp3)


In Which We Find A New Hobby For The One We Love

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,

Football season is on the horizon. My boyfriend Stephen is a big NFL fan, and he spends all of Sunday drinking and eating a variety of disgusting foods, while watching no less than three games of what looks like grown men killing each other in order to be the one with the cooked ham.

I struggle to not think less of Stephen because of his interest in this ludicrous pastime, and he dies in occasion make an effort when it is something I am interested in. But the deal is this: I am not sitting through any more Sundays like these; not now or ever. I don’t want to take away something he enjoys, but am I wrong to think it is obsessive?

Ann C.

Dear Ann,

The NFL is likely using its army of lawyers to pressure Stephen into watching these dull marathons. The alcohol abuse and obesity they promote is just a delicate icing on the cake of death that is football’s final solution.

This habit is unlikely to get better before it gets worse. zunfortunatrly, oversaturing yourself in your boyfriend’s hobby is most likely to just make him tell his misogynistic pals how ‘luck’ he is. Sports not involving Ronda Rousey are just a waste of time.

You could restrict him to two full games a week, and use thst time to write a touching memoir about how your boyfriend became overweight and unattractive as he watches murderers run around in what appears to be someone’s yard.

Hey,

When I was young and stupid, I was in jail for three months due to drinking under the influence. I was 20 and it was a harrowing experience, but I have never been in trouble with law enforcement since my incarceration. Am I required to mention this to women I meet, and what is a good time to bring it up, if you think I should?

Sam C.

Dear Sam,

You should never bring up anything negative about yourself to a woman. Even Nelson Mandela’s wife disparagingly called him ‘convict’ — even though as a political prisoner, this maybe seemed a bit uncalled for.

If she somehow finds out that you were in jail for three months, it can probably be smoothed over.

If you tell her of your own volition, it seems like you ascribing a lot of importance to it, and a curse will befall her and those she loves. If if comes up organically, like if she suddenly asks, “Have you ever been in jail??” you should laugh hysterically and reply, ‘Have YOU ever been in jail?” and then quickly switch the conversation to something more neutral, like whether she has ever had a sexually transmitted disease.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

“Almost Home” – Ben Rector (mp3)

“The Men That Drive Me Places” – Ben Rector (mp3)

In Which We Pay Attention To The Signs Of Fate

Sacrificial Music

by ERIC FARWELL

On first blush it’s easy to mistake the stories in Rebecca Makkai’s Music for Wartime as being haunted by the past; the collection finds its spine in short, quasi-recollections inspired by Makkai’s Hungarian heritage and accounts of atrocity in the mid-1900s. Stories are marked by seemingly detrimental compromises made to undo those decisions. The question at the heart of each isn’t “but at what cost,” rather it’s “how late is too late?” History, like an extra on a film set, lurks behind the narrative, giving struggle and panic to those Makkai renders so beautifully.

Characters function as vessels for history, and the best pieces find a way to move them beyond the constraints of their story. The story “Cross,” for example, the protagonist has her sense of a new beginning post-divorce (a drafty house with little furniture) interrupted by a memorial site erected on her lawn. The co-mingling of realities and the way one is an obstacle to the other gives the characters unspoken nuance. In Makkai’s hands, these characters come from somewhere, even the nameless. The only misfires are those that lack clear rumination or connection, those that look to avoid any real sense of the past, or worse, don’t go deep enough.

In her novels The Borrower and The Hundred-Year House, Makkai established her hallmarks of immigrant life, gay characters, and a sense of history that is often too much to bear. Here, different strands of them play out in unexpected and playful ways. Two gay artists live as renowned celebrities while one escapes fame to live as a refugee during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. A young boy has Casandra-like visions of a violinist’s past that cause him to pass out from their pain. Makkai upends things where you least expect, and reading her short fiction offers the same joys that Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad did: just when we think we understand a person, we begin to see how wrong we are. In the case of the characters in Music for Wartime, someone wants to understand, and it’s up to them to turn away or embrace them like a beacon of light in all their uncertainty.

For all of her strengths as a writer — well-structured prose, strong plotting, a sense of grittiness and historical accuracy — Makkai occasionally turns up a weak offering. The magical appearance of Bach ends up being a bizarro version of The Puttermesser Papers by way of the clichéd I-was-using-you-to-get-pregnant trope. A story involving two gay old friends is overly obvious and lacks resolve. Interestingly enough, the best piece, “Painted Ocean, Painted Ship”, is one that finds a middle-ground between her more rote offerings and her cleverest work. It’s a simple examination of a misunderstanding between an academic and a student over class participation and ethnicity, a character study really, and yet its mundane intricacies yield great treasure in the end. On its last page, after deconstructing the life of its academic young protagonist, it offers this:

In future years, when she told the story, she left out the part about Malcolm. It became instead the story of why she left Cyril College, of how she and Malcolm ended up at State, of how sweet Tossman had been to her, that year before he killed himself. Of how even in assessing all her misprisions, she’d still missed something enormous. But where had the signs been?

A search for signs of fate informs the book, especially in the fictional recounts inspired by her family, which are interspersed throughout between the “other” stories. At times, it’s hard to see the use in these quasi-anecdotes, as they’re hit or miss in terms of connecting to the collection. However, when they’re on point, they can work like gangbusters. One excerpt deftly handles three narratives,being a found bomb at a birthday party. It is the only piece that reads coldly, with Makkai/the speaker struggling to both accept and probe the events in question, yet taking the time (near exhaustively) to record them. Much can be made of the moral or thematic threads within the collection, but this work, “Suspension: April 20th, 1984,” stands against the grain. The stories here often end too softly, or come to a fairly neat resolve. Here, there’s a great deal of turmoil. Whether or not this is because it reads more personally, the narrator being an “I” rather than a “they,” is up for debate. Regardless, this short meditation on the lingering effects of war on otherwise untouched generations is a nice little punch in the kidneys.

Music flows in and out of stories, sound tracking different strands and forms of suffering. The violin in particular is used to express or mask heartache, sorrow, and longing. This use is subtle, and Makkai does an excellent job at getting things right in terms of portraying the act of playing, fingering, and emotion. Here, the concertos and quartet pieces function as another aspect of character, plastering a sort of emotional wallpaper up around them in their isolated worlds, both in a larger sense and in regard to their playing:

Aaron suddenly stumbled back into the consciousness of his own playing, and wished he hadn’t. His instinct had been carrying him along, but now he had to stop and think where he was, second guess, catch up, count. He felt everyone’s eyes on him except Radelescu’s; the old man was lost in the music. Radelescu did not close his eyes when he played, but he squeezed his face tight and gazed into the middle distance.

Ultimately, one can’t help but group things into categories, associate different ones that elevate or lower somethings credibility. Here, Makkai’s efforts are given more weight due to their relationship with death, terror, panic, and struggle, which are part of the Hungarian/Eastern European immigrant narrative. Each small world carved onto the page has a sense of something dark and profound nipping at its heels, just in the background where the characters avoid looking. The stories are richly detailed and well-crafted on their own, but they lack power.

In this respect, Makkai was smart to use the personal, albeit fiction mined from it, in order to give the collection a through line. We may well be equating the stories with profound meaning due to their correlation with one of the inescapable interim of atrocity in history, but perhaps that keeps us from missing its enormity while still marveling at how there had been no warnings.

Eric Farwell is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in New Jersey. This is his first appearance on these pages. He has written for The Rumpus, Electric Literature and Critical Flame.

“The Stone Mill” – Atlas Genius (mp3)

“The City We Grow” – Atlas Genius (mp3)


In Which We Singlehandedly Start A Drug War

You Don’t Belong Here

by DICK CHENEY

Narcos
creators Chris Brancato, Carlos Bernard & Doug Miro

Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook) is a DEA agent sent to Colombia who does not speak any Spanish. His partner Javier Pena (Pedro Pascal) has to do all the translating, which is really what Narcos is about — making an audience of people who barely know anything about history understand why it was important, more important than any human life, to capture a man who sold drugs of roughly same power as those available in pharmarcies.

A love story for our time. He met her on the Ashley Madison of its time, Colombian TV.

Pablo Escobar became very rich because someone, at some point, decided that it would be better for everyone if the people who wanted cocaine had to pay a higher price for it. In Narcos he is played by veteran Brazilian actor Wagner Moura as an introspective genius who used drug trafficking merely as a means to power. Many times Narcos has Escobar explaining that he came from nothing, which is really true. It is hard not to admire anyone like that, so this Netflix series spends a lot of time explaining, sometimes ineffectively, why Pablo Escobar was bad for anyone.

Narcos starts off very slow, and by the time Escobar is having politicians and judges assassinated, the show’s cliche-ridden writing has worn a bit thin. “An honest man blinked,” crows Steve Murphy’s onerous WP (white person) voiceover, which is strung through every single scene of Narcos in a style extremely reminscent of Scorsese’s Casino and Goodfellas. It is a pretty exhausting way to convey something in a ten-part television series.

He imported these egrets from the Himalayas.

The only scenes which are not wrapped around by Murphy’s goofy explanation of geopolitical events are the ones between he and his wife Connie (Joanna Christie), who you hope will be assassinated by Escobar at nearly every turn. (Instead, the cartel only kills his cat.) As Murphy, Boyd Holbrook is a former male model, which pretty much says it all. He is so ridiculous in the part that you almost wish there was a Narcos Without Steve Murphy version of the show akin to Garfield Without Garfield. It is also a bit grating listening to a white man expound on ‘magical realism’ and explaining a Latino man’s story for him.

Without the presence of Pedro Pascal as DEA agent Javier Pena, Narcos would be hard to watch. They should have never killed off Oberyn Martell, because Pascal has it all as a performer and is the best actor working in television today. In one scene, Pascal has sex with a prostitute to gain important information about the cartel, and he turns this nothing encounter into a moment so nuanced and emotional that you wish all the other context that Narcos offers about every aspect of the drug trade would disappear so that we could follow this man anywhere.

Remove that moustache immediately. WP are everywhere these days.

Escobar, in contrast, is just not that interesting a guy. Escobar himself is the only one who doesn’t have to constantly suffer from Murphy’s overwrought narration. Occupying so much screen time, he becomes a far more sympathetic figure in fiction than he ever was in life. Moura is excellent in what is an unforgiving role, as his Escobar only displays understated emotion and for the most part does not really get involved in any of the show’s real action.

Narcos portrays Escobar as being incredibly smart and cunning, so much so that the show has trouble making a cogent argument for why an individual who only took advantage of the world he was given could be the villain of this piece. Narcos doesn’t really work unless you want the DEA to destroy Pablo Escobar, and as many awful things as the man did, the entire situation is so gray that you would feel like a monster asking for even one more body.

I believe Gustavo Fring did the catering for this event.

The astonishing number of sets, costumes and locations here is the most impressive aspect of Narcos. Director José Padilha has his coming out party — Narcos is a visually stunning representation of an entire era. The use of historical footage to give the narrative a documentary feel adds rather than detracts from the immersion. The insane breadth of Narcos dulls the power of individual characters, but you have to admire the ambition present here. I would definitely recommend the show, but I don’t know what to take as significant from its miasmia of places, events and people.

Maybe I just resent Narcos because I truly believe I should have been the main character. By 1989 the Cold War was ending and a lot of people wanted to dry up funding to the military infrastructure.

Fun fact: I flew that plane.

I remember brainstorming with a few buddies about what war we would come up with. A bunch of them wanted to invade Germany because why not, but I suggested Latin America was more convenient logistically. Thus the drug war. Being the defense secretary during this period was like taking Viagra every single morning and having it last until dinnertime.

I tried cocaine a couple times during 1988. We were confiscating it right and left, but the cartels didn’t care because we could only ever get like 10 percent of the total import. I never really understood the appeal of the drug. You can get hyped up for a few minutes on a lot of things, but cocaine makes you feel terrible after those few minutes are over. This is a useful metaphor for Narcos, which does have some cheap thrills. After those moments pass, you start wondering why the story of a drug lord was important at all.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

Sometimes I hopped into drag. Why not? I told Lynne.

“Empyrean Gardens” – The Green Kingdom (mp3)

“Cloud Loom” – The Green Kingdom (mp3)


In Which We Were Not Thinking About You

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How Constantly And Insanely I Have Missed You

Being pleased with what they give you is proper of slaves. Asking for more is proper of children. Conquering more is proper of fools.

The Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa only wrote love letters to one woman. Her name was Ophelia Queiroz. She was a secretary at a firm in Lisbon where the 31 year old Pessoa worked as a translator. After trading a few notes and glances, he approached her with the appropriate lines of Hamlet in the office and kissed her. He wrote his first real letter to her shortly thereafter. She was 19.

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1 March 1920

Ophelia:

You could have shown me your contempt, or at least your supreme indifference, without the see-through masquerade of such a lengthy treatise and without your written “reasons,” which are as insincere as they are unconvincing. You could have just told me. This way I understand you no less, but it hurts me more.

It’s only natural that you’re very fond of the young man who’s been chasing you, so why should I hold it against you if you prefer him to me? You’re entitled to prefer whom you want and are under no obligation, as I see it, to love me. And there’s certainly no need (unless it’s for your own amusement) to pretend you do.

Those who really love don’t write letters that read like lawyers’ petitions. Love doesn’t examine things so closely, and it doesn’t treat others like defendants on trial.

Why can’t you be frank with me? Why must you torment a man who never did any harm to you (or to anybody else) and whose sad and solitary life is already a heavy enough burden to bear, without someone adding to it by giving him false hopes and declaring feigned affections? What do you get out of it besides the dubious pleasure of making fun of me?

I realize that all this is comical, and that the most comical part of it is me.

I myself would think it was funny, if I didn’t love you so much, and if I had the time to think of anything besides the suffering you enjoy inflicting on me, although I’ve done nothing to deserve it except love you, which doesn’t seem to me like reason enough. At any rate…

Here’s the “written document” you requested. The notary Eugenio Silva can validate my signature.

Fernando Pessoa

19 March 1920

at 4 a.m.

My dear darling Baby:

It’s almost four in the morning, and I’ve just given up trying to fall asleep, even though my aching body badly needs rest. This is the third night in a row this has happened, but tonight was one of the worst nights of my life. Luckily for you, darling, you can’t imagine what it was like. It wasn’t just my sore throat and the idiotic need to spit every two minutes that kept me from sleeping. I was also delirious though I had no fever, and I felt like I was going mad, I wanted to scream, to moan at the top of my lungs, to do a thousand crazy things. It’s not only my physical illness that put me in such a state but the fact I spent all day yesterday fretting over the things that still need to be done before my family arrives. And to top it off my cousin came by at half past seven with more than a little bad news, which I won’t go into now, darling, because fortunately none of it concerns you in the least.

Just my luck to be sick right when there are so many urgent things to do – things that no one but I can do.

See the state of mine I’ve been in lately, especially during the last two days? And you’ve no idea, my adorable Baby, how constantly and insanely I’ve missed you. Your absence always makes me suffer, darling, even when it’s just from one day to the next, so think how I must feel after not having seen you for almost three days!

Tell me one thing, love: Why do you sound so depressesd in your second letter – the one you sent yesterday by Osorio? I can understand you missing me, just like I miss you, but you sounded so anxious, sad and dejected that it pained me to read your letter and feel how much you’re suffering. What happened to you, darling, besides us being separated? Something worse? Why do you speak in such a desperate tone about my love, as if you doubted it, when you have no reason to?

I’m all alone — I really am. The people in this building have treated me very well, but they’re not close to me at all. During the day they bring soup, milk, or medicine, but they don’t ever keep me company, which I certainly wouldn’t expect. And at this hour of the night, I feel like I’m in a desert. I’m thirsty and have no one to give me a drink. I’m going crazy from this sense of isolation and have no one to soothe me, just by being near, as I try to go to sleep.

I’m cold. I’m going to lie down and pretend to rest. I don’t know when I’ll mail this letter or if I’ll add anything to it.

Ah my love, my doll, my precious Baby, if only you were here! Lots and lots and lots of kisses from your always very own

Fernando

5 April 1920

Dear naughty little Baby:

Here I am at home alone, except for the intellectual who’s hanging paper on the walls (as if he could hang it on the floor or ceiling!), and he doesn’t count. As promised, I’m going to write my Baby, if only to tell her that she’s a very bad girl except in one thing, the art of pretending, and in that she’s a master.

By the way — although I’m writing you, I’m not thinking about you. I’m thinking about how I miss the days when I used to hunt pigeons, which is something you obviously have nothing to do with…

We had a nice walk today, don’t you think? You were in a good mood, I was in a good mood, and the day was in a good mood. (My friend A.A. Crosse was not in a good mood. But his health is okay — one pound sterling of health for now, which is enough to keep him from catching cold.)

You’re probably wondering why my handwriting’s so strange. For two reasons. The first is that this paper (all I have at the moment) is extremely smooth, and so my pen glides right over it. The second is that I found, here in the apartment, some splendid Port, a bottle of which I opened, and I’ve already drunk half. The third reason is that there are only two reasons, and hence no third reason at all.

When can we be somewhere together, darling — just the two of us? My mouth feels odd from having gone so long without any kisses… Little Baby who sits on my lap! Little Baby who gives me love bites! Little Baby who… (and then Baby’s bad and hits me…) I called you “body of sweet temptations,” and that’s what you’ll always be, but far away from me.

Come here, Baby. Come over to Nininho. Come into Nininho’s arms. Put your tiny mouth against Nininho’s mouth… Come… I’m so lonely, so lonely for kisses

If only I could be certain that you really miss me. It would at least be some consolation. But you probably think less about me than about that boy who’s chasing you, not to mention D.A.F. and the bookkeeper of C.D. & C.! Naughty, naughty, naughty, naughty… !!!!

What you need is a good spanking.

So long: I’m going to lay my head down in a bucket, to relax my mind. That’s what all great men do, at least all great men who have: 1) a mind, 2) a head, and 3) a bucket in which to stick their head.

A kiss, just one, that lasts as long as the world, from your always very own

Fernando (Nininho)

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27 April 1920

My lovely little Baby:

How adorable you looked today in the window of your sister’s apartment! You were cheerful, thank goodness, and seemed happy to see me.

I’ve been feeling very sad, and also very tired — sad not only because I haven’t been able to see you because of the obstacles that other people have been putting in our path. I’m afraid that the unrelenting, insidious influence of these people — who don’t censure you or express outright opposition but who work slowly on your mind — will eventually make you stop liking me. You already seem different to me. You’re not the same girl you were in the office. Not that you’ve even noticed this, but I’ve noticed, or at least I think I have. God knows I hope I’m wrong…

Listen, sweetie: the future all looks hazy to me. I mean, I can’t see what’s on the horizon, or what will become of us, since you’ve been yielding more and more to the influence of your family, and you disagree with me in everything. In the office you were sweeter, more gentle, more lovable.

Anyway…

Tomorrow I’ll go by the Rossio train station at the same time as today. Will you come to the window?

Always and forever your

Fernando

hkgggjghkjgj

31 July 1920

Dear Ibis:

Excuse this shoddy paper, but it’s all I could find in my briefcase, and they don’t have any stationery here at the Cafe Arcada. You don’t mind, do you?

I just received your letter with the cute postcard.

It was a funny coincidence, wasn’t it?, that I and my sister were downtown yesterday at the same time you were. What wasn’t funny is that you disappeared, in spite of the signs I made you. I was just dropping off my sister at the Avenida Palace Hotel, so she could buy some things and take a walk with the mother and sister of the Belgian follow who’s staying there. I came back out almost immediately, and expected to find you waiting there, so that we could talk. But no, you had to rush to your sister’s place!

What’s worse is that, when I came out of the hotel, I saw your sister’s window outfitted like a theater box (with extra chairs) to enjoy the show of me walking by! Realizing this, I naturally went on my way as if no one were there. The day I decide to play the clown (which my character isn’t really suited for), I’ll offer my services directly to the circus. Just what I needed right now — to serve as comic entertainment for your family!

If you couldn’t avoid being at the window with 148 people, you should have avoided the window. Seeing as you didn’t feel like waiting for me or talking to me, you might at least have had the courtesy — since you couldn’t appear alone at the window — of not appearing.

Why should I have to explain these things? If your heart (presuming this creature exists) or your intuition can’t instinctively teach them to you, then I can’t very well be your teacher.

When you say that your most fervent wish is for me to marry you, you shouldn’t forget to add that I would also have to marry your sister, your brother-in-law, your nephew and who knows how many of your sister’s clients.

Always your very own

Fernando

I forgot as I wrote this, that you’re in the habit of showing my letters to everyone. If I’d remembered I would have toned it down, I assure you. But it’s too late, and it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters.

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15 October 1920

Little Baby,

You have thousands, even millions of good reasons for being irked, offended, and angry with me. But I’m not the one to blame. It’s Fate that has condemned my brain — if not definitely, then at least to a condition calling for serious treatment, which I’m not so sure I can get.

I plan (with yet resorting to the celebrated May 11th decree) to enter a clinic next month, where I’m hoping for a treatment that will help me fend off the black wave that’s falling over my mind. I don’t know what the result of all this will be — I mean, I can’t imagine what it could be.

Don’t wait for me. If I come to see you, it will be in the morning, when you’re on your way to the office in Poco Novo.

Don’t worry.

What happened, you ask? I got switched with Alvaro de Campos!

Always your

Fernando

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29 November 1920

Dear Ophelia:

Thank you for your letter. It made me feel both sad and relieved. Sad, because these things always bring sadness. Relieved, because this really is the only solution — to stop prolonging a situation that’s no longer justified by love, whether on your side or mine. For my own part there remains an abiding estreem and a steadfast friendship. You won’t deny me as much, will you?

Neither you nor I are to blame for what has happened. Only Fate might be blamed, were Fate a person to whom blame could be imputed.

Time, which grays hair and wrinkles faces, also withers violent affections, and much more quickly. Most people, because they’re stupid, don’t even notice this, and they imagine they still love because they got used to being in love. If this weren’t so, there would be no happy people in the world. Superior creatures cannot enjoy this illusion, however, because they can’t believe love will endure, and when they see it’s over, they don’t kid themselves by taking what it left — esteem, or gratitude — for love itself.

These things cause suffering, but the suffering passes. If life, which is everything, finally passes, then won’t love and sorrow also pass, along with all the other things that are only parts of life?

You’re unfair to me in your letter, but I understand and forgive. You no doubt wrote it with anger and perhaps even bitterness, but most people in your case — men or women — would write things that are even less fair, and in a harsher tone. But you have a wonderful disposition, Ophelia, and not even your anger is capable of malice. If, when you marry, you’re not as happy as you deserve, it will be through no fault of your own.

As for me…

My love has passed. But I still feel a steadfast affection for you, and you can be sure that I’ll never, never forget your delightful figure, your girlish ways, your tenderness, your goodness, and your lovable nature. It’s possible that I fooled myself and that these qualities I attribute to you were my own illusion, but I don’t think so, and even if they were, it did no harm to have seen them in you.

I don’t know what you might like to have back — whether your letters or other things. I’d prefer not to give back anything, and to keep your letters as the living memory of a past that died (the way all pasts do), as something poignant in a life like mine which, as it advances in years, advances in disillusion and unhappiness.

Please don’t be like ordinary people, who always act petty and mean. Don’t turn your head when I pass by, and don’t harbor a grudge in your remembrance of me. Let us be like lifelong friends who loved each other a bit when they were children, only to pursue other affections and other paths as adults, but who nevertheless retain, in some corner of the heart, the vivid memory of their old and useless love.

These “other affections” and “other paths” concern you, Ophelia, and not me. My destiny belongs to another Law, whose existence you’re not even aware of, and it is ever more the slave of Masters who do not relent and do not forgive.

You don’t need to understand this. It’s enough that you hold me in your memory with affection, as I will steadfastly hold you in mine.

Fernando

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After nine years of total and complete silence, Pessoa contacted Ophelia and she said she would be happy to hear from him if he wanted to write to her. She again became captivated by him. Below is one of his last letters from that period.

9 October 1929

Terrible Baby:

I like your letters, which are sweet, and I like you, because you’re sweet too. And you’re candy, and you’re a wasp, and you’re honey, which comes from bees and not wasps, and everything’s just fine, and Baby should always write me, even when I don’t, which is always, and I’m sad, and I’m crazy, and no one likes me, and why should they, and that’s exactly right, and everything goes back to the beginning, and I think I’ll call you today, and I’d like to kiss you precisely and voraciously on the lips, and to eat your lips and whatever little kisses you’re hiding there, and to lean on your shoulder and slide into the softness of your little doves, and to beg your pardon, and the pardon to be make-believe, and to do it over and over and period until I start again, and why do you like a scoundrel and a troll and a fat slob with a face like a gas meter and the expression of someone who’s not there but in the toilet next door, and indeed, and finally, and I’m going to stop because I’m insane and I always have been, it’s from birth, which is to say ever since I was born, and I wish Baby were my doll so I could do like a child, taking off her clothes, and I’ve reached the end of the page, and this doesn’t seem like it could be written by a human being but it was written by me.

Fernando

In Which We Feel Appropriately Subdued Until Dawn

The Telltale Towel

by JASON ARTIS-CHO

Until Dawn
Supermassive Games
Sony Computer Entertainment

When Sam (Hayden Panettiere) emerges from a long, hot bath at the winter escape of her friend Josh Washington (Rami Malek) her clothes are gone. She wraps herself in a towel, holding it together with one hand, and begins to go find a suitable outfit. Panettiere has never exactly been much of an actress, but it would be a lie to suggest she was not suited for this role.

Evening at the Washington lodge lasts about nine hours. No one eats or sleeps at all during this time, because when an intruder is not sedating them with sleeping gas, other strange events unfold. When she reaches the lodge from a decrepit cable car station, Sam immediately feels subdued. It was one year earlier that a cruel prank drove her friends Hannah and Beth out in the snow, where they were never seen again.

Tongue-in-cheek horror was appropriately retired by Joss Whedon with The Cabin in the Woods. There is not much to make fun of here anymore, so the only silly parts of Until Dawn, which released this Tuesday for Sony’s Playstation 4 console, are watching the clearly older actors and actresses in the cast of the interactive game snipe at each other with ridiculous insults and lame flirtations.

Surprisingly, Until Dawn features no sex. The most nude anyone ever gets is that white towel, and a pair of intensely tight exercise pants that Sam puts on when she feels like the towel meme has run its course.

Instead the game is mostly focused on atmosphere. At first all the teen characters are incredibly selfish and unlikable, but moving through a series of bleak, gorgeous landscapes changes our perspective on them. Emily (Nichole Bloom) is a half-Japanese princess of entitlement when Until Dawn begins — by the end her facade is peeled away to something darker and more sympathetic. No film could accomodate the kind of slow, subtle character development accomplished through a game that is the actual length of the events described.

Although there is some noticeable frame hitching when the game functions under heavy load, for the most part the extensive motion capture with this talented group of actors allows Until Dawn‘s visuals to really shine. Some of the underground space becomes a bit generic, but the amount of locations is sufficiently diverse and impressive given that the initial expectation is one night in one house.

The main activity for the player consists of collecting clues to the year-old disappearance of Hannah and Beth Washington. The lodge was built in close proximity to a sanatorium and a set of no longer operative mines, both of which figure prominently in the game’s mystery. One of the game’s women has a tattoo meant to reference the butterfly effect.

It is not clear how the wings of a butterfly could ever cause a hurricane, and the choices you make in Until Dawn never emerge as very consequential. Like in similar games from Telltale and Quantic Dream, this aspect of the narrative is meant primarily to engage you with the story rather than affect the outcome in any specific way that would make the journey substantially different from what it might have been.

Given that, Sony has blocked Twitch.tv streamers from archiving their broadcasts of Until Dawn, feeling it will discourage possibly buyers of the game. It is possible to get a sense of Until Dawn from watching someone else play it, but the remarkably lifelike visuals are heavily impacted by artifacts that streaming introduces at all but the highest resolutions.

The resolution of Until Dawn‘s story is appropriately satisfying, and the action at the end that results in the survival of some but not all of these teenagers makes for a nice payoff. Still, the outcome is nowhere near as memorable as the desolate landscapes of Until Dawn‘s abandoned buildings and unforgiving wilderness. These isolated moments deepen Until Dawn by providing the desperate echo of another experience, one that is primarily about fortifying yourself against loneliness.

Jason Artis-Cho is a contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Chicago. This is his first appearance in these pages.

“Birch Tree” – Foals (mp3)


In Which This Jonathan Fellow Disorients Our Sense of Well Being

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 ex-boyfriend Jonathan is a very considerate and caring person. When I decided to move on from our relationship, I had an idea he would remain friends with a lot of my friends who we had interacted with as a couple. They enjoy Jonathan’s company and I don’t have a problem with the situation.

The problem is that I keep getting these pseudo-considerate e-mails and texts from him asking if it’s OK if he shows up at a particular event, or meets up with a certain individual. I don’t mind staying on good terms with an ex, but something is rubbing me the wrong way about his communiques. What should I do?

Ann C.

Dear Ann,

The reason that so many breakups are explosive is entirely self-preservational. It ensures that both parties can get sufficient separation to begin the process of forgetting. In what is apparently a very annoying fashion, Jonathan has denied you this.

At any time from the fifth to the fifteenth century this would have meant death or at the very least a light stoning, but now you need to use essentially the same means he is employing to eradicate this pestilence from your existence.

What Jonathan wants is for you to engage with him on his terms, so you must make sure that those terms are equally painful ror him as they are for you. If you start showing up to these places with a new guy, he will either start texting you or self-destruct. If you can’t actually meet someone, hire a non-union actor and make sure his persona is the antithesis of everything Jonathan values in a person. Only then will you be free.

Hey,

Women often tell me I would make a great friend. I think that I am very respectful and confident when I go out on dates, so I am not sure what I am doing that gives off this impression.

Joseph P. 

Dear Joseph,

Probably it is the jean shorts.

The issue is not with you, it is with masculinity. Most boys either become sexist PUAs named Bobby or mincing nice guys with no concept of the fact that because a woman is not attracted to the former, she is no more drawn to the latter.

Most women respect only one thing: your complete lack of interest in them. There are a few rare human beings of both genders who can tolerate receiving affection and return it in kind, probably because they come from a great family.

This is a psychological weakness mostly individuals transcend in their mid-twenties, so I would just target slightly older women. When the younger women see you with your new, older experienced girlfriend, they will be turned on by this. They will assume you know sexual things to please a woman, when the reality is that you do not.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

“Purge” – Rrose (mp3)

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