In Which Allegory Is The Only Proper Form Of Argument

Poldark Times


creator Debbie Horsfield

What remains of National Review magazine after William F. Buckley expired and left the reins to a bunch of cranky weirdos who loathe homosexuals presented a symposium this week. The topic was the Supreme Court’s legalization of gay marriage. None of their regular writers were included in the symposium — besides opinion pieces by presidential candidate Ted Cruz and columnist Kevin Williamson, no one wrote at length on the decision. “The Editors” did weigh in, explaining that it was super unfair that gays could marry… for reasons.

It is hard to think of a good argument against gay marriage; most of the “people” in National Review‘s symposium cited polygamy as the motivating factor in their advocacy against it.

The slippery slope extends far further than that. I was forced by my wife Lynne to watch a BBC series called Poldark in which a man marries his servant. I am unsure whether or not this is historically accurate — I know the Downton Abbey sex tape girl made it with her driver, but I thought that was a bit of a grey area. It isn’t as if he was cleaning her toilet, after all.

To be fair, she was a fantastic maid.

I composed an elaborate Modest Proposal parody concerning how no one should be allowed to marry their servant, but out of concern for your time, I replaced it with the impassioned broadside that follows. You can thank me later.

The title character of Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) fucks his maid exactly once, although on another very symbolic occasion she baked him an apple pie. After an intense night that the producers of Poldark show alarmingly little of, the ginger maid Demelza (Eleanor Tomlimson) resolves to wander away from the Poldark estate, which looks something like a penis:

After you lose a war to Americans, you build homes like this as emotional shelter I guess.

I recently received a few scandalous electronic mails suggesting that I am obsessed with seeing penises where they are not. One even threatened that if I expressed regret at never seeing the Mountain’s member one more time he would traitorously start reading the wretched Game of Thrones recaps on some other website. I wrote him back, saying, “Methinks the lady doth protest too much” and included a gif of Catelyn Stark being murdered.

In some ways Poldark is basically a Cateyln Stark prequel, which should horrify every thinking person.

You can’t help but see penises on Poldark, even if they are not veiny or fleshy. The main character lives in a penis, and he has a scar running from his left eye to his jaw that looks like a long, stringy phallus. Turner’s acting is a little overdone, and his main quality is an overwhelming handsomeness. He works very hard nonetheless, and he does take his shirt off an awful lot to make up for the lack of visible genitals. Instead of bidding farewell to Demelza, Ross Poldark decides to make her his wife.

The only thing missing from Poldark is any individual of color, and any homosexual. Downton Abbey got us used to expecting extensive gay storylines full of unrequited love and sexually transmitted diseases in our British period dramas. Poldark has none of that — the National Review crowd can enjoy it as good Christians enjoy the Bible and, apparently, denying citizens equal protection under the law.

None of these people can marry.

One article I read from a guy named Rod Dreher was particularly pernicious, and deserves special mention. Christians don’t like being called hateful, he explained, without explaining why he does not want gays to be able to commit to one another for life. Given the decision, he went on to say, it is now Christians who are the righteous minority. He seemed to take a certain disturbed pleasure in this. Naturally he finished his column with the most inane sentence in all of op-ed dom: We live in interesting times.

The wedding was sold to US Weekly for six million shillings.

After Poldark marries his servant, he immediately puts a bun in her oven. She and the baby get sick from an illness that is going around Poldark’s copper mine. It is never cleared up why he can’t get a more honest occupation, like that of columnist for the Dallas Morning News, with which to provide for his family. Instead he subjects the working class of his region to his penis manor, his slighter-higher but still pretty low wages, and the diseases of the copper underground, the one he inherited from his now-deceased father.

Digging in the earth himself is beneath his own dignity. As a veteran of the American War of Independence, he is finished doing the dirty work, even if it is his own dirty work. Instead his child is the one who suffers, perishing from the contagion. This is irony, only semi-tragic and not humorous. Gay marriage should have been a tremendous victory for conservatives who championed the importance of the family unit as the standard grouping of civilization. Instead they made a mess of things.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. His conscience is massive at this point, and expanding every day. He grows larger in our appreciation of him. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

“Sitting On My Dream” – Friska Viljor (mp3)

“Painted Myself In Gold” – Friska Viljor (mp3)

In Which We Hurt Each Other With The Things We Wanted To Say

35 Things I Have Done In the Context Of A Relationship And Subsequently Regretted


1. attended a production of Hamlet where the voice of the ghost was piped in using a boombox

2. murdered a spider

3. seen a psychotherapist

4. it is a strange thing to be prayed to

5. consumed kale

6. gotten a tattoo

7. gotten a tattoo removed

8. willfully misunderstood when Valentine’s Day was

9. masturbated using an issue of Popular Mechanics

10. worshipped Jesus

11. taken a pet back to the point of sale

12. pretended to be invested in the outcome of Friends with Benefits

13. stated the lyrics to Nickelback songs as if they were my real emotions as a test

14. prepared a picnic

15. subtly hinted I was allergic to lingerie

16. cheated at a game of dreidel

17. purchased and destroyed one of those Eyes Wide Shut masks

18. subtly put down the Air Force

19. ran a magnifying glass over a cyst

20. intentionally lost at Taboo

21. read Dance to the Music of Time

22. felt more beautiful than I looked

23. thrown up

24. not flinched when the other party suggested Adele had a “Jewish face”

25. told an orthodontist to go fuck himself

26. repressed my deeply held belief that Mr. Clean is a sex offender

27. worked out

28. feigned that I enjoyed any part of The Avengers

29. purchased Friends with Benefits on Blu-ray as a gift

30. pretended not to know Meatloaf’s sexuality

31. suggested a ferret “wasn’t as disturbing as I expected”

32. touched what I thought was an erection but was actually a toothbrush

33. had sex without a condom

34. danced to the music of time

35. thought it was always anyone else’s problem other than my own

Ellen Copperfield is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in San Francisco. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

“Heart Won’t Stop” – John Mark McMillan & Sarah McMillan (mp3)

“Walk Around My House” – John Mark McMillan & Sarah McMillan (mp3)

In Which We Are Not Very Good Swimmers




The day after graduation, I woke up hungover to attend the baptism of the man I had been sleeping with and thought myself to love during those final months of school.


I thought, before writing this, that I would leave out the graduation and the school, the short time span, and, most notably, the loving — but I am immature, hasty and young, and it all shows whether I declare it at the start or hide it.


Is thinking to love someone and loving someone the same? This nags at me, though there was never a point at which he either thought to love me or loved me that I know of; the question, or problem, applies only to me.


I could reconcile my quandary if, looking back on it now, I decide that I only thought to love him, and this method of thinking was an error. But as it stands, I either continue to think that I loved him, continue to think that I thought to love him, think to love him still, love him still, or deny all of the thinking and the loving entirely. Sometimes I think that the act of thinking to love him more or less equates to loving him. That is to say, sometimes I presume to substitute one for the other, thinking: I love to love him or I loved him or I loved to love him or I love him, or I don’t and didn’t ever. Loving or not; not thinking. That is simpler.

I admit this sort of thinking and loving is insufferable; if I repeat the word enough, I hope to dull it so that it does not bring me so much shame, in writing or otherwise.


Reading over that initial sentence, the only word that now seems somehow misplaced is man. Was he a man? I don’t mean this as a slight, but sometimes I think he was a boy instead.


I often sent him e-mails of poetry. Thankfully, very little of it was my own, though that does not excuse it. One poem I sent him, near the end, was George Oppen’s “Boy’s Room.” As I was preparing to leave one morning, for good (it was always for good), he said, “I’m sorry, it’s only a boy’s room.” “You’re 24,” I said back, not caring about poetry.

I don’t know why he said it; he was never “gasping / for breath over a girl’s body” — or not mine, at least.


Truthfully, he was not then 24. It was many months until his birthday. Now his birthday has come and gone. I sent him a forcibly cheerful email, which everyone advised against. I did not write of us sleeping together, or even make any veiled references to it.


I regret that I am not the sort of person that can say fucking with any sort of ease.


I say sleeping together because I am a prude, but also because it is accurate. I think he regrets both  — the actual sleeping side-by-side and the fucking. They are not the same thing, but the blanket term comforts me, pairing them as I sometimes pretended we were paired.


Lying in my bed one afternoon, in my room, I was struck by how much larger his bed was than mine.

I told my roommate my observation while she studied. “Aren’t they the same size?” she said, looking up briefly. She had seen his room before, and her memory was more precise than mine. However, I knew that there was no way that he and I could lay side-by-side, not touching on my bed and still fit. One of us would slide off. I was certain his was larger.


I was tracing the line of his back one night in his bed, not sleeping, when he interrupted, “That hurts my back, actually.” It was without warmth, but I had often traced two fingers along either side of his spine in this way.

I withdrew my hand, thinking myself seared, though I could have been pressing too hard. The curve of his back was distinctly elegant — something that may have been from years of swimming, or simply God-given, though I don’t know which.


The last night I spent in his presence was spent mostly in the dark of his living room. He and a friend of ours joked half-heartedly back and forth while swigging whiskey, as I tried not to fall asleep on his couch. I had been driving all day after moving my belongings back to my childhood home, and was exhausted to return to the place I had just left three days prior — bouncing from one old, abandoned home to another with nothing new to carry.

A pillow and blanket were laid out, though I didn’t know for whom. He was always having guests stay over and seemed to crave, or at least welcome, constant company. Everyone assumed that they were close enough friends with him to stay the night. I no longer felt that way, however, though I did adopt the pillow and blanket temporarily, while trying not to sleep on his couch.

He looked at me kindly from across the room, saying, “You just want to sleep, don’t you?” This seemed to comfort him, so I did not respond.


As the night continued, I righted myself and began to stretch, sore from travel. He took the pillow and blanket in my absence, curling up. It became clear that it was he, not I, who was now in danger of nodding off.

“Don’t you want to go to your bed?” I asked.

“I don’t like my bed that much,” he said, muffled, into his pillow and blanket on the floor.


Now, I try to regard that modest remark warmly, as if he were saying, it’s nothing personal, it was the bed all along that I didn’t like, not you! Of course, I would reply brightly, it’s a shame we never settled on a more appealing locale — the dirty apartment floor or the table with the mugs of stale tea, for instance.

I don’t know if the bed was a casualty of my imprint, or of someone else’s, or of his own. None of these options would surprise me.


In his poem “Firstly” from Love, Poetry, Paul Eluard writes: “Le sommeil a pris ton empreinte / Et la colore de tes yeux.” Sleep took your imprint, and the color of your eyes. I say it hushed like a prayer.


I was not surprised when he told me he was going to be baptized.


To be fair, I should say re-baptized. He had been baptized as an infant and grown up very religious; I encountered him during a brief lapse of faith.


Now that he has returned to his faith, I often imagine that he has sewn together the moment when he stopped believing with the moment he was re-baptized, and that I rest in the crumpled fabric, beneath stitches.

Though, what is this fabric part of, and does it clothe him? I can’t see from here.


I used to write him many letters in class. When I wasn’t writing letters, I would write over and over again, in the margins, “Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord.” The phrase related to the course, but disproportionately, compared with how many times I wrote it.


Now that I am standing still, I think I saw more in movement, but I won’t use this opportunity to draft a religious treatise. Only that: it is hard to see light from beneath stitches. I do still enjoy the phrase’s alliterative effect, and sometimes it returns to me, flowing past as water would.


I went to the beach almost every day this summer, partly because I had nothing else to do, and partly because I love the ocean. Though I became transfixed by water after the baptism, the writing of this feels more often like sifting sand before a boundless body.

“I am the easiest of men. All I want is boundless love,” writes Frank O’Hara, mocking me.


His eyes were clear, distilled blue. They were not the color of the ocean.


I asked him once what color he thought my eyes were, though I know them to be a murky blue-green. I like to see which color people settle on as a matter of self-absorption. “They’re gray,” he answered.

Les yeux glauques. He had often spoken of the term in class, mistaking glauques for gray, acting as if it amounted to something beautiful. I did not recognize the reference at the time of my question, and now, I do not know if he was making any kind reference at all, or if I have made it all up, desperately.

Why does he not see any color in me? I thought instead, and said only, “Your eyes are blue,” something that he knew.


Incidentally, glauques does not mean gray, but sea-green, or unclear, depending on whose translation you trust. Reading now from Pound’s “Yeux Glauques,” the poem we read in class, I come across the stanza “The thin, clear gaze, the same / Still darts out faun-like from the half-ruin’d face,/ Questing and passive…/ Ah, poor Jenny’s case…” Why did he think glauques meant gray, and what about them is beautiful? So far as I can tell, glauques amounts to neither, and it lawlessly sticks in my mouth when I try to pronounce it correctly.


St. Augustine advises, “Water is a unity, all the more beautiful and transparent on account of a yet greater similitude of its parts… on guard over its order and its security. Air has still greater unity and internal regularity than water. Finally the sky… has the greatest well-being.” Try as I might, I cannot make water cohere with the sea.


Today the sky is August gray, and it does emit the greatest well-being, and vividly.


His baptism took place in a church, in a tub full of water. He wore orange, a color I had never seen him in, and made a speech whose contents I cannot remember, though it moved me at the time. I do remember watching as he and his orange shirt descended, and then rose up again, smiling. But where were his eyes looking? Not up, but out. A horizon.


Having a Coke with You / is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne / or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona / partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian / partly because…” reads some of the first stanza of O’Hara’s “Having a Coke with You.” It concludes, “it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still / as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it / in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth / between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles.” Frank and I would like to know: what was the joyful, orange shirt doing in that statuary church?


When I see him emerge from the water, do I see the orange shirt, or do I see him? Which is smiling, and which is moving?


“Out of the ash / I rise with my red hair / And I eat men like air” ends Plath, and I concur. In actuality, my hair is more orange than red, if we’re going to stick to colors. Sometimes I call it gold, in a fit of megalomania, something to which I am regrettably prone.


When the sky is not August gray, I go to the ocean and sometimes regard it, and sometimes swim in it. I am not a good swimmer, but I do well with the cold and the salt does not hurt me.

When I leave the sea to return to my pieces of sand, as what do I emerge?


And can I rise from anything at all?

Allison Neal is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Berkeley.

“Shrike” – Crywolf (mp3)

In Which We Rent Him Out For Weddings And Parties

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 or by dropping us a note at our tumblr.


My boyfriend Dan has a friendship with a woman in his workplace. She is very nice and I honestly don’t believe she is after him. The problem is that she asks him to accompany her to workplace events and seminars on a frequent basis. It’s one thing if it is strictly professional improvement, but many of these engagements are dinners and celebrations and it seems like Dan is purely her escort.

Dan doesn’t really see the problem since I don’t have the time or inclination to go to even those obligations to which I am invited. Should he respect my wishes, or am I out of line?

Catherine P.

Dear Catherine,

It sounds like this woman is doing all the work for none of the financial or physical remuneration. Have you considered getting her a gift basket or one special night with the one you love?

But actually, no, if this pisses you off it is important to mark your territory. Freak out about this and groan obsequiously every single time this woman is even mentioned. Your boyfriend should realize that there are not ever any other people in the world. There is just the two of you. Anything else is a threat or a corpse.

If he actually leaves you for this woman, I am very sorry.

My boyfriend Aaron and I have been seeing each other for six months after meeting on Tinder. He is something of a nervous guy at times, never more so than when we are being intimate. He is extremely well-endowed so has nothing to worry about on that front. Still, he gets a little anxious and as we start, begins narrating every aspect of ahat is happening. The amount of apologies on offer is amazing, but quickly gets old. If my head is accidentally bumped he will stop completely and ask me if I am OK. Once, completely unprompted, he left to get me ice.

I have tried to talk to Aaron about this, but even after I explained, he looks verbally constipated during sex and I can tell he’s not himself. Is it possible to get him over this hump?

Lucianne R.

Dear Lucianne,

Some men are brought up to think women are very delicate. At the same time, they ignore pretty clear evidence that Angelina Jolie keeps the souls of the men she couples with. Do you think she was like, “Hey Brad, I’m heading for your anus” on that fateful first date? Some things are better when you don’t know about them beforehand, like Ellie Goulding and the Batmobile.

I suggest physical intervention in this case. Aaron won’t shut up, but he probably wants to, so put your finger on his lips and shush him as you take over. Failing that, cover his mouth and nostrils tightly. When he begs for his life, remind him, “I thought I told you to close your trap.”

If you are keen on a more psychological approach, tell him a story about a friend named Marcia Hamsbottom who had an ex-husband who would not stop quoting The Big Lebowski, no matter how many times she told him she hated it. If he says that the name Hamsbottom sounds made-up, wonder aloud how he has not heard of RCA recording artist Duracell Hamsbottom. I think he was in Outkast?

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

“Love Is Strong” – Shelby Lynne (mp3)

“Down Here” – Shelby Lynne (mp3)

In Which Aromatherapy Is The Only Thing That Keeps Kaitlyn Going

Nick’s Bracelets


Now that the men and women of Game of Thrones have gone back into their caves to debate who is dead and who is not, my Sundays are completely free to catch up on The Bachelorette. Last night Kaitlyn straight up slept with this guy named Nick in Dublin under the principle of, if I have sex with someone overseas, did it really happen?

He takes most of his romantic lines from Grey

It did end up happening. Kaitlyn is primarily known for being humorous, which is odd because she never tells jokes, really. She laughs a lot and dances when music is on, which when I think about it doesn’t make her different from any other human being. She has a tattoo of a bird on her arm, a rather unsightly marking. As she explains the ink, it reminds her that wherever she is, she has a way home.

Kaitlyn makes her actual home somewhere in Arizona, not far from the devilish lair of one George R. R. Martin. Not a single person got laid this season on Game of Thrones except for the Queen of Dragons. Kaitlyn is considerably less threatening. This week her men held a fake funeral for her in Dublin. She lay in the casket giggling as they pronounced limericks about her untimely passing.

This was actually a cute idea in theory. In practice one guy started crying as he remembered his mom’s funeral.

It was all a bit macabre, especially with host Chris Harrison whining like a baby about how Kaitlyn was “the worst corpse ever.” To spice things up, Nick’s main competition got really drunk. Shawn Booth is a personal trainer from Windsor Locks who appears to have muscles above his eyebrows. He got sauced on PBR and moved the party immediately to Kaitlyn’s hotel room, where she had previously fucked Nick.

getting drunk and confronting the bachelorette is pretty much heaven for any personal trainer.

Here he told her about his feelings. I don’t doubt that young men have feelings; I just don’t understand whey they can’t repress them, expressing their emotions in open critiques of the new True Detective only. “Rachel McAdams’ haircut is the shits” and “I think this is exploiting sexual violence as a replacement for dramatic seriousness.”

That’s a lot of bracelets, but then against Nick is part Navajo.

Disturbingly, Shawn was expressing his innermost emotions on the same couch where Nick stroked Kaitylin’s leg and murmured such malapropisms as, “I want to know every part of you,” and “I can’t get enough of you.” Nick, a software sales executive from Wisconsin, wears a set of bracelets everywhere that he goes. Each indicates an aspect of his interior self.

A man should hold a woman’s face during kisses and at all other times.

As Nick and Kaitlyn engaged in their various intimacies, GRRM had the idea of crosscutting their sex with a deep conversation between Shawn and Jared about how much they trusted her. While ostensibly a sexist move, the producers of The Bachelorette softened this attack on their heroine by showing soft images of birds and bees mating. A fountain exploded into the Dublin night to represent Nick and Kaitlyn’s simultaneous orgasm.

The only other alternative was to film Nick’s cock up close.

The amount of woman-shaming going on by the producers of The Bachelorette is, naturally, in poor taste. Of course Kaitlyn fucked Nick — which of us would not do the same? He has bracelets, bracelets, and when he leans over, he puts his hand against his own head to indicate how fucking casual and sexy and fun this all is. Considering the rest of the candidates for Kaitlyn’s affections look like they got out of a clown car, this means a hell of a lot.

The irony is that Nick is the same man who, at the end of the last season of The Bachelorette, asked Andi, why did she have sex with him if she did not care for him to choose himself instead of Josh Murray? No one has ingratiated himself so quickly and shallowly among such stiff competition. Nick deserves to know why these women want him if they do not really want him. The answer is that he smells like cinnamon and Brut.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in an undisclosed location.

Everything in one shot. Damn the cinematography on this show is top notch.

“Black Heart” – Carly Rae Jepsen (mp3)

In Which Manglehorn Has A Difficult Time Adapting To His Situation

Kitty Kat


dir. David Gordon Green
97 minutes

Al Pacino always looked good for his age. He was fifty twenty-five years ago, and he managed to portray the lives of men decades younger. Bouncing around like a hyper Italian Elia Kazan, Pacino stepped into every type of part you can imagine with the same aggravating way of speaking, like he was inserting breaths where there should not be any.

In Manglehorn he plays a dissatisfied old locksmith who meets a bank teller (Holly Hunter). She is the kind of person who wakes up every day exciting for what is to come, she explains, which makes her a very wise 57. She looks way too young for Al, who shows his age by taking a bad spill while tripping over a plant on their first date.

Angelo Manglehorn has a Persian cat named Fanny who eats a number twelve key that he sells in his locksmithery. A veterinarian removes the obstacle from the animal’s duodenum; the hospital astonishingly allows 24 hour visitation. Manglehorn uses it as an excuse to get out of the prospecgt of intimacy on his date with Holly Hunter, who makes the error of suggesting that they see a movie.

I don’t think Pacino can sit comfortably for that long. Manglehorn at first seems to be making fun of him, if not Texas. Neither would be in very good taste, except that the vibrant life that surrounds this broken-down person is altogether more interesting than he is. Manglehorn witnesses a six car pileup that is in better shape than his personality. Everyone is perpetually having a more terrific time than he is.

Harmony Korine plays the owner of a male tanning salon, Tan Man. Chris Messina plays Manglehorn’s son Jacob, an unhappy broker who offers his father money rather than emotional sustenance. Instead of being pleased, Manglehorn complains about the quality of the dinner his child treats him to — he is a very ungrateful keymaker.

Gordon Green displays everything at arm’s length, rarely lingering for a close-up of his subject. This is brilliant, because it gives us the chance of forgetting we are looking at the husk of Al Pacino all the time. The resulting creature envisioned in its own environment becomes something far different than his usual imitation of himself. It is enough that this is not a parody — Green is a lot more tolerable as a filmmaker when he is completely sincere, and Manglehorn is nothing but utterly serious at all times.

In one scene, in order to please his old Little League coach, Harmony Korine treats Manglehorn to a sexual massage. Instead of thanking him profusely, Angelo breaks his lamp and screams, “You don’t know me!” This is not played as a joke whatsoever.

A soundtrack by Explosions in the Sky gives a dreamy happiness to Manglehorn‘s redemption, as if Angelo’s dissatisfaction with the world can only help but give rise to the opposite. The cat eventually recovers from its surgery, and Manglehorn ends up giving his son an important loan with money he had been saving for some woman he drove away through endless complaining about the price of food and his mortgage. He burns all the photos of the girlfriend he longed for along with the letters that were returned to sender, and starts fresh.

The script of Manglehorn is nothing much, but Pacino and Messina wring all they can out of it, making you wish the fractious father-son relationship had been a little bit more of the focus here. Gordon Green’s art direction is typically superb, and the living spaces Manglehorn inhabits would almost make him feel real if he weren’t, you know, a dessicated Al Pacino.

I guess Manglehorn is primarily about FOMA (Fear of Missing Out), which I did not know applied to people over seventy. For this reason, Manglehorn seems like a film about older people written by younger people. It makes sense that we would expect at least some people never really change from their previous selves. A book I read recently suggested we all freeze, emotionally, at one age or another. For Mr. Pacino, it might be that moment has yet to arrive.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

“Workin’ Man” – Neil Young & Promise of the Real (mp3)

“Rules of Change” – Neil Young & Promise of the Real (mp3)

In Which No One Looks Or Even Cares


Run and Hide



I left a ten-day long stay in Turkey almost as soon as the protests had begun there. I traveled with a group of fellow graduate students and our Turkish-American hosts who had set up a series of informational meetings and tourist activities so that we could learn more about the country. On our boat ride on the Bosphorus, we saw bright red flares reach the sky. The morning earlier, on a bus ride to a mosque for the dawn prayers, we saw about a hundred young men chanting and waving the red Turkish flag. I saw no gun-toting men, no real indication that danger was ahead.

And yet, I told the others on the bus, “The Pakistani instinct in me is telling me to run and hide. To get away from protests – this is how people get killed.”

According to my parents, a large gathering of people for political demonstration will inevitably turn out violent. They have told me this on the phone as I made my way to Occupy Chicago demonstrations, as I rallied to save the job of a professor in college, even as we watched Obama’s election on television witnessing strangers hug one another in Grant Park.

It is something my parents always say with a little bit of shame in their voices. That we should come from a place like Pakistan – with all its corrupt politicians, bomb blasts, and rivalry with the bigger, richer India – and not from somewhere else. They have only ever wanted us to feel proud of where we came from.



My flight from Istanbul to Karachi was shorter than I had imagined it would feel. Out the window, I watched the blinking lights of Iranian cities flash as the sun set behind us. I left California a month and a half ago, eagerly making my way farther and farther east. Karachi is my last stop before I go back. It is the farthest east I have ever been.

It is also the city in which I was born. When we came back to visit Pakistan as children – with our full American accents – my parents drove us past our old apartment building in Gulshan-e-Iqbal. I saw from the car a shattered window pane on the top floor. I drove past it again, more recently. My cousin Sara, who is years older than me, pointed out the building to me from the road – the brown earth and the brown buildings sometimes blend into one. I looked at it but did not recognize anything. It has been nearly 23 years since we lived there.

“This one?” I pointed at the building next to it.

“Yeah, it was one of these. I think that one over there,” she said, “I remember when you guys used to live there. Your taya and taijan [uncle and aunt] lived just upstairs.”

I told her I wanted to take a picture the next time we drove past.



A computerized image of a drone flashes on the television as we flip through channels. We never rest on the bad news – we almost reel past it. I sometimes will myself to forget that it exists. I will myself in the way I did when I lived in Chicago – when I heard of dozens of murders happening just miles away from me, I would will myself to think of something else. My first week back in Pakistan, I thought of myself as cruel for attempting to forget the innocent lives lost. By my second week I had decided it was the only way to keep going.


Occasionally, I will see an advertisement on television for USAID’s educational facilities in Pakistan. I have not seen any public mention of programs like this in Pakistan any other time I have visited, even though they have existed for a long time. In the commercial, a brown man dressed in shalwar kameez escorts a young girl wearing a school uniform into a brightly lit classroom. The entire ad is in Urdu, emphasizing that the curriculum is all Pakistani. I have seen this advertisement appear on the news networks mostly, after mentions of drone attacks in the north or when a news anchor reports on Taliban activities.


I spend my days studying languages – Arabic and Urdu – with private tutors, and my evenings accompanying Sara to the various bazaars to buy fabric and appliques for her clothing business. She is often telling me to avoid the puddles of brown spit on the ground – stains from paan, sweet chewing tobacco – and placing brightly colored fabric against my skin to see how it would look on me. My sister is getting married in autumn, and Sara is making nearly all of my outfits. We travel from one bazaar to another, meeting with tailors and the men who will sew all of the beads by hand onto my outfits. In their little shops, I fan myself as I am measured. As a reward for our hard work, we eat street food in the car with the air conditioning on full blast.

As we wind through traffic on the streets, I look closely at the Urdu script on the buildings and medians. Since the reason I am in Pakistan to begin with is to learn to read and write Urdu, I attempt to take some pictures of the graffiti so that I can read it as practice later. I mostly end up with snapshots of the political signs that line the medians on the roads. Benazir Bhutto’s face is still everywhere. I saw a particularly large poster of her, her eyes glinting with a faraway look and her white dupatta draped loosely over her head. The last time I was in Pakistan, in December of 2007, she had been assassinated brutally during a political parade in Rawalpindi.


When a bomb goes off in Boston, the world is shaken up. I had stared at my laptop all day when it happened, asked all of my friends in the area if they were okay. The days that they had shut down the entire city, I was glued to my twitter feed, unable to accomplish any of the tasks I had meant to do that day.

When a bomb goes off in Quetta, a city on the border with Iran in Pakistan, and 12 young women on their way to university die tragically, no one looks, notices, or even cares.

“We are used to it,” we tell each other as much as we tell ourselves. What else are we to expect of the rest of the world?

Hafsa Arain is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Los Angeles. You can find an archive of her writing for This Recording here.

“Come On” – Alpine (mp3)

“Foolish” – Alpine (mp3)