In Which We Remain Fine With Sleeping It Off

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


Ever since my boyfriend Carl joined Equinox, he has been really proud of the work he is doing there. That’s what he calls it, “work,” and he is usually related a story of who has been observing the aesthetic improvement of his new physique.

I don’t want to know who he is getting attention from at the gym, whether they be male, female, Anderson Cooper, Khloe, Scott Disick, the Mad Hatter. It’s all the same and it all makes me feel terrible. I get that he should be able to boast about what he is doing to improve himself, but why must it make me feel worse about myself?

Jen D.


Bragging has become so absurdly common that people don’t even know they are doing it. They just have an inborn desire to inform everyone else about how full of love, passion and fun their lives are. It is an aesthetic choice, since they are never referencing an inner beauty which would only become observable over time. It’s more just “LOOK AT ME!” in the loud voice of a baby manifesting itself as an adult. Content-wise, it is no different from the way an infant screams at night.

In the case of someone close to you engaging in the humblebragging consistently in your vicinity, talking to Carl about it is completely out of the question, since communicating honestly about what a dick someone close to you is being usually backfires within mere moments of the development. Just get one of your friends — male or female, it doesn’t matter — to go to an extreme even worse than Carl. Have her talk about all the guys she has picked up at the gym, detailing their five year financial outlooks and the textures on the head of their genitals. He’ll never talk about the gym again.



In 2014 my mom started dating a guy, Peter. About a year ago he cheated on her with another woman. She walked in on him and his girlfriend having sex in his home, and my mom dumped him afterwards. In the ensuing months, Peter began a relationship with this woman. When it didn’t work out, he told my mom he had made a huge mistake and spent the next six months convincing her to get back together with him. He was so persistent about everything, and my Mom does love Peter, so finally she gave in.

When I found out that Peter was cheating on my mom, I instantly hated him. They are a couple now, and I have told my mom that I can’t really see or interact with Peter without thinking of this awful incident. Trust is very hard to get back, and I don’t know if I could ever see Peter in the same light, even though my mom seems to be able to.

It feels like I was the one betrayed and it’s hard to see my mother with Peter again. Is there anything I can do?

Tara S.

Dear Tara,

At times you have to value what a person is instead of focusing on what he isn’t. Peter is not a person you can respect, trust, or value in any way at this moment. Time might change your appraisal of him; people have been known to make a mistake for reasons that seem sufficient at the time. Understanding Peter’s actions are not within your abilities at this moment, but appreciating that your mother has chosen to be with him is.

This individual must have some other redeeming quality. Maybe he spends time at a local animal shelter, or he services the women of a local shelter. You never know everything that is inside someone until you search the internet.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

“Faded Love” – The Saint Johns (mp3)

“Little Bit” – The Saint Johns (mp3)

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In Which God Knows Whatever Possessed Hannah Arendt And Mary McCarthy

Thank You For Everything You Did

When we last left off with the correspondence of Hannah Arendt & Mary McCarthy, Mary was pursuing a divorce with her soon-to-be ex-husband, socialite Bowden Broadwater. The brief impasse between the two friends was mended, but medical problems for both — McCarthy would develop hepatitis after Arendt spent a few months in the hospital because of a taxi accident — brought them closer together again. In these letters they attempt to inch nearer to each other without ever having the advantage of standing in the same room.

Dearest Hannah:

This is going to be a hasty letter and written under the somewhat depressant influence of penicillin and sulfa, so if it sounds strange don’t mind.

Your letter came shortly after I got back from Bocca di Magra, and I was just recovering from the flue, which I’d caught at Bocca, in the damps of the last evenings. Hence its news came to me as from a remote distance.

The other day, though, Carmen at lunch in her gloomy, Spanish-style villa embellished with roses from her rejected suitors and huge oil paintings of wild goats, treated me to some rather shivery prophecies of what Bowden was going to do (or not do). After seeing her, I had a relapse (no connection) and have just got up again today. And meanwhile I’ve bene talking to Reuel on the telephone, he has been in Warsaw, staying with Jim.

Reuel’s advice is that I must take immediate action to get a divorce. That if I don’t, Bowden will become fixed in his ideas and attitudes toward me and it. He says Bowden knows very well that I shall never come back to him, but that if I don’t show him that I mean business about the divorce and will get it in spite of him at any cost, he will keep us all in the present limbo forever.

It was after this that I saw Carmen. Her warnings were not to expect a favorable reply, that the figure of two years had been flourished in Bowden’s conversation, that his dominating idea was revenge, on Jim primarily and incidentally on me. That he no longer loved me but wished someone to pay for his sufferings. That his attitude towards me was malicious. (This I can well believe from the single letter I had from him this summer; it was not, by the way, Hannah, who stopped writing, it was he. For more than a month I did not even have an address for him.) She also told anecdotes of Bowden serving dinner to guests in New York and saying, as he invited them to table, “Sorry, the Mrs has run off with the silver.” This, perhaps unfairly, made me absolutely furious.

I do not agree with you at all that he loves me. If he did, he would not have sat in Venice all summer making spiteful remarks about me and drinking cocktails and leading a bravura social life; he would have tried, I think, to see me, which would not have been hard. Or written me in a friendly way. At least to find out how I was. Certainly, he’s been very much hurt, and his behavior is compatible with that. And he finds it less painful and more dignified, as a role, to say that he loves me than to say that he has been hurt.

He has entered the love-competition and is playing a solo part in it — the man who loves alone, all alone on the stage. The fact is, I am not necessary to the performance, hence there was no reason to seek me.


Mary, darling —

The scarf is so breathtakingly beautiful that I don’t even know how to tell you that you should not. Which nevertheless is the naked truth! Oh Mary, how I wish you were here and how tired I am of this letter writing. I somehow had the feeling during the last week or so that you would suddenly stand in the door. Then your gift arrived and I changed dresses to try it out. It is simply marvellous, almost too beautiful to become a use-object. But still it would have been better if you would have stood in the door.

This time of year is hectic as usual. Even I have to give a dinner party — you can see how bad it is. For Auden and the Lowells and Rich Heller. They probably all hate each other. I hope not, but if they do, I can’t help it. I saw Lowell several times and we talked at great length. He somehow intrigues me and I think I like him. By the way, he really loves you. I don’t think he pretended for my sake. His mental health seems to be perfect.

Despite all this, I have worked rather well. But everything takes so much more time than one hopes it will. I am in the midst of the last section of the Revolution book and I hate to interrupt it again. But I think I shall finish it in Northwestern where I have only a seminar once a week and lectures twice a week. Since I leave so early, I had to give extra session here in Columbia which I did not mind because the class is so very good. We meet once a week and read Plato together by now have become like old friends.

Love, dearest Mary, and all the wishes in the world.


Dearest Hannah,

In the last two weeks I’ve been frightfully busy, otherwise I’d have answered sooner. My spirits have risen, I’m glad to say, and I’ve suddenly done some writing. Just reviews, one a long one of Vladimir Nabokov’s new book, Pale Fire, that’s coming out in this week’s New Republic and shorter one of Salinger for The Observer. The last I did in two days and it is very viperish and mean and gave me no pleasure, except to get it out of the way, but I really fell in love with the Nabokov book and worked very hard on it, with pure joy. I’m very curious to know what you’ll think of the book if you read it, to me it’s one of the gems of this century, absolutely new, though there are flashes of Lolita, Pnin, and all his other books in it. Among other things, it is terribly funny, about academic life, and terribly sad too.

It seems to me to have more of America and of the “new” civilization in it than anything I’ve ever read, and it’s the first book I know to turn this weird new civilization into a work of art, as thought he’d engraved it all on the head of a pin, like the Lord’s Prayer. It’s a terrific puzzle or game and requires several players to work it out. I ran around Paris, to the library, to friends who knew Russian, to friends who knew German, to friends who knew chess, and enlisted, miraculously, their interest, as though they caught fire from the book too, at secondhand. This contagiousness is one of its qualities. And it’s all quite different from working on Finnegans Wake, say, because when you look all the references there you’re simply back with the text, but with the Nabokov book everything you’re led to is beautiful in itself — rare birds and butterflies, the movement of the stars, curious chess situations, certain passages from Pope and Shakespeare, Plato, Aristotle, Goethe…. I’m far from having elucidated all of it and am dying to hear what other people will find that I’ve missed. So far, the few reviews I’ve seen have been absolutely stupid and missed just about everything — in the most predictable way, as though Nabokov, laughing, had written the reviewers’ reviews. Well, enough of that.

Otherwise there’s nothing specially new. Except a story about Aron that is circulating. It seems he is a Don Juan with his girl students and has been inducing them to grant him their favors with all sorts of promises, which naturally he hasn’t kept. But one of these girls has drawn up a bill of charges against him and has sent it, mimeographed, to the principal editors of Paris and to all the professors of the Sorbonne. One of his promises, textually quoted, is that if she will go to bed with him he will “take her on his arm to official dinners.” Thwarted of this, she has taken her revenge. Some friends of mine say this is the second mad girl he has been involved with; the first tried to commit suicide to embarrass him or rather staged a suicide.

Oh, I do miss you, Hannah, and wish you were coming here soon.

They hanged Eichmann yesterday; my reaction was curious, rather shrugging. “Well, one more life — what difference does it make?” This cannot be the reaction the Israelis desired, yet short of rejoicing at his death, on the one hand, or being angry at it on the other, what else can the ordinary person feel?

I must stop and start cooking a dinner. I am so glad, Hannah, that you’re almost over the effects of the accident, and you were fortunate in misfortune.


Dearest Mary,

I was just on the point of writing anyway when your letter arrived. I read the Macbeth piece and immediately thereafter the Nabokov review in the New Republic. I fell greatly and enthusiastically in love with the Macbeth article, and Heinrich was even more enthusiastic than I — if possible. You are so entirely and absolutely right and said it all so beautifully! When did you write it and why did you not let me know? It was almost by accident that I saw it in Harper’s.

The Nabokov article — very very good, excellent as a matter of fact, very ingenious and puzzling — but I have not read the book. I am going to get it soon, but shall hardly have the time to read it. There is something in Nabokov which I greatly dislike. As though he wanted to show you all the time how intelligent he is. And as though he thinks of himself in terms of “more intelligent than.” There is something vulgar in his refinement, and I am a bit allergic against this kind of vulgarity because I know it so well, know so many people cursed with it. But perhaps this is no longer true here. Let me see. I know only one book of his which I truly admire, and that is the long essay on Gogol.

Last Year at Marienbad — I saw it and thought it a bore. But have a look, it is interesting from a technical point of view.

I am glad they hanged Eichmann. Not that it mattered. But they would have made themselves utterly ridiculous, I feel, if they had not pushed the thing to its only logical conclusion. I know I am in the minority with this feeling. One reform rabbi came out for mercy and criticized the Israel execution as “unimaginative”! Isn’t that marvellous?

How do you two like Paris? I mean living in the city. When I was there last summer I thought again it is the only place entirely fit to live in. Because it is like a house, the whole city really is, with many many rooms, but you feel never exposed, you are always “housed,” protected, an entirely different spatial feeling from all other big cities I know.

Love and yours,


Dearest Hannah:

It has reached the point where I feel if I don’t write you in the next five minutes I never will — I’ll be too ashamed. I don’t know exactly what has caused this silence. Lack of time to write a long letter, unwillingness to write a short one. Or you fell off my invalid list. Nicola says he observed that I wrote him as long as he was a classified invalid; after that, silence.

The Conference was bizarre enough. People jumping up to confess they were homosexuals or heterosexuals; a Registered Heroin Addict leading the young Scottish opposition to the literary tyranny of the Communist Hugh Macdiarmid, the Yugoslav group in schism and their ambassador threatening to pull the Belgrade Opera and Ballet out of the Festival because the non-official delegate had been allowed to speak before the official delegate; an English woman novelist describing her communications with her dead daughter; a Dutch homosexual, a former male nurse, now a Catholic convert, seeking someone to baptize him, a bearded Sikh with hair down to his waist declaring on the platform that homosexuals were incapable of love, just as (he said) hermaphrodites were incapable of orgasm (Stephen Spender, in the chair, murmured that he should have thought they could have two). And all this before an audience of over two thousand people per day, mostly, I suppose, Scottish Presbyterians. The most striking fact was the number of lunatics both on the platform and in the public. One young woman novelist was released temporarily from a mental hospital in order to attend the Conference, and she was one of the milder cases. I confess I enjoyed it enormously.

Enough of that. Nicholas Nabokov, on the telephone last night, told me that Cal Lowell was in a mental ward in Buenos Aires and that Marilyn Monroe committed suicide because she had been having an affair with Bobby Kenedy and the White House had intervened. Our age begins to sound like some awful colossal movie about the late Roman Emperors and their Messalinas and Poppaeas. The Bobby Kennedy swimming pool being the bath with asses’ milk.

Did you see the Esquire piece on me?


Dearest Mary:

I know it is terrible to dictate a letter and not to write it but I don’t know how long I would postpone answering yours otherwise. Please forgive me. I was so happy with your letter. Everything sounds so good and you yourself sound in high spirits. I enjoyed the Edinburgh bit. I think I read something about it. I knew that Tucci is a hypochondriac. He goes for a complete checkup twice a year to the hospital, each time in perfect health, but a broken arm is, of course, something new.

I am very sorry about Lowell. I hadn’t head form him but I was so little at home that I didn’t find it strange. Will they be back in New York?

Esquire piece: The less said about it the better, I suppose.

The Tin Drum: I read it in German years ago and I think it is an artificial tour de force — as thought he had read all of modern literature and had then decided to borrow and to do something of his own.

What do you say, since we are on literature, about the Nobel Prize going to Steinbeck? Rather surprising! Have you any idea who the alternatives were?

The Revolution book is finished and will appear in January. The Eichmann article has also become a book, and to everybody’s surprise, has been accepted by The New Yorker almost in its entirety. They are starting the series of articles end of January, which reminds me that Harold has now become their art critic and the first article appeared in the current issue. Just in case you should have missed it, I wanted to quote once sentence: “In our time, those who are content merely to paint pictures or to contemplate them are out of touch, either through choice or through ignorance, with the dynamics of creation in the arts; their norm is to be found in the canvases and picture gazers at the outdoor shows in Washington Square. Art, including its appreciation, has become an arena of conflicting powers.” Isn’t this marvelous? God knows whatever possessed him.

Yours, H

“Nightsea Wind” – Xiu Xiu (mp3)

“Laura Palmer’s Theme” – Xiu Xiu (mp3)

In Which We Wage A War That Never Changes


Where Is Kristen Stewart When I Need Her?


The Huntsman: Winter’s War
dir. Cedric Nicolas-Troyan
114 minutes

One minute Sara (Jessica Chastain) and Eric (Chris Hemsworth) were children raised in kingdom of a sorceress named Freya (a weird-looking Emily Blunt). The next they are in their late 30s, except they are young lovers. I guess to a child anyone who is an adult is old anyway, so who cares if it seems like thirty years passed in the crow’s feet of Jessica Chastain? Her agent probably has a substantial fixed rate mortgage.

Charlize Theron shows up for like three scenes in The Huntsman: Winter’s War. She has been replaced in her entirety by the plot of Frozen. I can’t complain since frankly the Disney version needed a darker, more adult take. Emily Blunt’s eyebrows are on point, but when she finds out that two of her child/adult soldiers are in love, she is very upset with them. Personal tragedy colors her opinion of the situation, as does the fact that Hemsworth is inexplicably the only person in her entire kingdom with an Australian accent.

As children, Chastain and Hemsworth hefted bows too large to properly draw, but their soldiering is unquestionable. “Who are those children?” screams Blunt, and her assistant is like, which ones, and she replies, “THE BEST!?!?!” She separates the happy couple with an ice wall and her African-American servant stabs Chastain in the back. Hemsworth flails at the ice for two seconds, but he knew what he was getting into when he had sex with a ginger in a hot tub amidst an ice kingdom. How could he not?

A further decade passes and Snow White ascends the throne, displacing Charlize Theron on the grounds of superior femininity. Anticipating a sequel, they should have shot a few key scenes with Kristen Stewart but no one wanted to pay her salary or deal with her constant playing of Sufjan Stevens and whining on set.

After the ginger has been forcibly removed from his life and Kristen Stewart also declines a romantic relationship, Hemsworth’s Huntsman character is quite surly. Dwarves (Rob Brydon and Nick Frost), perhaps not very knowledgeable, proclaim he is the finest tracker in the south. He leads them to a mess of corpses, which he strolls over slowly, recalling the battle like he is the mentalist.

I would be lying if I said I understand very much of what Hemsworth said, but there are some disgusting things about dwarves and women and female dwarves. Finally Chastain shows up even though Hemsworth thought she was dead from the tiniest stab wound I’ve ever seen. She saves him from some evil men and knocks him unconscious, and it turns out she is very upset that Hemsworth abandoned their marriage pact.

“You’re still my wife,” he tells her when she does something that he does not like. He bullies her and makes fun of her age, telling her that she is too old to be in this movie and that she makes Emily Blunt look like Demi Lovato. The Huntsman: Winter’s War seems intent on brilliantly exposing the canard that female beauty can be at all tarnished by age, as its characters search for a literal and metaphorical mirror. After they bathe themselves in its golden reflection, they will be as they once were.

Accompanied by the two dwarves, Chastain and Hemsworth run into a female little person, who wields a crossbow and is given an unattractive haircut. She also forfeits the gobs of makeup bestowed upon Chastain and Blunt in every scene of The Winter’s War. Later on, when Emily Blunt sees her, she is completely overwhelmed.

Instead of explaining why he abandoned her for the last decade or mentioning the entire events of the previous film, Hemsworth starts flirting with his wife and giving her little negs, like “We both look different I guess IDK” and “You’re no female dwarf but you’re pretty in your own way IDK.” You would think this would be unnecessary given that they are already wed, but there is a precious lack of anything else going on in The Huntsman: Winter’s War.

It is honestly embarrassing that Charlize Theron was featured so prominently in the promotional material for this movie. I mean I understand a fat check is somewhat reassuring when you have to cope with the emotional fallout from your breakup with Sean Penn, but she could have at least demanded a new costume designer, because everything she wears in this is not good (see above).

Chastain is the only one even attempting to act in The Huntsman: Winter’s War. “It seems like I have to love you, but I don’t,” Chastain informs her husband, demanding that he let her go. “The one you love is dead, and I don’t remember what it was like to even be her.” She goes on to inform him that she has done unforgivable things. He responds, “So have I,” and she gets this look on her face like she was just kidding before they have sex. Disappointingly, the wintercourse is missionary-style, but it is still penetration, thank god.

The next morning, his first sentence to her is, “Have you been true?” He holds up her knife to his heart as he asks the question. Because if she has so much as tongue-kissed another man, he doesn’t care about her anymore. She doesn’t answer, I mean, what could she realistically say? “I blew a guy after you ran off, sorry.”

At that moment Emily strides up, riding a really cute bear.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

“You Are So Beautiful” – Bootstraps (mp3)

“Natural Blues” – Bootstraps (mp3)

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In Which All Our Inner Thoughts Resemble Pamphlets Of Questionable Origin

It’s Enough Paige


The Americans
creator Joe Weisberg

We no longer have to suffer through Nina’s reincarnation as Mother Teresa as a stranger in a strange land. It nearly drove me crazy to watch people talk about how moving it was. If they ever have Martha chewed up by a wood chipper on The Americans, then I will cry genuine tears. Until then they will be of the crocodile variety.

Then again, it probably affected me on some level, since I have spent the last day and a half placidly responding, “Paige, it’s too much,” to every single question I am asked, including “What kind of toast do you want with that?” and “Who will you be voting for in New York’s Democratic primary?”

It was a little mean when Elizabeth (Keri Russell) started ragging on Ronald Reagan’s rosy cheeks, especially since she has not had color in her face since the days of Felicity. Watching her and Philip having real life sex turned The Americans into a stag film. I kept waiting for a dramatic pan to Paige watching her mother humping her father, but it never came. Philip would probably just have made eye contact with her and said, “Good,” while Paige’s mother informed her daughter that it was too much.

Paige sure knew how to work over Pastor Tim. He stared at her like she was a piece of candy, and after having to spend mere minutes with Pastor Tim’s gossipy malingering wife Alice we all understood why. She talked to him with all the dignity of a guest on Howard Stern. The ringer they brought in to vouch for their heroic actions in El Salvador probably would not have been wasted on Paige either.

Even less believable was our Moscow friend whining about how he lost his brother in a war that he is not permitted to name. I mean, one woman gets executed and it’s enough to throw the entire idea of the Soviet Union in question?

Stan Beeman should have informed him that traitors in America share much the same fate. Well I guess some do, others are honored as respected neighbors and FBI agents have best friend type relationships with their son. When it comes to getting weird amounts of praise about your Trivial Pursuit acumen, nothing – I repeat nothing – beats your neighbor’s ignored teenager.

Stan’s desultory son Matthew scares the shit out of all thinking people. Just looking at his face is enough to make you insecure about the future of America. This is the kind of child Martha probably would have emitted from her secretarial loins, so it is probably a damn good thing that her childbearing years were spent in a hot cuddle with Clarke’s wig. Matthew is probably in solitary confinement somewhere in Indiana as we speak.

The Americans would be a lot more entertaining if Philip’s affection for Martha were a little more believable. I can buy that he is concerned about her welfare, but even the idea that he ignored calls from her for two days while she was having a romantic dinner with a colleague seems to prove that he sees her as just another Paige, albeit a Paige whose body he explores in the many arcane ways the wizened men of the Asian continent prescribed that people could pleasure one another.

It is time to bring the Martha storyline to its inexorable conclusion, since watching Clarke violently take her from behind cannot possibly approach the intimacy we witness between a real couple. Love ideally would ravish the world of The Americans — how does Frank Langella get his rocks off, for example? What about Agent Gad, or the head of the Rezidentura?

One of the great things about The Americans is the depth it gives to these smaller characters, like the Mary Kay saleswoman Elizabeth seems intent on romancing for some reason. The people Russia preys upon seem completely innocent, although we must know in our hearts that they are not. In the end, Philip and Elizabeth are more loyal and virtuous than Pastor Tim, whose criticisms of U.S. foreign policy resemble a deranged Noam Chomsky pamphlet.

But Paige just won’t understand her destiny to become the Jason Bourne of the George Herbert Walker Bush era, which basically seems like the good old days. Also, WTF was that t-shirt she was wearing? Her mother does not understand that all Paige requires is one carrot enticing her to a more appealing life than her status as an absent daughter in the D.C. suburbs.  Has she thought about maybe being executed abroad?

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

“Be Anything” – Brass Bed (mp3)

In Which We Curse Ourselves For A Number Of Reasons

You Were My First Baby


There he is! At last. She knew he would look like that and stand like that and be just like that. It was a relief when she saw him there because she knew she could stop looking now.

He was talking to a guy who never made it past the friendship preliminaries: the boyfriend of a girl at his work, she’d later learn and recite, as their origin story became refined, edges sanded and bad jokes landed and fate understanding that this was their moment.

Of course, his shirt was wrong and her mascara was five drinks gone, and her skirt was an inch too long which crippled how she moved in a way where it haunted her head and dictated her movement to an infuriating degree, and he felt like he was getting hips that winter: proper hips, swinging lard sacks that he flattened and squashed into his side all evening, but they fell in love all the same or – if you believe such pronouncements belong only in soap operas – at the very least they collided suddenly and agreed to collide again at a later date – more softly and sweetly the next time, and the next time, until it was a dance they knew by heart. And so it was.


It wasn’t the last street, nor the street before, and all the streets look the same in this stupid Lego town, and this is her fault and she knows it, but he is being so fucking calm about it, because this whole visit – this whole trip, this whole experience – doesn’t mean a thing to him. He never tried. For once she would like him to just yell and blame her for not remembering to write down the address, or the phone number, or anything. Why won’t he yell? He is happy to just drive. He already knows he is going to leave her. These are wet matches. He needs a big fire before he can do anything. He needs scorched earth. He needs her to have an affair. He fantasizes about her quivering bottom lip as she confesses everything, he dreams about his game-changing kiss off, about his complete radio silence, his lawyer’s letters, his short, sporty, summer fling, his reply to her dick of a father who has no idea. He wants to hurt her.


No salt, just seasoning. She knows she eats too much fried shit these days, but they are going to start a diet after all the weddings and baby showers and buck’s nights and capital H-Holidays stop shooting at them so constantly, but summer is coming soon, too, and drinks are cheap here — let’s live now and sweep the soot in our old winters. Bobby is beautiful but she can’t think like that. Not when they are saving $900 a month while cooking in bulk and drawing up budgets while he promises, “Because this is important to you, I’m gonna make it happen.”


painting by alice neel


She can’t flirt with beautiful Bobby with those words rattling around in her head, not when they are saving so she can move to the city she cursed her parents for not bringing her up in. Not when he divided his home-made casserole into five marked Tupperware containers, and seemed excited and proud to do so. She wants everything, but can only whisper it for now; his plan is to get a suit and visit a bank in three months, and he is so steadily focused on this part of the plan that any further steps were sure to fall into place – he was sure of it. Her mid-afternoon daydream of catching a train to the airport, picking whichever flight is around $1,500 and leaving before she has time to shift and shuffle and talk herself sensible seems like mere sound now.


“This is not the park my children will play in,” she decided firmly when they moved into that scorched red brick apartment with the needles and the screaming and all the other awful things happening across and above her. Bikini bottoms and tea towels hung over every three or four balcony ledges; while lizards withering on plastic furniture, burning cigarettes, drinking from boxes, yelling “fuckin’ this” and “fuckin’ that” at their kids – white, middle nothing. This was not the apartment her babies would grow up in.

They wanted the babies to come in quick succession, in twos if possible, in threes if they traded up to an eight-seater with adjustable headrests and a sliding door that got stuck if you didn’t slam it hard enough, but after Julian months became years and GPs became specialists and quietly they blamed each other and even more quietly they cursed themselves for doing so — then, when they learned the truth, she blamed herself. He said it didn’t matter to him, and for a while it didn’t. One baby was plenty. There were carriages to push and car seats to fit, and first words to extrapolate and shifts spent anxiously watching him breathe, mini panic-attacks when he stopped crying long enough to possibly to be dead.

Each day Julian didn’t die was a victory, and when there was such a clear-cut goal, the rest of life hummed by until he learned to toss and crawl and not die — and the proper problems could no longer be a background blur. Now she views those early days as the best of her life, but at the time she often felt a snapped second away from drowning Julian in the shallow plastic baby bath, and driving to the airport with $1,500 folded neatly in her inside skirt pocket.

Nathan Jolly is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Sydney. He tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

Paintings by Alice Neel.

painting by alice neel

In Which We Always Have An Extra Purpose

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


My husband Anselm has always included me as a character in his poetry. His work is frequently whimsical, and every so often somewhat humbling. I try not to take offense, because it is his work.

Because of his encouragement, I have begun participating in a writing workshop at a local community college. Some of the prompts ask us to fictionalize real-life situations. Anselm read one of my short pieces and saw himself in the persona of a controlling man. It really wasn’t based on him – at least not consciously. He says this is rather different from his depictions of me, since they are all flattering.

Do we have a responsibility to whitewash our paramours, and how can I get him off my back about this?

Tova B.


Just tell your husband that you love him very much, but that you were only in love with the person who was not a hypocrite. Poetry about someone’s significant other is pretty much always shit. I am tryin to think of an exception to this rule and failing, kind of Lorine Niedecker and sometimes William Carlos Williams. Although those poems mostly had a residue of sadness and despair.

There is no such thing as a good “whimsical” poem, just an extremely literary stand-up comedian. (If your husband also beat-boxes, that would extend an extra layer of credibility to his appropriation.)

In contrast, the entire purpose of fiction was for the people writing it to discover how the feel about the world. You have expressed something you did not actually know on a conscious level – that your husband is a tool who makes John Mayer look like Pierre Reverdy. Normally the act of simply denying all wrongdoing is enough, but here it is probably best to double down.

Explain that your therapist suggested you express your concerns in a safe space. Lately, the mere mention of said space is enough to get anyone what they want. Emphasize that if your concerns are not addressed, you will be making Anselm a villain who cuts off the ambition of young women everywhere by severing one toe at a time from their feet. Be sure to mention that the prose style will be reminiscent of a young Donna Tartt, and leave the room with a bow.



My friend Anna quickly took to me at school. She follows me around everywhere. She had a boyfriend for two months and that gave me some breathing room, but they broke up because she cheated on him and now we’re back to square one.

Anna does have some good qualities, mainly in the way she treats me. Her attitude towards other people is what bothers me very deeply. She judges them immediately for their worst qualities and mocks people using a series of impressions that ranges from the mildly amusing to super hurtful. I feel that she is bringing me down.

How do I rid myself of Anna without destroying her and making an enemy in the process?

Ellie S.

Dear Ellie,

Lie. Tell her that you have feelings for her and it’s difficult for you to be around her. Granted, this could backfire and you two could end up adopting a Malaysian child named Tomas, but if you are fairly sure she is a heterosexual, this is a safe bet. Before you “come out” to her, make sure to listen to a lot of Elliott Smith and when you hear about Kristen Stewart’s latest girlfriend, exclaim how brave she is.

If this gambit does not work to maximum effectiveness, then change tacts. Make a list of all the things you like and dislike about Ellie and fax it to her on the letterhead of a local attorney. Celebrate with a margarita; you’ve earned it.


Recently, I got drunk and cheated on my boyfriend Mark with a friend I will call Ian. I realize that alcohol does not excuse my behavior, but there had always been a longstanding attraction between Ian and myself and while it was something I probably never would done while sober, I was in good enough shape to know what was happening and sleep with him.

After what happened, I felt extremely guilty and realized that I wanted to be with Mark and never betray him again. Here are some other pertinent facts and events that happened since the “incident”:

1. I told my friend Wen what I did and she has told me that I should tell Mark lest he find out from someone else;

2. Mark would probably be upset by this news but I think he could probably get over it given enough time.

3. I have put off Ian’s followups on this incident but he seems to be making more of it than it really was.

How do I handle this?

Megan A.

Dear Melanie,

Many people don’t have the patience to get what they want from others. You want forgiveness from Mark, and to put this ugly debacle behind you. On the one hand, it would be great if Mark never found out about this, but given the close proximity of the individuals involved, it seems like that is not an option. This leads us to the conclusion that Mark must know what you have done, and in the easiest way possible for him to move past it.

A lot of men cheat, so it is possible that Mark has already stepped out on you, Megan. Tell him, “We need to talk,” and make extremely subtle references to the idea that if he has done something he is not supposed to have done, you will understand, but you would prefer to hear it from him. There’s a 30 percent chance this will yield some kind of confession from Mark. If yields nothing, don’t double down. Apologize and say you are sorry for doubting his word, but observe his behavior over the next week or so. If he is extra-nice, he is probably guilty and you can get the full story by following up strategically, even using alcohol to get the information you desire. It worked for Ian.

Assuming that Mark is more proficient at holding out under scrutiny than Edward Snowden, you are not going to get what you want by giving him the CIA treatment. That means we move to Plan B, which entails the following: create a personal crisis to put in the context of the event. Wait until Mark has something important to do when you will not be able to contact him. At that time, have a “personal crisis”, e.g. someone you know is in the hospital or an old friend passed away. Sent him a million frantic texts like, “I need you,” etc. Then shut off your phone, after telling a friend to inform Mark that you are okay but you are sleeping it off.

The next time you contact him, let him be in person. Inform you got drunk, something awful happened, and where was he? The road ahead may be a bit tumultous, but if Mark really loved you, why wasn’t he there for you? 😉

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

“Somewhere” – Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros (mp3)


In Which She Keeps Fresh Flowers In Each Room



Since attention is inclined to direct itself upwards and remain fixed, special provisions are necessary to ensure the effective compatibility of equality and hierarchy. – Simone Weil

At the top there is a lancing. Of the spring’s ghastly storehouse of agendas, all my feelings about what I tell you float down to the bottom of the glass. I am empty with this.

Q: Give an example of a time when you sacrificed your needs for his.

A: It would be easier to say the times I did not.

Christmas, 2014. He is the brother of my friend’s boyfriend Tom. He wears these incredibly soft sweaters, and draws his curly hair straight back. Of his little brother, Tom says, “Imagine a bird with something in its mouth. You can see what it has captured in flight, but the bird can only taste it.”

The week before Christmas I threw out all the bad evidence of my last love affair, Chris. He moved to Barcelona. You should see the woman he is with now; she might have come out of a pinata. She is so surprising she comforts you in how much she rubs against him. I miss Chris, but it was time to remove the pictures of us together. I burned it all. That’s the kind of gesture I don’t generally find therapeutic, but seemed required for me to move on.

I vaporize my diary too, but not with fire. I drown the ideas in it.

Q: You say he is brilliant. That is a value judgment.

A: It is wonderful to be with someone truly intelligent, I think, better and more satisfying on every level than treating with the kind.

What should I call Tom’s brother? This is not the only account of him – there might be one on Vox – but even though I have little faith in my descriptive abilities, I am already sure it is the finest account of him.

Tom tells us that his brother was engaged to a woman from Kentucky. He had bought a ring for the girl, even, but her family did not approve of the speed of the romance and forced her an end to it. “Did you meet her?” I asked Tom. He said no, but he showed me a picture of her with no pants on.

Tom breaks up with the woman, Ellen, he has been seeing that precluded my meeting Tom’s brother. I ask what happened, realizing that Tom is probably more of my friend than Ellen ever was. Ellen looked in the mirror too much, Tom says. He can’t stand that; it makes him want to claw his eyes out. “There was nothing different,” he squeaks, “to be staring at yourself again and again!”

Q: Did you feel some sort of attraction for Tom?

A: I think I feel some sort of attraction for most people.

February 2014. Tom’s brother and I stay on an isolated island on a great lake. His best friend lived there since he was a kid. The man is a garbageman now, with angry eyes. Tom’s brother tells me not to worry about him, or anything. When I go to the grocery store locals are fascinated by me the entire time. It is freezing, which is fine, since we are forced to warm each other.

It is a smell surrounding me for years. Fresh soap, and a natural musk which feels like it is radiating inside, precipating the act. Shell game. Tulips touching the glass, bending the function of the abbatoir. What I gave to Tom’s brother was in its own way never ending, slightly spiteful. At times I sense that if I ever received exactly what I wanted that I would die of shock.

Q: What kind of man are you typically attracted to?

A: The kind that uses the expression “riddle me this,” before an explanation. A lot of men do that, even ones you think won’t.

Tom’s brother convinces me, one night when my resistance to his animal intensity is at its very lowest, not to use a condom. If you are reading this you maybe cringed, or you want to know if I got pregnant. I didn’t, but I was scared as hell along the way.

Chris e-mails pictures of a boxer pup he has adopted. In one of the snaps a woman’s hand rests on a pillow. Chris’ fat paw offers a bone. Tom says, “He sends you that shit because he knows it makes you scream. The question is, do you like the sound?” Tom is always kind enough to pretend he doesn’t know me or my type, but I fear that he probably does.

Q: What is your type? Not your type of guy, but what kind of person do you classify yourself as?


Tom’s brother actually wrote a personality test, for one of his degrees. It featured a variety of ethical decisions, all centered around the concept of altruism. He believes that when we do something for other people, a part of ourselves remains. It is another way of instructing servants to choose their masters. In order to believe in such transference, you must put your faith entirely in the idea that enslavement is only possible with permission.

Tom’s brother left academia, but he still talks about it a whole lot. I did not mind listening to his stories about it – isn’t it so revealing what people tell you no matter the subject? “I wanted to work with my hands,” Tom’s brother often says, with his mouth. Use the tools you are given, I guess.

Q: Picture me. 1994. I was having the same problem with a boy. You break out of it. You lose the recipe.

A: Which of them are you talking about?

A friend of mine has a lavish country home outside the city. There is always work to do on it, improvements to make. Small things, like a lamppost or a division of a larger garden. These projects never become all-consuming for them. I was never much for hobbies.

May 2014. Chris is in Vienna, then at a conference in Leipzig. They sent the dog to stay with Chris’ mother until they get back to the U.S. I picture it flying all alone, at the whim of its owner. He tells me the dog cost 550€. “I thought he was a rescue,” I write back. It is the first thing I have said to him since we broke up. You can erase something from your mind, but that is all you did. Don’t ask me where it lives now.

European cities are ancient compared to us now, but when you have lost your sense of history, does it matter just how much has vanished? “The Egyptians had working plumbing centuries before it was rediscovered. A great civilization.” I don’t admire the people of the past, I told him. I don’t admire anyone who cannot receive my admiration.

It is wonderful that these people take such a gainful pleasure in visiting the places of the world. I don’t deny them their accomplishments, I only wish that the opposite of wanderlust was given a similar affectation. “That is all my brother is,” Tom’s brother tries to convince me. “A series of affectations.”

Q: I say this with no pleasure, but you need to talk things over before you destroy them. Not everything is so final.

A: I know.

Chris catches an eye infection and stays in a German hospital. Eventually they fly him back like his dog. He only has partial vision in the eye now. When he views it in the mirror it does not look lazy, but it never focuses. His new girlfriend is on writer’s retreat in California for the next six months. He is miserable.

Back on the island, I had someone to be around, which was itself a relief. It is all right to use people, Tom says, if you use them for the right reasons. He has gone for coffee.

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

Paintings by Peter Sculthorpe.

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