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November 05, 2019 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily — michigandaily.com
Tuesday, November 5, 2019 — 5A

You walk into a bar on Halloween dressed
as Margot Robbie dressed as Sharon Tate from
Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in
Hollywood.” You spent 20 dollars and six hours
trying to put on fake eyelashes and the bar is empty.
The guy dressed as Austin Powers you flirted with
at Rick’s on Tuesday isn’t there, your roommates
who couldn’t decide on a trio costume that wasn’t
“Mamma Mia” or the Kardashians aren’t there.
The only other person there is a girl approximately
your height also in a black turtleneck, also in an
a-line, white, mini skirt, also in white go-go boots,
also rocking the same flawless, golden locks. Like
Carrie Bradshaw, you couldn’t help but wonder,
is that girl you? Or is she, perhaps, a Kafka-esque
manifestation of your own sense of self? She looks
at you, you look at her, and in the pornographic
version of this story, you two furiously make out.
But this isn’t the pornographic version of this story,
so you look at each other for an extra second or two
before she wonders aloud: Are you also Sharon
Tate? You blink your fake eyelashes a little too
forcefully in an enthusiastic nod. She drags you to
the dance floor where her friends have assembled
as the entire cast of the movie you are both dressed
up as. So much for trying to be original.
Your friends enter the bar dressed as a
combination of Selena Gomez, Avril Lavigne and a
sexual fantasy. The same guy flirts with all of you.
He is dressed as nothing. Not the concept, which
would’ve been more interesting. I guess you could
say he is dressed as Jared from Saginaw who is a
senior studying economics. Or you could say he is
dressed as nothing.
You pose for too many pictures and try to suck
in your gut so much that you almost give yourself
a stomach aneurysm, if that’s even a thing. You
drink shots of whiskey and chase them with pickle
juice because it makes you feel mature. You think
about the last three Halloweens when you were
Cher Horowitz and Eleven and Gilda Radner. You

decide, collectively, that this place sucks. You then
go to a suckier place, perhaps the suckiest place.
You arrive and see the line, hell no. You know
it’s not worth the walking pneumonia, you wish
you stayed at the other bar or never went out in
the first place. Your friend reminds you that she
is in Greek life, so the four of you waltz up to the
masked bouncer like the cast of “The Bling Ring.”
Without a singular qualm, your friend whispers
in slow motion a very specific fruit or vegetable or
brand of Tequila. This is the password. You enter
the establishment feeling like a king.
The feeling of superiority melts away before it
has a chance to grow into confidence. Every boy
is dressed as a character from “Peaky Blinders,”
while his female counterpart is a devil or an angel
or Ashley O.
You never pay for a drink. You pretend to
have seen “Peaky Blinders.” You try on different
personalities like costumes, it is Halloween after
all. You wonder if that boy dressed as Austin
Powers will be there. He is. He doesn’t remember
you. You wonder about all the people you don’t
remember but then you remember that you can’t
You talk to a boy or, rather, he talks to you. He
tells you about his screenplay. You wonder if he
will read this column and know who he is. You
second guess writing this line because it could
come off weird but you promise it’s not weird. Yet,
saying that it’s not weird makes it feel like it really
is weird. You leave it in unless your editor decides
to take it out.
He asks for your number and the only digits that
come to mind are 867-5309. You give him your real
number and hope that his fake mustache is in fact
You leave with one out of three of the friends you
came in with. You get pizza for the third time in 72
hours. Your friend gets two slices and a date. You
get a pie and a drunken text.
You get home, you rip off the 20 dollar, six hour,
fake eyelashes in less than a second. You fall asleep
on the couch with your white go-go boots on. It is
your last Halloween in Ann Arbor.

Becky Portman: Your last
Halloween in Ann Arbor

Humor Columnist


Like the sudden reminder of a like on an old
Facebook picture, past versions of ourselves are
often the hardest things to grapple with. Look in the
mirror for too long, and you’ll start looking strangely,
endlessly flawed. How much of that image is what we
have created ourselves, and how much is due to the
double binds society thrusts upon us?
Saeed Jones’s “How We Fight For Our Lives:
A Memoir” takes an unflinching look back at a
past version of himself, and in doing so
examines the degrading, paradoxical
situations thrust upon gay Black men.
Jones, at an all-too-young age, was shown
the contrast between who he wanted to be
and what society had predetermined he
would be:
“Being Black can get you killed.
Being gay can get you killed.
Being a Black gay boy is a death wish.”
From the start, Jones writes his
youth as being defined by being pulled in
multiple directions. A pull between his
Buddhist, single-mother home in Texas
and summers spent with his Christian
grandmother in Memphis. Between his bookish
nature and society’s expectations for Black men.
Between the homophobia of his grandmother, the
willful ignorance of his mother and his true sexuality.
Later, he’s pulled between his home and mother
in Texas, an expensive education in New York City
and a debate scholarship in Kentucky. Between being
asked to simultaneously fulfill the role of a child,
father and husband. And finally, between the life he’s
built for himself and family tragedies that interrupt
that growth.
“How We Fight For Our Lives” asks essential
questions about what happens when people are
ground down on opposite sides. Does their edge
become pliable like clay, or sharp as a knife? Jones is
uniquely unafraid to ask hard questions about who
those people are who are grinding them down. If it’s
the ones they hate, are they necessarily evil? What if

it’s the ones they love?
As with other queer youth, he’s caught between
who he is and who his family wants him to be. Jones’s
ability to tackle these problematic issues is his most
valuable asset. Even in trauma, like when his mother
finds explicit instant messenger chats between him
and older men, he has the understanding to ask how
he’s affected his family.
As he works on updated versions of himself, Jones
must constantly re-sync that self with his family.
Calling back home from college is a reminder of the

Saeed Jones his mother knows. The memoir’s third
act is the final echo of this process: Tragedy strikes his
family, and Jones must re-evaluate his professional,
strenuously built life with the one he left behind.
Through his adolescence, Jones learned to
address trauma by writing and reading poetry. His
background as a poet lends itself immensely to “How
We Fight.” Jones’s poetry background seeps into
every crack he can carve out of the memoir genre.
The prose is best when it embeds poetic devices
in what could still be a late-night talk between old
friends. If it is genuinely conversational prose, it’s

the well-crafted version of yesterday’s argument you
perfect in the shower the next day.
Jones’s imagery, phrases or deliberate use of
particular words stick in your mind. Mark Twain
describes history as not repeating but rhyming.
Like his poems, this memoir rhymes similarly by
repeating devices or odd word choices from previous
chapters. In a particularly difficult passage about
sexual assault, previously used diction and syntax
come back like a ghost to haunt Jones.
Even while recounting the most jarring traumatic
events, Jones omits no embarrassing or complicating
details. The disturbing realities of the intersection of
racism, sexuality, sexual assault and family life are
laid out bare. Sometimes, one can’t help but re-read
to confirm a detail was actually acknowledged. The
reader’s feeling of seeing the genuine, messy reality of
trauma shows why these themes are best presented
in memoir form.
The mood is somehow both contradictory and
cohesive. Jones has confidence, even while explaining
his greatest insecurities. He’s understanding of his
family’s actions while acknowledging the hurt they
caused him. Many of these complexities could have
been lost with a less expressive writer.
All these complexities are packed into a rather
short memoir without feeling rushed. Unlike other
books attempting to touch on various themes, the
book in no way overstays its welcome.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that his writing
tiptoes through contradictions and complications
in mood and theme, given that Jones is forced to
tiptoe through these contradictions in his own
life. Ultimately, “How We Fight For Our Lives” is
a concise, but a fully fleshed-out exploration of the
complexities of growing up with the world stacked
against you. Jones shows queer people can’t just sit
back and watch their future selves unfold. They must
fight to create a life for themselves, and then often
fight for their life itself.

Saeed Jones’s memoir a
poetic, queer reckoning

Daily Arts Writer

Emily Dickinson, the notoriously reclusive and
prolific American poet, goes on hot dates with Death.
At least, she does in “Dickinson.”
In “Dickinson,” Emily (Hailee Steinfeld, “The Edge
of Seventeen”) faces a life of literary obscurity and
domestic boredom as she grows up in Amherst, Mass..
Her father (Toby Huss, “GLOW”) prohibits her from
publishing her beloved poetry and encourages her to
remain in his household as a proper lady. Her mother
(Jane Krakowski, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”)
would rather have all the chores to herself and see her
wild and difficult daughter marry as soon as possible.
Emily has other plans. Determined to become the
greatest poet who has ever lived, she seeks adventure
and sets off to break as many rules as she can. She
publishes a poem against
opium parties and protests
the construction of an
environmentally harmful
railroad with Henry David
Thoreau (John Mulaney,
“Big Mouth”).
While Emily strives to cross boundaries and create
change, she still struggles against the overwhelming
pressure and strict social standards of her New
England life. Her closest friend and secret lover Sue
Gilbert (Ella Hunt, “Anna and the Apocalypse”)
announces her engagement to Emily’s brother Austin
(Adrian Enscoe, “Seeds”). The news sends Emily into
a downward spiral and motivate her to fight back
against the very systems that suppress her.
“Dickinson,” however, refuses to restrict itself to
simply retelling the story of Emily’s life. Instead, it
commits wholeheartedly to the poet’s unconventional
style and explores her world of creativity with

anachronistic flair.
This show isn’t interested in tired period piece
tropes or pretentious dialogue to make its points. At
the end of the season’s first episode, Emily runs to
join Death (Wiz Khalifa, “Bojack Horseman”) in his
ghostly horse-drawn carriage while “bury a friend”
by Billie Eilish plays in the background. Despite how
unconventional it may seem, it makes perfect sense.
Nothing is off limits for “Dickinson,” and its subject
material is only improved because of it.
While the show revels in its outlandish moments
and off-kilter humor, “Dickinson” still knows that
its fun comes at a cost. Limited by her gender and
sexuality, Emily’s attempts at causing mischief in the
name of poetry are always tinged by her deep sense
of loneliness and otherness. Constantly referred to as
“weird,” Emily accepts the label happily to display her
unique talents, but the separation of her inner world
and those around her is
undeniable. Her alienation
every Mitski song on the
soundtrack, every moment
of twerking in a hoop skirt
and corset.
mythology so well that it
doesn’t feel the need to
reflexively prove its sincerity. Emily’s legacy speaks
for itself, and this depiction of her living days doesn’t
attempt to explain her technical poetic genius. The
show focuses on the poet’s life as she is not often
remembered: A brilliant, witty writer who felt true
devotion to her friends and family, a far cry from the
hermit persona that has defined her place in history.
Through this new series, Emily Dickinson has
her own story rewritten without the burden of her
stuffy, historic reputation. “Dickinson” seamlessly
constructs a world where Emily can reclaim her own
narrative and, in its brilliant execution, grants her the
immortality she deserves.

Emily Dickinson pops off

Daily Arts Writer




Season 1, Episodes 1-4

Apple TV+

Now Streaming

vignettes about the Panama Papers, a 2015 data leak
that connected hundreds of public figures and elites
from 200 countries to an obscure Panamanian
law firm, Mossack Fonseca. After the unexpected
brilliance of his last project, “High Flying Bird,”
Steven Soderbergh’s atypical foray into awards
season is ultimately a well-meaning effort that falls
The director is clearly fond of the small fry, a
self-proclaimed champion of the underdog. In
“Laundromat,” he attempts to diverge from his
known playbook, instead choosing to explain the
international political scandal from a decidedly
titanic perspective: The partners of the Panamanian
law firm held responsible.
Mossack and Fonseca, played by Gary Oldman
(“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”) and
Antonio Banderas (“Life Itself”) respectively, are
closer to narrators than characters in the story,
frequently breaking the fourth wall to address the
audience and divulge the nuances of their legal
scheming. As a result, the talent of the two actors is
largely wasted on stinging exposition and walking
around through champagne-plied galas and white
sand beaches. Soderbergh’s dedication to their
viewpoint is compelling, elongating the single news
cycle life of the Panama Papers into a measured
look into their actual misdoings.
Yet, the plot is fragmented by Soderbergh’s
unconditional adoration of the underdog. In addition
to several stories about offshore shell companies
that quietly run funds from bank account to bank
account, the audience follows a recurring thread
about an ordinary woman who discovers the Panama
Papers through her dysfunctional insurance
company. Ellen Martin, played by Meryl Streep
(“Mamma Mia”), is the film’s sole everywoman,

and is certainly noble in her cause to bring down
the nameless corporations who control her life like
the puppeteers they are. But eventually, her rigid
morality feels like a performative ruse compared to
the rest of the movie. There is something admirable
about telling a story of corruption through a lens
of rank, privileged apathy. That would be an
inherently reflexive movie, immediately forcing
the viewer to question their own beliefs about the
politically translucent demons on screen. However,
Soderbergh cannot resist his own temptations
to include the layman, and the result is a wasted
Meryl Streep performance that adds little to the

The result of Soderbergh’s breadth in perspectives
is not enlightening, in fact, it’s hardly informative.
idiosyncrasies and sprawling storylines to the
point of mundanity. It has all the fingerprints of an
entertaining movie, but that’s all it ever is. A middle-
school presentation about the Panama Papers
would have covered the same amount of intellectual
ground as a product suffused with movie stars,
elaborate sets and high-level filmmaking.
“Laundromat” is frequently compared to Adam
McKay’s “The Big Short.” But the key difference
between these two trenchant and bitingly smart
political comedies is clear. I walked away from
“The Big Short” with an understanding of the
financial crisis that was half-soundbite and half-
real-understanding. “Laundromat” only provides
the former, as compact and instantaneous as the
Panama Papers news cycle itself.

‘Laundromat’ is a slacker



Daily Arts Writer




How We Fight For Our

Saeed Jones

Simon & Schuster

October 8, 2019


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