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‘Aftersun’: Parenthood and grief

“Aftersun” is the most poignant and sensitive portrait of parenthood, depression and grief that I have ever seen.

The movie follows a grown-up Sophie as she recalls her last vacation with her father, Calum. Sophie, for the majority of the movie, is a precocious 11-year-old who is oblivious to the private emotional struggles of her father. Real and imagined memories of the past, spliced with nostalgic home videos and haunting visions of her father, subtly shine a light on how we write and re-write grief and loss into our family histories.

“Aftersun” has been nominated for a smattering of awards, including at the Cannes Film Festival and the BAFTAs, mostly for its excellent director, Charlotte Wells, and leading actor and recent Oscar nominee, Paul Mescal. Mescal works perfectly to the film’s strength — melancholic restraint — as he plays a struggling single father who wants to shield his daughter from his problems. Mescal’s on-screen chemistry with the incredibly talented 13-year-old Frankie Corio is the beating heart of the movie. 

Even though Calum can hide his depression from an 11-year-old Sophie, he can’t hide it from an adult Sophie and, therefore, the audience. Sophie revisits her memories of the vacation and begins to fill in the gaps. An exasperated comment to her dad about “not being able to afford singing lessons” becomes more gutting — and you can see it on Mescal’s face. Even though the memories of the vacation are overwhelmingly positive because Sophie remembers time with her father fondly, we get terrifying (and imagined) flashes of Calum’s despair: him sobbing by himself in their hotel room and jumping into the Mediterranean Sea in the middle of the night.

The film is subtle and understated, guiding you through emotion without forcing you to process anything. Objectively, nothing happens. A father and a daughter spend a wonderful vacation in Turkey together. The daughter remembers it after her father is gone. And yet, I was completely a wreck at the end.

“Aftersun” ends in a scene that will forever change the way I listen to Queen and David Bowie’s hit single, “Under Pressure.” As a young Sophie dances with her dad in Turkey, an older Sophie is searching for a vision of her (frozen-in-time) dad. As the music rises in a crescendo, young Sophie hugs her dad and old Sophie loses him in the crowd. Her memory of him becomes more real than he is.

I was in tears because I was remembering, too. Memories of my mom came flooding back to me: her doing makeup in the master bathroom, her hitting a bullseye with a bow and arrow, her driving me in a cool car after school… Some things I still can’t remember. Some things I never knew about. I saw the film two days before the ten-year anniversary of my mother’s suicide, and it hit like a sucker punch. 

“Aftersun” captured my anxieties about outliving my parents and being left with nobody to lean on. It made me rethink everything I had ever said to my parents. It reminded me to be more gentle with the people who raised me. But most importantly, it reminded me that parents are fallible creatures and that forgiveness is a virtue.

Title: “Aftersun”

Starring: Paul Mescal, Frankie Corio

Director: Charlotte Wells

If you like: “Lady Bird,” “Before Sunrise”

Shamrocks: 5 out of 5

Contact Claire Lyons at clyons3@nd.edu

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Gay love laid ‘Bare’ in PEMCo’s fall show

As Congress was passing the Respect for Marriage Act last week, members of Pasquerilla East Musical Company (PEMCo) were hard at work preparing for their fall show, “Bare: A Pop Opera,” which features a closeted gay couple. 

“Bare” is a rock-musical focusing on the secret lives of a group of private Catholic boarding school students. Although the musical’s main protagonist is Peter (Josh Vo), a closeted Catholic teen, the musical converges around the life of Peter’s roommate and secret boyfriend, Jason (Luc Plaisted). Almost everybody else in the musical is connected to Jason in some way: insecure Nadia (Olivia Seymour) is his sister, the — by reputation — promiscuous Ivy (Avery Trimm) has a crush on him and Matt (Tim Merkle) is jealous of him for stealing away his role in the school play and his crush, Ivy. 

Vo is an incredibly compelling lead as Peter. He’s not only a great singer, but he plays Peter’s struggle to accept his sexuality in a remarkably compassionate way. He shines in his solo “Role of a Lifetime,” with his voice delicately rising and falling – but never losing strength – as he sings, “God, I need your guidance / Tell me what it means / To live a life where nothing’s as it seems.” Peter’s queer experience is directly informed by his Catholic upbringing, slowly turning from religious paranoia in the opening act (“Epiphany”) to joyous acceptance (“God Don’t Make No Trash!”). Encouraged by his vision of the Virgin Mary (who he humorously mistakes for Diana Ross) and the support of his drama teacher, Sister Chantelle, Peter gains the courage let the world know who he truly is and come out to his mom in a heartbreaking performance of “See Me.”

Likewise, Plaisted navigates Jason’s complexity with a grace that makes the difficult role look easy. Jason is the musical’s anti-hero and a narrative foil to Peter. He’s the typical Troy Bolton-type: popular and top-of-his-class, but hiding a secret that might jeopardize his reputation. But in this case, Jason loves a boy instead of musicals. Fearing how his family and friends will react to coming out, Jason keeps his relationship with Peter a secret – to the extent of cheating on him. He betrays Peter when he kisses Ivy, then goes all the way with her in an explicit performance of “One.” He also betrays his faith, flinging his rosary across the stage after a priest essentially tells him to “pray the gay away” (“Cross”). At every turn, he never fails to run away from his authentic self and leaves a trail of destruction in his wake: a betrayed Peter, a pregnant Ivy and a heartbroken Nadia. Yet, Plaisted’s performance makes Jason somebody who is hard to hate.

Trimm and Seymour balance out the starring cast with riveting performances as roommates Ivy and Nadia. Although the characters seem diametrically opposed from the start, they aren’t so different. Nadia and Ivy are both victims of the same patriarchal structure, just at opposite ends. Nadia is insecure about her appearance (“Plain Jane Fatass”) and Ivy is scared that people see her as just another pretty face (“Portrait of a Girl”). The strength of their friendship is solidified when Ivy tearfully confides in Nadia about her pregnancy (“All Grown Up”). Nadia is easy to dislike given her internalized misogyny and general over-the-top teen angst, but Seymour’s performance turns her into a charming side character. Ivy, however, is given more complexity from the get-go and Trimm tackles the role exceptionally well.

The cast is rounded out by sophomore Angie Castillo as the spirited Sister Chantelle and the Virgin Mary, who adds levity to the serious themes with the fun musical numbers. The choreography and backup dancers in “911! Emergency!” is an excellent addition to her performance as a sassy Virgin Mary. Merkle adds a certain shyness to Matt in a duet with Vo (“Are You There”) showing the trials and tribulations of love are, in fact, universal. Graduate MFA student Jacob Moniz is perfectly cast as St. Cecelia’s resident bad boy, Lucas, in a performance reminiscent of Patrick in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”

While the set transitions were a bit laborious at times, the dynamic set design for the smaller Washington Hall Lab Theatre effectively distinguished changes from school chapels to dorm rooms to raves and parties and back again. The costume design was also heavily influenced by traditional Catholic school uniforms. Some characters even have their own twist on the St. Cecelia dress code: Ivy keeps her blouse unbuttoned while Nadia hides away in a gray cardigan. 

Although PEMCo did a great job with this production, “Bare” is a little outdated. Since the musical was written in the early 90s, right off the tail end of the devastating AIDs epidemic, the tragic ending ultimately feels like a byproduct of the loss felt by the gay community. I believe it was difficult for writers Damon Intrabortolo and Jon Hartmere to imagine a happy ending for Jason when a happy ending was robbed for so many gay men, but his death felt unnecessary and tactless. I, for one, am glad there are other stories that leave space for queer joy, and happier endings.

Despite my qualms with the ending, it’s important to acknowledge the context in which PEMCo’s production took place. “Bare” premiered fifteen years before same-sex marriage was signed into law. This run of “Bare” was performed just days after the Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA), which allows same-sex couples to get federal benefits and recognizes out-of-state same-sex marriage, passed in Congress. 

Yet, hate crimes are still happening. Yet, the University stays silent. Yet, the University’s non-discriminatory clause excludes both sexual orientation and gender identity. Yet, conservative groups on campus continuously condemn the LGBTQ+ community and RFMA. Sadly, “Bare” and its message remain progressive.

PEMCo’s production of “Bare” dares its audience to embrace authenticity and closely examine our relationships. It bravely presents our campus community with a choice: Do we stand behind LGBTQ+ students like Sister Chantelle or do we fail them like Jason’s priest? Shouldn’t the University authentically stand behind its claims about diversity and inclusion?

When I left “Bare” and looked at the faces of my classmates, I wondered how much we really allow ourselves know each other. I wondered in what ways each and every one of us run from authenticity. I wondered what we look like “stripped bare beneath all the layers” and the things we don’t talk about and why.

Musical: “Bare: A Pop Opera”

Director: Trey Paine

Produced by: Pasquerilla East Musical Company

Starring: Luc Plaisted, Josh Vo, Avery Trimm

Where: Washington Hall Lab Theatre

When: Dec. 1- 3

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5

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News

Chomsky speaks on student activism

Last Friday, the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) hosted a discussion with prominent and influential academic Dr. Noam Chomsky.

Chomsky is most widely known as the “father of modern linguistics” and for his work as a cognitive scientist and political activist. According to the event’s hosts, he is also one of the foremost critics of American imperialism and state capitalism.

“He has inspired countless activists around the world,” said sophomore SolidarityND treasurer Andrew Kim. “[He’s] an invaluable voice for the voiceless, calling out and condemning injustices, and tirelessly advocating for human rights and basic human decency.” 

This event was planned months in advance by Kim after he cold-emailed Chomsky in September. In fact, it was entirely planned and conceived by undergraduate students at the University and not as an initiative from the University faculty or administration.

“It began as a series of conversations between members of our Democratic Socialist student group at Notre Dame, SolidarityND,” junior and SolidarityND president Tianle Zhang explained.

The discussion stemmed from student questions about two of Chomsky’s essays: “The Responsibility of Intellectuals” (1967) and “In Defense of the Student Movement” (1971). Specifically, students focused on how lessons from activists in the 1960s and 1970s can be translated to the issues of today.

Zhang questioned if universities are still a place for free discourse amongst students given barriers like the rapidly increasing cost of college, the restructuring of academic faculty and the rise of university administrative positions. 

These developments are a part of a broader reactionary neoliberal wave to undermine the activism of the 1960s, Chomsky said.

“There was too much activism,” he said. “Too many people young people departed from their normal stance of passivity and obedience, tried to enter the political arena to press their demands — women, young people, laborers, farmers, basically the whole population.” 

The University, in fact, played a prominent role in moderating student protests in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Former University President Fr. Theodore Hesburgh’s “tough 15-minute rule” was published in the New York Times and celebrated by President Nixon. The rule states “anyone or any group that substitutes force for rational persuasion, be it violent or non-violent, will be given fifteen minutes of meditation to cease and desist.”

If students demonstrated any longer, they would be suspended or expelled. The “tough 15-minute rule” was enforced only once, after 10 students were either suspended or expelled for demonstrating against a napalm manufacturer and the CIA in the Main Building.

Chomsky warned students against taking action without evaluating potential consequences. In the 1960s, a lot of students destroyed themselves protesting, but they also harmed the movement, he said.

“Your feelings are not enough,” he said. “[Activism] requires sensitive attention to the likely consequences of the actions you undertake.”

He proposed students take non-violent action by building solidarity amongst themselves and their communities. 

“The goal [of restructuring universities] is to improve the indoctrination of the young and to keep people like [students] where [they] belong,” Chomsky said. “In your seats, not interfering in the affairs of the world, not demonstrating about climate change, nuclear war or whatever happens to concern you.”

But the indoctrination of higher education is not necessarily liberal or conservative, Kim later explained.

“It’s indoctrination to the state,” he said. “Universities help with the creation of government bureaucrats, the pursuit of American interests and the reinforcement of capitalism.”

Instead, Chomsky urged against the politicization of universities. One of the biggest existential threats today is the collapse of an arena for rational discussion and debate, he said.

“[Free discourse] is the only hope for dealing appropriately with major crises,” Chomsky continued.

In fact, SolidarityND had some issues getting the event off the ground. Since its a student group, they are subject to the requirements imposed by the Student Activities Organization (SAO). In this instance, SAO needed Chomsky to sign a speaker contract that would be reviewed by the administration, Zhang said.

“This process normally takes two weeks, so we submitted the event three weeks in advance,” Zhang explained in an email. “But SAO not getting back to us for a week meant that in terms of timing, we just wouldn’t have been able to advertise or host the event at all.” 

Instead, the group decided to get sponsorship and departmental approval through PLS advisor Dr. Eric Bugyis.

Despite institutional issues sometimes posed by universities, college campuses are the best places for facilitating free speech, Zhang said.

“Make use of that freedom to organize, to try and achieve the kind of educational programs you think are appropriate,” he said. “Foster the kind of activism that will be committed to dealing with the crises of the world.”

Clark Power, professor of psychology in PLS and the department of psychology, said he was inspired by the talk.

“I’m encouraged by the work SolidarityND is doing in questioning our responsibility as members of an academic community,” he said. “One of the student organizations that are most effective at activism is the Raising the Standard Campaign, which has raised the minimum wage on campus.” 

Students also appreciated the talk.

“I’m excited such a prominent intellectual was willing to take the time to speak with us,” sophomore Claire Early said. “I’m grateful for SolidarityND, PLS and Notre Dame for allowing these discussions to take place.

Zhang said he was inspired, too.

“The way we maneuvered the problems we encountered while planning this event was a testament to what Chomsky had to say,” he said. “I’m glad how many people showed up, and it gives me a lot of hope for Notre Dame’s future.”

At the end of his speech, Chomsky left students with a call to action.

“You’re in a position where you can freely inquire and investigate [injustices], not just accept what you’re told,” Chomsky said. “Do it.”

Contact Claire Lyons at clyons3@nd.edu

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Scene

Slaughter Beach, Dog: Arrested by beauty

I’d never thought I would see people cheering over a melancholic harmonica solo, but here I was, cheering with them.

Last Wednesday night, Slaughter Beach, Dog and Advance Base played their second sold-out Chicagoland show at SPACE in Evanston. Located right between Northwestern University and Loyola University, SPACE’s crowd of approximately 250 was full of college kids dripped out with silver nose piercings, dyed hair, flannel button-downs and Slaughter Beach, Dog T-shirts. (You know, the stereotypical Midwest emo uniform.) Everybody was excited and nobody was on their phones. Standing there in that crowd, I felt the people here could’ve been good friends with me if I had made some different choices four years ago.

The opener, Advance Base, is a solo project of a Chicago-based singer-songwriter, Owen Ashworth. He meekly entered the stage with his Omnichord — an expensive synthesizer that functions a lot like an electronic harp — and geared up for the set. He was solo up there, and he had the beard and build to make him look like the loneliest lumberjack in the world. He sang in a conservational tone like he’s some wayward soul you’d find in a dive bar somewhere, who tells you the stories of his travels over a beer and a cigarette. It’s only fitting that he sings about places, filling his charming electronic discography with odes to Dearborn, Milwaukee and our very own South Bend. (Check out “Rabbits.”) He describes his own work as heavy-hearted and nostalgia-obsessed. He’s right. He’s a man in his mid-forties with an Omnichord and a dream, and I admire him for it. At least, he’s still making music. 

Advance Base’s performance was bittersweet and incredibly appropriate for the Slaughter Beach, Dog crowd. The band’s history is tinged with sadness. Two of the band members, frontman Jake Ewald and bassist Ian Farmer, used to be in a popular band called Modern Baseball with their friend, Bren Lukens. They were just like your cool college friends, but they finally made it big. Modern Baseball was a significant name in the pop-punk/midwest emo/indie rock scene in the 2010s. They have a million monthly listeners on Spotify and even have their own documentary. The band had been together since Ewald and Lukens met in high school but eventually went on hiatus in 2017 when Lukens decided to take a break for mental health reasons. I assume they miss Lukens as much as the fans do. 

Since then, Ewald and Farmer have moved to work on Ewald’s originally independent project, Slaughter Beach, Dog. The band does fantastically on their own and takes a left turn from Modern Baseball’s legacy of angsty college rock. Most of the songs written by Ewald now are about domestic bliss and growing into your late 20s. They’re a band that makes me feel excited to grow up, even if it comes with growing pains. 

Slaughter Beach, Dog started and ended their setlist with the first and last songs of their 2020 album, “At the Moonbase.” Both songs are, to some extent, meta and self-referential. Ewald writes about his life as a musician, which allows him to play with the crowd while he performs. In “Are You There,” Ewald sang, “Is there anyone in the audience currently living in vain?” Somebody screamed yes.

In “Notes from a Brief Engagement (at the Boot & Saddle),” Ewald sang “I look at the drums / I look at the crowd / Adjust my frames and they slide back down” as the crowd watched him do exactly that the entire night. In “Notes” he also sang about the “beautiful, beautiful kids from the college” with some winks to the audience. The dynamic between the audience and the band was symbiotic and playful, and enhanced the live performance.

Other crowd favorites were “Gold and Green,” “Acolyte” and “A Modern Lay.” They’re some of the more popular songs out of Slaughter Beach, Dog’s discography. “Gold and Green” is a cute tune about gardening. Ewald’s voice raised to a falsetto in the line “following sister stomping plastic,” sending the singing crowd into a high-pitched chorus. “A Modern Lay” is a barroom-piano-driven “escapade through the great American bedroom” that acts as a brief anthology of love stories. “Acolyte,” my personal favorite and the most popular, is almost like a marriage proposal, but it mostly just describes a simple and blissful life. Most people knew the lyrics and sang along, even in the parts where Ewald whistles.

When the crowd wasn’t singing, it was because the band was playing an unreleased song. “Float Away” was catchy and quintessentially Slaughter Beach, Dog. It’s a teaser for the upcoming album we’ll never release, Ewald joked. I’m hoping they actually do release it. It’s a banger.

After the band had finished performing “Notes” and walked off-stage, fans shouted for an encore. Only Ewald conceded. He asked the crowd what he should play and was quickly overwhelmed by shouts of song titles. Many of the people around me begged him to play “Intersection,” a song that Ewald originally wrote for Modern Baseball and recently rerecorded on a live album. He grabbed his acoustic guitar and harmonica, looking like a modern Bob Dylan underneath the spotlight. He sang “Intersection.” Ewald’s lyricism shone through with this stripped-back acoustic performance, letting the guitar take a backseat to gutting lines like “I should not say I love you / but I feel it all the time.” He paused for a moment, let the words sit there in silence, then blew into his harmonica to cheers from the audience. I stood there, stock still, with my mouth open like an idiot or a baby bird.

Ewald told us earlier tonight that he got a video of his baby nephew from his sister. She was singing to her baby, and he had huge moon-like eyes and a little bit of drool coming out of his mouth. He’s just like you, Ewald joked. His nephew was awed by the transformative power of music, just like we were. 

“That’s what music’s all about. That’s why we’re all here,” Ewald said. “We’re all arrested by beauty.”

The rest of the band came back onto the stage for the encore, picking up the pace with hits “Your Cat” and “104 Degrees.” The encore feels different. Ewald is beaming a million-dollar smile, his wedding ring glinting from the stage lights as he grips his microphone. He nods to his old friend, Farmer on the bass, shaking his head to the beat. The keyboardist is killing it. The drummer and the guitarist are golden. Suddenly, I am singing along, “and at once / I am entranced,” and I feel the joy coming out of all of us like we’re radioactive. If you’d bottled that air, I promise you’d bottle happiness. The way they all head-bang in unison, you can tell they used to play in a rock band. They still do.

Contact Claire Lyons at clyons3@nd.edu.

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The 1975’s ‘Being Funny in a Foreign Language’

“We’re experiencin’ life through the postmodern lens/

Oh, call it like it is/

You’re makin’ an aesthetic out of not doin’ well/

And minin’ all the bits of you/

You think you can sell whilst the fans are on.”

These lyrics, written for the opening track of The 1975’s newest release, “Being Funny in a Foreign Language,” set the tone for the whole album. “The 1975 (BFIAFL)” has the stereotypically quippy writing of frontman Matty Healy. With lighthearted references to serious topics like QAnon and drug usage, the song toes the line between an “ironically depressing state-of-world address according to Matty Healy” and a sincere apology from a millennial to today’s youth. 

The album itself dances between irony and sincerity as Healy explores what it means to be both a famous musician and a vulnerable artist. He thinks he’s “minin’ all the bits” of himself which he thinks he can sell, but still claims this album is the most sincere one he’s written. As Pitchfork writer Ryan Dombal says, we’re “stuck between two Matty Healys, with one of them rolling their eyes at the other.” 

“Being Funny in a Foreign Language” is an attempt to bridge the gap between Healy’s private and public-facing identities. In an exclusive interview with Spotify, Healy says the album’s title comes from “the height of empathy…straddling two cultural boundaries…and bringing them together.” Ultimately, it’s an album about connection in a time of severe alienation. It’s love through the postmodern lens.

I’ll spare readers the whole conversation about postmodern philosophy and literary theory, but the important thing to note is that “Being Funny” is postmodern art. Healy rejects the idea that the world is ordered and understandable, instead, he focuses on the one true thing he can attest to — his experience as a singer-songwriter. The album is both incredibly earnest and contradictory. 

Only The 1975 can write a song called “Happiness” with lyrics like “God, help me ‘cause/ Oh, I’m never gonna love again, hey.” Only The 1975 can write a catchy 80s bop like “Looking for Somebody (To Love)” and casually drop that it’s about toxic masculinity and school shootings in an interview. Only The 1975 can write a cheesy over-the-top love song like “I’m in Love With You” in 2022 without a resounding “Ugh!” in response from fans. Only The 1975 can write an incredibly vulnerable song like “All I Need to Hear” and say it sounds like a cover.

The band plays with sincerity and irony inside and outside of the studio, toying with both their instruments and the music industry alike. The beauty, though, is in the dynamic between their sincerity and irony. There’s balance. The album as a whole is concise and sonically cohesive. The fact that earnestness and sarcasm exist together in the same album goes to show that maybe, contrary to Healy’s opinion, great and funny aren’t very different.

Artist: The 1975

Album: Being Funny in a Foreign Language

Label: Dirty Hit

Favorite tracks: “I’m In Love With You,” “All I Need to Hear,” “About You”

If you like: M83, The Neighborhood

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5

Categories
Viewpoint

The wizard of loneliness

My favorite moment in comedy television history happens in the “Smokers Allowed” episode of “Nathan for You.” If you haven’t seen the show, the general premise is a spoof on reality TV shows like “The Bachelor” and “Undercover Boss.” Comedian Nathan Fielder contacts small-business owners to be on the show under the guise of a serious business consultant but instead proposes ridiculous business plans. In this particular episode, Fielder helps a bar owner exploit a loophole about indoor smoking by turning her bar into an experimental theater performance. 

During a rehearsal with local actors and actresses he hired, the recently-divorced Fielder pulls an actress aside and claims her performance as a romantic interest isn’t convincing enough. “You see, I’m not believing you at this point,” he says. He asks to try an exercise. He asks her to look into his eyes and tell him she loves him. He asks again. Then, he asks again and again. Again. Again. Again. His voice gets softer each time until it is barely a whisper. He swallows hard in the pauses. He melts a little into his chair. You get the sense that Fielder could keep asking the actress to say “I love you” until the words entirely lose their meaning. The joke certainly goes on for longer than it has to. She only stops to tell Fielder he has tears in his eyes. “That felt real to me,” he says. Notice how he says real. Notice how he doesn’t say he believes it. 

I like this scene precisely because it isn’t funny. Watching Fielder at this moment is like viciously and savagely pointing a finger at my own reflection. The “I love you” loop plays over and over in my head in class, late at night as I stare up at the ceiling in the dark, during supper hour as I gruelingly gnaw at whatever meal that’s served up to me in the dining hall. In short, it hit a nerve, and I’m still unsure of how to write about it. 

Fielder is often lovingly referred to as “the wizard of loneliness” by fans, based on a mean-spirited joke made by the show’s private investigator. “You remind me of the wizard of loneliness because you’re your own self — your own wizard,” the investigator says. “Look at you…You have no friends.” Although I have friends and I’m sure Fielder does as well, I can’t help but feel like the wizard of loneliness. I can count on my fingers the number of people I feel like I can really talk to. Most of them are on the other side of the globe, studying abroad. My father and I don’t call anymore. Part of me sometimes wonders if there is some fundamental aspect of my personality that drives people away, but I don’t entirely mind being alone. I spent last summer white-water rafting, raving at music festivals, riding my bike to Trader Joe’s and making friends on the CTA trains all by myself. So, I ask: What makes being “your own self” so incompatible with being with “having friends”?

I feel like a lot of us feel that love is conditional. We believe we must be more successful, more outgoing, more intelligent, etc. for us to matter. We must perform in certain ways to fit in. Part of us cringes at Fielder’s awkwardness, but can we really blame the wizard of loneliness for asking for love? It’s such an incredibly universal human impulse.

Everybody knows the actress’s answer is a performance, even Fielder. In a way, it makes us more comfortable. But Fielder isn’t performing anymore. He’s genuinely being himself for a moment. In fact, his authenticity punctures through the show’s layers of artifice. He asks the question that we all secretly want to ask. It’s raw and unsettling. He doesn’t believe her, but he doesn’t care. It feels real enough to him.

Maybe that’s what matters: having the authenticity of asking instead of receiving, having the courage to be the wizard of loneliness instead of anybody else.

You can contact Claire at clyons3@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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Hanif Abdurraqib: Someone we can all learn from

The difficulty in discussing Hanif Abdurraqib’s work lies in the fact that I cannot describe his artistic mission as eloquently as he can. He is the type of writer that I think everybody strives to be: ambitious but not pretentious, emotional but objective, disarming but doesn’t leave too much of himself on the page, etc. He writes about the “emotional impulse” behind works of art, stemming from his obsession with certain cultural phenomena (i.e. anything and everything from music, basketball, sneakers and his dog Wendy).

I fell in love with his work by chance. I was scrolling through my almost infinite list of to-be-read books on Goodreads when I stopped on an intriguing cover. Striking with a wolf in a tracksuit and gold chain, the cover read “They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us.” It was Abdurraqib’s second book. It’s a collection of essays and poems that cover virtually everything from the virtues of Carly Rae Jepsen’s music to “Boyz n the Hood” to the fear of getting pulled over to Fall Out Boy’s early years in Chicago. As a music reviewer, it completely changed how I think about writing pieces for The Observer. As a white person, it completely opened my eyes to the everyday experiences of Black people. As a person in general, it also brought me on a beautiful journey regarding community, art and love. In short, I couldn’t put it down.

So, when a friend in the English department told me Abdurraqib was doing a reading at Notre Dame, I marked my calendar a month early and told all my friends. I couldn’t shut up about it. When the day finally came, I was a few minutes late (in my excitement, I had written down the wrong location) and had a terrible cough but I would not be deterred from seeing one of my favorite authors.

At first, I did not see Abdurraqib until I spotted him hiding behind his chair. As assistant professor in English Sara Marcus introduced him to the audience, he was nervously staring up at the ceiling and mumbling to himself. He later clarified that this is a mindfulness practice he does before performing, asserting that if he can “hold the anxiety in the palm of [his] hand, then [he] can turn it off.”

Despite his performance anxiety, everybody in the audience was glad for him to be there. The crowd was virtually impossible to disappoint. Since Abdurraqib has built up enough goodwill with his published work, everybody just felt lucky to be in his presence. It’s a total joy to see him perform his poetry live. You can totally see he got his career started with Button Poetry, a publishing company that has a history in spoken word. His voice is gentle, rising and falling like waves of the ocean, all the pauses are in exactly the right places. You get the sense that he has done this many times before, and, he has. 

Last Thursday night, he read four pieces: two from his most recent book “The Little Devil In America” and two from his upcoming work “There’s Always This Year.” The crowd favorite was Abdurraqib’s commentary on Whitney Huston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” performance at the 1988 Grammy Awards. Lines like “a font that can best be described as Miami Vice Cursive” and bad dancing is “one of those lies that is easy to tell ourselves, because we are often not on the receiving end of the disaster” had me and my neighbors laughing out loud. The piece on Whitney Huston is not meant to razz her though. Ultimately, it was about finding somebody to dance with. It was about devotion. 

Abdurraqib’s work often turns on its head. In “There’s Always This Year,” Abdurraqib has a very heavy poem about “No Scrubs” by TLC and a poem “about flexing” that actually is about not wanting to leave the place you grew up. He balances a lot of complex emotions in a way that lifts you up, instead of tearing you down. You come away from his art feeling something more, something we can all learn from.

Contact Claire Lyons at clyons3@nd.edu

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‘Hold the Girl’ dropped the ball

Rina Sawayama is ambitious. She’s a Cambridge graduate. She’s a musician. She wants to raise awareness about the struggles of being mixed race and a member of the LGBTQ+ community, all while embracing her inner child. She’s trying to out-do her critically-acclaimed debut album with her newest release “Hold the Girl.” 

Following up “SAWAYAMA” would be a daunting task for any artist. Sawayama’s hit single off the album, “XS” is a musical masterpiece. The song satirizes excessive modern-day consumerism at the expense of the climate, all while accomplishing one of the most interesting feats of production I’ve come across in the past couple of years. She marries modern day pop with trap beats and heavy metal riffs, completely blowing away listeners within the first 20 seconds. (Trust me, just listen to it.) Other fan favorites like “STFU!” and “Comme Des Garcons (Like the Boys)” have a similarly stunning production quality. Sawayama simultaneously carved out a niche for herself musically and garnered a loyal fanbase. Basically, she was a huge success.

Her new release, “Hold the Girl,” does a lot of things well, but it doesn’t meet the bar Sawayama set with “SAWAYAMA.” Generally, it’s been pretty successful with singles “This Hell” and “Hold the Girl” generating nearly 16 million streams on Spotify. The album’s songs address everything from anti-Asian hate, Sawayama’s complicated relationship with her mother, perfectionism, healing her inner child and accepting herself. In short, this album is all over the place. It lacks a lot of the cohesion and creativity that made “SAWAYAMA” stand out in 2020.

The most popular song of the album, “This Hell,” is a queer anthem that released just in time for Pride Month. It’s the song off “Hold the Girl” that sounds most like “SAWAYAMA.” With gnarly guitar riffs galore and Sawayama’s rockin’ vocals, she grapples with feeling unaccepted by the Church as a LGBTQ+ person. She sings a lot about this religious tension throughout the album, but it ultimately feels like a passing thought in the chaotic blur of themes Sawayama addresses. “This Hell” feels like it’s pandering to Sawayama’s loyal LGBTQ+ audience.

On the other hand, you have “Send My Love To John,” a heartfelt stripped-back guitar ballad that tells the story of an immigrant mother apologizing to her queer son for not accepting him. It’s not like “SAWAYAMA” at all. It isn’t angry and there’s no killer heavy metal riffs, but it’s sincere. It’s the only song on the album that made me feel anything. 

“This Hell” rightfully spits in the face of bigots, but “Send My Love To John” also shows that hateful people have the capacity to change. Sawayama’s introspectiveness isn’t apparent in her pop ballads, but her personal growth shines more when she isn’t focused on creating stadium anthems. She sings in “Phantom” about her tendency to people-please, crooning “Once upon a time / There was a girl pleasing the world / Dying to be liked.” Clearly, this problem still exists.

“Hold the Girl” reaches for inspiration in places other than Sawayama’s journal, though. “Minor Feelings” is named after a book by Korean-American poet Cathy Park Hong. “This Hell” tips its five-gallon hat with a classic Shania Twain “Let’s go girls!” ad-lib. She pays homage to the pop-punk ballads of Avril Lavinge in “Hurricane.” 

Sawayama spends so much time trying to please her audience and emulate other artists, she ultimately loses what makes her music so special — herself. As a queer, intelligent, British-Korean woman, Sawayama has a lot of valuable things to bring to the table. I was blown away by the creative production on “SAWAYAMA,” but that doesn’t mean that she needs to rely on gimmicks to be successful. I just want Rina Sawayama to “Gimme just a little bit (more!).”

Album: “Hold the Girl”

Artist: Rina Sawayama

Label: Dirty Hit

Favorite track: “Send My Love To John”

If you like: Charli XCX, Grimes, M.I.A.

Shamrocks: 3 out of 5

Contact Claire at clyons3@nd.edu.

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‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’: Love vs. void

Hear me out: I’m late to the party. I know this.

I knew it when I tearfully watched “Everything Everywhere All at Once” two months after its theatrical release — this summer, when I was living on my own for the first time ever. I know this now, while I write this piece about a movie that came out nearly half a year ago. And yet, people are still talking about it. It just screened at the Browning Cinema last Saturday. It’s a movie that’s sticking around.

In fact, almost everybody already knows what they need to know about it. The film has a stacked cast of phenomenal Asian and Asian-American actors. The special effects were done by a team of five VFX guys on Adobe Premiere Pro. It’s a multiverse movie that jumps from our world to Hot Dog Finger Universe to Raccacoonie Universe to Bagel-Black-Hole Universe and back again. 

Yes, it’s confusing. A lot of people didn’t get it. Those who got it, loved it.

I was one of those people.

“Everything Everywhere” is a movie that leans into its gimmick, but not without intention. While the whirlwind energy and randomness of the film may have been a deterrent to some viewers, directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert use their blink-and-you-miss-it pace to playfully explore the meaning of life in the 21st century, as a mother and her daughter search and fight for each other across a kaleidoscopic array of universes. 

The true conflict of the film is within Joy, the protagonist’s daughter, who struggles in seeing the point in life after experiencing everything (everywhere, all at once). Although nobody I know is a multidimensional being, Joy serves as the voice of my generation. She tearfully tells her mother at the movie’s climax, “Here, all we get are a few specks of time where any of this actually makes any sense.” 

We live in a world where people are paid to dance on little screens that we keep in our pockets.

We live in a world where we walk by homeless people on the way to get a $4 burger. We live in a world shook by a global pandemic that killed nearly 6 million people worldwide. The planet is warming because we can’t quit cooling our houses. We need to work to survive. Sometimes the people we love don’t love us back. All we get are a few specks of time where any of this actually makes any sense.

Cutting from a “Ratatouille” parody to rocks with googly eyes conversing via subtitles and then back to the main characters struggling with a difficult audit by the IRS, “Everything Everywhere” equates our daily struggles to the bizarre. It embodies Gen Z’s simultaneous overstimulation by the world and indifference to it, but only initially. 

Joy’s parents, Evelyn and Waymond, don’t accept her rebellion against them or against meaning. Evelyn desperately tries to reign in Joy’s multidimensional temper tantrum before Joy’s Everything Bagel — which essentially functions as a black hole — destroys the world and her daughter. She doesn’t know how. 

Waymond, on the other hand, says his way of fighting is kindness. Even though his monologue is a little on the nose, his attitude is what gets Joy to eventually listen.

Evelyn says, “Something explains why [Joy] still went looking for me through all this noise and why, no matter what, I still want to be here with [her].” Those who got the movie, understand what that something is: love.

Maybe I’m late to the party, but that doesn’t mean I’m not showing up. Maybe I’m just starting to figure it out. But I think that there still is a space in this universe where things make sense, where joy is waiting for us.

Claire Lyons


Contact Claire at clyons3@nd.edu