Planning a Restoration Lit Graduate Seminar Sunday, Dec 30 2007 

Our winter quarter starts a week from Monday. In addition to muhy5 course on Lesbian & Gay lit, I’ll be teaching a graduate seminar on Restoration literature (1660-1688). I’m really looking forward to it — I’ve never taught a graduate class just on this period.

When I started thinking about the class, I immediately wanted to organize it around a chapter from Judith Bennett‘s new book, History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism. Most of the book is more suited to historians, but the chapter on “Patriarchal Equilibrium” will offer us an interesting way into the literary texts that we’ll be studying. It discusses definitions of patriarchy and talks about a model for analyzing patriarchal structures from a feminist point of view.

After I chose the theme, historicizing patriarchy, I had to start choosing literary texts, of course. I especially want to introduce my students to female poets in the period. I also decided to order Blackwell’s anthology of Restoration drama, which is kind of expensive. Due to the cost, I quickly decided that I would need to assign as much as possible from that text in order to justify the expense. It feels a little weird to let the book order dictate the reading list, but in many ways that happens all the time so it’s nothing really new. Originally I had thought about ordering no textbooks and having the class just read everything online, but I was quickly convinced not to do that by PJ and other colleagues — all of whom thought I was crazy.

I also made another momentous decision: to start with Milton‘s Paradise Lost. I’m hoping that this will set up the patriarchal tradition for us, even if Milton wasn’t exactly a typical patriarch (or at least he wasn’t typical of some Restoration political theory that equated the family patriarch with the national one, the king). In order to make room on the syllabus for other things, I ended up asking my students to read part of the poem (along with the Bennett chapter) before the class started. We’ll therefore be jumping into the poem right away.

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Can We Stop Talking about Religion Now? … It’s Christmas! Saturday, Dec 29 2007 

The title for this post comes from My So-Called Life. PJ and I have been watching the series again on dvd. Today we watched the Christmas episode. Early on, Danielle (the main character’s younger sister, who has become my favorite character this time around) is tired of her family talking about whether they believe in God and why they don’t go to church (a conversation instigated by Angela) so she asks, “Can we stop talking about religion now? … It’s Christmas!” In a sense, this statement ironically sums up the episode’s commentary about the holiday: that it’s not really about church-based religion but should instead be about people learning to really care about their fellow human beings (in this case, homeless and abused teens, lonesome neighbors, etc.). Or something like that.

I started blogging so I could keep track of my thoughts and impressions on various aspects of my life — movies, books, teaching, travel, etc. This Christmas was quite a bit different from years past, so I definitely think it warrants a brief commemoration. It was so much better than last year, the worst Christmas ever, though I didn’t write about it in those terms at the time, which raises an interesting question about the ethics of blogging that I should write about at some point.

I’ve always thought that Christmas was just for kids — the presents, the cookies, Santa Claus, bad t.v. specials, etc. The transition from me being excited about Christmas to my little sister being excited (she’s 9 years younger than me) was an easy one. Once we both grew up, the holiday didn’t seem very special. Now that I’m in my early late thirties, I can’t say that I find Christmas all that exciting. On the one hand, I hate traveling in the Christmas season. All the hustle and bustle, combined with everyone else’s travel stress, doesn’t appeal to me at all. And I’m at a point in my life when I want to be in my home with my loved one at Christmas.

On the other hand, the whole presents thing is overrated. I’m not particularly good at buying people great presents, and I usually have no idea what I’d like to receive on Christmas morning, though that doesn’t stop me from being vaguely disappointed anyway. The best gift, the truest gift, is the companionship and love I share with PJ every day — nothing in a box is ever really going to compare with that. And while presents are really supposed to be expressions of love and affection, in reality there are other kinds of expressions that I appreciate and crave much more.

Writing about presents reminds me of a great clip from John Waters’ Female Trouble that I ran across this week:

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The Frick, the Whitney, and the Morgan Thursday, Dec 27 2007 

While in NYC earlier this month, PJ and I visited three art museums: the Frick Collection, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Morgan Library and Museum. This was our first time to visit each museum. I enjoyed all three.

The Frick Collection

The Frick Collection was founded by Henry Clay Frick, who bequeathed his Manhattan residence and many of his works of art to create a public museum for the display and study of the fine arts. It has a premier collection of paintings by seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century masters.

I loved several of the works here. Among my favorites was John Constable’s 1826 painting, Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s Garden:

John Constable

As the audio guide notes, this painting obviously relates the medieval cathedral to the equally magnificent trees in the foreground, creating a statement about religion and nature. In this case, the two go hand in hand. The brightness of the cathedral framed by the darker colors of the trees draws the viewer’s eye. The grandness of the cathedral and the garden dwarf the figures in the left foreground, the bishop and his family. This painting shows a world of harmony and order, but the scene’s peaceful ease is perhaps undermined by the storm clouds in the distance. It’s a great example of English Romanticism.

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New York Theater 2007: Reviews Saturday, Dec 22 2007 

In addition to August: Osage County, PJ and I saw three other plays while we were in NYC this month: Things We Want, The Seafarer, and Spring Awakening. Here is a brief review of each play.

Thnigs We Want We saw Things We Want on the first evening we were in NY. It’s playing at the Acorn Theater, part of The New Group, an Off-Broadway company. The play was written by Jonathan Marc Sherman, was directed by Ethan Hawke, and stars Peter Dinklage, Paul Dano, and Josh Hamilton.

The play is about three brothers. Dano plays the youngest brother, Charles, who has quit college and returned home after breaking up with his girlfriend. His older brothers still live in their parents’ apartment. Hamilton plays the oldest, Teddy, who works for a self-help guru. Dinklage plays Sty, an alcoholic. With Teddy gone on a business trip, Sty decides to set Charles up with a neighbor, Stella, played by Zoe Kazan. The first act introduces us to these four characters; act 2 picks up exactly one year later, showing us what’s become of them. Not to give too much away, but just about everyone’s fortune has changed over the course of the year. Thus, the play examines these brothers’ relationship as the dynamics of who is happy and who isn’t changes.

We soon learn that their parents’ each committed suicide by jumping out of one of the apartment’s windows. This window becomes a focal point of the play, as each brother at one point or another contemplates jumping out himself or the consequences of their parents’ deaths. Ultimately, the play forces its character to decide whether life is in fact worth living.

Another motif in the work is the guru’s system of prime numbers: 7-5-3-1, which stands for the 7 chakras, the 5 sense, the 3 words that sum up the 1 thing you most desire in life. Each character is faced with figuring out what that one thing is (even if the guru’s system turns out to be bogus).

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Sweeney Todd: A Review Friday, Dec 21 2007 

I just got back from seeing Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Johnny Depp plays Sweeney, and Helena Bonham Carter plays Mrs. Lovett. Having been exiled from England for fifteen years for a crime he didn’t commit, Todd returns to London seeking revenge on the man who unjustly sent him away, Judge Turpin, played by Alan Rickman. He sets up his barber shop above Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop and guarantees his clients the closest shave they’ve ever had. Here’s a taste, part of the scene in which Mrs. Lovett figures out what to do with the bodies:

Sweeney Todd is getting lots of good reviews and quite a lot of Oscar talk. It’s definitely well deserved. I loved it!

Let’s start with Depp: he’s perfect for this role. His voice is surprisingly strong and appealing, and he gives Todd a real sense of anguish. Maybe because it’s Depp, but you can see why the other characters, Mrs. Lovett for example, really like him. His Todd has soul, and this is definitely Depp’s best performance to date. He’s been nominated for two Academy Awards in recent years; Sweeney Todd should be his third.

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August: Osage County–A Review Thursday, Dec 20 2007 

While in NYC last week, PJ and I saw Tracy Letts‘ new play, August: Osage County at the Imperial Theatre. This production transferred from the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago with most of the same cast. It’s a great play, the best one we saw while we were there.

August is ostensibly a family drama, the Weston family to be exact, set in Osage County, Oklahoma. The play begins with a scene in which the Weston patriarch, Beverly, played by Dennis Letts (the playwright’s father), hires a housekeeper, Johnna Monevata, played by Kimberly Guerrero. He and his wife, we learn, need a housekeeper because he drinks and she takes pills. It turns out that his wife, Violet, played by Deanna Dunagan, takes a lot of pills. A lot. Johnna, who is Native American, needs the work, so she accepts the job and the play gets underway.

The cast of August is rather large, and you need a flow chart to keep track of everyone. Conveniently, the playbill provides one (right click on the image and click on “view image” to see a larger version):

August Family Tree

The drama begins in the second scene, in which we soon learn that Beverley has disappeared. The rest of the play traces the effects of this disappearance on the Weston family as each of the now grown children returns home to help their mother cope with the situation. Each of these daughters has problems of her own.

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Juno: A Review Tuesday, Dec 18 2007 

While we were in NYC last week and needed to get out of the pelting icy rain on Thursday, PJ and I saw Juno, the new film starring Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, and Allison Janney. Here’s the trailer:

Juno was written by Diablo Cody and was directed by Jason Reitman. It’s about a 16-year-old girl, Juno, played by Page, who gets pregnant after she sleeps with her adorably dorky boyfriend, played by Cera. After considering an abortion, she decides to go through with the pregnancy and give the child up for adoption. Before she even tells her parents that she’s pregnant, she finds the right couple to adopt the child: Garner’s uptight Vanessa and Bateman’s cool Mark. The film then follows Juno through her pregnancy as various comic complications ensue.

Juno has been getting a lot of great press and even some Oscar talk. I think it’s all well deserved, since this is a really good movie. Page is perfect as the 16-year-old who’s too smart for her own good. What I especially like about her performance is that she balances Juno’s innate intelligence with typical teenage stupidity. Juno doesn’t have all the answers, even if she does have a few of them.

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The Perfect Christmas Mix CD Monday, Dec 17 2007 

I brought a slight cold back with me from New York. It’s left me with reduced energy. Since I didn’t feel like working on anything important yesterday, I decided to spend an inordinate amount of time compiling the perfect Christmas music mix CD. I think I’ve succeeded (at least to my own satisfaction). Here’s the playlist:

  1. O Holy Night by Josh Groban. “O Holy Night” has always been my favorite Christmas carol. Groban’s isn’t my favorite version of this song, but I really like his voice on this track. I think the key to singing this song — like most songs — is sounding like you really believe it. He does a great job doing that, and I think this song fits his voice well.
  2. Silent Night, Holy Night by John Denver. I love the purity of John Denver’s voice. His acoustic version of this classic is so simple and pure — it makes what used to be a rather boring song for me into a beautiful little ode.
  3. All I Want for Christmas is You by Mariah Carey. It’s really tough to get a new Christmas song to succeed. Pop singers keep trying, but very few of them actually become classics. This song, co-written by Carey, is an exception. It’s a great pop song and a new classic. As I read somewhere, one of the things that makes this song so successful is its throw back to the older pop sound of the Beach Boys. It’s a great song.
  4. Go Tell It on the Mountain by Mahalia Jackson. Mahalia Jackson’s voice is one of the few voices that can truly be said to be incomparable. I have a CD of her Christmas music; every track on it is great. This song reminds me of my childhood for some reason — maybe we listened to it a lot when I was a kid.
  5. Frosty the Snowman by Gene Autry. This is the original version of the song. You can’t have Christmas without Frosty! When I was three, my mom and I were living temporarily with my great grandparents. It snowed that Christmas, so on Christmas Eve we built a snowman. The next day he was gone. My mom had torn him down over night, but she told me that Santa Claus had taken him to the North Pole so that he wouldn’t melt. It totally freaked me out. (more…)

Back from New York Saturday, Dec 15 2007 

PJ and I got back from NYC yesterday afternoon. We had a great time — even better than last year. I’ll blog about the specifics over the next week, but I thought that I would briefly summarize the trip here first.

We arrived in the city on Monday around 2 pm. We saw our first semi-celebrity in the Columbus airport — John Kasich, the former Republican representative from Ohio. He was on our flight to New York. After we arrived in the city, we checked into our hotel, which was in Hell’s Kitchen in midtown Manhattan. The weather was a little cold and drizzly, but it was fun just to see some of the now familiar sites, like Times Square and Rockefeller Center. We ate dinner at Yum Yum 3, a Thai restaurant on 9th avenue. After dinner, we saw Things We Want, an Off-Broadway play by Jonathan Marc Sherman and directed by Ethan Hawke. (I’ll review each of the plays later.)

On Tuesday, we ate breakfast at Pigalle, the only restaurant we ate at last year and returned to this trip. We then visited the Frick Collection. We also walked over to the Lincoln Center to look at it. We briefly considered getting tickets for an opera but ultimately decided not to — we were not familiar enough with the opera that was showing. We later found out that we could have seen Placido Domingo if we had gone to the opera. Oh well. Next time we’ll check out the opera before we go and maybe even plan our trip around seeing one. We ate lunch at P. J. Clarke’s across the street from the Center. In the afternoon, we went to the TKTS booth to get tickets for Spring Awakening. It took a lot less time than we thought it would to get the tickets, so we had to find something else to do for a couple of hours. We decided to walk downtown. We walked down Fifth Avenue and walked by the Empire State Building (we went up it last year) and looked around Macy’s. We had dinner at the Blue Point Creperie. Spring Awakening was great. We saw B. D. Wong in the audience; he and a companion sat a couple of rows ahead of us. He was our third celebrity of that day: we also saw John Tartaglia (so cute) walking in midtown and Bob Saget (also cute) arriving at the theater for his performance in The Drowsy Chaperone.

Wednesday started with breakfast at the Cosmic Diner. We the took the subway to the Whitney Museum. We had misunderstood when it opened and got there an hour too early. So, we walked over to the American Museum of Natural History. We then went to Bloomingdale’s. I wanted to buy a new pair of underwear, and the weather that day was so bizarre — kind of cold and kind of warming up — so I also decided to buy another jacket (a fleece) to wear. After doing a bit of shopping, we ate lunch (at The Brasserie 360) and then went back to the Whitney. The Seafarer was our top choice for a play that night, and we were glad we got tickets. We had dinner at a restaurant called Meson Sevilla on 46th Street and the went to the play. (Again, more about that later.) We only saw one celebrity on Wednesday: Michael Feinstein, who was walking in the Upper West Side.

Thursday was our last day in New York. The weather was supposed to be dicey — snow, slush, and icy rain. As PJ keeps saying, it felt like someone was dousing us with buckets of ice cold water most of the day. We walked over to Bryant Park and watched people ice skate as the snow started to switch over to icy rain. We then went to the Morgan Library. The weather just seemed to get worse — colder but wetter. So we decided to have lunch someplace warm and easy — Red Lobster in Times Square. We also decided to get out of the cold by seeing a movie, Juno. I’ll review it too sometime this week. We went back to our hotel room to warm up afterwards, and then ate dinner at Kyma, a Greek restaurant, and then went to see August: Osage County, an excellent new play by Tracy Letts. The full review will come later, but I can’t help but say right now that it is brilliant! It’s a great, great play. Our only celebrity that day was Jack Wetherall, who played Uncle Vic on the American version of Queer as Folk. He’s surprisingly sexy (PJ’s words), considering he played such a frail and sickly character on the series.

Friday morning we got up at 5:30 and hailed a cab to the airport. Despite the previous day’s weather, our flight was on time and we got back to Columbus in time for lunch and a little Christmas shopping. It was a great trip. Unfortunately, we probably won’t be able to go next December. Whenever we do go again, my goal is for us to get out of Manhattan. In the meantime, I’ll spend my time fantasizing about another week in New York.

New York, New York Monday, Dec 10 2007 

PJ and I are off to New York — we’re currently sitting in the Columbus airport waiting for our flight. We’re hoping to see a few good plays, visit some museums, and eat well while we’re there. I should have lots to blog about when we get back. Last year, we had a great time during our visit. This year should be even better!

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