Favorite Songs of 2007 Tuesday, Jan 29 2008 

I’ve already written about my favorite albums of last year. I’ve always listened to a lot of music, but 2007 was a particularly musical year for me. Throughout the year, I accumulated a group of song that I really love, so I thought that I would share a list of my favorite songs too.

Number 1: I can’t decide what my favorite song of the year would be, so I picked two: Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” and “Love is a Losing Game.” These are the best tracks on her hit album, and I think they both illustrate her blend of retro and contemporary music styles quite well. Here’s a live version of “Back to Black:”

Here’s the official video of “Love is a Losing Game”:

I really hope Amy Winehouse is able to pull it together and cut another great album. I think she’ s immensely talented. It would be a shame for that talent to go to waste.

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Teaching Dryden and Ephelia Monday, Jan 28 2008 

This term my graduate class is studying patriarchy in Restoration literature. Here’s our course description:

In History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism (2006), historian Judith Bennett reminds us that “Patriarchy might be everywhere, but it is not everywhere the same, and therefore patriarchy, in all its immense variety, is something we need to understand, analyze, and explain.” The question then becomes, how do we historicize patriarchy? Eighteenth-century literature scholar Michael McKeon points out that “to historicize patriarchy requires, among other things, an inquiry into the relationship between the modern systems of sexuality—of sex and gender difference—and class.” This seminar will take up these and other scholars’ work on patriarchy in the seventeenth century to investigate the relationship between the literature of the Restoration period (1660-1689) and changes in class identity, in the construction of the family, in the division of labor between the sexes, in the rhetoric of sexual difference between male and female bodies, and in the “rise” of the ‘heterosexual’/’homosexual’ dialectic that led to a new system of gender and sexual difference. Our aims in this course are to familiarize ourselves with major authors and works of the Restoration, to place these authors and works within a historical context, and to review contemporary scholarship on relationships between literature, patriarchy, gender, and sexuality in the period.

We started by reading portions of Milton’s Paradise Lost, which I really enjoyed reading again. It’s been a few years since I had read any of it. I liked it to so much that I’m thinking about starting my tutorial next quarter with portions of it.

John Dryden After Milton, we read John Dryden’s operatic adaptation of Paradise Lost, The State of Innocence and the Fall of Man, which was never actually performed. It’s a fascinating poem written in heroic couplets, of course.

We had read a couple of critical essays on Milton’s Eve, so we were particularly interested in comparing Dryden’s depictions with Milton’s. I was impressed with my students’ analysis of this adaptation. We ultimately concluded that Dryden (pictured here) seemed more modern in his depiction of Eve. While Milton’s Eve seems to have little real choice, Dryden’s Eve seems much more independent and autonomous.

I really hope at least one of them chooses to write his or her final paper on The State of Innocence. It seems like a fascinating text. If I were currently working on Restoration poetry or drama, I would definitely find a way to slip it into whatever I was working on.

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Teaching with “Queer” Journals Sunday, Jan 27 2008 

Today I graded my undergraduate students’ queer notebooks, a new assignment that I’m experimenting with. Last quarter, I had my eighteenth-century students compile a commonplace book (and my graduate students are doing that assignment this quarter), but I didn’t think that would quite work in the Lesbian & Gay Lit class.

Over the summer, I visited a colleague’s class to observe her teaching. She used a very effective notebook assignment in that class, so I asked her if I could steal it this term. So, I adapted her assignment for my class.

The goal of this assignment is to give my students a place to demonstrate that they are engaging in an ongoing process of thinking carefully, critically, and personally about issues of sexuality raised by the literary works we study, our class discussions, and the world around them.

I require them to prepare at least two substantive entries in their journal each week. I want them to show their processing of what we have read, studied, and shared. I’m interested in what speaks to them and how it speaks to them. (That conjures images of ghosts or something interrupting their studying!) I’m interesting in having them record their thoughts, feelings, and emotions—whatever it is that helps them move from inert to alive, passive to active, bored to interested. They can share their thoughts in essay or other forms, as long as they make sure to review aspects of class discussion. This journal is also a place for them to agree or disagree with their classmates’ contributions to class discussion if they don’t feel comfortable speaking up in class.

I’m trying to assign them one required entry each week. One week, for example, they had to compare two scenes in Larry Duplechan’s Blackbird. In each scene, the main character has sex with someone else. The first scene depicts his sleeping with a girl; the second shows him having sex with a boy for the first time. I specifically wanted my students to examine how Duplechan uses language to describe each event and then draw some conclusions about his attitudes towards each. This week they’ll have to write about a poem by Paul Monette and compare it to the last section of Borrowed Time that we’ll also read for Wednesday’s class.

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Teaching Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir Monday, Jan 21 2008 

Borrowed TimeI’m not sure I can do this. I’ve wanted to teach Paul Monette‘s Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir or Becoming a Man: Half a Life’s Story but have always been too afraid to do so. Until now. My Lesbian & Gay Lit class is starting Borrowed Time for Wednesday’s class. I’m not sure I can do it.
Borrowed Time is Monette’s chronicle of his relationship with Roger Horowitz, his partner of ten years, as Roger is first diagnosed with and then dying of AIDS. It’s one of the most important accounts of the AIDS crisis during the 1980s, a classic text of Lesbian & Gay Literature.

I’ve taught portions of Monette’s last collection of non-fiction essays, Last Watch of the Night: Essays Too Personal and Otherwise a couple of times, but this is my first time teaching Borrowed Time. In fact, I’ve never been able to finish Borrowed Time — it’s just so intensely tragic. One of the essays in Last Watch of the Night, “3275,” which is the plot number of Monette’s grave site with Roger, ends with a call to arms:

We queers on Revelation hill, tucking our skirts about us so as not to touch our Mormon neighbors, died of the greed of power, because we were expendable. If you mean to visit any of us, it had better be to make you strong to fight that power. Take you languor and easy tears somewhere else. Above all, don’t pretty us up. Tell yourself: None of this ever had to happen. And then go make it stop, with whatever breath you have left. Grief is a sword, or it is nothing. (115)

I can’t help but approach Borrowed Time with this passage in my mind. Reading it has always felt so devastating that I can’t help but cry through parts of it. It’s difficult for me to feel angry about the losses the gay community has suffered from AIDS and all too easy to feel sad and crushed by them. I’ve never known anyone personally who died of AIDS, so maybe that’s kept me from anger.

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Atonement: A Review Sunday, Jan 20 2008 

In preparation for the announcement of this year’s Oscar nominees on Tuesday, PJ and I saw Atonement today. As with 2005’s Pride and Prejudice, director Joe Wright has crafted a beautiful adaptation of a much loved novel. This time, Keira Knightley, is joined by James McAvoy, Brenda Blethyn, and Vanessa Redgrave. Here’s the trailer:

McAvoy plays Robbie Turner, the son of the housekeeper to the wealthy Tallis family. Having won a scholarship to school, Turner then went to Cambridge at the Tallises’s expense. While this beneficence is admirable, the family’s true colors come out when Robbie is accused of a terrible crime by Briony, the youngest Tallis daughter.

Briony is played by Saoirse Ronan, who does any amazing job as the precocious girl who mistakenly thinks she understands the adult relationships around her. The first act follows Briony’s rather fractured witnessing of three separate events, which leads her to conclude that Robbie is a “sex maniac,” as she tells another character. This conclusion leads to her accusation against him. Five years later, she has a completely different reading of these puzzle pieces, one that forces her to confront her previous actions and at least attempt to atone for them.

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Favorite Albums of 2007 Sunday, Jan 13 2008 

I’ve spent the past week working like a dog. Classes have started, I have various service commitments, and I’m finishing up an essay for my colleagues to read for our departmental colloquium on Friday.

As I’ve worked, I’ve been listening to albums from last year. I’ve been struck by just how many I bought or received last year, at least fifteen. Listening to them all together — or at least one after the other — has also reminded me just how much I listened to this past year and how much I loved some of the musicians I heard for the first time, including such artists as Amy Lavere, Bright Eyes, Diana Damrau, Lily Allen, Amy Winehouse, Paulo Nutini, and Feist, just to name the ones whose albums I have. If I listed artists whose singles or videos I liked, I’d be here for the rest of the afternoon!

One outcome of this past week has been identifying my five favorite albums of last year, which I’ll briefly write about here. Later, I hope to blog about my favorite tracks and videos too.

My favorite album of 2007 was Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black. The album came out in England before it was officially released here in the U.S., so it feels like Winehouse has been around longer than she actually has been. I think this is a brilliant album that combines old school wind instruments and 50’s beats with twenty-first century lyrics. Winehouse has been in the news more for her lifestyle than for her music lately, but this album is too good to be forgotten — it deserves to be remembered regardless of where Winehouse goes from here. I reviewed the album when I first bought it; you can read my review here.

Number two on my list is Mika’s Life in Cartoon Motion. While Mika is still being cagey about his sexual orientation, this is nevertheless one of the gayest albums I’ve ever heard, which is what I love about it. This is pop music at its fluffy best. Surprisingly, perhaps, it’s his “gay” track, “Billy Brown,” that I like least on this album. His other songs are fun, entertaining, and interesting. I’ve seen him perform on Graham Norton’s BBC talk show a couple of times. He also looks like he would be fun to see live. I’ve also reviewed his album previously.

Rufus Wainwright’s recreation of Judy Garland’s famous and highly praised Carnegie Hall concert, Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall, is number three on my list. Let’s start with the obvious: despite what I say about Mika above, this has to be the gayest album ever recorded. To quote Molly Shannon’s SNL character, “I love it, I love it, I love it!” I’ve always been a bit of a Judy Garland queen, even though I’m a little young to be one. I attribute it to my parents’ refusal to watch any movie made after 1959 when I was a kid. Wainwright sings the same set list as Garland used in her concert, but also gives this music his own personality and artistry. He does kind of channel Garland, but he also “makes it his own,” to quote American Idol. It’s a great concert album, and Wainwright’s voice is perfect for most of these standards. My one objection is to his butchering of one of my favorite Garland songs, “Do It Again,” which he sings in the original key that Garland used. It’s a little too high for him, and I think the song loses something as a result. But just about every other track is a gem, so I’m willing to forgive this one misstep.

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One Down, 18 to Go Monday, Jan 7 2008 

Today was the first day of winter quarter here at OU. I’m teaching two classes: Lesbian & Gay Literature and Restoration Literature, a graduate seminar. Both seemed to go well enough, but as usual I was way too manic. I tend to be overly hyper on the first day of the quarter. I don’t think that was much of a problem for the undergraduate class, but I feel sorry for my graduate students — I know I went way to fast through all sorts of random subjects. Oh well. Now I’m totally exhausted, which is probably not the best time to be blogging!

The weirdest part of the day was waking up to such warm weather. It was over 50 degrees when I woke up and just got hotter as the day went on. The high was near 70! In January! This, of course, created the problem of Ellis Hall being overheated — the heat was still on inside, and opening the windows didn’t cool it off all that much. I hate snow, so I’m not not entirely complaining, but it feels so odd to be so warm on the first day of winter quarter.

My classes meet from 1 to 3 and from 3 to 5 on Mondays and Wednesdays. Jumping from one to the other is also going to be weird. I’m pretty sure my brain doesn’t switch gears that quickly. It will be interesting to see how it goes. I’ll be having office hours on M and W mornings, so I’ll be at school all day these two days. Hopefully, I’ll learn to work well in my office.

In the gay lit class, we went over the syllabus and then watched the first episode of the British version of Queer as Folk. Several of them seemed to laugh a lot during it, so I think that’s a good sign. I’m having them write about what this episode says about contemporary gay culture — is it critiquing it or praising it. I definitely think it’s making a statement about these “men’s” lives, and I’ll be interested to see if my students agree.

I love the British series (and not just because everything is better in England). Unlike the American version, the British one doesn’t mind making its characters look bad at times. They each have strengths and weaknesses. That makes them more human. The American version seems more interested in being sexy and glamorous — kind of like The L Word, which I watch. But neither show is about real people in any sense of the phrase. The British Queer as Folk at least tries to ground its character in some sort of reality or identifiable human qualities. I would show the whole series to my class, but we don’t have time. Someday it would be great to do a Russell Davies class — QaF, Dr. Who, Torchwood, and Bob and Rose.

My graduate students were pretty much forced to listen to me ramble for two hours. We talked a bit about Steven Zwicker’s 2006 article, “Is There Really Such a Think as Restoration Literature?”. We also talked about a little of the historical background to the period. And we discussed the highlights of their assigned reading, a chapter from Judith Bennett’s History Matters. Almost every one of them contributed to the class’s conversation, so that was good. But I talked way too much and felt like I was all over the place despite the fact that I had planned out what I was going to talk about before hand. Oh well. I’ll calm down next time I’m sure.

I’m looking forward to the quarter. Both classes should be a lot of fun. We’re definitely studying interesting texts in each. For Wednesday we’re watching a documentary in gay lit — Gay Sex in the 70s— and starting a discussion of Milton in the grad class. So, I guess a lot of nudity in both classes!

New Year’s Day Hike Wednesday, Jan 2 2008 

In addition to eating black-eyed peas and ham, going for a hike in the ridges above Athens has become one of PJ’s and my New Year’s Day traditions. Our friends M and CJ have hosted the hike for three years now. I feel a little bad for them; the problem with starting a tradition is that people expect you to continue it every year no matter what. This year they got home from their holiday travels on Year’s Eve, which meant they had a lot to do before everyone started arriving at their house less than 12 hours later!

The hike seems to grow a little larger each year. This we we gathered at M & CJ’s house around 10:30. We then took a small trail up from their back yard to the Rockhouse Trail. We followed it around to the Athens trail and the took the Paw Paw trail back toward their house. Here’s a map of the trail system:

Athens Trails

You can find out more about the trails by looking at the Athens Parks and Recreation Trails page or Athens Cycle Path website. The latter page even has recent descriptions of the trail conditions. We basically hiked on the yellow and pink trails in the bottom left-hand corner of the map.

I’ll include a few of the pictures I took after the jump ….

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