HotM: Judith Leyster Sunday, Feb 28 2010 

Back in October, PJ and I were in Washington, D.C. While there, we visited the National Gallery of Art, which at the time had a special exhibit on seventeenth-century Dutch painter Judith Leyster. Since I’m about to head off to the Netherlands for a week (more about that sometime this week), I’ve decided to make Leyster my hottie of the month.

Leyster, pictured here in her self-portrait at the age of 21 in 1630, was born in 1609 and died in 1660, which means that she lived just long enough to make my hotties list (which generally covers the period from 1660 to 1820).

She was well-known in her own time but quickly fell into obscurity after her death. The pamphlet that accompanied the exhibit suggests two possible reasons for her disappearance. First, she largely stopped painting after she married in 1636. She married another painter, and her work became more of a collaboration with him. Thus, her individual identity was lost. Second, the pamphlet suggests that her habit of signing her paintings with just her initials might have contributed to her subsequent neglect — people may have simply forgotten who the initials stood for.

Both of these explanations seem plausible, especially since women in all fields of art were so often neglected after their deaths. In my own period and national literature there are countless examples of this, including Aphra Behn, Katherine Philips, and “Ephelia,” whose identity remains shrouded despite efforts to identify her. Fortunately, we now value these women’s contributions to art and their cultures enough to recover them and their works.

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Hunger (2008): A Review Saturday, Feb 27 2010 

Last night, PJ and I watched Hunger, a 2008 movie starring Michael Fassbinder as Irish republican Bobby Sands who died in a British prison after a 66-day hunger strike in 1981. Here’s the trailer:

If I remember correctly, we put this movie on our netflix queue after seeing Fassbinder in Inglourious Basterds. PJ read about this movie and put it on our queue. Neither of us knew much about “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland or about this specific story, the revolutionaries’ hunger strike as an attempt to force Margaret Thatcher’s government to treat them as political prisoners rather than common criminals.

So, we went into this film with very little knowledge about what it is about. I think that ignorance made the film even richer for us. It allowed us to just go along with the ride, so to speak. Apparently, Steve McQueen, the director, is known for his experimental/lyrical style of storytelling. For instance, although the film is ultimately about Bobby Sands’ hunger strike, that’s not where the film starts.

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“Giving Up the Gun” by Vampire Weekend Tuesday, Feb 23 2010 

I’ve been hearing about Vampire Weekend and their new album for some time now but hadn’t paid any attention. Until now, that is. A couple of the blogs I read have featured their new video, which features the likes of Joe Jonas and Jake Gyllenhaal playing tennis against a very competitive female player. The video is for their new single, “Giving Up the Gun,” which is now my song of the week:

I love the video’s playfulness. Jonas is looking less twinkish, which is good. (I love the hand wipe after shaking her hand!) And the montage of players losing to the red head is great! The song is also really good. I like it’s upbeat rhythm. And the lyrics have real substance. My favorite lines are these:

When I was 17
I had wrists like steel
And I felt complete
And now my body fades
Behind my brass charade
And I’m obsolete

After listening to the song a few times, I purchased the new album on iTunes. I’ve heard it through once so far and really like it. Maybe I’ll write a review once I’ve heard it a few more times.

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Watching the 2010 Olympics Monday, Feb 22 2010 

This year I’m watching the winter Olympics much more than I usually do. Working a 9 to 5 job means that I look forward to coming home and watching t.v. in the evening. Consequently, I’m watching it in a much more routinized way than I have in the past.

In addition to relaxing, watching the Olympics has been particularly fun this year for a few reasons. First, I’m watching different sports than I usually do. In the past, I pretty much only watched figure skating. The women’s and men’s competitions have always been fun to watch, since I would be fairly familiar with the major competitors, since figure skating is on television throughout the winter. I’ve especially enjoyed watching the men skate, since many of them seem so gay (whether they really are or not).

But this year I didn’t watch the men’s competition, except for a few minutes of one or two skaters who had no chance to medal. In many ways, this year’s competition seems like a repeat of years past with the same skaters vying for medals. More significantly, I think, I’ve simply lost interest in the sport. So many articles have come along lately about trying to butch the men up and about the way in which Johnny Weir has been penalized for his flamboyance. For a sport that revels in gay clichés, it seems a shame that it’s so homophobic. I’ve also been reading about how the sport is dominated by anti-gay evangelicals, which, whether true or not, just seems to reinforce the image of a self-loathing sport. Are these guys actually ashamed to be figure skaters? Ashamed of artistry and performance? It just seems sad.

So, I’ve been watching other sports instead. Of course, as a gay man what gets me immediately interested in watching a new sport is seeing a hot athlete performing at his peak. So, I’ve noticed that the sports I’m watching all feature hot men. Consequently, I decided to organize the rest of this post around my five favorite men of the 2010 Olympics. Bode Miller gets all of the network attention, but these guys are the real reasons to watch the Winter games!

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Little Ashes: A Review Sunday, Feb 21 2010 

Last night PJ and I watched Little Ashes, which stars Robert Pattinson and Javier Beltrán as Salvador Dalí and Federico García Lorca, respectively. The movie follows these men’s relationship from the time they meet at university in Madrid to Lorca’s assassination by the Fascists during the Spanish Civil War. Here’s the trailer:

My response to this movie was rather mixed. On the one hand, I’ll admit up front that I didn’t know much about either Dalí or Lorca before seeing this movie. While my ignorance made the film difficult to follow at times, it also meant that I learned something about these men, which I liked. On the other hand, the movie did little to help someone ignorant like me, which made the film unnecessarily difficult to admire or enjoy. I liked it, but I thought that it could have been a much better film.

Let’s start with the positive. Beltran is especially good in the role of Lorca, and in many ways the film is really about him. He reminds me of a young Antonio Banderas or Javier Bardem. What he brings to the role of Lorca is a great combination of sensitivity and masculinity. I really liked his ability to avoid depicting Lorca’s homosexuality as effeminacy. Too often, gays are simply depicted as mincing would-be women. Beltran’s Lorca is just a poet who happens to like men in general and Dali in particular. He’s very good in this role, and I hope someone like Pedro Almodovar casts him in a big movie soon.

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Happy Valentine’s Day! Sunday, Feb 14 2010 

While, like many people I know, I’m hesitant to indulge the commercial interests of Valentine’s Day, I do think it’s nice to have at least one day a year on which to reflect on the love in my life. I’m eternally grateful for the love I share with PJ and for how much he loves me every day we’re together. We’ve been incredibly lucky. We were able to get academic jobs at the same institution without having to spend too many years apart. We have two great cats who bring us joy. And we share so many interests and experiences that enrich our lives together.

So, in celebration of Valentine’s Day I thought that I would take a few minutes and share five of my favorite love songs, all of which I dedicate to my dear and loving husband.

My absolute favorite love song is John Denver’s “Annie’s Song,” which I would love to have sung at our wedding if we were to ever get married:

It totally sums up how I feel about PJ. I love everything about my life, but what I want most is to give that life to him, to share it with him for as long as possible, since he’s what makes it complete and joyous.

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“Kiss Me Again” by Jessica Lea Mayfield Wednesday, Feb 10 2010 

Over the weekend, our electricity was knocked out by the snow storm. The first night our power was out it was actually kind of fun. After going out to dinner and seeing a movie, Young Victoria, we lit some candles, cuddled up in blankets, and listened to “Mountain Stage” on the radio. My feeling Saturday night was that spending a night without electricity and listening to the radio by candlelight with PJ was a perfectly delightful way to spend the evening.

When we turned on “Mountain Stage” we couldn’t quite place the voice of the woman who was singing. She sounded a but like a mix between Lucinda Williams and Kasey Chambers. At the end of her set, we learned that it was Jessica Lea Mayfield. Listening to her music with PJ by candlelight felt kind of perfect, so I decided to make her song “Kiss Me Again” my song of the week. Here’s a clip of her singing it live:

Once our power came back on, I looked her up on the internet and downloaded her CD, With Blasphemy So Heartfelt, from iTunes. I really like her music and hope she puts out a new album soon! She’s from Kent, Ohio, who started out singing with her family in a bluegrass group. Now she’s out on her own (her brother’s in her band), and she released her album in 2008.

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At first it was beautiful … Monday, Feb 8 2010 

PJ and I spent most of the weekend without electricity. Our power went out on Saturday around 1 pm and didn’t come back on until this afternoon at 2.

At first the snow was kind of fun. I enjoy shoveling snow, so I shoveled the back deck and started taking pictures of the house. I even worked out with our Biggest Loser DVD.

The power went out just before we left to go to the women’s basketball game (and even though we lost, it was a fun game). So, we walked to campus in the snow and then walked home afterwards. On the way home, we passed one someone we knew who lives near us. His power was back on, so we happily kept walking only to find that our power was still out.

The walk to and from campus was beautiful. We had gotten about 8 inches of snow, and everything was covered in a gorgeous white blanket. And it wasn’t too cold.

While our water heater is gas-powered, and we therefore had hot water, our heating requires electricity and all of our kitchen appliances are electric. And, just as importantly, our garage door is electric. When the power goes off, there’s no way to get into the garage.

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Downtown Church by Patty Griffin: A Review Monday, Feb 1 2010 

Last Tuesday I ordered my copy of Patty Griffin’s new CD (and for once I actually bought the CD rather than downloading the album from iTunes) Downtown Church, which NPR describes as “the equivalent of a slow walk into a field of wildflowers — a journey in which you look up at a bluebird sky and take a deep breath with your eyes closed.” I really like much of Griffin’s other music, and PJ and I had seen her in concert here in Athens with Emmylou Harris, Shawn Colvin, and Buddy Miller not too long ago (and, PJ reminds me, we also saw her as the opening act for Lucinda Williams back in the 1990s when we lived in Knoxville).

Even though I generally like her music, I’ve never bought it before. Usually PJ buys it and I just listen to it. But I started listening to it on NPR and thought it was worth getting. Besides, if I didn’t like it I could always give it to him.

It turns out that I love this album. It’s already in contention for my favorite album of the year. It’s definitely a breathe of fresh air. I also agree with NPR that she’s produced “an album that’s so mesmerizing, it’s difficult to believe Griffin isn’t a card-carrying member of The Downtown Presbyterian Church in Nashville.” (Griffin recorded the album there about a year ago.)

Only two of the songs on the album are original; the others are all gospel classics or traditional tunes in the public domain. Not surprisingly, it’s the two original songs that I love most, “Little Fire” and “Coming Home to Me.” After much internal debate, I’ve selected the latter as my song of the week:

I love that, while this song is written from a God-like perspective, it can easily be transferred to other situations as well. For example, when I listen to this song, what I hear is a song from one lover to another, a reminder that whatever is happening in his life he’s always coming home to me, to my arms, to my love. And vice versa. In that way, it’s an incredibly moving and beautiful song.

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