Dear friends and readers,
Yesterday I took all the Christmas cards I had gotten off the mantelpiece. Two were put on the wall of my workroom as part of my memory collection. Then I patiently took off all the Christmas balls, unwound the wreath, and the lights, stuffed all of it into the boxes they came in. Together with Colin, my fiber-optic penguin, the boxes were put in plastic crates, and up the stairs I climbed with each crate and deposited it all by the old crib. Christmas packed up and put away. January doings each year.
Some years it’s sad, and some (when I’ve had a bad time) an intense relief, good riddance, so glad to get back to routine. This time I felt more neutral. It felt good rather to sweep the porch and put all the porch furniture back and see the space look tidy again, with the yellow straw over the freshly coming up grass in front.
This was coda to our time away at the MLA in Boston.
Why do people go to conferences? all sorts of reasons. Some really do go to network, to make contacts for publications, to work up a “friend-base” towards a job (with a mentor’s help) and of course deliver papers. But not all are doing these things throughout their lives and one notices the same people come year after year and after they’ve grown older and wiser — or have settled into a job or publishing world.
Each time I’ve come home feeling less alone, I’ve been among people more like myself, feel validated, have talked to people in my community of interests (knowing the same things too) like yourself. And I think this is why people who keep going go. To share feelings and thoughts. The conversations on the bus (trains, planes, bars, halls). You are among your particular tribe. A tribe not linked by genes or biology. I’ve not got a thick steno-pad all pages filled both sides with notes from what I heard and hope to write up all this on my other two blogs over the next couple of weeks.
As to this time or the reality for this individual: I really did have a good time. I usually — and this time was no different — dread going to these things and then usually enjoy them immensely. I go off wondering why I am going, thinking how much I’ll miss my home, feel lost, and fearing the uncertainties and failures that come with social life for me, and then at some point (this time half-way through) I realize I’m having a wonderfully happy time. Or I just feel good. Sometimes I’ve a bad moment now and again, but it has been very rare after the first couple of times to find myself enduring nasty insinuating comments or having done something which causes me some semi-public embarrassment. Without understanding quite why or how, I’ve learned to avoid or deflect these from happening.
What I like best are the sessions, the panels with papers on linked aspects of a topic where the papers are good. That’s how I’m most comfortable interacting. The constructed moment. I like sitting there listening to a well-delivered paper written in clear English (easy) — one which is written by a genuinely intelligent person. That’s the key. Repeatedly at these conferences on so many issues I find the people are these literary Ph.D. type conferences the people will taken an entirely different view than is found in the general population and often it’s one I share. For example, this time I heard a talks on audiobooks. The first guy got up and said how common it is to be apologetic or defense about listening to books, how it will be asserted this is not “real reading,” and is inferior to silent reading. This is nonsense, but how to counter it? He immediately began to ask questions and take stances that I’ve thought a bit about intuitively but never worked out and have never heard anyone on the Net say — though I’ve made plain my love of listening to well-read books when they are unabridged so that most people talking (Net style talking) to me will begin with a certain respect for this behavior. The most they allow themselves is to say how surprising it is for an intelligent person to admit to this or even do it.
He was not alone: there were three other people discussing audio communications, be they music MP3s, websites filled with dramatic poetry read aloud, sites for “amateurs” to listen, to themselves read aloud, and share views.
Harder to talk but I do manage it, especially in smaller sessions or where I know the people and have talked with them on the topic before. I went to a number of 18th century sessions, two Virginia Woolf, and one on film so saw and sat and talked with old friends and passed time too with familiar acquaintances. It feels good to be smiled at by a friendly face who you recognize and who recognizes you.
Another angle: On the whole it was a sane reality check as well as reminder of why I lead the literary life and what it’s about. I saw all sorts of people at the MLA — there are many independent scholars there too. It has the effect of making me if not overtly draw back from the Net (as I can’t) but see it in perspective and want more than ever to control and marshall my energies to lead a productive life (as you put it) as writer, reader, student — and teaching or maybe it’s sharing thoughts in a way here on the Net.
How did we get there and back, what was the weather like, where did we stay?
We took Amtrac. I love a train. Why anyone would take a plane who didn’t have to make time up I don’t know. Especially nowadays where you are continually mistreated. You are charged for each item. You may be humiliated at the checkpoints, especially if you are a women (yes the x-rays are used voyeuristically). The trip there did take us twelve hours! At one point a bridge was broken, and at another someone had committed suicide by throwing himself under the train. (So the melodrama happens.) Long delays which exhausted us going. By contrast, coming home went swiftly. Each way the scenery at time was alluring winter; I saw cities I’d never seen before, bridges, water ways.
It was much colder in Boston than here in Virginia — and darker. It is dark for at least another half an hour in the morning and grows dark about 40 minutes or so earlier. One morning when we were walking to the MLA from St. Botolph’s Club where we stayed — 2 blocks over and one long block down — it was 8 degrees fahrenheit. Today in Alexandria it was almost spring-like and the Admiral and I saw green sprouts thrusting out over the brown soil where we had planted flowers in November. That will not be happening in Boston any time soon.
The club was built at the turn of the 19th century and is a very Waspish place. They seem not to have heard of croissants as yet and so for the free continental breakfast there are only dull English muffins or cereals. Juice, milk, coffee. It is a quiet place where people are friendly: we talked to another couple for a while; we were invited to join a group drinking in the drawing room. We had the same room overlooking Commonwealth Avenue with its frozen rows of trees and statues of people thinking or doing peaceful daily activities. It’s comfortable. We had two exquisitely well-cooked fine meals — dinner there twice. The club is known as an art center: it has exhibits and lectures on art. Along the corridors and in the dining area were good paintings and watercolors by recent painters. I took down some of the names and have included examples of Anthony Apesos and David Wells Roth.
Since I’ll blog separately about the sessions, here I’ll just talk about the book exhibit a bit. We went and brought home some fine books, which I of course mean to read, and I probably will at least open all and read some. If you belong to Library Thing you can see the latest entries here. A few choices:
An excellent edition of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl written by herself by Harriet Jacobs. I had not realized this is a slender volume, not as slender as Frederick Douglas’s Autobiography, but not fat. It is printed with other documents about her, edited and introduced by Jennifer Flesichner, part of the Bedford Series in History and Culture. On the cover is this photo, perhaps of an enslaved black woman:
It’s not clear when the photo was taken. My experience is that photos of black people taken before they were freed rarely show them smiling. They are grim or stolid in their faces. This one also gives her a better level of cloth in her dress than is seen in enslaved people. Yet it could be as we have so few photos. Consider what might have been the state of Sally Hemings’s clothes and her concubinage status was not unique by a long shot (though not common).
The Disability Reader, edd. Leonard J. Davis. Routledge (2010), Edition: 3, Paperback, 672 pages. Most of the writing on disability I’ve found is abstract, theoretical (it’s used for other agendas) or doggedly aimed at pragmatic coercion — or worse, prejudiced. This one really shows how people think about disability as a real this-world problem with real human beings suffering.
The poetry of Dahlia Ravikovitch; Alice Osward’s Memorial, a deeply humane vividly alive re-write of Homer.
Julie A Carson’s Speaking About Torture. This collection of essays not only gives the recent history but goes into the psychology of mental and emotional and abusive torture socially (like solitary confinement). Did you know the Nazis refused their prisoners spoons and made them lap up their soup or gruel like dogs?
Gentle reader, see the cats above? my cat calendar? That too. How cosy they look in the snow. All bundled up. I like how the tail of one sticks up in the snow. Their feet — humanized that. Sandwiches on one plate, cookies on another, and I am old herrings on that third. A pot of tea. I shall have a picture like that for each month of the coming year. To cheer me.
I did not know until this morning that Judith had a husband, Bernard, and wouldn’t you know it the wikipediea article is about him. There is none for her. While it was Bernard who apparently drew this kind of cat first, both parody and make grotesque the Playboy soft-core porn and pretentious nonsense, and hers are genuinely feminist. I had never heard of either before I came across this calendar.
It was also stimulating to talk to the people hired to sell the books about these books and publishing. The book exhibit is one of the general social scenes of the MLA. This year it was smaller than I remember it ever being though. Ominous that. I suspect not just the depression we’ve had but the nature of selling reading experiences has changed so much since the Net, coming to such a conference just costs too much for the average bookseller and/or bookstore owner. But late Saturday afternoon, there was cake at one place, wine and cheese and snacks at another, champagne at a third.
While we were gone, the back bathroom came near completion. It looks like a modern bathroom — sound and pretty toilet, sink, with mirror and handsome fixtures above it, bars in the same style for towels, beautifully tiled shower, floor. Even better at long last — 29 years after I moved in — the shower is not leaking. The workman had to go down to the gravel and dirt, and change the whole way the drain looks. Now it’s flat on the ground and the water seeps away into the ground instead of puddling on the cement slab.
So it cost $40,000 to get rid of a leak. We still don’t have our shower glass door or mirror so the room is not quite useable. They will bring that soon, and begin demolishing the front large bathroom on January 23rd. For what they are doing is demolishing and rebuilding two of the house’s rooms.
I was thinking of partly renovating some of the kitchen. Our problem there is a leaky poorly functioning dishwasher. Were I to let it go, it might get worse. Some parts of the kitchen do need re-doing, but as the Admiral said to me, if we could get people who have the skill to do this the cost should be $1600 (we got an estimate) but to fix the kitchen (put in new cabinets, a new floor, paint) would probably run us $16,000.
I want also to repaint the house. It’s not just vanity, it’s hurt pride and shame too. For years (I mean years like nearly 20) I’ve been slightly mortified by the color of the house. I didn’t have what it takes to coerce the painter into really giving me a subdued color. The blue was mocked by Caroline; it’s now faded but I so want to get rid of it and have the soft cream color I originally wanted. One of the walls of our our porch is this color right now.
The interval will be good for the cats. We have to put them in her room for the day and they are at best lonely, forlorn and don’t eat. Meanwhile when the men come and the noise starts, they have meltdowns. Clarissa runs under the bed. Ian, the boy who is so wary of people, actually adjusts better by wrapping himself in Yvette’s baby blanket still on her bed. Yvette wrote us about one of the four mornings:
Yesterday I initially got the cats into the room, only for them both to bolt when I opened the door while replenishing their food, and then I had quite a time getting them back in. In all the excitement I forgot to put anything out for dinner, so when I got home(with cramps), I ended up going to the Giant and buying microwavable meatballs to experiment with; they’re a little overly hot but I had some of them with spaghetti last night and will have the rest with rice tonight. I also got bread, but discovered this morning I should’ve gotten conditioner too. Right now Ian is in the room but I haven’t seen Clarissa yet this morning, and thankfully my painkillers are working.
Cats are currently both in the room. I think. I haven’t seen Clarissa since I threw her in, and I think she must be hiding under the bed. Ian too, mostly. I had push her out from behind the bookcases by the bathroom door in your bedroom with one of the brooms, and she was moist when I grabbed her, as if she’d peed on herself. I am starting to wonder if there are any cat shrinks that can give these two therapy when this is all over.
All day yesterday Ian and Clary took turns sitting in the admiral’s lap or on the edge of his chair. When he’d go out and if I was in my room, with the door closed, they’d come over to it and literally cry, yowl is more like it. So I would have to come out and stay with them until he returned. So it’s good they have this restful break.
For Christmas Caroline got me two battery-operated hurricane lamps and they are now in the attic, along with one of our electric Italian radiator-like heaters, and a fan. We will have an electrician put a socket up there and the space will be indeed usable. That’s part of our Upstairs/Downstairs operation.
In February we will go buy a new car for me: a Prius C. The admiral will get a newer used Jaguar. That’s phase three part B of using my mother’s money to improve our lives, stabilize ourselves once more before we die. The bathrooms were part A.