Posts Tagged ‘Judith Kammen Kliban’

Home again

Dear friends and readers,

The temperature going down to freezing here; I’ve flowers in all three patches, white tulips, soft lavender, clumps of different flowerets and buds.

For these weeks I’m feeling I am moving in and out of peopled worlds in Pittsburgh and here in DC and Alexandria, where I abide. Who knew there were so many constantly reforming clouds of people. And then Izzy finds herself over the moon after several 10 hour days watching ice-skating at Junior World Championship in Boston.

For myself: Around Thursday noon I started off. So many miles. Thanks to my “garmin,” which talks to me with a bland American women’s accent, I had little trouble driving from Alexandria, Va to the Omni William Penn Hotel. The voice is most important at these transition moments when the highway gives out, you have to come off and drive through some series of low-cost gas stations, “family” food restaurants, and motels that have grown up precisely because this the highway gives out here. She tells you a few minutes ahead to bear left or bear right, cites the sign accurately, and with ease you get back onto said highway going in the right direction.

The route in the city reminded me of old highways in Brooklyn, and then I had simply to drive up a wide street, turn left twice and there I was, in front of the hotel. Nearly 5 hours each way. Homeward I worried intensely at one point because my gas was low and I had to realize that there were no on-highway gas stations. I got off said highway and nearby filled “‘er up,” and back on I went. I began to feel dizzy once I was near home, so got off the highway and found myself in a traffic jam around an accident.

This led me to stop off at Noodles and Company for a pasta dish to bring home; I downed it with Shiraz wine while watching yet another episode of the very well-done 1972 War and Peace scripted by Jack Pulman and the 2nd episode (Of 3) of the utterly inadequately adapted Dr Thorne, scripted by Julian Fellowes: a friend has likened him to Popplecourt; it’s as if Popplecourt were explaining Trollope’s art to us. I’ll write about this film adaptation separately too: coming to and going from I had listened half-way through Trollope’s Dr Thorne as read dramatically well by Simon Vance. I collapsed into bed, by that time my pussycats staying close by.

I had a good time while there: it was rejuvenating to go to sessions filled with varied intelligent talk and papers on new aspects of a subject matter I’ve spent my life reading about, studying. I’ll write of these separately. I was at two nights of receptions. I renewed old friendships during the first night’s dinner and first day’s lunch


40 years on Robin Ellis returns as the deeply reaction Halse and Aidan Turner defies him (2015, scripted by Debbie Horsfield)

My paper, “Poldark Rebooted: 4 Years on” went over well; the three other papers were from different points of view and done differently yet all linked as about recent TV and movie films (Outlander among them). The audience was not too small and we got good questions. The second night I seemed to gravitate towards the Burney group, and spent the second night’s dinner time and the next day women’s caucus with them. I can’t say I participated in intellectual political talk (as I do regularly now at the OLLI at AU in DC), but I did hear about local politics in different places from friends as well as happenings among books and writers and coming conferences (at Chawton). What people were working on, their topics of special interest and told of mine. One woman on sabbatical reading Burney’s manuscripts in the NYPL, living in Brooklyn for the year.


The William Penn Omni hotel is a beautiful building: art deco central hall or lobby downstairs, and the grand ballroom beautifully carved. It was the second time I’d been there: before with Jim I arrived at 11 at night and remember we got a meal!

As a memento I found on sale Norma Clarke’s probably highly readable biographical Brothers of the Quill: Oliver Goldsmith in Grub Street — its cover takes the left-hand side of Hogarth’s picture, enrichens the browns and yellows, suggestive of Grub Street life.

William Hogarth, The Distressed Poet (1736)

The experience occurred in the context of the two OLLIs, going to the Jewish Community Center, Smithsonian, the Folger, so I felt how I enter into and float out of differently peopled worlds. How different this is from the way I lived by Jim’s side. It’s like a quiet merry-go-round or roundabout. You get off and find under this pavillon a set of numerous people having adventures, stay and talk in whatever form is appropriate, then you go back to the path towards the merry-go-round and get on and off at another place. Interesting and informative discussion over lunch at Temple Baptist Church (one of the AU OLLI locations) by a retired lawyer and an economist about the importance of the supreme court, how much of US civic life corporations through their control of media is being poisoned.

But how and why do all these people keep it up? Cheerfully too. I feel so aware of these worlds’ fragility. That’s the strange and built-in dangerous thing: the necessary disconnect between casual friends and other people all the while you renew what you can or just have fleeting good talk. Here’s a question: how do you define friends?

Outside Izzy’s window in Boston: celebratory and commentating snow ….

Izzy had taken a 10 hour train trip to Boston via Amtrak. She had a long trip there and back and there was an accident at Philadelphia the day before she came home. No money in the US for public transportation. Fortunately her trip back was only (only) 40 minutes longer, so it took 11 hours. But she was comfortable the whole time. A decent seat, decent enough food available (real sandwiches with people to serve it), free wi-fi. She was not continually photographed or scrutinized as in a airport. She did not have to sign up for “paid privileges” which allow a cell phone or ipad to work, and separately for any music or movies (as in abusive airplanes).

She stayed in a hotel in Boston, from the which there were trains each day going back and forth from hotel to convention center. She found herself coming back to the hotel with the same people each night. Her day sometimes started after 10 or 11 or once noon. She often returned at 11 at night, once much later.



She got herself to the Museum of Fine Arts twice (it was a stop on her train), and explored the first floor. She said it was huge:


She saw a sign outside “to the Isabella Gardner museum,” but did not have the time for it. She walked in the city commons, on three different mornings, and late in the evening ate in different places around her hotel room, mostly Italian restaurants. Those nights she did return early it was very cold out; her window high and the winds strong. So she stayed in with her ipad and books.


Since she had the same seat for all but one day (as did most others), she sat behind the same group most days: British women who talked to one another and briefly to her too. Her sense of ecstasy as she watched and watched and the experience mounts she captured in a phrase she used to my question, “How’s it going?” “I’m over the moon.”

Miss Drake


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Judith Kliban’s New Year’s cat waving adieu

Dear friends and readers,

I was just reading some entries here from January; how this blog has changed. It began as a fun blog, and was this happy, exhilarating, and at times strongly political blog to start out with. For example, taken completely at random, all day all night pussycats. Day to night now.

Last night as I lay down at my usual hour of 2 a.m. I thought to myself if I could let myself believe his consciousness still existed, and that he was looking down at me with his kindly sweet smile, talking to me, uttering his usual sharp accurate observations, life would have some sweetness again.

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Before Sunrise — I watched it last night

Before Sunrise reminded me of the Admiral and I, our first night — only we took a very moderate-sized walk back to my flat as Leeds was far too cold that October to walk endlessly in the night, and we did not have to part at Sunrise. Oh no.

Before Sunrise was about the fleetingness of joy; the last (Before Midnight) an attempt to sustain generosity out of mutual need.

Say I yield to the temptation? wave to the him (the air) like Judith Kliban’s cat and pretend? a measure of sweetness could return. How dangerous are such delusions? as long as I know I am at play?


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Later that evening Yvette and I brought in Chinese food from a take-out place — the Admiral used to say what distinguishes Kliban cats is how they do improbable things — cheerfully.

This is to tell friends and readers that I had a very good time at the EC/ASECS meeting in Philadelphia. I arrived in time for what was for me a high point of the conference, indeed to hear the tribute paid to my husband was worth a much farther journey. It meant a lot to me to hear someone who had known him praise him in terms which allowed me to recognize my Admiral. There was a second brief tribute to him at luncheon and on the new website he is remembered. See special announcement. People spoke to me of him.

I daresay I enjoyed the panels and papers in ways that reminded me of who and what I am: a literary scholar, a college teacher, a lover of the 18th century. With people who share and value our mutual interests. (I will write separately on the content of those I was able to take notes on on my Austen Reveries blog.) I felt I was among so many friends. A tribe.

To come to my two more specific goals: not to get lost and not to lose it, not to crack up. Well, I was never lost, though I did lose my purple beret (left it on the train) and left behind a lovely long black skirt (which my friend recognized as mine quicker than me and will send on). I always knew where I was and when my train was delayed for two hours on Sunday, I managed to buy a ticket for another train arriving at DC and after an initial confusion (having seen friends on a New York line), got myself to the right line. And I maintained a mostly cheerful demeanor — to the point two different groups of people said I looked peaceful.

I perhaps did say too much now and again: I am a character in a Pirandello play, Six Characters in Search of an Author. I keep looking for my author so as to end my part and let the curtain go down. But I cannot find the author of this play I am acting out to build myself a sort of life, to carry on; he is worse than Godot (of Waiting for Godot fame). On the other hand, I had such good talk with several friends I would not have wanted to be superficial, to make “small talk.” We talked for real.


Aaron Becker, the illustrator

I’m now thinking I might go to the ASECS meeting in Williamsburg this spring. If a fancy dress is wanted for a ball, I’ve got an elegant 1930s number. . To record concrete happenings:

My train arrived an hour and one half late (!), but my generous loyal (angelic?) friends waited at the station near the top of the stairs for me. We had planned to go out to a good restaurant before going to the first night, but there was no time. (We made up for it the next day by lunching at a fine Greek restaurant.)

My panel went very well (really it did) and The oral/aural experience which included an abbreviated performance of Lovers Vows did function to teach me more about the characters in the play and hence Austen’s characters (Count Cassell is a lout, and we are probably intended to see this quality in Rushworth and thus know why Fanny cannot pretend to credit Mary’s assertion about Mrs Rushworth’s luck), but we do these plays and read aloud 18th century verse to one another to be together in these texts.

By staying with friends in a suburb of Philadelphia (Wayne) I saw more of Philadelphia from the train rides than I had in the several times the Admiral and I had come to Philly for conferences. November is a beautiful month with its variegated colors. I saw from the train (there is nothing as good as a train ride) several of the near-by small colleges (some famous), the pretty towns, and we ate in a fine pub on Saturday night. Sunday I read the New York Times Book Review, regaled by the illustration in the childrens’ book section as the newspaper revved up for Christmas sales. It was a break from the Internet. The world of print is different from the worlds of cyberspace.

The admiral would have enjoyed all of it.


Yvette and Ian

The hardest part was coming home. The admiral and home have been one and the same to me for 45 years now and I found myself crying on the train, then the metro (people did look away), and lastly in the car driving back. He was here when Yvette and I came home from the Jane Austen summer program; he picked me up from the station (driving the PriusC himself) when I came home from Sharp, and the knowledge he was there as ever quickened the intensity and speed with which I would drive the last couple of miles. To get back to him.

The cats had suffered some anxiety. First one of the cats’s central presences had disappeared altogether; while I was packing they followed me about: I was doing something different, very suspicious. Still they don’t like these disappearance acts. When my mother died last year, and since it was so sudden, we had not been able to get someone to stay in the house for the two days we were missing, we found them huddled together under my queen-size bed, for all the world as if only some murderous hostile presence was lurking just outside the bedroom. Caroline says they want stafflings; they want secure companionship. Caroline had been here Thursday to play with said cats, and on Saturday she and Yvette planned a re-organization of Yvette’s room and picked out containers to buy in the container store.

What is life without that companionship, or the lesser-demanding word, friendship?

To a Friend on New Year’s Day

Dear friend, for thee, through ev’ry changing year,
Unchang’d affection draws the tie more near;
Treasure most precious, dearest to the heart,
Increas’d in value as the rest depart.
Tho’ kindred bonds may break, and love must fade,
Friendship still brightens in the deep’ning shade.
Time, silent and unseen, pursues his course,
And wearied nature sickens at her source.
Methinks I see the season onward roll,
When age, like winter, comes to chill the soul:
I tremble at that pow’r’s resistless sway
Who bears the flowers and fruit of life away …

Let me not linger on the verge of fate,
Nor weary duty to its utmost date;
Losing, in pain’s impatient gloom confin’d,
Freedom of thought, and dignity of mind;
Till pity views untouch’d the parting breath,
And cold indiff’rence adds a pang to death …

Let me still from self my feelings bear,
To sympathize with sorrow’s starting tear …

Let me remember, in the gloom of age,
To smile at follies happier youth engage;
See them fallacious, but indulgent spare
The fairy dreams experience cannot share.
Nor view the rising morn with jaundice eye,
Because for me no more the sparkling moments fly.

Anne Hunter (1802)


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She began to feel that she had not yet gone through all the changes of opinion and sentiment which the progress of time and variation of circumstances occasion in this world of changes. The vicissitudes of the human mind had not yet been exhausted by her … Fanny leaving the park for Portsmouth, Austen, Mansfield Park Ch 37).

Judith Kliban, traveling cat

Dear friends and readers,

A brief time away – I’m off to Philadelphia, to stay with friends and go to this year’s East Central, ASECS: the Admiral and I went there regularly for some 11 years. There is tonight to be an (abbreviated) performance of that popular play, Elizabeth Inchbald’s Lovers Vows (free translation of Kotzebue).

The stage for the play, Tom (Christopher Villiers) directing Fanny (Sylvestre Le Tousel) to fix scenery (1983 Mansfield Park, scripted by Ken Taylor)

The indefatigibly rehearsing Henry (Robert Burbage) and Maria (Samantha Bond) as Frederick and his mother, Agatha (see MP at the movies; see parallel characters)

Yvette tells me she has read three acts of Mrs Inchbald’s play. How many acts have you read? I have and also in the superior version by Benjamin Thompson (who I fear killed himself, we may assume not from the writing of this play)

2007 MP (scripted Maggie Wadey): Edmund (Blake Ritson) studying script, Tom (James D’Arcy) stalking off refusing to hear objections

All rehearsing, Fanny (Billie Piper) as in 1983 hard at work helping

As opposed to Judith Kliban’s mother cat, I leave Clarycat and Ian behind, but they will keep Yvette company and she in turn take care of them. Back Sunday afternoon. Wish me good luck,

Ian on library table

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Dear Diary,

[I should probably address those entries here meant as diary, life-writing as “dear Diary” or in Frances Burney D’Arblay’s original sense, Dear Nobody]:

Today is an anxious day. The way I deal with fear and stress is to look ahead to the time when the ordeal is over and think to myself, not long to go and then all will probably be more readily endurable again.

So I’m looking forward to around 6 o’clock tonight when probably the Admiral and I will be back home and he’ll be in bed or resting and I and Yvette making sure he’s recuperating, helping him to be comfortable. And I’ve a cheerful image of this hoped-for ending for today in a Kliban cat version as the first image of May for this year:

Judith Kliban: May


The admiral has been having swallowing problems. He can’t swallow his usual amounts and when he eats too much too quickly, he’s in bad pain. It seems that at some point in his upper throat the food mounts up and does not go further down. He also experiences nausea. This disturbs other parts of his systems.

He went for a Barium swallow about a month ago. Yuk. The patient swallow a huge amount of white chalk solution and then the medical technicians take x-rays; these go to a trained physician who “reads” or interprets them. I made the mistake not to go into the physician’s office with the admiral so I learned just about nothing of what the physician had said. The admiral never tells what doctors say; he never asks them anything (so he says) and they therefore say very little. I gather it’s not thus far diagnosed as anything cancerous.

Now I friend has told me that the Admiral may have ” a pyloric stricture. The pyloric valve is between the esophagus and the stomach and sometimes it becomes hard and doesn’t function as it should. You’d find out the nature of the problem with an endoscopy, where they put a tube down your throat (you being sedated) so they can look with a video at the end and see what is wrong.”

She also suggested what is sometimes done to “fix” this stricture. Basically it seems that the stricture is opened somehow or bypassed. It can be done during the laparoscopy. Here is a scary overview — it contains the early history of these procedures where patients died: palliative gastrojejunostomy.

I will certainly not only drive the Admiral to the doctor the next time he goes, but come in with him. I will ask questions — for myself I always do. And if the physician says something obscure or vague or uses euphemisms, I’ll try to get him or her to be clear.

In the meantime yesterday the Admiral had to drink this horrible tasting stuff (in lieu of an enema) to empty himself out; he was supposed to fast all day and again today. The procedure is at 1:15 am today.

For waiting time (3 hours?) I’ll take two Trollope novels, Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres, some essays on women’s poetry (includes both Anne Finch and Charlotte Smith, whom I’ve studied but probably will never publish in one of these peer-edited journals about), and maybe Shadow Voices, a terribly moving book about the lives of a few of the women whose husbands are now on hunger strike at Guantanomo.


Let me be clear. What I fear is this procedure. I’m now in waiting mode for it to be over and the Admiral to be okay afterward. Then I’ll watch to see if he’s okay for a few days beyond that. It’s not the condition or what is to come just now but the procedure itself.

Not myself today. Or maybe more myself than usual for unable to exert the usual self-control towards calm. The truth is I’m scared. I don’t trust medical people and with good reason, from experience … It’s not me for I wouldn’t do this but it is me too as I’m utterly involved. So; very hard.

His spirit is subdued this morning. Not his usual comical self. He looks very thin.

I’m thinking buttered spaghetti for him tonight — and Yvette. For me Charles Shaw Shiraz wine (harsh tasting, 3 bucks a bottle) and “pure sea salt” pita chips.

Looking forward, 6 o’clock, “I that am time, please all, try some … ” (Winter’s Tale?)


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Judith Kliban: Pussycat in March

Dear friends and readers,

March came in with wet snow coming down, raw high winds, misty-rain. The federal gov’t shut down as have most schools. A snow day it’s called (click and you’ll hear a lively song). So a Wednesday felt like Sunday since Yvette was home all day, very cheerful too, with the pussycats going in and out of her room all day.

A specially pleasant happening. A week ago today Jane Smiley (yes the novelist) contacted me by email to tell me she had very much enjoyed my Trollope on the ‘Net! It seems she’s a lover of Trollope and after reading Tyler’s review of my book as including ordinary readers whose views count and reading the books in revolutionary personal way, she bought it. I have read her 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel, and know when she writes criticism, it is also meant to be read and enjoyed by ordinary readers. She offered to send me her Private Life, which arrived today – with her signature! I did like her Thousand Acres. I told her I had also read her book on Dickens, but perhaps she thought I said I admired it. At any rate, she sent a copy of that too. All this made me feel good. So often the social interactions that go along with literary life are hollow, no one cares if your work is good, only if it fits an agenda they are following to promote their work, venal behavior so common. An act of generosity even if small is precious. And by someone whose writing shows her good opinion is worth having.

Here’s a copy of her signature:


I’m fast becoming a fan: she does not practice the indecipherable signature as an index of her importance. She’s too smart and decent for that. Instead she cultivates the beautifully shaped penmanship hand.

We are still house-fixing, today’s prompted by the Admiral. He actually sorted his shoes out at the bottom of our closet, threw out all the old ones, swept his side of the area, and brought down from the attic some of these stacked basket like things and now his shoes are in neat orderly rows! Not to be outdone, I imitated: sorted, threw out old, broken shoes, shoes that hurt my feet (too many of them now), brought down from attic more of stacked baskets, swept my side and put everything back in order. He’s asleep right now and I doubt the photo would impress. I felt we were imitating Caroline who did a major closet fixing a couple of weeks ago. Ours is a modest effort.



[Gentle reader, if you are not properly impressed you are not imagining what this area of our closet was like “before”.]

We put some finishing touches in our attic. I hired an electrician to fix the light bulb socket in the closet where we keep our shoes and put a new socket up in the attic. Come to think of it the Admiral may have been impelled to fix his shoes because he saw them for the first time in quite a while. Well the man was very courteous and in a genial way installed a new socket in our attic. I’ve seen electricians look very sour when I ask them to go up that ladder and fix something up there. As bad as some cleaning ladies when I’ve shown them where to vaccuum or clean. It seems their amour propre is bothered by my lack of high status furniture and magazine-like rooms. I only worried when I looked at him that he was so big. But the ladder held him up too.

So now we have light on both sides of the attic. He put in a three-prong socket so I can put on the Italian electric radiator (only one switch at a time he said) or the fan as the season demands. It is now genuinely usable space. My microform reader needs to be plugged in and now can. I’ve several chairs, a table and desk too.


I also replaced my old laptop with a new one. It’s on one of my library tables in my room, close enough for me to swing round and face it.


A Macpro the Admiral calls it. While we were away, I discovered how obsolete my old laptop had become: I couldn’t reach many things, lacked plugins and so on. This is a pretty light-weight silver one, and we’ve already used it to download 2 clips and 50 stills for me to show as I read the paper I’ve now almost finished for the coming ASECS in Cleveland: “Diasporic Jane: images of displacement, exile and homelessness in the Austen film” (see Diasporic Indian Jane). One clip is from one of the journeys of the Dashwoods in Lee/Thompson’s S&S, for the sake of the haunting music and melancholy dark blues; the other also for the sake of haunting music, “Amazing Grace, how sweet it is …,”; sung by Kate Beckinsale in a hospital bed after a miscarriage as a 20th century Emma apologizing to her much-abused friend, Alice (=Harriet and Jane Fairfax combined), from Whit Stillman’s Last Days of Disco.

One of the stills I’ll show: Anne Elliot here has a posture and feel like that of the heroine of Bhaji on the Beach (Chadha made both BontheB and Bride and Prejudice).

I did have a bad hour of nervousness and stress as I tried to get used to this new laptop. My feet began to seize up so I had to give up, but will try again each day a little bit. I have been worried what would happen if this computer’s DVD failed or the vlc viewer. Now I have another newer one as back-up. The new laptop actually holds more and can do many more things. Now if only I could work them ….

We don’t know if we will go through with this, but we have asked Patty, our project manager from the 2 bathrooms to draw us up a plan, options for renovating our kitchen, not to the extent of rebuilding the room the way we did the bathrooms, but still genuinely replacing older and now becoming worn (or corroded) linoleum, dish-washer. I’ve hated the cabinets for a long time — they are ivory white (and so discolor easily) and the doors far too heavy for the box they are attached to. We need a new paint job, the pipes fixed or brought up to code, and maybe we’ll replace a couple of other machines. We’ll see. We await what she comes up with. She made me laugh or feel uncomfortable with her assumption that I would want to hide my clothes washer and dryer. She did not realize I don’t feel uncomfortable because they are not in a basement. In NYC to have a clothes-washer and dryer in your kitchen was wonderful — no having to haul clothes elsewhere, feed machines coins (or tickets), and watch the clothes get cleaned (wasting time), fold and haul them back. She wants to replace mine with smaller ones that stack or go in a cabinet. We did have these small ones in Seaman Avenue, a side-by-side set that we last saw in the Hamlets where we kept them (against the rules) in our kitchen. We had to leave them behind as there was no room in this house for a second set.


I’ve some hopes for new projects, mostly on Trollope. Can’t get away but today reading his He Knew He Was Right and yesterday The Way We Live Now, I was struck anew by his greatness, complexity, perception, strength of style, daring. Sharp accepted my proposal so I shall have to do a paper on Mapping Trollope, I may get to write a paper for a collection on film adaptations (so back to Andrew Davies for these two books), and lo and behold, the man I met in NYC, Prof Birns, is the same man who encouraged me so long ago to write on Trollope’s travel books (he liked my Trollope on the Net too); well, he has a panel for a Trollope conference in Belgium and it seems he is willing to have me on his panel. Now that I’ve read and understand post-colonialism I’ve figured out ways to write about Australia and New Zealand without going there. Working title: “On Living in a New Country” [a play on Patrick Wright’s book): Inventing an Australian Identity.

We love to expect, and when expectation is either disappointed or gratified, we want to be again expecting. (Samuel Johnson)

The Admiral has bought tickets for us to take 4 days (one day driving there, two days there, and one day drive home) in August in mid-New York to go to Glimmerglass for 2 operas and 2 concerts.

Yvette is planning for she and I to go the Ice-Skating Nationals (pre-olympics) in Boston in January 2014. I said I’d go long ago and here the time is coming.

And I’ve improved my cyberspace too: I’ve got a new gravatar across my blogs, found while looking for images of Austen’s heroines for my Austen Reveries blog. Still Hattie Morahan as Elinor but instead of looking out from the Cobb in a wind, hatted, enduring, she’s all gaiety as she looks down at her book and thinks of Edward:


Now if only the Republicans do not get their way and utterly crush the economic well-being of the average person (and make Yvette lose her good job) so as to make the elite intensely strong (I read today the the super-rich and stock market are doing well because of unemployment — they can hire people at very low wages to do long hours), the future as well as the present looks good.


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Judith Kamman Kliban: January in her Cat Calendar

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.


Commonwealth Avenue seen from our window at St Botolph’s Club

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.

This “Curve of the Earth” painting by Antony Apesos (not in the club but others were)

“Paris Nocturne” was also not among those lining the club walls, but others by David Wells Roth were

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.

Stay tuned.

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.

ON another:

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.


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