Cloister Commentary, Day 192: Erratically Conscious

I set a personal professional record with seven consecutive tutorial sessions on Zoom yesterday. All my appointments showed up early and prepared, they demonstrated impressive knowledge of their chosen genre and film history, their essay ideas were fairly sound, and, in most cases, I was able to facilitate an obliterating of their compositional obstacles (also known as “helping them”). Perhaps the sessions were made more pleasant by my Zoom background, which was the actual cozy little residential section of West Walnut Street that backs my office window but looked almost computer-generated. Anything to distract from my COVID-forged grooming, which is indeed approaching the Jeff Bridges-esque.

Do you fall asleep sitting up, even while watching shows you love with people you love? Fear not–you are not alone. I believe this is a sign of simply being in the “second half” of life’s game. I had to “make up” a viewing of the third and fourth episode of Watchmen that I was erratically conscious for when Nicole and I originally watched it, but, I tell you what (do people say that in other regions?), that show is scintillating. Just scintillating. Worth watching twice even IF you were fully conscious for it!

I awakened this morning at 3:15 again, afraid I was living in a (bit more scarily defined) theocracy.

Streaming for Survivors:

Who’d-a thunk this ivory-pounder would indeed be one of the very last men standing? And did you know he kicks this album off with a Led Zeppelin cover?

Cloister Commentary, Day 191: We Love the Sunrise

We were a little groggy when we awakened, so we decided to hop in the truck, turn up a little birthday-boy Bud Powell and head east on I-70 to watch the sun rise. Unfortunately, cloud cover was obscuring the event, so at Millersburg we turned around to head back home–only to see the pink-orange orb in its full glory a few seconds later in our rear-view mirror.

We also took a very long walk around the neighborhood. The weather was perfectly mild, the rain was still hanging in wait, the morning was quiet–but it’s not quite the same without your dog.

Later, I wrote one of my summer school students a recommendation letter for Stephens’ study abroad program and did my first round of editing and suggesting for my 2020-2021 Battle High School mentee. They are both outstanding humans.

As the afternoon turned to evening, we indulged in two musical Louies at pretty high volume–Prima and Jordan–then took a brief nap to Nat King Cole singing en Español (a highly recommended activity). Nicole did grade-checks, I watched the Miami Heat–I’m going to call them a team of destiny–advance to the NBA Bubble Finals over the Celtics, and we closed down shop with an episode of Last Tango in Halifax, the window open so we could hear the rain finally fall.

Streaming for Strivers:

The ultimate in iconic self-pity!

Cloister Commentary, Day 190: I’m Into Literature

Nicole and I went to the grocery yesterday morning. Our pandemic routine is usually that she goes in while I sit in the car and write these, but my taste-aholic ways led me to tag along and sniff around for some new brews. I happened to be wearing an Arkansas Razorbacks shirt; I didn’t graduate from that institution, but its impact on me was stronger than any of the others I attended. Wheeling into the liquor aisle, I came upon a woman older than me who stopped me, looked me in the eye, pointed south and said, “Arkansas is that way!” I chuckled, not sure of her exact attitude, and she continued by rather confidently saying, as she then pointed to my shirt, “Big football fan, are you?”

“No. Literature.” And I proceeded to the beer cooler. That Cigar City Brewery‘s doing some interesting things.

Later, we received a visit from the young Mizzou scholar London Rayhill Santacruz, who dropped by to change the oil in his jalopy. We treated him to some pad Thai from Tiger Chef, shot the bull for a bit, and let him get to work. Mercifully, he did not need my assistance, because, as I just noted, I’m into literature. However, after he finished we exchanged hip hop enthusiasms: he’s an Earthgang man (I told you he was a scholar), I tried to sell him on Little Simz and Boldy James. After he left, Nicole and I noted that we must have a knack for choosing friends, because they all raise stellar youths.

We then poured a couple at the kitchen table, cracked pistachios, and listened to and discussed The Beatles’ White Album.

It was a great day.

Streaming for Strivers:

This is a full EP.

Cloister Commentary, Day 189: Always Give Succor an Even Break


2 neighborhood walks.
A round of sitting meditation.
Some firm hugs and light kisses.
Frozen peanut butter cookies.
A cat on the lap.
Some urgent punk rock.
A lit crackle candle.
A elegantly, wittily, slyly written book (in this case, A Gentleman in Moscow).
A small house project.
A large pizza pie from Tony’s Pizza Palace.
A mini-binge of a previously unfamiliar but truly great series (in this case, Watchmen).
3 cats in the bed (minimum).
Sharing of joys and regrets.
Sleep’s easy descent.

Streaming for Strivers:

These days, Lenny’s songs can hit too closely to home, but sometimes I desire that. I’m not masochistic; I am simply often bolstered by direct confrontations with reality, however dark.

Cloister Commentary, Day 188: Semicolonoscopy

Dr. James Terry is one of the best profs at Stephens College–he’s admired by students AND colleagues–and yesterday he staged his students’ annual Punctuation Day competition. He assigns each of the class’ finalists a punctuation mark, then charges them with the task of designing a creative presentation that effectively defines each, illustrates its uses, and offers tips to the confused, and delivering it on stage in the school theater. This year, he invited me to judge, and, in introducing me, asked me how I liked to celebrate National Punctuation Day. Having only learned of its existence the day I received his request, I lied that I like to spend the morning writing, then the afternoon giving my work a semicolonotomy (I am a mite too fond of them). Also, after submitting my ballot, I learned I was the first judge to ever award all three categories (creativity, volume, overall excellence) to the same student, who revealed the mysteries of–wait for it!–the semicolon to her peers. By the way, half of the students were beaming in via Zoom (one presented that way), the other half plus the educators were masked, and tape prevented any of us from being closer than eight feet from each other; props to Jim and Stephens for providing a safe and healthy place to learn. (Note semicolonic restraint exercised above.)

Nicole and I have had a bit of a rough week, if you’ve been following, but I’d like to recommend neighborhood walks and sitting meditation to any of you who are also mourning or otherwise suffering (the national events of the week have been enough to cause an excess of both in almost anyone). Also recommended: taking meals together, talking the grief out, listening to The Beatles, and watching uplifting programming (for us, Woke and Unpregnant).

Streaming for Strivers:

I’d like to thank Spacecase Records for lighting a punk rock fire in me. Found within: early work by Meat Puppets, 100 Flowers, Leaving Trains, and The Gun Club.

Cloister Commentary, Day 187: Horrified and Sickened–That is All

I really can’t bring myself to say much about the day, other than Nicole and I enjoyed another day working together from home (which I think we both considered as healing), and we were both horrified and sickened by two events: the ruling in the Breonna Taylor MURDER case and some other people’s president toying publicly with the idea of not leaving office peacefully should the country’s vote call for it. We were surprised by neither event; however, not being horrified and sickened by them would have indicated something amiss with our inner workings, so I am glad we were not inured to their import.

Streaming for Strivers:

Cloister Commentary, Day 186: Nothing Black Can Stay

We started the day with a looooong neighborhood walk. Our departed companion was represented by his leash, which I put around my neck, his harness, which Nicole carried, and my trusty pocketed doggie doo-doo bag, because…well…at my age you never know. It just so happened that along the way we saw some folks walking a reddish dog with a flag-like tail and some seriously billowing bloomers. This brought back memories of a retirement idea one of our colleagues long ago proposed for us to bring to fruition collectively: we’d each employ our special talents in a one-stop wedding service called Groom ‘n’ Lube. My friends Karen Downey and Becky Sarrazin (the braintrust) would organize and decorate, I’d perform the service, Nicole would style the wedding party’s coifs, and our buddy John Steitz would take care of all the mechanical and security chores (“Call Guido: 443-KILL”). Anyway, watching this dog and remembering Louis, Nicole proposed a similar venture for us, Plume and Pantz: a grooming service just for border collies and their Aussie likes.

We hate this pandemic, but it enabled us to work together from home, and we really needed to do that yesterday. Fortunately, we each had our ugly cries at different times so we were able to calm each other rather than stoke the fire of our grieving with more coals of sadness. But just as nothing gold can stay, neither can anything black.

A story about Louie, which I’ve told before but I’ll try to spin a little differently: one summer day when Louis was a puppy, our friend George Frissell swung by to brainstorm with me about what would be the 1st and only Rock and Roll Quiz Bowl fundraiser. We were sitting at the kitchen table, I made a suggestion, and a look blossomed on George’s face akin to religious (or perhaps another kind of) ecstasy. I furrowed my brow as if you say, “The idea wasn’t THAT good”–then I peeked under the table to see Louis tongue-bathing George’s be-sandaled toes. I ’bout lost it. The dog could be a menace to visitors, but his true soul manifested itself in this case.

Streaming for Strivers:

Why not? We need it and it’s the anniversary of his birth.

Cloister Commentary, Day 185: So Long, Mister Lou

We said so long to our red border collie Louis yesterday in the late afternoon of the last day of this frustrating summer. He had not taken food for 36 hours (a couple of days prior to his diagnosis as well) and was visibly winding down. His skilled and loving vet Dr. Christy Fischer from All Creatures made an afternoon house call to send him very gently on his way.

Sunday evening, we pulled the mattress out in the living room–where because of his mobility issues and the better traction in there, we’d had to keep him confined–and we were able to sleep (to some extent) in each other’s company one last night. He was able to enjoy free roam in the back yard several times during the day, where after walking around a little he’d lay down to rest and we’d sit together in silence and peace; we were even able to lightly groom him for his send-off. Thank the stars we were blessed with gorgeous weather for his farewell!

As I have previously written, Louis’ condition worsened very quickly; it was another sudden shock in this sudden season. BUT. In the past week, he did many of his favorite things before we knew anything was badly wrong: we’d gone for a couple nice neighborhood walks, he’d done some tricks (shaking, “giving Mom a kiss,” delaying gratification and holding a stare with me) for his daily “cold bone” (a hollow shin bone I would artisanally fill up and freeze once a day for him to gnaw on), he’d chilled out with me in the basement when we “flipped the house” and brought the cats upstairs, he’d gobbled some bacon strips while being brushed out (he was very touchy), and he’d wedged himself impossibly under the kitchen table several times while Nicole and I ate and chatted. Even after he’d started a serious decline, we’d done a family howl (which he would frequently initiate), he’d enjoyed some ice cream (his last taste, on Saturday), and he’d even made some obligatory, half-hearted lunges at our outdoor felines. He was stubbornly himself, right to the end. No surprise to us: he was the definition of strong-willed, but will we miss that energy inside these four walls.

As I have written this, I’ve had to take a couple breaks, because The Kid’s not at my feet as usual, for me to stare and smile at while I’m thinking. He’s already been let out, and he doesn’t have to come in anymore.

Streaming for Survivors:

Sorry, no full album this morning. This song has rung out in my head and heart on a couple of occasions, neither of which were easy. But it’s a comfort.

Cloister Commentary, Day 184: The End of Summer, 2020

Louis has not been an easy dog. In fact, I have often joked that raising a human would have been easier–a few times, I wasn’t joking.

We adopted him from the Central Missouri Humane Society after he and 40 other puppies were rescued from a hoarding situation. Nicole and I both recall he was two months old at the time, and only later did we grasp the trauma he must have experienced. From the beginning, he has been both intensely fearful and a fierce resource guarder (which extends not only to bowls of food but the food providers), a loving, playful companion but also a tightly wound, hurt boy who can come uncoiled in a split second with clacking teeth. He’s a bit of a poster pup for “Fight or flight.” As such, we have done everything in our power to love him, keep him healthy, convince him he’s safe, and shield him from situations that could trigger his more aggressive instincts. We have not always been successful in the latter two strivings, which were enough to convince us he required minute by minute vigilance.

Yesterday, as I watched him stubbornly refuse food (and thus medication), struggle to get himself off the floor, out into the yard, and back, and snore wheezily from his suffering lungs, I realized that today, the last day of summer, was likely going to be his last. But the immensity of time, care, vigilance, patience, understanding, forgiveness, inventive problem-solving, and so much more we devoted to Louis, I also realized, added up to very deep love. We’ve watched several pets pass on after spending their lives with us, we have dearly loved ’em all, but I think that’s why this one’s been the hardest.

Streaming for Survivors:

Sometimes you feel like lashing out. (I’ve had little sleep in the last four nights, so forgive me.)

Cloister Commentary, Day 183: Palliative Care

Louis, in healthier days.

Nicole and I spent the day tending to our ailing dog Louis. Pain and anti-nausea meds had him wiped out for part of the day, and he is having difficulty getting up from the floor and not falling flat after walking around the yard, but he had enough vitality to indicate that he still doesn’t like cats and really likes ice cream.

He’s also having a lot of trouble defecating due to his bad hip, which is frustrating because he’s struggling with gastrointestinal issues. I’m sure the pet owners among my readers have thought this, too, but it stabs my soul to realize that these friends of ours understand keenly something isn’t right, that they can’t do what they used to–Louis was basically doing all of his normal stuff less than a week ago–but probably don’t understand what’s causing their loss of power. It really hurts to consider their confusion–and to possibly see it in their gaze. Louis is also not wanting to eat, which makes administering palliative meds a struggle. On top of all that, we slept maybe two hours the night before just watching him and grieving.

But it wasn’t a completely fraught day. Nicole is an amazing cook, and she made both a terrific Tex-Mexy chili with Sweet Earth plant-based ground and a spice mix my brother Brian and sister-in-law Myra gave us, and an adaptation of a “comfort recipe” my mom made several times in the weeks after my dad passed: Parmesan-encrusted portabello mushrooms, rosemary baked new potatoes, and fresh asparagus. Jane makes it with chicken breasts, but–shhhhhh–I like the mushroom version better. Additional palliatives of our own were Tecate, Speyburn single-malt Scotch, ice cream (Louis shared with us), books, music (South African jazz) and frequent hugs. And the weather was gorgeous–thank the stars.

Did we think about the passing of RBG? Of course we did, but if 2020 is anything it’s the year of stress-strata, and that stress was a layer beyond what we could reach. It will be there after the inevitable moment comes and goes.

Streaming for Survivors:

Alicia was there for me again yesterday.