Cloister Commentary, Day 219: Hard Work on a Sunday

Woke up and sat on my butt while my brother did a fall clean-up on my mom’s tomato and asparagus garden. Once he did the hard work, I helped him load the detritus into the truck, and we drove out to dump it on our friend Greg’s compost pile. I was so exhausted I almost had to go back to bed.

On the way home, I cranked up a ton of music, which helped me stay calm when presented with Confederate flag stickers and other drivers who, driving 58 MPH, used the passing lane to form a blockade (with the parallel car in the right lane) for, oh, besides myself, about 20-25 other drivers behind them on the highway. That phenomenon happened twice, and at considerable duration, during my three-and-a-half-hour drive.

It was nice to see Nicole smiling at the top of the steps when I arrived at home. We got caught up, sipped some apple cider with bourbon, supped on the delicious batch of green curry she’d whipped up, and drowsed into the evening.

Streaming for Strivers:

Why not, indeed.

Cloister Commentary, Day 218: Down Home

I road-tripped to Monett, Missouri, to visit my mom, and my brother and sister-in-law, who were up from Texas. I cranked up the sounds on the way down, and picked up some honey crisp apples and cider at Murphy’s Orchard in Marionville (“The Home of the White Squirrels,” but in my observation those are rampant). With the COVID forecast for the coming weeks looking grim, I felt I needed to get in a safe visit while I could.

Once we all got settled, we demonstrated how old we were by talking about alimentary functions, though, to our credit, we squeezed in (out?) some discussion of three things that don’t go well together, ‘rona, grad school, and disco. We supped on Mom’s delicious spaghetti soup, then engaged in what is becoming a tradition: the Mixed-Up Monett Movie Double Feature. This time, the features were James Reed and Pippa Ehrlich’s moving and moody documentary My Octopus Teacher and Sofia Coppola’s On The Rocks, which I was prepared to be strictly whelmed by but which I ended up really liking (Bill Murray and the ending were big factors).

Closing down the day, I had a Monett Margarita nightcap and SHOULD HAVE TURNED ON THE WORLD SERIES!!! At least I can watch the replay….

For a day when I did not read a page, it was a wonderful time.

Streaming for Survivors:

That album cover is mildly disturbing, but dig these two stunning plectrists-in-tandem.

Cloister Commentary, Day 217: Successes and Failures

Successes: I had a great conversation with my financial advisor Alex LaBrunerie. Honestly, I look forward to the chat more than the nitty-gritty dollars-and-dimes analysis. I also confirmed that Mr. Ferd LaBrunerie, his father, is a frequent reader of this series. That made my day! Also, Nicole and I were both greatly cheered by our Zoom happy hour visit with Kenny and Gwen Wright–yes, Kenny, we need to get on the blower so we can talk music and stuff–and by the new Borat movie, which we feared we might be disappointed by. I fell asleep (should have stuck to a single martini), but I did get to witness the bloodiest debutante ball in history.

Failure: I tried to give blood but could not. I had to get stuck twice for my blood to pass hemoglobal (?) muster, then the big stick was too close to a valve, so I was only able to fill 67% of a bag, which can’t be used. I will never catch George Frissell (272 pints donated) at this rate. But the health professional who stuck me was a former Kewpie who lauded my old colleague Jana Wilson for believing in her when no one else would, so I passed that along. Sometimes, we teachers never know if we’re helpin’ or hurtin’.

Streaming for Strivers:

I’m late because I was road-tripping this morning, but this artist made the trip feel quick.

Cloister Commentary, Day 216: Living Deliciously, COVID Version


Spent three hours reading about and researching the very earliest days of disco, and tracking down and listening to the most obscure (but influential) tracks. As I’ve always said, American music is a deep well, and right when you think you’ve satisfactorily plumbed its depths, you find another chamber in the depths glinting with gems.

Zoom-tutored a Stephens student who had never had any plagiarism training. You might accuse me of being overly credulous, but I can assure you from our conversation and the look on her face she was without a clue. Fortunately, she was in full possession of clues about other academic concerns, and we had a very productive and worthwhile session. Mainly, she didn’t know she had to cite sources from which she’s paraphrased information–yikes. She was a quick study, though, and even wrote me a thank-you email later in the day; I’ve never gotten one of those for a plagiarism lesson.

After dinner, Nicole and I had the choice between two scary viewing options, and chose by far the mildest: Robert Eggers’ chilling The Witch. As the end credits rolled, I joked that I wish I’d had it available back in the ’00s when I taught The Crucible–“to live deliciously” would have been a great complementary objective for the others in that unit. The other haunting viewing choice was on CNN.

Streaming for Strivers:

For your ears, a big takeover.

Cloister Commentary, Day 215: The Cat and The Bell

I need report nothing other than, based on three consecutive daily observations ending in yesterday morning (and, honestly, continuing this morning), our cat Spirit is participating actively in our morning meditation sessions. Normally a bit aloof and prone to sudden violent swiping with her ginsu-claws, she turns into a purring, affectionately head-butting mess the second the meditation bell sounds. Technically, she should become still, be mindful of her breathing, and bring herself into an awareness of her living in this moment. But rather than shedding attachments, she sets hers aflame with need.

Even pets do the COVID shuffle.

Streaming for Strivers:

See if this makes you purr.

Cloister Commentary, Day 214: Big Surprises

The two best moments yesterday involved music. Big surprise, huh?

First, I finally started reading disco expert (he was there at the beginning, too) Vince Aletti’s The Disco Files, which collects pieces he wrote for Rolling Stone, Record World, The Village Voice and other publications. The main reason I’d sought it out a few years ago was that it collects his “Disco Files” columns, in which, with the sharpest DJs in NYC, he recognized the hottest dance floor tracks of the week (’73-’78)–I’m always on the lookout for great records I haven’t heard; however, the think pieces and interviews interspersed throughout are excellent as well. I even made a 75-minute mix of the songs Aletti vaunted in 1973 in the prototype piece for “Disco Files,” and, listening back to it, I was stunned by hard-hitting it was. Even the cats were impressed. Though some readers’ eyebrows might be climbing at my enthusiasm for these records, I was, as much as a southwest Missouri kid could be, an original disco club kid. That’s right! I never had more fun in high school than when my friends and I would cross over into Kansas (“Dorothy, we’re not in Missouri anymore!”) to dance and drink 3.2 beer at the discos in Galena and Columbus, Kansas. Mirror ball, colored lights, continuous mixes, sweat, soul, and kisses–almost all the pieces were in place. We first started making the trip in ’77, if memory serves, and reading Aletti’s book, I was pleased to realize our joy was contemporaneous with club kids (and adults) in NYC–and that we weren’t as reactionary as one might have exepcted, though, to be honest, gay, black, and Latino patrons were not exactly the majority at the Icehouse or The Liberty Palace Disco, which made it easier for at least some of us. I’d like to think it wouldn’t have stopped me.

Second, after a long-ass day, Nicole needed a helping of cuisine from our very favorite COVID-era restaurant, India’s House, so, too exhausted to ride along, she sent me on a mission. On the way back to the house, with rain falling in black sheets, the Drive-By Truckers CD I was listening to in the truck, The Dirty South, clicked to “Lookout Mountain.” I thought back to a conversation I had with my old colleague Brock Boland; I wasn’t a big fan of the band at that point, and Brock advised me to seek out the song, crank it up, then come tell him they didn’t move me much. It worked, and later we would rope the Hood-Cooley-Isbell version of the band (who happened to be touring The Dirty South at the time) to play at our high school. That’s a long story to be told in full later, but as I turned up the volume in the truck, I again was transported by a song that, besides being a complete artistic success (playing, writing, singing, production, always reaches directly into my consciousness and flips the “ALERT” switch. That’s not a bad thing: Patterson Hood voices…delivers a particular package of fears that haunt most of us–his singing and the guitarists’ forked-lightning bursts sell the song.

If I throw myself off Lookout Mountain
No more for my soul to keep
I wonder who will drive my car
I wonder if my Mom will weep.

If I throw myself off Lookout Mountain
No more pain my soul to bare
No more worries about paying taxes
What to eat, what to wear
Who will end up with my records?
Who will end up with my tapes?
Who will pay my credit card bills?
Who’s gonna pay for my mistakes?

If I throw myself off Lookout Mountain who will ever hear my songs?
Who’s gonna mow the cemetery when all of my family’s gone?
Who will Mom and Daddy find to continue the family name?
Who will stand there taking credit, who will lay there passing blame?

Who will lay there passing blame?

It’s actually a bit scary, but hearing it always gives me strength, simply from knowing I’m not alone in my most troubled moments.

Why am I so obsessed with listening to music? Why aren’t you?

Streaming for Survivors:

This mix has some obvious and some bogus choices, but also some unusual and wonderful ones.

Cloister Commentary, Day 213: The Simple Things

I usually try to lift myself out of a funk by just doing simple, easily completed tasks, so that was my goal yesterday morning. On the plus side, I smoothly made a check-up appointment for young June Bug, skillfully scheduled myself in to chat with my financial guru Alex LaBrunerie, and seamlessly executed a notarization of a Stephens student’s absentee ballot.

However, when I received a call from the local endoscopy center inviting me to a “procedure” party, things began to fall apart. I wanted to get it over with, so I told the receptionist November 3rd sounded great. I hung up–then realized that prepping for a colonoscopy in the days leading up to this election, then getting it on Election Day, were dubious choices.

I called back: “How ’bout the Monday afternoon that?” “Perfect! I’ve got you changed.” I hung up, swung my legs onto my desk, and smiled smugly–but WAIT! That would be the day after Nicole’s birthday; would I really want to celebrate with her while chugging Gatorade, eating Jello and popsicles, gobbling Dulcolax, and excusing myself on the hour? NO!

“Sorry, it’s me again. I promise I won’t call again. What’s the next appointment you have available? November 23rd? No, no travel plans for Thanksgiving (unfortunately), so that’ll work.”

Next, I emailed Nicole’s financial advisor to make an appointment for her, then settled in to read and blast away the COVID blues–forgetting that her money magician really prefers calls, and will call you if you forget. The phone snapped me out of my bibliophilic-discophilic trance: “Phil, I just have one question–” Oh no. “–are you sure Warren Zevon’s who you want to be listening to right about now?” We spent the next half-hour talking about Zevon, Alice Cooper, Jesus Christ Superstar (“Sacrilege!” his mom yelled at him as she tossed it), Cher, Glen Campbell, Bob Dylan, and, oh yes, a financial issue. It was actually a very enjoyable visit, but upon hanging up, I realized I was late to our appointment to finalize our estate planning, then, a block away, discovered I didn’t have a mask, then, after the receptionist gave me one, looked at our lawyer’s face and inferred that he was not pleased with the fact that the Chiefs game had just started (at 4:15?). Fortunately, he was forgiving and patiently, even cheerfully, walked us through our wills and stuff.

I successfully got myself home…and found that, despite my stumblings through simple strivings, my funk had lifted. It’s the little things…like shooting layups to get out of a jump-shooting slump.

Streaming for Survivors:

Pass the peas, like they used to say.

Cloister Commentary, Day 212: Ankles in the Muck

Yesterday was a fairly good day, considering we knew we would be entering into today with some foreboding, since Nicole is returning to in-person instruction (also, we’re finalizing some estate paperwork, but that’s only symbolically foreboding). We were pleased to see that, on the evidence of the first episode, Showtime’s adaptation of James McBride’s epic novel The Good Lord Bird was spot-on across the board–especially regarding tone and nuance, not an easy trick with this story. We hope the series sustains that success.

However, I want to write about something else. Do any of you have patches of self-loathing? I do, especially when I don’t “do anything” for an extended period of time. This feeling, I think, is somewhat related to the fact that I’m down to one part-time job that isn’t causing me any strain; another aspect of it is just this damned pandemic, which makes me sometimes feel as if I’m up to my ankles in muck. The most important factor in this creeping feeling, though, is how much that’s currently urgent in my life is really out of my control. I’ve usually been pretty good at squaring myself with those forces, or entities, or phenomena, or whatever you want to call them, but the sheer number of them that are in play right now can make me feel like a mouse. I can be a bit of a fixer, a problem-solver, and I can feel as if, as Warren Zevon so eloquently wrote, my shits fucked up. Yesterday, though largely good, was…one of those days.

Streaming for Strivers:

Speaking of that devil, these may well be the times in which writers like Zevon are best appreciated.

Cloister Commentary, Day 211: Four (and More)

Four joyful occasions, in the midst of tumult.

One, another long neighborhood walk with Nicole, enveloped in early fall coolness, and enlivened by exciting talk of future directions.

Two, partaking in the succulent cuisine of Tiger Chef Restaurant, which has grown so delicious and reliable during the pandemic.

Three, a deeply amusing, enlightening, and four-hours-comfortable hangout with our great friends Janet and David (and our backyard cats, Goldie and Beebs) on our back deck.

Four, a late evening, windows-open wind-down in our front room, with a final beverage and Ibrahim Ferrer singing us home.

Streaming for Strivers:

Regarding the coda above? Try it your own self.

Cloister Commentary, Day 210: The Shingle-Shot Shuffle

I wallowed around most of the day in a post-shingles-shot quasi-fluish state, and it came home to me vividly how the lurking presence of COVID makes every ache suspicious these days. I read, napped, shuffled around, ate a tomato sandwich, slurped a big bowl of ramen, applied two hours of Jane Austen filmage (the 2020 version of Emma, thumbs up), and finally started to feel normal–in time to hit the sack. Even a vehicle idling for a half-hour across the street with its bass CRANKED did not delay my appointment with Hypnos.

If any of my readers happened to have read Yaa Gyasi‘s scintillating debut novel Homegoing, I’d like to strongly recommend her second, Transcendent Kingdom. It’s very different in many ways, following the narrator’s generational, spiritual, familial, and intellectual struggles during two parallel periods in her life. Gyasi has a real gift for handling story, and her look at the clashes and embraces between culture, religion, and science are of the moment.

Also, Nicole and I dipped into a Showtime free trial just to watch the channel’s limited-series adaptation of one of our favorite recent novels, James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird, a kind of flipped Huck Finn. Though the trailer and reviews seemed very promising, we were praying they didn’t eff it up. Unfortunately, the free trial didn’t give us access to the series, so it’s back to the drawring board.

Lil’ Scrappers, 2018-2020 (we’re pretty sure): A Humble Tribute.

Streaming for Strivers:

For the unfolding of your Saturday morning.