Cloister Commentary, Day 73: Citizens of Minneapolis

After days of waiting for the right morning, we drove to Capen Park, hiked up to a gorgeous bluff overlook our friend George Frissell had shown us long ago, then walked an additional couple of miles over to Old 63 and back. It was the perfect start for a morning in these times.
We also had Zoom escapades. Nicole walked me through some tips and tricks–she’s more practiced than I–so now I can confidently share a screen and won’t create a waiting room in the middle of a class. I DO need a haircut, but I’m working on my inner and outer Jeff Bridges. Shortly after my training, my parents and brother joined as for a virtual hangout and we were glad to hear everyone’s doing ok.
If you haven’t read Louise Erdrich, you really should. She’s not just one of the greatest Native novelists to ever publish, she’s one of the greatest novelists we’ve known, period. There’s a whole world in her books, and her most recent one, The Night Watchman, which I’m about to finish, is a compulsive read. A citizen of Minneapolis, I am sure she has some new work brewing in her capacious brain.
I am not a fan of destruction. But in the case of that connected to the current protests–and JUST that destruction, not that caused by opportunists and outside agents–I understand it. Why do buildings have to burn? Before we get to that question, first, why have black men and women been killed by police (official and unofficial) with impunity, over and over again, throughout our history? As one activist leader said, “They sent the military, and we only asked them for arrests.” So much of what we have seen could easily have been avoided by a doing of the right thing. Second, I have felt the urge to smash sh*t up and stab at my own self out of frustration–and I’m about as privileged as a U. S. citizen can be. I can easily imagine how frustrated I would be if I enjoyed none of that privilege, and came to the (quite sane) conclusion that nothing I could ever do would stop the authorized oppression and threat to my (and my friends’ and families’) life and limb that seem like my country’s preferred ways. It’s well past time for a sea change. If you don’t get it but would like to, I can suggest plenty of enlightening and meticulously sourced books. If you don’t get it and either don’t want to or don’t care? I guess all I can do is retweet John Donne to you: “No man is an island, entire of itself.”
Mary, I do indeed wish George was here to talk to about this…
Streaming for shut-ins:
Spiritual fuel.

Cloister Commentary, Day 72: A Defiant One

With COVID-19 cases swinging up, we decided to pick up are groceries curbside yesterday. The crew at Hyvee was very efficient, and we bought the fruit of four local enterprises’ labor at the Farmer’s Market: Uprise Bakery, Happy Hollow Farms, Thoenen Produce, and The Veggie Patch. Good stuff!

We also celebrated our Keystone Kitten Junior’s first birthday, even though it’s actually today. He shared a can of soft stinky salmon stuff with his mom and dad, his three best friends, and the two feline sentinels who watched over him and his siblings after they were born on our back deck. Nicole put a candle in the middle of it, and Junes sizzled some whisker-tips, but it was fun for all.

Jr Birthday

These times are full of dread. Even stoics I know are airing morning anxiety. I’d like to thank that old Parkview Viking rascal Stephen Fischer again for sending me a video (see below) out of the blue that lifted a heavy cloud of my own to a much higher elevation. I wish I’d taught that guy; his two brothers were a pleasure in class, as well. We teachers do frequently wish we could have taught people we didn’t get to.

One of my future students in the coming Stephens College virtual summer school program emailed me that she had broken a front tooth and might miss our first class. a) I was actually delighted by the missive, because I’d been fretting about how ready students were to “arrive” and communicate; b) I reassured her all would be well; I know how she feels since I broke my two fronts in sixth grade, and I simply wrote her a reply that summarized our first class; and c) the command of written communication her email demonstrated has me looking forward to her first essay. I always tell worried friends that I don’t “grade” correspondence–but with current students I occasionally make an exception.

We closed the day with Clarence Brown’s 1949 adaptation of William Faulkner’s novel Intruder in the Dust. The film was shot in Oxford, Mississippi, and nearby Holly Springs National Park, and has historic resonance: Puerto Rican actor Juano Hernandez plays the lead role of Lucas Beauchamp, and in so doing may have been the first black man to peer at us from the screen from a position of independence, equality, and defiance. His performance is electrifying, and Claude Jarman, Jr., as the young boy Chick, impresses as a very complex white adolescent. Highly recommended–if you can find it.

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

Some strong aural medicine for struggling spirits.

Cloister Commentary, Day 71: “LIBERAL P**SY!!!!”

Nicole and I gathered safely at Hickman with our friends Susie, Kendra, Henry, and Paige to discuss a possible memorial project for Susie’s husband George Frissell. We stood around the labyrinth that George helped bring into being for a fallen comrade a few years ago, and weighed the details. It was very nice to be in the company of a small group outdoors on a beautiful morning, and we made excellent progress. In some ways, Paige may have replaced George as the Kewpie Griot: before we left, we took an amusing and varied dive into Hickman’s past.

We were out twice today and of course wore masks. The last couple of times I’ve done so, I’ve thought about someone in Nashville I read about who did the same and was screamed at for being a “liberal p**sy,” and wondered if that might ever happen to me. “Liberal p**sy” does not accurately describe me (quite), but I know what someone who would feel the need to scream that at me in public would mean by it. The thing is, I realized, that’s like screaming “MUSIC LOVER!!!!” at me. “Yes, and?”

In the evening, we took in the documentary AKA Jane Roe, and I’m very glad we did. I learned much, including things I didn’t want to know, but needed to. It’s streaming on Hulu.

I woke up again at 3:15 (!!!) thinking about Minneapolis and wondering if my Stephens students already know what to do Monday morning at 9. We shall see.

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

Playing in my head for the last several hours, one of my all-time favorite rap rekkids that I now must foist upon you all…

Cloister Commentary, Day 70: Familiar

It was Nicole’s last day of school, but I am sure she would say it did not feel like the others. She had several Zooms (I will be glad when that’s out of my daily vocabulary); however, the familiar bittersweet release teachers feel when students file out for the summer did not pervade. Usually, we crank up Roy Orbison’s “It’s Over,” Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out,” or Gary U. S. Bond’s more formally titled “School IS Out,” but we drifted into the odd but satisfying combo of dirty martinis and George and Tammy’s greatest hits. We also mourned the fact that no one has as yet created the perfect Wynette album that inimitable, fabulously sultry voice deserves. She never found the perfect writers to create for her, and she didn’t write much herself, but an A+ record–yes, I know most of you don’t care about records anymore–lies in the ether ready to be compiled. We also marveled at how the greatest country singer of all-time always humbly deferred to Tammy vocally (and to great effect!) on their duets.

I am closing in on finishing Octavia Butler’s chilling and too-relevant (how I wish it weren’t!) Kindred. I’ve never read a more effective time-travel novel: the blurring sensation the main character experiences while being thrown back and forth between 1976 and 1819 was familiar to me yesterday in an extremely immediate way. This is yet another book I wish I could have taught, and which should be in every citizen’s library.

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

“Rome, Georgia / Athens, Texas / and Paris, Tennessee….”

Your turn.

Cloister Commentary, Day 69: Weaver Bird, Weave!

It was a nose-to-the-grindstone day. We both put in a full day of school work. Nicole will be “done” with 2019-2020 after tomorrow, though the dust of this school year will billow forth into the decade, and though a public school teacher’s work is never truly done. She had several virtual meetings. My summer school work starts Monday, and my on-line classroom is ready after I hammered on it one last time.

We’re far away, but we welcome Madison and Logan Dickens’ new child Presley into the world. This is not the most worry-free time to become parents to a newborn, and we wish them the very best. They are made from tough stuff, and they’ve got terrific support, too.

The Hulu limited series Mrs. America has ended–and did it stick the landing on the final chord it strummed! If you love modern United States history, have an interest in women’s political movements, and just appreciate smart writing and talented acting, you should watch its nine episodes. They’re inspiring, and we can’t wait to read the book that served as the creators’ road map (Divided We Stand, by Marjorie J. Spruill). And, yes, I promise, I won’t mention it again.

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

Soundtrack for a landscape.

“This morning I woke up in a curfew
O God, I was a prisoner, too.
Could not recognize the faces standing over me.
They were all dressed in uniforms of brutality.

How many rivers do we have to cross
Before we can talk to the boss?
All that we got, it seems we have lost–
We must have really paid the cost.

That’s why we gonna be
Burnin’ and a-lootin’

…Weepin’ and a-wailin’ tonight!
(Ooh, can’t stop the tears!)
Weepin’ and a-wailin’ tonight!
(We’ve been suffering these long years!)”

Cloister Commentary, Day 68: Steppin’ Out

I have written here before about Love Coffee, a shop in Columbia that supports its citizens with disabilities by training and employing them. Like many small businesses, the enterprise is struggling under the heavy hand of the coronavirus. We dropped in again and ordered a mess of delicious offerings (I highly recommend the brioche cinnamon rolls and the pecan rolls and the muffins and the quiche and the chai). If you are in Columbia, you might think about dropping by, too.

We will be getting tested for COVID-19 next Tuesday at Hickman High School courtesy of the state health department. If you’re interested, you must register. I also made my first blood donation appointment since we started staying home, so I guess you can say I’m steppin’ out.

I’m almost done writing material for my summer comp class. I hope it doesn’t drive us all mad. Are they all gonna know to Zoom in via Canvas at 9 Monday morning?

Do you ever catch fire with an artist? I’ve loved Miles Davis since before I turned twenty, but an outstanding bookmy friend Phil Freeman wrote and sent me a copy of has me aflame with Milesmania. Yesterday was the anniversary of Davis’ birth, and I probably listened to 3-4 hours of his exciting and still surprising electric music. I also had my nose in the last Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings for an hour, even though I purt-near have the book’s 1,646 pages memorized. I miss those guides, dammit. They had a slightly European-skewed perspective that one just couldn’t get anywhere. Check out their recommended core jazz collection, helpfully extracted by the hard-workin’ Tom Hull.

Nicole and I drove out to Capen Park to hike up to a spot George Frissellonce showed us. As we began to get out of the jalopy, the skies poured down rain. Maybe this weekend, as part of a bigger hike?

I am grateful for neighbors like Dave Huggler and Shireen Razavi. Just talking to them makes you feel like you can weather any local storm.

This is the first commentary I’ve written on computer–the rest I’ve thumbed on on my smartphone. I think we’re all lucky I’ve been doing that, as with this trusty keyboard I feel I could just peck on til noon.

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

What I’m listening to right now. I have WORN this album OUT.

Cloister Commentary, Day 67: Early Tea Time

Third straight morning awake at 3:15. Could be my new obsession with Twining’s black and green teas. Especially black: Lapsang Souchong, English Breakfast Bold, and Irish Breakfast (green: Matcha). Like to never came out of the fog until I zombie-walked the Bear Creek Trail and Nicole served me the all-purpose cure: fresh tomato and mayo sandwich on white bread. I will try not to mention them again, but it’s [someone else’s] homegrown tomato time, and we always have Blue Plate reinforcements in the cupboard.

Body report: I was sore just from doing stretches Sunday. I do not know why, as I’ve been reduced to bone, fat, and atrophied stuffing. I dared to stretch again and that helped.

We both love the work of director Billy Wilder, so I don’t know why it took us so long to check out 1951’s Ace in the Hole. Kirk Douglas’ performance as the most cynical and opportunistic newsman in cinema history is still electric and frightening, and the location shoot (in Gallup, New Mexico) and sets are mind-bogglingly great. Plus, the viewpoint on group behavior seemed vaguely familiar. Anyone else having HD problems when streaming shows? I assume it’s a matter of staying inside.

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

Today is Miles Davis’ birthday, but I’ve been celebrating early.

Cloister Commentary, Day 66: Afraid of The Braid

I think both of us would say our favorite moment yesterday was reading with the cats downstairs in “the office.” Junior is still oddly “afraid of the braid”; when Nicole simply flips hers, that kitten’s like shot out of a cannon. Accompanying our time was Fela’s The Best of Black President, Volume 2, and besides having Cleocatra glued to me, I had the work of two of my favorite writers, Octavia Butler and Louise Erdrich, in hand. My reading is starting to recover from sudden loss: I managed a little over 100 pages and suffered much less drift than the last four days.

We waited too late to partake of live Shakespeare from The Stratford Festival (via YouTube), but we did finally take in Judy. “She wore out,” Ray Bolger said at Garland’s funeral, and Renee Zellweger did a convincing job of illlustrating both that and the flame that was snuffed. I may have to seek out a book.

My gut is still churning regarding my upcoming virtual comp class for Stephens. It’s a week away, I’ve taught comp for 36 years, I’m totally prepared in terms of course material and my on-line platform, I’ve been using educational technology since ’02, I am normally chomping at the bit to be unleashed on students, but for some reason the specter of appearing via Zoom, trying to communicate my energy, manipulating digital controls, striving to get to know my students so I can individualize a bit, wondering what part of me will be missing from my presentation, and fighting the light reflecting off the lenses of my reading glasses just gives me the fan-tods. I need to accept it; if I want to teach decently in the fall, I’m gonna need to have it down. Yes, I’ve done it before, back in April, but it felt like an emergency and only three-four students showed up each session (I had a very small class as it was). I hate this boorish sentence but I will say it to myself: “Get over it.”

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

On Memorial Day, I always think of this great jazz violinist, who fought in the Vietnam War.

Cloister Commentary, Day 65: Chez Nicole


Breakfast – toasted avocado pita with purple cabbage and green onion.

Lunch – fresh tomatoes from Thoenen Produce (Osage County), Blue Plate mayo, and Wickles Wicked pickle chips on white bread.

Dinner – totally, arrogantly, deliciously vegan gumbo with a Happy Hollow Farms (Jamestown) butter leaf lettuce salad.

No, we ate at Chez Nicole all three meals, but thanks for asking!

I also finished the longest “short book” I’ve ever read, Brazilian novelist João Ubaldo Ribeiro‘s Sergeant Getulio. 140 pages of nearly-fine print taken almost to the page margins, in stream-of-consciousness narration with minimal paragraphing, it was a wild Rabelaisian ride that put me through my paces.

We closed the day with Netflix’s Studio 54 documentary, which revealed a very unique friendship and told its story solidly, even bravely. I didn’t hate disco back then–in fact, verily I did disco myself–and we both love it now. It’d be nice to be able to gyrate and sweat in the midst of one’s people right now.

Oh yes: Steve Earle’s Ghosts of West Virginia is in the year’s Top 10 best albums, just so you know.

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

“Different” is just fine.

Cloister Commentary, Day 64: Thrum & Throb

I woke up with a plan in mind (getting caught up with my reading), then turned right around and did something else (almost finished a writing project on my blog). I need to get over a quirk I have with editing my own writing: after writing it, then re-reading it, then starting to edit it, I gradually back away and quit because I start to notice the quality of my style start to deteriorate. I need to remind myself it’s the purpose of editing to shore it up. Also, the first draft was written completely by my right thumb on a smartphone in various states of agitation, inspiration, disconsolation, and determination, so a) I know there will be glitches, but b) it’s hard to return to some of those states.

However, almost finishing the project brought me a sense of relief and relaxation I hadn’t felt in over a week. I lay down on the bed, put on headphones, and listened to an album by Orlando “Cachaito” Lopez, a master bassist and composer (the son of one, too) from Cuba. It felt great not to do anything at all, not to think at all about what I had to do, and simply absorb the thrum and throb of Lopez’s playing. I slept for about five minutes in the middle of the album, but that was welcome, too.

At Nicole’s suggestion, we watched the documentary Forks Over Knives, which looks at the benefits of a plant-based diet and the dangers of an animal-based one. She thought I might be bored with it; I actually found it exciting, and recommend it. The footage of the meals alone–their sheer color!–was very motivating to me. However, being reminded of the changes in the standard American diet since the early twentieth century just fed my suspicion that this country is slowly killing itself, and not just via the plate.

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

I can’t locate a great Cachaito full album (check the comments), but perhaps you’ve not heard a recording by The Sun One? This album offers a little bit of everything he was about, and the band? Hoo boy.