Cloister Commentary, Day 225: A Respite from Fear

Our Halloween 2020: not scary–a respite from fear.

We opened our day with a rescheduled meeting with one of our financial advisors at a wonderful setting for a sit-down, Love Coffee. We are not farting through silk, but we’ve been taking time lately to get on top of everything important, as we’ve learned leaving such matters in disarray can be cruel to others. This particular gentleman is astute, thorough, clever, witty, and patient–as well as trustworthy and dedicated. Though we left the meeting, as usual, reminded of our not particularly “exceeds standards”-level investment literacy, also as usual we left smarter.

The afternoon was spent prepping for trick-or-treaters. We always try to create something. warm and inviting, even though this year we figured the turnout would be minimal. This year, we prepackaged little bags of treats and positioned them on a table at the end of the driveway, and manned it with our two skeleton surrogates, then set up ourselves about ten feet behind that with margaritas in hand and appropriate music (The Cramps, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Love, The Monks, The Nomads) quietly blasting from a Bluetooth speaker. We had around 25 kids–and a couple a-bit-too-old-for-candy-bags individuals–and dispensed with most of our candy. I hope they like Mexican candy, as each bag had a couple pieces.

Our COVID surrogates.

We closed up shop around nine, then snuggled up on the couch with a nightcap a piece and faded out to some spacey, obscure, poignant, and acoustic rock and roll which our dear friend The Wild Yankee Rover once hipped us to (see below). I love getting an extra hour in a day.

Streaming for Strivers:

The street-punk, New Yawk version of Rust Never Sleeps, sans band-crunch and “finished” toons.

Cloister Commentary, Day 224: By the Light of the Moon

We decloistered, threw some logs in the firepot, bundled up, treated the cider, and had a wonderful evening visit in the backyard with Susie Frissell and her daughter (also, my former student, fellow Dead Moon and Roky Erickson fan, and hair stylist) Melody Nicole. We articulated, then tried to solve, all of the world’s problems, laughed our butts off, and ignored the neighbors’ dog, which they left out to bark for 75% of our visit. We definitely need to decloister in this manner more often. It’s been a hard year for all four of us, but in each other’s company we didn’t dwell on it.

Also of note: I do not spend money left over from bills and food on much other than music and books. Readers, I know you’re shocked, but it’s true. Occasionally I will splurge, and I admit to having bought the new 8-CD, 1-DVD deluxe edition of Prince’s Sign o’ the Times. I actually agree that such sets are for suckers 99% of the time, but, hey…this is Prince, and he was seldom more dizzyingly amazing than on this record. The sound’s tons better, the excavated tracks are pretty amazing, and yesterday I finally finished watching the DVD of The Purple One’s legendary 1987 New Year’s Eve show at Paisley Park. Wow. I truly wish we’d had a chance to see him.

Streaming for Strivers:

Memories of last night. Good choices, Nicole!

Cloister Commentary, Day 223: The Worst Year of My Life

On several levels, this has been the worst year of my life. I am incredibly grateful for the love, support, and friendship from my circle of fellow humans, who have stood like iron-clad gates between me and sorrow, cynicism, defeat, raging and crippling moral anger–and retreat. I know I am not alone in expressing this seeming extreme state of being, and I have never experienced any week like the nerve-torturing one of which we are in the midst. I’ll just say now what I’ve said privately to a few: maybe this is the reckoning we’ve been putting off, and maybe if we keep our nerve the outcome, however long it really takes to arrive, will shine in history’s annals.

OK, now that I’ve released those thoughts into the cyber-ether, what about yesterday? I caught up with Nicole on The Queen’s Gambit (I had missed the first three episodes), and together we took in the final episode. Though it fell prey to some cliches and poured on the sentiment as it closed, I’d still recommend it; in fact, I bought the novel from which it was adapted, which apparently has a cult rep. We may have to get out the chess board–that’s a high compliment to a work of art, that it jolts you into engagement.

Hey…get out and vote if you haven’t already.

Streaming for Strivers:

The “other” Coltrane can be just as effective a salve.

Cloister Commentary, Day 222: The Second Time, He Did It On His Own

Vote. The last day to absentee vote in person in Boone County is Monday, November 2. I read a short story by Octavia Butler yesterday in which God gives the protagonist (Martha) the chance, in his stead, to do one thing for humanity. This morning, if that were me, I would make voting easier for all U. S. citizens. It astounds me, though that’s just my naïveté, that large numbers of elected are striving to make voting more difficult.

The great Corsicana, Texas, songwriter Billy Joe Shaver passed away yesterday. Long a favorite of ours, his music was a presence as we left Nicole’s mom Lynda Jo Evers at her final resting place. We were able to see him live as well, and I gave Dad his memoir for Father’s Day a few years back–he was Dad’s kind of guy: a little rough-hewn, no-nonsense, common-sensical, old-school, witty. He’s even been one of the keys in keeping me in touch with one of my all-time favorite students, one who became a teacher himself, Mr. Ryan Smith.

I suspect Billy Joe will always be a presence in our lives, and if you’re unfamiliar with his work, I direct you to two stellar recordings: Live at Smith’s Old Bar, where he lays down terrific versions of many of his greatest songs backed by his late son Eddy on fire-guitar, and The Earth Rolls On, which demonstrated he could still write tough, smart batches of songs.

Hey–need a new series to stream? Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit is an exciting limited series about a chess prodigy (that’s right), who’s played by the talented young actress Anya Taylor Joy, recently splendid as the title character in the reboot of Jane Austen’s Emma and as a Puritan teen who chooses to live deliciously in The Witch. I overheard Nicole watching it on her own and quickly got drawn in (I will be catching up today).

Streaming for Strivers:

For those in need of whoops and hollers.

Cloister Commentary, Day 221: Slow “News” Day

Ten new things I’ve tried and liked during this pandemic:

  1. Twining’s Extra Bold and Irish Morning Teas (pretty much every morning since I first tried them–I now fully understand the word “restorative”)
  2. Zoom instruction (dragged in against my will, kicked and screamed a bit, then started to figure out how to exploit it for constructive educational ends) (it helps that I teach English)
  3. Disco obscurities (really, as much fun as garage rock and rockabilly obscurities if one does one’s homework)
  4. Public notarization (from afar, or when you get something notarized, it seems a snap–but it’s surprisingly nerve-wracking until you’ve done a few)
  5. Almond milk (I’ve never really been a milk fan anyway, but even our cats have no major issues with it)
  6. Studying WNBA box scores (those kids can hit from the charity stripe, now!)
  7. Burmese papaya salad (actually, Nicole ordered it for us rather impulsively, I thought I would dislike it, but then I loved it and she wasn’t sure–best served spicy!)
  8. Judging a short non-fiction “Best of the Net 2020” contest with a bunch of other folks (I love to read, but I thought this might take the fun out of it–however, it’s been a bit of trip reading bad “good” stuff!)
  9. Changing out a bathroom faucet (such undertakings normally fill me with fear–and loathing–but I actually did a good job and solved a problem in the process that the YouTube training didn’t prepare me for)
  10. Eating multiple fruit items regularly (I’ve never been a big consumer of fruit–so unreliable! so easily damaged! so…complicated!–but I have actually eaten an apple–hello, honey crisps!–AND a banana 95% of the last two months’ worth of days)

Obviously, yesterday was a “slow news day” even for living in isolation. Such occasions are what lists are for! In the comment section below, share something you’ve tried and liked in COVID Time.

Streaming for Strivers:

Dedicated to my girl. She is the biggest Otis Rush fan I know!

Cloister Commentary, Day 220: First Snow in BoCoMo

First snow. Mixed feelings. For some reason, I’m predisposed to love cold weather, so my heart leapt–briefly. The onset of winter, on the other hand, strikes me as foreboding; lately, I’ve come to trust nothing, neither man nor nature, plus memories of personal loss have come creeping over my emotional transom. To top it off or bottom it out, my office was like an icebox.

One nice thing is I finally got scheduled in for my first doctor visit of Terrible ’20. Frankly, I’m too old to blow it off. I’m returning to my old clinic after basically being blankly processed through and checked off the last few times I’ve gotten a check-up at my current clinic. Yes: I’m excited I’m going to the doctor.

I’m here to tell you that, after three episodes, Showtime’s adaptation of James McBride’s wild U. S. epic The Good Lord Bird is so far smashing: faithful to the spirit and details of the novel, studded by great performances (Daveed Diggs as Frederick Douglass–maybe a touch OTT), and juiced by great gospel soundtrack choices (plus the obligatory Nina Simone keynote classic). If you can’t get Showtime…read the book.

Streaming for Strivers:

Damn right he’s had the blues.

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.