Cloister Commentary, Day 62: Spartan Strong, Class o’ ’20!

Well, we didn’t go on a Vehicular Victory Tour for Battle Valedictorians yesterday–but we did mirror the InnerTubes to our TV and admiringly watch the school’s virtual academic awards assembly. Besides getting to celebrate the recipients of a nursing scholarship we’ve given for seven years in Nicole’s mom Lynda’s memory, we were gobsmacked by the sheer brains, skill, and diligence of the Spartan Strong Class of ’20. Through the storm, they (the kids and the school) DID IT.

Also, watching the show reminded me how much I miss teaching high school and attending such events. Jacob Biener, my former student Adam Taylor dubbed you a rock star for making the assembly a reality, and he is quite correct.

I continued inching through my book stack. Reading 20 pages a piece of Yuri Herrera’s Transmigration of Bodies and João Ubaldo Ribeiro’s Sergeant Getulio felt like a major accomplishment, and those very engaging books are ones I could normally burn through in a day. By the way, the world fictionally presented in the former title resembles, too closely for comfort, our own, with its denizens either masked or striving to find one.

I spent the afternoon setting up my summer class’ Canvas site, shooing cats from between me and my computer monitor and keeping them from burning their fur on my trusty work candle. Anyone else have a work candle? Or work cats?

If you haven’t checked out Mrs. America and you’re able to, I ask you, why not?

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

I’m not sure this is a “full album,” but Brother Cliff, thank you for inspiring its posting here.

Cloister Commentary, Day 60: “Magic and Loss”

Today I rose with a surer sense of peace and control than I have had in several days. Getting back to simple rituals grounded us right when we needed it.

I have happily watched my former student Jaymee Thomas organize parades for kids during this pandemic and admired it from afar, but now I appreciate her efforts even more after, for the second time, joining Battle’s vehicular celebration of its highest academic achievers and chauffeuring Nicole from house to house. It struck me that, even after we emerge from this mess, it may be a ritual to retain. The third and final Battle High School valedictorian celebration is today, and we’re going.

The intense but intermittent reverberations and impacts of sudden loss have affected my concentration on any but the most urgent tasks. I tried to read (for comfort, edification, and escape), but as Lou Reed once sang, “I couldn’t get to page 17.”

The day ended with us sitting on the couch, looking into each other’s eyes and both reflecting and laying out a near-future path. We’re worried about each other, if only because it’s been powerfully demonstrated to us that tomorrow is not guaranteed.

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

Ken Shimamoto knows, and Reed surely did.

Cloister Commentary, Day 61: Mind-Body Togetherness

I haven’t exercised much during this mess, but a) I did stretches yesterday, and b) without really thinking of it this way until yesterday, my writing is getting such a workout that I think it is getting stronger–not so much here, where I’m just logging, mostly, but in my other project. Funny how that happens.
With some of the bat-shit craziness flying around, I wonder if one day I will take incoming for simply indicating I am cloistering. Some will need to look that word up.
The on-line summer comp class I’m teaching for Stephens is a go. My students will mostly be incoming Stephens freshmen and possibly some dual-credit Missouri high schoolers. I don’t want to Zoom MTWTh for eight weeks, but I’ll get used to it.
I will miss Battle High School’s Vehicular Valedictorian Victory Caravans. As a driver, I participated in three over the past week, and they were joyful. We made all five stops yesterday, which isn’t easy when the caravan numbers 20+ cars.
Is there a difference between denying someone is no more and simply reflexively forgetting that fact? It’s almost a mind-body separation issue, and I don’t really believe in that divide. Maybe I’m bat-shit crazy…
Streaming for Shut-Ins:
Musically, I’m still in Texas, though I’ve gone west over the last few days. There are few if any West Texas albums that top this one, especially for top-to-bottom excellence. Killer band, killer songs, killer atmosphere–and an emotionally rangy front man.

Cloister Commentary, Day 59: “Buckling”

George photo

I spent a good part of the morning collaborating with his brother Lee Frissell, Susie Frissell and her daughter Melody, his best friend Henry Landry, and his son Ben Frissell on my friend George’s obituary, which we hope appears in the Columbia Missourian within the next few days. It was my second experience with such writing, and it was again exquisitely painful. The finished piece, which was largely Lee’s handiwork, vividly, deeply, and accurately captured the essence of his brother.

Nicole and I launched our regular every-other-Sunday Zoom with my parents and brother and his gal. I am thankful for that technology.

Frankly, we were wiped out afterwards, and the rest of the day proceeded like a wide, deep, muddy, slow-flowing river. The West Texas zen in Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s songs and Dueto Dos Rosas’ blood-harmonies helped us cope with our loss, and they may still call TV the idiot box, but Cooked, Call The Midwife, and What We Do in the Shadows were redemptive of the day. I finally slept decently.

I admit to buckling slightly under the weight of two “dailies” at present. Neither are picnics

Streaming for Shut-Ins:


Mike Rayhill and I agree one should beware placing this record on the box in times of grief, but let’s live dangerously, shall we?

Cloister Commentary, Day 58: “Party Out of Bounds”

Patio party at distance, with Henry and Linda Landry? CHECK. Mexican Mules, crackers and cheese, and, as Linda said, “Wide-ranging conversation.” Sanity-enducing. Yep, I said that–think about it.

Zoom double date, with Vance and Liz Downing? CHECK. Our first-ever two-hour-plus Zoom, but that’s how smart and cute these two are.

A bowl of Ramen noodles, and we hit the pillows.

Cloister Commentary, Day 55: “The Thing with Feathers”

Talked to my mom on the phone, and I am trying to sketch out a plan to safely visit her and Dad–I can barely remember when we last saw them in person. They’re 3.5 hours away, we’ll need to kennel the dog, and we feel an overnight stay is pushing it: we’re not putting anyone at unnecessary risk. Also, we’ll need to think out our distancing, dining, and rest stops very carefully in advance. It’s enough to break the brain. My dad’s also made me two much-needed record crates, so that just increases my desire to visit. Any advice or ideas? It seems like the masses are just relaxing and rolling out, but my mind and gut are telling me to hold steady. It’s enough to wake you up at 3 am.

We’ve been trying anything Jamestown’s Happy Hollow Farms has to offer. They deliver to Columbians via our Farmer’s Market. Our recent experiment, after devouring their purple radishes, was with black radishes. Damn. Talk about strong. VERY strong. Nicole soaked ’em in sugar water and vinegar to tone them down after we tried them raw and discovered their health benefits, and that helped, but, when we opened the container they’d been marinating in, we were tempted to look askance first at the dog, then at each other.

Hope is indeed the thing with feathers; every day the news seems to bring more proof. A step forward, three steps back, each a slap of insult, degradation, and smugness upside the head. But it was fun, on Hulu’s enlightening limited series Mrs. America, to see Phyllis Schlafly (played astonishingly by Kate Blanchett) get a pie in the face. Did it really happen? Yes, it did. See the link in the comments below. The only issue I have with the series–it’s really my issue–is it helps explain a bit of where we’re at right now, and while that’s helpful, that’s also somewhat depressing.

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

NEVER depressing.

Cloister Commentary, Day 54: “Stuff”

School stuff: Nicole worked on enrollment and I laid out an Excel schedule for assignments and activities for my upcoming virtual dual-credit comp class. I’ve never had a more mysterious picture of my audience so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Food stuff: I bet we’re not alone in this mess in preparing big batches of food to be eaten across several days. We were sad to see the end of a stellar pot of red beans and rice. Also, we both recommend the Burmese restaurant Tiger Chef to Columbians searching for good curbside.

Cat stuff: Since this pandemic started, we’ve watched our kitten Junior, who turns one in a couple weeks, become the longest, tallest, leanest cat of the bunch–and we have a bunch. If he grows into his tail…

Clothes stuff: We’re still not comfortable going into a store and shopping for clothes (I’m not comfortable shopping for them period), so we ordered some items on-line. My favorite going-on-20-year-old slippers bit the dust yesterday after we determined the strange here-and-gone funk we’d been sniffing was emanating from them. They’d also worn through in three places. But that’s a sign they were just getting perfect.

Music stuff: Nicki Minaj is on point on the new Doja Cat remix.

Book stuff: I awakened having cleared the reading decks, so I read the first 20 pages of each of four new ones. Octavia Butler and Louise Erdrich are the level of writer that you can (if you have no obligations) read all day long. Butler’s Kindred and Erdrich’s new The Night Watchman have their hooks in deep already.

Film stuff: Inspired by weird Facebook prohibitory actions, we spent two powerful hours remembering the great and painfully missed Molly Ivins in a Hulu documentary called Raise Hell! Do we need her, but are we also glad she didn’t have to see what she predicted. Reading her kept us sane during the last half of the ’90s and the beginning of the ‘Oughts.

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

I’ve been staring at a compilation of this band’s work from our couch every morning. Time to act. Their debut album wastes no time kicking butt.

Cloister Commentary, Day 53: “Dead Chicken ‘Round a Dog’s Neck”

Anyone else out there feeling a little slippage in the routine they’d established to keep themselves together during this mess? We are. We had a fantastically full day yesterday; the signpost of of one of those for us is being able to meditate and get out and walk both, and being able to work on school and read and listen to music both, which we did. However, inconsistency in sleep patterns, going to bed with and waking up to crazy shit from life in your head, feeling anxiety and anticipation about the future, frustration trying to get work or get work done, suffering from “skin hunger,” too much snacking, missing important people and trying to figure out how to see them? All that can throw a person off track. We’re doing fine, but I just have to acknowledge the steep challenges.

Teachers often run into youth they WISH they could have taught, both in the hallways at work and out in the world. Among many, I especially wanted to teach the brother-sister team of Mitch Carlin and Madison Dickens. They are dear family friends from Monett, Missouri, whom I’ve known since they were younger than tykes. I had a terrific Messenger conversation with Mitch last night about great books (the latest in our series, actually)–he seriously gets into reading–and he made the “mistake” of asking me for recommendations for his “classics stack.” My own students know this is a perilous query; you best know you have some spare time after you pose it. Poor guy asked for 10 recommendations (actually, I asked him how many books he wanted me to recommend), and I predictably gave him 33 (including the entire Flashman papers; Mitch is a history scholar, a soldier, and just a dab of a rascal, so they are a must). Clearly, I miss teaching. Did I mention I’m a more-is-more dude? The list (I’d already recommended some prior to these, by the way):

Chinua Achebe: Things Fall Apart

Alfred Bester: The Stars My Destination

Octavia Butler: The Parable books

Alexander Dumas: The Count of Monte Cristo

George Eliot: Middlemarch

Ralph Ellison: Invisible Man

Louise Erdrich: The Roundhouse

George MacDonald Fraser: The complete Flashman Papers

Ernest Gaines: A Lesson Before Dying

Joseph Heller: Catch-22

Toni Morrison: Song of Solomon OR The Bluest Eye OR Beloved

Flannery O’Connor: Wise Blood OR The Collected Short Stories

Tommy Orange: There There

Charles Portis: True Grit

George Saunders: Lincoln in the Bardo

John Kennedy Toole: A Confederacy of Dunces

Mark Twain: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Alice Walker: The Color Purple

Oscar Wilde: The Picture of Dorian Gray

Nicole is having a disturbing Facebook experience! Twice she has employed a deeply meaningful metaphorical quote from the great Texas writer and talker Molly Ivins, and twice the social media mandarins have wiped the quote. Nothing profane was expressed in it, and as far as I know they/it/him gave her no opportunity to make a case for it. It’s one of many things that make me question why I’m here (on Facebook, that is), but apparently the growing pile will not prevent me from writing more paragraphs. I’ll share the quote in the comments and see what happens. Look for the name “Molly Ivins” (and if you haven’t read her, look her up). And here’s the quote:

My friend John Henry Faulk always said the way to break a dog of that habit is to take one of the chickens the dog has killed and wire the thing around the dog’s neck, good and strong. And leave it there until that dead chicken stinks so bad the dog won’t be able to stand himself. You leave it on there until the last little bit of flesh rots and falls off, and that dog won’t kill chickens again.

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

One of Nicole’s fellow Spartans emailed her excitedly that she had to hear this record, which caused me to remember I’d never played it for her. Mr. Danny Gammon, she gives it a thumbs up! If you wanna engage with the (now, not so) new thing in jazz–though that term doesn’t quite do justice to the sound–click play, and do some research on the band, and its talented spearhead Shabaka Hutchings:

Cloister Commentary, Day 51: “The Beguiled”

Having closely read my Day 50 commentary, Nicole broke out her very accurate imitation of What We Do in the Shadows‘ beguiling Nadja (played by Natasia Demetriou). It very nearly persuaded me to quit reading and get off the couch.

The chef needed no mimicry to entice me to dig in to the aloo gobi she prepared for Sunday dinner. Her excellence in the early stages of her exploration of Indian cuisine bodes poorly for me getting down to my high school graduation weight.

Trying Desperately to Stay Hip Department: Seriously, I do enjoy yute music, and yesterday I sampled and very much enjoyed the new Kehlani album, meaningfully titled It Was Good Until It Wasn’t–trials and tribulations, but the gal is tough. Some smart students from a 2018 Stephens class of mine insisted then that I listen to her work, and I’ve truly not ever been disappointed. Also delighting me was the current release by African supergroup Les Amazones d’Afrique, Amazones, which ranges across several textures and moods in dance music yet holds together exceptionally well. I would have experienced the surprise release by Bad Bunny, but my very new Bluetooth headphones were also bad: they broke. I was taking them off when the right “wing” just snapped in half. What does one do with broken headphones?

Watch Call the Midwife. I ain’t gonna tell you again.

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

Your turn.