Cloister Commentary, Day 297: Thanks. A Lot.

I can’t tell you how delightful it is to hear parents in our community yell that teachers are lazy. I notice the masses are not rushing forth to apply for teaching jobs. Oh…but it’s child care, right? I forgot.

I can’t tell you how delightful it is to watch a school board (each member of which I voted for) vote 5-2 to send students back full time when our positivity rate is 35%, we are still racking up over 100 new cases a day TThWFSat, when deaths by COVID are mounting, when virtual education, while not perfect, is available. Better to risk some lives than grind it out with a vaccine in the offing.

I am oh so delighted you’re putting the love of my life at more daily risk, and forcing us to figure out how to better live together more safely in our own house. If it were just you all gambling, cool–it’s on you. We didn’t have a choice.

I am even more delighted that, approaching 60 and with some health concerns that may put me further at risk, and with an 83-year-old mother who’s been recently widowed and is living alone in her house for the first time in 40 years who I like to visit regularly, I will now have to be even more vigilant in my own home and inform Mom that it’ll be awhile.

Thanks a lot.

Streaming for Strivers:

How about an obscure one?

Cloister Commentary, Day 296: School Daze

Nicole and I spent another nice weekend with my mom in southwest Missouri. Not that we enjoyed it, but we kept our masks on while indoors, as Mom is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. During our holiday visit, that was also the case. Thus, it was very frustrating upon returning to Columbia that, with Boone County still racking up over 100 new cases a day on a regular basis, COVID deaths mounting, and the district carrying a positivity rate of 35%, the school board appears on the verge of throwing faculty, staff, and students back into in-person learning with a vaccine on the horizon. I clearly understand the concerns of parents that are providing everything they can at home, and I understand how kids from socioeconomically struggling homes are really losing out (they’re also going to be more susceptible to the virus), but on one hand, is it worth even one CPS human being dying or becoming long-term health-compromised as a result of the virus, and on the other, is it really the perfect time for a group of smart, principled community leaders to fold to the often loud and disrespectful demands of an angry group? I think not.

That is all. Oh, it was nice to see the Cleveland Browns win a road playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Streaming for Strivers:

Yes, Ben. It’s happening.

Cloister Commentary, Day 295: Don’t Freeze the Prize Pile

January 9 was a great day for Nicole, my mom, and me. We needed it. Like many Americans, we have not been sleeping well, and while awake we’ve been distracted by sudden mental prognostications. In fact, we woke up at 3 a.m yesterday, which didn’t bode well. I am thankful some forebodings don’t pan out.

We spent a morning in quiet learning and reflection. Nicole’s reading Robin DiAngelo’s essential White Fragility; I’m still enraptured by Mary Gabriel’s Ninth Street Women, which is making me want to paint (did you know I used to draw and paint alllllll the time until sports and music interfered?). I also listened to Spiritual Jazz’s eye-popping, ear-busting, heart-strengthening Impulse Records volume.

In the afternoon, I made grilled cheese sandwiches for the three of us (an accomplishment for me), we (I?) kept one eye on the Buffalo – Indy game (I’m rooting for Chiefs – Bills in the playoff future), and played two fun rounds of Canasta. We love that card game–the cards are beautiful–but neither one of us had ever “frozen the prize pile,” which is kind of a d**k / b***h move, which we came to understand after Nicole tried it to keep me from winning. It slowly, very slowly, kills a round, but it can insure a win if employed at the right moment (which it wasn’t, unfortunately for my spouse). However, I invented an “anti-freezing” rule (you can sacrifice a “big” Wild Card into the prize pile) and the game revived. In retrospect, we advise not employing the freeze in the first place.

Dinner: pork loin, baked potatoes, peas (I ate most of them, Mark), and Jane’s incredible butterscotch pudding cake (though she used cheesecake pudding and butterscotch chips–I just had a big slice for breakfast).

I was somewhat skeptical about the new Bee Gees documentary, which we’d decided to watch. I enjoyed them thoroughly as a teen; I still remember hearing “Jive Talkin'” explode from the radio and vowing to tape-record it the next time it was played (old-school “downloading”!). I’m here to tell you that documentary is a blast–and frequently revelatory. Also, when the film looks back to the anti-disco riot incited in 1979 by Steve Dahl, the footage strikes disconcertingly close to home (though the brothers seemed to distance themselves afterward by claiming not to be disco). Proof of my enjoyment of the documentary was that I was mentally compiling a perfect Bee Gees mix as I watched.

It’s important to keep your eye on the ball in this moment. But you also don’t get these moments back–spend them well.

Streaming for Strivers:

Let’s hope more forebodings never come back no more, no more, hmmmm….

Cloister Commentary, Day 294: It Wasn’t (Quite) All Bad

I have been posting too much about the horror and foreboding that has been so occupying our minds in recent days. We aren’t even paying as much attention as usual to a pandemic that’s found another higher gear. Not going into it in detail further here, other than to say it’s affecting our sleep and causing us to fear the next 10 days (at least).

Nicole worked. I cleaned up the front yard and worked on my music blog. Some readers know that, at the end of every month, I update a list of new albums of the calendar year that I think are worthwhile. Partially due to distraction, partially due to fatigue, partially due to feelings of futility, partially to it being 2021, I’d resisted finalizing my 2020 list. However, I discovered that a writer I’ve admired and read for (wow!) almost 40 years had found some worthwhile listening from my posts, so that inspired me to follow all the way through.

One of my favorite people at Stephens e-mailed me to let me know my spring composition class wasn’t going to happen, but since I just learned she shares a song every morning with her administrative group, I sent a couple relevant Impressions songs her way as a measure of good faith. I also learned that both teacher interns I’ll be supervising this semester have been placed at my favorite local high school, Battle, and under the auspices of two very respected English teachers, one of whom is a former student of mine. Awesome.

In the evening, we had a Shakespeare’s pizza and some fresh Happy Hollow spinach, and I received a very inspiring message from a student I taught at Parkview High School 37 years ago. We reminisced, and he admitted that, though his mind was mostly on music, girls, and beer, I got his attention and he’s always remembered the class (though I barely knew what I was doing). He was in a band at the time, and he sent me a pic of us apiece from that year. That made my night.

I fell asleep thinking about the words of our departed friend, Jo Steitz: “If someone’s not adding color to your life, you don’t need them.”

Streaming for Strivers:

Always relevant, unfortunately.

Cloister Commentary, Day 293: It Was Carnival Time

I felt mentally and emotionally exhausted by the events of January 6–almost hung-over, and I was sober as a judge throughout. I threw myself into constructive activities (a Zoom faculty meeting–you know I was desperate when I put a faculty meeting in that category–a great book, a curbside library pick-up, some straightening and cleaning, getting Nicole’s lunch ready), but my body forced me into a snoring nap in the afternoon that I hope didn’t disrupt my wife’s teaching. After dinner, we had a strong discussion about the state of the country, then watched a cleansing music documentary, The Go-Betweens: Right Here.

Just before I fell asleep, I realized that the Capitol Shame caused me to miss musically celebrating the beginning of Carnival season for the first time in several years (I’m neither Catholic, nor a New Orleanian, but I like the feeling and the ritual). But at least, with a last glance at my damn phone, I could whisper, “Ding Dong! The Witch is Gone!” Her wreckage, however, remains.

Streaming for Strivers:

Better late than never. By the way, that’s FERNEST Arceneaux.

Cloister Commentary, Day 292: Many Storm Clouds, Few Rays

What a lamentable day of ominous storm clouds, though it was pierced occasionally with rays of joy and hope. I’ve taught many a classroom full of young American adults, but I don’t know those pathetic rioters with their stupid signs and gear and embarrassing delusions. Well, maybe I just didn’t want to see them–still, something happened between then and now. And yes I know plenty of those sad souls are my age and my parents’ age, so I’m not charging a generation here. I do feel sick thumbing this out, knowing that very little is going to be done to hold anyone who stormed the Capitol responsible; we’re just going to shamble on.

Ok, the day wasn’t completely egregious. Nicole and I were thrilled with the news from Georgia: twins rays of joy and hope, those two. And my mom found out some helpful news about her shoulder ailment. And we traded songs of support back and forth before we hit the sack.

Sorry, I don’t feel much like writing and I don’t know quite what else to say, anyway.

Streaming for Strivers:

I don’t know about you, but I’m trying to cool down.

Cloister Commentary, Day 291: In the Chair, Happily

Most folks don’t enjoy going to the dentist. I’ve been going to the same one for almost 30 years (Dr. Shelly Lyle), and though I had one rough period when she seemed to keep the music tuned to “The Carpenters Station” and my usual hygienist liked to unsubtly trash Hickman even while knowing I taught there (“Aren’t there a lot of thugs there?” grrrrrrr), I have NO complaints, and I’ve actually been fascinated by how she’s kept the clinic up to date with the newest technology. Yesterday I had to go in for a cleaning (they open at 7 a.m., another cool thing), and it was actually a highlight of the day. My favorite hygienist of all-time, Jordan (John and Cecilia, she comes from great stock!), was back on the scene, she used a new anti-COVID aerosol suction that was more comfortable than the usual, and Dr. Lyle adjusted a crown replacement she’d done for me (free of charge; the original cracked), which made me feel like a new man–it had been quietly driving me crazy for months, and I’d written it off to my imagination. Also, Tina Turner was on the sound system.

Moral of the story: go get your danged check-up!

The other big highlight? I am sure some of you occasional fall asleep watching late-night programming, even when it’s fantastic, and because I rise before the sun and will occasionally have a late cocktail, I’m especially prone. I’ve raved in the past about director Steve McQueen’s masterpiece limited series Small Axe (available on Amazon Prime), but, after a long and stressful day, I’d zoned out for the middle 15 minutes of the final episode, “Education.” After putting it off for about a month, I re-watched it, and it hit me hard. It stands alone–every teacher should watch it–but the whole five-episode series, illuminating the experience of black West Indians in England, will ring through the coming years. I promise.

Thought about Georgia all day. Apparently those thoughts were not wasted….

Streaming for Strivers:

We are.

Cloister Commentary, Day 290: Reading is FUNdamental!

I’m reading a terrific book by Mary Gabriel, 9TH STREET WOMEN: LEE KRASNER, ELAINE DE KOONING, GRACE HARTIGAN, JOAN MITCHELL, AND HELEN FRANKENTHALER–FIVE PAINTERS AND THE MOVEMENT THAT CHANGED MODERN ART. Don’t you love it when a book’s so absorbing you have to–want to–read other books along with it? I previously had a decent knowledge of abstract expressionism, but Gabriel’s narrative, told through the experiences of these criminally undervalued artists, has energized me so much I put five books on hold at the public library and read one of those in an evening. I told Nicole I was teaching myself a course, which is cool because at the very least I’m teaching. Point of fact: I was hoping to find art books representing each of the women in the subtitle, but guess what? The book itself is virtually the only text in the library devoted to any of them. Good reason to read it, right there.

We got two brief neighborhood walks in, ate intelligently, and got back in our regular routine. Nicole had meetings (teacher work day), and I had hoped to work on a little curriculum for my upcoming on-line course, but only one student is enrolled and class starts Tuesday, so…I THOUGHT ABOUT curriculum for awhile. I’m tutoring for sure, as well as “virtually supervising” two student teachers for Mizzou–but I can’t do much in those areas yet.

Movie tip for the day: are you a fan of Andy Griffith, or director Elia Kazan, or writer Budd Schulberg? If so, and you haven’t seen A Face in the Crowd, check it out! You’ll get a charge out of it.

Streaming for Strivers:

Georgia on our minds.

Cloister Commentary, Day 289: Lists are Stupid

Favorite things Nicole and I went out and did in 2020


1. Visited Springfield, Illinois, with our friends Janet and David.


2. Toured Carthage, Webb City, and Joplin, Missouri, with our friends Janet and David, and met my mom and dad for a movie (COLOR OUT OF SPACE, at Bookhouse Cinema).


3. True/False Film Fest

April – December


Yesterday, we stayed in, drank piña coladas, and toasted 2021 (very tentatively).

Streaming for Survivors:

I need some blips, blats, blurts, and bonks.

Cloister Commentary, Day 288: Big Bad Breakfast

Nicole had the splendid idea to usher in 2021 a little further with a big Overeem breakfast: Rose Maddox Fried Potatoes, cheesy scrambled eggs (50% cheese, 50% eggs), thick-cut Burger’s bacon (my responsibility, plus I like to hover over it), and some slices of “illegimate” French bread, toasted and plant-based-buttered (yeah, I said it). That held us over until dinner, when we enjoyed some poblano-laced Texas chili Nicole made with a great mix my brother Brian and sister-in-law Myra put in our stockings. All of our spoons were dirty, so we just used Frito Scoops. What kind of meat did we use? Meatless Farm brand plant-based protein (I said it again!). I know it’s hugely bourgeois (and cruel–those adjectives are intertwined) to go on about food, but dang it, in a pandemic, that’s where the domestic spotlight shines quite frequently. And it’s not like we’re fartin’ through silk. Maybe in tomorrow’s entry you’ll learn whether I found a good way to cook cheese-curd and jalapeño-stuffed “real meat” hot links!

The evening was nice. In Netflix’s The Life Ahead, Sophia Loren competed with the Bari city- and seascapes for most golden, and Ibrahima Gueye and Abril Zamora were not far behind. We dug a fascinating TrueSouth episode focusing on the small but magnetic town of Brownsville, Tennessee–when it’s finally ok, we’re going–and we watched a ’77 SNL episode with Milton Berle and Ornette Coleman (those were the days).

Streaming for Strivers:

Evolving early Hag–one classic original, two killer Lefty covers, a nice choice by a young artist named Dolly, and a pretty great bunch of musicians.