Cloister Commentary, Day 285: Futzin’

One thing we’ve started to do frequently at this stage in the pandemic is just sit at the kitchen table, listen to music, have beers and futz around (browsing the Internet, reading the paper, sharing opinions, and planning plans for when we can plan again). We did that for a few hours yesterday and I really enjoyed it. I must have had one beer too many, as, realizing my experiment in self-denial is about to begin and hearing Nicole’s words (“You do realize I’M not asking you to do this, right?”) pinging off the inner walls of my skull, I tipsy-bought, um, a few music items. I do not really need a “Gary Stewart King of the Honky Tonk” ballcap, but one’s on the way.

My long-time pal Kenny Wright was doing some cleaning yesterday and discovered that, over the years, I’d made him around 200 mixtapes (cassettes, that is). And those are just the ones I made him. I really, really miss the process of making those; I still have a working cassette deck and some blank tapes, so I thought I’d just make one for kicks. Then I had another beer instead.

Show Me a state that has a wilder, more avid predilection than Misery does for schmucky, supercilious, workout-obsessed white men who prove over and over that you can emerge from an Ivy League school (or the military) principle- and character-free, and I’ll…never mind, don’t.

Streaming for Survivors:

For Kenny, Nathan, and all other celebrants.

Cloister Commentary, Day 271: Don’t Worry! It’s 2020!

After awakening feeling human for a change, I set myself to a morning like I’m sure many have: attending to this-and-that missives that had accumulated on the kitchen table (pet vacc appointments, filter changes, like that). I also rescheduled an upcoming health appointment for next month–I have too much on my plate right now–wrote and mailed a dozen or so holiday cards, and sent tips to our two newspaper carriers.

Also, I kept a medical appointment. Due to a diagnosis of atrial flutter, I’d been sent for an echocardiogram last week but “flunked,” as my heart rate was too high and erratic to get decent image. So on my return visit yesterday, I again had an elevated and erratic heart rate but somehow the technician got a reading–she felt I actually was exhibiting atrial fibrillation. Wonderful. I’ve been tracking my heart rate with a handy cuff, and it’s been consistently normal, but the technician explained that such cuffs only tend to measure ventricular heart rate, not atrial. Now they tell me.

I was a little rattled when I got home, but settled down after I talked to Nicole, ate lunch, and hid in a book for a few hours. Nobody at the clinic seemed too concerned, so I guess I need to chill, at least for the moment. Right? I mean, after all…it’s 2020!

Streaming for Strivers:

Sassy, (relatively) easy on the vibrato, all the way there on the invention, aided by Zoot Sims.

Cloister Commentary, Day 226: Pressure That Burns a Building Down

Yesterday was a fairly quiet day: bringing in and storing Halloween decorations, watching CBS Sunday Morning and reading the New York Times, setting back the clocks–I do love receiving an extra hour (I know it’s an illusion, really), because I know what to do with one–Zooming with family and friends, searching for and listening to some new music, enjoying some fresh chick pea masala, seeing if SNL could deliver. But all the while, Nicole and I both–I didn’t ask her, but I’m sure–felt a creeping, rising force. You know what I’m talking about.

If not, well, this might help. I have a rule of thumb regarding commenting on music that I follow 98% of the time: I do not want to waste my time denigrating something–life’s too short, and it’s better spent exalting powerful works. I violated that rule yesterday on Facebook when, after listening to it twice and being unmoved, I labeled the new Karen O / Willie Nelson cover of Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” as having a “lay-down-and-die” energy level, which I still believe, though a) it was a great idea, and b) I am a very, very enthusiastic Wille Nelson fan of many years’ duration. A few folks I respect greatly chimed in to the effect that I might be a bit off in my assessment, which is OK with me, though considering that we all come to art with different experiences and values that cause our responses to vary, it’s a bit futile to say about a song, “No, I’m right and you’re wrong.” Which, unsurprisingly, is the main reason I imposed upon myself the above rule in the first place! BUT…one of those friends (jokingly, I’m sure, at least partially) suggested that no one ever listened to the lyrics of the original in the first place, whereas (I am assuming) the less strangulated (?) and bombastic singing applied to the cover version draws those lyrics to the fore. Perhaps; Rodney, it’s a very good point. BUT…I did listen to those lyrics as a 19-year-old in 1981, and I distinctly remembering they absolutely sold the song for me. Bowie, Queen, and the arrangement were all terrific, but I felt those words. I did have to listen to it multiple times (that was no problem, as I lifeguarded that year and had no choice) to, um, untangle and extract a few syllables), but throughout that process it hit me harder and harder. In case you need a refresher, and to loop back to my original intent in hunting and pecking this out, here those lyrics are:

“Pressure, pushing down on me,
Pressing down on you, no man asks for.
Under pressure that burns a building down,
Splits a family in two, puts people on streets.
It’s the terror of knowing what this world is about.
Watching some good friends screaming, “let me out”.
Tomorrow gets me higher.

Pressure on people, people on streets.
Chippin’ around, kick my brains around the floor.
These are the days, it never rains but it pours.
People on streets.
People on streets.

It’s the terror of knowing what this world is about.
Watching some good friends screaming, ‘Let me out!’
Tomorrow takes me higher, higher, high!
Pressure on people, people on streets.

Turned away from it all like a blind man.
Sat on a fence, but it don’t work.
Keep comin’ up with love, but it’s so slashed and torn.
Why, why, why?
Love (love, love, love, love).

Insanity laughs, under pressure we’re cracking.
Can’t we give ourselves one more chance?
Why can’t we give love that one more chance?
Why can’t we give love, give love, give love, give love,
Give love, give love, give love, give love, give love.
‘Cause love’s such an old fashioned word,
And love dares you to care for the people on the
Edge of the night, and love dares you to
Change our way of caring about ourselves.
This is our last dance.
This is ourselves. This is ourselves.

Under pressure.
Under pressure.

I don’t think it’s our last dance, but neither do you or I need to be so damned literal in applying these foolish things. Have a careful next couple of days.

Streaming for Strivers:

Put on a happy face. The clown’s scared, too.

Cloister Commentary, Day 193: Plottin’ Pedagogs!

When I was a full-time public school teacher, I truly loved plotting with fellow fun-loving educators (I think of Nicole Overeem, Karen Downey, George Frissell, Brock Boland, Jim Kome and Jill Varns) to pull off exciting and inventive educational experiences. Yesterday in the early morning, my very esteemed, beloved and influential Stephens College colleague Ann Breidenbach e-mailed me with a brilliant idea she required my assistance to execute, if I was game. I received the email right after she sent it, I replied (as is my wont), “Let’s do it now!” and in a matter of seconds, I was Zooming with her Women’s Studies class putting the idea into play. As I retiree, I can’t perfectly communicate how thrilled I am to be involved in this venture–and, NO, I’m not going to tell you what it is yet! I will give you a clue: it’s a particularly great brainstorm if you happen to be a teacher or a student in Missouri, Oklahoma, or Mississippi.

That’s about all I have, except this: I have always luxuriated in this time of year and its brilliant skies, mild weather, blazing colors, and bittersweet, reflective overtone. I never thought I would ever enter it with my current level of dread, disappointment, despair, and disgust. I have very few illusions about who, what, where, why, and how we are, and I do know it’s not all bad, but another “d” word is hovering in the air, Isaac, waiting for me to pluck it out for use: DESULTORY.

Streaming for Strivers:

Speaking of things that are not bad, I invite you to partake of the work of an underrated star in the American music firmament who’s celebrating the anniversary of her arrival today.

Cloister Commentary, Day 183: Palliative Care

Louis, in healthier days.

Nicole and I spent the day tending to our ailing dog Louis. Pain and anti-nausea meds had him wiped out for part of the day, and he is having difficulty getting up from the floor and not falling flat after walking around the yard, but he had enough vitality to indicate that he still doesn’t like cats and really likes ice cream.

He’s also having a lot of trouble defecating due to his bad hip, which is frustrating because he’s struggling with gastrointestinal issues. I’m sure the pet owners among my readers have thought this, too, but it stabs my soul to realize that these friends of ours understand keenly something isn’t right, that they can’t do what they used to–Louis was basically doing all of his normal stuff less than a week ago–but probably don’t understand what’s causing their loss of power. It really hurts to consider their confusion–and to possibly see it in their gaze. Louis is also not wanting to eat, which makes administering palliative meds a struggle. On top of all that, we slept maybe two hours the night before just watching him and grieving.

But it wasn’t a completely fraught day. Nicole is an amazing cook, and she made both a terrific Tex-Mexy chili with Sweet Earth plant-based ground and a spice mix my brother Brian and sister-in-law Myra gave us, and an adaptation of a “comfort recipe” my mom made several times in the weeks after my dad passed: Parmesan-encrusted portabello mushrooms, rosemary baked new potatoes, and fresh asparagus. Jane makes it with chicken breasts, but–shhhhhh–I like the mushroom version better. Additional palliatives of our own were Tecate, Speyburn single-malt Scotch, ice cream (Louis shared with us), books, music (South African jazz) and frequent hugs. And the weather was gorgeous–thank the stars.

Did we think about the passing of RBG? Of course we did, but if 2020 is anything it’s the year of stress-strata, and that stress was a layer beyond what we could reach. It will be there after the inevitable moment comes and goes.

Streaming for Survivors:

Alicia was there for me again yesterday.