Cloister Commentary, Day 278: Beebs Returns!

I had trouble concentrating most of the morning since Beebs, one of the two strays that adopted us several years ago and live on our back deck, hadn’t been around the previous evening and didn’t show up for breakfast. He is a very special cat to us: he first appeared as a phantom, then I very carefully employed my cat whisperer talents and finally, after several weeks of distanced treat offerings, persuaded him to let me pet him. We’ve been buddies ever since. He’s got a near-silent meow, “hurt”-looking eyes, and a playful streak epitomized by his batting at my ankle if I walk away from him before he’s done with me. He climbs everything, and early on he badly injured himself doing so and suffered an infection that threatened his life, and we and some great vets nursed him back to health. Currently, he guards the backyard, but he’s also kind and serves as a Eskimo-kissing big brother to our other deck-stray, Goldie. ANYWAY, I made “lost cat” posts on two social media sites, and since this year has been the straight pits, began preparing myself to accept another loss. Then, after lunch, he showed back up, limping but otherwise looking healthy. Exhale.

Also, Nicole and I started a book by an author one of my former students and very good friends, Regan Schoengarth, insisted I get very familiar with: Wright Thompson. Thompson’s got local connections (right, Steve Weinberg?) and, indeed, writes indelibly, ostensibly about sports, but most powerfully about fathers and sons and the way culture is mutated by time’s changes. He’s special: his sterling collection of features, THE COST OF THESE DREAMS, was the last gift I ever gave my dad (who loved it, but we didn’t get the chance to talk about it in depth–in a way, I gave him the book as a way to talk to him), and his new book, PAPPYLAND, is scintillating even if you’ve never heard of Pappy Van Winkle. We listened to half the audiobook yesterday and might just finish it today. Note: Thompson’s also an unabashed Southern writer, a breed for which I have a weakness.

Streaming for Strivers:

As my friend Ken often says, “Sometimes, nothing else works.”

Cloister Commentary, Day 215: The Cat and The Bell

I need report nothing other than, based on three consecutive daily observations ending in yesterday morning (and, honestly, continuing this morning), our cat Spirit is participating actively in our morning meditation sessions. Normally a bit aloof and prone to sudden violent swiping with her ginsu-claws, she turns into a purring, affectionately head-butting mess the second the meditation bell sounds. Technically, she should become still, be mindful of her breathing, and bring herself into an awareness of her living in this moment. But rather than shedding attachments, she sets hers aflame with need.

Even pets do the COVID shuffle.

Streaming for Strivers:

See if this makes you purr.

Cloister Commentary, Day 86: Mundane Scintillation

Yesterday was quiet, relaxing, and free of things mundanely scintillating.

Not a cloud marked the sky, and the Budweisers were very cold.

I found myself wondered in passing what man is wearing the oldest active belt, and how old that belt is.

I ripped some gospel CDs to my external drive.

We flipped the house: dog in basement, cats upstairs. Junior is a lap cat to the manor born:

Comfortably uncomfortable.

We watched Spike Lee’s new Netflix film Tha 5 Bloods. After a terrific start, I thought it fell apart, though the lead actors were fun to watch and the use of stripped Marvin Gaye vocal tracks was really effective. I’d read the book that helped inspire it, a powerful oral history of the experience of black soldiers in Vietnam titled Bloods, so my expectations were high. It was also two-and-half hours long. I’d recommend it with the reservations I’ve already stated.

The mint juleps were even better than those of the night before.

Streaming for Strivers:

Always relevant, it seems.

Cloister Commentary, Day 76: Run For a Jewel

First long neighborhood walk in awhile. First watering of the landscaping. The roses are poppin’–Japanese beetles, stand down!

Absolutely not kidding–my summer school students responded to their reading assignment with the best analytical discussion I’ve witnessed in a long time, through that dang Zoom. They read three essays that I carefully selected to help them set early goals for their own writing: Roxane Gay’s very recent piece in the NYT, Yuyun Yi’s short, sharp, and vivid “Orange Crush,” and Zoe Shewer’s three drafts of “Ready, Willing, and Able.” They participated pretty broadly and had amazing insights, and I think they’d have appreciated my facial expressions if I’d remembered to “Start Video”!!! All they saw for the first half-hour was an avatar of me standing on the stage of The Blue Note in a Dead Moon shirt, yelling during a Battle of the Bands.

I played with three of our cats for maybe too long (Jeez Louise, I’m 58!). They have found a cruddy piece of cord that is driving them insane–they have no time for official toys–and I have to hang it up on a nail high on a wall after each round unless I want to lose it. I walked into the office and Spirit was sitting there, staring at it as if that would make it drop, so I put her, Junior, and Cleo through their paces. #COVID19activities.

Speaking of COVID-19, my test results came back and I am negative. Nicole is still waiting for hers.

I began Walter Johnson’s The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States. If the whole book is as shattering and mind-boggling as the introduction, it will be one I will never forget. Also, Run The Jewels literally said “F***k it” and dropped what could well be the album of the year early, for free–but with suggested funds linked to which fans can donate and support the protesters and the fight for justice. I would have linked the full album today, but a usable one doesn’t yet exist. You’ll have to settle for Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane.

Streaming for Shut-Ins:


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 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 20: Beet Box Bounty

I had hoped to vote for Bernie again in the general election, but no. As Nicole told me yesterday, if we can all be and think more like Bernie, the country will be better off if anything like THIS happens again. As my friend Ken wrote recently, an economy where folks don’t have to work multiple jobs and more than 40 hours a week to survive, and a health care system that’s inexpensive and accessible to all are both reasonable requests of the wealthiest nation in history.

We went out to eat for the first time in over three weeks yesterday. I love my wife’s cooking, we’ve been eating smarter, and is it easier on the wallet! But our restaurants need patrons to survive, and we have some damned good ones in town. We chose Beet Box, called in our order (two falafel sandwiches and an order of Za’atar fries), carefully picked it up, returned home, plated the food and tossed the containers, sanitized the table and our hands, microwaved the plates for 30 seconds, and dug in. WOW!!! I have plugged this restaurant here before, but I have never eaten a falafel sandwich so good, and I’ve eaten many. Co-owner Benjamin Hamrah, as hardworking, talented, and ebullient a person as I know, has got something great going–think about supporting Beet Box. (The process above may seem laborious–and that’s a truncated version–but we believe it’s safe. It is also intense, which is why we always have a drink afterward!)

A tiny detail of my new normal: no matter what time of day it is or where I am in the house, I have a laser pointer in my pocket. #catkingdom

Three joys of the day: our front yard trees, bushes, and flowers popping out, an early evening breeze and sunshine combo, and a Zoom double-date configured (what a word!) with our friends Vance and Liz Downing.

Some relevant photos:

Streaming for shut-ins:

If you need to get up and move (and you do), here.