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 192: Erratically Conscious

I set a personal professional record with seven consecutive tutorial sessions on Zoom yesterday. All my appointments showed up early and prepared, they demonstrated impressive knowledge of their chosen genre and film history, their essay ideas were fairly sound, and, in most cases, I was able to facilitate an obliterating of their compositional obstacles (also known as “helping them”). Perhaps the sessions were made more pleasant by my Zoom background, which was the actual cozy little residential section of West Walnut Street that backs my office window but looked almost computer-generated. Anything to distract from my COVID-forged grooming, which is indeed approaching the Jeff Bridges-esque.

Do you fall asleep sitting up, even while watching shows you love with people you love? Fear not–you are not alone. I believe this is a sign of simply being in the “second half” of life’s game. I had to “make up” a viewing of the third and fourth episode of Watchmen that I was erratically conscious for when Nicole and I originally watched it, but, I tell you what (do people say that in other regions?), that show is scintillating. Just scintillating. Worth watching twice even IF you were fully conscious for it!

I awakened this morning at 3:15 again, afraid I was living in a (bit more scarily defined) theocracy.

Streaming for Survivors:

Who’d-a thunk this ivory-pounder would indeed be one of the very last men standing? And did you know he kicks this album off with a Led Zeppelin cover?

Cloister Commentary, Day 191: We Love the Sunrise

We were a little groggy when we awakened, so we decided to hop in the truck, turn up a little birthday-boy Bud Powell and head east on I-70 to watch the sun rise. Unfortunately, cloud cover was obscuring the event, so at Millersburg we turned around to head back home–only to see the pink-orange orb in its full glory a few seconds later in our rear-view mirror.

We also took a very long walk around the neighborhood. The weather was perfectly mild, the rain was still hanging in wait, the morning was quiet–but it’s not quite the same without your dog.

Later, I wrote one of my summer school students a recommendation letter for Stephens’ study abroad program and did my first round of editing and suggesting for my 2020-2021 Battle High School mentee. They are both outstanding humans.

As the afternoon turned to evening, we indulged in two musical Louies at pretty high volume–Prima and Jordan–then took a brief nap to Nat King Cole singing en Español (a highly recommended activity). Nicole did grade-checks, I watched the Miami Heat–I’m going to call them a team of destiny–advance to the NBA Bubble Finals over the Celtics, and we closed down shop with an episode of Last Tango in Halifax, the window open so we could hear the rain finally fall.

Streaming for Strivers:

The ultimate in iconic self-pity!

Cloister Commentary, Day 190: I’m Into Literature

Nicole and I went to the grocery yesterday morning. Our pandemic routine is usually that she goes in while I sit in the car and write these, but my taste-aholic ways led me to tag along and sniff around for some new brews. I happened to be wearing an Arkansas Razorbacks shirt; I didn’t graduate from that institution, but its impact on me was stronger than any of the others I attended. Wheeling into the liquor aisle, I came upon a woman older than me who stopped me, looked me in the eye, pointed south and said, “Arkansas is that way!” I chuckled, not sure of her exact attitude, and she continued by rather confidently saying, as she then pointed to my shirt, “Big football fan, are you?”

“No. Literature.” And I proceeded to the beer cooler. That Cigar City Brewery‘s doing some interesting things.

Later, we received a visit from the young Mizzou scholar London Rayhill Santacruz, who dropped by to change the oil in his jalopy. We treated him to some pad Thai from Tiger Chef, shot the bull for a bit, and let him get to work. Mercifully, he did not need my assistance, because, as I just noted, I’m into literature. However, after he finished we exchanged hip hop enthusiasms: he’s an Earthgang man (I told you he was a scholar), I tried to sell him on Little Simz and Boldy James. After he left, Nicole and I noted that we must have a knack for choosing friends, because they all raise stellar youths.

We then poured a couple at the kitchen table, cracked pistachios, and listened to and discussed The Beatles’ White Album.

It was a great day.

Streaming for Strivers:

This is a full EP.

Cloister Commentary, Day 189: Always Give Succor an Even Break

INGREDIENTS IN A RECIPE FOR SUCCOR

2 neighborhood walks.
A round of sitting meditation.
Some firm hugs and light kisses.
Frozen peanut butter cookies.
A cat on the lap.
Some urgent punk rock.
A lit crackle candle.
A elegantly, wittily, slyly written book (in this case, A Gentleman in Moscow).
A small house project.
A large pizza pie from Tony’s Pizza Palace.
A mini-binge of a previously unfamiliar but truly great series (in this case, Watchmen).
3 cats in the bed (minimum).
Sharing of joys and regrets.
Sleep’s easy descent.

Streaming for Strivers:

These days, Lenny’s songs can hit too closely to home, but sometimes I desire that. I’m not masochistic; I am simply often bolstered by direct confrontations with reality, however dark.

Cloister Commentary, Day 188: Semicolonoscopy

Dr. James Terry is one of the best profs at Stephens College–he’s admired by students AND colleagues–and yesterday he staged his students’ annual Punctuation Day competition. He assigns each of the class’ finalists a punctuation mark, then charges them with the task of designing a creative presentation that effectively defines each, illustrates its uses, and offers tips to the confused, and delivering it on stage in the school theater. This year, he invited me to judge, and, in introducing me, asked me how I liked to celebrate National Punctuation Day. Having only learned of its existence the day I received his request, I lied that I like to spend the morning writing, then the afternoon giving my work a semicolonotomy (I am a mite too fond of them). Also, after submitting my ballot, I learned I was the first judge to ever award all three categories (creativity, volume, overall excellence) to the same student, who revealed the mysteries of–wait for it!–the semicolon to her peers. By the way, half of the students were beaming in via Zoom (one presented that way), the other half plus the educators were masked, and tape prevented any of us from being closer than eight feet from each other; props to Jim and Stephens for providing a safe and healthy place to learn. (Note semicolonic restraint exercised above.)

Nicole and I have had a bit of a rough week, if you’ve been following, but I’d like to recommend neighborhood walks and sitting meditation to any of you who are also mourning or otherwise suffering (the national events of the week have been enough to cause an excess of both in almost anyone). Also recommended: taking meals together, talking the grief out, listening to The Beatles, and watching uplifting programming (for us, Woke and Unpregnant).

Streaming for Strivers:

I’d like to thank Spacecase Records for lighting a punk rock fire in me. Found within: early work by Meat Puppets, 100 Flowers, Leaving Trains, and The Gun Club.

Cloister Commentary, Day 187: Horrified and Sickened–That is All

I really can’t bring myself to say much about the day, other than Nicole and I enjoyed another day working together from home (which I think we both considered as healing), and we were both horrified and sickened by two events: the ruling in the Breonna Taylor MURDER case and some other people’s president toying publicly with the idea of not leaving office peacefully should the country’s vote call for it. We were surprised by neither event; however, not being horrified and sickened by them would have indicated something amiss with our inner workings, so I am glad we were not inured to their import.

Streaming for Strivers:

Cloister Commentary, Day 186: Nothing Black Can Stay

We started the day with a looooong neighborhood walk. Our departed companion was represented by his leash, which I put around my neck, his harness, which Nicole carried, and my trusty pocketed doggie doo-doo bag, because…well…at my age you never know. It just so happened that along the way we saw some folks walking a reddish dog with a flag-like tail and some seriously billowing bloomers. This brought back memories of a retirement idea one of our colleagues long ago proposed for us to bring to fruition collectively: we’d each employ our special talents in a one-stop wedding service called Groom ‘n’ Lube. My friends Karen Downey and Becky Sarrazin (the braintrust) would organize and decorate, I’d perform the service, Nicole would style the wedding party’s coifs, and our buddy John Steitz would take care of all the mechanical and security chores (“Call Guido: 443-KILL”). Anyway, watching this dog and remembering Louis, Nicole proposed a similar venture for us, Plume and Pantz: a grooming service just for border collies and their Aussie likes.

We hate this pandemic, but it enabled us to work together from home, and we really needed to do that yesterday. Fortunately, we each had our ugly cries at different times so we were able to calm each other rather than stoke the fire of our grieving with more coals of sadness. But just as nothing gold can stay, neither can anything black.

A story about Louie, which I’ve told before but I’ll try to spin a little differently: one summer day when Louis was a puppy, our friend George Frissell swung by to brainstorm with me about what would be the 1st and only Rock and Roll Quiz Bowl fundraiser. We were sitting at the kitchen table, I made a suggestion, and a look blossomed on George’s face akin to religious (or perhaps another kind of) ecstasy. I furrowed my brow as if you say, “The idea wasn’t THAT good”–then I peeked under the table to see Louis tongue-bathing George’s be-sandaled toes. I ’bout lost it. The dog could be a menace to visitors, but his true soul manifested itself in this case.

Streaming for Strivers:

Why not? We need it and it’s the anniversary of his birth.

Cloister Commentary, Day 184: The End of Summer, 2020

Louis has not been an easy dog. In fact, I have often joked that raising a human would have been easier–a few times, I wasn’t joking.

We adopted him from the Central Missouri Humane Society after he and 40 other puppies were rescued from a hoarding situation. Nicole and I both recall he was two months old at the time, and only later did we grasp the trauma he must have experienced. From the beginning, he has been both intensely fearful and a fierce resource guarder (which extends not only to bowls of food but the food providers), a loving, playful companion but also a tightly wound, hurt boy who can come uncoiled in a split second with clacking teeth. He’s a bit of a poster pup for “Fight or flight.” As such, we have done everything in our power to love him, keep him healthy, convince him he’s safe, and shield him from situations that could trigger his more aggressive instincts. We have not always been successful in the latter two strivings, which were enough to convince us he required minute by minute vigilance.

Yesterday, as I watched him stubbornly refuse food (and thus medication), struggle to get himself off the floor, out into the yard, and back, and snore wheezily from his suffering lungs, I realized that today, the last day of summer, was likely going to be his last. But the immensity of time, care, vigilance, patience, understanding, forgiveness, inventive problem-solving, and so much more we devoted to Louis, I also realized, added up to very deep love. We’ve watched several pets pass on after spending their lives with us, we have dearly loved ’em all, but I think that’s why this one’s been the hardest.

Streaming for Survivors:

Sometimes you feel like lashing out. (I’ve had little sleep in the last four nights, so forgive me.)

Cloister Commentary, Day 182: Cancer Sucks

That was a day.

I should have known when police searchlights and cherry-tops beaming through our front window woke me up at 3:45 a.m. that the day would be less than jubilant. They weren’t looking for us, but that might have been better than what was to come.

Cancer sucks. We lost Nicole’s mom to brain cancer in 2013, and our 12-year-old border collie Louis was diagnosed with lung cancer yesterday. We’d taken him to the vet thinking he was having some joint issues, which he is having, but there was more. We brought him home with some palliative meds; our veterinarian isn’t completely sure how long he has–but it would appear not much. I’m sure I will tell a story or two about this very complicated dog in the coming week.

And of course cancer was in the national news in a none too comforting way.

Kinda takes the air out of commenting.

Streaming for Survivors:

Imported jubilation.