Cloister Commentary, Day 301: Staying Up Late

On the fly. Looks like a “list day.”

1) Gained some insight on Mom’s shoulder problems, so there’s a glow at tunnel’s end.

2) As a student teacher supervisor for Mizzou, I’m responsible for hosting an initial meeting with the intern and her host teacher. The latter happens to be my esteemed former student Jordan Smith. These meetings usually last 45-60 minutes; the three of us had so much fun talking about teaching ours stretched to two hours! Long live The Academy of Rock….

3) Mom and I chose Steven Soderberg’s Let Them All Talk as our Movie Night subject. Streep, Bergen, and Wiest, plus that director–how could it not be good? It is impressive–the dialogue’s near 100% improvised, Soderberg’s own camerawork is fascinating, and Bergen’s a trip–but…it is not good. The title? Very good!

4) I decided to stay up a little later to make sure Mom got to sleep ok, and I’m suffering mild basketball burnout, so I stream-surfed to Euphoria, which I’ve heard and read so much about, and sampled the first episode. I’m interested in readers’ take on it; it’s very powerful, but I’m honestly not sure I can handle the whole series. The soundtrack alone, however, was enough to keep me interested.

5) If I ever wrote a poem about abstract expressionism, like Frank O’Hara I think I’d write it about Grace Hartigan.

Streaming for Strivers:


Cloister Commentary, Day 300: The 6th Sustenance and Succor Awards!

Every 50 days of the pandemic, I’ve tried to shine light on the stuff that’s been guiding Nicole and I through these ever-more difficult days. It’s hell out there so it’s hard to see that little glow at the tunnel’s rear….


Belle & Sebastian: What to Look for in Summer (this summer? One hopes!)

75 Dollar Bill Big Band: Live at Tubby’s (Big band? Yes, big band!)

Madvillain: Madvillainy (it’s more about heroics….)


Small Axe (a stone masterpiece in five installments)

All Creatures Great and Small (PBS reboot–definitely in our wheelhouse; hell, in our house!)

The Bee Gees: How Do You Mend a Broken Heart?


Mary Gabriel: Ninth Street Women

Wright Thompson: Pappyland – A Story of Fine Bourbon, Family, and the Things That Last

Various Writers: The Decameron Projects – 29 Stories from the Pandemic


India’s House (The Columbia curbside stars of our isolation!)

Bangkok Gardens

Pasta La Fata

I told a friend yesterday: “Great art is definitely the best and most reliable escape right now. It’s really not even an escape.” That, and great food savored in a sliver of time. I hope art and food have helped others, too; feel free to share your award-winners.

Streaming for Strivers:

For my friends Ben, Vance, and…all of us? The most curious kind of bears.

Cloister Commentary, Day 299: Tough Nut in My Head

Yesterday was Day 2 of Nicole and I brainstorming strategies by which we can cohabit healthily once she is back to in-person learning (Tuesday). If we just had a kitchenette downstairs and a full bathroom, and knew when the vaccine was coming (will our state government, indifferent if not hostile for a good long while toward public education, even consider teachers essential?), that would be a big help. That is not all–I’m not going to belabor this, but it is one tough nut to crack.

We did most of this in the evening, though some ideas we discussed when Nicole had a break from work; I don’t want to give anyone the idea she was lounging around on a work day. In spite of the risk, she’s even looking forward to seeing students–I can’t imagine a teacher who’s not.

Other things:

  1. I cooked some jalapeño and cheese curd stuffed hot links from Barred Owl’s butcher shop for dinner. Damn.
  2. My heart sank as I learned of a moronic multi-player and -team trade that cut out the youthful heart of the Nets’ bench and dealt them an extra prima donna. It’s hard to rely on anything these days beyond loved ones and art.
  3. I received two copies of Third Man’s Maggot Brain magazine and thoroughly enjoyed two pieces on the sui generis musician Louis Thomas Hardin, also known as Moondog.

Streaming for Strivers:

For me at least, a fresh revelation, featuring some outstanding players.

Cloister Commentary, Day 298: New Rules, Mob Rules

I apologize for losing it a bit yesterday. I get a little angsty when angry mobs threaten violence and/or lawsuits if they don’t get what they want, and it was twice in two weeks. I know I just need to get over it.

We opened the day by meditating, taking a walk (we got another in in the afternoon), and discussing the immediate future. So many things are imperative to be dealt with intelligently it makes one’s head spin. Nicole of course taught all day; I battled what felt like was an allergy attack but deepened my knowledge of the history of abstract expressionism, got prepped to supervise student teachers, and finally gave my undivided attention to Chloe X Halle’s sophomore album (pretty damn strong–those kids are serious).

I talked to my mom and she’s finally got an appointment with an orthopedic specialist to address the tear in her left shoulder. I’d hoped to travel down and at least be with her, but that would be too risky under our new circumstances.

After dinner, I kept one eye on the Brooklyn – Denver NBA game and read Robert Hughes essays on Pollock, Rothko, Warhol, and Schnabel (strong stuff!). Nicole kept working on school. Did you know teachers still routinely put 10-12 hours a day teaching virtually? You didn’t? Well, now you do.

Streaming for Strivers:

Your flag decal really won’t get you into any kind of heaven anymore.

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.