Cloister Commentary, Day 213: The Simple Things

I usually try to lift myself out of a funk by just doing simple, easily completed tasks, so that was my goal yesterday morning. On the plus side, I smoothly made a check-up appointment for young June Bug, skillfully scheduled myself in to chat with my financial guru Alex LaBrunerie, and seamlessly executed a notarization of a Stephens student’s absentee ballot.

However, when I received a call from the local endoscopy center inviting me to a “procedure” party, things began to fall apart. I wanted to get it over with, so I told the receptionist November 3rd sounded great. I hung up–then realized that prepping for a colonoscopy in the days leading up to this election, then getting it on Election Day, were dubious choices.

I called back: “How ’bout the Monday afternoon that?” “Perfect! I’ve got you changed.” I hung up, swung my legs onto my desk, and smiled smugly–but WAIT! That would be the day after Nicole’s birthday; would I really want to celebrate with her while chugging Gatorade, eating Jello and popsicles, gobbling Dulcolax, and excusing myself on the hour? NO!

“Sorry, it’s me again. I promise I won’t call again. What’s the next appointment you have available? November 23rd? No, no travel plans for Thanksgiving (unfortunately), so that’ll work.”

Next, I emailed Nicole’s financial advisor to make an appointment for her, then settled in to read and blast away the COVID blues–forgetting that her money magician really prefers calls, and will call you if you forget. The phone snapped me out of my bibliophilic-discophilic trance: “Phil, I just have one question–” Oh no. “–are you sure Warren Zevon’s who you want to be listening to right about now?” We spent the next half-hour talking about Zevon, Alice Cooper, Jesus Christ Superstar (“Sacrilege!” his mom yelled at him as she tossed it), Cher, Glen Campbell, Bob Dylan, and, oh yes, a financial issue. It was actually a very enjoyable visit, but upon hanging up, I realized I was late to our appointment to finalize our estate planning, then, a block away, discovered I didn’t have a mask, then, after the receptionist gave me one, looked at our lawyer’s face and inferred that he was not pleased with the fact that the Chiefs game had just started (at 4:15?). Fortunately, he was forgiving and patiently, even cheerfully, walked us through our wills and stuff.

I successfully got myself home…and found that, despite my stumblings through simple strivings, my funk had lifted. It’s the little things…like shooting layups to get out of a jump-shooting slump.

Streaming for Survivors:

Pass the peas, like they used to say.

Cloister Commentary, Day 212: Ankles in the Muck

Yesterday was a fairly good day, considering we knew we would be entering into today with some foreboding, since Nicole is returning to in-person instruction (also, we’re finalizing some estate paperwork, but that’s only symbolically foreboding). We were pleased to see that, on the evidence of the first episode, Showtime’s adaptation of James McBride’s epic novel The Good Lord Bird was spot-on across the board–especially regarding tone and nuance, not an easy trick with this story. We hope the series sustains that success.

However, I want to write about something else. Do any of you have patches of self-loathing? I do, especially when I don’t “do anything” for an extended period of time. This feeling, I think, is somewhat related to the fact that I’m down to one part-time job that isn’t causing me any strain; another aspect of it is just this damned pandemic, which makes me sometimes feel as if I’m up to my ankles in muck. The most important factor in this creeping feeling, though, is how much that’s currently urgent in my life is really out of my control. I’ve usually been pretty good at squaring myself with those forces, or entities, or phenomena, or whatever you want to call them, but the sheer number of them that are in play right now can make me feel like a mouse. I can be a bit of a fixer, a problem-solver, and I can feel as if, as Warren Zevon so eloquently wrote, my shits fucked up. Yesterday, though largely good, was…one of those days.

Streaming for Strivers:

Speaking of that devil, these may well be the times in which writers like Zevon are best appreciated.

Cloister Commentary, Day 211: Four (and More)

Four joyful occasions, in the midst of tumult.

One, another long neighborhood walk with Nicole, enveloped in early fall coolness, and enlivened by exciting talk of future directions.

Two, partaking in the succulent cuisine of Tiger Chef Restaurant, which has grown so delicious and reliable during the pandemic.

Three, a deeply amusing, enlightening, and four-hours-comfortable hangout with our great friends Janet and David (and our backyard cats, Goldie and Beebs) on our back deck.

Four, a late evening, windows-open wind-down in our front room, with a final beverage and Ibrahim Ferrer singing us home.

Streaming for Strivers:

Regarding the coda above? Try it your own self.

Cloister Commentary, Day 210: The Shingle-Shot Shuffle

I wallowed around most of the day in a post-shingles-shot quasi-fluish state, and it came home to me vividly how the lurking presence of COVID makes every ache suspicious these days. I read, napped, shuffled around, ate a tomato sandwich, slurped a big bowl of ramen, applied two hours of Jane Austen filmage (the 2020 version of Emma, thumbs up), and finally started to feel normal–in time to hit the sack. Even a vehicle idling for a half-hour across the street with its bass CRANKED did not delay my appointment with Hypnos.

If any of my readers happened to have read Yaa Gyasi‘s scintillating debut novel Homegoing, I’d like to strongly recommend her second, Transcendent Kingdom. It’s very different in many ways, following the narrator’s generational, spiritual, familial, and intellectual struggles during two parallel periods in her life. Gyasi has a real gift for handling story, and her look at the clashes and embraces between culture, religion, and science are of the moment.

Also, Nicole and I dipped into a Showtime free trial just to watch the channel’s limited-series adaptation of one of our favorite recent novels, James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird, a kind of flipped Huck Finn. Though the trailer and reviews seemed very promising, we were praying they didn’t eff it up. Unfortunately, the free trial didn’t give us access to the series, so it’s back to the drawring board.

Lil’ Scrappers, 2018-2020 (we’re pretty sure): A Humble Tribute.

Streaming for Strivers:

For the unfolding of your Saturday morning.

Cloister Commentary, Day 209: Dignified and Old

Got both my flu and shingles shots yesterday at the pharmacy. The administering official was a 1992 Hickman graduate and his mom once that school’s nurse, so he had much material to distract me with. Seriously, I don’t mind shots–but I will testify that the shingles stick leaves one a little sore (and it’s one of two). I guess that shot certified me as an elderly man; fortunately for me, I’d listened to the Modern Lovers’ song “Dignified and Old” early this week, which prepared me to happily and proudly accept that mantle. Some key lyrics, perhaps?

“Well my friends say that I deceive myself
And that I contradict myself
And I can’t say if they’re right
But I’m not ashamed
Oh I can take a challenge
And so I won’t die
Someday I’ll be dignified and old
I know it
And I say hey kids
(Hey kids)
I said hey kids
(Hey kids)
I say someday we’ll be dignified and old….”

Written by Jonathan Richman, a true original.

Also of note: Nicole and I finally sat down to watch the VHS of Sammy & Rosie Get Laid (directed by Stephen Frears; written by Hanif Kureishi) I purchased a few months ago, and it was well worth the $30 it cost me! In fact, given some of the striking scenes and images and especially the related political content, I think we now know why the film hasn’t made the leap to DVD/BluRay/streaming. Really? Something like that could still resign a film to the “where is it now?” pile? Yes. So what, Phil, is this that you’re speaking of? Reader, you’re on your own.

Woke up at 1 a.m. with heart pounding, thinking that the probable demise of our outdoor cat Scrappers might have actually been a conspiracy. I’m not kidding. Clearly, I need to get better rest.

Streaming for Strivers:

A wizard, a true star.

Cloister Commentary, Day 208: Batten Down the Hatches…Please?

The day after a big school board decision initiating returning to in-seat learning, Boone County racked up 100 new cases. How about we, the community, batten down the damn hatches for as long as it takes to fend the sh*t off, then we go back to the classroom and stay? Because, from the looks of November and December, we’re just going to be taking those three steps back–and at who knows what cost? Nicole rebounded from a hard Tuesday with such an admirably “screw it” attitude that it put me at ease, too…but these days, each day’s brush-off is just a temporary damn thing. Again, I recommend Albert Camus’ The Plague to my tiny crowd of readers.

In the late afternoon, as we were heading out to pick up our dinner curbside-ish, a couple of neighborhood youth alerted us to yet another feline who’d been run down by a driver who thought he was on I-70. From their description, we jumped to one heart-breaking conclusion, which was instantly ruled out by the sudden appearance of that neighbor’s cat. Unfortunately, our most recently integrated backyard stray, Mr. Scrappers, who did not really fit the kids’ description, did not show up for evening dining or bedtime check-in, so we are fearing the worst. We are becoming too familiar with each sparrow falling–no deity may be watching, but it sometimes feels as if we are.

Streaming for Strivers:

Serious ALL-STAR rhythm, right here.

Cloister Commentary, Day 207: What You Reading For?

The day was quite frankly overshadowed by the worrisome news that Nicole will be heading back to in-person instruction. Neither of us are of the opinion that the health of the community in any way dictates a safe return to buildings by students, faculty, and staff. It’s certainly improved; it is still not good. We spent part of the evening beginning to consider precautions we’ll need to take at home. Of course, we’ve been taking them since around The Ides of March, but clearly they will need to be ramped up. Could she (or I? or we?) die? Yes, though that is unlikely–however, our experiences with death over the last five months give us no comfort. Could she (or I? or we?) get sick? Much more likely–and I don’t know if you’ve done your homework on the virus, but the majority of folks that contract it don’t just get over it. Its multiple effects recur over time, and in some cases have not dissipated at all. Could we get friends, family, co-workers, and students sick, and might they die? Yes, and we have many older friends and family members. Should we institute a home system where we distance and mask to discourage hugs, kisses, eating at the same table, hanging out in the same room, and sleeping in the same bed? It is a big deal.

We are well aware so many are suffering the social and economic effects of this virus more drastically than we are (we think and talk about it all the time, with heavy hearts–we didn’t just start teaching and understanding families yesterday), but we both question the wisdom of this move. On top of that anxiety, to be blamed by some for the state of their families’ educational and economic progress (and even happiness) is deeply depressing, and reminds me that this country has had multiple chances to create programs that would assist us in these situations–but then that would be Communism, socialism, entitlements, welfare-state suckling, kindness, humanity, charity…something like that.

Anyway, we noticed some nice folks were considering gathering in front of the homes of school board members who voted against the return of middle schoolers and high schoolers (who are not returning–yet), with signs, chanting, hostility of the apparently gleeful kind, etc. etc. I know of people who say, “What do you read for?” Others are skeptical that anything you get from books isn’t really real, or true, or helpful in navigating life. Maybe. I doubt it. I was immediately put in mind of two very memorable and instructive literary moments when I perused a few of these nice folks’ comments: one is Colonel Sherburn’s speech to the mob in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (censored even now in some schools); the other is a similar scene (surely inspired by Twain’s description) in To Kill a Mockingbird, when Atticus is guarding Tom Robinson at the Maycomb jail. Sure, those examples aren’t exactly what was being threatened, but the dynamics were close enough to help me make sense of and find my footing with these community threats.

Read. It helps. And it’s cheap.

Streaming for Strivers:

A boost to my spirits this morning, and I hope it is to yours.

Cloister Commentary, Day 206: The Thrills and Spills of Tutoring

After Nicole and I took a long neighborhood walk through a windy, cool, overcast fall morning and I arrived at work, I was presented with my first major tutoring challenge of the semester. I was due to Zoom-proctor a student’s on-line math test–it’s very doable via screen-sharing and camera sweeps–but I’d just had my computer replaced, and the techs had not reconnected my mic, camera, and speakers. Sounds like something I could have done, but the simple task required administrative log-in credentials and I’m so low on the totem pole I’m under the ground. The biggest problem was, the instructor was starting the test remotely and the test was timed. Fortunately, neither the student nor I panicked (her mic, camera, and speakers were working great), and I managed to use the chat function skillfully enough to get her through. The exciting life of a professional tutor!

When I returned home from work, I was rewarded for my patience and “ingenuity” with a Tampa Bay victory over Houston (sorry, Brian), I listened to some classic highlife music from Bokoor Studios in Ghana, and I read several more chapters from Jorge Ibargüengoitia’s pitch-black The Dead Girls.

After more shepherd’s pie for supper and a cup of hot golden milk, we read and waited for results from a special school board vote regarding a return to in-seat schooling–which, unfortunately, stretched into the night past our endurance. Judging from the national COVID-19 map, now doesn’t seem to be a great time, but, as I pointed out to a colleague yesterday, these are counterintuitive times. We awakened wide-eyed at 3:45 a.m to the news.

Streaming for Strivers:

A continuation from last night’s soundtrack.

Cloister Commentary, Day 205: Busy Doin’ Nuthin’

Do you have trouble doing nothing? I do. Even when under the guidance of the seldom-wrong Thich Nhat Hanh, I feel guilty if I am not “working on something.” In addition, continuity is very important to me; if I don’t get a running start and a few laps in, I feel I will not get whatever I’m trying to do satisfactorily accomplished. However, yesterday morning I was actually successful in just cooling down my attitude inertia: I drank coffee with some Irish creme, chomped on a bagel, read the paper, and took a nice nap. Now, that seems like I actually did a couple of things right there, but those don’t count.

The afternoon was a little different. I excitedly fixed the massive tagging problem presented by a set of digital albums a friend shared with me, Nicole and I Zoomed first with mom, my brother, and his lady then with members of our Facebook group the Flying Saucer Landing Pad Support Group, which is what it says it is. But even those I did not lock into. More accurately, I drifted into and out of them.

Later, I fell asleep watching grass grow (aka watching a baseball game) and woke up to find a piece of Ghirardelli chocolate balancing on my chest. That was my cue to finish watching the Watchmen film.

I think Thay would give me a little credit for inching toward being still. A little.

Streaming for Strivers:

This is one talented Fela. Sorry…

Cloister Commentary, Day 204: Outside of Dodge

Activities and highlights.

Grocery shopping: I didn’t know Founders Brewery produced a regular ol’ 4.4% lager; I was again the victim/beneficiary of a good can design.

Breakfast: spontaneous–Black & Gold Burrito from Main Squeeze, plus we got the hell out of Dodge before foo’ball insanity.

Neighborhood walk: Very peaceful, borderline warm, got the ol’ blood circulatin’.

Afternoon Free for All: I continued reading Jim Thompson’s ridiculous and riotous Pop. 1280 and exploring unfamiliar albums from music lists; Nicole whipped up some shepherd’s pie!

Mail: My notary lock-bag arrived–so exciting!

Dinner: The shepherd’s pie was too good for me to limit myself to two servings of!

Evening: We revisited Zack Snyder’s Watchmen movie (better than I remembered) and sipped tiny glasses of delicious Five Farms County Cork Single Batch Irish Cream Liqueur.

Now, who won the game?

Streaming for Strivers:

A river of rhythm.