Cloister Commentary, Day 137: Tenterhooks

We voted. Actually, we already had, via absentee ballot. The occasion was mostly a primary, but voters approved a Medicare extension, so that was cool. However, early indications are that barely 30% of eligible Boone County voters exercised their right. I hope to be corrected on that percentage.

We’re also both on tenterhooks waiting for our schools to decide on an opening. With the kind of planning that goes into days, weeks, months and semesters of hour-by-hour teaching, August 4th (make that 5th) shuts the window to a bit of a crack. I know these decisions are difficult, but quality education should be a high priority, y’know?

The two big reminders of my own mortality this summer has presented me pushed me to get in for a check-up. Also, I’m changing physicians, as my last one seemed to be just checking me off the clipboard and couldn’t even keep my medical history straight. I attempted to return to my previous physician, whom I’d left after he scheduled me for a colonoscopy, where I heard the surgeon tell me right after I came out of anesthesia, “Hey, I know you love this procedure, but you didn’t have to come in for another two years!” Smart ass! BUT I was chapped off that I spent some money I didn’t need to and wasn’t even given a choice. According to the receptionist, who asked me to explain why I left the clinic in the first place, my previous physician is “conservative”–I don’t find that word perfectly comforting, but if it means he’s not into taking chances with my health, OK, I get it. Anyway, the receptionist had to check on a couple of matters and call me back, which she didn’t. Gripping reading, eh?

I started what promises to be a great book, Lawrence Wright’s The End of October. Wright’s one of my favorite nonfiction authors–his The Looming Tower, about the historical run-up to 9/11, is a classic–but this is a novel–about a pandemic breaking in Jakarta with a 70% lethality rate. I needed some light reading after the events of the last two months.

Streaming for Strivers:

“Trad jazz” sounds boring, but not when Sidney Bechet’s in the house.

Cloister Commentary, Day 135: In Person

About this school reopening?

As far as Columbia, Missouri, is concerned, if we were all-virtual in April, we should be going all-virtual this month, as COVID is relatively rampant here now, FAR beyond April 1st, and shows no signs of being curbed soon. It pains me to say this, as kids in environs that are the most challenged under normal circumstances will get screwed–but they will get screwed PLUS their and their families’ health will be more vulnerable if we re-open in-person. And I definitely get the devastating economic impact of virtual-only education, but why is it that it’s up to schools to support the economy? I think that’s another body’s job, a body that’s lately exclusively taken care of its own and its deep-pocketed buddies and hollowed out OUR resources. Not to mention child-care: back in the early ’70s, there was a movement to provide for that for all of us, but ultimately that was seen as a pinko plot. We’re great at shooting off our own toes.

Personally, when I’ve been presented with crises, I’ve tended to put my head down and stoically prepare on an emotional level, then step quietly into the fray. But this situation is SO painful for us to contemplate. Nicole, if we open in-person, will be daily entering a mass of humans that will put her at risk of illness and possibly death (this IS virus roulette), and in which she can possibly put others at the same risk, including me and our families and friends. I’m on another campus of older students which is also considering opening in person. We talked yesterday about how we are gonna deal with in-person days: specific house spots to discard clothing, staying clean, possibly masking and socially distancing INSIDE the house, living on different floors and sleeping in different beds–those are just some of the possibilities.

I don’t want to die–three or four in every 100 infected, but do YOU like those odds? I would be TOTALLY bereft if I lost my soul mate because of this, or if I passed the virus to my mourning mom. Or if I died or got and stayed sick because of what I was born to do. I am frustrated that, to the powers that be, this is even a tricky decision, one most are putting off and we are in AUGUST. I’ve thought about the soldier analogy, but it’s not perfectly apt.

This election, laser-focus on who’s interested in creating a firmer infrastructure, an inexpensive and reliable health care system, a more deeply and richly supported public education system, and a taxation system that holds EVERYONE accountable for the common good. And try not to forget what this crisis and our leadership and OUR PAST VOTING CHOICES have cost us.

Streaming for Soulmates:

What a team-

Cloister Commentary, Day 131: Pass. Pass. Pass.

Haircut. Bloodwork. Colonoscopy. Pass. Pass. Pass. It’s the way that it is in a state that’s setting a new record every day.

Did some dropping off: the dog at The All Creatures Hotel, a humane trap at the Spay & Neuter Project. Did some picking up: some Everclear at, what is it, Be Best or Be Good or Be Well? Don’t worry about the latter; Nicole’s simply making her quarterly bottle of limoncello, which studies have shown ward off the ‘rona spell. Not really.

Would anyone like a free download of the new Bob Dylan album, which is quite good and I already have a copy of? Go to and enter the following code: X7M2QB6G7. It’s a pretty good pandemic record, as it faces up to mortality and history with a tight-lipped grin and an eye-twinkle. He’s our Ol’ Blue Eyes. (If the code doesn’t work, someone beat you to it. But don’t give up on it.)

Took two naps again today. Maybe it was the four-leaf strength cup of Twining’s I had before each. Maybe I’m malaised. Didn’t Paul McCartney write that one?

Streaming for Survivors:

We spent the evening with the Old Masters. Should you like to do the same, here.

Cloister Commentary, Day 129: Snores

I snore. Sometimes so badly–especially if I sleep deeply–that my throat’s raw in the morning. Yesterday morning, morning was 3:30 a.m.; I’d already driven Nicole out, my uvula felt swollen to twice its normal size, and I was buzzing with anxiousness about ten imperatives. Got up, drank some ice-cold water, took an ibuprofen, drank a cup of coffee, tried to read, and performed a rarity, for me: I went back to sleep after I’d gotten up. Took a nap in the afternoon, too. Still didn’t feel all the way charged–maybe 73%–and even a Shakespeare’s veggie “Overeem Special” (double mushrooms, onions, pepper cheese, and green olives) didn’t help. Really, the only thing powering me through the day at all was a steady diet of stride and boogie woogie piano records, several of which I repeat-played.

All of my Stephens summer school students gained their freshman comp credit. A very bad research paper brought one kid in at 69.8%, a very narrow escape (a C- is required to pass). I do not know if I will have a class next semester, and, if I do, how I will have it.

We are without a show. Normally, I do not need escapes. Sometimes, I think I’m quite the opposite: I want to confront reality more fully, more specifically. But damn this summer, you know? So we sampled a couple we thought might delight, distract, and amuse us, Toast of London and Space Force. There’s nothing like watching a fruitlessly striving comedy produce barely a smile, and no outward laughter, especially twice in a row. On the plus side, the two episodes drove us out to the front room to read.

Today will be better. I am going to will it so.

Streaming for Survivors:

Finger-buster on the 88s. For Nicole.

Cloister Commentary, Day 125: Cat Herding Sheep

Only eight times this many days will be 1,000. February seems over a year in the past, but eight times this many seems like it could happen in a snap. Does that make any sense?

But for the grading of research papers, my Stephens summer school stint is over. I remember neurotically pacing back and forth, wondering if I should take the job on, then if I would like it, then if I would suck at Zoom–and it’s already over, and I’m in for next summer. If there is a next summer: what really sucks is that some valued colleagues at Stephens have lost their jobs so the institution can survive, and the mess we’re all in isn’t going to make continuance a snap.

I have a scarily-bearded cousin who’s more like an uncle named Jim Hague. He is a septuagenarian with the motor of a five-year-old (what age has the highest-running motor?), and yesterday he showed up to finish repairing Dad’s old riding lawnmower. This particular job has been an obsession with him, and he toiled in the ninety degree heat from 1 p.m. to about 7 p.m. He was so desperate to complete the task that he asked me to help him, which is akin to asking a cat to herd sheep. I didn’t break anything, got my hands dirty (it was FUN!), and test-drove the thing without impaling it on the sweetgum tree. Jim and I don’t agree on very much, but no one has been more helpful in the aftermath of my father’s passing. For awhile, I was worried I might have another relative’s demise on my hands, but after Mom hosed him down and he ate some cookies, he was good as new.

I despise few things more than wasting food–I am a plate-cleaner to the manor born–but I was soundly defeated at dinner. I decided to give Mom a break from having to feed me and grabbed some curbside grub at The Southern Standard in Monett, but the delicious four-piece fried catfish plate I ordered was not accurately described on the restaurant’s menu: I double-checked, but nowhere did it read “For two.” Nor did it read “jumbo-sized catfish slabs.” My jaws creaked to a screeching halt at 3.5 slabs, I left a swamp of slaw on the plate, then staggered out of the kitchen to collapse on the couch. Too full to drink a beer or read? I’d not thought it possible, but it is. I am still full right now thumbing this out 12 hours later.

Streaming for Survivors:

One of the greatest alto saxophonists alive was born in Joplin, Missouri, 81 years ago today. Here he is.

Cloister Commentary, Day 124: Settling Dust

I knew the day would be pretty good when, purely by accident, my mom and I watched Buju Banton perform live on TV while we were eating breakfast. In some ways, it was a classic COVID-only moment.

‘Twas the second-to-last day of Stephens’ summer school program. Students are presenting the results of their research for their “final”; their last assignment will be a companion persuasive research essay, due Sunday night at the latest. Topics: trucker safety (that was actually the best and most interesting one!), protections for sex workers, the future of Mount Rushmore, body shaming in the fashion industry, and the effectiveness of masking in a pandemic. You’d think presentation assignments on Zoom would leave a bit to be desired, but I find I’m less distracted, and the presenters seem so as well. To be honest, I enjoyed them, and look forward to Round Two today.

I returned to my hometown of Carthage in the early afternoon to drop in for a few hours on my old friend Kevin Keller. We hadn’t seen each other in 35 years, so we compressed much info into our visit. Kevin could (and clearly still can) always be counted on for thought-provoking conversations, and his reflections on his time in Puerto Rico and Spanish Harlem and at Missouri Southern and Carthage Junior High (as a language and TESOL specialist) were fascinating. He also once did one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen documented on Facebook: he shared photos from the journey he made around the country with his ailing mom, who is currently in a nursing facility which, for reasons I need not explain, he cannot visit. Kevin was a great host, all told; I even got a home-cooked Dominican lunch out of the visit!

With the dust having settled somewhat after my father’s passing, it is now quiet enough that the true coping and processing has begun. We had a few sudden visitations of sadness and yawning absence after I returned, but decided to fight it with Modern Family (which I’d never seen), Key & Peele sketches (Peele had been a hilarious guest in the Modern Family episode), and Little Fires Everywhere, which Mom liked enough for us to binge three episodes. I’ve read the book and already watched it once, and the series really holds up.

For the record, I’m very aware of spiraling COVID cases, spooky federal agents in one of my favorite cities, the grim struggle over school reopenings, the ongoing and necessary fight in our streets for social justice, the specter of vote-suppressing chicanery, and a demagogue thrashing like the shark at the end of JAWS–it may seem I barely acknowledge it, but on my mentor Ken’s advice, in this project I’m simply writing what’s occurring with us. Paralysis is almost a tempting option, but despite churning gut and teeming brain, I’m attending to what’s in front of me. Reader, see, you’re not alone. I’m glad I’m not.

Streaming for Strivers:

One of the biggest, nattiest, most universal dreadlocked youths ever born.

Cloister Commentary, Day 123: COVID Roulette

Once a week with my on-line class, we have an Open Zoom: I make myself available for twice the required time for consultation on classwork and anything else related to writing, lit, or college survival. I screen-share a YouTube playlist so music greets them when they enter, though sometimes they have to chat at me or unmute and yell to alert me to their presence.

One of my three students from California NEVER misses an Open Zoom, which is doubly impressive as it’s 6:30 am to 8:30 am her time. She always has terrific questions, she’s always enthusiastic about her work, she’s taking and aceing all four of our program’s courses for incoming freshmen, she loves writing–and she’s an equine major! Laughing, she told me yesterday that her parents recently asked her, considering all the work she’s been doing, if she was ok, and I’ve thought the same thing. After we dealt with integrating and citing quotes into research papers MLA style, we chatted about the class and the future for about 15 minutes, and I do hope that, sometime when life is less a game of COVID roulette, she comes to see me for writing tutoring. She’s hoping Stephens is opening as it is planning to next month, and, though I don’t perfectly share that hope, she’s already bought her plane tickets. This time reeks to highest heaven and lowest hell, but she’s been a beacon.

In the afternoon, Mom and I and her teacher pal Cathy visited the splendid country home of Madison and Logan Dickens. Madison’s like a granddaughter to Mom and a niece to me; she’s a smart, diligent school nurse and mother of two, and her husband can about build or fix anything. As she cradled her bowling-ball of a newborn Presley in her elbow-nook, she and her agile and avid older daughter Lilly gave us a fascinating tour of the spread.

Like a moth to flame: after months of being relatively painlessly being weaned off sports, can I resist MLB and NBA action?

Streaming for Survivors:

For you and your folks, me and my folks–and for the super stupid…

Cloister Commentary, Day 121: 63 – 54 – 5 – 44 – H

I am spending a week with my mom and yesterday hit the ol’ 63 – 54 – 5 – 44 – H trail that I could drive in my sleep. Broke in the new car stereo with mid-’70s Miles, Beatles, VU (’68 stuff–damn), Gary Stewart (yelled all the songs: I wish I could sing like him), and PE.

Road observations:

Had to stop at the Wal-Mart in Camdenton because I drank a cup of tea before I left. Plusses: all employees were masked, plus IF you are a dude, need to take a leak, and don’t mind sanitizing back in the jalopy, you can enter, do the biz, and exit without touching anything foreign. Minuses: maybe 2 in 10 customers were masked, and the rejiggering of the entrances and exits just seemed to create massive bottlenecks.

On I-44, I once again mourned the impending sale of “The Den of Metal Arts.” I’d always hoped that, one, some former students of mine would form a metal band and use a photo of it as an album cover, and, two, it would someday be converted into a metal recording studio or venue. It’ll probably end up an evangelical church.

As I passed 65, a maroon van merged onto 44 beside me, into a crowd of vehicles we traveled with for several miles. Spray-painted crudely and legibly on its driver side was “Honk if you love Trump!” No one honked.

We had a nice afternoon and evening. Mom and I got caught up, we chatted with my brother Brian on the blower, I Zoomed with my Sunday regz and my sweetie Nicole (who’s minding the feline farm), and we had BLs with fresh Ts. Closed down the day by watching the terse but somewhat trance-inducing Apple + series Defending Jacob.

I read a few pages of Michael Corcoran’s great book on Ghost Notes: Pioneering Spirits in Texas Music. I’m supposed to know a ton about American music, but how come I never knew the great pianists and singers Charles Brown and Amos Milburn were not only likely gay but also a couple? Amazing, cool–and damn difficult for their glory years.

Streaming for Strivers:

Speaking of Texas music…

Cloister Commentary, Day 120: Splash, So Long

I have had a decent portion on my plate lately, so I was happy to hand a very healthy certified check over to good ol’ Sharon Dothage at Hickman for deposit into our account for remembering our departed friend George Frissell. My first experience managing a GoFundMe campaign was pretty positive, but also nerve-wracking. Would I do it again? Depends.

Thanks be to McKnight Tire for bringing my ’93 Ford Ranger (formerly known as a Splash until I had the evidence removed–didn’t quite go with my image) up to long-distance travel-speed. They have treated that vehicle lovingly for almost 30 years, and after the new owner has them put a set of tires on it, they shall see it no more, and will eventually meet my Chevy. I hope they get along.

How many hours in a day can you read? Providing my damn phone is buried somewhere, I can get seriously lost in a book, but I happened to have my nose in an in-demand book I’d checked out from the DBRL that was, um, five days overdue, so I had additional motivation. Finished it with time to spare, which I used to…read another book.

The dark side of the day was learning that 30 fellow Stephens employees lost their jobs. I’m pretty convinced the leadership did everything they could to prevent taking that measure, but COVID-19 gives no quarter. Had we done a much better job refusing any ourselves–say, starting in January–we’d be in a better place now. But more and more it is appearing we are in a hell we had a hand in making.

Random shout-out: I was delighted to see one of my favorite administrators and edumacational wizards, Dr. Andrew McCarthy, yesterday. Andy’s smart, dedicated, hard-working, funny, positive, patient, and nice. What else could one require in an educator?

Streaming for Strivers:

How ’bout some snap, crackle, and pop?

Cloister Commentary, Day 116: Just Being Still

A kind of quiet day in Mask Ordinance USA.

Riding back up to Columbia, we listened to the audiobook of Marjorie Spruill’s Divided We Stand. You’ve heard me mention it while enthusing about the Hulu series Mrs. America, for which it served as somewhat of a guidebook for the series’ writers. In it, Spruill makes a great case for the seeds of today’s paralyzing, aggravating, and flat-out miserable division having been planted by the ’70s struggle over the Equal Rights Amendment. While the book is enlightening, it does not serve to lift much pre-existing dread with which one might be grappling.

In other highlights, when we got home, I lay next to Nicole on our bed in the dark while she napped, just being still, conscious, and calm. It was very nice. Also, there was a cat on my chest.

Later, I had a peach popsicle and again fell asleep exactly for the key moment of Episode 8 of The Great. As always, I awakened right after the key moment.

I did not listen to any music, but I heard much of the following in my head.

Streaming for Strivers:

Thank you for the nudge, Michael Corcoran. It’d been awhile since I’d been down to Marlin, Texas.