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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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, Wokeand 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.
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.
We said so long to our red border collie Louis yesterday in the late afternoon of the last day of this frustrating summer. He had not taken food for 36 hours (a couple of days prior to his diagnosis as well) and was visibly winding down. His skilled and loving vet Dr. Christy Fischer from All Creatures made an afternoon house call to send him very gently on his way.
Sunday evening, we pulled the mattress out in the living room–where because of his mobility issues and the better traction in there, we’d had to keep him confined–and we were able to sleep (to some extent) in each other’s company one last night. He was able to enjoy free roam in the back yard several times during the day, where after walking around a little he’d lay down to rest and we’d sit together in silence and peace; we were even able to lightly groom him for his send-off. Thank the stars we were blessed with gorgeous weather for his farewell!
As I have previously written, Louis’ condition worsened very quickly; it was another sudden shock in this sudden season. BUT. In the past week, he did many of his favorite things before we knew anything was badly wrong: we’d gone for a couple nice neighborhood walks, he’d done some tricks (shaking, “giving Mom a kiss,” delaying gratification and holding a stare with me) for his daily “cold bone” (a hollow shin bone I would artisanally fill up and freeze once a day for him to gnaw on), he’d chilled out with me in the basement when we “flipped the house” and brought the cats upstairs, he’d gobbled some bacon strips while being brushed out (he was very touchy), and he’d wedged himself impossibly under the kitchen table several times while Nicole and I ate and chatted. Even after he’d started a serious decline, we’d done a family howl (which he would frequently initiate), he’d enjoyed some ice cream (his last taste, on Saturday), and he’d even made some obligatory, half-hearted lunges at our outdoor felines. He was stubbornly himself, right to the end. No surprise to us: he was the definition of strong-willed, but will we miss that energy inside these four walls.
As I have written this, I’ve had to take a couple breaks, because The Kid’s not at my feet as usual, for me to stare and smile at while I’m thinking. He’s already been let out, and he doesn’t have to come in anymore.
Streaming for Survivors:
Sorry, no full album this morning. This song has rung out in my head and heart on a couple of occasions, neither of which were easy. But it’s a comfort.
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.)