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:

Mood.

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 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 291: In the Chair, Happily

Most folks don’t enjoy going to the dentist. I’ve been going to the same one for almost 30 years (Dr. Shelly Lyle), and though I had one rough period when she seemed to keep the music tuned to “The Carpenters Station” and my usual hygienist liked to unsubtly trash Hickman even while knowing I taught there (“Aren’t there a lot of thugs there?” grrrrrrr), I have NO complaints, and I’ve actually been fascinated by how she’s kept the clinic up to date with the newest technology. Yesterday I had to go in for a cleaning (they open at 7 a.m., another cool thing), and it was actually a highlight of the day. My favorite hygienist of all-time, Jordan (John and Cecilia, she comes from great stock!), was back on the scene, she used a new anti-COVID aerosol suction that was more comfortable than the usual, and Dr. Lyle adjusted a crown replacement she’d done for me (free of charge; the original cracked), which made me feel like a new man–it had been quietly driving me crazy for months, and I’d written it off to my imagination. Also, Tina Turner was on the sound system.

Moral of the story: go get your danged check-up!

The other big highlight? I am sure some of you occasional fall asleep watching late-night programming, even when it’s fantastic, and because I rise before the sun and will occasionally have a late cocktail, I’m especially prone. I’ve raved in the past about director Steve McQueen’s masterpiece limited series Small Axe (available on Amazon Prime), but, after a long and stressful day, I’d zoned out for the middle 15 minutes of the final episode, “Education.” After putting it off for about a month, I re-watched it, and it hit me hard. It stands alone–every teacher should watch it–but the whole five-episode series, illuminating the experience of black West Indians in England, will ring through the coming years. I promise.

Thought about Georgia all day. Apparently those thoughts were not wasted….

Streaming for Strivers:

We are.

Cloister Commentary, Day 279: Tasmanian Devils on the Eve of Yule

Christmas Eve doings, with my love, my brother and sister-in-law, and mom all healthy, happy and in tow. (Well, Myra has a boot on, but at least she didn’t have to use it on anyone)…

Enjoyed a slowly unfolding morning with family company, coffee, good books, and Nicole’s cookies (both peanut butter and chocolate chip).

Got bundled up and took a long walk (I’d estimate around three miles) even though temp was in the low twenties. It was bracing and wonderful, as the sun shone on us.

Broke into the annual bottle of Tasmanian single malt whiskey my brother Brian brings that bears our name, then hopped onto the “International Overeem Facebook Group Page” (not its real name), posted a selfie, and got caught up. I wish I understood Dutch, but I appreciate the translations.

Played a fun round of Five Crown, finished last as usual, and played deejay. I hope Mom appreciated Mojo Nixon and The Toad Liquors’ Horny Holidays, as it is not exactly Andy Williams style! Opening line: “It was the night before Christmas / And everything was all [effed] up!” And it gets better/worse from there.

Supped upon Brian’s chicken and andouille gumbo–delicious, had to have two bowls!

Closed down the day with Netflix’s Dolly Parton documentary, Here I Am, which was a perfect way to end the day. I recommend it.

We agreed to stay masked except for when outdoors, eating, and in our bedroom. It was difficult, but we did it, and it was worth it. We were all missing Dad, but he’d have been happy we didn’t linger over it much.

Have a great holiday, readers, and thanks for following this project!

Streaming for Survivors:

An all-time favorite.

Cloister Commentary, Day 261: English Teacher’s Nightmare

A dream with COVID nuances, so it’s relevant.

I was invited back to my old school to be a guest speaker (I thought). Turns out I was invited back to guide and introduce the guest speaker, who turned out to be the very last person on Earth for whom I would want to do those honors. I didn’t find that out until I was already on-site and walking down the hallway to meet him. His security detail was the actor Tom Hardy. I led them to the auditorium, but as we were about to enter, the guest grunted, “I have to take a dump.” He and Agent Hardy went into the bathroom and, figuring it would be awhile, I went on out into the auditorium, which was packed with students in groups of 10-15, but maskless.

Immediately one of the students ran up to me and said, “There is a big problem and you need to figure it out before the speaker speaks!” I asked him, “Are you in Literacy Seminar, because the key will be in that room.” He said, “Yeah, it’s right over here,” and pointed to an open classroom and bookcase situated in the front right corner of the auditorium. I hurried over, looking for my long-time colleague Jessica, but instead there were three very robotic co-teachers teaching the class.

I told them with great urgency, “I need to find a specific book that always worked with my kids, but I can’t remember the title, the main character’s name, or the plot–if I can see the title it’ll come right back to me.” My frustration with my own memory was vividly palpable in the dream, since I’ve been experiencing it while awake.

One of the robots said, “Well, sir, that’ll be a problem,” and gestured toward the bookcase: all the books were shelved with their spines facing toward the back of the bookcase.

I burst out, “How the hell do you find a book around here?”

The robot replied, “You have to know exactly where it is. We haven’t read a book this semester,” then giggled and rolled her eyes.

I craned my neck and saw The Guest and Agent Hardy emerging from the hallway, both with toilet paper trailing a shoe.

At that point, I broke out of the dream and sat bolt upright in bed, trying to remember the protagonist’s name, but finally realizing there was no actual book. In the dream, I remember thinking the author was Corey Hayden, but dismissing that; all I know is the hero was a young girl who had powers of divination. But I am so grateful I awakened when I did.

Dreams are boring-ass boring, but this one was so Kafkaesque I had to share it. It was my second return-to-Hickman dream in a week. I dedicate this post to my friends Rex Harris and, of course, Mrs. Lucas.

Streaming for Strivers:

When I think of dreams and music, I often think of this plectrist.

Cloister Commentary, Day 257: Past-Tense Verbs Galore

Ended my semester tutoring at Stephens. Didn’t do any sessions in person, but it was encouraging that we did not have a decrease in tutoring requests but did have one in cancelled appointments. My only in-person interaction with students was to notarize a few absentee and mail-in ballots. I miss students, but I’ve stayed healthy and so have most on Stephens’ campus. Looks like more of the same next semester; I hope my on-line comp class makes.

Had to get another blood panel run (nothing major). The poor intern tasked with drawing my blood might have been too distracted by my kitten mask (made by my mom), since she couldn’t draw blood in three sticks. The head nurse got the needle in and blood drawn while I was still explaining the mask to the intern.

Made a decent effort to curb a few habits. Kept myself to one small cup of coffee and no unhealthy snacks. Nicole prepared an Indian dish with butter sauce that was scrumptious and found some good pre-packaged garlic naan at the store.

Spent the evening continuing to bury my nose in Lee Smith‘s Saving Grace. If you need a high-quality page-turner that is sure to beat the pants off Hillbilly Elegy, check it out. Also, listened to some VINTAGE Western swing from the Thirties. That stuff never gets old, and it’s got serious juice.

Dreamed I was substituting at Hickman. The hallways were realistic, but when I entered my room, first it was shoebox-size with 35 students (I counted), then it elasticized to the size of a lecture hall, with the students suddenly very socially distanced. There was a foosball table a few juvenile delinquent types claimed the teacher let them play every day (BS, but why the table?); the ten students that had to sign out to go to tutoring just left without my signature; the remaining students laughed at me for saying reading could save them, but then were surprised not only that I was going to teach the lesson plan but knew my sh*t. Then a cat woke me up.

I miss students.

Streaming for Strivers:

Wills and his Playboys in autumn.