Cloister Commentary, Day 340: I Love Capri

Started a few new books by folks last name of Le Carré, Blow, and Smarsh. Bodes well.

Observed the first lesson of a teacher intern I’m supervising at Battle. She was relaxed yet organized, precise and enthusiastic; she was knowledgeable yet open to student ideas; she navigated a synchronous classroom (virtual AND in-seat) with ease. And her first lesson was the same as mine was back in January ’84: Chaucer’s “Wife of Bath” tale–she, too, took a vocabulary sidetrack for students on the word “maidenhead,” but she was more chill (as they say) than I was.

Nicole and I went for another walk–what a beauty of a day!–but were somewhat distracted by our still seeking a COVID shot: she’s in-person with students four days a week, I have a heart condition that’s going to require a procedure in May. My phone pinged the minute we stepped back in the house: the state invited me to the Isle of Capri, but for something better than gambling. This time I didn’t mess up the appointment. Now, for my loved one….

Streaming for Strivers:

Brief but durably soulful.

Cloister Commentary, Day 336: Restlessness

Early in the morning, I learned that a former student of mine had been killed, and another former student of mine was allegedly involved. Not a happy start. Teaching the former when she was 12 and the latter when he was 15, I had excellent experiences with both. I last saw the victim early last year when our paths crossed at Gerbes; as usual, she was full of enthusiasm and kindness. My heart is with her family and friends. The loss is a shocking one.

I was so restless for a project and a distraction that I engaged in something really pointless: I emptied my 16g iPod Nano (we have three MP3 players, and they are each meticulously programmed with a completely different set of folders of music–madness, I know), then refilled it with all the “miscellaneous” folders of single tracks I’ve created in each genre folder on my external drive. On top of those, I dragged in some of my favorite various artist comps. I did not create any folders; my intention was to create a random jukebox of favorite but not necessarily famous songs. As soon as I was finished, I was immediately unsatisfied. Back to tinkering today. I didn’t even try it out.

When Nicole got home from school, we made up for our postponed Valentine’s Day with a Shakespeare’s pizza, some homemade vanilla ice milk, and both a new and an old movie: Nomadland and Thelma and Louise. Two terrific road movies–we didn’t plan that–that are seemingly quite different but with strong similarities at their hearts.

Streaming for Survivors:

Why hadn’t I heard of this until this morning?

Cloister Commentary, Day 332: Lundi Gras Workout

Ahhhh, intense, sustained physical activity! I’d truly missed it. Despite the possibility that I would feel crippled in the aftermath from 99% muscular atrophy, I shoveled a long, two-car driveway, accompanying sidewalk, and a bit of curb yesterday. And survived! I’m not even that sore as I thumb this out. One of three highlights of the day.

Second highlight: Nicole, Mom and I got caught up with David Letterman’s Netflix interview show by checking out his powerful conversations with Dave Chappelle (that dude is inspiringly thoughtful and eloquent offstage!) and Ellen DeGeneres (her journey’s been even more inspiring than I knew). We also dug DeGeneres’ recent Netflix special.

Third highlight: my good friend from NOLA, Clifford Ocheltree, called me on the phone–on the phone!!!–to wish me a happy birthday (it’s still pretty early, but also still welcome). He brought me up to speed on his mayor’s struggles with Mardi Gras and COVID, his continued genealogical deep-dive, which connects to Columbia, and the fascinating historical humans John Hay and Claude King. He packed all that in to about 30 minutes.

Streaming for Strivers:

It’s Mardi Gras–do what you wanna, to a point?

Cloister Commentary, Day 329: The Drive

Nicole and I were on a drive last night, and started to reflect on this trying journey. In 36 days, this commentary will have stretched to a full year. We speculated on how difficult it is to tell how permanently the isolation will affect us, and just how those effects will manifest after we reach a clearing. The only relatively large gathering of people in which we’ve been in the midst since March 13 was my dad’s funeral service in June; that was ill-advised, but his passing was so sudden and unexpected I felt I was in some other existence (at least everyone was masked, and no one seemed to have gotten sick as a result). I haven’t spoken to a student in person since February, or even held a class since July. Nicole spoke of the relaxing experience of just gliding into a restaurant, ordering some good food, and taking our time, and of the fun of planning a trip in excited detail, then living it out, with old friends along for the ride or at the end of the road. And just being able to celebrate occasions, life, relationships. We miss that stuff in our bones.

We fell silent, and punched up “Night in Tunisia,” “Queer Notions,” that double-standard-hit-double-whammy “Runaround Sue” / “The Wanderer,” the Stones’ “Happy,” “Looking for a Kiss,” a Patti Smith “block party,” then closed the drive down with one of our all-time favorite albums (Nicole kept turning it up, and up), Dramarama’s Hi-Fi Sci-Fi. I believe we’re gonna make it (with a little luck, Joe Tex, you may be right).

Additional pulses of joy: my mom’s feeling much better after a severe UTI (her chosen family tended to her in our absence, thank the stars), and the other student teacher I’m supervising (I reported on the first in yesterday’s commentary) was hired to teach English at my old place of business, David H. Hickman High School, the Home of the Kewpies!

Accompanying foreboding: more extremely frigid temps–and possible snowfall. Our outdoor cats are now housed in the garage.

Streaming for Strivers:

A great drummer has passed. He left the world more interesting than he found it.

Cloister Commentary, Day 328: BiPap Boy

Both of the student teachers I am supervising for Mizzou this semester seem extraordinarily ready. I observed one of them yesterday (via Zoom, but that was more than adequate), and she was passionate, professional, knowledgeable, firm, challenging, and kind. The lesson focused on James Baldwin’s essay “If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?”, African-American Vernacular English, and code-switching–it was the highlight of the day. She’s already ready. I can’t wait to watch her next lesson.

I visited my pulmonologist in the afternoon (I now have quite a roster of health professionals to check in with), who informed me that I will be wearing a BiPap mask due to my sleep apnea. Google one; they are not sexy.

I’ve also been advised to quit caffeine. I only have a cup and a half of coffee and one cup of tea a day, but I guess I will wean myself off (I just typed that looking into the bottom of my morning cup). Also, alcohol–I already completed Dry January (not counting the first three days), so I guess I’ll keep that rolling. I guess 2021 will be my year of self-abnegation.

One of my best friends is a pharmaceutical rep who, amused but seriously curious, has been following my sleep apnea saga (he suffers from it on a less serious level). After I reported my mask prescription to him, he said, “Well, you got your COVID shot, right?” I replied, “No, I —-ing have not!” Exasperated, he said, “You’ve got atrial fibrillation issues AND severe sleep apnea–that qualifies as a heart condition!” Sometimes I’m slow on the uptake; I re-registered for a shot, so maybe my wait won’t be until after April Fool’s Day.

Streaming for Strivers:

A great example of Mary’s many great ideas.

Cloister Commentary, Day 315: Three Highlights

One of yesterday’s highlights was finishing Hubert Selby, Jr.’s blazing Requiem for a Dream. I almost re-watched the film adaptation, but ended up deeming it a bit too much, so I watched the first special episode of Euphoria instead–which tied right in. One of the best post-COVID productions I’ve seen.

Another was participating in a post and thread started by Alyssa O’Day, whom I taught when she was a 6th grader and when she was a senior. She has always been sharp, spirited, and fearless, and we were discussing the difficulty of convincing some folks (particularly elders) that they’d demonstrably drunk the Kool-Aid (recalling that a former colleague once thought that phrase was an occupational compliment, I must clarify that IT IS NOT). We did not solve that problem, but I thoroughly enjoyed the attempt.

The capper was a FaceTime with our dear friends Kenny and Gwen Wright, of Helena, Alabama. We talked about politics, pets, and pain, as well as sports, sons, and salmon. I wish they lived next door.

Streaming for Survivors:

A trailblazer who has departed too early.

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 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?