Cloister Commentary, Day 325: Miles to Go Before I Sleep

I’d driven about 1,000 miles over the past five days, and finally came to rest back home in frigid-gettin’-more-frigid Columbia. Left Mom in Monett with some ideas I hoped might help, and maybe they did: after eight months–that was a smart delay–she boxed up my dad’s clothes (with the help of Phyllis and Mike Garrett) and took them to Crosslines. Few things are harder to do after the death of a loved one, but few things are (at least eventually) more necessary. I am very proud of her! And grateful: I’m perpetually underdressed for cold snaps and she sent me with one of Dad’s big coats. The roads were fine, but freezing drizzle had been forecast, and she didn’t want to see me trudging up a shoulder of I-44 in worn ol’ hoodie.

Nicole was at work when I arrived, but homemade peanut butter, chocolate chip, and oatmeal cherry cookies were waiting for me, as well as some of her famous sweet-potato-enriched enchiladas. I got caught up on my reading, filled out some endless paperwork for my upcoming pulmonary appointment (I tell ya, it never ends!), and had an enjoyable FB Messenger convo with the mentally energetic Adam Sperber regarding The Five Royales, Tony Williams, Sonny Sharrock and other geniuses.

When Nicole got home, we cooked a pizza and some spinach, got under the covers, lounged, read, transformed into cat furniture, and hit the sack early (well, the time was normal for one who awakens when we do). There’s no place like home, especially right now.

Streaming for Strivers:

Speaking of Black musical history titans who left us too soon and are too little known to the general public, the inventor of chainsaw jazz!

Cloister Commentary, Day 166: I’m Late

“Are you ever too busy to write these,” you might ask. Well, I always write about yesterdays on my todays, and today I’ve been ON IT since I woke up at 4:30ish. I just realized I hadn’t, ahem, journaled. I’m hanging out with my mom Jane and watching Bubble Playoffs, so I must be brief.

Yesterday started pretty well. I accomplished something easy but important at work: I emailed 12 freshmen at Stephens to check on their start (students can choose to attend classes in person or on-line, with all classes available in real time on Zoom), their comfort level (Stephens is taking our health pretty seriously, and only has two recorded cases so far), and their need for tutoring. Amazingly, almost all of them wrote me back quickly with quite a bit enthusiasm for school. I will contact them intermittently just to make sure they know they have academic (and moral) support.

Then I learned Mom was having no luck simply changing her direct deposit information with the Social Security Administration, a necessity since Dad passed. She was just looking for a way to help, as my brother Brian and I have divided up the massive and labyrinthine administrative issues that confront every family when someone passes. I jumped in to help her, but met with just as much frustration–to the extent that it drove me into a moody state for the rest of the day. I’m fairly sure Nicole would agree that’s a state I seldom visit. I escaped into books and two nail-biter playoff games, including one that sent my Thunder home. I rolled over to go to sleep at a little past 11 and stared at the wall for several minutes, before, fortunately, I crashed.

To be continued.

Streaming for Survivors:

How I felt after setting up a “My Social Security” profile for Mom to no avail. Play loud.

Cloister Commentary, Day 149: Misanthropy and Grief

Simply watching the morning headlines, reading about the fight to stop the Equal Rights Amendment, and observing flags and bumper stickers on travelers’ cars on the highway was enough to activate a tiny bit throbbing bulb of misanthropy within me. Misanthropy and grief: a toxic cocktail.

Which makes me realize that one way I’ve always broken that bulb in the socket is through being in the midst of young folks across four decades. Most of my fellow public school teachers would agree, I think, though outsiders might think we’re crazy. Daily exposure to a cross-section of the public as their coming into their own, as you’re challenging them and they you, as they find their place in a group, talk about their lives and connect them to subjects under discussion–it’s a pretty good antidote to the humans-are-a-virus malady.

But that’s just another reason why this pandemic sucks, because daily exposure is viral roulette.

Streaming for Strivers:

On that hopeful note?

Cloister Commentary, Day 146: Fumes and Futility

Some mornings, I find these difficult to write.

Yesterday started out great. Nicole and I went on an early morning walk, and that’s always restorative. But I then proceeded to spend around two hours carefully watching an initially unmasked telecom tech install a new system for Mom, then about an hour emailing a benefits analyst with documentation about something involving my late father’s pension that’s moving like very molten lava, then around two hours on the phone with an excellent AT&T tech who after seeming like she was going to solve an ongoing posthumous problem for the first 3/4ths of the call found her own hands tied at the end.

Let me be clear: I’m happy to take on these tasks–it’s a part of life and death that we will all have to face, and since among my few actual skills is being able to communicate, I refuse to leave my talent buried. But after we realized the telecom tech didn’t leave a hard-copy program guide or program in the correct digital channel guide, and after watching the clock hands spin to no avail as I spent the afternoon with my smartphone, I was depleted. Music and books are my fuel, my food, my inspiration; in fact, records are like my holy texts–I listen to them as if they’re testimony about the truth of the world from all quarters. And I didn’t listen to a song or read a page (well, I squeezed in a two-page Liz Moore story just before bedtime) so I finished the day running on thin fumes. We’d hoped to watch Grand Hotel on Turner Movie Classics–that would have helped–but Mom’s new streaming package does not include that channel.

But guess what? The sun’s just come up. And I hear Lori McKenna‘s clear voice and resonant words in my headphones.

Streaming for Survivors:

This Book of the Musical Bible is–shhhh!–a peaceful, calming one.

Cloister Commentary, Day 106: Best-Laid Schemes

Yesterday was the first day I’ve felt relatively myself in two weeks. My body and mind still compelled me to take a nap, but I find when I obey them I’m better off. I also read 10 pages of a book without stopping, so that too was a good sign.

I was thwarted in my second attempt to get my dad’s truck licensed over to me; the DMV had what I am sure is a well-deserved early day off for the 4th. I guess I’m in a toot so I can get my old red-orange, bumper-stickered ’93 (or is it ’92) Ford Splash sold. It’ll be nice to once again be able to drive inconspicuously.

In preparation for today, I revisited Frederick Douglass’ 1852 4th of July address. I’d bought my dad David W. Blight’s outstanding Douglass biography for Father’s Day, and after having a great discussion about race and white privilege the afternoon before his eventually fatal accident, I had a feeling he’d love it. “The best-laid scheme o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley….

More on that speech. Dr. Mark Lomax II is a force.

Facebook deservedly gets a bad rap at times, but I’m thankful it allows me to stay connected to important figures from my past. In the early evening, my former student Joseph Kenney and I had a terrific Messenger chat about his new podcast (“It’s a Rap”), Columbia’s racial history, books, Scarface, Hickman’s radio station, and much more. Joe was an athlete, scholar, and a presence any teacher would welcome: passionate, outspoken, funny, curious, and challenging. One day I hope I can see him again in person; I might show up on one of his future podcasts.

Nicole did an amazing job replicating one of Mom’s dishes (in fact, the first home-cooked meal Jane and I ate after Dad’s passing). If you’ve not had a chicken breast baked with a crust of Parmesan and Panko, or petite taters baked in olive oil and fresh rosemary, I highly recommend it.

Streaming for Strivers:

When I think of Joe Kenney, I think of ‘Face.

Cloister Commentary, Day 104: Where the BBQ Requires No Sauce

During the past two weeks, my family has been well-buoyed by the compassionate tradition of friends, family, and neighbors bringing food to a house of grief. “Grateful” doesn’t fully cover our feelings about that. Yesterday was perhaps the most astounding example. I was in the office talking to a friend who had also recently lost a family member when Nicole came down the stairs with a fairly massive package that Fed Ex had just delivered but she hadn’t opened. I shrugged my shoulders in bafflement, and after my phone conversation was finished, I came upstairs to unwrap it with her.

Contents? Only multiple smoked sausages, a slab of ribs and a rack of brisket straight from Black’s BBQ in Lockhart, Texas–sent from the friend I’d been on the phone with! I guess I picked the wrong month to become a vegetarian….

Streaming for Survivors:

Today’s atmosphere.