Cloister Commentary, Day 360: Return to the Isle of Capris Pants

Five more days and this commentary comes to a close. Nicole and I were able to schedule our second vaccination next Tuesday (we just can’t get enough microchips!), once again at the Isle of Capris Pants, so the timing’s pretty good. A few months ago, I wasn’t so sure it would make sense to stop at an arbitrary 365 days. It still may not.

We slept in a bit and both had to scramble to get ready for work. Nicole “threw together” our lunches–I told her I could manage but she insisted; she’s very sweet–but it didn’t seem thrown together to me: delicious ultra-garlicky za’atar hummus, toasted pita bread triangles, some walnuts, carrots, and celery, and an apple. I still had hummus left after the dipping was done, so I mixed in the walnuts and created “Walnut Hummus Surprise.” I texted Nicole to try it herself but she did not.

The BiPap therapy seems to be helping my energy, as I’m returning to my (even more) industrious self. A slow day at the office convinced me to channel our book overflow onto my fairly empty shelves there; I suppose I haven’t worked at Stephens to have amassed the requisite biblio-backdrop, so I’m going to simulate one. It’s going to take a few trips.

We squeezed in a neighborhood walk before a downpour and got some reading in. Nicole’s started Octavia Butler’s Kindred, and I’m legitimately excited about that. As usual when I’ve cleared my reading decks, my library holds came in, and they’re excellent so far: S. A. Cosby’s turbo-charged crime novel Blacktop Wasteland and Levon Helm’s engaging autobiography This Wheel’s on Fire.

Streaming for Strivers:

For such a humble package, it’s hilarious a copy is going for $900+ on Amazon and I couldn’t even find one on Discogs (I looked because the compilation is also sharp). Would you like to swing this morning? Click.

Cloister Commentary, Day 230: What I’m Doing

Review: I’ve been writing these daily since March 17, hoping to just document how we’ve lived during an actual pandemic (222 new cases of COVID-19, for example, just yesterday in our town). My friend Ken inspired the project and, when I mildly balked and fretted, advised me just to write what happens. That I have done, plus each day exploited YouTube and my vast but ever-hazier music memory to offer a worthwhile full-album stream. Anxiety, joy, discipline, food and drink, art and pop culture, politics (everything’s political), exaltation and mourning–that and more have entered our days (frequently, like Kramer). The pre-pandemic days seem three years ago; the first pandemic day seems like yesterday. The elasticity of time! I hope our innards prove just as elastic. Anyway, I felt it was time, at least for my own purposes, to look back. I hope these thumbings have occasionally proved useful to a few readers.

About yesterday. Finished the audiobook of Octavia Butler’s Bloodchild and Other Stories with the scintillating “The Book of Martha,” in which God asks the title protagonist to make a single positive change to save humanity from itself and jolt it out of its adolescence. Not so easy. Due to the positive influence and generosity of our friends Stephen Fischer and Beth Hartman, we also watched Disney/Pixar’s Coco. I have to purt-near be wrassled into sitting still for animated films, but I must admit the visuals were stunning, while the story moistened my eyes and caused me to cogitate.

Oh yes: and, like you, we continued, patiently, to wait.

Streaming for Strivers:

A forgotten classic of ’80s madness and insight, remixed for better punch. May the cosmos smile on Peter Stampfel!

Cloister Commentary, Day 228: Countdown to Ecstasy

We deliberately chose to indulge in activities to distract us from election coverage. I can’t speak perfectly for Nicole, but I think she agrees: we both had enough tension, dread, and other varieties of stress crackling down to our nerve endings without channeling in more noise and numbers.

The most effective of those activities was listening to a chunk of the audiobook of Octavia Butler’s Bloodchild and Other Stories. We’d started it on a recent road trip, then I loved it so much I secretly finished it on my Kindle. Nicole forgave me that, and we were quite literally transfixed (a major improvement on mere distraction) by “Speech Sounds,” “Crossover,” and the dazzling, haunting, dryly (and wickedly) humorous “Amnesty.” As soon as we finished the latter of those–they were all three even better the second time ’round–Nicole turned to me, shaking her head in amazement, and said, “That was incredible.” I proferred (I hadn’t previously realized it), “She’s one of the very best writers of the last 50 years, easily.” Funny: I learn about great writers by reading great writers and reading about great writing, and I obsessively seek them out after I get a clue–but it’s only been in the last 7-8 years that I’ve seen Butler’s name come over my transom. I have a few of my Stephens colleagues and students to thank for that. I encourage you to get familiar with her yourself.

We made it until 10 before we felt obliged to check the election’s progress. I saw no surprises other than in a few local races, which I considered with very, very measured hope. That was smart, because their directions completely changed. Fortunately, when I woke up in the middle of the night, I didn’t reach for my phone.

Streaming for Strivers:

I am less disciplined, at present, in containing my sarcasm.

Cloister Commentary, Day 198: Returns

We returned from Monett via State Highway H –> I-44 –> State Highway 5 –> State Highway 54 –> State Highway 63. Don’t ask me why I had to map that out–maybe it’s “COVID Mind.” We drove non-stop, which was easy, as we were listening to Octavia Butler’s mesmerizing short story collection Bloodchild and Other Stories. Nicole had not experienced Butler’s work before, and I do believe she may be hooked.

I guess we’re still adjusting to our dog being gone; it’s strange returning home from a trip and having cats in your face instead. The hurt caused by Louis’ absence was assuaged by a wonderful sympathy card from his clinic, All Creatures, that was signed by purt-near everyone, including a former student of mine who has been his favorite over there for quite awhile. They also sent along a nice card with The Kid’s pawprint–we’ll frame it, because that’s how we roll.

The dirty martini also played a role in the assuaging.

Streaming for Survivors:
When The Ruler returned…

Cloister Commentary, Day 126: Earthseed Graphics

Took a long early-morning walk into the Monett countryside listening to Rolling Stone writer Joe Levy’s Spotify playlist, “Uprising 2020.” That was better than three shots of espresso, and lasted longer.

Nicole, Mom, and I Zoom every morning for 10 minutes or so before we get on with our days. Yesterday, though, we got pretty engaged in our subject matter and almost talked for an hour. And here I thought I was done with Zoom “classes” for a while. For myself, I think I just miss my wife a wee bit.

Graded the first wave of research papers that arrived from my summer school students: three As and two Bs, plus they had some zip to ’em. They aren’t due til Sunday night, but today’s authors are of the TCB variety.

Started two new books, a so-far nice bio of the contagiously joyful and mischievous jazz master Fats Waller (written by his son) and Duffy & Jennings’ second graphic novel adaptation of an Octavia Butler novel, Parable of the Sower. If any of my readers know that book, well–you’ve probably thought of it once or twice since March. The team has an adaptation of Parable of the Talents on the way.

My mind and body forced me to nap in the afternoon, but I was ready to go for a nice dinner with Mom and my chosen brother Greg Carlin. We spent a good three hours talking about Monett family trees, his health-wrestling, complicated dogs, and oblivious neighbors. As a lineman (not the football kind, the electrical kind), he interacts with a cross-section of the public in their home environments, but when he discusses certains folks’ unusual living habits, he is never mean nor does he consider himself superior to them. That’s the sign of a good man.

Streaming for Strivers:

For this instrumentalist, an album could not be better named. The band’s pretty talented as well.

Cloister Commentary, Day 112: Good Fortune and Bright Light

Good fortune and bright light shone on me yesterday. As far as fortune went, Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty found inmates for both Nicole and me to correspond with through their program. Neither of us believe in capital punishment, both of us recognize mass incarceration as one of our country’s biggest issues, and we applied to MADP to try to assist in a personal way. The response to the program had been so robust that they initially had no one to pair us with.

Bright light came in two forms. We successfully released “Scrappy,” a stray cat who found his way to Columbia’s Cat Capitol and got trapped and SNPed. To our surprise, he stayed put on the deck for a tuna treat. But…why were we even surprised? Also, our great friends Kenny and Gwen Wright chose us for their first Zoom double-date and we laughed into the night. Their youngun Ethan will soon be driving the most conspicuous and be-bumper-stickered teacher vehicle in town, only he’ll be doing so in Birmingham. We’ll meet in Memphis for the transaction, so that will be bright light for the future. I wish they were our next-door neighbors.

Oh yeah: I finished grading those papers. Beer. And dropped off a mega-load of recycling. Beer. And finished Jennings & Duffy’s mind-blowing graphic adaptation of Octavia Butler’s Kindred. Beer. Apologies, but I had been needing some release, and was stubborn in coming.

Streaming for Strivers:

Comin’ round the mountain…

Cloister Commentary, Day 110: Blown Off, Not Blown Off

List of things I blew off: shaving, grading rough drafts, weeding, trimming back vines, hauling off the recycling, reading Deacon King Kong, listening to music very actively, figuring out how to use a neat Bluetooth mic by brother gave me.

List of things I didn’t: showering, eating Nicole’s special avocado toast, calling Mom, teaching, taking a nap, attending to some financial and beneficiary details, drinking a bourbon and Coke, eating some brisket from Lockhart,Texas, helping Nicole trap that sad little stray so he can get some health attention, visiting with our neighbor Shireen, checking on our neighbors the Knowleses, lazing and luxuriating through the pages of Duffy and Jennings’ graphic novel adaptation of Octavia Butler’s Kindred.

I HAVE to grade essays today. I HAVE to grade essays today. I HAVE to grade essays today. Don’t I?

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

Another severely underrated rap record. For Joseph.

Cloister Commentary, Day 100: The 2nd “Sustenance and Succor” Awards

I had thought I might quit this enterprise on this day, but from the looks of things? NOPE.

I am proud of my brother Brian and me. We have fallen naturally into a cooperative relationship working through our father’s after-effects, much of it instinctive. The division of labor’s even, and understandings are unspoken and keyed to eye contact. But we’d forgotten, really, to deal with Dad’s truck–I had barely thought about it–and since I’ve been driving the same vehicle for almost 30 years, it made sense for me to inherit it. I took it out on the highway, zig-zagged through my old hometown (Carthage, Missouri) and past some significant sights, and this morning gassed it up, cleaned out the console and glove compartment, washed, rinsed, and waxed it. Hey, Brian and Greg Carlin: he had four tape measures in there, a set of chains, very lovingly packaged jumper cables, and something else huge behind the passenger seat I forgot to unzip. Cartel materials?

On my drive, I truly enjoyed Gary St. James on 99.7 FM “The Bull” introducing some classic country by Waylon, Merle, Reba, The Possum, Willie, The Statlers, Keith Whitley, and Dwight. Some people think I’ve heard every piece of music recorded, but would you believe I’d never ever heard “The Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line”? I’d heard OF it, but it had never slithered into my ear. Now it is a fave rave.

Among the sights I visited was the location of the old Carthage High School art annex where my art teacher Howard South taught me to think abstractly and believed in my intellectual potential, despite me being a frequent dipshit. Below, I stand in front of that location; it’s no longer an art annex.

Since my sweetie Nicole has returned to Columbia to tend to our own domicile, it’s just Jane and me hanging out right now. We kept binge-watching Truth Be Told (Octavia Spencer rules!) and had margaritas. I think I could hang with her on the regz.

It’s time for the 2nd “Sustenance and Succor Awards,” which I will give out every 50 days of the pandemic. These artifacts helped get us through


*Hamell on Trial: Pandemic Songs
*Run the Jewels 4
*79rs Gang: Expect the Unexpected


*Mrs. America
*Gavin & Stacey
*What We Do in the Shadows (repeat winner!)


Lisa Sandlin: The Do-Right
Octavia Butler: Kindred
Chester Himes: The Harlem Cycle, Volume 3


La Terraza (ohhhhh, those 32 oz. margaritas!!!)
India’s House
Tiger Chef

Streaming for Sustainers:

Something mordant, lively, and wry.

Cloister Commentary, Day 70: Familiar

It was Nicole’s last day of school, but I am sure she would say it did not feel like the others. She had several Zooms (I will be glad when that’s out of my daily vocabulary); however, the familiar bittersweet release teachers feel when students file out for the summer did not pervade. Usually, we crank up Roy Orbison’s “It’s Over,” Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out,” or Gary U. S. Bond’s more formally titled “School IS Out,” but we drifted into the odd but satisfying combo of dirty martinis and George and Tammy’s greatest hits. We also mourned the fact that no one has as yet created the perfect Wynette album that inimitable, fabulously sultry voice deserves. She never found the perfect writers to create for her, and she didn’t write much herself, but an A+ record–yes, I know most of you don’t care about records anymore–lies in the ether ready to be compiled. We also marveled at how the greatest country singer of all-time always humbly deferred to Tammy vocally (and to great effect!) on their duets.

I am closing in on finishing Octavia Butler’s chilling and too-relevant (how I wish it weren’t!) Kindred. I’ve never read a more effective time-travel novel: the blurring sensation the main character experiences while being thrown back and forth between 1976 and 1819 was familiar to me yesterday in an extremely immediate way. This is yet another book I wish I could have taught, and which should be in every citizen’s library.

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

“Rome, Georgia / Athens, Texas / and Paris, Tennessee….”

Your turn.

Cloister Commentary, Day 66: Afraid of The Braid

I think both of us would say our favorite moment yesterday was reading with the cats downstairs in “the office.” Junior is still oddly “afraid of the braid”; when Nicole simply flips hers, that kitten’s like shot out of a cannon. Accompanying our time was Fela’s The Best of Black President, Volume 2, and besides having Cleocatra glued to me, I had the work of two of my favorite writers, Octavia Butler and Louise Erdrich, in hand. My reading is starting to recover from sudden loss: I managed a little over 100 pages and suffered much less drift than the last four days.

We waited too late to partake of live Shakespeare from The Stratford Festival (via YouTube), but we did finally take in Judy. “She wore out,” Ray Bolger said at Garland’s funeral, and Renee Zellweger did a convincing job of illlustrating both that and the flame that was snuffed. I may have to seek out a book.

My gut is still churning regarding my upcoming virtual comp class for Stephens. It’s a week away, I’ve taught comp for 36 years, I’m totally prepared in terms of course material and my on-line platform, I’ve been using educational technology since ’02, I am normally chomping at the bit to be unleashed on students, but for some reason the specter of appearing via Zoom, trying to communicate my energy, manipulating digital controls, striving to get to know my students so I can individualize a bit, wondering what part of me will be missing from my presentation, and fighting the light reflecting off the lenses of my reading glasses just gives me the fan-tods. I need to accept it; if I want to teach decently in the fall, I’m gonna need to have it down. Yes, I’ve done it before, back in April, but it felt like an emergency and only three-four students showed up each session (I had a very small class as it was). I hate this boorish sentence but I will say it to myself: “Get over it.”

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

On Memorial Day, I always think of this great jazz violinist, who fought in the Vietnam War.