Cloister Commentary, Day 356: Intern-al Inspiration

Supervising student teachers can make you want to get back in the game in two ways. One way is unfortunate–you want to show ’em how it’s done. However, the other is inspiration–you want to try those new ideas yourself, and feel the rush again; you might even want to team-teach with the intern. The latter was my experience yesterday morning. This intern taught an engaging and varied lesson that focused on both Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls and the life of the great Toussaint L’Ouverture, and not only did it make me wish I was a high school teacher again, but I wish I’d had someone like her teaching me when I was kid. She has a great future.

Otherwise, it was a quiet but good day: trip to the mulch site; lunch featuring delicious leftover chili with plant-based protein that could fool carnivores; nose in two books, one of which, Hari Kunzru’s Red Pill, sent a chill down my spine it was so culturally (and uncomfortably) close; nice chat with Mom; listening session devoted to R.A.P. Ferreira, with whom I think I could have a beer and gab.

Thursday Movie Night? Franco Rossi’s highly recommended 1980 film set in Brixton, Babylon. It truly belongs with The Harder They Come and Rockers as a great reggae film, though it was unreleased in the States for 40 years. Upon its conclusion, the stream sent us straight to the German documentary Reggae ina Babylon, featuring Matumbi, Aswad, Steel Pulse, Alton Ellis, and other musicians who were unfortunately not identified. We will be listening to reggae non-stop for the next few days.

Streaming for Strivers:

I never tire of this poet and this band. Nicole, the band’s led by Dennis Bovell, who was behind the music for Babylon and was the bassist for Matumbi.

Cloister Commentary, Day 341: Coup De Grace

Work was a mite slow. I was able to complete one of my teacher intern’s evaluations–they are both really passionate and skilled!–before my tutoring hours began, and after that the highlight was a very enlightening webinar on ungendering the workplace. I was happy to offer a comment that was not dunderheaded!

My mom has been feeling better (a terrific birthday present), and she texted me yesterday to confirm she and some siblings and cousins are taking a road trip to Dallas to see my Aunt Patricia (make that Trish). Everyone involved, I believe, will have been fully vaccinated, and this is something that, under the circumstances of ’20-’21, she really needs.

In this house, we celebrate each other’s birthday all week long. The cookies were finally gone, but Nicole served up the coup de grace for dinner: delicious veggie stuffed peppers (by request)! She also kindly authorized a musical purchase. My resolution has suffered a couple shots to the torso, but is intending to be mending post-birth-a-versary.

In the evening, we finished The Durrells. Any suggestions for our next series binge?

Streaming for Strivers:

This isn’t a full album, but it’s longer than some, and it recently converted me to the wiles of this artist I just couldn’t seem to connect with.

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 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 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 29: Grit ‘N’ Grind

Successful grocery runs: Moser’s on Business Loop (Wickle’s replenished!), Gerbes.

Successful Zooms: So long and good luck to my two student teaching interns, Morgan and Kristen. May the opening of public school in the fall be closer to normal for you.

Successful daily goals (we have been a little erratic as the “grit ‘n’ grind phase” has kicked in): meditation ; cat time ; reading (finished Sandburg’s “Chicago Poems”) ; check in on someone you care about (Bob Dylan is apparently live and enigmatically kicking, though the new single that dropped is not brand-new) ; hug and kiss Nicole ; refusing to let powerful person yelling “Fire!” in a metaphorical crowded theater on Twitter make me give up . Sorry, but this stuff is more important than it might look.

Successful Culinary Experiment: Tried a meatless version of Tony’s Pizza Palace’s great “Zeus” pie–it’s basically a gyro pizza (so rich and delicious, especially with the feta!), so without the gyro meat I call it the “Hera.” Not only was it outstanding, but I got to pick it up curbside, wear a mask, and hand Kristen our money! Why am I excited about that? I am not entirely trustworthy in these circumstances, as I plunge headlong into in-person social interactions, and that tendency can cause me to black out on the new rules. Thus, Nicole has handled almost all of the out-of-house missions. Is this stuff stressful for anyone else? I needed a Tecate and a shot of tequila when we got home.

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

Something to play if you’re eating pizza tonight. Dedicated to my departed friend Bernard Watts, who first played it for me.

Cloister Commentary, Day 22: Grasshopper

As I mentioned yesterday, I videoconferenced with the two Mizzou teacher interns I am supervising this year. Their student teaching journey was abruptly truncated by COVID-19–they are still assisting their as they are able with grading and virtual lessons–so we discussed the possibilities they’d encounter next fall: content challenges and limitations, stressed students with fragile economic support, explaining what is happening right now in the context of their instruction, isolation (if teachers can’t yet work in person in the fall). The potential environment is daunting, and I do not envy them. I usually let them do the talking, but I did offer them each these words of advice: try to find a crusty old veteran who still has ahold of their joy and sidle into a “grasshopper” role. Nothing helped me get my footing better; it’s not that I avoided my fellow greenhorns, but “the older guys know what it’s all about,” as someone once sang. They helped me dodge several potholes–right, Bob Bilyeu?

Nicole and I started some new shows: HBO’s adaptation of Richard Russo’s novel Empire Falls, which I just finished reading; Netflix’s The Stranger, recommended by our go-to Anglo-American TV critic Susan McDermott-Griggs; and another Netflix item, Self-Made, an impressive limited series tracing the life of Madame CJ Walker, who’s played by the always-great Octavia Spencer. It’s got fire, spunk, wit, and a surprising style and soundtrack–plus Tiffany Haddish, who threatens to steal every scene she’s in.

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

Sample an early ’80s album by Nina Simone that was just reissued and might even surprise big fans if they haven’t heard it.

And: if you want to sample Self-Made‘s soundtrack?