Cloister Commentary, Day 74: The Buzz

Some readers may breathe a sigh of relief to learn that I finally taught my first-ever Zoom class to a group of students I’d never met (from all over the country), and not only did I catch the buzz of teaching excitement that I was afraid I wouldn’t, but the students who showed up were down for the program to a one–and it’s some hard work. No more neurotic whining from me! Six students didn’t make the scene, but one was at the dentist with a broken tooth, one was a working mom with log-in issues–those two did turn in their assignments–and I hope the rest had to sacrifice a class to get some sleep after having protested this weekend. The essays students submitted last night (on-demand diagnostic essays) look sharp, Dr. Trish!

I celebrated my relief by donating a pint at the American Red Cross. I’ve tried to to donate the maximum pints in a year the last three years, but something always trips me up, COVID-19 this time (I’d had to cancel two appointments). The local branch off Providence has their pandemic operation down cold, though two dude donors apparently could not read the signs planted right beyond the entrance. My new goal is to try to catch my friend George Frissell in total donations, since he will not be donating anymore (the Red Cross staff is mourning him a bit as well): he’s only 228 pints ahead of me.

Speaking of the late Mr. Frissell, we were happy to learn that a memorial project for him at Hickman High School has gotten the green light. More later. I can assure those that know him it is fitting.

You like graphic novels? I do, especially if they’re off the beaten track. I started Derf Backderf’s Trashed yesterday, which draws on his experience as a city sanitation worker in Milwaukee. Backderf’s main claim to fame is his book My Friend Dahmer (yes, he went to junior high and high school with him), and his Kent State book arrives timed perfectly in the fall.

Nicole and I put the day to rest with some great spaced-out conversation with our neighbor Shireen on her back deck. As usual, our talk was rangy, and Steve, we broke into that Guinness care package you sent us and it was effective.

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

Don’t let nothin’ turn you ’round.

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.

Cloister Commentary, Day 47: A “More” Kind of Guy

I was made to miss teaching again yesterday when I had some interaction with two of my students’ work (and a smidgen with them). My Stephens students have truly struggled with this mess, but one of them, a stellar writer, thinker, and personality whom I met last year in tutoring, just nailed an argumentative research paper on the manga character Tomie (I am sure some of my former students who read this will need no explanation there). She wrote clearly and succinctly, engaged me from the first sentence, taught me things I didn’t know, and had no trouble with MLA citation. She made an A on the paper and in the class–but I wish we could have finished out the semester in person. Her wit made holding class fun.

I also helped a Battle student in the AVID program with a service project essay that’s coming due. She’s under time pressure, she had to babysit yesterday, and she couldn’t get some vital information to me until the late afternoon. By that point, I didn’t have time to give her meticulous editing feedback on the paper; all I could do was text her with 3-4 holistic suggestions, so I felt I’d failed her. However, on the return text volley, she “yelled” “That helps! I get it now! That really helps! Thanks!” A reminder I frequently need: sometimes less is more, and I’m constitutionally a “more” kind of guy (duh).

Speaking of teaching, I recently accepted a job teaching college-credit freshman comp to high school kids in a summer program Stephens College is introducing. I was (and am) a little hesitant, because after 36 years I KNOW I need the catalytic in-person dynamic with my students to really hit on all cylinders, and I’m unsure I can do that virtually. I have the structure in my head, the class “meets” 9-10 MTWTh, and during its eight weeks it should match a 16-week college comp class’ rigor. Do any of my social media friends with experience learning virtually or helping their kids learn virtually have any advice for me? Please comment below!

Still speaking of teaching (zzzzz), I believe Teacher Appreciation Day either happened recently or is coming up. I’d be nothing right now without some amazing teachers, and I’m deadly serious about that. In my high school pantheon: Lee Stevens, the first teacher (he was actually my basketball coach) to treat me like an adult, which I’d been ready for for several years, and Howard South, who amazingly casually unlocked my mind and confidence in his art classes. College: Frank Soos, who was teaching a lesson on Wordsworth when it clicked with me that I wanted to teach, too–he always made the work seem fun, challenging, and honorable–and Dr. Robert Reeser, who I immediately sized up as an ancient old fart on Day 1 and accordingly seated myself in the back of the class, and who by Day 2 had proved so astute, interesting, and funny that I moved to the middle of the front row, right in front of him. Never took a note–just listened, absorbed, and hungrily took his Western civ tests, and I signed up for him second semester though I didn’t have to. I bow in gratitude to you all.

It’s also Nurse’s Appreciation Day. My late mother-in-law Lynda was a hard-working nurse, and every year at this time we have the extreme pleasure of selecting two 12th grade nursing students for scholarships in her honor. Thank all you nurses out there for your selfless, expert, and essential efforts!

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

Nicole and I sat on the back deck with our outdoor cats and listened to “The Black Angel with the Velvet Voice,” Cuba’s Armando Garz√≥n. Click and you will hear why: