Cloister Commentary, Day 295: Don’t Freeze the Prize Pile

January 9 was a great day for Nicole, my mom, and me. We needed it. Like many Americans, we have not been sleeping well, and while awake we’ve been distracted by sudden mental prognostications. In fact, we woke up at 3 a.m yesterday, which didn’t bode well. I am thankful some forebodings don’t pan out.

We spent a morning in quiet learning and reflection. Nicole’s reading Robin DiAngelo’s essential White Fragility; I’m still enraptured by Mary Gabriel’s Ninth Street Women, which is making me want to paint (did you know I used to draw and paint alllllll the time until sports and music interfered?). I also listened to Spiritual Jazz’s eye-popping, ear-busting, heart-strengthening Impulse Records volume.

In the afternoon, I made grilled cheese sandwiches for the three of us (an accomplishment for me), we (I?) kept one eye on the Buffalo – Indy game (I’m rooting for Chiefs – Bills in the playoff future), and played two fun rounds of Canasta. We love that card game–the cards are beautiful–but neither one of us had ever “frozen the prize pile,” which is kind of a d**k / b***h move, which we came to understand after Nicole tried it to keep me from winning. It slowly, very slowly, kills a round, but it can insure a win if employed at the right moment (which it wasn’t, unfortunately for my spouse). However, I invented an “anti-freezing” rule (you can sacrifice a “big” Wild Card into the prize pile) and the game revived. In retrospect, we advise not employing the freeze in the first place.

Dinner: pork loin, baked potatoes, peas (I ate most of them, Mark), and Jane’s incredible butterscotch pudding cake (though she used cheesecake pudding and butterscotch chips–I just had a big slice for breakfast).

I was somewhat skeptical about the new Bee Gees documentary, which we’d decided to watch. I enjoyed them thoroughly as a teen; I still remember hearing “Jive Talkin'” explode from the radio and vowing to tape-record it the next time it was played (old-school “downloading”!). I’m here to tell you that documentary is a blast–and frequently revelatory. Also, when the film looks back to the anti-disco riot incited in 1979 by Steve Dahl, the footage strikes disconcertingly close to home (though the brothers seemed to distance themselves afterward by claiming not to be disco). Proof of my enjoyment of the documentary was that I was mentally compiling a perfect Bee Gees mix as I watched.

It’s important to keep your eye on the ball in this moment. But you also don’t get these moments back–spend them well.

Streaming for Strivers:

Let’s hope more forebodings never come back no more, no more, hmmmm….

Cloister Commentary, Day 83: What Time Is It?

Former high school students of mine may recall my frustration with not having enough time to get it all in–that wasn’t bad planning, that was the collision between just loving what I was doing and everything being connected. I remember when “bell-to-bell instruction” emerged as a “faculty agreement” one year, and I was like “Someone’s having to agree to that?” When I moved on to the college campus, I quickly noticed that when instructors were done, they were done, and would sometimes release their charges a bit early, as they would stream past my classroom door. I said to myself, “Well, maybe I should do that occasionally, too, if I reach the natural end of a class quickly.” Every time–every time!–I would say, “I’ll probably cut you loose a bit early to get down to it,” a student would have to point out to me that we’d reached the usual end time. There are no clocks on Stephens’ classroom walls. Once, I was so locked in that I got confused and taught an extra 15 minutes before someone stopped me (that was a great, and kind, group of students). I came to believe it was just a sign that I get into this job, and it’s reflective of life, too: you have to work to squeeze it all in before the big hand hits that hash mark. Yesterday, for the first time, I told my virtual students, who hail from all over the country, from the California – Mexico border to Mississippi to Pennsylvania, “I’m going to cut you loose a shade early after we talk about revision to actually start revising.”

Guess what happened? I guess I’m even loving virtuality.

Other highlights: Nicole’s fresh moussaka, Bess Frissell’s “Communion calculation” (based on a 150-pound Jesus), Art Tatum flying around the keyboard and out the house speakers, three powerful new books, and a nice neighborhood walk. One sad note: watching my patiently, sincerely, warmly, and painstakingly constructed set of responses to a (former, and fragile) Facebook friend’s query regarding why I had to post about black beauty get wiped–I need to abjure “Reply” in the future in such matters. It was not I who clicked “unfriend,” by the way. But, perhaps, “better down the road / without that load.”

Streaming for Strivers: