Cloister Commentary, Day 171: Reading is Exciting, Bananas are Boring

My sweetie Nicole starts school today, and she put in about 12 hours of organizational work at home yesterday. After she finished in the evening, she showed me a deeply detailed spreadsheet of all the students she works with; I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s necessary, I think, given the strange new world she’s entering. But it puts the lie to the ridiculous “lazy” claims some are making about teachers (us, I should say) lately.

For myself, I’m missing the work, but at least I have good books handy. My favorite phenomenon in reading is encountering something in one book that leads me to another book that leads me to something non-literary. I have been strolling through a Zadie Smith essay collection for over a year (her best pieces are like a glass of good bourbon: strong, a little spicy, with unique notes), and in a piece I read recently she wrote about the influence a book, The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi, had had on her–she was re-reading it after having first wrestled with it as a kid. The chunks she excerpted were delightfully wicked, like Wilde, so I had to read it myself. 15 pages in, I had to look up Kureishi; I hadn’t known he wrote the screenplays for two movies that were wildly popular when I was a video clerk but had never gotten around the seeing, My Beautiful Laundrette and Sammy & Rosie Get Laid. I may have missed the boat thirty years ago, but it’s docked and ready for me now (if I can find the latter streaming somewhere). I love reading–it’s incredibly exciting, simple as that.

A teacher friend of mine started his classes the other day with a counterintuitive ice-breaking query: “What’s one boring fact about you?” Takes the pressure off having to dare to be interesting! Let’s play: you share in the comments, and here is mine.

I completely peel a banana before I eat it.

Thanks, Kevin!

Streaming for Strivers:

Soul, jazz-style, courtesy of two masters.

Cloister Commentary, Day 157: I Want My Crown

I received a new crown (on a tooth, to be clear) in January, a piece broke off of it in February and my dentist applied a temporary patch to it since the next crown appointment wasn’t available until April, COVID-19 hit and my appointment was delayed, and finally yesterday I sat for over three hours for a new, more durable crown (free of charge). I’ve been seeing the same dentist for almost 30 years–she’s excellent–and over that time her in-house music has improved: I even heard Freddy Fender at one point. I was able to read Zadie Smith’s excellent new pandemic essay collection Intimations while the new crown cooked, and overall the grinding was tolerable. Plus, my hygienist was into Jimi Hendrix and country music, so I tried to sell her on Mdou Moctar, Pistol Annies, and Tyler Childers, of whom she hadn’t heard. Now that I look back at that description, it almost looks like I had fun.

Nicole fixed me some miso soup when I got home–I was a bit numb, still–then I was sucked into The NBA Playoff Vortex. Waited several hours for the Culligan guy to show up and fix a leak in our water-softening system, then after dinner we kicked back and watched our new shows (Lovecraft Country–the jury is still out there–and Unforgotten, which rocks).

And…2020 poured more of its kerosene of ugliness, virus, and hate on the existing raging fire.

Streaming for Strivers:

Two young masters improvising.

Cloister Commentary, Day 103: Home Again

I had assigned my students, who are writing analytical essays on art objects of their choice, four reviews of various kinds and styles. On impulse, I asked them to rank the four readings according to the writers’ effectiveness in both describing and assessing the quality of the item under review, then hand-picked students to share and justify their rankings. To wrap up each conversation, I posed a question to them based on some of their judgments. The strategy worked like a charm–I’m sure I stole it–and I’ll definitely use it again. Ranked first by every single student: Zadie Smith’s essay on Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Dana Schutz’s Open Casket. Recommended.

For the first time in 11 days (I think) I returned home. I found it hard to leave my mom, but she was ready to face her challenge; I was missing Nicole and our beasts. We ate a frozen Shakespeare’s Pizza, tried some blackberry moonshine, and got caught up. On the rare occasion when we’re apart for an extended time, she leaves out the CDs she played in my absence–I always like to know. George Jones’ My Favorites of Hank Williams was playing when I walked in the door.

Streaming for Survivors:

So much shining sound in one package.

Cloister Commentary, Day 3: Pandemic So Real

It was inevitable under these circumstances that I’d face up to the facts, and yesterday I just up and did so–I needed to organize my CDs. Yes, I still have CDs (do I!), and I have a system: in order to help Nicole stay aware of new acquisitions, I keep them out of the general stacks (yes, there are stacks…see below) so they don’t disappear. At the end of the calendar year, I then integrate them into the collection after thinning the library out a bit (with the help of Kylie and Taylor at Hitt). Except I forgot to do that in early 2019, so I had two years’ worth of CDs to integrate. Had I sold enough to make room?


No. People who’ve done something similar will probably understand why I moved backwards from the Zs, but, unfortunately, Dizzee Rascal, Busdriver, and Buck 65 now occupy an overflow cubbyhole until I make more space. Those aren’t new acquisitions; in the process of shelving the new ones, they got bumped.

Yes, this is boring–but it’s all about control. I didn’t jump to it consciously, but I know that’s why I did so yesterday. Like yours, I bet, my mind has just been toggling relentlessly back and forth between the immediate present and the possible future, and I needed a regulator on that damn switch.

Elsewhere in the day: we started reading Alex Kotlowitz’s NEVER A CITY SO REAL (the city is Chicago, and we were inspired by having seen Steve James’ new documentary CITY SO REAL, which was inspired by the book); now that I have a yawning yawp of time, I can sample some podcasts, and I LOVED Zadie Smith’s appearance on Desert Island Discs; we had a Messenger conference call with our friends Kenny and Gwen Wright; we chuckled through episodes of KEEPING UP APPEARANCES (on BritBox) and KEY & PEELE (on Hulu); and we sampled a touch of Jim Beam Double Oaked.

Streaming for Shut-Ins: The Staple Singers, always good for Sundays and spiritual reinforcement, even for heathens.