Cloister Commentary, Day 268: The Road Home

Road trip back from my mom’s–listened to Black Thought’s first two “Streams of Thought” EPs (strong stuff), then Robert Calvert’s Lucky Leif & The Longships and Hawkwind’s Quark, Strangeness & Charm (strange and wonderful stuff). Switched to Chiefs game for my last lap only to hear them in “we’ll-spot-you-some-points” mode.

I was glad to see Nicole. She fixed me a titanic grilled (pepper) cheese sandwich and some tomater soup, we had a couple beers, Zoomed with a couple of friends, poopity-popped some popcorn, and closed out the day with the documentary Fantastic Fungi. Serious food for thought, right there.

Streaming for Strivers:

This random selection from a stack of things I was curious about entertained and fascinated the hell out of me when I was on the road yesterday! It is a concept album (I think) both wacky and wry.

Cloister Commentary, Day 264: Essential Missions

With great care and forethought, I reluctantly left Nicole and our feline team yesterday morning to hit the road for two out-of-town visits. This is not the greatest time to be venturing out, but some missions are essential and I’m taking the fewest possible risks.

On my familiar highway chain–70 to 63 to 54 to 5 to 44–I jammed to some relatively new music I’d not yet heard, three rap albums that dazzled me by serengeti (with help from Greg the Deerhoof drummer), Backxwash (hear below), Bktherula. I thought I was fatigued by the first MC’s set-up (I’ve long been a fan, and almost snagged him for a free show at Hickman High School)–I was wrong; the second MC simply stunned me with her aggressive delivery and strong worldview (we’ll call it); the sonics of the third MC’s album (Nirvana). The morning was one of my favorite musical experiences of this calendar year, and you may not like critics, but they DO care–and I got the tips from a goodun.

My first visit was with one of my lifelong best friends, a former housemate and (once) bandmate, and a stellar groomsman, Mike Rayhill. We talked Ebo Taylor and Fela, Taysom Hill and Patrick Mahomes, fatherhood and fathers, public and social parochial education, and cruelty and love. We also ate six delicious Taco Bell tacos.

My second visit was with my mom, with whom I’ll be staying for a few days. I helped her with a Zoom church business meeting, we enjoyed pork loin and baked potatoes, and took in a sweet and fun movie, The Fishermen’s Friends, which I’d seen before but she needed to see (thanks again, Clay). It’s recommended to fishermen, friends, and lovers of sea shanties.

Streaming for Strivers:

Been awhile since a rap album has injected my body and mind with pure caffeine like this record by Backxwash.

Cloister Commentary, Day 259: Check-Ups and Check-Ins

I can definitely understand anyone in our current situation choosing not to visit a doctor’s office or clinic if at all possible. I’ve now been to four different such facilities within the last month, most of them on routine missions because I’m getting older and that and the events of this year are making me more vigilant. I’ve been reluctant, because masks are not completely preventative, but I’m glad I went, because I’ve found out things I’ve really needed to know. I encourage you, if you’ve been holding out on check-ups and such, to visit your health professionals soon.

The capper to our week, especially Nicole’s working week, was a dinner of Parmesan portobello mushrooms, fresh spinach, and sweet taters with cinnamon and brown sugar. Hard to beat! We had a glass of wine and sat down to a wide-ranging Zoom conversation with our friends Rebecca and Frank Pisano. We discussed excellent Zoom teachers, Jessco White and Jimi Hendrix, Hillbilly Elegy and Mangrove, English vs. American Black Panthers, J. K. Rowling and Lee Smith, middle-schoolers and elementary humans, and much more. We were so drained from the rich talk we were asleep about 10 minutes after the Zoom concluded.

Streaming for Strivers:

I, too, am a free-born man. It’s after birth that’s the hard part of the bargain.

Cloister Commentary, Day 254: Boogie Breakout

Yesterday was a standard COVID Sunday.

CBS Sunday Morning and reading the papers.
A hearty breakfast (peppers ‘n’ eggs with Uprise Bakery’s Ancient Grain bread, toasted).
A Bloody Mary.
Two Zooms, one with family and one with friends.
Piddling around.
Some interesting viewing (we’re sniffing at Orange is the New Black).

The only thing that wasn’t standard?


It might have had something to do with the strength of the Bloody Mary, but while Nicole was in the shower, I put Stevie Ray Vaughan’s last studio album, In Step (hear below), on the turntable and turned it up pretty significantly. I believe the rhythms penetrated into the rain room, because when she emerged cleaned up and dressed, she came out boogieing! We never plan to dance in our house–it just breaks out. That was the day’s definite highlight.

Ganesha’s down for the countdown!

Streaming for Survivors:

If the house is rockin’, don’t bother knocking.

Cloister Commentary, Day 252: A Day

Nicole worked on kitchen projects and I kept her entertained by playing records by some of our favorite artists. I wasn’t quite so ambitious, but I did clean up the basement a bit, finish one book, and start another. I can’t believe November’s already almost gone, but in many ways I am relieved.

We Zoomed in the evening with Vance and Liz Downing, two of our youngest and most cherished friends. I was the officiant at their wedding, and they are quite well-matched. We teased out the many ways COVID has affected our lives and occasionally broached other topics.

That is all.

Streaming for Survivors:

The music doesn’t perfectly match the title–there is much discipline and focus in it–but it is aggressively great.

Cloister Commentary, Day 240: An Ominous Pall

As I’ve previously reported, COVID cases are going through the roof in our county; we’ve exceeded 100 new cases in a day almost every day for almost two weeks, and our hospitals are becoming overwhelmed. Still, some folks are denying the virus even exists and refusing to take precautions (must their family and friends be struck for them to accept it?), and, with the city choosing not to report new cases over the weekend, we will be holding our breath awaiting today’s report. Nicole only has two more days of working in person during the week ahead (I am working on my campus, but in seclusion with only virtual interactions), but the occurrence of any feverish flash or sudden aches and pains can bring us ominous worry. What this had to do with yesterday, if it isn’t already apparent, is that ominous worry cast a pall over proceedings.

We were able to Zoom with family, piddle around, and feed ourselves (a friend brought by some eats later in the day, too). It was just a day where one didn’t even feel like going outside at all. We should have; that might have helped.

Streaming for Survivors:

Cajuns aren’t monolithic.

Cloister Commentary, Day 226: Pressure That Burns a Building Down

Yesterday was a fairly quiet day: bringing in and storing Halloween decorations, watching CBS Sunday Morning and reading the New York Times, setting back the clocks–I do love receiving an extra hour (I know it’s an illusion, really), because I know what to do with one–Zooming with family and friends, searching for and listening to some new music, enjoying some fresh chick pea masala, seeing if SNL could deliver. But all the while, Nicole and I both–I didn’t ask her, but I’m sure–felt a creeping, rising force. You know what I’m talking about.

If not, well, this might help. I have a rule of thumb regarding commenting on music that I follow 98% of the time: I do not want to waste my time denigrating something–life’s too short, and it’s better spent exalting powerful works. I violated that rule yesterday on Facebook when, after listening to it twice and being unmoved, I labeled the new Karen O / Willie Nelson cover of Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” as having a “lay-down-and-die” energy level, which I still believe, though a) it was a great idea, and b) I am a very, very enthusiastic Wille Nelson fan of many years’ duration. A few folks I respect greatly chimed in to the effect that I might be a bit off in my assessment, which is OK with me, though considering that we all come to art with different experiences and values that cause our responses to vary, it’s a bit futile to say about a song, “No, I’m right and you’re wrong.” Which, unsurprisingly, is the main reason I imposed upon myself the above rule in the first place! BUT…one of those friends (jokingly, I’m sure, at least partially) suggested that no one ever listened to the lyrics of the original in the first place, whereas (I am assuming) the less strangulated (?) and bombastic singing applied to the cover version draws those lyrics to the fore. Perhaps; Rodney, it’s a very good point. BUT…I did listen to those lyrics as a 19-year-old in 1981, and I distinctly remembering they absolutely sold the song for me. Bowie, Queen, and the arrangement were all terrific, but I felt those words. I did have to listen to it multiple times (that was no problem, as I lifeguarded that year and had no choice) to, um, untangle and extract a few syllables), but throughout that process it hit me harder and harder. In case you need a refresher, and to loop back to my original intent in hunting and pecking this out, here those lyrics are:

“Pressure, pushing down on me,
Pressing down on you, no man asks for.
Under pressure that burns a building down,
Splits a family in two, puts people on streets.
It’s the terror of knowing what this world is about.
Watching some good friends screaming, “let me out”.
Tomorrow gets me higher.

Pressure on people, people on streets.
Chippin’ around, kick my brains around the floor.
These are the days, it never rains but it pours.
People on streets.
People on streets.

It’s the terror of knowing what this world is about.
Watching some good friends screaming, ‘Let me out!’
Tomorrow takes me higher, higher, high!
Pressure on people, people on streets.

Turned away from it all like a blind man.
Sat on a fence, but it don’t work.
Keep comin’ up with love, but it’s so slashed and torn.
Why, why, why?
Love (love, love, love, love).

Insanity laughs, under pressure we’re cracking.
Can’t we give ourselves one more chance?
Why can’t we give love that one more chance?
Why can’t we give love, give love, give love, give love,
Give love, give love, give love, give love, give love.
‘Cause love’s such an old fashioned word,
And love dares you to care for the people on the
Edge of the night, and love dares you to
Change our way of caring about ourselves.
This is our last dance.
This is ourselves. This is ourselves.

Under pressure.
Under pressure.

I don’t think it’s our last dance, but neither do you or I need to be so damned literal in applying these foolish things. Have a careful next couple of days.

Streaming for Strivers:

Put on a happy face. The clown’s scared, too.

Cloister Commentary, Day 221: Slow “News” Day

Ten new things I’ve tried and liked during this pandemic:

  1. Twining’s Extra Bold and Irish Morning Teas (pretty much every morning since I first tried them–I now fully understand the word “restorative”)
  2. Zoom instruction (dragged in against my will, kicked and screamed a bit, then started to figure out how to exploit it for constructive educational ends) (it helps that I teach English)
  3. Disco obscurities (really, as much fun as garage rock and rockabilly obscurities if one does one’s homework)
  4. Public notarization (from afar, or when you get something notarized, it seems a snap–but it’s surprisingly nerve-wracking until you’ve done a few)
  5. Almond milk (I’ve never really been a milk fan anyway, but even our cats have no major issues with it)
  6. Studying WNBA box scores (those kids can hit from the charity stripe, now!)
  7. Burmese papaya salad (actually, Nicole ordered it for us rather impulsively, I thought I would dislike it, but then I loved it and she wasn’t sure–best served spicy!)
  8. Judging a short non-fiction “Best of the Net 2020” contest with a bunch of other folks (I love to read, but I thought this might take the fun out of it–however, it’s been a bit of trip reading bad “good” stuff!)
  9. Changing out a bathroom faucet (such undertakings normally fill me with fear–and loathing–but I actually did a good job and solved a problem in the process that the YouTube training didn’t prepare me for)
  10. Eating multiple fruit items regularly (I’ve never been a big consumer of fruit–so unreliable! so easily damaged! so…complicated!–but I have actually eaten an apple–hello, honey crisps!–AND a banana 95% of the last two months’ worth of days)

Obviously, yesterday was a “slow news day” even for living in isolation. Such occasions are what lists are for! In the comment section below, share something you’ve tried and liked in COVID Time.

Streaming for Strivers:

Dedicated to my girl. She is the biggest Otis Rush fan I know!

Cloister Commentary, Day 206: The Thrills and Spills of Tutoring

After Nicole and I took a long neighborhood walk through a windy, cool, overcast fall morning and I arrived at work, I was presented with my first major tutoring challenge of the semester. I was due to Zoom-proctor a student’s on-line math test–it’s very doable via screen-sharing and camera sweeps–but I’d just had my computer replaced, and the techs had not reconnected my mic, camera, and speakers. Sounds like something I could have done, but the simple task required administrative log-in credentials and I’m so low on the totem pole I’m under the ground. The biggest problem was, the instructor was starting the test remotely and the test was timed. Fortunately, neither the student nor I panicked (her mic, camera, and speakers were working great), and I managed to use the chat function skillfully enough to get her through. The exciting life of a professional tutor!

When I returned home from work, I was rewarded for my patience and “ingenuity” with a Tampa Bay victory over Houston (sorry, Brian), I listened to some classic highlife music from Bokoor Studios in Ghana, and I read several more chapters from Jorge Ibargüengoitia’s pitch-black The Dead Girls.

After more shepherd’s pie for supper and a cup of hot golden milk, we read and waited for results from a special school board vote regarding a return to in-seat schooling–which, unfortunately, stretched into the night past our endurance. Judging from the national COVID-19 map, now doesn’t seem to be a great time, but, as I pointed out to a colleague yesterday, these are counterintuitive times. We awakened wide-eyed at 3:45 a.m to the news.

Streaming for Strivers:

A continuation from last night’s soundtrack.

Cloister Commentary, Day 205: Busy Doin’ Nuthin’

Do you have trouble doing nothing? I do. Even when under the guidance of the seldom-wrong Thich Nhat Hanh, I feel guilty if I am not “working on something.” In addition, continuity is very important to me; if I don’t get a running start and a few laps in, I feel I will not get whatever I’m trying to do satisfactorily accomplished. However, yesterday morning I was actually successful in just cooling down my attitude inertia: I drank coffee with some Irish creme, chomped on a bagel, read the paper, and took a nice nap. Now, that seems like I actually did a couple of things right there, but those don’t count.

The afternoon was a little different. I excitedly fixed the massive tagging problem presented by a set of digital albums a friend shared with me, Nicole and I Zoomed first with mom, my brother, and his lady then with members of our Facebook group the Flying Saucer Landing Pad Support Group, which is what it says it is. But even those I did not lock into. More accurately, I drifted into and out of them.

Later, I fell asleep watching grass grow (aka watching a baseball game) and woke up to find a piece of Ghirardelli chocolate balancing on my chest. That was my cue to finish watching the Watchmen film.

I think Thay would give me a little credit for inching toward being still. A little.

Streaming for Strivers:

This is one talented Fela. Sorry…