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.
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. 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.
Ten new things I’ve tried and liked during this pandemic:
Twining’s Extra Bold and Irish Morning Teas (pretty much every morning since I first tried them–I now fully understand the word “restorative”)
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)
Disco obscurities (really, as much fun as garage rock and rockabilly obscurities if one does one’s homework)
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)
Almond milk (I’ve never really been a milk fan anyway, but even our cats have no major issues with it)
Studying WNBA box scores (those kids can hit from the charity stripe, now!)
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!)
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!)
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)
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!
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!
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.
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.
I had mentioned a few commentaries back that the inspirational Stephens prof Ann Breidenbach and I had teamed up for a fun educational project, but I withheld the details. Yesterday, the project went to ground: after we educated her women’s studies students about absentee voting, we created an opportunity whereby I was able to notarize her students’ ballots that required it. Few actually did need that service, but two of them just happened to be the top students from my virtual summer freshman comp class, whom I’d never met in person. Even though we were all masked, we recognized each other from about 30 feet away! As my friend George Frissell would have said (quoting Chief Dan George in Little Big Man, as was frequently his wont), it made my heart soar like a hawk.
I also had the pleasure of talking with my cousin Gregory on the phone for over an hour. I frankly do not enjoy blabbin’ into the blower for even five minutes, but Greg is one of those few exceptions. His insights, good cheer, sense of humor, and wise perspectives were quite welcome (roiling, rotten stuff happened to have been weighing on my mind at the time), and he’s really an inspirational human being. We traded stories, and I honestly had trouble hanging up the phone. May you have a rewarding weekend, cuz.
Nicole and I both had educational crises dumped in our laps after 5 p.m (it’s an occupational hazard of great regularity for all us edumacators), but we calmed our nerves with an old remedy we had not tried in over a decade: Southpark. “The Pandemic Special” proved Matt and Trey are still great at that thing they do. They have Tegrity.
When I was a full-time public school teacher, I truly loved plotting with fellow fun-loving educators (I think of Nicole Overeem, Karen Downey, George Frissell, Brock Boland, Jim Kome and Jill Varns) to pull off exciting and inventive educational experiences. Yesterday in the early morning, my very esteemed, beloved and influential Stephens College colleague Ann Breidenbach e-mailed me with a brilliant idea she required my assistance to execute, if I was game. I received the email right after she sent it, I replied (as is my wont), “Let’s do it now!” and in a matter of seconds, I was Zooming with her Women’s Studies class putting the idea into play. As I retiree, I can’t perfectly communicate how thrilled I am to be involved in this venture–and, NO, I’m not going to tell you what it is yet! I will give you a clue: it’s a particularly great brainstorm if you happen to be a teacher or a student in Missouri, Oklahoma, or Mississippi.
That’s about all I have, except this: I have always luxuriated in this time of year and its brilliant skies, mild weather, blazing colors, and bittersweet, reflective overtone. I never thought I would ever enter it with my current level of dread, disappointment, despair, and disgust. I have very few illusions about who, what, where, why, and how we are, and I do know it’s not all bad, but another “d” word is hovering in the air, Isaac, waiting for me to pluck it out for use: DESULTORY.
Streaming for Strivers:
Speaking of things that are not bad, I invite you to partake of the work of an underrated star in the American music firmament who’s celebrating the anniversary of her arrival today.
I set a personal professional record with seven consecutive tutorial sessions on Zoom yesterday. All my appointments showed up early and prepared, they demonstrated impressive knowledge of their chosen genre and film history, their essay ideas were fairly sound, and, in most cases, I was able to facilitate an obliterating of their compositional obstacles (also known as “helping them”). Perhaps the sessions were made more pleasant by my Zoom background, which was the actual cozy little residential section of West Walnut Street that backs my office window but looked almost computer-generated. Anything to distract from my COVID-forged grooming, which is indeed approaching the Jeff Bridges-esque.
Do you fall asleep sitting up, even while watching shows you love with people you love? Fear not–you are not alone. I believe this is a sign of simply being in the “second half” of life’s game. I had to “make up” a viewing of the third and fourth episode of Watchmen that I was erratically conscious for when Nicole and I originally watched it, but, I tell you what (do people say that in other regions?), that show is scintillating. Just scintillating. Worth watching twice even IF you were fully conscious for it!
Dr. James Terry is one of the best profs at Stephens College–he’s admired by students AND colleagues–and yesterday he staged his students’ annual Punctuation Day competition. He assigns each of the class’ finalists a punctuation mark, then charges them with the task of designing a creative presentation that effectively defines each, illustrates its uses, and offers tips to the confused, and delivering it on stage in the school theater. This year, he invited me to judge, and, in introducing me, asked me how I liked to celebrate National Punctuation Day. Having only learned of its existence the day I received his request, I lied that I like to spend the morning writing, then the afternoon giving my work a semicolonotomy (I am a mite too fond of them). Also, after submitting my ballot, I learned I was the first judge to ever award all three categories (creativity, volume, overall excellence) to the same student, who revealed the mysteries of–wait for it!–the semicolon to her peers. By the way, half of the students were beaming in via Zoom (one presented that way), the other half plus the educators were masked, and tape prevented any of us from being closer than eight feet from each other; props to Jim and Stephens for providing a safe and healthy place to learn. (Note semicolonic restraint exercised above.)
Nicole and I have had a bit of a rough week, if you’ve been following, but I’d like to recommend neighborhood walks and sitting meditation to any of you who are also mourning or otherwise suffering (the national events of the week have been enough to cause an excess of both in almost anyone). Also recommended: taking meals together, talking the grief out, listening to The Beatles, and watching uplifting programming (for us, Wokeand Unpregnant).
Streaming for Strivers:
I’d like to thank Spacecase Records for lighting a punk rock fire in me. Found within: early work by Meat Puppets, 100 Flowers, Leaving Trains, and The Gun Club.
Big highlight of the day–I visited with my old Hickman English Department and Academy of Rock colleague Brock Boland during his lunch hour. Brock is the kind of colleague who can make the worst school day survivable. His sense of humor and knack for entertainment are well-known, but his wisdom and ear are equally impressive; he and I both recently lost our fathers, and we shared some of our recent experiences, which lifted me considerably. We also enjoyed Cajun Crab House’s fried catfish (him) and Royal Red Shrimp (me) lunch specials. I didn’t know what the heck the latter was and ordered it strictly for that reason. It’s basically a bagged shrimp boil with new taters, corn on the cob, and sausage. What it was was delicious. Miss ya, Brock!
The rest of the day was spent scheduling Zoom tutoring appointments, in fact, my favorite kind: helping Steph Borklund’s students with their film genre essay assignments. She’s a smart, warm, enthusiastic prof, and we’ve been teaming up for years. Also, our 12-year-old border collie Louis is ailing, so I kept a very close eye on him. I am not going to speculate, because it’s 2020.
Miami went up two games to zip on the Celtics. Could we have a Heat-Nuggets final, 2020? Please?
Streaming for Survivors:
Would you care for a musical tour of “The Old, Weird America”? Tired of “The New, Weird America”? Traverse one of the best discs of six of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music–this one’s country blues dominated. Be sure to lean forward on “Prison Cell Blues.”