Sometime during COVID I began to notice clouds.
Fifty-one years old, started noticing clouds, for the first time.
Before now, just words and speed and laughing and winning and losing.
Now, always looking up. Now, clouds seemed to be about half of everything.
Nearly wrecked the car taking photos out the windshield.
Lost tennis matches because of beautiful cloud formations overhead, couldn’t keep my mind on golf.
“Look at those clouds!” I started telling my daughter, my wife, my best friend.
(And soccer parents at games and other acquaintances, and people standing next to me at bus stops—
all of whom thought the obsession eccentric at best; what was this fool going to “discover” next—dust flakes?)
“It’s hard to get used to Cloud Murr,” my old pal sighed, and his young son laughed.
But after a year or so, the pal and the son and I slipped, cloud-like, into a group text,
Devoted to showing one another nice cloud formations.
“Wow, that is impressive.”
My wife started sending me shots of clouds, out the car window on I-80 in Iowa.
Now I’m getting pictures of clouds from so many of my friends and family members.
The other day, I sat next to the 10-year-old daughter of my old friend, on a Chicago River architecture tour. It was chilly, and she was huddled in a hooded sweater, not listening to the guide blather on.
“Hey Dave,” she said, pointing at the sky. “How do you like those clouds?”
I said, “I like them a lot. How about you?”
The pioneering oral historian Studs Terkel counted it as one of his smartest tricks for making his interview subjects comfortable: He would exaggerate his natural mechanical ineptitude and fumble with his tape recorder. The interviewee would leap to help—and gain an instant sense of competence, partnership and equality with the famous man.
I’ve guest-taught a number of college classes lately—on Zoom and in person—and noted that the instructors were unwittingly pulling a Terkel—to the same good effect, I think.
Struggling to get their computers to correspond with the big screen, and having to ask students for help getting a video to play: This plays out frequently in college classrooms, these days.
So that by the time the teacher actually begins teaching the material, it has been established, literally and symbolically, that the students bring a lot to the table, too.
It’s a stark and welcome generational contrast from Professor Charles W. Kingsfield, Jr., pacing before a blackboard on the first day of Harvard Law School telling the students, “You teach yourselves the law. But I train your mind. You come in here with a skull full of mush—and you leave thinking like a lawyer.”
I’ve guest-taught college courses for years.
Lately I’ve noticed that the relationship between the students and the teachers is warmer, more personal and more mutually adoring than I can remember. And the fact that I’ve come to expect those types of classroom relationships doesn’t make them any less touching to me.
Meanwhile, are universities poorer for not having the professorial giants, the masters of the universe, who awed their students with their detached, imperious demeanor—the academic version of drill sergeants?
Well, I’ve got some theories on that, and I bet you do too.
First, though: Do you know how to take a screen shot, on a Mac?