Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sound And Fury

There's nothing like a big thaw in the middle of a harsh winter to remind you that an entire world exists outside your front door. I'm actually excited to see rain, which are not words you often hear coming from my mouth. And then it's right back to the usual, at least for a few more weeks. The world spins on.

Talking about the weather always reminds me of a professor I once had.

He was a new guy; came in like a March thunderstorm, full of sound and fury. He may have referred to his course as boot camp or something like it. The syllabus was full of astonishingly large projects, group and otherwise. He told us he was a terrifically harsh grader. He did everything but sweep in wearing black armor and force-choke someone in the first five minutes.

It was a lowish level graduate class, full of communications majors, who are not renowned for thriving under academic adversity. One-third of the class didn't come back for the second day. Another third quit by the end of the first week. I considered quitting, but a rather un-blonde classmate from Norway, who looked a bit like a young Teri Thatcher, burst into tears when I told her I was dropping the course and implored me not to because she had to take the class to graduate and I'd be leaving her with a pile of group work to do. I suspect she also needed the moral support. I stayed.

If there is ever danger of a war being started somewhere, I'd suggest parachuting in crying Norwegian girls. They're very persuasive.

By the middle of the next week, only six people out of twenty-eight remained. I think at that point the professor did some math and revised his approach. Our workload dropped by ninety percent. Class discussions became much more informal.

I've always wondered if he was planning that all along or if he realized that having a drop rate that high might get him a talking-to from somebody further up the bureaucratic chain? I'd like to think the first, because as it turns out he was an astonishingly cool guy who had forgotten more about cross-cultural communication and cultural differences than I'll ever learn.

Once the class changed in tone, lectures became pretty informal. The reading assignments became less of an assignment and more like you were doing Santiago a favor by reading them. He made us watch a really cool movie at one point. He's probably one of the few professors I've ever had that I'd just hang out with outside of class if I had the excuse.

One of my favorite things he ever said was when we were talking about the weather one day, during a particularly harsh stretch of the usual Michigan sturm-und-drang. When he was growing up, they'd make fun of rich white people by talking about the weather. You see, he was born and raised in Puerto Rico. In Puerto Rico, the weather is the same every day. No seasons, really. It's much like California there. You can be pretty sure the forecast is going to be something like 85 degrees and sunny, chance of rain in the afternoon. It's as predictable as taxes, stock market crashes and Justin Bieber.

When he and his friends imitated rich folk who sat around all day discussing the weather, they were really saying rich folk, usually white, had nothing better to do. The biggest things they had to worry about was whether or not they might get slightly wet. I'm guessing they saw tourists a lot. I am also guessing these tourists tended to be snowbirds.

Because when he moved to Michigan he found out why we always talk about the weather.

If you don't talk about the weather here in Michigan, you will die. Simple survival. I've lost count of the number of times when I've first heard about an impending snow storm just from office chatter. They come up so suddenly and frequently you easily lose track or forget to check the forecast.

Also, talking about the weather here is a bit like a spectator sport. Those big lakes of ours make things unpredictable. Snow in July? Why the hell not! And then, because Santiago was a pretty damn good teacher, he segued into a pretty informative lecture about how you can never just assume seemingly-frivolous behavior is entirely frivolous when dealing with other cultures. A lot of his lectures make more sense after 15 years or so of perspective. I wish I'd taken better notes.

Anyway. Still mulling over what story I'm going to write this week. I'm very tempted to just not write one and continue on with the book. I've got quite a bit of steam going for this time of year, my energy levels and the amount of time I have devoted to doing writing. Perhaps I'll make a mini-goal--finish Act I by the end of the month. Or maybe I'll just get there when I get there.

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