For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
August 1, 2001 - Teen Dreams
Some 15 years ago I did a workshop on creative writing. It was at a private school, grades K-12.
I started all the sessions with a simple question: who remembers what they dreamt last night? In the kindergarten class, every hand went up. Of course, not every child really did remember his or her dreams. But they all remembered something ABOUT their dreams and were eager to share it.
My pedagogical point that day was that everybody dreams. Nobody has to be taught how. The source of dreams is the same as the source for writing: something absolutely basic to the human birthright. But while I was teaching, I was also learning. I learned that with every grade, fewer hands went up. By the time I got to the tenth grade I was getting only one or two, and that furtively. The seniors, it would seem, slept in total, dignified, yet slightly cynical, blankness. The Sleep of the Undead.
Of course, just as some kindergartners raised their hands but really didn't remember their dreams of the night before, many teenagers did remember, but said nothing. What I was measuring was not nocturnal creativity, but the willingness to talk about it in the daylight, surrounded by peers.
I repeated the experiment in several schools, and the results were pretty consistent. Young people -- children between the ages of 4 and 8 -- had a more permeable barrier between their inner lives and their outer behavior. They concealed less, offered more.
Older children -- up to the ages of legal adults -- had somewhere learned, or been taught, or simply grew the knowledge within themselves, not to casually discuss their inner lives in public settings. They got wary.
It would be easy to say, "Isn't that a shame?" But sometimes dreams must pass through a period of containment, of silence, before they can be forged into something enduring and tangible. The teen years are a crucible, a time and a place for stoking and directing the inner flames -- and seeing what remains at the end.
Moreover, teen dreams can have more complex, disturbing content than those of young children. In the creation of personality, all those themes have to be assigned a value and a place. It takes time to figure out what's OK to feel, and to talk about, and to make real.
Hence the whole universe of what librarians call "Young Adult Literature." Here are the coming of age stories, the tales of first, terrible decisions and human signposts: the death of a parent or a friend, the first love, the first inkling of a career, the first big life lessons.
None of this is new, of course. In earlier times, all this was symbolized by that sturdy set piece of fairy tales: the woods. One day, it's into the woods, to flee or to find danger, and with luck, to come out at the end with the prize beyond price.
Speaking of fairy tales set in the forest, it happens that both of my children are in the upcoming Castle Rock Players production of Hansel and Gretel, directed by the talented Chris McCoy. (It runs from August 2 through August 5, at the Douglas County High School. Tickets have been on sale for awhile, but will also be available on a walk-in basis.) I highly recommend it.
Many theater productions are springing up in and around Douglas County these days. All of them entertain. But most of them, too, struggle with recurrent issues of human meaning. Those issues interest people of all ages.
After all, what are books and films and theater but the dreams we have when we're awake?