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.
May 22, 2002 - What Are We to Do With the "Specials" in Our Society?
I once wrote a piece called, "Big Brother in Your PC." Concerning the growing ability of computers to track your computer habits and interests, it was picked up by the Denver Post.
Shortly after that, a woman with a faint accent started calling my office. Let's call her "May." She kept missing me, and wouldn't leave a number.
Last week, I was sitting in my office getting caught up on paperwork. May called and I answered. We talked, although mostly I listened, for about 45 minutes.
May told me a sad but compelling story. Some 15 years ago, her grown son (let's call him "Tom") had a big argument with another family member, his uncle. Right after that, May said, Tom's ability to think, or to hold a job, began to deteriorate.
For many years, May struggled to understand what was happening to him. Finally, she said, she began to understand. Her son had been subjected to some form of electromagnetic mind control.
The story got complicated. There was a Nazi connection, a Taiwan connection, the CIA. She cited a few books. There were websites.
Her son's symptoms were certainly disturbing. Tom saw visions of the uncle, who now could hear Tom's thoughts, could speak directly into his mind. Sometimes, Tom would talk out loud, angrily responding to his uncle's outrageous statements. That's one of the reasons Tom had trouble holding onto a job.
May told me she had tried to seek help for her son, but it hadn't worked out too well. Doctors, she told me, just said that Tom was crazy. Schizophrenic.
I asked her, "But why? Why would somebody buy all of this expensive equipment to torture someone this way?"
"It's a test," she said. "If they can do this to my son, they can do it to anyone. Even world leaders."
"But why take 15 years?" I asked. "It doesn't seem to make sense."
"I know he's not crazy," she said. "Sometimes, I even hear the voices myself."
Finally, I said, "I deeply sympathize with your situation, but I don't really know what I can do."
She asked if I thought she should try a church, some kind of spiritual counselor. I said I thought that would be a good idea.
"Yesterday," she said, "Tom told me, 'You know, I'm still in here. Somewhere.' " She sobbed. "He's fighting so hard."
We talked for a little while longer, then she hung up.
What do I think?
It could be that both she and her son are suffering from some kind of mental illness. And I wonder if there wasn't something else going on between the son and the uncle.
There may be some intervention, treatment or medication that would help. On the other hand, I'm not sure that today's medical treatment is necessarily a good thing.
At other times, in other cultures, people who heard voices, or saw things that other people couldn't, weren't always branded as ill.
I've never had visions. I've never heard voices. But I will say that lately I've stumbled across more and more people talking in an animated fashion into the air.
Usually they have earphone extensions to their cell phones. But not always.
The persistence of this condition in the human race might be something other than illness. I remember a science fiction story about a normal man who falls in with a group of people who are blind. Finally, they put out his eyes. Then he fits in.
Other cultures have found ways to recognize certain people, and carve out a place in their societies that saved these people from lives of torment, gave them ways to make positive, and sometimes profound, contributions. Sanity is not an absolute. It is relative to one's culture. Cultures vary.
If this subject intrigues you, I have two suggestions for further reading. Both are excellent. Both are available from your local library.
The first is "Lying Awake," by Mark Salzman. It's a sparse, beautifully written fictional account of a modern day Carmelite nun whose strong sense of God's presence is diagnosed as a brain tumor. She's told that an operation will save her life. Will it also cost her the transcendence of her experience?
The second is "Edgar Cayce: an American Prophet," by Sidney Kirkpatrick. This is a non-fiction biography of a man from the first half of the 20th century. Cayce, while in hypnotic trance, seemed to have the ability to perform clairvoyant and reputedly accurate medical diagnoses of thousands of people. He also prescribed often highly unorthodox treatments. The evidence suggests that these treatments, when followed, were remarkably successful.
Yet the same "Source" of that information also claimed to offer insights into the past lives of some of his subjects.
Are these people crazy? Gifted? Or just characterized by behaviors that -- right now -- have no real explanation?
What are we to do with the "specials" in our society?