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 11, 2006 - Wild Parrots, Right Livelihood
Recently, my wife brought home a fascinating film from the library called "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill."
It told the story of a man, Mark Bittner, who had once tried to start a life as a musician. That hadn't worked out. He wound up in San Francisco, where he spent a lot of time studying various Eastern philosophies, and reading poetry, particularly the works of Gary Snyder.
On the basis of that study, he decided that he needed to make a stronger connection to nature. At that moment, he was not quite squatting in a small rental house on Telegraph Hill.
Just below him was a flock of wild parrots, known variously as the cherry-headed conure, the red masked conure, the red-masked parakeet, and the red-headed conure. The birds are not native to the area. Nobody is quite sure how they got there.
Over the next six years, Bittner earned the birds' trust, feeding them as often as five times a day. He began to make very detailed notes, based on his close observation of their habits and personalities. Now he even has a book, also called "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill."
I recommend them, mainly for their surprisingly spiritual awareness of the natural life going on all around us, and to which most of us are oblivious.
But the thing that sticks with me was one of the comments Bittner made about why he had time -- a lot of time -- to be devoted to this peculiar connection to wild parrots.
Bittner said that he had not yet found what the Buddhists call "right livelihood."
Bittner was in fact living a pretty marginal life back then, a life utterly unconnected to the workaday world.
That seems to have changed for him. His amateur naturalist status, the success of the film, the success of his book, have kept him on the lecture circuit for a number of years now.
Bittner seems now to have found a way to turn his natural interests, his loves, into a way to "earn a living."
The Buddhist idea of right livelihood isn't just about WHAT you do. It's about how.
The "right" job might be almost anything, at any level of society. But "wrong" livelihood is characterized by scheming, a lustfulness to win at the expense of others, a grasping for illusory power.
I've known a lot of people who never felt like they had found the right work. Or maybe, they never figured out how to make the kind of work they had INTO the right livelihood. There are so many false measures of success, and some are seductive.
I got lucky. I found an institution whose values, whose purpose, made sense to me, and that I was proud to serve. Moreover, I've learned a lot from it. But everyone doesn't get lucky.
The message of Bittner and the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill is this: you start where you are. You use YOUR talents, YOUR insights, to do the things that make sense to you.
And then, just maybe, your life takes flight.