A year ago, after the 2007 election, I did something I hadn't done before. I took a vacation, all by myself, to a place where I knew no one.
Last year, it was Milwaukee. I rented a cheap hotel room close to Lake Michigan. And I spent several days walking the shore, walking the city, walking and walking and walking.
When I got back, my wife asked me, "So whom did you talk to?" Usually when I travel I return with lots of stories. And that's when I realized that I really hadn't talked to anybody, other than to check into the hotel, or to order a meal.
I returned, I think, better than when I'd left. I had found my center. Sometimes you just need absolute quiet and physical release. You need solitude.
And if that's one side of the equation, here's another: civic engagement. I know that after the recent, interminable election process, no one wants to think about this.
Back in the day, I lived for a while as a wandering poet. The pay was terrible, but the experience was rich.
At one point, I found myself at the home of a newspaper publisher. He admitted that he did not understand poetry at all, or know how to tell if it was any good. So we got to talking. How, I asked him, did he recognize good writing in journalism?
He started rattling off some characteristics. Good newspaper writing was clear, fresh, free of cliches. It had immediacy and structure. It told a story. It was poignant but not sentimental.
And when he was done, I said "the same thing is true of good poetry." Every discipline has its quirks, of course, but by comparing samples of poetry to samples of newspaper writings, we quickly found that we had more in common than he'd thought: good writing is good writing.
Much the same thing is true in the worlds of for-profit, and not-for-profit. The end is different -- newspapers and libraries, for instance, have discrete purposes. But when you take a look at how private sector and public sector organizations operate, it again doesn't take long to identify some commonalities.
About twenty years ago, I went with some other librarians to the Greeley mall. We were going to stage a "read in."
The idea was this: we put up some library signs, then stepped into a sort of reading corral. When small children would come by, we'd invite them to listen to a story. We'd taken a bunch of kid's books with us.
Shortly after I arrived, a little boy walked along who was about the same size as my daughter Maddy was back then. I suppose he was about a year old.
Utterly without thinking, I treated him just like her. I picked him up, spun him around, dropped into a cross-legged position on the ground, and opened up a book in front of him.
And two things immediately became apparent. First, I could sense from the corner of my eye the mother freezing up. "Uh oh," I thought. "I just snatched this boy right from under her. Bad idea."
But the other odd thing was that it was perfectly clear that nobody had ever read to this child before. He didn't know where to look.
You know how long it takes to learn how to follow the rhythm of reading a book? Opening the book, starting on the left, moving to the right, turning the page?
It takes two pages.
About 70% of the currently registered voters in Douglas County requested mail ballots this year. I've already got mine. And like an estimated 70% of that group, I'll fill it out and return it in three days.
So by the time you read this, the election, at least in Douglas County, may be over. But please do not let that stop you from voting! We won't know the results until November 4, and every vote counts.
It really does. Last year, the library lost its measure by just 210 votes out of 42,000 cast. Only thirty-four percent of the voters showed up last year. A little more than half of them -- so 17% of our voters -- decided the question.
I'll be honest. Although I went into last year's election, as I go into this one, understanding that the universe persists in doing what it does, not what I want it to do, that loss was surprisingly painful. I found it personally disappointing that the election was lost in my own home town of Castle Rock.