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 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.
After a recent talk I gave in Illinois, a Trustee asked me to help her understand the role of the public library in the 21st century. I said I thought it boiled down to this: libraries build brains and community.
Building brains has two parts. First, and most important, is the total immersion in language that has been proven to develop thick clusters of dendrites in the brains of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. Those clusters of nerves are the biological basis of intelligence.
I've been doing a lot of reading about brain development and literacy. The two are tightly connected. Children who hear lots of stories, demanding attention, empathy, comprehension of new words, prediction of events, are not only smarter, kinder, and more competent human beings, they are also prepped for one of the most wondrous accomplishments of humankind: learning to read.