This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, November 20, 1996

November 20, 1996 - Tellabration '96

About 12 years ago I did a poetry workshop for a K-6 private school. First I got to talk to the kindergartners, then the first graders, and so on up to the 12 year olds.

My approach was pretty basic. I started off by asking, "How many of you had a dream last night?" My next question was, "Who taught you how to dream?"

My point was that imaginative storytelling is hardwired into the brain. It's the primary way we make sense of the universe. It's as fundamental a part our being, as necessary to our health, as breathing.

This is literally true. People deprived of the Rapid Eye Movement period of sleep (during which dreaming takes place) for as short a period as a week begin hallucinating, become paranoid, and often turn violent. We need to dream.

I hoped that by pointing to this innate talent, I might be able to get a few kids to realize that the hard part of poetry (starting!) was in fact utterly natural. They had it within them, they didn't have to be taught it, so let fly! On the other hand, the form of the thing could take as much polish and study as they were willing to give it.

But what bemused me most was the effect of age. When I asked the kindergarten class, "Who had a dream last night?" almost every hand went up. They not only remembered that they had dreamed, they most enthsuiastically wanted to tell me the details.

Grade by grade, the percentage of hands dropped by about 10-15 percent. By the time I got to 6th grade, either nobody remembered their dreams, or they were in no mood to discuss them.

Then and now, I find that unspeakably sad. Night after night, all over the world, humans are falling asleep and creating complex and fascinating universes, richly textured, laden with profundity and humor. Then -- poof! -- they wake up. Gone.

But if you're looking to promote a little dreaming and storytelling in your waking hours, there's good news. In celebration of an annual event called "Tellabration! '96" the library will be bringing in a fellow named Mike Gilbert. Gilbert is a "Storymaker" who uses audience suggestions to weave funny tales. His first appearance will be during Starlighting activities in Castle Rock (Saturday, November 23). Gilbert will appear from 3:30 - 4:15 p.m. at the Masonic Hall, top floor.

At 7 p.m. on the same day, he will be at our Parker Library at 7 p.m.

At our Highlands Ranch Library, at 11 a.m., also on the 23rd of November, Pam Faro will be our professional storyteller. Ms. Faro uses musical instruments to supplement her family-oriented storytelling.

Since you know you're going to be telling stories in your sleep anyhow, why not take the whole family out to dream a little together?

Wednesday, November 13, 1996

November 13, 1996 - Thanks!

I'd be remiss if I didn't start this column by thanking the many, many people who helped pass the 1996 library mill levy increase.

It wasn't big money that carried the day. The campaign's total budget (including in-kind contributions) was less than $5,000. Nor was it due to the tricks of slick campaign professionals. This exciting new chapter in the history of our library depended upon the hard work of a group of dedicated volunteers (special thanks go to Mark Weston, Sue Meacham, and Cindy Murphy), the consistently good service of our staff, and the staunch support of regular library users. To all: my deepest gratitude.

I'd also like to thank the Mission Viejo Company. At the Say Yes Committee's request, they donated four large signs to the effort, created, posted, and removed entirely at their expense.

Too, I was impressed as always by the energy, dedication, and consummate professionalism of County Clerk and Recorder Reta Crain's election staff.

Finally, I'm especially thankful for the support of Douglas County's newspapers. We seek and serve the same literate, civic-minded audience. May we all thrive together; the public will be the richer for it.

And now, for something completely different.

Below is a collection of what people put on their insurance forms after an automobile accident. Like the column I did about funny headlines, the quotes were pulled from the Internet. Enjoy!

* Coming home I drove into the wrong house and collided with a tree I don't have.

* The other car collided with mine without giving warning of its intention.

* I thought my window was down, but I found it was up when I put my head through it.

* I collided with a stationary truck coming the other way.

* A truck backed through my windshield into my wife's face.

* I pulled away from the side of the road, glanced at my mother-in-law and headed over the embankment.

* In an attempt to kill a fly I drove into a telephone pole.

* I had been driving for forty years when I fell asleep at the wheel and had an accident.

* I was on the way to the doctor with rear end trouble when my universal joint gave way causing me to have an accident.

* My car was legally parked as it backed into another vehicle.

* An invisible car came out of nowhere, struck my car and vanished.

* I was sure the old fellow would never make it to the other side of the road when I struck him.

* The pedestrian had no idea which way to run as I ran over him.

* I saw a slow moving, sad faced old gentleman as he bounced off the roof of my car.

* The indirect cause of the accident was a little guy in a small car with a big mouth.

* I was thrown from my car as it left the road. I was later found in a ditch by some stray cows.

Finally, my personal favorite:

* The guy was all over the road. I had to swerve a number of times before I hit him.

Wednesday, November 6, 1996

November 6, 1996 - Playing the Piano

Mimi (my grandmother) played the piano. She started young. By the age of 9, she was the local church organist. Her legs were so short she had to tie wooden blocks to her feet so she could reach the pedals. If the congregation had trouble singing something, she just nudged the piece into another, more comfortable key.

But her heart wasn't in sacred music. Mimi liked boogie-woogie. She had a bass line that just STRUTTED up and down the low keys. I loved that stuff, and I loved to watch Mimi play it.

Because of my obvious interest, when I was 8 years old my mother rented a piano. I took lessons for about 6 months. Suddenly we couldn't afford it anymore, and the piano went back.

When I turned 12, the family bought a piano, and I took lessons for another two and a half years. But frankly, I didn't enjoy it as much.

Why? Well, partly because just as I was learning my first serious piece -- "Sonatina in G," written by Beethoven when he was a child -- I was also reading a Beethoven biography. At first, this really spurred me on to dedicated practicing. I wanted to BE Beethoven.

But -- and I remember the exact moment -- shortly after I turned 13 I realized with a kind of cold shock that it was too late for me to be a child prodigy.

This sounds ridiculous now, but at the time I thought that if I couldn't be Beethoven, then I really wasn't interested in playing the piano at all.

In an effort to hold my attention, my long-suffering piano teacher gave me a few other songs that he'd refused to give me before (he was a strict classical teacher). I learned "Alley Cat," and a Scott Joplin piece. He even let me work on some sheet music Mimi gave me, called "Getting Sentimental Over You." At times, I grudgingly enjoyed these. But somehow, it was too late. Shortly after I turned 14, I quit.

It wasn't until this fall, 28 years after I stopped taking lessons, that I began to spend some serious time at the keyboard again.

Originally, I had planned to write a book. A publisher offered me a contract. I'd cleared aside my schedule. I had written up a fairly detailed outline of the chapters, and gotten a solid start on the research. Then, as part of our long range planning process, our library board decided that if we wanted to keep up with the demand for services in Douglas County, we needed to undertake some serious capital projects. We didn't have the money to do them. After a lot of looking at the alternatives, we decided that we needed to go back to the voters.

Directing a library takes some time and attention. Working on a political campaign does, too -- and you can't do it while you're at work. That's your own time (as are these columns). After putting in some 40-50 hours a week at work, then putting in another 10-30 hours a week on the campaign, depending, I just didn't have the mental oomph to write a book as well. (The subject of the book also related to libraries.)

You'd think that all I would want to do on those odd hours off is lie down. Sometimes, I did, but mostly to read. I found that if I tried to just relax I worried about the job or about the campaign. I needed to have something else to think about.

Then, one afternoon, I sat down at the piano. I dug out my old classical music book and tried to play something I'd never played before. This is called "sight reading." To my astonishment, I did much better than I had when I was 14. It was such a relief to be learning and thinking about something new. It was such a relief not to use words.

To encourage me, my wife went out and bought a whole book of songs by a lyricist named Mitchell Parish. It included a song I remember Mimi playing (and had told my wife about): "Sentimental Gentleman from Georgia." At about the same time, I ran across a book called "Piano lessons : Music, Love & True Adventures," by NPR regular Noah Adams. Adams was trying to learn to play piano for the first time. (The library owns the book, incidentally, and I highly recommend it.) Adams was 53 years old. While some people may find his approach a little bizarre (step one: buy a $15,000 Steinway Grand!), I found it oddly inspirational.

Over the course of the campaign I learned some 6 or 8 new songs, mostly from the 1920s and 30s.

So OK, I'll never be Beethoven. I won't even be as good as Mimi. But my, those old songs are lovely.