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, October 20, 2004

October 20, 2004 - I am an Earthling

It was a perfect Colorado day: crisp and clear. Autumn burned on the bluffs.

I was walking down the main street of my home town. Suddenly, all I could hear was the roar of traffic.

Just as suddenly, I was angry, irritable.

I have striven my whole life to cultivate calm. So with my anger came disquiet. WHAT was wrong with me?

I have two answers. Here's the first: it was America. America the loud, America the intrusive, America the land of the big, honking automobile.

Second answer: my real problem was something called acculturation. A couple of weeks before, I was in eastern Europe. I was able to walk for hours at a time on streets that meandered under trees, ambled along river beds, and had learned the trick of dodging traffic.

My deep anger was, of course, ridiculous. Right? Yet it was real.

For the past decade or so, I've been a member of Rotary International. I've always taken a keen interest in our exchange students.

Every year, we interview a handful of very bright, surprisingly poised high school students. We send a few of them off to live with loving families in other countries.

About nine months later, they come back. And they all report a similar thing: coming back to America is at least as hard as leaving it.

Over there, they were sometimes overwhelmed by all the differences from the life they knew. At the same time, it was invigorating. The brain is wired to notice what is new. When everything is new, life is intense.

These students expected their travels to be strange. But they didn't expect HOME to seem strange. When they returned, they made a deep discovery: what so many of us believe is basic and right, a given, is only cultural. Other places, other people, have other premises.

In my own travels, I thought I'd adapted well. I was booked from dawn to dusk and beyond, but always with very kind, even gentle people. I enjoyed myself tremendously, even if I did feel, on occasion, that I needed more time alone, more time to process my experiences.

When I got back, I was plunged into the crazy season of my job: library budget preparation.

So chalk up some of my crankiness to being overscheduled, overstimulated, then suddenly caught up in the finicky business of fiscal decison-making and strategic planning.

I strongly suspect that I am not nearly as adaptable as I'd like to think I am.

But issues of personal stamina aside, I feel a lingering rebellion against ALL countries: my own for its artless arrogance and careless abundance; Bulgaria for its legacy of entitlement, the blunt humiliation of the Soviet era. The rest of the world's nations ... well, because of the whole idea of borders.

On the 2000 census, after long thought, I listed my race as "Earthling." I meant by this that as a very young man I had seen a photo of our planet from space.

It was so achingly beautiful. I wanted to clasp it to me, as an infant hugs a balloon.

I still do.

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