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.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

February 26, 2009 - we need to be more like Elwood

Recently, I appeared in a play, the Parker Arts Council's "Harvey." Written by Colorado author Mary Chase, and the well-deserved winner of a Pulitzer Prize, it has always been one of my favorites.

All of the roles are wonderful, with surprising depth and humor. I landed the part of Elwood P. Dowd, the man who pals around with a 6-foot-one-and-a-half rabbit. Since most people don't see this rabbit, they assume that Elwood is "touched."

And well he may be. The rabbit, Harvey, is a "pooka." According to the play, a pooka is "From old Celtic mythology. A fairy spirit in animal form. Always very large. The pooka appears here and there, now and then, to this one and that one at his own caprice. A wise but mischievous creature. Very fond of rum-pots, [and] crack-pots."

My thinking about the character went through several changes. First, I thought Elwood was enlightened. He was always fully present, kind and courteous. But Elwood also does a lot of drinking in this play -- so maybe he was a "rum-pot," albeit a curiously gentle and friendly one.

Then I got it into my head that he was just enchanted -- had fallen under the spell of a pooka encountered one night, leaning against a lamppost.

Finally, I think maybe it was something else altogether. Elwood decided to put the most magical experience of his life in the center of his life, not at the periphery. How rare is that!

And he also made another remarkable decision, based on a choice his mother had framed for him years earlier: "in this world .... you must be oh so smart, or oh so pleasant." Elwood says, "For years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me." (And now I have.)

Elwood's choices made him perhaps the happiest man in literature. Of course, all the people around him immediately wanted to lock him up.

The wonderful thing about literature -- the powerful thing about it -- is precisely this ability to reveal a world that is subtly changed, enhanced, edited, improved and clarified.

Trying to live within Elwood, if only on stage, made me realize just how rare real courtesy is. It's almost as if many people have made another choice, a decision to be rude.

And isn't that a shame? A moment of rudeness snowballs down the slope of life, eventually sweeping perfect strangers into avalanches of raw discourtesy and random negativity. And yet often in our culture, we mistake such rudeness for cleverness.

Just as my thinking about Elwood has changed, so has my notion of the value of the library. For one thing, our whole business is predicated on courtesy, and a sincere interest in each person we serve.

For another, despite the many thousands of health or consumer questions we answer, the school reports we help write, and the business issues we research, the most profound value of the library isn't information in the sense of facts. Rather, our real contribution is access to visions of ways to be, of possibilities for transformation.

Stories, plays, movies, and music aren't fluff. They are the very heart of what libraries are for: to help people see what is not seen.

"Harvey" -- both the play and the iconic movie starring Jimmy Stewart -- is available from the library. And highly recommended.

LaRue's Views are his own.

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