a big beautiful mess

I’ve been doing some thinking lately.

Now that I feel more-or-less-as-much-as-I’m-ever-going-to fully settled in, and now that I all of a sudden have two weeks of drastically reduced classroom hours while my students write their theses, I’ve been looking for new things to occupy my time. And what ever-present lover should call my name, but the library.

I went back to the library today and finally made it inside, and to the International Center, where the American Corner is located. What a thrill it was to be in a library again, dear friends! I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed it. There were stacks for all languages–French and German, Polish and Lithuanian, English, Norwegian, Finnish… The English section, the Amerikanski Zal, was by far the biggest of any, and I’m sure that has to do with the U.S. Embassy’s pocketbook. There was a whole aisle dedicated to teaching English as a foreign language, which was overwhelming in that I feel like I’m somehow obligated to take advantage of all those books. There was a huge flatscreen TV; an odd collection of DVDs, from Capote in Russian to some documentary on Niagara Falls; and there was a group of people listening to canned British ESL audio tapes of some sort. I didn’t find the “Literature in English” section until we were already leaving, so all I got out was volume 2 of the “Poe” installment of the Library of America, those classy black books that remind me of Dad’s library at home. Next time I’m sure I’ll get out some more leisurely reading material.

The woman who works at the American Corner was not there, but I met another woman, Olga, who works there, and a journalism teacher whose name I’ve forgotten. They invited me enthusiastically to an event on tolerance that’s being held at the center tomorrow afternoon, and I promised to be there if I could– I am going to a conference at SAFU in the afternoon, where Łukasz is giving a paper on Polish linguistics, but if it’s over in time, I will go to the event at the library too.

All of this has gotten me thinking again about how much I love libraries. My friend Randianne, who’s also teaching in Russia, told me a story recently about how she single-handedly turned a student into a library-user and a big reader. And I keep remembering the times I really made a difference for someone at Forbes– helping a woman with her paperwork to become an American citizen, putting someone on the track to apply for new jobs, showing a high school kid print sources that are actually useful and interesting… But I know that I want to keep languages and international cultures in my life, too, more so than most public libraries can offer.

So, my new idea for my life is this: I want to build a library, but not just any library. My library will also be a cultural center and a resource for ex-pats and refugees in whatever city I end up in. My library will offer language classes for immigrants and for locals, in English, Russian, Spanish, French, Portuguese, whatever languages I can get. My library will be a coffee shop, and a bar, and an art gallery for local artists. My library will be an educational center and a community center. My library might have to charge a membership fee.

I just don’t know if I have the stamina to go into international relations or diplomacy in any way. I want to interact with many cultures, and I want to keep exercising my languages and learning new ones. I miss English so much, but I don’t think that teaching English as a foreign language is really my calling. I think I would be happy working at or running a “think tank” like what I thought a think tank was when I was a kid– a place with green lawns and futuristic glass buildings, where intelligent people walk around in practical white uniforms and just think important thoughts all day. Except without the utopian creepiness. If I could cultivate a place where internationally-minded people would congregate, would read, think, talk, drink, exchange ideas, present papers… I think that would make me happy, if I could be a part of facilitating that.


  1. 16 November 2011    

    Your goals read a lot like Andrew Carnegie’s. If only you had his fortune. You could fund that think tank, which would do far less harm than most think tanks. Keep reflecting. Isolated, Slavic places are good posts for self-reflection and inquiry. That’s something I have reason to know.

  2. 16 November 2011    

    I would looove to go to your library! I’d even pay the membership fee!

  3. 16 November 2011    

    Really, once you lose the utopian creepiness, what’s the point?

    • 17 November 2011    

      lol, Evan, you’re welcome to wear a uniform when you visit if you want to.

  4. nanodragon13 nanodragon13
    16 November 2011    

    Ruth… I don’t know what to say. Can we please…please…PLEASE make this library thing happen!! It sounds like the most amazing think ever! I just have one request… can we include music? If you want to do cultural things with language and art and such, including music is a must. Ethnic music is one of the defining factors of a place. Think about it. The coffee shop and bar thing… right on. I love it!

    • 17 November 2011    

      Of course there will be music! There will be everything. Anything there is enthusiasm and funding for will happen.

  5. 17 November 2011    

    Just wanted to let you know I now have a new way to comment.

  6. 28 November 2011    

    And can I run the theatre program at your think tank?

    Love it. And I love you!

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