Sunday, February 19, 2017

Events often preceding a sick day

The clever and talented actor George Clooney and I are out at a local coffee house getting a couple of cappuccinos. Correction, I am getting a cappuccino.

"How can you drink one of those in the afternoon?" George asks as he gets an espresso.

"You've gone native." I reply.  I have been in Italy enough to know that cappuccino is only for breakfast. I also know that I will never be anything other than a tourist in Italy, so I might as well drink what I like. If I'm a really good tourist I am mistaken for a French tourist. George spends a third of the year at his Villa on Lake Como and is in a whole other realm of Italianess.

"Eh." He says. "I'm too famous to become Italian. I think the chef we have at the house has brainwashed me. This isn't bad." He adds, sipping his espresso. 

I'm glad he likes it. I took him to the best cafe we have in the twin cities for coffee, instead of to the second best one, the one with better seating, because I had a feeling this might be important.

"How's the blog going?" He asked.

"I'm writing it right now." I reply.

"It should have more readers." He says.

"Eh." I say. Everyone's so concerned. "I'm happy with my seventeen readers." I add. "Quality over quantity."

"I'm touched." He says. He's a regular reader. It's how I know him. Though he wasn't necessarily who I was thinking of when I said that.

"You know." He starts to say reluctantly. "Vanity Fair wants to do a cover/interview piece on me and I can pick the writer. It can be you, and I can talk a lot about clerkmanifesto in it."

"It'll give them more to edit out then. I think you've been famous so long you live in a fantasy world George."

This upsets him. "I live in a fantasy world? I live in a fantasy world! I live in a fantasy world!!" He gestures so much he knocks over his espresso. Fortunately it's empty.

I regard him calmly for a moment. And I'm thinking: I'm sick of working at the library. I'm sick of my ridiculous and suffocating managers, the endlessly repeating work, even my co-workers are wearing me out. How can it hurt to see where the Vanity Fair thing leads.

"Fine." I say to George. "Set it up. Let's see what happens."

But George Clooney is gone. There's just a young man standing before me with a slightly concerned look on his face.

"Can I get a library card?" He asks.

I look at him confusedly for a moment, then I collect my wits. "Sure." I say. "Sure."

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Bob Dylan's fans

Because of my personal friendship with Bob Dylan, coupled with my lack of interest in preserving his dignity, I am in the rare position of being able to offer some behind the scenes glimpses of the great man. My small coterie of readers take this sort of thing in stride, but usually these accounts slip out to the Dylanophiles, who, starved of gritty information on the musical legend, tend to get a little excited.

Yesterday I posted the following:


Messing about with his phone Bob lets out a groan. "Aw geez, why are you quoting me in the press again?"

"Do you have to check your phone for quotes about yourself when we're trying to have a civilized drink together, Mr. Tambourine man?"

He laughs. I will say this for the man, no matter how funny he might think a joke I make is he'll do everything in his power not to laugh at it, but if the joke's about him he doesn't mind letting out a snort. "Don't change the subject." He says.

"I've run the numbers." I explain. "I average seven more readers for every blog post in which I quote you."

"Clown." He says. Then he hoists his cocktail glass in my direction, a very pretty drink called an Aviation, made with crème de violette.

Lifting my own I say "Weirdo genius." 

We clink glasses.

I have a pretty quiet blog out here in the deep woods of the Internet. And though I have camouflaged it heavily in local twigs and lichens, Dylan fans are well accustomed to peering through the layers to find, well, more layers. And so my usually quiet blog suddenly and instantaneously is deluged with questions, actually both questions and comments from Dylan fans, Dylan Scholars, Dylan acolytes, Dylan haters, and Dylan Marketers:

"Could you ask Dylan what his earliest memories are of jugglers and clowns?"

"Dylan is not the tambourine man. Rather the tambourine man is a figure of light, a pied piper to God, who..."

"Where can I buy crème de violette?" 

"When you called him a "Weirdo genius", what did you mean? I have a theory that..."

"If you had to describe Dylan's mood these days, what verbs would you use?"

"Can you get a photo I have to Bob? If he could just see it for a second I know he'd understand."

I don't know if these are good questions or bad questions or crazy questions. I just know I have no idea how to answer any of them. So I call Bob.

"Bob," I say. "I'm getting all these wild questions about you all of the sudden."

"Tell me about it." Bob says in his strange gruff voice. I start to do so, but he interrupts me. 

"I meant that rhetorically." He says.

"Oh." I say. "But what should I tell them?"

"Believe me, man, there's nothing you can tell them. Just let it go."

So I tried to do this, but I felt kind of bad ignoring them all. So I sent each of them an autographed picture of myself.


Friday, February 17, 2017

Bob Dylan, quoted

Bob Dylan's friends and family have a tendency to protect his privacy, and it is rare for personal news or unguarded quotes from or about him to slip out into the public eye. This places me in a unique position. I have no compunction about quoting the man. It is not enmity. Bob is dear to me. I'm simply not interested in playing along with all that mythologizing silence.

And so I offer this vignette from yesterday: 

As usual we're having a drink.

Messing about with his phone Bob lets out a groan. "Aw geez, why are you quoting me in the press again?"

"Do you have to check your phone for quotes about yourself when we're trying to have a civilized drink together, Mr. Tambourine man?"

He laughs. I will say this for the man, no matter how funny he might think a joke I make is he'll do everything in his power not to laugh at it, but if the joke's about him he doesn't mind letting out a snort. "Don't change the subject." He says.

"I've run the numbers." I explain. "I average seven more readers for every blog post in which I quote you."

"Clown." He says. Then he hoists his cocktail glass in my direction, a very pretty drink called an Aviation, made with crème de violette.

Lifting my own I say "Weirdo genius." 

We clink glasses. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017


It is a frequently acknowledged truth that nearly all good library workers have a touch of OCD. My own deep need to get everything lined up just so, to check just one more time, is something of an asset when it comes to a fussy, gigantic filing system in state of constant, pulsating flux and reorganization. A single transposed number or letter, in a stream of a dozen, can effectively bury a whole series of books into a pocket of total unfindability. If a person files downstream from a wrongly shelved book one can end up with a sequence that looks like: 1,2,3,4,5,6,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9. That kind of counting is fine for Republican Economists, but it has no place in a practical world.

So there I am making what I like to think of as a special guest appearance, shelving. And because I like to surround my shelving with a great deal of snacking, alternatives to working, cappuccino drinking, and chatting with people, when I actually get down to shelving I like to run a masterclass in it. I can afford to apply this razor sharp intensity because I have paced myself. I have prepared. I have taken two hours of shelving and condensed it into a more proper 20 minutes. I am shelving at a smooth and beautiful pace. I am alert. My focus is preternatural. I am fixing all errors as I go. I am making fabulous time. And then it happens.

"Wait, did I just shelve that under "Douglass" or "Douglas"?"

So I go back to where I just shelved and I check. It would kill me not to. Things have to be right! It is that small touch of OCD I've been talking about.

Fortunately I did indeed shelve it under "Douglas", as I was supposed to. I happily move along.

But was it "B. Douglas" or was it "R. Douglas"?

Oh, okay. I got it right, I see this when I go back. It is under "B. Douglas." I then straighten the shelf it's on so all the bindings line up with the front edge of the shelf. Then I double check. "B. Douglas". Looks good. I'm ready to move on! But wait. There is a book among the "B. Douglas" that is out of order by title. It's not my fault, but it surely won't do. I fix it and move on. This is just the sort of attention to detail I'm talking about. I have helped to, wait, but what was the title of the "B. Douglas" book I just shelved. That other one was wrong, but was the one I filed correct? I go back and check. 

Yes, it's fine. I can now move on to other things knowing that I have... wait, let me just make sure before I say it. Okay. It is in the correct place. Now I can move on knowing I have made no mistakes and everything is perfect. Sure it's all a little obsessive, but the key thing is that it's not too obsessive. Importantly we know that it was accurate, and accuracy is every bit as important as speed! Maybe even more so.

Which is why I'm just going to hop back upstairs and make sure I got it right. Wait here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017


Man, people, I mean, totally.

I, just, you know, write this blog because I love it. It's the inner satisfaction, you know? And I share it with whoever, out in the public, just in case it will mean something to a few other people. Sure it's great that millions of other people respond strongly to it, and obsess over it, and read it every day, and study it, and all that. But that's not what I'm after. I'm simply after that cool, clear place of getting it all right for myself.

Great, if it means something to you. It's super nice of you to tell me, though of course you understand that it's physically impossible for me to respond to thousands of letters and emails each week. But bless you, absolutely. 

But if you could cool it all a bit on the anger and disappointment on my behalf that would be great.

"You are the god of writing. It kills me that you aren't wildly famous!!!!" Is such a nice thought really, and thank you, from the bottom of my heart, but it's not a contest. It's just you and me out there on your computer. Enjoy, okay? It's not competition or proof. It's just witness.

"Why you aren't the richest, most published and acclaimed writer on the face of the Earth is a crime I will never fathom!" People tell me every single day. And I just want to say, hey. C'mon. Love comes from within.

Because hey. Springsteen wrote me last week. "I will open for you if you tour." He said. "The world needs your wisdom. Just you, on a stage, reading your blog posts, would be a strange revelation in itself, like the mighty prophets come again. Let me talk to my people. I admire you above all other artists in the world."

Bruce, hey, easy there Boss. 

I'm not going to start carrying on about how I'm not wise. Maybe I am, and maybe I'm not, but if I am, at all, it's because I live close to my heart. This is a big universe. I can write, but no one can write into the fabric of the universe? Do you know what I mean?


Yeah, well I guess it is kind of complicated.

Mary Oliver emailed me the other day: "That last one, about the robins, pierced me to the heart. Do you sell any t-shirts with your blog address on them?" And it truly touched me, you know? But, c'mon, Mary, Mary Oliver, Pulitzer Prize winning Poet Mary Oliver, please. So I wrote her back and I said:

"Emily Dickinson wrote: 'Fame is a fickle food, Upon a shifting plate'"

And Mary Oliver wrote back "But what does that mean?"

And I wrote back "I thought you would know. I have no clue. But it's awesome! Emily Dickinson was one of the greats! A giant!"

And Mary Oliver wrote back "Totally!"

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

My place among the birders

Though it is bitter and sometimes barren up here in Minnesota this time of year, the birds never disappear. There are always a few geese heading somewhere important in a small formation, low in the sky, honking as they go. The many crows are not mine to speak of this winter, but the astonishment of robins certainly were. Their rust bellied roosting in my neighborhood's trees, by the ten thousands, for two or three days, was a natural world event that burned a piece of love into my heart that will not soon dissolve.

Nevertheless, this winter the eagles went... somewhere. Living by the great Mississippi River Flyway I rarely go even a week or two without seeing some white-headed, sweet-hearted monster of a bird flinging about on the wilderness of air above me. But December went, and January went too, and though I was out along the river most of all those 62 days I didn't see a single Eagle.

Then, at the start of February, my wife and I crossed a local river bridge and plunged down a bike and walking path that cut through some woods. A fine bald eagle rose up to meet us, like as if we could have reached out and plucked him from the air. Our conversation, ever delightful, this one time dropped silent in mid sentence with the astonishment of the encounter. The bird wheeled up and away, leaving us with the brief and fabulous gift of itself.

Two days later I was walking alone to the University, and to work. I was on the river path, two or three miles north of where we had encountered that first bird, and there, a bald eagle again, swooping near and over me, rose up, said hello, so to speak, and headed out into the city.

Was this the same bird?

I think this was the same bird.

I have idly dreamed more than once of owning the birder's arsenal; the names of all the kinds of birds, something more than "There is a blue jay" or "There is a Robin". I have wanted to know the great scientific nomenclatures. "This is an American Avocet. This is Semipalmated Plover." But in that moment of seeing what was maybe the same eagle I had seen before, I had a deeper wish. I wished I had the names of the individual birds. I wished I could see to the pure individuality of each bird instead of their type. A cardinal in my yard can become, say, Theo, known to me in every detail and instantly recognized should I ever see him again. Each bird would be a whole story. Each bird would be its own name.

And this mighty and personable eagle who I will insist is just one bird because I want it to be and hope it is? If his name is not merely, along with all his kind, Bald Eagle, what will be his name?

I will call that bird Winter.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The standoff

So I was thinking today would be a good day to write about the historical importance of Clerkmanifesto and the things we can do to elevate its profile in the national debate. I thought you would maybe enjoy a strategy session and exploration of such themes as:

  • How do we insert Clerkmanifesto into the academic canon?
  • The maintenance of the Clerkmanifesto Wikipedia page.
  • The path from seventeen to one billion regular Clerkmanifesto readers.
  • What can other people do to change the world using Clerkmanifesto?

So what do you say?



You want me to talk some more about the funny way scissors disappear and reappear at the library I work at?

Are you sure?


Sunday, February 12, 2017

A petty revenge

Once upon a time we library workers all just waited for everyone to leave the library when we closed. Now there are a few of us who are scheduled to stay late and get everything locked up, shut down, turned off, and, most of all, to make sure every last patron has cleared out of the library.

Unfortunately after everything is shut off and we've gotten the all clear from the librarians upstairs, after the bathrooms have been checked out and it's all over but the concluding chatting in the employee exit vestibule, there are one or two or three last patrons lingering in the lobby like barnacles. Almost invariable one of them has a cane and moves like Tim Conway did in those lovely old Carol Burnett Show sketches, where he was an old man moving in staccato, but agonizingly slow, tiny steps. 

At closing time I head to the coffee shop exit and lock that door. Then I cross the library and go through our main lobby and lock our series of four entry doors. On the left is a special switch that turns off the handicapped door. When I flick that off it is a couple of minutes past closing. If some wheelchairer is heading towards me I'll wait to turn it off, but if there's no incoming then off it goes.

I take a possibly inordinate amount of joy when, at ten minutes after we've closed, some hobbled oldster, finally informed, usually by me, that he really does have to vacate the library, takes one last insulting 30 second poke at our lobby's free materials, and finally heads, in slow, crippled steps to the handicapped exit, hits the handicapped button, and comes up blank. Bewildered, betrayed even, he looks helplessly around. Then he has to claw and fight his way out of our heavy, now unpowered, doors

It's a real highlight to any day.  

That's sick, sure. But never forget, it's justified too.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Three days of food

When I am at my job at the library and my thoughts don't turn to how my managers have wronged me, they frequently turn to lunch, or dinner, or whatever one wants to call the three hour afternoon meal I eat when I'm working. Because I work through the afternoon and well into the evening all my meals, Mondays through Wednesdays, are taken at work. They require a careful planning that frequently overmasters me. But ever I try to perfect it.

The key, for me, to three days worth of food, is that it be:

1. Mostly ready to go. I like things in jars. I rarely am willing to spare time for preparation at work, though I accept much is required at home.

2. Delicious.

3. Nutritionally sound.

4. Abundant. Six meals need to be covered by this group of provisions.

5. Affordable. 

This all may seem simple enough to you. And, for your sake, I hope it is. But for me it is a difficult and complicated ever changing puzzle. As much as these five elements seem harmonious they have strange ways of conflicting when an attempted solution is assembled together. Surely you can see how 2. Delicious can come in conflict with 3. Nutritionally sound in a random example of, say, two dozen chocolate chip cookies, four fancy blue cheeses, a couple baguettes, and a pint of good gelato. Those fancy blue cheeses might put a dint in 5. Affordable as well. But there are other less obvious conflicts as well. Most notably I find that the more perfect I can get the first three items on my list then the more that item 4. Abundant seems to fail.

For instance let's look at what I have in the library fridge this week, my kale. I started out with two large bunches of organic Dinosaur Kale. That might have been an adequate amount had I, at home, in preparation, merely sauteed it in olive oil, with a bit of garlic, tamari, and lemon. But no. I carefully trimmed it all, tossed it in plenty of olive oil, meyer lemon, honey, salt, and liberal gratings of Parmesan Cheese. Then I laboriously slow roasted it at 170 to 200 degrees for a couple of hours until I had fantastically tasty, crispy, rich kale chips. The two bunches produced a quart and a half of this slightly ephemeral treat. I ate a half quart in roughly the time it's taking you to read this sentence. This left one quart. Ready to go? Check. Delicious? Check. Nutritionally sound? Check. Affordable? More or less, so, check. Abundant? No, I am afraid not. I am currently rationing it out like Charlie with his annual birthday bar of Wonka Chocolate.

What else do I have? I sliced and roasted four sweet potatoes in so much olive oil they're nearly fried. They came out extremely well, but in the same sense as the Kale Chips. Too good. Less than a full quart. Rationed out carefully to myself like they're caviar eggs. I brought two cheeses, a Boucheron and Bleu des Basques which struggled too in the category of abundance and were pretty questionable re my month's budget when it comes to affordability. As I write it is Tuesday night and they're gone. I also got a good deal on a few pounds of shrimp. I have a bowl of them each afternoon with some semi homemade cocktail sauce; fresh lemon juice, organic ketchup, and horseradish.

Why am I telling you all this?

I don't know. Please leave an answer in the comments section below to let me know.

Friday, February 10, 2017

I won a Nobel Prize, ask me anything : AMA

(special note: if you've received this via your email it will likely be formatted so horribly as to be largely unintelligible. I recommend, just this once at least, venturing over to directly if you want to view it as it is meant to be read.)

I Won a Nobel Prize, ask me anything: AMA

submitted by Feldenstein Calypso

Hi. I'm back for my third IamA. Here today to answer your great Reddit questions about the Nobel Prize for literature that I recently won. Ask me anything you want and I'll try to answer!


Update: Thanks everyone. This has been a lot of fun. Great questions, great community!

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Top 200 commentsshow 500

thefirstofmanyfakenames 109 points

                Feldenstein Calypso {S}  243,695 points 36 hours ago 

               Fun. Weird. Exciting. Painful, Rewarding. Lots of free fancy buffet things they have a special name for over there. Just one, er, fiery speech.

                   permalink embed save give gold 

 bigkinkadefan067 1609 points

. The thing is, who wouldn't want to win a Nobel Prize for Literature? But wonderfully there are plenty of them to go around- a new one roughly every year, and if you apply yourself to your writing maybe you can win one too! Harry Martinson won one. Why can't you? Just, a small piece of advice; There are specific ways to form a question and yours came out looking more like a statement. A tip off is that you had no question mark at the end, and that's a dead giveaway. But don't give up. Keep working at it and you'll get the hang of it. We're all pulling for you.


 [–]waitwaitmeme 79 points

 How did you first hear you'd won the Nobel Prize?

       Feldenstein Calypso {S}  243,695 points 37 hours ago

                       permalink embed save give gold 

 [–]watchtheusernames 205 points

 What will you buy with your prize money?

 [–]unique43068 11 points

 How much money do you get?

               [–]ordontwatchthem  62 points

                 I think he gets something like 1.4 million dollars.

 [–]2manynamestocomeupwith 719 points

What authors did you and Dylan badmouth?

                Feldenstein Calypso {S}  243,695 points 36 hours ago 

                It doesn't seem right to say.

              Aw, but, well, what the hell, okay, I'll say just a couple.

               Kazuo Ishiguro and Thomas Kinkade. We hate those guys.

                   permalink embed save give gold 

              [–]butIpersevere4 76 points

              Thomas Kinkade? Is he like that crappy Painter of Light guy? He writes?

                Feldenstein Calypso {S}  243,695 points 35 hours ago 

             Sort of. He has some co-writer who does all the work and they used to produce Romance Novels "together". Kinkade mysteriously won the 2007 Nobel Prize for literature for them. Now that I have one of my own I can kind of see why Bob gets so worked up about it. But Neil's always teasing Bob about it.

                   permalink embed save give gold

                            [–]doyounoticethese? 666 points

                            Neil? Neil Young?

                          [–]cuztheyrealotofwork 1 points

                         Yeah, I think so. I read something about Neil, Dylan, and Calypso tasting liqueurs together.

                           [–]butifyounoticehi 14 points

                           No, it's mixed cocktails. I read an article in Vanity Fair.

                           [–]IlikeaNegroni 3 points

                           They taste exotic cocktails together. There was an article somewhere.

                                         [–]youwillnowbeslightlykinder 223 points


                                                    [–]youaregettingsleepy zzzz points


                                                    [–]doyouevergetyourself  369 points

                                                   Your link is dead.


 [–]intomorethanyoubargainedfor 514 points

 I know the Nobel is supposed to be for life's work, but a lot of times there's sort of an iconic work, like Steinbeck and Grapes of Wrath, or Toni Morrison with Beloved, or Thomas Kincaid (and Katherine Spencer) with Home Song, A Cape Light Novel. Do you have a particular post that you think stands for your work in the Nobel Prize?

              [–]itsallthisformattingugh 55 points

              Crap, he's not answering. I really wanted to hear this one too!

 [–]unique43069 11 points

Hey, big fan here. Thanks for your wonderful daily blog posts. They mean the world to me and all my friends who I insist read them and then I ask them about them every day no matter what. No one could be more deserving of a Nobel, in my opinion, than you. So my question, is it true about your acceptance speech to the Nobel Prize committee, or is that just a wild legend?

                Feldenstein Calypso {S}  243,695 points 6 hours ago 

                 Thank you for your kind words. It really keeps me going.

               For good or ill it's all true. I still have a small burn scar on my wrist that tingles when it's very cold out. My tux is singed too.

                   permalink embed save give gold 

                            [–]Sullyprudhomme 36 points

                            What? What happened with the acceptance speech?

                          [–]Fredericmistral 23331 points

                         How were you burned?

                           [–]joseechegaray 14 points

                           What did you do to those Swedes?????!!!!!!!

                           [–]IstilllikeaNegroni 3 points

                           Tell us!!!