Saturday, August 31, 2013

No one likes your music (with three links!)

There I am in the hold processing corner, also known as "The dream job location" where one quietly processes requests and answers the phone calls which are usually not that frequent, and, best of all, for me, listens to music. No one really talks about it being the dream job location because of clerk law (or is it fear?) number four: If you show joy in something it will be taken away from you.

Right, so I am listening to music. What is my current obsession? Jama Ko. Yes, that is a link, but you won't like it. Not if you're anything like my co-workers. I get very excited listening and call them over. "Here, co-worker, come listen to this amazing music!" They are polite, and do drop in for a listen. Why not, we're up for any distraction we can get at work. After two seconds they start talking to me. "No, no!" I am thinking "I was expecting you to listen in rapt silence for five minutes!" But perhaps I was not being realistic. There are reasons why no one likes your music at work.

Listening radius. If I point the little speakers at me and turn the music up I create a little circle where the music sounds clear and sensible and is possible to enjoy. It extends about seven feet in front of me and 15 feet behind me. Beyond that circle it is noise, it is like a dropped peach left in the sun. How could someone just walk by that peach and not recognize my excellent taste in fruit! So what that flies are swarming on it!

The second reason is that I am at my job location. Sitting there, at the phones, with my music, I am where I am supposed to be and so probably, in theory, I am somehow doing something related to my job. The people I am calling over to me are displaced people. Different rules apply to them. If they're standing around talking to me about anything they could be talking to me about something work related (remember, everything is work related!), but if they have a glazed, stoned look of trance-like ecstasy while listening to electrified lute music they might not be in a super productive looking mode. Even the teen librarian will keep his dancing to said music under 30 seconds, which brings us to the third reason.

People have other stuff to do. When we have stuff to do it seems really important to us, but if we've chosen not to do much for a bit people doing stuff can look a bit odd and manic and insensible. This creates a music appreciators divide.

I learned this so recently that there is a blog post about it (here). People are different than me and may have different taste, for instance, in music. Furthermore, even if they like really similar things and are open to new music, people will often be in a very different kind of musical mood than you.

So, in conclusion, I think maybe I should just try and listen to music at work for my own private enjoyment, if I can, just, you know, in the same way I blog. 

But, seriously, have you heard this? 

Friday, August 30, 2013

Notes to some people around here



Notes to some people around here

I was just wanting to dash off a few notes to people around here. They will never see them, but you will, and perhaps you'll pass them along to the people concerned if you run into them.

To the woman watching the youtube videos of octopuses on computer 42 upstairs:

Thank you. I really enjoyed them.

To the woman in the office with my supervisor all afternoon:

You are always welcome here.

To the very exasperated lady I helped a lot at the front desk:

Looking like famed British actress Judi Dench could be a source of joy in your life.

To my quiet reference co-worker who now says "Hi." and also now occasionally comes to me with questions: 

My virtues really start to shine through after five or six years, and I in no way hold your caution against you. 

To the young man with the t-shirt that says "I am immature, unorganized, lazy and loud, but I'm fun!":

Your t-shirt set up an array of expectations with me, none of which were met.

To the gigantic man who returned his internet guest pass to me and said "Thanks, chief.":

You have brightened my day.

To Lao Tzu, who said, in a book by Donald Rumsfeld (ick!), “Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.”:

That is totally harsh for bloggers and Taoist poets! 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

What is beauty?

Have I mentioned how emotionally exhausting shelving in fiction can be? The books come flying out at me. They overload my curiosity which is wild and does better in calmer places. And I have no resistance to these books. They are all humming and burning with life. I don't even need to read them for half their content to leap out of the books and flood my emotions. The teen librarian over lunch asks me if I'm reading anything good. A nice question, but I don't know. I'm reading six books at home, five books at the Library, four books just while I'm shelving. They're piled up, I can't remember their names three minutes after putting them down. They're all good I guess. If I had to I could track most of them down and prepare a fervent evaluative speech for them, but it doesn't matter, not really. Most of them I only finish by a kind of accident because that also doesn't matter. The whole book or a paragraph or a synopsis is nearly the same to me. And anyway, I am shelving up here. I can't sit around reading these books through. A book seizes my attention and I can give it a minute; the cover, the quotes, the first paragraph, the last, but it's all way more than enough. It's all piercingly vivid. The book floods me with story and perspective and possibility. I stand dazed. I place the book carefully and stare blindly at the bindings, my mind reeling until I can shelve again. And I do, until the next exotic marvel of a volume seizes me by my very heart, pulls me in and breathes one brief, nearly toxic gust of pure magic into my face. My soul sprawls, too small for a world made like this, for the seething wonder of literature. "What is beauty but the beginning of a terror we can barely endure." Rilke said. He should know, just look at that sentence. Jesus.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Policy Genius

I was upstairs doing a spot of genre fiction shelving in between the eleven lunches I am eating today and I was just sort of in a receptive zone, perhaps due to all the food. Yes, a receptive zone, a kind of hypnotic other worldly openness to the firmament. I think that's the only way to account for the kind of profound inspiration that was visited upon me. And when I say this inspiration was visited upon me I say it because I feel it would be wrong for one lone human, one small library employee, to take credit for such velocity of vision. We are vessels for something greater, or can be, or, well, apparently, I am. And I mention all this to try and temper the vanity that is so easily stoked by dabbling in genius. Yes, I said it. Genius. But I am not a genius, probably, depending on how you define "genius". I am just a simple man plying my trade as best I can, a vessel, a conduit, merely someone chosen. Why was I chosen? I don't know. I was just shelving, quietly, earnestly, devotedly shelving and genius was thrust upon me. Did anyone ask me if I wanted this geniusness? No. Sure, I probably would have taken it, but mostly just to be nice, to help the world. I'm just saying I wasn't clamoring for it. I wasn't begging to be a genius. It happened to me, and I accepted it. And I hope you can accept all this in that vein.

So, anyway, there I am shelving along and suddenly this thought comes unbidden into my head: We should have a policy saying that books are to be shelved alphabetically by the authors' last name.

We do? Really? You're sure?

Hmmm. Good policy. Very sensible. Our policy and procedures manual should totally have one of those thumbs up, +1 kinds of things to click. It is one seriously great idea.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

How you can be a librarian!

Yesterday, in speaking of the virtues of Little Free Libraries, I made some only mildly snarky mention of institutional libraries taking a cue from them in how we develop our own services, and in doing so also contributing to the improvement of Little Free Libraries. If I were you I would have been thinking "But aren't Little Free Libraries already basically perfect?

The answer to that is "NO!" Thank god someone was thinking about Little Free Libraries being perfect so that I could correct them. It's kind of the linchpin of my whole post here! The fact is that I have been keeping a close eye on Little Free Libraries in my neighborhood and they suffer from one important, little mentioned, glaring weakness:  People dump terrible books into them. The average Little Free Library I look at is about one quarter real books a person might want to read and three quarters books people seem to have been unable to sell at garage sales. I was recently at the Grand Marais Library and they had a version of a Little Free Library on a section of shelves at the front of their branch. This is totally what I was advocating yesterday! Good for them! Unfortunately that shelf of books was possibly the most pathetic collection of books I have ever seen gathered in one place. It looked a lot like the romance section of my own Library circa 1997, but with the more popular "quality" titles removed. I even had the sad, cynical, fleeting thought that it was all like that just to make their slightly dicey regular collection look better by comparison. But really, it was just neglect. The interesting thing is that this all makes Little Free Libraries actually an argument for the value of librarians. You'd think librarians would be all over this argument for their necessity. But often I get the impression that librarians are conflicted about their roles, sometimes more comfortable with their role being objective (it isn't), and less comfortable with their role as curators (have courage, embrace it!). Well, if they refuse to step up, it is fortunate I have become increasingly comfortable with the idea of anyone being a librarian. If books in a Little Free Library look like bookstore rejects they probably are. Go ahead and take a chance on weeding them. Take all those crappy books to your local brick and mortar Library and donate them. People will buy practically anything.  Just don't forget to replace all that drek in that now much emptier Little Free Library with some books you loved. Bam, you're a librarian.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Little Free Libraries

As I slowly work up my first series of bespoke clerkmanifesto books (grafted and redesigned into old weeded, damaged, and discarded hardcover books) to distribute into Little Free Libraries I find I am paying a lot of attention to the Little Free Libraries in my neighborhood. I love these little distilled and pure Libraries and am thinking they are the brightest new representation of the popular Public Library out there in a very long time. Within the grand institutional Library systems, or at least in mine, there has been for decades now an awful lot of yammering, attention, worry, and comparison with and to technological development and Libraries keeping up with the times. There is great obsession with e-books, social media, relevance, and changing media. But I don't hear people bringing up much, on In Service days or in various Strategic Plannings, the challenge presented to us by Little Free Libraries. I don't see a lot of people sitting around wondering how Libraries, with all their late fines and institutional processes, closing times, and building upkeep, can keep up with the nimble, mind bogglingly simple to use Little Free Libraries. I don't see us worrying about responding to that challenge.

It's not so much that I actually see The Little Free Library as a challenge. It's more that if we're going to come up with fake challenges like ebooks I like this one better. These challenges are really just excuses and arguments for what we do next. And if we're hunting around for money, how about instead of a grant for iPad dispensers we get a grant to convert all our money raising bookstores into Little Free Libraries. No, not little mini houses on a post, just some shelves of no fuss, borrowable books. I look around my neighborhood and the wee little book houses are popping up in yards all over the place. Clearly it's what our constituency is interested in. Let's give them what they want, Little Free Libraries even within the Library. And then, with the big shoulders of the Public Libraries, we too can contribute to their growth and perfection.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Garage Sale

We just finished a garage sale at my house. And I would have collected all kinds of hilarious anecdotes from the sale, but I felt like I was trying to get rid of stuff, and it just seemed wrong to have to put a bunch of not-ready-for-the-blog anecdotes into storage in the garage right after clearing it out, so I have less anecdotes, not more, and they're old ones that you've heard already.

I will, however, share one observation from this garage sale, feeling it is plenty suitable for a Library blog.

This. People still really like books. No matter how much I love books, my own extreme familiarity with plenitudes of readily and freely available books and with their care and organization has given me an odd relation to them. I think they are wondrous and intensely necessary things, magic, dear, comforting, and all that, but I also kind of think of them as bulk junk, ubiquitous, underfoot, and relentlessly multiplying often to my disadvantage. So when we have a table at our garage sale with old frayed and stained books I assumed there would be a fairly light interest in them. But no! Displayed horribly in unstable piles on a knee-height upside down plastic tub the books were of great interest to the majority of people who visited our sale, and we sold very many of these books. Not once did anyone say "I'll just read this on my Kindle." or "I can probably find a nicer copy in a Little Free Library somewhere, or in a dumpster behind a bookstore." Nope, they more said "Missing the fourth chapter you say? Eh. I always wanted to read this so I'll just work around it." Very strange to me, but understandable as well. 

I had to get those books somehow. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Losing my mind at work, the follow-up

Since publishing The twelve signs I am losing my mind at work thousands of people have asked me "Hey, so how often do you actually do those things." Which is a gentle way of asking "How crazy are you and how can I cancel my email subscription to your blog?" Naturally I might be very worried about this question if it weren't for the fact I made it up and the only thing thousands of people really ask me is "Can I get a library card?"

Really I just have a rich blogger imagination. But just because something is in my imagination doesn't mean it isn't real! Or, maybe, I should put that another way. Just because I made up a question doesn't mean it doesn't need answering, and just because I made up a thousand people having a question doesn't mean they wouldn't have that question if things all came together as they should, which they don't, generally, but that's not the point. The point is I will herein respond to how often do I do the following craziness indicator actions at my work.

1. I start getting a bit rough with the equipment.

Daily. But in my defense I feel it wears in the equipment, like, for instance, a baseball glove, so that it fits me more perfectly in the long run.

2. I skip my break so I can get things done.

To my everlasting shame, occasionally. I beg of you not to talk this around.

3. I think everything would be okay if PEOPLE WOULD JUST DO THEIR JOBS!

Implicit in an amazing amount of thoughts and discussions at work, but very rarely explicit in my mind.

4. I start to suspect that the automatic check in machine is refusing to check in certain categories of items, say, craft books, out of some private, unfathomable vendetta. 

Only once or twice a week, which is not so bad, but I really believe it, which is pretty bad.

5. I get so mad at people returning perfectly legitimate items (that happen to be irritating to deal with) that I start muttering swear words, completely unaware I am in a public place.

Standard practice for me, alas.

6. I adjust my work speed at the front desk to try and force certain people in line to go to my co-worker.

Very rarely, and even then only with the seriously horrible co-workers.

7. I start consulting with other crazy co-workers on work issues.

Once every few months, and their response never fails to elicit a quick "My god, what have you done!?" reaction inside of me.

8. I body block browsing patrons out of position so I can shelve more freely.

I have never actually done this, so I am, like, totally sane!

9.  I don't use the last of something so I don't have to replace it.

I'll do this rarely, and then feel bad about it and replace it anyway (see "second thoughts", a clerkmanifesto classic!).

10. I find myself occasionally freezing up and forgetting how the alphabet works.

A bit overstated here, but a sort of version of this happens to me every once in awhile.

11. I am insistently trying to shove something somewhere that all scientific laws are confident that it cannot be shoved. 

Twice a week. And it is not good for my wrists.

12. I stop thinking about everything at my job in terms of prospective blog posts.


Friday, August 23, 2013

Ten signs you are losing your mind as a patron

Some days ago I posted the twelve signs that showed I was losing my mind at work (here!). But you are more likely to be a patron where I work (or in some similar place) and so you are probably wondering "Hey, Blogger, how do I know if I am losing my mind when I am a visitor at the Library?"

Good question.

Here are:

Ten Signs You Might Be Losing Your Mind as a Library Patron
(or signs you may have lost it already!)

1. You pay several dollars in fines out of a jar of small change (the more pennies you use the stronger the indication)

2. Your shirt has swear words of any kind on it.

3. You toss something in the trash, miss, and keep going.

4. Nothing particularly bad happened and you "would like to speak to the Manager."

5. You cannot understand why we would need proof of address just to get a library card.

6. You keep running into problems with our limit of 20 DVDs out at a time.

7. You ask questions at the front desk but never stay for an answer.

8. Staff knows you by name, but looks real tired when they say it.

9. You are outraged when we don't, wait, just, You are outraged.

10. That's the third time you've fallen down the stairs.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

In a fantasy novel

I was going to write about all the people who come to my library, but I got all philosophical and elegiac, but now that that post is all taken care of (here) I can get to the rather more rough hewn response I started with.

It started when an approximately 25 to 60 year old woman asked me to help her print something from her computer. As we took the long walk over to the computers I couldn't help but notice that this woman:

1. Was closer to four feet tall than she was to five feet tall.
2. Had bulging eyes and the wildly rounded facial features of a frog.
3. Was peculiarly fair, with blonde/white hair and great paleness all about her.
4. Had a body shape distinct from what I tend to think of as human; rounded, elongated, legless,
and yet
5. She was enormously high revving, spoke faster than normal, and was tremendously nimble.

And suddenly it dawned on me: I have never seen a person like this in my whole life, and yet, concurrently, I so regularly see people every bit as distinct as this lady that I barely note them. These distinctive and far from common people I see at the library regularly fit into my daily life, indeed are a deep part of it, but are constantly unrepresented in any real way in any of the media I consume, in any conceptions of the world floating around me, and, oddly, even in my own general conception of what the world of people is made of.

I did have a thought though. Two thoughts. The first is that everyone is like this. We are curiously strange and individual and bizarre, but we constantly generalize and categorize things, people, everything we see in an attempt to understand or feel comfortable or be able to cope and find a common referential ground. The second thought was that fantasy novels and some science fiction and lots of cross genre actually does the best job at beginning to describe actual people on the ground. They do this by describing them as not human! Once I started thinking of people as elves, gnomes, pixies, wizards, hobbits, Vorgons, trolls, Orcs, Dwarves, Witches and so on I found it much easier to get a grip on just how different everyone I see is. From there I could proceed to an important next step. I had to go further and invent an entire race for each individual. From here I could finally see all the humanity as it really was. I did this for five full minutes until, overwhelmed, I had to go hide in the bathroom for a bit.

I avoided the mirror.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Twelve signs I am losing my mind at work

I have tasted the darkness.

Twelve signs I am losing my mind at work:

1. I start getting a bit rough with the equipment.

2. I skip my break so I can get things done.

3. I think everything would be okay if PEOPLE WOULD JUST DO THEIR JOBS!

4. I start to suspect that the automatic check in machine is refusing to check in certain categories of items, say, craft books, out of some private, unfathomable vendetta.

5. I get so mad at people returning perfectly legitimate items (that happen to be irritating to deal with) that I start muttering swear words, completely unaware I am in a public place.

6. I adjust my work speed at the front desk to try and force certain people in line to go to my co-worker.

7. I start consulting with other crazy co-workers on work issues.

8. I body block browsing patrons out of position so I can shelve more freely.

9.  I don't use the last of something so I don't have to replace it.

10. I find myself occasionally freezing up and forgetting how the alphabet works. 

11. I am insistently trying to shove something somewhere that all scientific laws are confident that it cannot be shoved.

12. I stop thinking about everything at my job in terms of prospective blog posts.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

What makes this the best Library blog of all Library blogs

People sometimes ask me "What makes your blog the best Library blog of them all?"

And I get super humble and shy, but very interested, and I ask "Who says this is the best Library blog of them all?"

And they say, "Well, in English, by a clerk." And they get a bit lost looking and slightly doubtful. Then they start mumbling a long string of qualifiers "Updated daily, amateur, 2013, humor category, phases of the moon, for Geminis..." until I can't hear them anymore.

So I ask again "But who says this is the best Library blog of them all?"

And they get real uncomfortable looking, like maybe they've made a very unpleasant mistake and really wish we could talk about something else now, but I'm looking at them quite a lot so they say, kind of evasively "I don't know, people say, I guess, or I read it somewhere."

And I can tell I'm almost about to get them so upset that they get mad, so I try and ask all casual and calm-like "So, um, do you remember anywhere in particular you saw this best blog thing? Just, if you happen to remember, I mean. No pressure." But I think my hand might be trembling when I ask, like Boromir discussing the one ring.

And they say "I don't know! Look it up yourself if you're so interested!" And they run out of the room nearly in tears.

So I do look it up, using my internet research skills, and what do you know, my blog actually is the best Library blog of them all. It turns out it's not an opinion thing, but actually scientifically based. And after all that research I find I can answer the person's original question "What makes your blog the best Library blog of them all?" except that the person in question now seems to be avoiding me, so I'll just answer the question for you here. It does turn out though that the question requires some slight modification.

What makes my blog the best non professional, English language, Library blog of them all

1. It's a 34-way tie for first.

2. Many Library blogs are written in ancient languages, and so writing in English I face no competition from all the excellent blogs written in, say, Etruscan, or Carian. I have always blamed the American educational system for my not knowing Carian, but perhaps they had my best interests at heart all along.

3. While my skimpy amount of pictures makes my blog very "2002" and causes a lot of reading, it skews well with the powerful Library traditionalists who think illustrations are for small children.

4. I think I donated $20 to the Fund for Widows and Orphans of Blog Evaluators.

5. Elegiacal plus silly equals rainbows!

6. I am a servant of the Secret Fire. I can't say more about that here.

7. The wiring in my blog foyer is now completely up to code. Note to aspiring bloggers: the evaluators are maniacs for code stuff. Ignoring a  loose cobble on your blog's river path or a sick carp in your Japanese Garden can cost you dozens of points! 

8. It totally doesn't matter to me how I rank, whether I was hundredth best or first best was all the same to me, and, as the Tao says:
Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.

Which is why I think I won.


Monday, August 19, 2013

Who are the people in your neighborhood

You cannot see these people just anywhere. They are not in the movies, nor on TV, not in magazines or written into the pages of any books, fiction or non fiction. They don't appear on the internet, in newspapers, or even in the imagination of anyone. They can even be hard to see when they mill about on their peculiar missions right in front of you. And yet I do see them, if I dare to open my eyes wide enough, any workday I want to. These are the people that come to my library.

This is not a just folks, salt of the earth post about the wondrous diversity of humanity as it really is, and neither is it a cynical take-down of the same. All I am saying here is that if I in anyway tried to show you these people on my own, even were I given vastly greater skills, equipment and assistance than I possess, through film, sound, prose, patience and respect, humor and vision, my, or really anyone's project in this regard, would fall hopelessly flat. Any attempt to convey the however many hundreds of people I see in a day would be unbelievably bizarre. Unbelievably. It would also be too boring to watch, and it would be cynical, treacly, fantastical,  mundane, uninspired, desperate in its hopefulness, plodding, pointlessly weird, and needlessly depressing. It would be unfair, inaccurate in its representation, confusing, glamorizing, too good to be true, evil, unintelligible and inappropriately whimsical.

Just like life.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Welcome to Clerkmanifesto

Welcome to my blog, clerkmanifesto.

This page is to help you orient to this blog and see if you might like it. You could, theoretically, as such an event is within the realm of statistical possibility. This page here has a lot of links in red and these will lead you to different places on my blog, so you may find this to be a good starting hub for exploring around here. Alternatively you could turn off your computer and go outside and take up wildlife observation as a hobby, which I understand is quite good for the soul.

So, what's up here?

I post daily, um, essays?, blog posts?, writings?, musings?, accountings? of the world around me. The world around me often involves my job as a clerk at a large inner ring suburban library, so my blog is much concerned with libraries, work, books, culture and all these people everywhere. It's all slightly better than it sounds.

Okay, I'm still here.

Really? You're not just teasing? Okay then. Gosh! So then, now we will have you try out three posts of mine, and if you're still with me you can continue on from here. If you're too mesmerized to break your reading chain with a click you can come back to this later.

1.   This first one is on the shorter side for me, and is about my magnificent famousness!

2.    Less funny, more thoughtful. I'm too shy to say more. 

3.   More fun and games because you're just starting out. As an explanatory note we work the front desk in pairs at my job.

 Yeah, so, those were okay. Why aren't there any pictures? Where are the links to the good stuff?

Hmmm, this is kind of awkward, what with me writing the questions and everything. But you probably don't need an answer to those questions if you're still here. Still. I resist pictures because I am an old fashioned blogger who believes 12 words are worth a thousand pictures, and I try to resist linking as I feel if it's all that great you'll be funneled inexorably there anyway. I just have here, mostly, what I make myself.

Okay, I'm still here again. Hit me with the hard stuff!

1. Philosophy, comedy, anarchy! Getting longer. You said you were ready.

I'm fine (cough!), again!

1. A grim farewell to someone retiring...

2. This is about the shortcomings of others, because others have them!

Okay, okay (cough). That's good. I guess I can read your blog sometimes if I remember. What now?

You can follow my blog by email by filling in the box on the right over there. All my new posts will be sent to you like letters. If you like commenting please go comment crazy. I like comments! You can follow me if you find my picture on the right, farther down probably, but that probably won't do much unless it already means something to you. I'm not sure. You can bookmark this page and come back later. If you're unsatiated, unable to sleep, in a trance-like state, you can go to my home page (click below) and just work your way through all my posts going backwards (also just clicking the banner title at the top takes you to my homepage):

Also there are usually more links to groups of posts on the right sidebar.

Finally, you might want to reconsider the wildlife observation hobby. 

Thanks for taking a look.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

North woods comedy

In my week here in the north woods and at the great lake I have decided I would do quite well writing something more like a nature blog, maybe "northwoodsmanifesto", but, actually, probably not "northwoodsmanifesto". By "quite well" I mean I would enjoy writing this blog and would be even less inclined to run out of material here than I already am back in the city. I don't know how well you the blog reader would take to this change to a nature blog from a library blog. I suppose my last six or seven posts would give anyone a fair indication. The main problematic thing is it all seems just a bit less funny up here, the hilarious antics of a yellow hummingbird being no match for those of a huge drunk man looking for books on beer making. And yet, if I can somehow miraculously work it out, I might sort of prefer watching and dealing with the hummingbird than the man. Should I ever be so fortunate as to have to face this luxurious problem I believe I can manage to make the appropriate adjustments. The birds here aren't right off the top terribly hilarious and so may take a dash of embellishment to get up to speed, but many bugs are quite funny as is, and if I did get to live here I'd be bound to see a moose. Moose are so notoriously wacky that with a few sightings I'd be halfway home, especially if I fell in a pond or something from excitement. 

But I'm just thinking out loud here, as one does when their vacation is ending, of having it go forever. The library is very nice, too.
did not see this moose!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Blue Berries

Coming to the north woods I had two, mostly serious, north woods dreams. I wanted to see a moose, and I wanted to happen upon large areas full of wild blueberries, free, but for a dozen or two mosquito bites, for the picking.

The moose seemed like a long shot. Apparently three quarters of the moose up here have died of global warming. Plus, I don't think the remaining moose are especially keen on wandering up and down the shore of Lake Superior, a rather narrow strip of sort of wilderness between a well traveled two-lane highway and water everywhere. And this is where most of my moose watching time is being spent.

So, not surprisingly, the moose thing did not pan out. As far as I can determine, in six days, the closest I have come to seeing a moose was when, down by the shore one day, both my wife and I spotted a chipmunk. It was cute, sort of, but had no antlers. I did have the odd thought though, hiking along the Superior Hiking Trail today, that a moose was watching me. Whether or not this was of any use to the moose, I cannot say, but it did me no good whatsoever.

As to the blueberries, I believe the answering gods heard my call, but the connection was very bad. The only blueberries I have seen up here were in a grocery store, imported from Michigan or California. However, I have seen fantastic numbers of blue berries. They grow on a ground stalk in the woods, frequently near the trails. The are definitely not edible. Don't try. And they are not the deep blue purple black of blueberries but are instead an arresting, perfect blue. How do I describe a color? Luminous periwinkle maybe? It is one of the loveliest colors I have ever seen in nature. So, mostly O for two, but I'll take what I can get. Plus, I still have about 36 hours left here. A moose could easily wander up to this window I'm sitting at. Many of these wild ferns look like a moose would find them quite edible, and they probably just need some clearing out to reveal the rich blueberry beds below. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Story of a smell

I first found the smell as a teenager, hiking on the dry mountain paths in the Sierras. I thought maybe some pop tarts broke in my pack, or fell from someone else's pack and was ground into the mountain granite by hikers' boots and the hooves of horses. It puzzled me for hours, maybe for multiple backpacking trips in that time of my life. I wasn't sure about liking a smell of pop tarts in the wild. I waited.

Somewhere in there, after spotting enough dead things, after seeing enough things decomposing in the high dry air I pieced it together. This is the sweet, pop tart smell of decay. I don't know how I feel about liking the smell of something rotting, so I set that aside. I set it aside for decades and decades. I set it aside without knowing I had, through hundreds of encounters, thousands.

Yesterday I am walking with my wife on the Superior Hiking Trail. It is a dry north woods forest path and I smell it. I smell the sweet pop tart smell of decay. I think "There is that smell. There is that pop tart smell." And then suddenly, after 30 years, it comes to me:

I love that smell!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Ten minutes

Here, a house to view from, a great lake and its rough shore, all seemingly belonging to eternity. And what's to see if it's all geological time, if nothing changes, or things change all so slowly my need for stimulus cannot wait for it. But it's not like that. I think I could pick any amount of time, but all week here the one that has kept coming to my mind is:

Every ten minutes there is something new.

I have an hour here. We'll check in every ten minutes to demonstrate my point. This quiet magic of change might be true everywhere in the world forever and for everyone. I don't know. It is true here.

We start with:

3:40:    The 13 geese are leaving. For awhile they sat directly out, 50 feet off shore, in a ragged line. Their business is done here.

3:50:    A bird starts cheaping. One "Cheap" a second. I went to go find it but found only flowers and the first splashes of waves breaking on the rocks that I have seen for two days.

4:00:    I look around. Nothing. I am panicked because I really dislike being wrong, but I am merely looking the wrong way. It's down. An orange butterfly, like a small monarch. The first butterfly I have seen here at all. The moment I see it, and spot it land, a seagull flies overhead.

4:10:    A small group of sleek swift birds sprint across the shoreline. Just as they're leaving my view they dart half back to the center of it, as if far more than any travel, they are absorbed in some chase game of flying. Then they turn again and, dartingly, they are gone.

4:20:     I look. Nothing, a dog barking, a rare sound here that I hate. A seagull is now floating off shore. The sun comes out, and the sun hides. I feel I can count none of this. Why can't a moose amble up the shore. That would be a good one! All I get is a fly, landing next to me on the balcony ledge. Hey! Wait! I know this fly!

4:30:    Oops. I sort of lost track of time writing something else. I'll pay better attention, but I am nearly certain that clump of purple flowers there have newly bloomed in the last ten minutes. Ninety-five percent certain.

4:40:    Only a bit cloudier than before, and yet, it drizzles, barely, for five seconds.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Fly and me

The lake house my wife and I are at is perfect. This may not be the nicest thing to tell you. It lacks grit and reality for any reader and changes even the least boastful of all writers (which I already severely lack any claim to) into a bit of a braggart. But I cannot tell you this tale without starting here. It is perfect here. And perfection, personal and eternal though it may be, also somehow only exists in bookends, in the niggling bits of imperfection that obsessively sketch its borders. This is about a small imperfection looming large and the restoration of harmony.

We are much in and out here, onto the balcony, testing the air, down to our great lake, in and out through sturdy wood doors made, like our walls here, mostly of glass. Outside there are sometimes many bugs, and I have perhaps enough mosquito bites to satisfy those readers bored with my claims of perfection. Sometimes we are chased inside or just choose to come inside and someone slips in with us. A moth is not so great a problem, and I have caught one in a glass and taken it out. A mosquito or two is a misery, but it is not hard to get lucky with a stray swat, and, if not, ten minutes of concerted hunting will always do the trick. A fly though, a fast, uncanny, smart fly can be a small torture of surprising persistence and near unsolvability. Last night such a fly slipped into our house.

This fly was a genius and a miracle of speed, a master of irritation. It began its visits at dawn, buzzing loudly about our heads, landing on our skin, circling, racing, always patternless and endlessly interested in our company. For reasons of its own it would disappear until the exact point where my spirit would start to calm, and then it would return. All through the morning hours I'd engage in long, futile hunting expeditions with a rolled up magazine. I'd wait for it, through long tracking operations, to land some place whackable, and I'd whack. There'd usually be a slight injury to my hand, a loud noise, and a curious sense of missed opportunity, curious because one wonders what opportunity I was missing when I was not getting within the realm of distant hope of even coming near this fly.

I wanted to kill this fly very much.

I was not going to kill this fly.

The morning advanced and the fly only grew faster and louder and smarter.

I so wanted to kill this fly.

I won't draw this all out with all the long tales of all the ridiculous things whacked and flung with all the comedy of something so utterly without effect. But it was all there. Know that it was there.

I was in the kitchen. The fly landed on the counter. My thousandth chance. I swept my hand across the counter, an odd attempt even more futile than most, and the strangest thing happened. I caught the fly. I caught the fly!

I took the fly outside. I threw it out of my hand onto the wide wooden plank of the balcony railing. The fly, unphased, looked up at the sun and clouds and felt the wind.

"It's nice to be outside." It seemed to say.

I breathed in the perfect air that smells of pines and almost of the sea. I was calm for the first time in five hours.

"Yes it is." I seemed to say. "Yes it is."

Monday, August 12, 2013

Lake Superior in twelve words

It is fresh water in a great basin. Casually I always think it will be the same: Ah, there is the lake. The Lake, one thing. From great windows and our own shore I look on it day after day and even the slightest attention marks change instead, unending diversity, never seen patterns and wild mysteries. If I had a camera I would maybe take pictures to show you, but I don't have a camera, and I sometimes suspect pictures are the bloggers easy way out. Twelve words are worth a thousand pictures. So instead of pictures I have collected for you these phrases of what the playful and serious, mysterious waters of Lake Superior tell me, sometimes once, and sometimes often, all in twelve words.

We are all gathered here today, dark flocks of water, flying north.

We little circles within circles can briefly become the tips of waves.

A small god, with its finger, draws sweeping curves in the water.

I have decided to be a wave in the middle of calmness.

With never a hint of green before, suddenly 17 shades of it.

The waves moving east and the waves moving south are in harmony.

Between two pines the pale water disappears and pretends to be sky.

The slow wind has blown our waves an inch below the surface.

The endless dance of diamonds were never there when the clouds come.

Over and over these are the the long, slow waves of liquid pewter.

We cannot be distracted, we are water in a hurry, standing still.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Sunday Update

Officially returned from blogger summer vacation in the north woods, I thought I'd use Sunday here for a little blog housekeeping. Tomorrow I will launch off into six or so naturey sorts of posts I wrote while on vacation. In case you were wondering, "Naturey" means:  of a nature nature.

So, I wrote blog posts on vacation! Why? Because writing blog posts is fun and very good for the muscle tone in my fingers. Plus it makes me think about things more, and I like to think about things more. Then I take the things I thought about and drop them from a high place or throw them in a roaring fire or soak them in grain alcohol or lay them on a sidewalk in a busy part of town and then we see what happens. Things happen. I think it's good for everyone involved.

So quickly here I should mention that my computer seems alarmingly ill since my return home, and this blog post is being typed as fast as possible in order that I have something finished to post in case I can't get to a computer until Monday. Then I read over each furiously typed sentence eleven or twelve times completely defeating the purpose of writing fast. Then I edit and read the whole thing over from the start every six seconds. Thankfully my computer is holding out despite all of this and doesn't feel taunted. I think me and my computer may be bonding as I nurse it. But the point remains that this post could end at any point without coming to it's astonishingly revealing concluding sentence.

As to the blog housekeeping, I just want to bring your attention to the sidebars. I'm trying to make them a bit more lively. One feature is "Upcoming on this blog" or whatever title I gave it. It tells you about upcoming events here. I'm also trying to put together more useful groups of links to other, older, posts in my blog, something more like beginning, intermediate and advanced blog posts. Really they're just different kinds of best of collections, but that might have to wait until my computer stops sneezing. Poor computer.

Happily there is now time for the astonishingly revealing concluding sentence!

FAQ talk

Longtime readers who like to memorize what happens here at clerkmanifesto will note that I am now up to my third FAQ written for this blog. Is this blog so complicated it needs three FAQs? I asked that as a rhetorical question thinking my answer would be a cheery, hopeful "Of course not!"  Then I realized: Oh, no, it totally is. This blog is so complicated that, for good or ill, we could just write new FAQs everyday and never quite get to the bottom of it. Nevertheless, I have a tendency to not take my FAQs with the proper bit of grave helpful seriousness that might give said FAQ a fighting chance of letting people know what's going on here. Perhaps this dooms me to a groundhog day like recurrence of FAQ writing.

In addition to the lack of seriousness problem is my feeling that the FAQ must be useful to both total beginners and to very advanced users of my blog who often have the advantage of knowing me personally and so can just, for instance, ask, "Was that last post about confused patrons supposed to be written in Ancient Arcadian, or was that a formatting mistake?" And I can reassuringly answer "I didn't know you still read my blog. What a pleasant surprise!"

Fortunately I have a solution to these issues. Soon I will write a FAQ for true beginners. And I'll try to actually be helpful and informative and explaining. Then, another day I will write a FAQ for advanced users. I will undoubtedly get metaphysical in that one, but in a nice calm way that still imparts some information.

Anyway, I hope these upcoming FAQs might be useful for you and I'll probably pin them out to my sidebar on the right, for ready reference. When I write them. Which will be eventually.

If you are all like "I don't need a FAQ to read a blog!" I say "Hang in there.  I will write a special FAQ for you too!"

Maybe that one should go first...

Saturday, August 10, 2013

I Am Back

I am back!

Where was I?

I, I don't know, really, it's all so hazy. There was a baby elephant, really good samosas. I kept having to tie my shoes, my wife and I dancing, clouds. A man named Voors or Roy, a prophet, Kabir poems everywhere...

No, I'm just kidding. I went to a pretty house on Lake Superior. Sorry to get you all excited for nothing, but it is a very pretty lake, so it's not like it was for nothing. Maybe it was for a lot.  Maybe I will say a lot more interesting things than usual about it all. I don't know yet. But it's not a secret or anything. Just, right now I want to thank Grape for stepping up and guest blogging so beautifully. Let's give him a big hand. If you feel silly applauding while sitting at a computer at work, or alone in an office, or looking at your phone in a garden, then maybe you can applaud very softly. He can't probably hear you actually, so it's all a little tricky. I'm now thinking this applauding would work best for those of you who are sitting at a whole bank of computers, together, in a room with Grape and many other people who are reading this blog post simultaneously. I think the odds on this are rather low, but if you are in this configuration, when I say "now" then applaud all at once. Unless you didn't like what he wrote, but, really, what's not to like?

If you're not in this configuration you might like to use my 'now' to experience a moment of pure presence in the universe. It's up to you either way.




Friday, August 9, 2013

Rainy Day Post 8, easing...

We are on our eighth emergency blog post, which means things must have gotten pretty darn serious. Emergency Protocol Tav was invoked, the rainy day blog posts were released into the wild by our lead blog bot, Bot A. Then Emergency Protocol "Wine fruit par Argentina" was invoked, causing the special pager to buzz (hopefully) on Grape's belt, alerting him to the need for him to guest blog. For three grueling days he heroically guest blogged, averting an even deeper blog crisis and leading us to today, day eight. Now, finally, I have some hopeful news.

Protocol Tav has been revoked! Emergency Protocol "Wine fruit par Argentina" has also been revoked, and the blog emergency alert rating has been downgraded from "RED (humph, I wonder where the blogger has gone to?)" to "ORANGISH YELLOW (I think I hear the blogger's footsteps. I hope he won't mind that I ate all the tortilla chips)."

So what does all this mean? It means we're pretty sure that this will be the last emergency "Rainy Day" blog post for awhile, and that tomorrow we will be back to regular, old-fashioned clerkmanifesto blog posts.

"What" you may ask "Constitutes regular clerkmanifesto blog posts around here?"

We're still really not sure, and there's a very good chance you will notice no particular difference whatsoever.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Rainy Day 7, Grape guest blogs 3, Live blogging.

Live Blogging
By Grape Areeww

As Feldenstein Calypso noted on an earlier post, I was invited to guest blog for The Clerk Manifesto over 30 years ago, while he and I skinned a rattlesnake in the bathroom of my parents’ home (the smell was delicious, a mixture of strawberries and walnuts and chocolate cake mix) and my grandmother asked us through the door in her thick Boston accent why we were taking so long and why it smelled so nice. We said something about inventing a new cologne and, after decapitating the snake and scraping the innards from the skin, we cut the rattle off. That left us with the rest of the snake to dispose of, and that’s where my memory fails me. Maybe Feldenstein Calypso recalls what happened. 

I do know one that Feldenstein Calypso took the skin home to dry in the sun. Grape Areeww kept the rattle. All was well until Feldenstein Calypso called the next morning. 

“I have some bad news,” he said.

“Oh, no!” 

“Our handyman’s rabbit chewed up the snake skin.”

“Dios mio!”

Later that day we went bowling and discussed what we had left of the snake. In a few short weeks I would be off to chiropractic school and Feldenstein Calypso would begin his training as a line judge at Wimbledon.

“The rattle!” we both said.

“We could cut it in half,” I suggested.

“Or bury it somewhere,” said Feldenstein Calypso.

“That’s a good idea. That way we’ll always know where it is.”

“Hmmm....” said Feldenstein Calypso.


“I think I have an even better idea!”

“What is it?”

“It’s a good one!”

“I’m so excited to hear it!”

“I can’t believe I thought of this! It’s perfect!”

“Wow! I can’t wait!”

“So, how about—man, this is such a neat idea!”




Share the rattle?”

“Share the rattle?”

“Yes! How about you keep it for six months and then mail it to me, and we’ll keep doing this until the day we die.”

“That’s a million dollar idea!”

“Why, thank you!”

“A zillion dollars!”


“But one question,” I said. “The person who dies first—does he get buried or cremated with the rattle, or does the survivor keep it?”

“I don’t know.”

“Let’s think about it. I’m sure we have a lot of time before one of us dies.”

“I hope so!”

And so it was settled: Grape Areeww brought the rattle to chiropractic school, and in six months time he mailed it to England, where Feldenstein Calypso kept it, and so on, until this day, where it sits here, right now, on this desk, ready for a new journey to an unnamed Midwest town.  It has been in every continent of the world and even for a short time in the micronation of Asbamaslovendad. Here, dear Readers, is the rattle:

And so, um….Where was I?

Oh, yes! I am live blogging here, blogging about what’s going through my mind right now, this day, and how deciding what to blog about isn’t as easy as it seems when you don’t blog regularly, and how blogging live this morning just felt like fun, and then I started describing the origin of my promise to Feldenstein Calypso that led up to it.

I see the fates have played a lovely joke on me: I have live blogged! 

I am left with only one thing to do: I must pack the rattle in a secure way. It is Saturday here in Guadalupe del Los Arboles, 12:45 in the morning, and the post office is only open on odd hours.