Saturday, October 26, 2013


I am often sharing with you my personal experiences here in an instructive way. But the hard truth is that personal experience is sometimes not such a great thing to take instruction from. Let me share my personal experience on this matter to try to convince you. A patron at my Library is concerned that something they returned has not gotten checked in. They know they put it in the automated return, and now, after days have passed, it still shows as checked out on their card. This is upsetting! From my perspective, it is business as usual, but I have the requisite imagination and perhaps, more importantly, the same sorts of aggrieved anxieties that let me understand how upsetting such a thing can be. So I give a long, pacifying, and eminently truthful explanation. I explain how, very rarely, something can come through the machine and not get checked in. I explain our process for how to deal with that and how, if the item was returned, we really do find it and resolve it fairly, without charges. Finally I explain how if, freakishly, our process doesn't come up with the item, talking to an individual at that point will resolve the issue. Most people are okay with this. But some people have had it, and they vow to only return their items directly to a person from now on. Their experience with the machine return is sullied forever, and any explanation from me that portrays human error in such an instance to be as likely as machine error falls on deaf ears. They have had a bad experience and it looms large, too large, but their statistical field of analysis is too small to make a reasonable judgement. It's as if they rolled a die twice and it showed, by chance, a three both times, and they are now convinced, in the scheme of things, they will mostly roll threes when they roll dice. I see this play out a lot at my Library. There are missing items from the shelf, botched notifications, transit mishaps, all quite rare, but not rare to the people they happen to. It can run that way with positive experiences too, though there tends to be less fuss with those. If, against all odds, I procure something rare and splendid and exactly right for someone, they may not be ungrateful, but they can easily take it all as matter of course, and only I, steeped in the bigger numbers and the constant experience with it, might know just what kind of a jackpot they hit.

These are all small instances of this sort of error of judgement, but these things are not bounded by size. It is hard to imagine that someone like Barack Obama has not been battered by an array of almost unavoidable fallacies from the outsizeness of his success. One need not diminish his vast talents to say that a series of something akin to miracles took him to where he is, and once there, or on his way there, he was more and more steeped in people of insane fortune, wealth, and power. He has rolled seven threes in a row, hanging out with other people rolling statistically flukey rolls of the highest order. What's he supposed to think? My head would be turned too. The happy magic of the dice more and more supersedes the weird, distant, theoretical contradiction of what actually is, reality.

I read, in my march through Michael Chabon's essays, one about the virtues of writing programs. It was okay, and his main point about its virtues was different than what it seemed to be at first. At first the virtues were something about teaching a person to write, giving them time, and, not least, having teachers send your work off to their agent or publishers or something. It got my hackles up just a bit at that start, and I think it had something to do with the piece of it all that he didn't say. That he's a freak, a Pulitzer Prize winning, making a living writing literature freak. How many writing program graduates are pulling that one off?

In my youth I went to art school. It was mostly a very good and interesting experience. I learned much. Maybe one blog post I'll talk all about it. But, no doubt, what I would say about it would be very different if I were some Picasso of our time. How full of destiny that education would be! How essential the teachers! But I am not the Picasso, and I get the alumni newsletters. No one is the Picasso of our time. And no doubt very, very, very few of any of us, from all the many many like schools, pull out a graceful living painting and sculpting for Museums and Millionaires. So with the numbers unsullied by my experience I say "You want to paint, go to art school or not. It doesn't matter. There's a lot of ways to learn a lot of things. It can be great. It depends."

 I work at a Library. I've learned as much there as I suppose that I've learned anywhere. It's been interesting. It's been boring. It's paid bills. And you can bet, when I am President of the United States, I will be sure to note how it's the very thing everyone should consider doing. Look where it got me.

1 comment:

  1. If those patrons get super-upset, send them to Minneapolis Central, an easy ride on the #61 bus. They can return books one at a time in a kiosk--and GET A RECEIPT that shows what they have returned.


If you were wondering, yes, you should comment. Not only does it remind me that I must write in intelligible English because someone is actually reading what I write, but it is also a pleasure for me since I am interested in anything you have to say.

I respond to pretty much every comment. It's like a free personalized blog post!

One last detail: If you are commenting on a post more than two weeks old I have to go in and approve it. It's sort of a spam protection device. Also, rarely, a comment will go to spam on its own. Give either of those a day or two and your comment will show up on the blog.