Friday, February 28, 2014

Stages of grief

Was it just yesterday I was talking about the stages of grief in returning to work after time off? Somehow it feels like more than a day, like maybe it was a day and a quarter or, at least, a day and an eighth. Well, regardless of whatever lies Time has to tell about it, and Time is one crafty liar, I feel I have some unfinished business there. I just sort of alluded to the stages of grief, but I feel they really need to be explained more thoroughly. This is why I am going to walk you through the stages of grief I experience as my days off wind down. You are maybe wondering if it is appropriate to compare the grieving processes and emotions about the end of a weekend to Kubler-Ross's look at how people feel when they're dying, aren't you? 


You're not? Cause I was all ready to defend it, but, you're sure?  Okay then.

I have three-day weekends and single days off. We will use the three-day weekend, Thursday through Saturday, for our case study because it's all more dramatic that way, and the emotions will run higher.

1. Denial

Friday morning. There are still two days left of my weekend. That is a long time. The future is an illusion. Even if the future isn't an illusion I could at any second win the lottery and have no need to go back to work. Do I feel a cold coming on? I think I have a cold. I'll probably be too sick or too rich to work. There is also a nice chance, what with the perfidy of humans, that the end of the world will have come by Sunday.

2. Anger

This is insane! A wealthy nation like us and I have to work all the time. I have to work on a Sunday? It is unfair! I should be paid to blog! Bloody Republicans!

3. Bargaining

I'll do anything! If we don't go out for cappuccinos all weekend will I save enough to retire before I have to go back to work? I won't have a cappuccino for a week. How's that? Wait, give me a chance here. Two weeks. I won't have a cappuccino for two weeks!

4. Depression

I'm not depressed. I just really like the couch, a lot. And I don't have anything to say. And I like the dark. And I'm so cold, but I don't care.

5. Acceptance

Are we at acceptance already? I'm not ready for acceptance. I really think I have a cold, a bad one. And my back hurts from being on the couch for 20 straight hours. Please let me stay home. I want to stay home! I love it at home!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Life is hard, work is harder

I may be a bit glib about all the ease of my work life. All this talk of constant latte breaks, and the pleasant leisure reading, the exhaustive idle chats with witty co-workers, and being regaled with song and story by dazzling and ancient codgers at the front desk might give you the idea that it's a party all the time at the library. "I want to work where it's a party!" you may or may not cry out depending on your disposition. And if you look into one of our many career guidance books, for example Good Careers For People Who Want To Party All the Time, you will find Library Clerk featured prominently there, along with Pop Star, Talk Show Host, and Museum Curator.

But parties are hard work too, especially when you have to shelve and look busy during them. And nowhere are my harder feelings about this more evident than in my approach to the core of my work week. Every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday I work for something very close to constantly! It is three days with a lot of partying! I prepare for these work days like I am about to undertake a fearsome wilderness expedition, or like I'm infiltrating enemy territory, or perhaps going in to the hospital for surgery. I prepare. I rest up. I sort my equipment into piles. I go through the stages of grief. I deny that I have to go. I get angry. I make bargains, I grow depressed. And I do, yes, in the end, grudgingly, accept my going to work.  I say sad and painful farewells to my loved one. With heavy bags of books to return and multiple bags of carefully prepared foods; the aioli, the tempeh, the kale, the apricot oatmeal pecan cookies, the milk and coffee, the cashews, the root vegetable kinpira, the sliced onions, I leave my beloved life behind for the library. 

And there I party. All the time.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Internet's Eleven Rules

In yesterday's piece I could be said to have been teasing the Internet. I suggested perhaps that the Internet has an ever so slightly limited array of abilities.  Like all my work here I expected it to sink quietly into the waves and fall into the deepest shadowy depths of time, only to be discovered much later by confused future beings. So I was surprised to awake this morning and find that every screen and device I encountered, at my house, in my car, and at work, came up, unbidden in any way, with the following message:

Dear Internet Denizen:

Don't panic. Your devices will be returned to you shortly.

We just wanted you to know, in a friendly way, that your 'post' yesterday was in breach of Internet Protocol eleven-nineteen.

We have no doubt this was an accident.

Nevertheless we thought it might help you to review the following principles.

1. Do not discuss the Internet on the Internet.

2. You are, however, allowed to use the phrase "The Internet is amazing" in any context.

3. There is nothing that can be that good if it is not popular.

4. We never discuss how something becomes popular. It is always self evident.

5. You must pretend that you know how everything works or you must pretend not to care.

6. It is only others that give us meaning.

7. Wherever you are on the Internet is everywhere.

8. It is always the user's error.

9. Sweet, sweet outside, bitter inside, yes. Bitter outside, sweet inside, no.

10. You have already signed this contract.

11. Everything is possible because everything is here.

We enjoy having you be part of us and fervently hope this can be helpful to you. It would be unfortunate if it wasn't.

Thank you for your attention.

The Internet

I don't know exactly what to think of this. It's vaguely insidious, but the use of my devices was returned to me. And it's just so nice to be noticed!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Good morning, Internet!

Good morning Internet! What have you been up to while I've been away?

Oh, my, that's terribly interesting!

Ha ha ha, hilarious!

Awww! That is adorable.

Really? I'm outraged!

Huh, I didn't know that. That could be useful.

Whoa, cool!


So, then, is that it?

No, these are very good, just...

Well, where's, like, the art?

No, not that kind, although, how do they do that? That's amazing!

Where's the ART?

You know, the things that brook no introduction, cannot be teased or summed up, but sneak up on you and suddenly suck all the air out of your lungs. The things that make you have to wander away from your screen, deep in thought and feeling, stumbling out, dazzled, into the night. Where are the things that can change you into yourself?

Ah, you understand.

You have it here somewhere?

No, that's a kitten.

Er, political expose.

Are you sure you understand what I...

I'm pretty sure that's a product review.

Yes. No, I trust you.

That's accidental footage of people having an accident.

Yes, I can wait.

Guitar solo by gifted 8 year old.

Perspective illusion.

That's another kitten.

No, I'm sure you can find it.

Yes, I can wait.


Hello. Hello?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Lost child

As a lost child myself, there are few things at the library that rip my heart out like a lost child. Frozen, dazed, full of quiet despair, one can read all this emotion spinning off of lost children as they stand bewildered and suddenly alone in the universe. We bring them to the front desk of the library. We talk in hushed, focused tones, stooping way down to that two foot level.

"Do you know your mom's name?" I ask.

They nod their head, emotion coiled, wound tightly up in them, but nevertheless spilling out of every pore.

"What is it?" I ask gently.

"sprinnglobertilix" they whisper, almost audibly.

I lean closer. "What was that?"

"frinbloterbilix" they say with slightly more clarity.

"Frinbloterbilix?" I ask.

They nod their head. I got it perfectly in one, yet strangely I am not confident it is the right name to announce over the intercom. With no other options though I figure I'll give it a go.

Usually by this point I am spared from having to make the gobbledygook announcement by the arrival of the parent. The child rushes towards the parent, freed from the company of total strangers.

We shall not here venture too far down the path of my contention that parents, rather than money, are the root of all evil. We will restrain ourselves to this one particular point: it is never the child's fault that they were lost. It is always the parent's (or guardian's) fault. There are no exceptions.

What does this mean? It means that the parent, upon being reunited with their child, owes that child one, sincere, heartfelt, and reassuring apology. An apology. A real one. In my experience this apology happens about two percent of the time. And so, I'm afraid, the world is explained.

Sunday, February 23, 2014


For this post I have run uncharacteristically close to deadline. I post every day in some sort of compact with myself that I only half understand. Often enough I have three or four or five posts all lined up to release at their appointed mornings, but as I write now, I have only this to go out into the world in less than ten hours. You see a full post, but all I have is these first few sentences.

All day I knew that my ribbon of writing time, at 10:30 at night, now, was my only chance to make my schedule. 

So throughout the day I thought about what I might want to write. I thought of it while stretching, as I got out of bed. I thought of it while frothing the milk for my wife and I's morning lattes. I thought of it lying on the couch, between reading sentences of the book I was finishing (Battle Royale). I thought of it stumbling through the frozen, snow besieged city on foot, and I thought of it looking at the impossibly beautiful ice covered trees. I thought of it juicing oranges, and I thought of it moments ago, lying in the dark just before I came down here to write.

Each time was something different, a day of blog posts. I don't really remember any of them. How many thoughts do we have a day? Ten thousand? A hundred thousand? The blog post thoughts are lost in there amidst it all. I, if I foraged hard enough among my memory, could probably pull out a few good ones. But I don't need to, for I have this, and I am done.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Blog driving

I find myself often driven by two engines in composing this blog. One of these engines is my consciousness of having readers. I know people are reading this (look, there you are!) and I want what I write to arrive intelligibly and clearly.  I hope to weed out the grammatical errors that aren't there on purpose. I seek to entertain.  I want what I say to mean something, to reach across the universe of dark matter that swallows consciousness, to click into place like the sprocket of some exquisite machine and then bloom like a cherry tree in the best of all possible springs, or like a swath of luminescent poisonous mushrooms under a new moon. Either way. I don't want to embarrass myself with ungainly and bloodless confessions, hurt anyone's feelings out of my own unexamined pique, or spin out into the tangents that I know from talking about in waking life cause people to fidget horribly. Oh it's horrible when they fidget horribly!

This engine is helpful in letting me write from a deeper and more present place in myself, write with respect, and in giving me the confidence to wildly and righteously resent the entire Internet in a way I might like you to understand, but urge you not to.

The other engine that frequently drives this blog is my consciousness of the vast billions of people who do not read it. They give me the feeling that I can write everything. They free me from having to be appealing. They are an audience of criminals, of people beyond the pale, of something that cannot be touched or broken and they untether my blog from all the normal laws of the universe. I hate them all. And my debt is as great to them, as it is to you.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Request hunting

We have been reading a fair bit of Michael Pollan at my house. In our current book he is now doing a lot of mushroom hunting. Like much of what he writes about, it is very interesting. He is talking about learning to hunt chanterelles, about not seeing them even as his teacher seemed to be reading almost impossibly subtle signs to locate them, and about starting to find the mushrooms on his own. He said at one point something about how finding these fabulous golden mushrooms, hidden in the leaf layer beneath oaks, seemed to be a result of a confidence and the expectation that he would find them. There was something very familiar to me about all of this. It reminded me of hunting books at the library.

I hunt books every single day that I work at the library. It is good sport, interesting, occasionally quite frustrating, and usually satisfying. I hunt books where they are supposed to be, I hunt them in an array of places they might be, and I hunt them in places they shouldn't be. Michael Pollan is quite right when he muses over these ideas of expectation and confidence. In one of my main hunting grounds, the request shelves, the strongest instances of failure and success in searching come down to these qualities. Patrons approaching timorously and with hesitation are frequently thrown off by slight glitches, and sometimes by mere phantoms. An item not appearing like they expect it to becomes invisible, as does something the tiniest bit out of order or barely obscured or simply out of some natural synch. These patrons despair quickly, and they come to me. I am a very old hand. I can smell the right book at forty paces. I can feel it in my blood. I know I will find the book with every fiber of my being. I walk over to the appropriate area of the shelves and I might as well be blindfolded. I reach directly to the book before I even bother to glance at it. It is a matter of seconds for me to get the book for the patron. If I sound dramatic or showy, that's just description. In reality I try not to flourish, and have no impulse to show up these patrons. They don't bother me. I just want to find the book. That is always the goal, the satisfaction, and the point. I need nothing greater. I may be very proud of an intuitive deduction involving some complicated mistake that leads me to the revealed book, but the finding is always the thing, the scratched itch, the quenched thirst. A blindingly confident, just as it should be, two second find is as good as an exhaustive, four person, ten minute hunt, just so long as the book is found.

Sometimes patrons feel a little embarrassed when I find, in a moment, what they couldn't in a thorough search. And, honestly, when I am hunting with others I want to be the one who finds it, and I feel a little deflated when I am not. But as I tell the patrons, and as I tell myself, whatever small disappointment there is not being the one who finds it is a miniscule trifle when it goes up against no one finding it at all. That is the only real indignity. And the book (or mushroom) in hand is always the treasure, however it happens.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Snows five virtues

After a 20 year adjustment period I am suddenly having an fairly easy time with winter here in Minnesota. It is odd that this grace seems to have come to me this particular winter, which is one of the roughest I have experienced. It has been most notable for its relentless, intense cold, but it has been no slouch when it comes to snow either. The stuff is piled up everywhere and the falling of another half foot appears to be imminent. We have nowhere to put any more snow here and so will be forced to gather at midnight to erect mighty snow towers and cities of snow people to disperse all the extra. Or at least we should consider this approach because otherwise we may be compelled to bring excess shovelfuls of snow into our living rooms just to be able to navigate our sidewalks. This indoor snow might damage the wainscoting. I hope my wainscoting will be okay. But despite all of this I am okay with the snow too. I am tentatively ready for more hopeless shoveling. I accept winter.  

As I monitor my byzantine and confusing blog statistics, which I might want to try and stop doing because it gutters the wee flame of my spirit, I am surprised to find that, while I don't have millions of readers, they do sort of spread out, as if they are uncomfortable being too geographically close to each other. This means some of my readers are not so well acquainted with the snow. As a person who grew up in L.A. I know how this is. My only reliable source for the nature of snow, as a child, was Peanuts comic strips. These were barely enough, and the cushy luxuriousness of the portrayal of snowballs and snowmen was a touch deceptive.  I would like to augment the available literature and let those of you from warmer climates know what snow is for and just what advantages it carries. I would like to briefly tell you what snow is good for. I think maybe I'd like to tell myself too, in case I forget in this coming blizzard.

1. Snow democratizes yards.

Under a couple feet of accumulated snow, the brilliantly gardened, exquisitely pathed front yard of my neighbor has no greater claim to glory than my humble home yard of hostas and pine needles. Indeed, all their elegant shrubs and delicate statuary just makes their yards look lumpy, while mine, with its towering snow bedecked pine and smooth casting of undisturbed white, is a minimalist masterpiece.

2. It shows up the dogs for the incontinent vandals they really are.

I don't hate dogs. I like all kinds of dogs, so long as they are not too friendly, or too unfriendly, don't bark, approach me not at all, or respectfully, do not growl or lick, poop only in their owners bathrooms, and never menace. And I would like even more dogs if they would stop making all the pretty snow go ugly by peeing all over it.

3. Snow asserts the dominion of nature. 

I like flowers. I like leaves. I like when the rain makes everything moody and glassy. But in the city there is absolutely nothing for the sudden assertion of the dominion of the wild, for an instant half conversion to wilderness, like a great fall of snow.

4. Snow quiets everything down.

It is better quiet. Don't fight it. Stay home. Read some Rex Stout. Blog.

5. Shoveling is the most virtuous of all yard work.

Yes, it is ephemeral, and I may even think loathingly of this line item when soon I am out there trying to hurl the sidewalk snow up over the walls of snow created by our many previous snows, but to hand hew a clean walking path through deep drifts of snow is arduous and ennobling. And it is kind to the mail carrier, the wretched dog walkers, and to my wife and I, who like to go about the neighborhood to see what is what.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


I have recently passed a compelling numerical threshold in blog readership. I crossed over the line of 50,000 pageviews. That is, 50,000 visits to my blog. Because we are all herded around like cattle on the Internet we are perhaps more accustomed to tales and sites where there have been millions and millions of visitors, but I feel very content with 50,000 views. I think I could find a humble sort of happiness with 50,000 views. I would like to try. Unfortunately, pageviews are not pageviews on the Internet. They are more like a salary. They are like if you made $50,000 dollars a year and thought, gosh, a person could do okay on 50,000 dollars a year, but then started deducting for taxes and transportation and lunch and so on until one felt quite poor, until one found themselves returning home with not $50,000, but rather with 73 dollars and change and a bag of corn. Yes, sadly, this is the woeful tale of my first 50,000 page views. This is my pageview budget.

We start with 50,000 pageviews.  A very lovely and encouraging start.

We deduct an astonishing 33,000 right off the top for completely mysterious, pointlessly nefarious bots like "vampirestats" that for some reason Google is not even slightly fooled by when it comes to ranking the popularity of ones site (and thus making you rise to the top of keyword searches), but is completely fooled by when it comes to telling you how many (entirely pointless) visits you are getting. These are robot visits. No "mind" of any kind is doing any reading here.

We deduct 3,100 for random people who arrive at my site and lose interest by the fourth word of the first sentence. It is my own fault for starting all my posts with "Um, so, anyway,"

We deduct 200 for people who may legitimately visit my site at other times (or they may not), but who accidentally clicked something leading to my site when they didn't mean to and cry out "No! NOOO! Back button, back button!" as they hit the back button as quickly as possible.

We deduct 500 to moderate the number of my own repeat visits to my own blog. I visit my blog a lot because it is my favorite blog, but I feel only some of these visits should legitimately count, say, the ones where I reread the actual page, as opposed to the ones where I just gaze adoringly at it.

We deduct 2,400 for people who arrive at my blog through clickbait, recommendations, chicanery, and idle curiosity, read a whole post, and either plain dislike it or don't like it enough to ever read another post. While this 2,400 would be a legitimate count of readers, I don't want them. I DON'T WANT THEM!

We deduct 200 to discount for people reading my blog furtively, perhaps at work, who close down their viewing window in a panic and have to go back to my site later to finish reading the post.

But, finally, we get to add back in 2,300 for people who get my blog automatically emailed to them. These show up nowhere in any statistics!

And with that we come up with 12,900 pageviews. Well, it's not so bad. No, it's not 50,000, but, in four years it could be, if we keep adding. And I can get there even quicker if really apply myself. I'm sure I could read my blog quite a bit more than I do.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


This example has been chosen almost at random, from out of watching the Olympics a lot, but it could be another sport, say figure skating, or all sorts of different things, like playing the guitar, or acting, or painting, or writing...


You go to the Mountains and see people gracefully and beautifully snowboarding. Your heart sings, and you think wouldn't it be the most amazing thing ever in the whole world if you could learn to be an excellent snowboarder? So you move to the mountains and get a job and ski every chance you get, all winter long.

You become an excellent snowboarder. You see people leaping off of huge jumps that seem terrifying, but intriguing. You think "If only I could do that!" So you start small. You fall on little jumps. Then you don't. You work your way up until you dare to go off a big jump and... you land on your feet!

You get pretty good at the jumps. But a lot of the other people running the jumps can do flips and twists! This is amazing. You wish you could do it. So you do some turns in the air. You get instruction. You work hard at it. You fail. You get up. You do a twist. Then you do a flip, in the air, off of a big jump. Heaven!

You can do rough flips and twists. But you see people stringing jumps together. You see a Slopestyle competition, and you long to be good enough just to compete in an amateur competition coming up in your area. You train and train. Your life is happily consumed by this. You train in the summer without snow. You train in the winter barely scraping by. But the competition comes and you do great.

You run the competitions and it's thrilling. But you know there is a whole professional circuit of skiers, all better than you. You dream of just being among them. You compete in small amateur events, traveling, living poor, but you win, a lot, and qualify for the pro circuit.

You are now a professional snowboarder, among an elite of the 50 or 60 best snowboarders in the country, people you've been admiring and gawking at for a couple years! You wonder what it would be like to be among the best of them, and you ski with your whole mind and heart and soul. You actually win a Pro competition!

You are the twelfth ranked snowboarder in your country. From out of nowhere you realize the Olympics are just two years away. You dare to imagine having the combination of luck and skill to go to the Olympic games! Unaware that it was even possible, you devote yourself even more to your snowboarding. You lose, you lose, and then you win and win professional competitions. In the Olympic qualifiers you get a place on the team!

You are going to the Olympics. Sure you've dreamed of winning an Olympic Gold Medal, but now it seems actually possible if you ski your best. You want a Gold medal with a powerful yearning. You ski your heart out. Your jumps are clean and beautiful. But, alas, four people's jumps are just a little better than yours. You finish in fifth.

You thought it would be the most amazing thing ever in the whole world if you could learn to be an excellent snowboarder.

And you became one.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Mischief managed

Nothing darkens my mood at work more than receiving a dig, pointed instruction, or correction from one of my managers. It makes me angry, vengeful, and sad. It happens to me, in forms anywhere from subtle and minor to more pointed and irritated, once every few months or so. I have not had many different managers, so this has always had a kind of consistency.

Undoubtedly some of my qualities work against me here. I'm irreverent. I don't know if I'd go so far as to say I am disrespectful, but I take my own counsel in every possible situation. I can be whimsical and garrulous. I work at my best and hardest when I am most alone, in a kind of quiet, secluded commitment. My managers are not so obtuse that they don't deduce some strong indications of that, and its value, but it's not the sort of thing they get to see directly all that often. Throw me into a bobbing crowd of staff, with swaths of work that can wait (a cart of books to be processed rather than patrons to help) and I get sociable and shy of work. I am rarely keen to fill in the quiet times with industriousness. Reading things becomes terrifically appealing to me in those situations. These things burn my managers' eyes and build up irritation until they just have to say something. And I don't like it. Recently a manager complained "Is anything getting processed back here?" after observing me in a longish discussion with a co-worker about Wes Anderson and then half an hour later coming upon me in a shorter discussion (and how would she know this one was short?) with another pair of co-workers about the Olympics. Oh it made me mad!

Unfortunately, complaining bitterly about management is one of my blogs somewhat taboo subjects. It is something that I can't be relied upon to discuss with my whole soul, composed and complete, and with any essential touch of lightness. But upstairs, shelving, I was thinking about all this. I was mad at the "Is anything getting processed back here?" gibe. And I felt like writing something about it. But not being able to make use of the perfidy of my manager, with nowhere to hurl my invective, with no villains, and with no persecution, I was left with just me. And I was confronted with the fact that I goof off quite a bit. It was like I was getting all hurt and angry at the suggestion of the truth.

"Is anything getting processed back here?" 

The answer is "Not a whole lot. I'm trying to enjoy myself."

 I am not interested in, nor would it be wise to be, actually answering with that. But too, it would be unrealistic to expect my managers to protect me from the truth of it. And while I may dream of wise, far seeing, and accepting managers who always see through to my full honor and worth, so too they may dream of the perfect employee, ever industrious, responsible, and taking care of everything they want taken care of. I will do better to take us both as we come.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

What kind of blog is this?

I live my life, usually using my breathing and eating and circulatory system and stuff. Things happen. Sometimes they show up in the blog, sometimes they don't. If something takes up a lot of my free time, my recreational time, my whirling consciousness, it's generally better if the blog can find some way to merge with it, whether that thing is libraries, Rex Stout novels, or, in its hall of mirrors way, blogging itself. The blog gives articulation and clarity to that which I want to do, and the things I want or need to do have some place to go to be understood and organized. It's economical.

All of this is my way of explaining why you have started to be faced with a small deluge of Olympic posts. But for those of you not keen on Olympics, who come here to look into the face of the momentous and deep things only I dare discuss, I say, hang in there. There are only a couple weeks of Olympics. When it is over we will immediately resume our discussions of shelving. But even if you do not care much for Olympics, don't turn away. What we discuss here, under any circumstances, is merely ephemera. It hardly matters. For underneath, what we are always really doing, is redesigning the world. We know how badly it needs it. So, no matter what we discuss, that is our true work here, and on that, we never take a break.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Library Olympics

There are, grievously, no Olympic events of any kind directly related to library work. However, Curling bears some real resemblance to elements of library work, especially when facilities management is trying to save a bit of money on our heating bill and when snow tracked in from the outside makes the floor slippery. In both Curling and library work you have to carefully place things just so. You think over your placement, line it up as best you can, and then other people come along and mess it all up. Then you go in and try to reorder it to your liking. Then people go in and mess it all up again. Over and over and over. At the library we are rarely awarded points in this process, and it is basically ceaseless, which, come to think of it, watching live curling late at night, is a bit of a match for Curling as well. On the other hand,  we rarely lose in shelving and can sometimes get away with a bit of reading while we wait for our opponents (I mean patrons) to shatter our careful work. In curling you just have to stand around bored, waiting and hoping that your opponents muff it.

I have participated in actual Library Olympics in some long ago In Service Days. But these events sadly lacked seriousness and were poorly planned. If I sound bitter, I am. The wounds are slow to heal. But fortunately after 15 years they are starting to fade. My specialist event was the speed stamping of library date due slips. For you youngsters out there there was a time when a receipt printer was unheard of and patrons got by with a few slips of paper slapped into an occasional book with its due date stamped on. In the mornings, and as needed, we would stamp large piles of slips. I invented my own technique that dazzled my co-workers and gave them an easy excuse to get me to stamp all the date dues. That the Olympic event for this hand stamping involved teams and devolved into chaos will never take away from the fact that I was once great, perhaps the greatest.

I wouldn't mind bringing back the Library Olympics, but only if we could do it right. We must have proper, well organized events like speed and marathon shelving, multiple item requesting, and perhaps something to do with telephone answering that worked sort of like figure skating; grace would be part of it, but also the technical skill of dealing with a lot of people on hold. It would be interesting to answer phones in front of a line of judges minutely examining your every utterance. Of course, the whole In Service day would have to be devoted to this Olympics, and we might have to close the library down for a few weeks to focus on training. Perhaps book wholesalers, or publishers, could sponsor us. Maybe we can even bring back the event of date due stamping. You always have to have a few retro, weirdo sports in any Olympics, like the luge, or biathlon, or, moguls, or, slopestyle, or curling, or...

Let's face it, any of them.

Friday, February 14, 2014


Chills. Fitful dreams of ice. A restless sleeplessness keeps me up into the wee hours of the morning. I am seized with paroxysms of nervous tension. Glassy eyed, strange rashes of interlocking rings break out in my flesh. Yes, I have contracted a serious Olympic fever. Not my worst Olympic fever, it's only about 101 or 102 degrees. Wait, I can't believe I just did that! This is the Olympics! My Olympic fever is not 102 degrees! Fahrenheit is not international and Olympian! My temperature is an Olympic standard 38 or 39 degrees, CELSIUS! Anyway, I don't come down with Olympic fevers every Olympics, but I am, historically, prone to them, and I've got one now.

My first Olympic memories go back to 1972, and I can note how I was not all in yet at that point by how I still remember my bitter disappointment when my Saturday morning cartoons were interrupted by reports of how Gorillas had taken hostages at the Olympics. I found this very confusing. I consider my confusion of the word "Guerrillas" to be justified not just by my young age, but also by the fact that the only footage was of blurry, distant men on balconies in full black masks. They didn't look exactly like gorillas, but they could have been gorillas. It was a reasonable interpretation.

By 1976 I was glued to the the TV for every shred of the Olympics, a complete drooling fanatic. The 1984 Olympics were actually in my city, Los Angeles, and I went to several events in person. L.A. was a fairly crappy city to grow up in, a fairly crappy sprawling and smoggy city in the seventies, but the 1984 Olympics were a first blossoming. The city became international, was decorated beautifully, and everyone stayed home due to a hysteria of traffic terror, and if they went out they used mass transportation created just for the games, which was the only place besides work that anyone went to anyway for a couple weeks. It was a glimmer of what a great city L.A. could be, and, in a lot of ways, what it has become. I saw Carl Lewis win gold medals, and I met the Chinese basketball team. These were very large people who were only pretty good at basketball.

My adult recognition that TVs and I were closely analogous to hand sanitizer and obsessive compulsives, made for much more complicated relationships to the Olympics over the years of my adulthood. I haven't owned a TV in 25 years, but for occasional Olympic games I borrowed a TV. As an adult engaged in other things I usually only managed to watch coverage of events shown at midnight, which gave me a narrow frame of reference. I still remember with deep fondness following closely a Czech hockey team's thrilling run at the gold over the Russians in a year I saw absolutely no other Olympic sports.

I am still without a TV this year and have long since had no interest in borrowing one for any reason. There is a good deal of coverage on the Internet, but it is set up with hostility toward American, non cable users like myself. NBC will not let you buy a pass to their coverage, you have to have a cable subscription log in. International web coverages are blocked to people from other countries. But, despite all this, I have found a work around. A roughly legal thing called tunnelbear allows me to disguise my computer address as coming from any country I want. This has allowed me to watch Canadian and BBC live feed web coverage. Once again I am forced into post midnight watching. Both of these services are largely concerned with live feeds, so I have to wait until the events start, which is usually around 12:30 a.m. my time. Also my glitchy, funky city wireless service suffers from weak winter signals that only get strong enough for video streaming late at night anyway.

But it turns out these strange restrictions are mostly a bundle of blessings in disguise. So much of what had started to drive me crazy about Olympic TV coverage over the years is, in one broad sweep of the slate, gone. I disliked the Nationalist boosterism. It is gone now, or in such a different context that it's charming, like the (naturally) not very good Great Britain team causing the BBC announcers to go into paroxysms of ecstasy over a miraculous bronze metal for an English skier. I also hated the human interest stories that TV features, which always created an unfair identification with certain chosen athletes and a lot of produced drama at the expense of getting to watch the actual events. Everyone out there has a great reason for wanting to win. Why wouldn't they? This too in internet viewing is all gone. I just get the sport, and some shots of very excited or disappointed athletes after their runs. I like what that tells better than anything colorfully manufactured into stories. All of those stories are there in their faces anyway, in their tears and exultation. I never much liked all the colorful features about life in the Olympic Village, the various controversies, politics, what it's like there at the Olympics. There isn't anything wrong with it, just, there are like 6000 hours of the sports. I don't have time to watch athletes eat and recreate! Nor do I want to see the travelogue stuff about where the Olympics are located. For me these Olympics could be anywhere where there are mountains and snow. That's how the Olympics should be, a taste of a dream of International harmony. Finally, I dislike the idea of comprehensiveness in the TV coverage and the illusion that everything notable is being covered. I love being forced into my time slot that corresponds with the morning events and seeing just what I see in its full, languorous reality. It's more like being there. It's more like someone gave me random tickets to 20 events. Would I go to a lot of Curling on my own? No! Am I delighted to have been forced to watch a lot of Olympic Curling while waiting for the Downhill to start? Yes! It is chess on ice! Chess on ice!

So, yes, look for more Olympic posts these weeks. I can't help it. That fever? I think it's up to 40 now, in beautiful, beautiful Celsius.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Front desk joy

I like it when it's slow out at the front desk. I can catch up on some important internet reading, maybe put a cart in order in a desultory fashion if there's a restless manager around. The occasional patron issue and assistance in that case becomes the light diversion. How nice it is to talk to someone instead of filing or reading things on the internet! They want me to get them change for a twenty? Splendid, I was starting to stiffen up with all the sitting! The stroll to the cash register will be refreshing. I also like when I'm out at the front desk with a co-worker who is thoroughly competent and who I enjoy chatting with. We talk. The patrons come up like batting practice pitches. We are masters of patron assistance. Affable, paying attention, we take our lazy, confident swings. All our front desk service is easy and perfect and there is nothing we don't solve gracefully and thoroughly. The time passes quickly.  And, as well, I like when I'm out on the desk with someone else who's not very good at working the desk. I try in that situation to get high on caffeine and overload myself, try and do a bit of writing in the small moments of free time I race to create. This is a way to both compensate myself for my undue burdens and to assert mastery, as if to say, I can do 80 percent of the shared work out there with one hand tied behind my back. 

The reality is that there aren't too many front desk set ups I don't like. Too busy? It has its hard parts, but it can be thrilling to race to whittle that line down. Full moon? Madness makes us look at things in new ways. But my very favorite way to be out at the front desk, and this is strange to say for someone who can take an extremely casual approach to the work to be done, is when I get to play at dominion. Or perhaps another way to put it is, when I get to play library. There is always a little bit of this going on at my front desk, but like the situational qualities of a Full Moon night (which is merely a way of describing an evening full of bizarre incidents and behaviors), this opportunity to excel, to be the whole of the library in my own self, relies upon the right kind of people, a diversity, a flow of patrons with a vast array of needs and issues. Six people in a row needing library cards won't do. I need to help one patron track down a mysteriously missing book, resolve a persistent fine issue, fix someones computer, explain tax forms, make the thing that won't print print, advise on a reading list and provide directions to those books, solve the audio problem in the meeting room, answer a trivia question, rescue the materials handling machine, explain and adapt policy, request two things and then walk a patron through do-it-yourself interlibrary loan. I need variety. 

Fortunately, I usually get it.

I am a bit camera shy when it comes to unreserved candor about my weaknesses as a library clerk. This blog is a very public place in its way. Suffice it to say I will not be the one to get everything shelved around here. And I am intensely keen on coffee breaks in all their kaleidoscopic guises. I have 32 versions of coffee breaks. But I have also spent decades in this library and likewise I have spent long years in the essence of what libraries are, and I know this place. I know it. At nearly any practical level I can step into the shoes of automation services, management, librarian, facilities maintenance, and circulation. Most days I do. I do it because I have to, because it is the right thing, because I can, and because it is a pleasure. And when the needs of the public range widely enough, and come to me steadily enough, I am the library. There are no referrals or redirection because I am whatever the patron needs. I suppose other people are like this too sometimes, I would have to follow a co-worker around for half an hour to really know, but it is true for me. My low enough, anyone can do it library clerk job, all pleasant and boring, interesting and paying the bills, and always running on day after day in the same place, has not gone unheeded by me. I have paid attention. I have stayed interested. And as a reward, sometimes I get to touch on mastery. Sometimes I can touch every inch of this place, my place, and solve everything. That is not work. That is fun.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The trick of northern winter

It has been a cold winter where I live. So cold, so often, that I can't tell anymore and have lost the real name of the cold. I put on layers and layers of clothes when I go out as a matter of course, but other than that all manner of temperature variations seem the same to me. I know it's cold, but in some way that no longer affects me, that can't seem to reach me. This morning I went out walking and, as I often do this winter, I saw a bald eagle. I figured that it can't be that cold if the bald eagle was happily flying around in just its bare black and white feathers. Sure, there were no people to be seen anywhere on the usually popular river path, and the exposed part of my face stung in a strange, sharp way. I know those things say something. But surely it doesn't say as much as the fact that the eagle was completely naked. How can it possibly be all that cold if the eagle doesn't mind? And more than all of that, I wasn't cold! It's hard to explain. My body gets icy, I know it's cold, but it doesn't really have anything to do with me. Minus 14 degrees, 7 degrees, it's all become meaningless. It was relative for awhile, those 21 degrees used to mean something, but then it just became lost in a dream of ice. This is my world, says the deep ice.

At the end of the work evening, nine o'clock, temperature dropping, I walk out to the cars with Dave. "Huh." we say to the zero degrees.

"Should I put my glove flaps on?" Dave asks, referring to a kind of mitten flap we both favor that covers over your fingers on a fingerless glove. 

"No." I say. "What's the point?" Sure, our intensely frozen steering wheels will hurt our hands for a minute or two, but it's a hurt that doesn't penetrate. It's a pleasant kind of pain. I haven't shivered since November, when I thought 40 was cold. 40 is an abstraction, 40, 110, burning to death, I don't know.

Another night I leave with a couple co-workers to the parking lot, the thermometers registering a minus 12 degree evening. One co-worker says "It's a bit chilly out" like we're discussing a really pleasant spring that's surprisingly dropped into the fifties. Someone else answers with "Really? It's refreshing." The third person agrees. And the ice agrees.

And so do the eagles.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Doris and Clive do the second good knock knock joke

As promised, today super intelligent aliens Doris and Clive will run through the second known "good" knock knock joke. Their run through yesterday of the first "good" knock knock joke (Interrupting cow) did not go smoothly, but today they feel they are better prepared, and everyone here at clerkmanifesto feels you will find this to be very funny, or sort of funny, or at least that you will attain a clear understanding of the proper execution of this knock knock joke.

Without further ado, here is the second known "good" knock knock joke:

Oh, sorry, I think I let it run on a bit long. Theodore is a friend of theirs. I asked them why they think he would especially like it. Clive said "Because it's very funny." Then he slowed down to make sure I understood. "It is a very funny joke."

"But why in particular Theodore?" I asked.

Doris thought for a minute to understand what I was asking. "Theodore is intensely interested in linguistics." She answered.

So, there you have it. If you run into a one eyed super intelligent alien named Theodore, try out this knock knock joke on him. English majors also enjoy it.

Monday, February 10, 2014

I answer the call

In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, when the school of Hogwarts wants to reach young, oppressed Harry, it sends an ever increasing flood of mail. It pours in through the mail slots, it comes down the fireplace, and so on. So it has been around here as I am flooded with queries as to the identity of the two known "good" knock knock jokes that I mentioned in passing awhile ago. I cannot run, I cannot hide from this interest. I may take a leaky rowboat to some rough stone island in the middle of the sea, but I will still be tracked down. So, I will relent. I will share the first of the known, "good" knock knock jokes right here, on blog, today!

To help with the knock knock joke, which would invariably flatten and lose power written merely in text, I am employing the assistance of two friends of mine, Doris and Clive, both super intelligent aliens from a distant, far more advanced planet. Doris will be performing the "Call" portion of the knock knock joke, Clive the "Response."  Doris has a good deal of experience with our planet and some understanding of our culture and idioms. Clive, however, has a more sketchy experience with humans and our world, and so I ask your forbearance if, despite being instructed in knock knock joke etiquette, he struggles a bit.

Without further ado here is the first of the two known "Good" knock knock jokes:

Okay, so that didn't work ideally, but I think you get the idea, and if you try it out for yourself you will find it is very funny! Everyone will laugh and want to try it out for themselves because it is a "good" knock knock joke. Trust me.

Tomorrow I think it will go better with Doris and Clive and the second "good" knock knock joke, I mean, now that they've had some practice and such. Until then...

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Exciting blog updates!

It is time for one of my informational updates about this blog. While this is less entertaining that my usual sorts of blog posts, it won't matter too much because, if you are anything like me, you will read pretty much anything put before your eyes. I think that this is the very principle upon which the internet is run. Call it the law of active inertia. We may not be keen on all the horrible click bait that litters the web, but without it we might be stuck reading the same page over and over and over. Even this exciting blog update would be much less interesting on an eleventh read through.

1. See the blog!

If you are reading this through email or through a reader, on paper or are just bullet-like fixated on these words, you might want to glance about the actual blog as it is sporting a new, less generic look that includes homemade art.

2. Fewer robots, more typing tests!

I have held off and held off on doing this, but I am increasingly having to deal with way too much spam in the comments (something you don't see because I delete them, or possibly because you never look at the comments, or possibly because this is the first time you have ever seen this blog to which I can only say, you have picked the perfect post to start with, well done!) so I will now be asking commenters to verify, well, not that they are human, necessarily, but rather that they are there. You have to be there! It is all I ask, except unfortunately, I also ask that you type in some hard to read words to prove it.

3. Kafka is moving!

Look for the relocation of kafka to the Last Harbor Library, that is, if I can bear it. I feel all the f-things should be together. No, I cannot bear to say the f-word here. The only thing I am less likely to say is the p-word. Ahhhh! I've already said too much!

4. Last Harbor Public Library news.

I plan on continuing the Saturday posts of the (f-word) Last Harbor Public Library Blog here. But it does have its own developing dedicated blog (here) which may start to get peppered with little, between the weekend, bits of posts and things borrowed and adapted from the history of this blog. So, it can be followed too, by email and other methods, if you're interested enough in it, and can bear some repetition.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Last Harbor Library: 10 Little Known Facts

This is the fifth post in the blog of The Last Harbor Library.

The first post concerned our blogger, Nate, being instructed to write a blog, for the library, by the imperious leader of The Last Harbor Library, Amelia Browning. The post can be found here.

The second post is too complicated to explain and is recapped a bit in the third post anyway. It is here

The third post is about the staff not working and is here

The fourth post is about the library in winter and is here.

Explanation for this blog within a blog can be found here.

Last Harbor's blog as a separate, but only barely fleshed out at this time, entity, can be found here.

Last Harbor Public Library

Anyone curious enough to hop onto the Last Harbor Public Library Blog probably knows the basic facts about our library, the kind you'll get on any five cent tour you might take of it, or from a quick scan of its Wikipedia page. You know it's considered to be Frank Lloyd Wright's last masterpiece and that it was built by Northern Minnesota's most famous (and only) billionaire, Everett Browning. You also probably know about how he built it for his daughter (on tours I like to make the joke that the Last Harbor Public Library is thus a children's library, which is funny because our kid's section is about the size of my thumbnail). Because I have spent the last few years working here, and delving into the idiosyncrasies of this library's history, I am well acquainted with a vast array of little known facts about our famous library. When I conduct a nickel tour of this building (as I often do) I include the best of these facts. But I see no reason not to lay out these little known facts here, and save us both the trouble of a tour. If you're still smitten with the Last Harbor Library and have to come for a visit, I suggest you take the ten cent tour. If I'm your tour guide you may want to say "You'd better skip to the even littler little known facts" and I will endeavor to do so.

Ten Little Known Facts About the Last Harbor Public Library

1. There was no budget for the building of the Last Harbor Public Library. Wright was supposedly told by Browning "It's simple. Build what you need to build. I will pay for it."

2. Amelia Browning, for whom this library was built, was nine years old at the start of construction. She was considered a genius, and was said to be involved in the library's design. While this seems preposterous, seeing photos of young Ms. Browning lecturing the elderly Wright, who looks on fascinated, does a good job of changing most people's minds.

3. No material in the building of the library comes from more than 300 miles away. Funny thing is nearly all the books do.

4. The Last Harbor Public Library is a public library. There is a veritable encyclopedia of documents that gives Amelia Browning absolute control of it, but it is open to all and is supported in numerous small ways by the city of Last Harbor as a public institution.

5. Amelia Browning wrote a book of poems when she was 12 called Mr. Wright Builds a Library. It was published. It was pretty good. Our library does not carry it.

6. Frank Lloyd Wright was concerned that the library would be overcome by the overwhelming views of Lake Superior. His original design strongly limited dramatic vantages of the Lake and limited lake facing windows. In each design revision (there were 14) he added more windows facing the lake.

7. The Last Harbor Public Library only has rare books by accident. The library (read: Amelia Browning) is interested in the content of books and circulating them, not in their physical value (I believe I have heard her use the word "fetishists" in this context).

8. Though most people viewing our collection assume we must be some kind of academic library, we are actually very much a popular library. The vast majority of books in our collection were very popular at some point in the past 5,000 years, just, very, very few are so now (very, very, very, very few).

9. There is a secret room, but it's not much of a secret if I say more than that.

10. The Last Harbor Public Library has opened every single day, 365 days a year, for 17 straight years now.

Friday, February 7, 2014


Quips allow me to get through the day at my job. Quips, jokes, theories, witticisms, and existential queries, but mostly quips. Sometimes I get too tired for that and so have to resort to a shambling walk. But when you're a quipper the shambling walk is a quip in itself. Eyebrows raised, a co-worker inevitably asks "Are you okay?"

"Horribly drunk." I say.
"So happy to be here." I slur in deadened voice.

There is no hiding for me or for others. No rest either. I am off to the front desk. My first patron wants to pay off their ten cent fine. I hold their dime up like it's a glorious ruby.

"We have been waiting all day for this dime." I say. The next patron comes up and I am still holding the dime. "I hope you are not here to pay fines." I say "I already cannot fit this dime in the cash register. Look at it over there, bursting."

Next up is a couple who need pin numbers to access our digital collection. After this simple transaction is done one of them says "That wasn't painful at all."

"The pain sets in later." I respond.

Funny? Ha ha, no. You are thinking probably of jokes. These are quips. Quips. I thought that if I got too tired then I was too tired to quip, but no, alas, if I get really tired, desperately tired, can hardly move tired,  I am too tired not to quip.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

More thrilling reading statistics

Yesterday we discussed the idea of reader statistics, a group of quantifiable annual reading measurements that one could, say, put on a baseball card, except it would be a readers card, with a picture of the person pretending to read a book on the front (instead of pretending to be at bat), and the perfectly chosen group of annual reading statistics on the back. For our first test case we looked at the statistics of an all star, possibly the library MVP reader, Marcus, the teen librarian. As promised, today we will look at my statistics.

Am I an all star, you perhaps wonder? I don't know. I am far more erratic than Marcus. And while I suspect that I could even end up leading the league in one or two categories, I will no doubt flounder horribly in others. I guess we can only compile the statistics and see. So, without further ado, here is:

The Back of My 2013 Readers Card:

1. Books Started: 2,142 (league leading)

2. Books Completed: 114 (very good)

3. Average: .053 (terrible)

4. Genres/Subgenres read from (GRF): 36 (league leading again!) (this reflects variety of reading)

5. Books of Notable Merit Completed: 4 (poor) (this reflects quality of reading)

6. Total Pages Read (TPR): 102,025 (excellent)

7. Bestsellers Completed: 2 (poor) (this reflects social zeitgeist of reading)

So what does this say about me? I am a voracious reader with a ferocious thirst for knowledge and literature, but I barely care what that knowledge or literature is, or whether anyone else thinks it's useful or interesting. While restless and not terribly focused, I read so much that I finish many books, almost by accident. 

This little list is surprisingly illuminating. You kind of have to make up the numbers though, cause you can't really know all this stuff, and you have to make up the adjectives for your totals too, but despite all that it ends up pretty accurate. What's your GRF?