Saturday, May 31, 2014

In fantasy novels

My favorite, traditional, straight up, post Tolkien and pre Tolkien, but not counting Tolkien, fantasy series is the one that Patrick Rothfuss is currently engaged in writing. It starts with The Name of the Wind and so far runs through a second book that I am just finishing rereading, Wise Man's Fear. I love these charming, inventive and endlessly entertaining and even occasionally wise books. I don't recommend much on this blog, or, er, well, actually, I do every once in awhile recommend an occasional, uh, hmm, well, no, I recommend things pretty much all the time on this blog. But I am not here to recommend anything. I am setting the stage to talk about libraries.

The Name of the Wind (and its sequel) has a library in it. It is a fabulous, fantasy novel, Great University Library, a confection of a library. It is a maze with its own rules, an elaborate feeling of history, and a nice strong sense of reality to it. People in charge of the library, over time, have tried to establish a grand organizational system for this deep, rich library, but the reinvention of the wheel, organizational factionalism, and the sheer number of volumes have left great chunks of the library functionally lost. It is a library where much can be intentionally found, it is organized, but it is also a library where many things can only be dug up by deep searching, chance, perseverance, and luck.

It is not much like my library.

My library is neat, strongly organized by a coherent and mostly consistent set of organizational rules, and not terribly big, particularly when it comes to book storage. The rows are neat and plain, and we weed, all the time. A few years ago we had a great expansion at my library, but we expanded our space for everything but books. We were a bit skeptical about the future of books. And so now it is pretty much the case that for what we get new, some old must go. Uncirculating materials are the low hanging fruit here. We pick those and sell them off. And our collection is lean and popular and neat and everything is wanted and findable.

So it is the strangest thing that even though my bright, popular, public library is nothing like Patrick Rothfuss's great, clever, thousands year old library, it is, nevertheless, amazingly like it. Despite not being much more than 50 years old, in my library strange old things resist purges and cling like marvelous barnacles to deep parts of the stacks. Books one cannot begin to imagine surviving one weeding purge, let alone dozens over the years, appear from the thin air to taunt prospective readers. Five year old novels emblazoned with the praise of the most significant purveyors of a mighty culture rest profoundly forgotten on the shelves. The stacks are lit and even, the books cataloged and vetted, and yet if one ventures into them the density can become almost immediately overwhelming, the most willful purpose can be lost, and the strange and unexpected will dizzy you.

The fashion of the modern library involves cleanness and clarity, well lit spaces, openness. The feel of a sophisticated technology is in the air. Knowledge is at everyone's fingertips, on screens, and clearly marked. But a library is a library is a library. And a library is a warren, a looking glass world, darkness and illumination. Patrick Rothfuss made a lovely one in his books, and I am fond of my own in the real world as well. But there is, in the end, just one library, a great deep, dark ocean of a thing, an unending cavern, the night sky. And wherever enough books gather together that dark and horrible and magical and wonderful library is tapped into, deeper than everything we have ever done, black, mad with visions, and studded with stars.

Friday, May 30, 2014

The ten best blogs on the Internet

As an occasional resource for hidden and worthwhile elements of the culture, I thought that today I would provide a guide to blogs. You may imagine that a dedicated blogger such as myself might have his finger on the pulse of the best blogs running on the Internet today. I do! I do have that finger! I am listening for that pulse!

Hmm, unfortunately I don't hear anything. Is this where the vein is supposed to be? Let me try the neck. How about the temple? The ankle?  Nope, nothing. Well, it's not important. The important thing is that I have compiled a list of the ten best blogs on the Internet.

Yes, I know that sounds very objective. Your opinion may vary. But I think if you give each of these a real chance you will find my list very fair and representative.

I will rank these carefully, presenting them in dramatic reverse order.


Deciding what just barely made the list and what didn't make the list was one of my toughest decisions, but try as I might I wasn't able to keep this one off my list. Sometimes it gets strange and almost abstract, but when it all suddenly makes sense one can't help thinking the sense is always there, sort of waiting for you.


Day in, day out, this one is just plain fun. Lots of stuff about libraries, which I like too since I also write about libraries. This was an easy pick and I could have ranked it higher without regrets.


I think we're beginning to see a loosely connected theme here. So far these blogs are all real writer's blogs, leaning more towards original content than interesting links. I am a traditionalist when it comes to blogs and feel original writing is where blogging is at its best. This particular blog posts daily and includes clear, interesting prose on a variety of subjects. And unlike most blogs, I love when it gets self referential!


Funny when you least expect it and then not funny when you least expect it. I never know what will happen next on this blog. Er, well, I sort of know what will happen next, but I almost never know what will happen after that.


After going on and on about all sorts of stuff to the point I'm not sure what's going on, suddenly this blog will mention cats, at which point, for some reason I just go nuts and start adding it to my favorite blogs lists for everyone to see. If you go there on my recommendation I can only hope cats are mentioned that day. If not, keep digging.


Thoughtful, trenchant, witty, bitter, cute, furious, wise, and full of adjectives.


This is the blog I would write if I were me, only not different, but the same.


The reason I like this blog so much is a lot like for my fourth choice. This one makes me laugh, but not exactly out loud, more in an odd, taken with myself way that's at once a bit embarrassing and plenty fun.


This would have been my first choice. Not to spoil anything, but it actually sort of is.


One of those rare blogs that doesn't toot its own horn. 

This blog is like if, say, you are walking along a country path and come upon a wide river. There is a raft and a ferry man there. So you get on the raft and the ferry man starts pushing you across the river. It's a lovely day and very peaceful on the river. The ferry man is very good with the raft and for no reason you really understand you ask him, from out of nowhere "Are you the Buddha?"

And he says "Yes."

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Piston like

Now that I have completed a second week of walk/bike commuting I am so fit that I no longer feel nauseous for large sections of the time I am biking. Just today I almost passed an octogenarian on his octogenarian ten speed, but was foiled by a small hill that allowed him to dart far ahead of me as I started to roll backwards. Nevertheless it was an encouraging experience and my progress seems to hold forth the promise of great things to come. My understanding is that lots of healthy exercise is going to release powerful happy endorphins, and that I might soon be bubbling in joy. Prepare yourself for weeks of blog posts where all I say is "Hey, isn't everything just perfect?" Don't worry though, I'll change the word order every day and occasionally extrapolate. Anyway, I haven't gotten to this stage yet. Mostly what I feel is sore, but it's a pleasant, athlete's soreness. It's a soreness that makes me feel sort of tough and swaggery, as if my thighs are saying "Yeah, I walked and biked four miles today. We are monster thighs, pistons of power, unstoppable." Of course my thighs conveniently don't mention how when I got off my bike there was an interesting period where I was unable to walk. My thighs were too weak from the strain of pedaling fast enough to prevent joggers from passing me. And, sure, I can get all self deprecating, but my thighs will tell you the important part, that none of those joggers, in the end, were fast enough to catch me.

But really I don't mean to make my thighs sound like huge braggarts. As befits tough body parts they are mostly the strong silent type. I try to take my lead from them if I can and let my new burgeoning fitness be like a secret veiled power I hold underneath everything I do. Patrons come and ask me "Hey, can I get a library card?"

I say "Yes." but underneath it I am silently thinking "I biked three miles today. Three miles! So think about that Mr. Library Card Wanter!"

I'm just saying, I bike three miles a day. I am ready for anything

Though, naturally, lots of resting is preferred.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Authors at library

Because the list mood has struck me I thought I would make up a list of a little random collection of patrons here at the library today. It's an almost freakishly beautiful day, so expect indoorsy types. I'm not sure how I will convey collected people to you in a sentence or two, but I do know I can't use their real names. Therefore I am going to give them the names of famous authors. I feel this will provide a multitude of benefits. Such as:

1. It will protect the identity of our innocent patrons.

2. It will immediately illuminate aspects of their personalities in an instantly familiar way.

3. It will humanize the authors used by placing them in a homely environment and giving them an accessible context to be viewed in.

4. It will provide an air of gravitas to a mundane collection of random sketches.

5. It will allow me to contextualize these personalities, giving me a springboard for conveying them to you!

So, without further ado, we begin.

1. Miguel de Cervantes. Tall, thin, a bit stooped, full of scraggly grey hairs, he may be more Don Quixote than Cervantes. His energy radiates off of him in an uncontrolled buzz. He asks questions but cannot stand still for long enough to receive an answer.

2. Agatha Christie. I help her figure out why she is being sent an email about a book that is due today that her record says is not due for three weeks. It turns out it is because she renewed it earlier today. This is an older Agatha Christie who, alas, may no longer be sharp enough to pen her tightly plotted mysteries.

3. Flannery O'Connor. Looks just like her. Has sixtiesish cat-eye glasses and is not amused by my jokes, unless she is secretly amused. Yes, yes, she is secretly amused by my jokes! Flannery O'Connor thinks I'm witty. This is just exactly how I'd imagine Flannery O'Connor would be!

4. Philip Roth? What does Philip Roth look like? I better find a picture. Yes! It's Philip Roth, right here, retired, cruising the Internet at our library, muttering. His National Book Award winning days are a warm, distant memory.

Doris Lessing. She looks at me over the tops of her reading glasses. I have no idea what the look means because I have never read any of her books. The look was so imperious, though, that for a couple of minutes while shelving, I was convinced I'd better read The Golden Notebooks. I put it on my cart to take downstairs. Then I shelved it again because that wasn't actually Doris Lessing!

Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Actually, I think he might not be a patron. I think he might be a new trainee! Imagine, a young Garcia Marquez working here. I hope he will give me some writing tips. If so, watch for an increase in Magical Realism in this blog.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

I need to make a list!

I am seized with the need to make a list. I am dying to make a list.



Well, I have seven reasons.

1. I have not made a list in ages. A blog without a list is like a simile that makes no sense!

2. I don't have enough prepared content to justify paragraphs.

3. I only have seven minutes until my break ends. I have found that I can do a seven item list in as little as five minutes, with an average of seven minutes (a neat one minute per item!) and a median time of 11 minutes not counting for variables such as wind speed and coffee consumption. Of course, these times only apply as long as item three on my list doesn't run on and get needlessly detailed, explaining things like median time, which is the quantity lying at the midpoint of a frequency distribution of observed values. Crap.

4. A numbered list allows me to re-experience the childhood joy I enjoyed when I first mastered counting. 

5. Even the worst top seven list usually manages to have one amusing list item. Unfortunately that already happened here in item one. You are now engaged in what is known as courtesy reading.

6. Seven is a lucky number! Make seven mimeographs (mimeographs are the lucky paper reproducing process) and walk them over to seven people who have seven letters in their first name. Give them a list and wait seven seconds before reciting "Seven" quietly, seven times. Something pretty good will happen within seven weeks, seven months, and seven years! If not you may have to start again and make sure that you are seven feet away from the people when you hand them the mimeographs. Oh, and don't forget to chant "Seven" seven times while hopping on seven toes at each chant.

Too much? You can use a copy machine instead of a mimeograph.

7. Finally, the reason I have to make a list is to experience the pure, unbridled bliss of reaching list item seven knowing that I have given it my all! Yes, this is my all.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Cat's out of the bag

Perhaps you recently viewed the latest cat based viral video that scorched its burning path across the Internet. I think I'd better briefly describe it to you because viral cat videos fly in such a raging fury across the Internet, and they are so temporal, that if you read this at any time off of the exact right moment you might think I am referring to a different viral cat video. I am referring to the one in which a small child, amusing himself alone, is attacked suddenly by a small to medium sized dog. The dog seizes the child in its teeth. From out of nowhere, a superhero like cat comes flying at the dog. All claws and speed the cat hurls onto the dog out of the very air. The dog bolts off in fear and surprise. The cat too bolts off, and the child is saved. 

Would you like a link to it?


Oh, really? You found my description so strikingly complete and vivid that it's unnecessary? Well, that's nice.

You are too eager to hear what I have to say on this matter to go chasing stray videos anyway? 

Yes, well, that makes sense. I understand.

Here is what this video demonstrates:

The conceit is that cats are self-absorbed, self-centered, and self-possessed. But this is partly, sort of, a tiny bit of, a front. Cats, you see, are like the classic hero type of the cool mercenary. Think if you will of Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca or To Have and Have Not or Harrison Ford in Star Wars. These men are secretly good, but they are very interested in keeping that from you. The fact that their heart is golden is something only for the clear eyed, virtuous, trustworthy, and sweet spirited. You see that cat out there, on your local sidewalk, self-satisfiedly munching the head of a small songbird? That cat is just biding it's time. And if you are righteous enough, that cat is on your side to the bitter end.

No cat will admit it. If a cat could talk it would explain away the evidence of that viral video. The people of the Internet, taken in by the cats' front will explain it away. But those of us with hearts open enough to see, we are allowed to know.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

News almost without metaphors

Hi everyone, it's Sunday so it's time for blog news!

No, really. Just plain, unvarnished, unfancified news. News! Not a complicated musing metaphorical blog post. No metaphors today, or pretend news. 

Yes, sure, metaphors are the clouds that come out of the mountains to cast nourishing rains in these fields, they are the stars that let us stumble through the night, and they are the mist that lets us sneak past the guardians of the gods so that we can smuggle back their broken things, but we invoke them not today.

Today is just news. Good old stick-to-the-ribs, clean air and sunshine blog news. No metaphorical stuff, except when we can't help it, but even then those metaphors are just serving as colorful scenery out the window of our train. Our true journey is a steadfast one. It is a simple telling of blog news.

So, what's up?

I have started a lot of projects on this blog. Some were plainly and formally ended, like the one where I used to keep tabs on the status of all free food in my library's break room. Do you remember that one? I did that for months. Many projects lie dormant, but are ever ready for new installments that will no doubt one day come. Think here of the King of the Library series that even has a set of links on the right side of my blog homepage. Some projects are hidden beneath your feet, and I work on them as the mood hits me. Think here of my project of hidden comments scattered throughout the history of my blog. Except you probably wont think of it because I'm not sure if anyone ever really comes across those so this is probably the first you're hearing of it. Some projects were harder and less satisfying than I thought they would be and so disappeared without fanfare, but never officially. The Last Harbor Public Library Blog is a fine example of this, a blog within a blog that had the unfortunate effect of making it feel like I was writing two blogs! I decided one blog is the better amount. But whatever blog projects I have that are open or closed or in limbo, there is usually one main one I am trying to get some work done on. Wait, I mean there is one project besides my daily writing of this blog everyday. I like to tell you about that one other project if I can occasionally.

My other project these days involves a focus in on my list of recommended books.

It links here.

I have talked about it before, and, of course, it was originally a blog post of its own. I just keep editing it and filling it out. The main goal of it was to have a list of all the books I have dearly loved at one point or another and at least sort of still do love, even if sometimes that love isn't exactly so fresh. I'm still listing and adding and organizing and genrefying my list, but that's been going on since the beginning, since I started it. My new ambition/addition is to heavily link up my list.

I have written a lot of blog posts and quite a number of them at this point would link up very specifically, or at least somewhat harmoniously with all kinds of things that are in my recommended book list. I'm just getting started on this, but I keep a link to that list off on the sidebar, and I'd like to make that list not just a nice list for book ideas, or a reminder to myself, but also an interesting tool for exploring the history of my blog, if anyone wants it. The idea is you are looking through the list and I, for instance, feverishly recommend Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching books. You can click on those books and be taken to a post of mine discussing them, or, perhaps more likely, a post taking off on a theme from them. You click on Jasper Fforde's name and are taken to an argument for the virtues of his books and how I think the critical response to them should go, but didn't quite. That sort of thing. I don't know. We'll see how it goes. 

Maybe try it out some time when you have a long afternoon and you're just going to fritter it on Internet shopping, or watching videos of heroic cats. All this linking might still be a little thin right now, but if I get a lot done I'll remind you some time. No doubt on a Sunday.

Saturday, May 24, 2014


I think I must have read thousands of mystery stories in my life. Right now I am taken with Poirot and Nero Wolfe, but I have loved Holmes, and the Dick Frances heroes, Jack Spratt, Marlowe, and dozens of others. But in all these mystery stories I don't think I have ever, not even a single time, deduced the murderer. I am like a child, filled hopelessly with wonder. Most of the time I don't seriously even try to guess, I mean, not unless the author sort of tells me to. I am like putty in the author's hands. If the author says "Think it's this person." I think it's that person. If the author says "Hope that it's not that person." I desperately hope that it is not that person. And I read on wide eyed. Mystified.

But even though I do not have any ability to figure out the murderer in a mystery, I have no problem whatsoever writing a mystery. For instance, here is one. But it goes way beyond that.  I consider most of my blog posts to be a kind of a mystery because I consider most writing to be, fundamentally, mystery writing, at least in some basic sense. A story starts, an essay starts, a train of thought starts, and there are the questions that begin to crystallize in the first words and start to drive it all along like an engine: What will happen? Why did what happened happen? What is the point and meaning of what is being said? Where is this going? How will this all make sense? 

Here, look at what you're reading now. There's a reflection on my reading past, an exploration of the Mystery genre and my relation to it, an expansion of the framework of our discussion. Even now everything grows more and more complicated. What is each new sentence here if not a clue? Isn't part of your reason for reading further on to find out how this all ties together, what point I come to? Interesting ideas are emerging, yes, but what is the story they tell? What sense will bring them all together in the end.

In a detective story I watch as events pile up, mysteries become literal, and clues are gathered and discussed. But I form no solid sense of the meaning of everything until I am told by the brilliant detective himself. But if I were in that story, not living it, no, but writing it, not that I could, not that story, but if I were writing something like it, the feel of everything passing through me, being handled and brought out by me, would tell me where to go. My attention would be on the underside of the story. I would feel it as strands woven together into a rope, not as a single moment of the present moving along.

Sometimes when I write a post here I know what I want to say, and if what I want to say is strong enough, then I have to assemble the clues that make it all so. I have the solution and must assemble the proofs, the trail to it. But sometimes I start and only learn the shape of the whole thing by weaving pieces together. And sometimes I head out as lost as you are as to what I'm up to. I must examine each detail, the cadence, my heart, the quickly decreasing collection of solutions that can still stand in the face of what I have said before, and when there is only one left, I am done.

I will not say all writing is thus. But if you look around in most, ranging vastly beyond the mystery genre, there is some sort of abstract version of a revealed murderer, a detective piecing it together for you, and most of all there is an explanation of the meaning of these things found on the floor of a locked room. Everything is a locked room. The mystery story itself is just writing itself made tangible, turned into events and characters, turned into story, the tools given names.

When I read a mystery I do not read to take apart the magic. I read to ride the magic. And when I write? There's nothing up my sleeve.

Friday, May 23, 2014


I have introduced a new commuting pattern to my life. It includes my walking and biking along and near to my local river for some miles several days a week. In the early days of my new routine, walking and biking along this great fecundity of flyway, where trees begin to flower and small cast offs of ancient wilderness occupy their tiny, scattered spaces, I am vaguely aware of a fascinating and wonderful variety of birds. I am no ornithologist and can name only a few of these wild things, but I am sort of aware of them, a bald eagle here, a hawk of some kind, an oriole there, something yellow, something strikingly patterned, something I have never seen before. Each time I would like to take a good look, but mostly, I can't.

I suppose I seem well enough, but winter cooled my physical activity, and a wet early spring filled up with other concerns and pretty well killed it off. I am not in good shape. I am in seriously poor shape. I walk the mile or so to get a bike from the wonderful bike station rental system my city has, and I have to concentrate to go at a decent walking speed. I do not have enough time, commuting like this, to dawdle, yet at every step my body seems eager to mosey. I have to propel it forward with effort. I may see a startling yellow bird, but with more than a passing look my whole walk could collapse into a multiple hour saunter. But this is nothing compared to the issues of the bike.

The first four or five pedal rotations of my bike give me a great sense of power and speed. I am amazed at how fast and easily I can go. This is quickly followed by the amazement I feel at how quickly my thighs burn horribly. I am barely even pedaling. I am on flat ground. I hurt. Before long I am sweating, nauseous, straining, and coasting at every chance. Joggers fly by me. I am dazzled by how out of shape I am. My butt hurts. I pedal heavily in a thick personal haze of agony. Birds fly about, probably Parrots, and Passenger Pigeons, and Pteranodons, and Condors, and Quetzals, and Golden Pheasants, and Hoopoes, and Bali Birds of Paradise, and god knows what else, because I have ceased to care. Pedal as I might I think I am now going backwards. I am about to start coughing up blood, cramps have seized every part of my legs. I cannot catch my breath. Birds may be everywhere but I am hallucinating bats and smoke and flying knives. I am weaving. I come to one final, large hill on a not very hilly ride and dismount. I nearly collapse to the ground. Walking, barely, I half push the heavy bike and half support my upper body on it. There is no speed of walking so slow that it allows me to recover. At the top of my hill, in a large square between a variety of University buildings, I collapse onto a bench, stunned, nauseous, out of breath, and utterly exhausted. I am terribly late, but I understand there will be no way for me to progress for at least ten minutes. So I sit, lost to the world, breathing.

Slowly I recover a little. I feel a bit less like vomiting blood. The cool air of spring feels good. The sky is blue. I close my eyes. I open them. I am going to live. Six of my ten minutes of allotted rest time have gone by and I am willing to move my body slightly to get to a more comfortable position. I turn my head to a tree standing quietly in a small patch of grass to my right. A gigantic turkey, less that ten feet away from me, regards me calmly from underneath it. I stare dumbly at it. What the hell? A turkey. It pecks something in the grass. It looks at me again. I look at it. It looks at me. I look at it. 

It is one glorious giant of a turkey. I did not know turkeys came this big. I think it might be a spirit turkey. I think it might be a dreamtime turkey.

Well, I'm so late by now I could wait forever. I have learned my lesson. I will not leave before the turkey leaves.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

We are like siblings here

I have not been following Disney animated movies closely for awhile, but somewhere along the line recently I did see Frozen. Somehow it seemed the loyal thing to do, living in Minnesota, which was sort of where it was set, only, minus the beautiful Norwegian aspects, the fairy tale kingdom, the fjords, the mountains, but other than that, especially the parts where people were cold and there was snow, it was Minnesota. I liked it. I liked the theme: Your parents will screw everything up, but with great fortitude you may be able to overcome it.

Anyway, I think it is to this movie we can credit inspiration for this lovely exchange. One of my most excellent co-workers told me about it tonight. It's straight from the kid's room.

Two little girls were playing in the back part of the children's room. They had piled chairs and cushions and such into thrones. One small girl in a magenta tutu blew bubbles. The other approached with happy news. 

"Sister!" she cried out,  "Mother and Father are dead. We live here alone now."

The funny thing is that this is our night where both of our two managers leave at five o'clock. We ourselves are on our own until closing time. Somehow the cry of these young, bubble blowing princesses was like a theme for our quiet evening.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Odd heavens

When I am at the front desk of the library I am confidant in my ability to handle the great majority of things that come my way. I know the library, its mechanics, its policies, human nature in the context of libraries, and a lot of the Jeopardy Question portions of human knowledge. I also have my trusty computer, portal to a surprisingly tiny fraction of everything, but a surprisingly large portion of everything people are inclined to ask one about at a service desk. Also, I find that when people approach me at the front desk they have usually thought about things, organized their needs, and made a very specific decision to get in line and seek formal help.  So when a patron approaches me at the front desk I quail not.

But my experience when I am shelving is very different. I am approached there far more infrequently, and I am as keen to help people as ever, but the requests tend to be less focused, far more spontaneous, and can come from an unwieldy variety of directions. I have no computer, no desk to hide behind, and I need to shift gears abruptly into a whole different mindset from the ruminative, traveling through space and time one that I shelve under. So I do quail a bit when I am approached for help while I am shelving. I quail mostly because I hate not being able to help someone to my satisfaction, and that happens far more often when I am out shelving than it does when I am at the desk.

So among the sweetest parts of my job is when I am out shelving and some patron brings me a nice, soft, lob of a pitch of a request for help, and I have all the time in the world to line it up and see how far I can hit it over the fence, how profoundly I can be of assistance. This is the kind of pitch, or question, that leaves merely the question of how far I will hit it over the fence. I have, out shelving in the past, been forced to swing at wild pitches, I have had pitches thrown at my head, I have been fake pitched to, and, yes, I have swung madly and missed at pitches coming right over the plate. That perfect lob pitch has so much to make up for. I have so much to redeem, exculpate, and discharge in my swing here.

And here it is. A young man comes to me while I am shelving Mysteries. First he wants to know how to get a library card. We work out that he has all he needs with his identification and such, and I take him to the glass wall that hangs up high over the service desk and show him where to go to get the card. No, that's not it. That's not the pitch. That's nothing, really, just passing, every day help. But then he says "I need a good historical book about Indians to read."

I freeze up for just a second, like when the curtain goes up on the stage, the lights are on and one is in front of a crowd of thousands. This is the moment! Can one sing or can't one?

My mind starts to race over fiction, historical American Indian Fiction. I can think of at least three excellent modern American Indian Fictions, but on historical ones I am a bit blank. Then it occurs to me. He probably doesn't want fiction! I hope and hope he doesn't want fiction!

"Fiction?" I ask. "Or Non Fiction?"

"Non Fiction." He says. 

It is right there that I know I have the lob, I know I have the soft soft sweet ball to hit as far as I can. I know the book. I know the book and quickly ascertain that he has not read it. Not giving too much away, to open the discussion, I mention some of my backups on historical Indian Non Fiction. It turns out that he has read Black Elk Speaks. This only makes it better. It shows that he is committed, interested, serious.  It shows that I have the most perfect, mind blowing, fabulous book in the world for him. I don't even doubt our library on this. We will have copies on the shelf. I know it.

I type into the catalog search engine "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee"

Three copies, on the shelf, waiting just for him. 

I give him the call number of one of my all time favorite books, a book I firmly believe that he will love and that will break his heart, and I send him on his way.

It is surprising what small joys there can be in a job. This, this odd little thing, tempered by a usual small threat of looming disaster and failure, is, for me, heaven.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Pancake crazy

Working with a lot of people at a largish public library I regularly come in contact with crazy people. I mean that in the broadest, least pejorative sense of the word. We are all of us touched with madness. You. Yes, you, and me too, but there does tend to be a place with people where, try as one might to twist around to eccentric, or odd, or idiosyncratic, or wacky, or colorful, one just keeps ending up in "crazy" until one starts worrying about hurting ones back with all the twisting and just lets it be. "Fine, crazy." One says. And then one goes from there.

Today we are going from there.

There are as many different ways of dealing with crazy as there are ways of being crazy. Today I would like to talk about the method I have been using today. When I am feeling a bit fey, as I am today, I like to take a spin with crazy. One might describe this method as out crazying the crazy, or it can also be known as "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em". I prefer simply to think of it as going with the flow.

I am approached by someone I know pretty well.

"Hey." He says. "You gotta get some pancakes in here in the morning! When are you gonna get the pancakes here?"

"You want pancakes?" I inquire civilly.

"Yeah. In the morning you should get pancakes here. You can do that, can't you? We should have pancakes here in the morning!"

No, in case you wondered, this is not in a kitchen, near a kitchen, and certainly not at any sort of restaurant. It is not in reference to a previous discussion. And I am not in the habit of randomly supplying breakfast food. It is a non sequitor. You may ask: "Is it, perhaps, an amusing non sequitor of an eccentric pancake enthusiast?"   Ah, I see where you are going. I have tried that twisting about bit too. No. It is a non sequitur delivered direct from crazy town.

"Pancakes?" I inquire to buy time. I am getting up to speed here. My coffee is still kicking in.

"Yes. Talk to the branch manager to see if he'll get you a griddle. We need pancakes. Wouldn't that be great? Some griddle hot pancakes in the morning?" He leans in close to me. "You gotta see if you can get us some pancakes." He pounds his hand with his fist.

"Not" I say "Without maple syrup. I will not eat a pancake without maple syrup! How many maple trees do we have in the parking lot?"

"Maple syrup, eh?" He says.

"I will not go a step without pure maple syrup. Get me a count of all the maple trees in the parking lot. I need the exact number of maple trees in the parking lot. And we need three large kettles!"

"Yes. Maple syrup would be good."

"Count the trees! Get the kettles. Meet me back here tomorrow!" And I storm off.

Actually, some pancakes would be good. 

And just so you know, I wouldn't try this method with the patrons. 

This one is just for my co workers.

Monday, May 19, 2014


You have had your day off and so, refreshed, you return to work, ready to roll up your sleeves (thus exposing your temporary tattoos of dragons!), and get down to blogging on new developments. 

I'm excited, are you excited?

Of course you are!

Let's check in first on new developments in library technology. People love hearing about all the exciting new developments in library technology. Most library blogs tend to focus on this. Not mine, as I like to focus more on me. But today, in a bold, populist move, I am starting with library technology. What has happened in the library technology world in the past two days?

How did you enjoy the part in The Matrix where it turns out Neo can just download learning modules into his brain? Do you remember? He learns Kung Fu, which, naturally, is very useful, but I'm sure he learned a lot of other fabulous things, like gun-play! Imagine, if you will, that you could go to your library, insert something into the jack at back of your head, and instantly learn, well, martial arts, or French, or all about dinosaurs, or you could instantly read For Whom the Bell Tolls with full comprehension. Wouldn't that be great? Sure, it's a tad weird having to have a port at the back of your head, but I, for instance, have gotten used to the one I have between my nose and my chin, so I figure it's manageable. Since this instant learning is the key development I have been waiting for in library technology since my piano lessons and sixth grade Spanish class I have naturally been wondering if we developed anything like this over the past two days at my library. Just imagine if you could learn the Sax in a minute and not even have to risk late fines or buy an expensive practice instrument. Well?

Nope. Nothing. In fact, despite the passage of nearly two whole days we are still primarily relying upon  books, checked out, taken home, and read over the course of several hours, which works moderately well, but is still rather labor intensive. This, despite all our so called advances in library technology. Indeed this check out system is still much the same basic way Dinosaurs used libraries hundreds and hundreds of years ago. While it is a workable system, we now know that it will not protect us from the asteroid. The asteroid may not come tomorrow or in a hundred years, but it is coming, and any Triceratops can tell you that all the Mary Oliver books in the world will not save you when the time comes. Sorry to bring the bad news, but it's not my bad news, it's the Triceratops's bad news.

So, no new technology developments. What next? Scandals?

No, no scandals.

Notable deaths?

No. I hear about people dying all the time, but I'm always a bit surprised by how people take their time about it.

Zombie invasions? Amusing incidents? Policy changes? Celestial visitations? Parking lot contretemps? Vending Machine scandals? Chain of command shake ups?

No, no, no, no, no, nope, and no.


So, what will I blog about?

How about Dinosaurs!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Electric kool-aid

Hello from Sunday town! On casual days, which are on Sundays, sometimes I like to share blog news and maybe explain a bit what's happening around here.

You may have been noticing lately a strong bit of self aggrandizement, or confidence, or megalomania, or enthusiasm on clerkmanifesto.

"What's up with that?" You might wonder.

Well, first of all, thank you for your compliment! How nice.

As far as I can tell this condition is the result of two things. One is that lately I have been very caught up on my blog posts, usually a week or so ahead. In fact, I am here scribbling down the first draft of this post a full nine days before I will publish it. Nine days! That's almost a week! It makes me feel immune to error. I am so prolific that this is the third post I have written today! This all makes me feel very much in command, a master of language, immune to writers block, and willing to try saying anything. Everything seems to work, at least, as my definition has it. Two, having given up all marketing and most of what I can in outward seeking ambition, while also spending so much time with my blog, I have created a kind of hallucinatory isolation. It's just me and my blog, hour after hour, poking about on a magical planet with just one person there. Me. The second of these two conditions is giving me moments of profound mystical visions, or delusions (there's a thin line between the two) while the first of the two conditions is causing me to not edit those visions out. I instead publish them with vigor.

What does all this mean for you?

I guess it means you're either on the bus, or off the bus. Though I guess you could watch the bus with binoculars from a distance, take the bus for only very short trips, or delay the bus by inquiring at the door about exactly where the bus is going.

"Where is the bus going?" You ask.

I don't know. Further?

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Truth

Just yesterday I believe I might have mentioned something about providing The Truth in my blog. Not the truth, but The Truth. It was a very Ali-esque post, as in Muhammad Ali, and thus perhaps a bit of it needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Not that I didn't mean it all, just, in the case of The Truth, well, one cannot really say The Truth. It's a lot like the Eternal Tao in that way; The Truth that can be named is not The Truth. The best one can do is to approach The Truth, preferably at speed, because if one approaches cautiously and slowly one is likely to find oneself mysteriously going in the opposite direction, or maybe just stalled in a field somewhere suddenly realizing that one has just been sitting there for hours. No, you've really got to fly madly at The Truth until you feel the searing heat of its breath, or pass out, or lose control of the vehicle and go rolling head over heals into a ditch.

We are very interested in the truth here at clerkmanifesto, and do what we can with it most days, but every once in awhile we like to make a desperate, sloppy, savage run at The Truth. We take our sight line. We get going as fast as we possibly can. When we get up to speed we make our last aim adjustment. Then we take our hands off the wheel. With our freed up hands we cover our eyes and cower in terror.

That, in case you ever wondered, is why this blog can get so battered. This explains why you sometimes experience a careening feeling in the course of reading this. And it also explains why it might feel occasionally like we hit something here, why there is a terrifying shudder, a crunch, because I can swear we hit something sometimes. Sometimes we clip The Truth in passing and go spinning and tumbling over the weeds. We land in a ditch, wheels up, suddenly aware of an amazing silence.

I am equally sure that The Truth never takes any damage, only ourselves.

Friday, May 16, 2014


I have been reading my way through the complete collection of Agatha Christie's Poirot short stories. I'm surprised by how stripped down the stories feel to me. Perhaps that's what makes them so readable. It's as if there's no prose to get in one's way. But they're magic too, and the more I read the more they seem to fill out.

I have, like millions before me, quite taken to the fussy, obsessive, conceited detective Hercule Poirot. I like how he has no compunction about speaking to his brilliance and greatness. Yes, it occasionally alienates and frequently antagonizes those closest to him, but over and over he justifies his claims. I try to take inspiration from this.

You see, much as Hercule Poirot is the greatest detective in the world, I am the greatest blogger on the Internet. I have occasionally dabbled in modesty on this score, but what's the point? I'm not trying to trick anyone into agreeing with me, and I'm not making an argument. Also, if my readers are antagonized by my freely blunt assertion, readily repeated, that I am the greatest blogger on the Internet, I'm not selling anything. They are free to flounder around in some other blog seeking the solutions to life's existential mysteries. But, as with those who eschew Poirot, if what they really want is the solution, they'll be back here.

Yes yes, I know this all makes a person, me, for instance, look faintly absurd. One of the repeated treats of the Poirot mysteries is where even we, the reader, get a little sucked into thinking Poirot's eccentricities have led him completely off the trail. Even though we know he will not fail, sometimes he becomes so absurd and inscrutable that some part of ourselves can't help but wonder.

But as with clerkmanifesto, in the end, the truth outs, and the mystery is solved.

Thursday, May 15, 2014


I don't know what happened. I was working earnestly enough at the library, getting ready to shelve some books, that's to put it formally, or looking for fun, to put it more casually, when suddenly I was struck drunk. Drunk. As in spontaneously smashed. It's a miracle. Maybe not a religious miracle, or even the kind of miracle anyone wants to go getting excited about, but it's some kind of miracle. From out of nowhere, after drinking nothing, I was well and truly drunk.

"I'm drunk!" I called out drunkenly, stumbling around the workroom, pushing my shelving cart about in an alarming manner.

"You're drunk?" A co-worker inquired, with surprise and confusion.

"I didn't drink anything" I called over my shoulder, "But I'm smashed!" Then I crashed my cart into the surprisingly closed elevator doors and was knocked senseless.

The elevator doors opened, and I'm pretty sure I got in. I don't remember the elevator ride at all, but, apparently, when the elevator doors opened upstairs I was lying flat on my back singing Mean Mr. Mustard. I do sort of remember insisting I was good. Who was up there? A librarian I think. I kept saying "I'm good. I'm good." I am rather blurry on the process by which I got myself and my cart to the genre fiction section. I'm pretty sure I left a trail of books behind me, like breadcrumbs, so I could find my way back.

At first I did not enjoy shelving at all because none of the books fit anywhere and things were spinning anytime you touched them. We have no rotating book displays at my library and so I was confused at how that was now all we seemed to have. But the good times came back to me when I realized that if I just put any book anywhere I wanted it was hilarious. Putting them backwards was hilarious, hiding them was hilarious. I planted books like little seeds in all sorts of unusual places and was unable to stop giggling.

Then, abruptly, in the same miraculous way in which I had got drunk, I sobered up. My head hurt. My mouth tasted bad. I yawned. My cart was empty and I could see several books on the shelves with their bindings facing in instead of out. I couldn't even imagine why I'd found that hilarious four minutes ago. So I set about straightening up. It took quite awhile as books were out of order and double stacked and a complete mess. But the straightening was weirdly familiar to me. I realized that this mess was almost exactly how it often was in fiction when I went up to shelve. My shelving drunk just made the fiction stacks look like they often looked. What if I wasn't the first person that this happened to. What if some of my colleagues were suddenly struck drunk as they went up to shelve too, but were too shy to say.

It would explain a lot.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Treasure hunt

Every once in awhile I like to trot out the proposal that our library abandon its whole tiresome, complicated, labor intensive system of shelving. Indeed, I propose that we dispense with the shelves altogether, and merely throw all our library materials into one massive, unsorted pile. If a patron wants a book or a movie, or whatever cultural detritus we're pushing, they can sift through our gargantuan, miscellaneous heap, like poor people combing over a trash dump, or disaster victims looking for precious mementos in the wake of some devastating tornado or flood.

Yes, it's pretty strong stuff. Strong enough that, though I have come up with hundreds of vigorous commentaries on my library in the course of this blog, it has never seemed quite right to bring this idea up. But I think this idea was merely biding its time, waiting for the fulcrum on which its revolutionary aspects could gain some proper leverage.

I could, of course, spend all day here listing reasons why my throw-all-the-books-into-a-pile idea is unsanitary, ridiculous, untenable, dangerous, unworkable, unpleasant, and generally awful. I will even readily admit that the only good reason for this system, besides how it could conceivably let we staff lounge about all day reading adventure novels and drinking espressos, is in how it would profoundly and joyously accentuate the exciting treasure hunting aspects of going to the library.

One might think that the treasure hunting aspect of going to the library would be but a very small portion of the experience. I myself thought that very thing. But my eyes have been opened.

Today at my house was book cleaning day, a day to bring back all the great backlog of checked out library books we had been accumulating. I had two big cloth carrying bags and we started stuffing them with books. We stopped only when there was no more room in the bags. I could barely lift these two bags, and I still had to leave several books at home.

I lugged the bags to my car, drove to the library, and lugged the books inside. Then I decanted the books onto a shelving cart in preparation for check in. Once all the books were on the shelving cart they were very easy to look at and analyze. So I did that.

I was shocked to find that all my carefully accumulated books were utterly and completely random. They seemed to bear no relation to one another. They came from absolutely every section of the library, spanned every genre, and touched on a vast scattering of non fiction subjects flung across the dewey decimal system hundreds. I was shocked to find that my conception of myself as a discerning reader, one who needs to carefully track down very specific, badly needed materials is a sham. It's not that I would be happy reading anything, no indeed, it's merely that if one tosses together a hundred random books there is little question that my poking about in them will net me six or seven volumes that will be pretty much as rewarding to me as those acquired through any other more careful system of book gathering.

I know, the giant heap idea is absurd. And of course we won't dispense with our shelving system! No doubt I will soon forget all this clarity and go back to comfortably fooling myself that there are books I need to request, track down, and read right away, that there is a real depth to my system of ravenous omnivorousness. I have been saturated in library for decades, and I am a creature of our elaborate and diverse and useful filing system, a master of it, a junkie, an acolyte, a laborer in it. But, also, I have seen the light now. I know that secretly, it's just a heap.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Under the bridge

One can glamorize most things. We live in a glamorizing culture, which in itself is a glamorization of "We live in a culture of self aggrandizing lies."  I don't personally set out to glamorize clerking, but when it happens I try not to worry about it too much. On the one hand, clerking is pretty well under glamorized, and on the other hand, around my blog, not to mention in real life, clerking's comedown is always just around the corner.

I must have been doing some glamorizing lately because today I have a comedown for you.

Let's talk just a bit about shelving.

No, not about the alphabet, or technique, or speed. I don't want to talk about any of the amusing interactions with patrons that one runs into along the way. Nor do I intend to discuss all the books, all the fascinating, infuriating, eye-catching, intriguing books that a shelver is subsumed in as he shelves. No, I'd like to talk a bit about how I feel out there, shelving.

Working away in between the stacks cuts me off from any real, outside light. It removes me from the action of the library, its open spaces, its activity, but if I peer out through the space between the tops of the books and the bottom of the next shelf I get a weird, secret, hunter's blind sort of view of parts of the library, motion, people coming and going. They can't see me, half crouched as I am to look, peering out through my gap. I move through the stacks mucking with my stuff, bookends, books, abandoned things, shuffling about inscrutably, moving at my weird shelving pace with my emptying cart of books. I stop. I scrawl an inscrutable note onto a post-it pad, I straighten, I reorder, I read the very start of a book. I shelve. No one sees me in my quiet, private labor until maybe I am just there, where they thought they'd look for a book. I duck away from them and into invisibility again.

Today I read a short story by Neil Gaiman. I was drawn to it. Like most of what I read by Neil Gaiman I am still working out how I feel about it. Sherman Alexie is the same for me. I read something by either of them and think "I'm not sure how I feel about this. I need some time to see." But I never quite see, exactly. I don't know why I was drawn to the Neil Gaiman story, but it was up there in the stacks and I read it.

It was a troll story. A story about a person and a troll, a regular, under the bridge troll. It wasn't a happy story. It was only kind of horrible. I'm sure I'll figure out how I feel about it sometime. But I didn't then. I shelved. And I looked out of my cracks and gaps, and I shuffled about in my rooting private endeavors, and I went invisible. And I thought, hey, I am a troll. I am a troll, here with my books, under a bridge, hidden, peering out, mucking about, I am a troll. A fable, a game, a truth.

I am a troll under a bridge

It wasn't horrible, exactly. It was the strangest feeling, but, no, not necessarily horrible. Should it be? 
Actually, I'm still sort of working out how I feel about it. One day I may know.

But no, it wasn't glamorous.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Lots of hats

One of the best things about my job (which, in case you've only been lightly skimming my blog over the last 450 posts, is called "Library Clerk") is that it encompasses such a vast variety of roles. Most of these roles are entirely optional, if not even occasionally, technically frowned upon. There is a basic core set of clerking skill roles; shelver, machine operator, switchboard operator, customer service representative, that is basically required, but with a bit of craftiness, a sense of adventure, chutzpah, sheer commitment to the library, rebelliousness, risk management skills, and sheer foolishness, there is a vast array of wildly diverse roles that one can, every once in awhile, step into.

Over enough time I have been janitor, groundskeeper, building manager, event planner, librarian, caregiver, spy, social worker, song and dance man, technician, computer analyst, negotiator, tax adviser, county attorney, teacher, concierge, travel agent, doctor, artist, traffic cop, prince-ling, athlete, chef, dogsbody, childcare provider, laborer, fairytale character, and library director.

Patrons sometimes mistake my job, most often, I suppose, as a librarian. But they almost automatically respond to me in any of these other roles. Of course, in all these roles, I am still, officially, a clerk, lost in the shuffle, autonomous, and in the end, a chameleon. 

Did someone say there's a chameleon in here? No, no, it's just us lizards, soaking up the sun.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Sunday schedule

On Sundays I work at the library sometimes. To be precise I work Sunday every other week. Today, for instance, I don't work, so next week I do. I also work every other Friday and Saturday. I always work the Friday and Saturday together, but those are always opposite the Sunday I work. So, to clarify, I am working for four days, off then for one day, on for two days, off one day, on three days, followed by three days off, and then I repeat it all in sequence. It's only confusing if you're really really wishing I'd move on to the interesting parts of this blog post, which, spoiler alert, never happens. On the other hand, if a person works a schedule such as this for a few decades it becomes like second nature and one hardly ever wakes up wondering "Wait, so do I work today?"

So, I have today off. Except, confusingly, I am writing this on a Tuesday, which is a day I always work, except when I am sick or on vacation. I am not sick or on vacation. I am only pretending today is Sunday in the guise of being a blogger. I don't pretend that any days are other than that which they are when I'm working. And I don't pretend that I am working when I am blogging. So even though I work every day on my blog, it's not work, just a very, very, very involving hobby, and even though I do it every day I can pretend any day is any day, so on, say, Tuesday, I can only work at my job for Tuesday and I pretty much have to, but I can blog in advance for the following Sunday, and Monday and Tuesday too for that matter. Of course, that would take a lot of work, except it should be noted that that is not work, it's a hobby. But then, if I did all that work, the work that's not work, on that following Sunday, which is also known as "today", even if it's Tuesday, I can then not work on my blog, and I can also not work at the library, even though my blog will still be being worked on in the sense that this appears out of the firmament only now, Sunday, with the brick laying of each word happening before your eyes here, though, remember, it is not work.

This explains how, though beads of sweat have formed on my forehead as I've endeavored desperately to explain this, I am actually lounging about right now.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Never boring

There was an incident in the teen room this evening. As far as I could get it a teenager living in a group home didn't want to leave the library with all her people when all her people were leaving the library. She yelled and threw things and resisted. I was pretty busy with the automated check in machine and was content merely to receive the reports as they filtered back to me. I refrained from gawking. For one thing it's not my favorite flavor for an incident; people yelling and having a fit, and for another it's pretty mundane. On average we get at least one large scale tantrum from a child not wanting to leave the library when they have to per day. This incident sounded a great deal like the same thing, only with a bit older and larger protagonist. 

Still, when there's great hubbub, and 911 is involved, one likes to keep loose tabs on whatever is going on. So I was happy for my colleague's briefing. And when he finished his briefing and said "It's never boring around here." I could have just performed my part in that call and response as I was supposed to. I could have said "No, it never is."

But that's not my way.

So I said "Actually, it is boring around here all the time." 

My colleague could only agree.

At my library there are crazy people, minor local celebrities, wildly adorable children, special one of a kind cultural events. The high watermarks of the human mind are ever at one's fingertips. There are diverse people of diverse backgrounds to talk to. There are new stories from patrons and co-workers and fascinating books everywhere you turn. Variable tasks, complicated problems, and unusual mysteries abound.

But, at heart, it's work. And it's boring.

Shelving, typing, requesting, searching, talking. Blah blah blah. Over and over.

So half of one's job is just making it interesting enough to bear, interesting enough to like, interesting enough to be interesting. Mostly one can do it. One can joke and chat with patrons and co-workers, one can apply oneself fiercely to their work, one can revel in being appraised of what's going on, one can read every chance they get, one can race over thoughts of everything happening around them for their blog, one can apply deep conviction to helping patrons, and one can disappear into dreams. There is a mighty lot one can do to make it all work.

But scintillating blog post stories, frightful tantrum throwing teen patrons, and challenging tasks though there may be, it's still pretty boring around here. And one should be a little careful about pretending too much, even if pretending a lot can be a pretty good idea.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Things not said

I cannot write a normal post today. The reason for this is that I came up with an extremely amusing joke. I am terribly sorry, but I cannot tell you this, frankly, hilarious joke. And yet, I can't think about anything else except my desire to tell you this joke. This makes it almost impossible to work out exciting new fresh things to tell you about. I keep trying, instead, to work out some way to tell you this joke. But no, it is not to be. So I am going to have to not tell you this splendid joke.

Instead, what I will do, is give you the five reasons I cannot tell you this very funny joke.

1. It is about a very specific library patron, who, no matter the crime committed, and the time served, is entitled to a certain amount of institutional anonymity at her local library. I will tell this joke personally, but not publicly. I know this doesn't seem so public because it's very quiet around here, but every few weeks someone gets horribly lost on the Internet and ends up here. "Where am I?" They say. "A public place" I say, but not one easy to find.

2. I can't tell. Has she suffered enough already? Yes, I know, not knowing who or what I'm talking about you can't answer that question. Sorry.

3. I, knowing that I wouldn't be telling you this joke, told you that it is extremely amusing, very funny, frankly hilarious and splendid. This is like putting a curse on a joke, and makes it very hard for anyone thus informed, with their expectations so wildly raised, to find it funny. So, at this point, if I tell you the joke, it will not be an extremely amusing, very funny, frankly hilarious, or splendid joke, even if it really is all those things, because it is only all those things provided I don't tell the joke to you.

4. While this person is sort of famous, it is more of a local fame, and giving you the proper background required undercuts the glamorous and dazzling precision of the joke as I came up with it, in situ.

5. Data privacy practices are meaningless if one isn't willing to feel the burn every once in awhile and actually protect people's private data. We will have to both feel the burn here.

If this is unbearable to you, not hearing the joke, I understand. Since I will tell this joke personally, you could email and I would tell you the joke, but you would need to understand the following three things:

1. I'll still have to be slightly more general about the joke than is ideal.

2. This is just between us.

3. The joke is actually not very funny at all.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Painting Starry Night again

Joni Mitchell said something once in a concert that has always stuck with me. She was performing her music in front of an enthusiastic crowd for an emblematic live album. People were calling out songs they'd like to hear, and she said:

nobody ever said to Van Gogh, 'Paint us Starry Night again, man!' You know?
nobody ever said to Van Gogh, 'Paint us Starry Night again, man!' You know?
"Nobody ever said to Van Gogh, 'Paint us Starry Night again, man!' You know?"

In the full, expanded quote she said "You know" three times though.

Perhaps my original strong reaction to this statement was because it was so pungent. There's one of the greatest singer songwriters ever complaining about her job to her enthusiastic fans. But once the quote was seared into my consciousness it became a kind of marker of my perspective. How I felt about her quote seemed to change with me through time, like my response to Catcher in the Rye or to being a library clerk. My response quickly started to say more about me, than her.

Ain't that just the way?

What have some of my reactions been? I have been sympathetic (she's practically a god, just let her do what she wants!). I have been correcting (well, really, Van Gogh paintings go for a hundred million dollars. Of course people would like him to paint Starry Night again!). I have been appalled (they just love some of her songs. Is that some sort of a crime?).

But just recently I found myself with a new response to Joni Mitchell's quote. I thought of poor Vincent Van Gogh, painting some of the greatest works of art in the history of mankind, and no one wants them. He had to be pretty sure they were good, almost positive, you know, but all these people going up to his latest for the ages masterpiece, looking at it for about a second and a half, and saying "No, I like it. My cousin does a bit of painting too on the side, mostly fruit, you know. I think you'd like it. It's a bit like your stuff, maybe a bit tidier. I should show you the drawing he sent me some time.", well, it had to make him feel a bit unsteady. So I'm thinking Van Gogh might have appreciated a little real interest in his painting.

"Hey, Van Gogh, paint us Starry Night again, man! That starry night shit was awesome!"

"Thank you for your interest." Van Gogh says "But that's not really how I work. I paint something new each time."

"That's cool. But still, I love me that Starry Night shit. Starry Night rocks!"

"Well, I mean. If you like it so much you can have it, if you want. I have a lot of paintings."

"Dude, are you serious? I can have Starry Night? I am going to freaking explode. Seriously, I can have this?"

"Sure, yeah, um, why not?"

"Oh         My         Fucking          God! Oh my fucking god. You, sir Van Gogh, you fucking rock! YOU FUCKING ROCK!!!!  Starry Night! STARRY NIGHT!  WOOOOOOO!"

"Oh wow, did you just, like, give that guy, like, Starry Night?"

"Yes, I think he really liked it."

"I absolutely love Starry Night. I adore Starry Night. I would marry Starry Night and have its babies!"

"You would?"

"Oh, wow. That was awesome that you gave it to him, but, Mr. Van Gogh, you have got to paint Starry Night again. You have got to! Please?"

"Right. Yes, see, as I was just explaining, I don't really do that. I paint a new picture every time."

"You do?"

"Yes, see all these paintings? There are flowers, and people. This is a peach tree. This one is a farmhouse. Here is a drawing of a garden I did, with a little cat and a bucket. The cat looks a bit funny but I'm really pleased with the bucket."

"But I LOVE Starry Night. I loooooovvvve  L-O-V-E love Starry Night!"

"Well, that's very nice..."

"Pleeeaasse paint Starry Night again. Pleeease? Pullllleeeeeeeeeaaaaase. Pleez pleez pleez pleez pleez? Please paint Starry Night???"

"Look. Here's this one called Cafe Terrace. It has stars. Look at the stars."

"Oh, this is a nice one."

"And see this one? This is called Starry Night Over the Rhone."

"Wow, these are good. Did you know that you are a really good painter?"


"I bet you could sell some of these. These are really good."

"Thank you."

"No, really, I'm serious, you could be a professional painter."

"That's very kind of you to say."

"Hey, are you the guy who's giving out free Starry Nights?"


"I heard there's some guy giving out free Starry Nights over here, and I thought 'Cool, I dig Starry Night. I could totally go for a Starry Night.' So here I am. Can I have my free Starry Night?"

"There are not multiple Starry Nights. I gave Starry Night to someone, but there's just the one. It's a painting you know. One of a kind."

"Oh, well that's cool, but could you paint Starry Night again so I could have one?"

"No! I cannot paint Starry Night again!"

"Well, I mean, respectfully, why not? Obviously you painted it before, so you know how. What's the big deal?"

"It's just, it's not how it works. Ugh! I wish I could just paint something once and everyone could share in having it. I bet no one ever said, like, you know, 'Hey, Joni Mitchell, write us Both Sides Now again, man.'"

"Okay, dude, chill. I get it. Hey, can I have this Sunflower picture?"

Hmm, that didn't go where I was planning. I'm pretty sure there's a point in here somewhere. I hope you'll feel welcome to work out whichever one you want. 

But don't make me do all this again.