Saturday, February 28, 2015
I was upstairs at my library shelving today when I was hit by the sudden, strange realization: I love books.
I forgive you for thinking "Well, obviously", but I'm not talking about that. I'm not talking about the complicated reading, novel, storytelling, writing part of books, the center of books. For too long I have confused that love, particular and exacting, mercurial, discerning and eccentric, with my love of the book, the physical object, the rectangular thing seeking to engage my attention. It is these self selling packages of seductive promises that I almost unreservedly love. These unabashed siren calls to other worlds that fascinate me. I love their barely suggesting titles, their expressive fonts, and the color of the spine. I love the author photograph, the synopsis I wish would tell the whole story, the glowing quotes, and the picture worth a thousand words cover. I love the blocky heft and the riffleability, the moody color schemes, and the author's life summed up into four sentences. I love the publishing information page, the end papers, the introductory quote, the numbers of the pages, the prize announcements, the publisher's symbol, the wily subtitle, the discreet price, and the references to bestsellerdom. It's all such a feast! A feast of promise and information and expectation and illusion. Or it's like a present, there in its little box that's not a box, never entirely giving itself away but full of a thousand fascinating hints.
Though I am an open-minded and voracious reader you could convince me to try reading only a paltry percentage of all the books there are. And of those that I might agree to peruse at you excellent suggestion, I would, in the end, only fully read through a quite small selection.
But put a book in my hands, any book ever, of any genre or make or year or condition, and ask me to look it over?
With pleasure. Indeed, you needn't even ask.
Friday, February 27, 2015
The new statistics on what I write about here have just rolled in from the clerkmanifesto combination signal tower, astrolabe and fly strip for stardust. This blog originally was mainly for the purpose of writing about working as a clerk at a library. I still do that some. But one fateful day when I was shelving books up in fiction I was bitten by an escaped, radioactive bookworm and developed unusual powers.
Some things changed.
I write about other things. Evolving, growing, mysterious things. And so, for example, if you have been wondering "Hey, aren't I reading a lot more about myself on this blog?" You would be correct. That subject indeed has become quite prominent here. But I don't want you to have to wonder about these things. I want you to be up to date. I want you to have a good grounding. I don't want you to wonder if anything you have read here is a figment of your imagination. Everything you have read here is a figment of your imagination.
These are the ten things I currently write about the most here on clerkmanifesto. For drama I have listed the subjects in ascending order, like angels, smoke, and snowflakes that are lighter than the air.
7. The Internet
6. The arts
5. Libraries and library life
4. The beasts of the air and ground
But know you this: These are just the horses we ride. We are crossing the desert.
Thursday, February 26, 2015
I ran into a long time ago co-worker the other day at my library. Actually, and here's what work longevity will do for you, I ran into three former co-workers on that day, marking distinct geologic eras in the history of my library. None of them would have even known each other. Their time just layered up one on top of the other. Anyway, I hadn't seen this particular co-worker in three to five years so we caught up some. In the course of this catching up I brought up my blog.
You might be surprised, but when I'm talking to people who don't know about my blog I almost never bring it up. I know, here, on this blog, I bring up my blog constantly, relentlessly. In listing the current categories of what this blog is about, "itself" now holds the top ranking.
"Why wouldn't you tell these people?" You ask. "Wouldn't this be one of the best possible ways to spread your blog across the multiverse?"
You would think so. And so would I. But you can pretty much set your watch by whatever I would think would be true about this blog being precisely wrong. Though this is terribly irritating, it also has a comforting reliability about it. It's like if I am sure it must be 8:30 in the morning I need merely figure what time is the most distinctly different from 8:30 to ascertain the actual correct time. I think it is 8:30 in the morning therefore it must be 11:47 in the evening. I think it would make me famous, but telling people about my blog, even people who particularly like me, tends to be as effective a way to draw in new readers as, um, putting my blog on the Internet.
"Wow, a blog! I'll check it out, definitely. What's the address?" My acquaintance says because that's good manners and my acquaintance has perfectly nice manners. I write "clerkmanifesto.com" on a post it note. The note gets left laying on a nearby desk so I can give it to them again. They cram it in a pocket and find it two weeks later. Because they said they would, they do finally go to my blog. They don't land on one of the really great posts, whatever those are. Instead they land at this one. They get a very queasy, disturbed feeling as they read it. They quietly turn off their computer and have a lie down.
I'm not saying this isn't one of the really good posts. I mean, you're not wasting your time. Just, it's an advanced post. It will confuse neophytes.
But to return to this encounter, I told my former comrade in arms about clerkmanifesto because at that point in the conversation it was too relevant to not bring it up. My old co-worker said something like "What's it about?"
"Mostly itself." I answered honestly. "It's the greatest blog on the Internet." I added.
My former co-worker laughed and said "You always were modest."
Actually I am very modest and gracious wherever I feel appreciated. You watch, leave a warm comment about some post, say something nice to me, and I'm terribly humble and truly grateful, even awed. I can hardly believe it.
But otherwise I like to play the fool. I like to roar and dance about under the moon and cover myself with mud and flowers and put a few heads on stakes.
I am eager for visitors here, but they must be brave.
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Clerkmanifesto is updating our terms. By reading this you acknowledge acceptance of our updated terms and, in the case of dispute, agree to adjudication by a firm of independent lawyers who aren't actually lawyers and are actually just me. But if that sounds shady let me assure you that I pay myself nothing and so have no incentive to be anything less than impartial in all cases that go to adjudication. Of course, by reading this you are now legally obligated to my adjudication anyway, so it's rather a waste of time for me to try to justify myself. If you don't agree with that then we can take this issue to adjudication, which, as a precaution, I have just done. I have ruled in my favor.
That was not an easy decision to make and I feel I should receive at least a small stipend, but I suppose no stipend is the price one pays for impartiality.
By reading this you also agree to absolve me of any indemnity regarding anything, including the dreaded double indemnity, which always ends badly for everyone. I think the guy is shot and then ends up widowed, raising three boys. Barbara Stanwyck gets nosed out for her best chance at an Academy Award by Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight and has to accept an honorary Oscar from John Travolta which just isn't the same. And you can really tell. And was that Jack Nicholson, Anjelica Huston, and Diane Keaton all sitting together?
You can at any time opt out of the terms of this contract by going back in time to just before you began reading this, but because you will then forget any knowledge of what you read here you will find yourself in the same position you were in when you first chose to read this with no reason to choose any differently than you did in the past. This could easily trap you in a time loop where you get to this part of our legal terms, travel back in time to forget them, and begin reading them again. For all you know this may be the millionth time you have read these, which is more even than me, and I'm an enormous fan. I'm just saying you might be better off just finishing reading my highly restrictive terms this time around.
It's not all bad news for you in these updated terms. The requirement that you memorize four clerkmanifesto blog posts has been reduced to three, and you are no longer legally liable for not snickering at my jokes when they're not actually funny.
You are however now required to read one of the following three books in the next two years: The Wizard of Earthsea, The Wee Free Men, or Uncle Boris in the Yukon. If the term "Blog" comes up in any conversation you are not in any way required to mention clerkmanifesto, but you are legally obligated to look seriously irritated until it does come up or the subject is changed. Also, in paragraph 7, sect. 7, prod. 11, line 2 the phrase "Automatically deducted from my checking account between two and four cents" should now read " The flower blooms for the fruit: when the fruit comes, the flower withers."
You don't have to believe everything I say, or agree with it, or think it's important. But according now to the terms of this contract, you will henceforth require alternatives.
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
We have a program here at my library called Read It Down. Children can spend time reading as an alternative to paying their fines. They come read and get credits against their fines. I'm okay with the program. It's once a month, sends a few odd and mixed messages (pay for your mistakes with reading. "No! Anything but reading!"), but it is somewhat practical and enabling.
Recently a middle-aged man, not having read the fine print, or, really, the medium sized print either, announced to one of my colleagues that he wouldn't pay for his rental DVDs now. He would just do Read It Down later. When it was explained to him that Read It Down was for children he was bitter. "You mean I have to drag a child in here to read for me?" He asked incredulously, continuing to confuse as much as he could short of trying to breathe in the stapler.
No, no! No one needs to drag a child into our library! This is the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Library, we keep all the children in caves underneath the library where their ceaseless reading powers our budget. No adults need pay any fines because of this.
Or, wait, maybe we're The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas Library?
The weird thing is that, though I very much dislike this belligerent man and just wish he would go away, I think we actually should have Read It Down for adults exactly like him. I feel that this is precisely the kind of person who could be ennobled by being coerced into reading. He could have his heart opened. He could be shown the signposts to enlightenment. Just so long as I get to pick the reading material. Aye, I've got the two above stories lined up for him already, and a nice slew for after, too.
Monday, February 23, 2015
Who dares to ride against me?
Who will challenge my title as the greatest writer on the Internet?
You? Will you risk the ignominious defeat discovered by the millions before you, with your precious, heartfelt, exacting prose left demolished and staked in the desert to be devoured by carrion birds and insects. Are you up for that, because it is coming.
Your novel may have been called the best of the decade by Time Magazine. You may hold an Oscar, a National Book Award, a Pulitzer, a Newbery, a Hugo, or a Booker Prize. You could even be a Nobel laureate who sells a million copies of everything you write. Major motion pictures may be made from every word you whisper. It is possible that every morning you set down to write at Mark Twain's old writing desk, in a seven million dollar beach home you bought from your voluptuous writing proceeds, while a personal assistant runs all your annoying errands.
Indeed, you may even have more than 25 regular readers.
But look around you. Success is nothing. The barest glance at history can tell you that it is for monsters and killers, scoundrels and compromisers, lottery winners and diseases. None of that success will avail you here on my ground. There is no judge you can trick, no outside arbiter, no rules to be better at, no advantage to exact. Popularity cannot save you. These are the unforgiving plains. There is nothing but wind and desolation and beauty and war cries. This is a place where even stone has been beaten and worn to sand. This is my land.
You cannot win here. Look into my eyes, my wild eyes. Look into the eyes of the greatest writer on the Internet. Look at my face. This is the face of success.
And it means nothing.
There is only the truth, and maybe a little love.
Sunday, February 22, 2015
Another winter morning walk.
It was bitter and windy and the sky had that blue you usually have to go someplace wild to see. Birds, no chickens (except when they're chickens), were letting themselves be tossed about that sky like so many loose feathers. The sidewalks were coated in a freshly fallen layer of ice, but it was a rough ice, the texture of sandpaper, so one could walk on it with a mostly normal gait.
I traveled along collecting blog posts, which have surprisingly been left lying about all over my city, like the discarded wrappers from fast food or like old silver dollars from the 1800s, depending, I suppose, on how one feels about the resulting essay. A dog barked at me, and I killed it in my head. I lost track of time and distance.
And then I was near the spot along the river where I sometimes run into my spirit animal, a turkey who dispenses wisdom with such vigor that I tend to not quite catch any of it. Because I was thinking about the turkey I was also thinking it probably wouldn't show. That's how it usually works.
And indeed it did seem to go that way this time. I arrived in turkey land, the place where the local spirit turkeys hang out, to find just more path and ice and wind. But just as I felt a pang of disappointment, a great shadow swept slowly over me. I threw my head back searching the sky. For a moment there was nothing there and I was bewildered. Then, of a sudden, an enormous bald eagle, not seven feet above me, swept up and past my shoulder and, flung by the wind, rose all at once high into the sky.
It was a substitute spirit animal! My turkey had the day off!
The eagle was terribly beautiful, but it did not have a great deal of wisdom to impart. But that's how it is with substitutes: it's mostly just about them being there.
Saturday, February 21, 2015
I had this idea for a post about torque transmission systems in library shelving and particularly the new Perseus Alphabetization System that all the library trade magazines are going nuts over these days.
You would have learned a lot.
My first sentence was going to have been:
The "R" preceding "L" in the Perseus Alphabetization System is undoubtedly brilliant but suffers from some integration flaws we can still fix if we hurry.
Just before I wrote that, though, I had a thought come leaping into my mind.
What about fun?
What about fun!!
I am no beat writer for Library Trends and Forecasters Weekly, or The Journal of Alphabetical Research and Design, or Library Systems Obscure Tech Today.
No, I'm just a simple blogger.
And as delighted as I am with your company, as pleased as I am that you are a reader, I am not here to keep you informed, up to date, or to make you a better person, a better clerk, librarian, or citizen. I am not here to advocate for up to date library technology resources, better shelving systems, or an enlightened Internet.
I am here to party.
I am here to get so drunk on words that I can't see straight, until I am laughing hysterically, stumbling madly through my blog, shooting wicked bon mots into the ceiling until the plaster is raining down like stardust, until I am falling down the stairs like a giggling ragdoll and vowels are pouring out of my ears, red and lush like rubies and slaughter in a glorious, terrible, drunken stream as my consciousness slips away amid gales of laughter and dancing.
We may also go bowling.
Friday, February 20, 2015
One young man lost a phone. Lately it's often the phones. Why not? They're little and expensive and full of information. It's a good thing to freak out over. This kid, twenty or so, was convinced his chair ate it. The chair looked innocent to me, an amazing feat when one considers the hard life it has lived. Teams of people were brought in to poke at that poor chair. We hunted down our smallest worker who then forced her arm into a small gap in the back part of the seat of the chair in order to find nothing. Judging from her hard veterinary work you could easily see it would have taken a mallet to drive a phone into that gap. But the patron was not mollified. Something in people's desperation when they lose a valuable drives them mad and gives them a strange and vital energy. Ultimately the "Buildings" people were called upstairs. Before long they were disassembling the chair. All at the assertive patron's persistent instigation.
I am not always pitch perfect at when to say "no" to patrons. Sometimes my "No" is late and a bit licentious, and sometimes it cuts it all short. But I think my average is about right. For lost items I lean towards the early "No." I take losing things very hard myself, so being softer and more sympathetic would be more consistent, but that has to go up against all my experience. I have spent a lot of time looking hopelessly for patrons' items that I know I won't find. I don't mind looking when finding is possible, but when the desperate patron just wants me to keep looking for looking's sake, because they don't want to face the loss directly, I put my foot down. If that chair had been my call, if I were the point person on the chair I would have said "No. Enough." I knew it was not in the chair. I will look while hope is alive, but I don't like humoring.
It doesn't help that these intensely persistent people are never particularly nice about it. There's always a faint air of accusation. "My phone has gone missing in your library. What are you going to do about it?" Or "It's your chair that ate my phone!" I helped a man today who lost his wallet. "I lost my wallet after you helped me. Do you have my wallet?"
"No. I'm terribly sorry." I look all over for it. I am looking in any possible spot. I am even humoring him. "No" I say "It hasn't shown up here. It's always worth checking back later." All of this is fine. Indeed I am even still sympathetic. But then he just stays there, staring at me. When he won't move on, my warmth starts leaking from me and pooling on the floor. "Do something" he seems to say in his futile occupying of my line. But there is nothing left to do. And there we are, at a stand still. If only his wallet would come join us.
Thankfully he returns to himself, with a visible effort of will, and he moves on. But it is not always like this.
A man left his expensive phone in his bag to go get a coffee yesterday. When he came back it was gone! He had many suspects, basically all the African Americans in the library, ample reason to stonewall him right there. He had staff members running to and fro. The police were brought in. He had elaborate theories. He wanted to see the video footage. His phone was called while staff walked by certain possible suspects, listening. I didn't have anything to do with that one, but if I had been around for any of it I would have put an egg in my shoe and beaten it as soon as I could. He was a "No" every chance you got as far as I was concerned. Some people just are. Let the manager have them as soon as possible because that's who it'll end up with anyway.
And did we find anything? I don't know about that wallet, but both the phones showed up. No one is operating a phone theft ring in our library. Our chairs have not developed a freakish taste for small electronics. The phones were in their respective bags all along.
Thursday, February 19, 2015
It is most famous as a way to sell prospective movies: the mash-up. For example: "It's Bad News Bears meets The Matrix. Plucky but troubled kids realize they're in a reality simulation with the help of a super cool pool cleaner." But, alas, movies have moved on from the mash-up and have become focused far more on the retell:
"It's Star Trek!"
"Yes, Star Trek meets what?"
"No, no, just Star Trek again, but new."
So the mash-up has had to go seek more fertile pastures. Fortunately they have found in books a happy home. One can hardly look at a book cover quote these days without seeing a mash-up. It's The Great Gatsby meets The Hunger Games! Man, I want to read that! Whatever it is, I mean. I read both of them and now presumably I can get all that quality in a single dose. I don't have time to read two books! I have a blog to write!"
"Oh, really, what kind of blog do you write?"
"It's sort of Bridget Jones Diary meets Bartleby, the Scrivener."
Who can resist the mash-up, especially if you're a book reviewer and you want to see yourself plastered onto book covers. But really, they're for anyone. They're so evocative, leading, suggestive, and, above all, economical. You can get your puny sentence to partake of whole beautiful novels and all the rich feelings they bring, but also you get to pretend to great creative insight through your juxtaposition of unlike things. It's like sticking a cherry bomb in a frog, irresistible!
Wait, did I just suggest that sticking a cherry bomb in a frog is irresistible? I'm pretty sure I can resist that. I'm nearly positive I can resist that!
Nevertheless, exploding frogs aside, the mash-up may be too valuable a tool to leave to narrative. It's just such a dynamic way to describe something. There I am at the library I work at. I am shelving.
Wait, what am I doing?
Ah, Shelving. It's, um, sort of Nineteen Eighty-Four meets The Little Prince.
Who will I be on the front desk with later?
Well, she's like Pollyanna meets The Metamorphosis.
And where is it I work, how shall we mash-up my library?
How about Papillon meets Winnie the Pooh?
The Odyssey meets The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death?
War and Peace meets Go Dog Go?
Oh hell, in the end, just grab any two books off our shelves. That should be accurate enough.
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
My hat off to you for finding this. I am very, very impressed. Of all the billions of people on the Internet (and there are over three billion people on the Internet!) only you, and perhaps a few other people, have managed to find this page. I have used all my craft and ingenuity to hide it as carefully as possible. Ultimately my goal was to conceal it so well that no one in the whole world could suss it out. But I guess with three billion people poking around out here there was bound to be at least one who was so damnably clever, so wily, adventurous, and daring that they smoked me out.
Well, welcome, you've earned it!
The genius of the Internet is in its ability to take everything of immediate interest, no matter how tiny, and bring it to breathtaking prominence. As Flannery O'connor so ably put it: Everything that rises must converge. And so the floor of the Internet is littered with content, new things in the trillions have been left there just in the time you've read this, but many are the restless eyes that search. And as each arresting item catches someone's eye it is raised up, and as each set of eyes on it doubles it raises up some more. So as this eye-catching, wildly attractive content rises and rises it is more and more visible, prominent, hard to miss, and alone. But as it raises up it requires more and more viewers to keep it aloft. Even with three billion of them, there are only so many sets of eyes.
But what catches the human eye? If you do not know, I say go stumble into the Internet for a few minutes. I can wait here. But I think you know. It must be familiar and unusual, visceral and conceivable. Conventional and new. And above all, it should be easy, terribly easy.
I have put no glinting sheen on this. There are no arresting images. No one is hawking it. No one here is famous or connected. It is not loud or amazing or a one in a million shot. There is nothing particularly easy about it. I nestled it into the quietest spot I could find, a thousand feet below the surface. I have slid it together with all the vast forgottens of the Internet, too numerous to count.
And yet here you are.
You are probably some kind of genius.
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
I am the cat of the Internet, roaming your fencelines in the night, making my solo rounds. When the dogs are all inside asleep I go my way, wherever I choose. Nothing can keep me out.
I am not the cat you click on. I am not that cat of the Internet. Pfui! No fluffy kitten I, no acrobatic indoor nutcase, or irritated dressable princeling. If you try and photograph me you'll find naught but a gray blur. I am not your cat, sleeping on your windowsill, eating your food, dancing your dance. I piss on your Internet in the night. This Internet has been abandoned and now it is my Internet and mine alone.
I eat meat I hunt myself: baby bunnies, songbirds, bugs, mice, whatever I can catch and I can catch anything. I am not particular so long as there is a bit of a chase and lunge. I always leave a smear of dark blood on the pavement so you will marvel at my prowess in the morning.
That three a. m. yowling is me, crying "I am the King of the Internet" Over and over and over again. You can depart from this message to you, this yowl, and you can roam your Internet for hours, like you're chasing a dancing bit of string, but you will never find so beautiful a yowl as mine here, piercing the night. I yowl until I am done yowling, or until a shoe comes flying out of a house. That's my shoe now. Everything out here is mine. This is my Internet.
I may be reviled and my name may be cursed, but what could that possibly matter to me? I have my domain and it is all I survey. I have my sweetheart at home, and I have my quick paws. Every once in awhile an admirer will set out a saucer of cream for me on a quiet porch. I drink it, my just due, if I feel like it. I hum in my body and I leap, gauge another note with my claws, graffiti like, a nuisance, beautiful, and I am away.
Monday, February 16, 2015
It is a conundrum, a puzzle, and it is very difficult to solve, but you're probably smart enough.
Here is the set up:
We work in tandem, a bunch of clerks, pages, whatever you call us. One of us works in one place for an hour or two, and then another of us comes along to replace the first. Some of these jobs are very diffuse. You arrive to do the job and it is impossible to tell if the person working there before you has been working very hard or has hardly been working at all. Some jobs are mostly at the whim of whatever comes to you at the time you are there. At the front desk, for instance, you are either busy or not, and it is beyond your control. But some jobs are very specific. Some jobs have very measurable work. There were two full bins here at the start of the hour, now there are none.
Here is the puzzling scenario:
The person before you, at the station you will be going to work at, has two bins. If they work very hard they will get both bins done. If they poke around on the Internet, and sit around chatting, and generally just do their own thing, they will get close to nothing done. If that person does the work and finishes the two bins, then, really, the fair thing is that when it's your turn you step up and work pretty hard too. They have set a standard worth living up to. It is time to step up to this high standard! The only problem is that now there is no work to do! On the other hand, if they have lazed about the whole time that they were over there, sitting around with all those still full bins, then, well, that's pretty disrespectful to you, and the whole stupid place you work at is falling apart anyway, and the hell with it, don't you deserve a little downtime? You do. You do deserve downtime! So you might as well do nothing. The only problem is that you're now totally backed up, and you really need to get to work, which is really too unfair for words.
In short: When it is right and good for you to work hard there is nothing much to do, and when you richly deserve to take it easy you are swamped.
Fortunately, as these are the two extremes, I am only faced with this terrible puzzle occasionally. There is, of course, one solution to it, and I am guessing you have already smoked it out:
You march right into your supervisors office, and you say, without equivocation or hesitation, "I have a terrible headache. I think I'd better go home."
And then you do.
Sunday, February 15, 2015
There is a song I can't get out of my head these days. I wander around the backroom of the library singing it. I am unreasonably loud, but terribly earnest. It plays in my head at every moment of the day, into the night, on my walks, in the air. If someone steps away from that one computer we have, over by the phones, the only one with speakers (my speakers!), I immediately slip in and set the song playing. I just have to hear it one more time. I gather my co-workers around. No, this is it, I say, pretending that somehow they might care. In that moment I can't imagine how they can't, just, technically it is beyond the power of my imagination. I am riveted.
Fever roll up to a hundred and five
Roll on up
gonna roll back down
This sort of fever happens to me occasionally. Usually it involves songs that hit some kind of piercing moment of intensity, songs with a peak. These sometimes involve a short string of broken, raggedly, perfectly harmonizing voices. That's what it is this time. It's the rhythm, that thudding, moseying, bouncing guitar, that cracking apart voice, and something about the words, those words, but mostly it's that peak, or not mostly, fundamentally. I can hear the song straining to be released from the song itself. I can hear the song starting to come out of the song. I can almost believe it will tear it open.
And then, no. Just the song. A sad song. And it's over.
Of course, I can point out the peak to you at precisely 3:39, but to get all of it you'd need the time from 3:00 to about 3:50, but, fairly enough, it probably works best if you just listen to it over and over and over and over. There is no portion alone that can tell you about my fever for it.
Tonight I listened to every live version of the song I could find, but the band could never again seem to hit that 3:39 thing in any of those live versions I heard. Ragged and beautiful harmonies are things of fate, and the Grateful Dead, as any fan will tell you, have always been at their best in the studio.
Saturday, February 14, 2015
Look around you. Don't be low and downtrodden. There is something good and beautiful that you have. Look! It is there even though it may be small. There may be only a few, scattered petals of it. You may have forgotten it. But it is glorious, and every scrap of it that you can see is yours because you once wanted it with your whole heart. All love is yours and was made by your truest longing, for true longing alone can give birth to love and beauty. Despair if you like at how hard that is. It is hard. But it is also proof. Somewhere, sometime, you wanted it down to your boots and your soul. That is the only way to call it, the only way it can come. I don't care if you believe in God. What is that to me? But you are the Moon Wizard, you call the sun down to earth and you set the starlight traveling through the darkness. God is fine, go talk about god as you like, but you know how to do the greater thing. You have woven bone into flowers. Look at them there at your feet. Do not despair. You may have made mistakes you can never turn back from, but once, through the force of your will, you set love free.
Friday, February 13, 2015
I tried to tell you this yesterday, or the day before, but the rule of these daily writings is that we take the first good exit we come to.
Because we will always be back.
I am back.
Have you seen what I write about lately? I have. And sometimes I come to the place where I think "Why don't I tell the truth for awhile?" Even if every writer who ever lived has known to do better than that.
You can't get there. You can't quite get to the truth. It is terrible, but you can't.
So today I am going to go out and tell you about the first three patrons I see while I'm shelving in fiction. No tricks.
1. First patron. White haired, sitting in a chair by the glass looking out over the atrium. She is almost swallowed up in her huge, puffy blue coat. She appears to be writing notes on little bits of paper, which, curiously, is precisely what I'm doing.
2. Second patron. Middle-aged woman in my aisle, down on the far end. She has reading glasses on (like me!) and is perusing our literature in a considering sort of way. I am trying to memorize where on the shelves she is so that I can report what she was looking at (and, ultimately, what she rejected) when she leaves. From here, of course, I can barely see anything at all about the books she's looking over. Nevertheless, the name "Kent Haruf" pops into my mind. I write it off as impossible for me to know, but it turns out that it isn't. She was indeed interested in the Kent Haruf books, but in the end, not interested enough.
3. Third patron. Another woman, also in a blue jacket. Everyone seems to be keeping their jacket on in here. Well, it is a bit chilly up in fiction today. I only see this woman for a couple seconds as she walks by. Her walk is brisk, even a bit jaunty as she heads back towards periodicals, but it's a broken jaunty walk, a couple of small limps are hidden in it, maybe a bad knee. The woman is balding, restless, industrious. While I write this she heads back the way she came, empty handed and just a tick slower. As a shelve I see her walk past, back and forth, half a dozen more times on a mission I will never discover.
And what's the point of all this?
I just wanted you to know it's not a sitcom around here all the time.
Thursday, February 12, 2015
As you probably know by now your dog is dead. But whether you were under the misapprehension that your dog was merely snoozing under his favorite tree (he isn't), or you already buried him, I would like to offer my condolences. I also apologize. Unfortunately, I have killed your dog.
Firstly let me assure you that this was not a premeditated act on my part. As I was walking by your yard, your dog, teeth bared and barking fiercely, sprang at the chain link fence separating us. Startled, I pulled out my animal tranquilizer pistol and shot him. With enough drug to sedate a horse now coursing through his bloodstream, your dog wandered drunkenly over to your tree, stopped breathing, and collapsed. I can assure you that his death was painless, and, in a way, he died happy, protecting his family home. Except, of course, he wasn't actually protecting his family home since I had no designs on your family home.
You may at some point wonder why I carry with me a loaded animal tranquilizer gun. I do so to protect myself from the rabid raccoons, possums, and skunks that travel up the storm drains from the river into our neighborhood. I do not carry it to shoot dogs, though, admittedly, that is what seems to keep happening.
Because I shot and killed your beloved pet you are maybe wondering and worrying "Is my neighbor a dangerous psychopath?"
Please be reassured, I am most emphatically not. If the very fact of my writing this note of apology for killing your dog doesn't establish that, then I feel that your pet cat's supremely warm reception of me does. From the moment I came near your property your cat seemed nothing other than extraordinarily pleased with me and with every activity I engaged in on your property. If you have any concerns regarding the safety of your other pets please know that your cat has absolutely nothing to fear from me.
Once again, I am sorry I shot your dog, and I do hope we can continue to have warm neighborly relations.
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Here I am shelving in fiction and I have made it to "I". Specifically to ISHI. I am shelving at the author Kazuo Ishiguro. Last time I was here I took his book Never Let Me Go. It didn't. I read it in two days, and I would have read it faster if I could have. It was gripping. It was a gripping and terrible book. And when I say "terrible" I mostly don't mean it in the grand, Biblical sense of "Lo, a terrible flood was upon them." but much more in the contemporary sense of "This cheese whiz tastes terrible!"
But I am not here to convince you that Never Let Me Go is a terrible book. I doubt I am absolutely alone in my feeling, but when I look at what all is slathered across the covers and first pages of the book I feel I may as well be. TIME calls it "The best novel of the decade." The New York Times says it's a "Gothic tour de force". "Ingenious" is the New Yorker's key descriptive, and the "most persuasive science fiction you'll read" is part of how The Atlantic Monthly describes it. I can only begin to take a little bit of heart at The New Republic's subtly cowardly description of Never Let Me Go as "almost miraculous." So then it isn't miraculous? I am able to agree with that one. It also, according to the back cover, almost won the Man Booker Prize, but here's the important New Republicy thing about that one too: It didn't win the Man Booker Prize. The Sea won it, a book that I have nothing against other than that I got too bored to finish reading a four sentence description of it. It sounded sort of like Never Let Me Go, only without the gripping part.
And herein lies the problem with greatness. Here is why I try to forsake it when I can: no matter how sure I am of the greatness of Dylan and Jane Austen and Bernini and Caravaggio, I know that with each one I bring most of the greatness with me. We all do, everywhere. It is all darkness without us, marks on a page, smears of color, sounds, chipped away marble. There are millions of artists out there. And after they are done with creating it all falls apart. We put it together again. Never Let Me Go can be plastered with a million magazine quotes, but they're all talking about something different than everyone else, recognizable, but not the same. And the hell with it, all of those fancy reviewers are right. If they want Never Let Me Go to be great they are very well equipped to make it so.
But here is the thing, and if I must ruin Never Let Me Go for you in the process, so be it. It is a small price to pay, especially for me. When it comes time for us to reconstruct the artist's work inside of ourselves there has to be enough space left within the art itself for us to do so. Sometimes there is too little space and we cannot make the work come to life. But occasionally, like in Never Let Me Go there is too much space. The space falls in on itself. It is not space anymore, but a giant hole, swirling, black and full of gravity in the very heart of the story.
Never Let Me Go is mostly about three people growing up in a kind of isolated orphanage/boarding school. With a studied naturalism it follows their development and twisting relationships. Despite all this English School normalcy though, these young people are clones, clones who are raised to help take care other clones who are in a slow process of donating their organs until they're dead. And when they are done with their role as "carers", taking care of donors, they begin the donations themselves.
Now, if you did not read this book there is a very fine chance that you are thinking "That, um, sounds a bit stupid." Pitch that one to TIME Magazine and they are not likely to think "Best novel of the decade." But here is the trick: No one in the book ever really talks about any of this directly. The truth of the situation emerges like something displacing fog. All the organ donorship and slow horror and strange tragedy is shown entirely in negative space, not named, but defined by everything around it.
And here is how that works: The idea that a group of teenagers, growing up in an at least somewhat free and self expressive environment, wouldn't, at some point, in between reading the classics and slogging out their complicated relationships and growing up, at some point in there say "Wait, seriously, you're going to cut my organs out of me until I die!" is so wildly outlandish and misunderstanding of human beings that, if instead of taking in that that is a ridiculous and frankly insane premise, if you'd rather fill in that giant, sucking narrative hole with anything you've got, then you are the author's slave. But all that junk you fill that gaping hole with, that's yours. That is not Kazuo Ishiguro's.
Okay, maybe I am trying to convince you that Never Let Me Go is a terrible book. You and me both.
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
Imaginary people ask me "Do you lie a lot in your blog?"
To which I answer "Only when absolutely necessary."
And they civilly reply "Liar!"
"Yes, yes," I say. "Fair enough. But I had to."
Or, to circle in on it, you read an amazing amount of blogs. You spend several hours a day keeping up with all the fantastic blogs and you wonder "Why are all these blogs so amazingly, freakishly, relentlessly good?"
Because we all just pick out the good parts. We extract stories, collect them like we're beach combers, we distill them from the deadly trickle of life. Yes, life is a leaky faucet, each drip coming inexorably after, but delayed, from the last, ever unavoidable, slowly driving us mad.
But we collect the maddening drips in an array of cups and saucers. We sort them into tubes and vials and vases and glassware. We line them up on windowsills so sunlight and starlight shines through them. Leaves dance behind our arranged waters, the movement of cats, car lights and streetlamps, the falling sun. We tilt them and overlap them, dry them into evocative stains, spill them carefully. We pour in sand and broken glass. We study their effect of light, of obfuscation and illumination.
And if nothing works? If all that clarity of water is too transparent, too invisible, too diamond hard, then we can always add a touch of color.
How? How do we add color?
A drop or two of blood is traditional. I mostly use coffee, lies, and night.
Monday, February 9, 2015
Somewhere in the vast archives of this blog I recounted this banal and fabulous celebrity story. It is a favorite of mine and is perhaps even the starting point for the frequent visitations of the hilarious Bob Dylan to clerkmanifesto.
I don't expect you to remember the story. Wait, no, I do expect you to remember everything, but I recognize that that is a frankly bizarre expectation, so I will happily recount the story here, and then add its absolutely delightful new encore.
I have a friend who is a teacher (he is free to step forward in the comments and take a small bow if he likes), a professor now, I guess, but more of a teacher then, though I suppose it is all the same. More than 20 years ago he was single and he had a friend in the L.A. music business. This friend was friends with one of Dylan's managers, someone who knew Dylan personally. The two of them hatched the idea that my friend and Bob Dylan's daughter should go on a date. In the development process of this grand project the idea found its way to Bob Dylan. Why he had anything to do with it is beyond me, but whatever. It came to Bob Dylan.
"What's he do?" Bob Dylan supposedly asked about my friend.
"He's a teacher."
"I don't want my daughter dating a teacher." Dylan said, and the proposal was dead.
My friend's response to all of it was charming and amusingly awestruck. "To think that I was in his consciousness for even a moment."
I don't know why exactly, maybe because it's fun to imitate Bob Dylan's voice saying dismissively "I don't want my daughter dating a teacher.", but I've told that story a lot. I like it.
Now, fast forward 23 or 24 years. Fast forward to right now. Bob Dylan has a new album of standards. He has granted his first official sort of interview in three years. And what astonishing, fabulous, hilarious and wonderful thing does dear Bob Dylan say in this interview?
"If I had to do it all over again, I'd be a schoolteacher."
Sunday, February 8, 2015
I'll admit I have been writing a lot lately about this blog. Often, quite often, this is a blog about a blog. Who on earth wants to read a blog about itself?!
And when I say "you" I have absolutely no idea what I mean. Yet, at the same time, I know precisely what I mean. I mean You. Simple. And you certainly know exactly what I mean by "you" or you might be in a bit of trouble, psychologically.
But today I did not want to write about my blog. I did not want to write about writing my blog. And I did not want to write about writing about writing my blog. But my overwhelming need to tell you all this sealed my doom.
Which teaches this interesting lesson:
There is nothing wrong with a bit of doom every once in awhile.
Saturday, February 7, 2015
I live in a middle class neighborhood.
No, I live in a Middle Class Neighborhood. Like, when the President, all the Politicians, the commentators, lo, all the nightmare of talking heads, when they talk about the middle class, if you scrape all the bullshit off of it, scrub it, wash it down for hours exclaiming wonderingly "I can't believe how much shit they got all over this!", when you finally, hands chapped and red and raw and cramping, get it moderately clean, that middle class.
It's a good city neighborhood near some nice things like waterfalls and coffee shops, and not too far really from anything. The houses are all on average notably smaller than the other houses of these cities and this country, but being built mostly in the teens, twenties, and thirties of the last century, they are all also prettier, cuter, and more human. Crime runs at a tenuously acceptable low rate with the exception of burglaries. We seem to have more than our share of burglaries. If all those burglars were struck dead as I write I would not mind. I do not think that what they do is beyond the possibility of forgiveness, but the fact that they lack the tiny shred of decency to go to one of our many much wealthier neighborhoods deepens their crime too much for me to want to fuss with all that forgiveness stuff. Stealing is like progressive taxation; a million dollars from Bill Gates is a hardly a crime, but a nickel from a beggar is a grave sin. We are not a neighborhood of beggars, but up that nickel to maybe an ipad and that's the same level we're at.
We have trees and cats and birds and usually enough quietude. Squirrels! Flowers! Snow! It's a lovely neighborhood. If there is anything for me to fret about these days it's usually the room additions. I guess that's economics again. People around here mostly seem to have just enough money to do some kind of add-on just so long as they make sure it's as cheap and ugly as possible. So we get more and more of these sweet little stucco craftsman houses with crappy clapboard half stories that look like they were built in the Seventies jammed onto them. I think people around here spend a lot of time in their houses and figure "let's get it better for us on the inside, to hell with outside." in contrast to the elegant, lovely additions going on in our swankiest neighborhoods: "It should look beautiful on the outside because it represents we who only have time to visit our own houses occasionally."
It all provokes me to sometimes uncharitably think about my neighbors "If you're not willing to sidle around your washing machine to get to a sink maybe you belong in the suburbs!" But I have not given up hope. I think with enough of these freakish ugly additions all the houses will start to look like Frankenstein houses. This will be good for Halloween, when we're at our best anyway as a neighborhood, and it may even start to scare all the burglars away, who, we all know, are cowards, too scared to go where the real money is.
Friday, February 6, 2015
Every once in awhile someone will ask me how long I think I will keep up my unbroken streak of daily blogging. I always say that if my streak did break, and my blog, as I suspect it might, fell apart, it would all be likely to come apart fast, and without warning. It could be two weeks from now or it could be in 27 years. I don't know.
But there is something that keeps me going. There is something that makes me think it will take a mighty hard blow, or a great landslide of disillusionment to sweep all my words away.
Oh, man, the fan!
I cannot begin to tell you how sketchy it is to figure out what is going on with my blog out in the public. I am deluged and fascinated by an array of Google statistics I can pour over from a variety of sources. They tell me suggestive, mysterious things, almost none of them conclusive, nearly all of them misleading or complicating. I am confident of little. Are the readers from Netanya, The Dalles, Quito, Baldwinsville real? Some are, some aren't. I get anecdotal, sometimes even specific accounts, from people that I know personally, and those can instruct me some about their readership habits, and an occasional blog comment is always an emphatic, meaningful measure of engagement, but these are both rare, and unless it all happened today, or quite recently, I figure, what do I know? Things change and they change fast.
Except with the fan.
I know everything about the fan.
He has read every post ever on this blog at least ten times. If there is nothing new he rereads. He delves back into the blog history.
He snorts at every joke, relishing them, rereading them, and snorting again. He chortles in his joy. He is funny to watch reading this, twisting in his chair, making faces, grinning, and then... riveted.
He exclaims things like "That was fantastic!" and "My god!" and "I can't believe this stuff isn't world famous!" and, quietly, like in some holy place "This, this is the best one ever!" He gets chills. He giggles. He sighs. He smiles warmly. He reflects into a deep sadness and a quiet, still wisdom.
He loves this blog. He pours over the deeper meanings of it, is astounded at how richly even the most frivolous seeming post seems to speak profoundly to his life, and he reads closely enough to divine a relentless vision in the blog, an almost religious awareness, a sense that everything is being seen at once and seen perfectly.
He has a life, and there is much in it; work, play, friendship, love, but the blog is a touchstone, a marker, a star, guiding him, rewarding him, centering him. He references it. He brings it up in conversation whenever it seems relevant, and he is always surprised at how amazingly often it seems exactly that: relevant, predictive, insightful, clarifying. He is disappointed when other people do not know this blog, or do not read it all the time, or do not feel precisely like he does about it, because it seems to make the range of other people's discussion smaller, the breadth of their very being into something more constrained and less enlightened.
He is a very big fan.
He is an enormous fan!
Sometimes he is seized with a missionary zeal, and tries to spread the blog he loves so much out into the world, but nothing much happens. He is no salesman and doesn't know so many people. He doesn't understand why it doesn't spread, but he knows people are different, with different tastes and different visions and that they're mostly broken, and he knows that he's broken too. And he knows that proselytizing is not really his job.
He thinks maybe his only job is to love this blog.
He is good at that job. He is great at that job.
And it means a lot to me.
I think it's true that in the end one can't just do art for other people. In some deep place it has to be fundamentally for oneself. I know this. This is the right thing. This is true.
And sometimes I think that this fan is exactly who I write this blog for. And that is the right thing. Who could deserve it more?
It is probably for the best, then, that it turns out that the two, are one.
Thursday, February 5, 2015
I was once again making my way up the Mississippi River on foot. I was near the area where lately I have been encountering this blog's spirit animal, the turkey, but I wasn't thinking about that. This is good because things like encounters with spirit animals only happen when you aren't expecting them. The sidewalks were icy and the skies were gray. A good deal of the snow had melted away from all the lawns and grassy medians. I was writing you a blog post in my head, but not this one. And then, all at once, there were turkeys. Eight turkeys!
They were hanging out peaceably on a patch of grass. Maybe the biologists would say they were feeding, because there was plenty for them to peck out on the ground, and that's what they were doing. An unusual south wind was ruffling their feathers, bringing more volume to them, and even more shades of dazzling browns and bronzes than was usual.
The spirit animal of this blog is just a single turkey who bestows inscrutable wisdom upon us when we least expect it. So seeing eight spirit turkeys at once was highly instructive. It turns out that, much like the job of clerking, which inspires (provokes? illustrates?) much of this blog, the spirit animal duties performed by the spirit turkey is done by a coalition of turkeys. Eight of them work as a spirit turkey for this blog, but only one of them acts as the spirit turkey at any given time. This is much like how only one clerk at my library answers the phone at a time, but a large group of us will rotate through this position. This also explains a recent observation I made that every time I saw my spirit turkey it got bigger and bigger. The eight large turkeys pecking in the grass were none of them the same size as any other! As they have been making their sequential visits to me they have been working from smallest to largest, probably an efficient system for keeping track of whose turn it is.
So if all this is true, you might be wondering, why then was I coming upon all eight of my spirit turkeys at once?
Easy question. I was later than usual. None of these turkeys were on the clock. It was their lunch break.
Wednesday, February 4, 2015
Where did I first hear about it? I suppose like any proper library worker I'll never forget. I was riding up the staff elevator and a colleague told me. You could have knocked me over with a feather. But I suppose it happened to you too, so you know the exact feeling. Of course, once the shock starts wearing off one starts worrying and hoping. Will it be any good? How can it be good? I'm going to be disappointed, aren't I? But what if it's wonderful!
I soon made my way to the library reference desk because some things around here aren't real to me until I've baptized them with some kind of a joke.
"We have 12 copies of To Kill a Mockingbird on the shelf." I complained. "But not a single one of the sequel!"
"But there is no sequel." the librarian responded to me quizzically. "Harper Lee only wrote one book."
"You might want to rethink that." I said mysteriously, as I headed off to contemplate my reading future.