Tuesday, March 31, 2015
I hope you'll bear with me, I've been through a traumatic experience. Someone just read me their library card, over the phone!
I'm still shaking.
It seemed like it would be okay at first. They didn't remember their pin, couldn't renew in an automated way, and wanted to know if could I help them?
Sure, sure, I just need that library barcode number.
They make some self deprecating remark about how they should have had that ready. I don't see it as my role to argue with that. But it doesn't take them an especially long time to find it.
And then the recitation begins.
"You can read it much faster." I say, interrupting.
"I'll start over." They say, ever cautious.
Let me just stop this fascinating and very realistic recounting to explain how to read a library card, or for that matter, a credit card number over the phone.
1. Assume that the person who is helping you is able to type numbers in really fast and doesn't need time to hunt out where each number is on their keyboard. It's a skill that comes with repetition.
2. Spaces are always irrelevant.
3. Enunciate 10% more and speak 10% slower. Thus you should be speaking just a tiny bit slower than you usually do and a tiny bit more clearly. That's it!
Now, let us continue:
And here's the worst thing, if you're still with me down here. I'm a little ashamed to admit it has happened to me more than once. When people read numbers this slowly, sometimes my mind wanders! I forget to type or listen. I get involved in simultaneously writing a blog post and listening to music, chatting with a co-worker and checking in requests. It is too boring and unproductive to just sit there waiting for the next number, and so, like the hare in Tortoise and the Hare, over-confident, I miss a number!
"Oh!" I say, horrified. "I lost that last number. What was it?"
"The last one?" They say. "Er. I'll start over."
And then they go extra slow, because, obviously, I wasn't able to keep up.
Monday, March 30, 2015
What none of you may have realized at this point in clerkmanifesto (two years in) is that I am engaged in writing a religious text, like the Torah, or the Tao Te Ching.
Even now you suspect I am kidding.
One might think I am kidding because I so often here play the fool. But then, religious texts have all been written by people playing the fool. You just probably didn't notice. Most people don't.
One might suspect that I cannot be writing a grand religious text because this does not have that monumental, elaborate air of the great religious writings. But that is because like all those that came before me, this writing is a core framework designed for age, for the accretion of patinas, rust, and obsolescence. These words are like trees in a new and carefully planted forest. They are conduits for a thousand years. What you read now waits to become arcane. In a thousand years this will be indistinguishable from The New Testament or the Bhagavad Gita.
One may suspect that this cannot be a master religious text because without god speaking to me it cannot partake of the timeless, true, deep wisdom.
And there one is wrong on both accounts.
1. God is speaking to me. God will seriously not shut up.
2. To achieve that greatness for the ages, to shine the everlasting light of wisdom, most of what I have to do is edit god out.
Sunday, March 29, 2015
The other day I wrote a letter to the Internet of the future, 50 years hence. I will still be here 50 years hence! So I thought it would be nice to pass along a note to myself as well. And so I cast this message to the future me in 2065.
So you finally got all that fame and recognition you had batted around so long. There you are in your old age, lionized, beyond me in my modest, anonymous life, but also broken down with years and mortality. Would you like to trade back with me I wonder. No, in 50 years I think I can learn that. It is never possible to trade. We have what we have. New things can't make it go away. You were always wiser than me, future me. I wish I could give you something.
Oh, wait. Look in your pocket.
I know. Right?
Back here in 2015 we don't know. I don't know. In Chuang Tzu's The Inner Chapters he says:
There is nothing anywhere which is not that, and nothing which is not this.
I have no real idea what that means, but I believe we both will in about ten minutes. See those people looking over our shoulders? You tell them about it in your next blog post tomorrow, okay? I'll keep it to myself for a bit, I mean, as soon as I have it.
I almost do now.
I will try to write my way to you oh venerable self. A bit less than 20,000 posts to go.
Saturday, March 28, 2015
A slow day at clerkmanifesto. I check in every four minutes to see if there's been any activity on my blog.
Yes! -No, false alarm. It is 700 fake viewings in Russia.
But you know what? It's okay. It's okay all this quiet. Because I would rather live in a land where a million people write their own poems and read them to themselves than I would live in a land where a million people read one poet.
Even if I were that one poet.
Though it's very hard to keep track of that. Oh land of one percent of one percent.
So I concentrate with all my might on you out there, not reading this, but typing away your own inner visions, felting lampposts, playing the french horn in your mobile home on a cul-de-sac, sneaking under some bridge to spray paint your coded message, drawing portraits in the sand at a beach of all the people you wish were in the world, gluing and weaving old tree branches together to make strange towers in your garage, painting barren underwater scenes onto trashcan lids, delivering comic monologues to your most beloved stuffed animal, sitting on the floor of your bathroom writing short short stories in the tiniest possible letters in a spiral notebook.
You, out there, not reading this, making a fire in the deep woods, in the shapes of animals that only the branches of trees can glimpse through the smoke:
Let us all, together, take over the world.
Friday, March 27, 2015
A food product, mostly eaten, was sitting in the staff refrigerator today. It was in the way of my shrimp and broccoli, so I had to gently poke it aside. I'm not sure what it was. It had lots of plastic and labels. The label said "Packed with love".
No corporate product is made with love. Jesus is not packing your mass produced hummus. Cliodhna, the Irish goddess of love and beauty, has not swathed your California blueberries in plastic protection. And when the marketing department comes up with the labeling that says "Packed with love" they are not doing it with love, they are doing it with a bland, merciless ambition, with a workaday calculation.
But I am no naif. I know how the world works. I know that it is a hard world full of mean lies, casual lies, soulless lies, mercenary lies, general lies. You shrug them off. It's no big deal, a bit of mud, a spot of crude oil off a duck's back, right?
But it's good to notice anyway, because every impersonal lie is like a bit of wrapping. It can be all kinds of wrapping; pretty wrapping, tough wrapping, luxurious wrapping, and on and on through all the adjectives. But inside it holds something that is always the same; a little bit of the inexhaustible darkness and coldness of deep and absolute space.
We have wrapped this nothingness with love.
Thursday, March 26, 2015
The Internet already provides such a shattered mirror vision of the world as it is to us in the present that I worry about the Internet viewers 50 years from now and what they will think, looking back at us, here in the Internet, without the proper context for our time. And so I have composed this letter to the Internet as it is 50 years hence. My letter is a time capsule of context. I hope my present day readers will bear with me as we perform this public service for the future.
Dear Internet 2065:
1. Though it appears that everyone in the world is rich and famous in my day, there are actually several hundred poor people who either have an amazing hidden musical talent or are ready to be so grateful for someone's gift of new sneakers that it melts your heart when you see the video of it.
2. Sorry about all the heat and water everywhere.
3. We are not, as it appears, all savagely argumentative and mean to each other all the time! We are only that way through the anonymity of the Internet! And I guess sometimes we are that way between different religions. Also between religious factions and between different countries. I guess we can be cruel and argumentative as well in family groups, as rival sports team fans, amongst co-workers, between races and ethnic groups, and from rich people to poor people. Actually, come to think of it, the list is far too long to cover here, but I am nearly certain that these are all exceptions.
4. We are not as beautiful, gifted, confident, and happy as we appear. Our educational system is primarily geared towards teaching us marketing.
5. On the plus side we don't fall down, humorously crash things, or spectacularly hurt ourselves nearly as often as we seem to.
6. This will probably weird you out the most, but, no, I am not nearly as popular in my time as I am in yours. This, I hope, will explain to you why in all my posts I find a way to compare myself to Van Gogh.
7. No, none of the content on the Internet was "lost" between my time and your time. We really did just look at the same 100 things over and over.
I hope this helps.
Oh, say "hi" to me for me will you? And speak up because ever since I turned 90 my ears produce enough wax each day for a Cathedral full of candles.
Your friend at,
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
Two figures who appear frequently here are Vincent Van Gogh and Bob Dylan. Nevertheless they rarely appear together. I don't think they know each other, though they may have met once or twice at one of those parties one ends up at that are just wall to wall celebrities. Bumming around town one hardly even sees a single celebrity, but then one pops ones head in at some high roller's soiree and bam, it's all "I never thought I'd see Einstein chatting with Boyz II Men and Gummo, the fifth Marx Brother." But those parties aren't really the kind of place where one gets to know someone, even if one might want to.
But because I never talk about Dylan and Van Gogh together we never get a chance to discuss the issue that invariably leaps to mind every time I bring up either of them, namely:
Who Was the Greater Artist, Bob Dylan or Vincent Van Gogh
We go head to head in all the vital categories and accord a definitive winner!
Van Gogh: Unstable, Passionate, troubled, and in love with life.
Dylan: Mercurial, hard to pin down, iconoclastic, cool, and seedy.
The edge goes to Dylan here because of the ear slicing incident.
Van Gogh: Labored in unwanted obscurity through life. Pretty much owned the "most favorite artist ever" charts through the 1980's and 90's.
Dylan: Feverishly respected by his peers and ever sporting a large, fiercely devoted fan base, he nevertheless has tended to be outcharted by lesser talents.
The edge to Van Gogh as no one ever complains about his voice.
3. Ancillary Products
Van Gogh: Cards, key chains, mugs, posters, movies, umbrellas, and really anything you can slap an image on.
Dylan: Chevrolets, women's underwear, harmonicas.
The edge to Van Gogh. Neither of them went the super classy route, but Van Gogh gets credit for being dead during it.
Van Gogh: Straw hat, "Arty Farmhand", scowl.
Dylan: Black hat, "Hobo Chic", scowl.
The edge to Dylan. Sometimes it seems like Van Gogh doesn't care.
5. Financial Value of Work
Van Gogh: Now that we've decided to give all the money in the world to a couple thousand people, there's not much left that's so rare and valuable that they have to fight over it. Van Gogh paintings fit into that tiny grouping.
Dylan: Works hard and can sell out your mid-sized arenas, but until he's willing to do a more fan friendly Vegas style performance he won't land many of those juicy corporate shows.
The edge to Van Gogh. Someone should do the decent thing and dig him up and put him in a solid gold casket.
6. Range of Talents
Van Gogh: Besides being as great a painter as anyone ever, he was also as good at drawing as anyone else ever. He wrote nice letters. He could also preach.
Dylan: In addition to all the music stuff, he paints, writes excellent quality non fiction, and is not a bad actor. He's done a bit of film making and no small amount of political activism, though he might not like it if you called it that. He is also a good lay historian of American Music.
The edge to Dylan, despite the fact that he has done no notable blogging.
Popularity, Ancillary Products, and Financial Value of Work to Van Gogh for a score of three.
Image, Style, and Range of Talents to Dylan for a score of three.
Curses, it's a tie!
Only a nationwide vote can settle this now.
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
When I write a blog post, as part of the process of assembling it, there comes a time where I give the post labels. If you're reading this on blog you can see them down at the bottom of this, mostly in red, little subject words like "blogging" or "Van Gogh" or "writing". You click on one of them and it brings you to all the posts I've written that employed that subject label and thus, that subject. Of course, if you have signed up and received my post via email, you won't see those subject labels. This, I suspect, will be no great loss to you since, as far as I can tell, people hardly ever make use of these labels. I rarely find readers roaming around deep in the history of my blog.
I do, though, roam in that history, all the time. And with 700-800 blog posts I find these subject labels helpful in my doing so. As the number of clerkmanifesto posts steadily climbs, any organizing tool I can use for plumbing and rewiring the history of this blog is useful.
Consider Van Gogh, famously selling no paintings. He had an awful lot of paintings that were not selling. Basically all of them. Clearly he didn't throw them away. They must have just kept stacking up. They were so bulky and there were so many! So what did he do? I picture him piling them up according to categories: landscapes, flowers, portraits, city scenes, and so on. No one was asking Van Gogh about his "Night" paintings, but when Van Gogh was wondering about his old "Night" paintings, or just wanted to look at a couple for fun, he knew where to go.
Not that I am necessarily the Van Gogh of bloggers. I mean, that wasn't my point. But, coincidentally, I am, actually, for the record, the Van Gogh of bloggers, only with more ears and a greatly expanded lifespan.
I always add one subject label that is kind of a code. The code label refers to how good I think my particular post is. "Wee" is for a post I feel is particularly essential, sort of iconic of my blog. I probably use that less than I should, either from my trace of humbleness that I like to secret away from you, or perhaps from a persistent desire to leave some room at the top. "Tombs" is for the posts I feel are particularly winning, the kind I always think I will be delighted to run into later on. The "Rok" label isn't necessarily for posts that are less than splendid, but does tend to refer to silly posts, bread and butter posts, and often enough is just a designation to say "I really have no idea how good or bad this one is."
The funny thing is that I tend to put my labels into a post when I'm about halfway through writing it. My self rating is oddly speculative. If I put down "Rok" I'm fine chattering away, a little like I am now. I don't mind plowing flamboyantly to the finish. If I am feeling a touch of the writer's high, and write in a "Tombs" label in a fit of confidence, I soon find myself leaving out more. I get spare with words. I get elegant, mercurial. I reach for the stars.
But I don't think I'd ever have the mad courage to put in the label "Wee" in the middle of a post. If I did that I don't think I would dare to write one more word.
Monday, March 23, 2015
The rule at my library is:
Your break shall be directly in proportion to the difficulty of the co-worker(s) you are teamed with.
If you are working with one of the big three:
the one who stares blankly at the computer and mishandles each transaction in slow, exacting detail,
the one who turns the simplest transaction into a 45 minute chat,
or the one who cheerfully deflects all actual work that comes directly at them and fails to notice everything else,
any of those and you get a two hour break, but you have to spend an hour of it meditating quietly in the willow hut in the children's garden.
If you work with any of the group that doesn't quite pull their weight, complains too much about the patrons, and isn't exactly clear on what we do at the front desk, but are too nice and aren't quite crappy enough to complain about, you get a 45 minute break and a homemade chocolate chip macadamia nut cookie.
If you work with any of our many, good enough, basically competent workers, you get a 20 minute break and you have to listen sympathetically, for at least a couple minutes, to those people who have to work with one of the big three, even if they do get to hang out in the willow hut meditating while you're slaving away shelving.
Is that fair? I don't know, but that's the rule.
Sunday, March 22, 2015
I've missed a few of my walks, so it was probably inevitable. I'll be walking the river tomorrow, but what with car things, weather things, schedule conflicts, I haven't seen my spirit turkey for a week, maybe two. So the turkey wandered over to the library.
Rumors of four turkeys on the fringes of the parking lot had been circulating. Then the children's librarian cried out "There's a turkey at the back door!"
Well naturally. I know that turkey.
Everyone ran to the back door. I went to the windows in the break room instead. That's on the other end of the building. I needed to be alone. That's how it works. Sure enough the turkey headed there. It danced in the parking lot traffic. It gave me one soulful look in the eye.
"Don't be so mad at everything." My turkey seemed to say before heading out into a trafficky avenue.
"I'll see you tomorrow." I whispered.
Saturday, March 21, 2015
I love lessons that run counter to the usual human discourse. And so I was delighted to read the story of the sleeper hit song "Sail".
"Sail" is a song by a Aaron Bruno with a group called Awolnation. I, like a lot of people, millions of people, like the song, but my liking it is entirely beside the point. The point is that a musician, without a huge amount of success behind him, recorded this song. He did it in one take and the engineer on the song thought they needed another because of some distortion. Aaron Bruno said, in response to this "Who cares? No one's gonna care about this song anyway."
Fame and fortune followed. It's one of the most successful songs of the past five years.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once wrote:
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.
I guess that's one of ol' Longfellow's footprints there. But I am going to defy the whole point of Longfellow's poem and say: The ocean will wash away even footprints in the sands of time.
I, for one, will try to take heart from that. And you can too, if you want. It hardly matters. One day very soon it will all be forgotten.
Friday, March 20, 2015
I have updated my blog subtitle to read:
the cream rises to the top
dead things float
lies the truth.
This song is good, that song is bad.This movie should have won the academy award. I love this blog, I hate this website, this is the best coffee shop in town, that one is garbage. I despised that book and adored this one. Those paintings are brilliant and the photographs have no merit.
How, actually, would we know what floats. We have churned the water like a million sharks in a cloud of blood. Let us all be quiet for a moment. Let the water clear and calm. Let's take a deep breath, and wait and wait some more.
Everything is calm. And yet it is still no use.
The cream rises to the top, and dead things float.
Perhaps the surface is not the place to look.
Thursday, March 19, 2015
Ten rules for criticizing your co-workers behind their backs
1. It's not behind their backs. It's just not in their immediate vicinity.
2. You are not allowed to criticize your top 25 percent favorite co-workers, except, maybe, if you really really have to, very gently, and rarely, to your spouse or some significant other.
3. You are only allowed to criticize your second favorite 25 percent co-workers (so percentile 50 to 75) when you are talking to your top favorite co-workers. Plus, you must also acknowledge their virtues when you do so. Plus, it can't be trivial, you have to be right.
4. There is a hard cut off each day. When you have complained ten times about your co-workers total you have to stop complaining. Your soul is keeping score!
5. No dancing around the fact of complaining about someone! You can't go around saying "I wonder why there are all these deranged and restrictive notes on patrons' records?" When what you're saying is better expressed by "Louise is inventing policies to avoid helping people again."
6. Never pass along one co-worker's complaint about someone to that actual person. No one ever really wants to know people's complaints against them.
7. The truth is sacred. You must accept someone's legitimate complaint about one of your co-workers, even if that person is pretty much your favorite co-worker. The best you can do is something like "Sure, Sven isn't so hot at the alphabet, but I have never seen a single customer who doesn't adore him."
8. Never complain directly to someone no matter how honest it seems. It never goes well, plus, see title of list.
9. Every once in awhile complain about yourself. It will keep everyone alert and light on their feet.
10. You are seriously not allowed to complain about anyone for anything unless you are clearly, rigorously, and/or obviously not guilty of the same thing! Think once. Think twice. Are you sure?
Okay. Complain away.
Wednesday, March 18, 2015
We live in an age of accelerating technology. The videotape becomes the DVD and, just as you think it can go no further, it becomes a blu-ray, and then the object itself becomes irrelevant. The computer became the laptop became the phone and now is becoming the watch. Or so they tell me. I have already moved on and am typing this blog post on my pinkie ring. It's exacting, but ever so portable!
The book is no exception to all this. But because most devout readers tend to be cozy traditionalists, surrounding themselves with cats and dusty volumes, they thought the horrifying innovation of the E-reader was all they would be forced to deal with. It they could survive or adapt to that, they could relax.
It doesn't work like that.
Innovators like myself are tirelessly at work on new advancements in the field of books too. Sure we do it because we hope to get rich and retire to Rome, but there is a practical benefit as well. No, not the miniscule benefits sold to you by marketing departments, like being able to carry 20 books with you on vacation in one slender device. The benefit I am talking about has to do with the survival of publishing itself! Every day there are fewer and fewer people willing to buy books. It is only by making new versions of books that we can keep the publishing industry, and indeed writers, solvent and in business. If the number of people willing to buy a book drops from 300 to 100, the only reasonable thing to do is to sell those 100 people three copies of the same book, say a print version, a digital version, and audio version. The truth is that most of our exciting new technology layers on top of rather than replaces.
So now you are probably thinking "Wow, I would really like to buy whatever new version of the book you are working on. What is it?"
The idea came to me when I bought a new shirt.
This shirt is considered a tagless shirt. I am very much in favor of this innovation in textiles and I only buy shirts, if I can at all help it, that have no irritating tag stuck on the back inside collar. My up to the minute contemporary shirt has all its important information written, so to speak, or printed, just under the back, inside collar. You have seen these. You probably own one. But, like all modern new ideas, the tagless shirt I have has not entirely displaced the tag. There are now three huge tags sewn into the inside seam of my shirt, just at about my hip level.
Despite their size, they are made of some soft, synthetic material, and they don't bug me at all. Nevertheless they are pointless, full of useless information in multiple languages. But it doesn't have to be like this. And it won't be.
Introducing the Readable Shirt. Short stories, poems, chapters of novels, they will all be there, right in the clothes you wear, ready for you to read at any moment. Soft pages of interesting, readable text will be sewn hidden on the inside seam of your shirt. I'm not sure we couldn't eventually print whole novels on these unobtrusive tags. The wearable book will change our lives! You need never be without a book again, I mean, unless you're a nudist or something.
So wear a shirt, have a book. It's the only book you'll ever need!
Though you'll probably want to keep an E-reader with you anyway, and a newspaper, and your phone, and maybe a laptop. It would probably be wise to keep a couple paperbacks with you in a convenient bag as well, just in case.
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
For today's exciting blog post we are going to go with a little comedy. You may or may not laugh, but I'll have already collected your blog reading minute by the time we find out.
First we have the joke about the cart. At my library we have a lot of book carts. They tend to be all beige and charcoal and gray colors. But for awhile a librarian was working with us while her library was being remodeled. Apparently she brought her own cart with her, and, as her library is now all fixed up, she was sending it back. This cart was a beautiful cerulean color, striking, the color of the sky. I put this note on the cart:
"Cheer up cart! Don't be so blue! You're going home!"
Wait! Don't stop reading my blog post! I still have the second joke. It's a little dark maybe. So I want you to know ahead of time that I am seriously enthusiastic about many people, but, um, I see the problem in people too.
So, anyway, one of my co-workers came into the back room. Apparently she had had some kind of altercation with an infant because she exclaimed "I hate babies!"
"I know." I sympathized. "And they just get worse the more the years go by."
I'll be here all week. Tell your friends!
Monday, March 16, 2015
Here is the story as it has happened to me countless times before, mostly in my own library where I have spent some majestic chunk of my life, but also at a diversity of other American libraries.
I am browsing along in a fiction section, kids, adult, genre, whatever, casting about for a book to read, when something catches my eye. Let us say it is a fantasy novel. Let us say, for its humorously illustrative qualities, that it is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
Interesting title, and what charming cover art. I am intrigued! I pull it off the shelf to look it over.
Wizarding school? Secret magic world in the midst of our own? Slight touch of Dahlian lightness? Appealing, scrappy youth heroes? This sounds great, though, of course, a tad derivative. What say the critics?
Oh my god, the critics are insane for this book! It is, like, the most popular series of books ever written! I am not just convinced that I have found something worthwhile, I suspect that I have stumbled upon one of the rarest moments of an inveterate book browser's life: the sure thing!
How on earth did this immensely appealing juvenile fiction escape my attention for so long? But who cares! I have not been this excited to race home and start reading in a long time!
Now, let's see, this Prisoner of Azkaban book is not the first book in the series, and they clearly need to be read in order. No worries though, there is seriously a wall of these Harry Potter books.
There are five Prisoner of Azkabans, three Goblets of Fire, five Order of the Phoenix, two Chamber of Secrets (maybe I should grab a copy because it's the second one), eight Deathly Hallows , and ten, yes ten Half Blood Princes.
The front page of one of these books tells me that Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is the very first book in the series. I must be overlooking it. So many books, so many editions... Let's see, Sorcerer's Stone, Sorcerer's Stone. Hmm. Hmm.
It can't be. No. It can't be! NO!
It's not here.
It's not here!
Thirty-three Harry Potter books, but not a single copy of the first one of the series on the shelf.
I shall issue no dark word against the librarians of the world, some of whom I count as friends. But I will let this highly common, aye predictable, story speak for itself, and hope it hurts their ears.
Sunday, March 15, 2015
The image of the shushing librarian is perhaps the most iconic library image we have going. The fact that I have never seen this essential event live and in person does not alter my awareness of it. When some persistently loud person fills the library atmosphere with their cacophony I reflect on our loss of this ancient library ideal. Not being a very confrontational person, and not being a licensed librarian, I very much like the idea of one of my librarian colleagues coming out and shushing. It doesn't happen. I myself would be willing to shush in a pinch, but the fact is that our policy doesn't support it.
Though there are as many kinds of noise offenders as there are patrons, the predominate offender at this point is the person on a cell phone.
"I'm at the library."
"I'm at the library."
"I'm at the library."
"What do you want for dinner?"
Once upon a time we had some anemic cell phone policy, like "We request patrons take extended phone calls out into the lobby."
It was too controversial, or pointless, or something, and we got rid of even that. So the fact is I don't feel really deputized to act until someone complains directly to me. This happens incredibly rarely. If they do I'll do something about it. But the fact is, even were I the deputized sound police, I rarely feel like there's much I can do anyway. Incessant coughers, people making weird adenoidal noises they don't know they're making, cell phone conversations that people have already politely taken into the most secluded corner of the library are all hard to combat. "Excuse me Ma'am, your persistent coughing is interfering with my shelving. Could you go sit in your car?" Or "You probably don't realize that every 20 seconds you are making a bizarre snorting noise and so I understand, Sir, that you will likely be unable to stop doing it, but I just wanted to come over and let you know that you are driving this entire wing of the library and everyone in it completely and utterly insane."
Today, while shelving, I heard, peripherally, someone yelling as loud as they possibly could. Or, I guess, it would be for me yelling as loud as I could. When I actually focused on the incredible noise it was merely a person talking at that rock concert decibel level, an amazing feat endemic almost exclusively to cell phone users. And this man apparently knew he was loud and so had taken his call into the Mens' Room, from which his pointless, single sided monologue was issuing. I checked. He'd even gone into a stall.
At least I think he was on the phone.
Much as I would have loved to intercede, it seemed best to just wait it out. A few hours and he was all done.
Saturday, March 14, 2015
The conundrum of objectively good art vs. subjectively good art is hard enough. Let us set it aside and talk instead today about smell. Can everyone in the world agree that vanilla is a beautiful scent? Real, true, pure vanilla? I cannot imagine otherwise, and yet somewhere someone's stomach turns at the thought of vanilla! The start of a summer rain on a city? Fresh wood smoke? Roses? I love the smell of tar, swamps, tangerines. I loathe the smell of mothballs, old pee. What will we make of all this? I have a flexible, creative, agile mind, bending into all sorts of corners of the world, and yet it completely surpasses the comprehension of my brain the idea of, the sense of not liking the smell of pine sap. All my grand imagination just shuts down at something that simple.
Yesterday I woke up and everything smelled terrible to me. Stale garlic was on everyone's breath, old sweated curry. When I was shelving in fiction the myopic man who spends all day at the library browsed the "M's" for awhile. I don't think he had showered for a long time, and well after his browsing he left behind a cloud that would not disperse. It smelled like an old, unchanged bandage on a bad wound. I did no better later at the front desk where someone apparently paid their fines with cash they had been storing in a box of mothballs. The cash register and everything within five feet of it was like a repellent gauntlet of poison gas to me. I got home at night and it smelled wrong there too. Had one of my onions rotted, a potato? I threw things out. I washed. I went to bed early, best to end so unpleasing a day.
Everything was different the next morning, today. Our lavender hand soap pleased me. My clean shirt was satisfying. I went downstairs to make my lovely cafe miel. I pounded out my old spent coffee grounds into our battered compost bin full of liquefying black banana peels and other molds. A smell, so strange and unrepeatable rose to meet me, exhausted coffee weaving into an oversweet banana smell. It was absolutely lovely and new and rotten. Never smelled it before in my life, but what a scent!
And so today I make my argument for subjective. It is all in how you feel and what you like. No acclimation can affirm or deny your affection if it is true. Another day maybe I'll campaign for the objective, Caravaggio perhaps. What matter if his paintings do nothing for you? Everyone is wrong sometimes and even your heart can seem to lie to you if you don't listen closely enough.
But for today, glorious today, everyone's judgement is law. Choose frivolously.
Friday, March 13, 2015
I complain about, nudge, satirize, and attempt to mutilate my lack of fame as a blogger as much as I can while still remaining insightful and entertaining. And when I say insightful and entertaining, I mean to me. Your mileage will vary. For instance, you might not be enjoying this at all right now even though I am. This at first seems inexplicable until we determine that it is only because you are reading this wrong.
Don't feel bad, you'll get the hang of it. I believe in you!
Anyway, I tend to take it that my 34 regular readers, oops, 33 regular readers (I startled one and they bolted! Blogger pro tip: try not to look directly into your readers' eyes), signal a certain lack of success in my blogging ambitions.
Well, maybe yes, maybe no. You see, I have begun to study the blog. I am growing a new sense for just how popular blogs, true blogs, really are.
For our illustration today I would like us to take a look at my favorite movie with a blog in it: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. In The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel Judi Dench's character Evelyn writes a blog about her experiences relocating to India. She informs us about this blog in the movie when she tells her worried son about it as she's leaving. "Read my blog." She says in what appears to be the entirety of her blog marketing plan.
Interestingly this threadbare marketing plan is actually bigger than average for blogs in movies.
It goes well. We get to hear passages from her blog occasionally in voiceover during the movie. It is a nicely written, interesting blog.
The blog is a small part of the movie and not much is made of it. It's a nice little detail, establishing Evelyn's vim, her blossoming chutzpah, and it's a device, letting us hear some of her seniory perspective in a modern context.
I don't know what the average non blogger thought of this. Probably nothing. If some small part of their brain gave detail to this fictional India travel blog, maybe it would say something like this: "The blog had a small audience of a few hundred modestly interested people." But any actual blogger, of which, as far as I can tell from the available statistics, there are somewhere between 23 and half a billion, can tell you exactly how many regular readers there were to Judi Dench's blog.
Yes, her son and a couple relatives and friends skimmed it occasionally until they forgot its name or lost the link to it. If we insist on including them then we can say she had four readers.
But trust me, we're being way too generous. I like zero.
And you know what? In the scheme of things, I'm pretty sure zero is pretty good, at least about average.
But that's easy for me to say, sitting here in the catbird seat with my 33 readers. Oops, 32 readers.
Top of the mountain.
Thursday, March 12, 2015
In the movie Stuck on You, which is easily one of the best three conjoined twin comedies ever made, there is a point late in the movie (and this is a spoiler alert) where our conjoined twin heroes are finally separated, something they held off doing their whole lives because of the danger of the procedure. The twins are released from the hospital and drive to a convenience store. One of them goes in to buy something and one, Matt Damon in this case, for the first time ever, is left absolutely alone in their convertible. Matt Damon is amazed and enthralled by the freedom, the sheer novelty of solitude, and when some man walks by, Matt wonderingly exclaims "Hey. I'm alone!"
"Great buddy. You're gonna stay that way too." The man replies.
Today, after our usual fierce and bitter winter, an astonishing burst of spring is upon us. It is, as I write, 64 degrees out, which is about 80 degrees warmer than it was last week. Even people like me, who feel real affection towards winter, are astonished at our fortune and our dumbfounding release.
And the only way, for some reason, that I can think to express this grand feeling of wonder is to innocently exclaim:
"Hey. I'm not wearing any long underwear!"
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
At my library we have a large, multi-sorting automated check in machine. It is a tireless, dedicated worker, but like a person, it has its good days and its bad days.
Today was one of its bad days. One of those days I'll remember all my life.
Items would go to the wrong bins. Books would bunch up on the rollers. Music CDs in particular would get sucked down into the dark bowels of the machine. The machine would hesitate, hiccup, stop. I had to shut down and restart the machine four times! And all along it was making strange, almost musical sounds, singing even. I thought I heard the words "this time tomorrow". There were drumming sounds, guitar-like sounds.
Finally the machine was working so poorly I decided to have a look at its innards. Something was seriously wrong. Maybe cherry cola spilled into it? I pulled off an access panel and there, from inside the machine looking out, was a man.
"Who are you?" I asked.
"Mick Avory." He replied politely, in an English accent.
"Well, you'll have to get out of there." I said firmly.
So he got out of the machine and headed into the library.
I thought for sure this would solve our problems. And at first the machine seemed okay, but then it jammed again, started going slow, started grinding. And I heard the music. "Oh Yeah!" It sang, and then something about not sleeping at night.
"I bet there's another English bloke in there!" I thought as I tore off another access panel. Sure enough there was a man in a suit, a well respected type, crouched tightly in, playing a guitar as well as he could such a tiny space. It was another English fellow, said his name was Dave. Was that his first or last name? At least he was pleasant about leaving.
With him gone the machine was all right, at least with me by its side. But then, as I got busy with other things, the music came back, something about "All day" and something about "All of the night". The rollers on the belts were stopping and starting. I opened the panels one more time.
A guy was sort of smirking up at me, though I guess he turned out to be polite enough. The machine shut down and stopped with a sob. I told him, I guess Ray was his name, another English fellow, that he had to go. He went.
I looked all over in the machine for anyone else, but I couldn't see a soul. I started the machine back up again. Finally, now that all the Kinks were out, it worked perfectly.
Tuesday, March 10, 2015
I would like to draw your attention to a few errors involving your search engine.
1. When one types in the search "Library clerk blog" no actual library clerk blogs show up in the results. Mostly what shows up are expired job postings, with a smattering of outdated salary listings. I'll admit a couple of blogs last updated in the 1980's rear their ugly heads, but they don't appear to be written by library clerks. I will admit that of the 473,683,220,252,254,810,005 Google searches last year there were a total of no searches for "Library clerk blog", but it could happen at any time, and you are asleep at the wheel!
2. My blog has had billions of views! These views are almost entirely generated by bizarre Russian spam engines whose purpose eludes me. I am not eager to see these disturbing statistics from Russian spam sites, but since you (Google) insist that they are noteworthy, and tell me about them constantly, I feel strongly that they should effect my page rankings, and I should appear at the top of any search with any of the following words: "Vampire", "The", "Blog", "Stat", "I don't understand", or "Russia". It's a simple matter of consistency in your system.
3. Though I consider it a flaw, I understand that I don't often use the phrase "Library clerk blog" on my blog, and so, accordingly, I don't leap to the top of searches with that phrase. However, I have now used each of the following phrases several thousand times: "Best blog on the Internet", "Greatest blogger", "The only reason to turn on your computer", "Shaman of the Internet" and "The", and so I expect, naturally, to have these reflected in my page rankings.
4. When I conduct a search that goes beyond the simple things that lead me to giant corporate blog sites or massively popular pages of other kinds it is rarely easy for me to find what I am looking for. Instead I find semi legitimate sites that are very good at gaming your system. I am terrible at gaming your system, but I did come up with an idea. If you would direct all ambiguous searches to me, at clerkmanifesto.com, I, for my part, would try to cover every aspect of human knowledge and experience. This may sound extreme, but you, with probably some of the most clever technical people in the world, are clearly not getting anywhere doing it your way.
5. Look, I know that you are tempted to dismiss me as a crank. But I honestly don't expect for my blog to appear in the top five searches for everything all the time. I am merely pointing out that your automated search systems are missing some important things. I know not everyone on the Internet is searching for clerkmanifesto.com! That would be silly! But if some random person types into your search engine "Animals", "Turkey", "Bob Dylan", "The Internet", "Blogging", "Van Gogh", "Library", "Work", "Coffee", "Vacation", "Halloween", "Disney", "Marcus", "Cats", "Love", "Minnesota", "Patrons", "Co-workers", "Jasper Fforde", "Poetry", "Books", "Satire", "Reading", "Rome", "River", "Moose", "Marketing", or "Writing", well, then, the chances are that they are probably looking for me. At least, I'm pretty sure there's a good chance they're looking for me. I'm just trying to help you help them find me.
I am sure we only want what's best for each other.
Thank you for your time,
Monday, March 9, 2015
There he is. For four years he has checked out The Water Diet every chance he could. I personally have renewed it for him over the phone at least 15 times, either renewed it or informed him that I couldn't renew it again and that he needed to return it. So he brings it back and, two days later, he checks it out again. The Water Diet.
I know his voice instantly on the phone. Saying that he speaks with a monotone is inadequate to describe the deathly lack of inflection in his speech. His voice is emotionless. He speaks like a lobotomy victim, which, for all I know, he may be. I used to find it more disturbing than i do now. Familiarity and all that, at some point I guess I decided he is not a serial killer, just another of those everyday middle aged emotionless water diet cultists. Perfectly innocent.
Today he cannot renew The Water Diet again, and it is now overdue. I have plumbed his history and found that he has been late returning this book 22 times. Usually he is not very late and so all his many late charges on the item have only nickled and dimed their way up to a total paid of just over $17 throughout the years.
The Water Diet (not its real name). No one else wants this 25 year old book, and surely it has only survived in our collection all these years by virtue of his persistent check outs. Without him we surely would have weeded it years ago. I may have collectively spent hours of my working life just dealing with him and this book, its renewals and its fines.
Can't we just give him this book?
Can't we just give him this book!
I picture it now. He comes to the front desk with The Water Diet.
"I'd like to renew this book." He says featurelessly. A few of us merry band of co-workers gather together. This is our big moment of generosity.
"On behalf of the library, we would like to give you this book. The Water Diet is yours!" We are all beaming.
He looks at us all expressionlessly.
"No." He says flatly. "I would just like to renew it."
Sunday, March 8, 2015
As you know, I was the first person in the world to break the story of Harper Lee's upcoming sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird. Or I was nearly first, probably. The point is that I was in on that very early. I was also quickly alerted to the fact that a new, illustrated Dr. Seuss story has been found and will soon be published as well. I might have received a text message from Dr. Seuss's widow, only I don't have a phone, so it might have been a postcard she sent me. The thing is, I'm kind of a magnet for publishing news, working as I do at a library, so it has been no surprise to me that there is a rash of exciting attic finds sweeping the publishing world. I myself have scooped up some pretty good literary treasures at garage and estate sales that you'll be seeing hitting the Amazon bestseller lists over the next year or so.
I'm most excited by a manuscript I came across by J. D. Salinger. No, I'm afraid it's not a sequel to Catcher in the Rye, but it is related to Catcher in the Rye. It's the same story, but told from the perspective of Ackley. You remember Ackley, the kid who barges into Holden's room and cuts his fingernails and lets the clippings fall onto the floor? He's only in the start of Catcher in the Rye, but he has an interesting point of view in this new book that I think you'll enjoy.
I've also got a nice, late, lost James Joyce novella. It doesn't have any vowels though.
And I have four loose poems by Robert Frost that take place between when he comes to a fork in the road and when he chooses what path to take. It kind of fills in a lot.
Of course, it wasn't easy to find this stuff. I really had to pester some super old people into giving them up.