Thursday, April 30, 2015

Care and feeding of volunteers

The word has come down from on high in my library system. Fortunately that is not a very long way to travel, just a very short, steep pitch. And the word is about our volunteers.

We have a lot of volunteers working at my library. Some are good, some are not, but it doesn't matter a lot either way because most of their work is in the more bulk categories. I know some of the volunteer's names well. Some volunteer's names I should know but don't and have to ask my co-workers "What's his name again?" before I slowly begin to forget it again. But there is no reason I should know all of their names.  Too many come and go in too many ways and at too many times for me to know that.

But the word is that the volunteers are precious and valuable. The word is that the volunteers often work here to be part of a community. The word is that many volunteers seek to be part of our socially maladjusted library world.

Lo, the word is, from on high, that we are to, indeed, treat the volunteers as staff.

I feel all kinds of different ways about all kinds of different volunteers, but that, treating the volunteers like staff, is more unkind than I am willing to be.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A question

Welcome to the Internet. You are now asleep. Everything here must be done in dreams. Your eyes are shut here. You believe phantoms, and this is all your imagination.

"Why would I imagine this?" You ask.

And I am heartened by your question.

If I am merely now an agent of your dreams why don't I behave like all the other agents of your dreams? Why do I keep calling out "Wake up. Wake up." What is the purpose of a dream that asks you to wake up? All the waking up in the world will not get you there. Neither will sleeping. There is a third way.

I implore you to create me, your agent, as the person who describes the third way. 

I have no other way here to find out.

As I would tell Chuang Tzu in order to head him off: We wake up to find ourselves asleep, and we must wake up again.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The immortal quote

There is no shorter path to immortality than writing a really, really, fantastic quote.  The person who coined the phrase "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" will be remembered forever. Why, I was fondly remembering John Capgrave just the other day, good old John Capgrave, and it has been vast hundreds of years since he jotted down that pithy piece of advice! Aye, the quote is so old that it originally looked like this:

It is more sykyr a bryd in youre fyste
Than to have thre in the sky above

"Hey," You wonder in an only mildly interrupting way "How, in the excitement of dashing off a really splendid bon mot, do I know if it's just pretty clever or if it's a quote for the ages. How do I know if I've struck pay dirt, achieved immortality, and can finally relax and stop trying to say wise and witty things which so wear me out?"

I am here to provide you with a litmus test for your clever sayings. It is not enough for you to think you have hit upon something witty to the point of legendary. You must observe at least three of the following signs to be assured that people will be echoing your statement for millennia to come.

1. You are already famous. Sorry, this one sets the bar kind of high at the outset. It may be a little like this (adapted version of a) Steve Martin joke: I will tell you an easy way to make a million dollars! First, get a hundred million dollars... And, actually, the principle of the thing is pretty much the same.

2. When you say your brilliant, pithy quote people act as if they've been hit by a bolt of lightning. Then they either say "Wait. Say that again." or "That's really quite good. No, seriously, that is quite good!"

3. After a reasonable gestation period you start to find your quote being attributed to Mark Twain or possibly Lady Gaga. Hold tight, eventually the quote will be re-attributed to you, unless, of course, you stole it yourself. If that's the case you should try to limit your time with Lady Gaga for awhile.

4. You are killed in what is clearly a miraculous act of God just moments after speaking your for the ages quote.

5. Your quote clearly seems to fix the world for the better. But beware, the bar is high on this one, only two quotes have ever met this standard, one by Chuang Tzu and one by Groucho.

Remember, you only need for three of these conditions to be true, but it has to be at least three. Bartlett awaits.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Go Tigers!

In the fantasy version of my blog people were so distraught when I raised the subject of "what I am currently reading", but did not actually say what I am currently reading, that I was besieged by irate Western Union Telegrams. I received so many telegrams asking me what I am currently reading that I am now sort of friendly with the Western Union Telegram boy and am planning on going to his high school baseball game this weekend (Go Tigers!). I also learned about his sick sister and his family's struggles on their small farm near Faribault. Everything seems to hinge on this year's beet crop. Did you know that many cultures believe that if a man and woman eat from the same beet they will fall in love? If I had known that useful fact I would have been sneaking portions of my beets into my wife's food back when I was 17. Although everything worked out, beets or no, eventually.

But aren't we drifting rather far afield from my fake subject? I believe we are. I believe we were pretending that everyone is dying to know what I'm reading, and that everyone around here prefers to communicate with telegrams, and that they grow a lot of beets in the Faribault area. And that the Faribault Tigers are three and one thanks to their star pitcher, a Western Union Telegram boy, who has yet to allow an earned run all season. Go Tigers!

Hmm. We drifted again. There must be a strong northwesterly wind again on my blog. My blog is frequently beset by gusty winds!

 Here are the books I am currently reading:

Golden Son, sequel to Red Rising. Not exactly dystopian, Sci Fi class struggle revolutionary military soap opera. Yes, it's all a bit breathless, but pretty good on the occasions I understand what's going on.

Chuang Tzu: The Inner Chapters. Speaking of not understanding what's going on! This is a 2300 year old collection of Taoist blog posts! Yes, blog posts! Exactly like mine, only slightly more so. Which of ours is better? There is no better. We are the same, but different, but the same because we're different, but different because we're the same.

Sisters, an appealing YA graphic novel memoir. It's about sisters! Actually, I finished it in something close to one sitting somewhere in the vicinity of writing this post, so I think it counts as "What I'm Reading."

The Sellout. A breathless, very funny satirical snark on matters of race. I spotted it while feeding items onto the library check in machine. It made me laugh very quickly so I proceeded to carry it around with me for a couple hours at work, reading it every chance I got. However, it turns out that critics of stature are pretty crazy about this book so there's a wait list. I am on the wait list now. That wait list is a killer for me though, I rarely make it through books that are so admired, and so there's a good chance I will never read this book again.

Father Goose. The memoir of an inventor and ultra light pilot who started flying with geese and then teaching them new migration patterns. This inspired the lovely movie Fly Away Home. The girl character and thus the whole main plot of that movie though is all made up.

Cats and Other People. I am slowly reading it to my wife at night. In the 60's and 70's there were a lot of memoirs about life with a cat or cats. It's a forgotten genre I am interested in. Most of the ones I've read so far involve single men living in New York and the story of their relationship (mostly) with one cat. This one is about a woman on the East Coast and all her relationships with all the cats in her life ever. 

Those are all the books I can remember and piece together from my list of items checked out. The odds are that in the next few days I will come across one or two books and say "Oh yeah. I forgot to include this one."  Nevertheless, being able to report six books is, I feel, a very respectable showing, and should be enough to stem the flow of irate imaginary telegrams, which, after all, is the reason for this accounting.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Fountainhead meets Communist Manifesto

As you probably know, as many books as possible these days are sold through use of the mashup; that is, the comparison of said book in your hands to the confluence of two other well known books. The mashup is irresistible marketing. You can do it in one short sentence taking up surprisingly little space on your precious covers. You get to put your book into the direct company of two other vastly more famous, beloved, and respected books. And you get to allude to a dynamic frisson of alchemy, a brand new taste made up of your favorite old tastes. I can futilely try to describe my blog for hours, but if I said my blog is like Don Quixote meets Bartleby, the Scrivener you would probably, um, be just as confused as ever. But that is only because I am a really bad marketer. A good marketer would probably say something more like "Clerkmanifesto is like Alice in Wonderland meets Catcher in the Rye." and you'd probably want to read it even if neither of us have any idea what that might mean.

But all this is an almost entirely pointless introduction to the trivial thing I am bursting at the seams to tell you. While shelving up here at the library today I saw a book with a truly terrible mashup on it. It was: "Catch 22 meets Tom Clancy".

And so here is my lesson to all you many book marketers who pour over my blog in a wildly misguided attempt to glean tips: You cannot have a mashup of books that are too similar to each other (It's Pride and Prejudice meets Bridget Jones Diary, for instance), and you cannot, absolutely cannot mashup two things that are intrinsically opposed to each other- no Fahrenheit 451 meets Mein Kampf, no Fountainhead meets The Communist Manifesto and definitely no Catch 22 meets Tom Clancy. I don't care if you were able to trick our fiction librarian into buying it. It's wrong. It's wrong, and I will be hiding it in one of our cushy chairs until it's time to weed it.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

What are you reading?

Not long ago I was frequently getting asked "What are you reading?"

I find this a distressing question. Not because I don't like it. I do. If anything I like it too much. What a glorious opportunity to talk about me, books, and my opinion. What a lovely time to reflect, notice, and coalesce all my feelings and opinions about what I read. 

I have a lot of feelings and opinions about what I read.

You may have noticed that, in general, I have a lot of feelings and opinions about everything. Indeed I am aflame with feelings and opinions around here, especially ones you cannot find anywhere else, like:

Cashews are delicious.

What's that?


I don't know. I'm pretty sure I'm the first person to notice that, but I'm not here to argue.

I'm here to tell you that, despite relishing being asked what I'm reading, I'm bizarrely terrible at answering the question. I may be reading eleven books, staying up too late to do so, squeezing 15 minutes of reading into impossibly small spaces, like seven minutes, for instance, but ask me what I'm reading and, poof, it's all gone. I can't remember a thing!

But since I kept getting asked what I was reading I started paying attention and sort of memorizing it. Sick of these weird brain freezes of mine I have made the effort to prepare. I have started walking around with a wee, updated list in my head of just exactly what I'm reading. I am ready.

Ahem, I am ready.

And then suddenly no one is asking what I'm reading.

No one.


What's that?

Really, you really want to know what I'm reading?

You're not just asking to be nice?

Okay! Ready?

Oh bollocks!

I think there was something with a bluish cover. Does that help?

Friday, April 24, 2015

Enough with the wrath of god stuff

Yes, it does not meet with much success to cast onto the Internet the intimations that I am the only voice of the gods currently speaking. If I read such a thing I'm inclined to think I wouldn't believe it either. Aye, I mostly don't believe it even though I am the very person who on occasion becomes the flaming sword of truth, the subtle knife, and the last rebellion against silence.

What does it look like anyway? There I am looking at some total nonsense on the Internet, just to put off, or to warm up to, writing. And reading along, your regular generic consumer, I am barely differentiated from millions of others. The differentiation is only in that I am just me, particularly and uniquely me. Only that slight and overwhelming distinction exists. And then I open up a document, I lay out the white page, and I am taken up as a pen in the hand of god. 

I am dipped in ink.

I am all the useless magic in the word.

Once again though I am just me, for there is nothing else to separate any of us but that, no act, no glory, and no agency.

And though I burn with the flaming branding of truth, the gods have never had anything particularly useful to say. What should I tell you? That we were made wrong?

No, I will say this: the heat is good, burning as the flaming sword of truth comes in handy late at night, writing in my basement. It can get quite chilly down here.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

We are all immortal until we die

I ask you this:

Who will the gods give to be their voice but the one who cannot be heard?

Who will the gods give to be their voice but the one who faults them according to their powers?

Who will the gods give to be their voice but the one who so readily fails to persuade?

Who will the gods give to be their voice but the one who rewrites their scripts?

They are gods. I will fall into every one of their traps every time. But if I am lucky I will occasionally be able to take a couple down with me. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The truth can be sad

I have always, through my life, done and said things that haunted me a little or sometimes more. I don't mean to speak here of things I regret. These, rather, are hauntings. The things that leave a strange aftertaste lingering in me for awhile. It is not easy to trouble out their meaning.

It would be safer to say less. I have learned slowly to keep my council some. But the power of that always is strange to me, even as sometimes it is essential. I am a jester, the word of god, a pin among the balloons, nonsense, a friendly word, a lot of thinking, and some not thinking enough.

All of them.

And so today my wife and I were driving home from a plumbing supply store. Near to the plumbing supply store is a Planned Parenthood. Out in front were the endless protesters, servants all, but only of men. I looked in the eyes of one of them, from the passenger seat of our car.

Did I flip him off?

No, no. I didn't feel angry.

Looking at him, I made the sign for madness, and we rode on to the next errand.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


I have been exercising more these days than I have in a long time. A back injury last fall led to a sort of rehab and then a steady routine of core exercising. That's three times a week and, despite my unideal inclination to think of it as half an hour of torture, it seems to be going okay. I feel very solid. I've been walking more too, and now that spring seems to be serious I am bicycling as part of my regular commute.

It's the biking that really seems to illustrate something essential about how I feel about all this fitness.

I walk over to the city bike rental station. There's a new one that's even closer to my house! Walking is splendid and beautiful, but it is hard not to appreciate the extra time that biking's quickness gives me. I get on a bike and the litany of its extreme virtues starts rolling through my head:

1. This is so lovely and quick.

2. This is much more real exercise than walking!

3. I can tell because I get winded.

4. And my thighs hurt.

5. The hills make my heart race!

6. I'm faster than joggers!

7. This is so healthy!

8. My thighs really hurt.

9. This is brilliant exercise! I should bike everywhere all the time!

10. I really wish this bike were electric.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Not saying

I like it when people at the front desk of the library are impressed:

"Uh, I'm looking for that book by that author. I forgot the author's name."

"Patty Janes House of Curl?" I inquire on a hunch.

"How did you know that!???!!!???" They exclaim.

But that's not usually how they respond.

"Patty Janes House of Curl? Yes, that's it. Do you have a copy?"

I thought it was a pretty good magic trick, but, okay, I can take neutral. I just don't like it when the expectations are too low, when the meaning of my knowledge is misread.

"I want to know if you have a book called Redshirts." A patron says to me as I sit at the front desk.

"By John Scalzi? Yeah, sure, I'll see if we have a copy checked in."

"You know John Scalzi? I guess he's a lot more popular than I thought."

"No, he isn't." I don't reply. "I just work at a library. I'm just reasonably knowledgeable about books!"

Or there's the man who came in tonight. "I'm looking for a couple documentaries by a man named KEN BURNS." He says the name slowly and carefully like he might say "DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?" And he might as well be saying exactly that.

"No." I don't say. "I have no idea who this exotic, unfamous person is you're talking about. Besides, we're a library. We only check out books."

For a talkative person sometimes I find I don't say much.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sometimes I just tell the jokes to myself

I'm filling a spare half hour of work at the library. I am emptying bins. Seeing as it is my first half hour at work I am still limbering up. I put a few children's books on a cart. I read one about a roller coaster ride. I put a few more on the cart. There are many co-workers and volunteers to say hello to. There are many pointless things to discuss with people. I put a few more books on the cart. I take a look at another children's book. This one is about a witch's broom. I stare into space for a bit. There is much to think of and I very much enjoy not thinking of it when I can. I take a small cluster of books out of the bin and add it to my cart. Gosh, I think, I must have emptied dozens of books onto this cart already!

"Hello." My mind cries out theatrically. "I can't do it all by myself!"

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Dark matter

The fact that you are reading this probably means that I am not writing the dark matter of the Internet. But I am near it. I can hear it through the walls. I try and stumble to it. But though the dark matter of the Internet is most of the Internet, an endless sea of fruitless attempts, tiny audiences, abandoned projects, forgotten bursts of optimism, and the inconsequential, it is curiously hard to get there. Think of the hobbits trying to get through the Old Forest. They want to go in one general direction but all passage is relentlessly difficult in that direction, the trees and undergrowth thick, an unclimbable ravine steering them slightly away, until they finally end up entirely locked in, resigned to going in a direction they didn't want to go, to what turns out to be to the malevolent heart of the forest, Old Man Willow.

And what is Old Man Willow, the hobbit eating tree, in this analogy?

I don't know. Perhaps it is Google?

Well, that's good enough for me. And I understand. Popularity is a siren song to us all. And though I may head out on a search for obscurity on the Internet, obscurity is located in some miserable, tragically abandoned neighborhoods, crossed with razor wire fencing, great nasty pits in the ground, giant, cracked cement walls with spokes of rebar ugily protruding, and nothing interesting to see. Whereas at the slightest gesture, even at the mere wavering of your will, something like Harry Potter's Knight bus will instantly be there to whisk you back to the bright lights and well tended pathways of the popular Internet, the approved Internet, the vetted Internet.

The dark matter of the Internet is the mysterious background of all the Internet you see, humming behind everything. It's nearly unreachable billions contain treasures and horrors indeed, but, far less glamorously, it is actually mostly made up of the mundane and uninteresting, the forgotten and pointless. It's a fascinating, dim, mysterious world, but not for long. Ten minutes of exposure will leave you exhausted and bored.

Nevertheless you need the darkness to define the light, the trivial to set off the notable, and the mundane, like lottery tickets, to set off the unique, like winning lottery tickets.

Perhaps my description of the dark matter of the Internet is a little murky, indefinite? Yes, of course it is. It's dark matter we are talking about. How is one supposed to describe what can only be seen in absurdly miniscule fractions. I have deduced the multitudinous dark matter by its ripple effect on the Internet, by human nature, and by what hovers just beyond the frame of my screen, shaping what it is that I do see. It is negative space, damaged by light out of itself. My looking at it is an act that disturbs it and starts to change it.

I have been thinking about this for days. I did a variety of Google searches and started wondering: What if when Google comes back with its millions of results I went to, say, page 100,000? But I found I could only go ahead about four pages at a time. I found an experimental search engine called Million Short which removes the million most popular websites from its search results. Still operating on basic rules of popularity it surprisingly was only a small assist in my journey to the dark matter. I found Petit Tube, a site that will show only YouTube videos no one or almost no one has seen. This is very much an excellent path to where I'm trying to get to, and, though useful and strange and somewhat interesting in its own right, it would be ideal if it involved websites. I'm still working on tracking down something like that.

But as interested as I am in the dark matter of the Internet, it is a largely theoretical interest. Besides the fact that it disappears some even as I find it, it can also be pointedly meaningless, completely without ambition, and boring. Ten minutes of searching through detritus is as much as I can take. I am happy to replace some of my Internet exploration with that, but what about when those ten minutes are up?

I have been considering alternatives. I hear good things about "books".

Friday, April 17, 2015

A healthy post

To my delight my colleague Dave brought in homemade cinnamon buns to share with his co-workers yesterday. I'm one of his co-workers! I'm like, actually, his favorite co-worker, but don't tell the others. The cinnamon buns were accompanied by a tub of buttercream. Dave was emphatic about his buttercream. "This is real buttercream." He wanted us to know. "Butter and powdered sugar. There's plenty. Apply it generously."


I enjoyed these cinnamon rolls. The buttercream was particularly good, but I foolishly refused to heat the things up and so stole some of the pleasure from my treat. One of my other co-workers emerged from the break room to say delightedly that he had taken "a healthy amount of buttercream".

I enjoyed this curious use of the word "healthy". I appreciate a word whose appropriate uses can actually run opposite to itself. As you well know the most common meaning of the word "healthy" is "good for you" or "imparting good health". But here it has evolved from that meaning to mean instead "large" or "of goodly size".  So, a healthy portion of buttercream, that is a healthy portion of a huge chunk of butter mixed with half a bag of refined sugar, would, in one sense, be a small portion. But a healthy portion of it also means a large portion. I just think someone could have a lot of fun with that, I mean, if they were a really, really good blogger, maybe just a little better than me.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

River of mystery

Last week I told you about my preferred, scenic walking route along the river and up over the pedestrian bridge, winding into the University campus. It's a route rich with secret nooks, graffiti, belligerent geese that make me slightly nervous, spirit turkeys hanging around to dispense wisdom, river wreckage, oddly friendly bald eagles, and mysterious hints of my city's history. A mudslide closed this route down a year ago and it preys on my mind. What's going on down there by the river? Has a wall of stone crumpled into the Mississippi? Does a mysterious West Bank medical building threaten to come crushing down the bluffs? Why is it taking so long to open this best of routes back up again?

Last week I told you a story about it, with aliens and avocados, because I needed some explanation. Now I'll tell you a plain story.

Today I threw caution to the wind and ventured through the barricades, past the skull and crossbones, between the razor wire, to see what I could find. Where the river road closes, and has been closed, for a year, I ventured on. Cat-killing curiosity took me over.

The first exciting revealment as I slipped into the no man's land was a vision of a post apocalypse city. The road was perfect and undisturbed. Everything lay in absolute readiness for people, and yet the people were all gone. I was inches from the heart of a major American city and yet walked through pristine abandonment alone.

The second thing was the graffiti. This was always a rich area for graffiti, but abandoned it had flourished. I had strong mixed feelings about this. I am a great fan of graffiti, and some of the pieces here were good, even very good. I've even started recognizing certain artists. But seeing some of these beautiful Civilian Conservation Corps stone walls along the river covered in paint seemed half a desecration and half an ingenious use of texture.

If I have a weakness or strength as an explorer it is in my loathing of turning around. I hate retracing my steps and can become quite imprudent in my quest to find a way through. So as I pressed on further and further along the forbidden gray riverside wasteland/wonderland I knew I would be more and more unwilling to not fight my way through. This sort of impulse tends to lead me to scrambling along cliffsides hanging on poison ivy to save myself a plummeting death. It leads me into dark caves and abandoned sewers, and has brought  me to crawling on my belly getting torn apart by savage thorns.

You may be surprised to learn that these are things I do not normally enjoy. So as I neared the heart of the forbidden zone I was filled with some trepidation.

The first thing there I noticed was that the mudslide was kind of cleaned up. No great river bluff had gone tumbling into the mighty Mississippi, or maybe it had a little, but now it looked a lot more like the hillside had just sort of deflated.

The road was completely clear, so was the biking path. A small, very unused construction site sat in the middle of it all. It looked very, very, very safe to proceed. But for my protection there had been erected three heavy duty, carefully thorough lines of fencing to protect the site. On the river side they hung well out over the water to foil we intrepid interlopers. On the slope side the fence ran as far up the bluff as possible.

I was very irritated. But because the people of my city are generally sensible my solution was far less bad than a swim in the freezing river, or a crawl through a sewer. Explorers before me had worn a nice path up the hill along the fence and back down again, three times. I followed in the footsteps of others before me and was through. As is this story.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Manuscript sells for record at auction!

It was a huge day for auctioned manuscripts last week. In a Christie's auction the lyrics for American Pie sold for just a stitch over 1.2 million dollars. The levee sure wasn't dry then! It was the third highest price ever paid for an American "literary" manuscript. But all records were shattered later that same auction when a surprise offering sold for a record 4.7 million dollars! What was it that sold for more than twice the previous record holder Like a Rolling Stone?

Well, I'm blushing. It turns out it was a post it note on which I wrote the original draft of a clerkmanifesto blog post called "I need to make a list".

That's not at all what I think of as my best blog post, but it had several things going for it.

1. The post it note was, unusually, in pristine condition. They usually get bent, dirty, and smeary.

2. The post itself is just one of those that captured the American zeitgeist of the time, like the invention of Peanut Butter for instance.

3. Buyers were motivated by the rarity with which things I write on post it notes come up for sale in major auctions.

Are you wondering how much of the 4.7 million dollars went to me?

Not a penny. I had accidentally handed the note over to someone who asked me if I had any scratch paper. I'd long since lost track of it.

Am I bitter?

Not at all. I do this for love.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

My paper shame

As I drunkenly wobbled through the Internet looking for things to yell at or be dazzled by or something, I confusedly clicked on a story about how rich people in California are using all the water there.

That's okay. I loathe rich people too. It's just good sense. Left to their own moral devices they do not behave well and they need our collective, steadfast moral condemnation to help them along. But my righteous indignation fell apart at the harrowing story of how they wantonly use California's precious water resources to grow their hobby rice, or wash all their tesla automobiles, or delouse their servants, or whatever. It's not that I don't think it's the usual wretched business for the rich people. It's not that I don't think they're wrong or horrible, wasteful and narcissistic. No. It's just, who am I to say? It's just, what about the paper towels?

Alas it is hard for me to appear before us all in so unflattering a light! It is painful for me to so frankly confess my shame. But when it comes to me and conservationist issues it all comes back to the paper towel dispensers at the library I work at.

I use roughly eight linear miles of plain, one-ply paper towels every single week that I work at the library. That's more than two leagues of paper towel! If I were to attach a paper towel end to my belt loop and walk home, dragging towel behind me, I could get there, never exhausting the towel and leaving an unbroken trail behind me.

Birds could not eat all that paper towel.

It's a lot of paper towel.

Why am I such a savage despoiler of the environment?

I could blame it on the flamboyant paper towel dispenser. It's motion sensitive, but that's a kind of an understatement. Draw near the towel dispenser and with a friendly motoring noise it rolls out a fresh foot or two of paper towel. "Towel?" It seems to winningly say.

"Um, thank you." I reply. There's always a use for a towel, and I don't want to seem rude, to the towel dispenser, who is being so nice and all.

Plus, there aren't, surprisingly, any actual perks working at a library. I mean, there are a lot of advantages, but ever since they took away the whole "staff doesn't accrue late charges" all that's left are the towels. I carry food in them, wrap stuff in them, wipe stuff down with them, dry things with them, polish things with them, dry some more things with them, and mop my brow with them. Definitely the mopping my brow with them. It's hard work using that many towels!

I am a one man deforestation machine!

I don't know what to do about it. I can't help myself. Maybe if the County got us a pizza every once in awhile. A staff parking spot? A bowling alley. Free weeded items? I need something. Something.

But until then I have no choice but to ball up the rain forests in the palms of my hands and avert my eyes as the rich utterly destroy the planet. Fair is fair.

Monday, April 13, 2015

People give us stuff!

On a recent evening a man came up to me at the front desk of my library. He was carrying a large plank of plywood. On the plywood were copious amounts of what appeared to be a flour and water mix. He might have put yeast in it to make it airier and lighter. He had shaped the mixture into a kind of giant map. There was something I took to be divisions for states, or provinces. He'd created a facsimile of a capitol building out of flour mix, and he made hundreds of tiny people as well. There were cities and mountains and rivers, all of it roughly discernible in its pasty white mush.

"I'd like the library to have this." The man said, setting his weighty plank onto my counter.

"I can't take this." I replied. "I don't even know what it is."

He looked at me like I was a fool. "It's a dough nation."

Sunday, April 12, 2015

My spirit name

I headed out on my river walk this morning under a damp and blustering sky. My neck hurt and my spirits were low so the birds came. Eagles. What a thing to stop you from thinking of anything but blog posts.

What do the eagles say? They say:

Always think in blog posts.

One bald eagle swooped and dipped and glided around me but followed my general path, coming close and venturing away, for so long that I had a delightful sensation that I was taking a walk with an eagle.

If I had been a native to this land perhaps my name would have been Walks With Eagles. That would have been a good name, but I probably would have been called Mocks the Chief. Which would have been an okay name too.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Just a little churlish

If you have been here before you may have noticed a small- tiny really- strain of churlishness in my writing. Sure, you would require a clear and penetrating eye to pick it out, but don't you think that describes your eye wonderfully- clear and penetrating?

And so you are right again! For instance let us take a look at gratefulness. When I see the admonition to be grateful, I curdle a little inside. There are surely no more things to be grateful for than there are things to be bitter about, and I don't see any reason for hoisting one over the other. If I have any Shakespeare level quote for you today it is this: Anything you carry you eventually have to set down.

I was terribly thirsty after an eight mile walk I took today, and, as I drank cold water from my quart mason jar at the library, all of me rejoiced and luxuriated. Why would I want to foist gratefulness on that? But when I started that same walk, before my feet started their angry blistering and before I was stressing about how late I was running, I was so completely delighted to be in the world, walking, just walking, that my heart sang and my lungs filled and I had this feeling, this strange feeling. It was gratefulness. I was grateful!

And so here is where I will relent. I believe it is fine and good to open one's door to gratefulness. And if gratefulness walks in, it is welcome. And if gratefulness should sit down at my table then it is a fine and beautiful guest, to be treated with all honors and proper hosting. But if gratefulness should tentatively slip across my threshold, look at my table disapprovingly, and wander diffidently back out my door, then I am not going to be dragging it back in against its will. Like all good things in this world gratefulness should be free to go where it likes. The bastard.

Friday, April 10, 2015

What you can do with ponies

In an absurd context that's not worth going into, I thought of a quote. I ascribed it to Mark Twain, as is the current tradition, and after it got its small laugh I wrote it down. I liked the quote. But I write a blog, not a twitter account, so it's hard to know what to do with a quote. Usually it's a matter of figuring out what it's the concluding sentence to.

Perhaps it would be simpler to have a twitter account for it. Perhaps I would be one of the finest tweeters on the Internet! I mean, I've already written:

The cream rises to the top, and dead things float.


Babies might not be so great, but they just get worse the more the years go by.


It's not that I don't hear God, it's that he seriously won't shut up!

And on and on.

But I know where all that leads.

Once upon a time I wrote some blog-like pieces and I thought "I bet if I really applied myself, of all the things I've ever done, I could have a brilliant blog."

And I'm afraid you'll find this a tad immodest, but I do indeed now write a mighty blog, a great blog, a blog for the ages.

But that doesn't make it popular, or well read.

Which brings me to that Mark Twain quote that's not by Mark Twain:

"Even if you have a flying pony, you still have to stable it somewhere."

And that would be the sad end of this post. But then I thought of a new, related, and better quote:

"Even if you have flying pony, only one person can ride it at a time."

Thursday, April 9, 2015

All the pretty birds

It is a brilliant day. The temperature has gone up 20 degrees to something Springlike. An occasional cloud is smeared across the sky as if for contrast to demonstrate the blueness. Nothing is budding yet, but the river is full of Spring birds. No great beasts, none of your drama birds, it is all, one after the other, the pretty birds. All the pretty birds.

I am not a fancy birding guide, able to throw out to you advanced and dazzling birder terms like "Cardinal" and "Woodpecker". My on the fly constructed bird names are shared by no one: "Three high whistles and invisible", "The little one who likes to fly with its wings closed", "The metal one with the thin, spear beak". I guess they describe something, but they are not professional. I'm an amateur out walking on the river, writing my blog posts to you in a flurry of mental scribblings that are all long gone again when I sit down to write. Are my invisible, fleeting blog posts that we never get to read here better than the blog posts we do get to read? No, not better, they are just different. They are ghosts winding through these written words, smelling of earth and smoke and feathers, finding their way to you so that, at some time in the future, you will remember reading things here that never happened, that were never written. 

You won't quite know what they were, and you will carry them alone.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Complaint number 434

This will be complaint number 434 in my series Eleven Hundred and Thirty-Seven Complaints About the Internet.

Not to be all negative. There are several very nice things about the Internet too!

Today's complaint (number 434, have I mentioned that?) I am calling The Fallacy of the Discussed.

Few are the days now that you can spend talking to acquaintances, loved ones, or various social groups, where someone, somewhere doesn't bring up a notable anecdote, telling tale, or item of interest they found on the Internet. I am not casting aspersions upon these short tales. Judging them one way or the other is beyond the purview of this complaint. Indeed, to stack the cards against this complaint let us say that every one of these anecdotes is sterling, illuminating, and revealing. Like, you are having a quiet talk about your mutual fears and anxieties with a colleague you are growing closer to, and they say "You know, I just stumbled on this story about Rilke on the Internet and he said Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love." 

Let's say they're all like that.

This makes the Internet look very good. Every time it is referenced it has performed at some of its highest capabilities and demonstrated the best of it's enriching qualities. Almost every time the Internet comes up in casual conversation it looks great and shiny and clever and accessible. We are like Vegas gamblers who only share stories of our wins. Although at least when you go to Vegas and say nothing people might ask you about how the gambling went, causing you to confess the more common truth. "The main thing is I had a good time. I look at the money I lost as the same as what I would have spent on Hokusai prints on a different kind of trip."

And gambling is the perfect analogy, because roaming the Internet is a gambler's game. With each click you will mostly lose. But the next day, chatting with a co-worker, you do not say "Well, last night I was on the Internet and I saw a bunch of stuff about the director Christopher Nolan. He said I've always been a movie guy, movies have been my thing. I love movies, all kinds of movies."

"What does that have to do with anything?" Your co-worker asks, perplexed.

"Absolutely nothing." You reply. "It's like I took an hour of my life and stabbed it in the heart."

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Alien mudslide

Almost a year ago one of my commuting walking routes was closed down. It was the prettier, longer one, that swept low down on the river, wound up through some curious, curling back ways of the University, and slipped over the river on a pedestrian only bridge. I liked that route.

It was apparently the victim of a mudslide. And I was happy to believe the mudslide explanation all the way into the middle part of last summer. But there comes a point where all those trucks, all those many, many people toiling away on some hidden part of a long closed road, must produce some results. And as the road persistently remained closed I began to grow impatient, suspicious even. When Spring made its first tentative ventures out of Winter, and I longed for my moseying route once again, I wrote the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

They wrote back to me!

They said:

The delays in the reopening of the West River Road have nothing to do with the crash landing of alien spacecraft. They are entirely due to the mudslide caused by the heavy rains of last spring and the engineering challenges of stabilizing the eroded bluff.
Whoa. Wait. Who said anything about aliens? Who said anything about crashed spaceships?


Something was very fishy.

I started to pay even more attention. Why do they need all those tents? Why is the unaffected walking path so thoroughly shut down when there must be a safe way through? Why does the whole operation, viewed across the river, look more like an archeological dig than a construction site?

I asked my friend Doris.

My friend Doris is an alien!

Really. She is! If the pale, whitish green skin doesn't tell the tale, there is the fact that her face consists entirely of a giant eyeball.

"Do you know anything about a crashed spaceship down by the river?" I asked.

She looked really embarrassed. I think. Sometimes it is hard to read just that one big eyeball. You have to kind of look at her mouths/hands too. But I'm pretty sure she was embarrassed. "It wasn't exactly a crash." She said. "It was more like we accidentally dropped a load of experimental avocados."

"Experimental avocados?" I inquired.

"Very experimental." She replied significantly.

"So if I were to illegally start using that route again would I be in danger?"

Doris mused. "You might temporarily turn into an avocado tree."

"How long would I be an avocado tree?"

"Less than a week."

"But Doris!" I exclaimed "I thought you liked people. I thought you were a pacifist utopian vegetarian alien, on a mission of peace and education. Why would you mess with something that would turn everyone into an avocado tree for a week?"

"I am all that." Doris replied. "And I know it's terrible. But it is less than a week, and, and, well..." She trembled. Her eye got a strange, slightly feverish glow in it.

"Yes" I prodded.

"Well," She burst out "Just think of all the guacamole!"

Monday, April 6, 2015

A name is a terrible thing to live up to

A true story.

The library phone rings this morning. It is my job to answer it. It's all very old fashioned.

"I WOULD LIKE TO RENEW SOME BOOKS." Says the patron in an unmistakable fashion, one that is terribly easy to hear. Perhaps it is a trifle too easy to hear.

"I need the barcode off of your library card." I say in a quiet tone, hoping to bring down the volume of our discourse.

"JUST A MOMENT. I'LL LOOK FOR IT." A volunteer across the room, startled, looks up, wondering what all the racket is leaking out around the edges of my ear. I wait patiently, cowering slightly.

"The barcode is 21120827544462" The patron broadcasts.

I type it in dutifully. The computer brings up the patron's account and name:

Elizabeth Yells.

Wow. She sure does.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Diminishing returns

Recently I was at a retirement event, an art show closing, for a beloved University art professor. I have no objection to telling you her name, Joyce Lyons, and that she is a brilliant artist. She is especially good at trees, forests, the ground. She is very good at the ground. To my delight you could find her work online but none of it looks particularly good, and all of it is a false representation of the beauty of her work. I am delighted because I wickedly rejoice every time the great and terrible Internet falls short and proves incapable and we are all thrust back into the fleshly world.

At this event my wife and I were sitting at a table. I was trying to eat as many things as possible from the very appealing looking Italian Antipasti table, but in retrospect I wish I focused more on acquiring additional glasses of the Prosecco. The cushion of slight drunkenness would have mixed warmly with the event. We would have been delighted to remain alone at our table, but this Joyce Lyon person is one popular professor. No space stayed unfilled, and soon we were joined by a couple; an artist and a physicist. The artist was very extroverted, and we're usually reasonably polite anyway so discussion ensued. We went around informally, exchanging all our bona fides, chatting. The library came up and inevitably I was called on to dispense my bit of library wisdom, which mainly came down to explaining why the thing the artist wanted to happen at her library (a longer time to come pick up her requested items) was untenable (it makes the wait lists unreasonably slow and long).

Then the subject of my blog came up. 


"What is it mainly about?" I was asked.

"Mostly, these days, it's about how great it is."

"But if you just brag." The artist said "You will have no readers."

Looking back on this now, an alternate, strangely appealing response to this springs to my mind:

"There are infinite paths to blogging to no readers."

In the end, though, what I responded was "I guess that's the point."

I suspect they have not since checked in to see what all the fuss was about.

Saturday, April 4, 2015


I have, on occasion, handed out my share of advice here. But I don't mean it.

I have begun to think there is no such thing as advice. Advice is the box you use when you're reorganizing for "to decide later". Any organizing book, of which there are many, will advise you that in no way should you ever have a "to decide later" box. This is very good advice. I will take it under consideration.

If I take out all the splendid advice I have received in my life, like one of my art teacher's admonitions to learn a valuable skill, like carpentry, I find it is all beautifully preserved, like in aspic, just sort of jiggling around in an impenetrable gelatinous cube. My wife and I were once in a fascinating food shop in Belgium. We stood in line. I have no idea what we were buying. But an old lady in front of us proceeded to order slice after slice of mysterious aspics in loaf pans. These gelled loafs were chock full of mysterious body parts and obscure vegetables and mushrooms. The counter person meticulously wrapped each individual slice in layers of butcher paper as the line grew out the door. I can't imagine any of us minded. It was fascinating. "Is that a boar's snout and pickles in aspic?" we all hypnotically wondered to ourselves.

What did that old Belgian woman do with all that aspic? I like to think she arranged it on the many shelves of her apartment, in between her many, many bibles.

An alternate theory is that she ate them.

And so here is my advice to you:

Don't hand out advice unless you're prepared to have a couple of bites of the horrible stuff yourself.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Your benefits

If there's one thing I'm not good at, it's marketing. Marketing and sales. And bowling. Bowling, music, marketing, sales, and sewing. And money, endurance sports, filling out forms, and corporate style professionalism.

There's a few other things, but I don't want to get too far off topic, or try your patience. The point is that I am not good at marketing. Sometimes my blog feels a little sad that I am unable to properly perform the tasks that will allow it to flourish in the world. But my blog has a very sporting personality and, to disappointment, my blog is inclined to say "As long as you try, that's what means the most to me."

And so, in that spirit, I would today like to inform you as to the various benefits one can accrue as a regular reader of clerkmanifesto. You might want to consider increasing your level.


Dilettante Level:

To reach the dilettante level you need only occasionally read one of my posts and not react with outright hostility to them.

What you get:

Several humorous anecdotes that don't really work for sharing with others and a useful reminder to get off the Internet.

Trying to Keep Up Level:
To reach the trying to keep up level you need merely have the vague ambition to read all my posts, which you only sort of, but not quite, manage to do.

What you get:

All of the above benefits plus the hope that you will one day be mentioned in a blog post.

Subscriber Level:

To reach the subscriber level you need merely sign up to receive the blog regularly via email.

What you get:

All of the above benefits plus a less appealing font to read it in and the comforting sense of watching the brutal hurly burly of an intense blog in action from the safety of a luxury box seat with tinted windows.

Commenters Level:
To reach the commenters level you need to read fairly regularly and comment once every couple weeks, usually in batches of comments.

What you get:

All the benefits other than subscribers level plus personalized responses to each comment even when the blog writer is slightly heartbroken that the comment did not start out by complimenting the blog.

Proselytizer Level:

To reach the proselytizer level you need to regularly read the blog and work tirelessly to spread it around and bring it to a wider audience, never admitting defeat no matter how fruitless your efforts.

What you get:

All of the above benefits plus useful tips on how to spell "proselytizer".