Sunday, May 31, 2015

The complaining trilogy concludes

Nobody likes a complainer.

I have been trying for three days to work up to teaching you the difficult lesson of how to be a likeable complainer. Everyone likes a complainer actually, as long as it is done properly. And so...

How to be a likeable complainer

1. Employ the rule of five: for every five complaints, one is casually mentioned, one is kept to oneself, one is for your familiars, one is made light of, and one is turned into something else completely.

2. Be enthusiastic about strange, tiny things to keep everyone off balance. If you're frequently excited about the endangered lichen Yellow Specklebelly, your fury about how people inefficiently pack boxes of books (it's not rocket science!) will fit more naturally into a range of mild eccentricities.

3. Use these complaint moderating tools:

     A. Humor ("You have filled this box and yet there's so much space I can fit my right foot in. I can take my right foot out. I can put my right foot in, and I can shake it all about.")

     B. Science ("Ah, see, through the use of stacking like sized objects the actual mass of the box is increased! Get me a grant. I feel a study coming on to try to prove St + F^2 = M(12). Why, solving the inefficiencies of box packing is just like rocket science!")

     C. Appeal to the greater good ("By packing this box with stacking we can use 80% fewer boxes saving the library 62 work hours per annum.")

4. Complain in a crowd. Like so many things that can get lost in a crowd (a comment, a child, a hat, common sense) complaining barely registers as complaining when it's done with a group. That little knot of workers you see gathered at a restaurant, a store, the library, are they figuring out how to deal with a problem? Maybe. Are they enjoying some pleasant socializing? Maybe. Are they complaining bitterly about a wide range of petty issues so that the burden of solitary complaining is shared out amongst them and lightened? Oh yes.

5. There is no sense in putting lipstick on a pig, but complaining is not nearly as attractive (or, alas, tasty) as a pig and can benefit from any amount of gussying up that you can manage. Joking, science, and being constructive are, of course, all just a variety of frocks, butterfly facepainting, vintage jewelry, perfumes, and spray on tans. But don't stop there. Every device, trick, and talent that humanity is heir to can be piled onto one's complaining. Augment your complaining with analysis, wisdom, insight, coolness, storytelling, fantasy, wit, and perception, and, before you know it, people may not even recognize the complaining underneath it all. Hell, you might not recognize the complaining buried in all your add-ons. Indeed, there might not even be any complaining underneath all of that anymore. 


Saturday, May 30, 2015

No one likes a complainer

No one likes a complainer. But what if you are, well, sort of a complainer, and you want to still be liked?

I, for instance, want to be liked. I want to be liked by at least three or four people that I know, possibly several more, and, and this is big, so if you've been skimming this post so far you're going to want to start suddenly paying strict attention:


I know. You are shocked. You had no idea whatsoever!

That is because I have mastered the art of the likeable complainer.

Yes, it is one of the rarest and most exotic arts- the likeable complainer, comparable to the hunting vegan, the witty dog, or the giant bonsai tree.

But I don't tell you this merely to dazzle you. I have a higher purpose as well. 

I understand that you might have cast a few damning words upon the world. I understand that you may have, once or twice, complained, and that you don't, necessarily, want to prohibitively block off the possibility of people liking you.

Sure it would be great to be all perfectly self contained, and collected, and not caring how other people feel about you because you are you and you have to be true to yourself, chips falling where they may and all that, and you are at peace and whole and complete in your essential center. But even Gautama Buddha is going to feel it a little if, when he merely mentions that it's a bit windy out, no one likes him anymore.

That's why I am going to teach you how to be a likeable complainer.

Unfortunately the teaching of it is very difficult and long and exhausting and painful. I can barely keep my eyes open except for the discomfort that would prevent my dozing. I have been writing this blog post for what appears to be hours. I don't understand how this can even be because this post is but a few rambling sentences long so far, and yet I started it on post it notes in the Ikea return line over four hours ago now. Four hours ago! Yes, some other activities came into it, but it's late at night, I have been typing here forever and the faster I type the more quickly my point recedes into the distance. Can you see it out there? If you see my point just sort of shoo it over in this direction. Tomorrow I have to get up early for another day of house remodeling, plus I have to do these core exercises every other day now and they hurt. And what is it with the Buddha and the wind? What's wrong with the wind?


Anyway, I think I'd better teach you tomorrow.

It's gonna be great.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Nobody's complainer

Nobody likes a complainer.

Which is just exactly what's wrong with everyone!

Whoops, wait. Let's start over.

Nobody likes a complainer.

Which you'd think would be nearly impossible because everyone who complains about a complainer (and, boy, they do!) is a complainer themselves! The lot of hypocrites!

Er, sorry. Wait, one more time. We'll start over again.

Nobody likes a complainer.

Because they suck and I hate all those stupid complainers forever! 


I don't know. Sometimes you sit down and have the blog post all sort of sketched out in your head, but when it comes down to it you can't get the tone quite right.

You don't know?

You don't write a blog?

You should. It's hard for me being the only one in the world writing a blog. It is a lot of responsibility. If you all blogged we could have, like, a league of bloggers, and a fort, and a blogging soccer team that we could blog about.

Not that I was complaining. I wasn't, for the record.

I was just offering a bit of constructive advice.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Race solution

As a general matter of course I do not enter into racial politics here on clerkmanifesto. Perhaps I have felt it is a subject where it is too easy to say something completely foolish.

I like to feel really challenged to say something foolish.

But this morning I had such a good idea. I'm not saying it will solve everything in the deep problems of racism in America. One simple idea by a humble, ever so humble, blogger with a readership of 30 could hardly hope to solve the brutal, incessant, and intractable issues of institutional and casual racism in this country overnight.

Nevertheless this idea should take care of about 98 percent of the problem.

Yes, it is a pretty good idea.

Yes, it's new.

Yes, you are very lucky to be among the first people hearing it for the first time. Just imagine how I felt when I thought of it!

I was reflecting on the problems with policing and race that have been plaguing this county for, er, several hundred years. These problems are seeing an upswing just recently in people paying attention to them because they are being filmed more. 

Ruminating on this my brilliant idea came to me.

My idea is that from now on all law enforcement of any kind in America will have to be black. No more white police officers. Sorry Latinos, Asians, and American Indians. Only African Americans can now become Police Officers, Police Detectives, Police Chiefs, FBI, CIA, and so on.

I know!

This will create a splendid jobs boost to the black community. It looks like there are nearly one million police officers in America. The average Police Officer salary is around $50,000. That's a good middle class job there for a million black men and women. Plus people will stop getting hassled and incarcerated for basically just being black. This is a winning proposition.

"But," You ask "Will black people be good at this job?"

What's with the racist question? Why wouldn't they be? You racist.

"But this is Affirmative Action!" You cry out.

No, seriously, I have like 30 readers total on my blog and there's like a racist shouting stuff right in the middle of my blog post. This is so unfair! And what on earth could possibly be wrong with Affirmative Action? It's action, which is good and normal. One has to take action to do pretty much anything. But this action goes one better: it's affirmative, that is, agreeable, positive. If you're going to take action, which you are, affirmative seems an excellent way to go.

Anyway, let's get on this! Someone go tell the President. Hurry.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


Come face me across the poker table.

Oh, I can be so confident here. I have placed my bets with no tell and no tremor in my hand.  I assert the power of prophecy. I adjudicate the justice of the world. I call myself the greatest writer on the Internet. I am so sure I am have the winning hand.

But the engine that drives confidence is doubt. And doubt as an engine will break down when it is not exposed to light and air. It will tear through its concealments seeking oxygen.

So it has been for me this week.

Everywhere I turn I wonder "What if I am not so right? What if my hand is a lost one?"

What if my visions are a lie?

What if I am not a prophet of god?

What if God really is great, and he has a brilliant secret plan up his sleeve?

What if it's the children's fault?

What if libraries are terrible and books are all stupid?

What if Republicans aren't fictitious,  and what if power and money are indications of just rewards? 

What if Christian Ronaldo is a better, humbler soccer player than Lionel Messi, and the Internet is uncorrupted and beautiful, and the eternal Tao really isn't knowable, and all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds?

What if Thomas Kincaid is a better painter than Caravaggio, Ursula K. LeGuin is terribly overrated, and I am really not funny?

Nothing is related. The good guys win every war. Rivers and creeks don't have anything to say. Authority is just. Some things are not alive. There is no beauty in the world. You have come to the wrong place. Love dies.

And so it is said and it is over. 

I stand by my truth. Now I push everything I own to the center of the table. I go all in. I may be bluffing, but you will have to call to find out.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The 3D Printer

My library system has a 3D Printer. It's a printer, but instead of printing documents (boring!), it prints objects (intriguing!).

My library also has CTEPs (pronounced "see-teps"). Don't ask me what CTEP stands for because I will truculently refuse to look it up. But what CTEPs come down to is that they are AmeriCorps post college kids who come work here for a year to muck about with technology issues. This generally means helping teach computer classes, helping patrons with computer problems, and running technology programs that feature things like our 3D Printer.

So at some point during any of our CTEPs year-long stint with us I will see them wheeling around the 3D Printer, and if I haven't made the joke to them before (hopefully), I will grab a key (usually the bookdrop key), gesture vaguely to the 3D Printer, and say to them "Can you make me a copy of this key?"

Invariably they will look blankly at me for a second, and then they will laugh.

And that's all.

But the day that one of the CTEPs says "Sure, just put the key here, and we'll print it out." Is the day that I will be interested in the 3D printer.

Monday, May 25, 2015

How we got here

There has been some debate lately, particularly on the Internet, as to whether one can learn to be a good writer or whether it is an innate skill.

I am here to testify that through hard work, steady practice, and a deep commitment even the most hapless writer can learn to write beautiful prose.

I know because that is the story of my journey.

Three years ago my communication skills had atrophied to the point where I could not write an intelligible grocery list. Responses to my rare emails all came back  "I don't understand what you're trying to say" or simply "?". My confusing notes for my colleagues at work became such a problem that it was politely suggested I seek professional help.

So I went to consult with a tenured, major research university English Professor.  

The English Professor said that if I didn't do something soon, in two years I would be unable to communicate the simplest concepts. I would be locked inside the shell of myself, with only my own, increasingly confusing, thoughts to keep me company.

This Professor scared me straight.

I decided to do what I should have been doing all along. I decided to start a daily blog.

It was a deep challenge from the start. My first post was entitled "The" and read:

Medum yela thing.

But I did not give up! I wrote every day, striving to communicate simple concepts. I had my first success just into my third week of blogging. The title was "Cats" and it read:

I like cats.

Of course, my posts weren't all that good over the next few months, but this success was important because it let me know that I could do it. I had it in me. This was also, interestingly, the high point of my blog's popularity. My cat post was viewed over 8 million times in the course of three days.

After five months of daily writing I wrote "The winter story". It was my longest post yet and read as follows:

In Winter it gets cold. I go outsyde. I have a cote that I wear cause its cold. My hands get cold.

This piece filled me with confidence, perhaps too much confidence, because I followed shortly afterwards with an ambitious blog post entitled "Let's hear it for oranges!" This is the text of that over-reaching essay:

Oranges are some kind of fruityou eats fork. Peels have the bright it is very with the taste and how do I best describe in the way you have describe. Hey to oranges that oranges more times different than grapefruit orange different.

That night I cried myself to sleep.

But I did not give up!

I slowly built myself back up and a few weeks later I wrote a piece called "Cats". You can readily see that I reigned my ambitions in a little, nevertheless I feel I met with a very real success. The short piece said simply:

I like cats.

Many people were very supportive of this piece, though a few mentioned that it reminded them of one of my earlier posts. I took this in a positive light. I felt it showed I was establishing a voice!

At this point I am pretty sure I plateaued for awhile. I won't say I was afraid, but "Let's hear it for oranges!" was on my mind during the next year when I wrote many posts committed to my interest in cats. Nevertheless I managed to hit a high point in that period with a piece I called "The Cat". It read:

Cats are really neat. I like gray ones, but black ones are really nice too!

My confidence was bolstered yet again, and the next day I wrote a piece called "How we got here". 

You just finished reading it.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Fake Picasso quote

This is by Picasso, so it must be worth at least a few million dollars...

"When is art best?

When we get to feel feelings that aren't our own, and they become so."



Saturday, May 23, 2015

Under the sun

I am as much prey to the wonder of the new as most people, at least for awhile. But once, as it always is, any new thing is exposed to humanity's relentless, horrible assimilation, I can see through it as well as old Claude Levi Strauss. We herd all things, no matter how wondrous and novel and illuminating, to serve our same needs.

So no one ever asks me "Is the Internet more like a TV or more like books?" which would be an excellent question.

Is the Internet more like TV or more like books?

Oh, but alas, who said books and TV were different.

Friday, May 22, 2015

In search of blog

Marcus, the teen librarian, who shares my love for soccer and has even been an instructor in it, recommended a soccer book called Soccer in Sun and Shadow by Eduardo Galeano. It was a terrific book. It is probably the best sports book I have ever read if we discount, as we should, a treacly, basically dishonest boy's book about the life of Babe Ruth that I read over and over and loved when I was nine.

Soccer in Sun and Shadow is about the history of soccer, but it is not a conventional history of soccer. It is told in vignettes of piercing, elegant prose, and it is full of leftist politics (which are the only kind that have anything to say). Functionally it is a book written in the way I write: short essays that stand on their own and yet constantly progress and interrelate. What I am saying is that Soccer in Sun and Shadow is a book of blog posts.

But, of course, they are not blog posts. The late Eduardo Galeano wrote this book in the nineties and had already been writing enormously respected works of history in exactly this format for decades. When I told Marcus about loving the book and how I especially adore books written in what I think of as the blog post format, he shared the feeling and marveled at Eduardo Galeano doing this long before blogs existed.

Here is where I came to my senses.

Galeano did not anticipate the blog, because the blog itself is a chimera. Yes, the Internet is supposed to be groaning under the weight of them, but what I think of as a proper blog, what I think most people assume is scattered richly across the Internet, does not actually exist. No one reads them. I cannot find them, no one links to them, and there is no stumbling upon them. Perhaps my search skills are deficient, but if these blogs truly exist, where are they? The only ones I have ever seen are ghostly suggestions of long abandoned blogs that I sometimes imagine have been forensically placed on the Internet in the way that deranged Creationists imagine God to have placed Dinosaur bones in the earth.

I write a blog. It is one hundred percent, distilled, exactly what I mean by a blog. I liked the idea of it, went down into my basement, attached a lion and a goat and a serpent and found I loved it. I sent my chimera blog out to play and it came back alone.

Or how about this one? A blog is like if all your life people spoke exactly as they do about moths, you among them, but one day you realized "Hey, I've never actually seen a moth!" So you start looking, you start asking people about them. You have a hard time shaking the idea that they are everywhere, that they circle porch lights at night, that everyone else is seeing them, that soon you will find the right place where they flit thickly in the air. But it never happens, and every moth that is pointed out to you, by someone humoring your ridiculous challenge, is clearly something else, a cicada, a butterfly, a bat, a beetle, a bird.

Prove me wrong. I have a comment section. Yes, my definition of blog is narrow, but I feel it is reasonable. 

Until I am proven wrong I say the Emperor is naked. And the Internet, which, in the end, is only all of us, must add another delusion to its rich list.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The trifecta

I am not eager to make light of mental illness, but we had such a dazzling moment tonight, out by the coffee shop, on the Internet computers, in that special corner back there where so many wonderful things happen. You see, we came within inches of a trifecta! And besides, those people involved might not be mentally ill at all. There's room for all types here at the library.

My colleague at the front desk spotted the first one: a woman on Internet terminal 87. I couldn't see her too well because she had a large, striped umbrella completely unfurled over her. Perhaps she was concerned about an indoor shower? We had, earlier, conducted a fire alarm drill and so she could have been being cautious about the sprinkler system tripping. Of course, the more likely reason was that she wanted her privacy. Oddly, from far across the room her umbrella obscured nearly everything about her except her computer screen, which, from our angle, we could see clearly.

To her right was a regular. But just because he's a regular doesn't negate his colorful qualities. Apparently germaphobic, he had once again completely wrapped our hardwired headphones in great swaths of toilet paper, where it all perched on his head- a bizarre, puffy white crown clearly visible at a hundred yards.

Alas, the patron to umbrella lady's left is where we just fell short. A man whose paranoia is palpable and who, more than once, has come to me and others to complain about people following him and tracking him, appeared to have perched a small aluminum foil hat on top of his head, to protect from various brain beam monitors and whatnot. But sadly, upon closer examination, it was not foil. It was just a pair of chrome sunglasses perched on his head.

Well, I hope they help anyway. With, admittedly a bit of amusement, but no recrimination, I say, may it help them all.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Bright side

There is no getting around it. No matter how dear the patrons at my library are to me, there are some, who, approaching me at the front desk, cause my spirit to quail.

Oh, here comes one now!

Her card is littered with special messages and notes of warnings and carefully limited permissions. Actually it's not even her card. It's her kid's card. She has burned through her own card and owes far too much on it to checkout items with it. So here she is with her daughter's card and a sprawling array of A/V materials that she freely spills across my desk. Some are for renewing. Some are for returning. Some important ones she may or may not have left at home. Some she's not sure about. Oh, look, here is some garbage that she spilled out onto my desk with her items. Some items are only parts of what she checked out. Nothing has been worked out by her in advance.

We plow through a long list of restrictions, issues, decisions, fines, organizational piles, notes, and clarifications. I would not list all what we did here even if I could remember it all. The fines on her daughter's card had grown to where she cannot check anything out until she pays them down to our acceptable fine threshold. I am willing to renew things she already has out though, most of them at her house or in her car or lost or being given back to her from us because they were returned to us empty.

She argues vehemently for an exception to the "No Checkout" rule. But I am very firm about it and she relents. She heads out to the lobby and starts asking people for money to pay her fines down. We only allow begging for fine resolution at the front desk. We don't allow it amongst the patrons, and so soon a manager is involved.

But this patron works fast and has gathered a complete stranger to come with her to a self check out station in order to pay $9.00 of her fines with a credit card! The manager manages to put the kibosh on this at the last minute, at which point the owing patron pulls out $9.00 of her own money that she had all along. As she is paying down her fine to an allowable limit with my manager I hear her grumble "I was hoping to buy some food for my children with this!"

So I am very hard pressed to come up with any virtues in this person who, apparently contented, left the library with dozens of our CDs and DVDs. I hope against hope that any children she has are a complicated fictional scam. I look forward to the seemingly inevitable time she self destructs out of the ability to use our library altogether. 

Nevertheless, I confess to being dazzled at her ability to talk a complete stranger into coming with her to a computer to pay her fines for her. It took her maybe two minutes total to do so. If not for the cat like reflexes of my manager she would have managed it too. Amazing.

Oh, if only she would use her power for good.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Age and Elvis

Biking into the University I looked right in preparation for a complicated street crossing. I saw a man driving a slightly battered black car. He was very heavy set, corpulent even, and sunk so low in the driver's seat that I wondered if the original bucket seat had worn away and been replaced with an old, legless easy chair. The man had big sideburns, wide, dark sunglasses, was smoking a cigarette, and possessed something I can only describe as presence.

He looked exactly like Elvis. Exactly.

"Oh my god!" I thought. "It's Elvis!"

But my place in time corrected me. This man was at most in his late forties. I did a brief, rough calculation and thought "If Elvis were alive today, he'd be dead."

Monday, May 18, 2015

An exciting choice!

I was biking and the wind was blowing against me.

I took it personally.

And there is my religion in a nutshell. But the nutshell wouldn't open, and so I have no religion.

To ridiculously simplify things, the spiritual ideal of the West is Thankfulness.

And the spiritual ideal of the East is Peace.

But the spiritual ideal around here is to hold every last atom of the Universe personally responsible.

You must choose whatever way you want, of course. On the one hand you have two bloated histories, their hands dripping with blood. On the other you have an occasionally amusing blogger, quietly sitting here in anonymity, whacking a recalcitrant nutshell with large rocks.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Not your dad

For a variety of reasons my wife and I did not have children. Though there can be faint touches of sadness about this I am very aware that it doesn't seem like a very nice thing to do, that is, to bring a person into this world. Yes, I know that's a dark view, and that this is a beautiful world, but you know as well as I do that this place is also terrible. It's one thing to already be here, but if you take a fair look at the thing from an outside perspective you will have to agree that life is, sadly, an unreasonable burden to put on someone.

Don't get me wrong. I embrace it as I can since I am here, and I am fully open to a reconsideration in the event of a badly needed redesign of the world. But the whole thing, I am sure, could have been done much, much better. It is childish to call this perfect.

Anyway, not having a child has left my sense of fatherhood profoundly underdeveloped. So it is strange to me when I have surges of parental response. Lately I have this fatherly response every time I walk through the student union at the University of Minnesota, walking through a crowded room of people the right age to have been my kids.

There I am walking along the quiet river. I climb the long stairs. I greet the turkeys. The weather is glorious even by the standard of a person who hates all weather. But I don't hate much weather at all, only heat, and I certainly will not complain about springtime, 68 degrees, just barely partly cloudy, light breeze. I climb to the Coffman Union, the student center. There is a back plaza. In the middle of plentiful, agreeable seating overlooking downtown Minneapolis and the noble river itself, is a bronze and marble fountain made in 1620. 1620! In Florence! By a guy named Pietro Tacca. It is the prettiest fountain within at least a thousand miles. Water spouts from mermens' lips. The churlish could complain that the fountain is not by Bernini, which might be passingly relevant in Rome, but this is Minneapolis. It would be like walking into someone's farm home in Iowa and seeing their lovely Pissaro, then faulting it for not being a Monet.

So I admire this fountain very much. It is a mighty wonder. And generally I admire it alone. Three or four students at most are scattered in the seating of the plaza, though there's room for dozens and dozens more. I admire the Tacca Fountain and head inside.

The Coffman Union is sprawling with students. A hundred of them lay across the darkened room, slouching. Every one of them is quietly absorbed in their smart phone.

"Hello, children." I cry out. "It's a beautiful day! Go sit outside! Get some fresh air. Step away from your gadgets, there is art and sun and wild birds out there!"

They don't even look up from their phones at me. And why should they. I am not even speaking out loud. I am merely having a few parental thoughts. Not even the good kind. 

Here are the good kind:

"Do what you want children. If you can't squander time now, when can you? Your phones are amazing and that ancient sculpture outside, feh! It's not even by Bernini!"


Saturday, May 16, 2015


There has been a lot of talk around here about me being a prophet of the gods. Alas that it is all self-generated. If the New York Times opinion section kept publishing pieces suggesting that I am a prophet of god I could quietly demur. I could humbly say "Gosh, well, that's pretty strong stuff. I make no claims for myself, but the New York Times is very authoritative, don't you think? It only tends to mislead when it comes to money and politics and power and privilege and race and class and human nature. But I've always found them reliable on the subject of Prophets of God. So, um, you'll have to make up your own mind."

But I have yet to see a New York Times Op-Ed that mentions me even glancingly. Out of caution they rarely even use the letters that appear commonly in my name.

And thus I end up having to do everything myself!

When you tell everyone you're a Prophet of God the burden that falls on you is not to prove that you are, indeed, a prophet of god, but, rather, to prove that you aren't crazy. If you can just prove that you aren't crazy then 90% of the battle is already won!

I'm not crazy!

Wait, that doesn't sound right.

Crazy is like speeding in an area with an unreasonably low speed limit. Sure I'm going 30 mph in a 15 mph zone, but so is everyone else. I am not going 90. That's the main point.

No, wait, that's not the main point.

The main point is that when it's time to do the dishes, I, within a reasonable frame of time, do the dishes. I don't say "I AM THE PROPHET OF GOD!" That's the main point. When I am at a soiree and someone asks me what I do, I say "I work at a library." I don't say "I am a Prophet of God."

Though, admittedly, I am thinking of switching that.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Prophet of the gods

As a reasonably learned person your only experience with Prophets of God involve crazy people whose very madness belies that they are not, actually, Prophets of God, and historical figures who may or may not be fictional, who may or may not have actually been Prophets of God, but it was all a long long time ago, and it all seems a bit fishy anyway.

So what do you do if a reasonably sane person, completely contemporaneous with yourself in history, time, and space, looks you in the eye and says "I am a prophet of god."?

If you have ever read my missives before you know where this is heading. If you have never been here before I know two things about you.

1. You are very, very, very lucky to have found this.


2. The chances of you ever returning are remote.

C'est la vie.

So now we will go where you knew this was heading.

I am a Prophet of God.

I like to think of it more as a "prophet of the gods", but sometimes the forms have to be observed.

Sometimes they don't.

I am the only Prophet of God that I currently know of on the planet.

What's it like, you wonder.

It's okay. I would have thought it would be more glamorous. It's not particularly glamorous. It also doesn't appear to pay anything. Periodically I expect to get famous, or even to occasionally have a bit or two get popular on the Internet. Nope. Not so far. But, hey, you could fill a daily blog with the things I don't understand.

Which is what I'm doing.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

More Taoist wisdom

Do you know what Chuang Tzu says in The Inner Chapters?

He says:

Do you know what makes people ruin Integrity and flaunt understanding? Scrambling for praise and renown- that's what ruins Integrity.

Do you know what Lady Gaga says?

She says:

I used to walk down the street like I was a fucking star... I want people to walk around delusional about how great they can be - and then to fight so hard for it every day that the lie becomes the truth.

Now you wonder "How can it be reconciled that both Chuang Tzu and Lady Gaga are Taoist?"

If you pretend to understand the Tao it cannot be reconciled. But if you understand the Tao you will go make some coffee, watch the Spring rains, and make sure you never miss a word I write because I am full of wisdom.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


Incessant complainers are some of the most unpleasant people in the world to be around. I should know, I have been acquainted with a few dedicated ones and it is grim work. Sadly, I have even occasionally stumbled across that red line of bitterness a few times myself. At such a point I am not even good company for myself. On the other hand, the openhearted, keep their own counsel, try to see the best, accept things as they are crowd can be pleasant to be around and are no doubt, on the whole, more successful and happy in this world. Cultures that are in harmony with our natures thrive. Members of societies and institutions, with team spirit, or simply unconflicted when it comes to whatever structure happens to be in place, are the ones to whom good things tend to happen. People comfortable with the default path of human development and organization are always at a great advantage. 

And yet we were given one gift. One gift that is only ours.

We alone can judge the gods.

I just think it would be a shame to waste it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Non fiction shelving

Today, due to a rash of illnesses and absences, I am upstairs shelving in the non fiction section. There are plenty of interesting books up here. Really there is much better browsing reading in non fiction than there is in fiction. We still have some weird hidden treasures out on these non fiction shelves. In fiction the great battleships of bestsellers, sweeping in and out of our shelving with their 14 identical copies, tend to purge out a lot of the strange old stuff. It scours the hidden corners of the shelves. Non fiction, more defined and particular, lends itself to diversity and obscurity.

So why do I like shelving here less? The first reason is that I don't like the long strings of Dewey Decimal numbers. Holding in my head ten numeric digits and two letters just to shelve one stupid non fiction book makes me want to, well, pause and write notes for an angry blog post about it instead. To me it's like if, in fiction, every author had the same long last name with tiny, inconsequential variations.

Marylynn Petterson, Marianne Patterson, Mary Anne Pattersen, Manny N. Paterson, and so on and on.

But that's not the main reason.

I am okay with nearly all the books in fiction. Yes, there are works of evil there, and an occasional book irritates me to no good end (I'm looking at you Kazuo Ishiguro!), but for the most part they're just stories. I can take most of the kinds of trouble people get up to telling stories. At least there's a kind of giving innocence somewhere in the heart of it.

Not so in non fiction. There are agendas out here! There are rank liars and opportunists. There are ugly books by bad people doing dark work on these shelves.

Don't get me wrong. I love non fiction every bit as much as fiction. I am writing non fiction right now. Casting my eyes about the books on these shelves I find nearly all of it is fine, or wonderful, or thorough, or trying, or decent, or acceptable, or who knows...

But occasionally too there are here books of hard core lies, nasty apologetics, ugly propaganda, all that no one could ever be the richer by in checking out. My incentive to shelve these books properly, in their meticulous numerical system, is low. And yet I do it, with all the same exactitude I would use to shelve a masterpiece.

But it stabs me a little each time, and I like it less.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Messi's second goal

You don't want to hear about soccer. And if you were a person who, in any way, wanted to hear about soccer, you would have already heard about this.

So I won't tell you about soccer. I won't tell you about another pointless game with hundreds of millions of people watching it. I won't tell you about how they took around a billion people and filtered them down according to how cleverly they played soccer until there were just 22 of them left, all of them so good at it that there was something faintly silly about it.

I won't tell you about how, sometimes, one of those 22 could make the other 21 look like the 21 made the billion look.

I won't tell you about the money. I won't tell you about the false importance and misdirected emotions, the lies and the fandom and the winning.

I will tell you instead about little kids on a playground.

They are playing a game.

One of them gets the ball kicked to him after everyone on his team has been passing it around for awhile. He takes the ball, kicking it with little tiny kicks so it's always just right at his feet, towards the goal. A kid on the other team is in front of him, so he pretends he's going in one direction, but he's not! The other kid is so convinced by all this that he actually just falls down. You would think he would fall on his butt, but he is so turned around that he falls on his tummy! So then the goalie kid figures he'd better come out and get that ball. But just as he's about to get it the kid with the ball just sort of lifts it with his toe- pop! And the ball floats real quietly over the goalie kid's head, his swiping arm chases futilely after it, and the ball bounces inside the goal.

The goalie feels bad so he skips into the goal. Ah well.

The scoring team is so happy they hug each other a lot.

I am happy too.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

God the accountant

God the accountant:

Who else would be so obsessed with balancing the books that they would have everyone eat everyone else?

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Gardening and me

It has turned out to be impossible for a man with my brownish-gray-green thumb to grow a proper garden in my yard. The skies of summer are soon heavily sketched over with a sprawling foliage of an oddly unbalanced oak tree and a towering pine tree that has waxed fat off of our sewage line. Every couple of years we have a sewer man come grind out our sewer pipe, driving a massive whirring blade through gluttonous pine tree roots. The pine tree is unphased by this, and it is now over 400 feet tall. At this point, gardening-wise, I mostly grow fruiting things that thrive yet bear no fruit (no raspberries, no grapes, and no apples). Most of our hostas do well and our creeping charlie is blossoming in purple even as I write this.

But a few blocks over from the house of my wife and I is the second oldest victory garden in the nation. We learned this fact at our orientation, an orientation we attended because we have obtained a plot there. The oldest Victory Garden in the nation is somewhere on the east coast. Our orientation host cast aspersions on this garden in the east, though I can't remember what those aspersions were. The upshot was that while our Victory/Community Garden isn't technically the oldest in the nation, by any of the really important standards it pretty much is.

We have already put a good deal of preparatory work into our sunny patch of land in this historic garden. And as composts and weedings and early seeds make their way into our plot I am finding much of my characteristic emotional relationship to the world expressed in my feelings of hope, anticipation, and despair surrounding the prospects of this garden.

I am fully convinced that our garden plot is going to provide so many glorious, sweet, and strangely wonderful heirloom tomatoes, peas, herbs, melons, onions, raspberries, and greens of all kinds that I will hardly know what to do with them all.

And I am equally sure that no seed will sprout, nothing will grow, and everything that does grow will wither and blacken on the eve of bearing fruit.

All my prodigious life experience tells me that something in between these two will happen.

But what is that to my feelings, which, while utterly blind as prophets, are nevertheless free of all time and faultless.

Inherent contradiction be damned, you will watch those feelings all come true, right here, should you dare to stay for the summer.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The first book

Here I am reading the first book.

Don't we all have a first book? The first book, made of meat and bone, we ever read?

I have not read this book in a long time.

When I was 15 my mother brought home from the library some books by Steinbeck. "You might like this." She said. This makes my mother sound like a good mother. She wasn't. But there, in that moment, in that act, she was. If only we could have multiplied that. 

Alas that one times one is one.

I had read books before Tortilla Flat. A couple years earlier I had read The Lord of the Rings. But to my 13 year old mind that wasn't reading. It was a wonder unto itself. Some things are like that. Some things are so great they are the entirety of their own category. Later, perhaps, one can understand them with some perspective, but really, they don't have much to do with anything else. Maple syrup, the paintings of Caravaggio, Blood on the Tracks, Lionel Messi.

Tortilla Flat, briefly, is about young men and the love of cheap wine and a few other things. It is almost a fable. In case you've forgotten. Or never been there. Because the book is a place.

Tortilla Flat is not on its own in greatness like maple syrup, the paintings of Caravaggio, Blood on the Tracks, and Lionel Messi, despite its wonders, but it was the beginning of literature for me. I read through something close to all of Steinbeck's books shortly thereafter. I have not read any of his books for decades except that maybe I reread Grapes of Wrath somewhere in there, and I live Of Mice and Men. What can I tell you about Tortilla Flat? My mind is furiously more full of things than it was 35 years ago. But it is a pleasure to see it invaded again, suffused and hypnotized by a whole and other place.

How about a quote from the book. Maybe it can be about the mother who brought me the book, or about libraries, or about Tortilla Flat itself, your choice:

It is astounding to find that the belly of every black and evil thing is as white as snow. And it is saddening to discover how the concealed parts of angels are leprous.

And here is the thing: I don't care whether I agree or not. I have visited another world.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

No blood on my hands

Early this evening, exhausted, I lay on the couch, my head on my wife's arm, lap, leg. I am dozing. I am remembering a long ago time with her. I am remembering being 17, having left a work/study program with few funds, sleeping rough on the hard floor of a temple in Jerusalem. A ragged night, one of cold, discomfort, kindness, and fear.

I have toyed too much with regret. I have too often suggested in myself the rewriting of the past. But slipping in and out of some evening nap, remembering, I was made whole. I was freed of all regret by the fullness of a recognition:

To change the past we must be the murderer of everything that came after.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Dear literary agent

Dear Literary Agent,

As a literary agent you have been waiting your whole career for me to write you. You did not think it would happen, and yet here it is.

No, you don't know me.

No, you have never heard of me.

Perhaps it would be expedient for you at this point to pause in your reading of this letter to consult the enclosed examples of my work. I'll wait here...

I know, right? It's like turning over a rock and finding William Shakespeare, only not writing plays and not dead and using a contemporary vernacular. It's like finding someone is writing the Tao Te Ching before your eyes, only nothing at all like Tao Te Ching in any way, and far better.

At this point one question is undoubtedly foremost in your mind: "Why are you not terribly famous?"

I feel the answer to that should be very clear from this letter. I am terrible at marketing. Why, look at how badly I am marketing to you right now!

That's where you, a literary agent, come in.

As you know a great literary agent can sell two things: Great works that no one in their right mind wants to read until they've been properly marketed to (think, for instance, Finnegans Wake), and worthless formulaic writing that no one in their right mind wants to read until they've carefully been marketed to, like unto pushers hooking innocents like it's an addictive drug (think, for instance, the work of Lee Child).

This is why literary agents, marketers, and publishers are so essential. You alone create the link between writer and reader. You alone create all fundamental interest in any new works of literature anywhere.

It is a terrible burden!

I am here to help you.

Once, when you were younger, you perhaps had exalted dreams for the work of a Literary Agent. But alas how the mundanity of it all challenged those dreams! The addictive drug writers, such as James Patterson, were many, and the money from their representation was some succor, but it was not ennobling. It did not touch on your mighty, secret dreams. The James Joyces of the world were very few, and doubt rose in you and you hid away your dreams. You dampened your mighty, essential skills because your heart did not sing with the full pride it was entitled to.

I am as great a writer as James Joyce. I rival William Shakespeare and Jane Austen. Oh, sure, not in my use of language, or storytelling, or subtlety of expression, or power of poetry. But what is that? I am a visionary, the word of God, the sword of justice. I am just the sort of person who needs a mighty Literary Agent.

You can be that person.

I am not popular. I will always criticize the wrong things. I am not on the side of man and I do not get along with the gods who spur me on and shower me with gifts I spurn and resent. In two years of hard work writing and blogging I have attracted roughly 30 regular readers. This number would dwindle every day, but is too small to do so, so has to dwindle on a monthly basis. It draws near to the point where it must dwindle on a yearly basis.

I am a terrible challenge that no sane Literary Agent would embrace. But calculations of sanity must sometimes be set aside to prevent the soul from withering.

Your destiny has come. Let us ride out to a glorious defeat!

Inflate your take home percentage if you must, I am no businessman, but say yes. There is a mighty work to be done.


Feldenstein Calypso