Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Who says there are no perks

Today on the automated book return, over on the drive up side, at the library, someone placed a box of doughnuts. I don't think anyone checked these doughnuts out from us. We're more of an "old school" library than we are "bakery" library.  My thought is what's the point of loaning out something whose only point is to be consumed. There is no good way to return that stuff. Returning an eaten doughnut is not pretty at all. But I am a lone voice in the wilderness and libraries all across America are now checking out things like ice, and gas, and cut flowers, such is the urge to get in on the library cutting edge.

Anyway, we got a box of doughnuts. My colleague, who was on the machine at the time, put the doughnuts on the free food table in the break room with a brief note, poorly placed: "Received in book drop".

I try not to look gift horses in the mouth, but who the hell goes around handing out horses? And what if their mouth looks funny at just a casual glance? I mean, I'm not a veterinarian, but I'm going to look at the gift horse's mouth if it's all foaming or bleeding or something, or, like, maybe if I hear the sounds of Greek whispering coming from inside said horse's mouth.

What I'm trying to say here is that these doughnuts were a prepackaged store brand type doughnut. These were mass produced, industrial doughnuts with an arm's length of ingredients I've never heard of. These were bad doughnuts! If these came through while I was on the machine I would have thrown them out so fast there wouldn't have been enough time for them to neigh!

But high quality doughnuts, from one of our top bakeries? Doughnuts of pure, organic ingredients? Fancy, exquisite, four dollars a doughnut doughnuts? Yes, I have to admit it, it may be a bit of a weakness, you could have sneaked anything you wanted into the library, or into my stomach, through those.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Clerk lesson

This is an important lesson to understand if you want to be any good as a customer service clerk of any kind. And it is very different than the oft quoted "The customer is always right." Which should really be "The customer should be humored as much as possible when they're wrong."

Are you ready?

Are you excited?

Oh, drat. I really should learn to quit when I'm ahead. Okay. We'll go back.

Are you ready?

But wait, you said you were ready bef... oh, you're funning me.

So, the thing to remember is that, in any customer service interaction, one person is being compensated for their time and one person isn't. Any inconvenience I encounter as a clerk doing my job is compensated. I don't have to be protected from work or inconvenience. I am only being churlish when I myself try to do so.

Likewise when you, as a patron or customer, are asked to defer, to take extra steps to facilitate a customer service person's process, you are being robbed of your precious, unpaid free time.

I don't know, just, maybe, it's something to keep in mind when you're being asked for your account number for the fourteenth time, or, conversely, when you're telling a patron how we like to do things around here.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Corporate personhood

I was recently reading about monarch butterflies. I am fond of monarch butterflies because they are pretty and they have always been nice to me. I read that monarchs are in trouble, their population decreasing largely because of the effectiveness of Roundup, a ubiquitous industrial agriculture weed killer. Migrating monarchs no longer are finding the milkweed they need on their long journey because it has so effectively been eradicated from the endless cornfields dominating the center of America.

Or to put it more succinctly, Monsanto is killing the monarch butterflies.

If you read the news closely enough you will have heard some about a legal fiction called corporate personhood. Many sensible people don't like it because it ascribes a selection of human rights to corporations, which, we all know, have an utterly unavoidable usefulness in modern culture, but at heart are soulless cannibals. If it's not too late you don't want to ascribe the rights of personhood to a soulless cannibal. 

But the strange thing is that if we only could make a corporation into a person we absolutely should. A person can sue, and have free speech, and go to a baseball game, and corporations argue that they need those privileges, but corporations by nature remain immune to the everyday burdens of the human. They cannot be beaten up, or feel the pain of being ignored. They cannot die in an accident, or of old age. They cannot feel shame or suffer.

What is it that has some of the privileges and powers of the human, but is free of its burdens and duties? What rules over mankind but is only given life in mankind's consciousness?


Corporations are gods!

And it all fits. Monarchs are heartlessly traded for more corn just like, for instance, Dinosaurs were traded for more Mammals. And who will trade us in? Gods? Corporations? Aye, it is all the same, and the more of them we make, gods and corporations, the sooner our time will come.

Not that I am necessarily complaining...

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Attack of the Internet

Strung out, exhausted by remodeling, library work, too much coffee, and a daily blogging habit, the ideas still come to me. They are vivid things that I look at and say "You? You want to be a blog post?"

And they say "Yes, I would like to be a blog post please."

"Okay," I say "Drag the keyboard over to my fingers and we'll see what we can do."

You wouldn't think this would make for the most electrifying blog posts in the world, and yet we have electrifying blog posts coming out of our ears around here.

Like what? You ask.

You sure you want to ask that? We could be here for days with me just listing blog post after...

Okay fine, I don't have them right off the top of my head. I have to look.

Hmm, let's see... (hmm, post about posts being good, library pun, post about turkeys, post about annoying library patron, post making fun of god, post about me, post about me, post about me)...

DON'T RUSH ME! I'm getting there. I just need a little time.

Ah, here it is. My post about replacing a GFCI outlet, that's electrifying, and, oh, and, er, this one, yes, this blog post you are reading right now. This blog post is very electrifying.

It is too an electrifying blog post!

It is! It is! It is a thrilling, electrifying, riveting and astounding blog post!

Oops, now I've gone and embarrassed this blog post.

I have made it hide its little head away. We can see only the tip of its wee tail.

Come on out little blog post, it's okay. I will protect you.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Liking everyone

Given enough time I find I like all my co-workers. Even I blanch at the word "all". How can that be? And considering the many years I've worked here, that comes out to hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people (I can't quite believe it makes it to a thousand, but it comes close enough for me to keep saying "hundreds" over and over). This is a notable illustration of my character. For a cynical, embittered, angry misanthrope it turns out I like an astonishing number of people. I like a perverse amount of people. When you factor in the tens of thousands of library patrons who I also seem to like, despite every reason to encourage the contrary, it almost looks unsettling.

I suffer from a surfeit of empathy. I have a hard time keeping grudges. I can spot the charm of a person even as it's dissolved into a 99.99999 percent loathsome personality. Indeed, the very minute proportion of their virtues themselves makes them fascinating to me, like drinking a red wine with a hint of oregano so small that you keep sipping the wine delicately trying to detect it again, trying to let yourself know that you didn't merely imagine it.

So, as with any sensible person who is burdened with a personality trait that is so heavily skewed in one direction, I try hard to compensate. With co-workers for whom my disrespect is profound I keep my distance as much as possible. Proximity softens me. I harden my heart. For every coldness I want to set forth I have to plant my feet and concentrate. It does not come naturally. Over a long enough time, with enough familiarity, liking people comes completely unbidden to me. And so even if someone crosses the red line with me my default is to forget it over and over, like America with Republicans. Who wants to be like a Republican? Ick. So when peoples' toes slip past that horrible line of evil I do what I have to do. I try to memorize the transgression. I nurse it like a precious drink I cannot afford to finish and have no good way to replace.

It helps. But I am dealing with a deep seated handicap, and all I can do is try to manage it, which I must, day after day, with small triumph, endless struggle, and a casual affection for too many, which has attracted the gods themselves to me, like fruit flies on a ripe peach.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Seasons in hell

As we were working our 73rd consecutive day on an exhaustive, yet intricate, raft of home improvements and home remodeling, I heard the sounds of parties ringing out festively across our neighborhood. Since we had eschewed listening to working music merely on the basis of it being too much work to set up (see: 73rd consecutive day) I was left with older things than music. A line from an old French poem came to my mind over and over:

Once my life was a feast where all hearts opened and all wines flowed.

This, as you may know, is from A Season in Hell by Rimbaud, and my memory of the line curiously omits "if my memory serves me well" ("Once, if my memory serves me well, my life was a feast where all hearts opened and all wines flowed.") which goes to show that my memory itself has the same sense of humor I do.

I, at the age of 50, am willing to say that my life has been, in the past, occasionally, for not, like, hugely extended periods of time, but on special occasions, a feast where all hearts opened and all wines flowed. Metaphorically. I am also willing to say that A Season in Hell is a great scorch of poems and I have fond memories of hearing that first one recited in a tent during an endless rainstorm in the Sierras while drinking whiskey and eating peanut butter. But just now I am reflecting on Rimbaud, who was 19 or younger when he wrote the poem. I am feeling a bit stunted in the old empathy department. When I was 19 I had not come close to a time when all hearts opened and all wines flowed. I had at most seen two flowing wines at one time and maybe eight or nine open hearts total, ever! So this Rimbaud kid seems lucky, if you ask me. And a season in hell? Okay, but I bet this talented Rimbaud kid had never totally remodeled a small, old house like we have. Now that's tough.

But I understand. Young people buy all the poetry and you have to cater to them, all fire and anguish. They're the ones who keep it going, and they deserve it. After all, adolescence is no picnic. Except maybe for this Rimbaud cove, who apparently had one with all hearts open and all wines flowing. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


Someone leaves the library I work at to retire or to pursue less important things, and all of us left behind can remember them together freely. But after a year or two there are a couple of co-workers who have only heard of that person and never met them. Five years sees a notable drop off from that, and if one is discussing a co-worker who has been gone for much longer than ten years then the people one is talking to can probably best be described as one's cronies.

Some of my co workers I am almost immediately work friends with. Some I am politely distant with. Some I am at pains to try and tolerate. But some grow closer through the sheer weight of years, through survival. Time has worked on our little trickle of a relationship until after fifteen years that trickle has worn away a little grand canyon in us. We have imprinted on our brains the same long list of names and incidents and epochs and strata and fossils. We consult each other more and more often to reassure ourselves that it is all not just a dream.

"A woman really did leave a 50 yard trail of poo across the library, didn't they?" 

"Yes," My crony says, "Yes they did. And remember the bathroom stall incident of 1998?"

"I will never forget. My brother"

I was cronying up with one of my most crony of cronies today. And reminiscing about some long gone character we worked with in a time before library computer type came in any other color than green, my crony summed up with "He was a pretty interesting character."

I can only agree. "He was." I say. 

He is not dead. But in cronyland he sort of is. Everyone who leaves the job and does not return is as dead. Never fear, though. We are ever here to keep the candles burning and the small glint of ageless memory alive.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

No Bartleby I

I am fast approaching my 21st anniversary of library work. This means that my library clerking career itself will soon be old enough to legally drink. And I think it should. I think the library should buy my library career a very fancy cocktail everyday at about three in the afternoon.

But after 21 years (almost) the question naturally comes up; how have I (soberly) survived working with the public all these years?

My secret is that I consider everything I do (outside of showing up, which is what I am paid for) to be voluntary. If you have a picture I.D. with your current address I may be technically required to get you a library card, but I don't really see it that way. I get you a library card because that seems right and good, because of course you should have a library card, because, even though it's a bit annoying, I want to get you a library card. I issue you your new library card out of the magnanimity of my heart. My getting you a library card is an act of generosity and love, not obligation.

And lest you think I am puffing it all up, let me assure you that it is a true generosity. When I go over and help someone figure out how to print what they want to print on the computer, or get the mystery books in their proper order, or give a patron a hot tip on an old book I, deep down, have no interest in thanks. All these things are, to my mind, good enough to deserve happening. I make them happen. It is my choice and I chose yes. 

Why would I need thanks for that? If I wanted, I could just say no.

Monday, June 22, 2015

A cheerful recipe

We have been doing such nice, homey blog posts this summer: home repair blog posts, gardening blog posts, nature walk blog posts, I am the prophet of god blog posts. It's all very Little House in the Big Woods around here. And so, in that cheerful spirit, I thought I would offer a cooking blog post. Here is a simple recipe I call:

You Will Pay for Everything That is Good Garlic Toasts

1. Soften 3/4  stick of salted organic butter by leaving it out with the gnats for awhile.

2. Peel four large cloves of garlic and slice them so thinly that you appear to be making no progress.

3. Finely grate a handsome chunk of Parmesan Reggiano.

4. Stir all of these thoroughly together, adding a hefty splash of olive oil and a dash of salt.

5. Spread mixture with measured generosity on medium thick hand cut slices of an extremely well made and very fresh sourdough type loaf. Place slices on cookie sheet(s) far from broiler. Turn on broiler.

6. Mix two parts cold press coffee, one part milk, a thick slug of agave syrup, and a liberal dose of vanilla extract. Stir.

7. Drink the cold press.

8. When you finish drinking the cold press remove your toasts from the oven. They will be perfectly done.

9. Let them cool.

10. Eat them until blood is running from multiple lacerations all across the landscape of your mouth.

11. Make a chewing error and bite with a strange, meaty crunch on your lower lip so that it will be sore and swollen for a week.

12. When wounds heal have another toast, repeating bleeding/wounding process until all the delicious toasts are gone.

Sunday, June 21, 2015


Due to a daily 12 percent decline in clerkmanifesto readership, general lowering of Internet standards, and the ceaseless demands of a daily blog, clerkmanifesto, as of tomorrow morning at eight a.m. will be making no changes whatsoever. The flatlining of revenues, lack of new crazy people in the library to talk about, and the fact that after nearly 900 posts I have exhausted all my funny stories have forced my hand, and in the future you will be seeing pretty much what you've seen before; me, splattered on your computer or phone screen by a blast of the gods, saying "What's surprising, really, is that this doesn't particularly hurt."

The gods cannot hurt me here. Who would want to mess with that?

Saturday, June 20, 2015


We have been doing a lot of work on our house this year. A large portion of that work is being done by ourselves, even though, most of the time, we don't actually know how to do it. Chutzpah! Sometimes we learn how, sometimes we make it up, sometimes it ends in tears, sometimes it ends in triumph, but most of the time we include all of those ingredients in the soup.

I will tell you today about replacing a GFCI outlet. Not so that you can learn how. Clerkmanifesto is not a University, it's a, um, er, it's a, well, hmm, let's see. It's a lost ship, encrusted heavily with barnacles, going somewhere very, very, very special. But you'll always have to wait until we get there to know where exactly that is, and to my repeated surprise, we do get there on an average of two times a week.

But, alas, we must always leave once again.

Our GFCI outlet broke. Why? We are doing so much hard work and redesigning on our house that it seems cruel to have something one hardly considers fallible breakdown and need to get added to our to be done list. But more cruel things happen all the time, particularly as regards our house redesign. So we thought about getting the electrician back out. But then we thought maybe I could replace it. So I gave it a go.

I studied. I watched multiple YouTube videos. I got pretty clear on the concepts. And though the whole thing looked straightforward and clear, our house is old and strange. Opening things up reveals mysteries that can never be fully answered. And so it was this time. A GFCI outlet is generally going to have three wires running into it, or maybe five if it's protecting a line.  I was prepared for a small touch of confusion, but when I turned off the electricity and pulled the outlet out of the wall not only was the outlet faintly bizarre in its construction, but it tucked into an electrical box of outlandish complexity. Dozens of wires ran rampant around our outlet. Strange colors and unusual joining mechanisms conspired to give it a look out of Frankenstein's Lab, if the lab was built in 1962, by an Igor who was working on a restrictive budget.

I threw up my hands in despair. We prepared to call the Electrician.

But then I had a thought: What if really, at heart, it is secretly just three wires, all simply shrouded mysteriously in the form of dozens of wires.

And so it was. It was like a slipknot of wires. I started to disassemble them and before long they had collapsed themselves down to being three wires. Some of their colors were, um, old fashioned, but I was able to work out what was what with a full 70% confidence. I put it all together, popped it in the wall, and it worked as it was supposed to.

The unbridled joy and exaltation I felt at this triumph was at least partly informed by the fact that I was not electrocuted to death, which was almost as good in its own right as being able to plug in our new nightlight.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Tool of God

So there you are, pouring over a clerkmanifesto essay for the eleventh time. Oh, maybe not this sort of essay here, what with all the silliness, but one of the really good ones. And you are sucking out the marrow from the bones of it. Your attention pinpoints, then wanders, dazzled. You wonder "Why isn't clerkmanifesto world famous?"

Er, your version of this scenario might play out with slight differences from mine, but this, roughly, is what happens to me on a weekly basis.

"Why isn't clerkmanifesto world famous?"

When I have a pressing question that needs answering like this I like to ask myself.

This fact alone may actually answer my question, but we'll pretend it doesn't.

Instead we will make a list. Perhaps by listing all the possible answers we will come to some illumination. This is why, from the start, we will omit possible answers that are so statistically outlandish as to be unfeasible, like "Alien intervention", or "It's not that good."

 Why isn't clerkmanifesto world famous?

1.The font. I use trebuchet. For a flashing moment I thought "This one is negotiable." And then I thought "What did trebuchet ever do to me?"

2. I am ahead of my time, and/or my timing is bad. Early studies have indicated that my time is just a few weeks after the Universe is a smoking ruin.

3. I am being mysteriously rewarded. Man oh man I am curious how this one works. I bet it's something really good!

4. I am very famous. I am just confused as to what that's supposed to look like.

5. I am missing the point. It is not fame that matters, it's money.

6. God, who can't generally be bothered with injustice, cruelty, tragedy, and the like, managed to open up some time in God's busy schedule of secret planning in order to thwart my designs. You, out there on the Internet, not commenting here, not sharing my posts, not offering book contracts or telling all your friends, not thumbs upping or following or reposting or tweeting, reading one post or twenty and never, ever returning, yes, you. You are doing God's work. Bless you.

Thursday, June 18, 2015


I see animals. Many I know the names for: eagle, turkey, squirrel, raccoon. Some I don't know the name for. If they are striking, or strange, I might wonder what they're called. I might even carefully note the bronze sheen of the feathers and the curved, semi-predatory orange beak of a bird roosting over the shore of the river. I do this so I can consult with birders, books, and the Internet. I research and query. The bird is a bit like a duck crossed with a falcon, not too strange I think. But in all of our compiled knowledge and resources, such a bird does not, apparently, exist. It's a new animal. I did not expect to be in a position to name a new animal.

Shall I name it?

Calypso's duckling? 

Orange-throated riverbeast? 

Thatchcrested thondelmeyered greb?

I think not.

I protest generalization, and if I must name it I will call it Pooky. Its name alone.

The grouping of like items, birds, for instance, or art, books or fruit, is merely another mysterious failure of God. 

You think it had to be like this? Here is a thought for you:

Every time we resign ourselves to "It had to be like this", we kill a little piece of love.

Yes, generalization is irresistible in its power. We insanely clever humans, with our names and our art and our toxified aquifers, are not alone in employing this magnificent force of generalization. The zebra may see a lion he has never seen before and yet recognize it as a creature to exercise extreme caution around. The zebra recognizes the lion as a lion in order to stay alive. The zebra groups the lion, an individual, as a lion, one of an interchangeable kind, just like us, chatting here in intelligible symbols of lions. And so life carries on.

Oh aye it is a miracle, a thing of mighty wonder, a tool of such power that none of us could process or navigate the world without it. Categories! Groups! Systems! But I say to all you god lovers out there, and to anyone with an eye open, the world could have been better. The lion could have been Louise, and utterly irreducible. The zebra could have been Sven. The bird I saw by the river could have been its only one ever. And I could be me, and you could be you, and there could have been nothing made in all the universe that could break that utter autonomy.

Maybe, anyway, it is so.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

If I were King of the library, the eighth decree

I can't even remember when my last episode of "If I were King of the library" was or what lovely idea was its subject. I can only eeyorishly be sure that no matter how excellent the idea actually was, no library on the face of the earth has instituted it. That's okay, because when I am made King of the library and all my carefully crafted, brilliant, mad, and dangerous schemes are ferociously enacted, they will all rue the day.

"Who are they?" You ask.

Them. I need say no more. Except maybe that it should be "Who is they?" if you know what I mean, which you probably don't, which is an occupational hazard of reading my work, which is what you are doing now.

Anyway, my new decree for King of the library again plays off the idea of the library within a library. Even normal, large libraries tend to work that way. This library within a library is called

The Pirate Library.

Sorry toucan lovers, not the "Arrggh, matey" Pirates. I mean it in the sense of an unsanctioned, illegal, stolen, and morally unsanctioned library. The pirate library will be full of purloined and hijacked items, first run movies made from peoples' smart phone recordings, the galleys of upcoming novels hacked from publisher computers, government secrets, and bootlegged recordings. The pirate library will be constantly on the move throughout the vanilla library, hidden in the "P's" of the romance section one day and on impromptu shelves back by the magazines the next. It will be run by a librarian with a faked degree who is paid under the table out of a hidden library slush fund. This is the sort of librarian who will accept bribes and command a small fervent team devoted to a frightening vision of unfettered information owned by no one. No one will admit directly to the existence of this library, and we shall disclaim all knowledge of and all responsibility for it.

Why such a library?

You with the questions all the time! Ah, but don't worry, we rejoice in you.

Libraries, for all their many virtues, suffer constantly from an institutional bias. They bog down in their systems. They play nice with publishers, media empires, and culture itself. They are polite denizens of the local government. Libraries are brilliant in their virtuousness and are one of the few institutions that can express the dream of what we might be while hiding in plain sight. But they do become a bit stolid in their goodness and fair play. They occasionally become confused about their fundamental rebellion. They strive sometimes to be more like what's around them instead of more like themselves. They get a little predictable. The pirate library is the seed of wildness and the radicalized core at the heart of the library, unrealistic in its extremism, but fundamental even as it can't be named or adopted officially.

The pirate library is the hidden engine, the secret fire that powers all libraries, and when I am king of the library it shall have its proper place.

So it is decreed, this day, etc. etc.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Low Humor

Working as I do at a library, which I do, like, all the time, I have noticed that people often check out books in batches. It is not enough to check out one book on knitting, for instance, when one can check out three, or eleven, books on knitting.

This is not a major revelation. I'm just saying I am accustomed to seeing books in related groupings. But I took a special pleasure today when these two books came back together:

The Day My Butt Went Psycho


Winnie the Pooh

Monday, June 15, 2015

I can't go on

Every once in awhile I have to watch James Brown's 1964 TAMI show performance. It restores something in me. And it reminds me of writing here my short, daily essays.

There's James Brown, with his small, wonderful dance moves, his passionate voice, his delightful backup dance trio, only in step when they want to be, and his marvelous band. He sings his heart out for us, going to some place of deep and primal feeling until it's all too much. He breaks down on stage, the ruin of a man. They have to wrap him in a towel, escort him trembling, exhausted from the microphone. Too much emotion has destroyed him. He quivers from the music and beat, while, like the old man he will never be, he is lead away. But no! He can't go! He finds some hidden strength. He throws off his helpers, his towel, his brokenness. He returns to the microphone to tell us how it is, crying out in a ferocious yowl of feeling and pain. How brave. How beautiful. But it is too much again. He breaks down one more time. They come for him, this shell, this ruined lover. They wrap him in the towel and lead him doddering until he finds some deep reserve of strength. Until the music is too much and he returns to the microphone. And again. And again.

It's really something. Such theater! And I think of it all the time these days. I think of it when I am wondering how on earth can I write another blog post. Haven't I poured out my heart for you, you wonderful twelve readers (ah, eleven now, one of you could not bear the flattery) until there can't possibly be anything left of me. Writing visions from the gods has destroyed me. It is too much for my mortal coil, for my mere flesh to bear. I have written down to the bottom of my soul and scraped until whatever I gave was all full of blood. My resilience is taken to the edge of ash by my great burning. There is nothing left for me but a quiet chair in a garden, delicate, with the birds, the sky, a simple life. Art has stolen my essence and I have no more to give. Help me off the stage of this clerkmanifesto. This desperate venture over, I tremble with the cold and the hot and the weakness of it all. Wrap me in a blanket. Help me away. It is over. Over.

And yet, wait, wait, I must tell you. I cannot go. Not yet. But I can't. But I must. Let me say this. I have to say this. This is the most important thing I can say. This is the most important thing, in all your roaming of all literature and religion anywhere that you will ever read. Who else will ever tell you? There is no one else. I must go on.

Sunday, June 14, 2015


In my ceaseless, Ancient Mariner wanderings of the Internet (this makes you "one of three"- the whole poem is available at your local library) I came across a clever app called The Hemingway Editor, which, as far as I can tell, is specifically designed to edit one's prose so that it is as completely different from my own as is humanly possible. Coincidentally someone just donated a book of Hemingway's poems, and I opened it to read a poem, thinking that maybe I could mock it somehow, but no, it was a pretty good poem that made me think: What a terse, concise writer- who we should all model ourselves after, and surely would, if only there were a helpful app that turned all one's long, convoluted sentences peach-colored as a warning.

Which brings us very quickly back around to where there actually is such an app and I am using it now to see how poor a grade I can get on it partly because I am contrary when it comes to writing and partly because I believe firmly that there is no proper way to write; no advice, no lessons to be learned from history, no apps to help one, no rules, no wisdom, no one to emulate, nothing but a will to be understood and the vast, flailing attempts to do so, which, in the end, are all hopeless anyway.

Every sentence I have written you here on the Hemingway app is now peach colored, or mauve, or whatever their color is, and though I have not used as many adverbs as I'd like (which turn fetchingly sky blue) I am nevertheless satisfied that my lowest possible score refutes all the virtues of the Internet.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Time throws a gasket

The more complex something is, the more confusing and uncertain are its glitches and minor breakdowns. If my shovel fails to work in my garden, what went wrong with it is immediately apparent. My foot slipped, or the rotted handle broke in two, or I scooped right into a large rock. I do not turn to someone and ask "We're you having any troubles with this shovel? It's acting funny." But something more complex, like a car, elicits a more uncertain "Do you hear that noise too?" It creates a sense of insecurity because understanding is a bit further away. But many a decent mechanic, and plenty of very amateur ones, can suss out a problem in a car, and rare are the issues that have no real answers. To take it a level further, a computer gets considerably more complex than a car. Computers swarm with such mystifying innards that things go wrong and get fixed based on actions people rarely understand, even those doing the repair. Glitches seem like hallucinations and need constant verification, corroboration, and description. Solutions, at best, must be accepted as such because they are rarely answers.

So imagine when things go strange with something a thousand times more complicated than a computer. Imagine how uncertain everything becomes when one imagines something going wrong with time.

I may be losing a piece of my mind, but I could swear that lately time has been slipping an hour. How, I don't know. Where all those hours go is beyond me. All I know is that over and over in my currently overwrought life time has been dropping a lost hour like a distracted baby with a pacifier. I keep picking up the hour only for time to just drop it again. I repeatedly find myself certain that it is one in the morning, for instance, only to discover it has somehow instantly become two in the morning. I could swear on my life it is four in the afternoon just as the clock mysteriously turns to five. Is this just me? Have you noticed these curious cracks and breakdowns? Is there anything to be done about it?

My fear is that with a mechanical thing one fixes it by knowing what went wrong, with a technological thing one fixes it without knowing how or why, but with a metaphysical thing all one can do is be mystified. That with the bizarre breakdowns of the abstruse wheeling of the cosmos all one can do is marvel, and rage, and endure.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Satarizing myself

One late night recently I started reading through a few dozen random old clerkmanifesto blog posts. Sometimes I am amazed by myself. This time I was not, alas. Despite their tendency towards shortness, the little essays seemed complicated and intricate. I occasionally felt like I had to really work at understanding them, and I'm the one who wrote them. I might hardly have known what they were about had I not already been advised by myself earlier on that score. And here is a curious pattern, one perhaps familiar to other artists out there: The things I am working on, or have just finished and am prepping for release, tend to be far more fabulous than the things I have already done. Usually. Sometimes. This time.

But I refused to give in to defeat, and I will not retract my enthusiastic claims to greatness. But I will not be complacent, and I shall strive to improve. And with that in mind I have composed this new, guiding blog motto:

Always seek brevity. Brevity and clarity. Brevity, clarity, and concision. Brevity, clarity, concision, and focus. Brevity, clarity, concision, focus, and economy of thought. Do not try to do more in a paragraph than the paragraph will bear. Stay on task, and don't venture into impressionistic commentaries on your commentaries. Do not overuse italics. Do not turn every essay you write into a shaggy dog story. You don't even like dogs that much, though you do find shaggy ones are usually fairly pleasant.  Don't use extra words that aren't necessary merely for the sake of having a rambling, discursive, off-putting, obtuse, facetiously over-explanatory, impish rhythm. Do not make readers run a gauntlet to prove they are paying attention, but rather simplify. Wait, Yes! Simplicity! Brevity, clarity, concision, focus, economy of thought, and simplicity. And minimalism, definitely minimalism too. These are the watchwords that forever shall ye go by. And never use arcane language like "Shall ye". Which I just did. And I'm sorry. And none of this will happen ever again. I mean, as long as I can remember this new blog motto, which is probably now far too long to actually remember. Indeed, at this point I suppose it has sadly become too long to even reasonably call it a motto.

But I have found a silver lining in all of this:

I am finding this post, despite all its rambling and buffoonery, or perhaps because of it, to be perfectly delightful. So there is, fortunately no need to apply the rules of my new super long motto to any of my writing right now. However, if, in four months, I happen upon this post and am disappointed, then I can apply all the wisdom of my new motto at that point.

I think it's a good idea. Of course, to do this, in four months I will need to be able to figure out what it is I'm actually saying here, which may be a tad too much effort to be worth it.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

More luddite stuff

One used to be able to donate one's old, used up cell phones to us at the library. Our "Friends" group turned this into a small amount of money. But for whatever reasons they decided to end the program. So someone printed up a flier explaining that one can no longer donate old cell phones here at the library. One of these fliers was sitting on a table back by one of the work computers. The flier read:

Cell phone domination ends.

And I thought "Yes! It is finally over!"

I hate trying to understand and type in the barcode number told to me by an English as a second language speaker as their crappy phone reception cuts in and out. I hate cell phone users yelling banalities into their phones in public places simply so the person on the other end can hear them clearly. And I hate and fear all the people on cell phones driving cars as they do, like they are seriously drunk.

Then, at second glance, the flier said:

Cell phone donation ends.


Ah well, I guess cell phones are fine outside of my few small complaints.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Make up a new word today

Graffitina:   an admirable work of wild, unsanctioned public art

Scalia:   a hideous work of public defacement of common space

As I was walking up the Mississippi River I came upon a helpful map, posted permanently and durably on an agreeably designed kiosk standing politely to the side of the trail. Being familiar with the area I had no particular need to take note of the map, but I could see, at a glance, that someone had scrawled an ugly, artless blue graffiti tag, with poor spray paint technique, across the map. This was what I think of as European Graffiti, the virtueless urban garbage so different than the wonderful and daring art work so readily available on the culverts, drains, bridges and cliff retaining walls along my walk.

So there it is; the ugly defacing of public property by addled truants, and brave acts of art, both going by the same name: graffiti.

They need two names.

What if good and evil had to share a name?

What if "temperature" could not be divided into hot and cold?

What if there was only the world, but no earth and sky?

I want more words. Nothing is as exact as it could be. We stumble blind to the confused music of a universe 99 percent unnamed. 

There will never be enough words.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Garden gravity

I had finished my morning cappuccino and was ready to head to work. I was only a few precious minutes late, which is pretty good for me. My journey includes walking, then biking, then driving. I headed up the street on foot. There was no time and no reason to go to my community garden plot. It was northeast when I needed to travel northwest. I had watered everything the day before and the afternoon was supposed to rain anyway. We had done our fair share of weeding over the past few days, and thinning, and visiting with the garden frog, and so all was in tip top shape. If I pointlessly wandered over to the garden, that didn't need me anyway, I would be late. I would be forced to puff away mightily on the heavy city bike I use, and, exhausting myself, covering myself in sweatiness, I would arrive at the library so late that I would have to sneak in to work through the floorboards or something, if we had floorboards, which we don't. Plus, whenever I go to the garden I somehow manage to cover myself head to toe in dirt, like Pigpen. I don't like showing up at work too often looking like Pigpen and bathed in sweat. I don't want to develop a reputation. So, in every way, it was definitely for the best that I not go to the garden.

I went to the garden anyway.

The little tomato plants need me.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Bees and gods

I have been reading books about bees, especially bumblebees. This has made me far more attentive to them and excited by their presence. Seeing a bumblebee in my yard was not formerly an event with the thrilling significance of seeing a cat or a raccoon, but suddenly now it is. One of those giant, tiny beasts comes trundling about the flowers of our weeds, and I am delighted and fully engaged. I think it helps too that my vague uneasiness about a bumblebee stinging me is almost entirely gone. The author of A Sting in the Tale: My Adventures With Bumblebees says bumblebees are very non aggressive and, it turns out, I simply believe him. Suddenly I am finding bumblebees to be downright friendly.

This bumblebee interest has also made me far more aware of the pollination process and has me looking at flowers in new ways too. Walking through my neighborhood yesterday I saw a fantastic flower in bloom, a great saucer of white petals all full of a lovely yellow forest of pistils and stamens in the middle. I thought, what a glorious thing, what a feast for the little ones, what a brilliant invention of propagation! I mean, there are all these plants, all over the world, nearly all of them unable to walk around, relying on wind and luck to make children, casting their hopes and dreams a few hundred paltry feet at the absolute best, when, suddenly, somewhere, the flower appears. The flower goes into collaboration with insects, bees. It provides food in exchange for travel privileges. Everyone benefits! It's lovely.

Reflecting on this modern pollination, all done with especially beautiful and fanciful creatures (flowers, bumblebees, hummingbirds!), I thought: If the gods had stopped here, if this was the full model for all the operating of life and the universe, all my dissent would cease. I would be religious in the deepest sense, an acolyte, a creature of pure wonderment and praise. I would say "God is great" and "God is good." I would not hesitate in my adulation of the endless wisdom of the world. I would not mock God's secret plan because God's plan would not be secret. It would be laid bare and unassailable, complete and endlessly radiant.

But alas, the gods do not, or God does not, stop at the inventions of pollination and rainbows. With bumblebees things go dark quickly. Assorted bumblebee parasites invade hives and implant larvae in the bees themselves that then eat their way out of the bee, exploding from the inside. There are varieties of bees that even specialize in this. There is no shortage of disease, death, and attack. Infanticide is a ready part of bumblebee life too as sisters compete with each other for motherhood. The kindly bumblebee can be a killer too.

And so I write my blog in opposition, because some religious figure must do so, some theology must look at science, competition, animals exploding from other, eaten alive animals, at the gods' twisted invention of the living nightmare, and say:

The world is a master class in complete systems, a wonder of moving parts. It is full of fascinations and endless genius, beauty and terror. And it is everything, immutable, beyond us. But if it was made by anyone, that being has a cold heart. And you have no responsibility to worship. Indeed the impulse should be resisted. We are here to fight the gods, for they give and they take and, most of all, they are wanton. The gods have no secret plan. We cannot make the Universe better. But here is faith for you:

Somewhere it has to be possible.

Sunday, June 7, 2015


Mine is the last generation before the rise of the tattoo. When I went to art school in the bay area, where every major stylistic innovation was taking place several years before it appeared out in the culture at large, the tattoo was just a trickle presaging a flood. At that time the main 30 year old person's, let alone middle aged person's, question was "What 20 year old can know what image is for life?"

I guess that question has stuck with me while a sea of tattoos has grown before me.

But yesterday, my thirtyish year old tattooed co-worker Dave answered that question for me.

Dave is easy going. Lately he especially likes to conclude a bit of complaining, or acknowledgement of something difficult, with a very buddhist "It is what it is."

I guess it is.

Being easy going myself, I know that being easy going is partly a disguise for all kinds of churning madnesses. And though there's some playing with fire there, I will acknowledge that you can't really pull it off unless you're at least partly easy going in some true sense too. When I ask Dave if it's okay to write about this conversation he says "Write whatever you want." And I believe him.

Among Dave's wide assortment of tattoos is a nicely rendered portrait of a man I would easily understand him as not particularly wanting on his arm.

"I'm thinking of having him turned into a pirate." Dave said.

I told Dave the whole thing about not knowing with tattoos and making wrong choices for life, and he more or less shrugged.

"I don't mind the portrait." He said. "I don't regret any of my tattoos." He said that if he didn't like something he could just have a skilled tattoo artist make it into something else.

And I suppose that's the thing. It's just a tattoo. It's less permanent than I think. It doesn't matter.

Or how about this: This blog post may live forever. It is enough that it is true as I can make it now. If it is true for the rest of my life, or for all eternity, how lovely. If it is true only for the brief flash of its emergence in the world, let it mark that moment in time. Let it be a souvenir of that time. And if it turns out to be a crappy souvenir of a wretched time? I suspect that only the curious and thoughtful will look past my bright new tattoos, or blog posts, as it were, to examine my pale old ones. And with people like that I am content to rely upon their profound powers of understanding.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

How to see

Out at the front desk of the library I wasn't reading the patrons well today. Usually I'm pretty good at that, but today I was underslept, and I think there's been something wrong with my glasses lately. I need a good look at people's faces to know what kinds of jokes it will be okay to make with them, to know what tone to take, how gentle or officious to be. A woman asked me if we had any Hemingway books and I told her that we don't carry any Hemingway at this library. This confused and upset her, and she was still rather shaken when I gently said I was kidding. Though I do think she warmed up to me over the course of her other seven visits to my desk during the course of her hour at the library.

A man came to the desk during all of that with a copy of Invisible by James Patterson. "Did you want to check anything out?" I asked confusedly.

"Just this." The man replied, gesturing to the book.

I ostentatiously groped my hands blindly over my desk until they accidentally ran into his book. Evincing surprise as I made contact with the book I exclaimed "Ah. I didn't see it there because it's invisible!"

"Yes, just that one please." The man said blankly. I tilted the angle of my glasses and peered more carefully at the man. Ah, yes, that joke was never, ever going to work.

I checked the book out by feel. I cleaned my glasses. I cleaned them some more.

Friday, June 5, 2015


As I take my accustomed walks on the Mississippi River I frequently catch views of the taller portions of the new Minnesota Vikings stadium as it's being built. My walk coincidentally ends at a parking lot quite close to another football stadium, one built very recently for the University team, the Gophers. The new Vikings Stadium, costing just over a billion dollars, looks dramatic in a way that leaves me still struggling to tell what it's going to finally end up looking like. I found some final design pictures on the Internet and I'm pretty sure this stadium will be hideous, but it could be hideous with a sort of bizarrely appealing monstrosity, a loveable tragedy. They've been using one of the tallest cranes in the world to build it. For awhile it looked like it was all cranes. Now there's an awful lot more building there.

Most people I know are bitterly contemptuous of our spending such a massive amount of money for what amounts to about 24 hours of entertainment a year. It's a hard fact that the whole world is regularly used by the rich and powerful, but something like this stadium, right here in the center of our city, feels to people, I think, like a more personal kind of blackmail and usury.

And yet, it doesn't much get to me. We have a lot of money around here. It's not always going to be perfect when we're throwing it around so freely. I'm simply glad to see us buying stuff. And we are, after all, only paying for half of the stadium, so it's actually 500 million dollars we're on the tab for, not a billion.

For instance, we have here in the twin cities, Free Ice Cream July (we call it "fick" and it is eagerly anticipated by all but the lactose intolerant), where for the entire month of July all ice cream sold at stands, from ice cream trucks, and in stores is free to everyone. This certainly takes nearly as big a chunk out of our local budget as the stadium does, and the stadium is just a one time thing. We have Free Ice Cream July every year! Then there's this blog, very much a local product. I'm not getting rich here, but my fifty million dollar state arts board grant is just enough to keep it going. Sure, you say, that's worth it, and I agree, but if we start getting all uptight about a sprinkling of stadium money who knows where it could lead. We could lose this blog, or the "Picasso in Every Home" program, or the public free costume shops that are no doubt quite expensive, but that we completely take for granted. Imagine walking down the street around here and not seeing people dressed as leopards and princesses and Queen Victoria! Imagine not getting your seven free Craft Beer Tokens (good, curiously, for wine too) at the start of every month. Imagine not being able to grab a complimentary hover skateboard at every other street corner. Imagine libraries without public commercial kitchens, ceramic studios, printing presses, and fully equipped wood shops. 

Can't happen, you say? Well, I don't know, but I'd rather not test it. So build your stadium, and when that's done get to work on that Frank Gehry designed Spaceport the state legislature just approved. I can take a little football so long as Minneapolis does not waver in its goal to put a human being on Mars by 2025.  Spend spend spend! 

What else is money for?

Go Vikings.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Second best

The second best soccer player in the world is much better than all the other soccer players in the world, save one. Much better. And though I do not feel I particularly like the second best soccer player in the world- he seems lordly, imperious and slick, what do I know? I've never met the fabulously wealthy and famous young man. But I do enjoy watching him play. He is fast and powerful and intense. He is a gifted force of nature who plays with a dazzling drive and skill. At nearly any time in history he would be the player of his generation, the one who stands out above everyone.

But he is the second best soccer player in the world. And though I don't get a feeling of like for him, I feel for him.

For at least half a dozen years now the official triumphs and rewards of best soccer player has gone back and forth between him and the best player, awards, titles, championships. But deep down, all along, there has not been a serious doubt. The second best player's sometimes even long moments of ascendancy were always somehow against the grain, temporary, a description of a moment in time over a historical view.

At the end of this season the second best player racked up some astonishing number of goals, but the championships slipped by him. In his last two games of the season the second best player scored a quite amazing six goals. Two hat tricks in a row.

But no one much noticed. Because elsewhere the greatest player in the world was dribbling past four players and shooting through three to score a goal so ravishing and confounding that it was hard to stop watching it in replay, just trying to figure it out. It was a beautiful goal, for the ages, in the finals of a long tournament. 

Maybe, exhausted from all his goal scoring, the second best player in the world saw the goal too, somewhere, for it was everywhere, and some small part of his over proud personality sneaked through to wonder "What more could I possibly do? What more could I ever do?"

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Gardening's humility

With great power comes great responsibility. With great responsibility comes...


This summer I have a garden. I am a gardener. No, not a very good one, but a very emotional one. I garden as if an incredibly delicate bird has been put in my care, one on the brink of death, and I have no idea how to care for the bird. So mostly I fret and project hope and try to induce it to sip pureed worms. There's some weeding too, er, forget the bird now, we're back to the garden. Sunday evening I bought a variety of tomato plants because all my tomato seeds failed, but the night was projected to be cold, too cold for it to be wise to plant them. So I took the little tomato plants to my living room and watched them a lot. They didn't go anywhere. They are not ambulatory, which is an interesting feature of plants that non gardeners may not know. In the morning I took them outside. Here at work today I think of them. Do they have enough water? Are they getting enough sun? I bet they miss me. I miss them.

Walking to work, on the river, I passed a house I adore, all dense dark brick and with a cozy yard swollen with sweet flowers. It's a dream of a house, facing the Mississippi River, solid as can be. I thought "I wish we lived in this house and didn't have to work and I could garden all day." Hands in the dirt, playing with the magic of time and nature and food. A gardener attains a piece of the power over life and death.

So here I am, a gardener-god, but I feel nothing but humility. This could be because I am not very good at gardening. Still, I am an excellent writer, and yet I'm terribly humble about that too. Yes, sure, you may be thinking that a person who talks about being the greatest writer on the Internet, a prophet of the gods setting down a religious masterpiece for the ages, and the finest, only blogger in the world, can hardly claim to be humble. And I agree I am prone to exclamations of my own exalted greatness, but when I engage in those, when I am telling you that I am a terrible genius, I do feel rather humble. The sentence I am using to say it all is a gift. It may grow or it may not, and even I know, most of them die whether I want them to or not.