Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Self judgement

I recently heard a lecture that was talking about who most accurately judges the quality and promise of creative work. In a study they measured who was most correct in their determination on the value of creative work. First of all we have to suspend our disbelief in order to accept that they have some absolute way to measure this creative work in order to judge how others do in their own measuring. This seems pretty dicey, but I can suspend my disbelief. I have to do it about ten times a day anyway. One more won't kill me.

So this study found that managers are really bad at measuring creative work. They're scared of looking bad and down value everything. They down value it something like two levels too low, the bastards. The creator of the work, though, is also bad at valuing the work. They're so wrapped up in it that they over value it at two levels better than it is. The people who are most accurate are peers. Peers value the creative work of other creators with fairly good accuracy.

Now this is all pretty interesting in its Goldilocks way. But when I heard about all this I was most interested in the second evaluator. I was interested in how we evaluate our own creative work. And most particularly I was interested in how accurate my own evaluation is of my own work.

What, I wanted to know, does this study say about how good my own work is? How good, for instance, is this that I'm writing now? I was delighted to find it tells me how good through a simple mathematical analysis.

Assuming (remember our suspension of disbelief) there is an absolute quality to this piece of creative work, we know from the study that I am, because I am writing it, valuing it at two levels better than it actually is. So demoting how good I think this is by two levels we come out with...

Oh my god, I'm a genius!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

I hope this ends well

I was recently discussing genre here. In this case it was the issue of the disdained "romance" genre and how I thought we should come up with an equally disdained "thriller" genre, both of them made into bad genres simply by removing all the best books that belong there and classifying them into fiction or other genres. 

But it all just brings home my point that genre is a murky thing. Their definitions shift and books constantly drift across their borders. Mostly genres are just tools. Anyone working in a library, who pays attention, knows there is an infinity of ways to group books together. And while there are surely more people out there who want a section devoted to sleuths who solve murders than there are people who want to browse in a section made all of short books, or funny books, it doesn't mean that mysteries is more legit than brief comedies.

I would even say the book grouping dichotomy everyone takes for granted is just a choice, and I'm not so sure it's even to my taste. I can see the practicality of dividing all books into Fiction and Non Fiction, but I think I have a split for all books that I might prefer:

Sad endings and Happy endings. That's what I really want to know.


Monday, August 29, 2016

TV show

Tonight I thought of a great new TV show! It's called:


I think it stands for CSN Investigates.

It's a show about a famous folk rock trio who solve cold case crimes for the Laurel Canyon Police Department.

Here is a sample scene:

(CSN, with the assistance of an occult specialist friend (special guest star Joni Mitchell as "The Duchess"), have tracked down a Satanic Ritual site linked to two bizarre, unexplained murders. The scene is eerie, but abandoned).

STILLS: (Continuing from a previous point as they enter) You know we're all thinking she had something to do with this, with her green eyes and golden hair and everything.

NASH: (Ignoring Stills and commenting on the scene) Is that an orange tree? What have they done to it?

CROSBY: It has something to do with those peacocks.

STILLS: Those are peacocks? Shit, it's like they've lost their minds.

NASH: (Pointing) Why are there stars drawn in white chalk all over the walls here?

CROSBY: Those aren't stars, they're pentagrams.

THE DUCHESS: No. Nash is right. These really are just stars. There's nothing particularly satanic about stars. Here. (THE DUCHESS squats on ground and draws a pentagram with a piece of chalk). This is a pentagram. All of these (she gestures) are just stars. It's pentagrams that are part of occult rituals.

STILLS (bursting out): Guinnevere drew pentagrams! (THE DUCHESS shoots him a warning look. Stills continues more respectfully) Like yours, M'lady like yours. 

(NASH rolls his eyes).

I could do a whole script if the right people take an interest...

Sunday, August 28, 2016


Long have I mocked my library's anti-feminist ghettoization of the romance section. Where I work Romance is the section that exists under the pretense of being a genre, but functions more realistically as a minor league dumping ground. Romance fiction that has the barest whiff of literary merit is promoted into another genre or, more usually, into the straight fiction section. If a book is popular enough it is promoted out of Romance as well so that no one need embarrass themselves by having to check out a romance book. And, finally, perhaps most tellingly, if a man writes a romance novel it is completely safe from ever being even considered for shelving in the Romance section..

Traditionally my solution to this problem is the same one I would use were I given authority over the problems of class stratification and runaway income disparity in America: I would use every device possible to make a full array of class and wealth levels live together in mixed neighborhoods. And so when it comes to the ghetto of Romance we start by bringing the most revered and respected Romance novels into the Romance section. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights are obvious choices, but we can get far more creative from there.

However, this is not a change we have made, or seem remotely ready to make at my library. Our romance section remains the same. And so I think of it once in awhile, and I wait.

But today, while upstairs shelving in the fiction section, faced with whole chunks of amazingly similar thrillers full of powerful men, nuclear submarines, murderers, grave injustice, mavericks, navy seals, sinister villains, ex cops, and the fearsome motives of foreign empires and men that other men admire but not as much as women do, I was struck with a new inspiration, a new solution. If we absolutely refuse to de-ghettoize our romance section we don't have to be out of options. We can instead try to bring balance. I propose a new library genre section for every formula thriller, every military hardware book, every rugged mystery and nuclear brink American fantasy, every steely jawed hero, every book driven by delusions of masculinity and righteousness. We can call it Bravery Fiction maybe, or Dudifiction, or anything we like. No girl writers allowed! And the military should usually be involved, unless it's all about a macho lone wolf, but I'm sure there's room for both. And if anyone with a shred of literary judgement or cultural coolness thinks well of one of these books it will not belong there.

Are these books bad? All these dudifiction books and all the romance books? No, no, this is only what this misuse of genre has taught us. In the end they're just books. Any group of books, any genre or subject of books can be made bad if you carefully choose only the worst of them to group together.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Trump vs. the puppies

These are confusing times. And nothing is more confusing than Donald Trump's run on the White House. So much has been said, and is being said, so many wild satires that turn out to be genuine, so many grandly flaunted theories, and so much meaning ascribed to it all that we have lost perspective. It is hard to know what anything means anymore.
I do not have a panacea for what ails us as a nation. But I have thought of a small word switch that I am hoping will re-ground how we see this election process, a simple language substitution that can, I hope, help restore the underlying ethical and spiritual meanings of our discourse.

I present this correction in a non judgmental spirit, and I hope that you find it useful. Here it is:

Whenever you see, read, hear, or use the words "Vote for Donald Trump" or "Voting for Donald Trump" simply substitute for them the words "Drown a puppy" or "Drowning a puppy".

So, "I supported Sanders, but I'm so fed up that I'm thinking I might just vote for Donald Trump" becomes the much more intelligible "I supported Sanders, but I'm so fed up that I'm thinking I might just drown a puppy". Do you see how it neutralizes the illusion of meaning swirling through the statement? Here: "Many people around the world are wondering why Americans would be contemplating voting for Donald Trump" gets cleared right up with "Many people around the world are wondering why Americans would be contemplating drowning a puppy." Ah yes, one can now clearly see why people around the world would be concerned. A lot of people like puppies, and they might just be sort of concerned for us. With the change it's suddenly the most natural thing in the world. And if we take "Hell yeah, I'll vote for Donald Trump, I want to see what happens" and change it to "Hell yeah, I'll drown a puppy, I want to see what happens" now the spirit of the act is unveiled without all the confusing politics getting in the way.

Again, I am not passing judgement. Who am I to judge the morality of drowning baby dogs? 

Friday, August 26, 2016

An advice fairytale

I am amiably chatting with a couple of co-workers about the hilarious AMA Hugh Grant and Meryl Streep recently did on Reddit around their new movie, when suddenly, and from out of nowhere, like a spider, my manager comes up to us and greets us cheerily.

"Hi. What's up?"

"Um, nothing much." We say. "We were just noting how amusing Hugh Grant is."

Then we all stood there awkwardly for a moment.

"There sure is a lot of shelving to get done!" My manager mentions, apropos of nothing.

So I say "I have found that if you let a butterfly go free, and it comes back to you, it is yours, but if you capture the butterfly, you just have a sad butterfly."

And then everyone was out of anything to say, so we all went back to work.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Recommended reading level

One day someone might ask me: What is the recommended reading level for clerkmanifesto? And since I strive to answer all conceivable questions here before they are asked,  I have an answer for you. But first let me say how glad I am that you've inquired. Your interest means a lot to me. May I ask: Why did you want to know?



Hmm, they must've stepped out for a moment. What say we carry on on our own and hope they rejoin us after they finish what I'm sure is a very, very important cell phone call. Or something.

To explain the standard reading level of clerkmanifesto we must set a universal scale so that we know what our measure is in relation to. Our scale will ascend from one (easiest) all the way up to five (most difficult). Each new level has a title. It looks like this:

1. Watch me read! (e.g. We Are in a Book or Dragons Love Tacos)

2. All the comprehension you ever need! (e.g. Winnie the Pooh or Danny Champion of the World)

3. Leave me alone! (e.g. Catcher in the Rye or Pride and Prejudice)

4. Wait, what? (e.g. Watermelon Sugar or The Violent Bear it Away)

5. I sort of get it, but I can see how it might be difficult for you. (e.g. Finnegan's Wake)

So clerkmanifesto fits somewhere in there. I hope that answered your question.

All right, if you have to have a title and number for clerkmanifesto's difficulty level, let's say:

3.5. Oddly harder than it looks.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016


Oh man. I am in a bad mood today at the library. You do not want to mess with me. You probably shouldn't even look at me. I am a terror. I am ferocious! Tread softly. Thank me quietly and in soothing tones even if all I'm doing is angrily bashing together library carts and bins. But better yet just give me a wide berth, or go get me a cappuccino, but only a good one, and don't expect anything more than a Nero Wolfe-like grunt of acknowledgement if I find it acceptable.

For most of the afternoon I'll be upstairs "shelving". You're better off forgetting about me for a few hours while I'm up there disgustedly correcting the alphabetical errors of my co-workers and the public. But mostly I'll be staring for long periods of time into a blank and indefinite space. Yes if some man wants to know where the true crime books are I will direct him to them. If some cane supported old lady drops her glasses clatteringly to the ground I will scrabble across the aisle on my knees to retrieve them for her. But today, above all days at the library, you must remember this fundamental, elemental truth about me here: 

The library owes me a living. Every shred of work I do here is a gift.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Just the best book ever

It's book recommendation time!

"Oh boy!" You cry, and rub your hands together gleefully.

But no, you have misunderstood. You are recommending to me!

I'm going on a long trip soon. I can fit one book into the small pack that will be all of my belongings for five weeks. I'm just asking you for the name of one perfect book.

C'mon, it's easy. I recommend all the time. You just have to pay attention to the parameters, and you have to know a lot of books. Because you read Grade A literature like clerkmanifesto you are clearly an aesthete and surely know a library's worth of books. I just need one recommendation out of all of those from you, one small recommendation of any book, so long as it falls within the following simple and minor guidelines.

1. You must love the book more than life itself and be willing to stake your honor, reputation, and your very soul on the extraordinary quality of said book.

2. I can't have read it or started it before. Fairly speaking your responsibility here is limited.

3. It should be breezy, light, clever, fascinating, riveting, and utterly engaging as befits a book to be read in transit at complex intervals.

4. You should reasonably have cause to suspect I would feel the same way about this book as you do.

And that's it. Fiction, non fiction, mystery, travel, romantic comedy, memoir, I don't care. Follow my four simple rules, then leave your one, perfect, amazing suggestion in the comments below. I don't even need an explanation or sales pitch, just the title and author and that's it!

Oh, wait, there was one more thing: Thank you.

This is going to be so great. And allow me to just say ahead of time about your suggestion: Wow, that was by far the greatest book I have ever read in my life!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Rome 3

Last we left off in my saga I was swearing and abandoning my sensible account of my first real trip to Rome in order to discuss theology. But we are talking about Rome, so what could be more important than theology?

Well, art maybe, and food. Possibly history, gelato of course, wine, and time. Parks? The sweet life? The river, the streets, the light? But other than art, food, history, gelato, wine, and time, parks, the sweet life, the river, the streets, and the light, theology is easily in the top, um, ten of the most important things in Rome. So you should be warned that I might break out in theology again at any moment.

So there we were, randomly going to Rome because it was the cheapest place to get to in Europe at that moment. And I was nervous, and excited. I knew that it was full of art and food I loved, and as I researched I was only reminded more and more of this, but I also pictured a city of wide boulevards thronged with traffic. I dreaded crossing endless streets. Yes there might be 2,000 year old buildings, and even better 500 year old ones, but they were isolated in a traffic choked mire of vast, freeway like lanes full of unrelenting, excitable Italian drivers.

I was merely confused by a childhood in Los Angeles. It turned out when I went that Rome was a dense cobblestoned city in cold drizzle with black, illuminated ancient streets, full of people and a mysterious glow and narrow lanes, with dead and live ruins weaving through the city like a compliment of veins and arteries. Every bit of history was contiguous and swirling into each other and into simple daily life. It was the city of dreams that the breadth of my creativity had been too small to imagine on its own.

I am one dark misanthrope. But then too there is Rome. And if there is Rome we can not have entirely screwed up everything. Sometimes, while trying to destroy everything, we accrete miracles.

And so it all comes back to theology again. Rome proves people. We are not a myth. And if we can believe in people, god is just an anecdote. 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Rome two

In my story of falling for Rome I told of a thrilling introduction to the city in a long ago art history class that set the stage without lifting the curtain. I knew that much of my favorite art and architecture was in Rome, but I curiously didn't make any real connection between that and the city. Many years ago my wife and I gave up on all our failed plans to travel to Europe and decided the way for us to go was as quickly and cheaply as we could. So we set aside four days and found a low cost airfare. The cheapest one by far that we could find happened to be to Rome.

It was all an accident.

Everything we love is an accident that was written in the stars.

Wait, go spray paint that under a bridge. Put it on a plaque at the entrance to the San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane. Or forget it forever. 

This little essay was supposed to be much longer, and I had other things to say, but fuck it:

Everything we love is an accident that was written in the stars.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Aim to please

A crabby old man approaches me at the front desk of the library.  Decrepit, but feisty, he is using one of our little rolling shopping carts as a walker. His shirt is filthy and old, covered in blood stains. He has never been so angry in his life!

Or so he tells me. I think it might be a small exaggeration provoked by the trouble he is having printing out some old tax forms off the Internet. He gives me a long story about the agonizing difficulties he is having printing these forms. He can't believe it!

I direct him to the librarians upstairs, up the elevator.

"Can't someone help me on this floor?"
I have to say I predicted this when we designed this library. No one, absolutely no one around here likes to go upstairs unless they have to.

I start to direct him to the librarian in the teen room, but then a thought occurs to me. A question: Would I be referring this man to someone else if he were young and able and pleasant and not covered in blood stains?

Yes, actually, I would. The truth is that this could go on for awhile. But the hell with it. I decide to see what I can do to help him myself mostly because he's so miserable. If it doesn't work I'll deal with that then.

It turns out the forms are incredibly easy to find and I print out beautiful copies for him. He's delighted! He thinks I'm a magician!

Oh, we don't just aim to please here, we deliver ecstasy. Enjoy your beautiful tax forms old man. Remember me fondly, in luxury and joy, as you fill them out.

Friday, August 19, 2016

End of world

It was a night of dazzling meteorological phenomenon at the library tonight. And we do have some windows there to see it. We started with torrential downpours, hail, and accompanying blasts of lightning. It felt ominous and cozy, a good feeling for a library. As the storms broke up into dark and light showers in scattered sunshine we all started wondering about rainbows at the same time. And there one was, to the east, comically perfect, a great arc, framing a copse of trees between our parking lot and where the neighbors' backyards started. Each color was richly and evenly flooded in, like a child's drawing of a rainbow. After much gawking and wonderment and phone pictures and high spirits the rainbow faded and the northern storm clouds grew wild and dramatic. Black-dark clouds cut across a swath of sun-blasted white clouds with enough drama one could feel the impression of it in one's stomach. We all gathered at the back windows of the library as the sun set. The white and black wild and operatic clouds presided over and held in a strange orange glow of sunset.

It was all too much for someone, and they asked "Is the world coming to an end?"

And someone else quietly said "Yes. But slowly."

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Emergency surgery

I don't want to hate my co-workers. And when they're merely annoying I can manage to rise above it. I'm sure I can be annoying as well. Though don't tell me about it. I don't want to know. And who thinks I'm annoying anyway? I am a delight to be around! So whoever thinks I'm annoying needs to get a grip!

So with my perspective I can totally handle these annoying co-workers, but when one of my co-workers is appalling, that's a different challenge.

Tonight, after a long and busy couple hours at the front desk, I went to the last two hours of taking care of our big self check in machine. My co-worker preceding me may as well have beaten the machine with a bat and flung all its books on the floor for what its condition was. "Sorry, I didn't get that annoying chunk of work done over there that was my responsibility, so I left it for you." She says blithely. But though what she left me is unforgivable, it is equally weird how unexplainable it is. Everything else she could have done on the machine instead of what she didn't do is in chaos as well. There are full bins, unresolved exceptions, and not that much work to show for all of her neglect.

I can't look at her. I find myself unable to acknowledge her apology, if that's what it was. Did it sound like an apology to you? "Sorry" was in it. That usually means it vaguely has something to do with an apology. I said nothing.

But, as I said, I don't want to hate my co-workers, and after much searching I have come up with a solution. 

I decided that it couldn't have been her fault. I decided a wounded kitten stumbled into the library. Its paw was badly mangled and the little wee fellow was limping piteously. My co-worker dropped everything. Drawing on veterinary skills she hardly knew she had she bundled the kitten in a blanket to help with the shock. Then she carefully cleaned and disinfected the wound, patched it, bandaged it carefully up, and found the kitten a loving home. Just as she saw the now happy little fellow off with a final tender hug, and returned to the library, I came back for our shift change.

And I was all cranky and judgemental.

She was probably annoyed with me. 

Well, I can see it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Rome 1: Marc Le Sueur

As I warned you, you will be reading a lot about Rome here in the months to come. My wife and I are going there for a third time. We will be there a month. So I think I should start at the beginning.

Marc Le Sueur, then.

He was my favorite college Professor. In a dark lecture hall in the eighties he would passionately hold forth on film and art history. He was very dashing, but that was mitigated by a foamy fleck of spittle that consistently formed at the corner of his mouth as he preached the holy word. What was that holy word? Whatever it needed to be. 

But whatever it was he knew it.

And one day the holy word was Rome.

Marc Le Sueur loved the baroque. Classical Rome was not his bailiwick. But in those days before there were ready pictures of everything everywhere, he had wandered across Rome with a camera to make sure we could see some of its less hailed treasures, the fabulous baroque edifices of Bernini and Borromini, the sculpture, the miraculous paintings of Caravaggio. And he told them to us like they were a secret. Yes, he told us about the baroque like he was letting us in on the most marvelous secret. To this day, despite everything I know to the contrary, I believe that in 1986 Borromini was almost nothing to history, Caravaggio was seen as an also ran to the Renaissance masters that came before him, and Bernini was a footnote.

Marc Le Sueur, titan of art history, humorist, spellbinder, changed all that. Marc Le Sueur elevated them back to the pantheon(!) that by right of divine gifts they belonged to. And for all the hoopla about Imperial Rome, he alone, rambling comically and wisely around the podiums of Oakland, California, reminded the world that the Rome that still lives, the one you can eat and drink in, is Baroque Rome, home of the greatest sculptor (Bernini), the greatest painter (Caravaggio), and the greatest architect (Borromini).

Of course, he didn't put it like that. He just let me interpret it that way.

So is that where I fell in love with Rome?

No, no. I didn't really put it together there, but the seed was planted.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Security gates

Is there a tornado coming? Are the Nazis bombing us? Is it the end of the world?

No, it's just our security gates.

Yes, they are very loud. They are so loud they make people leave their senses. Curiously, for some patrons they are somehow too loud to hear, and they keep walking obliviously towards the final building exit. Others are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of our alarm and simply stand there in the security gates in a kind of horrified stasis while the alarm rings out forever. Still others like to try to identify the problem. They step back into the gates. "Was that you?" They ask one of their party. The other person steps into the gate. Why, they both set off the alarm! Does this bag set it off, or this one? They both do! 

Of course, we behind the desk have an even greater variety of ways to respond to patrons setting off the security gates. We can run after the offender, tackling them to the ground,  but we are more likely to tiredly wave them back to the desk. If we're really busy we may be even too tired to wave, and we instead simply hope that whatever they're taking isn't very good and that they'll bring it back eventually anyway. These are actually pretty good bets. Still, we try to care, and usually do.

I long to cry out "Stop thief." But I never have. I don't believe we have ever caught a thief with our security gates, well, once maybe, but that's not really what the gates are for. They're not to catch thieves, rather they are there to catch people who are bad at using our self check out machines, which, come to think of it, may be as great a crime as stealing.

Monday, August 15, 2016

God as humorist

I'm not saying that God's not funny, it's just a dark sense of humor. Dark as night. Dark as death.

There I am in my cool, cave-like writing studio. I am writing a short essay when all of the sudden God comes up in it. It turns out I have less to say about what comes up in these essays than one might think. About half of everything I say is a surprise to me. You may be like "I knew he was going to say that!", but not me. For me I am more likely to think "Wait. Really? What does that mean? Oh! Well I'll be." And I am.

So I wasn't picking a fight when, in yesterday's post, I started writing "While I am always ready to call out God, as in, this is God's fault..." But just as I typed that "f" at the start of fault, the most enormous, bloated, grey-brown, cellar dwelling spider I have ever seen, plunged itself down from the ceiling to writhe it's apocalypse of horrifying legs in my face.

Have I ever mentioned my feelings about spiders here? They disturb me greatly, and, occasionally, at the worst, bring up in me feelings of piercing and utter horror. This was a scenario under which such a thing happened.

This is apparently what God finds amusing. And after I had flung myself screaming back from that spider, ran around yelling for awhile, and cowered in a corner of my house while my heroic wife removed the spider from the house using a snow shovel and a train cargo container, I could see the humor of the situation. Which is not, I should point out, the same as actually finding it funny.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Good old complaining

After an extremely problematic and difficult several weeks at my library I was pleased to find myself outraged about minor shelving errors in the fiction section. 

I have just endured two major, long term breakdowns of our check in machine, a machine that usually does a great chunk of unpleasant work for us. I saw a manager more or less slowly lose their mind.  Heat waves drove our patrons to an uneasy and slightly dangerous boil. It also made them smell worse. And I suppose I could come up with more tragedies from that (ever so recent) time, but I am not here for a list. I am here to rejoice in the mundane irritations that come up in the normal operation of my library. It's like if you have always had a wonky wrist and tried not to complain about it too much. Then you're stricken with cancer and spend a long and painful season battling it back until it looks like you might have it licked, at least for now, and you notice your wrist hurts a bit. Well then, what a relief to be irritated by just a wonky wrist!

So, then, this is going to be trifling.

It will not speak to the grander truths of the universe.

No, scratch that, it probably will speak to the grander truths of the universe. We'll just have to look very, very, very close to find them.

But on the surface of it, it's really going to look trifling.

Today, shelving in the fiction section, I was brought to a ten minute halt in order to sort a section of totally messed up alphabetical shelving. It concerned three authors: Brian Freeman, Brian James Freeman, and Brian Freemantle.

We are a pretty big library. We are not enormous, but we are pretty big. Also, there are a lot of authors in the world. But I assure you that there is no library with a fiction section stuffed with so many authors that there are groups of them having the same or almost the same names.

Unless, of course, you count Brian Freeman, Brian James Freeman, and Brian Freemantle.

While I am always ready to call out God, as in, this is God's fault, there are others to blame here as well. Perhaps you are thinking of the mothers of these authors? I am sympathetic, but how could they know they would all be authors? So then let us instead, along with God, blame the shelvers who have gone before me who failed in this exacting test of their shelving skill and mangled them all together. There is also the library technical services department to blame. They clearly have some weird fetish about covering the "tle" part of Brian Freemantle's name with assorted library stickers wherever it appears on the cover or spine. We can certainly fault Brian James Freeman himself as well for not going by B. J. But in the end I am not here (only) for recriminations for past wrongs.

I am solution oriented.

And I have a solution. 

Effective immediately, Brian Freeman, Brian James Freeman, and Brian Freemantle will all cease to use their names and will find new ones. Furthermore, no one will be allowed to use those names ever again. With one exception. From now on God will be known as Brian (James) Freeman(tle). Not only does he fancy himself an author, but obviously he loves the name so much that he deserves it.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Greatest book of twentieth century

I am prone to fits of wild enthusiasm. I'm okay with having them. On the whole they are more enjoyable than my fits of wild rage. But either way there's a lot of spinning tires to all these fits. That is, I've got my engine racing, and the tires are spinning wildly, but things aren't really moving much, maybe at about the same speed as a slow walk.

I'm just saying that I don't expect to convince you with my wild enthusiasm. I don't expect to even slightly convince you. I'm even pretty sure I'll look back at this in half a year and not be convinced.

But I believe it now.

And anyway, it's not about how fast the car goes, because when it comes to all of this, this, there is never anywhere to get to. That is the secret we should always keep with us somewhere, maybe in a spare pocket, much in a way a another kind of person might need to have a note on them that says "Please don't bury me. I'm just a super heavy sleeper!" A fail-safe, if you will.

 So just pretend, if you like, that we're merely moseying along, and pay no attention to all the burning and smoking rubber.

The Doorbell Rang, by Rex Stout, is the best book written in the twentieth century.

Yes, I know, there were a lot of books written in the twentieth century. Yes, some of them were super good. But I'm not going to list them for you. I am not here to make your argument.

I know that The Doorbell Rang is just another of 33 mystery novels about Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe. It's not the first of his. It's not the last. As I march along through my middle years as a writer, I rather like that Stout was pushing eighty when he wrote this book in 1965, but that doesn't really make any difference to what it is. It's not unique in his canon. It's not miles better or very much different that his other 33 Wolfe novels. But it is a little better than them, just like it's a little better than everything else.

When it comes to greatness everything is bunched up pretty close there at the top.

Here's the thing, sometimes when one reads one comes across some great sentence or passage that says so very much that one wants to share it. That's how I felt about the sentences in in The Doorbell Rang.

Oh, which ones?

Pretty much all of them.

But fine, here, almost randomly, because I don't go around underlining books, are two:

She did all right. A woman who can toss you a check for a hundred grand without blinking hasn't had much practice listening to reason from a hireling, but she managed it.


The answer was really simple, but of course that's one thing we use our minds for, finding complicated reasons for dodging simple answers.

Yeah, this book is funny, dead smart, and too perceptive by half. It messes with the FBI with a cold, light clarity, as if it's hardly even the point, and it does it right there in the mid sixties. It's a piece of work this book, an easy pleasure that can keep up any day of the week with anything Shakespeare has to say on the human condition.

So should you read it?

No. Not after I went and built it up so much.

Friday, August 12, 2016


I have worked with dozens of horrendous co-workers in my career as a library worker. It is quite possible that I have never gone to my supervisor to complain about any of them. This is not to say that in conversation with a supervisor I haven't in wider discussions referred to deep failings of certain co-workers under the assumption that my supervisors are not entirely stupid and are capable, at a minimum, of simple observations. And if I, in discussion with a supervisor, realistically acknowledge the shortcomings of a co-worker who is not horrendous, who maybe in some ways is minimally competent, I will be scrupulous in contextualizing their problem areas and noting their positives.

Because here is a law for you, a psychological evaluation, a litmus test:

 If you ever go in to a supervisor for the express purpose of complaining about a co-worker who is 

A. Not particularly mean to you.

B. Has done nothing gravely unethical.

C. Would, if you gave an overall letter grade to your co-workers, receive a "D" or better.

Then you do not know who you are.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

More time, more helping

I have long found that the number of people a clerk helps in a given time at the front desk of the library is a strong measure of the quality of that clerk. This is not absolute, and I do work with people who can cut through certain patrons quickly by using off the cuff, often wrong, answers, and lots of directions to other desks and locations elsewhere. But the options for telling people to go away are surprisingly limited when you're a front desk clerk, and though I have seen clerk evasion techniques such as lying, inventing work avoiding policies on the spot, and being repulsive, rude, and truculent to get rid of people, even those techniques take time. And so ever we fall back to the original barometer. With my worst co-workers, during perverse phases where I have kept close track, I have clocked five to one ratios during notable hours, and more than seven to two ratios on a steady basis. By that I am saying that I help seven people for every two they help. And that doesn't even take into account when they tell someone that they can't look up a book for them, or when they inform some new patron that they will have to go to another library if they want to get a card.

But no matter how excruciatingly long these awful co-workers (or perfectly nice, but inept co-workers) take with the patrons they help, it is incredibly hard to see just what it is they are doing with these patrons for all that time. While I am reasonably efficient, I am also a loquacious, helpful, over-explainer who considers it a personal defeat if I have to send a patron for assistance anywhere else. That is, I mean, unless I am intentionally punishing the patron or the people I am sending the patron to by such a transaction. 

I'm just saying that, as it is, I am a full service desk person.

But despite all my confident feelings of superiority, because I cannot fathom what is going on (endlessly) over at that desk next to me, I am left with a little doubt. What if, despite all appearances to the contrary, my seemingly inept colleague is doing something amazing over there, something that is utterly beyond me? What if they get to discussing the patron's health and my co-worker says "Oh, you have liver cancer. I can cure liver cancer. I just need to hang out with you here for twenty minutes, fiddling with stuff on my computer and my desk and looking very confused the whole time."

"Wow!" The patron exclaims. "Thanks!"

I want to be able to cure liver cancer out at the front desk too! That's better than any front desk tricks I can do. Can I learn it online? Do I really have to go around all addled and looking like a hypnotized chicken to be able to do it? 

Ah well, I guess there's a price for everything.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

British Navy, early 1800s

Despite the thin veneer of anonymity I have here, there are some situations at my library that are too pointed, too explosive to discuss with a naked directness. With changed names and a bit of dodging I can call out an occasional co-worker or misguided policy, and I can speak to a structural problem here or there, but when the shit hits the fan I am in a delicate position.

Fortunately I am surrounded by literature. And stories talk. So let us talk through a story today.

Here I am in the British Navy in the early 1800s.

The Captain, an amiable drunkard, can be relied upon for a certain range of ship tending, and is a decent enough fellow in his way, but he scrupulously leaves much of the running of the ship to his First Lieutenant, and he will not be bothered with these things.

The First Lieutenant, though, is slowly going mad.

He pops up out of nowhere to criticize randomly and by implication. He tells people who are working to get to work. He lurks like a spider in all areas of the ship, disappearing for hours and then leaping out to put an end to any sound of laughter. There are so many things to be done, and laughter is not one of them.

There is too much to be done!

The other officers haven't a clue and are not put out by this incipient madness. It barely affects them. But below decks there are ever the murmurs among the afflicted. And yet there are never as many murmurs as the First Lieutenant seems to hear. And the word that hasn't even occurred to the below decks crew is the the word that ever whispers in the First Lieutenant's ears: Mutiny.

He fears being taken advantage of. He fears the work not getting done. Why? Because everything reflects upon him, and he dreads and fears the judgement of a murky array of people who are paying no attention. Was a splash of blood from the last battle not fully scrubbed out? The First Lieutenant is terrified it might be so. So he cajoles. He rushes onto the deck every few minutes to cry out "There is much work to be done!" He tells everyone to do exactly what they're assigned to do, then he randomly shoves tools and scrub brushes into the hands of people who are supposed to be elsewhere. Overwrought with delusions of responsibility and feeling a desperate inability to get the crew to work as hard as they should he suddenly decides to do it himself. He throws himself into the scrubbing in a fury. "This is how it's done!" His mind cries out. But the whispering, the whispering, my god with the whispering. He cannot concentrate. He resolves to abandon himself into this work- ah the respite of work- but even a minute of trying to ignore the whispering is already too much for him. He must leave the scrubbing undone to put an end to the whispering.

Did he hear laughter? There is work to be done, so much work to be done! Why are those two people talking together. Why are they smiling? Break it up, break it up. Underneath it all he knows what they're really doing; they're taking advantage, slacking, being insubordinate, talking about him, whispering. Yes, they are whispering. They are whispering "Mutiny".

The work, the well-run ship ever recedes in importance. It is merely the excuse now for the Lieutenant to drive things on, to stop the voices, to stay in control. The ends don't matter. It is only the means. Everyone must look busy. Everyone must be where they're supposed to be! And no more whispering. Yes, there is only one thing left now, to stop the whispering. Mutiny! Mutiny! My god, before it's too late! He must stop the whispering... 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

One job

When it's busy try and hang in there.

When it's medium busy try to be efficient.

But when it's slow, try to be perfect.

I find that I have a high enough tolerance for myself and others falling down a little bit on the first two, but that last one gets to me. 

There is one of my co-workers, working the automated check in machine. They've hit one of those by no means common, but certainly not rare, periods where there is little to take care of, and the returns are slow enough that one needs only to pay a modicum of attention, and the bins never fill up. So what do they do? They wander off to some dark corner of the library. In rapt attention they ponderously put fourteen books into strict alphabetical order because they wouldn't just want to stand by the machine idly tending it and looking like a slacker. Twenty minutes later two bins are full, errors have piled up, and the machine is grinding books into dust with a disturbing squealing wail that penetrates into the library.

If the library were busy I could probably bear this. But the person responsible here could have been leafing through old Doonesbury collections and eating chocolate chip cookies while still justifiably earning their hourly wage. They threw that extraordinary opportunity away on an idea, on the image of productivity!

There is one of my co-workers, in charge of answering our phones. It is a very quiet evening. We may not receive a single phone call all night. But if we do, oh my! It should be handled perfectly. My co-worker should be kind, careful, thorough, and exacting. They have the unused effort of ten phone calls to apply to that singular call. So if it should happen, and we get an actual call, which we probably won't, I want to see something beautiful. My co-worker can go sleep during all the rest of the time for all I care.

So the phone rings. My co-worker is nowhere to be seen. Perhaps they have nodded off somewhere? Are they dead?

One job. One simple, tiny job!

Did you know that doing ones own job well is worth ten times the same amount of work that's not ones job?

Did you know that not doing ones job when it's easy is far worse than not doing ones job when it's difficult? 

These are both so. I know. I just made up the rules. It's my job.