Tuesday, January 31, 2017
I skipped a shower this morning to get out of the house on time- just as the snow stopped falling. I was greeted by particularly fresh, cold air, corpse gray skies, and a half inch of pure, untouched snow. I dipped the bottoms of my boots in. Mmm, snow. I crunched out into the world.
Oh how beautiful it all was. Oh the delicacy and freshness and good intent of the world! My heart rejoiced and filled with a song that no music-
Then I slipped.
I didn't fall. My arms didn't wheel about hilariously. It was more like my body jerked in a panic and my leg, the one opposite to the one slipping, slammed down into the ground to compensate, to catch and balance me. It was very unpleasant.
"Fucking shit goddamnit sodding asshole." I said, with feeling.
Who was I talking to there? Probably god. I was probably talking to god.
I tested my next step. It was still slippery. I hobbled on it to more sure ground and continued along. The footing was 95 percent perfectly fine, but then there were little isolated patches of freakishly slippery ice, fiendishly camouflaged under an innocent and fluffy dusting of snow. So mostly I just walked singing the praises of the lord until the near catastrophic injury moments where I hated his guts.
It is said we create god in our own image. Voltaire said it, George Carlin, me.
If this is so I'd just like to know what I'm up to.
Monday, January 30, 2017
I was glad that some of the people I work with went out into the women's marches across the country. One retired person, who still substitutes at my library, drove across the country with a friend to march all the way over at the big one, in Washington. When she came back I saw her pictures and heard some of her stories. But it was a story of hers that she told after all her other stories were done that sticks with me the most. It wasn't about signs, or Trump, or righteousness. It was a small story about a crowd of people. And though I am deeply jaundiced about the positive power of the people, it was oddly this story, above any I heard, in all the marches, that I found heartening.
In giant crowds in Washington D.C., my co-worker was marching. She had her sign. Her friend had a sign. As they marched along a chant, a marching chant, moved its way forward towards her. As they understood its import, she and her friend took up this chant too:
Imelda from New York.
You lost your I.D.
Imelda from New York.
You lost your I.D."
And then after chanting it for awhile the crowd parted like unto the Red Sea before Moses. A woman worked her way back through the crowd to the source of the chant and a great space was made, the crowd and my co-worker hushing their marching song as they saw her coming through.
Then, in a few minutes, the chant came forward through the crowd once more:
She found her I.D.
She found her I.D."
Sunday, January 29, 2017
Here are two true life comedy shorts from the front desk of my library. Why two? Well, partly because they're so short, and also because I'm hoping you'll allow the amount of humor in them to be cumulative. What'd you say? Like if joke A. is a three out of ten, and joke B. is a four out of ten, they get to just be a seven out of ten, you know, all together.
Splendid then. They really are pretty funny when you add the modest amount of humor in each of them in a cumulative manner.
The first one is about how talkative I can be at the front desk. I can get pretty loquacious. And nowhere was this more evident to me than tonight when a deaf woman with her small daughter came to me at our service desk. It really was only a few minutes to take care of everything, but as I said, I can get very talkative. By the time I finished helping her replace her lost library card from another system I was up to my knees in post it notes.
That last part there was the joke.
You'll need to remember to add the following humor on top of what has taken place, rather than starting from scratch. Don't worry if you don't feel you have a tremendous amount of humor to start with. We're stacking.
A man came to me at the front desk of the library.
"Hello" He said. "I'm teaching tonight's class on identity theft."
"That's odd." I replied. "The person in here just before you said the same thing."
Eventually I had to add "That's a joke."
Which sort of expresses how this whole night feels.
Saturday, January 28, 2017
Indeed, that is where we normally take our deliveries. But we have quite a few wheeled conveyances at our library, and it is a mere twenty feet of easy travel behind my colleague to get the boxes where they need to go. She nevertheless has him take the six boxes, in two trips, 150 feet out to his truck, where he has to load them up again, drive the truck in a circuitous route around to the north side of the library, where he unloads them once more, and brings them in to me, in the back room, working not far behind where he just was with my colleague.
He is not happy.
I apologize. "I'm sorry about that. There is really no excuse for her. She's honestly just... crazy. I don't know. I'm sorry."
And I am. Later I tell the story of her appalling deed several times to various of my other co-workers. But oddly none of my co-workers seem particularly horrified. She's been around here a long time, doing baffling things like this, seemingly without rancor, but frequently to great inconvenience to a wide assortment of people, unimpeded for years. At this point it is hard to even know how much of the fault even lies with her anymore. I'm not sure she's all that responsible for herself anymore. The blame now must almost entirely lie with my managers, locked into bizarre ideas about equality and industriousness, who obtusely continue to put her at the front desk of our library, all done with a shrug of their shoulders, a look the other way, and another day at the office.
Friday, January 27, 2017
If I were the editor of the newspaper's weather page things would be different, very different indeed.
First of all, it wouldn't be a "page". This isn't 1926. The Internet can auto generate as much local weather information as my local newspaper bothers with. No, I need a weather section. I want half a dozen independent forecasters, each with unique approaches and with specific, exhaustive forecasts. These half dozen forecasters can include a couple of meteorologists, but I'd like to see a witch in there too, a statistician, an animal forecaster, and maybe a local farmer. I want their track records too, with detailed accuracy stats. And I want their hourly forecasts, day forecasts, week forecasts, their month forecasts, and maybe something about the next couple of seasons. Lay it on thick. Maps, plenty of chatter about different short term weather possibilities, and what led them to their conclusions. I could read the weather section for hours.
And when they're wrong I want a printed apology. I'd like one right now, for instance. It could go something like this:
I am covered in shame. Yesterday I predicted a grey morning with temperatures in the mid thirties. I am sorry to have to say that at ten in the morning it was still only 27 degrees out. While eight degrees of error may not seem like a huge difference to some of you, to others it had to be infuriating. Not only do eight degrees present quite a bite, but crucially, for our walking readers, those eight degrees change the very nature of our sidewalks. At 35 degrees they are, as our snow melt currently stands, a bit splashy, but with reliable, pleasant footing. At 27 degrees they are spotted with invisible ice and are veritable deathtraps. I know this because one of our readers sent me 22 very angry emails on this issue. To this Mr Calypso, who was so kind to let me know, over and over, and to everyone else who was so adversely affected, I humbly apologize, and will endeavor, in the near future, to do as well as our forecasting pigeon, who pecked at the dish that said "Twenties", and was the clear winner in weather prognostication on this page for the third day running.
Once again my sincerest apologies for the difficulties I have caused in my errant computer modeled predictions.
Thursday, January 26, 2017
As I have proved in a conclusive test, right here on this blog, it is possible to judge a book by its cover. I even showed that one can do it with an almost meticulous, fine toothed accuracy. This all was a few years ago now, but I'm sure you could find the account of this engaging test. I dare you to look for it. It's somewhere out there in my 1,450 posts, nearly all of whom live on the island of lost blogposts, sunbathing, drinking coconut waters, and idly dreaming that maybe someday someone will wander along and read them just one more time.
I try and get around to visit every lost post occasionally, but there are so many, and I'm only one person!
But despite the fact that it is clearly possible to accurately judge a book by its cover, one can become over confident. One can be rash and filled with hubris and make a horrible, embarrassing misjudgement. This very thing happened to me today!
I was emptying a bin of books that were in transit from my library to another of our branches when I came upon a slender picture book entitled Cinderella Babysits. There, on the cover of this little book, Princess Cinderella is outside in a meadow in front of her castle, on her own, taking care of a little girl.
"This is ridiculous!" I cried out to whoever happened to be within a hundred feet of me at the time. "Cinderella is a major Princess. She's not going to be left with menial jobs like babysitting! Who would write such a patently absurd book as this?"
As a co-worker gathered round I opened the book. It quickly became apparent that the child in question was related to Cinderella's Fairy Godmother. Clearly the Fairy Godmother had asked Cinderella to watch her niece or something. I don't know exactly as I was simply trying to get the gist of things. All I know is that if her Fairy Godmother wanted a favor there was no way Cinderella was going to farm that job out. She'd be crazy to mess with her Fairy Godmother. It all made perfect sense, and clearly, in my rashness, I had gravely misjudged this book by its cover. My co-worker had to agree.
Maybe one day, when I have a spare 48 seconds, I should read the whole tale of Cinderella Babysits. It actually looked pretty good.
Wednesday, January 25, 2017
At the moment America is up in arms, in our Attention Deficit Disorder way, about the most recent Trumpian lies being called "Alternative facts" by the loathesome Trump administration and their hideous lackeys. Even CNN broadcast a scrawl at some point that read, "Alternative facts are lies."
Certainly the Trump administration's claims concerning the numbers attending the inauguration were lies, but I contend these weren't alternative facts. It was a lie itself that these were alternative facts. If I were to say that I am the tallest person on Earth, and, when told that I am not actually very tall, despite my giraffe hat, I claimed that my statement was a toothpick holder, it would not make toothpick holders into lies. Leave the poor toothpick holder out of it! Stop mocking alternative facts! Do you know what alternative facts are?
Alternative facts are art. As I remember it this President has been trying to poach the meaning of "art" since the eighties. But lies are just lies, and by nature and soul they are ugly.
The opposite of a lie is not a fact, the opposite of a lie is art.
Tuesday, January 24, 2017
I dressed to the nines this morning.The origin of this phrase is uncertain, but I've decided it means I am dressed nine times better than I usually dress. I have assembled an almost entirely Italian ensemble. Sleek black jeans and a black button down shirt cut in a European style, both from a department store on Via Del Corso in Rome that my wife and I only went to out of the curiosity of seeing so many people walking around in possession of their bags. My deep pumpkin jacket, made from a form fitting stretch felt material, must remain always buttoned and is best complimented by its accompanying long, dashing, gray cashmere scarf. These were bought in a small, corner shop in the Spanish Steps neighborhood where they dressed me with old world attention. Let me tell you, I cut quite the figure. I am a dandy. And all the rooster glory of myself dressed like this is heightened by my set up: I can go months here at the library I work at dressed sort of like a hobo. It's that instability that primes the public for the sheer drama of my appearance.
"You look nice today." They say.
"Yes, I am the Clown Prince of the library." I think.
But what I say is:
"Yes, I am the Clown Prince of the library."
It's good to say what you think, don't you think?
After an hour I am getting very hot. These are some warm wool clothes.
"I can't do much work today because I am just here to look beautiful." I say to no one in particular, because at that point I am scheduled on the automated check in machine where I am alone with my beauty.
But curiously I can sometimes be as bad at not working as I can be at working. In less than three hours I have become so hot that I've hung up my coat and scarf and am back to looking relatively normal. Who needs normal? Well, me I guess, if I want to stop sweating. However an hour from now I'll be on the front desk again, and I might reassemble my ensemble.
"Ooooh! Go to the front desk for help." The patrons will say. "It's like being assisted by a magical exotic bird."
Well, they might not say it, but they'll think it, which is a start.
Monday, January 23, 2017
Dear Library Director,
I'm just so tired.
I have been working here, if you can call it that, and I think you can, for over twenty-two years. Twenty-two years! Do you know how long that is?
It's twenty-two years and then some, as I previously stated. I don't understand why there would be any confusion.
I realize it is not so much the labors of my job that exhaust me. I have learned a great deal about how to mitigate those with a kind of "work on demand" approach. No, it is the pretense that exhausts me. Everyday I have to pretend. I frequently have to pretend I'm working. I have to pretend I have bosses who are in charge of me. I have to pretend I am a cog in a highly structured library machine. I have to pretend I am part of a reasonably run, hierarchical structure. I have to pretend that I am a library worker, a clerk.
I am not any of these.
I realize this may come as a surprise to you.
Allow me to outline my actual job:
I am a wild card.
I am the trickster of the library, Coyote, the court jester. I am both its good fairy and the touch of acid to keep it honest. I am the library's blogger and its mascot. I am here to enjoy myself. I am the clutch hitter, the keeper of secrets that I will tell to anyone who deserves to know. And everyone who wants to know deserves to know. I am the visionary ignored, the history keeper, the bon vivant, and the teller of tales. I am he who makes our library into a living room, the bartender, the loose cannon, the flaneur watching soccer games in the teen room. I am the one who makes the whole library into a theatrical production of community theater. I am the hail mary pass, the giver of gifts, and the dreamer of library dreams. I am every cartoon ever drawn about books and libraries. I am a satire of bureaucracy, the wilderness at the heart of the library, the burning fusion mysteriously powering it forever, and that which must not be named.
And I am good at this job.
I was made for this job and have made this job mine.
But I am not nearly as good as I could be. I am held back by the false expectations that I should shelve when I'm supposed to shelve, that I should appear busy, that I am beholden to people who are allowed to tell me what to do. I am held back by the urgings of normalcy, industry, and conventionality. This is a painful fiction that serves no one. It merely frustrates my managers. It irritates the more confused of my co-workers, and it dampens my full exposure to the greater library.
It is a foolish consistency, the hobgoblin of little minds, it is Derwood to Samantha, and it is a trim for Samson's unwieldy hair. It is employing dementors to watch over the grounds of the library.
Make me Clown Prince of the library. Trust danger. If there is no way around our entrenched structures then have me report to you, with the understanding that I report only to the mad little gods of the forest and to the books on our shelves. There is work to be done. Dark times are upon us. Now is not the time for us to cower in the shadows, now is the time for us to reach for the stars.
No, I am not the one who reaches for the stars. I am the one who creates the beautiful accidents that hurl us there.
In deep camaraderie and library devotion,
Clown Prince of the library (provisional)
Sunday, January 22, 2017
A true story:
A longtime patron approaches me at the front desk of the library. He ruefully tells me he has $4.50 in fines to pay and hands me a twenty.
"We will wax fat off of your suffering." I say as I collect his bill.
I give him change and a receipt of the transaction. "Thank you." I say.
"Thank you." He says. "I guess."
Well. How rude!
Saturday, January 21, 2017
Dear Editor, Star Tribune Newspaper:
I am writing to suggest that you begin publishing my mercurial and unusual commentaries as a daily column in your newspaper.
I know that every fiber in your newspaper editor being cries out against doing this. Running a newspaper has long been a game of diminishing returns. Once upon a time the newspaper, solid and powerful, was, at least occasionally, a place for taking an artistic and cultural chance like this. But for decades now the daily newspaper has been like a tire with a slow leak. Everyone riding on that tire has been terrified of any action that might accelerate that doomed leak. That means no rocking. No moving around. No sudden motion or unexpected gestures. Everything should be as still and inoffensive and conservative as possible. Do not hasten that dreadful escape of air because when one is living on borrowed time every tiny second becomes unbelievably precious. So publishing a wildcard columnist with feisty, frank, and unconventional views of the world seems like the worst possible action a newspaper editor can take. One might as well drive a spike into the tire.
But because you are riding on this leaking tire you cannot see what we, by the side of the road, so easily can: All the air is already gone. You all are riding on the rim now. You shredded the tire itself years ago.
So it's time for a little caution to the wind. It is time to throw a wrench into the works. It is time for mad schemes, hail mary passes, and dumping all the fireworks you have left onto the fire. Stand back!
I am that caution to the wind, a habanero pepper, the guy with a surfboard waiting for you to pull your ten fingers out of the holes in your leaking dam. There are fourteen holes in your leaking dam and you have but the ten fingers. Let it go dutchboy! Let me ride! Carry my column in your newspaper. There is nothing left to lose.
Will we make money? Will we achieve acclaim and honor? Will we, dare I say it, save the daily newspaper?
Ha ha ha ha ha ha. No.
Yours in fellowship,
Friday, January 20, 2017
I was walking through my neighborhood and my mood was merely adequate. I was, after all, headed towards work. But on the plus side the temperature was poking its head above 30 degrees for the first time in weeks, and, though ice had fallen overnight, it was later covered with a modest layer of snow that provided some traction for walking.
Then I saw something in the distance, on my path ahead of me. I thought it was a dead bird. Yes, as I drew closer it was definitely a dead bird. Was it a crow? No, with each step more was revealed. It looked like it was maybe one of those fancy woodpeckers we get, black and white with a red head. What happened? What brought such a grand and lively bird down? In lifelessness its feathers were wet and smeared across its body in a strange, flat pattern. It lay three quarters out of the shallow, wet snow. As I began to approach it closely I turned my head away. I was not sure I wanted to take in the sad grisly sight. There is enough death already to see in winter, on the streets and in the border woods of my city.
At the last minute I couldn't resist and decided to take a look.
It wasn't a woodpecker. It wasn't a bird at all. It was just a rolled up newspaper.
Well, I guess they're not doing so great either.
Thursday, January 19, 2017
I don't know when the box was delivered to the library. It wasn't here this morning. It is here now, down the hallway, near the staff elevator. It is a heavy grade, brown cardboard box, with a lid, all strapped down so tightly on a wood pallet that the plastic straps twang like giant guitar strings. What meager labeling there is on the box shows nothing to indicate what's inside. It is about five feet tall and four feet wide and four feet deep. It's a big box. It is not addressed to anyone who works here. It is merely addressed to "The Library" with our accurate address. Notes on the box say we may be responsible for any damage if we remove it from the pallet. Up arrows show that it is currently in the proper orientation. And a bright orange/red sticker urges us not to double stack. We won't. We only have one of them anyway.
What's in it?
What's in the box?
Is it four new librarians? The box would just about fit four new librarians, or two or three old librarians. They tend to widen through the years.
"Hello?" I say to the box. "Are there any librarians in here?"
There is no answer. Maybe I need to ask a reference question.
"What is the state song of Michigan?"
Lots of silence ensues.
There are no librarians in there.
What is in the box?
I squeeze around to the back of the box. Hey, there is a ragged hole about 14 inches wide chewed through the side of the box against the wall. There are lots of little bits of wadded up wet cardboard all over the floor here. It smells funny, but through the big hole I can now see right into the box!
Hmph. It's empty, completely empty.
Why would someone send us an empty box?
Typical, we never get anything interesting around here.
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
Dear Literary Agent:
I have long dreamed of having a book of my brief, idiosyncratic essays published. This has not yet happened. It is not for want of essays. I have written close to 1,500 of them. One might argue that they have not been published because I have not actually submitted any of them to publishers. But I am not so naive as to believe that could have anything to do with it. One could also make a case for the idea that my work is not at a quality level commensurate with publishing, but even briefly setting aside my traditional vanity, I work in a library, and I know the publishing standard. It is not bad, the publishing standard, but it is by no means out of my reach.
No, I believe I have not been published because I am uniquely bad at marketing. I believe there are no books in my name because I have an almost uncanny ability not to sell anything to anyone. I cannot cold call. I cannot convince strangers, especially those in positions of any authority. I cannot incite enthusiasm, activate fandom, or inspire champions. I simply am unable to persuade others of my merits.
It is my bane.
You may think these are learnable skills. And you may be right. Nevertheless one could learn to play soccer, or to draw, but one will not be Messi or Kathe Kollwitz. Because while most things are learnable for most people, there are such things as talent, aptitude, disposition and suitability. To express this simple concept in an overly reductive way for illustration purposes let us say there are a hundred possible points in any skill, like drumming. Fifty come from work, and fifty come from something innate or perhaps also from something near innate, like from early childhood. So if one is innately a 25 as a drummer and works incredibly hard at it they will be a very good drummer, a 75. If they are a 10 innately they can only ever be, with seriously hard work, maybe adequate, or a decent drummer. If they are a 50 innately they can with hard work be Joe Morello or Keith Moon.
In marketing I am a "two". And I only say that I am a two so you won't think I'm being overly dramatic, but in reality I am a very unusual "minus seven". This means that I have no talent for it innately (a zero), but also I have a disposition so antithetical to it that I self-sabotage whatever work I do towards it. So let's say I bestir myself and really struggle to do 25 worth of work towards being a better marketer. Then, antithetical to marketing I self-sabotage that seven points to a total of 18, a number that translates well to the moniker "sucking".
This is where you come in. You are a famous literary agent, representing an array of notable clients. You convince big time publishers that your clients have merit, but furthermore you convince them to support those artists in significant, tangible ways, with contracts, money, publishing, and even greater marketing support. But even more impressively you convince very talented individuals of all kinds to believe in and work with you. You are clearly a very talented marketer. Whether you are an 80 (outstanding) or a 90 or higher (brilliant and beyond), it is eons beyond what I could even dream of for myself. Whether you are simply great or you are miraculously amazing I clearly need you to represent me. I need you to do the things I am constitutionally unable to do for myself. I need you to get me published, to speak my merits, and to catapult me to riches and artistic fame.
And you? Why do you need me?
Tuesday, January 17, 2017
Recently I wrote out for you one of my themed and avant garde series of library closing announcements. It involved the usual warnings about the library closing but included complicated fake science fictional instruction codes to the librarians. Last night, when I was called upon to do closing announcements for the library again I simply opened up my blog and read from that. It was very stress free! I didn't have to think of all my ideas right on the spot, live, before an audience of dozens. But since I don't much like doing the same bits of comedy over and over I thought it would be nice to write up another closing routine for future use. This one I will call the airplane library closing announcement.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we are now approaching (the city) and the library will be coming in for a landing in twenty minutes. While you should still feel free to move about the library, we do recommend that while seated you keep your safety belt fastened in the event of unexpected turbulence. Again, the library will be landing in twenty minutes.
The (city) library will be landing in fifteen minutes. Please return your tray tables to their upright positions. If you need a library card please approach a flight attendant at our downstairs service desk. If you look out the windows on our right you will be able to make out the lights of our parking lot. Flight attendant librarians prepare for crosscheck and all call.
The library is now beginning its descent into the city of (****) where the current temperature is (*) degrees. We are currently at an altitude of 958 feet. If you need to checkout items please bring them to our automated checkout machines at this time. If you are on the computers they will shut down promptly at nine, so please make sure you have saved your work. Also remember to check the overhead bins for your belongings and the computers for any flashdrives you may have left plugged into them. The library will be landing in ten minutes.
The (city) library will be landing in the city of (city), Minnesota, in just three short minutes. Please prepare your belongings for departure as we will need to clear the library. On behalf of the captain and all the crew on this library flight, it has been a pleasure to serve you. The library will be landing in three minutes.
The library has landed and we are now closed. Thank you for flying with us. Our next flight departs here starting at ten o'clock tomorrow morning. The (city) library is now closed. Goodnight and travel safely, whatever your final destination.
Monday, January 16, 2017
You are going to want to publish this manuscript! It is full of short essays that will delight you, make you think deeply about your assumptions, cause you to reconsider the nature of the world, and lead you into fits of laughter. You are going to be very excited about publishing this book.
Do not do it! Do not publish this manuscript! No good will come of it.
Perhaps you are now wondering "Is this some kind of reverse psychology?"
No, it is not reverse psychology. It is not even slightly reverse psychology. It is a warning from the bottom of my heart. Do not publish this book!
Allow me to list my reasons:
1. Even though I am a very nice person, I suspect I will be a very difficult, very contrary author to work with. Just look at this crazy letter.
2. You read several of my little essays and thought I was some kind of a genius. However, did you notice how you stopped reading after going through just half a dozen of them? Your mind sort of wandered didn't it? Your suddenly needing a snack, a nap, or to look up soup recipes are all signs. These are important signs. Consider these signs.
3. My work, you may have also noticed, is for the ages. You have sensed this. That's what got you excited. This is what makes you good at your job. Unfortunately the ages are quite a distance from here. The ages may even be lifetimes away. Lifetimes! At this current point in time my work just strikes most people as vaguely confusing. Vaguely confused people don't buy books, they elect presidents!
4. My work is cursed. You probably, sensibly, don't believe in curses. Nevertheless you have a strange, unsettling feeling in your stomach right now. Is it cursed because I make fun of God? Is it cursed because because I dare speak the truth too directly? Or is it cursed because it's just not all that great? I don't know, but it is cursed. You can try and outsmart the curse. You can grab a bag of sand that's equal in weight to my manuscript and quickly switch them. It may even look like you got away with it, but in short order you will be running for your life from a giant stone ball racing to crush you.
So, now that I've convinced you you are probably wondering why I would send a submission to you and then inveigle you not to publish it.
Ach, you know artists. Crazy as a bag of bats.
Yours in all warmth and consideration,
Feldenstein Calypso, genius
Sunday, January 15, 2017
I was in a mall today with my wife. We didn't really have any money to spend. We were just there on a small errand and it was so desperately cold out that we had to sort of work up to going back out to the car. So we walked around the mall for awhile, sort of shopping, in a desultory fashion.
I saw a sign for a restaurant. The name of the restaurant was Rojo Mexican Grill. I was seized with a desire to walk over to Rojo Mexican Grill and say to them:
"I insist on completely authentic Mexican food. I only eat at authentic Mexican Restaurants! Do you here at Ro-joe Mexican Grill serve truly authentic Mexican food?"
I didn't do it.
I know that may be disappointing to you, but if I did do stuff like that it is all I would ever be doing around the clock, every day.
Saturday, January 14, 2017
Two Zen monks are traveling along and they come to a river. A fine lady is there having a conundrum. "Gentleman, or, er, monks, I am afraid with my fancy clothes I will be tangled up and swept away should I try to cross the river. Can you help me?"
"I'll carry you." One monk says. She gets on his shoulders. He walks carefully across the river and sets her down. She goes on her way. The monks go their way. But it is apparent that the non carrying monk is very upset. After a long while of fidgeting and misery he can't hold it in any longer.
"Brother," This monk says. "We're not supposed to have contact with ladies, but you picked her up and carried her!"
"Oh, brother." The second monk says. "I set her down on the banks of the river a long time ago. You are still carrying her."
"Oh." Said the first monk. "You have a point there. But I wrote a super famous Zen story all about it!"
"Yes." Said the second monk. "But I am the hero of that story."
Then the first monk mumbled something, but no one could quite make it out.
Friday, January 13, 2017
"Good evening, this is the library."
"Yes, hello. I would like to renew some books."
"Do I know you?"
"Um, no, I don't believe so. I'd just like to renew some books please. Do you need my barcode number?"
"I'm sorry. I don't feel comfortable talking to you if we haven't been introduced. Is there someone you do know here you'd like to talk to?"
I woke up this morning feeling a little guilty for telling three teens who were waiting for their ride, fifteen minutes after the library had closed, that they had to leave. And feeling a little guilty I thought I'd better write a blog post about it and see what my writer self would come up with. What I came up with was, perplexingly, that odd dialogue up above. It originally popped into my mind last night after a call from some patron. I thought of the person calling the library to ask for some innocent thing and me saying, in a kind of affronted, upper class horror "Do I know you?"
Also last night I read about sociopaths. A self described sociopath said that sociopaths generally have a pretty good idea that they are sociopaths, unlike narcissists. Narcissists simply think they're being normal and reasonable. Sociopaths are more aware of standing outside of empathy. They also were kind of proud of their sociopathology, perhaps feeling cool and reasoned, like Spock. I didn't wish I was a sociopath, but I did think it would be handy to be able to become one, like turning on a switch, for certain events. Like:
"We're closed. You have to leave."
One of the teenagers was very bitter about having to leave. The other two were accepting. It was about zero degrees outside. So I suppose that though their views were different about it then, they're all the same now, what with they're all being dead and everything. Being frozen just outside the doors of the locked up library, hands reaching in stiff claws towards the last glimmers of heat barely leaking through the thick glass is the great equalizer.
Thank you. I feel better now.
Thursday, January 12, 2017
I am old enough to remember when it was possible to really enjoy a Star Wars movie on its own merits, without being brainwashed into it.
I told this to one of my co-workers who instantly understood it.
Later I told it to another co-worker who was slightly insulted by it because no one enjoys the bitter recognition that someone has washed their brain.
Back when one could enjoy a Star Wars movie on its own merits, without being brainwashed into it, people talked a lot more about brainwashing. It was a popular cold war concept. Nowadays we don't hear much about it, probably because it's so ubiquitous. There's so much brainwashing in so many different directions that we've had to sort of give up on it and pretend it's not happening. So when tens of millions of Americans vote Donald Trump into the Presidency there's an explosion of hand wringing. A million articles try to suss it out. The press generally decides that it's because people felt the American Dream had left them behind, or because people were worried about their diminishing privilege, or because people felt the establishment wasn't listening, or a hundred other things. But none of these are reasons why people voted for Donald Trump. These are reasons people were vulnerable to being brainwashed into voting for Donald Trump. One has to be in a weakened state to be vulnerable to brainwashing, but the actual reason people voted for Donald Trump was strictly because they were brainwashed. But then the hard truth is that the only reason anyone votes for any Republican is because they have been brainwashed. And the reason most people think there is a palpable difference in how washed a brain is that votes Trump and a brain that votes Republican is because, well, alas, they are brainwashed.
Do you see the problem? There is so much brainwashing around that you have to dig it out in layers and then you find your very shovel is made of brainwashing.
What about me. Maybe I am brainwashed?
Naw, that's the beauty of being the first person to think something.
Of course, if you believe me and find yourself saying these things, you will not have the same defense.
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
After writing 1425 or so blog posts, which is a true number but even so sounds like a joke to me because it's the sort of joke I like to make, like when someone asks me how long I've worked at the library and I say "Since the early fifties, back when half our fiction section was in Latin", but I really have written 1425 or so blog posts, no joke, and finally, today, I have the feeling that this, this could be the one, the holy grail, the mother lode, the blog post where it all comes together and I finally, at long last, manage to write that most elusive of posts, that most challenging of blog constructions, that is, the blog post I have struggled to write since my earliest days here at clerkmanifesto, fighting ever to achieve what I may actually accomplish here if I hold it together, don't breathe, and keep my focus long enough to do the almost unthinkable masterwork wherein, through writing craft and guile and focus I succeed in producing an entire blog post made of a single, unbroken, long, complete, lone sentence!
On the other hand it looks like this might not be that day.
Tuesday, January 10, 2017
I get pretty excited about greatness. And there are occasional times where I can't help myself from singing the praises about some extraordinary piece of art I'm suddenly wild about. Yes, I do think, deep down, it might do you well to listen to, for instance, Cannonball Adderley's Somethin' Else, or Keith Jarrett's Koln Concert, two jazz albums I have recently become transfixed by and consider unequivocal masterpieces, but you don't have to listen to them. They'll still be there, whether you listen to them or not. And though masterpieces are special, there are still quite a few around, even accounting for a great variety of taste and even of opinion.
But there is even a more special category than that of the completed masterpiece. I think of it as the "But it's happening right now" category. Deep down I understand that people have different artistic tastes and needs. And deep down I do believe we can pass even these works by at no real peril to ourselves, but they're nevertheless astonishingly rare and special. These are things where something extraordinary is happening right in our time, in a string of brilliance, a constellation of stars, pearls strung perfectly together. Think of being in Italy in the early 1600s and being able to check out the new Caravaggios as they appeared. Think of the unique privilege of seeing a fresh Shakespeare play as it was first performed. This is more like riding a wave of a series of singular yet connected masterpieces, the rare instance where a once in a lifetime genius rides the peak of his miracle and, defying all sense, stays there. When I come upon one of these and recognize it as happening I want to respect, appreciate, and follow the untampered thrill of something simultaneously new and for all time, whatever my bent or taste might be.
There are two of these streams of genius that I know of that are going on right now before our very eyes. Like any of these "But it's happening right now" things they are both fragile. They may end at any time, though both have been going, as is required to qualify for such an enormous thing, for many years. One of them is Messi, the soccer player. This one is obscured by the weirdness of sports and the weirdness of fandom in sport, but it's out there for anyone to see. We will most likely all be dead before it happens again. I missed six or seven years of that and have followed it for two or three.
As for the other one currently going on, I have been closely following the author, with deep pleasure, for years now, but I only finally recognized the magnitude of what was going on when I opened and, enthralled, read his new book today at the library.
This constellation of genius too is probably obscured, like Messi's. Here it is by his being a children's picture book author. But I defy anyone to read, say, Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, We are in a Book, and Nanette's Baguette and feel they have enough ammunition to mount any serious dissent to my grand contentions here. And this book, after such extraordinary accomplishments, may even be his best yet, which is saying a ridiculously lot. Brilliant little handcrafted sets fused with Willems almost crude, yet astonishingly amusing and expressive cartoon figures, it is at once pure and minimalist yet baroque in its packed in delightful details. Every level of the book is a pleasure, from what the French animals the people are portrayed as to the nature of their pets. Characters serve the rhyme scheme and then in a single moment it flips in some weird miracle to where the characters were always there and all the dazzling rhymes were completely natural. Oh, I say, give Nanette's Baguette the Caldecott now and don't bother with the voting. Or tear down all the Caldecotts. All the Caldecott people can go home. Lock and chain the doors to the Caldecott building. Maybe never open them again. It's all over. Nanette's Baguette is here.
Oh, and read it regardless of your usual preferences. It will only take a few minutes. It rhymes. It's beautiful. It's funny. And it's magic.
You like magic, don't you?
Monday, January 9, 2017
When my library was expanded and completely reconfigured many years ago we scrapped our recorded intercom system. In the days of that earlier library a set of reasonable, well spoken announcements would begin at 20 minutes before the library closed to let people know what was coming. At ten minutes to close we had some music start that sort of changed the air in the library and acted as a more pressing, but pleasant cue. But when the new version of our library opened our upper management (just one person in this case), under a confusion about the nature of reality, emphatically mandated that we were to be a more quiet library. We would have no recorded system, and we should never use our intercom system at all.
"What about emergencies?" We asked.
"Well, okay, but only very serious emergencies" She relented.
But having an intercom system we're not supposed to use, at a large, busy library, is like scattering a bunch of hammers around a construction site and insisting that the workers let them alone. Eventually people's thumbs and fists will start to hurt so much that they say "Fuck it." and start picking up the hammers to whack the nails with.
And so, long ago we resumed announcements, including the closing ones, but because we have no automated system, and no way to play recordings, some one of us staff just has to wing it. Our closing announcements thus get a little strange. One of our librarians likes to give "On this day" messages, like "On this day in 1768 Philip Astley staged the first modern circus in London." and then he, with a kind of odd, poor transition, connects it to our closing. "And if Philip Astley were here today he would tell you that the library will be closing in just ten minutes!" These are pretty fun.
Once or even twice a week I am called on to do these announcements, mostly because there are an awful lot of people who really hate doing them. I'm not exactly wild about doing them myself, which is a kind of license for me to get pretty avant garde with my announcing. I am always partly hoping someone important will decide we have strayed too far from professionalism and that I no longer should do closing announcements. To both my delight and dismay it turns out there isn't actually anyone at my library who is particularly important. So I soldier on.
My most recent closing included saying all the normal closing things, but then adding on a quasi Sci Fi, semi military procedural announcement. It went something like this:
The Library will be closing in 20 minutes. If you need to get a library card please make your way to a service desk at this time. Librarians commence early lockdown procedure "H", code bravo-seven-setpiece-alpha.
The Library will be closing in just 15 minutes. Computers will shut down at that time so please leave enough time to save your work, print out what you need to, and check out your items. Librarians report to standard, non emergency stations "Hope" and "Altimus" and set countdown for alphabetization sequencing T minus 9-5-2.
Good evening ladies and gentlemen, the Library will be closing in just ten short minutes. If you still have items to check out we strongly recommend gathering your belongings and making your way to our self check out stations. Again, the computers will shut down in ten minutes so please back up your work and remember to remove your flashdrives and make sure you have everything with you. Librarians please initiate the jump code sequence at this time on my mark: Julep-Olive-Yesterday. Please hit the yellow button, we are a "go" on drive.
The Library will be closing in just three minutes. That is not very much time. If you still hope to check out items please do so as quickly as possible because the library will be closed in just three minutes. Librarians decouple hydrogen tanks and hoses. Register monitors please release the compression system seven alpha eight, entering niner niner eight. Do not take your gloves with you!
The Library is now closed. We will reopen tomorrow at ten a.m. Have a safe and warm evening. Librarians initiate cryogenic freeze with late staff at monitor protocol seven. Late staff to cold stations, orange button and code Blister-Yellow-Eagle. Shutdown system complete. Goodnight.