Friday, January 31, 2020

Machine instructions

My deep affection for my library's big, million dollar automated check in machine has been well established here. More than any human co-worker it has improved my work life, dramatically lessening the once brutal load of book processing that used to overwhelm my days. And it did all this while having no more, or less, peculiar quirks of personality than any of the flesh-based workers I spend my days with. Granted, the stories it tells are nowhere near as interesting as some of my more favored co-workers, but on the other hand its stories aren't as tedious as those of others. Plus, in its simple way, it can be good company.

Nevertheless our big automated check in machine has limitations. Having no thumbs it needs items fed into it one at a time. Also it gets super confused by books with shiny metallic book covers. It can't think and so needs very specific instructions. It finds loose, floppy items irresistible and gobbles and chews them up whenever it can. It can't lift, but can only push in a more two dimensional way, causing jams and pile ups. And finally, essentially, to my vastly over prefaced story here, it can't handle items beyond a certain size.

Because our machine can't handle items beyond a certain size, like tubs full of science projects, or bags of books and puppets, we put stickers on those items. The stickers say "THIS ITEM MUST BE RETURNED TO THE SERVICE DESK". And since these labels and stickers have evolved over the years, mostly in response to violations of its edict, they have become increasingly strident. 

Today a large nylon bag came bouncing down the machine. The machine kept trying to grab it and mash it up into its lovable, terrifying maw, but it couldn't quite get a grip on it. The lumpy thing full of toys and books made its way roughly to the exception bin. That's where the machine puts everything it can't eat and doesn't know what to do with. 

I took the bagged collection out of the bin. It had one of the most comically large, incandescently yellow signs I have ever seen plastered across the whole breadth of the object: "THIS ITEM MUST BE RETURNED TO THE SERVICE DESK".


It made me laugh. After all that, it hadn't been returned to the service desk. 

I thought about putting a note on the patron's record saying:

 "Please return items with giant notes on them saying  'THIS ITEM MUST BE RETURNED TO THE SERVICE DESK' to the service desk."

But I didn't. 

Deep in my heart I knew we didn't have a big enough font. Deep in my heart I knew there was no font that could ever be big enough.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

An ugly duckling story

It was a cold morning on the river, but over the weekend more moderate, for January, temperatures had melted some of the river ice. There was no broad shelf of shore ice for the geese to hang out on. Instead there was a strange layer of invisible, subsurface ice where they had gathered together. Rather than floating on the water the geese seemed to rest oddly on top of its wet surface, like Jesus geese. It looked cold and damp there to me, but as I gazed down on them I realized: What do I know about the comfort of geese?

Only a little. Maybe fifty percent.

And then I saw him! There was a grand, white bird sitting peaceably among the dark shapes of the other geese. A swan! A beautiful swan was living among all the geese like in some kind of a fairy-tale.

I was very excited.

But then it seemed too good to be true. We don't have swans in Minnesota. So I looked closer.

It wasn't a swan, rather it was a lone rock sticking out of the water that had been heavily covered in thick, fluffy, white snow.

Ah well.

Still, it was kind of lovely how these geese had raised it as their own.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Your guide to the Coronavirus

Thank you for coming here to get answers to all your many important questions about the Coronavirus. We are monitoring the situation closely and updating our information here on a round the clock basis.

Q.  Why should I come here for vital health information on Coronavirus? Wouldn't I be better off on the government's CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) website where they even have their own trademarked motto:

CDC 24/7: Saving Lives, Protecting People

A.  Yes, you should absolutely go to the CDC, if you're a Commie! But if you believe in our great, free market system, like an American, stay here! We have a motto too:

I'm a glass half full kind of guy even if it's actually empty.

Q.  So, my question is, do I have Coronavirus?

A.  Please register and enter your credit card information in the space below to continue

EMAIL  __________________________
PASSWORD ___________________
REENTER PASSWORD __________________________
NAME ON CREDIT CARD __________________________
CREDIT CARD # ______________________________

Q.   So, do I have the Coronavirus? My throat kind of itches.

A.   Ha ha ha ha. No, of course you don't have the Coronavirus! But I have to go wash my hands. And maybe burn down my website. But you'll probably be fine. Don't contact me again in any way for at least a year unless you're at a distance of a minimum of 100 miles. Drink plenty of fluids. Take care of yourself. We love you. Goodbye. 

Q.   What can I do to prevent getting Coronavirus?

A.   Well, the CDC recomm, er, I mean, my research shows that you should wash your hands a lot in warm, soapy water, then put gloves on, then another pair of gloves. Then wrap large, terrycloth bath towels around your gloved hands. Then make your way alone to a desert island, in the middle of the Atlantic, not the Pacific. Oh no, not the Pacific at all.

Q.   Is it Coronavirus, or THE Coronavirus?

A.   We're sort of waiting to see. Currently it's a novel Coronavirus, 2019-nCoV.

Q.   Should we panic?

A.   No. No, no, no. Ha ha. Just remain clam. Ha ha. The CDC has not even declared it an International Health Concern. Not yet at least, although I'm pretty sure they're going to on Thursday. But just remain calm. Remain calm and stop touching stuff. Everything is just fine.  Just don't touch it. Just leave your face alone, okay, and wash your hands. And stop coughing. Please stop coughing. Oh god, the coughing! Why? Whyyyyyy?????  We're all too young to die!!!

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Ladies of the Canyon

After the initial enthusiasm of starting my series of The Hundred Greatest Albums, with each album individually being the single greatest album ever made, I tailed off for a bit. I am surprised now to find that it has been a month and a half since my last one. But during most of that time I have known that my next album was going to be this: Joni Mitchell's Ladies of the Canyon.

It's just that there was a lot to say.

Somewhere around the turn into the 1980's I was convinced of the abiding glory of all things and culture of the 1960's. One of the small benefits of this was that the used and slightly scratched albums of this era thickly populated the discount bins of the local record stores.

I was a teen of very little money, so this was an important detail. And Oz Records, on Topanga Canyon Blvd, had a bin of used records for ten cents each. 

Ten cents was cheap even back then. I could afford 10 cent records! I mean, not that I didn't still have to think about it. Dimes didn't grow on trees. Even now the little things aren't exactly for the taking.

But when I came upon a copy of Ladies of the Canyon for ten cents I didn't actually have to think about it very much. Mainly I just had to wonder if somehow it was in there by mistake.

I guess it wasn't since no one stopped me from buying it.

Now a question I have for myself is, how did I know that this was a special treasure that I was lucky to find? After all, it was my first Joni Mitchell album. What reference made me aware that this was an unbelievable find?

Through the murky shadows of time I can discern no clear answers. All I know is I excitedly took home my freakishly cheap treasure, hoping the scratches weren't too bad. I put it on the stereo, and listened. 

Destiny? Is all art destiny?

Though it was strange. Not like I would have thought it would be back then.

Her voice was so... soprano. Like a line held way up high. It wasn't like folk really, or pop, or rock. It was kind of old and modern. Even now it seems unique, belonging to nothing else, individual, like art is supposed to be.

The songs were so... understandable.

Even though they were kind of complex.

And because the voice was so high it didn't seem like they'd be so... tuneful. But wonderfully they were, I don't know, something past catchy, something, all, you know, up in your heart, cutting through everything else.

And every single song seemed to take you to another world and let you live a moment in another place.

At first these songs were like stories, or still lifes, but then they were all... feelings. Ecological disaster as a metaphor for lost love. Dreams of a better world, but almost like an elegy already, even as its dreamed and pined for. Something about what art is supposed to be but maybe is and maybe isn't. 

There's mostly piano in this album, and a spareness in how it's put together that feels like it's thought up idly, on the spot. But it's paired with immaculate, intricate, and wildly original vocals and phrasing that makes one realize that these are mastercrafted songs, woven with every thread accounted for, a work of absolute resounding genius.

Lately I, and at my house, we, have seen a few interviews with Joni Mitchell, and they are not really exactly pleasant, perhaps a bit painful to watch. There's something that's a little bitter, or hard. Something almost self-important but focused on all the wrong things. I'd rather throw those away if I can. Maybe, I hope, she, in her ambition for it, is at her worst talking about her work. Or maybe there is a terrible wedge between art and the people who make it. Maybe every great success pays a price. 

Maybe magic never belongs to us anyway.

Maybe Joni Mitchell taught me half of everything I know about that.


Monday, January 27, 2020

So you want to read a blog redux

Yesterday we established that what with all the time you spend on the Internet poking about and shopping and doing your job and stuff it might be nice to follow an engaging and educational blog.

We also established that while for a few weeks, 13 years ago, blogs were all the rage, there is, sadly, only one true blog left now. Which is sad, because blogs are so so good. Oh my god, they are like, soooo good! They are heaven! Blogs are amazing. Blogs make the Internet worthwhile! I would like to read one so much!

"Hey," You probably wonder, "Why don't you read that one blog that is still on the Internet?"

Because I have to write it!

Which is kind of its own fun, but...

Oh, I know, you can read it!

I mean, at least for a few days until you get tired of it.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

So you want to read a blog!

So you were thinking "Hey, I'm on the Internet all the time looking for socks and doing my job and stuff, maybe I should have something regular to read for my entertainment and edification. Maybe I should read a blog!"

Welcome to 2008!

It's a wonderful, optimistic sort of year. There are tons of blogs! There are blogs to suit every possible interes...

Ooops. They're gone. Everyone lost interest. They are all gone.

Also, come to think of it, the planet is boiling, and the year is 2020 anyway. But those seven weeks back in 2008, the blog era, were wonderful. I get misty eyed thinking of it.

But don't despair! You can still read a blog. There is still, believe it or not, one left.

"One left!" You cry. "But it's hopeless. I'm already 12 years out of date on the Internet. How can I ever find the one, tiny blog left on the whole of the huge, sprawling, giant, impossible Internet?"

Hmmm. Good point.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

The hardness of cash

One of the library patrons came up to me at the front desk of the library. "Can I pay for my fines with cash?" they inquired trepidatiously.

"Yes." I replied gravely. 

I don't joke about money. It's too delicate a subject.

I got their card and scanned it in. "You have $10.20 in late fees."

They handed me a twenty. "I have a twenty." They said.

"Thank you." I replied. "Would you like to donate the change to our cause this month: The Society to Encourage and Promote Illiteracy?"

"What?" They asked confusedly.

You see. This is why I never joke about money.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Between two midnights

As you know, I write here on clerkmanifesto every day. This doesn't mean I write one post during every calendar day, precisely between the two midnights, it just means that come 8:30 in the morning I have one of my brief essays available to be set free into the howling wilds of Internetland. I may on occasion write four different posts all on a Monday and then have them play out over the course of the rest of the week. Or often, in preparation for International vacations, I have been known to write dozens of essays all in a few desperate hours.

I write when I'm happy and I write when I'm sad. I write when I have something funny to say, and I write when I'm feeling very bitter, sometimes both at the same time. I write when I am just dying for the World to listen to me, and I write when I'm kind of happy just to be saying it all to myself. I write when I want to simplify beauty and when I want to puzzle out the small tragedies in my life. I write when I'm hungry, or at work, or can't sleep, or need to get back to myself. I write for free, and I write like it's some kind of job that I've given myself. I write for fun and I write to save the world. I write like I'm falling down a hill. I write because god told me to and because god told me not to.

I write an essay every day. I've been doing it for six or seven years now. I write when I have so many things to say that I have to just pick one or two. And I write when the deadline for next morning is coming up very soon and I can't think of a single thing to talk about.

But something always comes to me. 

Like now.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

What am I reading?

Many people want to know: What am I reading?

Well, sometimes Marcus the former teen librarian asks me, on the somewhat rare occasions I see him, and two or three times a patron has inquired "What are you reading?" Yes, that's only two or three times over the course of 25 years working here, so just about once every eight years. But it's probably a tip of the iceberg thing and loads of people are going around simply dying to know what I'm reading. They're just too shy to ask.

Well today I have an answer, and nobody has to even ask!

I am reading How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry, or I'm planning on it. I'm bringing it home from the library tonight for the express purpose of reading it.

Why am I reading it?

I'm so glad you asked.

I was shelving up in the fiction area and an old lady needed help seeing if we had a book. I helped. Spoiler alert! We didn't have it. Curses! So then she wanted me to recommend a mystery for her. I told her I needed a point of reference; what mysteries has she liked in the past? Then she said "Have you ever read How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry! It's wonderful. You must read it!"

I said "Is it a mystery."

She said "No."

Then she said she really likes Dick Francis mysteries.

I love Dick Francis mysteries, so we enthused about them for a little while. Then I suggested Tony Hillerman based on the Dick Francis comments. She was really interested so she immediately dashed off to get something else entirely.

So I went back to shelving. Next up for shelving was a fiction book by Cristina Henriquez. I searched the shelf for its spot and there, staring right at me, was How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry!

Oh    My   God!

Who am I to laugh at destiny? Even if it's an extremely tiny bit of destiny.

So I figured I'd better try and read it.

It's supposed to be heartwarming.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Home in Minnesota

It was maybe eleven degrees out, which, by the time it hits mid January around here, isn't too bad, once one accounts for being cold. It was cold. I was cold. I even briefly considered putting on my mittens. I went so far as to think about zipping my coat. Eleven is cold.

I crunched along the snowy path and this time I didn't miss them. Down on the shore ice of the river all the geese in the world were gathered, or at least several hundred of them. They huddled unmoving on the ledge of frozen water, themselves gathered into dense, dark balls. Were they enjoying the warm air rising off the river and flowing over them? I guess so. When it gets really cold I sometimes see the geese floating in the last bits of open water on the river. And why not. If it's still liquid water it has to be at least 33 degrees, doesn't it? That's a whole lot warmer than minus five.

So I walked along in the cold, watching the geese who were doing absolutely nothing, and then suddenly I had an epiphany. It's January! This is actually where these geese have come to overwinter. We are their Winter home. We are their Florida! These geese are on the run from where it's really cold. Canada!

And with that, I kind of opened up. I breathed in the crisp air. I exulted. Seen in the proper context, we are a tropical paradise!

And then the wind picked up a gust of powdery snow and flung it in my face.

That's nothing. You should see what probably happens to people in Canada!

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

A theory of art

I love getting all objective about art as much as the next person. Actually I love it at least twice as much as the next person, and maybe even three times as much. Not only are there ongoing series running in this space with titles like "The Hundred Greatest Albums of All Time" and "Did I mention yet that Caravaggio is the best painter ever? Because I'm going to do it again right now!", but you might also have noticed all my book reviews, reviews of Romantic Comedies, and even my copious reviews of Italian Gelaterias, which are not infrequent visitors to this space, have their fair share of a tone I would describe as VOICE OF GOD. 

Well, it's about fifty-fifty VOICE OF GOD and "I'm really quite absurd", just to keep everyone on their toes.

Is everyone on their toes? 

At the large, near urban library where I work, across and to the right from the front desk of the library, there is a large, abstract painting on the wall there. It is of unparalleled ugliness.

Wait, I was just being dramatic to make my account really pop and because "unparalleled ugliness" is a very fancy thing to get to say. But it's not true and I'm kind of embarrassed. It is not a painting of unparalleled ugliness! It is a painting of pretty regularly paralleled ugliness. 

But, and to invoke the voice of god:


No one could think it is a good painting. It is void of feeling, technique, invention, purpose, and understanding. And last week two library patrons walked by it and one stopped and said "I love that painting." It wasn't casual. She said it like she meant it!

And so, as I do whenever I encounter anything that threatens to tear my brain apart, I developed a theory. Don't worry. It's wasn't hard work. I develop theories like breathing. They come in. They go out. And before you know, wallah!, 2,500 theories and you can read them all, right here, at clerkmanifesto. Tell your friends.

On second thought, don't tell your friends. It's not really their sort of thing. Though I'm glad you like it.

Here is my theory:

Different people like different art.

The thing about Van Gogh is that maybe one of his paintings will have 60 percent of the people who look at it really liking it or loving it. That's a lot of people! And the painting in my library will maybe have one percent of one percent liking it. That's very few people. That difference makes one of the paintings wildly sought after and valuable, and appropriate for a museum. Whereas the other is wrongly mounted to the wall in a public library when, really, it belongs in the house of that one person who commented on it the other day, where she can sit and like it all by her lonesome.

Or, perhaps even more bluntly, Harry Potter is loved by so many people that they had to print 100 million copies of it and the author became one of the richest people in the world. Whereas I, for instance, think this blog post is notably better than the final book in Ms Rowling's series, but I'm nearly alone in that contention.

Does that make me wrong and everyone else right?

Yes, generally. 

But specifically, no.

No, no, no, no!

In fact, and here is the thing in the valuing of art that I kind of like: 

Whoever is making the argument, wins.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

On the day before Martin Luther King Jr. Day my wife and I went to a celebration of said day at the University. It was the 39th MLKJ celebration/performance they've done in a row at the very lovely, but strangely obscure, Ted Mann Concert Hall, overlooking the Mississippi River. Coincidentally this 39th celebration, which is older than the holiday itself, is now actually the same age as MLKJ was when he died. This significance should have made it a really good show. 

It didn't.

The theme of this strangely unfocused show, which included an all white gospel choir of five or six people, a small brass band, a singing radio announcer, and a dance performance of young people reenacting the bombing of a church in Alabama in the sixties, as far as I could tell, was: Care about your neighbor.

While adjusting my jacket I did smile weakly once at the guy sitting behind me, so maybe it was all better than I thought.

Sunday, January 19, 2020


There is the truth.

And there are lies.

That's hard enough.

But then there are what true things we choose to say.

And those we don't.

And with that, we can fashion a world.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Best laid plans

I went up to shelve a cart of non fiction at my library.

"I don't feel like standing up in the stacks writing a blog post." I thought.

"I don't feel like reading any books." I thought.

"I know what I'll do. I'll shelve this whole, giant, fat cart of non fiction books as fast as I can!"

So I took the first book sequentially on my cart, Basics of Drawing, 741.2 V, and looked for its spot on the shelf. 

741.2 B, 
741.2 D, 
741.2 L, 
741.2 K. 

So I switched the "K" and the "L" to their proper places. 


741.2 R, 
741.5 S, 
741.2 S. 

So I removed the 741.5 S, found its location a shelf and a half down, and shelved it. 


741.2 T, 

and then there was my spot!

I shelved my book. One down and

Then I wrote this.

Also I couldn't help but notice there was an interesting book of conversations with Flannery O'connor on my cart for when I'm done.

Friday, January 17, 2020

It only takes one

I went down to the river for my walk and was quickly informed by the world that it was deep Winter. It was cold. The path, roughly scraped of the previous night's snow, was unevenly slippery. Everything was quiet, even the hard Northern wind.

The river, which does not freeze well or easily, flowed sluggishly, and it had formed a strange yellow shelf of ice all along the shore. Even more odd were the large black stones strewn thickly on this shelf ice, running steadily on and on up the river. But these I could only barely register out of the corner of my eye. I was too busy picking my way with concentration and caution along the icy silent path. I heard the wind, my footsteps, and absolutely nothing.

And then a singular honk gave the game away. 

All at once I understood: large black stones do not settle onto newly formed shore ice.

But geese do.

Aha! Hundreds of geese huddled into rough dense balls of themselves all along the shore. 

But in that very moment of their revealment to me, and as if it was because they had been given away, or at the marshaling of a single sound, they all uncoiled, frothed, and leaped into the air. They spread their even, perfect wings, and, with as little fanfare as they could manage, the whole vast lot of them flew off into the wind.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

How to talk politics in the library

With Politics comes the passion. Everyone these days has so many feelings about it all. In our perilous time even the people who don't care have become strident and unbearable. "I don't care!" They cry, exasperated and near tears. "Let me exhaustively explain why everyone should just leave me alone!" The ignorant are passionately clueless and filled with conviction. The informed are inflamed with a futile, desperate urgency bordering on hysteria. The half-informed leap to wild conclusions that look 100 years old. And everyone is pretending they are kidding half the time. "I'm not really calling them fascist." "I'm not really a racist." "It's all brainwashing." Except no one is kidding! Not even the comedians know how to kid anymore. Every joke is now a message to be extracted. And every message is food for some rage somewhere.

I'm as bad as the rest of them. I'm as bad as you. But I work at a library.

And here alone I am committed to a wild neutrality. I don't even believe in the neutrality of the newspapers. I think those people need to come to some conclusions for god's sake. But the library? You are welcome here. You want Mein Kampf? Let me help you find it. You need help printing out your racist tracts from the computers? In my role as a physical expression of the library, I am here to help. A bit of the American experiment dares to live on here, all open information and whatever freedom we can manage out to the very limits of the law. It is so delicate now. I do not dare to raise my voice. I could scare it all away. The last precious American thing we have left.

And so I have learned the trick of talking politics with everyone.

The secret is:

Stick to our common ground.

And what is our common ground?

Is it our hope for the future, our common culture, our community, and our shared dreams?

Ha! Maybe it was once. I can't even remember.

No, it is our overwhelming disgust and dissatisfaction.

"It's terrible what's happening. Things are going to hell and a handbasket in this country. It's a toxic environment out there. People will say anything these days. People don't listen anymore. Some of the media is spewing pure evil poison out there. Facebook is horrible. Politicians are corrupt! It's a crucial election and the desperate fate of the country depends on it. We are on the brink of disaster and there are so many lies! So many lies!!!"

Just keep it non denominational. Keep it general. Let us rage together all we like.

And then, satisfied, I can return to my Kropotkin and you to your, well, whoever. 

I'd rather not know.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Sleepless nights


Seriously. What's wrong with them? 

Lazy, ineffective, inefficient, self-righteous, entitled, and irritating. They're just so damn irritating! And what's the point? Really, what's the point of all these people? We could easily run this place with... nobody.

Here is the sad thing I learned. You may know it. You may learn it. You may learn it here. You may never need to learn it, and learn it again, and again. I hope you never need to learn it.

And I'm not saying don't do it. You may have to. I may have to. But

For every moment we dwell on the flaws of other, we will equally burn with our own.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The good news

In the course of beginning a new decade my library system instituted an array of rare, and exclusively generous, circulation changes. We have lessened some of our late fines rates and have entirely eliminated the ones for youth materials. There are a couple other things as well, but the one I would like to discuss concerns how we now check out our DVDs for three weeks instead of one week. This is a big deal in libraryland! It requires a fair bit of discussion with the patrons, who were blindsided by it, but it is pretty much all good news for them. That's even more time to not get around to watching the DVDs they checked out from the library. 

It's nice to give out good news. People call and want to renew their DVDs and find out how much they owe on them. A suppurating wound on their forefoot is preventing them from getting to the library and they are wondering just how late those DVDs are now.

"Not late at all." I get to tell them. "Little did you know they are now checked out for three weeks instead of one, and so your DVDs aren't even due for another 11 days!"

"Oh." They say, which is their equivalent for being super thrilled, except they have a suppurating wound on their forefoot and it dampens their happiness.

Most of the interactions around this are from people who are confused. "My DVD checked out for three weeks." They say. "Is this a glitch? I don't know what date to trust, the listed due date or everything I've ever known."

Then I explain the situation and they're pretty happy. "Three weeks?" They say. "That's a nice long time."

As much as I enjoy giving out good news I have started to tire of this identical discussion over and over. So I've begun to present it differently. "The check out period changed." I say a little sadly. "It used to be one week. Now you have the DVDs for three long weeks. That's a really, really long time."

"Yes it is." They reply.

"I suggest watching them in slow motion."

Monday, January 13, 2020

Even children get older

I have taken much delight in my impassioned following of Lionel Messi, the greatest soccer player ever, and, by complicated extension that you really don't want me to go into, possibly the greatest athlete ever. But he is 32 years old, and for a soccer player that means his days are seriously numbered. Whether he be magically great for another week, or year, or three years cannot be known, but there's way less sand in this top half of that hourglass than there is in the bottom half. Way less.

Will I need to pick another greatest athlete to follow then? Who even is out there? It's looking pretty clear that the gymnast Simone Biles is the greatest gymnast ever. And there is the Olympics to follow her through this Summer. But there are three problems with that. One, I don't like entirely judged sports where a panel of judges' scores determines everything. It's bad enough already in soccer with the referees, at least there are actually goals even if they're increasingly fond of disallowing them for various reasons. Two, I'm not keen on most of the stuff in gymnastics in between the tumbling, where they awkwardly pseudo dance around, and, perhaps most importantly, three, Simone Biles is 22, which, apparently is ancient in gymnastics. She's almost certainly closer to the end of her mastery than Messi is. She is old.

The fact of the matter is that all these performance based jobs have their age limits. Gymnasts, as we see, age out very fast. Sprinters have a last gasp peak at 30. Soccer players generally start to fade in their early thirties. Marathoners peak in the mid thirties. Painters, just to jump into the arts, hit their peak in their mid forties, supposedly. I read that one on the Internet and since the two greatest painters I've ever seen both died in their late thirties I have a lot of questions there. In music I've found that one might take over the world in one's mid and late twenties, but if one is really brilliant they can have a late career masterwork in their mid thirties. Nevertheless it's all a precipitous decline from there.

And what about writers like me? I first looked into this when I was in my early fifties, which was roughly the time of writers' late masterworks, and so I was satisfied. Now I am in my mid fifties and we must face the very real possibility that the greatest of my blog posts will soon be behind me. Yes, the quality here may well start dropping off to the point where you will need, like me with Messi, to consider following another wildly obscure, ridiculous and transcendent library blogger who writes every single day merely for the uniquely wee bit of good it brings to the world.

Good luck with that.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Low comedy

The other day I walked into the library. "Ouch!" I cried. "I should use the door."

Wait, let's start over.

The other day when I arrived at my job at the library one of my friendly co-workers, apparently just coming from a conversation that made the question relevant, asked me "Did you see that film yesterday?"

"What film yesterday?" I asked, genuinely confused.

"Sue said she thinks you saw the movie yesterday." My co-worker explained without explaining anything.

"I don't understand. I don't think I saw any movies yesterday."

"No, the movie that's called Yesterday."


Which reminded me of how I was out at the desk a few days ago and I was talking with my co-worker partner and a young, early high school aged volunteer. I don't remember how, but "Who's on first" came up in passing. The young person got excited. Apparently he knew it really well and immediately rattled off "Who's on first, What's on second, I don't know's on third, Why is in left field..."

"Wait." I interrupted, confused "Who's on first?"

The kid looked taken aback. "Who's on first." He said like I'm not too bright.

"That's what I'm asking you." I replied. "I'm asking you who is on first?"

"Right" He said cautiously, vaguely confused and speaking slowly. "Who   is    on     first."

Then someone came to the front desk of the library. I had to help them so our party broke up.

I actually have no idea whether we were performing the routine or doing it for real.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

The Dag Hammarskjold letters part four

Dear Dag Hammarskjold,

As you know from my previous letters I come across your wonderful quote everyday that I walk to work. It is driven right into the surface of the stone of a lovely little plaza, just as it should be. And whenever I see it I read it and think about it. 

It is:

“We are not permitted to choose the frame of our destiny, but what we put into it is ours.”

Now imagine my delight when, in seeking clarification on this quote, the author of it (you!) turns out to be completely helpful and responsive to all my many letters about its nuances. Your generosity, clarity, and wisdom have meant the world to me, and I finally feel like I really and truly understand this quote in all its depth and richness. Thank you so much.

I have not mentioned this so far, but part of why all of this has been so meaningful to me is because I am a bit of a quote writer myself! I really just dabble so far, maybe nothing worth writing in stone, if you know what I mean. But I do have my dreams.

And I've made a go of it.

I wrote 

"In my past life I was a Buddhist. In this life it's my only one." 

Which I thought was pretty good. I mean maybe not "stone" worthy, but worth sending around to all the big quote anthologies.

No luck.

I wrote

"They really are out to get me, though fortunately they're not too serious about it."

Not bad, right? Still, nothing, not even a paving stone somewhere.

Nevertheless I carried on. I thought maybe I'd try marketing to a large niche audience and came up with:

"If practice made perfect there would be millions of professional golfers."

Readers' Digest didn't even respond to my submission. And that's when it hit me:

It is not my destiny to be a famous. I can do whatever I want, but it is never going to go big time. It is simply not my fate.

Okay. Fine. But you're obviously really smart about stuff like this so I thought I'd ask you:

Do you think there's any way I could change that?

Thanks for all your help.