Starved of color in a bleak, Pandemic Winter, finally Spring and hope returns, and we look to the first flowers of the year to bring us that thrilling burst of color! Being something of a naturalist photographer I know where all the budding new flowers are as they make their first appearances on the scene. And I am here to bring you the dynamic and amazing first budding flowers of Spring!
I know what you're thinking:
"Is this a trick? Because I could swear that yesterday you introduced pictures of the first Spring flowers only to show pictures of birds instead. Or so I've been told. I've actually never read your blog before."
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Where'd they go?
No matter, I guess.
But the new person was right! We did get a little distracted on the way to the first flower pictures yesterday. There was a Robin instead. And then there were ducks. It was the most natural thing in the world. Could've happened to anyone.
But not today. Not another blogpost will go by without us taking, after a season of whiteness, and drabness, a technicolor look at these bright heralds of life, the new flowers of Spring. I only have a few, but your color starved eyes will surely thank me for these.
So feast your eyes upon the first flowers of Spring:
Ah. Hmn. No. Wait.
That's a picture of a Monet painting.
Bear with me.
Hold this for me for a second.
A to B, B to A.
Let's try this then:
Not the bird again. That's an accident.
Just a few problems here. I think I've...
Here we go! Got it!
And there it is: The first flowers of Spring!
What do you think of that?!!
A feast for the eyes, eh?
It's probably your device. You might want to try rebooting.
As Spring has squeezed in here in St. Minneapolis, and snow melted to rain, my thoughts quickly turned to flowers. So I grabbed my handy camera and went out to take the first pictures of this year's flowers.
I'm kinda famous for my flower pictures.
Once someone said to me:
I like your pictures of flowers.
Tip o' the iceberg.
When it gets warmer and we can go swimming we'll go see all the rest of the favorable flower picture comments that are under the surface of the water. Right now we just see the one sticking icily up above the surface, but trust me, there is so much more.
"Hey, where are the flowers?" You cry.
I'm excited too!
Let's go get those flower pictures.
But first, you should know that there aren't a lot of flowers yet. Things are just budding, mostly trees. But rest assured there are some flowers. And I know where they are!
So let's go get those flowers!
We're on a mission!
Here are the first flowers of the year!
The First Flowers:
"Hey! Those aren't flowers!" You cry.
No. Fair point. Fair point indeed, and I'm glad you brought it up.
I went out to take some pictures of the first flowers of the year, but there was this awesome Robin frolicking in this magical pond!
Well, actually it's the gutter, but you take my point.
Anyway, I was distracted. This happens even with professional photographers! I read about it.
But don't worry, I was on a mission, a mission to photograph the first flowers.
And here they are:
Now you might be thinking:
"These are ducks, not flowers."
I have to say your very good at this. These are indeed ducks, rather than flowers!
I was totally planning on taking pictures of flowers, but I came upon these ducks in the river.
Was I supposed to just not take pictures of these ducks?
Think of how the ducks would feel!
I'm glad we see eye to eye on this.
I hope you enjoyed this tour of the first flowers of Spring!
On a slow, rainy night, one of my co-workers left me a considerable amount of work on our automated check in machine. It was not work generated by her work. It was work generated by her not working. It was even at such a balance as to suggest she had manipulated the flow of certain work in order for it to pass from her purview to my own.
You're probably thinking:
"Oh no. He's going to complain about work, and he's going to complain about co-workers. And there's probably even going to be some kind of elaborate explanatory scheme involved."
Whoa. That was, like, psychic!
To do the kind of library work we do here at my library there are three basic work skills one can have that lead one towards being a good co-worker.
That's a lot.
That might be too many skills for a single person to have all at once!
So is it impossible to be a good co-worker?
No. Here is the beautiful thing:
One needs only two of these skills to be a good co-worker.
But what do I mean by these virtues?
Conscientiousness is being aware of both one's own minimum responsibilities and how what one does will affect those around one.
Industriousness is putting in a good amount of steady effort.
Effectiveness is using one's energy and work in a way that gets the most done quickly and thoroughly.
If one is conscientious and industrious one will do enough of the things for the community of work that the fact that some of them are frivolous and ineffective won't matter too much. So if a bunch of slips are going to need a location stamp, the conscientious person will step in to take care of it. Being industrious they work steadily away at it until enough is done. But being ineffective this will take them a needlessly long time. But the main thing is they will get it done.
If one is industrious and effective the sheer mass of community work one does will spill in to cover for the lack of understanding of the community. So to take the case of the stamping slips, this person might not care that they need to be done, or that it would be nice for another co-worker not to have to do it, but because they do so much effectively and industriously they're pretty likely to get around to this job just by chance anyway.
If one is conscientious and effective they'll find a way to get what needs to be done, done, even if being non industrious will cause them to sit around after the flurry of work. So they'll see the stamping, decide they better do it even if they don't want to, get it done quickly, and return to being non industrious.
All of these are perfectly acceptable, even quite good. In fact, I have found any of these two quality combinations to be close enough to as good as having all three qualities as to not make much difference. The freakishly rare three quality co-workers I have ever worked with can even be a little hard for me to clearly identify as having the three qualities because having just two qualities, especially if one is really good at them, covers so much of the same territory.
On the other hand, having just one quality is a drop to disaster. Conscientious without industriousness or effectiveness means that the will and impulse to do the right thing will be rendered moot by the inability to get any of it done. Industriousness without any others will just mean a co-worker running around busily doing stuff all the time, a fair chunk of it not important, and all somehow without a lot getting done. And the solely effective person will occasionally do a random bit of measurable work, but it will be extremely unlikely to benefit the community of workers.
And so to return to this co-worker leaving me a bunch of work, was she exhibiting one of these virtues or none? The truth is, at that level, it didn't matter. And like the small difference between two and three virtues, so is there a negligible difference between one of these virtues and none.
After looking at a book purporting to teach me how to understand the cries of crows, I went out to the swamp behind the library I work at. I took some pictures of lichens and briefly aimed my camera at a cardinal who was already too far away and was having none of it.
As I wandered back towards the building a crow came by. He made several loud cries. I had no idea what he was saying.
"This is America! If you want me to understand what you're saying learn English!" I cried.
Oh he knew English. I saw it in his eyes. He was just taunting me.
Just before my dinner break at the library I was looking at a book that purported to teach me how to do a hundred things. The range was pretty extreme, from something like "sprout an avocado pit" to "build a forest cabin from scratch" all with the same single page of instructions. I was just looking over "understand the language of crows" when I realized it was time for me to get to my dinner break.
I grabbed my camera and headed out to the swamp. The birds don't let me get close, and nearly everything is dead, but it is Spring now and a few ambitious trees have begun sprouting. Also I discovered some pretty lichens.
While I was photographing those I heard a crow call. It called again.
I will readily agree that some of the library patrons here at the library I work at are miscreants. It goes with the territory. People are unwieldy.
I am compelled by hard evidence to note that a few of my library co-workers are miscreants. It's disconcerting, but those tapeless cobs in the dispensers aren't left by no one.
But I steadfastly refuse to believe anyone reading clerkmanifesto is a miscreant.
Which is why I feel comfortable telling you this story even if you might be a co-worker of mine.
It's about air fresheners in the employee bathrooms.
"Oh my god!" You cry. "I have been waiting my whole life for you to write about air fresheners in the employee bathrooms."
I know, and thank you for your many messages.
They were very polite.
We have two employee bathrooms here at my library. There is no venting in these bathrooms, no fans. There are no windows. In my role as procurer of library supplies I slightly flexed into the separate world of janitorial supplies to get some air fresheners. After a few experiments I settled on a device that automatically sprays a scent every 10 or 15 minutes.
It's better than nothing.
I'm especially fond of the rare "Pine" scent I recently tracked down. I prefer it to the "Musty Poo" scent that occurs naturally. "Citrus" is not as good, but it works better than "Cave full of old pee". "Citrus" doesn't smell exactly like citrus, but it smells nothing like a cave full of old pee.
Once, for some reason I can't remember, I bought some cheap four level shelves for these bathrooms. The dispensers of scent were on the top shelf of these, and when I first put them in I found them regularly twisted apart. I thought maybe someone was not understanding them, and they were trying to make them work. So I put a very classy sign in front of them:
"Please do not fold, spindle, or touch this dispenser, and it will spray every 10 or 15 minutes."
This seemed to solve the problem for awhile.
But then I noticed every time I went into the left bathroom the dispenser was twisted apart. Weird. If someone had a problem with these they could bring it to my attention. But they didn't. They declared war.
Many times a day I would twist the dispenser back together. Many times a day the dispenser would be twisted apart. I wasn't winning. It wasn't fun. It was a stalemate.
Then I got an idea.
I put a used up dispenser on the prominent top shelf and left it twisted apart. Then, discretely, I put a functioning dispenser down on an obscure spot on the bottom shelf where one could hardly see it.
I was shelving books at the library. I was not feeling happy. I pulled a long, sort of famous book off the shelves. It was written by a Nobel Prize winner.
"This is supposed to be what great writing is." I opened it to the middle. There was something about strawberries. "It's just a bunch of words." I thought, disappointed but not surprised "Words like other words."
"What if I quit writing." I wondered, as I sometimes do.
Then a thought came, almost as if from outside of my mind:
"Art is just not giving up."
I would have scoffed at it if I could have thought of anything half as decent to do.
I have been taking Vitamin D on a daily basis. I have been doing this because
1. We have some.
2. It's orange essence flavor.
3. There is no sunlight in Winter where I live, so my body can't make it itself.
4. I'm shedding all my hair due to Vitamin D deficiency.
5. Supposedly Vitamin D deficiency is linked to worse outcomes in covid illness!
6. I am terrified of covid outcomes and wish someone would give me a vaccine already!!!!
Number six there was kind of a bonus item on the list.
It turns out one can store up Vitamin D in one's own fat. Apparently what we're supposed to do is lose weight in our frigid Winters, when there's little but an occasional caribou to eat, and as we burn up our Summer fat we get the Winter Vitamin D we need.
Unfortunately all Winter long we have readily available bags of tortilla chips, blue cheeses, and cashews, so it doesn't work out properly for us people anymore.
The animals are a different story though. Out on my photography jaunts, as my world makes halting gestures towards Spring, I have observed quite a few more animals around. They all seem notably skinnier than usual.
Look at this robin, for instance, he's pretty skinny!:
Here's a double-chinned Summer robin for reference. He's positively corpulent!:
And now check out this crow I took a picture of today:
Yeah, I know he doesn't look that skinny, but you should have seen him five months ago! An absolute porker! It was a spectacle!
As I have told you before my library files our requested items for people under a three-letter code based on their last name and a bit of their first name. This has brought up some obscene request slips like "ass" or "tit". It has brought up impressive ones too, like "god". But today I was filing a book that had a three-letter code I had, for whatever strange reason, never seen before.
It was, disturbingly, in a book called "Season of Fear". I have been watching a movie or two lately set around the Holocaust. The slip inside was yellow and said
I felt a strange taste of something I had never felt before.
The best music video I have ever seen is Everybody Hurts by R.E.M.
Is it the best song I have ever heard? Sure, occasionally, along with many others. Written by a band just coming off of the height of their inventive powers, it comes in at that often tiny sweet spot where a group's deepening wisdom briefly crosses with their creative mastery.
Perhaps even more rare than this sweet spot, Everybody Hurts belongs to that tiny collection of spiritual anthems. These are religious songs without religion, and they are extremely rare.
Off the top of my head we have:
Let it Be
Bridge over Troubled Waters
I Shall be Released
You may readily note that thematically, even a little structurally, these are almost all one song.
Well, they're one, but they're not the same.
Sorry. Spiritual anthem lyric joke there.
Let's put it this way:
They're all "don't kill yourself" songs. They are painful songs of comfort. And the reason they are so powerful is because they go so deep into understanding just how bad it can be. They do this musically sometimes even more intensely than they do it lyrically, and they don't say that rejecting the despair of being alive is easy, but they nevertheless meet it with hope and love.
They're very, very nice songs.
They care about you. That's a pretty profound trick for a piece of art to do.
And so we have set the stage for Everybody Hurts, the music video.
Everybody Hurts doesn't need a music video. It doesn't need anything. It is as complete a song as human beings can write. But there it is, a video. It will take you less than six minutes to watch if you've never seen it, and by linking it here I absolve myself of any need to refrain from discussing any part of it.
The reason I think this is such a great music video is because even as it faultlessly matches the song in expression, emotion, and theme, it is in no way a mere filming of the song. It starts enigmatically, but in pain and distance, like the song. For the first moments we see the lyrics of the song we're hearing, but with a sudden beautiful dissonance it switches. To our surprise we are no longer seeing the lyrics as subtitles, and we're not sure at first what we're seeing instead as subtitles.
It's the lonely thoughts of the people in the traffic; mundane, piercing, broken, irritated, trivial, human thoughts.
The song takes it all in. Everybody hurts.
It is not my intention to walk through every detail of this beautiful little music video; the psalms raining down on the traffic below, the musical redemption striving to speak through to the people in the cars, how Michael Stipe, the singer, is wordlessly featured until, a full four-fifths of the way through he is finally able to sing the lyric we're hearing, all leading to the strange, lovely, and enigmatic exodus at the end.
No, I want to talk about something far more ridiculous.
R.E.M.'s music video has been viewed nearly 100 million times.
Twenty thousand people have seen it and hit a thumbs down button, effectively saying "I hate this".
Here is one way to look at the Internet:
There is nothing so beautiful there, so profound and full of love, there is nothing so magical and life affirming and inoffensive and full of heart, that someone, somewhere, won't take the time to hate it.
Sometimes, with great trepidation, if I have the perfect blogpost that fits exactly on a social page of the Internet, I will leave it there. Whatever I expect to happen, something else happens instead:
First nothing, maybe a downvote. Then, slowly, I always get a very mild popularity of 10 to 100 upvotes. But I also always get one or two affirming comments like these (and these are direct quotes):
This was amazing. Thank you.
This is pure art and deserves a Pulitzer. Brava!
This is the greatest pitch on the sub.
This was one of the best things I've read
This is fantastic.
These always excite me a little. But then they just seem to lie there, not moving at all.
They seem like they would do more than they do.
At some point in the middle of it all I invariably get downvoted a few times as well. It is a small thing, but it always feel like a little blast of hate.
There may even be a more rare, hostile comment (I can bear to show just one):
"Your writing style is insufferable"
I always take it too hard. And I always feel a little lost and small.
But I'm not alone. No, no, no, I'm not alone.
Hallelujah: 38,000 downvotes
Let it Be: 27,000 downvotes
Bridge over Troubled Waters: 3,500 downvotes
Imagine: 68,000 downvotes
Strangers: 504 downvotes
One: 18,000 downvotes
I Shall be Released: 520 downvotes
I am not wild about how sometimes you'll find a really fantastic YouTube video and unavoidably glance at the comments and practically the first thing you see is:
"A thousand downvotes! Who would downvote this!!!"
(Except maybe I like it a little bit on Hallelujah where someone wrote something like "38,000 downvotes? You don't really care for music do you?")
And yet here I am.
Twenty thousand people hate my favorite music video, Everybody Hurts. I don't know why. I never will. Nothing is exempt. I suppose there is someone out there to disdain even the smallest of good things in this world. It's a big world. No blade of grass is exempted from the trampling.
But here is another way to look at the Internet, in this life:
As I write, the brilliant Lionel Messi is about to play his significant 767th game for his football club, Barcelona. This will tie him with a great midfielder named Xavi for the most games ever played on this historic team.
Coincidentally I am today working my 7,670th day at my less historic library, which is exactly ten times as many days of work! Also my work days tend to be longer than Messi's games. Although on the plus side they less often leave me covered in bruises.
My 7,670 days are, however, not anywhere close to a record for most days worked by someone at this library.
First we watched Hunt for the Wilderpeople at my house. And I thought "This is the best Wes Anderson movie that isn't a Wes Anderson movie that I've ever seen!" Then I thought "I better watch other movies by this visionist director Taika Waititi!"
So I brought home Jojo Rabbit.
I watched it.
I could say a lot about Jojo Rabbit. But I am here today only to talk about a small idiosyncratic slice of it all. A very critical slice, maybe even harshly critical.
"Critical of Jojo Rabbit, you madman?" You ask.
Ah, you've seen Jojo Rabbit? Well don't worry, it is not critical of Jojo Rabbit. That would be madness! Jojo Rabbit is one of the best movies I have ever seen in my life!
"Wait, in your life?" You ask.
In my life, easily!
"But you have seen a lot of movies in your life!" You exclaim.
Yes, I have seen:
The Godfather (one and two)
The Enigma of Kasper Hauser
La Grande Bellezza
Fanny and Alexander!
"Wait, and Jojo Rabbit is at least as good as these?"
Yes, at least.
"So then, what's the critical slice?" You ask.
Ah, get right down to it, eh?
"Actually this doesn't seem like getting right down to it. It rather seems like a long overdue arrival after an extremely long preamble."
Here we go then:
I work with quite a few people at a library. Indeed, I work with a ton of people!
And so we talk. And talk! Surrounded as we are by all manner of books, movies, computers, and music, we talk about those especially. My co-workers are constantly going on about the movies and TV shows they've seen, books they've read, and just... culture.
And maybe I am too.
Occasionally someone, in all this discussion, will make a recommendation for something to read or watch.
Many of these recommendations are of the lame variety and look something like this:
"I saw this thing and it was pretty good and kind of interesting but not great and let me tell you all about it and how maybe you should watch it even though I have not remotely considered your taste, personality, or the value of your time in regards to it."
Some of these recommendations are of the improved variety, like so:
"I saw this thing and it was just so so so great! I am going to tell you about it in detail and then recommend it to you not because I am thinking of you or your taste in any way, but just because I found it so wonderfully good!"
And finally, on very special occasions, one will see the ideal recommendation that looks like this:
"I saw this perfectly brilliant thing, magically good, that I just loved, and so let me tell you all about it and how it made me think of you and all your excellent qualities. Reflecting upon your tastes and the things you have liked in the past, and the places where we have shared sensibilities, I am thinking that it might be a crime against humanity if you do not watch it as soon as you are comfortably able to."
When I recommend I try desperately never to do version one ever. I try to limit with every fiber of my being how often I do version two, and I try my hardest to do version three every single rare and beautiful chance I get.
I have successfully recommended to my colleagues (and to library patrons):
The "Not Just Bikes" YouTube Channel
The Lockwood and Company book series
Deadly Education by Naomi Novik
The Eyre Affair
Long Shot the movie
The Dog Who Wouldn't Be
The sexy sax man video
"Wait. Wait! What on earth is the point of all this with your co-workers and recommendations and lists of things I've never heard of???!!!"
Here it is:
Not a single person, among all these dozens and dozens of co-workers and associates, with every possible opportunity to understand and know my tastes, ever made, in a full year and a half, the merest mention, let alone a recommendation, of Jojo Rabbit!
Not only did not a single one of my colleagues see Jojo Rabbit and think it was good enough to note in casual conversation, but also not a single one of them took any note of how exactly it might be my sort of thing!
As I've increasingly added a random photo to the bottom of every post I make here lately, you may have noticed a particular bent recently. It's called the "oil paint" effect. I have found it a little irresistible. I guess the idea is that it takes your picture and makes it... painterly. Although to me it's less like a painting than it is that the picture is softened and marbleized. It turns out that's exactly what I want to do to a lot of my pictures.
Some of these pictures you have seen before, but there are a few new pictures I have taken out at the train tracks. I have run them through this rather slow process. To me these pictures look at their best when they're at their largest and all their swirly detail shines through.
So turn them up as big as you can. I can only do so much on my end.