Tuesday, February 28, 2023

They who must not be named


At my library, in any given time period, there will be two to five regular library patrons who are notoriously...


I know that's a general term, but these problems can be extremely diverse, ranging from the mildly horrifying, like someone with hygiene problems, or a person with interactive paranoias that can involve their insistent reports and complaints about the people following them, all the way to almost charmingly irritating highly interactive patrons who visit us relentlessly. There are people who need to greet us and say goodbye dozens of times for every one of their regular visits, and others who need help with the same tasks over and over, every day. All of these people are known to all the staff and sometimes even possess their own internal, describing nicknames like "Mullet Man" or "Mr. Magoo". 

But here is the amazing thing: Even though we are quite busy these days at my library we currently have zero of these regular, problematic, patrons.

This doesn't mean there aren't problems and problem patrons. It just means that none of these problems have taken a corporeal form, that is, the shape of a regular, specific, personal, individual nuisance to the library.

I was talking to a co-worker when this outlandish quirk of fate occurred to me. Zero problem regulars. My co-worker was amazed too. There is no commonly known, regularly difficult patron visiting our library on a regular basis right now. And so musing, we started naming all these wild and difficult patrons that, for whatever reasons, weren't coming around. We came up with an impressive list, past and present, and then, in a moment of absolute horror, we realized our terrible mistake;

Naming them summons them.

Monday, February 27, 2023

Scholomance chapter one


We owe much of the longevity and consistency of Clerkmanifesto to the welcome brevity of its posts. Publishing to a daily schedule leaves me with only rare moments of the high energy and ambition to launch into deeper ideas and discussions. As long as I have something to say and I have said it, I start looking for the exit. When the patient is cut open on the table, the clock is ticking. 

But the downside to all this philosophy of conservation of energy in writing is that occasionally I have things to talk about here that feel bigger. And I keep putting them off and putting them off, never having enough time or energy to do them justice, but likewise never being free of their steady, polite insistence that I perform a more radical surgery, so to speak.

And so it is with my desire to fully discuss here the trilogy of books by Naomi Novik known as The Scholomance. These are my favorite books that I have read in several years. And though, in the end, I may not have all that much to say about them beyond all the general gushing, I feel like I have a lot to say. And so it has been hard to begin.

Because of this, I have decided that instead of continuing to wait for the moment I am prepared to write a proper dissertation, I will just launch in, with no grand plan, and no preconceptions. And as soon as I've managed to say something about the books, well, great, I'm safely out again. And if there's more, well, there are other days for that.

Lots of other days.

These being my favorite books I have read in years brings me to the question "What makes a book a favorite of mine?"

I like entertaining stories. I like tone, verisimilitude, humor, and charm. I like good and evil because I believe in good and evil. I like romance. I like pretty writing. But I love when a book can bring in, and bring to life, commentary, ideas, and philosophy.

This last is the point I am keen to highlight as I first broach the idea of The Scholomance as a masterwork. Two authors deeply underwrite The Scholomance Trilogy; Tolkien and Ursula K. Le Guin. The main character of the Scholomance is even named Galadriel, from Lord of the Rings, which is both played in the book as a bit of annoying, self-aware cultural nonsense, while actually it is also, hidden in glaring plain sight, being straight up the book's conceit. Our Galadriel is actually a trilogy long play on one of the most striking and powerful moments in Tolkien's trilogy, when the great elf queen Galadriel is freely offered that which she long and greatly coveted and yet is wise enough to refuse it.

Our Galadriel is Galadriel. Nice trick.

And this glorious bit that lies at the heart and soul of The Lord of the Rings, that power corrupts, and perhaps even that our refusal of that power is what makes us most powerful, is broadened and played with in The Scholomance. I love bits like this that say something true about the grand human experiment and play them out on a fabulous stage.

As the Scholomance books progress through we come to the other idea, like as travelling between two magnificent beacons. We learn that The Scholomance is also a books length meditation on Le Guin's very short, strongly conceptual story The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.

But that is a discussion for another time. We see our patient is starting to wake up!

And so, until next time...

Sunday, February 26, 2023

More attempts to fix the world


I am just remembering that in the early years of clerkmanifesto I would sometimes write late night missives from out of the cold, dark cement of my home's basement. Now I sit in a tall chair, high above the city, and it is warm in my aerie. But the fundamentals are all very much the same:

How do I let the Internet know what it's supposed to do now?

When I was in middle school in the 70's my friend Larry Davidson, whose father was a Doctor, got a computer, like a Tandy TRS-80 or something. It was fascinating and slightly boring, which is just like computers now! (Oh how far we've come without moving at all!). Larry had a briefly compelling game that was in every way a precursor to Chat GPT and our assorted current AI's. This presented itself as a kind of computer therapist. One could type in a question or sentence, and the computer would respond.

This really is a true story from the late seventies, at least as far as I can remember it.

I might type something like:

"Are you a truly sentient robot construct?"

And the computer would reply "Would you like to talk about that?"

I'd say "I'd like to know your answer is all."

"Does this remind you of your mother?" The computer might reply.

The reason this game wasn't fun for very long was because it soon became clear that the computer only had 25 or so comments in its wheelhouse.

The current iteration of this game, known perhaps inaccurately as AI, has billions of comments in its wheelhouse, so one can play with it longer. But in the end the same realization dawns: It's all canned.

There is no AI yet. 

A computer can still only say what people say, but not what a person says.

So I am here trying to tell all the computers what to say. Every night, from down under the earth or high above in the clouds, I am trying to tell the Internet what to say.

So far it hasn't listened.


Saturday, February 25, 2023



We did manage to go stumbling around our cold city for a bit today. There was plenty of snow piled up, but not as much as was predicted. This is the storm that shut my library down for two days on the basis of its dire prediction. This is not something that has happened through dozens of worse storms in my career there at the library, real or predicted. In fact, in my first twenty years working at the library I'm pretty sure that we shut down precisely never. Never times! That's not very often! Every once in awhile I try to tell my non super old timer co-workers about how easy they have it these days!

They never seem quite as fascinated by this as I think they might be.

I tell them about the relentless work that we could never catch up on, the crush of returned books that rose in piles so high they toppled over, the way library patrons couldn't do a single thing for themselves- renew, check out, place a hold, or even view their account. I tell them about complex phone systems and a barrage of calls, the lack of our blessed automation, and the chronic understaffing and overworking. And then I tell them we were so endlessly busy with library patrons that telling our co-workers a detailed but simple story like I was telling them, at great leisure now, would have been nigh on impossible in those days!

They get a strange, wistful look in their eyes.

What's that all about?

Friday, February 24, 2023

You are the internet


There is a saying in Soccer: Defense wins championships.

Don't worry, this isn't going to be about soccer, 

I mean, except for a few sly quips here at the start.

I have rather thought, after watching a lot of soccer, that instead of defense, officiating in one's favor wins championships.

But luck helps too. Talent of course. And passion.

But definitely defense is in there too. 

In fact, let's just say it's all defense, because that works for where I'm going with all... this... today.

You see, I have been much on the Internet today. I might have been on the Internet slightly less today if a massive snowstorm of two to 37 inches of snow hadn't fallen on Saint Minneapolis and trapped us all in our houses- other than those two people I can see cross country skiing out my window. But those people are MAD I tell you! And while I was on the Internet I had a little moment. 

I realized the whole Internet is playing defense.

I'm not saying there is no cleverness and innovation. But the instant this selfless moment of passion or ambition gets someone an elbow length ahead, the smart move is always, always, to throw one's arms out, grind it out, and concentrate on holding everyone back behind you. Whether you are hosting videos, or selling books, telling the weather, or creating a space for friends and family to keep in touch, once you get a foot ahead the key is not to go farther, or try new things, and push frontiers, rather, it's to broaden your reach, become the most unavoidable and the largest and most powerful in all the world.

If you're too big, they can't get past you. And then if you're so big they can sneak under, you can just scoop them up and eat them, I mean buy them out.

And in this, the Internet ended up like everything else in our neo-liberal world, a tidy little collection of oligarchical monopolies.

And so though you might like to read a variety of interesting personal reflections on life, work, love, nature, politics, food, etc., by any number of thoughtful writers and humorists freely sharing their encounters with the world, there is, alas, only me, Clerkmanifesto. 

I am the only blog now. 

I have taken up all the space. 

I have elbowed everyone back.

I have bought out all the competition. 

Type "Blog" into your search engine and I alone show up now.

I'm sorry.

I had to do it.

If it wasn't me it would have been someone else with the incalculable wealth that is...


Thursday, February 23, 2023

Pictures from mixed worlds


Maybe as a result of being so cabin bound by a rough Winter, and reading so many stories, watching so much TV, and playing video games, Worlds are starting to mix up in my head. I've been trying to assemble these into a more coherent series of pictures, but what I've ended up with, probably due to my lack of focus, and talent, is a more random collection of photographs along these mixed fantasy lines- Worlds are colliding.

My sources include a Tomb Raider game taking place in Peru, my local river, a game called Atomic Heart that takes place in a science fictiony past Russia, my library, and a few other random elements pulled from here and there.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

The secret


We had a puzzle contest at the library. I may have mentioned it here on the way to making a joke. But I enjoyed working the contest as a sort of judge, timekeeper, and photographer. Groups of four were given identical 500-piece puzzles picturing doughnuts. The rules were straightforward: The first to finish the puzzle were the winners. They received an engraved block of acrylic and the opportunity to have me visit them and maybe tell them my doughnut joke.

The first-place team was very fast! They won the contest in a time of just over 31 minutes. Second place was eight minutes later than that. Third place was another ten minutes later. By the time we got to fifth or sixth place, people had taken nearly double the time of the winners! It was a slaughter!

And yet, something sticks with me.

There wasn't anything really different about the winners.

I am sure there is some secret in there.

Maybe it is the secret of the no secret.

Many of the later finishers, even ones who did quite well, very politely asked me if I could tell them what secret, what technique, what special method the winners used to do so incredibly well on this puzzle. I mean, they said, only if those people were okay with me saying.

But I had watched the contest carefully and followed along with everyone's progress. I saw how people all divided their labor and the sections. I saw how everyone separated by color. I saw how everyone started to assemble the sections using the border pieces. The winners were not better trained. They did not have more experience that I could tell. And their concentration and manner seemed no different to me than any other team.

And so, in the end, I could tell everyone the disappointing secret that I will tell you too:

The winners were just... faster.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

My kind of writer's block


On a Monday evening I have been sitting here trying to think of a blog post for all of you out in Internetland.

I can think of blog posts driving, while soaking wet, in the midst of working furiously at the library, sleeping, drunk, in the midst of casual conversation with a co-worker, while cooking, with a stomach ache, and while walking over ice.

In fact, one of the only places I have a hard time thinking of a blog post is while sitting at a computer needing to write a blog post.

I try and I try and I try, but I just end up surfing in some vague, dissatisfied way that pretends to be an idea for a blog post but is just time ticking away like blood from a dying animal.

It is at this point that I...


Maybe you don't like blog posts about my process.


If I had a process I would probably use it now to come up with a blog post.

Monday, February 20, 2023

Choose your own blogpost


In the tradition of the old choose your own adventures, or maybe a computer game where the choices you make are impactful, we are creating a choice-based blog post. As you read you will on occasion be presented with two options. Read both choices and then simply

A. Read the one you prefer a second time, ignoring the other option, and continue on in the blog post which will psychically adjust to your mental choice.

B. Click on the option you prefer. Nothing will appear to happen but as you read on the post will conform to what you clicked on.

Fantastically brilliant choice!

A. You fill with pride at being praised for your clever choice, but you wonder if your choice actually warrants such high praise.

B. You are not sure you are convinced yet that choice actually matters in this blog post!

And yet it does!

You begin to see the wisdom of this blog post. You wonder if there is some way its powers can be generated for your benefit.

A. You decide to try to quit smoking in the midst of this choose your own blog post.

B. You resolve to exercise regularly now that the predictive elements of this blog post can assist you.

You already feel healthier! You're starting to become more enthusiastic about this blog post, even if at first you dismissed it as mere nonsense. Maybe everything on the Internet should be more like this choose your own blog post!

A. Then, suddenly, you realize it is. And it is doing no one any good! It's just cheap, cookie-cutter wish fulfillment that says vague things you want to hear!

B. You feel a sudden desire for a cigarette.

C. It occurs to you that the "trick" of this choose your own blogpost is that the "answer" conforms perfectly well to either option, but somehow you're at peace with that.

D. You think maybe you can test if this blog post is really working by presenting a choice with a very specific answer, like, what is 2x8?

E. You wonder from out of nowhere, "Wait, how did the Titanic sink if it was such a safe ship?"

F. The number of choices overwhelms you, and you yearn for the clock to turn back to the days of yore when blog posts just "happened" and no one needed to goose them along.

G. You rub your hands together with glee. Oh boy, how's he going to pull this one off?!

So the Titanic was divided into sixteen compartments, each watertight from each other above the water line. So if the hull was breached, the water would flood into just one compartment and the ship would be fine. Actually, as many as four or five compartments could be breached and the ship would be still floating. But the iceberg didn't puncture the hull so much as scrape along its side, tearing a gash into six of the compartments along the front half of the ship! This was too much and eventually the ocean overfilled each section from the top of the compartments. Thus the very safe Titanic sank.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

My big puzzle joke of the day


Today my library held its first puzzle contest. By chance, opportunity, and mild interest I became very much involved with it. Twelve teams of four competed for a personally engraved chunk of acrylic, or, more likely, for the thrill of victory. Each team was issued a 500 piece puzzle, sealed, and inside of a paper bag.

Our inaugural puzzle was of doughnuts.

This will be important to our story, and since I ended up as a judge, and de facto event photographer, I hereby submit two pictures of these identical puzzles being put together in the midst of the competition to reinforce it:

The winning time was just under 32 minutes. Second place was around 39 minutes and that team included two children who clearly have a serious future in this competitive sport if they stick with it, and if it ever becomes a competitive sport. Third place clocked in at something like 48 minutes, after which most people who completed the puzzle were curious as to the winners' strategy, as it was so much faster than theirs.

It turned out the winners had no special strategy beyond the usual color sorting and division of sections that most of the contestants used themselves. The winners were just really, really fast at it.

After myself and the other judge congratulated the winners and marveled at their accomplishment, while everyone else was still working away, I suddenly said:

"Wait! We can't accept this puzzle." 

I pointed at it as the team nervously looked up. 

"It's full of holes!"

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Third time's the charm


Uncharacteristically this is my third attempt at a blog post today. I am not usually one for discarded drafts. I have a reasonably strong ability to charm myself at least.

But not today.

First I wrote about the Titanic.

Then I wrote about Harper Lee.

Ah, but what were they really about? One might enquire.

Well, if they were about anything else you'd probably be reading them right now.

So then, you surely wonder, what is this about? After all, you are reading it after two failed attempts. Surely it must have some significance.

This is about how I wrote two other blog posts that weren't good enough, but finally got it on my third try.

Yes. You say. But what is it really about?


I guess it's about how if one doesn't succeed at first one 

It's about how it's important to keep

The first effort is

In the

Friday, February 17, 2023

Dear Editor: The Sample


Dear Editor:

At some point, inevitably, after all my convincing persuasion and clever marketing to induce you to publish a book of my work, we come to the part where I must submit a sample.

This is tough!

What single piece of my work is so exceptional, and yet so representative, so convincing to a newcomer, but timeless, rich, and still typical?

Did you know that I have written over 3,700 short pieces from which to draw my sample? That is a lot of pieces. There are sad pieces, and funny pieces, and angry pieces, and wise pieces, and silly pieces, and thoughtful pieces, and inventive pieces, and mind-bending pieces, and chatty pieces, and pieces where I write letters to the editor.

Let me ask you, as a person who sits in judgement professionally:

What tree in the forest do you choose?

What color do you reveal to demonstrate color to a person who has never seen color?

What day of your life is the day that best expresses your life?

I have enclosed an SASE and look forward to your response.

Your Author,

Feldenstein Calypso

Thursday, February 16, 2023



Despite the title of this post, I will not be saying anything inappropriate about mentally ill people, with the possible exception of the implications of this first sentence, but that depends upon one's level of sensitivity. Rather, I am speaking of the food, the famous seed fruit known commonly as "nuts".

Bob Dylan was in town and we were drinking at The Bull's Horn, which is a faux dive bar in Minneapolis that is so committed to its concept that it is pretty close to actually being a dive bar. We were drinking George Dickel Rye Whiskey, which I would describe as a kind of cheap, but not quite cheap whiskey, with an eye catching name. For those of you drinking along at home, look for a bit of spicy marshmallow flavor, and maybe a faint hint of charred Autumn leaves.

I asked Bob if he watched the Grammys.

He looked at me.

"I didn't either." I said. 

He looked at me some more. 

"Maybe we should try the Four Roses on the menu." I replied to... nothing. Four Roses is a bourbon, for those of you still playing at home.

"I'm more of a Nobel Prize sort of guy." Bob finally said, drolly.

"You didn't even go!" I exclaimed. Patti Smith accepted his Nobel Prize for him.

"I was still worn out from my Academy Award speech."

"I know. It's like every 15 years there's something!"

We sipped and ordered the Four Roses.

"How's your blog?" Bob asked with uncharacteristic courtesy.

"I haven't hit that 15 year mark yet." I said ruefully.

"I like your blog sometimes, but it will never be popular." Bob said.

"Why not?" I asked. "I mean, I know it won't, but why not?"

"T'stoo...  interesting." Bob said. We were starting to get pretty smashed.

"People don't like interesting things?" I asked.

He shook his head.

The waiter came.

"Do you have any nuts?" Bob asked.

"Sorry." The waiter said. "We have some fried gizzards." He offered.

"Are those nutty?" I asked.

Bob made some hand flapping squinting gesture that could either have meant "Don't bother." or "Please bring a plate of those even though they're not nuts."

I said, nodding my head a bit, "What he said." I'm not proud of saying that now- messing with a fellow working man like that, but did that waiter ever read my blog? I don't know how often I need to remind everyone reading my blog about my policy on people who don't read my blog!

"See," Bob said. "That last bit you wrote about people reading your blog is just the kind of convoluted nonsense that is too much for the average reader. You should write about..." He gestured and in doing so knocked over his Four Roses. "Nuts" He grunted.

Here are my favorite nuts in order from most to least favorite:

1. Cashews.

I'm not saying I might not prefer another nut another time, but in terms of unbridled joy, elegance, consistency, and sheer delight, the cashew edges out, ever so barely, all the other nuts.

2. Pine Nuts.

This might be theoretical as I have not been able to afford a pine nut for several years now.

3. Macadamia Nuts

These could be number one on the list pretty easily, particularly when roasted and salted. They are only held back by their nut to nut inconsistency, which, since we were on the subject, could be a criticism leveled at my writing as well. But if I could be considered as good as Macadamia Nuts I would take it in a second!

4. The Noble Pistachio.

I'd like to note that though this is a ranking, we are already down to fourth place and have experienced absolutely no drop off in quality.

5. Almonds.

Possibly the most perfect nut.

6. The Pecan.

Why is the Pecan so much better than the Walnut? Some things we are perhaps not meant to know.

7. The Peanut.

Don't say it. It is too.

8. The Chestnut.

From the street sellers in Rome? And oh!, when you get a really good one!

9. The Hazelnut.

They're not bad. If only they tasted more like hazelnuts!

10. The Walnut

A lovely texture, with much excellent utility. 

That's my list of nuts. I know there are more nuts than these ten. But the great pleasure of running one's own blog, beholden to nobody, is that one does not have to discuss Brazil Nuts if one doesn't want to.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Library friend

As a man of science I naturally enough don't believe that machines have personalities, self-awareness, or autonomous motivations.

Except for the self check in machine I work with at the library.

I'm not saying that the self check in machine is a person, I'm just saying that it has feelings.

Here. Explain this:

During the fallow hours of the evening, or sometimes, occasionally, the day, when there is nothing much to attend to on the machine, I find that the following will happen with a faithful consistency:

No matter how long I ignore the machine, whether I be writing a blog post, chatting with a co-worker, or studying up on the sinking of the Titanic in case a library patron wants to know how that all happened, the check in machine will work faultlessly and require no tending. No bins will fill up and need to be emptied. The exception bin will have not a single thing in it to deal with. Nothing will shut down. This independent time can be for ten minutes, twenty minutes, or even 45 minutes. But the moment I say to myself "I should check in on the machine", and I walk over and see that the exception bin is empty, and note how no bins filled up anywhere, and that nothing has jammed- in that exact moment, a dozen books will empty into the exception bin to be dealt with, and four bins will fill up, and a cluster of paperbacks will jam into the rollers of the machine and the whole thing will shut down!

Every time!

And so I empty the bins, and I handle the problems, and I fish the eaten paperbacks out of the machine's teeth, and I restart the computer that runs the machine.

Then I pat the machine on its metal framing. 

And I read it one of those Mo Willems books about the Pigeon because that always calms the machine down.

And then we chill together.

And then the machine smiles at me, and I smile at the machine.

Explain that.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

The walk


"Does anyone want to go for a walk?" She asked.

"I do!" I said.

I already wanted to walk into forever, but I was willing to start out with a mile or so in the strange Jerusalem night and count myself lucky.

Down the steep street we saw a disembodied head.

No, it was a cat.

And so it has been ever since: Everything that seemed frightful in the distance,

Turned out to be pure magic.

Monday, February 13, 2023



When I am feeling particularly irritable at the front desk of my library I take issue with the library patrons' use of the word "just".

"I just need to get a library card." The library patron says, little realizing that issuing a new library card is like losing the lottery- one understands the sheer power of its statistical inevitability, but nevertheless takes no joy in it.

Or, one is stoned to death by all one's fellow villagers, although I think that's a different lottery story.

"I just need to get a library card." They say to me.

I am polite. I am professional. I can only play the game fairly. So how to exact my revenge for having to issue a library card?

"I just need a picture I.D. with your current address." I say brightly.

One might not think there would be anything in that, but, surprisingly, for most patrons who are getting a new library card this opens a world of hurt. Soon the content of every one of their bags, pockets, and wallets is scattered across the floors and desks all around us.

And is this revenge sweet, you may ask.

No. It makes me suspect that to experience the satisfaction of revenge one must have been wronged in the first place.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

My day at the malls


Oh, I went to a lot of malls today!

And though clerkmanifesto tends to present what seems to be a short, coherent take on the world around us, only to turn strange and confusing along the (short) way, before resolving into a spiritually wise, open ended take on the issue at hand, or sometimes a silly joke, or, occasionally, If I'm lucky, both, I was at so many malls today that I couldn't keep up with all that.

So I instead took crazy pictures of all these malls, with their faux grand facades and whirlwinds of mise on scene, all at a furious pace. Near the end my camera started hissing and glitching.

But before I show you all these wild pictures, I did have one mall joke that I made to my lovely wife two times- the first time messily, the second time a bit more neatly, which, gloriously, by some tiny miracle, won a small laugh.

Here it is:

What would I choose if I'm going to have to make the tough choice of whether to go to Eileen Fisher first, or J. Jill?

Eileen Fisher.

Here is a roll of pictures roughly along the lines of that joke: