Saturday, December 21, 2019

April 8, 2016: Unstuck in Time

Unstuck in time from April 8, 2016





I have a special fondness for time travel stories. They're such wonderful vehicles for talking about fate, free will, and the nature of stories themselves, after all, stories are made out of time itself, and yet they are completely free to travel unfettered around in it as well. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut has a fine understanding of this. So fine, I suppose, that it is actually where I learned this.

In Slaughterhouse Five, the main character, Billy Pilgrim, is unstuck in time, and moves through different episodes of his life in a non linear manner. I have been thinking about this a lot lately as this is what seems to be happening to me these days at the library. I have worked here for more than two decades. One moment I am downstairs watching the O.J. verdict in a break room that no longer exists and the next I am showing people how to use our programmable paper books which don't yet exist as I write this. For a few minutes I am buried in an endless crush of book returns that I could never hope to get caught up on, and then I am watching our big check in machine toil away for me, taking care of the job handily, as I sip a cappuccino.

Then I am at the front desk with some co-worker. There have been hundreds of them. I turn to this person and ask how long they've worked at the library.

"Almost six months now." They answer. "Why do you ask?"

"I just wanted to know where I am in time." 

 I remember when they'd worked here for eight years.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

July 28, 2018, Enobling Library Work

Enobling Library Work


July 28, 2018



Just this once, in one of these library stories, let's start with the punchline:

"I don't know how anything gets done around here!"


Now that that's taken care of we can get down to our real message.

I was shelving in Non Fiction, which on the hour was supposed to switch to me shelving in Fiction. But I'd been reading and writing in the stacks so much that it was 20 after the hour by the time I had an empty cart to bring down for a new Fiction one. In the pre elevator room one of my colleagues was standing with a full cart of books, talking on their cell phone, having a particularly intense discussion with one of their children. I dashed into the elevator and pressed the down button several hundred times until the door finally closed.

Downstairs the automated check in machine was entirely abandoned. I suspected what this meant and confirmed it with our posted schedule; one of my managers was assigned to the machine. Only the managers would treat that responsibility so cavalierly and leave so much work for the people to come. This manager was off in their office while the machine either idled or cranked off towards some disaster. I went around straightening bins with the real motive of causing them to fill up so that the machine display would light up with lots of alarming red boxes.

The person on phones was doing nothing and staring vacantly into space in a vaguely alarming way, but, hey, I've been there. Another co-worker, I'm not sure where she was assigned, probably Non Fiction, was watching some inscrutable, corporate looking video with sound so low I doubt she could properly hear.

One other person was also shelving in Fiction with me, meaning I'd want to try to carefully choose a cart that kept us from shelving in the same place. But since I'd seen on the schedule who that person was I knew there was no way in hell he was upstairs shelving. He was either smoking in the parking lot or off on some secret mission of his own, and I could take whatever cart I wanted.

Upstairs in the elevator anteroom my co-worker was still there on the phone, just wrapping up the discussion. I rolled my cart out into the public area, behind where two librarians were aimlessly surfing the Internet, looking very bored, and I wheeled into the quiet respite of Fiction. I shelved for about ten minutes and then wrote most of this.

Maybe I really belong here after all.











Wednesday, September 25, 2019

November something, 2016

As you know, every two or three days I like to pay consultants thousands of dollars to gauge how my readers are feeling about clerkmanifesto. We at clerkmanifesto are strongly reader driven. I listen carefully to what these surveys have to say only to find I am constitutionally unable to do any of the things the surveys recommend. But I never stop trying, and no sooner do I fail than I commission another survey. Is this too many surveys? We have commissioned a survey to find out!

But in the meantime we would deeply appreciate it if you would fill out the following customer satisfaction survey. And to show that we don't expect you to labor in our baking hot survey fields for nothing, we will be giving each of you who fills out this survey 100 clerkmanifesto points, redeemable immediately in the clerkmanifesto store for, well, old blog posts that no one can find because the Internet mostly just hides things. Maybe we can get some T-shirts or something in the store eventually (you know, like "The cream rises to the top and dead things float"), but they'll probably cost a ton of points.



Customer Satisfaction Survey

(Please punch all the way through on your answers or your choice may be voided even if your intent was obvious)



1. How do you feel about this new "points for items in the clerkmanifesto store" thing?



( )  You can't fool me, I know you're kidding! Kidder!

( )  I already got a late 2013 blog post for 50 points! How can I earn more points?

( )  I don't understand how I'm supposed to fill out this customer satisfaction survey. It doesn't let me enter anything. Am I supposed to print it out and mail it to you or something?



2. What kind of posts would you like to see more of here on clerkmanifesto?


( )  Anything where I can get more points!

( ) Anything is fine. All of your blog posts are equally nice.

( )  Excuse me. I am looking for the Google website? Do I go right or left from here?



3. What stops you from demanding that everyone you know read clerkmanifesto?


( )  I mean, I like clerkmanifesto. Really I do. I just don't think other people, anywhere, would, you know, get it.

( )  Hey! Some credit here! I recommend it all the time! Or, I mean, I did, until it got all pressury and self promotey! 

( )  I'm planning on doing this soon but want to build stronger relationships with everyone I know first so I have more leverage.



4. What improvements would you like to see in the clerkmanifesto customer satisfaction surveys?



( ) I would like to see more options of multiple choice answers during the clerkmanifesto customer satisfaction survey questions.



5. What's your favorite clerkmanifesto post of all time?


( )  Oh, you know, that funny one? About that thing at the library. You remember. Oh my stomach hurt from rofling! So funny! What was it about again?

( )  I'm here by accident and I don't understand anything that's going on. I'm so confused right now.

( )  I really feel that clerkmanifesto is a work in progress. Though I have read all 1,400 of your posts I haven't exactly liked any yet. I read it based more on its potential.



6. Why have you stopped reading clerkmanifesto?



( ) Um. I'm right here. Hello?

( ) I was briefly "Off-planet", if you know what I mean? But I'm touched you noticed I was gone and devoted an entire question to me!

( )  I don't know, when you don't talk about Grape much my attention starts to wander.

( )  I hate to have to say it, but I guess it's because it sometimes feels like you're starting to repeat yourself here.

( )  I hate to have to say it, but I guess it's because it sometimes feels like you're starting to repeat yourself here.

( ) I don't know. I really like it, usually, but then there's a joke like the "repeating" one, above, and I feel like I just need a little break. So tired. So very tired.

( )  Um, because the day's post is over?

















Thursday, August 22, 2019

August 13, 2013


Fly and Me
8-13-13



The lake house my wife and I are at is perfect. This may not be the nicest thing to tell you. It lacks grit and reality for any reader and changes even the least boastful of all writers (which I already severely lack any claim to) into a bit of a braggart. But I cannot tell you this tale without starting here. It is perfect here. And perfection, personal and eternal though it may be, also somehow only exists in bookends, in the niggling bits of imperfection that obsessively sketch its borders. This is about a small imperfection looming large and the restoration of harmony.

We are much in and out here, onto the balcony, testing the air, down to our great lake, in and out through sturdy wood doors made, like our walls here, mostly of glass. Outside there are sometimes many bugs, and I have perhaps enough mosquito bites to satisfy those readers bored with my claims of perfection. Sometimes we are chased inside or just choose to come inside and someone slips in with us. A moth is not so great a problem, and I have caught one in a glass and taken it out. A mosquito or two is a misery, but it is not hard to get lucky with a stray swat, and, if not, ten minutes of concerted hunting will always do the trick. A fly though, a fast, uncanny, smart fly can be a small torture of surprising persistence and near unsolvability. Last night such a fly slipped into our house.

This fly was a genius and a miracle of speed, a master of irritation. It began its visits at dawn, buzzing loudly about our heads, landing on our skin, circling, racing, always patternless and endlessly interested in our company. For reasons of its own it would disappear until the exact point where my spirit would start to calm, and then it would return. All through the morning hours I'd engage in long, futile hunting expeditions with a rolled up magazine. I'd wait for it, through long tracking operations, to land some place whackable, and I'd whack. There'd usually be a slight injury to my hand, a loud noise, and a curious sense of missed opportunity, curious because one wonders what opportunity I was missing when I was not getting within the realm of distant hope of even coming near this fly.

I wanted to kill this fly very much.

I was not going to kill this fly.

The morning advanced and the fly only grew faster and louder and smarter.

I so wanted to kill this fly.

I won't draw this all out with all the long tales of all the ridiculous things whacked and flung with all the comedy of something so utterly without effect. But it was all there. Know that it was there.

I was in the kitchen. The fly landed on the counter. My thousandth chance. I swept my hand across the counter, an odd attempt even more futile than most, and the strangest thing happened. I caught the fly. I caught the fly!

I took the fly outside. I threw it out of my hand onto the wide wooden plank of the balcony railing. The fly, unphased, looked up at the sun and clouds and felt the wind.

"It's nice to be outside." It seemed to say.

I breathed in the perfect air that smells of pines and almost of the sea. I was calm for the first time in five hours.

"Yes it is." I seemed to say. "Yes it is."






Saturday, June 15, 2019

August 13, 2013


August 13, 2013 

Fly and Me




The lake house my wife and I are at is perfect. This may not be the nicest thing to tell you. It lacks grit and reality for any reader and changes even the least boastful of all writers (which I already severely lack any claim to) into a bit of a braggart. But I cannot tell you this tale without starting here. It is perfect here. And perfection, personal and eternal though it may be, also somehow only exists in bookends, in the niggling bits of imperfection that obsessively sketch its borders. This is about a small imperfection looming large and the restoration of harmony.

We are much in and out here, onto the balcony, testing the air, down to our great lake, in and out through sturdy wood doors made, like our walls here, mostly of glass. Outside there are sometimes many bugs, and I have perhaps enough mosquito bites to satisfy those readers bored with my claims of perfection. Sometimes we are chased inside or just choose to come inside and someone slips in with us. A moth is not so great a problem, and I have caught one in a glass and taken it out. A mosquito or two is a misery, but it is not hard to get lucky with a stray swat, and, if not, ten minutes of concerted hunting will always do the trick. A fly though, a fast, uncanny, smart fly can be a small torture of surprising persistence and near unsolvability. Last night such a fly slipped into our house.

This fly was a genius and a miracle of speed, a master of irritation. It began its visits at dawn, buzzing loudly about our heads, landing on our skin, circling, racing, always patternless and endlessly interested in our company. For reasons of its own it would disappear until the exact point where my spirit would start to calm, and then it would return. All through the morning hours I'd engage in long, futile hunting expeditions with a rolled up magazine. I'd wait for it, through long tracking operations, to land some place whackable, and I'd whack. There'd usually be a slight injury to my hand, a loud noise, and a curious sense of missed opportunity, curious because one wonders what opportunity I was missing when I was not getting within the realm of distant hope of even coming near this fly.

I wanted to kill this fly very much.

I was not going to kill this fly.

The morning advanced and the fly only grew faster and louder and smarter.

I so wanted to kill this fly.

I won't draw this all out with all the long tales of all the ridiculous things whacked and flung with all the comedy of something so utterly without effect. But it was all there. Know that it was there.

I was in the kitchen. The fly landed on the counter. My thousandth chance. I swept my hand across the counter, an odd attempt even more futile than most, and the strangest thing happened. I caught the fly. I caught the fly!

I took the fly outside. I threw it out of my hand onto the wide wooden plank of the balcony railing. The fly, unphased, looked up at the sun and clouds and felt the wind.

"It's nice to be outside." It seemed to say.

I breathed in the perfect air that smells of pines and almost of the sea. I was calm for the first time in five hours.

"Yes it is." I seemed to say. "Yes it is."






Tuesday, June 4, 2019

February 2, 2019





There comes a time in every blogger's life where, under the imperative of writing a daily post, they must sit down to write not knowing what they're going to say. There is a time in every writer's life where they have no plan.

This is my 473rd time for that personally.

So you are in experienced hands.

But what if you want to know how it all works? What if you are, perhaps, a blogger yourself? Or maybe you dabble in one of the lesser writing forms? What if you saw the title of this post (which I am going to make up just now): "100 Things to Do If You Don't Know What to Write" and you want to learn the techniques I am employing to dazzling effect at this very moment?

Well, worry not. I present to you:



100 Things to Do If You Don't Know What to Write



1. Go big. 

Promise the stars. It gives you something to shoot for. You can always, on the off chance it becomes necessary, adjust things in the accounting later.



93. Just start writing. 

It's not like we don't speak until we have something to say. We almost all have nothing to say. We merely say it and then pretend like we meant to do that all along.



94. Take inspiration from your immediate surroundings. 

Like there's a computer in front of me with a half written "humor" piece called "100 Things to Do If You Don't Know What to Write". So I'm writing about that.



95. Never give up on y





96. Don't be afraid to rethink things.

Trust your first instincts and stick with them.



97. Whoa, I am getting so dizzy.

But this brings up an essential point; the reason we write is to create a tiny Universe in which we are gods. Try to have fun with it. Like the work of all gods it's all going to contradict and end in disaster anyway.



98. Random anything just words cheese Thursday keep going blue light horizon.

There is nearly always time to clarify and refine in the editing process.




99. Throw in a quote by someone famous to inspire yourself and your readers.


"Il n'est pas de plaisir plus doux que de surprendre un homme en lui donnant plus qu'il n'espere."



100. Never underestimate your audience.

I, for instance, would not even think of doubting your ability to read French!



101. But hedge your bets.

After all, as Baudelaire once said: "There is no sweeter pleasure than to surprise a person by giving them more than they hope for."









Sunday, February 24, 2019

August 29, 2014

Occasionally it occurs to me that not everyone is inured to the detailed workings of libraries. There are people out there, even ones who read my missives, who have not spent 20 years deep in the minutiae of library life, philosophy, politics, and operations. Whereas Jason Bourne may size up hundreds of details of risk in just the moment of entering a room, so I can walk into a library and sum up its collection, staff, and procedural limitations in mere seconds. Even not in a library I can give a nearly instantaneous general accounting of the reading materials in any room I'm in or have recently have been in just as Bourne can tell you where a gun is most likely to be hidden.

Because of this it can at times be difficult for me to imagine the confusion that people face in their encounters with libraries. Culturally, we the people are most acquainted with commercial institutions. We know what it means to be lured and sold to. We understand the spaces related to that. We also have an acquaintance with mystifying, machine like bureaucracies that insist on our participation and resent us at the same time. We even have a fair amount of peculiar overlap between the two. But the library is an unfamiliar creature to us. 

The library is a nearly imaginary glimpse of a reality in which we, collectively, as people, are not assholes.

Yes, that is a pungent way of putting it, but the collective endeavors of humanity, while presenting some amazing and much vaunted exceptions, are probably best described by the word "sick". I don't mean "sick" in the contemporary slang sense of "Wow, that nollie 360 heelflip was sick!", but more in the conventional usage of "Wait, they were put to death for skateboarding? But that's sick!" We the people hold within us the power to make a paradise, a wonderland, a garden. But unfortunately we have found thumbscrews irresistible and it's all sort of run away with us. 

But there stands the library, maybe a million of them in the world, like something from a really lovely passage in an Ursula K. LeGuin novel where you think "What a beautiful idea. If only something like that really existed in the world." Well, this one does, but it is so sweet hearted and visionary and better than us that it can be a trifle difficult to navigate. Plus it is entirely run by people who mostly live in that culture of marketing and bureaucracy and so perches precariously on the edge of them, ever in danger, ever compromising, ever trying to hang on.

Your library is real so it looks like the world. It is just another building, another government entitlement, a hard coded symbol of human culture. It is just a place in your city. It is not so fancy, or beautiful, usually. A lot of these books smell. Some of the workers there are friendly. Some are not. The library may or may not have what you wanted today. It might be noisy. It might be closed. It might let you down.

So it may be hard for you to see what is at hand when you go to a library. But I am a student of them, and I am here to tell you.

When you walk into the library, any open, free library, anywhere on earth, on any day at all, you walk into a miracle.