Friday, March 12, 2021

May 8, 2013: Second Thoughts

I don't usually precede these best of clerkmanifesto posts with any notes or commentary, but a small note is in order here: Six years ago today Terry Pratchett, a very favorite author of mine, died. 

And so I have pulled this one out in small honor to him.

But first this quote from him:

"First Sight and Second Thoughts, that’s what a witch had to rely on: First Sight to see what’s really there, and Second Thoughts to watch the First Thoughts to check that they were thinking right."

Second Thoughts

May 8, 2013

My favorite Terry Pratchett books generally seem to have something to do with the witches. And somewhere in those books, probably Wee Free Men and maybe the other Tiffany Aching books, is Terry Pratchett's idea of Second Thoughts. Poorly put, by me, this has something to do with being able to think about how you think. I have sort of spread this around conceptually in me and taken it to mean something about seeing what I'm doing from a second place and being able to consider it again. I consider this skill, as a clerk, to have generally saved my life.

I could just be a better person. I could be the person who, when he uses the third-to-last slip, goes and gets a new stack because that's automatically, as a decent person, what I do. But I haven't entirely worked out being that person yet. So I use second thoughts.

I see a transit box that is over full of books. It needs a lid and a new, labeled box to go on top, and I think "Who would fill this and just leave it like this? This is not my responsibility." and then I walk away from it. And then I have my second thought. And then I go and get the lid and box. This is not a rare occasion. This happens many times every day. It happens with books abandoned on shelves. It happens with a scrap of litter on the floor. It happens with a bin almost full at the end of the night. It happens with unpleasant patrons contesting their fines rudely, but legitimately. Second thoughts happen when it is my responsibility and they happen when it isn't my responsibility. They don't always cause me to change my course of action, but they tend to make it vastly more likely that I will settle on the better one. They make me consider one more time, maybe take a step out of the heat of things. There is so much heat everywhere.

Without second thoughts I am not terrible.  I am nice to the patrons. I am fair. I am almost industrious enough. I will often be in a mental place where I take care of things, and take care of them thoroughly. But also I fall, and I fall often. I don't want all these boring little tasks, and the world is not very fair. Remember that. It isn't. And there is no one who should have to endure that. But a quiet undercurrent of bitterness is a terribly dangerous friend. And I fall. I fall and I fall again.

My second thoughts are there, to catch me. 

Friday, January 15, 2021

March 3, 2015: Go

From March 3, 2015:


There he is, oh man think of it. What's he live on? He sure doesn't have a job. I think his brother helps him out. He's really into painting so he paints a lot. Most people don't like him. I wouldn't. His personality is abrasive, sullen, argumentative. He doesn't get my jokes. He's passionate, sure, but let me ask you, where do you put that when you just have errands to run around town, when you're getting dressed, or choosing a loaf of bread (he didn't mean to bark like that at the baker's apprentice)? Where do you put all that feeling when you're trying to get a decent nights sleep? Where do you put that when you're lonely. Sometimes... well, the painting and drawing helps, but it works you up too.

He's sure the paintings are good. His brother, who loves him, says so, and he sells paintings. But he doesn't sell his paintings as nobody exactly wants them. Some people really seem to like them though. He has a friend who is a very great, somewhat famous painter. This friend acts as if he likes his paintings, or maybe respects or admires them. But he never says outright.

The thing is he suspects he might be something like the greatest painter who ever lived. That's wrong isn't it? But is it wrong if it's true? He knows he is just like a crazy person when he thinks this: "I am the greatest painter in the world!" What on earth does that mean anyway? "Yeah, I'm the greatest painter in the world, painting today from a crazy house." He's had a breakdown or two. Anyway, isn't it love that matters?  He loves the sunlight. He loves the air and the color and feel of everything. But has this, has what he's doing, ever been done before, by anyone in all the world?

The strange thing is that he actually is the greatest painter who ever lived. At least him, or Caravaggio, or one of a half dozen people out there through history, depending on how you feel about it. The greatest, whatever that means. He doesn't know what it means and neither do you or I. But maybe someone should tell him that he is the greatest of all time anyway, before it's all too much. Before it's too late.

It is all too much. It is too late, by 125 years. At least for one crucial moment something was too much for him. He shot his way out. Was it knowing? Not knowing? "What is all this I made?" It's hard to be alone. Life happens on the street, a million miles under the stars. Nothing is ever a myth or a legend when it's happening. There are no stories on the ground in real time. It's boring, it's slow, it's beautiful, and it breaks your heart.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

January 19, 2016: The Riverview Cafe Saves My Life Again


The Riverview Cafe Saves My Life Again

And the shadows fall and I think I am writing in pure darkness. Who can read anything I write when it is too pitch black in the world to read and when all of light is owned? I grow bitter about the precise ways fame fails to visit me. I imprudently complain about all the people not reading what I write to the very people who are reading what I write. I am faithless. I have worked all my life as an artist, and I have achieved only...


So I go to The Riverview Cafe on Thursday night. And everyone is a genius. Greatness nips at every singer songwriter's heels. How many people do my wife and I hear sing and play? Maybe twenty or thirty. None of them are remunerated, none long remembered, none lionized. No ones ship, or maybe I should say train, since they sing about them so much,  is ever coming in. Oh, all of them are gifted enough. All of them try hard enough. Everyone of them deserved something more. And why not. You may take this as a hard argument against God, or you may take it as the best way to love God, but

Everyone everywhere, through all of time, deserved something more.

Spare me the black tongues of realists. I'll have none of that cold acceptance that passes for pragmatic. "Life's not fair." is the devil's version of "Everyone deserved more." Let's start with that then: Everyone deserved more.

And so everyone playing at The Riverview Cafe deserved more. They deserved to be able to see, to walk again without pain, to be young again, to have someone hear their lovely voice and put them on a great stage and give them so much money they don't have to work in some grinding job. They deserve an old fashioned record contract, love, a fresh start, and more applause than such a modest audience as ours can produce. Sometimes, sitting there, I actually wish I could clap louder. But even though I swear they all deserve it, I don't believe that in those shining moments, on that unglamorous and raggedy stage, any one of them cares. I can't see them caring at all. Sometimes I even look for it, hear it whispering around, but every time I look I find that all of that deserving more dies dead on the stage. No one cares. For two songs a person, ten minutes maximum, no musician, no singer, cares that they deserve more. They have whatever there is to have. Their piece of art.

Oh how I like listening to them. Oh how my heart is restored.

Some of the performers are okay that night, some are completely wonderful. That's the way it goes. Maybe it's just that night, and those who are great will later be merely okay, and someone okay may, in three weeks time, play a song more lovely and touching than I would ever imagine hearing, for free, in such a humble place. And then too they may never play that song again.

Did you know that genius belongs to everyone? 

Genius belongs to everyone. That's what they sing to me, on Thursday night, Open Mike Night, at The Riverview Cafewhen they save my life.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

January 17, 2014: A Book Moves Somewhere and I Know it


A Book Moves Somewhere and I Know it

I have not been getting enough sleep lately. Late at night I go downstairs into my bitterly cold basement, turn on a small electric heater, and wrap a giant faux sheepskin blanket around me. For some reason this makes me feel like Victor Hugo, so, naturally, I write. Blog posts, yes, but I try to make them as good as his poem The Ocean's Song, which is not as high a bar as one might think. And then I go to bed and get six hours of sleep. 

It is a well known scientific fact that I require 11 hours of sleep each night to function properly. So I am spending a lot of time in a strange hallucinatory daze at the library. This daze makes me a less efficient worker, but it also gives me access to strange and heightened clerking abilities. So, though most of what I am capable of at work in this sleep deprived state is, 

1. reading books 

2. leaning on things, and 

3. staring into space, 

I am also at my peak of what I'll call Heightened Library Awareness, or HLA. This is a skill that leads to feats that, from the outside, can look a bit like magic, but really just has to do with the power of the human mind.

I'll explain.

There was a book that I loved when I was younger called The Tracker. It is Tom Brown's story of growing up spending a lot of time in the Pine Barrens, in the woods, and it is about learning about tracking, and the wilderness, from an older Native American teacher. What I am thinking of now is the quote on the back. Tom Brown says:

When somebody moves something in your house, you notice it. When somebody moves something in the woods, I notice it.

Well, when somebody moves something in the library, I notice it.

Tom Brown, in this entertaining book, recounts some amazing abilities. He is able, for example, to observe a few scuffs in the dirt, then a mark on a tree, and perhaps a bit of grass out of place, and from that he can construct a detailed account of the travels of a small bird, one that ends in finding it on, yes, that branch there. 

It is not only what he has learned, but his deep presence and familiarity with the woods.

I am very familiar with this library. I am interested, and I am here a lot. Sometimes I'll hear people discussing books, and a book will come up that I've never read, but nevertheless the cover will appear vividly in my mind, the author, perhaps along with a blurb from the back, and its precise location on the shelves. Sometimes a patron will come to the front desk and say "I just have a quick question." and I will know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what the question is.

But it is only when I am exhausted, with my conscious mind too bleary to put up a fight, that my strongest HLA, heightened library awareness, comes through.

A woman comes to the desk.

"It's in the Board Room." I say. "Go upstairs. Left, and left again."

Not believing I can know the answer to her question before she asks, she asks. "Where is the PACA meeting?"

"It's in the Board Room." I say. "Go upstairs. Left, and left again."

I am walking through the library in a daze, on some vague mission to get a few Mo Willems books from the kid's room, when a man at a computer waves an arm to flag me down. I don't even look. "After you hit print, select "shrink to fit page" on the lower right." I say it not even breaking my shambling stride.

"How did you know that?" The man calls after me. "How did you know that!"

I'm in the back tending the machine, or leaning on the machine, or whatever. A couple co-workers come back because a book that a patron had on a table got "cleaned up" and put onto the machine. No one remembers what the book was. It could be anything in 25 bins. I walk to one bin and pull out a paperback. "What about this one?" They laugh. I am being silly again. "No, no, try this one." I say. Me and my comedy routines. One co-worker heads back to the patron for more information. I stand there in my stupor saying "This one. This one." 

It ends up being that one indeed.

Even writing this my co-worker Dave asks to use the computer for a minute. He needs to put something to mending.

"It's stained." I say. And though you cannot see that until you open the book, it is.

So how do I do this? How do I know all this?

I've seen it all. Over and over. And I am so tired. Too tired to pretend I don't know exactly what's going on in this place just to be polite. I will tell you this though. All of these magic tricks put together are probably not worth being able to get a whole cart of books shelved without staring into space drooling for 45 minutes.

I have got to get some sleep.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

January 16, 2018, Customer Feedback

Customer Feedback, from January 16, 2018

It is time for our annual customer feedback review. If you would be so kind as to fill out this year's Customer Feedback Survey Form we can immediately begin to make the changes to this blog that you have been longing for. Unless you think this blog is already perfect, in which case we won't have to do anything. Which would be nice, because we're really very, very tired.

So tired...

Deeply tired...

Anyway, please do fill out our form:

Clerkmanifesto Customer Feedback Survey, 2018

My number one concern with clerkmanifesto is

A. None. I think it's perfect! Or like, perfect 30 percent of the time.
B. I'm concerned with how tired you are.
C. Ho boy, concern. Plenty of concerns! Pull up a chair. But I mean it in a good way.
D. There must be some mistake. I'm supposed to be here doing the Taco Bell Customer Survey.
E. The narrow and highly particular range of options on your multiple choice surveys.

I read clerkmanifesto

A. Yes.
B. Er, will I still receive a coupon for one of Taco Bell's delicious chimichilangalaquas?
D. Answer "C" is making me uncomfortable.
E. Sorry I'm late. Has the survey started yet?

My favorite part of clerkmanifesto is

A. When you pretend you're joking.
B. "Favorite" is a very strong word in this context.
C. Its profound obscurity.
D. Is this clerkmanifesto? It's kind of cute. Where are the pictures?
E. I'd really rather not be pinned down to a single letter choice answer. Oh, foiled again!

My least favorite part of clerkmanifesto is

A.When the hilarity dies down and I am left sadly and wistfully looking at my computer wondering painfully what it's all about.
B. The free kittens. But not so much the crippled ones. I know that doesn't speak well of me but I must answer honestly.
C. When it awkwardly inserts mentions of its corporate sponsor Taco Bell.
D. When it starts going on about how great it is, even if it totally is great, maybe the most amazing thing ever written for the Internet, a work of towering genius and a shining light in a dark world. It is a masterpiece of beauty, vision, and wisdom, and a gift, truly a gift to humanity like no other. I am ever humbled and inspired by it.
E. Yeah. Same as "D" for me. Or maybe "A", although I thought about "B" too for awhile. What was "E" again?

In conclusion I just really want you to know that

A. A customer feedback survey that is functionally impossible to fill out or submit is hardly likely to be a great font of improvement for your little blog.
B. You are undercharging for clerkmanifesto the blog, but overcharging for your wonderful (but expensive) Clerkmanifesto Tea Cosy.
C. Answer "A" is not a nice person, in case you wondered.
D. Your failure to institute any of my suggestions from your last eleven customer feedback surveys only makes me more optimistic that this one is finally gonna be it!
E. All my favorite answers were "E" up until the last one when, oh, curses! Foiled again!

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

August 2, 2016: Circulation Staff Only

My god! Look at my circulation co-worker over there! Are they shopping for shoes? There's work to be done! Why, when I was over on the phones station it was amazing how hard I worked. I was a blaze of fire! I processed an entire bin of incoming requests in six minutes! A whole cart in six minutes!

Of course, for the other 54 minutes I was, um, shopping for shoes.

And that's really what it comes down to. There is not a one of us at my library who is not, at least occasionally, dissatisfied with the productivity of everyone else. Tempting as outraged superiority can be, mostly this is an impulse to be resisted.

I have consistently found that when we measure the work rate of others we measure it against our own highest possible personal work rate. If I knocked myself out shelving five swollen carts of fiction books seven years ago as flood waters were rising in the library, and I was on a coffee high, that will forever be the standard by which all my co-workers must be measured in every single moment of every working day.

So let me say it again: We measure the work rate of our co-workers by our highest and most perfect work accomplishments, by the rare level of work we perform when we are motivated, engaged, well-treated, happy, lucky, and feeling like it.

Since we can't possibly measure our own work rate against ourselves we must measure it against others. And so we measure it against the worst possible work rate of our co-workers. Sue, for instance, spent an hour socializing and talking about her vacation with half a dozen people. So surely I am allowed to sit here and read this interesting book at my leisure.

We work at a library. Everyone is always allowed to sit and read an interesting book for god's sake! That's the first thing to keep in mind.

But I might also want to keep in mind that after Sue chatted with everyone endlessly about her vacation, she went and cleaned up the entire Children's Room, which was in total chaos, a freaking mess, on a crazy day, and she did it totally alone, while the librarian just sat there!

Fucking librarians.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

March 27, 2017: Ten Questions with Bob Dylan

Ten Questions with Bob Dylan, from March 27, 2017:

Recently Bob Dylan posted a new interview on his website. This is rare enough that the St. Paul daily paper, The Pioneer Press, put news of it on its front page. Minnesota, after decades of stand-offishness, has finally accepted Dylan as its proud own, like F. Scott Fitzgerald or Charles Schultz, two other artistic legends who fled Minnesota for other places. "Bob Dylan Posts Rare Interview on his Website" was the title of the article, or something like that. Even I consider that questionable as front page news, but a new Bob Dylan interview is indeed rare. And don't think I didn't let Bob know it.

"You know, it's one thing when you aren't doing any interviews." I said to Bob over cocktails. "But it's kind of cold that you won't do an interview on my blog when you're happy to do one on your own, already sufficiently popular, website!"

"Oh man." Bob complained.

"The guilt and shame hurts?"

"No, what do they put in this drink? It's making me so weird." Bob said.

"Too much green chartreuse, I think." I replied. "Super pretty though with the absinthe and dry ice."

"Absinthe!" Dylan exclaimed startled. "Are you sure it's not driving me mad?"

"No, no, bunch of myths about absinthe."

"Go ahead. Do yourself an interview. Ten questions." Bob said, magnanimously.

"Wait, let me get out my post-it notes."

                                   Ten Questions with Bob Dylan

Me: What are your favorite blog posts on clerkmanifesto?

Bob: Uh, I like the ones mostly about library policy and procedures, I guess.

Me: Really, what about the ones with you in it?

Bob: The only ones I don't like are the ones with me in it.

Me: But they're really good. They're funny. Plus no one believes they're real anyway.

Bob: Why wouldn't someone believe they're real?

Me: For someone as crusty and knowing as yourself you can suddenly get so disarmingly innocent.

Bob: Bah!

Me: How many questions have we used up so far?

Bob: I think with that one you're at, like, 8 or 9.

Me: Let me check my notes. It's three! It's only three. And you're at one. So it's three to one.

Bob: Okay, my turn. What's your favorite liqueur?

Me: St. Germaine.

Bob: Bartenders ketchup.

Me: I like ketchup. Ketchup is amazing.

Bob: You go.

Me: What do you think of Messi, the greatest soccer player of all time?

Bob: I think you get these fixations. And then you think everyone should have them.

Me: No. He's really that good. Besides, what about you?

Bob: What about me what?

Me: Three more discs coming out of you singing songs from the Great American Songbook, or whatever.

Bob: These are classics. Some of the greatest songs ever written!

Me: They're fine, but around the time I was born, which is a long time ago already, you had single-handedly begun the process of ripping open the soft belly of the Great American Songbook, gutting it, and reinventing what a person can do with a song.

Bob: Really, I did that?

Me: They gave you a Nobel Prize for it.

Bob: Oh yeah, that. (In a smaller voice) I was too busy to go get it. (Bob starts giggling).

I gently teased the remains of his cocktail away from him as he giggled some more. Then I drank it myself. Then I started giggling a bit too. It took a while for us to resume.

Bob: I think that was ten questions. Five each?

Me: Close enough.