Monday, November 27, 2017

Proper Care and Handling, April 13, 2017

The following is from last April. I think it may be a kind of joke I like to make and have done so more than once in my various "Dear Publisher" letters. I suppose you are seeing this one here then because this, overwrought and fully committed, is my favorite version. Though perhaps I should add: so far.

Proper Care and Handling

Dear Publisher:

I know that everyday that you receive a manuscript query from an unknown author is an adventure of discovery, and you are keen to tear right into the pages below. But hold your horses! At least, just for a minute or two. You may well enjoy my collection of attached essays as is, but if you'll allow me the unusual opportunity to explain how to read these essays your experience will be vastly richer. Indeed, read properly, you will find these essays revelatory, magnificent, and all that you have sought for in your medium length publishing career. So bear with me.

How do you feel about wine? Many studies have shown that if people, even experts, are told, in a blind tasting, that a particular bottle of wine is expensive they will rate it higher, far higher, than a comparable wine that they are told is not expensive. And if they are told a wine is cheap they will rate that even lower.

No one wants to be a fool, which is why all these tests are a little cruel. But let us accept the psychology: A lovely, fancy, expensive, Chateau Margaux, served sloppily in plastic cups at a neighborhood art opening of no great distinction is not likely to elicit epiphanetic ecstacies from even the most studied palates, whereas a $9 shiraz served with all pomp and hushed tones by a sommelier whispering tales of terroir and black cherry and smokey rose petals likely will. 

But let us, you and I, not throw all our objectivity out the window. Let us reserve some respect for the scrupulous craft of wine making at its highest level. Let us say a gorgeous, meticulously nurtured wine, tasted in convivial mise en scene and with serious respect can, given its fair chance, raise the roof of the soul because of what it is. And a mass produced wine, though capable of bringing joy, can't reach the stars no matter how high and mighty the wine glass.

Which brings me back to my enclosed essays. These are essays that have been thrown to the world of the Internet like dross wine. Essays scattered ridiculously to the wind to find their way. Essays crammed in corked bottles to bob in the ocean forever. Essays plunked unceremoniously on your desk like all manner of unsolicited bulk rate prose. Whether they are the finest of their kind, or merely workmanlike, what chance will they have, and how will we know?

You may be thinking then that I am going to suggest that the way to read my work, to their best effect, is with careful respect, as if something fine and good has been delivered to you, and that with a little care they will bloom in your mind. You may even find that a bit cheeky, and believe that you are better than any wine taster, able to evaluate purely, in any situation. You may think "Let his work scrap it out like any other work. If it is good, I will know."

But no. That is all wrong. I am not asking for paltry half measures anyway. I do not request a quiet, ahead of time respect to let my pieces flourish. If that were all I were asking I would simply trust your judgement.

I am asking you, suggesting, that to get the best experience from reading my pieces, you must decide now, with a razor sharp and impermeable will, that I am a genius and that you will never see the likes of my work again. You must decide that you are in the presence of a once in a lifetime mastery operating at the outer edges of your comprehension.

Then, from there, go look upon my essays. If you see nothing, look deeper. Scour them for their velvety tannins and endless finishes. Hear the voice of God in them, notes of chocolate, and the breath of tall grass in rain. Faced with their obsession with trifles, their preposterous vanity, and their discursive rambling, pick out the thread of holy music lying in wait for true souls and pure seekers. Believe in your heart in their beyond-all-measure worth until the universe's answers are suddenly lying at your feet, shuddering, still live and smoking with the lightning bolt of truth. And if you read them over and over again, certain of their immortal soul, but are unable to divine any magic, do not give in to your doubt. Look deeper, again and again, until, bleary eyed, full of skepticism and hungry for illumination, it all falls into place and you realize this, yes, this absurd fool's work, unacclaimed, almost abandoned by the world, is endowed with an endless brilliance that cuts a swath through the measly face of modern literature as we know it, and finally, in the darkest times, rips the clouds away to reveal, against all the odds, that the night is full of more stars that any of us ever dreamed was possible.

And then at that point, with regret, politely decline to publish them, because, seriously, even I can see how that's hardly likely to attract many readers or sell many books.

Thank you for your time.

With all due respect and appreciation,

F. Calypso

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Clerk Code from May 18, 2013






I just stumbled onto this almost 5 year old piece. I might even clean it up and update it for the main blog, but here it is in it's original form (well, with some updated formatting).







The Clerk Code (1.1)

A code. What fun! Clerks should definitely have a code to guide them, to keep them pure of heart and noble, wise and true, righteous and strong. I thought it would be a great thing to put on my blog so I looked around for someone to write this code. I was thinking it could be done by a really good writer, maybe, but also one with some clerking experience. Of course, naturally, Melville came to mind. Shyness and the vagaries of blogging delayed me, but eventually I wrote him a short, but very polite letter that I'd like to think was quite convincing. Unfortunately when I sought his address I stumbled upon information indicating he had passed on. What a loss! A mere 122 years ago now and I'm kicking myself for being such a procrastinator!

So fine. Fine. I'll give it a spin. All by myself, or, maybe with your help if you have any ideas that you're willing to share. The code doesn't feel like the sort of thing to pop out of one lone blogger all perfect all at once. It's too big and important for that. I am thinking of it being just a tiny bit more Talmudic in nature, or like a Wikipedia article. I'm thinking actually this is more how the ten commandments should have been done.  Maybe I could start here with a rough feel for it, and then just sort of update, add to, and refine it according to inspiration, comment, suggestions, and celestial visions. A work in progress if you will, and then, after a few hundred years of this, when we feel it's all lined up and as ringing true as we can imagine, we'll lock it down. Don't feel like you can't use the clerk code in your workplace right away, just recognize that the code is in more of a beta state, and as you are guided by it, think of yourself more as a field tester than an acolyte, an agent more than an adherent.

The Clerk Code
version 1.1
1. Look down not up.
With the paltry organizational and societal powers of the clerk, we tend to look up the ladder of power and compensation in two detrimental ways. We covet and glorify what those above us have, and we dwell on, understand and ascribe importance to those above us. Our attention fills out these people, makes them more complex and makes their actions have more meaning. We make them more human. Meanwhile those hierarchically below us, offering less danger and less glamour and less possibility of personal advancement, recede from our vision and become clerical things to be dealt with, more like shelving, or emptying a bin. But the only true way to defeat the ignominy of clerkdom is to look down. Struggle to dwell on how you think the way you respond to the shy volunteer will make them feel, rather than, for instance, what your bosses strange greeting to you meant. Think less of the Board's absurd new policy and their reasoning behind it and more of how you can safely transcend and subvert that policy to bring justice and happiness to lowly patrons. I am not saying those above us in power and compensation are less human than those below us, only that the relentless default and encouragement of our society and our problematic nature leads us overwhelmingly to seeing them as more human. Looking down not up is the corrective.

2. Do the job that needs to be done, not the job you are supposed to do, unless you might get in trouble for that.
Being the puppet agent of either an institution or a superior leads only to being a monster. You must fight to remain conscious that your actions and choices are always yours, and even a compromised action should be understood as such and suffered.

3. Find and expand the delightful parts of your job.
Even if the delightful parts of your job are out on the edge of your job, do them. If you love to discuss Vivaldi with a compatible co-worker discuss Vivaldi with them. Prioritize it and do it as safely as possible. Don't treat it as an accident or goofing off just because a boss would be inclined to think it is. 

4. A full time work week is 20 hours a week. 
This is a guess, but anything more is a lie we are told and tell ourselves. We do not (yet) have the power to enforce this directly, but it remains true nonetheless. Therefore you should try to do a really good job half the time. Go for it. See how good a job you can do. Pick good spots, especially ones that will effect your co-workers and the public. The other 20 hours are an extremely complicated free time. Keep it honest.

5. See yourself in your co-workers.

That deadbeat that takes an extra ten minutes for break, that stands there chatting to someone for 15 minutes while you're racing around, that got a cushy assignment for the hour and is, apparently, enjoying it, that leaves you mysteriously alone at the front desk for five minutes with a crowd, that hardly got any shelving or transit processing done because they were running around doing their own things. That person is you too. No, seriously, that person is you too. 

6. Be grateful but not too grateful.
Co-worker Carol used to sometimes say fervently "We are lucky to have these jobs." And she really meant it. And she was right. But she didn't also mean that they were lucky to have us and that we deserved those jobs, which we did. Contrary to what you've heard, the world does owe you a living, because you are you, and you are beautiful.
Okay, that's our start. I know many of my readers are not big commentators, but this is the place, what with it being for the ages and all, so chime in. I'll re-post this periodically whenever we do changes and updates. And don't feel like you have to be a "Clerk" clerk. I've been reading the definition of 'clerk'. Everyone is a clerk sometimes.