Individually Developed Goals
I am a library clerk.
You've never seen me;
I've never checked in your books or
helped you find an encyclopedia* or
directed you to the restroom.
I work behind the scenes in a closed building where all the new material comes in.
The specifics of my job are a long list of small, tedious actions.
The pocket in the back of the book you're reading?
I put that there.
Also, the call number on the spine,
the barcode that connects this book to the bibliographic record,
the sticker that tells you our library system owns the book,
the sticker that tells you what date we purchased the book,
the sticker that tells you the author once spoke here,
the sticker that tells you the author is of a particular ethnicity,
the sticker that tells you that in the distant past we also used this sticker for reasons now lost to time.
I looked at the book's pages, to be sure none of them were upside down or in Chinese.
(Unless the book you're reading is in Chinese. I do those books, too.)
I don't examine each page individually; I flip through,
like a flip-book
only without the pictures.
That is how small my job is: my flip-books don't have pictures.
I put a plastic jacket on the paper dust jacket and taped it down.
I fed each barcode under the scanner:
once to add it
once to count it
once to change it
once to send it on its way.
I stacked the books neatly, spines facing in, spines facing out.
(When books all face the same way, the stacks become unbalanced and tip over. Trust me, I'm a professional; I know the structural engineering behind book-stacking.)
I put the books into boxes that I've tagged, to send them to the many branches in our system.
I will never be on the cover of a magazine because the call number on the spine of the book you hold is straight and well-aligned.
I will never be given an award for how many books have pockets now that didn't have them before they came to me.
(I have gotten recognition for having worked here more than half my life, but that wasn't an award. Though they did give me a little money.)
I am a tiny cog in a large, important machine.
My small job, made up of small things—a tiny puzzle, a miniscule mosaic—
is the kind of job I prefer,
though it confers the opposite of reflected glory: my job absorbs insignificance.
I don't care much about that,
though more money—enough to live on—would be nice.
Much of my brain cants Irish.
A job that leaves some of my mind free to wander:
writing poetry, or planning dinner,
or having conversations with imaginary people,
or the dead,
is perfect for me.
And important people considering me unimportant is part of my heritage.
I wouldn't do well with them thinking well of me.
I could live happily in my discontent
—with my vague resentment, indulging in the occasional need to rabble-rouse—
if only the important people would content themselves with being important, and doing their important things:
waving from balconies and slow-moving cars;
speaking on stages to other important people;
sitting in spacious offices looking out high windows;
being photographed waving from balconies and slow moving cars and speaking on stages to other important people and sitting in spacious offices looking out high windows.
But they don't do that—content themselves, I mean.
They insist on helping me rise above my small job.
I must grow!
Become an important person!
(Though never, ever as important as they.)
They try to foist off on me imaginary responsibilities:
I have to Select an Area [of myself] to Develop
and come up with Development Actions,
although I have neither the authority to act autonomously
nor the time.
I have quotas to meet.
I'm busy counting books and moving them from one place to another.
I do not have time to gaze at my navel while wondering if I'm being all I can be.
They have never wanted my entire individual self as-is, why would I assume they want an enhanced me? They want the part of me that does the job. They want the cog.
And yet they require me to take classes I don't need for jobs I don't do,
to evaluate my efforts which they then dismiss as unsatisfactory—and then they complain that I'm not meeting my quota.
Someone took the Beatles too literally:
there are not eight days in a week.
So I make things up.
I smile in enthusiasm so fake it must be real.
I pretend I'm somewhere else, and when they speak, I scribble free-association on scraps of paper that self-immolates with my fury.
I have been here a long, long time, so I know I only have to hold my head above the incoming tide until it recedes.
The Employee Self-Improvement fad will be replaced by an Employees Remembering Their Places craze, followed by a Voluntary Vow of Silence rage.
I know, because I've seen it before.
*A kind of reference book that used to flourish in libraries--and homes--all across the country. This species is on the endangered list.
Everything old is old again.