Archive for July 2009

A Poetic Interlude

July 31, 2009

For those of you that can’t relate to Twilight (or understand my obsession –I can’t either), I’m posting aVillanelle.  This was written as part of a writing exercise over the phone with my dear writing buddy.  (See Blocking Writer’s Block  – Part II), and when I was lucky enough to be in a quiet woodsy place where I could walk while jotting.

Swimming in Summer

Our palms grew pale as paws in northern climes
as water soaked right through our outer skin.
In summers past, how brightly water shines,

its surface sparked by countless solar mimes,
an aurora only fragmented by limb.
Our palms grew pale as paws in northern climes

as we played hide and seek with sunken dimes,
diving beneath the waves of echoed din;
in summers past, how brightly water shines.

My mother sat at poolside with the Times’
Sunday magazine; I swam by her shin,
my palms as pale as paws in northern climes,

sculpting her ivory leg, the only signs
of life the hair strands barely there, so prim
in summers past.  How brightly water shines

in that lost pool; and all that filled our minds
frozen now, the glimmer petrified within
palms grown pale as paws in northern climes.
In summers past, how brightly water shines.

Copyright 2008, Karin Gustafson, All rights reserved.

Check out 1 Mississippi on Amazon:

A Twilight Interlude, Rachel LeFevre-Round Peg in Star-shaped Hole

July 31, 2009

For those of you interested in my posts re writer’s block–sorry.  I’m temporarily distracted by the news that Rachel LeFevre is being replaced as the vampire Victoria in the upcoming Eclipse movie, third of the Twilight Series, and just can’t resist.

I’m sorry, Rachel, but it’s a smart casting move.

You are too womanly for Victoria; too rounded, too soft.  Your breasts are full, your hips are present, your nose is rounded, even your forehead is noticeably convex, you are one curvy dame.  I don’t mean this as a criticism; you have a figure to be envied.  But these are teen books in which narrowness prevails.  Besides, the whole idea is that vampires are stone, hard, streamlined; their bodies weapons; their faces aquiline.

Victoria’s supposed to menacing, to almost kill Edward (Whoa!) but you, Rachel, have the smile of a character actor, someone  who would only kill with poison, or maybe, if the victim were drunk,  a blunt instrument to the back of the head.

You smile is too self-deprecating to be as singleminded as the Victoria in the book, an old Hollywood-style villain, almost cartoonish in her all out commitment to vengeance.  (To get to Edward’s beloved, she forges an army of new-born vamps who come rampaging from Seattle, refusing to be satisfied by anything Starbuck.) 

Hollywood.  That was the magic word in that last paragraph.   Which is the final problem here.  Hollywood personifications are generally to be way hotter than the characters in books.  (See, e.g., Emma Watson as Hermione Grainger, Anne Hathaway in the Princess Diaries, Meryl Streep as Julia Child.)

But in Stephenie Meyer’s books, the vampire characters out-Hollywood Hollywood.   They already look like movie stars; that, in fact, is one of their primary character traits.   So that now that the films are big budget, Hollywood has to go all out (and, I guess, throw out) just to live up to its name.   The brand name too. 

It doesn’t seem fair, but the fans will love it.


Check out 1 Mississippi at Amazon:

Blocking Writer’s Block – Part II

July 30, 2009

Sorry, but I have to start this Part II of “Blocking Writer’s Block” with a correction to Part I. In Part I, discussing Rule No. 1 – Don’t Care, I suggested that you might tell yourself from the start that what you are writing was stupid.

What I really meant here was to tell yourself that what you are writing is a DRAFT, that it can be stupid, that it doesn’t matter, that you can change it, that you WILL change it.

It’s a draft, right?  So you can throw it away if you want, you can burn it.

But keep in mind that maybe, just maybe, there will be some scraps of this draft that you will want to save.  And, if not–if the draft really is stupid– that it will at least have allowed you to work through some of  the junk clogging your voice, to break down some of the fences in your head. Even if all you unclog or breakdown ends up on the bonfire, this is terrific.

So just do it, get started, don’t care.

Rule No. 3 – Get a friend.

Get a friend. By friend, I mean writing buddy. Not someone you can show your work to.   That kind of friend is great. But the kind of buddy that you need when you are suffering from writer’s block is someone you can actually write with, at the side of or across the table from. Someone who is writing too.

I’m not talking about collaboration here. Collaboration may be nice but it’s an awfully lot of pressure for someone with writer’s block.

I’m talking about company.

Having a writing buddy is a bit like going to the gym or taking an exercise class. If you’re an Olympic swimmer, you can probably jump into an absolutely deserted pool, and swim three hours without stop. But if you’re tired, grumpy, out of shape (and as a writer, possibly fearful), it’s useful to be with someone going through the same travail. Energy is contagious; companionship can replace discipline; even the feeling that you are performing (which comes simply by doing something in front of someone else) can be a useful goad.

Choose someone you trust, or that you can learn to trust. Because the second part of writing with a buddy is reading aloud what you have written. (I will write more about reading aloud another time, but only will say now that this technique is again derived from Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones.)

Arrange to meet with your buddy regularly if you can. If you can’t meet, set a time when you and your buddy can write over the phone. This means that you call up your buddy, set a time limit and topic, then hang up the phone and you both start writing until one of you calls back. (Remote companionship is better than none.)

Be friends with your buddy, but limit the small talk;  socializing can eat up limited writing time, and the urge to procrastinate is great. If you have something to say, write it down. (Then, as we’ll discuss later, read it aloud.)

Rule No. 4 – Cultivate Solitude.

It’s useful to have a writing buddy. But writing is an inherently solitary process. When you are writing, it’s just you and the words, just you and the page or the computer screen, just you.

Learn to enjoy that solitude, even to crave it. Find company in your words, your page, your screen.

It helps to be quiet. (This is a rule I need to practice a lot more.) Try not to talk through every story or emotion in your telephone calls—save some of your voice for your work.

Don’t mindlessly turn on the radio or the t.v.; don’t mindlessly speed-dial or text. It’s so easy in the modern world to be addicted to constant stimulation; give it a rest.

Even pull yourself away from friends and relatives sometimes.  Loved ones, as much as they love you, will rarely say, ‘hey why don’t you take time for yourself to  write?’   You have to be the one to pull away.  (And you won’t always want to.)

Still, if you want to write, if you want to break through a block, it is something you may need to work on.

The advantage of quiet for the writer  is that it gives you something to fill up, a fresh blank page.

If the blank page is just too stark, write in a public place—a café, a library, a subway car, a park. Your surroundings can be your subject matter.

But, even in this public space, work hard to keep some quiet in your head, to maintain some loneness, the “you ” that is separate from the place, looking out.  Meaning be friendly to others, but if you’re there to write, write.  Meaning don’t think about the dirty laundry, that call you need to make, that other homework you haven’t yet done.  Those are uninvited guests, pests; kick them out.

The words that are trying to come out of your hands need quiet to be written.   At first, these are often very shy words.

To be continued….

P.S.  Check out 1 Mississippi by Karin Gustafson on Amazon:

Writer’s Block (How To Overcome It) – A Series

July 29, 2009

Okay, I’ll stop.  No more writing about Robert Pattinson.  (For now anyway.)   Let’s turn to writing itself.  Writing and writer’s block.

First admission:  What I know about is getting something down on paper, or, if you prefer the computer screen.  So this post is not about writing for commercial success.  Though I’d like to know more about that, this is simply about writing.

Second admission:  I rarely personally suffer from writer’s block.  I suffer from writer’s foot-in-mouth disease, writer’s tinnitus (an ailment whose symptoms are manifest by a ringing in the reader’s ears), and increasingly both writer’s dementia (meaning that I write about crazy subjects like Robert Pattinson), and writer’s senility, meaning that I frequently simply mistype or live out words (like “live” instead of “leave”).

But I somehow avoid writer’s block.  I like to think that this is because of my lifelong attempt to follow the rules set down here.  I hope they will be useful to you too.

Before putting down a couple of these rules, I also want to give credit to Natalie Goldberg, author of  the wonderful Writing Down the Bones, who has been an inspiration for many years and founded many of these techniques (or versions of them).

Rule Number One:  Don’t Care.

Don’t care so much. Tell yourself from the start that your writing will be stupid, the story will be boring, the paper will be ridiculous.  Don’t even care if all you can write is, “I have nothing to say, I’m an idiot.”  So what?  There are many idiots in the world.   Don’t worry about it.  Just make yourself sit down and start.

If you’re having trouble not caring (and trouble starting), a pen and paper may be better helpmates than a computer.  There’s a flow of hand and pen which can produce a genuinely pleasant sensation, like swallowing a cool drink.  More importantly, most people have a fairly hard time reading their own handwriting (a definite assist on a first draft.)  The computer, in contrast, flashes extremely legible words back at you as you go.  It’s worse than a mirror; it can make you cringe before you even complete your image.

The computer can also be hard for the resistant because it allows for such easy escape.   Most composition books have no internet connection.

If you can’t write smoothly by hand, and you must write on the computer, and you get paralyzed there, then train your eyes to look away.   Stare into space, a wall.  Only check the screen often enough to make sure you haven’t gotten onto the wrong keys.  Frankly, even a few sentences of gobbledygook may be better than hours of paralysis.   (Remember this is only for those with writer’s block–if you don’t have it, look at the screen!)

If you are lucky enough to feel comfortable with pen in hand, go for one that can gather momentum—a roller, a fine-tipped felt, a fountain pen.   Cheap ballpoints can be as bad as rubber soles on concrete, sticking and tripping you up.

Once you get started, don’t stop to re-read until you reach a clear breaking point, perhaps set by a timer in advance.  Don’t cross out, don’t correct.  Don’t care.

(Not until the second draft anyway.)

Rule Number Two:  Care.

Care.  Think that your work is worth doing, think that you are worth the doing of it.

If you have an idea, care enough to stop whatever else you are doing and sit there with your pen and paper or your fingers and keyboard and write it down.  Care enough to write when you are walking, eating, on the train.  (Care enough to be impolite if you must.  Tell your kids to turn off the music or t.v.   Shut the door.)

If you don’t have an idea, care enough to turn off the t.v. yourself.  Remove yourself from the internet.  Care enough to stay at home on a beautiful day or even a work day or even a Saturday night if you are working or feel like you might.

If you’re stuck,  take a walk,  let your mind take a walk too.  Care enough to carry a composition book, even though you tell yourself you probably won’t need it, so that if an idea does come, you can write while you walk (being impolite if necessary).

Think:  if not now, when?  As I heard outside a garage in Greenwich Village one Saturday night:  “come on.  Life’s too short to enjoy it.”

To be continued.

PS:  Check out 1 Mississippi on Amazon, counting book with numbers, elephants and steamboats.

Continuing Response To RPatz Re Edward’s Appeal

July 28, 2009

(This is a continuation of prior post “To Robert Pattinson Re Edward’s Appeal…”   See earlier post especially if unfamiliar with Cullen.)

Okay, there are the looks.  Every page of the Twilight Saga tells us how Edward resembles a a model/greek god/marble statue/angel.  Normally, I might say that Stephenie Meyers might “show” a bit in place of so much “telling”, especially when it comes to the beautiful crooked smile, but Pattinson, as Edward’s personifier, has taken the books a long way in the “showing” direction.

Then there’s the money.  Edward is rich, due in part to investing for 100 years and also to having a sister with precognition of stock market trends.  For someone in my generation (i.e. within memory of Woodstock), this is not the most appealing part of Edward’s character.  The obsession with expensive cars is cloying.  The fact that neither Edward nor anyone in his family ever needs a job for money seems a bit adolescent.  On the other hand, as a mother of college-age children, I found Edward’s  repeated offers to pay Bella’s college tuition to  have a definite cachet.

But what it finally comes down to is the adoration.

He adores her.  She tells us (and she’s the main narrator, our source of truth in the story)  that she is more or less ordinary.  Of course we don’t really believe that.  She’s the main narrator!  And besides she’s the stand-in for each of us.  Still, it’s not like she’s magic, fantastical–at least not that magic, fantastical, i.e. she eats and sleeps and doesn’t transfigure.

And he doesn’t just adore her  “essence”–he adores her smell.

He especially adores the smell of her blood.

The books say nothing on the subject of menstrual cycles (which come to think of it, might have some import in a human-vampire relationship) until the fourth book.   Even then, there’s no blip in the adoration.

When she cries, he tastes a tear.  When she vomits, he soothes her hair from her face.   (She tells him to go away, he says the equivalent of ‘no way’.)  When she really really cries, his well-tailored shirts soak it up.

He holds her all night long, watching her sleep.  (Ah!)  He himself smells incredibly sweet, even after long runs through the forest.  (In my experience, this is somewhat different from the average American male.)

He picks her up; he is always on time (sometimes just barely, but that’s only when she’s in danger and the story is in need of a dramatic interlude.)

He literally picks her up.  He’s strong enough to make any woman feel as light as a feather.

He loves to listen to her talk.  He’s always asking her what she’s thinking.  He really really really wants to know.

And talk about protectiveness.  I have a feeling that’s the big appeal for older women, all those single mothers, or virtually single mothers, or overworked mothers, or mothers with a memory of the Woodstock generation who didn’t think they wanted protection.   He’s devoted to taking care of Bella.  He is contantly trying to save her from accidents, danger, even from his own weaknesses.   He  desperately wants to get married.

She saves him often enough too, a fact he always acknowledges.   (Wow!)

Finally, finally, he has that sweet crooked smile.

So does Pattinson.


If interested, check out counting book, 1 Mississippi, on Amazon, counting book with elephants in gouache.

To Robert Pattinson re Edward’s Appeal to Women

July 28, 2009

Robert Pattinson says that he doesn’t understand Edward Cullen’s appeal to women:  “if Edward wasn’t a fictional character and you met him in reality, he is like one of those guys who would probably be an axe murderer or something.”

Edward Cullen, in case you don’t know, is the hero of the enormously popular Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer; the vampire who falls in love with a human girl, Bella, whose scent holds a unique and nearly irresistible attraction for him.

By strange happenstance,  Edward also holds a unique and nearly irresistible attraction for Bella.  Bella , and about a zillion other women, who, since the publication of the series have gone gaga.   Though a fictional character, the web is full of Edward Cullen  fan clubs.  Pattinson, a human stand-in for Cullen, is mobbed in the streets.

I have to admit that I am one of Edward’s admirers, though I try, given my age and education level, to keep it a secret.

Still, I very much understand Pattinson’s confusion.  There is a lot about Edward that really should not be likeable.

First, although Edward and his family aspire a lifestyle of  vampire vegetarianism in the books (i.e. they don’t  regularly suck the blood of humans), Edward admits to a past of vigilantism.  He tells us he spent at least  ten years cutting down (and drinking the blood of) assorted assailants who, but for him, would have assaulted otherwise defenseless women in dark alleys and elsewhere.

(Sorry, Rob, but women sort of like that kind of thing.)

Secondly, Edward has a self-confessed problem with his temper, a potential for murderous rage.  (But hey, it’s self-confessed.  And in Edward’s defense, he always controls the rages.  Also, they are directed at people, usually men, who are either insulting, threatening, attacking, or otherwise laying an unwarranted claim to, his girl.)

Third, he regularly drives over 100 miles an hour.  (But has never had an accident.)

Fourth, he lies frequently (but in an almost dutiful way, striving to either a. protect his girl again, or b. protect his family.)

Fifth, he’s more than a bit of a stalker.  Which is creepy.   But again, there’s the protecting the girl thing going on.  Oh yes, and the adoration thing.  (More on this later.)  And, even as he stalks, the reader always has the feeling that he would go away if Bela wanted him too (which she wouldn’t.)   (Or at least he’d stay out of sight.)

He’s kind of a control freak too.  (Though he backs off on that one in Book 3.)  And did I mention the protecting his girl bit? And the adoration thing.

The two negative behaviors which are not really justified in the books are, first, an occasional prissiness.   But hey,  Stephanie Meyer’s a morman.  And besides that, Edward’s human instincts (that is, his sex drive) have been buried for eighty years by his blood drive.  It takes a while for lust to triumph over blood lust.   (Nearly three books.)  And, oh yes, did I mention the protective thing? And the adoration?

The second fault is more serious.  This is Edward’s…passivity, the way he and the other Cullens allow various non-vegetarian vampires to suck their way through nearby humans without much of an attempt to rein them in (except when they are threatening Edward’s girl Bella).  To their defense, there’s only so much they can do, right?   But, at the same time, they do seem a bit uncaring, standing by in discomfort, but not true suffering, for example, as a large group of tourists is devoured (okay they’re tourists.)

In other words, Edward is no super hero charging around saving the world.  To be fair, he warns Bella of that  in Book I.  Sort of:   “what if I’m not a super hero?  What if I’m the bad guy?’

But when someone with Edward’s/Robert Pattinson’s eyes, lips, bone structure, HAIR, asks a question like that, what can Bella, the viewer, and the reader possibly say?


To be continued.

P.S.  Please check out 1 Mississippi at Amazon, counting book for kids and elephants:

If you’ve seen the book, and like it, please review!

Five Dangers of Being Purposeful

July 27, 2009
  1. You find yourself balancing on one leg (the weaker one) while waiting for the train.  You are hoping to improve your balance, strengthen your ankle, tighten the musculature on that leg.  You experiment with the raised leg touching your body, then not touching your body, then held a bit in front of your body, then to the side and to the back.  You carefully do not meet the glance of other riders but focus on a fixed point (a stain on a wall).  You vow to do this every time you wait for a train.
  2. You become very impatient with those (a husband) who need more sleep than you.  If he (the husband) complains that the two of you went to bed at 1 a.m. and it is now just 6:30, you tell him that the only way he’ll get to bed at a reasonable hour is to get up earlier.  Then, determined to be sympathetic (it’s part of being a “nice” person), you tell him, fine, go back to sleep, but you continue to talk to him the whole time you are drinking your bed tea.
  3. When you get bored at the office, you check the stock market, telling yourself that this is somehow puts you in sync with the world of commerce, though it only leaves you depressed and confused, both about the stocks you’ve bought and the stocks you did not buy, the stocks you’ve sold and the ones you did not sell.   
  4. Depressed and confused, you begin, in your breaks from work, to check up on Robert Pattinson instead of stocks.  You justify this on the grounds that you are planning to write a novel based on how the paparazzi are harassing him.  This gives you license to go to all the paparazzi websites, calling it “research”. 
  5. You increasingly talk on the phone when you walk or stare down into your blackberry.  You tell yourself that this is multi-tasking, killing two birds with one stone.  You try not to think about the fact that while you are talking or looking at your blackberry, you do not see either birds or stones. 

Cedric Diggory

July 27, 2009

Daughter persuades me to watch 4th Harry Potter (Harry and the Goblet of Fire). I have not thought of myself as a big fan of the Harry Potter movies. I haven’t seen the last couple, but the problem is that I like the books too much to be fully open to the movies.  The actors are great, the scenery is good, but the films gallop through the stories, and except for the long-winded action scenes, have, in the past, left me feeling shortchanged in the complexity department.  In the first two movies also, I worried that there were fundamental shifts of moral viewpoint as well.  Harry’s aggresive stance against Quirrell caused endless complaint.  I’m a purist.

But she reminds me who’s in the Fourth, and I say, oh yes, and sit at her side immediately.

And there he is of course,  a younger, smoother-jawed Robert Pattinson as Cedric Diggory–English, noble, with very good posture.

I have to confess I really didn’t pay too much attention to him when I first saw the movie.  I guess at that point there was not the mediating impact of Edward Cullen.

I point out to her repeatedly that he really is a perfectly fine actor, that the roledoesn’t leave too much room for invention, but that he does it perfectly well, meeting its main two requirements, exceptional good looks and likeability.

She agrees with me repeatedly.

We have a very pleasant night.

Tired Now

July 26, 2009
From 1 Mississippi by Karin Gustafson, available at Amazon

From 1 Mississippi by Karin Gustafson, available at Amazon

What Sets Mo And Derek apart

July 26, 2009

Just back from Yankees Game.

Let’s get this straight, I am a Yankees fan but not really a Yankees’ game fan. Before today, I had only been to two professional baseball games in my life, one at age 10, and one about 10 years ago, a Yankees game, on an outing with my office.   The highlight of that game was the ceaseless fun the group made of me because of the carrot sticks, yogurt, and mineral water I had brought for my daughter and me to eat. Oh yes, and focaccia. The rest of my firm ate hot dogs, sipped (not guzzled) beer (they are a fairly straightlaced group) and took  great pleasure in mocking what they viewed as my health food.

Look, I kept insisting in my mock defense (because I suppose I take pride in not eating hot dogs), we have focaccia.  That’s not a health food.

But that only generated more laughter,  foccacia not considered to be in the peanuts and cracker jacks league.

I liked the Yankees okay back then, though really came because it was an office outing.  All that changed in the fall of 2001 when the Yankees saved New York.

It was right after 9/11,  a time when you wanted to stay out of crowds.  I remember having to go to Times Square for example and walking in the street to avoid the busy sidewalk, oncoming traffic seeming safer than to be stuck in any group anywhere.

And there the Yankees were, bringing in full stadiums, managing to make it to the World Series, even though they probably weren’t the best team that year, managing to make the games go to many many innings, giving New York something to be thrilled at, and making it all right again to be part of a large group, in public, here.

Tears slid down my cheeks as I watched them stand at attention, hand over hear, first through the Star Spangled Banner of each game, then God Bless America.    It was a time tears could run down your cheeks over something like that no matter what your feelings about the Vietnam War had been.   (That part of that time was wonderful.)

I fell in love with the Yankees then.  Maybe not enough to watch in-season games in full, but in love nonetheless.  And how could you not love those two?  Yes, there was Paul O’Neill, and Tino Martinez, and Bernie Williams,  and Mike Mussina, and even Roger Clemens (I guess) but you know the ones I mean.

Let’s start with the obvious.  Derek.  We all cheered for him today.    No. 2.   I was amazed to see on the screen that he is  6’3″ because he looks, from a distance, like a much more compact person.   Almost like a dancer, in the close fit of arms and legs and torso;  there is little lankiness from a distance.  And he actually looks really good in the Yankees’ uniform; there is no slouch around the legs and chest; he looks fit, springy, and somehow (though this may be my bias) sweet.  (My daughter asks me how I can know that, but I insist that it’s true.)

And then there’s Mariano.   The whole field sighed in devotion, awe,  as he ran out from the bull pen.  It was like the savior was here, papa’s home, the doctor’s arrived, it’s stopped raining; any phrase that means “everything will be okay.”    He reminds me of a jaguar, also Panamanian.   His face has that kind of taut beauty.  Then too, there ‘s the refinement of movement;  even when he walks, he kind of slinks.  Though always upright, perfect straight.   There is a kind of humility even in his walk.  (My daughter again is not sure of that, but I am.)

The other pitchers kept missing Jorge when they were warming up.  I don’t mean to diminish them, pitching looks impossible to me.  But Jorge Posada is someone who seems able to catch everything.

Mariano just threw right to him every time.  The pitch as focused as his delivery, his face, his aura, and, of course, the crowd around him.

His uniform looks great on him too.

Yes, I suppose they get paid a lot.

And I have to confess I find a lot of the game a little boring and hot.  There are so many stretches of waiting;  what breaks them often happens so fast I half miss it.

But when Derek  jumps to the catch, it’s hard not to be caught as well.

And when Mariano does anything at all, you just have to watch.

Speaking of watching, watch out for my picture book, 1 Mississippi, now available on Amazon.