Archive for November 2009

Newspeople, Bloggers, Blocking Writer’s Block

November 30, 2009

Yesterday, I wrote a kind of odd post about “Celebrity News” which focused on the addictive quest for celebrity in our culture.  I also discussed the intense craving of some newspeople, particularly TV newspeople, to be people “in the news” as well as people discussing it.

I felt a little guilty writing so dismissively about newspeople’s quest for attention.   It did not escape me that bloggers could be said to suffer from similar cravings.

I can’t speak for all bloggers—I only really know one.   Still, I think the average blogger’s pursuit of attention is somewhat different from that of the average TV newsperson.  First, the newsperson often seems to be embued by grandiosity;  a (perhaps inherent) narcissism has already been gorged by all the staff persons hovering– brushing their hair, checking their noses, patting their tummies—(wait a second, that’s spaniels–)

A blogger, in contrast, tends to be alone when working, either by choice or happenstance.  (The blogger’s family, losing all hope of a dinner at home, has gone out.)   The blogger, unlike the TV newsperson, or any TV persona, receves little coddling; their “stats” are a pretty good ego-toughener.   Moreover, the blogger knows that even the few that do “view” the blog may look for a second at most—the time it takes to realize that a mouthwatering tag like “Robsten” has led to no new gossip and questionable adulation.

As a result, the blogger must garner sustenance from the age-old wisdom of Gandhi, as quoted by that newly-minted sage, Robert Pattinson, in the trailer of his upcoming movie, Remember Me: “Gandhi said that whatever you do in life is insignificant, but it’s very important that you do it.”  (Sorry, but in the downswing from the manic side, I find myself studying this trailer.)

Which brings up what may be the most important difference between the TV newsperson’s motivations and the blogger’s.  The blogger (or at least the only blogger I know) does not crave attention so much as expression.  Yes, the blogger is thrilled when the number of hits rises, but his (her)  most engaging and happy moments, are those spent actually writing, typing, and cursorily editing, each post.  And then, of course, the pressing of the little button that says “Publish,” and the watching of that little button spin.

This is something for those with writer’s block to remember.   Try to get hooked on the process, and not to think too much of the impression that you, as the person engaging in the process, are making.  Of course, you need to keep your audience in mind.  You are trying to communicate.  You want your readers both (i) to be able to follow your work and (ii) to want to follow your work.   But try to keep the focus on the the writing, the message, and not on yourself as its deliverer.  Writing is not about getting your nose powdered, head (or tummy) patted, but about putting the words on the page.

Louis Armstrong- Pure, Not Simple

November 30, 2009

I don’t usually cite videos on this blog, but just saw a wonderful clip of Louis Armstrong from 1933, playing “Dinah” on a Danish sound stage:

I’ve always loved Louis Armstrong.  He seemed to me, when I was a child and he was an old man, to convey pure eye-popping exuberance.  I marveled then that a voice that was so scratchy could also be so good.   Here he is young, energy sparks inside and around him; the syncopation is perfect; his voice is instrument as well as song;  he’s both beat and melody, dancer, conductor, percussionist, singer, trumpeter.   So musically he’s pretty great.  But once more, it’s the exuberance that carries the moment.  And the listener away.

Celebrity News

November 29, 2009

Addiction has long plagued man (and woman).  (Even, as was shown at the Central Park Zoo a few years ago, polar bear.)   There are the standard traps—alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, and, if you are a polar bear, your 9 by 12 artificial arctic pool.   But addiction is not only a by-product of human nature, it’s also a creature of its time.  As a result, there are always new and interesting practices that people can get taken over by—crystal meth, online shopping, computer gaming, non-stop twittering or facebook checking (non-stop “stat” checking if you are a blogger), texting while driving, the 24 hour news cycle.  Even worse than an addiction to the 24-hour news is an addiction to the 24-hour celebrity news cycle;  worse than that, is the intense craving for celebrity status itself–the obsession with achieving fame.

Some addictions are obviously more damaging than others.  I, for example, view an addiction to either (a) Robert Pattinson, or (b) the Twilight books, as relatively benign.  They may be damaging to one’s reputation as a serious and/or thoughtful person, but they  are a relatively cheap indulgence, don’t truly harm others (except, perhaps, a thoroughly bemused spouse), and can even be satisfied in chocolate.  (See e.g. new Twilight assortments with foil wrapped and embedded portraits! )

Both Twilight and Pattinson also have the absolutely most healthy quality an addiction can have, which is that they get pretty boring pretty quickly.  (No offense, Rob; it’s not you so much as the dialogue.)

The addiction to the pursuit of celebrity status is a little more troubling.   Recent examples include Michaele and Tareq Salahi, the couple who crashed last week’s White House State Dinner, and Richard Heene, the father of the “Balloon Boy,”–all people apparently addicted to the pursuit of their fifteen minutes.

What’s more worrisome to me, however, is the Salahish, I mean salacious, pursuit of celebrity by people who once played serious and dignified roles in our culture.   I particularly mean people in the news business, who seem, increasingly, to want also to be people “in the news.”

In the early years of televised news, there was a dignity to the newscaster–Walter Cronkite, Frank McGee, David Brinkly, were TV personalities, but soberly somber.   We all know how this has changed in more recent years.   The reasons are obvious and not new—advertisers want ratings, outrageous and/or boorish commentators, perky blonde reporters, and “news” which is really entertainment (i.e. reality shows, sports, sensational crime shows) apparently achieve them.   Recently, however, the “celebritization” of newspeople on TV has not only become more intense, it has also spread to other sections of the press, which, due to commercial pressures and online versions, have  become increasingly TV-like.  For example, the New York Times now posts photos and videos, and advertises blogs and tweets, of its op-ed writers.  To some degree, this is useful;  you can better understand the overall stance of a commentator, and, if you like, you can read a lot more of them, but sometimes, well, you end up wanting to read a whole lot less.

Politicians increasingly crave “celebrity-style” status as well.  (Yes, Sarah Palin.)  As Colbert has demonstrated through his “Colbert bumps,” it’s better, election-wise, to be known, even if slightly ridiculed.  (Ideally, if apearing on Colbert,  it’s better to be known, and if ridiculed, also good humored.)

I guess people want circuses, even when bread is in short supply.

Grandmothers – Personal Celebrities – Grandmother Poem

November 28, 2009

I realized this afternoon that it was my grandmother’s birthday.  I’d been all set to write about addiction, particularly those addictions related to celebrity (as in the pursuit of particular people,  i.e. Robert Pattinson, and the pursuit of celebrity itself,  i.e. Michaele and  Tareq Salahi.)

And then I remembered that it was November 28th and that one of my grandmothers had been born well over 100 years ago, in a year in which Thanksgiving fell on this day.

This, in my mind, is much more important than celebrity, though related too in a funny way.

Grandmothers are very special people by and large.  I understand that they can be problematic children, spouses, and parents.  But, for many, it seems, the mantle of “grandmother” works a wand-like magic that enables them to be their very best selves for very long stretches of time.  In that sense, they can be a household celebrity, at least to their young grandchildren;  those same young grandchildren have their own experience of celebrity in the unconditional specialness they are accorded by their grandmothers.  Pretty terrific.

All that said, I’ve always felt that my grandmother was particularly special, and probably her best self her whole life.  Here’s an (illustrated) poem about a day spent with her.  The drawing bears no resemblance (!), but I’m much better drawing elephants than people.

Fishing With My Grandmother (Done With Elephants)

The Time My Grandma Took Me Fishing

Reeds split for our crouch;
she parted her lap around me,
mosquito in ear, white curls
bristling my face.  Our hands laced the green
rod—it was a stick, only truly green
on the inside, like the bubble
of high grass, low crik, thick
with summer.  Safety pin
for a hook;  even she
seemed surprised when the stick jarred,
jerked the thread across the
murk, though she quickly pulled it through
my loosening grip. Both amazed as
a silver disc flashed,  shiny as
the newly bought, through
our homemade afternoon; in the bucket,
an occasional swish of rainbow
that you could only catch
if you really looked.

All rights reserved, Karin Gustafson.

(For spelling purists, “crik” should be spelled “creek”, I know.   I chose this spelling so that non-Midwestern, or Southern, readers would know how to pronounce it!)

“Black Friday” Bizarreness – Perfectionism Poem

November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving passed kind of magically.  (It helps to have daughters who cook amazingly well, and your end of the table colonized by several teatotallers and a random bottle of champagne.)

So now it’s “Black Friday.”   Mad shopping before the next day dawns.  (Isn’t Thanksgiving a time to feel blessed with what we already have?  Can’t we continue to feel blessed through a whole disgestion cycle?)

As awful as the concept is, the name is even worse:  “Black Friday” connotes (i) a Stock Market Crash, (ii) a Stock Market Crash, (iii) a Stock Market Crash.  (Also,  maybe, Crazy Eddy cavorting with scythe and death mask.)

I hate to say it, but a “successful” Black Friday feels almost as bad to me as a dismal one.  I’m all for an improved economy (and I understand that it will take a long time before our economy is not dependent on rampant consumerism), but when I read the numbers, I can’t help but thinking of trees cut down, mountains mined, oceans warmed, sweatshops sweated in; children even more cut off from non-gadget, non-plastic, forms of play; and huge, huge, garbage dumps.

I’ve always had a conflict with Christmas shopping—my sense of duty to the environment and to my children’s character (and tuition payments), coupled with the imprint of my mother, a daughter of the Great Depression–all  doing pitched battling with (i) what is expected of me in our consumer culture,  (ii) what I’d genuinely like to give, and (iii) a need to do things right, to please people, to be loved.

More on this in future posts.  In the meantime, shopping, plus Thanksgiving, plus autumnal re-thinking of life in general, brings up that age-old issue of perfectionism, and… a poem:

The Perfectionist’s Heart

The perfectionist’s heart is more than smart,
a nest of what went wrong long ago,
a litany rewritten, how we explain ourselves,
the embroidery of ‘if only’, a thread
tracking a trail as it tries to find a past
that will make this present a present, the lining silver,
turning randomness and chance to steps along a path,
a math that will equal all sides up, proof
that we have lived our lives correctly,
that for the certain values given, we came up with
the only possible solution,
and that possible means best.

All rights reserved, Karin Gustafson.

P.S.  – Speaking of consumerism:  if you are doing Christmas shopping for young childen, check out 1 Mississippi on Amazon.  I’m hoping to have my own website set up soon for discounted sales.  If you are interested in the meantime in a discount, feel free to write me at  (Sorry!)

Elephant-Dog Thanksgiving

November 26, 2009

You can't please everyone.

Or maybe you can.

Happy Thanksgiving!

For more on Thanksgiving (and pleasing), check out “Is That Gravy Hot Enough?”  at “Ten Reasons to Be Thankful in 2009” at…ankful-in-2009/.

All rights reserved, Karin Gustafson.

Ten Reasons To Be Thankful In 2009

November 25, 2009

1.  That Robert Pattinson was not in fact hit by a taxi fleeing fans in New York;

2.  and that he exists.

3.  That Lehman Brothers could only fall once;

4.  and that it didn’t happen this year.

5.  That our President (thank God!) has not been the subject of violent attack, despite all the crazy talk.

6.  That we still have a banking system, despite all the crazy talk.

7.  That Captain Sully Sullenberger did not allow his plane to crash into midtown Manhattan, even if the automatic pilot system supposedly could have landed the plane on its own.  (I don’t believe that.)

8.  That Levi Johnston is not our son-in-law.

9.  That Swine Flu has not mutated into a life-threatening epidemic like the 1917 Spanish Flu.

10.  Speaking of the 1917 Spanish Flu, that Edward Cullen didn’t  survive it.   Or did survive it.  Or did whatever he was supposed to have done.

Enjoy your thanks-giving.

And, as always, thank you all for reading.

(If you get a chance, please check out 1 Mississippi by Karin Gustafson at Amazon or on ManicDDaily home page.)

“Is That Gravy Hot Enough?”

November 25, 2009

When I think of my childhood Thanksgivings, I think of heat—the torrid kitchen with its blasts from oven and stove, the shaking of the slightly burned fingers of grown women who, in the heat of the moment, touched a still-baking roll or potato to ascertain “doneness,” the steam shooting up from a skillet, as if from a manhole cover, of boiling celery, onions, and the one or two sticks of real butter that my mother allotted us during the course of the average year.  (Fears of heart disease and ignorance of trans fat made us a strictly margarine family except, oddly, in the case of turkey stuffing.)

I think of the red patches on my Aunt Ginny’s otherwise pale cheeks.  She spent almost every Thanksgiving of my childhood with us and was a real jump-into-the-breach cook.  (An oldest child, she’d take over the kitchen even when there was not a breach.)

I think of my mother’s mounting tension both with the meal and her sister.  (My aunt focused on food; my mom liked things “nice.”)   Even when my aunt was not around to help cook, my mother, at a certain juncture in the meal prep, would lose herself in elaborate table decorations, mixing greenery (autumnal) with an assortment of glassware, figurines, assorted holiday tableware.

But the heat I think of mainly relates to the temperature of the food.  This was a priority for my mother—getting everything on the table while still piping hot, but not yet overcooked; making those of the male persuasion break away from televised football; squeezing people into the jammed-together furniture with some expedition and no accidents; finally, finally, getting my dad to rush though the heartfelt hem-haw of the prayer,  all before the gravy congealed.

Serving food as hot as my mother wanted (which required steam to emanate) was a nearly impossible task, even though she applied herself full bore.  “Is this hot enough?… shouldn’t I reheat that gravy?” were not only standard Thanksgiving repartee but an ongoing source of discord.   (The addition of wine, with its concomitant notion of savoring, would have been useful.)

Part of my mother’s obsession was a kind of perfectionism.  But what made the task so difficult (aside from the football game) was the sheer number of dishes.   A working mother, she felt an intense pressure to prove her ability to accommodate, to please those both present and absent, to perform.

As a result, there were not only sweet potatoes, but mashed (white–she called them Idaho) potatoes.  There was not only cole slaw, but lettuce with two types of gelled aspic—tomato and cranberry.  There was not only turkey stuffing made with dried fruit, but also stuffing made without dried fruit;  not only a roast turkey, also a roast ham; not only gravy but a mustardy rain sauce (for the ham),  not only peas, but broccoli and, depending on who was there, creamed corn or creamed onions; not only gravy but cooked cranberry sauce, canned jellied cranberry, raw cranberry-orange relish and pineapple (for the ham); not only white rolls but pumpernickel, not only dill pickles but sweet gherkins, pickled onions, herring, rye crisps, cheese, sour cream, chives (she’d sometimes throw in some white baked potatoes); not only pumpkin pie, but mince meat pie (sometimes also pecan or apple);  not only whipped cream but cool whip.  Coffee, ginger ale, punch.

With so much pleasing going on, her patience was bound to be short.  I don’t remember that many true arguments, but I do know that you had better tell her, repeatedly, (i) that everything was plenty hot, and (ii) that the question of food heat was a very important one.  (Oh yes, and the turkey hadn’t dried out.)

The stress of the day itself made the day after feel especially blessed—those leftover turkey sandwiches, that now soggy cole slaw, that buttery turkey stuffing, tasted especially good when eaten straight from the fridge.

Happy Thanksgiving!

(PS- Just want to say that as a working mother (or mother, period), I now have a great deal of sympathy for my mom.  I’m not quite sure how she did it all, only know that she did.)


PS- as a working mother, who also tries (i) to prove her ability to (ii) accommodate many, I now have a great deal of sympathy for my mom.  I’m not, in fact, quite sure how she did it all.  (Thank goodness for the aunt!)

Breast Exam Sonnet

November 24, 2009

American women of all ages are likely aware of a recent controversy concerning recommendations for mammograms and breast self-examination.  The new guidelines issued by the United States Preventive Services Task Force suggest that screening techniques are overused, and that testing, even self-examination, should be limited, particularly in women under 50.  The concern is that premature testing causes not only increased anxiety, but also unnecessary, and possibly deleterious, procedures and treatment.

This position runs squarely in the face of the popular view that early detection saves lives.  (It has been especially suspect in the age of health care reform.)

Although many health professionals and cancer organizations have rallied around the old pro-testing guidelines, I, for one, favor the new, since, as a general rule, I tend to avoid all contact with doctors until gangrene is setting in.  (Note to any of my children who may read this blog:  I do not advocate this course of conduct for friends and family.)

The sonnet below effectively undercuts both positions, as its subject character undertakes a cursory breast exam at a hurried moment, thus managing to maintain anxiety while also avoiding effective screening.  (I think it may be something many women manage.)

In the Stairwell

Descending the building’s stairs, she feels her breast,
fumbling beneath her bra to get to skin,
palpating (as they say) but in a mess
of here and there and not all within
the confines of an organized exam.
Silly to do it here, not time or place,
someone else might come, have to move her hand,
and yet fear seems to justify the race,
as if by checking each time it crosses mind,
especially checking fast, she can avoid
ever finding anything of the kind
that should not be found.  And so, devoid
of caution, but full of care nonetheless,
she steps slowly down the stairs, feeling her breast.

All rights reserved.  Karin Gustafson

(My apologies if I’ve posted this poem before; sometimes they get a bit lost in the mix.)

Thankful for No Snakes

November 24, 2009

Doesn't Mind Snakes (From 1 Mississippi, BackStroke Books, Karin Gustafson)

You  know those moments in which your life has exceeded all maximum legal occupancy rates and weights and is crashing straight down some shaft?

Or maybe it’s a question of balance.  In your case, it’s so off, that you’ve long passed the tipping point and are now crashing at the perfect tilt to cause maximum cranial damage.

Or perhaps there’s no direct crash.  Perhaps your life is overflowing to the point that the only way to save the levees is to swallow as much sea water as possible.

As if there weren’t already enough pressure, you suddenly remember an important appointment.  Because it had so completely slipped your mind, this moment of recollection  is fraught with anxiety.  You are certain, at first, that you have already missed the appointment.  In the next moment, you realize, with bare relief, that the important appointment is tomorrow.  But this hardly makes you feel better, because there’s no way that you’ll be ready even by the next day.  The anxiety that had gripped your heart shifts to your stomach.

What is worse is that you are going through this whole litany in the middle of a subway car rather than in one of those classic late-to-school, naked-in-class, day-of-the-test dreams (from which you could conceivably awake.)  

What do you do?    What are your options?

1.  Call in sick and stay home in bed obsessively reading Twilight.

2.  There are many much better books in the world;  call in sick and obsessively read one of those.

3.  Don’t just call in sick, actually get sick.  (This may even get you two or three days off the hook.)

4.  Consider computer games.

5.  Or baking.  If you do bake, make sure to save some treats for your boss.

6.  Stop waiting till 8 or 9 pm for your one glass of wine per day.

7.  Who said you had to stop at one?

8.  Finally, remember the wisdom of Nanny Ogg,  a Discworld persona  created by the incomparable Terry Pratchett.  In Carpe Jugulum, Nanny, a witch, and her colleague, Magrat Garlick, with newborn baby in tow, engage in a hazardous escape from (you guessed it) a vampire takeover which has defeated Granny Weatherwax.  As their rickety coach gets stuck in a flooding rainstorm, the baby’s diaper begins to smell, and Magrat complains of their plight, Nanny offers the comforting thought that their situation could be worse.

“How could it be worse?” Magrat asks incredulously.

“Well,”  Nanny says, “there could be snakes in here with us.”

Be thankful that New York City subway cars, by and large, do not house snakes.

(Sorry, by the way, for paraphrasing Pratchett from memory.   If you don’t know his many many wonderful books, check them out!)

And if you are stressed, long for the soothing of watercolors, don’t mind snakes, and would really really like to learn to count (with elephants), check out 1 Mississippi by Karin Gustafson on Amazon, or at the ManicDDaily homepage.