Archive for January 2010

Grammys – Live Blogging, Robotic Performers

January 31, 2010

The second time today that I was happy to close my eyes during a musical performance  (see prior post “Eyes Wide Shut”) has been the Grammys!  I have to confess to never before seeing the Grammy awards.  They were turned on in my apartment to see Stephen Colbert, who appeared all too briefly.

Since then, Jennifer Lopez has appeared in a dress empaneled with packing material, Beyonce has impersonated an angry robot, Fergy has been involved with even angrier robots, and tonsils have borne heavy impact.  Dancers have shown a great deal of  self-righteousness and a lot of breast and thigh.  Pink started off in a cut-up beach robe, and ended up in a be-ribboned body suit hanging from the ceiling in.  What was perhaps most amazing about her singing was that she could do it at all while sideways suspended under a sprinkler system.

Popular culture, amazing!  Is it really popular?!

Zac Brown Group won best new artist, and so far have also been the best just regular nice guys.

Oh wait!  Colbert just won one.  I take it all back.

Eyes Wide Shut – A Concert

January 31, 2010

Listening To Music

What a wonderful thing it is to close one eyes and listen to music.  This was made very clear to me this afternoon as I attended a friend’s choral concert in which truly sublime music (Brahms and a combination of folk songs and spirituals from Israel, Japan, the United States and England) was sung sublimely.

There is something innately thrilling about listening to live voices raised in song.  I  have to confess though, that because of my ever-wandering and little-disciplined mind, it is sometimes difficult for me to give myself over to it, to simply listen, without doing more (or rather something else) at the same time.  I am habituated to a certain narrative flow, the storyline of thoughts, worries, busy-ness, which is hard to turn off.

At this concert, however, I was blessed by the company, in the next aisle, of a woman in older middle age, with a pale braid in a loop that stuck out at the back.  She came in late, with several large, full, paper bags, a small black backpack and a heavy coat, which she took off, despite the chill, and laid across the empty seats in front of me.

I have to say that I was a bit suspicious of the woman the moment the coat came off, because she was pretty clearly braless under her grey jump suit.  This, perhaps unfairly, combined with the bags made me wonder for a moment whether she wasn’t homeless, except that the admission for the concert seemed a bit high for someone who only wanted a warm place to sit.

As the Brahms lieder progressed, she quickly unbraided the convex loop of braid, spreading the wavy hair over her shoulders.  She took her jump suit jacket off (yes, she really was braless) —there was some decal on her long-sleeve t-shirt.  It may have been a bird (as in Tweety), or I may only think that it was a bird because one of the Brahms lieder was about a “pretty bird”.  She rustled quietly among the bags and took out a tupperware container of pink yogurt and carefully spooned a few bites into her mouth, then closed it again.  After wiping her lips with her finger, she opened up her little black backpack, rummaged among its array of contents for a tube of skin lotion which she spread over her face.  After she put that tube back, she got another little bottle of lotion, which she rubbed into her hands.   I couldn’t help noticing, as I listened to another darting bit of Brahms, that the hands she rubbed with skin lotion looked well-manicured.

At this point, maybe, actually, some time before this point, I realized that I really did have to close my eyes if I was going to be able to hear the music at all.

This really did work.  With eyes closed, I could just be a beat, an ear, my mind amazingly blank.  Blank, that is, until I wondered what that woman was doing, and I’d just have to open my eyes for a second or two in order to check.

During a beautiful “Oh Shanandoah,” she flossed her teeth.  I turned away quickly.

During a beautiful spiritual “I been ‘buked”, she reviewed post cards on her lap

This is New York.  (Brooklyn actually, still New York.)

On the whole, I felt grateful.  I kept my eyes closed, more or less, anxious not to be distracted by the poor woman, anxious perhaps not to be like her.

Did I mention the second helping of pink yogurt?

When the “Cool Crowd” Becomes the Absolutely Freezing Crowd

January 30, 2010

Question Is: Will She Make Room For You?

Last week, on a relatively balmy day, I wrote about being part of the “cool crowd”.  That is, those people who, out of carbon, monetary, or logistical concerns, keep their indoor heat low (or nonexistent.)

Today, temperatures in downtown Manhattan have sunk to the teens, and the cool crowd is likely to be shivering.  (At least anyone in my apartment is.)

Here are some tips as to how to handle these low temperatures without losing cool crowd status:

1.  Huddle with your dog in a small closet which is out of the wind and layered with clothing (both hanging and fallen to the floor.)

2.  If the dog won’t make room for you, bake.   Bread, pies, cookies.   (This uses some fossil fuels but is at least productive of something besides heat.)    People say that chopping kindling warms you twice, first when chopping, then when burning, but baking goodies warms you three times:  once in the hot oven, secondly, when supplying you with calories, and third, as an extra layer of flab.

3.  Tape a hot water bottle to your stomach, under the down blanket.   (If you are like one of the followers of this blog, try one of those toasted rice or corn cloth bags that you can heat up in a microwave.)

4.  If you don’t have a hot water bottle, or a toasted rice or corn bag, sit with a turned-on laptop on your bare stomach.  If your ears are cold, try calling your mom on your cell phone.   (That’s a joke, Mom.)  (Seriously, Mom.)   (I like long phone conversations too.)

5.  Drink hot caffeinated beverages (perhaps while talking to your mom) until you get such a splitting head-ache that you really do crave some nice cold air.

6.  Turn on James Brown.  Dance.  Make sure to close your blinds.

7.  Spend as much time as possible outdoors.  Preferably in some cozy little café.  Or, as the evening chill falls, bar.


The Pain You’re Not Supposed To Have If You Do Yoga Regularly

January 29, 2010

The Non-Multitasking Yogi

Pain.  I have all kinds of handwritten posts about Obama and trust in government that I was going to type up today.  But I wake up (that’s not actually correct since I don’t think I  slept), I get up with a figurative stake of ache in the middle of my upper back, which  precludes me from doing anything but looking absolutely straight in front of me.  (This means I  can’t type anything pre-jotted.)

People who do yoga everyday are not supposed to have back pain.  I do yoga everyday.

The catch is that people who also multi-task nonstop really do not do yoga all that well.  Real yoga involves taking the time to breathe, sustain, to focus.  Multi-tasking yoga is a bit of a whipstitch physically—it may hold body and soul together, but just barely.

I practice ashtanga yoga (a great form for home practice, developed primarily by Shri K. Patabhi Jois).  And yesterday evening, because I had skipped my normal rushed morning’s practice,  I took the time to do it well.   I not only did it well, in my guilt over skipping, I did twice as much as normal.

(Guilt and yoga are not a great combination.)

Ashtanga yoga is done as a series of pre-set exercises.  When you have done a couple of the series for some years, they are pretty much imprinted on your brain and body.  In other words, once you start one, you just kind of go through it like a dance routine or a song.

The power of a routine is incredibly strong.   A routine, in this case, the yoga series can, amazingly, carry you through all kinds of physical or mental failings.   I have done ashtanga with colds, hangovers, pulled muscles, torn cartilege.

The routine, like a memorized song, must be stored in a different part of the brain than the part involved with decision-making, fear, tentativeness, even perhaps common sense.    (I always think of victims of strokes who cannot speak but who can speak or recite poetry.)

While you are in the middle of the routine, you are simply swept along.  But once you are out of the routine’s anesthesizing groove….


After Multi-tasking Yoga

Even After the iPad – Reasons to Stick With Books – The Bath

January 28, 2010

Bathtub Book

Even After the iPad;  Reasons to Stick to Books.

1.  You can take them into the bath.

2.  You can drop them in the bath (and, if you don’t mind rumpled pages, read on, without being electrocuted.)

3.  You can also drop them on the floor. (For example, at the side of your bed.)

4.  You can spill tea on them.

5.  Or pizza.  (Though it’s not so easy to spill pizza, even on a book.)

6.  They sometimes open to your favorite spots automatically.  Othertimes they open to spots you hadn’t planned on, but are glad you found.

7.  You can underline sentences or whole passages (if you’re kind of OCD.)

8.  Or keep them absolutely pristine (if you’re really OCD.)

9.  Sometimes you find things in their pages that you’d completely forgotten about—an unpaid bill, a letter from an old friend, a wilted buttercup, a spot of tea (or pizza).

10.  Some books bear handwritten inscriptions, even just a name, perhaps your grandmother’s name.  You might read these more closely than what’s in print.

PS – if you like elephants, check out 1 Mississippi by Karin Gustafson on home page or Amazon.


PPS- I am linking this to Bluebell Books Short Story Slam; the prompt was a girl in a bath–this may be a girl elephant.

Good for Him! (Re State of the Union Address)

January 27, 2010

Promising jobs, better than Jobs.

(See earlier post re Obama and Jobs.)

Obama Message Competes With Jobs On All Levels (Including Steve)

January 27, 2010

Polls find that a majority of Americans like Barack Obama as a person.  If they have paid attention over the last year,they likely see him as both careful and deliberative.  Unfortunately, for Obama however, what many Americans want right now is not be someone with the patience of the Biblical Job, but someone with the dynamism of the Cupertino Jobs (as in Steve).

Obama’s messages tonight (I’m trying to post this before the State of the Union Address) will be competing with jobs on all levels–Americans’ needs for jobs, the many jobs in our society that need to get done, and (to add insult to injury) the buzz around Steve’s announcement of Apple’s new iPad, the new tablet computer which is supposed to fill the gap between laptop and smart phone

Jobs is a great showman.  He can make people feel that he’s filling a gap that they weren’t even fully aware of, and he can certainly make people want something that never existed before.   Yes, he’s full of hype (as in proposed battery time) as well as ideas.   But the ideas are interesting and forward-looking, and they are executed with a determined simplicity and competence which Jobs calls “magical” and which even his detractors admire.

Obama’s more orator than showman.   At his best, he can explain complex and conflicting facts and feelings, and if not rationalize them, at least, put them in the same picture, a picture drawn from a single perspective.   But, in the last few months, under the weight of conflicting pressures, needs, greeds, and niceties, he’s let the picture he paints seem both stale and muddied.

Of course, it’s a lot harder to move a balky, favor-seeking,group of legislators, a “gotcha” press, a forgetful group of (greedy) bankers and a forgetful (and suspicious) populace, than your own company.   Obama also inherited a virtually no-win situation;  he”s blamed for not moving forward fast enough on an economic ship that was actively sinking at the time he boarded it.

But if he wants to keep the faith of the American people, he does need to move forward, he does need to fill gaps, he does need to figure out how to integrate jobs into his programs; and he needs to do it in a way that is workably simple, simply workable.  (And, apparently like the iPad, with greater speed than anticipated.)

Jobs jobs jobs.

ps- disclosure–the writer is a fan of Apple, and owns some of its stock.

Blocking Writer’s Disorganization

January 26, 2010

As some of you know, I’ve written several posts on blocking writer’s block.  (Check out that category!)  But in the last couple of hours/days, I’ve been dealing with a different problem.  Writer’s disorganization.

Mine centers on one of the least-cited negative qualities of working on a computer – the  ability to save multiple, vaguely distinguished, drafts.

It sounds wonderful in principal.  The ability to “save as,” repeatedly, means that you never have to throw anything away.  You can experiment with all kinds of revisions.   Unlike a visual artist working on a single canvas, you rarely have to irrevocably choose what works best.

But combining (i) revision with (ii) indecisiveness can be disastrous over time.  Especially if you are cursed with (iii) an aging memory, and (iv) an ability to reel off pages.

Which is the best draft?  The final draft?  The one you want to send out?

The dates should provide a clue (if you save them by date!);  however, indecisive, moody, and interrupted, rewriting may mean that your very last draft is far from your best.   (If you started changes that you didn’t carry through, your last draft may not even be fully coherent!)

If you confine the drafts to your hard drive, some trees may at least be spared.   But some of us (whose names will not be mentioned here) have developed the concept of “print only” drafts (as opposed to “read only” files), meaning that certain drafts may be  printed,  even copied, but never actually perused.  (Why is it that once one gets used to reading on a screen, the printed page seems so naked, painful, exposed?)

I certainly have yet to solve this problem.  But here are a few suggestions which, like multiple drafts, sound good at least in principal:

1.  Slow down.  When you revise, read changes carefully, maybe even aloud.

2.  Take yourself seriously.   Put your bunches of drafts in separate computer files.   If you are working with a longer piece, you might even take the time to type some little commentary at the top of the draft.  (I’ll never do this, but it sounds good.)

3.  Consider actually destroying redundant drafts.

4.  When you do print, put little footers on the pages so you know which version it is.  Put the printed copies in a little notebook, rather than a plastic bag in the back of a closet.   Label them, show them, look at them.

5.  If this is all too difficult, maybe you should just blog.  If you do it daily, you won’t have time for multiple drafts.   (Aahhh.)

Apple iPad? With Elephants?

January 26, 2010

Will It Be As Good As This?


(Disclosure:  the illustrator is a fan of Apple and owns the stock.)

Monday Doldrums – West Side Story Sonnet on the East Side Train

January 25, 2010

Opening of "Somewhere", Music by Leonard Bernstein, Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

A certain damp dullness hangs over the subway car this morning, the Number 5, Lexington Avenue express.  We diversified New Yorkers are unified here, in our experience of rain-moistened Monday fatigue.  The hems of our pants are limp.  More than half of our eyes are closed.  (By this, I mean, both of the eyes on more than one half of the passengers.)   The guy next to me has a uniquely beady intensity;  he definitely stares at something.  But when I follow his gaze, I find the blank window on the other side of the car.  I notice then too that the corner of his baseball cap also actual drips whole gobs of unheeded moisture, so I’d just as soon not vouch for his alertness.

The girl opposite also has both eyes open, but her mouth is open too.  The movement of her tongue can be seen under her lips, the skin of chin and cheeks; she appears to search the insides of her mouth, though she is not eating, nor is she noticeably carrying food.  These factors tend to put into question her “on-top-of-things-ness.”

The only person who can truly qualify as “engaged” is a tall young African-American man who reads the Daily News analysis of the collapse of the Jets.  So, engaged, yes, but not exactly cheerful.

Seriously.  What shines here is not a single “morning face”, but only the wet spots on the train’s dark linoleum floor shine, and an occasional crumple of cellophane.

All this makes me think that it’s really too bad I wasn’t on the local;  the No. 6 specifically, leaving from Spring Street.  I used to take that train frequently and noticed that a curious configuration of curve and track caused it to sound out a specific musical interval each time it left the platform.   Although it’s an East Side train, the interval corresponds to one  of the song openings from West Side Story. (Which brings up a completely different kind of Jets.)

So, in honor of those three notes, I set forth below a kind of silly, kind of “Shakespearean” sonnet:

Subway Song

The subway sings its broken refrain,
the opening bars of “There’s a Place
For Us” from West Side Story.  The train
croons the first three notes leaving the dais
of the platform, the tune subsiding
to squeak and wind and roar as train races
to a-harmonic levels, providing
speed without Bernsteinian traces,
those tragic lovers defiant of fate
and enmity. Yet, at every station,
they sing again.  Who of those who wait
hear the song of that yearned-for destination,
that lyrical place, beyond how, beyond where,
amazed that the Six Train nearly takes them there?


I am linking this post to Victoria C. Slotto’s Liv2write2day blog, for her prompt on Sacred Music.  The sounds of the Number 6 are not exactly sacred, but they are pretty lovely when you are standing in a grey tunnel.

All rights reserved.  Karin Gustafson

For a more serious subway sonnet, click here.

P.S.  No copyright infringement of “Somewhere” intended, beautiful song.  (Btw, I haven’t noticed that any credit is given to Bernstein by the IRT.)