Archive for January 2010

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.)

How To Be Cool. For Those Whose Slang (Like Their Mahtabili) Is A Little Bit Rusty.

January 24, 2010


I am currently lying under a fleece blanket and two down comforters.    The heating unit at my side is turned off.  I could jump quickly into the cold, twist it on, then slip back into my lair, but, for some reason, I just don’t.

I’m not quite sure what this reason is.  I pay for heat in my apartment, so there’s an element of miserliness.  It’s blown hot air  (dry and noisy),  so there’s simple distaste.  There’s also, of course, my  heightened, if terribly inconsistent, environmental consciousness.  Then too, there’s the memory of my last apartment where Super-controlled heat blasts made for January sweats.

All of these combine into a perverse, hardier-than-thou, pride that keeps the heating units switched off.

I have recently found that this pride makes me part of  “Cool Crowd,” a class of people depicted in the New York Times the other day who eschew indoor heat in cold climates.

Being part of this cool crowd feels really great (despite the weight of the blankets).  I always was embarrassingly unhip as a child.  Actually, I’ve felt unhip my entire life.  I’ve rarely known the names or music of hot bands, TV shoes, movies, films.  My slang, like Alec Guiness’s “Mahtabili” in the film classic Kind Hearts and Coronets, has always been “a little bit rusty.”

Given the fact that the temperature in my apartment probably rarely dips below 50/45  (I don’t have a thermostat), I’m guessing that I’m only on the “luke” edge of the “cool crowd”.    Even so, no less than three members of my family separately asked me if I had seen the NY Times article.

These family members are extremely patient.   They don’t openly groan during my monologues about the merits of long silk underwear,  the importance of wool,  the risks of sock-removal.  They joke about the fact that I constantly tell them that they can turn on the heat, if they want, then proceed to turn it off again (if they’ve dared) after only a few minutes.

I warn them against wimpiness.  I regale them with tales about the time the water in my toilet bowl froze.   I protest that this is not about me disliking warmth, reminding them that I don’t turn on the AC in summer either.    They don’t actually need reminders of that.

Ah, Summer.  That’s when we get to be part of “who’s hot.”

P.S. – sorry for any misspelling of Mahtabili.  Please feel free to correct.

Rob Pattinson – Homage to Haiti, Wolf Pack, or Soltzenitsyn?

January 23, 2010

Rob Pattinson – Homage To Haiti, Wolf Pack or Soltzenitsyn?

Breaking News:  Rob Pattinson joins the wolf pack (in animatronic form) in Hope for Haiti telethon.  Apparently (finally) broken by the constant onslaught of paparazzi and palpitating Twilighters, Rob seems to have traded fangs for fur, smolder for shell shock.  Although Rob’s message, delivered with the lightness (and facial hair) of Alexander Soltzenitsyn, was taped from London, he looked dazed, as if he’d seen, first hand, the horrors of Port-au-Prince.  I like Rob, and despite my sympathy for charity, I hate celebrities simpering about disasters, so I’m going to assume that he wasn’t simply stoned or disinterested, but young, embarrassed, and not great at reading from a teleprompter.

Life as it is (impromptu post)

January 22, 2010

I celebrate my father-in-law’s 99th birthday tonight.  He proclaims his secret is to never worry about things that he cannot change.  How do people do this?

I have other friends who have been told by their doctors that they may not celebrate their 60th birthdays, or even the birthday expected next.  They can’t help but worry about things that they cannot change.

Life is difficult.  I don’t know what the key is.  But I know that one must try to be happy with what is right here now.  How does one do this?  One thing is to try, to discpline one’s mind, to learn to purposefully let go of stress and worry, unease and sadness.

My generation was raised to be natural.  We want things (i.e. happiness)  to come naturally.  As we age, this is not so easy.  (Old age and aches and pains come naturally.)  I think a little discipline, mind control, stiff upper lip, is called for.  I hope we can remember how it works.

Thermal Power (Not What You Expect)

January 22, 2010


I’m going back today to the endless snack/media culture: children hooked in and chomping little individually wrapped servings all day long.  (See prior post ‘The Matrix of Cheetos”.)   This worry has been compounded by a new Australian study describing the increased mortality  (for adults) associated with increased hours of TV viewing.  (Although the report of the study seems to blame sitting for the increased mortality, the actual activity that seemed to lead to the deaths was sitting in front of the TV.)

This Australian study makes it clear that parents should consider limiting their own media time.  But we all know the problems with that.

So going back to trying to limit kids: “just say no,” is easy to say; “no” is a lot harder.

With young children (under ten or twelve), reading aloud may be a useful substitute; by this, I mean adults reading aloud to children, not children, especially children with difficulties, practicing reading. (I’m certainly not against children working on their reading with their parents, but I’m talking about fun activities here, not torturous ones.)

If parents are not great read-alouders, even listening to books on tape together seems preferable to the nonstop perusal of little teeny (or oversized) screens.

Snacks:  I’m an inveterate snacker, meal skipper, meal avoider.  But, like many, I am very happy to tell people to do as I say and not as I do.

The obvious advice—make meals.  Even if snacks are going to be snuck in throughout the day, try to provide your kids with a real, if ceremonial, breakfast, dinner.  Sit down together while dinner is eaten.    (Even if the TV is also a companion, at least sit in front of it together.)

To the extent possible, eat these meals on plates and not from packaging.   Try not to allow eating, directly from boxes, cartons, bags!  (Okay, okay, I do it too, but it definitely undercuts the understanding that food has been in fact consumed, and how much.)

Last tip:  when taking snacks into the world, add in a thermos.  There is nothing like a hot drink, shared with child (or adult) that gives a sense of quiet community.  Granted, some hot drinks from thermoses; i.e. milky tea, can have a bit of a tinned flavor.  Even so, warm feelings arise from the fact that  you and your child have carried along your own little liquid home-made hearth; that you have prepared  your own little portable tea party.  The steam tinges the moment with the specialness of a memory-to-be.  (For me, who really does love hot tea, it feels like having my own little traveling Delphi, though I’m not sure it helps much with the oracular.)

Delphi On A Checked Cloth

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