Self-Portrait of Celia Pratchett (NOSE DIVE)

The prompt for dVerse Poets Pub Poetics today, hosted by Fred Rutherford, is self-portrait.   Fred writes a really interesting essay about self-protraiture and I encourage you to check out his post.  Nonetheless, I find myself shying away from a direct self-portrait, so I am posting instead the self-portrait of a character of mine, Celia Pratchett, taken from my novel NOSE DIVE (published by BackStroke Books).

Yes, I know it’s prose – but I think/hope it reads much faster than it looks (and it is undoubtedly way more fun than my direct self-portrait would be.)   Thanks much to you who try it!  The drawing below is by the wonderful Jonathan Segal.

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From NOSE DIVE, by Karin Gustafson, illustrated by Jonathan Segal

NOSE DIVE   (Excerpt from Chapter I)

(The hills are alive…with the sound of music.)

Maybe. But first period assembly was comatose with the boredom of teenagers. Even people’s yawns stretched out in slow-mo.

(A song they have sung…for a thousand years.) 

Then Brad Pierson sauntered to the podium. A lot of yawns filled instantly with drool.

“Yo Brad,” some girl wailed.

Brad smiled. It was a sheepish, glinty smile, the kind that commercials flash above surfboards.

I looked back down to my Bio notes, trying to cram for my next period test. Brad was in my Pre-Cal class but that was about the only thing we had in common: he was captain of the tennis team and hung out with the cool popular kids while I sang in the school chorus and hung out with Deanna, my one true friend since age five. Deanna was plenty cool in her way, but I wasn’t. For example, the title song of The Sound of Music was just then spinning around my head.

(The hills fill my heart with the sound of music.)  

I really love The Sound of Music—actually, I love the sound of almost any musicbut I wouldn’t mind if it stayed clear of my brain once in a while.

Brad, after gently adjusting the microphone, gave a cute little waist-level wave.

‘ATP stands for—’ I scribbled in my notebook.

“With the help of Principal Eggars—” Brad said.

(My heart wants to sing every song….) 

“—I’m arranging for the spring musical to be part of a new TV reality show.”

The auditorium inhaled one huge “omg.” Even the singing in my brain came to halt.

“The show is going to be called ‘Musical!” Brad went on.  “And the TV people are going to film everythingthe rehearsals, the showeverything.  And it’s going to be way better than all those other high school musical shows because it’s going to be all about us cool kids at Spenser.”

“Braaaaaddd!” someone shouted.

“Just a minute there, Mr. Pierson.”

The plaid jacket of Principal Eggars hovered beside Brad’s arm (Brad’s perfectly tanned, not-too-buff-but-tautly-muscled arm).

“The school’s participation in the TV program is not a done deal,” boomed Principal Eggars, a man who knew how to get the most out of a mike. “I only asked Brad to make the announcement today because his father has been so instrumental in making the show a serious possibility.”

A weighty pause followed as we all pictured a slightly greying, slightly heavier Brad-clone.

“I also wanted to assure you that if the program does go through, every effort will be made to avoid any disruption in your academic studies, which, as always, are the top priority here at Spenser.”

Brad gave a big ‘oh sure’ kind of nod.

“Many details still need to be worked out by Mr. Pierson, Brad’s father…and myself, of course. But if you have any immediate questions—”

Brad scooted his beautiful sun-bleached head to the mike again, “ask me.”

“I guess that’s right for the time being,” Principal Eggars sighed.

“I love you, Brad!” came a wail.

Wow.  I slowly closed my Bio notebook.

I love musicals. Yes, I sing them in my head, but I sing them out loud too. (Ask my older sister!) I am also a pretty good musical singer. (Her name is Maddy.) Not only because I’ve been practicing along with Julie Andrews, Bernadette Peters, and the Little Mermaid since age two (Maddy’ll tell you), but also because I happen to have this really big singing voice. (Man, will she tell you!)

I don’t like to brag, but I think I also have a pretty good singing voice. I had a chorus part in last year’s musical, even as a lowly freshman, with a couple of solo lines too.

As Principal Eggars dismissed us and I waited for my row to move, I remembered how much fun last year’s musical had been. My heart felt like dancing just thinking about it.

(To laugh like a brook when it trips and falls… over stones on the way.)

And then my dancing heart just tripped, only not like a laughing brook.

Because my heart was remembering something else about last year’s show—the clips of it posted online after the first performance.

Which also made me remember Hank.

How could I forget Hank?

Hank was my nose, huge, curved, bulbous, pointed at the tip—the bane of my entire existence.

Okay, maybe not my entire existence, the bane of my existence for the last year.

It seems odd, I guess, but until I entered high school (actually, until I saw those clips of myself in last year’s musical), I had never really thought much about Hank. Oh, I knew he…it was prominent. (My mom’s word was “strong.”) But that had never bothered me. Maybe because Hank was my dad’s nose.

I was too young when my dad died to truly remember him, but when my mom and sister and I looked at old pictures or videos, it had always made me feel proud—sad, but proud—to have a nose almost exactly like his.

But after seeing those clips last year, everything changed. It was like a veil had been lifted from my eyes, or, maybe, my nose. I could suddenly see it clearly. How could I miss it? Hank was gi-normous.

As a free space opened in front of me, I straightened my backpack over my shoulders, trying to feel more positive.

(I go to the hills…when my heart is lonely.) 

It was hard. Being on TV would be way worse than being on the Internet. TV cameras take close-ups. In focus. Women in those focused TV close-ups do not have Hanks in the middle of their faces, not even women in local weight loss commercials who have lost two hundred pounds and whose noses shouldn’t matter.

I stared glumly around the auditorium. Brad was on the other side. Even on normal days, he stood out like a castle, male turret circled by girl moat. In the minutes since the announcement, the moat had swollen to a girl river, maybe even a girl sea.

The only bright spot on the horizon was Deanna, who waded straight towards me. (Deanna, who is both super tall and a little bit large around the middle, is not particularly fazed by girl moats.) Her hair was dyed silver blue to match a new book bag she carried. It looked like a bag she had made; duct tape crisscrossed its sides in a complicated geometric pattern. Deanna was big on duct tape.

Just now, random strands of hair clung to that duct tape, some straight and blonde, some curly and dark. I tried to let the sight of those hairs, which I was pretty sure were from Brad’s girl moat, make me feel better.

(My heart will be blessed with the sound of music.) 

I shook my head to get the song out.

(And I’ll sing…once… more.)

So much for that.

(Da daa da da daa.) 

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If you’d like to know what happens next, get Nose Dive from Amazon, or on Kindle (for only 99 cents!)
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47 Comments on “Self-Portrait of Celia Pratchett (NOSE DIVE)”


  1. Karin, I probably should’ve put something in the prompt for those who may not have chose to participate in the exercise as I had presented it. Didn’t mean to alienate anyone, and am very glad you chose to illustrate an alternative, that, in a way is a self portrait, as our characters, are, do, in ways, contain pieces of ourselves. This is something I touched upon briefly in the article, but really holds a ton of merit. The piece definitely reads faster than the instant eye test promotes, yet I knew it would, much of my own work is long and looks, even to myself, to be a bear for the reader, yet, once you start it takes no time at all. I really, really love the parenthetical here. The repetition of musicality, which I include loneliness and laughter amongst, really provides a skeleton for the portrait. Excellent alternative to the theme and again, perhaps others may take your example and find inspiration where previously they may not have felt included in the exercise as offered. Again, great write, great share. Thanks

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Hi Fred – I think it’s a great topic – I’ve just written several dark poems lately, and felt sure I’d spiral into something of that ilk. This has a self-portrait aspect as the girl presents herself, so thought it could work. I DO appreciate your flexibility. It is a very good exercise/prompt. Thanks again! k.


  2. I need to go back and look at the prompt I guess, but I like what you did here Karin. We all have parts of ourselves that we must learn to embrace—I also loved the use of the parenthetical here–


  3. Great story going on here. I love that musical. You’ve captured so well how our inner voice is always on the go, whether we want it to be or not. How our self confidence is shattered by our own thoughts of our appearance too. I think our noses play a big part in how we ‘like’ our faces, or not.
    Very good writing here K.

  4. brian miller Says:

    heh, having a bit of a shnoz myself, i understand…its a family trait, but it might have got broke a time or two as well…i have not thought of giving it a name though….ha…this is fun…we can let our appearance limit us occassionally if we get too self conscious….interesting bit og your book here k


  5. I love how the character has a whole persona for her nose – it shows how clearly we, especially as teens, can get fixated on one particular feature and how that can impact on our lives. Ahhhh, high school… how glad I am be not be a teenagers anymore… You tell here with such poignancy.

  6. The Enfant Terrible Says:

    I really enjoyed this. I am sure that lots of people can relate to the experiences you have described. A really warm and poignant piece!

  7. Gay Cannon Says:

    Lots of personal truths and honesty here; like the song “At Seventeen” by Janis Ian you don’t have to be haunted by a particular flaw to identify with all flaws that magnified themselves in our teen years and branded us as different, loser, ugly, outsider. This is brilliant!

  8. Live High Says:

    I read it and it was musical. Our words are our self-portrait no matter how we look at it 🙂

    Lisa

  9. wood Says:

    well, if the rest of the book read this good, it should sell bundles.

    “Women in those focused TV close-ups do not have Hanks in the middle of their faces, not even women in local weight loss commercials who have lost two hundred pounds and whose noses shouldn’t matter.”

    your imagery contains lots of insight… this is very well done, enjoyed very much

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks so much, Wood. You know I cut a sentence or two from the published version for this posting just to make it a bit shorter – and almost took that bit out as I was very worried about length in a blog post, but very glad I didn’t.

      It has not sold bundles, unfortunately, but it is a kind of cute, funny book – beginnings are super hard for me so I think it gets better as it moves along, as the situations get considerably sillier, and the illustrations are just wonderful. Thanks. k.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Hi again wood – I did actually cut next line, I realize, for this version. No matter.

      Why I am writing back – I don’t know how to comment on your blog – sorry – can’t find comment section. Loved the Red non-wheelbarrow fried chicken poem especially. k.


  10. It was lovely to read this tonight (been here twice 🙂 )


  11. I enjoyed this K ~ I like how you have an internal dialogue amidst the crowd and Brad as turret, surrounded by sea of girls ~ The take on the nose as a family trait and pride is most revealing ~


  12. I enjoy revisiting Celia and it reminded me to make time to finish the book. I think you took a better route on this prompt. I am very much wishing I’d written a persona poem :).

  13. Mary Says:

    I really enjoyed your character portrait here, Karin….very interesting writing, makes me want to read the book!

  14. Mama Zen Says:

    This is outstanding! You have really (like, really!) nailed the voice.


  15. Loved this, and could picture Celia with her friend Deanna… you know I remember being younger with a good friend of mine singing Do Re Mi through the city streets at the top of our voices. I really loved the inner dialogue…


  16. now look at that..you’re shying away from a self-portrait..ha..that doesn’t sound like you at all…smiles..thoroughly enjoyed the one you posted…i started reading already on the way back from NYC..so familiar ground…smiles

  17. janehewey Says:

    I enjoy the music you’ve woven into your verses. wonderful. you share the lyrics so freely, it is as if we are in your thoughts. you show up very firmly in this. I agree, we are a part of all we write. this is cute, fun, silly, light-hearted. hold onto the light-hearted while the storm makes its way through, okay?

  18. David King Says:

    This is brilliant. It brought back my first Special Needs School. The deputy played the piano just in front of me. He sat down at it one morning, jumped up again, announced “Glad that I live am I!” sat down with a thump, looked at me and muttered “Bloody liar!” Thanks for bringing it back. It’s a wonderful write.

  19. kkkkaty Says:

    ..quite an accomplishment to publish a book and sometimes I imagine it takes awhile for sales to pick up…you have me hooked now and I would like to know more about this Celia person ;_)


  20. Go author as they say, well in the movies I avoid they do. I also hesitated in doing a full frontal self portrait( most poems have side peeps of the writers life) but jumped in with one that says more than it should and less than it could.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Yes, I know what you mean. (Sigh.) I don’t really go to those movies either, which makes it difficult to market the book. Though it has a fairly zany, New York City, side as it moves on which I think rescues it from inanity. It actually has a good sense of place and culture which is somewhat interesting even for those who are not grabbed by heart throbs!

  21. Sabio Lantz Says:

    All that singing in her head was fun — I guess when you have a good voice it is common. Those of us with a bad bad voices don’t enjoy the same (fortunately). 🙂
    Fun, thanx.

  22. hedgewitch Says:

    “..he stood out like a castle, male turret circled by girl moat.” I can see I’m going to have to snatch my kindle back really soon so I can read the whole book. Indeed, we often focus on one negative aspect of ourselves, rightly or wrongly, and let it define us. This example came more with a sense of acceptance and resignation than self-belittlement, though, and I liked that. Also–I have my grandfather’s nose, which can best be described as large and amorphous, so can totally identify.

    Stay safe Karin–it sounds very nervewracking up there. We have similar moments down here with tornadoes, but they come and go much much quicker. Anticipation, a la Carly Simon, can be very trying.

  23. Myrna Says:

    Nice. I like your style. And there you go that’s YOU. Your excerpt tells me that there’s still an adolescent within, that you’re clever, smart, funny and that there are some sad parts in there too. Loved this. Glad you deviated from the prompt a little, but not really as much as you may think.

  24. kaykuala Says:

    It’s knowing oneself that completes the picture. That itself is the self portrait that we know! Nicely K!

    Hank

  25. Chaty Lorens Says:

    Great twist on the prompt. Didn’t expect the story to give the portrait, but clearly our characters must share some of our traits—and imagination! Good stuff.


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