Archive for the ‘Perfectionism’ category

The Obsessive Stripper

September 10, 2013


The Obsessive Stripper  (to know her was to love her)

To know her was to love her,
she just knew that was the case–
If the world scoped out her essence,
it would look beyond her face.

Not that her face was terrible–
round, sure, and sort of freckled
(but nothing like her dad claimed–
a hen’s bottom plucked and speckled–)

So, how to start? She bared her soul,
her deepest and her darkest–
but found that no one cared much
for truth at its most starkest–

Now, naked flesh was something else–
she noticed when the wind blew
and her skirt performed a Marilyn
that the street burst out with woohoo–

Wolf whistle wheezed into the breeze,
but it made her think again–
her dad had only mocked her face–
he’d approved below the chin.

She moved from skirt akimbo
to what they call decolleté,
neckline lower than limbo
on winners’ take-all-off day.

What she bared soon jiggled from shoulders
to waistline and well beyond
sashaying up her freckled thighs
past Venus’s precious mound.

But though the rhythmic clapping
burnished all her cheeks with glow,
still, she couldn’t see herself
as a girl the crowd cared to know–

not know for real, not know for self,
most certainly not for life–
her father’s sneer showed in their leer,
and cut her like a knife.

But to know her was to love her–
how could that not be true?
maybe the nightly dis-cloth-ure
left too much to be seen through.

So shaved her bod, so shaved her head,
uprooted every eyelash;
spoke without punctuation,
and spiked heels into the wet trash–

Stripped off, bleached out, believing
that revelations would end lonely days–
for to know her was to love her–
that just had to be the case.

The above is a rather sad and far-too-long ditty written very belatedly for  the very creative Fireblossom’s Friday prompt of a while back on With Real Toads, to write a poem based upon an assortment of mandatory composite titles. I am also posting this for dVerse Poets Open Link Night, hosted by Tony Maude.. 

“Playing it Again, Sam, Playing it One More Time”

August 26, 2012

Modified, but from “Casablanca” with the incomparable Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman

Playing it Again, Sam, Playing it One More Time

Yes, we’ll always have Paris–
the mattress that,
with corners tucked up walls, just
fit the room;
the warped door that we could
only open lying down–perfect, in
other words, but where

not-love was in the air, and I wished
each morning, after we wedged in
the croissants, that I had ordered
cafe au lait, trying
to come up with
something, anything, to change, to
focus in on

other than the actual worm in our
rosebud: that frankly,
my dear, you didn’t
give a damn, while
I loved you, you were my only reason
to stay alive, if that’s what I was.

Yes, the silhouette of
your profile,
noble as Brad’s (pitted against the window-
framed gargoyles) would bend towards
mine occasionally
to kiss me, kiss me
as if it were the last time (which
you were already sure it was).

I guess you figured that, while teaching me
to quit you, what I needed
was kissing badly–French tea
never terribly good–though a little less
looking at you, kid–you not
at me–might also
have helped–



I am posting the above (belatedly) for the writing blog With Real Toads, for Fireblossom Friday’s prompt to write a love poem worthy of a romantic movie (“Lights, Camera, Love”).  I didn’t quite have it in me to come up with that kind of love poem this weekend, but I could think of lots of bits of romantic movies I love (sprinkled above.)  

“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!)

Person Blocks – “Pretending”

August 17, 2009

Thinking today of blocks other than writer’s block.  A person block is a big one;  the force that keep one from putting one’s true self into the world, that keeps one from being publicly one’s self.

When I say “being publicly” one’s self, I’m not referring to celebrity.  (Although, weirdly, the subject makes me wonder again about my fascination with Robert Pattinson.  If there is anyone who has a hard time being himself in public, it would seem to be him.  See e.g.  screaming girls and clicking paparazzi.)

But I wasn’t really thinking about Robert Pattinson.  I was thinking more about people like me, perhaps you too.  How hard it is for me (us) to take actions that might make us vulnerable to criticism.  How difficult it is to show openly the parts of ourselves which do not fit so well into a mold of other’s expectations.  (Or really, one’s expectations of other’s expectations.)

These kinds of pretenses are deeply ingrained, at least for me.  Even as a little kid—I was not an especially hip one—I felt the need to pretend I knew all kinds of rock bands that I’d never heard of.   For years afterward, a more complex camouflauge seemed to be called for.  I won’t go into the specifics.  I’m sure most of you know the types of things I mean.

What seems strange is that we actually live in a fairly tolerant society.  I compare my situation with my mother’s, for example.  A teacher, she happened to move shortly after I was born to a county where women teachers were only entitled to substitute’s pay (about 50% of the scale) during the full school year following the birth of a child.  It was a rule apparently motivated either by (a) a wish to keep mothers of infants at home; or (b) an assumption that mothers of infants would be at home, whether working full-time or not  (i.e. an assumption that women with young children were inherently unreliable.)

My mom, both reliable and unwilling to take a pay cut, spent the whole first year of my life pretending I didn’t exist.

My mother had a concrete reason for hiding a fairly big part of her life.  But for many people (me at least), the reason for the camouflauge boils down to the simple fear that if others really knew me better,  I would be deemed very very imperfect.  (Not just imperfect, downright faulty.)

Unfortunately, however, a failure to be openly one’s self can doom one to being less than one’s self.    (Even less perfect!  And much less happy.)

My ex- husband, an artist, gave me some good lessons in this area (though I am only beginning to follow them.)  He is a master of carrying out what sometimes seems to border on the silly.  (I admit, carrying out the silly is a whole lot easier in the art world than in the average professional arena.)

In an early performance piece, he played a violin with a loaf of Italian bread.  He does not play the violin.  His lack of expertise with the instrument wasn’t important, however, since the violin he used was broken.   Besides, the bread, though shellacked, wasn’t a great bow.

You can probably immediately intuit the piece’s potential silliness.  In fact, it was truly magical.

I am not extolling performance pieces.  Many are self-indulgent, and full full full of pretense.  (One reason my ex-husband’s violin playing was so powerful, I think, is that it was not a piece about himself, but about Paul Klee during the World War II.)

I’m not extolling confessional art either.  (Remember, you may someday wish to talk to your friends and family again.)

What I’m urging, I guess, is not to be afraid to risk some silliness.  The unabashed showing of ignorance.  (Sure, ignorance isn’t something to be proud of, but pretended knowledge is way worse.)  A lack of hipness.  To be, in short, more openly yourself.

Here’s a sonnet (unfortunately not terribly silly) about the long-term price of protective coloration:


After years, pretending to be what you’re not
becomes a nature;  a second skin
coating you like a heavy make-up, caught
in your pores, nestled in your grooves, a twin
of features, caked, you need not reapply.
But habits, faces, fail; pretense wears thin,
until, worn through, you can hardly try
anymore.  Too wary, weary–the word
“cagey” describes so much of what you’ve been,
the opposite of free-flying bird,
while unheard, and hardly there within,
is all you’ve been saving, what you hid, why
you did this, what wasn’t supposed to die.

All rights reserved.

Ten Ways To Know You’re A Perfectionist

August 14, 2009
  1. You don’t do anything perfectly.
  2. You don’t even do anything very well.   For a short time (while you are in the midst), everything may feel surprisingly hunky-dory, but as soon as you finish, you see exactly where you went wrong.
  3. If you do manage to do something well, it’s an incredibly trivial something.
  4. While what you screw up is vitally important.
  5. When it rains on the day of a picnic that you planned, you apologize.
  6. When it rains on the day of a picnic that you did not plan, you apologize.
  7. When you return your opponent’s tennis ball, managing to score, you apologize.
  8. When you miss your opponent’s tennis ball, allowing him to score but disrupting the flow of the game, you apologize.
  9. After you apologize, you apologize.  (You know how annoying that can be.)
  10. Sorry for that last one.