Posted tagged ‘writing’

My New Book – Momoir, Maybe

September 11, 2018

My new book, a series of micro-fictions and fact, available now. It is a book of particular interest for anyone who has, or once had, a mother. It feels like an act of stupidity, hubris or bravery–honestly, I just don’t know–to put it out, but I have worked a great deal on it and think it’s good (ha–maybe). Please check it out. Note that it is not a children’s book, though it is a pretty book in print.

Thumbsplitter (Update)

May 18, 2013


The above, believe it of not, is supposed to be a mantis shrimp (a super-violent shrimp–for a shrimp)–confronting a very brave dog and elephant.

The mantis shrimp, known also as the thumbsplitter, is not actually a shrimp. It does, however, has both a super-aggressive personality and a little hammer claw which is supposed to hit like a low-caliber bullet.

I have not run into any mantis shrimp, but I am FINALLY beginning to work on one of my old novel manuscripts. It’s taken a lot of time for me to get down to it, and much of that time is spent worrying about blogging and poetry, I really miss the blogging community. I miss the daily engagement both with fellow bloggers and with a short doable piece or prompt. But I am also acutely aware that I can’t at the moment “have it all” = if I were to spend my free time blogging and poeticising (even a short poem), I would have little time or energy to deal with my “novels”.

So, I’m a bit miserable. I feel like I am confronting one of these nasty thumbsplitters. (Worst of all, the irritable shrimp is myself!)

But I am getting down to work at last on a few other projects. We’ll see how long it lasts!

Internal Shake-Up, Changing Blog (I’m not sure how), Looking For Keepers

August 5, 2010


As followers of this blog know, my summer has been difficult due to the loss of a close friend.  It’s shaken me.  Aside from the grief,  and, of course, the gap – the missing counselor–there’s the internal spotlight.  Could it happen to me?  (Yes.)    How would I feel?

This question of how I would feel is not aimed at the obvious, i.e. sick, terrified, probably nauseated, very very sad.  The question is how I would feel about how I lived my life?  What, in other words, would I regret?

The big regrets – for me at least—would be unkindness and unhappiness:  those times when I was needlessly unkind (and, frankly, it’s hard to come up with any instance in which unkindness was needful); those times when I was needlessly unhappy.

Again, “needless” may the wrong word—those times in which I was unhappier than circumstances warranted—unhappy because of kvetching, perfectionism, issues of control, jealousy, lack of appreciation.  (As in the case of unkindness, circumstances probably rarely warranted the unhappiness that I was able to come up with.)

Putting all that aside—admittedly a big that—another thing I’d regret very much is not allowing myself time to do my work, that is, my true work –the work that feels like my work.

I don’t mean my day job, (which, Boss, is a great job and one that I frequently genuinely enjoy).

I wouldn’t regret not doing profound work, or revolutionary work.  I’ve long ago accepted that I’m not a particularly profound person, and I try to keep a lid on the grandiosity.

I mean the silly children’s novels, silly teen and more adult novels, the slightly odd poems and prose poems, whatever little drawings come my way.  Being able to point to them as “done deals”, “keepers”—I would very much regret not having given myself the time to do that, or more of it.

So where does this blog come in?

It’s truly wonderful to have daily readers (thanks so much), and to get something out every day.  But I’m a person, like every single one of you, with limited time in life.

I am not, just yet, discontinuing the blog (though I’m not sure I will continue it on a daily basis).  But I do need to find a way to make it serve my general purposes a bit more.

Which means what?  Maybe posts that are more purely creative, or connected, or connectible, to bigger projects?  More draft poems?  Prose poems?  Writing exercises?  Novel excerpts?

What’s hard, of course, is that drafts can be a bit personal, raw, embarrassing,  and possibly uninteresting, certainly to random Internet browsers, who are much likely to be attracted by the names Robert Pattinson or Sarah Palin.  My task, I suppose, is to try to look on that part as liberating and not paralyzing.

(I hope you’ll stay with me while I figure this out.)

Blocking Writer’s Block: Don’t Worry About the Where

May 11, 2010

Writing IN Your Notebook

I am returning to my series of posts on blocking writer’s block this morning at one of my favorite secret places for writing—the New York County Supreme Court building at  111 Centre Street.

Yes, the downstairs lobby is a bit tacky.  From the outside, the place looks dark, shut down; you feel almost certain from the sidewalk, that the main exterior doors will not open when you push.  (In fact, they do not open–much.   They squeak, scrape, and stick; with a lot of force, you can just wedge yourself through.)

But when you do get inside the building, past the metal detectors, beyond the dingy elevators, up to a highish floor, a sea change occurs—the main corridors here are lovely, with granite floors, marble (or faux marble) walls, and tall windows edging the South, West and East exposures, looking out over lower Manhattan.

I’m not saying that these corridors are particularly posh—there’s a definite utilitarian cast to the white plaster-board of the dropped ceilings.  Even the granite and marble look as if the colors were chosen not to show dirt.  (These are public buildings, after all.)

But the wooden benches that line the windowed walls are smooth and comfortable,  sunny and light, and, if you are not on a floor of bored and disgruntled jurors, the corridor carries such a serene hush that when, in the midst of muted steps, you hear a murmur about “what street informants want,” you are definitely taken aback.

I have to say upfront that I’ve never gone to New York Supreme just to write—I’ve always had some official purpose, and had to sit there waiting to fulfill it.   But it is nonetheless a very good place for writing.  (If you haven’t been sub poenaed, virtually no one bothers you.) Important caveat:  I think that coming in here just for a quiet place to work might actually constitute some kind of crime; it’s probably best not engage in it in a place filled with cops.  (They tend to be big cops, their hips bulging with handguns and, well, hip.)

So now, I’m on the subway writing.  It’s also not bad.  Yes, an unseasonably cold day makes the seasonal air conditioning drafty; the mechanized voices jabber nonstop, and there is the constant loud whir, bing, squeal of the engine, wheels, track.  Still, I have a seat.   (It’s not a rush hour train.)

More importantly,  I’m not just writing on the train right now—I’m mainly writing in my notebook. Which is about as quiet and uncluttered and spacious as lined white paper can be.

The point of all this:  don’t worry about where you are doing your work.  Don’t put it off because you don’t have the right space (a writer’s room, cabin, desk, even computer).  Don’t put it off even to wait for  the right moment.   I know it sounds clichéd, but the fact is that the only place you ever have to write is the place you are right now;  the only moment you ever have is this one.

To some degree, the same reasoning can be applied to drawing and painting. Again, of course, it’s wonderful to have a lovely studio, easel, table, but your drawing is not made only in your studio.  The place it truly inhabits is the page (or napkin or envelope.)

Of course, some places are genuinely more inconvenient or conducive than others;  if you have access to a convenient, conducive place, take it!  But the factor that most quickly makes a space workable is simply working in it.  Engagement is a great architect/decorator.

I don’t write this to be annoying, or to tout my own powers of concentration.  (They are not very good–when I write in a public space, I sometimes just follow my mind’s meanderings.)  I write to help counteract the many forces that lull one into procrastination.

If you want to work, then get to work!  Wherever!

(P.S. For more on blocking writer’s block, check out the writer’s block category on the ManicDDaily home page.)

(P.P.S. Computer problems delayed the posting of this post beyond my daily deadline, drat!  Sorry!)

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.)

Waxing Philosophical – The Framework of Now

January 19, 2010

One of the negative side effects of being a writer and blogger is difficulty being a “liver”.  (I do not mean here an organ that filters blood, but a person who does not filter experience.)

When you focus a great deal on ongoing narratives and commentary, it can be very hard to just be (as they say) in the moment.  The ongoing mental monologue (or dialogue if, like me, you are a Gemini) unfortunately leads to a lack of attention, also a lack of wonder.  This is terribly self-defeating as both attention and wonder are important tools in coming up with something real/good/unique to write about.

Of course, it’s not just writing and blogging that make for difficulties in being present in the actual ongoing physical world.  Modern life cultivates customs of pre-occupation.  Cell phones, blackberries, make avoidance of the direct physical moment seductively easy; a screen on which one can project one’s own narrative and constant commentary (whether texting, emailing, or simply identifying) is compellingly addictive.

There’s also the fear factor.   Turning your attention to the moment, to the right now physical world, can be scary simply because you are typically such a small part of that moment, such a teeny, transient, corner in that world.

Here’s a short poem about it, written while trying to take a walk.  (In short, it’s a poem written about being in the moment while avoiding actually being there.)

The Framework of Now

How hard it is
for the mind to fit
into the framework of now;
the reason may be
that ‘now’ is not ‘me’;
how the mind hates to see
how much goes on,
and will go on,
when it is gone.
Can’t rationalize the lack
of its active participation,
a bulwark
unto itself.

All rights reserved.  Karin Gustafson

P.S.  – the above poem is really a draft.  These are always especially hard for me if no formal verse structure, i.e. sonnet, villanelle, pantoum, is involved.  If anyone has any ideas, let me know.

Blocking Writer’s Block – When Escapism Hits (Hard)

December 3, 2009

Sometimes the mind needs candy.  It just can’t bear to chew over ideas of substance; it’s too tired to wrestle with gristly debates; it doesn’t want to pick nuance from its teeth.

No sirree, what it wants are donuts.  (It’s not even up to “doughnuts”.)  And it wants them all night long.

Who knows what makes the mind revert to pablum?

(Actually, I think it’s stress, a rebellion from pressure, an internal decision not to bullied by one’s own sense of responsibility.)

During such periods, some minds, usually of the male persuasion, will watch sports  or play video games; some females will watch several seasons in one sitting of Grey’s Anatomy, even though they well understand that both McDreamy and McSteamy are McStupid, and that Meredith Grey would be more properly named “MiMi Beige.”

In my case, the reversion is to puerile, but somehow, entertaining books.  (And, of course, a certain new movie star whose name is only known to regular followers of this blog.)

I’m not quite sure what to advise when times like this arise.  I guess the most important question is—are you getting your work done?  By work, I mean your day job, your school work, your obligations to family, friends, dog, your toothbrushing and hairwashing, your eating and some minimum amount of sleep.  Hopefully, most of us can put down the mind’s donutty distraction for the hours it takes to perform the tasks that keep us in the daily life business.

But what about that creative work that we think of as a second career (or a true vocation)?

Unfortunately, it can be very hard for creative work to serve as a significant block to a donutty mindset, especially if you are not getting either money or acknowledgement for the creative work.

Luckily, the mind has some natural defenses:

  1. Boredom.  Most escapist fare does not, per se, hold an overwhelming amount of food for thought.
  2. Pride.  An OC (obsessive-compulsive) attraction to escapist fare can become really embarrassing.    It’s true that innocuous plastic book covers, and a Kindle can go a long way towards mitigating that embarrassment.  Still, when you mother keeps telling you how much she’s enjoying Cormac McCarthy while you are obsessively reading Charlaine Harris (author of The Sookie Stackhouse novels, the basis for the series, True Blood), it gets a bit much.
  3. Duty.  Trees.

While you are waiting for boredom, pride, and duty to kick in, here’s another trick:    try to find something useful in your mind candy.  Look at it from a “maker’s” point of view.  If you are interested in writing, read the dumb books with an eye for their plotting, their narrative structure, their momentum, their sex scenes (!)   (Yes, it’s all a bit of an excuse, but there can be some valuable lessons there.)

Finally try to just enjoy yourself a bit.    Be giddy, stay up late, read while you walk to and from the subway.   More importantly, get some much-needed confidence.     And don’t worry too much.   If you are truly interested in doing creative work, the angst will be back soon enough.

More On Blocking Writer’s Block – Discipline/Playfulness

December 2, 2009

Generally, I really do believe that discipline is the paramount tool  in (i) getting real work done; and (ii) achieving lasting happiness.  (A bit of a workaholic, I have a hard time imagining happiness in the absence of real work.)

Discipline is especially important if your real work is creative.  Inspiration is terrific, of course, but the tangible application of inspiration generally takes some putting of your shoulder to the wheel, nose to the grindstone.

And yet….   And yet…  creativity also requires play—the shaking free of the shoulder, the picking of the nose off the grindstone and thumbing it at the world, the off-beat syncopation of the song, the heightened leap of the dance,  the crazy invented rhyme, the stroke, if not of genius, at least of ingenuity.

Discipline/play—it’s a pretty crazy balancing act, strength and elasticity, practice and spontaneity, muscle and frill.

Actually, I’m not sure that “frill” is the right word.  Maybe “flow” works better.  “Flow” sounds pretty darn creative, and yet unchannelled flow can also end in puddles, swampland, ditches, floating you away, sinking you in muck.  (Yes, I’ve probably taken that metaphor too far.)

Still, the point is that you need to figure out a balance–a way to discipline your use of time, while remaining playful within that time.  It’s important too, even while disciplined, to remain open to obsession, crazy tangents.   Adhere only to discipline and you could end up writing computer manuals, or worse, you could self-implode, and become simply escapist, reading vampire novels all night.

Too much playfulness, on the other hand, can also lead to complete self-indulgence, ending up in mindless haiku.   (Sorry, good haiku.)

Unfortunately, after a lot of discipline, I’ve moved into to the escapist mode in the last few days.  As a result, I’ll end this right here so I can go back to my nighttime reading.

(For more specific suggestions on blocking writer’s block, or other creative blocks, check out my posts in this category from the ManicDDaily home page.)

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.

Crazy Day Nights, Bed Tea

November 12, 2009

Crazy days, no nights.  Yes, the sun sets.  Quite early, in fact.  But you know those weeks when, even after darkness falls (which, okay, never completely happens in the City), and all the lights are off in your apartment (except for the little green and red ones in the various cable boxes), and the down blanket is tucked softly around your shoulder (unless it suddenly feels too hot), and your sleeping socks are comfortably on feet that would otherwise be too cold or too dry to relax (yes, it would be better if one was not a footie while the other a knee sock)– but you know what I mean–those hours when you should sleep but your mind still churns through numbers, conversations, projected conversations, or worse, if you do drift off briefly, images of the back of a computer, torn open so that wires and tubes protrude, the same wires and tubes that hold the only copies of your most dear and precious files.

My husband dreams of things like flying; Mao Tse Tung floating down the Yangtze in an inner tube; himself, naked, except for a pickaxe slung across his back, scaling the wall of a garden party where all other males are strapped into spats and morning coats.  As a result, perhaps, he is always promoting the virtue of many hours of sleep, or, at least, the prescribed eight.

He doesn’t understand that this prescription is not appealing to those who dream, if at all, about the backs of their laptops torn open.

I, on the other hand, am a great believer in sitting in bed for long periods,  propped up by pillows, awake, but feeling both mindless and blissfully guilt-free because (a) it’s either too early or too late for the overdrive to control; (b) I really am pretty tired after all the nights of torn-open computer backs; and (c) that mindless part I mentioned earlier in this sentence.   All the while drinking bed tea, which, for these purposes, I will define as virtually any steaming hot beverage, preferably with a bit of milk in it; and happily reading, re-reading, re-re-reading, or, in the last few months, blogging (haha!),  writing to anyone else out there who also craves some slightly mindless rest.

I wish I could pour you a cuppa….