Monday, April 7, 2014

LIFE OF A POET - KARIN GUSTAFSON

Kids, I am sure most of you are familiar with Karin Gustafson and her whimsical elephants, whose work can be enjoyed at Manic D Daily. Karin lives in the countryside outside New York City, in a storybook setting. She takes the train into the city to work, so her life sounds magical to me! The train is leaving the station, so let's hop aboard and go check out This Poet's Life!



Sherry: I have often wondered about the name of your blog. Its significance? Are you very high-energy?     


Karin and husband up-State


Karin: Hi Sherry!  First, thank you and Poets United for thinking of me as a poet! I feel honored to be included in part of such a vibrant group of writers.

Now to your question--I think my blog name confuses readers who tend to focus on the “manic” part.  The name should probably be spelled with hyphens--Manic-D-Daily--to emphasize that first D, which is a subtle hint to depression.  

Thankfully, I am not someone who suffers from manic depression, but I am a Gemini (ha!), and I do run through dramatic sets of moods fairly readily.  Even my work seems to vacillate between the slightly goofy slapstick and the gloomily morose.  The name of the blog was intended to be an inside joke on those two sides of both my personality and my work.

Sherry: Smiles. Set the scene for us: what does your life look like today? Your little house is absolutely adorable! 


My little house in the country

Karin: While I try (when I think about it) to look on every day as a gift, I don’t really have any particular “given” day right now.  After living a few decades in New York City, I last year gave up my New York City apartment and moved to a little house in the beautiful Catskill Mountains of upstate New York.  This has basically been a very positive move--I walk out my door--or, this winter, cross-country ski out my door--into upliftingly beautiful fields and woods.  More importantly, I’m able to spend much more time with my husband, who is based here in the mountains.

The difficult part is that these wonderful fields, woods, door step, husband, are a few hours away from my office in mid-town Manhattan. 


What my city closet used to look like

My super tolerant employer allows me to work a few days each week in my office and the other days from my home in the Catskills.  But because I live so far, I need to spent two to three nights a week in the City in order to accomplish this.
The good part is that I've gotten very quick at packing. I’ve also learned just how many sets of work clothes can be jammed into a file cabinet or plastered on the back of an office door.  (And not to mind wrinkles.)


I've learned to work anywhere

The hard part has been adjusting to sleeping (and writing) in the different places I stay in the City, since I no longer have my apartment.  Each place is comfortable enough but also quite different--sometimes I’m on a futon couch in South Harlem, sometimes in a very comfy bed with a view of Central Park, most frequently in a high hard cot in a teeny little room in a midtown club/hotel-- it's all still a process, in short! 

That said, it is wonderful for me to have more time in the country--even if a lot of it is spent standing at my computer.  As for my pets--you may remember from my blog that my dear old dog, Pearl, died this past fall.  Too sad.

Gallant little Pearl 

My best photographic catch-
Pearl doesnt even look like she is posing.


Sherry: Yes, many of us knew your wonderful 18 year old Pearl through your blog. Kids, be sure to read Karin's moving tribute to Pearl, that you can find here. You must miss your girl so much.



Pearl in clouds, created in iPads Apps


Karin, what led to your choice of the law as a profession? Has it brought you fulfillment? 


City haunt

Karin: To be honest, I mainly happened into law as a form of self-punishment.  I felt guilty that I had not achieved certain things I thought I should have accomplished at a young age;  going to law school, which at the time seemed completely alien to my character, was something I thought would compensate for those self-denominated failures. 

Despite this inauspicious start, law has served me well.  I early on felt very conscious of how society pushes people around, especially people who have a hard time voicing their needs or rights, and I was conscious that legal training could give one a kind of protection from that type of manipulation. 


NYC World Trade Center beams


Law has also served me well because I was lucky enough to find this great employer, who has been very tolerant of my foibles and needs throughout my career, especially when my children were young.

I primarily practice trusts and estates, with a particular focus on international matters.   On the one hand, it is very fulfilling as I have many wonderful clients for whom I genuinely care.  On the other hand, it is quite stressful as I have many wonderful clients for whom I genuinely care.




Sherry: I can well imagine! There are a lot of elephants gracing your posts, and I adore elephants. Do you love them especially? When did you begin to sketch and paint? Has it always been elephants?

Karin: Elephants seem to me to be terribly soulful creatures.  I think I started drawing them because they have such recognizable features, i.e. people can see what you are trying to make even if you are not a very good draftsperson!


One of my first sketches, for  1 Mississippi,
a counting book for kids

I first started painting in high school when I had a wonderful art and history of art teacher. I did not take my own efforts very seriously, but I grew to care a great deal about art, and also about the beauty of the random--I went through a phase when I thought every stain on a concrete wall was phenomenal.



Although I later spent a fair amount of time around the art world, I did not do much art of my own till having children, when I would make little drawings and play-doh sculptures for my kids.  That led me to do my children’s book, 1 Mississippi, which I illustrated with gouache paintings (and elephants.)

Sometimes I think I’d like to do some drawings that are not just for children.  The problem is that if I have any talent at all with drawing, it is with eyebrows--and the kind of eyebrows I draw really only work for something childlike. 



Sherry: It would be fun to explore, wouldn't it? You never know what might happen!  I love this drawing of Pearl. What a sweet face she has!  Lets go all the way back. Where did you grow up? Is there something in your childhood you can see now may have foreshadowed your becoming an artist and poet? 

Karin: I grew up in suburban Maryland/Washington, D.C.  I have always wanted to be a writer.  There were a few other things too.  As a little child, I’d count them out on one hand--a chemist, a physicist, an astronomer, an actress, and a writer, but writer was always the thumb--that is, the one I'd do even in combination with the rest.  (I was probably so involved with science because my Dad was a research chemist.) 

Sherry: Is there someone you would say has been the most significant influence on your life and your art?

Karin: I do not feel as if there was any single person who particularly influenced me or acted as a mentor (except maybe authors I’ve read.)  Both my parents certainly believed in me, though the support of parents can be a two-edged sword--heavily freighted with expectation.  

My mother, for example, could not be more supportive, but also dearly wanted me to be successful from the get-go--you are not truly a “writer”, in her mind, until you are somewhat best-selling.   This type of support, though very kindly meant, can really make one question one’s self.  My father, who was able to work much of his life in a field he deeply loved, was generally more understanding about the idea of devotion to the work itself.

Sherry: I love that: "devotion to the work itself". Which is, I suspect, what most of us feel. We would write, no matter what. Because we feel badly if we don't. When did you write your first poem?

Karin: I wrote quite a bit of poetry as a child.  My mother was a teacher and when I was little she taught me about rhyme and syllabic meter as a game (usually in the bathtub.) 

My parents saved copies of early poems.   Many do rhyme, but my favorite (which I have in my memory somehow) was blank verse written at age six (so probably one of the first.)

Fog
The fog is cold and grey.
It looks like an old man's beard to me.
It moves along so slowly
like it has a cane to walk.

(I illustrated this one with a picture of old guy with a beard!) 

Sherry: Remarkable! Especially at age six. What do you love about poetry?


Elephants in Fog and my train ride to the city


Karin: What I most love about poetry is its surprises, the main ones being that words alone are capable of music, and that so few of these musical words are able to combine to make deep (and new) chinks in those strange armored walls that block our understanding of the world. 

Sherry: I love that! "Chinks in the walls". You have three books out, your children's book, 1Mississippi, a volume of poetry, Going on Somewhere, and a comic novel called Nose Dive. Do you have plans for more?

Karin: Yes, I have another book, Nice, a novel, that I expect to have out within the next couple of months.  It is an adult book and perhaps more serious than the others I have published.   It has just made it into the second round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest.  I don’t have a lot of hopes about the contest--but I am very excited/nervous about getting the book out. 

I also have a few other older manuscripts--two sequential children’s novels about a dog and his girl, and one fantasy novel, that I hope to revise and publish relatively soon.




Sherry: You are very productive! Way to go!  When did you begin blogging? And how has it impacted your work?




Karin: I actually began blogging to publicize 1 Mississippi.  Unfortunately, I am a terrible publicist.  I don’t even know how to put pictures of my published book covers in my side bar!  (Help, anyone who knows Wordpress!!!!)


So, on the flogging books side, blogging has not been very successful.  On the other hand, I’ve really enjoyed blogging, and I’ve learned a tremendous amount about writing and editing, especially about writing and editing poetry.  

Before blogging, I hardly ever wrote poems,  except as exercises, and I almost always used formal verse forms--sonnets and villanelles.  Free verse seemed impossibly intimidating--there were just too many choices.  Writing poems for the blog, and reading other people’s poetry in the wonderful online poetry community, has somehow freed me to write free verse--obviously a terrific change for me.

Sherry: Is there a poem you feel especially good about having written, that we can include here? 

Karin: Its hard for me to judge, but here is a relatively short one that I like that I do not think has been seen by many people.

Just Hiding

Sometimes, I could just hide
in some lined wood,
my fingertips fitting bark prints
as if I were
all fingertip,
a chosen trunk my belly’s back
as if I were only spine,
flattening myself against growth’s bounds
as if vertical were how I always laid me down,
as if hiding turned me into treasure one might seek,
asking, like the mourning dove, who I was–
though you already know that
through and through,
and, like the mourning dove,
ask only because the call sounds
of water,
like a swallow of water,
like the soft swoop/rise of water,
and trees need
water.


Sherry: This is breathtaking! I actually felt the swallow of water.  What other activities might we find you involved in, besides writing and painting?

Small elephants, X-country skiing 
in the field beside our house

Karin: Writing and painting/drawing plus keeping up with my job keep me pretty busy.  But I am also someone who simply loves to physically move-- being able to hike, swim, or even cross-country ski in the country before or after my work day has been really terrific.

Sherry: You live in a heavenly location. Is there a cause you are particularly passionate about?

Karin: My two main causes are women’s rights (to control our bodies, to be educated, to be treated fairly) and then the earth’s rights (environmental issues). These seem to fall in with yours too, Sherry!  You write with such wonderful passion about them. I would like to do more.




Sherry: We all do what we can, kiddo, and thanks for adding your voice to the conversation. What are your goals for writing  in 2014 ?

Karin: First, of course,  theres getting Niceinto print.  Secondly, I am hoping to manage the poem a day in April.  (Agh!)

Then, there is the project of revising my other old manuscripts -

And then, or maybe before then, I would like to work on another adult novel that I’ve written parts of--it is tentatively called Outsider Art

Finally--ha! I’d like to collect my poems from the blog (all those drafts), and maybe also put together a selection of blog pieces I wrote about writer’s block. 

And finally FINALLY-I’d really like to do some more picture books! 
Oh yes, and short stories! 

Needless to say, I am going to have to take one thing at a time. For me, the best approach is just to focus on what seems doable in the actual moment, and to try not to get too caught up in what I think I should be doing.  

Sherry:  I am feeling as overwhelmed as you are, trying to archive a gigantic body of work. But it is satisfying work, isn't it? Is there anything you would like to say to Poets United?

Karin: Mainly, carry on!  You guys do such good work bringing poets together, encouraging them, inspiring them--on a truly international level.  It is simply wonderful that someone (like me) sitting alone and a bit bereft in a little hotel room in the middle of the night in Manhattan can turn to this kind of source for poetic companionship.  So, thanks.

Sherry: Thank you, Karin, and I feel the very same way: this aging woman hermit, at my desk, and interviewing amazing people all over the world! It truly knocks me out!  Thanks for a great visit!! And good luck with publishing your books!

Wasn't this a fun visit, kids? I love all of the dogs and elephants. So much fun! Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!

31 comments:

  1. I have ENORMOUS respect for Karin as a poet and artist. Everything she does is infused with wit, intellect and humour. I love the little home in the snowy forest - it seems like a lovely dream to me, and throw in the job in Manhattan...

    Thank you, Sherry, for allowing us the opportunity to visit with Karin, and to Karin for being such an inspiration to her fellow online poets. I await the day the literary world sits up and takes notice of this one of a kind writers.

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    1. Dear Kerry, Thanks so very much for your always overly-kind words. And thank you, Sherry-- but that will come separately. k.

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  2. Yay! getting to know K! Thank you both for an interview that holds up lawyering, writing, drawing, loving and enjoying life as part and parcel of each other. Yay too for the Catskills and their heights and hills.

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  3. Karin, you warm my heart! Pearl's painting is gorgeous and I hope one day you could write a book about her-perhaps for children. She was a gift- My mom collects elephants and I love your drawings~ Your kindness comes through in your writing and makes me happy to know you and your work!~ Thank you for sharing your tenderness! Well done Sherry-

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    1. Thank you, Ella--elephants are highly collectible! My dog book is my next big project, I think. Thanks again. k.

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  4. ...what a darlin'! Thanks to inquisitive Sherry, :-o she uncovered, for me, quite a gem.
    Nice to meet you Karin. :-)
    ZQ

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  5. Sherry! Thank you so much for putting this whole thing together. Much appreciated.

    You are so kind and have such passion in your work. Thanks for devoting the time to this. Karin Gustafson

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  6. Sherry, thanks for the lovely interview on Karin ~

    Always a pleasure to read your work Karen and your drawings of elephants are endearing ~ I like the location of your new home though I can imagine the long commute to work ~ Still, it has its blessings and advantages ~ Good luck in your publication ~

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    1. Thanks so much, Grace. Thanks for all you do. Huge! K.

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  7. It was my pleasure, Karin. Your little home looks like a fairy tale house, you gave me such wonderful material to work with. I had a lot of fun putting it together. I am happy you will do a dog book - that will make a wonderful children's book!

    And thank you all for reading and commenting - it always warms my heart to come in and read the messages of support and appreciation of our fellow poets.

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  8. k is cool people...i have met her...and been to that apartment on my last new york trip....and even met the pups...so sorry karin....i love her elephants as well...best wishes on your new book k...and all your projects as well...

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    1. Thanks, Brian. You are always so kind. K.

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  9. This was just a great interview, you two--of course, Sherry's interviews are always the best, because she has a way of getting her subjects to talk about what really matters to them. It was wonderful to learn all the details about Karin, and to see the excellent pictorial accompaniment. I very much like the poem chosen, also, possibly one of my favorites of all time of hers, but almost everything she writes has that effect on me. Thanks to all concerned, Sherry, Karin and Poet's United, for the great read. Oh, and special thanks to the elephants, who gave of themselves so selflessly! ;_)

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  10. I love the thanks to the elephants - yes, they made my day!

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  11. Thanks Sherry for taking us to Karin's magical world of creation....and Karin like your blog your world seems to be a home of joy.....

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  12. Your elephants are quite cute for sure :D

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  13. Very nice interview, Sherry. Karin, nice to learn more about you here. You seem to live in the 'best of all worlds,' working in NYC and living in the Catskills. Both offer different things. I think it must be nice to have an opportunity to live in two different environments. I always wondered what kind of law you practiced, so I was glad to be enlightened on that aspect. Of course, I am sad for your loss of Pearl. What a dear dog. And your elephants are delightful. Not to mention your poetry. Smiles. Good luck on your latest book...and on finding the time to pursue all of the projects on your 'to do list.'

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    1. Thanks, Mary--Luck is what I feel that I need right now! The two worlds are pretty great, but right now (in City), life feels a bit intense! Thanks for your support always. k.

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  14. It was breathtaking reading! Thank you both, Sherry and Karin! You broke the image of lawer I had before...so surprised to find behind the very serious/dry (for me) profession such a vulnerable feelings to animals, such childish spirit, kindred soul...nice to meet you, Karin :)xx hope your books wishes come true!

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  15. I can't begin to say how much I enjoyed this interview, Sherry and Karin. I am on the verge of sentimental tears, for so many reasons...Pearl first and foremost, because beloved dogs R us, and Karin's amazing story of the lawyer who draws elephants (like the one Pearl is leading around) and writes children's books and poetry. How can such a story fail to stir the hearts and ambitions of every woman everywhere?
    Luv, K

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    1. Thanks for your sweet comment, Kay.

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  16. Okay, have to say this, grammatical error on my part. Should have said "of women everywhere"...hate having to copy-edit my own stuff.
    K

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  17. Dropping by to catch up on the chat. It is always so nice to read the comments, which I do with a smile on my face........what a lovely group of poets in our community! I, too, miss Pearl. I have never before seen a photo of a poodle in a chandelier...if one lives long enough, she sees everything. Smiles.

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  18. So glad I managed to get over here to read this interview. Don't know why I didn't realize that Karin Gustafson and manicdaily are one and the same, so that alone was worth the trip. Great interview as usual Sherry. Man, you're prolific Karen - wow - I love your photos and your elephants especially also (have a big affinity for the big ones myself)...good to get to know you a bit better.

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  19. A fantastic read - I adore that little house (I'm trying to sell mine so I can go small(er) and cozy. Karin, you seem an amazingly energetic person. My son adores elephants, has ever sense he was very little and I have a necklace I adore with an elephant on it. Yes, they are soulful - as is much of your poetry. Glad to get to know you a little better!

    Thanks, Sherry, for another wonderful interview.

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    1. Thank you, Margaret--all your children seem to be talented artists and poets --so not surprising that they would like elephants! (Ha.) I am not feeling very energetic this morning. K.

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  20. I adore Karin and her poetry, and of course those delicious elephants. Glad I finally found a moment ti read this over my morning coffee — a lovely read. Thank you both. Karin, of course you are a poet!

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