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
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?
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
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!
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! Let’s 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
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
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.)
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
(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
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: It’s 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.
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
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, there’s getting “Nice” into 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
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
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
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!