Gertrude Stein

Gertrude Stein
Woman with a brilliant mind

Friday, December 31, 2010

How I made it through the Holidays

Gertrude has a very nice kitchen table but it isn't often seen because there's a reservoir of clutter covering it and leaving just enough space for people to put a plate on when they visit her table. I look at the stuff she's collected there: Pill bottles, opened rolls of throat lozenges, bowls of beads, a can of old pens and pencils, the puzzle page of a weeks-old newspaper, a Reader's Digest, a box of paper clips.

When I visited today the table had been cleared off and the stuff that was there, now swept into a cardboard box. Instead she'd spread out a jigsaw puzzle and was sitting there flipping the pieces over--little pieces, thousands of them.

All right, I said and I sat down and we worked on the puzzle. She'd done it at least two other times. She had quite a few puzzles in boxes on the top shelf of her coat closet, all with scratched up, tattered pictures on the sides. I marveled that she wasn't bored by doing the same ones over and over. But since I'd never seen it, this puzzle was actually interesting to me. The image in it looked like a natural still-life scene until you looked closer and everything was made of little items like thread spools, combs and graham crackers and yarns and stuff like that.

I said, This stuff that makes up the picture in the puzzle is a lot of the same stuff you had on your table before, only now it's a pretty arrangement.

I think of my house that way sometimes, she said. I use everything I've got eventually. Why make a fetish of neatness?

Well, I feel better when my stuff is neat, I replied. I feel...virtuous.

You have the fetish.

That's what she said, and I knew for sure that she was wrong. She can be so annoying sometimes. She thinks the way she does things is the best. She's stubborn about it. She won't listen to anyone else's ideas. How selfish, how boring.

Puny, negative feelings crept into me and I was hating her.

Now, one thing I have learned about Gertrude over the years is, she's sensitive. Psychic. She isn't afraid of what other people think or feel, but she's well aware of it. She has a way of turning your feelings back on you if you try to blame her. I know it but I tried anyway.

To each his own, I said pointedly.

You say that, but what you mean by it isn't what the words say. Pardon me if I'm wrong... She frowned at me and her eyes glared slightly, taking me aback.

You used that phrase like a tool. You used it to poke at me. You didn't mean you accept that everyone does things differently. What you meant was the opposite, it seems to me. You're judging, using a nonjudgmental phrase. What good did you do?

I let out a deep breath.

I guess the things I pay attention to and let bother me are also a kind of clutter.

Finally Gertrude sat back and smiled. She said,

I bet you thought you were being sane and rational, right? Thinking that neatness was more virtuous and that clutter on my table meant something important. Maybe you will have to let go of some sanity, if it's like that.

After our visit was over, I thought about what Gertrude had said. I lay in bed, my mind whirling and pressure building within me. And finally I felt so miserable with all my fumings, I just had to let them go. I felt slippage in my sense of caring about reality. It made me nervous but I let it happen.

The next day I started laughing more. I saw messed-up things happening and I just went, Okay! --giggle giggle. Nothing bad happened.

Somebody got annoyed at me?
Okay, sorry. Hee hee.

Ignorant driver in the left lane on the highway?
Whatever. Hee hee.

Mean person judging a weak person unkindly?
Oops. Ha ha.

So now when I go visit Gertrude, I try to slip into that new dimension and just enjoy her. She is shaped like bread dough rising, and when she wears red lipstick she looks batty. She's not.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Where do I go, what do I do now?

I say to her, Gertrude, I read the Bible every day. I read David R. Hawkins on consciousness. I think back and recall metaphysical things I've studied. I ask questions. I ask to be broken of my errors so I can grow. I ask if my Creator loves me and I look at the beauty around me and I think yes. I even read the Book of Mormon to try and appreciate what it was I loved but left behind. I do all that and I think I ought to be at peace with that. But "ought to" is not real is it?

In my dream, Gertrude fills back up with life and air and juice, and she begins to inflate like a balloon with a red light illuminating it, and she takes on the shape of a Hindu goddess with nine arms. The arms point in all directions and at all times. She is beautiful, then awesome, then fierce, then terrifying. Flames shoot from her palms and her eyes, and she burns me with them. I feel burning pain but then what was burning burns away and still I am standing there. After the wooden parts of me burn away I am free to go and do anything I want, but what's left of me is still standing there, right in front of her, waiting for some indication of what to do.

Then I come back to the room we're in and she's there with her messy gray hair, wearing her green sweater, polishing a spoon with its sleeve.

"You will never know where to go or what to do. It's just never going to happen. You're going to spend your whole life in this same state of mind, because you've built up this mental habit of never grasping onto anything."

Her words hurt me. They sounded so indifferent, like she'd stuck me up on a bulletin board with a tack and just left me there.

Gertrude, I wondered, Do you love me anyway?

Yes, I do, she said. I'd just like to invite you to hold onto me. You help me stay steady when I'm walking, and I'll suggest directions we could go. I've been a lot of places. I just need you to say yes when I want to take you somewhere. I don't think you're lazy, but I think you let your fears control you and you take too much pleasure in safety for your own good.

I said, Gertrude, I don't really want to go anywhere.

Well, okay, stay there, then! she said, throwing her hands up in the air. We sat there with not much to say until I finished my tea.

I love you, Gert, I said, and I gave her a hug, smelled her skin smell and felt the coolness of her hair against my cheek. She hugged me extra long.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Avoiding me

I like a view but I like to sit with my back turned to it.

Gertrude Stein

I haven't visited with my Gertrude in awhile, and I can't really fathom why I've been staying away from her place.

It's not that I haven't wanted to see her--I have. I think there started to be barriers--little snarls in the flow of emotional connection. Maybe it's the way she smiled at me weirdly or didn't smile. Maybe there was just a little gap in what one of us said and how it was understood. Or maybe my ego was not flattered as it was before--we lost our charms.

Or maybe one of us got "needy," to where just a hello was not enough. Maybe one of us was seeking validation from the other beyond what can really be expected, like the cat that won't let you push her off your lap when you're tired of her.

It's not that I have stopped loving Gertrude. I always do love her. She's just this funny, unique, gray-haired person with her own proclivities. She doesn't fit into any stereotype. Maybe the closest thing I could compare her to is Maude, in that old movie, Harold and Maude. Maude liked to find what was unusual and she found beauty in all of her senses, but she was too destructive! If ever there was a stereotype for a nutty old lady, that's Maude. Gertrude, on the other hand, is over that sensibility and she just wants to do what's giving and meaningful. I appreciate that, and yet I had to hold back.

Well, today I felt lonely for her and I went and saw her. She still had the dry leaves on the rug beneath her plant stand that have been there for a long time. And there were still the shoe marks where we'd gone looking for something. There were still the candles burning in the colored glass holders, and as always a cup of tea--jasmine. I looked into her face, and she looked into mine too. And I could tell in a heartbeat that it was okay, and that when one of us could finally put our feelings into simple words, we'd be free to say anything that might clarify the muddle.

Communication is always better than avoidance. Always? Probably always. There we were, two flawed individuals, caught up in realities we couldn't fully explain. But it was nice to go and visit her just the same. I did get lazy and maybe she did too. We ought to think of something we could do together, such as go on a sailboat ride or to a museum when we've got the energy and the will. Or we could cook a meal together. And most of all we could appreciate that we were together visiting again, as if there would never be another visit, not saving the expensive china for some other occasion but appreciating it right now.

guest Gertrude of the Day:

Her name is Harriot. In her family she had a sister who was "the pretty one" and she dealt with that by going out and doing great things. She joined the women's auxiliary of the military during WWII and learned leadership. Met a great guy and married him, raised a family of ordinary kids who have done some great things, had a career in cosmetic sales and always kept a really nice home. Now her health is a struggle and yet people still come to see her and help her, thanks to her personal capital built up over the years. And she's still refined--except when she gets a little angry you hear it come out as steely firmness but otherwise politely. There's nobody else like her.

Monday, July 26, 2010

That knowing raise of the eyebrow

Do you know because I tell you so, or do you know, do you know.

Gertrude Stein

I sometimes talk with Gertrude about things I wish I could do, like go to Europe or art school.

"Why don't you, then?" she says, "If you really wanted to, you would."

"Ouch," I think, but she's right. It's a philosophical truth that the way you act every moment reveals what you want. Sure, it's true, but it's hard to believe. The things you choose to do are really the only evidence of what you want.

It's like what we say about politicians, something like "believe what they do, not what they say." And in the Bible, Jesus says you know a tree by its fruits.

Gertrude's philosophical statement made me feel a little angry. It's so easy for her to say, just save your money and make a plan, and you can do it. Well, I say, I don't earn any money and so why make a plan?

If what you choose is evidence of what you want, then I must really be wanting comfort and safety above all else. Now, I know I need to accept that about myself. Apparently, my desire for an interesting trek is secondary to my desire for stasis and rest. If I continue to see it as though I'd "be okay" if only I did something great like that, then it's self-loathing. Maybe one of my desires in life is to be loathed by myself and not accepted for who I am. And that's sad. Maybe one of my desires is to feel sad, as I do choose it after all.

I expressed my frustration to Gertrude and she just listened patiently, knitting all the while. That woman has created some beautiful, rich sweaters, hats and stockings. I told her sometimes in my eyes she looks disrespectful, the way I will say something and she'll just have a private thought in reaction to it, and then an expression passes over her face, like, "I've seen that before..." I swear, sometimes I want to use my superior youthful energy to just put her down somehow.

But I need her. And I know she's benign. I know she has wisdom to offer. It's just, sometimes my troubles seem so big, and she's above them, and then she laughs. I swear I'm going to leave her someday when I don't need her.

I'd miss her pretty old apartment with all its plants and handiwork, its old fashioned atmosphere, its quiet serenity. I do love to visit with Gertrude, and I hope I can overcome this childish will of mine to make her as miserable as I feel.

She's just so happy to have a good meal and listen to good music or read a good book. But then, the struggles she's had to go through make me certain that my struggles are necessary to shape me too.

Gertrude got married when she was seventeen years old, because her family was poor and her little brothers and sisters needed so much. The times were awful, so the solution they found was to get her married to a thirty year old man. Can you imagine a family doing that today?

She made the best of it, but he made a life for them that she didn't like. She had to wait until she got a little older, but she left him and got herself a job, and she broke free. That freedom was hard-won, and she didn't come out of it in a healthy state, or she might have made a better decision in a second husband. But she doesn't like to talk too much about it. She says it's taken her years to get to this good place she's in now.

Which returns me to my original thought: The things we want the most are the prime infuences of our choices of behavior every day. I recently bought a new bicycle. I want to take a trip back home but I'm not sure what I want out of it. I wish I could more consciously choose, but then, maybe I like being mentally weak. Saves me from trouble.


She does not put any thought into any kind of coming global catastrophe, nor end times a la the return of the 12th Imam or the Son of Man. If we mess up the earth, we have to live with it. With regards to pollution, she says all of us do things that pollute the earth and assuming we are strong enough to kill of the earth -arguable- then if we are really serious we will act in better ways. We will xeriscape. We will bicycle instead of driving. If we truly believe it, and we value a cleaner world, we will simply consume less of our own free will, and be happier in the process.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Janey Cutler singing No Regret

This is a woman in her early eighties who went on a talent show to sing a song.

And she blew 'em all away!

What this teaches me is, no matter what your stereotypical role in life may be, it's not what you are, but the song you choose to sing. Both Gertrude and I are in need of this kind of learning in life. Though she's miles ahead of me in the way she lives her life, she can still use the reaffirmation that there is always a great choice of song to sing.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Lost and found

It is so friendly so simply friendly and though inevitable not a sadness and though occurring not a shock.

Gertrude Stein

Sensations get complicated

Gertrude lost a gold bracelet and she asked me to come and help her find it. My heart sank because looking for lost items is about third from the bottom of my favorite things to do, right above getting a root canal and cleaning up vomit.

I don't know why I hate it so when I have to try and find something that's been misplaced. I get a desperate feeling inside. I'll give a lost item the normal amount of attention but when someone bugs me about it, or when it gets obsessive, I'd rather lose the item.

But this gold bracelet of Gertrude's, being lost, really had her upset. She wasn't crying or anything, but she kept walking around her house randomly reaching out her hand and pushing aside her geranium pot, rearranging the canisters on her kitchen counter, then going to the front door and fishing around in a little basket where she throws match books, bobby pins and perfume sample bottles that are too good to throw away. She clearly had no idea where to look. I didn't either, but at least I could be systematic. Plus my eyesight is better than hers.

I didn't want to do it, but then it became almost like a mission. It didn't matter whether I had fun or not. I was going to either find the gold bracelet or eliminate all the places it wasn't.

She described the bracelet. It was made of links like a necklace, but bigger. Oh great, I thought. It was a little dinky bit of chain that could collapse upon itself and contort itself into any nook or cranny. Ugh!

Who knows where or when she first realized it was missing. I could do nothing but start at the front door of her house and work to the right. At first it was easy because her little nicknack basket sits on the edge of her old upright piano. I set aside the basket of no gold bracelet. We pulled the piano out from the wall, where inches of dust billowed out from beneath it.

"I'll vacuum," I said, but Gertrude wouldn't let me because if the bracelet was on the floor there, I might vacuum it up. She helped me pull harder on the piano and she gathered up the herd of dust bunnies with her hands. That left only the sand and pebbles and dried old flower petals, which I had to ignore. I visually followed the ribs of the back of the piano, without the sense that a bracelet would end up there at all.

We hunted through the front of the piano, and no bracelet.

"You better dust," I said, and she must have had her mind lost in finding the bracelet because she just said, "Yes, I really must." We pushed the piano back up against the wall and checked in the dusty silk flower arrangement, no bracelet. Next was her couch, an old red velvet one with dark wood flourishes. I pressed hard to push the cushion down and we hunted through the cracks, pulling up breadcrumbs and coins and an old, old piece of crayon with the paper on it soaked in wax. I found an M&M and a cigarette butt, showing it to her with amazed consternation.

"Hmm?" I said, and she shrugged. "I had a friend once, for awhile, and he wasn't too careful with butts." The vacant look had already returned to her face, so I didn't get to ask her what was the nature of that friendship. We felt everywhere in and around that couch. I thought it might be snagged in the old shawl she kept draped over the red velvet arm, but my hope was dashed.

"He died from a house fire," Gertrude said. Another one of her non-sequiteurs? "He?" I asked her. "My guy friend, Hank." I said, "Ohhh." That time I was the distracted one. "He dropped a cigarette butt after he fell asleep on his vinyl couch. It went down in the crack of it and smouldered all afternoon, and then when it finally flared he stayed and tried to fight the fire but he died of smoke inhalation." She shook her head. "He died with his photo album in his arms."

You know, getting older I notice that my mind is slow. Once I could've kept three things going on at once, and kept track of each item. Now I just can't do that. My daughter is the sharp one now, and the contempt I hear in her voice at the times I let something slip, I remember oh so well using against my Mom. But now, not only do I not have much speed in my brain, I don't quite care about as many things as I once did. So it's not so bad, but the contempt stings a little bit. I tell myself it's my turn to be judged the stupid one. Karma is undeviating justice personnified. Getrude's friend Hank may not have been able to think clearly, and that's very sad that he went that way.

Karma is linear. Events and my responses to them all seem to work out the justice that is coming due. I hope I have chosen enough kind and decent responses in this world that my karma eases up when I'm old, when my non-linear, eternal spirit rises out of my body.

And, as bad as I feel that I seem so mentally sluggish now, I even still now feel sorry for Gertrude, because my mental fuzziness, in her, is a haze.

We moved across her front room to the TV stand, the arm chairs across from the sofa, the little side table with the stained glass lamp, the doily her mom had once had in her front room. We checked her big windowsill all festooned with cobwebs and dead flower petals, and even located her lost coin purse.

Finally I needed a break. It was time for tea.

We found the gold bracelet wrapped around the back of the base of her tea tin. she'd moved the tin out, somehow dropped the bracelet, then pushed the tin back. We made a bigger deal of finding it than the situation truly merited. But I remembered how much that bracelet meant to her. Just for no good reason it disappeared and she felt the loss of it more than she could think of what she'd done earlier.

I try very, very hard to have a positive view of the things Gertrude does and thinks, because right there, that's me in a few short years, and if I ridicule her it really means I can't tolerate myself. And how is that okay?

Guest Gertrude of the Day: Jamie Lee Curtis

She has played the cute kid in the neiborhood, the smokin' hot babe, the con artist, the great mom and is an author. I love her. I love her because she showed us something about the common images we see in magazines being faked, thus making credible people think of their own bodies as inadequate. She combated that. She is a mature lady now but the expression in her eyes, and in her smile, are still wonderful. And she married one of the band Spinal Tap, so she really did good in the marriage department too.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Gertrude is Funny

When they are alone they want to be with others, and when they are with others they want to be alone. After all, human beings are like that.
Gertrude Stein

I hung out at my friend Gertrude's house one evening. She lives in a little tiny bungalow in a decent but old neighborhood. I had just been to the cheese importer's place and brought back some really nice brie, Stilton and goats' milk stuff with some good crackers. She knew what kind of wine would go with them, so she brought it out and also some fruit. Unfortunately I can't remember the name of the wine, but when you had the taste of the cheese in your mouth and then you sipped the wine, they blended. To me, that is like magic. You can't tell me it's wrong to have wine with the perfect food accompaniment. I wouldn't give that up. We sat at the table together, sharing a feeling of contentment and friendship.

And then after we did that, I watched her make tea. Here's what she did that was funny: She had on a maroon, cotton cardigan sweater that had seen better years a long time ago. From the pockets of it she pulled out a spoon and a couple of packets of tea. When the water was hot she pulled the cuffs of the sleeves down over her hands to use instead of hot pads. And when she spilled a little hot water on her wooden cutting board she used a corner of the sweater to wipe it up with instead of a towel. Then when she got a sniffle she used her sleeve instead of a kleenex.

I hoped that sweater had been washed recently. I didn't say anything about it, though. Judging by its condition I was sure she threw it in the laundry quite frequently. Plus, where I come from we didn't put too much stock in always being proper and tidy, so if I had misgivings about where those sweater cuffs might have been, I was able to ignore them. And I was glad to keep her company there in her kitchen. Sometimes I've been afraid she gets lonely. But then, a famous author said this once: Loneliness is the poverty of self. Solitude is the richness of self. I had to trust that what my friend Gertrude has is the latter.

Toward the end of the visit, Gertrude had that look about her, as if expectant that I was going to leave soon. I took the hint and drove home. It's nice to visit, and nice to have the visit end at the right time too. I admire how Gertrude has a sense of boundaries and is nice about how she communicates them. That is just another way I want to be like her.

Guest Gertrude of the Day: Laura Bush. She listens to Bob Marley music and appears on Oprah Winfrey. What I like about this is, she stands for what she stands for, but then doesn't expect everyone to agree with her position or be just like her. That's poise.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Floating at one's level

Disillusionment in living is finding that no one can really ever be agreeing with you completely in anything.
Gertrude Stein

I hadn't visited Gertrude in awhile. There were some ostensible reasons such as things to do, etc. But the real reason was this: When I visited her before, the things I'd said seem to have put her to sleep. And though if I asked her about it she'd probably apologize, the truth was it was my own fault somehow but I couldn't put a finger on it.

There's a haze of blended air in my life that I have to walk through sometimes, where vision is clouded not by a cloud but from an area that is out of focus. It hovers at mostly eye level but can go over my head or as low as my legs. One thing in that cloud of blur is the question of why I isolate myself more and more, just on the tiniest of influences such as someone not responding to things I say as I hoped they would respond. I feel the dead air and I stay away from it.

I mean, what am I supposed to do, change my way of thinking, figuring out what to say based on what I think will get a response? I choose instead to be by myself with my thoughts more often than not.

The problem with that is, I don't want to lose Gertrude. I value her to the utmost. She is peaceful and kind, but she remembers so many of her struggles and dramas and she doesn't mind talking about them. True, her house is old and tattered, but her worn out things are still comfortable to sit on. And if you made a hand gesture that hit a cup of tea and made it splash onto the arm of her divan, she wouldn't care.

Beyond all the words we share, the connection we have is what really means something. Maybe I ought to remember that for other people I know. The invisible thread may be a strong rope or just a little piece of string or even a spiderweb--it really matters. If I must isolate myself at least let me maintain the regard I have for others in some way.

Gertrude of the Day:

Sharon Osbourne (photo from Woman's Day Entertainment, 10/8/07

We've seen her up and down, supporting her husband, carrying her husband, coping with ordeals, slapping down people who needed it, being slapped down, and still coming up strong. We've seen her fat, we've seen her thin. Her hair's been this way and that way, but she's not about her hair--she's about having a set of huevos anyone would envy.

My Gertrude is not unlike our Gertrude of the Day, even though there's a lot of outward difference. Both of them fought with their best skills and took hits on their worst achilles heels. I look up to them both.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Striding Atop Uncertainty

Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.
Gertrude Stein

I tried and tried to join Christian churches and to belong in the groups. I also tried atheism but during that month or so I felt miserable and had to keep talking myself into it,and then one day admitted I'm not an atheist and felt better.

I had a long talk with Gertrude over some nice little glasses of sherry and some good cheese and bread, and I was feeling all warm and safe there in her drawing room with the dust motes dancing around in the air. That woman does not have a 5:00 rule at all!

I told Gertrude I feel like the ugly duckling sometimes, and I'm ugly inside if you think of everyone else as having found a group identity they can live with. Gertrude said, "Well, the ugly duckling wasn't a duck at all." She looked at me with those liquid eyes of hers and it dawned on me what she was pointing out. Then I ruined it by wondering if I'd applied a self-flattering analogy to myself. I shook my head, and put it down on my list of things to ponder, if I'm really vain but don't want to admit it.

She said, "Well, maybe what you are is Post-Christian. You believe in Christ, or so you've said, and yet you don't give Christianity the ownership of that particular concept. You told me you believed that Christ was an archetypal structure where someone so pure has such an evolved ego, he let others play out their sickness to the point where he let himself be publicly destroyed, and thus showed there's more meaning to life than what human beings understand."

I felt humbled that someone had actually listened to things I'd said, and thought about them. I felt awful that I often didn't listen to things she said quite as well.

"Yes," I said. "If Jesus Christ was the answer, then it seems like the world would be a better place by now. God knows there are many good Christians and all they get out of it is peace of mind. Is that the best we could hope for? And Jesus only taught for 3 years. He said to be humble and to not think so much of yourself, so you'd give to the poor and you'd forgive your brother even though that can be sooo hard to do. I think just doing those things would make you a spiritual success. Then the epistles were written and I think that's when it turned into a religion. I just can't join a religion."

"That's too bad," she said. "You seem to need something.

I've taken to believing that life is just a mess. It's a series of situations you have to face. It's a challenge to your ability to stand up and love others and let yourself get beaten into shape and tempered. Nobody's got the answer and yet we spend whole lifetimes trying to get someone to give us one. I guess I am post-Christian. I think the apocalypse is every year, and judgment day is every day. And heaven is a nanosecond away at all times. And hell is people.

But that's just not very useful. I want, like, a pill to take that will last me for hours, to give me the sensation that I don't need to worry. I mean, when was anybody ever in control of anything? Sometimes I just haven't worried and nothing bad happened...

I looked up, and Gertrude was sitting in her velveteen armchair with her head tilted back and her eyes closed. I'd put her to sleep!

Guest Gertrude of the Day

All the women who ever married Tom Cruise: Mimi Rogers, Nicole Kidman and Katie Holmes.

These women grabbed that big brass ring, got themselves the best lookin' husband in the world (or used to be) and found themselves in a hell of a mess. I do not know Tom Cruise but I think being a scientologist means he's got some weird, weird, weirdness. What a pickle! Well, Katie hasn't gotten away yet but I think he picked her because she's a genetic match-up extraordinaire and he can try to manage her inner life as long as she'll let him. In order to know how crooked a stick is, lay a straight one beside it.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The heart of friendship

There ain't no answer. There ain't gonna be any answer. There never has been an answer. That's the answer.
--Gertrude Stein

...And you know you'd love to find happy ending to your unhappiness and suffering, but how will you handle it if there never is one?

Gertrude had gotten to where life felt empty and sterile. She didn't want to blame anyone for that, realizing that what she was all her life up into her forties couldn't be helped, because she didn't know any better...and that her younger days were indeed emptier because she'd never been cared for particulary well, so she didn't know the depths of caring about other people.

So later on when the social situation altered, the party times were over and personality was desperately needed, she found it hard to adjust and start to open up to the fact that she was just like everybody else. So she spent quite a few years alone and fallen away.

All of that changed when she began to examine her attitudes and what about her life had left her so lonely and empty. And she realized, at turns, that first of all she hadn't liked herself very much at the outset. She'd somehow gotten the idea that there was a way one ought to be, and she wasn't it. And second of all, she'd become a bit of a narcissist, trying to fill out her lack of self with talk about herself. That left little room for friends to come in. She started caring about others and being interested in them when she stopped judging, comparing and grading. After that, friends came to her and she had a much better life.

I love Gertrude because she's colorful both in style and in the way she responds to the dumb things I say. She doesn't care that I don't like a lot of the same things other people do--she doesn't expect anything like that.

Plus, she learned something important about the suffering caused by her life:

There are two kinds of pain. One is suffering, which is bearing your burdens and learning your lessons. You realize there are problems and you aren't necessarily comfortable but you have a working attitude about things.

The other kind of pain is unproductive, self-pitying and a waste of time, and that is when you have a problem and you just lay down under it. Now, you wouldn't know it to look at her but Gertrude did plenty of this latter kind of suffering. Then one day she learned the truth--that one way or another you're going to suffer.

She even had episodes of depression and they were serious. After each episode got over, when the antidepressant was no longer prescribed and after therapy, she felt fine but then, by golly it would happen again, until she no longer wanted to tolerate life if it meant feeling that way. Like, older depressions laid the groundwork for newer ones--that is until she got a new attitude about the burdens she had to carry in life. Then she gave permission for her troubles to teach her great lessons that beat down that ego of hers.

I had a hard time understanding what Gertrude was talking about when I was in my thirties but later I really, truly came to see that she wasn't kidding about all that stuff that happens between your ears as you grow older.

Now Gertrude seems happy enough to live the rest of her life. Which is funny because I know some of her problems and they're not nice ones!

Guest Gertrude of the Day: Kathy Najimy
Born in 1957 and still looking great, she's a comedica actress and voiceover artist. I like her because she's a character actress, which puts her closer to having some character. I guess a lot of my guest Gertrudes are character actresses because they're all different, where there's something alike about lead actresses, in the way they all want their hair, eyes and teeth and figures to look the same.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Way of Gertrude

Gertrude Stein quote of the day:

A real failure does not need an excuse. It is an end in itself.

By the time Gertrude turned fifty, she realized she'd become a happier person in spite of that sagging behind and the diminished vitality that comes with age. She wouldn't trade fifty for twenty five, even if she could. Why? Because a 25-year-old is still on the upswing of life, moved by the pressure of ideal expectations.

When you're 25, you just have to do so many things that will prove you're worthwhile. You have to have good, solid work. You have to have plans for a family or a mate. You ought to be slim, trim and fit. You ought to look nice. If not, there's your work cut out for you in order to make a success of your twenties.

When you're 50, you've met successes and failures, and you've come to know that success is transient and that failures provide the best lessons in this big school of life. There are other gifts that come with age as well. You've stopped judging others--you don't know why they are what they are, and you're happier not even worrying about it.

There is a big challenge in life, in overcoming emotional pain by identifying the thought pattern you believed had to be true, and surrendering your belief in it. Then you can see life for what it is. I had a problem when I was that age, in which I believed I had to prove I was intelligent. The problem was, I did things that were not intelligent. I was going nuts trying to reconcile my poor results with my supposed excellent brain, and in the end it turned out I wasn't that smart all the time. And I didn't die from this hard reality--I grew better.

I had this discussion with Gertrude over several days. We were studying a fantastic book called The Way of Woman by Helen Luke. We learned that those times of women's fight for equality with men were both a success and a colossal failure. The success was in opening people's minds about women's work. But the failure came in the form of denying women's basic nature. It's the female orientation that provides response and resonance for the masculine and the linear. Without this hidden but necessary quality, all falls down to chaos. And that's what we see now--ruin, because someone created a problem and nobody watched and responded properly.

So, who is a woman that exemplifies the Way of Gertrude?

Guest Gertrude of the Day:
Helen M. Luke was born in England in 1904. In midlife, she studied at the Jung Institute in Zurich, then moved to the U.S. In 1962, she founded the Apple Farm Community in Three Rivers Michigan. In her later years, Helen Luke was the model wise woman for many people. In 1995, she died at the age of 93 at Apple Farm. Her books include The Laughter at the Heart of Things, a collection of essays, and The Way of Woman: Awakening the Perennial Feminine.

She is awesome in her Gertruditude!

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Twist of Fame and Reputation

An audience is always warming but it must never be necessary to your work.
--Gertrude Stein

Sometimes I crave having an audience,and I wish I could do something fantastic that would make people pay attention to me, and pay money to me. On the outside I look all brown and blue, but on the inside I'm maroon and kelly green and turquoise and fuschia. The thing is, anytime I have done something flashy I've found that the other side of fame brings some strange kind of shame, and worse, the fame wears off and leaves me diminished. It's hard to recover from that.

I was watching John Lennon on Behind the Music. After he left the Beatles he tried a solo career but he was so burned out, he had to quit for five years. People kept screaming whenever he walked by. Money people kept wanting him to make more product, but he was hating the work that he used to love.

I wrote a blog entry once that I thought was so fun and light, others in my audience would love it. But the things I wrote were not only playing loose with the truth about someone I cared about very much, I did the exact thing to her that she would hate the most that I could possibly do, which was expose her on the internet when she's a technophobe who won't even do facebook. I threw her name out into the big, gaping maw of monsters and predators. And her picture too. And that one successful blog entry that got published made me feel worse than anything I've ever felt.

Gertrude has made a lot of mistakes in her past. She left her husband and ended up in poverty that was hard to dig out of. She had some health issues that she couldn't get taken care of because she was broke. She never had that many friends, since she was independent minded and couldn't really get on the same page with too many people. But I met her and found her to be such a break from the daily world. Her house is quiet and small and colorful and dusty. She makes little movies and composes songs. She gets her money from a small divorce settlement and her retirement, and some extra things she does like tarot card readings at Halloween time, and she makes things to sell, and grows herbs. I visit her and bring some bread or something. She's got hundreds of notions to talk about, and a library like you wouldn't believe.

There's a Gertrude in Shakespeare--the mother of Hamlet. At the opening of the play, Hamlet's father has died and his mother quickly married another guy. She get suspected of the murder and all kinds of things. In the end, there's doubt it was true.

That reminds me: people really don't know what's so, do they? They can only know what feels right, or have themselves and their thoughts validated by someone else. Then they feel at ease and feel good about what they've said or done, because their ego has been assuaged. This looks like I don't trust humanity. That could be so, but on the other hand it explains why things that started out good can have gone so wrong, like the little Christian fellowship that turns into a cult, or the New-age study group that causes all its followers to get divorced through "radical honesty."

Gertrude gave up religion mostly. She said there are times when she longs for answers and for something to be made right. But as far as belief in Christ, or any particular words or rituals, she believes those things are a part of mass consciousness of the past. I guess you could call her a "post-Christian" because she believes what Jesus taught was just the plain truth--that your relationship with suffering is the key to the way you live life. But as for Paul and the rest, they were men of thousands of years ago and they explained Christ in a way that worked out, but ultimately failed Jesus.

Well, this last visit with Gertrude was nice but I was glad to get home to my work. She is so interested in what she's doing, it spurs me to go home and make something of what I've got going on now.

Guest Gertrude of the Day: Yoko Ono because she was portrayed as some kind of a freak who ruined the Beatles and whose art stunk. But she loved John Lennon in a way that let him develop his unique self, and work out his problems in an authentic way, and didn't turn him into something like marriage does so many people. Also when he wasn't working she managed their money very well and kept them solvent. That's a Gertrude.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Saint Gertrude and My Trudy

Name any name and then remember everybody you ever knew who bore that name. Are they all alike. I think so. Gertrude Stein

St. Gertrude the Great has a monastery dedicated to her. It's in Cottonwood, Idaho. what a coincidence--I have roots in Idaho too. Mine are Mormon and Methodist, but I imagine the Catholic folks who were inclined to find a very nice, inexpensive, isolated spot to start a function, would find Idaho for the same reasons Mormons did. Some people see through all the noise and want to clear their minds and do something important.

That's what being gertrude is all about. Gertrude has long since realized that the things she thought were important because that's what she was told, are just someone's version of what's important. Nobody really knows what's important for everybody else, and people can do the most good if they dedicate themselves to something of their own designation.

Saint Gertrude lived in the last half of the 11th century, in Saxony. She was strong minded and not the most pious of the oblates, and she believed strongly in the bond humanity can build with the Lord. She was friends with the outcasts and taught her followers to trust in God's mercy. Her feast day is November 18th.

And that reminds me: why not have a feast? That would be a great party. I haven't been to one since Christmas. Now I am pretty plain and unassuming. But Gertrude, now there is a lady who knows how to do a feast. She would festoon the walls, put nice cloths on the tables, light candles, have centerpieces of fruit or flowers, and put on some great theme music, like Spanish guitar or lute music. And she'd have everybody singing songs. They'd all leave feeling like they were really a part of a celebration.

Can you imagine a sculptor coming up to you and asking you to pose for a statue that was to go on a cathedral that people would be looking at 900 years from now? I've been to some of those old places and felt a sense of the heart people put into them. I've seen castles that got destroyed because of shifting political allegiances. Except the church be built by God...

Gertrude has tried out every religion there is and a few philosophies as well. She tells me now that because everyone is different, everyone's religion is unique. You can be an atheist and there will still be things you're religious about, such as your favorite pipe tobacco and whiskey, or your sailboat. Anything you think is beautiful and inspiring is a mirror of the beauty inside you.

But on the other hand, Gertrudes seem to all be made of good stuff. Be it Saint Gertrude, Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Ederle, and... We'll see what other Gertrudes we find.

Guest Gertrude of the Day: Auntie Mame, starring Rosalind Russell. She pulled it together and found love late in life.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Gertrude's Body

A masterpiece... may be unwelcome but it is never dull.
--Gertrude Stein

Gertrude has been forced to change her belief about her physicality.

Due to her robust good health of the past, in addition to her casual and wild upbringing, she did not appreciate anything about it. She thought that good eyesight, joint health, liver function and everything else would just gradually get older, but still keep her comfortably moving along in life. And so I guess you could say, she treated her body like something to exploit--something that would only end up thrown away.

Life and evolution have brought about a new way of thinking about the physical, including her body. She knows it's not about being sexy--those days are over. But it's about realizing she is a whole. She's not just her fat, so it can't be about dieting. She's not just her muscle, so it can't be about weight lifting alone.

Today she had a goal to try pilates, to see if there's anything that could be done about the swayback that seems symbolic of lacking in spine. That's when she realized that one definition of true strength is in how well a person holds together.

I am proud of Gertrude for at least this bit of new understanding. I am unmotivated and lazy quite a lot of the time, and I'm hoping Gertrude can teach me about goals and purposes that will help bring life, more life, more pursuit of liberty and happiness.

Guest Gertrude of the Day: Chloris Leachman again. Did you know she's the oldest person to be on Dancing with the Stars? She made it pretty far. They say that beauty in your youth is an accident, but beauty in old age is a true masterpiece.

Hence the quote above. At the onset of my midlife crisis, I had a very hard time letting go of being young and useful to someone. If I'd had the power I would have locked in my youth. Of course, that isn't possible. So, in trying to become the masterpiece that Gertrude is, I may not have welcomed having to do that but I'm finding it isn't dull.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Old Violin

A writer should write with his eyes and a painter paint with his ears --Gertrude Stein

And that's the trouble with school. I have children in school. I've been in this school system. They try to teach children to write with their ears and to paint with their eyes. I suppose that's the first and most direct way to go about it, but if I ran the system I'd start with the children learning and exploring with their ears and their eyes instead of trying to get them to read at an ever younger age.

Our eyes don't truly see. To paint with only your eyes is to paint inaccurately. You have to forget all about what your brain is telling you your eyes are seeing, and you have to measure the space between the nose and the eyes and then gauge the tones and textures like you would music in a way. You respond to music by just taking in what comes to you and mixing that with yourself a little bit. It's the same with visual arts.

And then, with writing you have to start where all meaning starts. Your mind works in pictures and then uses words to communicate something about your mental picture or the feeling you want to pass on. Words can get in the way of that. You have to use words not like a series of labels on containers of what you're talking about. Instead you should try to find the pictures you already possess, with your colors and keys. That's the joy of reading. Alas, what I see being taught in school is like an instruction manual. You skip over most of the already-known until you find just the snip of information you were looking for.

That's kind of lonely in a way.

Gertrude goes to orchestra concerts a lot these days. One orchestra is composed of young musical talents working on becoming stars of the orchestra world, and the students are honed sharp as knives. They play exactly and precisely, and they obey the conductor precisely. Backstage they are still teenagers, forming alliances and raising suspicions of anyone different. They stare at outsiders, because that is a teenager's mental construct.

It seems like the youthful days are times in life when the elders of the community want to use that young energy and those good looks, and in exchange they want to make something of the raw material. Opportunity abounds to be honed and used. Gertrude had her day of youth and usefulness to the elders. But how long did those days last? Afterward she started to feel invisible, marginalized, alienated. She had to overcome those things because there just had to be more to life once the sharp edge of the knife had gone dull.

The other orchestra Gertrude sees now is composed of mature people who come together from across the community to play beautiful music together. They aren't as precise. They obey the conductor and add a split-second nuance of their own. Gertrude enjoys the older players more because their tone and style was much sweeter, and they are friends. She can tell by the way they look at one another at the end of the show. They stand up and bow, and they seem pleased to have played this great work they'd been working on.

What is it they say about old violins? They play richer and sweeter. Old dogs are sweeter than puppies. Old rock stars play much cooler than young ones, and sound better. Gertrude hopes that old broads would be known for being able to give love, rather than for being loved. And since the days of youthful sharpness are over, she can't say she's really being loved for her body. That ended. Now she has to love from her being, and hope someone else can feel that kind of love. It can't be described.

Guest Gertrude of the Day: Michelle Pfeiffer, who comes back on the scene every few years more beautiful than ever, more poised, less reliant on her looks, more balanced and more womanly. What a lost quality--womanliness. Michelle is the opposite of the porn star beauty role model. May she never have lip implants.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Gertrude and the Red Hat Society

If you can do it then why do it? --Gertrude Stein

I've seen those ladies around town just once in awhile. Not lately. It seems to be a fad that has passed. Or maybe they got tired of people judging them and they learned to keep it on the down-low.

If Gertrude had ever gone to a meeting of the Red Hat Society, she would have enjoyed it, I'm sure. It's all about women over fifty celebrating the age they've achieved. It gives them recognition for having contributed to society. Even though now it's the young people who think they are "it," older women know what "it" is really doesn't amount to much, because getting older isn't voluntary and neither is being younger. So the red hatted ladies find new friendships and fun. It makes them happy.

At her second meeting, Gertrude would have had another enjoyable time, and then she would have said, "Okay. Next time let's not wear those hats, okay?" Then red hat lady would have said, "Why? Red hats are kicky and fun. And we deserve to throw aside fashion and wear a jaunty red hat." Then Gertrude would say, "Yes, and yet we don't have to wear them. We are already distinctive and we have fun in all kinds of clothes." Then the red hat lady might say, "But this is a fun red hat. When we wear it, we have fun."

Then Gertrude would drift away from the Red Hat society and meet someone at the local bookstore for tea and a movie.

How do you talk about such a subjective experience as "fun?" Some women in an exercise class I attend are going snowshoeing tomorrow. I've done that before. My dad took us when we were kids. Among the fun of hiking through the fresh, cool landscape there is also the exhaustion, the runny nose, the trudging, the damp cold and all the preparation. I guess going out in the outdoors is manly, in a way. Adventurous and nature-loving, the way everyone is supposed to be.

I've never been a joiner. It's a cinch to me that I'm not capable of enjoying the sheltering identity of something like that. But I don't want to put down the Red Hat Society. Like Mark Twain, I wouldn't join any club that would have me as a member.

Getrude Stein, our maven, our trusted expert, said this:

I don't envisage collectivism. There is no such animal, it is always individualism, sometimes the rest vote and sometimes they do not, and if they do they do and if they do not they do not.

Wikipedia says the word 'maven' is from the Hebrew and is related to the term Binah, which means wisdom. Gertrude and I both had our time of studying the Kabbalah and we love those arcane details as we follow threads and trails of thought that lead perhaps to nowhere. In a group, you can't do that. You've got to put on your hat and get on the bus.

Guest Gertrude of the day: Dolly Parton, who created herself and brought music of her own kind into American life.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Gertrude at the Gym

"One does not get better but different and older and that is always a pleasure." Gertrude Stein

Now you should know that Gertrude doesn't exactly have a cute little figure. She used to, but now in middle age she's starting to look like her grandma did, and my how that used to seem like such a horrible fate! Now, Gertrude has that big rump, or no rump. That big belly. The grapefruits are more like avocados now.

I went to the gym late yesterday and came across a huge crowd on the aerobics floor, doing Zumba dance. The music sounded nice to dance to, so I went and had a closer look. Those people down there looked like they were having fun, so I went and had a go at it too. And it really was fun. It's Latin dance, after all.

The thing is, those Latin women know how to move their hips when they dance. Us Dutch women? Not so much. Our ancestral dance involved clopping wooden shoes. But I gave it the good old Gertrude effort, and I was rewarded with a great time and some good sweat.

Speaking of Gertrudes. Remember Gertrude Ederle? I'm going to post a picture of her. SHE is the Gertrude of which I speak. She's got guts and determination, and she's got bones and muscle.

On it says:

Gertrude Ederle, a famous American swimmer, became the first woman to
swim the English Channel. In 1926, at the age of 19, Ederle swam the channel from
France to England. Her time of 14 hours 39 minutes for the 35-mile (56-kilometer)
distance broke the previous record and stood as the women's record for 35 years.
From 1921 to 1925, Ederle set 29 United States and world records for swimming
races ranging from the 50-yard to the half-mile race. In the 1924 Summer Olympic
Games, she won a gold medal as a member of the championship U.S. 400-meter
freestyle relay team. She also won bronze medals for finishing third in the
100-meter and 400-meter freestyle races.

Swimming is a great exercise for a Gertrude. We have buoyant bodies, are subject to joint stress and so benefit a lot from water exercise, and we, well we don't look that great in a swimming suit. The thing is, bodies are beautiful! We are conditioned to think that only coat hanger clothes models, or playboy cheesecake girls have beautiful bodies. But just think back to bein a small child playing naked in the bathtub. We loved our little bodies then, didn't we? Our bodies are still wonderful. They move us through this world. They change before our very eyes. Right now my hair is turning gray, strand by strand. It's like a science experiment.

I choose to like my body because I have no other choice. I love it, I clean and decorate it, I take care of it as well as I take care of my house and my car. So that's it. It's better than the alternative.

Guest Gertrude of the day: Chloris Leachman. She is a great comedic actor. She's done it all. Although she's wonderful looking, she's known not for her feminine pulchritude but more for her ability to make others look good, and for being funny, and able to play it kind of crazy. I used to watch her on Mary Tyler Moore and then her spinoff, Phyllis. The hilarious theme song went like this:

Who makes the fog surrounding the Golden Gate simply disappear?
Phyllis, Phyllis
Who makes the warning bells on the cable cars play "The Gangs All Here"?
Phyllis, Phyllis
Who charms the crabs at Fisherman's Wharf right out of their shells?
Who lights the lamps of Chinatown just by walking in view? Who?
Phyllis! Phyllis! Phyllis! It sure isn't you!

Friday, February 5, 2010

"Everybody knows if you are too careful you are so occupied in being careful that you are sure to stumble over something."

That's our Gertrude Stein quote of the day right there.

I was at the grocery store. The aisles were crowded, and a man was stepping back to get out of someone else's way and he bumped into me.

We are all consumed with politeness. We put a little smile on our face when we make eye contact with a stranger. The smile is like a little reassurance that we're nice people and it's a nice world. That's not true, though. It's a neutral world and we ought to just look at what's happening. Plus, if I've been polite all day, I get highly upset when someone else does something thoughtless, like pull in front of me on the highway. Plus, if someone in a black mood sees that little white, middle class smile on my face when I pass him on the sidewalk, I'm sure my little smile only annoys.

I'm reading about 'memes' right now. A meme is an idea that is catchy, but it is more than that. It has a little metaphysical life of its own, in that it's catchy in a way that makes people want to tell others about it. Memes become a problem when they present ideas that aren't true. And Memes are dangerous when they are about falsity that can bring harm. A cult springs up, and then anyone who dares to think differently is misunderstood by the mindless swallowers of the popular meme.

Coca Cola is a meme. So many people drink it now and wear the logo, you'd think Coke makes you happy or something. YOU make you happy.

"Everyone gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense."--Gertrude Stein.

Here's our Guest Gertrude of the day: Geraldine Page. You can see her on YouTube accepting the 1985 best actress oscar for her role in a great movie, The Trip To Bountiful. She's got graying hair, which she wears pulled back in a simple, loose ponytail. She wears a black dress, and a red burn-away velvet cape with a rose motif, and sparkling drop earrings, and she looks so nice, just the way an older woman who is forever young ought to look. (Geraldine Page Winning Best Actress-- Youtube.) She beats out Meryl Streep and Jessica Lange. Side note: When you see her picking up her Oscar, you see all the actors there and none of the women are wearing booby dresses. Hollywood had more class then.

Geraldine Page / Interiors - Rid of Me \ PJ Harvey is a great YouTube video. PJ Harvey sings a rocking song that goes perfectly with the scenes from a Woody Allen film.

What's so Gertrude about that? Gertrude isn't dominated by black moods and unquenchable desires. But Gertrude lets other people be who they are without being upset by them. What's more, she has learned to call people on their bullcrap, then let feathers fly where they may, then still be there after, steady as a rock.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Who is Gertrude?

Gertrude is a woman who's getting older, and it shows. But is she worried about dieting or looking sexy anymore? Heck, no! She had those days already, when she worried about her allure. Now she knows what allure truly is; and if you haven't got a tight rear, you can have it between the ears.

Gertrude is a fascinating woman to anyone who isn't a shallow ninny.

A couple of Gertrudes who come to mind are Gertrude Stein and Gertrude Ederle. The former Gertrude was an American modernist writer, born 1874 and died 1946. Her writings survive as some of the most intriguing thinking I've ever read. I'll go over to her pages of quotations in a minute.

She influenced other famous writers such as Ernest Hemingway. She was friends with Matisse and Picasso. and she lived in Paris with a lifelong companion, Alice B. Toklas. What's interesting to me is, she thought what Adolf Hitler was doing seemed like a good idea, that he was getting rid of dissent in his country so it could be peaceful. Let us all remember that the view from today isn't the same as the view of yesterday. And she had opinions, and she spoke them.

Not being afraid to speak one's opinions is what I want out of a Gertrude.

I knew a girl named Trudy who was also one to give her opinions. She was a girl who worried about way too many things. She was always a little grownup. We went to church together and I bothered her because I was irresponsible and flaky. Well, she was right about me. I was.
But the thing is, everyone's strength is the same as their weakness; it just depends on the situation. Now I appreciate her strength and positive way of speaking about everything.

I nominate her to be my first Gertrude. This should come across as an honor by the time my blog is through.

Gertrude is a strong woman, colorful, caring when care is needed but detached when caring is foolish.

Celebrity Gertrude of the day: Kathy Bates, the woman who can look beautiful or dowdy and make you want to be her.

Gertrude Stein quote of the day: "If it can be done, why do it?"

The intention of this blog is to give love and courage to all of us who are facing stuff.