Gertrude Stein

Gertrude Stein
Woman with a brilliant mind

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.