Gertrude Stein

Gertrude Stein
Woman with a brilliant mind

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.