Gertrude Stein

Gertrude Stein
Woman with a brilliant mind

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.