@1990 Mary Anderson Parks
Published in The Lost Generation Journal, Issue 24 1990
The Gertrude Stein Memorial Club
My friendship with Anne began when we met at a writers’ lecture series and discovered we both have writing aspirations. We started getting together to talk about writing. We’d buy books on writing and lend them to each other. We attended more lectures by writers and luncheons with authors featured as guest speakers. In a real fit of enthusiasm we even went to a weekend writers’ conference, where we were somewhat embarrassed by the two questions asked most frequently. What do you write, and have you had anything published? Not only has neither of us had anything published, we don’t actually write much of anything. Do letters count? Anne wondered. Why we find it so hard to make time for writing became a recurring topic in our conversations.
One evening Anne suggested we go to a film called “Waiting for the Moon,” having to do with the lives of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. We knew Gertrude Stein had something to do with literature, or maybe art.
The movie fired my imagination and the next day I headed for the public library where I found, with a small thrill of pleasure, three books on Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. For weeks I spent all my spare time immersed in obscure details of the daily lives of Gertrude, the self-proclaimed genius, and Alice, whose autobiography she wrote.
Frequently I read passages aloud to Anne, including such tidbits as the delight Gertrude Stein took in informing Europeans of her birthplace, Allegheny, Pennsylvania, because the spelling and sound of the names mystified them so. We knew from the film that Gertrude and Alice met in France and lived there together through two world wars, mingling with the greats of art and literature.
When I came across the exact street addresses, Anne and I resolved that if ever we are in Paris, we will head straight for 27, rue de Fleurus and 5, rue Christine. It could be that the aura of those evenings passed in the company of the likes of Picasso and Hemingway still hangs over those dwellings.
Most impressive to us was Gertrude Stein’s dedication to her writing, a dedication that did not falter, despite the fact she had to have her first works printed at her own expense. Her unique style made her a frequent subject of ridicule, one psychiatrist proclaiming that her work resembled the ravings of some of his more psychotic patients. Her attempts to use words to express the present in a revitalized style were deemed obscure. It was not until she was past forty that she found a publisher willing to gamble on her. Yet through all those early years she consistently viewed writing as the business of her life.
In defense of our own lack of either dedication or persistence, Anne and I did not fail to note that Gertrude Stein had advantages we lacked. She had an annuity from her inheritance, large enough to live on, and she had Alice to smooth life’s rough edges for her and give her the time and atmosphere she needed for writing. So we might have been left with simply more building blocks to add to our wall of excuses. However, I had not yet come to a small paragraph, tucked away in one of the biographies, that was to be a turning point for Anne and me.
It was on a rainy Saturday afternoon, perfect for reading, that the magic words sprang off the page at me. Oblivious to the weather, I summoned Anne. Good sport that she is, Anne agreed to brave the storm and come over for coffee and my revelation.
The minute she laid her dripping umbrella down, I told her excitedly of the passage revealing that Gertrude Stein in her mid fifties pared her actual writing time to not much more than half an hour a day! Anne saw the significance of this immediately.
As Gertrude observed, it adds up to a lot of writing year by year. Gertrude also pointed out that a writer needs to spend a great deal of time getting ready to write, working up to it as it were. Anne and I were in total agreement. It was Gertrude’s opinion that this germinating process can and does consume pretty much the entire day, and that it takes place while one engages in other activities. In her case, the other activities usually consisted of sleeping late, eating gourmet meals prepared by Alice, taking long walks, seeing friends, and sitting in the garden. This was just the kind of thing Anne and I were starved to hear. And it was the inspiration for our founding, that very afternoon, the Gertrude Stein Memorial Club.
The rules of the club are simple. Every day we write for at least half an hour. On Fridays we go out to lunch and discuss our progress. So as not to impose undue strain on ourselves, we allow two non-writing days a week, We don’t, after all, want to set impossible goals.
In her earlier years, Gertrude Stein had the habit of beginning her writing late at night and sometimes continuing until dawn overtook her. We decided not to let this worry us. It would be enough to follow in her footsteps with our daily half hour.
I wish I could report that Anne and I fell into the routine immediately, became successful writers, and went on to found Gertrude Stein Memorial Clubs throughout the nation. What actually took place was a great deal of backsliding and fitful starts and stops. But a seed has been planted and continues to grow.
Months later Anne and sit at our separates tables writing, surrounded by potted palms and shoppers. We each nurse a cup of coffee, our excuse for being in this fashionable mall cafe. We’ve taken to writing whenever and wherever we can, alone or together.
Gertrude Stein is our ongoing inspiration. She would write in her old Ford in the streets of Paris, waiting for Alice to do some errand, or perched on a garden wall, or sitting on a stool in a field. Anywhere would do, the surroundings themselves often providing the subject. Just now Anne and I were surprised by an outpouring of classical music, as a young woman sat down at the piano near our tables and started to pour out her soul.
Who knows? Inspiration may yet take such strong hold of one of us, or both, that the sun will rise on another woman writing into the dawn.