How to Write by Gertrude Stein


Is the quarter ironic or just misplaced?



Just as easily as one walks through a doorway and into another room, so did Jacob enter into a relationship with a young woman, whom he had met sometime at someplace. She arose out of non-being, arms wide, a yellow hat and a yellow coat—but with bright red shoes, providing both a contrast and a question. An exact date is impossible; sometime in the springtime, just before everything starts growing, when the birds sing from leafless trees and the grass is dead and brown.  Just as easily as one walks from one’s apartment to the space outside, Jacob crisscrossed a nearby park and watched the dim sun trying to raise itself higher in the sky.

Out of non-being arose a woman, slender, in a red coat that stretched down to her knees. She walked in front him and passed and, as he was sitting on a bench staring across a small pond, she disappeared back into the nothingness from which she arose. He had not glanced at her but had only noticed the red coat. A particular absence left in her wake; he waited for his own young woman, whom he had agreed to meet in the park.


He turned, and she walked, skipping almost in the same red shoes. She approached and stood in front of him, filling the whole of his vision.

“Hello!” he almost shouted.

Objects have a tendency to fill our being. Even in rather expansive moments, when, perhaps, we stare at the stars and wonder about the filaments in the nightsky, questioning what and why—though distraction is never far away. Indeed, the danger in such moments is that they leave us too quickly. A hole replaces them. Loss is felt. Even grief maybe, at one end of the spectrum.

They hugged.

Cecilia looked over Jacob’s shoulder and saw a pigeon eating something off the ground.

They stepped back from each other.

Between the two existed a certain harmony. Jacob recognized Cecilia and she recognized him. Out of this recognition both stood firm.

“You got the job?” Cecilia asked, looking Jacob in the eyes.

Involuntarily Jacob gazed passed the pond again.

“No, not yet. I still have another interview. I will. I’m confident.”

They walked arm in arm around the park.

Cecilia assumed that Jacob had already started his job. She was disappointed that he still had another interview. Feeling in her jacket pocket, she fumbled for a cigarette and lighter, then lit it, releasing herself from Jacob’s arm.

“Do you see that woman in front of us?” she asked.

“The one with the red coat?”

“Yes, that one. I saw her earlier. She was walking very strangely, almost with a limp. And her face was even worse. She had the strangest smile. Almost twisted, one side of her face was limp and the other turned up. Like a stroke victim.”

“I didn’t notice, but I did see her.”

Cecilia took a drag off her cigarette and blew out the smoke and expanded, evaporating into the air.

“All around these people find us. We’re surrounded by the surreal and the strange. Can’t you feel it? It’s spreading.”

Cecilia had inhaled her cigarette rather quickly, with a shaky hand. She glanced nervously around.

“I just see people. What’s so strange? Are you nervous?”

Jacob turned and looked around the park. An old couple sat silently on a bench, both hunched over; the man had a low-hanging hat and the woman curly gray hair that meandered in the breeze. She clutched a handbag.

“I don’t understand,” Jacob said.

“We’re not talkers,” she said.

Jacob looked at her; she refused to look back. The sun reached towards the apex of the sky (ultimately it will miss it, in the coming hour). Light suffused the air with a gray-white, though clear, haze.

Jacob remained silent. Some moments have a sense of foreboding, an awkwardness sometimes punctuated by anxiety and the desire to speak, act, or move. Suggestions can follow; usually the moment is surpassed by just such a suggestion: “Let’s go here.” Or perhaps “Care for a drink?” This moment, however, stretched into an abyss between the two. Silently the two looked at each other, neither really seeing each other and neither thinking about what was happening between them. Neither felt awkward or otherwise felt a need to change the situation. No goals. No plans. Nothing.

Finally Cecilia spoke, though not out of a desire to end the situation.

“You know I have something to tell you.”

“I know,” replied Jacob.

Jacob gazed at Cecilia with tenderness. Her shaky hands, her red shoes, and her yellow coat. She was young and short—almost a foot shorter than he was. Her eyes were black orbs, with a little brown around the edges of her pupils. Her cheeks were red; the tip of her nose turned downward.

“We’re not talkers,” she said again. And again, Jacob remained silent. A thin pause—and this one was the kind of pause that became awkward, a hole needing to be filled. Vast yet quick.

“I had an abortion yesterday,” she said. Her eyes flickered and she looked passed Jacob at the old couple on the bench. Jacob remained frozen. Her hands were still shaking.

“I didn’t know–” started Jacob, shocked.

“I didn’t tell you,” interrupted Cecilia.

Jacob breathed deep.

“We’re not talkers,” repeated Cecilia.

“What does that even mean, ‘We’re not talkers’? I don’t understand anything you’re saying.”

“There,” she said, pointing at the couple. “Can’t you see them?”

“I see them,” said Jacob, looking over but without understanding why.

“Everything, everyone, is so strange. The sounds are surreal. The air is off somehow. Even you…” she said, trailing off

She looked directly at him, face-to-face. Taking him in.

“I’m off?” asked Jacob. “What’s so strange? You had an abortion without telling me? What is going on with you?”

Cecilia kept her eyes on Jacob and fumbled for another cigarette. Never taking her eyes off him, she lit it and blew out a stream of smoke.

“Everything is so strange,” she said, her eyes sinking and falling into some abyss. “But,” she paused, tilting her head, “you’re the only thing that isn’t.”


Early morning.

A lake approximately oval in shape cascades in light. Gentle waves lap the Western shore, cresting and crawling up onto the beach and tanning the sand a dark brown; an older gentleman, Henry, sits in a chair in front of his house and gazes out at the water. Both he and his house sit atop a bluff overlooking the nearby beach, and surrounding the house is a sparse, tall forest whose canopy blooms a bright summer green. When a breeze picks up, which is often enough, the air fills with the scent of fresh water and becomes chilly.

Henry turns on a nearby radio. A clear male voice comes to life.

“Yesterday in London, police seized a car…”

Looking across the lake, there is a dark green sliver: trees line the horizon; and interspersed amongst them are spaces with white dots–the faint, fuzzy outlines of other houses. Henry eats a handful of sunflower seeds, taking them out of a jar sitting on the grass. The jar is half full: the rest of the seeds having been reduced to wet shells, which litter the ground next to Henry’s chair.

Chewing loudly, mashing his teeth, one hand perched on the armrest to take the shells out–he licks his lips and wipes his mouth on his tan arm. Spit follows his mouth down his forearm and onto his wrist, leaving a trail of smeared hair. Craning his neck, he stretches backwards until he is looking straight up into the morning sky. His upper lip quivers, then his left eye. He keeps chewing.

“Police have yet to find those responsible for the London bombings, and have yet to release any new information. There are, however, reliable reports that the type of material in both bombings was the same. This is unconfirmed…”

Henry clears his throat and shifts in his chair, then reaches for the jar of sunflower seeds. Behind him a white cat rubs against the corner of his house and starts digging frantically in the ground, its paws churning the dirt. He coughs hoarsely; a sunflower seed flies from his mouth. A minute passes. The cat bounds across the yard and sits down on the front step. Henry cranes his neck and looks over his shoulder, then gets up and walks inside.

Inside his bedroom, he is kneeling in his closet and digging for something. The bedroom window, which faces the front of the house, lets in the morning light, which is then diffused through the drapes into a hazy green. Dust drifts silently in the sunbeams. Henry stands up with some difficulty, then sighs and leaves the room. He returns minutes later with a large cardboard box, which he sets down on the bed and begins to rummage through. After a few minutes of sorting through various papers, he finds something; his eyelids peel back and the corners of his mouth turn up in smile; his nostrils flare, he raises his eyebrows, and he involuntarily tugs at the buttons of his shirt.

London, July 30th, 1956

Dear Henry,

I miss you, and can’t wait for you to come visit us in London! We’re going to be there through the 28th (or so my dad tells me). In any case, make sure you bring the suitcase I left at your house. Actually you should bring both your green one and my red one–I’ve collected some things here that I need to bring back! I have a surprise for you too! I’m sure it will make the whole trip worth it–it is just that good! I really miss you, and I love you. I love you! I’ll see you soon!


In his bedroom, the dust swirls in the sunlight, having been caught by an errant breeze. Henry sits on the bed, the letter in his lap; he gazes at it for perhaps a full minute without reading it, then looks up, his eyes following a fleck of dust spiraling up towards the ceiling. The house creaks. Setting the letter aside on his bed, he scratches an arm, then goes back to rummaging through the box. He continues looking at old letters, newspapers, and photographs for perhaps the better part of an hour, the green haze busily brightening as the sun climbs. Afterwards he sits on the edge of his bed, hands resting on his knees.

Late morning.

The lake has stopped shimmering and now small waves are cresting green and brown; white froth marks the outline of every disturbance. A sustained wind has picked up, rustling and creaking the trees as their wood bends. Beneath the bluff, a few neighborhood kids play on the beach . A small child stands in perhaps a foot of water and is looking out towards the middle of the lake. Another one stands hands-on-hips further up the beach. The sky is a blue diluted into a foggy white, and the sun, high above, is beginning to shine fiercely, baking the sand–the hands-on-hips boy must shift feet in order to stand still. Henry sits in his chair. The radio is blaring, and he is chewing handfuls of sunflower seeds.

The morning ends.


You can see
Set above clouds.

Strangers set.
Loved ones set.
Friends set.

Sentences set in place
Above the unknowing
Word–above dead green grass.
Above stagnant brown trees.
Above all that fails us while walking.

Ready for the fast-paced running thru
What we wonder:
Why is there something–

And not nothing?

Questioning is, and will remain,
Our piety.

Read more of this post

Vomiting on a church 7/26/2008

I vomited on the church I was on top of, and there was this grating up there–about two feet by two feet square, and I was on the roof and finally after much fighting I just leaned over and vomited all over it and I could see the chunks precariously poised on this grating and then they fell to the ground.  The more liquid-y portion of the stew just slid in, but the chunks stayed and held on and only fell afterwards and with the liquid’s helping.

%d bloggers like this: