Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons came at the right time. Of course, it made no sense to me at first, as did the roller coaster of events in my life during the 3 times I read it. I went through some serious changes just trying to figure out how I felt about Stein, much less the book. One minute, I enjoyed her experimentalism, an obvious reflection of her larger-than-life persona. The next, she irritated me, like an itchy eyeball or a throat tortured by the skin of a popcorn kernel.
It took a while to break through the frustration that mirrors that one literary reading you attend where no one wants to admit they’re clueless about what the guest speaker is saying. Still, there’s a cacophony of ‘mmm’s’ at the conclusion of all his poems. Head nods from the audience give him confidence to admit he wrote the final piece on the bus ride over as he holds the paper at an angle where the room’s lighting spills over typed words. But, everyone smiles and over-compliments him at intermission over refreshments, and mocks the boorish girl who tells him that he has a chunk of salami stuck between his front teeth.
I didn’t want to be that audience, and I wanted to believe that Stein was the random chick who said the obvious, even when it was hard to digest or accept. That’s when I decided to give the text another go (this time, from a different angle) and found the absurdity of Stein’s words surprisingly satisfying as I started reading them aloud. I drew the shades one day, lit candles in my tiny apartment, and settled on the futon, paperback in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. The Stein-like shawl I’d draped over my shoulders and pinned with a broach threw me into character and suddenly, I was reading the way I’d seen several of my favorite writers read. With passion and rhythm and a glowing grace. I stopped thinking and felt everything. My tongue was on fire as the words fell out effortlessly.
June 6th, 2014 / 10:00 am