.. Special Feature on Stein -- HOW2 -- by Janet Neigh

From Paragraphing Intervals of Night

Janet Neigh


The First Folded Letter
The Second Folded Letter
Unsent Message Fold(h)er A
Unsent Message Fold(h)er B


The First Folded Letter

On the plane home from Paris, F.G opens the grey covers of the original Plain edition of How to Write she found at the St-Ouen flea market. As she begins to read a tightly folded yellowed sheet falls on her lap from between the pages:


Rueil Malmaison, France
November 17, 1917

My Dearest Fey,

Words as ammunition dissolve between us. Dreamt last night you were asleep beside me in a dug out bed of mud wearing a long white dress. You were not awakened by the guns that I always hear now even in absolute quiet. If I made up this dream would it mean any less to you? Does it mean anything to you? Do you still talk in your sleep? I do. You uttered nothing in my dream, like you utter nothing in your letters, even though they are filled with sentenced words. All they do is punctuate your absent voice absent. What do you say?

All my love,


An anachronistic purloined reader:

F.G runs her hand over the page.
A shell-shocked shiver runs up her arm through her entire body.
She intercepts delivery and yet the letter feels addressed to her.
A clue sent from the past.
A piece to her puzzled life.
An uncanny underside to her feminist ideals.
She has just ended a relationship.
She wonders if this was a proposal.
If the proposal was ever sent.
If the soldier survived the war.
What did she say?
She wants desperately to know how this letter found its way inside How to Write.
She folds the sheet back inside and begins to read from the bound pages.
The love letter her bookmark.



The Second Folded Letter


Dear Gertrude,

You make me desperate for the moment of composition. A need to re-turn to its place and time. “Ecstasy: to relive the first time better than the first time, and first of all to anticipate this in the void of the first of the first times and so on”(Derrida 228). Each paragraph wills me to return to the last or the first or to begin again. Our times repeat themselves but have difficulty holding hands. Fingers cling to fingers as seconds slip through them. Sweaty and tense your pencil picks up its night pace. You and Alice held between the same walls in different rooms. A rehearsal of love. A language between you in many dreams. Tomorrow's memory held over from yesterday. You send sentences through a layering of night too dark to read. I peer over your shoulder but my eyes get sleepy and I miss every other word you write. Hearing the missing pulse against taciturn night. Each morning a new language sent between yesterday's dark.

A tattered red carnet with a double cover in my hands once inside your hands. Two stiff red sheets envelop the paper, the outer one three quarters the size of the notebook. A front flap doubling as an other cover. A note to Alice towards morning between red:

Double cover and a double cover. Double cover a double cover. Double. Cover. A double cover. Double cover1

Cover her to keep warm. You intervene in her dream. Doubling, you write two sentences which become two paragraphs.

It is more than a pleasure to dream more than a pleasure.
To dream.

You stop and lift your cigarette to your lips and inhale. On the exhale, you reread the two sentences. Smoke curls around the folds of my unconscious. Words slip into soft moment of sleep. Paragraphing intervals of night. Between each sentence, in a paragraph, a moment to dream. Alice will read you in the morning. You will hear her, in your sleep, wake, and slip from the bed. A shuffle and a stretch. I dream of her reading you. Paper clasped between close fingers. A tunneling back towards night. An opening towards the energized day. The night folds a page corner to keep pace with the crepuscular note of dawn unfolding.

By the time midnight comes, I imagine hours when we meet or hours when we miss each other in the night sleep. I miss every other word you write as sleep leans toward me and I lean toward you. I made a mistake . Keep writing without a subject on the verge of our dream. The sentence should not separate. Decades and decades of dark divide us. We mine paragraphs through the gaps of our many missed meetings. Indent. Trace of your held hand.

Hand droops across the page. Sleep encroaches. You will finish saving the sentence tomorrow and tomorrow. Before you join Alice in bed you tear a sheet from your notebook and scribble another note to her: When this you see you will have slept long and will be warm and completely tenderly loved. An intimate variation of when this you see remember me. Absent when you read me but present. Sent in the sentient sentence to form a we. In the morning, writing in and through your reading. Joining the moment of writing with the moment of reading through separation and sleep. The intervals of night's paragraphs hold close and warm. Sentences successive but separate, hold together.

To re-cover the moment of composition. My moment sheet over your sheet over my sheet over your covered sheet. Re-covered, I toss and turn too warm but do not wake. We decompose our dreams. Unmemory imprints on the folds of morning. Intervening in each other's texts, doubling. I made a mistake. A deviated moment spread over night. Throw the covers off the bed. The past and future approach one another expectantly then recoil in the same breath. I throw off the double cover to re-cover you present in the undulating shape of a paragraph.

Tomorrow we will save the sentence.


Your reader

A sentence needs help. And she cries. A sentence is why they were folded.

(A Stein Reader 556)



Unsent Message Fold(h)er A

These are notes to you, a phantom, a want not. Intimate theory in time with your turns. An enveloping paragraph of invitation. Each sentence should be easy to remember. I don't want to tire you. You as me when I fold the letter over. Read a mistake. I send. I tend. "I made a mistake. Or loop backwards. The sentence will be saved.

A loop is a leap for fiction. A turn past to turn forward. Remember and forget as one long swirl into story. Fiction memorizes the textual pull of flesh. Theorizing your body through the glint of an eye. Tremble in intelligence. Spark blind love. Touch surfaces. Cold tabletop and find. These sent or folded over. Letters. Hope is for you.

Think of the difference between reality and what happened. Crevices of creation. Hopes that happen. Now tell a story. Start with sentences. What happened to her is never the story told. In the difference long nights and dreams elapse. Leaving an aching body. Lapses of sense. Sting of syntax. She cries when the sentence folds her over. Doubled over. She can't find her way out. Sentenced in. He leads her in. He heard her come in. What happened to her body. Letters all I see. I hear her crying in the bathroom. I can't concentrate. The sound of her sobs drowns out the sound of the words. She has been in there for hours. But I wake up alone in my apartment with 26 letters missing.

The sentence has no duration because it never sent. Can you send a sentence. Can you think a sentence. Is there time. Re-send and return and abide. Hours later. Each sentence my present. Each period anticipates a response. I am trying not to remember. Will she separate well from him.

F for Fiction.   G for Gossip.
F for Feminist.   G for Girl.
F for Fold.   G for Grammar.
F for Future.   G for Gertrude.
F for Faith.   G for Ghost.

A woman's long black hair with blue streaks. Falls in the shape of a loop. Name her Faith not a sent letter. She sleeps on a tabletop. No city and no sentence for her. She needs time. She has faith her sentence will be saved. She will be saved from her sentence.

An hour later. Lonely. Faith sends another letter to perform the future. Palindromic parcels of difference. She makes hours. She sends past the future to seize home and hope. Help. She yearns for an alphabet without memory. Each letter stands in for a missing word missing time. She presents. A full body. Flashing cursor. Takes over. Sends forward. Sends back. A sentence is an interval in which there is finally forward and back . How many letters make up a sentence. Each one stands. Each one falls. And folds over. Fold the letter over and slip quietly out the apartment back door. Faith runs the alphabet from finish to start along an alleyway exit.

Past insistence. I wanted to tell you. Call you. He wrote she. She wrote he. I know. But different. Letter kiss . The arrangement. Call Faith. She knows. Pieces of a sentence are different from what she knows . Break each letter apart to find female ghosts. Corporeal sex. Indivisible separation. I think she went out the back door. She was running. I saw her walking. I heard her running. I think she went out the back door. Thinking memorizes motion. You hear the back door slam. You try not to get emotional. Inside or outside. Turn the page. Will she separate well from him. Save the sentence and rescue the letter. Watch the letters run away. Hear when they fall. Remember she sent them to you.

The subject of a dress. I count her dresses again. To find her flesh. Dress times dress. There are too many to count. Grammar does mean arithmetic. Add quickly. Unbuttoning. The fabric falls tenderly. And dresses her again. Re-address the issue. Read her dress quickly. Red dress. They act quickly. He mistakes her for naked. Pressed for time. Write an address on the letter. Between fabric folds and button holes. Back to a place out the door. Follow her or catch up. This was not past a future. But the moment when reading turns page to page into memory tearing through a dream.



So the question becomes how to write across the almost hysterical . . . overdetermination of her gaps. (Scott, 88)


Unsent Message Fold(h)er B

Unsentence what you mean to me. Across the present gap she absents continuous and hysterical. History. His gap of story makes her moment emerge. Makes why. From store to store. She is at once why. All of sudden ask. Deviate and divide from yes or no or yes from divide. An opening. A frame for her to walk through. Home free. Why walk on water if the bottoms shallow touch. Ground and ground again. Step up. His stair trips.

Empty bottle of red wine. Full of several sips. Loose door. Back swing. Open and shut case. He tightens the hinge for her framed walk. Screw close again. Hysterical leaving. Avoids he. His stair. Home turned inside out all in a passing. Purple lips. Past leaving turns tears. A tear to her step. Laughs looping. He calls her irrational. Rations of her pink sense. Write across the grey street. She is here with it. Hear her call. Come closer. Crack in sidewalk. Step over Mother's back.

An argument. Tells the story to be quiet. Louder I can't hear you. Store the secret in the text even if you don't remember the whisper. He screams. With. She. Laughs a great tear across an invisible wound. Letter asking for love in an empty bottle never reaching shore. Never received. Reams of salt tears sting torn pages. Draft a response that edits the fight. Forget who hysterics were. Worn down repression. Seize the clothes from the body. Reveal closets and closets of flesh on the run. The closest you ever came to losing. All about surrender. Close sets of sentences all in a row. Loose door. Loosen her exit. One more time. She loses her key without a lock.

Leave roses as a sent in sense. Insence is alright. Insensed by his insensitivity. She leaves roses. He apologizes. Sent in sense sentences summarizing separation. Non sense he never bought. Her is a her is a her. Rows of houses and stores. Same grey street. Cross.

A door is a dear is a draft. Wait to leave. Back inside. She folds letters. Puts them between pages in his books. Fall out when he reads. Scatter the floor with an escape plan. Gather and count. The number H. Hours do not count. Let her draw near.

H for He.
H for Henri.
H for Hope.
H for History.
H for Hours.
H for How.

Hunger hopes to be fed. A hope will be fed. He follows her to the bedroom door. Hold. Hollow. A helped second to pass. Come past pace. F.G followed by H. A tiny string of alphabet. Knots of desire punctuate process. Split the infinitive thread. Frayed rope eats at her counting. Combine fractions of a second with hope. Her moment to emerge between history's sleep. Door blows open from the window draft as she counts her names her stories her empty bottles her empty story names.

F.G and H shared a bed. Once upon a time. Tomorrow. Twice upon a time. F.G sleeps with hours and hours of hope but still history hurts. Before now but not over. H for harlequin. She stopped reading when she was fourteen. Began again at 20. Makes her bed every morning. Makes a tofu sandwich every afternoon. Makes a story every night. Dawn roles over her without ending. Absent morning. Absent afternoon. Absent night. Sharing spaces with sheets shapes a long story. Closet linens washed every week. Closure lingers at the door.




1. This quotation is taken from an unpublished notebook of Gertrude Stein's. All text in New Courier font is from various Stein sources (see below).


Stein Sources

Derrida, Jacques. The Postcard: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond . Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1987.

Scott, Gail. Spaces Like Stairs: Essays . Toronto: Women's P, 1989.

Stein, Gertrude. Geography and Plays . New York: Dover Publications, 1999.

---. How to Write . Los Angeles: Sun and Moon P, 1995.

---. A Stein Reader . Ed. Ulla Dydo. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern UP, 1993.

--- and Alice B. Toklas. Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas Papers . Yale Collection of American Literature ms. 76. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, New Haven.

BIO: In the present fold, Janet Neigh reads and writes in Vancouver. Born in Glasgow, Scotland, she has spent the majority of her life living in different parts of Canada. She recently completed her MA thesis in Creative Writing and Critical Theory at the University of Calgary. Her latest work can be found in West Coast Line, Filling Station and the Graduate Researcher .

back to Stein index

table of contents