rosemary stretch: a woman’s work is never done

Mercury retrograde’s got me itching to get rid of all these papers everywhere. A woman’s work is never done. I’ve been writing for a long time with drafts piling up over more than 30 years now. It’s too much. I mostly write by hand. By that I mean that I still do– I write every day by hand. People who know me well have seen the years of Mead journals that fill files, bookcases and chests. Not to mention all the journals in storage, the boxes full of them in my mother’s garage.

Every few years I have a bonfire. Or a shredding party. I just can’t keep all this stuff around, I need to let it go. Maybe I haven’t done a good enough job at midwifing; at getting the words out into the world: a woman’s work is never done.

There are poems here and there, a couple of books, but nothing compared to all these journals, papers and drafts. It seems a shame to just disappear them, but the point of the writing may have been the process itself. Not whether I got a book contract (I didn’t). Not anything measured in statistics, page visits, likes or any other measurable criteria. There was love in the doing, in the writing itself. (inner critic laughs, just keep telling yourself that, hon.)

impermanence

In my heart I have so much love for ephemera, for noting the moment, bearing witness, archiving, preserving. All part of why I became a librarian. Creating all those chapbooks helped make me a poet. Output could have been zines or stories, recipes, paintings, mixtapes, dance moves, love songs, anything, but I made poetry chapbooks. Most of them hand-sewn, with hand-stamped or painted covers. I loved doing it and sharing it with folks who seemed to share my interests. It’s love. That’s one of the ways love expresses itself through me, the vehicle I am.

Lately I’ve focused in other directions, but I’m grateful to have been able to share. Now that I’ve added one pdf I’m going to try to add more. For me the point was always in the making and the writing. There’s a physical beauty to handmade things that doesn’t translate into digital realms. That magic is mostly lost now, like browsing books or listening to music in record stores.

There is access though and that’s beautiful too. Information spreads far, wide and quickly– instantaneously. Most of my chapbooks had very limited runs. Only however many I could sew or staple– 50 or 100 total (a woman’s work is never done). That made them seem very precious, wonderful gifts, but very few people ever saw them. Putting them online, at least they exist again: new digital life. If anyone ever gets curious, they can maybe find them.

Like Rosemary Stretch.

Whenever I put together a chapbook, it was usually full of poems that already felt old to me, distant. Rosemary Stretch (pdf) was published in 2006 with the first Dusie Press kollektive project organized by Susana Gardner. (It was like a spinoff of the subpoetics self-publish or perish project– is there anything about that online? It was so long ago I can’t even remember what I wrote for that; though I know I participated because I just saw some sheets of old mailing labels to people on that list. Ah, listservs… so Y2K. Looking around the internets I don’t see much mention of it. Maybe that’s a subject for a future post.) I was living in the UK at the time; a new mother, all my energy was going to the baby. My thoughts, when I had them, circled around ideas of women’s work (it’s never done), women’s writing generally, and whether motherhood would change my own writing.

women’s work

The idea of the “Rose Mary Stretch” struck me as hilarious then the same as it does now. I stay amazed that people mostly don’t know wtf I’m talking about when I say that. Even though I put an image on the cover. It’s an abstracted black and white rendering of Rose Mary Woods, Nixon’s secretary, demonstrating how it was that she ‘accidentally’ erased 5 of the missing 18.5 minutes of the Watergate tapes. In the image, she’s re-enacting the scene, later known as the “Rose Mary Stretch.” Rose Mary Woods died in 2005 and I must have heard a story about it to set me off thinking about what it means to be a good secretary.

Rose Mary Woods' stretch that 'accidentally' erased 5 minutes of the Watergate Tapes.
Rose Mary Woods’ stretch that ‘accidentally’ erased 5 minutes of the Watergate Tapes.

From the Washington Post, “Reporters were called to the White House to watch her perform a re-enactment, and the photos of her performing a tremendous stretch, which she supposedly held for five minutes, were rejected as implausible. Moreover, the particular tape recording machine does not operate the way she had claimed; simply pressing the foot pedal to “record” would not initiate a recording unless the play button was being manually depressed at the very same time.”

Halfway through 2021, we’re still in a global pandemic. Climate crisis, wars raging around the world, mass graves appearing, severed heads in the garbage. There are bodies still in freezer trucks down the street. Centuries of greed, hatred and delusion are being revealed for what they are; bearing fruit in deeply painful ways for us all. Poems inspired by the idea of a good secretary erasing incriminating evidence for her boss seem almost sweet right now. Simpler times. Even in simpler times, a woman’s work was never done.