emptying is readying, and vice versa


lately i’ve been thinking a lot about women’s work, how even being the feminist-of-the-old-and-original-order that i am, i still have always enjoyed cleaning, sweeping, doing laundry. which is not to say that when my husband is home full-time, i don’t divide the duties, feeling it only fair that he contribute. just last week my husband put a load of clothes on to wash (unbidden, i hasten to add), and it surprised me when it made me mad. what kind of woman gets mad when her husband, who’s now home all the time, does the laundry without being asked? and i do appreciate it very, very, very much. after a bit of pondering, though, i realized that it felt insulting – not to me, personally. it was much bigger than that – more like a ping against women. he didn’t mean it this way, of course, but i felt a sense of women being dismissed (again), overlooked (again), under’ed (again). it brought up a host of old stuff, junk having to do with other people overlooking women because of things like humor, Southern accents, curves, long hair, and a beautiful countenance. i remembered how some women i admire and adore beyond measure were often overlooked because of their bad teeth or their run-down-looking house or their catywompus glasses or the trash they carted around in their car. i thought about all the women i know or know about who kept and continue to keep this town running, offices running, businesses running but because they are quiet and unassuming, because they don’t seek the limelight at ever possible turn, because they just go about their lives quietly, doing what they need to do, they are overlooked.

yes, really, something as simple as my husband doing a load of laundry without being asked brought all this up.

and let me tell you something: doing laundry is not necessarily a simple thing. how, for example, do you get blood out of cloth? ink? cat pee? how do you keep a down comforter from clumping up when you put it in the dryer? what to do about lipstick stains? dirty collars? towels that smell sour?



you know, back in the day, women would set aside specific days as wash days because doing the laundry was such a chore. they’d have to take clothes down to the creek or river to wash them, laying them on rocks to dry. imagine the upper arm strength it required to dunk all that fabric in the water, then pull it out, scrub it around, dunk it again, wring it out, and lay it out to dry. i’m exhausted just thinking about it. especially since clothes involved a great amount of fabric in those days, if the history books are to be believed.

in post river-as-washing-machine days, the women would have to fetch water from a rain barrel or creek, then heat the water in big ole’ galvanized tubs. they’d use old broomsticks to lift the wet clothes from the wash tub to the rinse tub. and they washed the clothes using soap they made themselves, usually from old rancid bacon or sausage grease and lye. speaks to their creative recyclist nature, doesn’t it?

and today washboard are sold as musical instruments. rhythm boards, they call them.


when my children were younger, i’d occasionally go on strike and refuse to do their laundry because they, like so many other people, don’t notice something, don’t appreciate something, until it’s gone. not available. missing.



sometimes you have to
empty a bowl
and wash it
to see
its beauty,
its blooms,
its patina.

having been an end-of-life doula many times over, today’s altar is dedicated to karen mead as she releases, reviews, revises.

More about 365 Altars


  1. Lindsey

    I love this.  I’ve mused myself on the holiness of the emptying, the taking of things that are full, and emptying them, over and over again, a practice, a ritual, an honor.  xox

    • whollyjeanne

      It is a practice isn’t it because once is never enough, is it, Sugar? It’s a ritual that calms me, frees me, enkindles me. Thank you for articulating that. xoxo

  2. Meredith

    You raise an interesting point here. During all that scrubbing, washing, and rinsing, there must have been some sort of meditative effect. Perhaps it was the woman’s time to herself (potentially) — her time to reflect on life and its events, to focus on the task at hand, to scrub out stains and concerns.

    • whollyjeanne

      I think that’s true. I think that’s one reason women haven’t kicked up such a tremendous fuss about taking the menial jobs – those “mindless” jobs give them space to ponder and think and feel and imagine. I love the way you say it: “to focus on the task at hand, to scrub out stains and concerns.”

  3. Angela

    Your stitching and your musings grow more beautiful with each altar. 

    • whollyjeanne

      Thank you, Sugar. Both the altars and the cloth calm me down, center me. Plus I’m making room for them in my day – I’m staying with them;)

  4. jo miller

    I am beyond words, but not beyond the passion I feel  – your writings stir up the feminist views, we grew up on – words we believed – feelings we knew were right – sometimes, we crossed the barriers with confidence and bravado — sometimes not – there were many other barriers to cross, some self imposed, some cultural, some just beaten in…also ones we backed off on to save the peace, to help maintain that fragile balance – saving, protecting, preventing, injury, more hurt, more shame
    In a twisted way, it sounds like the mandate for a Saint John Ambulance Course…
    Their mandate is to preserve life, to prevent the illness or injury from becoming worse, promote recovery.

    Often viewed as worlds apart

    I give thanks that today, this moment,
    there is a difference
    we have a choice
    I give thanks that as each day moves forward
    and tomorrow comes
    there is more to choose…

    We are, really going to be just fine.

    Thank you, Miss Jeanne, for helping us find a pause to stop, to think.  reflect.  Much gratitude for this forum to respond.

    As always,

    I send you love and friendship  — gratitude and respect

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