Contemplation On Laundry by Kamalla Rose Kaur


Harriet Jacobs


Jamaica Kincaid

I pour clothes into the washing machine, set the dials and watch the water fill the tank. I have completed my third week, of my first quarter, at Western Washington University and the large increase in workload is hitting me. Everything I used to do – before I took on full time academic life and working at the Center For Educational Pluralism at “Uncle” Paul Woodring School of Education – still needs to be done.

“The course readings are the water, and the professors are detergent.” I instruct myself as I watch the laundry churn. “The clothes represent my world – parts of me and my community.” I further propose. Then I shrug and shut the lid.

My increased work load is clearly “the agitator” but I don’t wish to think about it. Best to just keep laboring and hope I’ll get used to it soon.

I didn’t known how much the class readings would affect me, much less imagine the way my books and classes might impact my husband and housemate; actually our whole community.

“Hey, don’t wander off with that. It is my college textbook!” I informed a neighbor one day and my housemate the next.

“Really? You’re kidding. What class?’”

“Creative Nonfiction Writing.”

“I really like these short articles.”

My husband read my whole text for my Women in Literature class, “Women Scribblers – Short Stories by 19th Century American Women”, all 500 pages of it, in my first week at Western. Then he hefted that tome from the table and offered it to our friends, “Try this one, it is a fantastic read, I really enjoyed it.”

“No!” I yelped.. “Come on you guys, I have homework. Give me back my damn school books.”

“What are your professor’s like?” I got asked several times a day at first.

“Three wondrous women. All superior teachers. Really great.”

The first two weeks I wandered around Western remembering Campus School – particularly while at the Center for Educational Pluralism. I can’t stop marveling that I am now employed in what was once my fifth grade classroom. The linoleum is the same 50 year later, and the bathroom sinks, stalls and tiles.

The first two weeks I felt giddy with childhood memories of Western. I visited my long departed Dad’s old office in Old Main and spoke with the successor of his successor.

Week three was different. I got behind, not in schoolwork but in housework, banking and grocery shopping. Week three my husband and friends didn’t read my book because I copied it off the internet to save money. It was “Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl” written by Harriet Jacobs. I am still deeply horrified and haunted by it. It poured in hot and has rinced cold. It soaked me through – suds me up – and it bleached me but good. It is still spinning me round and round.

“Why haven’t I ever read this book? Everyone should read this book. Every American should read this book.” I lectured myself. Yet strangely it was that book that I ended up keeping to myself.

Opening the washer lid and hauling the dry/wet clothes up and out, then shoving them in the dryer, I consider my next reading assignment. I clean the lint screen, set the dials, slam the door shut and hit “START”. The drum begins to roll and blow heat.

“The hot air is the learning process.” I mutter.

Today I am alone. My husband is off helping a friend put in a new shower and my housemate has vanished too. I sit down and read “Biography Of A Dress.” by Jamaica Kincaid. In it she remembers scenes from her childhood – but her childhood was as oppressed and sorrowful as my Campus School years were enriched. The story unsettles me.

I vacuum the house. I wash dishes and clean the counters. Inside, I’m tumbling between gratitude and feeling oppressed. My thoughts, hot and dry, and my feelings, wet and soggy. The story could be another chapter from “Life of A Slave Girl” – except Jamaica Kincaid is subtle and strange and mysterious, where Harriet Jacobs is plain and simple and graphic. They are both black women and I am a low income white woman. Compared to them I am so privileged. I think about women everywhere, finding time to scribble our messages, or sew smocking and embroider, or read books; between chores.

Rolling clean, hot, dry clothes into the laundry basket and then dumping them on the couch, I sit down to fold and sort. I half expect to come across Jamaica’s porridge colored little smocked dress, or maybe one of my own childhood corduroy jumpers.I decide to buy “Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl” and leave it on the coffee-table. I decide to keep my eye out for other stories written by Jamaica Kincaid and to share them with my husband. I decide that my husband will need to do the shopping and banking now that I have gone back to school.

“The clean underwear is my conscience, and these blouses are my….” I try, but then I laugh, shrug, stand, walk into my bedroom, and put the laundry away; suddenly relaxed and free of personal concerns.



Filed under Kamalla Rose Kaur's Writings, Multicultural, Pacific Northwest

6 responses to “Contemplation On Laundry by Kamalla Rose Kaur

  1. I also wrote a post about laundry in my personal blog, sometimes – 2. Not as philosophical and meaningful as yours, but you might find it amusing.

    And I definitely must look up the Slave Girl book.

    And couldn’t quite a few blogs be called ‘creative nonfiction writing,’ the good ones anyway?

  2. kamallarosekaur

    Greetings Mai Harinder Kaur,

    Ken thinks our washer and dryer should be located in the closet and one day he promises to plumb the house that way. Then we will use the washer as a dirty clothes hamper and hang the clothes straight from the dryer.

    Likewise he wants to replace our dish cupboard with handsome dish racks that drain into the sink. Seems silly to him that dishes dry one place and get stored in another place.

  3. Chris Cory

    You know, as a good writer, when your prose veers toward overwroughtsville and pull back with a chuckle, and this is a terrific piece. I’m sending it to Jean Fagan Yellin, the professor emerita at Pace University, where I work, to show her how splendid a legacy she created twenty years ago when she rescued Harriet Jacobs’ reputation from oblivion. You should read her biography of Jacobs, which won two prizes when it came out a couple of years ago. And you should look, probably in the library, for the Harriet Jacobs Family Papers, a two-volume tome coming this fall from the University of North Carolina Press, in which Yellin has pulled together and with love and passion annotated not only Harriet’s letters and writings but those of her articulate brother and others. It will be a “plain and simple and graphic” publishing event, and Yellin is predicting it will be raw material for many scholarly theses and probably a fresh source of ispiration for people like you. Indeed, since Jacobs’ writing means so much to you, you should blog about it and propose yourself to likely publications as a reviewer.

    Best of luck with what bodes to be a fine writing career.

    Chris Cory, Executive Director of Public Information, Pace University

  4. kamallarosekaur

    Thank you very much Chris Cory. In truth my budding writing career has been blooming and rotting on the vine for many years now. After a decade of being well published yet failing to make a living, I have decided to retreat into hometown academia.

    I will certainly read Dr. Jean Fagin Yellin’s biography of Harriet Jacobs, and perhaps review it too; why not? Good for Dr. Yellin for promoting Harriet Jacobs; overlooked USA hero and wonderful, wonderful, writer.

    And thanks again for your kind words and suggestions.

  5. sutprem

    Thanks for including me in your email community. I am encouraged to know you are persuing your education. I have been “trying” since 1989, taking a few classes then getting interupted by “life” or a need to earn an income. So I am encourgaed today to maybe have another go, if I can figure out where the hell to live, work, and then go to school. You are lucky you have a stable home, partner, and sounds like community.

    Best Regards,

  6. kamallarosekaur

    Big hug, Sutprem,

    I am blessed in my friendships for sure! I feel loved just the way I am by many people, and as for the others – I can relate to their perspective too.

    I’m taking some teasing for being a “schoolgirl”. I am older than my professors and I have 30 years on my classmates. They all seem so talented.

    You have lived an amazing life; not an easy one. Bless you. It is great to know you. Look forward to knowing you better.

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