Wednesday, September 06, 2006


I love etymology - the study of the history of words - because it tracks our progress as a species with many side trips into history with curious asides about culture. You can click on the etymology link if you're interested. Musing on this, I left Tary and Karole Peace a 'Happy Labia Day' message when I reached out to touch their answering machine this past holiday weekend.

The word Labor gives a nod to the Frenchified word shift that occured when the Normans conquered England in 1086. I was 'there' because I can trace my maternal genetic material and lineage directly back to Sir Drieu of Normandy, a knight in the service of Robert Malet, a top commander in William the Conqueror's army. It pleases me that my ancestral family had something to do with a major language shift and all those lovely words that came through because of King Harold's foolery.

I'm sure that part of my warrior proclivities and stupid fearlessness are hanging somewhere on an allele passed on by Sir Drieu to me over a thousand years ago. You can see Drieu, also known as Drogo in the Roll of Battle Abbey and embroidered running around on the Bayeaux Tapestry. Our family name, Drury, shortened from the French de Rouvray, has played a part in England's history and culture, including run-ins with service to the illustrious Queen Elizabeth I and a theatre named for the family on Drury Lane - which may also explain my love of the dramatic and costume.

This genealogical snobbery has served me well when I've been looked down the long side of someone's nose, lo, those many times. I chortled gleefully to myself that while So-and-so thought themselves vastly superior for whatever reason, their ancestors were probably chasing sheep across some unnamed hillock burning sheep shit for fuel somewhere while mine rode blue. That and the results of a test in the happy hospital that diganosed me in the 99 percentile as part and parcel cause for my madness. It meant I could look at them dressing me down and know that there was only a 1 percent chance that they were smarter than me. Present circumstances told me where the odds were. Cold comfort at times, but still comfort. You have to cling onto twigs sometimes for whatever dab of sanity you can get while clutching the edge of a cliff or Celie stirring a secret ingredient into the lemonade in 'The Color Purple'.

Back to Labor. It comes from the Latin word for hard work - laborum with a side trip through a French coffee filter, labourer: to work, toil, pain, fatigue. Women coined the word labor way back in time with our travails (also another French word for 'work' or 'labor' - travalier). As in LABOR, childbirth, the trip through the Mouth of Creation or labia. Lab-yrinthine, lab-rus, lab-ia, Lab-or. Virginia Sapiro chronicles in 'Women In American Society' that the bulk of the world's entire work mass, something like 70 to 80 percent of it, is performed daily by women cross-culturally and pan-continental. Any gal who's tried to wrestle a man off a couch and pry the remote from his hands to take out the trash can attest to that, no matter how much her dude talks about his hard work compared to her 18 hour days at home and at 'work'. Think about lions if you're prone to argue.

So. It was appropriate that I left the Peace Women a 'Happy Labia Day' message. You did know that I was going somewhere with all this, didn't you? I left it after spending the night at Martha and Jim Marshall's home where I'd gone for pasta Bolognaise. We drank up the remnants of 3 very good bottles of wine and groaned as we pushed ourselves away from the table. I brought hand work to do with me to labor over (I should insert a smiley face here) to justify my night away from doing work at home.

I finished the beading on a reversible corset belt I am making after they went to bed, three dogs and two cats in tow. It must be like Wild Kingdom in there. Martha had tried like a trouper to stay awake to watch the end of an English whodunit with me but finally gave up. I farted about on Martha's computer, checked my image in the hall bathroom and wondered if there were some way to airbrush out the deepening downturn around my mouth and what looks like the beginings of a goiter on my neck (It's fat. And aging). Having sufficiently dinked, I went to bed in the guest room.

A visit to Martha's is like a trip to the MOSI (Museum of Science and Industry). She takes you on tour of her online world, shows you emails from a gallery in England that has sought her out, teaches you some bit of arcane computer technique, and clues you in on progress with the commissioned Project From Hell, or PFH (pu-fuh when said with a LABIAL fricative). This is a large canvas propped up behind the couch. She cusses the dogs for peeing on the new living room rugs then comforts them because of the scolding. She cooks scrambled eggs and cheese with oat toast for me and Jim after having cooked and eaten earlier. This is served with her muscadine jelly preserves (where in the HELL she found time to make jelly amidst the thrum of her life is mysterious!) Then she answered seventy two emails and other online correspondence, put together the last bit of a proposal to a designer and read the paper. All of this happens before my well fed arse saunters out of the guest digs. Martha is Mach 10, hair afire. And it looks it now with the coppery red-gold stripes her stylist just put in. You can almost see the smoke rising off of her.

Now. What were you going to say to question that women do 80 % of the world's work? Martha did it ALL. Before breakfast.

( Image: "Farm Women at Work," Georges Seurat, the Guggenheim Collection)

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