In Search of the Holy Mother of Jobs

In Search of the Holy Mother of Jobs

Book Review

By Pat Littledog
Cinco Puntos Press, 1991, 125 pp.

By Kathy Mitchell
April 1992; page 10; Volume 3, No. 5

A woman's life is a multi-layered, scattered thing of many selves and works. An economic theory, like a glass bowl dropped from a great height, shatters with her experience. Pat Littledog, in her most recent book, In Search of the Holy Mother of Jobs, sets out to write an economic theory of women's work. Instead, she walks her reader barefoot across the fragments of theory into a life that fits no discernable discipline, reaching out to anyone who has ever been broke, irresolute, giddy, expansive, confident, demoralized and badly in need of a job.

This "left handed theory of women's work" begins mightily, a rumination on maternity, impoverishment, housework. But alas, an economic theory by its nature vivisects, edits, freezes the life. Work, not life, is its subject matter. Capital, market production, the sexual division of labor, the public sphere, the private sphere, the heroic, the fecund. These are the ancient bowls into which economists shovel their statistics until the numbers overflow and messily commingle. What should a woman put into her economic theory of work? What should she leave out...

"Should I tell about the shady friendships I then developed? The acid experiences? The ecstatic revelations which kept me busy? The lack of a broom? The dirty dishes and sticky floors? If I was going to write a tract defending housework, urging modern women back to these magical jobs of ironing and cleaning, then how was my own history going to fit into that?"

Marx, the pragmatic humanist, wrote that labor gave life value, made it discernable, gave its different nuances a commonality. Labor, he said, created use-value and market value, self and other. Yet, while volumnious about circulation, markets, and alienated man, Marx abandoned the world of use-value and self creation to the future. Feminist economists continue to struggle clumsily with the double meaning of labor and the allocation of value to women's work. Littledog, addressing "the woman on the moon" and the 14,000 women who met in Nairobi, begins with poetic value, "my children and my creativity."

In a series of bio-mythographical essays, she tumbles joyfully and sometimes sadly across the middle years of an extraordinary woman's life, through jobs, lovers, poetry, children, bare mattresses, weedy gardens, and strip teases. Her world is Austin, and she traces the windings of the "river that flows under beds and seeps under floors," connecting the living corpses in high-rise office buildings with bookstore visionaries, nightclub dancers, and T.V. anchormen that swarm across the screen like bugs, caught in a cesspool too deep for even the Terminix man.

Littledog confronts labor with poetry, and a symbolism peculiar to Texas. Roaches flutter through the pages, feeding on the rising waters of a rich fantasy life that mingles sex and death with the work that keeps body and soul together.

The black bugs of girlhood horror stories crawl from an imagined french twist, while she prepares for her day as a secretary to George Hunk, a lawyer of remarkable depositions and impeccable questionings. With Henry Miller in her top drawer, she imagines herself Kundalini, the serpent of Tantric yoga, caged by a Playtex girdle and the cap of hair. The goddess of secretaries protects her from the tired drama of office screwing by channeling impulse into fantasy. "A long time ago I was a secretary," she later tells Alice that blues singer while pinning her hemline. "That was a very depressing kind of work."

Roaches fill the bookstore basement, enveloping her body like the man with whom she shares a mattress. "When a cockroach crawls across my bed in the basement he doesn't feel slick and black like he look when the lights are on, he brushes so lightly and sweet as a lover - I wouldn't even shake him off if I didn't remember what he looked like, I would let this bed fill up with feathery cockroaches, I would let them crawl in and out of my legs..."

And in an epiphany, she envisions them crawling out of the mouths of gay friends whose lovers have died of AIDS. "They learn to let the insects crawl in and out of their ears without flinching, even adapting the unearthly cricket calls as their own, opening their mouths, allowing streams of black bugs, red bugs mixed with petals of various flowers, to pour out of them like buckets of water."

Taking on the archaic imagery of the lunar goddesses of death and transformation, these moon-men of the final chapter pose the greatest challenge to any simple view of women, men, and their labors. The men flood the world and renew it. They grow beautiful gardens in the midst of midnight parties created for fucking. They float in the dark sky, craters of eyes and anuses. The moon is no longer the same woman to whom she addressed her preface, but is man, floating and sucking.

The woman returns to earth to be a poet. "Certainly while I have been typing and re-typing, editing and throwing out and putting back in and rearranging and cleaning up and polishing and re-polishing, I haven't been doing much housework." She disrupts the easy association of woman with fecundity and the home without denying that these things are a part of life.

The poet, Pat Littledog, soars with an outlandish humor. Sometimes in the first person, sometimes for some other person, the tales follow "I/her/she" through every conceivable job. She creates a new goddess, the Holy Mother of Jobs, who sits a third of the way down the classified ads of the daily paper. The Holy Mother tells us of the time the poet sold firecrackers from a camper by the side of the road. "Mr. Pow-Pow Discount Fireworks: More Bang for Your Bucks." The poet is also a seamstress, a party dancer, a scholar (briefly). Mostly she sold books.

She could be found behind a small counter in a corner bookstore that anyone who has lived in Austin over the last ten years would recognize. The dusty and cramped store was home to raggedy-ass college students, dreamers, pot smokers and young punks with blackened eyes and hair who hoped to become art. Now the building is something else. And this is the poet's second collection of fiction. I also recommend the first, Afoot in a Field of Men.

"So I do my job. I burn candles. I burn little packets of incense. I make up chants and charms. I fold whatever affection I might have on hand into special packages. This is woman's work for those who are left-handed."