(One hundred years ago, some medical authorities warned that professional seamstresses were apt to become sexually aroused by the steady rhythm, hour after hour, of the sewing machine’s foot pedals.*)
The above photograph, circa 1910-1920: sixteen horny women pose at their stations at a grubby sewing factory.
I once worked in a sewing factory--though I don’t recall becoming “sexually aroused.” I do remember being fired after one week of sewing misaligned baby sleepers, but arousal?
I don’t think so.
Winter 2004--still at work on my memoir. I set the photo aside and continue writing and then...
Must be the wind. Ignore it.
“Jennifer, listen to us!” A chorus of women.
Now I’m hearing voices?
“Who are you?”
“We’re the horny women from the sewing factory.”
Nice touch of irony.
“Go away. I’m busy.”
“We need a poet.” I feel a ghostly tap on my shoulder. “You!”
“Find someone else. I’m not a poet.”
Perhaps an occasional poet, one or two poems a year--I’d starve if I had to depend on my poetic abilities for a living.
“You must give us a voice.”
Most writers would feel honored to be chosen by fourteen ghosts for such important work, but I don’t need it right now: my memoir burns hot across the page--I mustn’t lose momentum.
“We need you.”
“Because you know.”
No fair. It’s sixteen against one.
For the next two months, I swat my tormentors away, but they, buzzing, droning bees, always return, hovering and demanding that I act as their spokeswoman.
These misinterpreted women have argued well; not only were they accused of being horny on the job, but also had to endure having bromide dropped into their drinking water--to reign in that run-amok sexuality.
But that’s all in the past, right? Women have it so much better now...
January 2005: a ten-hour transatlantic flight from Frankfurt to Philadelphia. I’m a temporary captive of U.S. Airways and a tight airline seat. No laptop, my memoir inaccessible kilobytes on a CD.
The women return. “Aha!” they smirk. “Gotcha!”
No escape. I dig out scrap paper and pen; somewhere over the Atlantic, I write a first, second, and third draft, opting for free verse, wordplay, humor, and satire. Once I've created several drafts, I’m hooked.
I must revise.
Three years later, sixteen unknown women, long dead, have finally found their collective voice. “Horny Women at the Sewing Factory” will find a home on this blog.
Next post. Promise.
As writers, how often have we lamented the insidious blank screen, the dreaded writer’s block? Inspiration is a gift, even when it drops in at inconvenient times, and shouldn’t be denied. Listening to my persistent muses has paid off: a rejuvenated writing life.
My momentum hasn’t suffered at all.
Next post: the poem.
*From: Cherokee Mental Health: 100 Years of Serving Iowan’s [sic]
"Sixteen Women in Search of a Poet," Copyright 2008, Jennifer Semple Siegel
Note: Originally this essay was titled "Fourteen Women in Search of a Poet," but after I blew up the photograph, I found two more women, who seemed to be hiding from the camera. Interesting.
Please feel free to post your non-fiction prose (any style) in the comment section, or email me.