I have been collecting eggshells for a while. I am not sure exactly what I am going to do with them, but this is my first piece of egg art. I keep thinking about the large sugar eggs with the window, with small figures inside, that we got as children. I am saving real eggshells and bits of feather and fluff and pine cones and shells. With Easter tomorrow, I may dye some eggshells.
My mother loved dying eggs. We did not go to church but both my parents sang masses and the record player was just as likely to play Bach or Brahms or Carl Orff as the Loving Spoonful or Bob Dylan or The Beatles. We did elaborate egg dying, with wax and multiple layers of color. The complicated planned ones were often not pretty. It was the ones that we weren’t particularly trying that were often gorgeous. We always had both blown and hardboiled eggs. We would have “egg wars” when we wanted to eat one. We would each hold an egg and tap them together hard. The winner was the one with an intact egg. We ate the less pretty hardboiled ones first and the prettiest last. Mmmmm, egg salad and deviled eggs, yum.
I am blogging A to Z about artists, particularly women artists and mostly about my mother, Helen Burling Ottaway.
My family was not Normal. No, no, not normal. I don’t think anyone is normal, really. In clinic one year I think, wow, all of my people are SO interesting. Why am I so lucky to have all of these wonderful people? And then I think: OH. Everyone is interesting. No one is “normal”. They may try really hard to pass for normal. I certainly had MY work cut out. And why is that, you say. I am so glad you asked that question!
My parents were both obsessed. My mother was obsessed with art. With music, a secondary joy. My father was all about music. Mathematics and language was his secondary joy. By age nine I discover poetry and that is it for me. That is the be all end all. I am so obsessed that I am amazed at age 40 when I make a discovery: poetry is not it for everyone.
I am fired by the hospital for fighting a clinic quota of patients. I might have kept the job if I had shut my mouth and been diplomatic, but I was not diplomatic. I write a protest song and sing it at the open mike and sing it into the CFO’s voicemail. I think I could be the poster girl for the opposite of diplomatic, right?I thought about quitting and then thought, no, I stay and fight this for my patients. I am fired the next day.
A group of people try to intervene and get me rehired. At some point I suggest sending one of my poems to the hospital commissioners. Six people email: NO!
I am confused: What do you mean, no? Why not?
YOU DO NOT COMMUNICATE WITH HOSPITAL COMMISSIONERS VIA POETRY.
I am still confused: I communicate by poetry. Poetry is the highest form of communication.
HOSPITAL COMMISSIONS DO NOT LIKE OR UNDERSTAND POETRY.
Ok, THAT is mind blowing for me. I call my father. What is this about?
My father says People are afraid of poetry.
I say You are kidding me.
My father says Poetry is magic. People are afraid of magic.
I say I’m not afraid of poetry.
That is because you are a poet, says my father.
And I really look at my thoughts on writing and poetry. I realize that writing and poetry are SO IMPORTANT to me that I assume that EVERYONE WANTS TO WRITE AND BE A POET. I ask my group of people trying to get me reinstated. None of them want to be poets. I ask my father. He does not want to be a poet. I am completely floored. I realize that I thought my mother loves art but wants to be a poet. My father loves music but wants to be a poet. Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
It must have been rather weird for my sister Chris, three years younger. She has three people who are all obsessed with their form of art. My sister Chris was a brilliant writer, an excellent musician and an artist. But I don’t think she was obsessed with any of them the way the rest of the family was. That must have been a little lonely.
The photograph is me and my sister in 1965. I am four and she is one year.
I say to a counselor once that in spite of alcohol problems in the family, the music was amazing and my sister and I learned it. The counselor replies, “Children connect with adults where they can.” I think OH. That is amazing. My sister and I see my father praise my mother for knowing all the words to the songs. She is always be the last one singing because she knows verse 8, 9 and 10. My sister and I assume that this is a woman’s job: memorize the words. We did. We photocopy the back of Beatles albums and on long car trips we memorize ALL THE WORDS. I think I can still sing Yellow Submarine start to finish.
I start school. I know there will be singing. No one knows my songs. The songs they know are the songs to television shows and we do not have one. I quickly go silent. I play flute and I sing all the songs in my head when I am bored, but I do not sing out loud. And I choose medicine because I want to understand people, for the writing. I still think people are very very weird. But I have written the whole time, every single day. And that is how my mother did art and how my father did music. Every single day.
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