E is for etching

I am blogging A to Z about artists, particularly women artists and mostly about my mother, Helen Burling Ottaway.

My mother loved water colors, but she also did etchings, for as long as I can remember. We had the largest etching press that she could get back in the 1960s. When I was 14, we moved from Johnson City, New York, to Alexandria Virginia for my father’s job. The press went into the basement, along with numerous boxes of books. Soon after we moved, there was torrential rainfall and the sewers in the Del Ray neighborhood backed up. The water stopped draining and just piled up! There was a crack in the foundation of our basement with a waterfall pouring down. My mother wanted the engine of the press saved first! She and my father and I could barely carry it up the stairs, but managed to. Next came boxes of books, some of which were so waterlogged that they were floating. The water was cold, dirty and up to my upper thighs. We unloaded box after box of wet books and spread them out to dry.

I think that my mother’s art was not in the basement, so we did not lose much of that! We installed an automatic sump pump eventually, because that was not the last flood. That was the most spectaular, though. The water was 8-12 inches deep in the front yard. Buses would still drive through the water, sending a wave to hit our front steps.

Afterwards we wished we had taken a photograph in the canoe in the front yard, to use for Christmas. Our Christmas ornaments were flooded too. All the color peels off the balls, so our tree was silver and glass that Christmas. My mother claimed she liked that better and kept it that way from then on!

Etchings are diddly, as my mother would say. A zinc plate, coated with a tar mixture. Then a drawing in the tar, set the plate in acid, and wait for the drawing to etch into the plate. At a certain point, my mother would take the tar off and run some proofs. These were experimental, trying different colors. She would put the tar back on and continue with the drawing. When she was satisfied with the proof, she would start running the edition. The tar is removed, and for each etching the plate is inked with a roller. The ink is gently wiped off, until it is light on the remaining flat parts of the plate and heavier in the lines. The plate is placed on the press, a piece of paper that is soaked is placed on the plate, heavy felt cloth is lowered over it and the plate and paper are run through the press. We had a guard, but keep your fingers away! The felt is lifted, the paper is lifted and the paper is set to dry. The plate is wiped and inked again. The edition is numbered: 1/20 or 1/50. My mother ran some plates many many times. A tiny one named Tag, of a unicorn playing tag with butterflies, is done in multiple colors. Others were a much smaller edition, of 20 or 30. The very large plates are a challenge to ink and wipe. It takes practice to wipe the ink but not wipe it out of the lines.

I have three photographs of H. Ottaway’s Iris and Poppies etching. The featured image is 17/30, colored edition, 1976. The one below is a proof for the color edition. The last one is a proof for her black and white edition.

Iris and Poppies Etching, by Helen Burling Ottaway, proof for color edition.
Iris and Poppies Etching, black and white proof, Helen Burling Ottaway, 1976.

#ATOZBLOGGINGCHALLENGE2022 # art # Women artists # Helen Burling Ottaway #ATOZCHALLENGE

A is for Artist: Helen Burling Ottaway

This month my topic for Blogging from A-Z is art and particularly my mother, the artist Helen Burling Ottaway, born May 31, 1938. She died May 15, 2000, of ovarian cancer. I am starting with her sketches, and the self portrait. My mother sent me a sketchbook for Christmas, 1978, that I still have. I was 17 and was an exchange student to Denmark. She drew pictures of lots of family and friends and mailed me the sketchbook. I really love it still.

I love her comments, too. They are often very funny. Here is my father and what was happening.

Sketch of Malcolm Kenyon Ottaway by Helen Burling Ottaway

#Blogging from A to Z Challenge

Ode to defiance

Is oppositional defiance running YOUR life?

I am oppositional defiant. I have been for as long as I can remember. I ALWAYS want to argue when someone tells me to do something or gives me advice. BUT, I have learned to work with it.

I work with it by arguing with myself.

Give me a topic. Or advice. I will promptly argue the opposite, internally or externally. Then I will argue the original side. Then my demon fights my angel until they are both tired and decide to go have a beer. Somewhere along the way I will make a decision and also I will laugh, because it’s funny.

B has figured this out. “You argue with EVERYTHING.” he says.

“Yes, and if there is no one around, I argue with myself. All the time.”

However, he is also oppositional defiant. He is smart too, and doing some self examination.

“I am thinking about my life. I think ALL of my important decisions were oppositional defiant ones.”

“Someone told you you couldn’t do that?

“Yes.”

He’s chewing on that. Heh. He accuses ME of overthinking. I replied that I am making up for his underthinking, heh. He suggests that I STOP overthinking and I say, “You want to DESTROY the SOURCE of my poetry?” Double heh.

The point is, some of us are oppositional defiant, but really, we don’t want that to run our lives EITHER. We don’t want ANYTHING or ANYONE to tell us what to do.

B says, “I think that everyone refusing the vaccine is oppositional defiant.” He has a lot of friends, both liberal and conservative.

“That is interesting.” I say. And I wonder if it is worth dying for, to be oppositional defiant. Not if it’s running your life, right? I don’t want ANYTHING to run my life except ME.

So then I spend a bunch of time arguing with myself about the causes of refusing the vaccine. And I have not reached a conclusion. Yet.

I took the photograph at the Bellevue Mall on Monday. A three story waterfall. Really? Isn’t there enough rain in Seattle? We should have a three story sun instead.

Why care for addicts?

I posted this in November, 2015. I am reposting it.

_________________

Why care for addicts?

Children. If we do addiction medicine and help and treat addicts, we are helping children and their parents and our elderly patients’ children. We are helping families, and that is why I chose Family Practice as my specialty.

Stop thinking of addiction as the evil person who chooses to buy drugs instead of paying their bills. Instead, think of it as a disease where the drug takes over. Essentially, we have trouble with addicts because they lie about using drugs. But I think of it as the drug takes over: when the addict is out of control, the drug has control. The drug is not just lying to the doctor, the spouse, the parents, the family, the police: the drug is lying to the patient too.

The drug says: just a little. You feel so sick. You will feel so much better. Just a tiny bit and you can stop then. No one will know. You are smart. You can do it. You have control. You can just use a tiny bit, just today and then you can stop. They say they are helping you, but they aren’t. Look how horrible you feel! And you need to get the shopping done and you can’t because you are so sick…. just a little. I won’t hurt you. I am your best friend.

I think of drug and alcohol addiction as a loss of boundaries and a loss of control. I treat opiate overuse patients and I explain: you are here to be treated because you have lost your boundaries with this drug. Therefore it is my job to help you rebuild those boundaries. We both know that if the drug takes control, it will lie. So I have to do urine drug tests and hold you to your appointments and refuse to alter MY boundaries to help keep you safe. If the drug is taking over, I will have you come for more frequent visits. You have to keep your part of the contract: going to AA, to NA, to your treatment group, giving urine specimens. These things rebuild your internal boundaries. Meanwhile you and I and drug treatment are the external boundaries. If that fails, I will offer to help you go to inpatient treatment. Some people refuse and go back to the drug. I feel sad but I hope that they will have another chance. Some people die from the drug and are lost.

Addiction is a family illness. The loved one is controlled by the drug and lies. The family WANTS to believe their loved one and often the family “enables” by helping the loved one cover up the illness. Telling the boss that the loved one is sick, procuring them alcohol or giving them their pills, telling the children and the grandparents that everything is ok. Everything is NOT ok and the children are frightened. One parent behaves horribly when they are high or drunk and the other parent is anxious, distracted, stressed and denies the problem. Or BOTH are using and imagine if you are a child in that. Terror and confusion.

Children from addiction homes are more likely to be addicts themselves or marry addicts. They have grown up in confusing lonely dysfunction and exactly how are they supposed to learn to act “normally” or to heal themselves? The parents may have covered well enough that the community tells them how wonderful their father was or how charming their mother was at the funeral. What does the adult child say to that, if they have memories of terror and horror? The children learn to numb the feelings in order to survive the household and they learn to keep their mouths shut: it’s safer. It is very hard to unlearn as an adult.

I have people with opiate overuse syndrome who come to see me with their children. I have drawings by children that have a doctor and a nurse and the words “heroes” underneath and “thank you”. I  have had a young pregnant patient thank me for doing a urine drug screen as routine early in pregnancy. “My friend used meth the whole pregnancy and they never checked,” she said, “Now her baby is messed up.”

Addiction medicine is complicated because we think people should tell the truth. But it is a disease precisely because it’s the loss of control and loss of boundaries that cause the lying. We should be angry at the drug, not the person: love the person and help them change their behavior. We need to stop stigmatizing and demeaning addiction and help people. For them, for their families, for their children and for ourselves.

Covid-19: Emotional weather

I do not think of emotions as bad or good. None of them are bad or good. They are information, controlled by electrical impulses and hormones, evolved over millions of years (or endowed by our creator, for those who swing that way).

I don’t dismiss emotions. I listen to them.

I think of myself as an ocean. There is all sorts of stuff happening in the depths that I don’t understand. Probiotics, for example. I don’t take them. If not for penicillin, I’d be dead many times over, from strep A pneumonia twice and other infections. I don’t think we understand probiotics yet. We don’t understand the brain, either.

The emotions are the weather in my life. I don’t really control them but they don’t control my ocean, either. Some days are sunny and gorgeous and then a storm may blow up. I am afraid of hurricanes, one destroyed my grandparents’ house in North Carolina, on the outer banks. I think all the cousins still mourn that house. And I miss my grandparents too, all of them. And my parents and my one sister.

See? The weather got “bad” there for a moment, but it isn’t bad. Storms have their own beauty though we hope to batten the hatches and that not too much damage is done. Maybe there is rain, scattered showers, sun breaks, a lenticular cloud. In the Pacific Northwest on the coast, the weather can change very quickly and we have microclimates. My father lived 17 miles away, but inland from me and in a valley. It was warmer in the summer and colder in the winter.

My goal with my weather emotions is to pay attention to them, let the storms blow in and out, and try not to harm anyone else because of my weather. When my sister was in hospice, we had a sign up in my small clinic. It said that my sister was in hospice with cancer and that clinic would be cancelled at some point with little warning. Patients were kind and gentle with me. And then it was cancelled, when she died. I got cards from people. They were so kind, thank you, thank you, and I could barely take it in. My maternal family then dealt with grief by having lawsuits. I don’t think that is a good way to deal with grief, but we just see things differently. Maybe it’s the right way for them. I don’t know.

Whenever I was having internal emotional weather that stirred me up, I would tell my nurse or office manager. Because they will sense my weather and need to know what is up. I had enormous support from them during a divorce, while my partners treated me horribly. My nurses and office manager knew me and my partners didn’t. My partners distanced me as if a divorce were catching. Whatever. Their loss.

Sometimes patients sensed that I was upset. I could tell by their faces. If they didn’t ask, I would. Bring the emotions out. Reassure them that I AM grumpy but not at them. Stuff in my own life. No worries.

Sometimes clinic is about a patient’s weather. They ask if they can tell me something. Often it is prefaced by “Maybe I need an antidepressant.” or “I feel really bad.” When they tell the story, usually I would say, “I think it is perfectly reasonable and normal that you feel angry/hurt/shocked/horrified/grieved/upset.” And then I would ask about an antidepressant or a counselor and most of the time, the person would say, “Well, I don’t think I need it right now.” What they needed was to know that their weather was NORMAL and REASONABLE.

I am seeing things on Facebutt and on media saying that mental health problems and behavioral health problems are on the rise. Maybe we should reframe that. Maybe we could say, “The weather is really bad right now for everyone and it’s very frightening and it is NORMAL and REASONABLE to feel frightened/appalled/angry/in denial/horrified/confused/agitated/anxious or WHATEVER you feel.” This weather is unprecedented in my lifetime, but as a physician who had very bad influenza pneumonia in 2003 and then read about the 1918-19 influenza, I have been expecting this. Expecting a pandemic. Expecting bad weather. This will pass eventually, we will learn to cope, be gentle with yourself and be gentle with others. Everyone is frightened, grieving, angry, in denial or in acceptance. The stages of grief are normal.

Hugs and prayers for all of us to endure this rough weather and help each other and ourselves..

I took the photograph in color. My program made a black and white version. It looks like the back of a stegosaurus to me, a dinosaur now living as a mountain.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: rainbow. Because sometimes the rain and sun combine to make a rainbow.

pigs and fishes

is it ok

if I don’t make sense for a little while?

this is hard

it’s really hard
sometimes
to communicate

I never did
join the mainstream
of medicine

I went to class
to medical school
and wondered
and noticed
that the classes resembled
descriptions of cults
how they train people

and I thought
I am not joining any cult

and I kept my mouth shut

in the elevator
when another student says
“The other day
I threw out all of my husband’s plaid shirts.
I hate them.
They are too low class.”
If he loves them, you’ve hurt him, right?
and I think
I could say
“Yes, I hate it
when my husband
wears my plaid skirt
he stretches them all out
and ruins them.”
I would be outed
even more than I already am
as weird.

I don’t say a word
I just think
words

Medical school is four years
Residency is three
I am quiet there too
impression that I am shy
which is a lie
even so, the faculty fear me

I hear, 25 years later

and I am surprised

5 foot four
130 pounds

what the hell is there to fear?

though a boyfriend says
“You turn into an ogre
when you are angry.”

but I am quiet
in medical school
in residency
except when a patient
needs me
to speak

morph to ogre
morph to werewolf
if needed

as I get older
slowly
slowly
I learn
more subtelty

mostly from my children
who are subtle
and very very smart

at any rate

I never bought in to
the give opioids to everyone

and eventually
it turns out
that my intuition
or instinct
or whatever the hell you want to call it
study of addiction from the experience
and reading in college
matches
the studies
that come out

now I have another one
an intuition

the data is catching up with me

it’s funny
in my small community

I feel so lonely
after 21 years
mother’s death, sister’s death, father’s death
divorce
single mother 2 children
niece don’t go there
I am labeled by the medical community
I hear that the senior doctor
in the community
tells a woman midlevel
at a party
that I am crazy

maybe so

but I was right about opioids

pigs and fishes

is it ok

if I don’t make sense for a little while?

maybe
just maybe

they could listen to me this time

but I don’t think

they
will

that would be ok
but it is hurting people
and I can’t bear that

so I put myself
back in the traces

once in a massage
I thought
I can’t bear this
I am not strong enough
and suddenly I was in a dream world
where my back was enormous
huge
unending
and I thought, oh, I can bear this
thank you
I think

I put myself back in the traces
I am an ox
I plant my hooves

I begin
to pull
hard

pigs and fishes

even as I cry

The photograph is from 2014. Two pairs of glasses frames ago….

outfits inappropriate for work 3

Ok, maybe it is not inappropriate for work. But it would be a little weird for work… I was going in the woods with my oxygen tank. “Local doctor of 21 years found eaten by cougar, which then died because it couldn’t digest the oxygen tank.” Heh.

Listening to this, fabulous!!!

Qia and the liars

Qia is in her first year of college, 1200 miles from home. She joins the ski team, hoping to ski. There really aren’t mountains in Wisconsin. They are hills. She doesn’t have a car so she has to get rides to the ski hill. She does get demo skis, because she is on the team. It’s mostly guys, a few women. The guys chug a beer at the top of each run. The runs are ice after the first time down. It is very poorly lit and very cold. Qia is afraid of the ice and the guys and the drinking.

At Christmas she goes home, to Virginia. She really wants ski pants, she tells her mother. She is cold. She is still skiing in spite of the drinking and the scary guys and the ice. They yell at her to go faster but she goes the speed where she will not die. It doesn’t matter anyhow. She goes to a formal race and they have three foot tall trophies for the boys and nothing, not even a ribbon, for the women.

At home, her father is laughing. He is giggling, silly. He doesn’t make any sense. He gives Qia the creeps. Her mother sails along like nothing is wrong. Qia’s little sister has gone from the extroverted life of the party to locked down so hard that her eyes are stones. Fungk, thinks Qia.

Her father loses his down jacket, leaving it somewhere. Then he borrows her mothers and loses it too. Qia’s sister has out grown hers. On Christmas morning there are two down jackets and a pair of ski pants.

The ski pants are two sizes too small. Her father laughs. The down jackets are the ugliest colors, cheaply made, junk. Qia watches her mother and sister try to smile.

Qia leaves the ski pants and returns to Wisconsin. She gets a spider bite. It spreads. She goes to the doctor. He gives a laugh of relief and says it is shingles. He has to explain what shingles is. “It either means you are very run down or have severe stress.” Qia laughs. Worst Christmas of her life so far.

She realizes the problem. Her father has been abducted by fairies and a changeling put in his place. She reads everything she can find about changelings. Adult changelings are rare but not unknown. She pulls out every stop on top of her heavy schedule to learn about how to fight fairies. She can’t afford to hire a fighter. She finds an iron sword at a second hand shop. She hangs around the gyms and watches the fairy fighters fight. She goes home and practices every move. She collects herbs.

She sets things up before spring break. She arrives home and asks her mother and sister to go with her to a specialist in changelings and fighting fairies. Qia is sad but confident. Her mother and sister both cry after watching the movie about the behavior of changelings. Qia asks her mother and sister to help her.

They both refuse.

Qia can’t understand it. But she has studied and read the books. She will do it alone.

She meets with her father. She tells him how awful and frightening Christmas was. She tells him how ashamed and scared she was. She reads him a letter that her sister wrote to her, emotionless, about having to watch him when he is curled in a fetal ball at the top of the stairs. Her mother asked her sister to watch him, so he wouldn’t hurt himself. Her sister says that she wanted to go out with her friends. Her sister is in tenth grade.

Her father doesn’t say a word.

Qia begs him to tell her the key. The word that will open the portal. She shows him the sword and lists all of her herbs and describes her training. She tells him that after she defeats the fairies he will go home and her real father will be returned. She says that she knows he isn’t happy here, with mortals.

He doesn’t say a word to her for the rest of spring break. Her mother and sister do not say a word about it either. Her father drinks more heavily. Qia returns to college.

Qia refuses to come home for the summer. She stays in Wisconsin. She does not want to be around any of them.

Her sister is three years younger. Qia wishes that she could scoop her up and take her to Wisconsin. Qia frets and is in pain. Qia’s second year starts and her sister is in eleventh grade.

Qia’s mother calls. Qia’s sister is on her way. 3000 miles away. “At the last minute, C invited her to live with them in Seattle.” says Qia’s mother. “C was leaving the next day. Your sister decided and went with her. It’s a relief because your sister was getting A’s on tests but refusing to turn in homework, so overall she was getting D’s. ” Qia is relieved. C and S have a son named after her father. He is younger than her sister. Qia also has a cousin 6 years older who lived with C and S and still lives in Seattle. Qia wishes her little sister the best.

Years later, after her mother has died, Qia asks her father about it. By now her father is back and the changeling is gone. I was angry, says her father. But your sister was getting into lots of trouble. Really bad trouble. What could I do, locked in fairyland. He does not go into what Qia’s sister was doing.

And after her father dies, Qia finds a letter. The letter is from C to her mother. It is talking about her sister going to live with C and S. My mother lied to me, thinks Qia. I am not surprised. I wonder why she lied to me. Qia thinks it is probably because her mother set it up with C and did not tell her sister. Qia thinks that her mother lied to her sister. Qia thinks how much that would have hurt her sister: that her mother chose the changeling over her. Her sister would have been terribly hurt and angry.

But so many are dead, what does it matter? Qia’s mother is dead. Her father is dead. Her sister is dead. C’s son is longest dead. S is dead. Even the changeling is dead. Friends in fairyland let Qia know. Actually, Qia and C are the only ones left living.

C did not lie to Qia or her sister directly. She let Qia’s mother do the lying.

Qia does not talk to C again.

Qia is tired of liars.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

This is not a story about fairies. It is about alcohol or any addiction. We must support families, because the whole family becomes ill. Triangulation, lies, competition, enabling. In my maternal family, the enablers die before the enablees. I have chosen to leave the system and I refuse to be either an enabler or enablee. If you are in that sort of system, you may find that the family resists you leaving and tries to draw you back in to it. When you do finally succeed in leaving, there will be a strong reaction. When the pirahnas run out of food, they eat each other. Stand back and don’t get drawn back in. The newest victim will need to make their own decision to stay or leave.

in praise of opposititional defiance

I am oppositional defiant.

I can and will argue about anything. ANYTHING.

And guess what? I can and will argue either side.

In fact, when I am sick there is only one person to argue with. Myself.

So that is what I do. Autopilot. I think of something and then instantly question it. Is it true, do I really agree with it, what arguments are on the other side. Sometimes there is an angel on one side and the devil on the other. Sometimes it’s two scientists or politicians or I’m arguing the male viewpoint as far as I can versus the female as far as I can.

One time my mother in law was visiting when my son was around nine. She looked out the window. My son was pacing back and forth in front of the garage.

“I am worried about him.” said my mother in law

“Why?” I said, glancing out at him.

“He’s bored.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Just LOOK at him pace.”

“He’s not bored.”

She was shocked and slightly outraged.

I said, “Go stand by him.”

She looked confused but she did it.

After a bit she came back inside. “You are right, he’s not bored.”

Because, you see, I knew what he was doing when he paced there. He was narrating a story out loud. It usually involved spaceships, dinosaurs, other planets and explosions. He did sound effects. It was the opposite of boring. It was very very exciting.

When I needed his attention I would say his name. If that didn’t work, I would start adding sound effects. I would add explosion noises and squeaks and dinosaur calls at inappropriate times. He would stop and glare at me.

I have to say that now I am not surprised that he was a late reader. I am actually surprised that the teacher could talk through the explosions and dinosaurs and spaceships at all….

Anyhow, pick a controversial topic. Argue one side of it. Then switch positions and argue the other side. If you can’t, you need more information from the other side. Do a search on google. This will confuse the hell out of your feed, which knows very well that you are not a fan of oil drilling or hunting elk. But it’s GOOD to confuse your feed, it needs to know that you are a versatile thoughtful very smart human being.

And have a great time arguing with yourself. Be sure to put the blue tooth in your ear so that no one calls the people with nets to take you away…..