Last day of April A to Z, blogging about Women Artists and particularly Helen Burling Ottaway, my mother. Can you name five women artists now?
This etching is from 1975. I was fourteen years old. I remember my parents discussing titles of etchings. My father, Malcolm Kenyon Ottaway, would often help title them. This etching is titled “Thus spoke Zarasthustra”. I wish that my parents were alive so that I could ask about this etching. Why Friedrich Nietzsche? When I am fourteen, my father receives his MA in mathematics and leaves SUNY Binghampton for a job at General Electric in Alexandria, Virginia. We move from New York State to Virginia and I start high school that year. I think that Alexandria was a much better place for my mother, all the art and artists, than for my father.
I hope that you have had a wonderful month in April: and I hold those in my heart in the war zones or who are lost and suffering.
My father would pretend to speak French, but he spoke terrible French. Right after high school my mother went to Europe with her parents. They traveled and she stayed in Paris, doing art. Her French was much better than his.
Helen Burling Ottaway was influenced particularly by Japanese art and the empty space on the page. We have an ancestor named Morris Temple. I have a photograph of him in his Civil War uniform and of his wife. He was the owner of Temple Pumps. However, the family story is that he was more interested in Japanese art then pumps and proceeded to “run the company in to the ground”. I do not actually know if this is true. My maternal grandfather’s mother was Tessie Temple, and Morris Temple was her father. My middle name is Temple and my cousin is Fred Temple Burling II but goes by Temple, as my maternal grandfather did. He was F. Temple Burling I.
My mother started a series of paintings of Mount Rainier after she moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1996. I think that she planned to do fifty views or one hundred. She did not get to finish the series but I do have some of them. La Vague and the views of Rainier are tributes to other artists that she loved.
This is an etching where more than one color is applied to the plate. This is a proof, so she is still messing around trying to decide what she wants as final colors for the edition.
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.
I am blogging A to Z about artists, particularly women artists and mostly about my mother, Helen Burling Ottaway.
This is a multigenerational post. I am Katy, Katherine after my maternal grandmother. The drawing is of that grandmother, done by my mother H. Ottaway in 1978. My mother mailed me the sketch diary for Christmas. My grandmother was Katy B, for Katherine Burling, and I was Katy O, for Katherine Ottaway. I have inherited a spoon that has Gertrude, Margaret and Kathryn engraved on the bowl. A different spelling, so I don’t know which Kathryn that was.
So K is for Katy. My father used to sing K-k-k-Katy to me when I was very little. It is from 1917!
This is a tintype. “Tintype photography was invented in France in the 1850s by a man named Adolphe-Alexandre Martin. Tintypes saw the rise and fall of the American Civil War, and have persisted through the 20th century and into modern times.” — from here.
I do not know who this young man is, nor the year. I asked my maternal uncle before he died and he denied any knowledge of the person. He was the family historian and archivisit.
However, I have four tintypes in the box of china doll furniture clothes and accessories. My sister and I received a box of jewelry and the tintypes from my Great Aunt Esther Parr. She was my maternal grandmother’s sister and married Russel Parr. Her maiden name was White, a daughter of George White, the Congregationalist Minister who ran Anatolia College in Turkey and then moved to Greece. My sister and I divided the box of jewelry and the tintypes. There were eight so we took turns picking. We used them for dollhouse portraits, not realizing that they were real photographs. I wonder if the tintypes are from the Parr side of the family.
Last month I was missing my father on February 12. I was a month off. His birthday was today, Malcolm Kenyon Ottaway, born in 1938. I miss him now, too.
I will label more photographs, since I appear to have inherited the maternal family paper archive. There are people that I don’t know, though, and my parents are gone. My mother’s siblings have died as well. I am so glad I still have my father’s sisters.
Ask your parents about the pictures and the objects they keep, before they are gone and you lose the story. Time marches on.
The problem With Intelligent Design Is those old bones Those dinosaurs
Also that of 10,000 dreams of creation One would be right And the followers of all the others Consigned to hell If so, I go gladly, clutching Dinosaur bones to my chest And will enjoy the diversity Not the narrow heaven with a narrow Small-minded deity
But is evolution right?
Well, I think it’s on the right track
But wholly done and all correct?
After all, think how often Medicine has been wrong Think of tobacco and vioxx Think of Galen, over 2000 years ago Thinking that evil humors built up in the uterus Causing hysteria External pelvic massage was the cure For over 2000 years For old maids, widows and nuns Who had no male to cleave unto Massage was a treatment into the early 1900s And now we wonder about prozac too
Evolution is an evolving science
I think of when my son was four And he watched “Jurassic Park” Against my wishes Because I thought it was too violent He studied it carefully many times
One day he asked me, anxiously, “Mom, is DNA real?” To check that it wasn’t another of those Santa stories I was able to reassure him Yes, I think DNA is real He was pleased
A few days later he announced That when he grows up He wants to be a plant and animal scientist Extract DNA from amber And grow those dinosaurs
A laudable ambition For any four year old
If God left the dinosaur bones Around to fool us And they never lived She has a nasty sense of humor And my son and I will not forgive
When mom leaves in the car with the kids, dad gets trashed on beer and destroys the living room. Yes, there is an enormous black panther in the background. Will it eat dad? Maybe it will wait until some of the alcohol wears off. He won’t taste as good drunk.
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.
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