N is for Normal.

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.

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

For more information about the #AtoZChallenge, check out this link

D is for drawing

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

This is my sister Chris again, from a 1978 sketchbook that my mother mailed to me. My mother had a sketchbook with her most of the time. She kept everything. My father did not sort anything and I am just now beginning to catalog the art, the sketchbooks, and my mother’s diaries. My mother died in 2000 and my father in 2013. The silver lining of being off from work post pneumonia is that I am going through the boxes and beginning to organize things. It looks like it is not a small job.

#Blogging from A to Z #letter D #art #women artists #ATOZCHALLENGE

C is for Children

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

I am the daughter of an artist. My sister Chris and I had drawing lessons and paints and just about all of the art supplies you can imagine. Our mother either wore jeans and t-shirts with ink from etchings, or else was very dressed up for art shows or an opera or other festivities. She only wore make up for those times. My sister and I rebelled by refusing to call colors by their names and instead asking each other for the “boy” crayon or the “girl” crayon. We had all the colors divided in male and female. My mother was outraged. “Green is not a boy color.” We just ignored her and kept doing it.

We did learn, though. The picture today is of two postcards. This is a photograph of two color xeroxes, because I don’t have the originals with me. My mother did the lower one and I did the upper one. You can see how much she influenced me and how much I absorbed about water color technique.

I took a class two years ago, which turned out to be acrylics. My mother rather scorned acrylics though she was fine with crayons and crafts. I was painting and the teacher came to look over my shoulder. “They are not watercolors,” he said. “Yes, I know,” I said, “but I am using them like watercolors.” He laughed. Well, I know how to use watercolors and I don’t know much about acrylics. I know how to print etchings too and got an infected finger very young using the forbidden woodcut tools. I tried to hide it and the doctor yelled at both me and my mother. He scared me a lot.

My sister did beautiful art as well, also influenced by my mother. I think I only have one of her pieces.

#ATOZBLOGGINGCHALLENGE2022 # art # Women artists # Helen Burling Ottaway

Memorial

My mother, Helen Burling Ottaway, drew my sister, Christine Robbins Ottaway, in a sketchbook in 1978. I was an exchange student in Denmark. She mailed me the sketchbook for Christmas that year. She died in 2000 and my sister died in 2012, so this is a memorial for both of them.

wearing sunglasses in the rain

Trigger warning: this is about dementia. I wrote this over ten years ago.

wearing sunglasses in the rain

I am weeping for you both

you have cared for her
for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health

and she has lost her memory

you told me on the phone
that it’s not that bad

you say it again in the room

I knew before I saw her
that it was bad, very bad, much worse
she is only 60

she becomes agitated when we try to weigh her
old style doctor’s scale
frightens her to try to step up.
gentle caregiver that you have hired
pushes her, until I say stop, stop, stop
her weight does not matter

shuffling gait
she is frightened to be in a new place
I ask her questions gently
she does not want to sit in the chair in the exam room
“No!” she says “No!”
I leave the room until she’s calmer

when I return
I give her choices
“Shall I examine you first with my stethoscope
or shall I talk to your husband?”
I choose for her, the latter
she relaxes, a little
later, I tell her each step before I do it
she is slightly tense when I lay the stethoscope
on her thin shoulders, but she doesn’t fight

she tenses as I ask her husband questions
about the memory loss
ten years now, a steady course
I ask him what he understands about the prognosis
he shifts uncomfortably
and I ask her if she would like to wait in the waiting room
while I talk to him
Firm and clear: “Yes, I would.”

She is not in the room now
he says that she is not too bad
the picture comes slowly in to focus
mild memory loss, is what he thinks

there are three stages of memory loss, I say
mild, the short fibers, where short term memory is affected
we forget what someone just said
moderate, the medium axons
we forget the recipe that we’ve know for 50 years
we forget how to do math
we forget names and how to get to the store
we forget how to operate the car
severe, the long axons
executive function
we do not initiate things
we forget to get dressed
we forget how to speak
we forget our potty training

his eyes grow sadder and sadder

at last, we return to being a baby
we forget everything
at last, we remember the womb
we no longer want to eat

is she forgetting to eat?

he is not ready to answer

as we leave the room
he says that she is not sleeping well
she seems to be awake at night
eyes closed
but her fingers are moving, as in play
he doesn’t speak to her
he needs to sleep and thinks she should too

should he give her a sleeping pill?

maybe she is happy, I say
maybe in bed in the dark
you are there and it is safe
no one is making her get dressed
no one is making her bathe
maybe that is where she wants to be awake
I would not give her a sleeping pill

the dogs are in the room
he says
and the tv is on just a little
maybe she is happy

he is wearing sun glasses
as they cajole and help her in to the van

he is wearing sun glasses
though it is overcast, low clouds and raining

sometimes it is so hard
to say what I see
to try to say the truth

sometimes the truth is not gentle
but sometimes the truth is love

I am weeping for you both

written 2010

Playlist: Bands I have danced to

I have done two grief playlists. I will do more, but it got me thinking about other playlists. And we need distraction from grief too.

I am a swing dancer and jitterbug dancer. I lived in the Washington, DC area from 1985 to 1989 and then left for medical school. I spent a year being depressed about a breakup. The only time the depression lifted was when I went dancing. I started with contra dancing and then took a swing dance class. In the 1980s, we would have 400-600 people show up at the Spanish Ballroom in Glen Echo Park in Cabin John, MD, for a live band and a lesson, in a no alcohol venue. We would dance our socks off for three hours. We barely clapped for the bands, but they didn’t seem to care, because they liked watching us throw each other up in the air!

Marcia Ball

Daryl Davis

(You could watch his ted talk, too.)

Maria Muldaur

Uppity Blues Women

Little Red and the Renagades

Doc Scantlin and his Imperial Palms Orchestra – at the Kennedy Warren Ballroom in Washington, DC.

I took the photograph of the poster this morning. It is from the 1980s.

Time marching

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.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: March.

Illusion

I knit this lovely striped scarf. It is just brown and pink stripes. No tricks, right? Two rows of pink and two rows of brown.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: wool.