X is for X-Acto knife

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

My mother disliked cutting mats more than almost anything except vacuuming and cutting glass. In the late 1980s and early 1990s my grandmother lived two doors down in Alexandria, Virginia. My mother took over part of the basement for matting, glass cutting and framing. Times right before shows included complaints about cutting mats and glass, her saying that she didn’t have enough things framed (though she always did) and at least one piece of glass broke. The X-Acto knife was the tool for mat cutting at that time. My mother usually cut herself at least once for each show. She was particularly annoyed if she bled on the freshly cut mat or the painting or etching.

Hanging the show involves a lot of time out words as well, but she would get excited once it was hung. Then it was time for dress up. Shows were a command performance: my sister and I were to go as well. We dressed up and talked to people politely and ate the strawberries when my mother was not looking. The opening of the show would include food and usually wine. In small glasses. And no, we weren’t allowed to have any. We had to look at the art and be polite to adults.

The photograph today is another of my poems with my mother’s etching. And look, she has avoided cutting a mat. She bought special frames, with two slots. One holds the glass. The second holds the mat with the mounted etching. If the glass rests on the etching, it can ruin it. She mounted all of our ten prints and poems this way. Clever artist and they look wonderful.

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

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

One must go through the water.

One must go through the water.

One might choose not
avoid
there are ways to avoid feelings

Another one might choose not

I let go
and fall
and the water closes over my head
and I let myself sink
all the way down

even
if I am over
a deep trench

once down
once deep

I open my eyes
and let my breath out
and let the deep rush in

I don’t know why
people avoid this place
it is dangerous
but so beautiful
the darkness
with beings that glow

some attack
of course

but I too am a monster
bare my fangs
and receive respect
or fear

or friendship

I am very safe here
it is so familiar
in the deep

tears falling

I am back in grief
in the ocean of tears
someone has to go there
and I can swim

I can swim on the surface
and I can swim in the depths
no trench is too deep
for me to explore

they think it is dark
in the deepest trench
it’s true that the pressure
is very strong

but all of us
in the deepest depths
learn to glow
and shine

that is what the trench does
at first you are terrified
an ocean of grief
an ocean of tears

but then you see light
beings glowing
some are eating each other
but others smile and wave

if you are not too frightened
if you do not fight and struggle
if you take a breath, calmly
you find you can breathe

and you look at your hands
in wonder as you breathe
in the ocean of grief
in the ocean of tears

you too are glowing softly
in the ocean of grief
in the ocean of tears
you feel welcome

Under the weather

It is November and in the Pacific Northwest it’s hard not to feel under the weather because the clouds are right over our heads. Or some mornings I open the door and my house is in the cloud. In the weather. Is that a saying too? In the hurricane, in the cyclone, in a storm. Some days I feel like I can reach up and touch the underside of the low hanging cloud. Some days it feels heavy, but others it feels safe. Hiding, hidden, invisible.

For today’s Ragtag Daily Prompt: under the weather.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Dr. Aaron Beck, father of cognitive behavioral therapy, died this week, November 2021, at age 100.

Oddly enough, the best explanations of cognitive behavioral therapy that I’ve read is on a writing website. It talks about writing down all of the horrible thoughts and then going back and writing counter thoughts. Psychologists have been talking at me at medical conferences for years about cognitive behavioral therapy, but they never explained it. They said we could do it in clinic. I thought cynically that maybe I could if I knew what the hell it was.

And the explanation by the author is oddly similar to what I think of as the angel and devil on my shoulders. It turns out that I do do it in clinic.

When I react to some event, I let the devil out first. It has a fit about whatever is happening, writes poems, is reactive, paranoid and full of anger and grief. It often imagines over the top terrible things happening to the person or people that did whatever it is. Then the angel wakes up and says, wait. What are you saying? What you are imagining and cursing that person with is WAY worse then what they did. The angel writes the poems of forgiveness.

So I have been doing a homemade form of cognitive behavioral therapy.

However, I would say that it can be overused. We need to listen to patients carefully. If they are in an abusive relationship, it should not be papered over with cognitive behavioral therapy. A friend and I have been comparing terrible childhoods. His involved being beaten without reason.

I said recently that what people hit with in my family is words. They make grief and fear into stories, funny stories, that make people laugh. Shame and humiliation and reliving the feelings. I said that I am reactive and pay close attention to words. But I have reason, back to age 2. I said that books are my refuge because the words are not about me, they don’t shame me, they do not humiliate me, and if I read a book twice, it has the same words. Home, love and safe.

In my maternal family, if I said that I was not comfortable with a comment, I was told that I took things too seriously, that I have no sense of humor, that I can’t take a joke. Gaslight and then dismiss any objection. That is how one side of my family loves. I do not like it. Unsurprisingly, they do not love me, or at least I do not feel loved.

And my friend said, your family, your childhood, was worse than mine.

One of my talents in clinic is that I can listen to insane family stories. I can listen because my family is insane. They are cruel. At least, it feels like cruelty and horror to me. I didn’t ever try to find out if a family story is true. I listen and then say, yes. I think it is appropriate for you to feel angry/sad/horrified/appalled/scared/hurt/whatever.

Somehow that listening and validation is huge. I have people come in and say, “I NEED AN ANTIDEPRESSANT.” They want to supress the feelings. So I had time in my clinic: why do you need an antidepressant? Tell me the story. Fill me in. What are you feeling and why?

And more than half the time after the story, after validation, I ask, “Do you need an antidepressant?”

The person thinks. “No. I don’t think so. Let me think about it. I feel better.”

“Ok. Do you want to schedule a follow up?”

Half do. Half say: “No, let me wait and see. I will if I need it.”

Mostly they don’t need it. They have emptied out the awful feelings in the exam room and they aren’t so awful after all. I say that it sounds like a pretty normal response and I would feel that way too. Because I would. Once the feelings, the monstrous feelings, are in the light of day, they relax and evaporate, dissipate like mist, fly home to the Beloved. Goodbye, dark feelings. You are appropriate and you are loved.

Blessings, Dr. Beck, and thank you.