P is for Paper over

I am blogging A to Z about artists, particularly women artists and mostly about my mother, Helen Burling Ottaway. Today’s post is about my mother and my sister: another woman artist. Christine Robbins Ottaway.

I do not have much of her fine art. She was a landscape architect and historic preservation expert and worked for Caltrans. She also wrote, on her blog Butterfly Soup, and in other places.

The painting is an oil, by my mother Helen Ottaway, done when my sister was 14. This painting seems especially creepy to me, the oranges and blues. I love the painting but it is frightening as well. My sister could write terrifying stories. Here is my poem about one of her stories. The title of her story is “We don’t make good wives”.

Paper over

They are papering over your memory
They want the clean version
The inhuman perfect version
I remember the violent sea serpent
Related to Aunt Nessie: me, I think

He stole your skin, you say
But you lure him to, posing
On the shore naked
And let him take you home
And impregnate you

And then you have six daughters
What did he expect? you say
Cold blooded and beautiful
White skin and greenish hair
Who all can swim like fish
and all seven search
Until you find the skin
and then away

You say, he took my skin
Now I have taken his

Let them paper over your memory
Let them pretend you were sweet
I hold your words in my mind
And I love you wholly

__________________________________

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

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

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

B is for Busy and Burling

My mother, Helen Burling Ottaway, was a very busy and prolific artist.

Every New Year’s, she would resolve to paint a water color a day. By March she would complain that she had only painted 25 or 30. However, she would also be doing birthday presents for me and my sister and our father, all in March, and crafts and etchings and pastels and a life drawing class and the sketchbook that she constantly carried.

B is also for baby. The etching is of my sister, Christine Robbins Ottaway, as a baby. The title is Chris I and she did this in 1968.

I have described the process for etchings here: Four Seasons.

My mother was a very busy artist.

#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.

memorial

Today is my sister’s birthday, Christine Robbins Ottaway. She died of breast cancer in 2012 at age 49. She had gotten stage IIIB breast cancer at age 41. She went through mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation and was clear for two years. Then it recurred and she returned to treatment, rounds of chemotherapy, a gamma knife radiation, another gamma knife and whole brain radiation. She was very very strong and tough and fought the cancer right up until the end.

This photograph was taken at my father’s 70th birthday party, in 2008. My friend Maline took the photograph. She and other old friends gathered and we sang the family folk songs.

Here is a drawing that my mother Helen Burling Ottaway did in 1978 of Chris. My mother always had a sketchbook. This is one she sent to me, because I was an exchange student in Denmark that year. At Christmas I received the wonderful sketchbook with my mother’s comments. My sister was 14 when I went to Denmark and I was 17.

Chris Ottaway by Helen Ottaway, 1978

AtoZ Theme Reveal

My theme for the April AtoZ blog challenge this year is art. I think it will mostly be my mother’s art. She died in 2000 of ovarian cancer. My only sibling died in 2012 of breast cancer and my father in 2013 of emphysema. And I have the art: my parents were both packrats and trying to deal with the house and an out of date will took about three years. Moving stuff around, getting rid of stuff. The art initially went in to a storage unit and then into my house. My mother Helen Burling Ottaway was prolific! And she kept every single piece of art and her diaries back to high school! I found a suitcase with my grandfather’s poetry as well: that will be for another day.

This painting is of my sister. My mother started oils later in her career and Michael Platt, a DC artist, said something like, “Quit doing tiny things. Do something big.” My mother started doing life size and larger than life portraits in chalk pastel and in oils. This painting captures my sister when she was twenty: emotions. I like it but I also think that it is frightening.

Christine Robbins Ottaway age 20, by Helen Burling Ottaway, oil, 1984

http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com/

Sorrow

I used to stop by more

but the people were less and less

the interactions faded to grey

I didn’t feel loved

I used to be ok with that

not feeling loved

not feeling valued

but now I want to be loved

And I am loved, to my surprise

as if a little love

has opened longing

so that I want more love


I want to be loved and feel loved

I send everyone love

even those who have been mean

and the incessant downvoters

and those who have me blocked

or don’t answer or ignore

or leave the catbox when I show up

I send love to you too


but now that I have a small crack

of love in my life, like the sun

shining on a crack in concrete

the seed stirs in sun and water

and grows

written 12/26/17. I wrote this about another writing site. It is falling to bits, like a old building not maintained. It makes me sad, because it is where my sister used to write. She died in 2012 and I still often miss her.

practicing grandmother

My sister sends me a t-shirt years ago.

It said, “I don’t know if I am the good witch or the bad witch.”

I burst into tears and put it in the trunk of my car. I never wear it. I am the designated bad witch for half my family. We won’t go into that.

She gets a shirt too. Hers is the green one. Mine is black.

She is dead, in 2012, breast cancer. It’s hard to describe the fallout. Toxic and radioactive. But… I have decided not to be a witch.

Instead, I am a practicing grandmother.

Really I’ve been one for a while. There was a young couple who lived down the street with two children. This was in 2014. I was a Facebutt friend, so sometimes noted what was happening. The father has to travel for his job. The mother is trying to care for two kids and work and so on… been there.

In 2014 I am recovering from my third round of pneumonia. This third round it takes six months before I can return to work. Short of breath and coughed if I talked. The state medical watch doctors went to disable me but I fight them tooth and nail. I win.

I wander down to the neighbor and offer my services. She already knows me. She is instantly grateful and two year old T is introduced to me, again. He doesn’t really remember me. She explains that he is coming to my house for a little while and then back home.

T and I walk towards my house.

A nuthatch calls.

I stop and reply. In college I took ornithology and the teaching assistant could do a barn owl call so well that the barn owls would do a territorial fly over at night to see who had the weird accent. Marvelous.

The nuthatch and I went “enh” back and forth. T is amazed. This woman talks to birds. Then we see the nuthatch! I point out how nuthatches come down a tree head first. “If you hear that call, it’s a nuthatch. Look for it.” The nuthatch is very cooperative. Magic.

We get to my house. T is clutching a book. “He’s taking it everywhere,” sighs his mother. “I’m not sure why.”

So first we read the book. It is a board book about a farm. Each page has a central picture and then there are pictures around the edges with the word under each picture. On one page T says, “Haaaaay.”

“Oh!” I say, delighted. “You can read HAY!”

His face lights up. An adult who gets it! Yes! He can read HAY!

On another page he says HAY. “Oh,” I say, “That is straw. Straw is a lot like hay but it’s not exactly the same.”

He is very serious absorbing that information.

I show him my closet. There is a stick horse. Only it isn’t a horse: it’s a unicorn dragon, with a forehead horn and wings. When you press a button it’s eyes flash and it roars.

Ok, that’s pretty scary. He wants the closet door closed and he does NOT want to play with the dragon.

Next is pouring. I get out a towel and put it on the kitchen floor. I get out a rather nice expresso set. Bright colors. Orange and green and yellow and blue. I fill the coffee pot with water and invite him to sit on the towel. “You can pour the tea.”

He looks at me with surprise. He picks up the coffee pot. He looks at me again. “Go ahead. It’s ok.” He starts pouring into a cup. He pours until the cup overflows and the saucer overflows and he keeps pouring. The coffee pot is empty. He looks at me a little warily. This is technically spilling and he knows it.

“Would you like more in the teapot?”

He nods.

I refill the coffee pot with water and he starts again, with a different cup.

When I return him to mom, after two hours, he’s damp. “Sorry, he got a little wet, but it’s just water,” I say cheerfully. Mom is too harried to do much more than look resigned at a change of clothes.

Next time he comes with a change of clothes and his large stroller, in case he goes down for a nap.

And first off, he goes to the closet. Time to hear that dragon roar again.