Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Interleaving: Writing and the Auto/Biographical Process

This essay first appeared in The Seattle Star

I have always had an ambivalent relationship to The Academy. On the one hand I love research; on the other hand, when I am actively engaged in a research project, as I am now, I feel separated from the community in which I live. So when The Seattle Star awakened from its sixty-five year-old sleep, I offered to write a column on “Writing and the Biographical Process.” I thought it would give readers a chance to share in the nitty-gritty of what one writer does during the day; and it would help me feel less isolated in the particularities of my writing life.

Let me introduce you to my writing “subject,” Viennese-born Seattle child psychoanalyst Edith Buxbaum, Ph.D (1902-1982). After escaping the Nazis in 1937 and working as an analyst and teacher in New York city for ten years, she moved to Seattle to help build the Seattle Psychoanalytic Institute. Her pedagogical influence extended to the Ryther Child Center, the Little School of Seattle (now of Bellevue) and to social work and education communities, such as the University of Washington.

Biographical and autobiographical writing entwine. Why did I choose to write about a woman I never met and had no ties to except for my interest in Jewish women’s history and the field of psychoanalysis? Immediately the writer’s self is injected into the story. Sometimes Dr. Buxbaum turns up in my dreams, and in the morning I have to sort out the dream so it won’t get mixed up with biography.

I tend to compare activities. If I am writing about Buxbaum’s nine-year-old self, I think of what I was doing when I was nine years old. Whereas nine-year-old Edith was walking, probably with her mother, on Viennese cobblestones and waving to Emperor Franz Joseph as he passed in his carriage, as she told an interviewer in 1978,* I was skating up and down Park Heights Avenue in Baltimore, MD, dodging customers at the fruit and vegetable stand. So that extraneous material does not interfere with my story of Buxbaum’s life, I have created an Appendix in which I deposit “My Buxbaum Diary.” This is what I will share with you in these columns, at least some of it.
Relationships and connections are what make story.

Figure this: The Seattle Star, which came into existence in 1899 (the year my parents were born), ended its first historical phase in 1947, the year Edith Buxbaum moved to Seattle. She arrived in this fair city on the first of January of that year. She would have had the opportunity to read The Seattle Star for eight months from January until its last edition came out on August 13, 1947. I have no evidence that Dr. Buxbaum subscribed to The Seattle Star, but I will speculate that she picked up a copy, along with the Seattle Times and the P.I., at one of the newsstands around Spring Street where her office was located. (I have not yet found out how much the paper cost in 1947, but I did discover that it cost two cents in 1934. Perhaps readers will remember buying The Seattle Star in the forties and write in to let me know how much they paid for it).

The Seattle Star
‘s second historical phase began January 1st, 2012, and if Buxbaum were alive today and computer-literate, as I expect she would be, she would be fortunate to read The Seattle Star on-line and to find a column devoted to her.

A Seattle Star carrier in 1943

*From Vienna to Seattle: Dr. Edith Buxbaum Remembers An Interview with Lawrence H. Schwartz, M.D. May 14 and June 11, 1978. Seattle: Seattle Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1990.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Why write biography: Dr. Siegfried Berthelsdorf provides an answer

An addendum to The Edith Buxbaum Journal

I spent a good part of today searching for page numbers for footnotes in an essay I'm finishing up. The writing's finished but my citations aren't. No one's fault but my own. Did I really think I would remember the page number to footnote 19 or to footnote 23 or to footnote 33? Nonetheless, good things came from my search, not the least of which is an answer to the question "Why write biography?"

To find answers to the footnote questions I went through my 2003 correspondence with Siegfried Berthelsdorf, M.D., the first psychoanalyst to set up practice in Portland, Oregon. He had been in seminars with Edith Buxbaum and had other professional contacts with Seattle analysts so I wrote to him with a series of questions.  He was very kind and sent me two lengthy and quite lovely letters.

In the first of his Dec. 13th letter, he wrote a paragraph that I should have long ago taped to the bookshelf next to my desk:

Dear Doctor Helfgott:

Siegfried Berthelsdorf, M.D
You are to be admired for your willingness to tackle such a demanding job as a biography. It must take an enormous memory to recall, file, and reconstruct notes of what fragments of information come from wherever, where you have placed them in the unpredictable accumulations, half finished bits and conflicting fragments from Lord knows what or how reliable a source. Yet a biography is very much in order of Buxbaum, as how else can the many who follow in her work be aware of who has gone ahead in the past, who made what contributions that we use without recognition of the creativeness of the predecessor. Sic transit gloria ... [Thus passes the glory of the world] ...

Needless to say, my memory does not hold all that I'd like it to and reconstructing half finished bits and conflicting fragments is, as today's work reflects, a tiresome job; but in the end it's worth it, especially for the connections I make along the way. Dr. Berthelsdorf died on June 16, 2011 at the age of 99. Here is his Obituary.

Photo: The Oregonian, February 13, 2011

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Serendipity in the University of Washington Archives: Dr. Helen Remick, The Little School, Buxbaum, and Courtesy Markers*

An addendum to The Edith Buxbaum Journal

I had been searching through The Little School files one morning, while looking for information on Edith Buxbaum’s psychoanalytic relationship to The Little School, when I came across the name of Helen Remick. I recognized her name from 1977 when I was teaching an American Women’s History class for the Women’s Studies Program at the University of Washington.  At the time, Dr. Remick was the Affirmative Action officer. I saw her once at a Women’s Studies meeting when there was a town-gown discussion. As I remember it, Dr. Remick represented the gowns and though I was a graduate student at the time, my heart was with the women of  the town, organized by Radical Women and other liberation groups. I don’t remember much about the meeting except that the room was packed with women and there were uncomfortable feelings on all sides of the political spectrum, alongside mutual feelings of sisterhood. I didn’t continue going to Women’s Studies meetings. I was a single parent and had three children to take care of, in addition to my graduate work in history.

Those were different times, the 1970s, and now we’re at 2012. It’s been a long time since I finished my graduate work, having obtained the doctorate in 1994. I’ve raised three children to become professionals in the field of education and continue my writing and teaching outside the university setting, although I use its libraries and research facilities liberally. My gratitude toward those facilities take fullest expression in my use of the university’s archives, specifically Suzzallo’s Special Collections. Here I found Dr. Remick’s name in a Little School folder.  What was it doing there? It turns out that at the same time Dr. Remick was an affirmative action officer and attended that Women’s Studies meeting, she was the parent of a Little School pupil when it was in the Bellevue facility.
Dr. Eleanor Siegl
Dr. Remick was writing a letter asking Eleanor Siegl, director of the Little School, to address her as Dr. Helen Remick or, depending on the school’s protocol, Helen Remick or Ms. Helen Remick, but not as Mrs. Helen Remick or Mrs. Jack Remick. As in the Women’s Studies meeting, thanks to the 1970s women’s movement, we have clearly spelled-out feminist distinctions. Eleanor Siegl did not call herself a feminist, to my knowledge, but she expressed feminist leanings in pushing for a career outside the home. In many communications, however, Eleanor Siegl was Mrs. Henry Siegl, wife of the Seattle Symphony’s Concert Master.The two women expressed their feminism differently. As Dr. Remick was to tell me in a 2011 interview: “We had different feminist sensibilities.”

I am well-acquainted with Dr. Remick’s husband Jack Remick, a well-known Seattle poet, novelist and teacher. I had emailed Jack to ask him for Helen’s email to see if she was interested in talking to me about the letter she wrote to Eleanor Siegl and about their child’s experience at The Little School. I also asked Jack if I could interview him and eventually spoke with the whole family, including their daughter, Justine, now a university professor. From the Remick family I gained a fresh perspective on The Little School, a testament to the importance of personal interviews and of archival collections, especially in the internet age where facts can be changed to suit the moment.

Dr. Helen Remick
Dr. Remick retired from the University of Washington in 2005. She is now a practicing quilt artist, as thorough and exacting in this craft as she was as an affirmative action officer.

I don't know how much of a priority the name issue was for Edith Buxbaum, but it wasn't negligible.  She used the signatures Edith, Edith Buxbaum, Edith Buxbaum, Ph.D., Edith B. Schmidl, Mrs. Fritz Schmidl and, with her husband, Mr. and Mrs. Fritz Schmidl. In the summer 1982 bulletin (vol. 2, no.6, p.1) of the Psychoanalytic Society of Seattle (currently called the Seattle Psychoanalytic Society and Institute) in which Buxbaum was memorialized, her colleague Gerald B. Olch, M.D. (1921-1999) wrote: "I had the impression that she used her married name more frequently after her husband's death, as if it then became acceptable to her to reveal how much she had depended on him."

*The term, Courtesy Markers, is from Dr. Remick's letter to The Little School Staff. I had not heard of the term before reading the letter.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Buxbaum/Schmidl Residences, Seattle

An addendum to The Edith Buxbaum Journal

First residence, 1947 - 1957

539 32nd South
Seattle, WA.
Phone: Prospect 8601
(Mt. Baker section of Seattle)

King County Tax Assessor’s Office
Tax Parcel #125020-1665
built in 1910
renovated 1998

Phone book listing
August 1947
Schmidl, Edith B. Dr.
539 32nd South
Prospect 8601

Source: Seattle and Vicinity Telephone Directory, Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Co., p. 357
University of Washington Special Collections, manuscript division

Schmidl, Fritz – also listed w/ same address
Phone book listing
June 1948

Source:Seattle and Vicinity Telephone Directory, Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Co., p.382
Seattle Public Library, History and Travel Department

Second Residence, 1957 - 1982

6036 Upland Terrace South
Seattle, WA.
Tax Parcel # 8952900030 
Built in 1956
1983 – sold to Mayumi  Tsutawaka 
Quick claim deed – no money changed hands
June 3, 1991 Mayumi  Tsutawaka  deeded to Glen Chinn

Source: King County Tax Assessor’s Office