Essays History Literature

Interleavings: Serendipity and the Auto/Biographical Process

Edith Buxbaum in 1947, just after moving to Seattle. Courtesy of Dr. Robert Campbell, M.D.
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 seven-year-old self, I think of what I was doing when I was seven years old. Whereas seven-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.

Sources:

http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19951126&slug=2154443

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b6/Seattle_Star_Newspaper.jpg

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.