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Paula Lantz and Sarah Priestman

June 21, 2008

Paula Lantz
Lost Touch

Mixed media (acrylic and collage) on canvas, 30″ x 42″
Inspiration Piece provided to Sarah Priestman

Paula’s Painting
by Sarah Priestman

There’s this fabric that’s underneath the color, and maybe that’s what we’re really looking at. But I wouldn’t want to extrapolate and make it about everything. It becomes so much clearer, sometimes, when you just don’t think about something. When you allow your mind to just see what is: a red coat. A blue coat. A yellow hand, bracelets, a blue robe and under it, plaid.

A face covered in bandages. Is that what it is? Two men, colors, shapes just under the surface.

I am in a situation with shapes just under the surface. People get angry. They pull out their anger like it’s a football and toss it around, wanting to play. Let’s pass, let’s run, let’s tackle. I brought some pigskin. Let’s play ball. But I want to walk, or sit, or sing, or read. I don’t want your ball. I’m not playing your anger game. There’s a big yard out front. You go toss this thing in the air. My arms are at my side, refusing to catch.

The face covered in bandages. Is he looking to Mr. Plaid? Looking for some kind of connection to make it all ok? It’s a salve we’re taught to search for – connection – as if it can actually provide relief. As if connecting with someone, or some impulse – like the impulse to create – or some feeling – like the divine – as if that connection is what will allow us to rise up out of the darkness and feel – feel what – connected? So then what do we feel if we are not connected: apart? A part. A part of what? A part of all that is connected, I would guess.

Mr. Bandage may know this. That being a part is, in actuality, being connected. It’s all folly, he says, because there is no connection and no separation. There is no part, no being of a part. These are all ideas, and he’s not about ideas. He’s about grabbing that sword.

Ah ha. Yellow hand, reaching for the sword. Mr. Bandage wants that sword. He eyes Mr. Plaid only to see if he is watching. Not for connection. It is not that elusive feeling he wants. He’s got a plan for that sword. He does not have to desire connection. He has a plan.

So out front you go, throwing the ball. What do you do when no one catches the ball? What do you do when you get angry and no one yells back? Anger is about that same thing, the desire for connection thing. The idea that we have to do something in order to have it. Anger gone solo is not good news. If you don’t want to feel connection, get mad.

Though it may not be a sword. It may be a red sash, which is part of the bandaged man’s coat. He wants it back. It’s his. He is the one in red, and that is red. He wants it back. He steps toward the man with the plaid head, trying to grab it.

I love the way this painting conveys movement. Mr. Bandage is actually stepping forward, his arm swung behind him, extending his hand. The painting is still, but the people are moving. How does the artist make movement from paint? How does she take a brush, move it across a canvas and allow an image to bleed out?

And Mr. Plaid, I can see, has stepped back. I see he is more grounded. More sure of himself. He is waiting. He is not giving up the red scarf. He looks down, watching the yellow hand. I can see his eyes move, though I cannot see his eyes. The brush gives me no eyes, yet I see him staring.

The painting eludes to action. The people are still, but I see them move. Is this what happens out front, when you toss that ball up towards the branches? Does the anger shift anyway, even though I won’t respond? I am still, but you see me move.

——————————————————-

Paula Lantz
Journey to China

Mixed media (acrylic and collage) on canvas, 20″ x 28″
Painted using Sarah Priestman’s story (below) as inspiration

After China
by Sarah Priestman

Life is no longer about loss. I sit in my apartment sometimes, the carpet strewn with rattles and board-books and Pooh-bears, and I think, this is my life now. The way I thought when my brother died, this is my life now, my life is without him. But this time, my thoughts aren’t permeated with emptiness, this time they are of a life overflowing.

I adopted a ten-month old girl from China. And now, with my daughter asleep in the next room and my priorities organized around maintaining the frequency of our time together, I realize that I must rise to the wonder of gain, just as, back then, I buckled to the shock of loss.

When I fist arrived home with Evie, I spent hours wandering around my apartment the way one does in an airport when waiting for a connecting flight, biding time on strange ground. She was sleeping peacefully, the kitchen was clean, my desk tidy, and the little pink onesie she had worn that day had been washed and was drying on the towel rack. My mind implored me to take a hot bath, but my body walked from one room to the other, as if there were another connection to make in order to complete the journey.

It was winter then. One day, the weather was balmy and the sky was clear as we prepared to go to the medical lab for Evie’s post-adoption tests, but when we emerged from the subway it was pouring, and cold. I covered Evie with my jacket and pushed the stroller through a pelting rain. It didn’t occur to me to step out of the storm (of course I was soaked) to reschedule and come back another day. I was still moving forward, as if I were a hiker who has lost the trail and sees a flash of color in the distance that looks as though it might be a backpack, and so tromps through the underbrush with one thought in mind: “There’s something there, there’s something over there, I think I see it again, I must make my way towards it.”

I was putting one foot in front of the other as I had been since I decided to adopt. Step by step, the idea, the decision, the applications and the paperwork, not to mention the additional jobs I juggled to make the money required to get to where I wanted so badly to be.

My brother, Jerry, died of cancer six years ago. He was diagnosed in March and died the following February, the morning after his forty-second birthday. There was nothing we could do – his wife and my family – to prevent his death, but there was plenty that we did do (trips, gatherings, making every visit a special one) to improve the last year of his life. This, too, was a matter of placing one foot in front of the other, toiling up the seemingly impossible incline that is seeing a brother suffer, walking freely when he was in remission, and living his life as if the path were clear, then stepping slowly as he lay dying, the ground shifting under my feet.

After he died I wandered aimlessly just as I did when I first returned from China, but not because I was in a logistical trance. Then, it was because I needed to be moving away from a pain that was constantly bearing down on me wherever I went, and to which I finally succumbed, sometimes not moving at all. Then I had not only to face the emptiness that is loss, but also to live in a state of grief.

Mine was the challenge of almost everyone who mourns – how to make sense of life after being paralyzed by loss. It can take years, but eventually the aching emptiness might fade to bearable sorrow, and then to a deep sadness that is always an ember ready to flare, but no longer sears the heart with every breath. That is what happened in my life. I miss Jerry, but I have learned to live with my pain.

And then the call to get onto a plane and be halfway around the world in seven days. At first I had been told to prepare to travel in a month or two, but then things changed. I had a week in which to hand projects to colleagues, acquire and assemble the final documents needed for international travel, position a nursery’s worth of medical, clothing and diaper supplies into one suitcase and put myself and Gale, my lifelong friend and traveling companion, to China. One foot in front of the other, moving with a speed and focus that not only transported me out of the country, but propelled me into a logistical trance. I was under its power still, I now see, those nights when I wandered around as if there were still another plane to catch before I got my daughter.

And now I must learn to celebrate pleasure. Pain forces us to stop and experience its anguish, but with pleasure we must decide to feel it, choose to notice its presence in our good lives. Now I must understand what it is like to live with having every day, what for so many years I have longed for: my child, my daughter, the deep yearning to be a mother, fulfilled. Must look beyond the myriad of tasks that parenting involves, even beyond the joy that Evie brings, to the realization that I have gotten where all those steps, each placed with such unabashed concentration in front of the other, were leading.

They led me to China, where I met Evie the day we arrived. I was told by the translator to expect her around 1pm. Around that time there was a knock on the door to my hotel room, and when I pulled the door open, there were five Chinese adults crowded shoulder to shoulder, two on each side of the one who was holding a baby (“Room service,” I later told friends, “You ordered a baby.”). My daughter was sleeping, and bundled in pink sweat pants with a matching quilted jacket. She was handed to me, and the five officials followed me into the room. They asked me if I had any questions. Sure, I said, what does she eat, what does she like, is she healthy? She slept against me, exhausted after a seven-hour ride from the orphanage. She weighed sixteen pounds.

The officials answered my questions quickly and then hurried out, as they needed to deliver more babies to more waiting parents. Gale and I stared at Evie, napping on the bed. Now what? I lay down and placed her on my stomach, where she slept for another half an hour. I expected her to cry when she awoke, as I was a stranger, but she did not. She lifted her eyelids and met my gaze, quietly and steadily. She looked into my eyes, lay her head back down against me, and our journey began.

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2 comments

  1. Dynamite! Congratulations, Amy. I feel as though I’ve just gotten my 15 minutes of fame!

    Have a great summer.

    Paula


  2. i love this story mom



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