Saturday, August 25, 2012

Pam’s World Turned Upside Down

Pam's world turned upside down, but still she came out on top


Pam teaches Sunday School. She makes homemade Play-do (yes, on the stove). She will tell you otherwise, but she has made homemade biscuits…and I don’t mean the kind in the tube. Her kids play sports video games, not violent ones, they went to Mommy and Me preschool, not the drop off kind. They do charity work and sing in the church choir. Pam does everything the right and honorable way, and is raising her kids to be polite, compassionate and intelligent souls. For most of her marriage she followed her husband from state to state as he rose through corporate ranks. And in each new location she made a home, cultivated friendships, put down roots and enabled wonderful lives for her family…just like she did for the 5 or so years we were neighbors here in Ohio.

After living in Ohio they moved to another state. They were able to stay put in Nebraska for a while and raise the kids in one school system… but then the rug was pulled out. After 20 years of marriage, her husband wanted to divorce. And he didn’t want to do it the “right way”, where fights lead to counseling and cursing leads to rekindling vacations…he just wanted an end. For Pam this was so very wrong. But, here she was now with this giant divorce project, and the job of keeping her family healthy…if not together.

At the beginning of this difficult transition she visited me in Cleveland. Of course I invited her up to my studio to show her the Chicks with Balls paintings so far. I explained the concept…unrecognized strength and courage in ordinary women. She thought about it for a few minutes, perused the paintings, and promptly announced, “I’ll do it!”.  

Detail of cascading balls

I was thrilled and also scared she’d change her mind…she’d agreed so quickly! I rushed to set up my equipment and showed her to the private room to “pick her balls”…literally.

She took on the project with delight. When she emerged from the room with an armful of colorful plastic ball-pit-balls, she explained that she thought of the balls metaphorically; right now she had many balls in the air; three active children, a part time career that would soon need to become full time and of course all the unknowns of her impending divorce. The words juggling, balancing, catching and rolling with punches could easily be applied to her life.

At this early stage in the divorce they had not told the children yet.  So Pam was still wearing her wedding ring. For the Chicks with Balls pose, however she took it off with conspiratorial glee.

As Pam posed for the several hundred photos I took to inspire the painting an interesting thing happened. She had chosen a seated pose at a card table with many balls cradled in and cascading from her toned and graceful arms. The balls however had minds of their own and just kept rolling away, out of place, off the table. When one was retrieved, another found its freedom. It was constant, and Pam picked up each one that came loose and placed it once again safely back in her arms.

After time passed, however it seemed she was able to tame the balls and not only did they stay put, she had actually unintentionally arranged them in her arms symmetrically by color and position.

This resulting organization was such a perfect metaphor for Pam’s life. See, I was absolutely confident that she would prevail. She will make her world wonderful again, and she will do it the right way, the classy way, the honorable way, and slowly and surely joy will return.

The way this before-and-after occurrence played out was so integral to Pam’s story, I had to paint it as a double image. Pam’s painting was larger and more complex than the others so far, but this project has never been about fitting into a format, its about letting life unfold around the art, and Pam’s story emerged quite magically and it informed the painting profoundly.

And, just to give you an epilogue (I love epilogues) Pam is now, 3 very long years later, finally and happily divorced. I have never seen her so light, airy and free. Her children are happily thriving and I see nothing but good things in her future. Her life turned upside down, but still she came out on top.

Pam's world turned upside down, but still she came out on top
This is the painting flipped to show how she inadvertently arranged her balls.