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Writing Update: Perfection - Feb 5 2023

The Artist - I'm not a perfectionist but I struggle to call things finished. Whenever I'm editing and I find a clever solution it usually leads to three new imperfections to correct on my next edit, and the next, and so on. So, this week I am planning on unlearning some of that perfectionism. Perfect is the enemy of good and I'm not even good yet. Instead of focusing on one project until it's perfect, I think it makes more sense for me to release a hundred projects that are technically complete and just alright. And the first of those hundred projects is complete. This week I wrote a 6000 word short story about an Artist surrounded by critics who is struggling to maintain relevance after losing his muse. Scroll down to read the story

On Writing - The only writing technique that I've worked on this week is trying to deepen my understanding of show don't tell. I have always understood how to use ‘show don’t tell’ in simple scenarios. Ex. Instead of saying ‘he was scared’ you can say ‘goosebumps rose up his arms.’ The new thing I’ve learned is to use visual imagery in your climax. If you have a character who never gets scared, the more impactful climax is to say “he got goosebumps for the first time” rather than “He was scared for the first time.” For a better example, please continue scrolling and read ‘The Artist’

The Artist (6641 words)

“You talent-less hack!” The man pointed towards his fellow artists chest as he shouted. “You rotten brown-noser!” The other man shouted, leaping out of his chair and clamoring over the folding table, grasping towards his aggressor's necktie. Rupert Sines sat back in his chair and watched the two men swat at each other as the press security scrambled to restrain them. The men were dragged out through double doors and after a few tense moments the hollering died down enough to continue on with the press conference.“I hate birds.” Said Rupert, unsure how to begin. He was arguably the most famous painter in the world at the moment, definitely the most popular in New Jersey.“The subject is so overdone, any thematic essence has been wrung out like a cloth. You might as well paint a bowl of fruit. At least then you can impart some artistic message about how the stages of decay reflect the human experience.” Rupert refused to smirk despite his poignancy. He scanned his eyes across the room full of microphones and notepads. The swarm of reporters were accustomed to him being not only observant but humble, he wouldn’t give them an opportunity to paint him in a bad light. He did however smirk at the unconscious wordplay, one slip up couldn’t have that much of an impact. “Tell us about Ms. West!” Rupert struggled to keep his visage composed. He failed to pinpoint which of the wormy reporters in the back had rudely called that out. He did, however, catch sight of a Mr. Woodhouse ask with a raspy voice an even more insulting question “Did she dump you because your art’s no good anymore?” Rupert clenched his jaw, Mr. Woodhouse had a unique ability to find the most aggravating way to ask a question. A great talent to have as a tabloid reporter and one that Rupert had to stomach sometimes to continue to enjoy the paper’s promotion. No publicity is bad publicity. “Ms. West and I have mutually decided to continue our relationship in a strictly professional manner. Her critiques have been instrumental in my artistic process and I hope to continue to see future critiques of my paintings in her newspaper as it is the foremost place for reading respectable and dignified reviews of emerging art.” Very diplomatic, Rupert. Of course he knew that she had no intention of ever reviewing another piece of his. But, he needed the rest of the critics to keep submitting to her paper as it was the largest in the world. “Sines! Sines! I have a question!” Rupert Sines heard the whiny voice of Alexandra Nash ring out from the crowd. Rupert ignored the outburst, Alex tended to ask questions that were, actually, quite informed and well-researched. If only the paying public was more interested in informed discussion than sensational nonsense, then Rupert would consider acknowledging Alex. For now he turned to another reporter with his hand raised “Are you worried that your Artwork will suffer without your Muse” He was. Sara West’s objective feedback was recognized around the world for its excellence but for Rupert it was much more essential for guiding his projects. Losing Sara was one thing, losing his Muse could be catastrophic. But the Art world was similar to the Stock Market, expectations are reality. Rupert responded “While Ms. West has been an essential part of my Team for the past two decades and I appreciate her contributions beyond what words can convey.” He paused to ensure the had written down his words. “Rupert Sines was an Artist long before he met Ms. West and he will continue to be an Artist regardless of her involvement.” That should be an engaging quote. The crowd continued to speak over each other to attempt to eke out a followup from Rupert but overpowering all of them was the incessant whining of the young Alex Nash “Sines! Sines!” Rupert eyed her and reluctantly pointed a finger towards her. She stood up and pressed her hands across her blazer to smooth out the wrinkles. “Rupert Sines,” She said formally “Could you expand on the influences of your latest painting, am I correct an assuming that the Woodblock technique is borrowed from Van Gogh’s inspiration for…?” The audience laughed as she had pronounced Van Gogh with a distinct American accent. Not realizing her mistake she furled an eyebrow while looking at Rupert “Van Gogh” he said, emphasizing the fff in the pronunciation. “Thank you.” She continued “From Van Goffs Irises?” She was, as usual, correct about his inspiration but, also as usual, failed to realize how boring this question would be to the rest of the media and their readers. “Take her badge, she can’t even pronounce Van Gogh right!” A loud and dull-sounding voice cried out, Barry Woodhouse was as rude as he was frustrating “What’s your next piece? Or, are you retiring now that Ms. West won’t tell you what to paint any more?” Before Rupert could suppress a crude retort Alex responded hotly “A brute like you could never appreciate true art. You just write fluff pieces to sell in grocery store checkouts! I bet you still draw stick men!” A chorus of arguments broke out across the floor. This led into shouting, pointing, and for some reason several of the reporters busted out sketchpads to show their talent. Rupert made a mental note to answer Alex’s question in more detail afterwards. Her paper didn’t have much reach but he felt as though he should encourage the next generation of artists, even if they were a bit clueless about the industry. Despite his growing headache from the shouting, Rupert felt that today was a success. He didn’t reveal how desperate he truly felt and the clamour of the day would surely interest readers. For a long time he had lived with the knowledge that no publicity is bad publicity. His Legacy was in danger but for now he was still popular. Still relevant.

The Artist stared at the paper in disbelief. “One column” He said. Dreadful. One single column of commentary dedicated to Rupert’s latest work. For an Artist, the most terrifying prospect is losing attention, well perhaps second to losing ability. But for Rupert, arguably the most famous painter in the world and definitely the most popular in New Jersey, anything less than an entire page was an insult. “It’s just one paper, Sines. I’m sure you’ve got hundreds of columns across the world.” Alexandra said. She had offered to help Rupert unload some supplies in his studio in exchange for a conversation about his inspiration. “Yes, I’m sure I do but this is the only paper that matters. The NY Gazette is the most recognized and prestigious art review paper in the world, anybody who is worth talking about is in this paper.” “Plus it’s her paper.” Rupert sneered at that comment, though his face was turned away from Alex so she didn’t see it. He wasn’t ashamed to admit that was part of his frustration. He had hoped to see her signature “Editors’ Thoughts'' in its proper place at the end of the regular reviews. Ms. West had stated in their breakup that she would, out of objective fairness, no longer include her critiques on his newly released works. Regardless, he had hoped to see her comments praising his genius in her distinct style. ‘Great work Robert.’ Would have been ideal but he would have settled for a ‘Good job,’ or honestly even a ‘Nice try.’ But, when he looked down at the paper he only saw a sad spattering of commentary from low down critics, attempting to kick the great Artist while he was already downtrodden. Mixed in the middle was a kindly written review by a Critic that Rupert was quite familiar with: “The Artist’s excellent adaptation of Japanese style Wood Blocking techniques was inspired by…” Rupert frowned again then walked over to a tall standing bookshelf in the corner of the studio. He reached up and grabbed a thick book with a red torn dust jacket which he then handed to Alex. “Read this.” Alexandra went wide-eyed, grinning at Sines then composed herself. “Okay, thank you! Wait, what is Fluck-sus?” “Fluxus. You’ve been obsessed with Van Gogh for weeks. Artists have multiple inspirations for any given work. Besides, you’re going to need it if you want to understand my next project.” She picked up the book and inspected the front and back covers then looked beneath the dust jacket to see if there was a difference in the artwork. He was familiar enough with her process to know that she would be absorbed in that book for at least the next 3 hours. Great, that gave him time to buy some supplies for his next work. “Don’t go anywhere, I’m not bringing my keys.” She answered affirmatively by ignoring him entirely. He walked out of the studio and down the stairs to the busy streets of New York City. He had on a pea coat and a scarf but the soon to be winter air chilled him. Rupert loved the snow but hated the cold, like any true artist he understood that you had to accept sacrifice for results. His biggest struggle as an Artist was understanding which sacrifice was the right one. This is what Sara had always helped him with. He knew he had to do something to appease the critics, without them on his side there was no money to be made which meant getting a real job. He dreaded that more than anything. His plan was to revive an obscure art style, at the very least the critics would have to comment on it because it was different. Even if his talent was escaping him he knew what was interesting, what would be talked about. He walked down the street past a magazine vendor and something awful caught his eye. Entertainment Today had a front page dedicated to Ms. West and in huge letters it said “Sines is awful” His neck and face started burning. Obviously they had twisted her words. One, because Entertainment Today’s chief reporter was none other than the insufferable Barry Woodhouse. Two, because Ms. West would never say something so negative about any artist, even her ex-boyfriend. Sara was direct, she didn’t indulge in flattery, but above all else her goal was to support artists not to tear them down. His face cooled as he allowed his rational thought to take over and Rupert bought a copy of the magazine. He reminded himself to extort Barry for $4.95.. On the 18th page Rupert winced at the second full page image of Ms West with another salacious, and misconstrued, quote. It read: “Rupert Sines was once a great man and Artist but his obsession with popularity has led him in the wrong direction.” Rupert felt that was particularly cruel since he wasn’t even popular at the moment. He continued: “I do not use my platform to insult artists and the negative media attention that hounds Sines is awful! But, I feel that with this latest piece Rupert has run out of meaningful things to say.” Rupert stared at the pages, glancing between the words and the image of a woman he didn’t believe could speak them. A gust of wind pricked his skin through his coat and caused him to shiver. It continued, Barry had seized the opportunity to add his own commentary on the following page. “Couldn’t agree more. Sines has run out of things to say. He is on his way out and this critic…” Rupert snorted at the self aggrandizing “... does not mind one bit. Make way for the new wave of real artists. Unless, Rupert (I know you’re reading this), you do have something left to say. I guess we’ll have to wait and see. We’ll keep this section open for you.” Rupert typically hated litterers but he worried that holding the magazine any longer would give him some type of disease or curse. He threw it on the street and stepped on it for good measure. What a tactless challenge, nobody that blunt could ever be a real critic. There was one critic that he respected and she wouldn’t speak to him. Well, I guess Alex has potential as well. But the rest of them are good for nothing. Instead of building up Artists who need it they just tear down those that they can. Unfeeling monsters. Rupert paused on the street. A smile crept across his face as he had an idea. He did have something to say ‘Art Critics Suck.’ That was his next piece. He pulled out his phone, searched up the nearest craft store and spun around, and set off. He passed by the magazine stand and intended to pick up his litter but it was already gone. He hesitated thinking about the sucker that was tricked into reading that nonsense but continued along. He entered the store and grabbed a buggy then proceeded to fill it with hundreds of different pens, pencils, chalks, brushes, paints, canvases, surfaces, charcoal, notebooks, sketch pads, glue, sparkles, and pipe cleaners. He bought out two aisles then added a 6’x6’ wood frame on top. He was going to challenge the critics, force them to acknowledge dozens of styles and inspirations. They were going to have to study and research catalogs of information to simply understand what they were looking at. Sara will only have room for two reviews per column, maybe only one! When he got back to the studio Alex was eager to see what he had brought back. She was even more excited to learn that she would be getting a crash course in dozens of styles over the next few weeks if she stuck around. Yes, she was one of the good ones. But the other ones were going to get grilled. They may not like what he was about to create, hell Rupert wasn’t going to enjoy making it, but they would talk about it. He smiled, having found something worth saying.

The Artist stared at the paper in disbelief. There wasn’t a single mention of ‘La Chartreuse.’ He flipped between the pages relentlessly, surely one critic would have something to say. It isn’t possible. It just… isn’t possible. Even in Entertainment Today, which he bought begrudgingly but bought all the same, Mr. Woodhouse had reserved two whole pages to say “On this October day, no contributions have been made to the Fine Art world. Please check back tomorrow.” Anyone could create but it was the responsibility of the Artist to create something worth talking about, and in that he had failed. He had lost his Muse, he had lost his Talent, and the final nail in the coffin was now planted, he had lost the Critics. Rupert sat down on the comfortable couch in his New Jersey living room and reflected on the blank paper. An insidious thought entered his brain, what if Sara blocked the critics from reviewing the piece? It vanished as quickly as it appeared. No, Sara was the most fair person he knew. Her objectivity is what he loved about her, he was just another Artist to her. With skills, but also flaws, and a perspective that was to be challenged rather than simply admired. They could not be a couple. But, he loved her still. Maybe this was one thing that he could still fix. He stood up, putting the papers on a side table and searched for a pen and notepaper. He began: “Dear Sara, I am sorry…” He wrote three pages of apology. Sara was far too observant for him to lie so he wrote only the truth. About how he had taken her for granted, about how he had prioritized the opinions of the critics over her and why he felt like he needed to. He apologized for calling her unfeeling in their breakup, a lie designed only to anger her. About how he would always love her, in whatever capacity she would allow. His writing turned into rambling so he cut short his thoughts and offered a simple proposal. “Sara, I’m not asking you to forgive me, I’m not asking you to love me. I am asking you to critique me, nothing more. I cannot create Art without you. You are the most fair person I have ever met and I know that what I am asking of you is not fair, but I’m asking all the same. Because embarrassing myself and admitting my failures is hard, but losing my Art would kill me.” Rupert believed that editing only served to ruin the authenticity of a piece so he folded up the paper and stuffed it in an envelope. The next day he walked over to her paper’s HQ and dropped off the letter at the front desk; he would not intrude upon Sara’s life any more than this. Curiously, as he was speaking with the receptionist he ran into Barry Woodhouse. In his hand was a folded piece of paper that he was twirling around and he had a large smile planted on his face. Rupert thanked the receptionist and turned to address Barry. His smile evaporated. “Applying for a real job, Barry?” Rupert raised an eyebrow mockingly. “No. It’s an… I had an interview. I was interviewing… someone else, not me.” Rupert wasn’t sure how to respond, Barry was supposed to make a jab in return. Why didn’t he? Barry glanced down at the paper and Rupert followed his eyes. “Where’s your notepad?” Barry didn’t have a chance to respond. At that moment the elevator doors opened and Rupert felt his spine shiver. Sara West was walking in their direction with a scowl that could freeze the Atlantic. He had broken their rules, he knew it but had hoped that after reading his letter she might understand why. Rupert’s mind raced as he thought about what an appropriate excuse would be. Sara saved him from his distress. She approached, stuffed a drawing in Barry’s hands, turned and walked back into the elevator. As soon as her figure disappeared behind the elevator doors Rupert remembered to breathe. His face felt hot until he looked back at Barry who had turned strawberry red. What was going on with him? Rupert found it difficult to meet his eyes. Instead he gazed down at the drawing that Sara had handed Barry previously. Upon a second look he noticed some arrows and writing, he thought he made out the words ‘three-point perspective.’ Next to Barry’s thumb was a square coffee mug stain, exactly like the ones that Sara had left on countless of Rupert’s notebooks. She had been giving Barry critiques? “You can draw?” Rupert said with a bit too much incredulity. Any vulnerability vanished from the man’s face. “Yeah, some of us still can.” “I didn’t mean it like that!” Barry folded the paper and put it in his rear pocket before crossing his arms. Rupert continued “I just… never thought of you as an Artist.” Barry’s face darkened as Rupert found another way to accidentally insult the man. “Do you know why I love my job?” Barry asked, a smile curling across one side of his mouth. “Because I get to expose fake Artists, people like you. People who think that what you make is less important than how many people see what you make.” Mr. Woodhouse was not ready to relent quite yet. “You know I used to like your works. Back before Ms. West started guiding you towards real commentary. Back when you cared enough to pretend to enjoy art.” A sting pierced Rupert and Barry raised his voice just lower than a shout “ Maybe it’s time to give up. Maybe it’s time to give the spotlight to the Artists who don’t hate their jobs.” Rupert realized why Barry was able to get under his skin so easily, he simply spoke the truth. His ears were ringing slightly from the onslaught, for that and a slew of other reasons he failed to come up with a response. Barry took one more look at him, huffed, then walked out the sliding doors of the building. The next week of Rupert’s life was spent pacing back and forth and checking the mailbox for a reply. His Agent called him on Tuesday. In the past his Agent gave him the freedom to reach out on his own but in light of his recent failures they obviously felt the need to check in. “There’s a show in one month. If you can get me a piece then I can fix this. Rupert, I believe in you. 30 days, get it finished and make it good!” 30 Days was obviously going to be impossible without Sara. The project they envisioned would take months. But he promised his Agent and prayed that he would be lucky enough to have her help again. On Friday he checked the mail and found a small envelope. It read: “Sara West, 123 building Ave. Return to Sender.” And with no visible coffee stain he knew that she hadn’t even looked at it. 27 Days left. With no Sara. He swallowed a deep breath and began, what would have to be, his Magnum Opus.

The quiet made Rupert anxious. The only sounds he heard for days was the flipping of large sheets of paper as he recollected on years of notes and ideas in various scrapbooks. The Artist never kept more than one scrapbook in his studio in order to encourage new ideas. In order to create his ultimate work he had gathered dozens of his retired books from his house and brought them to the studio. The mounds of paper looked like medieval towers. Hundreds of yellow highlight tabs stuck out like lanterns. Eventually, Alexandra had heard about this dearth of Art History and had spent almost as many hours as Rupert staring at the pages and pages of concepts. “How do you know what to look for?” She asked. Rupert held up the book he was currently looking through, ‘95 Spring,’ and pointed to an easy to miss square coffee stain on the pages. “She likes square mugs.” He said then dove back into the pages. “So you really rely on her for everything. Relied, sorry.” “It’s alright.” Rupert initially found it very difficult to relive his memories of being happy with Sara, at this point he had managed to attain some catharsis. “This is just my first pass. Anywhere you see a stain was a point where Ms. West found something interesting enough to comment on.” “Ohh, clever.” “I remember some of the conversations too, this one for example.” Rupert pointed at a crude sketch of a pigeon “Sara said bird paintings are uninspired but I had seen a particularly round pigeon in the park that I wanted to draw. Of course, she was right. I spent a week painting ‘Le Plump Pigeon’ and they wouldn’t even publish it in the school paper. I still have it somewhere in storage I think.” Rupert didn’t realize he was smiling until his thoughts turned darker and a frown crept down his chin. He stuck a yellow page marker down on the crude pigeon and closed the book in his lap. “No point in delaying, hand me that top scrapbook from the pile, would you?” Alex stood to grab the book and Rupert traded his yellow tabs for orange ones. Over the next few days they went through every scrapbook a second and then third time. By the time Rupert had placed the final red tab he only had 20 days to finish. “Well I may not have an idea, but I think I have a direction.” Rupert said, standing with hands on hips admiring the multicolored pillar of inspiration in his studio. “All that and you still don’t have an idea?” A raspy voice said. Alex had let slip to Barry that Rupert was working on an ambitious project and the reporter had been stopping by the studio. Rupert felt guilty about insulting the man earlier and permitted him an hour a day to watch and ask questions, though Barry had already been hanging around for 2 hours at this point. “You’ve got to work with what you’ve got.” Said Rupert “You know that better than anyone, Barry.” Alex said. Barry started to turn red and Rupert laughed. His smile faded and he turned to address the two. “Okay, any last questions?” He had enjoyed their company during the planning stage but soon he would have to kick them out, he always painted in isolation. “Yeah, what are you going to paint?” Barry said. Rupert thought for a moment before answering. “Something that brings me back to my roots.” Surprisingly, Barry wrote his answer down. Probably planning on twisting it into something catchy and misleading but Rupert appreciated the gesture. “Alright then, I appreciate both of you spending your time with me during this menial stage of production but it’s time for me to get started. The last piece of advice I will offer is this: Barry, your ideas are good but your motor skills are dreadful. Try drawing 1000 circles clockwise then counterclockwise every day for a month.” Alex burst out in laughter and Barry blushed again. “What do you think Ms. West told him to do last month? I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it in a couple more years, Barry. A decade at most.” Alex said through chokes of laughter. “I tell you what” Rupert said quickly to change the souring mood “The piece will be published on the 30th, why don’t you two come back on the 29th and take a sneak preview. No photos.” Alex’s jaw dropped and even Barry had to compose himself. Rupert was putting a lot of trust in these two but he felt confident they wouldn’t leak any details. A part of him felt that he owed it to them for keeping him reasonably sane. They both muttered thanks multiple times and Rupert politely ushered them out. He grabbed a 6' square canvas and propped it up on the wall next to the window. He looked out at the busy New York streets and still with only a direction in mind, began to paint. Rupert was surprised with how easily he found it to form an idea. He started by choosing colours that spoke to him, ones that he and Sara had agreed gave certain emotions that he wanted to channel. Dark and light was a theme he never felt he explored properly in the past. But, by reliving through the conversations and arguments that he and Sara had in the past he was able to reach new conclusions. Yes, you need darkness to have light but Rupert always believed that darker nights meant brighter mornings. He now realized that you could simply have light. And so the painting had darkness and light but they were intentionally unbalanced. After he landed on the colours he found only one subject that would be appropriate, flowers. Another subject that was frequently and inadequately represented. A theme of Rupert’s work would be redemption, for the components of the Art but hopefully for himself as well. Flowers were something that he and Sara discussed all the time, their favourites changed as frequently as the seasons. Van Gogh in Winter 95, Monet in Summer 99, Gauguin in Spring 02. He spent hours wondering which type Ms. West would have in her office today. After he landed on the subject he had to decide how his work would be unique. How would critics describe his painting in one sentence, what would their hook be. It was on him to decide, this wasn’t just the statement it was his chance to prove that Sines was still worth paying attention to. He discovered it one day while scanning through some yellow bookmarks. A note that he had written and almost glanced over. The simplicity caught his eye more than anything. In small scroll written on top of an existing coffee stain he had written “It would be fun to paint different types.” He didn’t remember if this was even about flowers but the idea ran rampant through his mind like an invasive weed. I’m going to paint every type of flower I have ever seen, he thought. So with two weeks left he started to paint the flowers.

On the 29th of October Rupert laid down his brush. He looked at what he created with pride. Alex and Barry were on their way from a coffee shop together. He was never sure how those two ended up seeing each other. Rupert had placed all his notebooks in a pile off in the corner of the studio, only exhausting their use after dozens of reviews. He sat on a stack of notebooks to admire his work. He had grown used to this feeling after years of completing projects, pride and satisfaction mixed with relief. Tomorrow would decide his future but he wouldn’t let anxiety take over the feelings that he had earned. Heavy stomping up the wooden steps to the studio alerted him to the young couple's appearance. He met them at the door, checked that they were alone then let them in to see what he had accomplished. For the first time ever, both Alex and Barry were left speechless. They didn’t need to say anything, Rupert knew he was saved. “Well, any questions before I pack this up to send to my Agent?” For the second time ever, both Alex and Barry were speechless. “Okay, say something. You’re making me more uncomfortable than usual.” Rupert said. He could see Alex trying to come up with a question but all she managed was “How do you feel?” Rupert hesitated then reflected. “I feel how I always feel when I complete a painting, proud to have completed it, satisfied at the result, relieved that I can leave this studio finally.” He laughed but Alex had a dejected look on her face. “What?” Rupert asked. “Oh, sorry. It’s just, that’s not true.” “What isn’t?” “In your first interview with Sara you said that after finishing a piece you feel sad.” Rupert remembered that interview, they were just kids who were lucky enough to have some people paying attention to them. He wasn’t the famous Artist and she wasn’t the respected art critic, they were just there for the fun of it. “You’re right. I guess that changed for me when I went professional. When I was your age I could just focus on the art.” He trailed off. “That’s sad.” Barry said. Rupert looked at him expecting the usual mischievous look in Barry’s eyes but he was still gazing at the painting. Rupert now was left without words. They didn’t understand what it was like to be an Artist, not really. They were young and still in a world without consequences. If they spent weeks on a project and failed they were in the same spot as before. But Rupert, if he failed then who was he? It was already decided, he was an Artist. If he lost that then he might as well be nothing. He opened his mouth to speak, to tell them to stick with their day jobs and not bother advancing their careers. ‘If you stick with it then you’ll lose what really matters’ he wanted to say, you won’t be doing it for the art anymore you’ll just be doing it for the critics. Just like me’ he thought. He closed his mouth and said nothing, walking back over to the stacks of scrapbooks to take a seat. There was one book on the floor still, Rupert bent over to pick it up. The book was from Spring 95, one of his first. It only had one yellow bookmark in it, most of his early thoughts were useless he thought. Rupert flipped to the first page and found an inscription. There were two paragraphs etched, one by Sara and one by himself. “Dear future Sara, in 10 years I hope…” it was poignant and reflective and compassionate, she wrote about her aspirations, about sharing art with the world, about being the person that could platform aspiring artists. She wanted to be the best art critic she could be. Rupert’s was shorter, it simply read “in 10 years I hope I can quit my job and do Art full time.” Rupert stared a long time at the passage. They both got what they wanted, so why was Rupert so miserable when he should be so happy? He looked up at the couple, they were standing next to each other pointing at his painting. They looked happy. Rupert put the scrapbook down haphazardly. A small clatter rang out and Rupert looked down to see a photograph fall out of the pages. Alex and Barry were too enraptured to notice but Rupert bent over in his seat to pick it up. The photo was of him, posing in front of Le Plump Pigeon, one arm rested on the top of the canvas. In the rough lighting of his school studio the bird looked especially ugly. There was a smudge on the bottom right of the photograph, a finger resting on the lens. Sara’s finger. Flipping over the photograph revealed a note: “The roundest pigeon from the squarest Artist. R.S.” Just below his initials was the curved edge of a brown circle which Rupert now realized was the hint of a stain from a coffee cup. Rupert put the photo in his pocket, grabbed his coat from the hanger and headed for the door. “Keep it. I’m not publishing it.” He said, closing the door and leaving the young couple alone with their new work.

Rupert arrived home at 10pm, his phone was ringing off the hook but he was stoking a feeling inside himself that he hadn’t felt since he was much younger. He sent a text to his agent “Meet me at my house at 10am to pick up the piece. No more distractions please. Thank you.” His home studio had more groceries in it than art supplies but 30 years of practice had allowed Rupert to make do with any amount. He set a 12”x16 canvas down on an easel, grabbed all the oil, paint, and solvent he had, and got started. 10 am came around and so did Rupert’s Agent. They were surprised and a little disappointed but took the finished piece all the same. Rupert spent the next week relaxing as the process of publishing an art piece was carried through. It was with a flutter in his heart and sweaty fingertips that he grabbed his copy of NY Gazette and reluctantly flipped to the section where his work was highlighted, about halfway into the journal. Ms. West had used the whole page to present his piece, the absence of critiques on the same page was either a good sign or a very bad one. He looked over the work again and what he saw staring back at him was a crude and strangely coloured portrait of himself. The only artistic direction he had added was a smile to his face. Not like the Mona Lisa’s smile but one that he knew, for himself at least, was authentic. He took a deep breath, afraid that his confidence would evaporate through his lungs if he let it go, and flipped to the next page to see if he received any critiques. He flipped to the page after the next page to confirm what he saw, then the next one. Staring back at Rupert, with a more penetrating gaze than he saw of himself earlier, the back half of the magazine was completely full of critiques and reviews of his self portrait. He didn’t bother to read them but he flipped through to the last page and finally the dam broke, tears streamed down his cheeks like melting icicles dripping onto the pages. On the last page was a critique from Ms. Sara West, it read: “Great job, Rupert. I like this one a lot.”

“Less thinner, Alex.” Rupert said, looking over her shoulder. “I thought it was thin before thick.” Barry laughed from the corner of the studio. “Obviously not.” He said. “How are your circles coming along, Barry? You almost ready to graduate to triangles?” Alexandra’s comment made him blush. “Get along, you two. You agreed!” Barry and Alex had split up during the media frenzy that followed Rupert’s self portrait. Long hours apart they had said but Rupert theorized that their real struggle was being together. “Okay, I’m off to Ms. West’s office. Don’t burn the place down but if you have to, use Barry’s circles as kindling.” “Hey!” Alex snorted and covered her mouth with her hand. This caused Barry to start laughing, to which Alex responded by throwing a fistful of pencils. “Hi-Ho Ms. Piggy.” Barry said in an awful attempt at Kermit the Frog. Rupert sighed and grabbed his coat which he stuffed an envelope into one of the pockets of. He wondered if they really might burn down the studio while he was gone. Rupert enjoyed the walk to Ms. West’s studio even if there was half a foot of snow on the ground. New York became especially beautiful when blanketed with snow, probably because all the garbage was hidden but Rupert ignored that thought. He walked by a magazine stand and noticed a glaring headline from Entertainment Today “R. Sines made a deal with the devil!?” it read, with a picture of him and Ms West with devil horns drawn on. Mr. Woodhouse had relinquished his role at the magazine and his replacement made Barry’s old work seem like poetry. He also spotted Ms. West’s paper which was highlighting the work of a fascinating young impressionist from Vancouver, of which he grabbed a copy to read. He continued on his way until he reached the cubic glass lobby of Ms. West’s building. He walked up to the front desk, nodded to the young man behind the counter and dropped his envelope in the slot labeled ‘Sines’ before turning around and heading back out the way he came.

“Mr. Sines, wait!” The young man behind the counter called out, his name tag revealed him as Sven. “She left you something” Sven hustled through a back door and returned pushing a trolley with a large, Kraft paper covered square. Rupert started to protest but Sven shoved a card into his hand and left the object to rest beside him. The envelope was a crisp white with a strange green smudge on the sealed edge. Rupert opened it and read “Mr. Sines. Please kindly accept this gift with no expectation of reciprocation. I have enjoyed this specific painting in my office for almost 20 years and I am quite sad to see it go. But, I believe that you may be the only person who will appreciate it more than I do. Thank you for allowing me to borrow it for this long, it’s time you had it back. From Ms. West. P.S. I’ve switched to matcha, so far so good.

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