Build a story 11/10/11
I asked my friends to pick a house for me to set the story in. They chose Ideal Palace in France. I’ll let you enjoy a google image tour instead of linking you, it is a real treat for the eyes. It has a fascinating history which I tried to incorporate here. Enjoy!
As I walked the familiar path towards my regular afternoon destination I heard a friendly honk and raised my hand in greeting before the car could even pass me by. It passed me in a moment and I could see the back of Monsieur LaRoche’s hand waving at the center of the car as the vehicle went on ahead of me down the lane. I knew most of the cars that passed this way, knew the drivers, knew where they turned off, and could usually guess where they had come from too. This was my road.
Of course I owned it no more than any other citizen of France. I didn’t even live on this road, well… not really. I lived here, but I didn’t sleep here, or get my mail here, or have any relatives with any claim to any of the houses here.
My mother, father, and I lived above my father’s bakery, in the town. Every morning we rose well before dawn to heat the ovens, form the loaves, bake the bread, open the shop, greet the patrons. It was a predictable kind of life, not the kind you ever got rich in, but the kind that kept your belly full.
When I said I lived on this road, I meant that this is where I did the thing that made my life worth waking up to every day. This was the path to my special place, my dream land. This was the road to Ideal Palace.
It’s a very well-known landmark, and anyone who lives around here can tell you how to get here. Some of them have even played tourist in their own town and come for a tour of the Ideal Palace. That was how I first came here, with my primary school class.
I’ll never forget how amazed I was with the nearly overwhelming feast of art that twisted and twined its way around Ideal Palace. There wasn’t a lonely spot or a centimeter that lacked meaning. There wasn’t a corner that was neglected or a curve that didn’t have a story to tell.
Some people who come to Ideal Palace think it is garish, too busy, or overboard, but I love every inch of it. I love the way the themes overlap and the eye has no place to settle. I love that you could look every day for a year and still not really see it all.
I passed the gates of my home-away-from-home and waved to Jacqueline who was just greeting some visitors. The visitors would pay for a tour, and they wouldn’t be disappointed. Jacqueline would be sure they got an eye full of, and an ear full about, Ideal Palace. They would leave with their minds stuffed with information… and they still wouldn’t fully understand.
I dropped a loaf of bread off in the office, then walked around the Palace until I came to the place where I had started sketching yesterday. I resumed my place, under the tree, and took out the pad of paper and pencils I brought every day it wasn’t raining. I carefully studied my work in progress, then sat staring at my subject for several minutes before I put the pencil to the paper. Slowly, carefully, I formed the curves and lines, shading and smudging to convey the layers of dimension, the depth of imagination that my hero, Ferdinand Chavel, had possessed.
I was absorbed in my work until a voice sounded out from just behind me. “You must be Gabrielle,” the young male voice said.
I jumped a little, and then worried over the damage to my drawing before worrying about who was addressing me. The smudge removed, I turned to look up at the person who had interrupted me. It was indeed a young man, perhaps a little older than me. He was handsome enough, if one went for guys with looks, but I didn’t like the way he was leaning against the tree, like he owned it, like he owned everything around him.
“I’m Neil,” he said extending a hand for me to shake.
It was then I noticed his accent, American. No wonder he acted like he owned the place. I debated on not shaking his hand, then decided against being rude and shook it as quickly as possible. Unfortunately he took it as an invitation to join me and sat down on the grass next to me and looked unabashedly at my drawing.
I quickly closed the pad and started gathering my things. If he was going to stay, I was going to leave. I hated to loose hours of good light and cut into my daily visit to paradise, but it wasn’t like I would get any work done with this strange American bothering me.
“You are really good. They told me you were, but I didn’t really believe them. Is it true you haven’t gone to art school or anything?” He asked me, though in truth it was a little hard to make out with his thick accent. It was like nails on a chalkboard to hear French spoken that way.
“I have not been to art school,” I answered in my secondary school English, which I was sure was better than his French, at least less painful to listen to. I saw him looking at the pad of paper I clutched to my chest and I clutched it all the tighter. Who was this nosey stranger and what did he want?
“Jacqueline said you come every day, that’s an admirable dedication to your art,” he said, again in French.
I’m sure I looked like I had seen him sprout two heads, as absurd as his statement was. MY art? Were we not standing on the grounds of Ideal Palace? How on earth could he talk about MY art? It was… it was sacrilege.
“Excuse me,” I said in English and then hurried away, leaving him there by the tree. I’m sure he looked confused, but in truth I don’t know for sure because I didn’t spare a glance for the bold, blonde American.
I came upon Jacqueline and her tour group. I waited for the break where she lets them approach to see the detail on the Hindu shrine and then I walked up close to her. “Pardon me, Madame,” I said to the woman who was like another mother to me, “but who is that rude American, and why does he know my name?”
“Oh that’s Neil Jacobson. He is taking his summer holiday to study Ideal Palace. He studies art in San Francisco. I told him he should watch for you to come.”
“But why?” I asked her, stunned that she would invite him to interrupt my daily pilgrimage.
She blinked in surprise at the emotion in my voice and I ducked my head, ashamed to have spoken so forcefully. “Because, Gabrielle,” she said, “if anyone knows and understands the art of Ideal Palace, it is you.” She slanted her head to the side and her expression was confused. “Did I do wrong? I didn’t think you would mind, you are always so helpful when the children’s classes come and when we have large groups…
“No, no,” I hastened to assure her, though I didn’t mean it. “You did no wrong, I was just unprepared. I wasn’t sure what he wanted… it is difficult to make out what he is saying.”
She grinned at that, “He does insist on speaking French, though my English is excellent,” she said, and without exaggeration, her English really was superb. “He says he has studied French for years and hopes to improve this summer.”
The group was ready to move on now so she directed their attention to the next section and left me to wonder what to do. I certainly couldn’t return to my work, not with that American over there to bother people. There weren’t enough visitors that Jacqueline would need any help. I stood there by the Hindu shine for a few minutes debating, and then my mind was made up for me. Neil Jacobson appeared, walking around the side of the Palace, so I turned and headed for the road.
I was halfway home before I regretted the decision. It was a fine afternoon, and I had just left the only real way to enjoy it. What was I going to do now? If I returned home early there would be questions. I didn’t want to explain to my parents why I had left early. They wouldn’t understand. They were always talking about sending me to Paris to study art, as if there was enough money in the till to cover such a wild dream. It wasn’t even my dream, it was theirs, and I wasn’t going to give them an excuse for bringing it up again.
I turned then, and pointed my feet towards the cemetery. If I couldn’t sketch the palace I would spend some time by the artist’s mausoleum. I had finished drawing it years ago, but I thought that being near his resting place might calm me. If anyone could have understood me, it was the late Monsieur Cheval.
The groundskeeper had been neglecting the mausoleum again. Grass was sprouting in the cracks. Why he found it so hard to keep the destructive plants away from the work of art I will never know, it did not take long. I got into my bag and found my scissors and then proceeded to trim the fringe of tall grass. I cut it extra short, perhaps if it took a while to grow back up again the groundskeeper would find the time to apply some herbicide.
My work done I looked at my watch and found I had passed the time quite well. If I left in ten minutes and walked slowly I would be home exactly on time. I cleaned my scissors on my jeans and then sat with my back against the twisting and curving stone I knew so well. I closed my eyes and in my heart begged Monsieur Cheval to make the rude American go away.
“Oh, hello Gabrielle,” that young male voice said.
My eyes flew open. What on earth was he doing here? Had he followed me? I stumbled to my feet and quickly crossed to my bag. I shoved the scissors inside the bag and started walking away quickly.
“Wait!” he called, “No, don’t run away again, please,” he said running after me. At least he was speaking English now. I stopped, though I did not turn to face him. Instead he circled me, placing himself between me and the cemetery exit. “Whatever I have done to offend you, I am terribly sorry,” he said.
His face looked so earnest that I felt a little sorry for him. It wasn’t really his fault, I supposed, that he had been born who he was. It wasn’t really his fault that I was who I was either. I just didn’t really want anything else in my life. Americans were supposed to be tourists, not… not people you had to really communicate with and let get to know you. I could feel my cheeks starting to burn.
“It is nothing,” I told him. “I must go home now, they are expecting me.” I went to step around him but his face was so distressed I felt like I had to add, “I will see you another time, Neil.”
“Okay,” he said a little too brightly. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Gabrielle.”
I didn’t look back until I had left the cemetery and when I did he was kneeling by the tomb, examining it closely. He was writing notes and taking photos. I shook my head, how could he hope to understand art if he didn’t try to draw it?
I was a little relieved when I woke the next morning to a drizzling gray sky. I never went to Ideal Palace when it rained, so no one would think it odd that I did not go, no one but the American perhaps. I wondered if it could rain all week. Perhaps if it rained two weeks together Neil Jacobson would go home to sunny San Francisco and leave me alone.
The next day it shone bright and clear, and I lingered at my chores, setting off for Ideal Palace much later than usual. Madame LaRoche even stopped to see if I was all right. I made up a story about being extra busy today, which I hoped would satisfy her curiosity and not pique it, and told her I really preferred to walk, but thanks for the offer of a ride.
I snuck along the side of the grounds, trying to blend in with the trees and bushes until I got to the right place to resume my sketching. I had not seen a soul when I settled in at the base of the tree. I dove into my work, praying I would be un-interrupted.
It was nearly an hour before I heard footsteps and knew my solitude was over. I resolutely ignored Neil as he came over and sat next to me by the tree. It irritated me to have him looking back and forth between my drawing and the Palace, comparing, and no doubt seeing every tiny error I had made. The gall of him, coming to my home with his college art degree to critique me, Americans were so irritating.
Before long the light had shifted enough that it was time to halt my work. I closed the pad of paper and reached for my bag. It was not where my fingers grasped and I looked up to find that Neil had it slung over his shoulder, like he expected to walk with me somewhere.
“May I have my bag please?” I asked him in an overly patient voice.
“I thought I would carry it for you,” he said stepping in the direction of the office. “It’s is the gentlemanly thing to do.”
I closed my eyes for a moment, so he wouldn’t see me roll them, and then walked briskly ahead of him towards the office. I pushed the door open with a little more force than was strictly needed and then held my hand out for the return of my bag.
“Ah, Gabrielle!” Jacqueline’s husband Francis said with a smile. “I was about to send out the search party.”
“I am sorry, Monsieur Gascon,” I told him. “I came late and did not wish the miss the light.”
“It is nothing,” Jacqueline said accepting the bread from me, “as long as you are safe. Neil, you could have told us you found her.”
“I am sorry, Madame,” he said. “I was so excited to watch her work. She is almost finished with another page.”
This of course led to requests to see my still unfinished work, and as they were such close friends I felt I had to show the Gascons the latest page.
“What is this, I never noticed this,” Francis was saying, as he usually did when looking at my work. I had long ago started to wonder if he really missed so many details of the place he worked every day, or if he just did it to make me feel observant. My money was on the latter, I knew him to be a devoted curator.
“Well, I had better be going,” I told them. “I’ll be late getting back.”
“Oh we were hoping you would come to dinner,” Jacqueline said. “Neil is coming, and a few people from the historical society. You know how much it helps to have you there when there are potential patrons at the table. I meant to call you yesterday when it rained, but then a bus came and I completely forgot.”
“But,” I said looking down at my dirty jeans and tired blouse, “I am not dressed for a dinner party, Madame, I would only embarrass you. There simply isn’t time…”
“I can drive you home,” Neil said, oh-so-helpfully. “Then you can help me find my way to the Gascon’s house after you change.”
“Oh no,” I said, “My father would never approve…”
“Non-sense,” Jacqueline said waving her hand. “You are not a child any longer, you can ride a few miles with a friend. Oh please come Gabrielle,” she begged, and who can say no to Jacqueline when she begged. How else could we have gotten the donation for the replacement carpet last year? I sighed and relented.
“Pull over here,” I told him, a block from my home.
“Here?” he said, obviously scanning the shop signs for the bakery.
“Yes right here,” I told him. “I would rather not have to explain you to my parents. They read too much into everything anyway.”
He didn’t seem too happy about it but didn’t argue. “Okay, I will just run to the room I rented and I’ll meet you back here in an hour?” he asked looking at his watch.
I nodded and got out of the car, hoping none of the shopkeepers that were so chummy with my father were looking out their windows right now. I quickly crossed the side street and stepped into the bakery. The bell alerted my parents to my presence, but my mother had not risen from the back table by the time I had walked through.
“No time to talk,” I told her as I headed for the stairs. “I’ve been invited to the Gascon’s for dinner tonight with some people from the historical society.”
This was not a regular occurrence, but happened often enough that my parents did not question me about it. Jacqueline always arranged a ride for me with one of the little old ladies from the society, and I always made sure that my late night did not affect my work performance the next morning. Sometimes my parents even went out in my absence, though why they didn’t do this when I was home I will never know, I certainly could sit alone with control of the television for an evening.
I hurried through my preparations, wearing the same black dress I always wore, just selecting a different wrap and painting my nails to match it. I threw my hair up in a twist and jammed in a bunch of pins to secure it. A few wisps escaped, but I rather liked the effect so I didn’t bother to use my mother’s hairspray to try to keep them in place.
I shoved my identification and lipstick in my mother’s old clutch purse and then made my way down the stairs. I called a hasty goodbye to my parents, and yanked the door open, so they wouldn’t bother coming to see me off. I walked quickly down the block and stepped around the corner of the side street to watch for Neil’s car.
He was five minutes late, and smelled strongly of aftershave and cologne when he came around the car to let me in. I wished he hadn’t bothered with the gesture, someone was sure to notice. I ducked quickly in the car and then scanned the windows of the nearby shops as he took his time walking back around to his door. I didn’t see anyone… but that didn’t mean much.
He really didn’t know the way to the Gascon’s and I wondered how he would have fared if I hadn’t been there to direct him at every turn. He parked the car along with the others on the street, and then hurried around to open my door. I decided not to let him do it this time, and then pretended not to see the perturbed look on his face when all that was left for him to do was close the door of the rental car.
He offered me an arm, but I again pretended not to notice. I didn’t know why he was treating this like some kind of date, because it certainly wasn’t. As far as I was concerned if he wanted a French summer love story to take home with him he needed to start looking somewhere else immediately.
Jacqueline looked stunning as she greeted us at the door. By now she had figured out my alternating wrap trick and complimented me on how this one brought out my eyes. I didn’t know how a red wrap was supposed to make my plain old brown eyes look better, but I smiled and accepted the compliment anyway.
Neil, of course, had to be introduced to everyone, and for some reason Francis thought the job was best given to me. I tried to keep a respectable distance between the American art student and myself, but I still was subjected to numerous appraising looks from old ladies who should have known me better. How could anyone think I would be an item with someone in just a few days? I had never even had a boyfriend.
I sipped carefully at the glass of wine Jacqueline had pressed in my hand, knowing I would need my wits sharp if we were going to get the donation we needed to repair the roof. Neil hadn’t seemed to get the message though, and he drank freely of each glass supplied to him. Thankfully he seemed to be acclimated to alcohol, as I had heard all American students were, and his behavior did not become embarrassing, though there was no helping his accent.
By the time it was time to leave, however, I was a little worried about how well he was going to drive, so I begged a ride from the first of the old ladies to leave. Several people raised an eyebrow at that, but I really didn’t care. The rest of the evening had gone well and it wasn’t like I was making a scene.
The grounds were empty when I got to the palace the next day, so I headed straight for the office and found the three of them pouring over the architectural diagrams Francis kept in the back office. They were so engrossed I hoped to leave the bread and escape unseen but at the last moment Jacqueline looked up and called me over. She asked about a specific section on the top level, but even as I answered I knew that she had known the answer already. I wished she would stop trying to make me look good in front of Neil. Wasn’t anyone on my side anymore?
I finally got away and headed for my spot, but Neil followed me a few minutes later and perched at my shoulder to watch me work. I decided to ignore him again, as much as possible, in interest of getting my work done while the light was right. Thankfully he was quiet, and it was just his proximity that distracted me. I hoped he would get bored and go away soon, this was getting old fast.
I finished the page and flipped to the next, carefully taking visual measurements and blocking out the shape of the column and each of the decorative bands. Neil’s eyes traveled back and forth with mine, and I pressed my lips closed against the displeasure I felt at the intrusion. I was quite relieved when my watch said it was time to go and I gathered up my things quietly.
“Are you leaving already?” he asked in surprise. “You don’t need the light to be right for blocking, do you?”
“My parents will worry if I am late,” I said simply.
“Do you want a ride?” he offered.
“I prefer to walk, thank you,” I told him.
“Oh,” he said. “Then I’ll walk with you.”
“I wish you wouldn’t,” I said. “People will talk.”
“So let them talk,” he said with a shrug.
“No, Neil,” I said firmly. “You are going home at the end of the summer, this IS my home, and you are the intruder. I don’t want people thinking things about me that are not true.”
He looked at me sadly, “So that’s what I am to you, an intruder?”
“Well…” I said, regretting my choice of words. I hadn’t meant to sound so mean. “Perhaps intruder isn’t the right word, but this is my life, Neil, not some summer holiday halfway around the world with no consequences. I have to live here after you go, and I don’t want the people I have daily contact with mislead about… about… what we are to each other.”
“Well… what are we to each other then?” he asked.
“I don’t know… acquaintances, fellow art… students?” I had been about to say art lovers, but managed to change my choice of words at the last moment.
“Not friends?” he said looking a little hurt.
I sighed, “No Neil,” I said. “I know nothing about you, and you certainly don’t know me.”
“I’d like to know you,” he said.
I shook my head, “Why waste your time? You came to study Cheval’s Masterpiece, not me.” I said and I walked away. I didn’t look back at the gate, just kept my eyes and my feet pointed home, hoping all the way that he had gotten the message. Maybe he would let me draw in peace now.
The next day I reached my tree only to find the spot already occupied. He looked up as I approached and then looked down at the ground. He scooted over just far enough for me to sit in my spot and then continued to hold up his pencil at arm’s length. He squinted at it and moved the tip of his thumb, bringing the pencil back several times to compare it to the paper and then make minute marks. I tried to peer over his shoulder at the page, but he made a big show out of not allowing me to see his work, and I gave up immediately. It wasn’t like I really cared how he was coming with his drawing.
A week passed like that, sitting and drawing the same object, from the same perspective, but not speaking a word. I may not have liked his little game, but I had become accustomed to it. I wondered how long he was going to make it, how long he could stand the silence. Then, as we sat and sketched, a young art student from Paris came and interrupted our silent war.
“I didn’t know there was a group that met here,” she said, swinging her long, impossibly straight hair over her shoulder. Neil had let his work tilt forward as he gawked at her and she looked at it with that studied, Art Student eye.
“Interesting composition,” she said turning to narrow down which column we were both drawing. I took the opportunity to take a rare peek at Neil’s drawing, and he took the opportunity to close his slack jaw. He looked to see if I had noticed the lapse, and I pretended to have been ignoring them all along.
“Well,” he said putting his work aside and getting up to approach her. “You can’t really go wrong when you are selecting a section of such a great work. Ideal Palace is one of the best examples of Naïve Art in Architecture in the world.”
I sniffed at the word “naïve,” never having approved of that particular term, and Neil seemed to take it as a challenge. He started spouting all kinds of things he must have memorized from some art textbook. It just showed what an art lemming he was, all about balance and proportion and never about what was in the artist’s heart.
I decided I couldn’t listen to him anymore and started to pack my things away. “Oh, are you leaving?” The Parisian Student asked in false innocence. “I hope I have not disturbed you.”
“It is not you I find disturbing,” I assured her with a sickly sweet smile and then I marched away. I was halfway across the lawn by the time he caught up with me.
“What is your problem?” he asked me, all of his suave pretenses and stumbling French gone.
“YOU! You are my problem,” I said angrily and I tried to march around him.
“Why?” He practically shouted moving to block me. “What have I done wrong?”
“It isn’t what you have DONE,” I said back. “It is who you are! You, you, smooth, cocky American with your Art degree and narrow minded terms, you make me sick. I wish you would just go away and leave Ideal Palace to the people who truly love it.”
“I do love Ideal Palace, and how is having a little knowledge of art terminology a bad thing? At least I have words to describe what I see, at least I speak the language of Art.”
“Describe it? You are so caught up in your pre-designed labels for art you don’t even see through them!” I said angrily.
“What? Because I called it Naïve Art? It IS Naïve Art! Everyone knows that! The simplicity…” he began, getting out his hand to tick of points he had memorized from some book.
“Simple?!” I shouted. “How can any sane person call THAT simple?!” I asked waving my hand at the enormity of the most complex work of art in all of France and therefore the world.
I stomped off around him, and he hurried after me, “Gabrielle, if you would just listen. You don’t understand, there is so much you don’t know!”
“Who says I want to know?!” I asked wheeling around to face him. “Have I ever ONCE asked you to burden me with your… your photocopied knowledge?”
“But… Gabrielle, Art builds upon the discoveries of others. You don’t have to learn it all on your own, you can learn from others,” he said in a voice just as soft as mine had been harsh.
“Well what if I don’t WANT to?” I asked pointedly.
“I can’t believe that the girl who spent her life studying someone else’s work can possibly NOT believe in learning from other artists.”
I wanted to retort, wanted to throw it all back in his face, he made me so ANGRY! The part that made me the angriest was… was that he was right, and I didn’t want him to be right. Being proven wrong like this hurt me, stung me deep in my soul, and the tears came bursting from my eyes before I could get far enough away from him to hide them. Then they were followed by tears of shame that he had seen the tears of pain, that I had not been strong enough to hide them.
I managed to stay away for a week, in spite of the many calls I refused, in spite of the confusion of my parents, in spite of my longing for the lead and the paper and the peace that came with them. After a week though I knew I had to return. I knew I was only hurting myself by staying away.
I snuck onto the grounds again, and was relieved to find the base of the tree empty, my solitude returned. Perhaps he had gone away, perhaps my life could return to normal now. I put the pencil to the paper, and with a sigh released the pent up creativity that had been bursting to get out of me.
The light was almost gone when he rounded the Palace, leading a bus load of Americans in garish visors and ill-fitting shorts. I pretended not to see him, and he me, but an old lady in the group was having none of that. “Who is that girl?” she asked pointing at me.
I let the curtain of my hair hide my blushing face and wondered how he would answer.
“That…” he said, “Is Cheval’s most dedicated student, and she values her solitude. If I can direct your attention to the columns at the top…” he began spouting more of that book knowledge, but I didn’t hate him for it so much today. Maybe his books knew something I didn’t… or at least knew how to put it in a way that others would understand it. I couldn’t say the same for myself, I didn’t think I could ever make anyone really understand Cheval.
The summer was nearly over, and Neil was sitting at my side under a different tree, watching me draw with no pretense of drawing on his own. “Why do you only draw the Palace?” he asked me.
“Because it is beautiful,” I said, stopping my pursuit of details to look at and adore the whole sight. I loved this Palace.
He reached over into the flower bed at his side and picked a red flower. He held it up to me, “This is beautiful. Why don’t you draw this?”
“I am a bigger fan of the Palace,” I said with a little laugh.
He grinned and reached up to tuck the flower behind my ear. He looked at me, apparently enjoying the way the red blossom looked next to my eyes. “Do you ever draw your own stuff, things you make up?” he asked.
“No,” I said simply, not breaking his gaze as he studied my eyes.
“Why not?” he asked me, his eyes full of the question.
“Because nothing in me compares with this,” I said with a laugh as I waved my hand to indicate all of Ideal Palace.
“That’s not true, look at what you can do,” he said gesturing at my pad of paper.
“I am just a sketcher,” I said dropping my eyes now.
“No,” he said placing a finger under my chin to raise my eyes again. “You are good, and your skill is yours. Cheval did not give you that skill, I bet he couldn’t have done with a simple pencil and a finger what you do every day, the dimension, the perspective, the depth all comes from you. You are an artist Gabrielle.”
“So what if I am?” I said closing my pad and slipping it into my bag. The light wasn’t gone yet, but I was done.
“So?” he repeated after me in an exasperated tone. “Gabrielle, Cheval, a baker’s apprentice turned postman, took a simple rock and turned it into a palace. What if he had just thrown it aside? What if he had just said, ‘So I can see something beautiful in the shape of a rock, what does that matter?’ What if he had never built Ideal Palace? What would the world be without it? What would YOUR world be without it?” Neil reached for my hand, stroking the dark stain on the finger I used to smudge my drawings, “What is the world going to be missing if you don’t take that pencil, your eye, your talent and learn to use them?”
I let him hold my hand and turned my eyes to the Palace. It had been my Ideal for so long. Not the hodge-podge collection of representations of Ideologies that others saw when they looked at it. No, Ideal Palace represented MY ideal, the belief down deep inside of me that even a no-one had art inside. I believed that the baker’s apprentice, the postman, the school girl, the man on the street had something unique inside that no-one else had.
I had something that no-one else had, and I needed to let it out of me. Even if it meant memorizing some book so I could learn from other artists who came before me, like Cheval; even if it meant swallowing my pride, going to Art School, exposing my art to criticism, and myself to shame; even if it meant admitting to Neil that perhaps he was right about something; I had to do this. I had to do this so that when the day came for me to create my masterpiece, it would be a real contribution. I had to share my Ideal with the world. Just like Cheval did and still does, every day.