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  • Writer's pictureScott Bryant

Self Portrait of Redemption

Updated: 5 days ago

Self Portrait of Redemption by Scott Bryant
Background photo by Brett Sayles via

Dianna walked into the dimly lit Wayward Soul Bar, her eyes scanning the room for an empty seat. It was her sanctuary where she could escape from her never-ending troubles and drown out the world with alcohol. But, unfortunately, this bar wasn't the kind of high-end bars Dianna had been accustomed to long ago that looked straight out of a William Powell Thin Man movie. Reeking of alcohol and a lingering scent of cigarette smoke filling the air, the Wayward Soul Bar is an ironic choice for a bar, as most of the regular patrons were people who were down on their luck or, in the case of Dianna, seeking a place to hide from the outside world.

"Hello, lucky bar stool. It's been 24 hours since I've seen you." To most people, someone talking to a bar stool seat would seem a little hilarious, but in this case, it was not. A year ago, Dianna was a rising star in the art world for her bold and colorful works depicting a surrealist look at womanhood and life as a woman. Dianna was living every artist's dream. The Metropolitan Museum of Art ("The Met"), Modern Museum of Art (MoMA) and the Guggenheim Museum had all reached out to Dianna to show off her incredible works of art. But that high life of art world fame would only last for a while.

During a downtown gallery showing, Dianna had overheard an art patron mocking some of her work, likening it to "grade school little girl fluff." Dianna confronted the art patron, but this art patron - a man of semi-prominence - wanted to hear nothing from her. Yes, one of those men. Angrily, she yelled at the art patron telling him he had a right to his opinion but that he was being disrespectful. She had been discounted before by other art galleries, but now this art patron was disrespecting her in real time. Unfortunately, her outburst, as minor as it was, caused her art career to suffer greatly once word spread about the incident. Because when a woman rightfully gets angry and stands up for herself, the world likes to pile on with the judgements. Once a champion for Dianna, many art galleries either distanced themselves from her or never called on her, and art publications dropped her name and work entirely. It was no surprise to many allies of women as this was the same double standards women were facing, even as problematic men were getting away with similar behavior. Dianna went into a tailspin and her anger had only grown more tense since then.

As she made her way to the counter, Dianna noticed the same diverse group of women as she had seen them for the past six months. Some women, a mixed group of truckers, wait staff, technicians and working-class women, were chatting and laughing, while others sat quietly nursing their drinks. "Dianna!" Smokey, one of the trucker women at the other end of the bar yelled. "We missed you for Karaoke Night! You should have seen Trish. She was a rockstar with the Reba McEntire song!" "What are you talking about, Smokey? I was here. I was in the damn bathroom, remember?" said Dianna. "Oh yeah, that's right — the bad case of bar food. Hey Jonesy! Go easy on the bar food with Dianna next time, eh?" Smokey yelled at the cook in the back. "Hey, Dianna! You look different tonight. Do something new with your hair? No makeup?" said the other trucker woman, Trish. "Jesus Christ, what is it with you two tonight? So what? Can't a woman live and go anywhere without having to impress anyone? You're supposed to be my support sisters, not my mother." "Sorry, Dianna, the beer is a little off tonight for us. Don't worry about it," said Smokey.

Dianna sat at the bar's far end, away from the other women. She ordered a whiskey on the rocks and sighed, feeling the familiar burn in her throat. Dianna was tired, so tired of everything. She was alone, and it seemed like alcohol was her only friend. Now, instead of living a life of art luxury, she had brought herself down to a level where she believed she could never recover and figured she might as well get comfortable with her new life. Night after night at the bar became a new night of depression and anger at the world. It was a vicious cycle. Many friends and long-forgotten contacts from her past learned about her plight and tried to reach out to Dianna. But Dianna pushed back with resistance because she was firm that just because she's a woman doesn't mean she needs rescuing. Even those friends got tired and stopped contacting Dianna, thinking Dianna's downward spiral was the product of her own doing. So much for good friends, figured Dianna.

As Dianna sat alone at the bar, nursing her drink, Kathy, the bar owner and bartender, approached her. "Hey Dianna," she said with a friendly smile. Kathy was someone that always kept a close protective eye on the regular patrons of the bar, including Dianna. "How's it going tonight?" Dianna shrugged, not really in the mood for small talk. "Same old, same old," she muttered, sipping her drink. The bartender leaned in, her expression growing more serious. "Listen, Dianna, I've seen you here a lot lately. Are you okay?" Dianna bristled at the question, defensive. "What the hell do you mean, am I okay? I'm fine. The same as I've always been. What is it with everyone around here tonight?" The bartender raised an eyebrow, unconvinced. "I don't know if I'd call someone who drinks as much as you do 'fine.' But, look, hun, I'm not trying to judge you or anything. I want to make sure you are taking care of yourself. That's all. My customers are my family, you know."

Dianna looked away from Kathy. But Dianna refused to acknowledge that she had a drinking problem. "Thanks," she said quietly, her voice barely above a whisper. "I appreciate your concern. But I can tough it out. I don't need rescuing. I can rescue myself." The bartender nodded, a sympathetic look on his face. "Just remember, Dianna, there's always a way out. You don't have to do this alone." With that, Kathy walked away, leaving Dianna to ponder her words. After a few minutes, Dianna decided to head out of the bar. She didn't know where she would go, but Dianna felt she could follow wherever the wind took her. Following the wind had become Diana's new mantra in life, regardless if it was windy outside or not. Diana thought it sounded like a good mantra, that's all.

As she stepped out into the cool night air, Dianna took a deep breath and started walking, letting her feet take her wherever they wanted. She passed by the brightly lit windows of bars and restaurants, the sounds of laughter and music spilling out onto the street. As she walked, Dianna felt something in her body and then let out a burp - and flatulence at the same time. "Burrrp! Damn that felt better," said Diana. "The hell with being ladylike and giving up my drinking," Dianna muttered. "No one is going to tell me what to do. Not even Kathy."

While Dianna was walking, she came upon a colorfully lit shop. Dianna wasn't sure if she was hallucinating or seeing things, but as she approached the shop window, she could see colorful art and paintings. "When did this shop show up? Woah. I've got to stop drinking that damn whiskey." Curious, Dianna walked in. As she opened the wooden door, a pleasant, calming voice said, "Welcome! Please, look around and see for yourself. What's your name?" said the shopkeeper, who called herself Dolores. "Thanks. It's very colorful. My name's Dianna. Burrp! Excuse me. I just came from the bar." Dolores said calmly, "I see. Well, just let me know if you need anything."

As Dianna walked around the art store, known as The Old Brush & Soul, her eyes gazed upon a portrait of a woman in blue.

At first, Dianna thought the whiskey was playing tricks on her, but as she looked again, she could see the portrait had smile on her face when it didn't a minute ago. "Ooof. No more whiskey for me. Say, what's the story with this portrait?" "What's that? Oh, It's a portrait of a woman who went through some tough times. Still, she came out on the other side stronger and more resilient than ever," Dolores replied enthusiastically, like a tour guide showing a visitor an interesting artifact.

But then Dolores did the most curious thing; she glanced at Dianna, where she made a surprising remark and change of tone, "You know, Dianna, this portrait seems to remind me of you. Very much so." Dianna turned and looked at Dolores with a reaction. "Excuse me? What did you say? What the hell does that mean?" Dianna said, shocked. "What does that have to do with me? I'll have you know I'm not some painting to be admired by anyone! I'm a real person with real problems! You got that, DOLORES??" Dianna reacted angrily. "Now, now, Dianna, no harm meant in that comment. It's just, behind this happy demeanor and my shop window, I've seen you walking around town for some time now. And every day I see you, I sense turmoil, sadness, and anger consuming your life. I want to help you," Dolores said in a compassionate tone. Dianna couldn't believe what she was hearing. "What is your problem? You only met me for five minutes, and now you're acting like you know me?? Who set you up for this? Who paid you to trap me in this shop of art vomit?! WHO?! Was it someone from the art academy?! I bet so. They set you up to trap me so they can get more gossip for their "art talks" about how I'm now a pathetic excuse of a former artist. WONDERFUL! Just like the rest of the art world doesn't already shit on women. You are incredible, I must say. Incredibly naive, Dolores. Bravo. You win a prize."

Dolores looked at Dianna calmly, her warm smile still present despite the angry words thrown at her. "No one set me up to anything, Dianna. I have a knack for reading people. And I can tell you're carrying much pain and turmoil with you." Dianna scoffed, "And what makes you so sure? You don't know anything about me. I was somebody. You don't know me or my story." Dolores stepped closer to Dianna and spoke softly, "I don't need to know your entire life story to see that you're hurting. But I know that the woman in that painting also went through some tough times. And she came out on the other side stronger and more resilient than ever. I believe you can too, Dianna. You need to trust me and let go of the anger." Dianna looked at Dolores skeptically, but something in the women's eyes made her pause. "What do you suggest I do? Kiss her?" Dolores smiled, "Well, you could start by taking a closer look at that painting. Maybe it'll give you some inspiration. That is if you're willing to let go of your anger and see for yourself."

Dianna hesitated but eventually made her way over to the painting. Looking at it more closely, she saw herself in the woman's expression - a mixture of pain and determination. But then, Dianna felt a sense of resistance come over her again, as if the whiskey was retaking control of her emotions. "Dolores, either you're the most delusional person in this town or just weird: I see nothing of me in this portrait. Please take a good look at me — a real good look. I'm a trashy failure. I'm no good anymore. I was an artist on top of the art world - the same art world that took a blowtorch to her art career all because I stood up to a sexist asshole. Extra! Extra! The world jumps for glee that a woman lost her cool and gave the world a meltdown for the ages!! Please, stop with the pleasantries, Dolores. I AM worthless! I frequent bars, not art galleries." Dianna said with pain in her voice. "Because at least the bars don't judge me. My creativeness went down the drain along with the beer."

"You are not worthless, Dianna. Please don't wreck yourself anymore with anger." Dolores retorted with a gentle seriousness to her tone. "Look, I know the world is cruel to us women, but that is why we're here together: to find your spark again and help you be the Dianna you once were. Life has a way of kicking people down, but you know something? We get right back up and charge on to a new day. Listen, all I'm trying to say is inspiration is all around us. But sometimes, we can find inspiration and hope in unexpected places - and with people we least expect. You meant to walk into my shop for a reason. And I think this painting has a message for you - that you can overcome your struggles and come out on the other side much stronger than before. Trust me, Dianna. Let the anger go and trust a friendly face for once."

"That's all easier said than done, but I don't know how to do that. I feel like I'm stuck in this cycle of self-destruction." Dianna said with her angry tone lowering. "The world seems to be against me. Everyone has abandoned me. Look at me! I'm a wandering, directionless, drunken idiot of a woman." "No, Dianna, that's not what I see. What I see is a brilliant woman who just temporarily lost her way. Let us sit down over here, and I'll make some nice tea, and we can talk." Dianna and Dolores talked for over three hours - while sipping on tea. Within those three hours, Dianna became less resistant and more open to the enormous-hearted kindness Dolores was extending to Dianna. For the first time in what may have been months, Dianna finally felt at peace, knowing that this random shopkeeper took sympathy upon her and her plight when others told either Dianna to go away or grow up.

Before Dianna began to leave, Dolores gifted Dianna with something special. "Here, dear Dianna. I want you to have this. It's a special necklace I made just for an occasion like this. See? In the middle is the most beautiful Agate Gemstone. But this is no ordinary gemstone. This gemstone will serve you with infinite protection, courage, and security. Wear it as a reminder of our short time together, and in time, life will start to work its way around and find you again. All stories have a happy ending." Dianna didn't know what to say. "Wow. Dolores, it's so beautiful. But seriously, you didn't.." "No more of that, Dianna. I wanted you to have it. So next time you're in town, never be afraid to stop by," said Dolores. "I will, Dolores. And thank you." As both exchanged hugs and goodbyes, Dianna felt new again. But she was ready for whatever would come her way - even if that meant being able to go back to the art world she once knew and loved.

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