We built our heads from plasteline, a stiff and dirty clay with little give.

Put the mirror away.” He threw the pictures we’d brought to the wayside: “No, no. Build the portrait you could never make in paint.”

“Try to make it something more.”


The self-portraits of our mind’s eyes opened up. Every insecurity, every possibility came slowly into play, sculpting itself as we closed our eyes to the world and to sight. Those with little skill made better pictures than they ever could have made while looking at themselves, growing frustrated over noses and the rim at the edge of the eye. “Build the portrait that you, and no one else has ever seen. Feel out your face the way you dream yourself to be.”

Is this a lie?

This is the fat girl with more chin than she has cheek. This is the quiet little Asian girl with the tiniest features you could ever imagine. Here is the dreamer whose head still sits unfinished, half his face in relief and half clouded, the hair never rooted to the world. As if he might fly away.

“But that’s not you.”

This is the portrait that no one could have seen.

It is easier to build a portrait in profile, looking up. The eyes of the figure make contact with yours so your own face can look in your soul to root out what you’ve been hiding. This entire self-portrait feels like a picture of me running away. This little girl is looking down, into space, her eyes small depressions in a long, smooth face. Her hair is in her eyes: no intensity, no solidity, all left back in a haze. This is me, never looking up. I couldn’t figure out why I needed to build it that way. This is the portrait of me, looking down, avoiding the world that has scared me for so many years, no matter how often I've laughed it away. This is me, looking down through these unformed eyes in the hopes that looking down will let me live in the dream a while longer.

“Build the portrait you never have let yourself see. Build you.”

Build me. Me, finding me.