If you have never done so, paint a self-portrait.
Trust me on this: you will rediscover every bit of your beauty. Do not make it a faithful representation, a record of the ravages of time on skin: there are more important songs to be sung.
I am begging you to be bold:
If you cannot find a canvas large enough, use a cotton sheet. Make it a bed of burnt umber, on which you can lay your extravagant colours.
Place your scars, like road maps. Carve in red your bleeding heart, and stitch it together with threads of gold, the way the Japanese practice Kintsugi. Let these metallic lines mark your journey, so that you can remember where you came from, and again find your way home.
Like the old masters, surround yourself with symbolic things: your grandmother’s gloves upon your knee, a love letter. Give yourself permission to apply them to the canvas – use glue and safety pins, if you need to. Draw in the words you cannot bear to say aloud, and then paint over them. The canvas will remember. It will hold all of the things no one else has learned how to see.
When you are finished, begin anew. Begin, this time, on bed of gold, and on it, inscribe upon it all of the things you wish that were. Give yourself a crown, or a babe in arms, or seat yourself upon a stack of every book ever written. Do this, so that you can remember where you are going. Do this, because the paint is magic.
I know that paint is magic, because the first time I was in New York, we went to the Museum of Modern Art. At the time, there was a painting by Matisse hanging in the stairwell, between the second and third stories. In seeing The Dance, I was confronted with pure joy, manifested.
I guess that here, that you might pause look up the painting – but it will not describe the painting any more than a photo of cake describes the experience of cake. And even if you do find yourself standing in New York or St. Petersburg facing the one of the originals, it may not be your brand of magic. You might not stand, awash in embarrassing tears, on the second floor stairwell, and then again on the third (because you needed to see if the rapture applied on third floor, too). Matisse may not have written in the language that you speak, but listen:
On that canvas, Matisse illustrated a kind of ecstasy that gave birth to that same feeling in at least some of those who saw it. It generated that which it described.
So: imagine all of the ways that the world might rise up to greet you, if you tell it where you are going. Imagine what you might manifest, if you record all of the things that you carry with you, and then resolutely carry on.
I know it is not the same thing, to paint a feeling and a person. I know, too, that Matisse is Matisse, and the rest of us are humble mortals, but still: paint a self portrait, at least once. Claim your story, and let the threads of your insides and outsides tie together.