I’m sitting right now for the first time in ages on the adjustable chair on which I sat when I was in the darkest of my nightmares. When my aspirations, my dreams lay shattered. On every shard was a piece of a plan never to be realised, a me that was never to be. And yet today as I begin writing this post I sit on the same chair, working on the same board. Perhaps this sort of emotion, the sort of emotion that this symbolic defiance of ritualistic tokens of regret entails is better described by a poetic gush of words but I choose instead to depict the situation in prose, in a decidedly prosaic manner.
Yes, it is high time that I make peace with how things turned out, how events happened, how one bad thing lead to another that would turn out to be worse. Yes, I sit here today to write these words, to say them out loud if need be: I was shattered, I was broken. And perhaps a stronger man than me would have picked up the pieces and moved on, but me? No. That wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to mend. I wanted those pieces to magically reassemble and make me ‘good as new’.
‘Put me together, hide the cracks! These jagged pieces cut my fingers when I try to pick them up, sharp as only pain can be.’
“The world breaks everyone, then some become strong at the broken places” Ernest Hemingway
Clearly, no one wishes to remain broken. We must mend in our own ways or be shoved onto a dustpan least the shards of our former self bruise others. Medication, or the application of an external agent to modify your psyche is one way. So that where your self fails, a concoction of chemicals will hopefully describe a balancing act for the brain to follow. I don’t pretend to know how this works but more than often, it does.
Another way, a way I strongly believe is equally if not more effective is contemplation. This requires not only a spiritual effort but also an intellectual one. From the contemplation of self, I do not intend to achieve the tranquillity often associated with metaphysical revelations. No, nothing even remotely as fancy as that. What I intend is to have a control over the self, to try to gauge the effect of the sum of my parts, to have an intuitive grasp of my own motives and to know where my cracks lie and mend them in a way that they ought to be mended. Because even repair isn’t enough.
To join the shards with an adhesive and to paint over the fissures isn’t mending, it is deceit. There is weakness still hiding under masked obscenity if you tell yourself and others: “what had broken never broke, what was mended was never mended”. You see damage as your shame, repair as a dirty secret and in this ignominy, a weakness. And so, the fronds and leaves on your china come to life only as shadows of their former self. You pity a broken china, you smirk at someone masquerading as their former self. What then, you ask, would make you good as new again? Don’t you see? Therein lies a fallacy.
We must learn to find beauty in the broken, the old. Repair should be celebrated. Repair should be exhibited. “This is me and these are my scars”. This process of coming to terms with your share of damage (with the damage that life doles out to all of us) is beautifully encapsulated by the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold lacquer called Kintsugi. Blake Gopnik a writer for the Washington Post describes Kintsugi as ‘another level of aesthetic complexity’:
“It is hard to read them as a record of violence and damage, instead. They take on the look of a deliberate incursion of radically free abstraction into an object that was made according to an utterly different system.”
The system of belief that informs this art is called wabi-sabi. Wabi (poverty) and Sabi (loneliness) bring to attention the transient character of beauty in art and nature. A reflection of this philosophy can be found even in the ‘sturdiest’ of human endeavours in the field of art and aesthetics: Architecture. Architectural curator Lukas Feireiss in his book Imagine Architecture explores imagined ruins of buildings that don’t even exist. He maintains that it makes sense to envision buildings that would be built someday as ruins since “The future of any building is its ruin. So why not plan, draw or build one from the onset?”
Thus, Feireiss goes a step further, he explores how the damage will shape his creation even before it is created. He anticipates damage and realises that in its inevitability lies a sense of beauty.
Gopnik starts his article with a cheeky reference to the practice of breaking porcelain just so they can be treated by Kintsugi artist. “It is not often that an exhibition makes you want to run home and smash your best china”. Quite a few people, including the emperor himself, were accused of breaking prized heirlooms on purpose in order to have them treated with this healing art once it became fashionable.
These days Wabi-Sabi has been incongruously integrated into blind consumerism with an aggressive marketing of Wabi-Sabi products. People forget that Wabi-Sabi is not something you can buy! It is something you must experience. No, a lip service to this philosophy is useless and vain. You’re better off buying honest to God mass produced products. Extending this logic to the metaphor established here: please don’t manufacture melancholy. It is emotionally dishonest and rather despicable.
“For you know that it’s a fool who plays it cool by making this world a little colder” The Beatles
I can understand the significance of exhibiting repair, of contemplating repair but for the life of me deliberately breaking yourself just so others can hear you shatter so that others are forced to help you with a mending that was never needed. That, to me, is utterly farcical.
As I conclude this rant, I’m still sitting on the same adjustable chair and working on the same board. The chair is pretty comfortable now that it has ceased being a ‘token of regret’. The ‘darkest of my nightmares’ have long since dissipated and bright sunshine gushes through the windows of my room, flooding it. My regrets have aged gracefully, I am fine.