Wabi-sabi is a new mantra of mine. No, I’m not talking about the Japanese condiment wasabi, although both originate from that country. Wabi-sabi is the Japanese idea of finding beauty in the imperfect and the impermanent. Personally, I abandoned my ideals of perfection around the time my new-born son threw up on my last clean shirt, but the dream of perfection lingered. And festered. And perpetually taunted me for falling short.
I stumbled across wabi-sabi while doing research for The House of the Soul and found it not only fit perfectly with the spirit of the book, but also with how I wanted to live my life. Wabi-sabi is the act of slowing down to discover the splendor in everyday objects seemingly devoid of aesthetic appeal. Wabi-sabi is embracing the simple, the natural, the authentic things our world has to offer. It is the smell of warm yeast rising. It is the wind dancing through a field of corn. It is the history carved into the lines of an old man’s face.
As writers, we can use the philosophy of wabi-sabi to make our work not only more genuine, but more intriguing. Dialogue becomes more honest when a lover’s confession is less than elegant. An ingénue’s charm widens along with the gap between her front teeth. Our garden location buzzes with the threat of bees while a single fragrant blossom floats down between two adversaries.
I was forced to embrace wabi-sabi when I finished writing The House of the Soul. It had gone through many drafts, was edited and re-edited, and still I continued to fiddle. My husband made progressively less subtle comments to the effect that it was time to let it go. But my inner perfectionist held strong. Months later, when I realized I was just swapping out the same words repeatedly, I accepted that he was right. Is the story perfect? No. Will I reread it in ten years’ time and wish I’d changed a word, or a sentence, or a chapter? Probably. But I choose to no longer allow the fear of inadequacy to silence my voice. I accept that my story is perfect in its imperfection and hope readers find ideas that resonate within its pages.
Do I still dream of perfection in my life? Yes, although wabi-sabi has changed my mind-set as to what that entails. My ideal no longer requires I look slim and stunning in a stain-free designer dress standing in my immaculate home surrounded by my well-behaved children. My perfection now comes in moments. In intimate connections with nature and people. In a child’s rain-splattered giggle while he jumps from puddle to puddle. Am I this introspective all the time? Of course not. I have yet to find the attractiveness in muddy footprints across a freshly mopped floor, or in the wrinkles lining my own face. But even on my worst days, if I slow down and look, it doesn’t take long for me to find something beautiful hiding in plain sight.