These images dropped into my life this week in that serendipitous way that sometimes happens when we’re searching for something—or being led somewhere—but don’t actually know we are.
The bent pine trees are part of the Crooked Forest, a strange stand of nearly four hundred trees located outside the town of Nowe Czarnowo in western Poland. Evidently theories abound regarding the reason for their strange shape. Human hands? Witchcraft? Energy fields? Whatever the cause, the end result is eerily beautiful.
The vase illustrates the traditional Japanese art of Kintsugi where instead of trying to hide the flaws and cracks in a broken object, it is repaired with a strong adhesive and sprinkled with gold dust to emphasize and celebrate the damage. In the process it becomes even more beautiful.
At the moment, I’m reading a book by an author I much admire and finding it strangely flat—dare I say boring—lacking the pace and energy that marked her first novel. I suspect it might have been overworked to ‘perfection’ and in the process has lost the raw energy that comes with the outpouring of a first draft.
At the same time, I’ve been finishing Elena Ferrante’s third book in her Neapolitan series, ‘Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay’, and in a similarly serendipitous way, I found her main character mulling over her inability to write after her baby is born: ‘…so the things I wrote had no energy, they were merely demonstrations of my formal skill, flourishes lacking substance…’ And when her husband reads what she has written, he says: ‘It’s empty…it’s just words.’
Ouch! I recognise moments like those in my own writing, don’t you? They usually occur after several hours of struggle when I look at what I’ve produced and ask myself: Why is this so flat and boring? And the answer is usually because I’ve been picking away after perfection instead of losing myself in the flow.
I know a thing or two about perfection: I seem to have spent half my life trying to be top of my class in all of its various deceits and disguises. It wasn’t until life taught me a few hard lessons that I learned perfectionism is about fear and control and as there was precious little I could do to control anything in my crazily capricious world, I might as well stop trying.
Of course it didn’t happen overnight but what a relief it was to eventually let go of the whip, to not have to strive after getting it ‘right’, after being the ‘best’–whatever that is. And what a gift it was, eventually, in freeing up my writing.
Remember Kate Grenville’s book, ‘The Idea of Perfection’ and the two wonderful, crippled, needy, flawed characters she creates? What a writer she is!
How much more interesting are life’s crooked forests and cracked objects, and the book that grips you by the throat and won’t let go until the last page, despite its imperfections. Leonard Cohen sang about it in his ‘Anthem’: ‘…forget your perfect offering…there is a crack in everything…that’s how the light gets in…’
A friend tells me that makers of oriental rugs often purposely include an imperfection, an incorrect colour or perhaps a missing line in the image on the rug. Evidently this is done in the belief that only God is able to make something perfect. The Navajo people of North America do something similar with their woven rugs and blankets, including a line of imperfection they call the ‘spirit path’ and which they believe will help their spirit escape when they die.
When ‘The Lost Child’ was being prepared for publication I was impressed by the great care my publisher took with every aspect of its editing. Yet a friend had no sooner read an advance copy than we discovered an error. In the chapter where Sylvie is in a cinema watching Roy Rogers gallop across the screen, it’s not his trusty horse, Trigger, he’s riding, it’s Tigger, the tiger from Winnie the Pooh!
I suspect you didn’t even notice. Or did you?