Lessons of Imperfection

I’ve been thinking lately about the wisdom of imperfection. My writer friend Nicola Murray graciously shared a wonderful story about the lessons to be gained from imperfection:

In The Unknown Craftsman by Soetsu Yanagi, there is an essay about the tradition of making Japanese tea bowls with deliberate imperfections because it teaches us that we have things to learn. There is a beautiful description of the author visiting a wood-turning studio in Korea, where he noticed big hunks of very wet pine wood sitting around on the floor. He was thinking how those would not get used for turning because, of course, anything made with them would crack as it dried. One of the wood turners came into the studio, grabbed a hunk of the green wood and made a beautiful bowl out of it, misting the entire room with the aroma of the wet, resinous pine as he did so. The author admired the finished product but asked the artisan why he bothered when he knew the bowl would crack, to which the wood-turner replied, “Then I fix the crack.” Later, the author saw the bowl with the crack fixed and said it was even more beautiful than the original product, making him aware that there was much to be gained from imperfection.

It’s said that weavers of Persian rugs sometimes add in small and deliberate imperfections to reflect a belief that only God can attain perfection. The imperfections make each Persian rug special—each is precisely imprecise and has a story of its own, ready to be told.

Perhaps one of the lessons to be gained from imperfection is that we are all precisely imprecise and have a story of our own, just waiting to be told. Through my own experience with studying and writing different forms of memoir, I have come to know this firsthand. As I allow myself to open to those most tender and wounded parts of myself and share the stories and wisdom that emerges, those parts begin to heal and transform. When we share our stories in this openhearted way, something else beautiful and mysterious happens: we touch others in a way that can support them in their own process of opening to their own wisdom and healing.

Wisdom resonates with wisdom. It’s like when you add a log to a fire that is already burning, the new log automatically catches fire as well. It can’t do otherwise.

I hold this in mind when I sit down and face a blank page, often filled with self-doubt and uncertainty. I wonder, How can a story about a painful breakup, my father’s untimely death, or my history with anxiety and panic hold any value or wisdom for anyone, including me? And then someone who has read one of my stories tells me how it’s inspired her and helped her not feel so alone. Or I open an e-mail to learn that a story has been accepted for publication. Or has won an award.

It’s possible to make beautiful art that has meaning and value from something that could be viewed as meaningless, worthless, and flawed. Like a bowl turned from green wood. A carpet woven with a dropped stitch. Or a story written by a perfectly imperfect person.