By Caitlin Kelly
As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. — Wikipedia
The term is most often used to describe a specific way to repair broken pottery, often Japanese. I think it fits life as well.
By a certain point — for some, their teens, others their 50s or 70s — you’ve quite likely been dropped hard a few times against something unyielding. By this, I mean metaphorically and (I hope!) not the result of assault or physical abuse.
We’re not delicate porcelain or exquisite Ming pottery, but we are all fragile and all end up, inevitably, crazed; a word with two definitions, the second meaning spider-webby fine cracks.
In a culture increasingly devoted — paradoxically — to the rustic, artisanal and authentic and the social media offerings of glossy perfection, the notion of being broken and repaired, let alone stronger, more beautiful and more valuable for having been broken, perhaps repeatedly, seems radical and bizarre.
I’m into it.
Volumes have been written of late praising grit and resilience, as if — at the end of months or years or decades of being gritty and resilient — we aren’t exhausted and scarred. Maybe wiser. Maybe sadder.
I love early porcelain and china, and use several 18th. century pieces as butter dishes…stupidly undervalued. I want to enjoy them while I can. Unlike Japanese work, with its elegant crack-filling lines of gold, they’re stapled together (!), like recent brain surgery patients.
I don’t love these objects any the less for their war wounds, but am so grateful these little emissaries from the past are still with us….that having graced someone’s table in 1789 or 1832, they’re still here for us to use and share.
I feel this way about people.
The ones I most admire aren’t the shiny folk, all smooth and slippery, glittery, preening and unscathed, but the ragged and weary survivors of physical, mental, professional, emotional and financial struggle — depending on their age and background, possibly all of these — who somehow remain graceful and fun, able to laugh and savor what’s left of their lives.
33 thoughts on “Kintsugi life”
Good post. When I read it I was put in mind of the velveteen rabbit and that guy from “It’s a Wonderful Life” who tells Jimmy Stewart to kiss Donna Reed (Oh yeah) and comments that youth is wasted on the young. I don’t have the gold for Kintsugi, thank God for super glue.
Thanks! Life scars us….but we survive, if lucky, and stronger for all of it.
“Five to one, one to five, no one here gets out alive”
Jim Morrison (He would know)
I LOVE the art and concept of kintsugi, the finding of beauty and acceptance in the broken and imperfect. Like you I’ve been thinking a lot about the darker side of resilience (the necessary accumulation of blows). I’m sure you’ve seen the Buzzfeed article I shared (also coming in the weekend links post) about how from a generational perspective the toll of ongoing blows eventually that people get ground down! Finding beauty and gumption when all you really feel is tired has to be a philosophical skill.
I think it’s a really overlooked and undervalued perspective. Social media so over-values “perfection” and “beauty” when all of us, all the time, struggle with difficult issues that crack us deeply — whether or not we show that to the world. I think acknowledging the power of that resilience is something we need to talk about more.
I did read the Buzzfeed piece and, as you would expect from me, have mixed views.
Yes, a non-stop work life and insane costs and $$$$$$ student debt is exhausting!! But I weary of the inter-generational “wars” this seems to provoke as though everyone over 40 or 50 is wealthy and secure, owns multiple homes with no mortgages and is ALL SET for retirement. When this is not the case for millions….I do think that so many assigning editors, now in their 20s and 30s, want to read this, while those of us older — even while sympathetic! — think, yeah, well…
Caitlin, wow. Another wise and thought-provoking piece.
Thanks for teaching me a new word and defining a philosophy that I can get behind. I have interviewed many people who have been broken by one thing or another in life … and managed to get through it or come to terms with it and still live a rich life. I always walk away feeling hopeful in some weird way, knowing that these people somehow found a way to “not only endure, but prevail.”
I love this concept…Japanese language and thinking has much to teach us in some ways.
I thought that sounded Japanese.
Speaking of which, in an anime I watched recently, one of the characters mentioned several times she didn’t see mistakes or failures as bad, but something that made her better and stronger and helped her in her profession…which, as a pop star in an industry dedicated to perfection, is pretty radical. It lines up pretty well with my own philosophy (though I do hate when I make a mistake in social interactions). No matter our experiences, it can only make us stronger. We just have to let it give us that strength.
There’s no such thing as perfection. It seems an insane chase to me.
Besides, if anything was perfect, there’d be no room for growth or change. Which is why Plato’s ideals are best left to the theoretical and philosophical realms.
That’s actually the main theme of a story I’d like to write someday.
But “perfect” is 1000000% subjective, A writer can think a sentence is garbage — and one reader finds it perfect. And vice versa. It’s pretty hard to attain.
And if it is somehow obtained, what is lost in the process?
i have always loved that philosophy. and i agree, that people who are not the perfect shiny ones, are always, always the most interesting.
Social media has become so performative and so false.
That’s the environment when you live under a microscope. Be wonderful all the time and pray nobody ever gets a look at your Myspace page from back in the day because that could wipe out every good thing you have done ever since.
It’s an interesting dilemma for anyone who does not have a job and needs to keep finding freelance work — because some of my very best clients and opportunities have come ONLY through my social media posts.
I admire your sand, as John Wayne used to say. If I was as free with my opinion as I would like to be, the social media (Don’t call it a) lynch mob would have my guts for garters. It’s tiring and frustrating and completely unjust but people are counting on me, so I can’t have some whimpering victim of my thoughts getting between me and my paycheck. I think we touched on the subject of how hard we bite our tongues once before but no worries here. I’m ready for whatever you have to say agree or not.
Thanks…I just hope it’s not quicksand.
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The dings, flaws, and wrinkles that we collect, are the patina of our lives and make each of us unique, if not lovable. 😉
So we hope!
In a culture with so much performative/perky/perfect social media it’s now a radical act to admit to struggle and failure, which makes some people think it’s bizarre and shameful — not normal. That’s what bothers me.
I am bizarre and I have been ashamed. I have struggled and failed, over and over. There are people who have none of this in their life story. I have a name for them: Liars.
Indeed I’m bizarre? Takes one to know one :D.
not quite my meaning….agreeing w”liars”
Sorry. Target of opportunity, I couldn’t resist.
All so true. My husband was swept up in a major lay off right after Thanksgiving. Not only was this a “first” but it opened up a series of other firsts including an honest assessment of just how much he was NOT enjoying his work. (I’m not sure the poor guy ever considered “liking” his job to be relevant.) This “crack” will be fixed, but who knows, the plate may become a vase.. 🤔
So sorry to read this…but maybe (?) an opportunity to re-assess. I think we often just stay on the path of least resistance because life is tough enough.
Best of luck to you both!
Thanks, and I agree. I’m actually (cautiously) excited about what’s next..
Cool! It can be weirdly freeing.