A blog post by Samantha Tonge, author of The Memory of You, for Mental Heath Awareness Week.
What is Wabi-sabi? As a character in #TheMemoryofYou, explains: ‘It’s a Japanese way of thinking about the natural cycle of life and how it’s imperfect, impermanent, incomplete. It encourages you to find beauty in imperfection…’
Wabi-sabi is about seeking the beauty in the simple life, about accepting the changes that the passage of time brings.
As soon as I stumbled across this concept I knew it intrinsically related to my novel, the themes, the characters – and to my own life. I’m a perfectionist which has its advantages – you need to have an obsessively keen eye for detail if you want to be a novelist – but it’s also led me down some dark roads with my mental health. I’ve suffered from eating disorders on and off for a long time, and part of that journey has been focussing on my self-perceived flaws. Instead of rejoicing in my differences, I’ve wanted to eliminate them. I’m grateful that in recent years I’ve come to accept and embrace myself.
In many ways becoming an author didn’t help, a job where I am continually ranked against contemporaries, where I must do videos, post photos, make public appearances… like so many aspects of modern life, it’s about high expectations and the early part of my journey is reflected in Alex’s:
Her author life had been the opposite of wabi-sabi, with her only being satisfied with utter perfection, in terms of the image she projected and the ranks she achieved.
Wabi-sabi is about accepting impermanence as well as imperfection – levels of success change, we grow older… But there is still joy to be found in an imperfect world, you just need to look harder for the new pockets of happiness.
On the surface it can be very difficult to find any joy in dementia, the main theme of my novel – but it doesn’t mean there aren’t small things that still lift the spirits. I lost a loved one to the condition twenty years ago, and whilst it was heartwrenching watching how they changed, there were still precious minutes of lucidity, of humour, episodes of laughter. Another family member is currently suffering and they find such unadulterated joy in a visit, a hug and a delicious chocolate. There are still moments worth holding close and remembering.
A winter tree might lose its colourful leaves, but its outline is still striking. A wrinkled face might have lost that flush of youth, but laughter lines make for a friendly expression. An immaculately weeded border will eventually grow over, but what delight to be found in a cheeky daisy or proud dandelion.
Nothing stays the same as time passes, and imperfection ensues, but the value of what’s new is no less than what came before. It’s just different.