Fear of White, Pt. 2


In essence, wabi-sabi is the Japanese philosophy and art of finding beauty in imperfection, and profundity in nature, and of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death. Wabi-sabi is an aesthetic which embraces principles such as, asymmetry, asperity (roughness or irregularity), simplicity, economy, austerity, and an appreciation of the inherent integrity of natural objects and processes. The author, Leonard Koren, describes wabi-sabi as an aesthetic which at its core, finds beauty in the "imperfect, impermanent and incomplete"* - the rusted gate, the shadow of a tree across a path, smile lines at the eyes, indicating the passage of time.

There is a lot I like about wabi-sabi, although it may require a leap to understand how the philosophy could help resolve a case of writer’s block. Maybe you’ll have to take my word for it. Maybe it has something to do with the connections my mind makes(!). At any rate, as I read more about it, the acceptance of imperfection struck a chord with me. I’d found a philosophy that acknowledged everything I loved about the world, and I couldn’t escape the ‘elephant in the room’ - imperfection was the very thing I refused to accept in my writing. This had always been the rotten contradiction. I thought about how I could apply wabi-sabi principles to the way I looked at my writing. For all the lumps and bumps that I saw, could I look past them? Could I appreciate a passage for what it was, not what I thought it could, or should be? I’d tried self-chastisement to solve things - quite unsuccessfully! Was it time for a little self-acceptance?


“C’mon”, I said to myself, “creative writing isn’t a direct dictation of life (that’s non-fiction!), but a series of your interpretations. An interpretation, isn’t perfect or imperfect, it just is, and it’s unique to you”.

“Hmmmm”, I replied.... there was still that nemesis of the stark white page...

Still, thoughts percolated.

In time, I came across the other piece of the puzzle, flicking through a completely unrelated book on Japanese calligraphy (I’d started out just looking at the artwork!), one day in Borders (remember Borders?). I encountered a Japanese description of the blank page, completely contrary to the one I’d been taught growing up, and it was a kicker. 

Here, the empty page was not ‘perfect’, apt to be spoiled or scarred. To Japanese calligraphers’, the paper was in fact itself a representation of a void, or state of chaos, which preceded the creation of form. With the touch of brush to paper, the calligrapher began a journey to draw the lines forth out of chaos. A finished sheet of calligraphy was an echo of each journey.

True, the poetry of this description appealed to me, but it also caused a synapse in my head to snap awake. I could also almost hear it, as I re-read the passage. All of the ideas and thoughts I’d had over the last few months, were prompted to spontaneously swarm, compress, and blend together in the small vortex of my brain. *Bang!* - I could see what might solve my problem.

Better still, it worked.


Concluded in Part III...


*  Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers, Koren, Leonard (1994).