In January I visited a friend whose persimmon tree still bore fruit in our sunny Northern California clime. Every branch was bare of leaves, but the firey orange fruit hung alone and in clusters from each of them.
Approaching the tree, I had the feeling of seeing perfection. My heart filled. What perfect asymmetry! What perfect color popping from a pale backdrop. I wanted to gather as many persimmons as I could, take them home and savor them one by one, sliced open and lusciously moist.
Once closer to the tree, however, I noticed the fruits that had appeared so uniform in size were not at all that way. Some were small and starting to shrivel; others were wrinkled, spotted and browning. A few were pecked or partly devoured by birds. The color that had looked so vivid wasn’t as bright on inspection. The flesh of so many was overripe, the skin browned. What disappointment!
And then I understood. This was perfection. The fruit was alive. It was changing, in process, simultaneously ripe and in decline.
Wabi-sabi is a Japanese aesthetic that recognizes beauty in decay, that prizes asymmetry and doesn’t look for the symmetrical perfection we Westerners value. By recognizing this beauty, wabi-sabi not only accepts but values impermanence.
I liked the reminder of the beauty in decline, and there’s nowhere it’s more obvious than in nature. In our own skin and bodies, it’s a little harder to take. But what about in our writing? My memoir students so often come to class prepared to read the piece they’ve written but they introduce it with a disclaimer: “This really isn’t very good,” is something I hear too often.
Wabi-sabi touches us in writing, too. Remember that perfection is only in imperfection. We — and our writing — are a work in progress, becoming, evolving, transforming, including by the writing we do. No apologies needed. Notice the beauty in imperfection, and remember it’s a natural, essential way of life.
There’s more about writing and memoir on my website, http://www.suzannesherman.com, so be sure to visit me there. And don’t miss my blog, http://www.treasuresoftheday.wordpress.com, where I write about the extraordinary in the ordinary as I discover it.