WABI-SABI - THE BEAUTY OF IMPERFECTION: Learning to Love That Person in the Mirror
Updated: Aug 23
**WABI-SABI: Which includes the Japanese art of transforming broken things into beauty, like Kintsugi, which repairs broken pottery with an adhesive that is not clear in an effort to disguise the cracks as much as possible. Rather, this art uses veins of gold or silver to beautify them.
Spring 1998 25 years old
The candlelight casts eerie shadows on my face. Behind me, the water rushes into the bathtub, drowning out all other sound. It’s a big clawfoot tub, my favorite kind. I’ve always wanted one of those.
I’ve always wanted a great many things that were out of my reach.
Here in the quiet refuge of this newish house in an unfamiliar place, with my roommates curled up together in the living room watching a movie that doesn’t interest me, all that yearning comes to settle on my shoulders: a place where I feet at home. The ability to take a full breath anywhere other than in the woods, alone.
Comfort in my own skin.
The ability to look into the mirror, meet my own eyes, and not hate the person staring back at me.
Why have I always hated her? Hated myself. The last time I tried to look at myself — truly LOOK — I destroyed a mirror. After the crashing was done, I wanted to take those broken shards and gouge out the veins in my wrists. Jab them into my throat. Lash my face to ribbons the way my reflection had splintered when I threw the brush at it.
I don’t understand it. I mean, I do. I know some of the reasons now, and especially the reasons from that day I broke the mirror, but it still doesn’t explain it. This feeling is as old as I have memory.
I have wanted to destroy her my entire life.
What crime could a toddler have possibly committed to warrant that kind of hatred?
But the shadows have done something to my reflection tonight. Altered the face. It no longer looks like me. The harsh lines have softened. The skin tone is bathed in the golden glow. Warmer. More luminous. The shadows cancel out much of my face. I am all cheeks and nose and forehead.
They draw me in. Something back there, way back behind the portcullis and the archers, behind the glint of cutting humor and sequined costumes both…she beckons to me. An inviting murmur. A little crook of a finger, gesturing, “Come here. Come closer.”
I lean over the sink. Close to the mirror now. Searching. Seeking. Delving. Reaching. Who are you? I ask her.
You know who I am, she croons back. Almost a growling purr.
I draw back, teeth gritted, eyes slitted. No. I really don’t.
She says nothing more, just smiles with her lips pressed tight against all the secrets that could flood out. What pours forth, instead, is all imagery.
The store Cimarron, where I traipsed after my first belly dance teacher from sparkling rack to rack. Clothes for elegant ladies. Sensual women. Powerful women. I am only nineteen — and a naive nineteen at that. The beautiful printed paper bag opens. Into it disappears a velvet bustier, along with a gold chain belt, a-tinkle with charms. My teacher hands the bag to me. They are mine now. These elegant, sensual things.
Like the squirrel that climbed on me in the woods and ate nuts from my hand because I was still and kind, and because there in his habitat, I belonged. I had simply become part of his home.
And that sweet, hopping sparrow taking a bath in the pool of rainwater still left on the sidewalk. When I knelt down, it jumped into my cupped hands.
And all the butterflies and dragonflies and sewing needles that dance about my hair and leave kisses on my skin.
And there was that moment when my opponent’s shield and weapon both dropped in acknowledgement of the sniping blow I had delivered to his helmet. Zip-zig-zag into range and CLANG! Rocked his brains, then gone.The slump of his shoulders. The big grin behind the bars of his face-grill. The little shake of the head. “Well struck, milord.”
And my reply —my first word to him: “Lady.”
His dumbfounded stare. “I…beg pardon?”
My formal bow and salute. “Lady.”
“Um…oh.” His ringing brains realigning everything he had assumed about the armored individual kicking his ass in a pickup fight. His deeper bow. My own big grin behind the black-and-red helmet that showed nothing but my eyes.
They stare back at me in the mirror, and now they are alight with that same intensity. Ignition. Something has woken up back there, and it isn’t at all tame. It isn’t nice. Minnesota Nice, don’tcha know?
To my surprise, it is also deeply, sublimely sweet. I can feel that from out here.
My hands press against the mirror as I lean even closer, delve even farther into those goldish-brown nebulas. I make damp imprints on the glass. Who are you?
She smiles back, lips still sealed tight over teeth that I am quite certain have elongated into fangs back there. She winks. Yes.
That’s all she answers.
My lips are slightly open. Slack with wonder. A little anxious. What am I doing? What is this? Breath shallowly panting in and out, also steaming the mirror. Eyes huge. Mine: amazed. Hers: opening and opening and opening to me like the black hole at the center of the glowing, golden-brown ring.
I’m falling in and being gently, blissfully torn apart. All those jagged shards of me, disjointed and glued together with various weak substances that never allow a true seal. Never really fill the cracks. I leak out of myself, spilling over everything I touch, but as she rends me to pieces and draws me in, scrapes the dried glue-gunk off my edges and shines up the glazing of my outsides, puts me back together, I understand how comfortable this skin finally is.
There in every crack: gold.
~Gold like the candlelight.
~Gold like the radiating flickers in the dark of her eyes.
~Gold like the tinkling charms on that chain belt I sewed beneath the velvet cups that cradled my breasts in my first belly dance costume.
~Gold like half the sun aflame on the coat-of-arms I painted on my shield when I battled big bruisers.
~And gold like the sunlight that flickered in through the leaves enshrouding me from the world when I burrowed into the woods for safekeeping.
It was all there in her eyes as I drew a candlelit bath for myself. Safety. Belonging. Comfort. Home.
I had forgotten that.
I’d discovered it a few years ago, and then dropped it somewhere along the path. She had picked it up and dusted it off, keeping it the tiny pirate chest that sits on my dresser.
As I turn away from the mirror, my fingers leave a streak through the mist forming on the glass. I climb into the tub — gasp in rapture at the water’s searing embrace. Slowly, gradually, I edge my way down until all but my face is submerged. Clawfoot tubs are great for that.
Closing my eyes, I open that treasure chest and examine what she left inside for me to find. This time, I swallow it whole so I won’t drop it the next time I get lost in the concrete forest.
November 21, 1996 23 years old
My apartment is finally clean. MY apartment. I’m the one who pays the rent here, and the utilities. Sure, he pitches in with groceries. What? I’d have to pay those bills either way so what’s the difference? Right?
The difference is, there were bugs on my bedroom floor. Nasty, squirmy insects under the disaster area of his clothing, comics, and other accoutrements. It’s all in a box now by the front door. The dirty dishes I found under his dirty shirt are washed and drying on the counter.
I sit in the dark with nothing but candlelight, nursing a beer as I contemplate the best way to tell him that we’re done and he’s out. Out of my apartment and out of my life. I’m done with the lies and being the doormat he wipes his feet on.
So he faked combat-induced PTSD when he actually got booted out of basic training for decking his drill sergeant?
That’s my boyfriend. Well, was. He doesn’t even have the decency to sex his sugar-mama well. Never started sharing the rent and utilities like he was supposed to, and now there aren’t even any…benefits. He’s spent the last two nights on his best friend’s couch. Stayed up too late playing video games to drive home. Uh-huh. Well, you can stay there. The moment he gets home from work, there will be no debris trail of his boots-coat-gloves-hat-bullshit dropped in his wake on the way to the bedroom.
It smells good in here now. Incense in the burners. Sandalwood in the candles. Lemon-scented cleaner and lavender carpet-fresh. The scent of beer is not usually one I like. The taste — less so.
I don’t drink the stuff, but tonight, I savor all that bitterness. Tonight it is sweet.
Three days later, on Saturday afternoon, I set the table with cloth napkins, candles, and flowers, and cook my favorite wooing meal. You know what I mean. The special meal I make the first time I cook for a man I’m dating, or as nostalgia on some special occasion. My lemon-pepper chicken.
Today, I make it for myself, and then draw a bath with sensual music and more candles. I even take out the rose-shaped floaty candles from their dusty package and place them around me as I slip into the scald.
I had bought them with the intention of using them to woo as well, and so I do. Everything I wished that romance had afforded me the inspiration to do for a man I loved, and more so, everything I wished he would reciprocate for me…
I lavish it all on myself, and it is more delicious than lemon-pepper and sandalwood.
February 16, 2001 28 years old
I read somewhere that putting diluted lemonjuice into a spray bottle is a good way to cleanse the aura. Well, I don’t know about that, but I’ve started dousing myself in the shower. I spray it over head and let the freshness wash over me, breathe it in, cling to it like citrusy rain washing away the dried, cracked muck that is the shell of me. At this point, I’m pretty desperate for anything that will drag me out of this bog of eternal stench — my mindset.
I’m depressed. Angsty. Lonely. Pissed off. Nothing is moving forward. It’s all stalled out, and all I can do is wait with my both thumbs up my nostrils as legal entities and insurance companies take their sweet time. Once they finally get around to me, maybe something positive can happen.
I hurt from skull to sacrum without reprieve, unless I knock myself out at night with Soma. (I tried taking one during the day, as my doctor recommended for the pain, but I wound up singing “Doo-bee-doo-be-doooooooooo…” in the middle of Montagues Tea House with the shelves melting down the walls, so I just stick to nighttime.)
About the only thing that gives me relief while I’m awake are my nightly baths. I had remembered how comforting it was to put candles around me, to pamper myself that way. I need that more than ever. Once I can tolerate the blistering heat, it seeps into my torn-up muscles and eases some of the knives jammed between my bones.
I also remembered that little book somebody loaned me last summer while I was doing The Artist’s Way.
Something about money and this thing they called the Law of Attraction. Sounds as kookie as lemon-showering my aura, but hey, desperate girls don’t get to be choosy. Besides, what can it hurt?
Ooooh…a bit of meditative focus for the girl who can’t meditate to save her life?
As I work with this theory each night in the bathtub, I can feel it. This isabout saving my life. Not just keeping my energetic self attached to this hunk of screaming flesh and twisted skeleton.
I mean Life.
So I follow the book’s recipe. I focus on what I want, instead of what I don’t want. Supposedly that will make me an energetic match to it, instead of things like drunk drivers. The chapters were all about bringing more money and other forms of wealth into one’s life, but they said that it would work just as well on health issues, relationships, situations you wanted to experience or change.
But I have to focus on what I DO want.
Right now, I want to dance without pain —
The subconscious does not hear the word “NOT.” Well, apparently neither does whatever law that governs this whole attraction thing, so I have to find a different way of saying it.
I want to dance…with…I…
I want it to feel good when I dance. No. I want it to feel awesome when I dance! I want my vertebrae realigned and my soft tissue healed. I want that knife in the base of my spine to miraculously vanish. I want my headaches to vanish and I want my Jupiter-sized brain back and I want to make my living as a dancer, not all this office bullshit —
Lost it again. Slipped back to what I don’t want.
I breathe in and out slowly, in time with the Spanish crooning of B-Tribe. That’s the album my body craves every time I take a bath. Sensual, Sensual, and in this water, in the dark with the fire all around, that’s exactly how I feel.
So every night, I set the images in my mind and focus. That velvet bustier. The glint of the sword winking in the stage lights as I put it on my head, and the strength of my neck muscles bearing its weight as easily as I walloped that fighter who mistook me for a dude.
In the Zone.
~I am in the Zone. ~I am drawing infinities with my hips. ~I am drawing serpents with my spine. ~I am drawing circles with my ribcage and head and in the intricate floras of my hands.
I feel it.
I taste it to my marrow.
It is delicious.
And it feels better than good. It feels awesome!
In case there was ever a question about if all those hours meditating in the bathtub, breathing deeply, having conversations in the mirror by candlelight, and making art about what I discovered worked…well, something did. And not only on my ability to dance again after I’d been told that was beyond my reach. I actually like my dancing more now than I ever did before.
More on this subject: The Healing Power of Dance