Tunes for a Monday Morning
'Lord, increase my bewilderment'

Life as kintsugi


In her beautiful little book Broken Spaces & Outer Spaces: Finding Creativity in the Unexpected, Nnedi Okorafor writes about how she found her vocation as an author of African-based science fiction and fantasy. She'd gone to university intending to focus on science and athletics, until a shattering experience took her down another path completely:

"Ultimately, I lost my faith in science after an operation left me paralyzed from the waist down. It took years, but battling through my paralysis was the very thing that ignited my passion for storytelling and the transformative power of the imagination. And returning to Nigeria brought me back around to the sciences through science fiction, for those family trips to Nigeria were where and why I started wondering and then dreaming about the effects of technology and where it would take us in the future.

"This series of openings and awakenings led me to a profound realization: What we perceive as limitations have the power to become strengths greater than what we had when we were 'normal' or unbroken. In much of science fiction, when something breaks, something greater often emerges from the cracks. This is a philosophy that positions our toughest experiences not as barriers, but as doorways, and may be the key to us becoming our truest selves.


"In Japan there is an art form called kintsugi, which means 'golden joinery,' to repair something with gold. It treats breaks and repairs as part of an object's history. In kintsugi, you don't merely fix what's broken, you repair the total object. In doing so, you transform what you have fixed into something more beautiful than it previously was. This is the philosophy that I came to understand was central to my life. Because in order to really live life, you must live life. And that is rarely achieved without cracks along the way. There is often a sentiment that we must remain new, unscathed, unscarred, but in order to do this, you must never leave home, never experience, never risk or be harmed, and thus never grow."


This passage from Nnedi's brave, wise book spoke to me especially, for I have long believed in living my life as a form of kintsugi. I, too, carry numerous scars, both physical and psychological, but I think of them as ribbons of gold. To be broken and then to be repaired, or to repair ourselves, can be a very powerful source of art. Of beauty. Of strength. Even of joy.


To read more about kintsugi, here's a previous post: The beauty of brokeness.

In a similar vein I recommend The Jagged, Gilded Script of Scars by American essayist Alice Driver, and the late Irish poet John O'Donohue on The art of vulnerability.



The passage quoted above is from Broken Places & Outer Spaces by Nnedi Okorafor (TED Books/Simon & Schuster, 2019), which is highly recommended. Many thanks to Stephanie Burgis for recommending it. The poem in the picture captions is from Facts About the Moon by Dorianne Laux (W.W. Norton & Co, 2007). All rights reserved by the authors.


Timely post as I recover from a life-threatening infection this fall. I'll look for her book. Coming back to my creative work is challenging as all of my energy is going towards healing and getting myself to and through my long teaching days. I've been feeling the brokenness, but I'm also looking forward to how this journey will influence my work. It's hard to explain to people, too, that what looked like a horrible experience from the outside has also had profound initiatory gifts. It's taking a lot of time to heal and integrate, but I trust that the mending I am doing is with golden threads.

Thought-provoking post, Terri.I know a lovely woman who must use a wheelchair as the result of surgery gone wrong. She says she's grateful for what happened now, because she has met so many wonderful people since becoming disabled. Like you, I had one tough childhood, and I know that has influenced my creative life, but I'm not at the point yet where I can honestly say I'm grateful for that childhood. It's still much better to treat children with love and kindness. The world is broken, but it could be mended much more lovingly, in many more places. That's the challenge for us, I think.

I've long been fascinated by from brokenness strikes a very personal note with me. If you have not seen Glen Martin Taylor's amazing work of using pottery dealing with brokenness, please go see!

Wow, thank you Cathy; he's brilliant! Very glad to have found his work: just my kind of slanty-good-rustic thing. Thanks for the link.

I rather like the analogy of a ribbon of gold. I'd been thinking more in terms of a web of threads .
Though that may be far more to do with mum and my heritage of knitting threads.

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