Once you start breaking things, inadvertently, you go on a breaking spree. I was looking through the pile of broken crockery accumulating behind the store shed, and I was overcome by a profound sense of irrecoverable loss and melancholy that I paused and stood wondering a good half an hour what really happens when a thing you have breaks, and it suddenly becomes useless and is hidden from sight. It reminds you of the mortality of all things, breathing or non-breathing (to avoid the misnomers living and nonliving).
I have had a penchant for collecting broken, worn down and discarded things ever since I can remember. I used to salvage the pint-sized pencil stubs my kindergarten classmates irreverently cast away. They were too minuscule for use, nonetheless, I would keep them securely in my bag, afraid to take them out for fear of adult repercussion, which always caught you out doing the wrong thing, never the right. (Even back then I knew grown-ups were obsessed with vice; they might even pack me off to juvenile detention invariably failing to understand the nuances of my philosophy.)
Once in 3rd grade art class I was employing one of my (own) vertically challenged colouring pencils, which being the very best among all the colour pencils I had owned I couldn’t imagine parting from. It kept slipping off from my grip, but, regardless, I laboured on, engrossed in the work. I was thus engrossed when, out of nowhere, the art teacher pounced on me and seized my pencil. She was actually hovering right behind me, probably trying to fathom what I was doing rubbing my apparently empty fist on paper. Like the snobbish woman she was, she exhibited it before the class, and to my utter mortification, it looked pathetic in her hand, exposed and disgraced. The class, obtuse and ruthless as any mob, cackled fitfully, perhaps merely to ingratiate the teacher. I am not sure if my chagrin at her has falsified my memory, but this episode ends with her sniggering maliciously like Cruella.
When I grew out of my pencil-collecting phase, which happened around the time we moved to using the “disposable” plastic pens, I was at an existential loss having nothing transient to conserve, to preserve, except old holey clothes and moth eaten books. Once, my ham-handed sister broke a clay penholder of mine, which was a coerced gift from an acquaintance at one of those cutesy Christmas-Friend events. The penholder broke into two with a litter of clueless assorted parts. Heartbroken, I glued the parts together and revived the thing except for a tiny hole along the crack which saddened me endlessly.
This was before my discovery of the Japanese art of kintsugi 1 and the aforementioned stack of broken crockery behind the store shed. Kintsugi affirmed and legitimized my philosophy, which I half suspected as a pathological materialism, that I had cherished (not without guilt) all my life. Kintsugi is related to the philosophy of Wabi Sabi, which revered the imperfect, the transient, the fragile, and the rustic over sophistication and perfection. Kintsugi means, “to join with gold.” Things do not cease to exist when they get broken or damaged; lo and behold! the damage, be it cracks, spots, wrinkles, tear, or blemishes, is merely an event in the lifetime of the object. The crack in the ceramic must be carefully repaired, soldered with precious gold, and valued all the more highly for their having persevered beyond mere utility.
With a like-minded ancient tradition to back me, I join the parts together (with fevicol), solder (dab) it with gold (paint) and display it to spite the apostles of perfectionism and utilitarianism.
A haiku (though I don’t think it’s worth all the hyping considering the fact that it’s translated from the apparently powerful original Japanese):
in a crevice of an old wall —
a pregnant spider
– Matsuo Basho
- See this video for the meaning and philosophy of Kintsugi: