‘Imperfection is not a personal problem, it is a natural way of existing’. (Tara Brach)
This is a post about imperfection and perfection and how this relates to creativity. At first glance it may seem like a splaying, disability spiel but I assure you this is not its intention.
So I’ll begin….
I was born with cerebral palsy, when I came out of my mother’s womb not enough oxygen got to my brain quickly enough and the right side of my cerebral cortex was affected, which means that I have permanent decreased mobility on my left side- a hand that spasms, a bent elbow and a ‘tricksy’ left hip and leg which means I limp. Luckily, I was not cognitively impaired as a lot of people with cerebral palsy are. The physical manifestations of my disability didn’t come out until I was 9 months old. So everybody thought I was ‘normal’ for a while. I should have been walking but instead I was still sliding around on my bottom smoothing museum floors.
As I grew up my disability began to manifest itself more significantly but it’s never been severe. It’s only ever affected my left side so if I choose to I can hide the fact there’s something wrong. If I move my left hand under my arm you wouldn’t know there was anything awry. I can mask it if I so choose. This has always been a problem for me- ‘to show-or not to show’. To reveal who I am from the beginning; be courageous and truthful, or to protect myself a bit; pave the way, make sure you like me first and then show there’s something wrong.
I have struggled with this dilemma consistently throughout my life and sometimes I have used my creativity to try and understand this conflict within me. At worst, I’ve used it negatively to validate myself as ‘spastic’, not normal; I’ve used it negatively to put myself down and to undermine the value of what I produce. There can be a kind of shame attached to imperfection, of not being perfect and this can also be manifested in what we produce as artists and writers. My body, for me, has always curiously represented this human artistic dilemma; the tightrope between that which craves perfection and that which chastises imperfection.
So how does this imperfect/perfect dichotomy affect our creativity?
I think in order to create and to produce from a place of integrity, we have to write from the place deep within us that is our imperfection; who we are. And if we begin that creative process we also, by association, gradually reveal our perfection, what matters to us, what makes us unique and whole. Both are needed to shape a creative entity; a piece of art. We don’t need to be ashamed of imperfection or flaws. There is nothing wrong with exposing them within what we write or shape as long as we’re not doing it for ulterior motives: to punish ourselves or chastise ourselves- to splay instead of celebrate our complexity- the balance of perfection and imperfection within us.
It took me years to overcome this idea of myself as ‘a spastic’. My psychiatrist said I let my disability ‘creep over me like ivy’, and she was right, I did. I twisted it and let it define me.
As creatives it is often our imperfections that inspire us, that allow us to connect with others and to make us want to share and explore that through the work we produce. There is a need in us all to engage with these areas because it is through this engagement with the flawed that we also engage with the positive and the whole. One does not exist without the other. However, it’s somehow easier creatively to mulch ourselves down into the dark rather than the light, but the light is what makes life worth living; it’s what sustains us and allows the dark to exist in contrast (and maybe not in antithesis).
I don’t know quite what made me stop thinking of myself as something incomplete or not normal; and in all honesty even now when I walk into a room I will probably, more than likely, protect myself. It’s a fight or flight thing, a natural protective instinct that I can’t override intellectually; and, I’ve come (I think) to maybe accept that. And that’s okay.
So, equally, when we create as artists or writers maybe it’s also okay to write and hold a bit of ourself back; to not pour every ounce of ourselves into our creative work. Maybe it’s okay to choose to keep the nub of us within (whether that be the positive or the negative bit).There’s nothing wrong with that in essence. Or, if you are one of those explore- everything, exposing writer/artists you have to be extremely conscious of the intention behind what you’re doing so you don’t harm yourself or delude yourself or forego your right to a form of personal creative privacy.
Even now I wish I could walk into a room and not be self-conscious, to not slightly look down and see if my hand is twitching or watch your eye-line to see if you’ve noticed. But actually, if I look deep within my creative soul, I have come to appreciate the imperfect/perfect difference because it’s a constant reminder of what makes us human, unique and creative and what makes us explore and express.
As John Ruskin says, ‘to banish imperfection is to destroy expression’ and I have no wish to do that