Living Wabi-Sabi in an Imperfect World

What imperfection means to me


| September-October 2001



Simply put, I am lopsided. In 1995 I was stricken with the worst case of Bell’s palsy that three different doctors had ever seen. I had medical care, holistic care, massage, and acupuncture; took a motherload of supplements; and changed my diet. I did it all, but for several months I looked and felt like the Phantom of the Opera. I got up every morning and looked in the mirror and cried.

I was cattywompus, peculiar, unseemly. My once-lovely smile was gone for good. I recovered gradually over a year until I looked like I look now. My left eye still droops, I have trouble chewing, I only smile on one side. In other words, I am wabi-sabi.

During my recovery I began to learn what wabi-sabi truly means, and to live and study it in earnest. Later I found myself running a shelter for a hundred disabled parrots. They were all lopsided like I was, but they were so sweet and I saw such tender beauty in them that I began to have compassion for myself. Then I looked around at the world and saw the same thing all around me. The lopsided of the world, those who are not "normal," those who have been hurt, dis-abled in the world’s terms, scarred by life, are some of the sweetest, kindest, deepest, tenderest human beings I have had the privilege to know. Perhaps this is why I have always felt most comfortable among artists—painters, actors, musicians. They usually don’t fit in. They know wabi-sabi.

I am a poet who writes prose, or the reverse. I write what I call prose pieces that are not poems and not prose, more music to me than anything else. For years my work has been rejected by agents and editors who said they loved my writing but didn’t know what in the world to do with it. Wabi-sabi.

When I came out as a lesbian, the world thought I was odd—even though I felt normal for the very first time in my life. Wabi-sabi. Wabi-sabi.

My garden is wabi-sabi. Full-blown, blowsy, probably the horror of the neat tidy gardeners who are my neighbors, and just exquisite to me. I like big overblown bouquets, and I don’t pick up the petals as they fall.