“I love people. Everybody. I love them, I think, as a stamp collector loves his collection. Every story, every incident, every bit of conversation is raw material for me. My love’s not impersonal yet not wholly subjective either. I would like to be everyone, a cripple, a dying man, a whore, and then come back to write about my thoughts, my emotions, as that person. But I am not omniscient. I have to live my life, and it is the only one I’ll ever have. And you cannot regard your own life with objective curiosity all the time…”
— Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath
All of the watercolor featured in this post is from the blog of Marion Bolognesi, my favorite modern watercolor artist.
Yesterday, I decided my computer life needed organizing. I made some new folders, created a twitter account, and looked at my Facebook to see if I could delete anyone from high school that I would never speak to again.
I found that it was impossible. I am aware that Facebook is a stilted and artificial representation of real human beings, but as I scrolled through my friends list I could only smile. The way his lips curled, the way she scrunched her nose, his words of assurance during math class, the bright bows she used to wear. Mumsey has always urged us to find something to collect (so she knows what to get us at Christmas) and I have never had much interest in the idea. Sounds like clutter to me. But I realized as I scrolled through my list of friends that I do collect something. I collect people. We all collect people. We collect laughs and smiles and lips and hands and smiles- we even collect flaws.
Flaws you say?
Of course we collect flaws. Human beings are myriads of imperfections, striations of stray hairs and misplaced comments. Flaws gives us footholds with which we can connect with one another’s paths-acknowledgements to the fact that we are all fighting the same battles.
It is our imperfections, our vulnerabilities, that make us truly beautiful.
Ian McEwan can phrase this more eloquently than I can:
“Now and then, an inch below the water’s surface, the muscles of his stomach tightened involuntarily as he recalled another detail. A drop of water on her upper arm. Wet. An embroidered flower, a simple daisy, sewn between the cups of her bra. Her breasts wide apart and small. On her back, a mole half covered by a strap. When she climbed out of the pond a glimpse of the triangular darkness her knickers were supposed to conceal. Wet. He saw it, he made himself see it again. The way her pelvic bones stretched the material clear of the skin, the deep curve of her waist, her startling whiteness. When she reached for her skirt, a carelessly raised foot revealed a patch of soil on each pad of her sweetly diminished toes. Another mole the size of a farthing on her thigh and something purplish on her calf—a strawberry mark, a scar. Not blemishes. Adornments.”
None of the parts of Celia that Robbie admires are considered particularly sexy. Small bust, pale skin, scars, a mole. But, because he loves her, he thinks Celia’s flaws are the most beautiful parts of her.
Anyone who has ever created a piece of watercolor can understand this. You are doing your thing, painting away, when a splotch lands far away from where you intended it.
You curse yourself and look at the splotch. You decide to move on with your painting because it is too bright of a splotch to wipe away.
And the splotch complements your work in a way that you never could have imagined.
Life is the greatest art. The human body is as close to perfect as you can get, but it’s imperfections only complement it.
It is pretty easy to love other people’s imperfections. Your mother’s face may be lined and worn, perhaps pudgy, but you (hopefully) think it is beautiful. You find your best friend’s flaws endearing rather than annoying because it is what makes them, them, the person that you love.
It takes true strength to love your own flaws.
I have not yet mastered this act, but gotten some hints of it. To love yourself, to be able to wield your vulnerabilities with acceptance and understanding while always trying improve upon them, is at the core of art, empathy, and love.
To love yourself, and most especially to love yourself with your perceived flaws, is quite possibly the most powerful act in the world.
It is what gives you the strength to truly love others and live your most fulfilling and magnificent life.
So, go out into the world and appreciate people, especially the little things they say and do. Then notice those things in yourself.
I’m going to try following my own advice now.