Last week, my wife and I streamed Girl, Interrupted, which I hadn’t seen in about twenty years. There’s a moment where a psychologist explains the protagonist’s central problem: she is unnecessarily choosing to embrace her pain and live in a psychiatric institution: 

Quis hic locus?, quae regio?, quae mundi plaga? What world is this?… What kingdom?… What shores of what worlds? It’s a very big question you’re faced with, Susanna. The choice of your life. How much will you indulge in your flaws? What are your flaws? Are they flaws?… If you embrace them, will you commit yourself to hospital?… for life?

I immediately rewrote this quote in my mind to be less negative: The choice of your life is this: What are your flaws? Are they flaws? Will you embrace them and embrace yourself?

Naturally, this whole thing reminded me of the creative process, which to me is about embracing ourselves and our imperfections. If we can’t accept our flaws, we’ll never make anything worthwhile. I think we can create from a good place or a bad place, but each unique creation of ours bears the signature flaws that make us unique. So if we want to commit ourselves to doing good creative work for all our lives, we have to embrace our flaws. 

Of course, the central question is, are they flaws?

Like many things in life, non-western cultures are much better at this. The Japanese allow imperfection and accept it in all things, including art. They even have a word for it: wabi-sabi. For them, something isn’t beautiful unless it is imperfect, or impermanent, or incomplete. I’m struck that we as humans are all imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. We want to find things that remind us of ourselves.

Traditional Hebrew rabbis encourage the admittance of imperfection. As Rabbi Ari Lev writes, And amidst our imperfections may we have the courage and compassion to to say to ourselves, Hinein — Here I am, I am not perfect, but I am very good.” (Modern western Christianity barely has a basic understanding of this concept and has made ignoring it a cottage industry of theirs.)

The flaw in my work, or maybe the flaw within myself, is a fear of impermanence. I have struggled with the impermanence of my work for years. I design websites and web apps for a living. They have a life cycle of somewhere around seven minutes before some executive gets the brilliant idea that a redesign will fix all their problems, which is disheartening when you spend months or even years of your life working with clients on large projects.

But wabi-sabi: embrace your flaws, and embrace the flaws in your work.

To counter this, I make music. I record it. I share it. I have a little Youtube channel, and a Patreon, and a Bandcamp page, all that junk. In my mind, it’s evergreen: a piece of music lasts a lot longer than most websites. The music I make and put on Youtube will be as valuable in 2033 as it is in 2023

Every week, I spend at least one day a week just making music. It keeps me sane when I make something as impermanent as a website the next day.

What are your flaws? Are they flaws? Will you embrace them and embrace yourself?