The Grasshopper #72: Imagining The Kintsugi Master
A novel, or a realization?
How an idea for a novel turned out to be a truth about my life.
In his luminous novel, The Razor’s Edge, Somerset Maugham imagines a person who moves through life seeking truth and healing those around him without calling any attention to himself. His character Larry has survived World War One, but has found himself with questions he cannot answer.
He journeys through life touching the lives of others during his quest for answers but keeping himself in the background, eventually and intentionally disappearing quietly into an anonymous world, leaving an unforgettable impression on those he encounters.
Maugham skillfully contrasts the post war materialist world, a world Larry had grown up on the fringe of, with his desire to simply have some basic questions answered, with no hope of personal gain. Like the Japanese Kintsugi Masters, who take broken things and repair them with gold and silver, creating even more precious objects, Larry repairs broken people.
This morning, a week after accidentally slashing my face with glass during a fall, I looked in the mirror at the repairs made by doctors, including an already fading line of seventy stitches down my cheek and across my left eyelid.
I narrowly missed losing that eye.
This morning I happened across a piece on Medium (paywall, maybe) about Kintsugi, a concept I had passing familiarity with and the comparison was obvious. My fall was a consequence of addiction, in my case to alcohol, that I was aware of but choosing to ignore, until it slammed me into reality.
Now a week later that bloody mess is already fading but its effects are reverberating and I am trying to follow those echos to wherever they take me, with an open mind.
This accident, which does not seem to me accidental, is an opening, a chance to step through into a life I might have given up on, and I’m taking it.
As a writer, it’s too easy to find the metaphors without taking them seriously. We tend to look for these connections, but see them as stories, not the routes they really are if we let ourselves in and follow that new path.
So, my first reaction to finding the connection to Kintsugi and my experience was to look for a metaphor and maybe turn it into a tale I could weave.
But when I thought even briefly about that, Maugham’s novel, which I read and reread as a young man, immediately came to mind and I realized my novel idea was not so novel.
Yes, I could update it to the modern world but could I put my own spin on it? Maybe, but there is more going on here.
This can be the writer’s dilemma, to make a story or live one. We tend to be observers less than participants.
I think of my friend Robert who, improbably, became a war correspondent for NPR covering the Sandinistas in Nicaragua in the early eighties. An old picture shows him with a group of these men, grim and carrying guns while wearing the paraphernalia of revolutionaries.
Men who know they are likely to die. And there in the midst of them is Robert, looking his cocky self, but also showing the fear that must have been there, knowing he has thrust himself deep into a truly dangerous reality. To think, he was an acquaintance in high school, a truly stunning transition and one I know transformed him.
Robert’s story is an extreme one, one he survived, and I only really got to know him a bit after that, as he came out to see my band in later years. He made it back and is the editor of a small town paper somewhere, a less dangerous but equally uncertain job. The arc of a life.
Journalists, as I have pointed out earlier, have chosen a different life than other writers, a possibly more pragmatic one. Especially those who choose to enter areas where their own life is at risk. For the rest of us, those zones of danger are more internal and the risks we take may be of losing ourselves in search of mysteries.
That was always my desire. Did I achieve it? Sometimes. But my choices now look to me like I took an equally dangerous but far more comfortable route through life. Martinis can kill or maim you on many levels, as I learned again and again.
This time, I like to think I am choosing a new path, one that currently excites me. We’ll see if my Kintsugi Masters have truly started the repair process. They’d say they were just doing their jobs.
I have not been able to write or even read this week as my eye heals. I’m just beginning to be able to do these precious things, which in itself is a gift. So there was no issue of The Witness Chronicles this week. It will return on Wednesday.
My family and friends have been incredibly generous during this personal crisis, as were the healthcare pros who patiently stitched me back together without judgment. These people are amazing, especially given the hell they have been through in the recent past.
It sounds very woo woo but if you’ve been stuck and trying to make changes in life, stick to those changes. Like writing, you write the words (changes) down one at a time, not sweating the results, until one day you’ve built something, the novel of your life.
It can be done, many have done it.
I can honestly say writing The Grasshopper has been transformative. Looking at the comments after the last issue told the story of my fall from grace, my readers chimed in as friends and supporters. Thank you to every one of you.
This ability to make direct connections with thousands of readers is an amazing gift to any writer or artist, especially those of us who are not performers. I have a history as a musician and live performance is what I miss about it, those moments when you operate in real time.
This may not be real time but it is close. I was never of the letter writing generation and letters now seem to me something precious we have lost, a paper arriving in the mail from a friend describing their life. But as writers today we have an even better option.
When I write The Grasshopper, I always feel like it is one on one with something bigger than myself, not unlike meditation. Obviously I am counting gifts these days and there are many.
Did you write today?
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