Embracing Imperfection

Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath (Photo credit: MariamMAM)

Imperfection is beautiful. It is most often our imperfections which set us apart from others. Even those later considered great, genius, or particularly gifted were drawing from a part of themselves considered a flaw at other times, or in other facets of their lives. Revolutionary thinkers are often those that think “outside the box,” and don’t adhere to how we typically do things. This is what has made them so great, but it’s also why so many of them have been high school or college drop outs. They were probably told that they were making a huge mistake at the time, and while exiting that whole scene may not have been detrimental to their success, it may at least been a waste of their time. In the case of Johnny Depp, he dropped out of high school to pursue music only to go back to meet with his principal two weeks later about coming back. That principal actually told him not to do it! Would he have had the same belief in his own creative potential had he not had that odd sort of endorsement of it? Maybe, maybe not — considering the result, it seems like it was an amazing judgement call on the part of that principal.

Would people have been so entranced by Frieda Kahlo’s self portraits had she painted herself without imperfections? In fact, to look at a photograph of her next to her paintings, you see that she actually enhances the things about her she feels makes her unattractive, but in this painting:

tryptic.2

tryptic.2 (Photo credit: origamidon)

You see a commanding face, and a unity with the natural world, which draws you in. Many great works of art are an act of personal exposure. The artist offers you a slice of what makes them vulnerable. Sometimes it’s very obvious, such as in confessional poetry like that of Anne Sexton or Sylvia Plath. In the case of Sylvia Plath, she spent much of her life in the academic world. She went to great schools, won awards, internships, fellowships, scholarships, grants. Her first book of poetry, The Colossus and Other Poems, is amazing; But her second book, Ariel, is the one with poems that can get stuck in my head like a pop song. Who can forget a phrase like “I eat men like air?”

These are poems written in a time when her life was falling apart, a period of disturbance which led to her suicide. Her earlier poems employed a lot of traditional forms and were fine tuned and perfected over time, whereas these later poems were almost scribbled furiously, often in the very early morning when she couldn’t sleep and her children were still in bed. I know these hours. They almost exist outside of reality. What is expected of you at 3:30 in morning? There is little to conform to, except for possibly silence.

The traditional roles for women at the time seemed to suffocate her all of her life. Toward the end, when she married and tried to embrace the role of wife and mother as a primary one, it seems that domesticity cracked her open like an egg. She was someone who strove for perfection in her life. At the time especially, being a wife and mother was seen as natural and almost automatic for a woman. There was very little outlet for women having trouble with this change in their very identity — from that of an individual to part of a unit. Postpartum depression or psychosis were largely unheard of and something you really wouldn’t talk about with anybody even if you were aware of it.

It is this, which could be interpreted as personal failure or shortcoming, that draws people into these works. Although difficulty adjusting to both motherhood and marriage are sort of the shadows these days, with definite avenues for support, balancing the different spheres of life is an ongoing topic for all of us.  Everyone has been pushed into or felt pressured to fill a space into which we don’t fit. The resulting alienation of comparing ourselves to those for whom that role is more instinctual has informed Sylvia Plath’s poetry, and it is probably what really resonates with us in it. The tragedy of the story is not that she couldn’t slip effortlessly in to certain expectations, but that she let that inability destroy her.

So, I ask you, define “flaw” for me. Exactly what is a flaw; is it ever anything other than a characteristic that somebody hasn’t put to good use? My position is that it is not. A flaw is an illusion. It is something which simply is, neither negative nor positive, until someone labels it so — it then mutates into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Sylvia Plath

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2 thoughts on “Embracing Imperfection

  1. as humans, our imperfections is what makes us special. as poets and writers, our imperfections is what keeps us creative. thanks for this entry. i have nothing but respect for Sylvia. she is often considered a martyr in the world of poetry.

    michaelkamaupoetry

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