Golden Joinery

Several years ago, I broke a ceramic travel mug that was very precious to me. I had purchased it from a small coffee shop in Mendocino on a much needed and transformative vacation, and it was handmade by a local whose work was so distinctive and exquisite that people stopped me on the street to ask if my mug had been made by him. Like all handmade things, it was one-of-a-kind.

Dramatic as it sounds, my heart broke a little when the mug did. Only the handle broke (incidentally the most beautiful and intricate part of the piece), so it was fixable, but I knew would never be the same. It would always be a little uglier, a little marred, a little reminder of my clumsiness.

When the mug broke, I was in a very different place in my life. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was beginning a downslide into depression, which resulted in a general attitude of anger, bitterness, and resentment--especially towards myself and my mistakes. I felt all of those things when I broke my mug, so instead of buying some ceramic glue and tackling the problem head on, I shoved it in the back of a cupboard.

Years later, after a lot of introspection and self-work, I'm learning to develop a different perspective on myself and my mistakes. I still feel some guilt and shame for mistakes I've made in my past--a Catholic upbringing sure sticks around--but I'm slowly learning to release those feelings and instead accept my mistakes (some of them really quite minor!) as inevitable stumbles on the way to personal growth.

In learning to embrace and even honor my flaws, I remembered kintsugi or "golden joinery"--the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold. Kintsugi pops up a lot in discussions about self-improvement, and many better writers than I have covered it from both a technical and philosophical perspective, so I won't spend too many words on it here, but the gist is that by highlighting the cracks with gold, rather than trying to hide them, you end up with an object more beautiful than the original, rather than one that has been diminished by an unsuccessful attempt to hide its flaws.

Then I remembered my mug, shoved there in the back of my literal cupboard like so many of the memories and feelings I've shoved into figurative cupboards throughout my life to be dealt with later. Well, later is now.

Another concept I came across when researching ways to embrace, rather than run from, uncomfortable feelings (mainly as an antidote to smartphone and internet addiction), was the idea of "high quality leisure time," which is time spent doing something productive but unnecessary--ideally something done with your hands that results in an end product, like painting, woodwork or auto repair.

Kinstugi seems to fit the bill, and that mug will be my first project. I'd like to remake it into something precious again, something that reminds me of my trip to Mendocino and my ability to grow from my mistakes.


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