Novelist Nicky Pellegrino appreciates the flaws
Down the centre of my dining table there are two deep scratches; the legacy of the day we decided to clip the dog. Why we thought this was a good idea, why we stood him on the table, these details are lost in the mists of time. The whole scheme was ill-advised and we’ve never tried it again. The clippers were given away, our old dog is long gone, and only the scratches on the table remain.
If you came over to my place for dinner you probably wouldn’t notice them. I make sure they’re well covered with bowls of good food and bottles of delicious wine. Besides, that table is far from the only thing in the house that is looking scarred and worn.
I try for a sort of careless bohemian style. There is interesting art covering any walls that need decorating and cookbooks piled on window sills to conceal flaking paint. Mine is a home where pets free-range over the furniture and no visitor needs to take off their shoes (in fact it’s better if they don’t). It’s a place to come back to when I’ve been out in the world, to gather friends, to rest, to read and write.
When I’m in the middle of working on a novel – which is most of the time, essentially – I have a rule. I never look up at the cobwebs on the ceilings or down at the muddy paw prints on the wooden floors.
I don’t worry about the weeds rambling through the garden or the balls of dust beneath the sofa – where do those come from anyway? Careless bohemian is what gets novels written, and means there is time to ride my horse down Muriwai beach, go for long walks or sit around and dream.
I do feel guilty at times that things aren’t glossy and immaculate. So imagine my joy when I discovered wabi-sabi, the Japanese philosophy I seem to have been embracing all this time without realising it. Wabi-sabi is about finding beauty in imperfection. It involves accepting that things deteriorate over time, not fighting the fraying, roughening and rusting, the cracking and losing of shine. Established centuries ago in response to a culture of lavishness, it is an aesthetic that speaks to so many of today’s better values. Sustainability, rejecting the throwaway culture, placing greater worth on objects we already own rather than constantly acquiring new ones.
Okay, so there might be a little too much wabi-sabi going on in my house at the moment. I’ll admit to dreaming of a fancy kitchen to replace the shabby old one. I’d like one of those massive stainless steel ovens, cupboards that glide open, clever storage solutions and I’d really love a dishwasher that works without some sort of special incantation being muttered over it.
But will I ever replace the scratched dining table? Actually it’s more of a flashed-up trestle, an old hollow-core door on rusting metal legs that we were given by an uncle who was renovating his office. It’s scored and scarred, its varnish is peeling and it’s seen some messy dinner parties. There are nicer tables out there.
Still I wouldn’t give up mine for the world.
“Imagine my joy when I discovered wabi-sabi, the Japanese philosophy I seem to have been embracing all this time without realising it”