Perfectly Imperfect

This is photograph of my niece. While the rest of America is either recovering from a food coma or fighting crowds at the local mall (so that they can buy grandma that ugly robe that was marked down from $100 to the $40 the retailer had always planned to sell it for) I will be babysitting. My adorable niece was around 2 in this photo; she’s 4 now.

The thing is, I completely screwed up this shot. I wasn’t paying close enough attention and so her face wasn’t in sharp focus. But I liked the photo since it captured the seriousness that she used to greet me with. She’s full of smiles and giggles now, but in those days, she’d stare at me for 30 minutes before she decided I was funny looking enough for a smile.

When I was younger, I used to ditch these kinds of photos (along with poems, short stories, friendships, etc.) Now that I’m old older, I’ve realized that even imperfect things can have a beauty of their own. Often, it’s a matter of surrendering to precisely what you don’t like. Think about it – more frequently than we care to admit, our dislikes are based on control. We become frustrated because parts of our world don’t behave in the way we want them to. But if we move two steps to the right and gain a fresh perspective, it’s possible we’ll see that the way that something is fits quite nicely.

Now, I realize I’m getting lost in a metaphorical melange here, but since I don’t edit myself here, I’ll go with it. Taking the photo above as an example, I had 3 options. I could trash the photo. That’s a negatory. This is a photo of my favorite little girl on Earth. Two, I could artificially “sharpen” the photo using editing software. That’s also a no, mainly because sharpening doesn’t work well and the resultant photos look like crap. (Plus, they fool no one.)

So the third choice was to leave it blurry. That’s the way I went. In fact, I smoothed her skin tones and made her features even softer. Then I added grain, softened it again, and repeated with a different type of noise. The final touch was to soften all the noise again, until it vaguely resembles a pencil sketch. Now, I’m not talking photo editing techniques here; I couldn’t tell you what exactly I did to save my life. I just try stuff and undo it if I don’t like the results. I didn’t know what this blurry photo wanted to be. Now I do — it was a simple matter of listening to it.

I’m learning to do the same thing with poems I’ve written, and especially with books I’m working on. Instead of editing them to death, I’m re-learning to close my eyes and let them out. Giving up control of the output has allowed the lyricism to re-enter my work. Again, it was about control.

I’ve had a secret feeling my entire life that things of meaning, even inanimate objects, have a hidden emotional life. We connect with them or we don’t. If you bring home a plant, take a few minutes to try and feel where she wants to live. Maybe that horrible portrait of Aunt Mavis doesn’t like being over the mantle in Grandma’s old frame. Maybe it wants to be stuck in a photo collage your kids put together of people they like.

Art is what happens when we surrender ourselves to the emotional content within.

Resistance is futile.

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