I never aimed to cultivate imperfection. Rather, it aimed for me. Aimed for me, mowed me down, plowed me under and seeded me well. I grow up again and again; imperfection won’t quit. It’s a tough sell, imperfection. Hell, I get it, it’s a tough buy too. You’re more likely wind up with a bottle of the bad stuff by mistake rolling around at the bottom of your shopping cart of vacuum-sealed successes and precooked victory links. Someone else dropped it in passing down the cereal aisle. They probably didn’t want it either.
Down in New Mexico, I met a woman nearing the end of her middle age. We worked at a farm together, growing beans and corn and winter squash and tending to the two rough-hired goats. She was close still with a group of friends from a long time back. They’d been living in Santa Fe, rotting around on their individuals spindles in this cohesive fashion, winding and unwinding with each other for thirty years. I asked this woman over breakfast once why – or how, rather – this mass friendship has lasted throughout the persistent blunt force of life. She looked at the table and turned her coffee cup in a circle. She told me about the peyote ceremonies that they would do, far out on the empty mesas. Week-long ceremonies. Three days to build and clear their minds first, to ready the mess inside their skulls for a bout of ache, of something that might turn to misery. They would hurt together, that group of friends. Hurt together, out in the New Mexico desert. Then, together, they would live three days healing in a quiet way, reflecting in a quiet way. It’s been three decades – longer than I’ve been alive. They don’t use much peyote anymore, but it’s the same quiet group that can sit in each other’s silences with the comfort of history.
Maybe you’ll experience it like a food poisoning, this suffer-fest stuff. It seeps inside insidiously, spicy, tasting like lamb and red curry. And then you defecate everything out but the lungs and wonder if anything – !anything – could be worse. In the moment raw and tearful you know it cant. And then the next day, the sun comes up, your gut feels cleaner than it has in years, this just O.K. is the best that you’ve ever felt and hey in a couple days you’ll be saying: not so bad, though. Curry? Sure. Just no lamb.
Or maybe you got cheated or cheated on, in all sorts of ways, from all sorts of angles. Really badly, tear-my-teeth-out-and-mail-them-tomy-ex-lover-in-a-perfumed-envelope dumped. That ache will last longer than food poisoning. Hell yes, it will. It’ll last and last and last and then – same story – you’ll wake up one day realizing your ex-one true is a quaffed-haired loser-square and thank god you’ll never have to visit the in-laws in Podunk Nebraska, again. You’ll have some fun, date around, wonder about what that ex is doing now. Eventually, you might even wish them well. But maybe after they’ve suffered too, just a little. You’ll meet someone new. Or—more importantly—you’ll meet yourself anew and you’ll be better for it.
It goes deeper than this, of course, this suffer-fest stuff. There’s a reason we like to compare horror stories, pile childhood trauma on childhood trauma. You out suffer me? we say. No way. Not a chance. Deep down, in the piled up callused layers of our egotistical heart casing, we know our own pain is the one true pain to trump all pain. Just like we kind of knew that one true love was the love to trump all love. Until they cheated on you and you woke up missing teeth. Still.
We’re not a love creature. We’re not a happy creature, though we pretend to be. We’re not a relax-by-the-beach creature, no-caresfor-95-years-and-then-death creature. Unfortunately, wonderfully, no. How boring would that be? The beach would be , burden, an exhaustive monotony. You want no cares forever? You’re in the wrong species. You’re in the wrong phylum. Try the Porifera, I hear its a real (spongey) cakewalk (forgive me).
No – we need the hurt. We need the pain, in moderated measure. We need this celebration of suffer. I do, anyway. I get bored without knowing on the easy ride, the flat seas. I’m on a boat right now. We’re pulling in through some sort of predawn black past the spit of Dutch Harbor, Alaska. The crew is full of that sort of fatigued, cheerful verve that is spawned from finishing a two week fishing trip with three bad storms, working twelve to sixteen hour days, no weekends, no breaks. Just fishing. Its all been just fishing and persistent fatigue for fourteen days. Offload takes thirty-two hours. Backload takes four. We’ll be untying by 2100 tomorrow, to do it all again. I couldn’t sleep last night. I was thinking about land, about walking on it. They call this channel fever.
In an hour, we’ll walk past the screaming generators, the yowling foremen in their yellow hardhats. Trucks and crew vans will send dust over us. The walk to town from our dock on the spit is no great scene. It’s loud. There are heaps of rusted scrap metal. Don’t look up; the eagles sit on lamp posts and release white streamers on your head and shoulders. By outside standards, it’s an ugly two miles. But like I said, I can’t wait for the walk. There will be a shit-eating, cracked-open grin that hurts my sunless face. Drivers I don’t know will wave, because that’s what you do around here when you see someone looking as nutshappy as I will be. They wave because they know the feeling; they want to share, to build, to own it too. I’ll pass it on; it’s free. It’s that desperate sense that you can’t quite get enough breath and the happiness just might rip your right lung from your left. That kind of feeling. It’s the kind of euphoric joy that makes the bad worth it, every time. Every single time. Sometimes just take a little longer to heal, to feel. Deep valleys make high peaks, or whatever nonsense someone spouted once. High peaks take time to climb. Yada. Today, I’ll be grinning up at the eagles at the top of the hill, white streamers be dammed.
I’ve been low. I’ve been down. I’ve been stuck in the salt flats of the dead sea of my own life, desiccating, two feet hardening in place and me forgetting a pickled existence wasn’t always the norm. By inches, I’ve scraped myself clean. When I make it to shore, I use the salt for seasoning. Don’t you know , crust won’t brown without it?
I guess you could say I write in trope. it’s not as though I mean to, mostly. I write in memory. One synaptic bridge hurdles me like Mario in his cart, whizzing past spent images from some time I’ve barely forgotten, nearly remembered and I see a loaf of bread, white, tasteless, dull, and hear Mrs. Gordon saying, “the salt!” Do you see? The ride goes on without me. I sit back, try to scribble it down, best I can.
What else is metaphor – or memory, for that matter – but a paradox of perceptions? The very difference of the matter makes the moment stick inside you, some persistent adhesive you can’t scrape from your synaptic walls. The boat is my peyote for now. My coworkers share some part of me, some memory of similar suffering. And though it is a mild suffering, mostly (ask me again during a season, when the winter waves are rough and the boats are small and I’m weighing a basket of pollock while swallowing down a bilious bile in the lower tracts of my esophagus), the isolation that we punctuate with thirty six hours of common friendship, of unquestioned embraces after months apart, months at sea, make the low moments worth it.
I began writing this in the morning today. I’ve since walked the two miles from the boat to the bunkhouse, eaten waffles ,and drank four mugs (ceramic mugs, mind you, not the stained-until-leather paper cup of galley coffee) of well-brewed coffee with six other individuals I haven’t seen in months and can still sit ,round a broken breakfast table at ease with, tossing stories and the gentle type of quiet back and forth with the syrup and hot carafe. it’s a specific sort of tender imperfection we sign on for in this job and a specific sort of perfection we reap in the sewing of it.
All this to say that the imperfect will serve you well. Cultivate it, before it can cultivate you for its own weedy garden. Set yourself to fail ,and fail again, to skin knees and bruise palms and eat the curry with the lamb that’s gone bad but tastes good. Be wary of the smooth ride; you’ll wake up one day, your soul as porous as that sponge tossed up on the beach, never conscious enough to taste the salt in the waves, watch the sun come down warm and be happy for it. Don’t be the sponge. Be better. Feel more.
No stranger to kipping it roadside, Katherine Cart is an aesthete of the raggeder edges of industry. Her compulsion to yank the intrigue from the scrap heap, to find the allure in the wrinkle keeps her careening from one tactile experience to the next, exploring what it means to create the consumable in our cog-bound culture of consumerism.