where the light gets in: your flaws + your creative voice
“I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.”
― Augusten Burroughs
“I am not an angel,” I asserted; “and I will not be one till I die: I will be myself.”
― Charlotte Brontë, JANE EYRE
“This thing about you that you think is your flaw – it’s the reason I’m falling in love with you.”
― Colleen Hoover, SLAMMED
I’m always struck by the phrase to find your voice, as if it’s waiting for you behind the refrigerator or between the couch cushions.
According to psychologist Carol Gilligan, there’s some truth to it. Boys and girls bury their real voice in a personal underground as they learn to adapt and survive in a culture that praises certain behaviors and disdains others.
As kids, we are powerless, and so we construct the False Self, the social mask, that wins us the love – or at least the attention – we desperately need.
One of life’s ironies is that when we’ve pretty much perfected the mask, it becomes just as necessary to our wellbeing not to maintain it, but to smash it.
We need genuine and authentic connection with others. We need to see and be seen.
It’s how we express ourselves – our voice, our style, our creativity – that reveals our inner lives and shows us to others; that makes deep connection possible.
Creative expression, however that manifests for you, is not a luxury or frivolity, or a plaything of the professionally privileged, but essential to mental health:
“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
― Gospel of Thomas
In their book THE CREATIVITY CURE, Carrie and Alton Barron present creativity as a way of releasing the inner self, allowing for spontaneity and wellbeing.
“When you know, own and use what goes on in the depths of your being – your truth – life is richer and more livable. Your unconscious mind opens up possibilities. By honoring conscious expressions – wisps, clues, clamor, random thoughts, or even conflicts that bubble up from the recesses of your mind – you can feel better and go far.”
The unconscious unnerves us. We’re afraid to “bring forth what is within” because we don’t want to expose the very things that, as children, we believed we needed to hide or disguise in order to be accepted. Our cracks, our flaws, our limitations. Our difference.
But as Marty Neumeier points out, it’s our limitations that help us develop a compelling and original voice:
“It’s the result of working around your shortcomings, using all the aesthetic skills you can muster. Since your limitations are unique to you, your style will also be unique. This is what people find most fascinating about stylish people. They’re uniquely and delightfully themselves.”
Limitations are underrated. Gurus will tell us to dream as if we don’t have any, but creativity loves limits, lives on the edges (and under them and around them), is born out of constraint. Force the human mind to solve a problem, and it will twist itself inside out – make a new connection, uncover a new insight – in order to do so.
Coco Chanel developed her signature style – her very particular point of view – based on what looked good on her. She was slender, boyish, active, in an era when fashion was fitted to a curvaceous ideal. Rather than mold herself to a standard that didn’t suit her, she reinvented it. She draped her flat chest in ropes of fake pearls, wore boxy jackets and slim-hipped skirts, translated the cardigan and the suit from menswear to womenswear. When the only fabric she had to work with was cheap jersey – which was used mostly for making work uniforms for men – she invented the jersey dress, now a fashion classic.
One of my favorite anecdotes is from the making of the movie MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL. The script called for horses. The budget had no money for horses. Instead the audience sees the actors skipping down the road while clomping coconut shells together and exchanging dialogue as if this is a totally normal state of affairs. Raise your hand if you found this hilarious — and unique to Python’s style of comedy. (I did. )
If beauty and perfection are universal ideals, it’s the flawed nature of individuals that sets us apart and makes us, dare I say, interesting. It’s the perfect imperfect, a concept that cultures around the world find ways to embrace in their art. Amish quilt makers leave deliberate imperfections in their quilts, as do Turkish carpet weavers. Indian sculptors carve flaws into their statues. The Japanese regard asymmetry and irregularity as a vital component of their aesthetic: beauty that is imperfect, impermanent, incomplete. The Navajo believe that imperfection is the entry point to creativity.
As Leonard Cohen put it, “The crack is where the light gets in.” For the spiritually minded, it’s the place where we open ourselves up – or are broken open – to the divine.
In our attempts to conform – perfectly — to an outside standard, we have to mute our voice and all the flawed beauty that runs through it. “Don’t talk about being true to myself until you are sure to what voice you are being true,” warns Marion Woodman. She links the false self, the social mask, to a personal anger that overlays a universal rage (prose arranged by Jill Mellick):
Nobody ever saw me.
Nobody ever heard me…
When I tried to be myself,
I was told, That’s not what you think,
That’s not what you ought to do.
….I put on a false face.
My life became a lie.
That’s deep rage.
We have lived our lives
Behind a mask.
Sooner or later
If we are lucky
The mask will be smashed
What a relief to be human
Instead of the god or goddess
My parents imagined me to be
Or I imagined them.
Authentic creative expression is the act of smashing the mask. Over and over again.
It is how we let in the light.