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Wabi-sabi: The Magnificence of Imperfection by Cheryl Hunter (Transcript)

Cheryl Hunter at TEDxSantaMonica

Following is the full transcript of author Cheryl Hunter’s talk titled “Wabi-sabi: The Magnificence of Imperfection” at TEDxSantaMonica conference.

Cheryl Hunter – TEDx Talk TRANSCRIPT

There are experiences that we share. Things that we all go through by virtue of being human. They unite us, these experiences that we share, and perhaps none unite us more so than, the experience of going through — bad circumstances, having difficult things happen in life.

Sometimes when those circumstances happen our only recourse is to ask, “Why? Why me?” as we try to make sense of life.

I think the reason that those circumstances unite us like nothing else can, is because we can all relate. At some point, at some time, we will all have those kinds of occurrences. I am no exception.

When I was a kid, I had to get out. I grew up on a horse ranch in the remote Rockies of Colorado and we lived high atop a mountain meadow and in every single direction, except one, miles away in the distance, there was no sign of civilization whatsoever. I loved it, it was idyllic, I spent my childhood atop a horse, but I had to get out, I longed for civilization, for culture.

I longed to wear the clothes that I saw in magazines. Anything other than boot cut Wranglers really. And I longed to go somewhere, where there were people and meet them and see them or know them. Any people that I wasn’t related to by blood.

The city was just calling my name and I had to figure out how to respond. One day I played “Hookie” to come up with the master plan, I hopped on my mini-bike and rode the hour and fifteen minutes to Colorado City, it was the nearest town that had a store.

I picked up a Glamour magazine, as my guide book and sure enough, right there in the pages, was the plan for my life, clear as day. I could be a model, I was tall enough, I mean I was already on the Boys Basketball Team. I just needed to get someplace where they needed models.

Uuhh, I chose Europe. Talked my friend Lizzy into going, we both got a couple of jobs. We saved up.

The big day finally arrived. Now no sooner did we land in France than a man wearing a camera around his neck approached me. He asked me if I was a model. Told me he could make me one if I were to just go off with him and his friend standing over there. That is how easy it is to become a model in France.

Lizzy said, “No way in hell!” Ah, but Lizzy didn’t know anything about my master plan. So I just ditched her, went off for the guy with the camera and his friend. They drugged me. They took me to an abandoned construction site and beat me mercilessly. I had no idea I had made a sound when kicked.

They drugged me again and raped me repeatedly. And they cut me. I had one action available to me which was just to look away. I craned my head as far as I could to the right and just stared at the wall. There was a dancing spot of light on the wall. It must have been a reflection from something outside and it was free, whatever it was.

I stared at the little spot of light with all my might and the harder I stared the more I became the spot of light. I wasn’t the scrap heap of a girl, being torn to shreds, I was just a dancing, little sparkling, shimmer of light, that could fly away at any time I chose. They dumped me in a parking mist three days later.

It was then that the “Why” questions really set in. “Why did I have to come here?” “Why can’t I just be happy staying at home like everybody else?” “Why did God let this happen to me?”

I didn’t tell anybody, I couldn’t tell anybody. I was now disgusting and dirty and filthy and ruined and used up and if I told anybody, if anybody knew what had happened to me, they would know those things, so I didn’t speak to anyone.

I just pushed it all down. I became very, very aloof and removed and was a loner. I eventually did become a model. The profession suited me really well. Never once in all of the years that I was a model, did anyone ask me to have a deep conversation. I had found my people.

The phenomenon of “the grass is always greener” is alive and thriving in the modeling world. Wherever I would go, they would, within a short period of time, want to send me someplace else, because wherever we weren’t was looked at as infinitely cooler than wherever we were.

Paris sent me to New York, Milan to Paris, London to Japan. It was in Japan that the next stage of my journey unfolded. With the exception of the time I was actually shooting, I spent the entirety of my journey in Japan, in the agency itself. They had a massive, completely unused, conference room.

Nobody was ever there except the grandparents of the owners of the agency. They have this fabulous tradition in Japan. They include their elders in their business lives and personal lives. They’re looked upon as a resource for the wealth of information and knowledge that they bring. What a concept!

I was in the conference room one day, just — frankly I was absentmindedly day dreaming about how to plot my revenge against the men from France but I was in there pretending to read a book and daydreaming. And I was sitting at this big, wooden, conference table they had in there.

This thing was probably ten feet long. It was, carved out of one solid piece of wood. It was beautiful but it had massive dents and nicks and duvets and it was narrow at one end as if – it’s just that is where the tree narrowed.

I was sitting there, absentmindedly, running my fingers over one of the holes in the wood when the grandmother walked in and stared at me. She said, “Ahh, Wabi Sabi!”

She shocked me out of my stupor. “What’s that?”

“Wabi Saa? Is that like Wasabi?”

From the other room, Myoko, my agent, cups her hand over the phone and laughs. “Nooo”, she said.

I turned back to the grandmother, “I’m sorry, Wabi Sabi, is that like a desk or conference table? Wood?”

From the other room Myoko chimed in again. She said, “No, no, no hon, Wabi Sabi is the Japanese aesthetic.”

“Oohhh”, I said, completely confused.

Within a few moments, Myoko walked in the room, along with her grandfather and then the three of them took turns telling me their version of what Wabi Sabi means.

According to the grandfather, Wabi Sabi is the most essential of all Japanese principles. Wabi Sabi states that the beauty of any object lies in the flaws of that object. Things such as mistakes and damages, or ruined parts, those are actually designed in.

The grandmother said that beauty is a study in contrasts, so something can only be seen to embody perfection, if it also embodies a correlate degree of imperfection. These people were blowing my mind.

I had to get out of there. I gathered up all my junk and went for a walk. I wondered “Did this mean that Wabi Sabi could even apply to me?” Naah. I kept walking.

Went to an outdoor cafe, grabbed my lunch at the counter, went and sat down at a table and started to read. Within a few moments I heard shouting. I looked up and saw disheveled looking woman, who appeared to be shouting at me and she was screaming, “Naze sensô Nihon! Naze sensô Nihon!”

I fidgeted and looked around, certain I was completely mistaken but there was no denying it, she was delivering her words to me!

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