Cracks let the light in (March 2021)

Over half term I spent a couple of days doing some decluttering and DIY in my house. I live in the countryside in a 400-year-old cottage that is, as you can imagine, rather creaky, wonky, and cracked in places. It has been my home for 4 years, but it is time for a change and our little cottage has been prepared to be showcased in all of its craggy glory on Rightmove.

Getting it ready for scrutiny has been an emotional journey, the cracks, and crevices that I love may really put potential buyers off. So, after watching many YouTube videos and avidly reading the instructions on the Polyfilla tub I am now something of a crack fixing expert. Firstly, you need to open up the crack slightly to enable filler to be applied. Use the edge of the scraper and run it down the crack, your aim is to make a ‘V’ shape by opening both sides of the crack. Once you have opened the crack dust any loose debris from the crack, you can either use a dusting brush or vacuum cleaner. If the wall is very crumbly you can brush a watered down PVA sealer mix to seal it. Once the crack is prepared you are ready to fill it. Put some filler onto a scraper and apply it to the crack, make sure you push the filler well into the crack. Fill the entire crack and smooth off the surface, leave the filler a little proud of the crack for rubbing back later. Allow the filler to dry completely, have a look at the crack, the filler may have shrunk a little but depending on the size of the crack and depth rubbing the filler down may leave it flush with the wall; for deeper crack a second application of filler maybe required. If you rub the filler down and a second application is required ensure you remove the dust before re-filling. Be sure to rub down the filler properly otherwise it will show in your final decoration. Continue with this method for all cracks, you're now ready to decorate over your cracked area.

After filling the first crack in the house I felt myself feeling a little sad. This crack was part of the houses charm and told a story (one that involved a roof leak and a very dubious roofer called Steve). The many holes and crevices all over the house will not be everyone’s cup of tea but they all tell a story and are part of the house's history so I decided rather than spending time expertly filling every single one I would leave them or make them focal points – it was important to me not to hide that this house has hundreds of years of stories to tell but instead to make those stories and history pretty little marks to behold.

This is something that is also a Japanese tradition. Kintsugi means "golden joinery” and is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. There is something really beautiful about looking at a house or object and seeing its so-called breakages made into something interesting and new.

As human beings we all have cracks and scars both externally and internally. There is societal pressure for us to hide these and view them as imperfections or weaknesses that should be disguised, smoothed over and filled in. I remember when Botox started becoming popular as a cosmetic procedure and how it was associated with the wealthy and big Hollywood stars. It was a procedure that seemed drastic in an attempt to remain ageless in an industry that values youth and superficial beauty. Celebrities would do it to ensure that they would still get to have important roles and not be cast aside from the movie industry. For regular people, Botox seemed to be a procedure that made no sense and was not necessary. The question that now arises is when did we cross that line from seeing Botox as a drastic procedure to having it as part of regular people’s day to day lives? Botox is now being sold as a regular treatment in salons making it appear to be as simple as getting a hair blow dry. By doing so, more and more people are trying it and including it as part of their beauty routine. What is scarier is that the main consumers of Botox are females between the ages of 18 to 34, those that are supposedly at the peak of their beauty, and do not actually need it at all, but do it to avoid any signs of natural aging. Recent patterns have shown that these young women carry out these treatments and then come back and bring their mothers to try it out as well. In fact, most dermatologists and cosmetic surgeons have normalized the use of Botox by reinforcing its anti-aging results and promoting the view of everlasting youth. When did getting older become such an abhorrent part of life where people of all ages try to defy it and stay “forever young”? This may be the only generation left where there may still be people who choose to age naturally and avoid procedures such as Botox, but I fear that for the younger generation and the ones to come, having Botox will be the natural way of life. I fear that there will no longer be such a thing as natural beauty and the one-size-fits-all approach will be followed.

The concept of beauty has evolved over time and centuries, with different makeup trends and habits, but none have been as drastic as this. Botox works by blocking nerve signals, thereby, making the injected area temporarily paralyzed or frozen. Although rare, high concentrations of Botox can result in botulism, an illness that could cause respiratory failure and death if left untreated. With such potential side effects and risks, why would people volunteer to have this done to their bodies for cosmetic reasons only?

Platforms such as Instagram, for example, enable people to post images of their best selves regularly and with the rise of the selfies, the insecurities and need to fit in have also skyrocketed. With increasing images of perfectly sculpted faces and the promoted use of procedures like Botox, it is only inevitable that people with any insecurity will follow the same path in order to fit in and feel beautiful.

While there is nothing wrong in wanting to look and feel beautiful, it’s important to remember that beauty runs skin deep. Much like the cracks in my cottage, the wrinkles on your face only show the richness of your life and the untold stories of your past. Embrace them and allow them to share the experiences that have shaped who you are today. I am one of those people who has some visible scars — both physical and emotional ones. I have a large scar across my belly from an operation to have part of my small intestine removed. It’s not a surface mark; it’s an intractable knot that bunches the skin like an imperfectly mended hem. I also have a range of scars on my legs from many slips, trips and falls over the years – I am incredibly clumsy. Each scar tells a story of my life so far: funny, sad, scary, ridiculous. We all have other less visible scars too. There are old and new emotional scars of mine, that will always mean that I have a certain level of constant vulnerability, but this vulnerability has given people unconscious permission to share their own less-visible vulnerabilities with me. These scars have allowed me to empathise and help people going through hardship and times of difficulty. They have not always been easy to deal with and the scars sometime open up into wounds again from time to time but again they you the person that you are today.

Thinking about these scars reminds me that no matter how together someone may seem, most of us have a private list of broken bits, a list of scars we sometimes think we need to conceal or erase. If only we could fix those asymmetries, we tell ourselves, or fill that gap and find that missing ingredient—whether it’s a title, a certain weight, the cure for some anxiety or acceptance — we’ll finally feel whole.

When I heard the line in Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem where she describes the United States as “a nation that is not broken, but simply unfinished,” I thought of all those things that make us feel unworthy, unfinished, or broken. In the words of Leonard Cohen – there is a crack in everything, that is how the light gets in.

How transformative would it be if we could embrace the idea that unfinished and imperfect is our natural and permanent state? Is it possible for us to accept that there is no seamless fix for what ails us individually or as a community? Our path, if we are lucky, is evolution without an end. We will carry with us the scars of this long year, and of all our history. And as someone who has spent years trying to paper over, distract from or excise a deep scar, I can tell you: even if no one else sees it, you never forget it is there. So, as we go about mending ourselves or our old craggy cottages, perhaps we can take inspiration from Kintsugi, that very old Japanese tradition in which broken pottery pieces are put together with gold lacquer. How about we all try a little harder not to hide the cracks; but instead to celebrate the repairs. Golden rivulets bind shards of a bowl or cup. Scars become art. And the result is something more beautiful than perfect: something visibly resilient. 

Kiylee White