Lary's Speakeasy

Beyond The Broken: Kintsugi And Laryngectomy

A few days ago, I went with a good friend to a Kintsugi class at a local Art Center. It was described as a workshop of healing and exploration. We have both been trying to get ourselves out of winter funk and try our hands and minds at some new challenges. Both of us are cancer survivors and while I have a more obvious result of mine, we do struggle not to fixate on our experiences but to more forward with joy and thanks at life.

What Is Kintsugi?

From Wikipedia: “Kintsugi (“golden joinery”), also known as kintsukuroi (“golden repair”), is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with urushi lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum; the method is similar to the maki-e technique. As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.”

We arrived at the lovely old church building which was bathed in light at twilight, the brick glowing in the string lights and the stained-glass windows beautiful and inviting. Inside the modern improvements were obvious but fitting to the setting.

Our teacher was welcoming, chatting a bit about her work as a Kintsugi art therapist and happy we were first time visitors. As the room filled, we were an interesting range of ages, and there was a blind woman along with her Mom, who were looking forward to a sensory experience. 

On a table were plain white boxes and our teacher explained that inside were preowned bowls of different shapes, sizes, and styles. Each was painted white to cover the history it had and to be a blank surface for our interactions. We were to choose a box and then explore the bowl, if we were not feeling it we could switch, which I did. My friend chose a square bowl with smooth sides, I ended up with a classic style bowl with a flat rim. Something about the rim drew me in, it felt as if it could hold something into the base of the bowl and keep it from sloshing out. 

The plan was to place them inside a fabric bag and then using a hammer create a strike point that would break the bowls into pieces radiating from the point of impact. Interesting concept to me. I often feel that my surgery was a point of impact to my life, breaking it into sections of before, the crisis of diagnosis and decisions and then the after of healing, change, acceptance, and resilience. 3 distinct measures of time of feelings, of living, of challenge and of confusion.

Embrace The Broken

Kintsugi is an ancient Japanese response to repair. It embraces the broken, looking to make beauty out of reattaching and reimagining what was once beautiful and cherished and using the act of repair to provide a new strength, a new look, a new life with the use of gold as the attachment. Over the centuries it has been refined and expanded in many ways but at the core it recognizes that breakage does not mean that something is no longer of value. It demonstrates that healing can be beautiful and stronger than the original attachment.

As I sat with the Kintsugi bowl, it felt as if it was telling me that it could hold my feelings, it could represent the beauty and the confusion and it could be a beacon of the future with happiness and hope. I held the hammer softly in my hand and imagined the cracks, the crevices, the pieces it might create. My goal was for one impact to create the new form. 

Closing my eyes, I swung the hammer into the side of the bowl holding my breath and hoping for a good result. 

The Result

I carried the bag back to my seat and opened it slowly taking out three large pieces and one small shard of ceramics. I let them sit on the table for a while, then cautiously fitted them together which left a small hole where the shard might fit. There were cracks radiating from the impact point on all the large pieces that created a web across the surface. As I looked at the pieces and the potential re-joining I saw in my mind a soft swirling pattern with the cracks outlined in a deeper red tone. 

Kintsugi bowl broken
Waiting for the paint to dry before gluing. Not easy to wait it out!

For me my own breakage and healing has been two parallel and overlapping and twisting experiences of my surgery and then the loss of my husband only a few months later. It has been three years for the TL experience and coming up on the third anniversary of the diagnosis and then death of Larry. That the bowl broke into three pieces, two about the same size and a smaller one that was triangular in its shape almost heart like was perfect.

Using pastel colors and a few deeper ones I began to paint first the cracks and then colors moving away from them and into each other, each piece separate but having the unity of the colors and the brush strokes I chose. The tiny shard lay white on the table, it didn’t feel like it needed color or any treatment. As they dried the colors intensified and the cracks were evident.

The Golden Fix

I mixed gold luster powder into E600 glue (my favorite fix-it solution) to create the sense of liquid gold. Applied to both edges I then fitted two pieces together and let the glue find its way to the surfaces creating a sort of river of healing between the two. After it was strong enough to balance, I fitted the smaller piece into place again allowing the glue to seep out and run over as it wanted. It took all my patience to wait long enough for it to set to turn over the bowl and see what the inside looked like. 

Kintsugi bowl glued back together
Inside view showing the gold coming through

Nothing about it disappointed me, again the gold was the forming the repair, showing the movement from the point of impact, the deep red accented the cracks and led the eye around the patterns and colors of the painting. Around me, everyone was finding their own way into the project. Some did large solid blocks of bright colors, others created an overall pattern that mimicked what might have been there before the white was applied. Some had lots of pieces and struggled to reattach them into a finished object, others were a dab hand at painting and gluing! 

It was an evening that had a strong impact upon me and I think most of those in the room. As we shared our work and took some photos it was clear that everyone had some broken thoughts and feelings that were put back together at least a bit in the process. The small shard rests in my bowl, it leaves a hole which light can shine through and through which the inside can be seen from the outside. 

Repaired Kintsugi bowls
My friend Mary’s square green bowl with her finger tip prints along side my bowl

Like Kintsugi, We Were Broken, But Now Repaired

Our stomas are a visible sign of the new way we breathe, a marking of our bodies of the challenges we have faced, and a means of seeing inside ourselves every day. Our new voices radiate from our points of impact, sounding out our joy, our love, our happiness at living and sharing the world fully. The sutures we healed are our Kintsugi, tiny threads of linkage which while not filled with gold are filled with the magic of our bodies healing and moving us forward day by day. 

repaired Kintsugi bowl on display
Pride of place in the living room. I change this area quite often but will be keeping the bowl. Added large arrangement of on sale flowers this week.

I look at my Kintsugi bowl daily as it sits in a place of pride in my living room. The afternoon sun strikes it revealing the opening and casting light inside of it. On the surface it may appear just a pretty object, but it holds much of the sorrow, the fear, and more importantly the glory of life.

Brooke Elkan-Moore lives in the beautiful Hudson Valley with her Newfoundland Dahlia.
She is a photographer, writer and devoted gardener. A Larry since January of 2021, 
Brooke has embraced her changed life and continues to take on new challenges.

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Gail
Gail
2 months ago

So moving and visual, thank you for sharing. I pray this article inspires my husband to see himself in a more positive, beautiful way.

Kathy Grosvenor
2 months ago

Dearest Brooke, I cannot tell you how deeply I felt everything you wrote. What a beautiful analogy to what we have lived and continue to live. I am not a writer like you but you describe your experience in such stunning detail that I just wanted you to know that you have truly touched my heart. I wish you well.❤️
Thank you
Kathy Grosvenor

Daniella Beznicki
1 month ago

Thank you for sharing, I love all the metaphor and hearing about your process, beautiful!

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