Kintsugi: Gabrielle Aplin on the beauty in scars

MENTAL HEALTH

IN MUSIC

These perfect fractures,

telling of such subtle truths,

that we have survived,

Kintsugi, by Shaun Beale

Since my post on Enter Shikari’s Stop the Clocks and its portrayal of certain issues surrounding mental health, I have been excited to approach numerous other songs. The list of possibilities is pretty much endless, with so many artists looking inwards for topics they wish cover.

Music has long been a coping mechanism for many. Maya Angelou went as far as to say that, “music is my refuge,” offering her a space away from the numerous difficulties and stresses of our day to day lives.

Much music however, goes far further than acting as a simple refuge. Instead, it can offer a means of engaging more proactively with our anxieties and troubles. Whilst this is especially true for the artists in the act of creating these tracks, I believe it can benefit the listeners as well. Especially when the listener takes the time to consider the themes and ideas discussed.


Now, some may argue that I am reading too deeply into this. That perhaps the act of creating these songs is not actually some form of personal therapy for the artists. No. Maybe they’re simply made to be consumed and enjoyed, and not engaged with on some deeper level of emotional understanding. It’s no secret I’m somewhat of a pretentious prick. Perhaps this just further evidence of this?

In her upcoming album Dear Happy however, Gabrielle Aplin appears to support my approach quite explicitly,

“Without knowing it at the time, the start of this album coincided with the moment I made a definitive decision to start to unravel and rewire my brain. ‘Dear Happy’ subsequently became a documentation of this journey to myself. I wanted to use writing as a way of understanding.”

Gabrielle Aplin

The creation of her music goes hand in hand with the pursuit of self-betterment, and personal growth. As a result, I believe she has released some of the most poignant singles of her already exceptional catalogue.

With every single focusing on some part of Aplin’s journey, I could have easily chosen any for this blog post. I could explore the difficulty of forming healthy relationships alongside the corrupting influence of our innermost anxieties in Losing Me.

“Wanna lie to you

Say  I’m doing so well

Show you photos too, to prove that I’ve been doing so well

Wanna hide the truth

Wanna dress up hell and heaven, like we all try to do”

Losing Me, Gabrielle Aplin

Or I could have delved into the difficulties of coping with, and taking ownership of our own shortcomings in My Mistake.

Am I jaded?

Am I meant to feel this way?

I’m a loser, getting beat by my own game

But if I falter, well at least it was my mistake

My Mistake, Gabrielle Aplin

Whilst both these songs are exceptional and I highly recommend a listen, I have instead chosen to look into her most recent release Kintsugi. Why this one in particular?

Well, I guess you will just have to read on and find out why…


So what is Kintsugi?

Kintsugi is a Japanese art form in which one puts pieces of broken pottery back together. This is often done with extremely noticeable golden seams in which the prior breakages are highlighted rather than hidden.

As well as a functional method of avoiding waste, by putting the broken pottery back together in a more aesthetically pleasing manner, Kintsugi also shares some more philosophical roots.

The act of Kintsugi extends from the Japanese aesthetic philosophy of Wabi-Sabi. This school of thought focuses on the importance of an authentic simplicity in life, and taking pleasure from our imperfections.

In his book on the subject, Richard Powell states how it is,

“a way of life that appreciates and accepts complexity while at the same time values simplicity,

Richard Powell

This simplistic approach to living diverts from our modern pursuit of perfection, instead, falling back upon the simple truth that we are all in certain ways flawed. After all, part of living is that mistakes will be made, and as a result, we are all left with our scars to bear.

It is here that one learns to appreciate and accept the complexity of life. We are all broken. There is nothing wrong with this. It is just the way it is.

The imperfections are appreciated, as they offer a glowing reminder of time’s passage, and things that have come to pass. Rather than loss or simple deterioration, they are reminders of the natural world around us. The journey of which we’re all a part.

All my scars are golden…

Kintsugi, Gabrielle Aplin

So there we have where the name comes from, but what about the song itself?

Straight away it sets the scene, showing a situation with which many of us can no doubt relate. The opening lines, “Sometimes I got a smile on my face / Sometimes I guess that I’ve gotta fake it” highlights one of the sad truths of our society, and something that is quite often promoted. This is the idea of having to “fake it”.

So much of modern “self help” focuses on trying to be happy. This is often explored alongside a focus on the significance of mindset. Whilst it is true mindset is a vital component of our well-being, all too often it is oversimplified with dangerous consequences.

The concept of changing one’s mindset, is morphed into some corrupting desire to feign joy. Rather than deal with our own issues and the vulnerability that comes with this, we choose to put on a smile and just act happy! It is no wonder then that Gabrielle Aplin proposes a situation in which, “everyone’s afraid to be naked”.

Instead of coping with naked reality, we are left dealing with the pound shop pseudo-philosophies of charlatans such as Rhonda Byrne.

“Remember that your thoughts are the primary cause of everything.”

The Secret, Rhonda Byrne

Without properly expounding upon her inspirational soundbites, Byrne is left peddling an idea that the secret is to simply be happy. If you’re happy, happy things will follow.

Gabrielle Aplin poses a far more interesting, thoughtful response however:

Cause now that I’m shattered, I’m all kinds of me

Was knocked off the shelf, but I’m also complete

Kintsugi, Gabrielle Aplin

Despite being “shattered” into pieces, she still believes she is “all kinds of me”. She’s not any less herself because she is struggling. She accepts this as a part of who she is. We are left with the interesting dichotomy of reality, that one can be broken, but no less complete.

There is no denial that she is in a bad way. This is echoed in the repetition of, “I’m broken, b-b-broken”. But, she has accepted this and is, “ready to feel better” by putting in the appropriate work. Self-repair comes from an acceptance of our flaws rather than an avoidance.

The metaphor of Kintsugi comes in more explicitly with the refrain, “all my scars are golden”. These golden scars reflecting the cracks of a piece of Kintsugi pottery. Besides this, it implies that the scars will never fully heal. She is very accepting of the fact that the events of her past will leave a lasting mark. Rather than begrudging this, she shares in the philosophy of Wabi-Sabi and finds a beauty in their truth.

In fact, these natural imperfections will make up a map of her life we can trace. Thoughts can not fight off the imperfections and damage placed upon us by life. They can merely choose to work with and accept them as part of the journey.

It is this aspect I love about this song!

Something I feel is emphasised by the lines,

“I’m broken into so many pieces

Would be easy just to throw them away

But I don’t wanna give up on feeling”

Kintsugi, Gabrielle Aplin

Rather than indulge in the self destructive denial of the past, she opts to take on the hard task of putting things back together. Despite the fact it can hurt, she doesn’t want to “give up on feeling”.


It is important to note that, despite the upbeat tone of the song, the ideas discussed are not supposed to be easy. Note how throughout the song she focuses on the future. She says she is “ready” to feel better and that her life “will be” a map you can trace.

These things are not easily done. It’s a process, and a hard one at that.

Talking about her new album Dear Happy, Gabrielle Aplin states,

“Sonically I wanted to capture these moments and experiences in a positive light. I want to listen back to these songs in five years and hear happiness and positivity. It’s an album about saying ‘fuck it!” to your worries and insecurities. Or maybe it’s an album that invites your worries and insecurities to sit with you. It’s an album about saying ‘no’. It’s an album about saying ‘YES’. It’s an album that is a past, present and future letter to myself.”

Gabrielle Aplin

I can’t help but love that artists are being so open about their mental health, and the role it takes in their music. We all have methods for coping, and whilst these are different for everyone, we can all learn from one another.

For those interested, Dear Happy comes out on January 17th next year. I for one, know I’ll be listening day one.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. If you have any thoughts on your own feelings towards the song, please drop me a comment.

All the best,

Shaun.

x

Published by BeBetterShaun

A keen ultra runner and trainee counsellor and psychotherapist. I am looking to promote a positive well-being and looking after one's mental health whatever your situation. "Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate." Carl Jung

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