Plastic flowers are popping up around here like fall mushrooms sprouting in my lawn. And when something shows up repeatedly in a fairly short time I think the universe is trying to get my attention. I’m weird that way.
This summer after a friend finished staging her house she gave me the faux flower display she’d used to lock down the sale. It was an attractive, life-like arrangement and the colors were pretty. Despite the fact that I’m not a fan of artificial flowers and had an abundance of cutting flowers growing in the garden, I put them in the dining room thinking I’d enjoy them for a few weeks before passing them on to someone else. The faux flowers remain in their waterless vase, a testament to my over-committed schedule (aka laziness) and my inability to say no to a well-meaning friend in the first place.
Last month, the subject of plastic flowers came up again. A bride-to-be was discussing floral arrangements for her wedding and said she was probably going to use plastic flowers as they were considerably cheaper and flowers ‘really didn’t matter.’ My response was immediate, visceral and surprisingly strong. Flowers do matter, I thought to myself, and plastic flowers seemed so wrong in the context of a wedding. Better to have only a few real flowers than a boatload of fake ones I told the woman when she asked my opinion. I couldn’t articulate my reasoning, beyond the fact that I’m loyal gardener and ardent lover of all things floral, and that I almost always favor real over fake.
Last week, plastic flowers reared their perfect perky little heads a third time in a book called Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier. The authors have a fresh take on an entrepreneurial approach to business, and much of what they say (delivered in blog style chapters) is applicable to self-publishing. One chapter is called ‘Don’t Be a Plastic Flower.’
Intrigued, I turned to that one first. Their points were simple: in order to succeed and grow a business, be real, don’t fear your flaws and accept the beauty of imperfection. They go into more detail than that, and they tie it into a business sensibility, but it boils down to giving customers something tangible and genuine, and recognizing that in providing something of real value, there’s always the risk of flaws. In short, no plastic flowers allowed.
The Japanese have something called wabi-sabi. It’s an aesthetic based on the appreciation of beauty in a transient and imperfect world. Character and uniqueness are favored, scratches and fissures are okay. In that culture, many of the antique bowls used in the tea ceremony have cracks, uneven glazes, and imperfect shapes. And they are highly prized for their inadequacies.
When I write novels, I’m always careful to develop characters with flaws. Most writers I know are careful to do that too. We recognize at a deep level that flawed characters are more believable, more relatable, and more likable. And yet it can be a real challenge to accept and let our own imperfections show.
That, I decided, was the lesson of the plastic flowers. In a culture that favors the flawless, the perfect, the plastic flower, I need to honor the beauty of imperfection. And I also need to find a new home for the faux flowers in my dining room.