Wabi-Sabi and the Traveler’s Notebook

I have spent the majority of my life as a perfectionist.

There, I’ve said it.

Although, those who know me well don’t really need me to say it…it is quite obvious. I like order, uniformity, have high esthetic standards and like straight lines, right angles and flawless finishes. I have been known to start an entire page over in my day planner if I was unhappy with the way my handwriting looked.

Perfectionism is a fruitless pursuit, however, since in reality there is no such thing as “perfect”. I know this logically, but until recently, I haven’t really bothered to apply that knowledge and embrace the imperfection in life, and more specifically in myself.

I have written in my non-planner-related blog about how the sea of life has rounded and softened my hard edges, my right angles, over time. Along with all that tumbling about, I came across a Japanese concept called Wabi-Sabi, the acceptance of transience and imperfection. Expressed as an aesthetic, it is sometimes described as “the beauty of that which is imperfect, impermanent and incomplete”.

Reading a book called Wabi-Sabi Simple by Richard Powel, this powerful sentence caught my attention, “Wabi-Sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities…nothing lasts, nothing is finished and nothing is perfect”.

Wabi-Sabi reveals the stark honesty of natural processes – aging, wrinkling, fading, deteriorating, etc. Items reflecting the esthetic of Wabi-Sabi graphically mirror our own mortal journey through existence.

One ah-ha moment, served up, not on the mirror finish of the stereotypical silver platter, but rather in a rough, hand hewn Japanese tea bowl lovingly gilt at the broken places.

For when the Japanese mend broken objects, they ennoble the damage by filling the cracks with gold. They believe that when something has suffered and has a history; it becomes more beautiful.

I now consider myself a recovering perfectionist, and I strive every day to take notice of and cherish the beauty and uniqueness of what I once perceived as flaws. It is effort, don’t get me wrong…but it is worthwhile, enlightening effort, and I have found that it nourishes my soul in a way directly opposite of how the path of striving for perfection once depleted it.

The path of life is a series of steps. New territory, new discoveries.

A few years ago, I discovered something very cool. As a writer, it instantly appealed to my love of all things pen, ink, fine paper and writing by hand:

I discovered the Traveler’s Notebook (affectionately known as a TN).

There are a plethora of reviews already written about them. The most widely known and commercially available of these little wonders is the Midori Traveler’s Notebook; this post is not meant to be a critical review…or a review at all. It is merely me sharing something that I love (and the lesson it taught me) with you, my planner and notebook peeps.

The essence of a Traveler’s Notebook, in case you are not already addicted to familiar with them, is a thick piece of hand cut leather, which holds its inserts (paper notebooks and other accessories) by means of an elastic band (and, in the case of the Midori brand, a modest tin clasp). The leather is usually naturally vegetable tanned but not otherwise treated, so as you use it, wear marks and the like become very apparent and as it ages a wonderful patina develops, making each TN unique to the life journey of its owner.


I have a small collection of these notebooks – my first, a genuine Midori courtesy of Wakako at Baum-Kutchen (I buy all my refills and accessories from her lovely shop, and find inspiration there even on days I’m not shopping), was a full sized brown leather beauty that serves as my journal. But my constant companion is a stunning find called a Traveler’s Star Edition. In lush camel colored leather, this beauty commemorates the 5th anniversary of the Midori Traveler’s Notebook in the smaller Passport size. I find the size easier to cart around with me, even on small handbag days.

I have had this notebook for a matter of months, rather than years, but it already looks as though, based on the cover, my life is akin to an Indiana Jones movie.

The newest addition to my TN family is a gorgeous regular size Camel addition by the wonderful & talented Mr. Ray Blake.

This is it on the very first day I started using it. Already I am looking eagerly forward to when it has become as much a part of me as my beloved Traveler’s Star has, and bears the marks of my life upon it.

There was a time, not that long ago, when just looking at scuffs, scratches and dings on any fine leather good would have made my left eye twitch uncontrollably and my OCD reach for leather lotion to buff out the marks and return it to “perfection”, but these notebooks have a quality to them that not only embraces the rough and tumble nature of life, but almost revels in it.

They change from day to day…from moment to moment really…every time you take it out of your pocket or bag and write in it…a key mark here, a pen clip indent there…just as we ourselves change, evolve, grow; become molded and re-formed by that which rubs up against us every day.

Nothing stays the same. Not the world. Not our trusty little Traveler’s Notebooks. Not even ourselves.

Yes, the used notebooks looks even more beautiful to me than the day I unwrapped them in all their pristine glory. That day it was a clean slate, full of potential…and today each one remains unchanged in its ability to make me catch my breath whenever I take it out of my handbag…only now they have become imbued with my energy; from my deepest thoughts scratched on its pages, to the ink marks from a shaking hand, or tear stains from nights I have wept myself to sleep.

What I once would have cursed as “ruining” my notebooks I now look upon as enhancements, embellishments…the emotional equivalent of bedazzling, if you will.

Quite an object lesson for a card-carrying member of Perfectionists Anonymous like me, and a gift that has turned out to be far more profound than a mere heft of leather and a couple elastics.

Perhaps one of the greatest lessons to be gained from the imperfection in each of us, the impermanence of the world and all of life that swirls around us, is that we ourselves are incomplete…and that we each have a story of our own waiting to be told.

Through my own experience with blogging, I have come to know this firsthand. As I not only open to those most tender and painful parts of myself (usually written first in one of my Traveler’s Notebooks) but also share the stories (and the wisdom that I have gleaned from them) with you, those wounds begin to heal. Transform. No longer something that feels weak or ugly to me, but now…much like that gilded bowl I mentioned earlier… something which served only to make me stronger and to reveal more of the beauty in life.

More wondrous still, I have discovered that when I share these stories and begin to heal myself, a joyous, mysterious ripple effect happens…others are touched and opened up in a way that allows for their own process of accessing their inner wisdom and they themselves begin to heal as well.

Each time I reach for my Traveler’s Notebook, I am reminded that there is value in the simple, humble, weathered and worn of this world. That shiny and new have far less to offer than the well-used and well-loved. That things which leave pocks, dings and scars on you can go on to become soothing balm to someone else.

That beauty does not come from being perfect…it comes, in all its flawed, pitted, frayed-edged glory, from being real.

wabi sabi bowl