"non finito life" by Irene K

"non finito life" by Irene K

Originally posted by Irene K on her substack The Poetry Latern, on June 16 2023

It’s a beautiful Monday morning. The sun streams through my window, casting a warm glow that envelops the room, making this Monday morning feel like a dream. I reach for my laundry basket, which is never not overflowing, and to my surprise – it’s empty! Today, the usual chaos has momentarily subsided. A home-cooked meal prepared by yours truly awaits my partner’s delight after a long period. A bag of spring-cleaned clothes stands ready for a new cupboard. In this moment, I, the person who writes this biweekly newsletter, feel wholly present in the world. I am back after a long unplanned hiatus.

But I know this feeling of completeness is transient, destined to last briefly before the next storm roars into my life. Life is filled with ups and downs, joys and sorrows, and the urge to put a tick mark against life’s priorities becomes a dominant theme. It is vital for survival, and the routine list of daily chores becomes a ritual for living well. However, in recent times, I’ve been learning to appreciate the non finito mode of life.

The Italian term “non finito” translates to “unfinished” or “incomplete” in the realm of art. This concept allows the viewer to fill in the gaps with their imagination, creating a unique and personal interpretation. This notion extends beyond the artistic realm and resonates deeply with the human experience. Life itself can be seen as a non finito masterpiece, where imperfection and ambiguity pave the way for growth, interpretation, and self-discovery.

The above art that exemplifies this concept is Leonardo da Vinci’s “Head and Shoulders of a Woman” (La Scapigliata) (ca. 1500-1505). It is one of my absolute favourites. The emotive expression of the woman in the painting feels soothing to me. It is an artwork that invites interpretation, and the power to imagine and shape the narrative. This power rests solely with the viewer.

In my life, I’ve often found myself in a hurry to proclaim completion and closure. I have strived to be the best version of myself in personal relationships and career choices, constantly seeking answers and certainty. I am learning to embrace the non finito mode and let go of fixed narratives. To allow fields of imagination and new avenues to shape my life.

As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote, “Life belongs to the living, and he who lives must be prepared for change.” This realisation has made me more malleable, accepting sudden changes and losses. Even after forty years of existence, life continues to shape me. The clay of my being is continuously moulded at the wheel of life. It has taken time, but I am becoming comfortable with the incompleteness and flaws that make me who I am today. Life’s imperfections, setbacks, and unresolved struggles keep adding depth and richness to my personal narrative, much like the like a non finito sculpture.

In my art journey, my sketchbooks are filled with countless imperfect attempts and unfinished sketches. Pigments of paint linger in almost every corner of my home. These days, I spend more time observing shapes, forms, and colours, learning to see life through new eyes each time, as Marcel Proust advises.

Virginia Woolf beautifully expresses,

“What has changed is my capacity of feeling. Art opens the heart.”

Art has indeed helped me open my heart. I am learning to embrace the unfinished canvas of my existence. I am more accepting of the impermanence. There will be moments when different aspects of myself shine forth, and other times when I fade into oblivion. Yet, somewhere on the terrains of my canvas, I know I will always exist. Those who want to see me will find their way towards me. In this journey, I continue to encompass the beauty of imperfection and revel in unpredictability.

For today’s comeback edition, I chose two poems. Jenny George’s poem that I recently read and thought was a fitting way to find my way back to this space and an invitation to grow again. Rilke’s brief poem is pregnant with meaning for whoever is able to look beneath the surface.

Sunflowers by Jenny George 

I’m in the world but I still want the world.
I’m full of longing and can’t move,
enthralled in the garden. Having died 
all the way back to the root, I grow again 
into a version of the thing I love. I’m her 
and not her, hermaphrodite with a heart 
like a plateful of black flames.
The bees inspect me like doctors. 
All my hard little tears, future selves 
who haven’t grown. Bedclothes swell on the line
while around me giant sunflowers burn
through their masks of radiant desire.

The Artist by Rainer Maria Rilke 
It will be for later
to remember us.

The empty spaces and unfinished tracks of life are estuaries of possibilities. I surrender to this non finito art of life knowing that I will be forever in the process of eternal becoming.

For you my dear friend, here is a question for reflection:

  • What part of my life needs this non finito vibe?