The imperfection is the perfection.
I heard a Zen teacher say that. At the time, it sounded like more one-hand-clapping bullshit, the kind of koan that has no practical application to daily life. But, as the saying goes, when the student is ready. I wasn’t ready.
Nowadays, I see the imperfection on Netflix. In particular, Planet Earth. That was a series done by the BBC several years ago that reveals the wonder of nature in all its forms, from caves to deserts to rain forests. Nature, quite often, is thought of in this way—beautiful, serene, and wondrous. But watch one episode and you’ll see that nature, quite the contrary, can be cruel and unyielding. Animals are often eaten alive from the inside out or vice versa and sometimes over a matter of gruesome days. I remember watching our cat torture a baby rabbit, playing with it like a beanie baby for hours. This, I assumed, was the hunting instinct in action and not some sadistic pleasure play. In nature, every day is a matter of life and death, either trying to find something to eat or to keep from being eaten.
Life is indeed wondrous, but often doesn’t have the fairy tale ending.
My daughter hates predators. She despises the cheetahs that run down antelope, despises the wolves that corner a young elk. They’re callous and heartless and they should die. But, truth is, nature doesn’t work without predators culling the herd, pushing the gene pool forward. This was demonstrated in Yellowstone when wolves, a keystone species, were removed. Elk, no longer threatened, grazed more intensely and mowed down plant species which, in turn, increased erosion and changed streams.
Recently, my daughter was in a car accident. It was her fourth in two years. There have been no injuries thus far, but I noticed my agitation when I got the call. If I just had an evening where someone wasn’t wrecking a car or the garbage disposal didn’t break or the neighbor’s dog wouldn’t bark…then everything would be good.
It would be perfect.
There is nothing as intoxicating as buying into that belief, that if I just had [fill in the blank] then everything would be perfect. I think that’s where dystopia can lift the veil. Typically, dystopia is the gray, hopeless story arc, the oppressed society or the downtrodden protagonist rising above his or her limitations that illuminates the tenacity and hope for the human race, that above that gray sky the sun does indeed shine.
But I like to explore dystopia from another angle, to give us everything we want and follow the trail.
In the Halfskin series, we have biomites—the flawless creation of artificial stem cells that abolish disease and mental illness. No more rolling the dice on heritable traits. Now we inject a dose of biomites, we program them what to do so we can be what we want, to think what we want, to desire what we want.
Get what we want.
Writing this type of dystopia is as much an exercise for my own self as it is entertaining. In the end, it often uncovers the nature of our delusion, the true nature of our problems. That, as far as nature is concerned, crocodiles lurking at the watering hole is not a problem. It is essential. Dystopia brings us face-to-face with our false hopes, redirects our attention.
And perhaps the imperfection-is-the-perfection makes a bit more sense. That said, I'd still rather not be eaten by a crocodile.