I had a professor in college who was a brilliant artist from Cuba. He taught set design and created crazy installation art around campus. And, as good teachers do, he said a few things that I found startling and confusing enough that they lodged in my brain and I can remember them even now *cough* several years later. One of these was: “You must try to make your life as complicated as possible.” At the time, I was struggling with some depression and anxiety issues, and this advice flew in the face of all of the self-help books I was desperately reading, which advocated seeking simplicity as the key to inner peace and well-being. I don’t remember if I actually brought up this point to my professor, or if I just imagined doing so (my memory goes blurry at this point). And if I did question him, I don’t recall his response. It is his initial statement that has stuck with me over the years. And, for better or worse (sometimes both) I seem to have followed his advice.
I am suspicious of simplicity. It strikes me as dishonest. If something seems simple to me, I find it’s usually because I’m missing something. Or else, it’s just boring.
One morning in Torah study, this one guy was talking about a passage from the Torah, and he kept saying “It’s simple! It’s so simple!” Another man interrupted at one point with “With all due respect…people have been arguing about what this means for thousands of years, so it’s pretty clearly NOT simple.”
The acknowledgement of complicated narratives (and the tendency to argue about them incessantly for thousands of years), is one thing that draws me to Judaism. It fits my worldview.
When I write plays, I tend to seek out the thorniest, most confusing and complicated topics I can find. I’m not particularly interested in connect-the-dots type plots, because they don’t ring true for me. I like to write things that can be interpreted in more than one way. I like it when divergent narratives play out simultaneously. If I feel like I’ve figured things out, I lose interest in them. I assume directors and actors and audiences would lose interest as well. After all, if everything’s been figured out, if one thing leads neatly to the next, what’s left for them to do?
Acknowledging conflicting truths is actually more comfortable to me than attempting to simplify. When something does seem simple and clear to me, and yet other smart and thoughtful people see it the opposite way, that is frustrating. When I engage with those others, actually listen to them, and allow the complexity of the topic to seep into my mind, I get closer to understanding. When I dig into my simplicity, the frustration just increases.
So thanks, Professor Soto, for giving me permission to abandon my quest for simplicity. It was never my path anyway.