The Complexities of You
A Binary Battle
There is comfort in binary thinking—right/wrong, with us/against us, fact/fiction, teacher/student, female/male. The adult mind assesses, categorizes, and then moves on to other people and moments to stamp: thumbs up or thumbs down.
Oh, binary mind, how efficient of you, how tidy. How deceptive…
That comfort is merely a book jacket titled “Truth” obscuring infinite pages of “What if…?”
How much space are you willing to give to the unanswerable? How much complexity in your story, your character, your process, your identity, are you willing to entertain without simple answers?
It’s not the title, but the pages inside the book—with more questions than answers—that hold the weight of truth. Many believe they understand it as they see it sitting on their bookshelf, yet rarely open the book to explore.
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!
And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. But come;
(Hamlet, Act 1 Scene 5, William Shakespeare)
As an artist, with the curiosity of a child, you can playfully hold two contradictory ideas in your hand, in your artistic process, and even in your identity. Beyond the pressures for predictable, bite-size answers, you can choose your own adventure inside the complexities of knowing and not knowing.
It’s doable. It’s necessary.
It’s going to take some conscious rewiring, because we were trained on Scantron. We comment about quotes posted from articles without reading the articles themselves. We look at a headshot and decide whether or not they’re right for the role. It’s immediate. It’s decisive. We are busy here, people, why did things have to be so complicated?
Life became complex the same way the earth became round. It was always that way. We just weren’t ready or able to see it.
Slow down, make time. Complications, contradictions, these frictions cause sparks you can fan into flames. Fires that comfort us, shed light, and burn previous structures to the ground. It’s all in how you interpret them.
Interpretation is where collaboration begins. It is where connection occurs—even if we don’t agree, we connect as we express different perspectives of the same moment.
This is difficult for some because they hold a hardline attachment to binary descriptions. To question the description is to question their identity. This blinder-vision is a major obstacle in expanding one’s process. Whether I’m coaching educators, students, or working artists, identification-attachment is always addressed.
The freedom to question the institution you are actively involved in is chained to the fear of questioning yourself. Be at peace questioning yourself. There’s the real antidote to binary blinder-vision: unconditional curiosity.
Art is a playground for rediscovering that skill, that desire to play. It is allows us to entertain seemingly preposterous ideas to their fullest extent. It allows us to explore aspects of ourselves that don’t fit into tiny boxes of yes or no. The more we play in those grey areas, with empathy and mindfulness, the more we affect how our society owns binary ideas.
Artists and educators truly have the power to influence a society’s ability to suspend their disbelief, experience not only the “other” but a truly outlier point of view beyond binaries.
In order to do that, as artists and educators, we have to stay curious and invite complexities. I suggest setting a place at the table for the unknown during your creation process, during rehearsals, and during performances. How much space are you willing to give to the unanswerable? How much complexity in your story, your character, your process, your identity, are you willing to entertain without simple answers?
Often my clients laugh nervously, get deadly quiet, list a litany of obstacles, cry with relief, or a mashup of all this and more as if to say, “You’re suggesting I not only accept my complexities, but actively invite more in?! To stand both inside them without needing to explain through oversimplifications?!”
It is unsettling for a reason, because to settle is to end the inquiry.
THE NECESSITY OF COMPLEXITIES
It’s not for me, or anyone else, to judge what is simple and what is complex in your life or your artistic process. It’s for you to observe out of necessity. What need is your binary or complex perspective serving?
For example, a nest is complex out of necessity. Interwoven materials found and bonded together for the basic need of shelter. Each piece is necessary to keep you safe, warm, and give shelter for creating something fragile (like a life, a piece, a relationship).
When you travel, though, that nest needs to simplify.
If you’ve ever been on tour, you have felt the tension of “What are the bare essentials I need to take care of myself physically and emotionally that fit in this suitcase? If I lose it on the road, will I be okay?”
These tough questions are really asking: What reminds me of who I am? What helps me sustain my artistry regardless of my setting? Do you I have the energy/resource to carry all that? If it’s lost, will I be lost?
The journey between “at home” and “on tour” allows us the space to remain curious about what our artistic needs are based on your identity and intention.
Hold on to too many, and they become armor protecting you from the unknowns. Let go of too many, and you move with the breeze, reactionary without a nest to nurture growth.
So, I ask you, out of love, what are your necessities? Which ones help you thrive? Which ones are armor to survive?
Some complexities may be necessary, some may not.
Some may have been necessary in the past, but now are not.
Parts of your process, your identity, may have been simple in the past, but now are quite complex out of necessity.
How to know which is which and who is who?