I have noticed, since I’ve begun writing my other blog, that I have a new favorite word: complicated. Or complex. They come up a lot.
I was trying to write a note to a young friend who’s caught in the shredding darkness of grief about how complicated grief and even more complicated healing are. This was by way of affirming some things she had said about the also-young great love of her life who had recently died, and about how she was trying to begin to understand what the process was going to ask of her over the next few years. Short answer: a lot. Long answer: a lot of muddled, complicated, bumpy, non-linear work.
Often in my other blog, issues around weight, the distinction between the fake Obesity Crisis and what may be the real obesity crisis, and what both of those things have to do with ethics, psychology, religion, medicine, culture and God knows what else, lead to my sort of throwing my hands in the air and declaring that it’s (whatever “it” is) is complicated. It’s not a cop out, at least not all the time. I’ve sort of come to understand why so much of philosophical writing is more circular than linear—or maybe more fractal than linear—sometimes you need to pull yourself back from a branching conversation in order to stay in the neighborhood of your original subject. And, very often, declaring something complicated is an attempt to keep the blog post under a zillion pages. But often enough, it’s a way of saying that I’ve thought my way into a corner and can’t write my way out of it. And most often, it’s my way of building a bulwark against a culture that desperately wants to make everything simple and binary.
I get it. I’m a binary kind of girl—at least that’s often my default first response. But more than simplicity, I ultimately treasure the complex and the paradoxical. There’s a visceral pleasure in playing with/around/through problems and narratives and circumstances, even when the issues themselves are painful or difficult. And it’s a better pleasure—for me, at least—and a less dangerous pleasure—for me, certainly—than the pleasure of simplicity often is. Simplicity, for me, often leads to contempt and anger and dismissal and discourtesy and short-sightedness.
The problem is that complexity, for me, often leads to hesitance, over-thinking, and near-paralysis. And sometimes things are just plain wrong, or gorgeously and uncomplicatedly right. And some people are just jerks, even if the reasons for their jerkitude are more or less complicated, the jerkitude is, itself, fairly straightforward. And often, it’s important to recognize the clear, uncomplicated stuff for what it is—both the bad and, probably just as importantly, the good.
But I do love the complex. T. S. Eliot, whose work I adore down to my cells, was probably something of an anti-semite—something I find uncomplicatedly unacceptable. Mother Teresa, inarguably someone who lived in a sacred space, was not a particularly nice woman and knew it, and was tormented by it, even as she walked around spreading the light of her God everywhere she went. Most saints, in fact, were not particularly easy folks to live with. Greatness and venality/idiocy/cruelty/pick-the-failing are not mutually exclusive, even when they seem like they should be oxymoronic. They’re just extreme examples of what most of us are, and most of us are just ambulatory examples of the complexity of being in a world where everything is in a constant, complicated tension between birth and death, light and dark, being and nothingness, peace and violence.
So, unlike some of the other words I have fixated on in the past (gossamer made its fluttery way into a great many of my early early poems, lucid inserted itself into every corner of my justly unpublished novel, gather and flesh fight their way into many of my poems even when I watch out for them…) I think this one’s actually got work to do.