One of my favorite professors in college with whom I studied set design used to warn us against the lure of designing something so grand that it couldn't possibly be built safely onstage. While I scribbled away on a complicated set design for a theoretical production of Romeo and Juliet for class that may or may not have involved a giant staircase with enough height, twists and turns enough to make your heart beat right out of your chest, he would walk around the classroom very clamly, kindly reminded us to "KISS: Keep it Simple, Stupid."
I doubted this philosophy at first. After all, wasn't being creative about letting your imagination run wild and dream up anything it wanted? Weren't artists able to create a stable, safe set from even the most outrageous of design plans? Wasn't simplifying my design a cop out, taking the easy route? Soon after he offered this reminder though, it was clear to see that the stairs I had designed would be way too steep, mathematically speaking, for Juliet to walk up and down in her long gown without risking a serious fall down the stairs at the Capulet's ball in the process. It turned out that my complicated, creative design was not going to serve the greater purpose of the play in a way that allowed the story to unfold. We could add some design flair to the staircase later on, but first it must be functional. Creativity should help, not hinder.
Flash forward to the present where I am feeling all the feelings. This week, I have been helping to arrange a few new opportunities for myself to teach theatre workshops this spring and fall, conduct an interview for my new play on artificial intelligence with The Perpetual Visitors Theatre, and I enjoyed an exhilarating audition at one of Boston's Shakespeare theatre companies; so much joy. I am also still coming down from my anxiety running high last week, and feeling totally worn out. As I began my day today, I continued to construct all kinds of plans for tonite, for the weekend, the coming week, and around lunchtime, I could almost hear my professor's voice in my ear: "KISS. Keep It Simple, Stupid." I was doing it again; setting up the main character to take a head first fall down the stairs right in the middle of the show, except this time, that main character is me, and the show happens to be my life.
Creative souls like to pull out all the stops, bring the bells and whistles, and avoid taking the "easy" way out. While all these qualities make for a wonderful, challenging creative practice, insisting on living every moment of your life doing something the "interesting" way can leave you burnt out and broken down. It's hard for us, but what happens when we try to keep it simple for our most basic of needs? What if we put function first?
For me, this means abandoning my plans of cooking an elaborate meal tonite and making breakfast for dinner instead. It means not trying to rev myself up and push through more book edits or trying to answer emails and allowing my evening to be unstructured. It means that after I eat dinner, I am going to put myself to bed early to get the rest I am craving today. Not easy to do, but simple. Sometimes there is no creative hacks for the most basic of human needs. Flair is of no use without function.
Thirsty? Drink some water.
Hungry? Get yourself something to eat.
Tired? Sleep. (No, the answer is not more coffee.)
Feel like you need to wash away the energy of the day? Take a hot shower.
Frazzled? Get quiet and breathe.
Lonely? Call a friend and connect.
Energetic? Get some exercise outside in a way that is fun for you.
Don't let your incredible, colorful creative spirit keep you from keeping it simple. Sometimes it takes the most imagination to see what it is that you really need in order to be good to yourself, and the most motivation to get up and actually go do it.
How about you? Are you like me, and struggle to Keep It Simple? I'd love to hear from you in the comments!