A year ago, I wandered into a visiting cubism display at LA County Museum of Art that was full of these very abstract sculptures of shapes and line drawings and paintings.  Rectangles, circles, triangles, were tilted and stacked entitled things like “Bird on a Sunny Morning” or “Beautiful Woman #2.” As I am by no means an art buff, I was unimpressed with the talent. I didn’t get it until I stopped at the far end of the display to look in a glass case of an artist’s notebooks and notes.

David Smith

From sculptor David Smith’s notebook.

On one page, he had drawn a  sketch of a woman expressing loads of emotion through her body language, in sort of folded into a resting position.   Then, underneath it, this artist had simplified the drawing to eliminate many of the interior lines and shadows.  Underneath that, it became even simpler.  Step by step, the drawing became less and less detailed until it was a couple of triangles of different sizes, a circle, and a squiggly line.  In the notes beside some of his drawings, he’d written a little inspiration he’d had about how freeing it was to see the world without unnecessary complications.

You remember all those annoying math problems like, 24C + 12 = (9A -3B)(7B x 8C+14) or chemistry formulas that you had to balance like, KMnO4 + HCl = KCl + MnCl2 + H2O + Cl2? I absolutely hated that stuff most of the time because while it seemed relatively simple when professors walked me through it, when left to solve the equations on my own, the problems often seemed unsolvable. It seemed that there were so many steps that I would certainly take a misstep somewhere along the way.  The key was, however, not to get overwhelmed by the propensity of the problem, and to focus on one part of the equation to simplify. Gradually, the problem became more and more workable.

Dr. G.P. Williams at chalkboard

These problems can seem daunting, but with a change in perspective, they can be solved rather simply.

We come up against the same kind of problems in life all the time, some more complicated and frustrating than others.  When we’re so up close to a situation we see all of it’s complications.  Sometimes looking at the problem with all its variables and intricacies can be overwhelming, and it’s tempting to declare it unsolvable and leave it alone.  We look to other situations that from a distance look temptingly simple, but that would certainly have their own set of challenges if we saw them in all their detail. All we really need to do is take a deep breath and attack the problem one small, manageable part at a time.

It seems like many people my age are working through this process right now.  We have career, health, and relationship issues that seem crippling.  These daunting situations seem like they are out of our control or beyond our capabilities.  We deal with them in little quarter life crises and mini-breakdowns, and then we realize we have to find a practical way out of them.

Sometimes we look for an escape to leave them alone. Sometimes we look for help. Sometimes we wait them out and hope they work themselves out. My hope is that I am calm enough to face my life with a sense of confidence that I can succeed at whatever situation I’m in.