Below is my favorite passage from the book ‘The Bell Jar’ by one of my favorite writers, Sylvia Plath. An amazing woman ahead of her times, a beautiful tormented soul that eventually succumb to her own expectations and pressures.
‘The Bell Jar, Chapter Seven.
I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out.
I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant loosing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet …’
Expectations, desires, wants, needs. Pressure, what the fuck do I want? What am I supposed to want? The first time I read the fig passage from her book, I cried and cried. I just identified with so much of it. What an amazing woman she was. Forty years ago she felt the exact same pressures as I do. She was an amazing misunderstood woman, well ahead of her time. She committed suicide. She ended it all. Gassed her self. In the kitchen. Sealed up her kitchen with wet towels and her children sleeping in another room and put her head in her oven. My fucking heart. I feel grieved at the thought of her in her kitchen. Reading her stuff so often feels like some kind of reflection. It feels like it is my voice but with a retro flavor (and of course a far superior written voice) but I mean the emotions she was feeling, the things she went through. Which is kind of terrifying, I don’t want to gas my self. I don’t want to die at my own hand. So much of her pain went unresolved. And medically untreated. That poor beautiful woman.
So much of what was going on with her pain really today could be treated and managed. Instead they locked her up, treated her at times just like a base ‘hysterical’ woman. Did dreadful things to her. Thank fuck for medical advances. While I think mental illness still has a dreadful stigma attached, it is getting better.
I mean seriously, do you honestly think people would choose to be fucked in the head. Oh they are only doing it for attention etc fucking etc. Some people just have no idea.
I wish I could go back in time and bring her here. Tell her it’s ok. The image of her slowly closing her kitchen door, of her carefully placing the towels to make sure no gas escapes, of what she was wearing. Did she leave her shoes on? Did she still have her jewelry on? Did she lay her head inside the oven or sort of just crouch in there. Oh all of it haunts me. It makes my heart feel broken. And all at the same time it makes me feel terrified. I said that already, but I mean, it makes me feel scared. I do honestly identify with so much of her words. Am I to face her same fate? I’ve been close before. Thankfully not for a long, long time, and so many of my issues were just being in a horrible marriage with a man, well a boy, that simply should have never been married. So much of life just got better after we separated. And thankfully it continues to keep blooming. But it still makes me feel scared. Like I know there is this part of me that is kind of just there, this little bit of me that I know is black and full of darkness. I’ve no intention of placing my head in an oven. None whatsoever, if anything I would certainly choose a different method. Something elegant and dramatic. Something they would write about.
Seriously now. Thankfully I have not been anywhere close to that for years and years. The brief time I was, directly related to the trap I found myself in.
At the time I felt there was no other way out. Thankfully plans for my life were laid before me outside of my cage.
So, so thankful for the end of that chapter in my life. For all of it. So, so thankful it’s over. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger right?! Damn straight. You wanna try that shit with me now, Oh hell no. Hell fucking no. I’m so very grateful. Truly, grateful. Sometimes I just sit and think how lucky I am that I did get out alive, that I did get out with some of my youth left to live. How blessed am I. Blessed.
My dear Sylvia Plath. Her life has left a legacy of beautiful, honest and raw written word. She was thirty when she died. Only thirty. I just turned thirty one. A life lived and lost. Her beautiful tormented soul lives on in her words. The image of her fig tree has always resonated with me.
What do I want from this life? What is my purpose? What am I supposed to do with the life I have been given? The world is so very vast. I want to see it all, do it all, taste it all. So many beautiful little plump figs to taste. ‘But choosing one meant loosing all the rest’ Why does it feel like that? I feel exactly as she writes. Like I may starve to death, like my life with disappear like a whisper, my whispers just languishing away waiting for me to make a decision. Waiting for me to take my life and live it.
I want a life less ordinary. I don’t want a pedestrian existence. I want fly and soar and fuck and taste and scream and love and explore and fall and run and be lost in all the glorious moments and details of this amazing world.
But I have to get up for work on my Mondays. Have to put on my work uniform like an insignificant number and catch the train into the city and be lost in the inertia of all the other numbers as we flow through the concrete cityscape. As we flow to our boxes, our city captivity. Boxes with windows and lifts and phone calls and emails to answer. And then we come home and do the food shopping and cook dinner and if I’m not too exhausted do the dishes. And put a load of washing on. And then fall into sleep exhausted ready to do it all again, or at least some version of it all again the very next day.
And then we all hang out for the weekend. So we can forget that our week is spent in a box in our city just like a captive monkey.
But so often we are just so exhausted that we want to spend our weekend in our pajamas. I want to spend 48 hours of my weekend in the direct opposite to my week. I don’t want to answer the phone, or put make up on or wear heels or even put a bra on. Or if you are younger, you just want to get fucked up and shit faced drunk until you have to responsible again on Monday. Is that really all life is meant to be? Really?! But I have to pay my bills. And I do actually mostly like my job, I love the people I work with and where I work. So more than most I am very blessed with work. But still. Is that it? Is that to be my future for the next 30 years until I retire?
But if I don’t work I can’t pay for anything. I want to travel, I want to cook, I want to spend all day in bed with my children reading them stories, from a book. I want to stay in my home all alone just painting and writing and lost in the cool sounds of The Jezebels and my own consciousness. I want to see and do so many things. I don’t want a 9-5. What makes me so special? What makes me think I deserve anything different from the millions of other people in the world who have to work to live? Who do I think I am?!
The thing with it all is what do I really want? When I was married all I wanted was to be this ideal wife. To be perfect. To keep house and fuck like a boss. To be blonde and thin and to rule the dinner party scene. For my kids to be perfect performing angels. For my heavenly lemon tart to make all the others jealous. Most off all I wanted my husband to be in awe of me, to love me, for him to see me. I wanted to make him happy, for him to come home to a house full of beautiful baked goods. For him to come home to me and my perfectly shaved bits and lips with perfectly placed gloss.
I wanted, well I thought I wanted all those things. I wanted the husband and the car and the house and the white picket fence and the 2.3 children.
In the beginning I did all I could to fall into some kind of perfection. I baked and cooked and researched awesome sexual positions sure to ‘drive your man wild’. In the beginning he would come home to a beautiful dinner that I had honestly spent all afternoon making. Come home to me in a lovely black dress with the sexiest lingerie on under it all. Wasted all of it. He never really wanted me. Stupid fucking little boy. He never saw me, I was just an invisible whisper. Most often I would unsnap my own thigh high suspenders, do the dishes and cry my self to sleep while he had ‘work’ to do on the computer. He should have never got married.
Any way. The whole exercise rendered me unsatisfied, and bored. So very bored. And the truth was this, I was a fucking failure at all the housey stuff. I couldn’t maintain perfection. I just couldn’t. My head started to fill with thoughts of an escape. My head filled with dreams and wishes. Well they had always been there, but they were just resurfacing. I wanted to fly. I thought we could fly together. I loved him so. Lets go I’d say. Lets explore. Life is so short, we are young, Lets go and fly! It wasn’t what he wanted. It’s just silly, so silly, I was just silly. Just a silly childish girl.
He had to go see an old TAFE lecturer about something once, I tagged along, she was amazing, she had been all over the world, she was eccentric and beautiful, a house full of tea pots, I love tea pots. She told me about all her travels and about Paris. As you go up the Eiffel tower you get a view of this amazing city that is like a slice of cake, she reminisced, as you creep higher you see a new sparking layer.
She filled my head with dreams, She said you must go! I must, we must. All the way home I chatted about nothing else. We must go, what’s holding us back?
It is irresponsible. No. Not now. But I knew that not now meant not ever. I cried and cried, so silly, but I did actually cry. He said he never will take me to see her again, given that it got me so worked up. And we never did see her again.
Slowly over time my wings started to crumple. I started to feel grey, like my colours were being drained out of my being. I felt like my life and colour and was bleeding out of my dreamy eyes. I was giving up. I was submitting. I was lost and trapped. My dreams like ash whispers being blown away. I was slowly drowning in my suburban hell and empty marriage. A caged bird. A bird with black ashy wings. Wings filled with lost whispers and an empty dream.
I think the idealistic, romantic notion of a traditional marriage is unrealistic and childish. And truth be told I don’t think it really ever suited me. I don’t ever (fucking ever) want to be married again. Perhaps it was just a bad experience, and modern couples can negotiate a relationship that fulfills both participants. I’m not sure. But for me I don’t care to find out.
So it’s safe to say I can cross off my wants list: Happily married with a baby and white picket fence.
After that all ended my single driver in life was survival. Pure base survival. There was no consideration for desires and wants. It was just about getting through this next month, this next week, this next hour.
Given that when it did all end I left with mostly nothing, my focus was on getting a job and some money, so you know I could buy some essentials like a fridge and freezer to keep our food in. The only things I did ask for like the fridge and washing machine I was not allowed to have. (He was working at the time, he had a disposable income at the time, I from here was to be on government benefits, we had no savings at all, I left with nothing of consequence) Hey but you can have our old wooden marital bed. Oh thank you, but I might leave our defiled marital bed with you. Oh ok. You can have the old shed fridge, the one we keep the drinks in, the one with rust, yeah you can have that. Oh ok thank you so much. So much, I appreciate it. I was just a wasted whisper. Wasted, I had no voice. No voice at all. Try that shit with me now muther fucker and I will fucking stab my fucking heels in your fucking saggy dirty fucking balls.
Fuck me. When I think of how much I let happen. I just had no colour, no colour left to fight.
Survival. Mere survival was all I clung to. Dreams? Dreams and wants where no where to be found.
Of course over time, my wings started to heal. What a blessing was my freedom. I ever so slowly started to get my colour back. I started to dare to dream. Just little dreams. My little dreams started with all the little things he didn’t want me to do, or things I wanted us to do together. Things that were promised but never eventuated. I started to learn to give my self all the things I needed. Learning slowly that I didn’t need some man to make me feel ok. Very slowly. Every day I felt more and more free and more and more blessed. Starting to bloom, starting to open, starting to live.
I fell into a job that I liked. I’m still with the same company. By all accounts my job was my saving grace. It gave me something to do, a reason I had to get out of bed, it gave me of course, my own money for the first time in forever. Working was a welcome distraction when the kids were at their dads. I was good at it, I loved it. Slowly but surely my confidence started to grow. I liked the stability and control that working provided. I was getting shit done, I liked working so much more than ever being a stay at home mum. I sucked at that. But working, I can do this shit. No I can rock this shit.
I felt like I had a voice again. Like I had a direction and a purpose. To continue to strive at work and money became my drivers. Independence became my single biggest motivator. Independence. Something I felt for the first time in my life I would scream and fight for, something I was happy to work my arse off for. Something I would ensure no one would ever (fucking ever) be able to take from me again. Ever.
And so that has been the last two years. I got a job in the city in head office. Which I love. I worked my arse off. Taking things home, asking and pushing for new opportunities. I have grown so much because of my work and I feel so very blessed to have my job. I have learnt so many new things about my self and the world through work. I have been exposed to wonderful things I didn’t even know existed. Dined in lovely places in the city, been on some amazing training courses. Met some amazing beautiful people. I have been overseas through work, which was the first time ever. I almost died with excitement when I got my passport. I really do love my job. So my next fig, my dream in the last few years has been to keep climbing at work. To keep striving. To do my very best, to keep earning more and more. To fucking show you, you bastard. I will not let you destroy my future as well. I was taking my life in my own hands, heels on. Damn strait.
I put my hand up for almost anything that was going. I asked to do all the new training. I asked to do the managers course. Asked to keep pushing on with the continuous improvement research, I was good at this stuff. I got this. Yeah, heels on. I got this. Money meant independence, and the only way to get money is to keep working my arse off. Keep going, keep pushing, keep striving. Don’t stop, don’t drop the ball. You can do this. Bitch in heels. A few next pay grade positions I applied for, fuck, knocked back because no external qualifications. My arts degree had no weight here. Damn it. So if I want to keep climbing the only way is I need to study, right?! Just load that up, just one more ball I’ve got this, damn straight. I want this all so bad. Its my dream, isn’t it? To be a modern woman in killa heels dominating the corporate world. All in my fucking awesome Cue dress. (not that I’ve ever been thin enough to fit into that designer brand) I got this, I can do this, I have the capacity.
It’s what I want. Isn’t it?! My dream, my fig. We have to work. I have to work. I can’t afford to eat otherwise. So I do have to earn money somehow. I do love where I work. I want to make the most of this opportunity. We spend so much time at work, I want to feel challenged and inspired. Which I do. Mostly. So long as I keep pushing, keep going, don’t get stagnant. Don’t stop, or ill get bored. I don’t want to be bored or poor.
So I must get those heels back on and keep going. I am surprisingly good at this stuff. I got this, just keep going.
Its just that, well, I’m so very tired. So tired. Coming to the end of one of the courses I realized I had spend that last few months working at home on things almost as much as I was at work. Realized I was spending almost 11 hours a day out of our home and away from my kids. Realized when I was home all I wanted to do was get my assignments and project done and then sleep. Realized I was full of pressure and expectations. Just they were now coming from something different. Coming from my work space and this time coming from myself. So exhausted. I just want to sleep all the time. Work and sleep. Sleep and work. Weekend. Collapse into my slippers and couch and movies until Monday morning. Heels and make up. Work and sleep. Dinner. Pick up kids. Cook, procrastinate about cleaning. Bed time. Work. Weekend. Monday. Fuck.
I don’t want to be a grown up. Can I just run away with the circus? Please, please and thank you. If you need me I will be in my pillow fort.
But I can’t really. I have files to sort. The thought of what is waiting on my desk for my Monday work morning suddenly fills me with this unbearable sense of anxiety. So much to do. Must keep going. Do not drop the ball. You got this, ok, you got this. I do really like my job. Don’t I?!. It’s just that if I have to ask one more customer the same standard question I may just loose the will to live. Or poke my eyes out. Either way I don’t think it’s the best outcome.
I have to have an income. Just like death and taxes, or however the cliche goes. It is an unavoidable part of life, of being a grown up. I want to feel proud of my self, to know I have done well. I want to know I have done my best. To know I have given myself a sense of freedom and financial independence. To know I am taking care of my children. Looking after my little family.
I can not stand people that complain about having no money but then do not do anything about it. If you have no money then get off your arse and get a fucking job. Seriously. Do not complain about things that you have no intention to do what you can to fix it. So really working is a must, well at least responsibly earning an income is a must. But really I don’t want life to feel like it’s just groundhog day. But then I don’t suppose anybody wants that. Why am I special. I am not.
But life really is so short. So short. Its just fine sparkly particles of sand that ever so quickly slip through our fingers. 9-5 for the next 30 years. That does sound like some kind of sentence. But that is what being a responsible adult is all about. Isn’t it?! I have no fucking idea. None what so ever. There really is so many amazing things in this life that I want to try. That I want to see and do. So many figs. I feel exactly like I can only choose one. Like I can not have them all. At this moment I simply do not have the financial capacity to attain all the figs I want. Nice figs are quite expensive. And so I come back to money and working. I can’t buy any figs if I do not have any money. But then I’m so tired from working I cant chase any of my figs. I feel precisely like my dear Sylvia so poetically wrote, that I may starve to death making a decision on which fig to pluck from the branch.
I do feel like a modern woman. Like a perfect rag doll pulled in so many directions. What do I actually want. I do not know. More than anything I want to be a superstar in heels, ruling our corporate world. But then I would like a cushy job that pays the bills and that I could spend more time with my children and just indulging in time. But I want to buy myself a house, so very much. My own house, my own space. A place that no man can ever take away from me. A place that is mine alone. An asset I can leave to my children. Yup that’s what I want so much. But then I will be tied to a mortgage. For the next 30 years, I will be broke. On a single wage with two kids and a mortgage. No more eating out or movies. No more life, just stuck working and in your house until you die.
Wait I want to travel, oh fuck I want to travel so bad. The world is full of wonder. So many amazing things in the world. I want to see them all. Paris, London, Pittsburgh. I want to take it all in, to see each intricate detail and forever it to become a part of who I am. I want to have random amazing meetings with an unexpected lady in Paris who tells me her life story. Or go to Italy and get the secret family recipe of some amazing pasta sauce from some weathered dear man in a cobble stone laneway. I want to sit in a bar in London with others my own age from all over the world and listen to their travel stories in their exotic accents. I want to go to an amazing American city, to drive through their tunnels and be show their amazing sparkly night lights, I want to taste American Honey Whisky and listen to the rambles of an American poet until their American sun comes up.
I want to live by the beach, want to spend the evenings listening to my children giggle and run across the sand. I want to live in the city so I don’t have to travel so far to work. I want to live in the hills, where the life up there inspires me and fills me with breath.
I want to be in love and live happily ever after. I want to be ‘single’ forever. I do not ever want to be married or live with a man ever again. I think they are both lies. There is a small part of me that wants the white dress and the diamond ring and there is also a small part of me that just wants to have wild exotic sex with all manner of amazing men for the rest of my time here.
I want to read more. Want to go sky diving. I want to sail a boat and write a book and have another solo exhibition. I want, I want I want.
Such childish notions. So silly. Perhaps I need to stop wanting. To just be calm and accept that this is my lot in life. Just be grateful for all that I do have. To just settle where life is at right now. Perhaps … but life is so very short.
The time we have is just like sparkly diamond sand. Should we not be striving to make the most of it?! Oh I don’t know. What is my passion what is my purpose? What am I supposed to do with my life.
So many lovely figs, I will surely starve. I will languish away here waiting for my life to begin. Waiting on me to know which fig to choose. What is the ‘right’ thing to do? Does that matter? Social convention dictates that I should work in my responsible, respectable job for the next 30 years paying off my mortgage. And in all honestly how proud of myself will I feel when I have paid off my own home. But then I will have wasted what few precious years I have left in my youth slaving my guts out. Being tired and poor. But I will have financial independence, which is a fig I thought I wanted.
Travel feels like it is all I want to do, the only fig that matters. But then that’s expensive. So I still have to maintain my 9-5 job to be able to afford to travel. Life just feels like it is so short, and as I get older it feels like time is slipping away much too quickly. I want a life less ordinary. I want to fly. To feel awake and inspired. To feel valued and feel like I have a purpose. I want to feel like I am contributing to this world in some way. I want more than to numbly fall through the time I have on this earth. I just want to LIVE. Is that so much to ask? Is that such a childish notion?
I know there are people in this world that follow their dreams. People that step out of the slipstream of life and make their own path. How brave are they. How inspiring. They are the sort of people that write inspirations quotes and make documentaries. Amazing people. I’m not the least bit amazing. Just some woman in suburban Adelaide, with a pedestrian 9-5 job.
How do you decide on a fig? And then once you have made your decision how do you make it happen? How do you live your dreams? How do you live the undisclosed desires of your heart? Ugh. I have no fucking idea.
Ok I do think I am going about it all wrong. Looking at it all from completely the wrong way. I don’t know, I’m not sure at all. But just go with me for a minute. So when I re-read it all in part, a lot of what I was hearing was me, me, me, me, I, I, I, want, want, want. I sound so dreadfully self indulgent. Maybe I am, maybe not. But my lingering thought is this: I do not believe that our life is our own. I do believe we each have a purpose to serve. We each have a part to play. We each have a gift we have been given, a gift we are supposed to use. It’s just that not all of us are courageous enough to use it all. Not all are brave enough to fulfill our purpose on this earth.
I do believe we are all exactly where we are supposed to be. Right now I am here because I have something to learn from this moment. Something to take away from this moment to help me in the next. There is a plan to this life, an orchestration to my life. Set by a higher power, call it what you will, I will call it God. I believe I have been given a purpose, but perhaps we spend so much time fighting it because we are scared we miss our moments. Perhaps. I really don’t know anything. I’m trying to make sense of this big world just like the rest of us.
But I think we just need to let go. To give over to the moment. To trust. To have faith and know that our passion and our purpose has been destined. We just have to be brave enough to let go.
He won’t let me starve, If I am quiet and still, If I trust and have faith, I will know that whatever fig I am supposed to pull from the branches will be the exact fig I was, at the time I am supposed to have. ‘Therefore I say unto you, take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?’ Matt 6
I could be a complete loon, and be completely way off. I have no idea. But I am just going to try to be brave, as brave as I can manage. To try to trust and have faith in this journey and this life. To let go, to live in this moment. To know that if I do my best to be open and receptive to the lessons and moments in this life I will find my passion and my purpose. And then I suppose whether I get to live my ‘dreams’ or not, will no longer be of any significance. It wont matter because I can be calm and still in the security of knowing I am exactly where I am supposed to be.
‘Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.’ Matt 6:34
(Not there yet but practicing being brave, practicing letting go. Its just practice I’m sure, sure that’s all that is needed)
water colour fig artwork- Aj