A rather strange ailment has caught me lately, wrapped itself around me like the strong musky fragrance of ripe jackfruit, and coloured my monochrome questions about life and the choices before me in colours I did not even have names for. The ailment is a delight to tell you the truth and in every masochistic sense, I am honoured to be under its spell.
Woman, poet, writer extraordinaire.
A few evenings ago, I discussed with a close friend about the kind of life I see myself living in the future. I have been consumed lately by a very bothersome thought that maybe marriage and all its miscellaneous baggage is not really for me and I will be more happier and fulfilled in a free almost bohemian kind of lifestyle with a heady mix of travel, novelty and my absolute love: writing in full abundance. I oscillate between wanting a large family and spending my life caring for them and on the other hand wanting to belong to no place and no person and living each day as it comes, allowing life to drift me in whichever direction like the sails of a boat. I want both these lives so badly that at times I just break down with the sheer pressure at having to choose one of them. And this is when I read this:
“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 Ee Gee, the amazing editor, 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 losing 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.”
I was smitten. This is the power of the written word, a woman from another generation, another country, almost a whole other world yet I could relate so deeply to her dilemma and was in tears when I read it and found my own questions form words and smile at me in her quote. Emotions become less of monsters when you wrap them around the correct words and after many days I felt my own dragons tamed.
A few months ago I read the belle jar, her only published novel and it takes a while to get used to her tempo and writing. In the New York Times Book Review, former American Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky declared, “Thrashing, hyperactive, perpetually accelerated, the poems of Sylvia Plath catch the feeling of a profligate, hurt imagination, throwing off images and phrases with the energy of a runaway horse or a machine with its throttle stuck wide open. All the violence in her work returns to that violence of imagination, a frenzied brilliance and conviction.”
For a brief introduction to Sylvia Plath and her genre of writing watch John Green’s Crash Course Video on youtube.
She lived a tragically short life, having been depressed for most of her adult life and killed herself at the young age of 30 years (reminded me of Virginia Woolf, another writer I worship who walked into the sea with her pockets full of pebbles). Sylvia Plath wrote extensively almost in a frenzy before her death and was awarded the Pulitzer for her collection of poetry posthumously. In 2003, her biography was released starring Gwenyth Paltrow and Daniel Craig:
I have seen many forms of madness in the work that I do as a psychologist. I have worked with patients with Bipolar and Schizophrenia. Some who believed that everything that happened in the universe is a conspiracy against them to another who believed him to be God himself. I have seen the patients with Borderline Personalities and found myself drenched to my bones in their emotional bleeding. And so needless to say I am fascinated by the mentally ill mind and its workings especially when it leads to art. And Sylvia Plath worried for most of her life about slipping into madness and writes cleverly of her state of mind:
“Intoxicated by madness, I am in love with my sadness.”
Often I feel overwhelmed by a sense of wanting to do something worthwhile, grand, life altering almost by do not really know what that is. My calling as far as I have known has always been writing but I do suffer from so much self-doubt in my own worth as a writer, at times I even don’t feel like calling myself that, that I spend days and weeks wishing to write so much but not writing it because I deem it “worthless” even before I have put it on the page. I am my worst critic and that cripples my writing and yet I feel buried under a 1000 tonne drowned ship when I do not write or create. Like Sylvia Plath elucidates:
“What horrifies me most is the idea of being useless: well-educated, brilliantly promising, and fading out into an indifferent middle age.”
I am clearly enamoured by this extraordinary woman and though there are parts of her story that I really wish were written differently, I do not romanticize suicide and the image of the “troubled yet genius” artist but had she managed to cope with her depression and survived the disappointments of her marriage, we may have had many more poems that grabbed our insides and twisted it into bunches.