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Sylvia Plath and Aziz Ansari

19 Dec
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From the amazing zenpencils.tumblr.com

I have been watching Aziz Ansari’s new Netflix show “Master of None.” I’m a huge fan of his comedy, and the show doesn’t disappoint. He’s one of those comedians that manages to be hilarious while remaining smart and thought-provoking. He’s unafraid to mix silly humor with humor that requires a modicum of intelligence. In the season finale (won’t give anything away), his father quotes Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar.” Aziz’s character goes to a bookstore and reads a section of the book while thinking about his life.

“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 love Sylvia Plath. And I love “The Bell Jar.” In college, I was obsessed with the book like so many millions of women of the age when life is a giant abyss before you with too many questions and too much uncertainty. I only learned years later that it was a cliche to be a young woman who loves Sylvia Plath. So even though I had read the book a half-dozen times, nodding along to every poetic sentence that seemed to dig into my heart, I stopped talking about it. I didn’t want to be that girl. The one that wears black and thinks big, dramatic thoughts about life and feminism. The Sylvia Plath fan who had likewise gone through sad times in life and felt inspired by the poets ability to channel it into beautiful words, poems, stories.

But I am that girl. The book remains one of my favorite because of passages that speak so directly to what it feels like to live in this day and age. I think the above quote is so apt for so many young people’s lives. It wasn’t long ago when people chose their profession usually by what their family did, what business their parents pushed them into. You worked where you apprenticed. You did what the community needed. Now we live in a global community with new levels of equality never seen before, especially for women. And these choices can be overwhelming. I know in the last couple of years I’ve considered veterinary school, law school, med school, speech/language pathology, writing, editing, web design. We are told to not settle, to find our true passion.

I don’t think that means certainty, though, and this is what Plath is speaking to. I envy my friends who decided what they wanted to be at 8-years-old and are now doing it. For the majority of us, though, I don’t think that’s the case. I think we, like Sylvia Plath, see hundreds of possibilities before us and are taught to wait for which one magically sings to us. But in this waiting, we let opportunity slip by. This quote got me thinking about choosing a fig, about just grabbing one. I’d argue with Plath that choosing a fig doesn’t mean that there are no other chances to choose another. After all, she did become a famous poet. But she also became a wife and mother. She took her own life at a shockingly young age, but if she hadn’t, there are plenty of figs that could have been before her. That’s the key to reading Plath. It’s the key to reading a lot of sad, dramatic writing. You can’t read it from within the Bell Jar, from her lens of negativity. You have to read it critically from the outside. Sure, swim around in her beautiful language, but also remember that she was wrong about some things. Reading her writing never depressed me, it always helped me to see anxiety-filled situations from a different lens and to feel less alone in those insecurities.

If you haven’t watched “Master of None,” you should do so as soon as possible. If for no other reason than to support a comedian who believes in quoting a poet on a television show. And you really must read “The Bell Jar.” Maybe even balance the two! Feel the melancholy of Plath and let Ansari cheer you up.

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One Response to “Sylvia Plath and Aziz Ansari”

  1. Nancy December 19, 2015 at 9:16 pm #

    You’ve done it again, Chrissy. Smart and insightful. I will never read “Bell Jar” in the same way, again.

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