So you’ve seen the name of my blog: Under the Green Fig Tree. Sounds cool, but what in heck’s name does it mean?
Well, here’s the thing, it comes from a passage in a book that changed my life a few years back. It’s one that I try to keep in mind when I’m at a crossroads, paralysed by the fear of making the wrong decision.
This life-changing, empowering, kick-you-up-the-arse passage comes from Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar – a beautiful, difficult, semi-autobiographical book about a young woman struggling with her sanity.
I’m not going to digress here into a biography of Plath; but I heartily recommend reading her if you haven’t already and reading her again if you have.
The passage (quoted in a minute) describes how the character, Esther Greenwood, is faced with tonnes of enticing possibilities:
monogamous wife and mother / poet / voyager / athlete / lover of many men
She envisions life as a green fig tree and each choice as a fig:
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.
Hell, that resonated with me a few years back as a thirty-something-year-old woman who was stuck between pursuing a career in academia and starting a family. I was so stuck in my dilemma that I would go round and round in circles in my head. Write pro and con lists. Argue with my husband. But I want children. But I want this career. But I can’t have both!
And so I chose neither for a long while…
Plath opened my eyes to the reality of my predicament. During the months and years I wasted in indecision my research had become outdated and my fertility was on the decline. If I wasn’t careful, these two figs would wrinkle and ‘plop to the ground at my feet’.
So I made my choice. And started on the road to this current life as a mother to two gorgeous (and exhausting) kids. I let the academia fig plop to the ground (or maybe someone else caught it?) It didn’t look like a good-eater to me anyway. I found my way as a copywriter, keeping my brain alive and earning my bread.
Recently I had to make another choice: again, it was between career and family. Seems to be a pattern there… And guess what? Family won again for me. But instead of letting the career fig wither and die, I’m searching out another one.
And it could just be this blog.
Perhaps it will allow me to be the mama I need to be while pursuing something my pre-maternal self also craves. Maybe I can sit under that green fig tree and gorge myself silly. I’m going to try because the alternative ain’t happening.
If you want to read more Plath, here’s that passage in full:
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.
And here’s an excellent critique of the book (spoiler alert):