When my sister suggested Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar to me by saying, “It reminds me a lot of my life, but it really reminds me a lot of your life,” I thought this a compelling recommendation. Then I realized that this is the book about a girl’s descent into madness, the novel that parallels the author’s own psychological battlefield, and Plath, of course, committed suicide. And then I wondered just exactly what my sister was trying to tell me – but, insanity aside (at least so far), I found she was right. I’m only one third of the way through this book, and I’m seeing a lot of myself in Esther Greenwood. For starters, the protagonist is a young, female writer with an internship at a magazine. In chapter 7, she compares the many options in her life to an image of a fig tree:
“From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked… 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.”
In the modern age, Esther Greenwood’s dilemma is a common one, and we call it “the quarterlife crisis.” As Kate Carraway says in her eyeweekly.com article Welcome to your Quarterlife Crisis,
“…the ‘Quarterlife Crisis,’ is as ubiquitous as it is intangible. Unrelenting indecision, isolation, confusion and anxiety about working, relationships and direction is reported by people in their mid-twenties to early thirties who are usually urban, middle class and well-educated; those who should be able to capitalize on their youth, unparalleled freedom and free-for-all individuation. They can’t make any decisions, because they don’t know what they want, and they don’t know what they want because they don’t know who they are, and they don’t know who they are because they’re allowed to be anyone they want.”
After some serious soul-searching when I graduated from UCLA, I thought I was ahead of the game in my realization of wanting to be a writer. Yet as I travel down this path, I feel like my options are only expanding, and my quarterlife crisis goes on. There are so many avenues of publishing and types of writing I haven’t explored. I love the things I am already doing, but nothing seems to be happening as fast as I would like. Sometimes magazine writing and fiction writing are complementary, and sometimes they conflict. Lately I have felt as though they are separate figs and focusing on one means giving up the other. I feel like it is time for me to make some change in my life, to take some active step in my career, but I’m not sure what it is. I feel as though, about a quarter of the way through my life, I am already running out of time, and I’m afraid of wrinkling, blackened figs plopping at my feet.