I know you need to stay grounded and be your own cheerleader. Being grounded is a much needed quality to ensure that we are here and present every moment. But at times I feel this pang of anxiety, call it existential anxiety when you cannot redirect the frenetic energy on work files that have to be attended to. It usually happens when there is a file that I cannot seem to get around to doing it or when I find myself wearily pushing papers or shuffling files around.Before the pandemic I could step out and have a coffee to clear the head. While I try not to feel overwhelmed and end up getting worked up into a frenzy state, I do feel that I have not pushed myself hard enough to simply focus on what needs to be done. Some people can just wake up and know where they have to be and get on with some pedantic and tedious administrative tasks when they know that they just have to get it done.
It is a matter of perspectives. What are right perspectives for one may not be the right perspectives for another. You just have to figure out who you are and make up your mind about what you want to do and optimize your time in life.
Since young, I find that friends seem to know how they want to live their lives or the things they want to attain in their lifetimes. I had been indecisive as to where I really wanted to be. I could not envisage the future thus I meandered and navigated as life happened. I knew my dislikes and values that I was not pre-occupied with but by default, I end up with people whose values I do not quite share. But that is Ok because I wanted to hear the alternative views. It has been quite a fortuitous journey and a nice one. When there are conflicts and differences, it is the time to step up my resolve and remind myself to stay calm. It is not easy but that is when you have to let go and you may even get to know yourself better. After all you have control over your own mind. Here are two quotes from The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath that strike a chord with me.
‘ I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in my life. And I am horribly limited.‘
– The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath by Sylvia Plath
‘I have the choice of being constantly active and happy or introspectively passive and sad. Or I can go mad by ricocheting in between.’
– The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath by Sylvia Plath
Last weekend, I re-read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. The author’s prose is beautiful, melancholic and poetic.
In this coming of age story, Esther Greenwood has aced every subject she does at college and due to her proven academic record, she has even persuaded her Class Dean to allow her to be exempted from taking any chemistry examination. She has made a straight A in physics even though physics has made her sick the whole time she learns it. When she feels that she will feel worse about chemistry as she sees ‘a big chart of the ninety-odd elements hung up in the chemistry lab, and all the perfectly good words like gold and silver and cobalt and aluminium‘ become abbreviations with different decimal numbers after them. She feels as if she will go mad, that’s how she comes up with the proposal and presents it to the dean without letting on how scared and depressed she is. She continues to sit in class pretending to be taking down notes and that pleases the chemistry teacher Mr Manzi. The Faculty Board takes it as a real step in intellectual maturity.
When nineteen-year-old her wins an internship on a New York fashion magazine in 1953, she is elated, believing that she will finally realise her dream to be a writer. The editor, Jay Cee mentors her. All her life she has told herself studying and reading and writing and working like mad is what she wants to do . When Jay Cee asks her,
‘ Doesn’t your work interest you, Esther?’
She tells her that she is interested in everything.
Then Jay Cee asks her what she has in mind after she graduates. She says she does not really know.
Here is an excerpt of the exchange.
‘ “I don’t really know,” I heard myself say. I felt a deep shock, hearing myself say that, because the minute I said it, I knew it was true.
It sounded true, and I recognised it, the way you recognize some nondescript person that’s been hanging around your door for ages and then suddenly comes up and introduces himself as your real father and looks exactly like you, so you know he really is your father, and the person you thought all your life was your father is a sham.
“I don’t really know.”
“You’ll never get anywhere like that.” Jay Gee paused. “What languages do you have?’“‘
When the photographer comes to take photos of her and the other interns for the magazine, they ask her what she wants to be, she says she does not know.
‘”Oh, sure you know,” the photographer said.
“She wants,” said Jay Cee wittily, “to be everything.”‘
Her mother teaches shorthand and typing to support them ever since her father passed on. She is always telling Esther to learn shorthand after college so she can have a practical skill as well as a college degree. But Esther aspires to be writer and a poet.
She has won a scholarship of Philomena Guinea,a wealthy novelist so her future is set to be bright. Instead she finds herself spiralling into depression and become suicidal as she finds herself in a society that refuses to take women’s aspirations seriously. When she does not make the writing course at the summer school, she considers spending the summer reading ahead and writing her thesis, then she thinks about putting off college for a year and apprentice herself to a pottery maker. She considers travelling or writing a novel. Her boyfriend, Buddy Willard has disappointed her as she finds out that he is not what he has projected himself to be. She also thinks about dropping the honours programme but when she looks up the requirements of an ordinary English major, she finds that she does not meet half of the requirements. In honours, she is free to choose what she wants to read. She tries to imagine a life where she is married and it will mean getting up at seven and cooking him eggs and bacon and toast and coffee, and then washing up after he has left for work. That seems a dreary and wasted life for a girl with fifteen years of straight A’s. Esther begins to feel isolated, she cannot sleep and cannot read as she feels a bell jar descending on her and she is trapped inside the airless jar. With the support of her mother and the novelist, after receiving appropriate psychiatric help for six months, Esther manages to think things through . When she is prepared to return to college, it is the heart of winter.
Here are some quotes from The Bell Jar.
“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, “This is what it is to be happy.”
“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.”
“If neurotic is wanting two mutually exclusive things at one and the same time, then I’m neurotic as hell. I’ll be flying back and forth between one mutually exclusive thing and another for the rest of my days.“
“The trouble was, I had been inadequate all along, I simply hadn’t thought about it.”
―The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Everyone of us is trapped inside his or her own head , we appear normal if we act in line with social norms. So long as he or she continues to perform perfunctory tasks and be functional human beans, you would not know what is on their mind. A zillion thoughts zap and whizz through your head as you make your coffee, answer your texts, scroll through your emails, read the news and carry on with your daily tasks, do you know your thoughts ?
The Bell Jar is a timeless read. It is brilliant.
The novel was first published in 1963 under a pseudonym, Victoria Lucas and it was first banned and challenged because it deals with mental illness, suicide, and the female experience.