Warning: I go into English teacher mode for a portion of this post.
I am a sucker for quotes. I love reading snippets of other people’s thoughts. I don’t know when this interest manifested, but I can remember being in middle school reading books from the library that were just compilations of quotes, sometimes set to various themes like success or inspiration. (As all normal adolescents do) I own a book of famous last words. I have an app that delivers a quote to me each day. I get annoyed when people misquote or misattribute a quote. You get it.
I’m not entirely sure what I find so alluring about quotes. There is something comforting about finding a quote that fits your exact need or feeling. As someone who holds an English degree, obviously I have a love for language.
Like people get songs stuck in their head, I get words stuck in mine. They roll around and whisper to me, staying as long as they want. The words can be phrases, stanzas, quotes, anything.
The words currently rolling around in my head were authored by Sylvia Plath. I always hesitate to tell people that I like Plath, even if they don’t know I have depression, because I assume they will judge me and think I’m one of those. (Why it matters to me…?) But I do love Plath. Her words are beautiful. The ones in my head are from The Bell Jar, the famous section about the fig tree. It was fantastically referenced in Aziz Ansari’s Master of None (which you should be watching) here:
I’m also including an illustration of the passage from Zen Pencils at the end of this post.
I’ve been experiencing a dilemma. I recently graduated college, and I am facing so many personal and professional options that I feel overwhelmed.
A year ago, I knew exactly what I was doing with my life. I would have picked a fig, no problem. Today, I find myself practically petrified with uncertainty. I am so fortunate to have the options that I do and the ability to choose. But I never thought it would be this hard. Hence, the words are rolling around in my head.
I remember reading this passage about the fig tree for the first time in high school. I knew Plath was a dark, depressing author. I read the piece, and it confirmed my theory. Yep, depressing. That sucks for her.
The great thing about literature is going back and re-reading something at an older age and finding new insight. I empathize with Plath now!
Another great thing about literature is what it teaches us about life. Obviously, picking any of the figs on the tree would have been better than not deciding to the point of getting zero figs. (Hangry alert).
The fig tree also reminds me of the often MONUMENTALLY misinterpreted poem “The Road Not Taken.”
TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
He’s not talking about being an ~*Individual*~. He’s saying that there were two paths, and, instead of just staying at the fork in the road and not deciding, he chose a path. The fact that he chose a path “made all the difference.” Otherwise, he would be stuck there forever.
We want to know which road or fig is the best, but we can’t. I used to think that was just the universe saying, “Look, you have iPhones. You can’t have omniscience too.”
But I think the real reason we never know is because there isn’t an ultimate number one option. There are many routes to happiness or success.
Part of me finds this terrifying. I want direct instructions, and not those stupid IKEA-style ones. I want a descriptive, illustrated, step-by-step manual.
The other part of me finds relief in this Any Path Works plan. Isn’t it better to live in a world of possibility? Isn’t it better to have a multiple choice question in which each answer is correct? This would drive my non-literature loving students insane. They like having one correct answer.
There are multiple right answers. There are multiple paths and figs and jobs and relationships and pizzas. Whatever you’re into!
Now, how to go about choosing… I’m still working on that. However, I find it reassuring to know that it’s not so binary as making either a good or bad choice. There are many figs on the tree, all fat and purple, a wonderful future beckoning and winking.