“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.” — Sylvia Plath
Plath wrote this in 1963 in her only novel, The Bell Jar. She wrote the book under a pseudonym and it’s regarded as a semi-autobiographical account of her descent into mental illness.
I haven’t read this book. I have never read anything by Sylvia Plath. In fact, I came across this quote on TikTok. I’m sure that admission says a lot about the intersection between social media, Millenials, and the romanticisation of the past, but that’s a discussion for another time.
Still, this quote floored me. For much of the past eighteen months, I had been stuck in a funk. I’d begun 2020 with high hopes, only to descend into stress about gaining internships that I told myself were vital in order to get my dream job. What was that dream job you ask? I have no idea, and I never did.
Then COVID-19 spread its infectious limbs around the world and we entered our first lockdown. Since then, through the fortune of JobKeeper, the highs and lows of Zoom tutorials, the bliss of Spring’s arrival, a particularly challenging self-isolation stint
over Christmas and the continued rollercoaster of 2021 (hello there, Delta strain), I couldn’t shake this feeling of stasis. It
makes sense, right? We are literally stuck at home, unable to
leave the country, the state, and at times, our own homes –
of course, I was bound to feel trapped. The dread I felt about internships was soon overshadowed by unshakeable concern about the state of the world and the length of this pandemic.
This feeling has been internalised by so many of us, and for me,
it manifested in an inescapable feeling of uncertainty about
my life – my degree, my job, my opportunities, my living situation, my long-term relationship. The latter, sadly, did not withstand
such uncertainty. I realised that I had pinned my hopes on some elusive transformation that I had anticipated would happen in my 22nd year. I never knew how this transformation would materialise, but realising that it had seemingly been halted
“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.”
Ouch, Syliva. The feeling I had experienced for much of 2020,
and into 2021 is encapsulated perfectly in this passage. The
deep uncertainty about what path to take, coupled with full awareness of how many opportunities are available, was only intensified by the passing of time. In a way, It’s deeply comforting to know that this experience is universal, transcending eras.
I’ve been reflecting a lot on this feeling, and I’ve come to the conclusion Covid-19 has very little to do with it. In fact, I think that the stress about the pandemic and the tangential anxieties of border closures, vaccine rollouts and financial security, have actually distracted me from a whole array of weird and wonderful things that would have happened regardless. Everyone says
your early 20s (and mid, and late 20s) are weird, right?
Online articles definitely think so. In writing this piece (and in my post-breakup quest for self-improvement), I scrolled through many articles describing the clusterfuck that is this decade
of our lives. Our twenties are meant to be awkward and uncertain. We’re supposed to feel lonely. Scared. Lost. Interestingly, the messaging was similar across pre-Covid pieces, and the ones that had been published recently. It’s nice knowing that things were always going to be a little strange.
The strangest part for me happened 18 months into the pandemic. A feeling started bubbling and brewing inside me a few weeks ago and now has completely overtaken that stagnant funk I was in for so long.
It was excitement.
Ironic, isn’t it? Over a year into the pandemic, in the depths of winter, grieving the end of a five-year relationship and looking down the barrel of another lockdown in an all-female family household, and I’m suddenly overwhelmed with excitement for what life has to offer. Have I potentially lost the plot? Maybe,
but trust me when I say it feels good.
Of course, I haven’t been blinded by optimism. The pendulum
of emotions invariably swings to uncertainty, sadness, and despair, particularly when scrolling the rabbit-hole of Seek, or looking through old photos.
But now, it seems there’s a kinetic energy inside me that has
been pent up for too long and is ready to break out. Of course,
the release of this energy doesn’t have to mean breaking up
with your high school boyfriend and planning to go and work
on superyachts after graduation. For some of us, getting into a dream grad program or finally moving out of home will fill our cups. For others, simply staying put will also provide that fulfilment.
Plath felt the same. On the page after the famous Fig Tree passage, her character eats a meal and her anxieties subside.
She realises that she was hungry.
To me, the end of university signifies a time where tough decisions and discussions are inevitable. I know I’m not alone. I have one friend who hastily signed up for a Masters at the end of last year only to discover halfway through that it wasn’t serving her and the path she was trying to forge – to the detriment of her bank account, her GPA and her wellbeing. Another has to weigh up
the pursuit of a career in publishing and the pursuit of a long-distance relationship, strained under the stress of border closures. Another landed a well-paid, full-time job straight after university, but still questions whether she is doing enough.
What I’m trying to say is, we are still so young. Our lives were bound to go through highs and lows and flip upside down, irrespective of if there’s a virus spreading around the world, granted, that doesn’t help.
But, as the older generations (and some Instagram quotes) say, your 20s are for being selfish. For getting lost in the pursuit of finding yourself, your passions and purpose. They’re for coming out the other side with a few good stories and a better grasp on your identity. Some people have already done this. Some people feel like they don’t have to. Good for them, really. I haven’t figured it out yet. It’s going to be a tough, hilarious, heartbreaking, wonderful ride.