Their Sylvia Suicide Doll
They think / I should give them my mother’s words / To fill the mouth of their monster, / Their Sylvia Suicide Doll, / Who will walk and talk / And die at will, / And die, and die / And forever be dying. – My Mother, Frieda Hughes
Several years ago, I found myself holding a book entitled The Bell Jar. As I weighed the gravity of the pages, all I could retain in my mind was the eerie fact that the young author, Sylvia Plath, had committed suicide weeks after publishing the book. Perhaps I was too young to fully absorb the depths of Plath’s words, perhaps I was too naïve; whatever it was, I ended up shelving the book after a half-hearted attempt at reading it.
Fast forward a few years, and one night I found myself once again holding the blue-tinged edges of The Bell Jar in my hands. I wasn’t sure what attracted me to the familiar blue hue that night, but what I am sure of is this: slowly and surely, I found in Sylvia Plath something I hadn’t in the works of other literary masters. I found myself. The lucidity and bare honesty of the prose trickled with phrases that perfectly framed the intangible phenomena of my inner mind. A year or two later, when I found myself in the midst of a particularly bad day, I spent two hours in the bath soaking in the cathartic words of Plath and feeling my chest heave at the brilliance she crafted.
I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.
She was, she is, and she will be one of the greatest literary inspirations that have ever been. For me, Sylvia Plath has left behind a legacy of what it means to love life so much it is hard to love at all. To live, love and say it well in good sentences. To see people as works of literature; to take the pen and paint the world.
I find it a great shame that for so many, the principal connotation to Sylvia Plath is that of her death. Some claim her greatest works were those that centered around her downward spiral, without ever asking what circumstances led up to those works. I certainly cannot claim to be a complete expert on Sylvia Plath, nor can I claim that I am intrinsically aware of all her motives, all her emotions. But what I believe is that it serves no justice to Plath and the passion she had for her writing to simply see her as the ‘suicide doll’.
Recently, reading Sylvia Plath’s unabridged journals, I’ve come to develop not only a mental understanding, but also a visceral understanding, of what Sylvia Plath’s life was like. Through her mastery of words she paints her world in a way that shifts from breathtaking to devastating from entry to entry. You see her as an individual who yearns to know the world, to feel the world and bleed the world into tangible, infinite panoramas of words that give meaning to the otherwise dull state of existence. You see her as an individual who wants to do so much, to give back so much, but finds herself – as we all are – trapped beneath the impossibilities of infinite time, of vitality, of uninhibited fresh-facedness and happiness that we want so much in the world. I would interpret her words to illustrate what it is like to feel an obligation to admire our existence but feel unable to suitably give justice to the task of being human. And beneath the societal pressures that inevitably creep into our lives – ideas of success, financial security, matrimonial and emotional security – you see someone who strives to build a bridge between the chasms of daily experience whilst trying to dig a haven of her own. The words of Sylvia Plath alone is an exploration into the human psyche: our lust for the natural world and the fainter nuances of life, tainted by the superficialities with which we have to cope.
And to think that despite all of this heated passion, many see her simply for her death?
Perhaps when we find ourselves wanting everything, it is because we are dangerously close to wanting nothing.
I have yet to finish reading her journals, but Plath has already shown me many things about how I’m living in my own life. I’m definitely not Sylvia Plath in exactitude, yet I feel similarities between our lives that help me put my own experiences into perspective. I know what it is like to go weeks without writing: for me, it stifles my thinking, severely affects my productivity and sometimes, unfortunately, my feeling of self-worth. I don’t gauge my importance of self upon my prolificness or the quality of my writing, but I certainly feel like I’m losing touch with what it means to be human. I think that being human entails you to be able to transcribe experiences into something you can touch and experience again and again, because when we have been blessed with the capacity to feel, we are also blessed with the capacity to remember and share. After all, the only reason why we are able to label our emotions and experiences is because there have been accounts of similar phenomena as explained through the words of others. There are moments when we feel surges of intense emotion, and to capture that sensation is a challenge and a worthy feat that pushes the boundaries of what we can do to fully understand, and take control over, ourselves; and these moments of tying language to the intangible allow the kind of challenge that stimulates the mind.
In this context, Plath has taught me to treat writing with respect and to give all ideas and words justice. She has taught me that using words to paint pictures is a wonderful tool that can be ingrained into people’s lives, perhaps forever.
Another thing Plath has taught me is that there really are no excuses in life. If you want to do better, you can do better; if you want to write more, you can write more. Fitting moments of humanity – such as writing poetry or prose – into day to day life is possible, and it is so important to carve out these places of inspiration for yourself when you cannot find satisfaction in much else.
Frankly, the reason why I’m writing this today is because I’m currently incredibly disillusioned with my current reality. I know this may come off as selfish, which I really don’t intend it to be, but I feel as if what’s on my ‘to-do’ list are things that, even if they weren’t ticked off, wouldn’t do much to change the course of my life or that of another. Just banal, superficial things like doing work I’ll probably forget and won’t do much to stimulate me as an individual. And as these seconds are ticking, as the hours, and days, and weeks and months fly by, what have I – have we – to lose? And hence I’ve let go of all the ‘obligations’ that tainted the initial start to my day and decided to do what I love best: write. Write what I love to write about best: my inspirations, wondrous things that have affected me most. Although, unfortunately, Sylvia Plath had moments in which her writing defined her importance to herself, she taught me that creating this balance and putting thought first is an ability that we must learn to have.
As I wrap up the tails of this post, I hope I am leaving you with something to muse over tonight. Remember to open your eyes as you live the world, feel it, breathe it, learn to love it, write about it, make it something real. We do have societal obligations but don’t let them trump humanity. Learn from literary heroes like Sylvia Plath. If you haven’t read any of her works yet, definitely give them a go… and see where they take you.
Perhaps some day I’ll crawl back home, beaten, defeated.
But not as long as I can make stories out of my heartbreak, beauty out of sorrow.
(Quotes courtesy of Thought Catalog)