creative non-fiction desire Essay

The Fig Tree of Life

Charlotte Duff takes an analogy from Sylvia Plath as the jumping-off point for her personal essay on the paths we take in life, and on choosing happiness.

by Charlotte Duff

What do you want?

In Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, there is a moment where the narrator envisions herself sitting beneath a fig tree. Each plump, hanging fig represents a different path in life that she should take. A wife. A mother. A writer. An editor. An Olympic athlete. A different country. The purple figs hang expectantly, waiting to be plucked and chosen. Only, she cannot decide what she wants to do with her life, who she wants to be. She imagines herself starving beneath the laden tree, all because she cannot decide which path to take.

The other day, I emailed the fig tree quotation to a friend. She took a while to reply, and told me that she had burst into tears. I think it stirred something deep within her, something that reminded her that she hasn’t got to where she wants to be quite yet. That there’s still so much to do.

As for me, I have an idea. A sort of rough sketch of what I hope my life will look like over the next few years. Sometimes it feels achievable; that I just need to be proactive and go out and grab the opportunities for myself.

“She imagines herself starving beneath the laden tree, all because she cannot decide which path to take.”

Sometimes, I feel so overwhelmed and anxious that it feels like a hopeless dream. Like a red balloon a little child has let go of, floating off into the distance.

Even now, if you asked me, ‘What do you want from life?’ I would struggle to put this into a coherent answer. I know I want to write, and I know I want to live in a city. I want a partner. I don’t know if I want children. I want to publish a book someday. I want to feel content and joyful with how things turn out.

Here is another difficult part of myself that I struggle to come to terms with. I have suffered with depression and anxiety since the age of eighteen. I am now twenty-five.

So, often, when I am asked what I want (usually by a doctor or therapist), I answer: ‘To feel something. To feel happy.’ This is difficult and obscure when you take antidepressants and your mind can venture into dark territory. Sometimes, I feel a sense of achievement just for getting out of bed or for having a bath. Happiness is relative.

The American poet Mary Oliver said, ‘Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’

I want happiness and love and success. By success, I don’t mean wealth or status. I want to feel as if the things I do and will do, matter. In some tiny way. Even if it’s only to me.


Charlotte Duff | @charlottevduff

Charlotte Duff is 25, a writer and an MA student at Goldsmiths, London.

3 comments on “The Fig Tree of Life

  1. Loved your wire up .. 😊👌🏼👌🏼
    Good luck!

    Like

  2. I loved reading this. X

    Like

  3. Regina O'Shea

    Wonderful writing Charlotte, insightful and thought provoking. Really well done honey xxx

    Like

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