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.
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.
I didn’t think I liked Aziz Ansari and maybe I still don’t. Even so, I’ve been sucked into his original Netflix series Master of None and I’m currently about halfway through the second season. Strangely, it is through this series that I was recently introduced to the late Sylvia Plath and it’s how I came across the passage quoted above. Such is the fate of a jack of all trades, you might say.
A topic that I have explored at length on this blog and a topic to which I keep returning is this unwavering desire to do all the things. I want to keep up with this blog, I want to grow my freelance writing business, I want to be a better father and husband… the list goes on. I’m like the girl sitting at the foot of the fig tree, except instead of being frozen in indecision, I end up trying to grab all the figs at once, unwilling to lose out on any of them.
The choice of referencing The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath in Master of None is remarkably appropriate. Aziz Ansari’s character of Dev Shah doesn’t know where he wants to go in life and his father says the most important thing is just to pick something. Be an actor. Go to pasta school. Make a decision. It’s the one life skill that changes everything, because as Plath expresses above, not choosing which fig to pursue could mean you end up with none at all.
Any one of those figs could represent “a wonderful future” that “beckoned and winked.” You just have to pick one and go for it. But that’s easier said than done.
I was so touched by this passage that I immediately went out to get a copy of The Bell Jar from the public library. Before starting, I looked a little into the background story. I had heard the name of Sylvia Plath before, but didn’t really know anything about her. I didn’t know that the novel is a roman à clef, a semi-autobiographical exploration of her own descent into clinical depression. This is not dissimilar to how Master of None has Aziz Ansari playing a fictionalized version of himself too.
Sylvia Plath ultimately committed suicide shortly after The Bell Jar was published in 1963, adding an even greater sense of perspective and context. She was only 30 years old and she made a choice. Her final choice. Maybe not all figs are quite what we hope they are.