I recently read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I read a lot of books and I don’t comment on very many of them on this blog, or even bother to update my Goodreads half the time unless I think I will have something to say about the book. I have something to say about this book.
I had heard of this book, knew of it for a very long time, but just never came across it in my travels and it was on my ‘books to acquire’ list for a while before I finally stumbled across it on a trip to Durham, North Carolina and an awesome little bookshop called Letters. It came all the way home to Canada with me and then sat on my ‘to read’ shelf. I finally cracked it open.
The Bell Jar isn’t a very long book, and it is the only novel Sylvia Plath, a poet, ever wrote. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t find it all that extraordinary, though I did find it very interesting. It is impossible to read this book without the looming shadow of Sylvia Plath’s suicide hovering over it. She committed suicide the month after the book was published, she was only thirty years old.
I found all of this incredibly sad. Her successes, failures, the fact that she had two small children and had just published her first novel. The dichotomy between that success and her death is intriguing and very sorrowful. It is incredible, and terrible, to me that someone could accomplish something so great and still end their own life. That for me really gave meaning to the word tragic.
The other thing that makes this book interesting is her ability to capture emotion in words: “I couldn’t get myself to react. (I felt very still and very empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.) (pg.3)
This one I found very relatable: “After Doreen left, I wondered why I couldn’t go the whole way doing what I should anymore. This made me sad and tired. Then I wondered why I couldn’t go the whole way doing what I shouldn’t, the way Doreen did, and this made me even sadder and more tired.” (pg. 30)
And this one I identify with so much it makes me think I should seek professional help:
“The reason I hadn’t washed my clothes or my hair was because it seemed so silly.
I saw the days of the year stretching ahead like a series of bright, white boxes, and separating one box from another was sleep, like a black shade. Only for me, the long perspective of shades that set off one box from the next had suddenly snapped up, and I could see day after day after day glaring ahead of me like a white, broad, infinitely desolate avenue.
It seemed silly to wash one day when I would only have to wash again the next.
It made me tired just to think of it.
I wanted to do everything once and for all and be through with it.” (pg. 128)
For the record, I do wash my clothes and hair, but I identify with how it seems pointless sometimes and she captures that beautifully.
The Bell Jar is a very sad book, but it is also entertaining, witty and brave. As someone who is prone to questioning the path society has laid out for them, I had no trouble at all boarding the main character Esther’s train of thought as the stifling bell jar slowly settled around her. For most people that distorted, encompassing feeling comes and goes at different times, but doesn’t take up permanent residence. For Sylvia Plath, it did, and when you read this book, you wonder if she always knew that it would.
* The edition cited in this blog is Plath, Sylvia. The Bell Jar. New York, HarperCollins Publishers, 1999.
The great agent search of 2015 continues. This has me occupied by stupendously fascinating things like query letters, cover letters, editing, formatting and the most gloriously horrible, the synopsis. Necessary? Yes. A true joy and epic pleasure to craft? Not really.
In the midst of all this awesomeness, I also write for two newsletters. That gives me some nonfiction to work on, something that takes a different mindset to craft and edit, something short and with a much quicker payoff than the illustrious novel. I like writing them, even though sometimes it takes me a while to get started. Once I get in the zone, I enjoy it. I like the words, the tone, the relative speed with which these articles are written, edited and sent off into the world. I also get paid, always a happy circumstance. I should be pretty happy with all of this writing excitement going on in my life. It’s what I’ve been working toward for a very long time – the life of an actual writer and I’m pretty close to having that.
There’s a whiteboard on the wall in my office. I list the steps I’m currently taking to get my novel published and I adjust it as I move along, adding things, erasing them, modifying them, it helps keep me organized. One of the things on that list is ‘next writing project’. It’s the last thing, all tucked away on the bottom, but increasingly in my brain it’s the first thing. Next writing project isn’t all that specific, it could be a newsletter, an article, or one of the million short stories I have that I should really polish and send out. That’s not what it means though, it’s code for ‘start new novel’.
I worked on the last one for five years and it’s done and being submitted for the moment. You would think I would be happy, relieved, overjoyed to have that off of my plate for a while and for about five seconds I really, truly was. I made the decision to specifically not start another novel right away so that I could focus on getting the last one published. I promised myself I would wait until I had all the pieces of my proposal complete at least, the query, the cover letter, the synopsis, my first fifty pages, the manuscript and now I’m pretty much there, close, but not quite.
I’m getting twitchy. I miss my novel. My mind starts to wander and I think about it, the characters, the setting, the days, whole days, not eating, barely aware of the world around me when I was writing it, living it, breathing it, eating it, sleeping it, writing it, crafting it, loving it. It was terrible. For five years I accomplished absolutely nothing. I didn’t clean, was a terrible wife, friend, daughter, person, I was lost in the novel, lost to it and I loved every second of it.
My days are numbered. I don’t know how much longer I can hold out. I’m like a junky and I can’t wait to slip back into a reality of my own creation, a bubble around my desk, the zombie-like daily existence of the consumed writer working on a novel. There’s probably a name for this psychological condition, and that’s okay, I have it, I love it and I want it. Don’t cure me. Soon, I keep telling myself, looking at the whiteboard, my gaze always drawn to the last item on the list, soon.
I heard two words recently that I haven’t heard in a long time. There’s nothing really extraordinary about that, but I heard both of them several times from different sources which struck me as a little odd. So I’m taking a hint from the universe and giving these overlooked words a moment in the sun.
Forgotten Word #1 Spectacular
adjective – unusual to a striking degree – noun – an elaborate show or display, also, spectacularly.*
Now I’m going to try to work this word into my regular vocabulary. How about something like, “Wow, the fact that the temperature is above zero is really great. I don’t know what that weird yellowy orange ball in the sky is because I haven’t seen it for so long, but the heat from it is spectacular.”
See how easy that is?
Forgotten Word #2 Avarice
greedy, too great a desire to have wealth; greed for riches.*
Okay this one is a little harder. “When I was young I was full of avarice, but now I know there are much more important things in life than money.” Bam! I love this game.
Everyone has a limited vocabulary, no matter how extensive and most people use the same few words over and over again (use the ‘find’ feature in Word if you don’t believe me, it’s really sad) so it’s hard to remember just how many words are out there for your free use and enjoyment. I don’t think you’re ever lost for words, but you might not have found the right one yet.
*Both definitions for these great words were taken from Webster’s New World Dictionary. The actual physical book one that weights twenty pounds. I got a little excited using it, truth be told. Screw you, internet!