Tag Archives: sylvia

Sylvia

11 Feb

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Sylvia Plath’s death.

Is this something that people do? Celebrate the anniversary of someone’s death? Certainly celebrate is the wrong word – mark is probably better, or even observe.

Today I am observing the 50th anniversary of Sylvia Plath’s death.

It’s no secret that I love Sylvia. I mean, I named my blog after her only novel (actually, I named it after what I would have called my all-girl rock band if I’d had one, but the band was named after the novel, so really it all amounts to the same thing). I’ve read everything she’s ever written. I have a weird sort of embroidered picture of her hanging on my dining room wall.

I’ve even joked about being her reincarnation. I mean, there are a few similarities between us, right?

We’re both depressed, oversharing lady-writers, for one thing. We both come from families whose finances went into decline at some point during our childhoods. Her father died when she was eight; mine left when I was thirteen. Of course you can’t compare death to a divorce, but I think it would be fair to say that those events left us both dealing with what are colloquially referred to as “daddy issues.”

Oh, and my son shares a birthday with her son Nicholas. So there’s that, too.

Of course, this is basically where the similarities end. Sylvia worked hard throughout high school and ended up attending Smith College on a full scholarship. She then went on to receive a Fullbright Scholarship to Newnham College, Cambridge. Meanwhile, I burned out early in high school, too tired and sad and stupid to get my shit together, and went from being an honour roll student in grade nine to receiving mostly Cs and Ds in my final year. I did get into Dalhousie University (though just how I managed that, I’m still not sure), and while there had all As and Bs, but still, I was never the academic star that Sylvia was.

Sylvia published her first poem when she was eight, and went on to publish several poems and short stories before she finished university. One of her stories, Sunday At The Mintons, won her a coveted spot as a guest editor at Mademoiselle magazine in New York.

I published my first poems and short stories, well, never, and I can’t even properly edit my own stupid blog, let alone a whole magazine. I’ve also never been to New York, although I have watched a lot of Friends and Mad Men, which is basically the same thing, right?

I guess that, all in all, Sylvia and I aren’t much alike, at least not on the surface. But when I read her writing, I feel that, as The Bell Jar‘s Esther Greenwood says about her friend Doreen, everything she writes is like a secret voice speaking straight out of my own bones.

I get Sylvia Plath. I mean, I get her. I get her dark, sad, humour, and I get her anxieties, and I get her hopelessness. Up until now, I’ve used her as a sort of guide in the darkness, reading and re-reading my well-thumbed copies of her books, looking for passages that will get me through my fits of sadness. A paragraph here, a stanza there, a kind of spiritual sustenance to tide me over until things get better. For most of my adult life, I’ve looked up to her.

But then, for all of my life until now, she’s been older than me. Wiser, hopefully. Maybe even more mature.

What do I do now that I’m about to out-age her? She’ll be thirty years old forever, but I’ll only be thirty for a few more months.

How do I continue to look up to someone who will soon be younger than me? Will I still love her writing in 10 years’ time? In 20? Will I look back someday and, instead of finding inspiration in her words, discover that all along she’s been a boring, self-obsessed, talentless hack?

What happens when you outgrow the people you admire the most? Probably nothing. Probably it’s normal.

But in a strange way I feel that by letting go of Sylvia and moving on, I’ll be abandoning her. In a funny way, I feel that she needs me, as much as I need her.

I’ve been thinking a lot about her last few weeks alive. Not much is known about what was going through her mind, since Ted Hughes burned her last journal, but we do have a handful of poems dating from late January and early February and, of course, a few firsthand accounts.

We know that the quality of her poems changed in those last weeks, becoming less about the self, their mood more disembodied, alien. We know that her incandescent poetic rage, that rage that has made her so famous, had begun to fade in her works, replaced by a sort of resigned hopelessness. We know that she worked feverishly, producing poem after poem, trying to translate her tangled thoughts into perfectly-ordered words.

We know that Sylvia went to her doctor and told him that she felt as if she was heading for a breakdown. We know that she began taking antidepressants and sleeping pills. We know that she reached out to her friends, Jillian and Gerry Becker,  for help and a place to stay. We know that several days before she died, her doctor began trying (unsuccessfully) to find her a spot in the hospital.

Each night that she stayed with the Beckers, Sylvia would take her sleeping pills and recite a sort of monologue about all of the people who had wronged her, all the men, beginning with her father, who had deserted her, and how utterly miserable she was. She would go on and on, ignoring any questions that Jillian put to her, as if she was in a trance. Eventually she would pass out.

Having Sylvia stay with them began to be a strain on Jillian – she had to do everything for Sylvia and her children, cleaning, feeding and entertaining them. When Sylvia announced on Sunday, February 10th that she wanted to go home, Jillian didn’t press her to stay. There was supposed to be a nurse coming to help Sylvia the next morning, and besides, surely the doctor would find a hospital bed for her soon. And also, as Jillian said in the article I linked to above, pity tires the heart.

Gerry drove Sylvia home Sunday afternoon, and she wept the whole way there.

That night Sylvia left the window in her children’s room open, and shoved cloths and towels underneath their door. She also placed tape all around the door frame, to stop up the cracks. She then turned the gas taps in her oven on all the way and, placed a little folded cloth in the oven to act as a pillow, and laid down.

She was found the next morning by the nurse and a handyman working on the property who broke into her flat when no one answered the door.

By that point, she’d been dead for several hours.

Her children, though cold from having slept next to an open window in February, were fine.

And pity tires the heart.

I think that there’s a state that you sometimes get into when you’re deeply depressed. You feel as though you’re walking along a sort of knife’s edge between artistic inspiration and suicide. In an instant, all the dead, flat hopelessness you’ve been feeling gives way to an ecstatic misery. You suddenly feel as if you’ve been given a special insight into how the world really is, and you work like mad to get that insight down on paper or on canvas or whatever. And you know that you’re playing a dangerous game, but you also think that it’s worth it.

It’s worth it to go that close to the edge, if there are rare, exotic gifts to bring back.

It’s worth risking death, so that you can tell everyone else what it was like.

It’s worth almost everything, if it means that you’ll write something great.

It’s like circling round and round a black hole, getting a few inches closer each time. You’re discovering all kinds of amazing things that no one has ever known before, but you never imagining that you yourself might be drawn in.

It’s like standing at the edge of a lake of poison, and knowing that the poison, if taken in small enough quantities, will give you brilliance and genius that you’ve only ever dreamed of. The poison, if taken one spoonful at a time, will give you an enormous drive to create. And you want that. Oh, how badly you want that, want all of it.

But even though you know that the poison could kill you, you’re not overly wary of it. You’re that you’ll be able to set limits. You’re confident that you’ll be able to stop when you need to. But after taking one sip, you talk yourself into taking another, and then another. And you feel fine, not sick at all. You drink and drink and drink, and maybe even dive right in.

And it’s not until it’s too late that you realize what a mistake you’ve made.

And maybe there’s no one to save you. Because pity tires the heart.

I am trying so hard not to tire all of your hearts.

Sylvia, I am thinking of you today. I promise that you do not tire my heart.

sylvia_kids

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Lovely Blog Award

3 Sep

This is a fairly new blog, so it kind of came out of left field when my friend over at Playful Meanderings nominated me for a blog award. I’d never heard about these before, but it seems like a fantastic way to pay it forward to other bloggers you love.

And, of course, it’s the perfect opportunity for oversharing. My favourite!

Now for the rules:

1. Thank the person who nominated you.

Thank you! Oh, and the rest of you should go check out her blog, especially if you’re a book-lover. Her writing is wonderful and entertaining!

2. Add The One Lovely Blog Award to your post.

Done and done

3. Share 7 things about yourself.

(1) I have my cat Phantom’s ashes in my bedroom closet. He was the cat I had growing up, and he was just the best. I can’t even explain to you how great he was. One time he stole a whole pork chop off my sister’s plate! And he used to cuddle with me and try to groom me. Awww. I wish I could tell you SO MANY STORIES about him, but you’d probably get bored really fast.

I moved across the country to go to university when Phantom was 12 years old. He was already having health problems by then – arthritis and a heart murmur. He was supposed to be on a diet to lessen the pressure on his joints and his heart, but he was, like, a ninja master when it came to stealing food. One time he ate my sisters birthday cake (many of my stories about Phantom begin with “one time he ate”).

Every time I came home he would sleep in my bed, or, if I was home but out of the house, in my suitcase. As soon as I came through the door he forgot about the rest of my family and he went back to being a one-woman cat.

One day, in the spring of 2004, my phone rang. I picked up the receiver and heard my sister Catherine crying on the other end. Annie, she said, he’s gone.

I didn’t need to ask who, only when and how.

Tonight, she said, it was a heart attack. Annie, when it started he ran to your room. He ran under your bed. He was looking for you.

I never thought I would cry so hard over a cat.

That year, when I went home for Christmas, my mother asked me if I wanted Phantom’s ashes. No, I said, what would I do with his ashes? She told me if I didn’t take them, she’d throw them in the garbage.

On New Year’s eve, my train pulled into Halifax. Phantom’s ashes were tucked deep inside my suitcase, wrapped in a protective sweater.

They sit in my closet now. I don’t really know what to do with them; if I were to bury or sprinkle them, I would want to do it in a place he knew, but there are none of those close by to me. Besides, I’ve kind of gotten used to having him around. It’s weird, I know.

Sometimes, when I’m throwing a party, I’ll disappear into the bedroom after I’ve had a few drinks. When I come back out I’m clutching a little grey urn. You guys, you guys, I say, this is my cat Phantom. Want to hear about him?

I throw good parties. You should come to one sometime.

Phantom, in his livelier days

(2) When I was in second grade I faked being left-handed for a whole month because I thought it made me more interesting.

(3) I have an embroidered picture of Sylvia Plath hanging on my dining room wall. She’s so great! I like the way she glares at me while I eat breakfast.

Hey Annabelle, guess what? I eat men like air.

(4) Theo’s birthday is the day before my grandfather’s birthday. My grandfather was named Ernest Joseph, which are Theo’s middle names.

Grampy died of pancreatic cancer on November 3rd, 1999, at home. I flew to Nova Scotia for the funeral; the church pews were packed and people had to stand at the back.

The last fruit he ate was a pomegranate, shared with my Aunt Carolyn, which seems strangely symbolic somehow, I mean what with Persephone and Hades and all. Now, every year on November 3rd, I eat a pomegranate and think about him.

I still miss him, a lot.

Theo might look like his dad, but he obviously gets his snappy dresser genes from Grampy:

(5) My friend Jessica did this amazing sketch last night of me as a suffragette, beating up policemen.

(6) I eat Montreal bagels like they’re going out of style. I think anyone who eats New York bagels is wrong and gross. Kidding! Kidding. Sort of.

(7) I was almost picked up by the police in Halifax.

See, there was this really big snow storm (a snow bomb, they kept calling it). The city was totally shut down; trucks with food and supplies were even having a hard time getting in. I can’t even emphasize just how much snow there was. So the government decided that they would plow like crazy at night, and dump all of the snow into the harbour.

Of course, they didn’t want to, you know, accidentally kill anyone while plowing like crazy. So they instituted a curfew of 10 pm, and said that anyone out on the streets after that time would be subject to a $1,000 fine.

My friends and I decided to have a Fuck The Curfew party. The plan was that I would crash with my friend Kat, who was hosting the party, thus avoiding the whole, you know, fine thing. Naturally, after a few drinks I came to two conclusions: a) I really, really wanted to sleep in my own bed and b) I was invincible and would never be caught by the police.

I was most of the way through the Commons before a police car pulled up beside me. I started panicking when the door opened and a police officer stuck her head out.

You know you’re not supposed to be out, right?

Boy, did I know. Shit, what was I going to do? I did the only thing my plastered brain could come up with: I lied like a motherfucker.

Yeah, I know, I said. But, see, my boyfriend and I just had a fight. A really big one. He kicked me out. I just need to go home.

I started crying, partly out of mad acting skills, partly out of the realization that there was no fucking way I could afford that fine.

The officer sighed and told me to get in the car. She drove me home, and not a word was said about the fine. Thank God.

4. Pass the award on to 15 nominees.

I’m shortening this list to 10, because I really don’t know too many blogs yet.

Audra Williams – Audra is a superstar badass feminist who likes to kick ass and take names, but ALSO talk about feelings. She also wears awesome clothes. Those are the main reasons we’re friends.

The Yellow Blanket – a beautifully, anonymously-written blog about pregnancy loss and infertility. The post about the author’s mother’s death from alcoholism had me in tears.

Make Me A Sammich – more awesome, well-written feminist fun! Plus, her blog name is just the best.

Crates And Ribbons – and still MORE awesome feminist writing! I especially loved her post about Game Of Thrones.

101 Books – If you love books, you need to read this blog.

Toronto Nanny – L gives a fascinating perspective on the life of a nanny. If you have kids, you should check her out, because it’s pretty dang interesting! If you don’t have kids, you should also check her out because she’s a good writer.

Cristian Mihai – makes writing about writing truly interesting. I really love his blog. If you are a writer trying to get published, you should really check him out.

The Falco Project – a blog about a transexual man’s journey to pregnancy and parenthood. The best part is that he and his partner refer to their future offspring as Falco. Amazing! I feel like I’ve learned so much from this blog.

Mama To Bean – this is my sister-in-law’s sister-in-law, which makes her my sister-in-law-twice-removed? I dunno. She’s also my friend! She recently had an incredibly adorable baby, and I’m hoping that this will be a kick in the pants to her to start blogging again.

The Adventures of Trans Man – This is a hilarious and honest blog about a trans man (duh) and his family. I love reading it. I especially love the pictures of Keith Richards.

You should go check them out, they are all fantastic!

5. Include this set of rules.

Done

6. Inform your nominees by posting a comment on their blogs

Will do!