On Figs and the Future

A couple weeks ago, I ran across a great quotation I hadn’t heard since I first read it a few years back. Last night, I heard it again. (I am nothing if not a sucker for the ol’ Baader-Meinhoff phenomenon, friends.)

“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.”

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

It’s a helluva quote. Especially in the context of the author’s life. And death, really. I first saw it posted on Facebook (I liked it) to comments of how “beautiful,” which isn’t exactly where I was going with it. Last night, it was recited on the season finale of Master of None, as a confirmation and exacerbation of the 30 year old main character’s fear of settling into the rest of his life.

It really struck me this week, as over the weekend, I booked my tickets home for the close of my 3 years of Peace Corps service. That’s next month. And I really don’t know what I’m going to do when I get back. It’s easy to say that your plan is a general lack of plan—writing, trying to make it work, hustling—when the future is a continent and six months away. Now it’s 5 weeks out and I don’t even know what I want to be when I grow up.

I always viewed Peace Corps as a postponement of “real life.” I’ve always viewed “real life” in those quotes, like something that hasn’t started yet. I didn’t go into Peace Corps thinking I’d work in development. I was here for the adventure. And a sense of service, sure. I enjoy helping others. Halfway through my first two years, I seriously considered what a future as a development professional would look like. I extended out of our main office for a third year to check that out. As it turns out, I really, really don’t want to be a development professional.

But a process of elimination is going to take an awfully long time. It’s not that I’m afraid of hard work. I like hard work and the rewards that come with it. A sense of purpose. A sense of accomplishment. I want that in my life—it’s been missing this past year. I’m just afraid of moving in the wrong direction. And I suppose I have been for some time. It seems like everyone else got the internships, lined up the jobs and is out there doing the damn thing, while I’m hopping from rock to rock, trying not to take the plunge.

I like writing. I like journalism. I like photography. I like film. I like theater. I like music. I like fashion. I like travel. I like figs, and here are a bunch of ’em. Sure, I haven’t been to school for any of these things, but that’s a concern for later. What I’m worried about is watching these futures sour and fall at my feet while I stand staring.

It’s an odd concern for 25. Or maybe it isn’t. I suppose it can’t really be helped until after the holidays. In the meantime, I should probably keep writing, right?

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