Sunday, October 27, 2013
9/100 (a birthday letter to sylvia plath)
It's your birthday today. You would've been eighty-one years old, but of course you're not. You're forever frozen in your youthful zeal and passion and confusion, and I suspect that's how you wanted it. But because it's your birthday, I'm forced to confront my bewildered feelings about you.
One part of me admires you. There is no doubt (and I mean there is no doubt; take the cliche away from it and consider what that actually means) that you were gifted beyond belief. You were a woman who knew how to feel, how to string words together in such powerful configurations that they reach in and squeeze the heart of the reader.
But another part of me is a little afraid of you. There is something dangerous about you, for you carry (carried?) with you a kind of infectious, desperate romanticism. You walked the tiny red line that on one side fell to wanting everything and on the other side fell to wanting nothing at all. You took your own life and, after reading some of your thoughts (I am reluctant to dive too deeply into your world) I can't decide if you felt death would be just another great adventure, or whether it was something darker, more irreparable. There is nothing romantic about suicide; it is heart-breaking and lonely and grievous, and it is forever.
You said, once, that your realest self was the poetry self, that it was the truest you. Conversely, your self which fell in love and had babies and made a home and was outwardly happy -- at least in moments stalled in time -- was your false self. Your nice self was your false self, you said. I wonder if that's true or whether, rather, both selves were equally you and the writing self, the not-nice self, was the insistent one, the intense one, the one with the emotions that felt the deepest, the self that you thought must be obeyed.
History is still undecided about you, Sylvia. Some paint you as a victim. Others point to Ted and the children left behind, the sad legacy played out in Nicholas's life, and paint you as the criminal. It is none of our business either way. Your story is history now and it is not absolutely necessary for us to decide what was right or wrong. But by your own urgent, desperate life and your own urgent, desperate death, you force us all to look at you and take sides, to consider something that has no bearing on our lives and yet feels weighty.
Sylvia, we are confronted by who you are. We are confronted by you. And although there was deep sorrow amongst your deep joy, I have a feeling this would make you smile. You've been gone fifty years, Sylvia, but you're still intriguing people.
Happy birthday, Sylvia Plath.