Why did I choose to write my book about Sylvia Plath, instead of Tom Sawyer or tiger sharks or vegetarians, or someone or something else? Think about it! Why do we choose to do what we do? The answer may not be as simple as one might think. "Well, because I can," someone might say. Of course, we have to have the ability to do something, but history shows us we can all do amazing things. Why choose one thing over another. Maybe it's because we're told to do it, ordered, commanded, like with a homework. But, we could rebel and say, no, can't we? Maybe it's just chance, just something that happens without any reason, just "pops in our head." Maybe we select to do something completely on our own, create it without any influence from someone or something, like we're a genius. It's in our genes or unique personality to do it. Or, maybe we research something we've come to like or feel curious or excited about and want to tell others. It just touches us. Or, from a spiritual perspective, maybe we're "called" to do something. Maybe it's our following our destiny or intended life direction, doing what only our unique self is to do, invited but not demanded or commanded to do this by some supernatural force, energy or Being, contributing to somewhat of our vocation, if we choose to follow it. Another possible explanation is that maybe we do something because it gives us a reward of some sorts. Maybe doing it will give us power, position or wealth. Or, maybe it's a combination of some of these or other explanations. I wonder what you think about why you do what you do. What do you think?
I welcome your presence as I initiate a discussion and provide a book reading with you. A beautiful setting in a beautiful village, an intimate opportunity to ponder essential and important elements of life, as we consider the amazing, complex, challenging, and precious, brief life of Sylvia Plath. Hope to see you there: MARCH 25, 2017, 1-2:30 PM, Osterville Village Library, 43 Wianno Avenue, Osterville, MA 02655
what we read, what we learn, what we absorb becomes part of what and who we are and who we may become, be it healthy or not. Our life journey takes unique direction, degree of passion, point of emphasis and influence from what we come to see, learn, believe, trust, value. Each of us develops a unique perspective that, if healthy in expression, adds to the rich patchwork of humanity. In many ways, we are really challenged "to be or not to be." Psychotherapy can be one method to help us reflect, understand and learn "to be."
Today, with all our technological wonders and various "things" to occupy our time and mind, a vulnerability exists and increases to be lonely - i.e., missing something, lacking something. This loneliness can lead to much distress, even despair. It may be that what we are missing or lacking is the real, healthy connection of our self with the intimacy of the real, natural world. The old phrase, "stop and smell the roses" may be an illusion today- something we think we're doing or have, yet are at risk for moving progressively away from. Our greatest challenge today may be to proportionally use what we have invented and created, while creatively and uniquely becomig the gift of self-with-the-world that was created for us to be. To be or not to be. Humility and the "surrender" of acknowleging our imperfections is often a starting point. Grandiosity blocks this start. Giving clients time and space and direction to be authentic and unique ( and their shared, willful acceptance of this) is what I do in therapy. Seek well-being. Seek to transcend loneliess.
Essentially, my book describes the challenges encountered by a unique, beautiful individual, a "golden lady," as she passionately sought to achieve fulfillment and well being. Ring a bell? Isn't this what we all try to do? Factors within and outside of her helped or impeded her along the way. I believe, to some degree, we may all identify with Sylvia Plath's challenges. Some may identify with her more intimately than others. I work in psychotherapy with many who do. My hope is that, as with my clients, readers of my book see not only what may impede well-being, but, by seeing Sylvia's challenges and discovering and dealing with one's own, discover ways to face hurt, fear and distress in healthy and constructive ways and achieve their own unique fulfillment and well being. Although Sylvia's life abruptly stopped her quest (I leave the reasons for this to each reader's self-reflection), she clearly left us all with many "gifts," if we look hard enough within ourselves to find them.
There is no doubt. Life is not easy, but, as has been said, "it's all we have." Soooo, perhaps we may be well served by looking to the examples of those most confronted with essential survival situations, to help us appreciate life and live better and "be well." Those who live simple and essential often display a disposition of faith, hope and love of life - three fundamental, good habits or "virtues" that give life meaning and purpose and, paradoxically, come from living life well.
I ran across a person the other day who was telling me that, since we last met, all had gone along fairly well and he had had "no negative excitement" in his life. I thought his wording was an interesting way of speaking about stress in his life. No negative excitement. His expression got me to think about how many of us, perhaps most, tend to first look to the negative about our self, life, everything, as if we need to defend against owning anything negative or not "right" or socially unacceptable, fend it off, stay away from it, as if we are afraid of it, don't want to be related to it. While some of this effort may be normally protective and helpful for coping with stress, it may also prevent us from facing and addressing those "demons" of distress that remain disturbingly restless within us - a chronic anxiety or depression, panic, psychosis, prejudice, racism, homophobia, chauvinism, religious intolerance or hatred, rage from victimization or abuse, anti-military sentiments, or a host of other such problems we may harbor within us. I am privileged to see and work with much of this inner distress and our learning to purge or reduce their influence does set us free to become less negative, more faithful, hopeful and loving in life. There is a lot to be said for the expression, "the truth can set you free."
The cover of my book has a uniqueness of its own, an intimate connection with Sylvia Plath. The amazing and talented illustrator and I worked very hard to portray fundamental and important aspect about Sylvia and her life. Alone, I could not have succeeded in this work. While earlier drafts included a "bell jar," we just couldn't get it to look right or fit in. A "journal book" had also been inserted, but the cover just became too busy, too crowded, and both bell jar and journal book were removed. Centered on the cover are two images of Sylvia Plath. One is representative of how she typically presented her self to others, of how she wished to be seen by them and actually sought "to be"-smiling, happy, healthy. Yes, this was the real Sylvia, magnified, exaggerated, bigger than life. One might call this a public image. Bigger smile, accentuated voice, proper, polite. It was also the part of her I believe she had to continue to be to compensate for the anguish within, to make better what was believed to be inferior, "less than." Yet there was more to her, like with all of us, something, quite a bit that lies beneath, deeper, held within. For Sylvia, this inner part of herself seemed less acceptable, undesirable, bad, as if it were something that shouldn't be a part of her. It only popped up in expression when the force of emotion took charge and blocked logic and reason. This private image portrays the mostly hidden side of Sylvia, with the fear, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, hurt, and feelings of inferiority and inadequacy. This, too, was the real Sylvia. It was socially acceptable to express this in a poem, story or journal, but not as a more direct or public manifestation of her self. Sylvia often spoke and even wrote about this duality of self in life, seeing it as a split, division, following the example of Sigmund Freud. She saw this duality as more polarizing than shared, more as opposing forces than shared ones, one to be above the other rather than as part of each other and integrative. It was hard for her to see the value of sadness, loneliness, hurt, etc. She saw good-bad, life-death, right-wrong. As Aurelia said, Sylvia "always" viewed things in extreme, always-neverUnder these two images of Sylvia on the cover of my book are two flowers, a pink rose and a golden lotus. The pink rose was given to Sylvia on her wedding day by Ted Hughes, her husband-to-be. I do believe this day may have been the very happiest day of her brief life, although the birth days of her children may strongly compete. The lotus flower on the cover refers to Plath's resilience over the anguish and pain in life, until her final days, when she became overwhelmed with all. This lotus refers to the Sanskrit quote on her grave marker, given to her by that same husband. I dare say the day of her death was the lowest point of her life, a true expression of the hopeless and helpless state she experienced at that time. The Sanskrit quote on Sylvia's gravestone speaks to us all from the grave, telling us that hope and resilience leads us away from such a state of despair, if we reach out for help and seek solution: "Even amidst fierce flames the golden lotus can be planted." Be strong! Keep the faith! Know that, no matter the circumstance, trial or tribulation, we may survive and even thrive! A unique and amazing individual may beautifully bloom from the mire of life's pangs. The "pen" on the cover is an obvious reference to Silvia's artistic talent and genius, especially her writing. The "swirls" at the bottom of the cover and the blue-grey background of the cover refer to the ocean or sea. The ocean was an intimate part of who Sylvia was and where she grew up. It represented calm and uproar or fury, the unpredictableness of nature, the control of forces outside of us to which we must accommodate, in order to live with harmony. This sea is the inner and outer forces, the "stressors," that act upon us in life. All in all, this book cover became an amazing co-creation by me and the illustrator of essential aspects of the life and death of this Golden Lady.