The Fig Tree

July 5, 2017

I’m nervous as I write this. I’m not sure what’s going to come out. Do you have days where you feel prickly and irritable and angry? I feel like an octopus, ready to lash out defensively at anyone or anything that tries to get too close. And I feel tired. Tired at the constant justification of my existence. Tired of conversations that go like this:

“What are you up to at the moment?”

“I’m writing a book.”

“Ah! Cool. So…what else? Because obviously that’s, well, y’know…”


“Well – you must be doing something else. You can’t just…write.”

“Can’t I? Well, I am. Writing. Every day.”

“Oh.” *insert look of pity/concern/fear-that-I-may-be-a-mad-woman here*

It hurts because I feel happier and more excited than I’ve felt in a long long time. It hurts because I feel that writing every day is a cause for celebration, whereas the looks of pity (and well-meaning suggestions of other activities/professions I could try) I’ve been receiving suggest it’s the opposite. A cause for concern. It also hurts because it assumes I am stupid. That I haven’t thought this through.

I have thought it through. I am doing what I want to be doing. Are you?

Now back off, or my crazy octopus tentacle is going to lash out and sting you.

When I decided to leave teaching to focus on writing, I knew it would be hard. Sitting down every day and looking at a blank page and producing something is bloody hard. It is never as good as it looks in your mind. It is so hard to keep going, but you have to. There is no other option.

But actually, the writing itself is not the hardest thing. The hardest thing is maintaining the self-belief. Maintaining it when these little interactions, these conversations, are chip-chip-chipping away at your confidence, day after day, like drops of water carving a hole through limestone. I think my limestone covered ego is up for the challenge, though. It’s being tested, that’s for sure. Let’s hope it holds out.

I just finished reading The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. She committed suicide at the age of 30. The Bell Jar is about a summer she spent in New York City on a magazine scholarship (it’s a thinly veiled autobiography, apparently), and her subsequent mental illness. For most of the second half of the book she is trying various ways to kill herself. It’s amazing that she could write about it. And tragic that, after she finished The Bell Jar, she took her own life. She is a wonderful writer.

I wrote down a lot of quotes from it, but here is one of my faves:

“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.”

Have a good week.

x Iz

More about isabelrobinson

Isabel is a writer from Melbourne. She loves long train journeys, Vegemite toast and cryptic crosswords, preferably all at once.

    1. What an exquisite passage. I think I need to read The Bell Jar again. And I admire your commitment to your writing. Just yo for it.

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