Some Feelings About Figs

July 6, 2016

Perfectly Imperfect by Baron Baptiste

“You seem very concerned with obligations,” said my friend, over coffee. “Every sentence you’ve said today contains the word ‘should.’ Forget what you should do; what do you want?”

She was right. Somehow, I hadn’t noticed the “shoulds” creeping in. Not only was I doing backbends to appease others, but I couldn’t answer her question. What did I actually want?

A week later, my TV decided to ask me again.

In the season one finale of Master of None, the main character, Dev, grapples with decisions about his relationship, job, and future. Inspired by his dad, he reads this famous passage from The Bell Jar:

I saw my life branching out before me… 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 Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions… 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, 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.

Cue complete and utter freak out.

Never mind that I’d already read The Bell Jar. Or how the deployment of Plath-as-plot-device is painfully on-the-nose. That one little voiceover forced me to confront all of my choices. And, more urgently, all I had not yet accomplished. There I sat, as the credits rolled and for weeks after, feeling paralyzed by any type of momentum.

Because decisions. Because regrets. Because dried fruit analogies. (Could there be a less appealing way to illustrate the passage of time?) Options, of course, are a wonderful thing. It’s not the choices themselves that feel scary, but the loss implicit in whatever we don’t choose.

Choosing one meant losing all the rest.

Indeed, I’d been so scared of the dead fig brigade that I tried to consume all possible figs. Guess what? That doesn’t work.

When faced with any crossroads, I often think back on the advice offered up by an early boss. “People get so hung up on making choices,” she said, “But it’s not so much about the choice itself. It’s about what you do after you make it.” I agree that follow-through and intention matter most. But you still need to, like, choose a direction.

It wasn’t until I encountered these words from the small but mighty Perfectly Imperfect that I began to breathe a little easier.

You are always in a dance of yes and no. Being a yes automatically makes you a no for something else. In fact, if we cannot point to what we are saying no to, then our yes means nothing.

I’ll admit, upon first reading, it sounded a little like Buddhist Doctor Seuss. But then I let it sink in. One cannot advance in the direction of one’s dreams without sacrificing a few figs. I began to accept how letting go — of options, of expectations, of well worn security blankets — can be good.

This concept, the dance of yes vs. no, helped me reframe the world not as a series of black and white, either/or choices, but rather a process of electing moments. You can choose each tiny movement based on what feels right, and continue to do so until they add up to something bigger.

I cannot tell you where any of us will be at this time next year. But I can stop, each day, and consider: Does this serve me? Do I feel okay? Shall I keep going? Should I retrench?

Through these two simple words you enter some situations and move away from others… It is the obvious, but it is often so obvious that we miss its power to profoundly transform a moment, a pose, or our lives.

Whether you practice yoga or not, I highly recommend becoming acquainted with this book.

I still harbor many feelings about figs, but I trust that they’re part of the process.

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  • “If we cannot point to what we are saying no to, then our yes means nothing.” I love this. I am the most indecisive of indecisive people, which is such a curse. I shall strive to remember this going forward.

    I haven’t read this yoga book yet despite you recommending it weeks ago–I think I’m finally going to have to. And if you’re looking for recos, another brilliant book I think you (and any writer/artist/creative person) *should* read is Big Magic. I just finished it, reviewed it, and then started it all over again to reread my favorite parts.

    And figs are delicious. Are they in season yet?

  • I love your blog and this post so much. A few months ago, I realized I was letting my figs die and I decided to do something about it, but I’m all too familiar with being in a state of paralysis thanks to indecision.

  • In “Open” by Andre Agassi he writes about the first time he got paid to play tennis (he was like 16) and how instead of feeling joyful all he could consider were the professions he inevitably wouldn’t have: doctor, teacher, lawyer, etc. He describes accepting that first check as watching all other options for his life fall off a shelf. Anyway, I read it years ago so I’m very much paraphrasing but it felt powerful that even professional athletes feel the loss of un-walked paths.

    • Wow! I didn’t read Open and had never heard that before. Amazing to think that everyone encounters the same struggles/doubts/regrets no matter their path.

  • Alicia,

    That damn fig tree passage is seemingly always relevant. The truths of its words have brought me to uncontrollable tears several times.

  • Katherine,

    You said it. Thank you for this post!

  • Thank you for this today. I’ve always loved and been terrified by that Plath passage, but I know it’s because it holds so much truth. I’m definitely in a place where I’m trying to figure out which fig to choose right now (and the pressure of them turning black was put sharply into focus last week when a former boss (trying to be helpful) reminded me that I’m “no spring chicken”…I’m 26.) but I do believe firmly that the choice is part of a process, and I love what you wrote about electing to choose moments that add up to something larger.

    I’m ordering that book tonight.

  • Ah, I think your post just put into words what I’ve always felt conflicted about. I’ve never read the Bell Jar, but I think I will now! The fig tree analogy is so beautifully described. (A precursor to FOMO perhaps?) And I definitely know what it is to go into paralysis over making decisions.

    Also, I just wanted to add that it’s a pleasure to read your blog! You’re a terrific writer.

  • This. This is beautiful. **Thanks**

  • Loved this.

    I also just wanted to say kudos on the new site design. Very user-friendly. No muss, no fuss, straight up simple and beautiful. Love it, too.

  • My life in a gigantic nutshell right in this moment. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  • Thank you for this. This post made me decide to stop trying to blog (for now) and concentrate on posting my design portfolio and personal illustrations on my site and instagram. I was totally overwhelmed because I wanted to do a lot of different things, and this post made me realize that I have to prioritize so I can accomplish something, rather than the inactivity I was stuck in.

  • Thank you for sharing this, Caroline! I am right here with you. 26 years old, poised career path, comfortable bunglow, so-close-to-comfort-post-break-up, yet still tingly feet to get OUT. The ideas you’ve posed here often manifest as “mindfullness” versus action, to me. Sometimes it feels like the two are knuckle to knuckle, opposing each other… but maybe that happy place in between is just as you write, choosing each tiny movement based on what feels right.

  • Another person that expresses thoughts around this beautifully is Cheryl Strayed in her advice column:

    And whenever I’m feeling particularly paralyzed, I remember the ghost ships and remember that not making a choice is a choice in and of itself.

  • Caroline, thank you so much for posting! I’ve never read The Bell Jar, but I can’t tell you how much of a relief it was to read Plath’s words–and yours as well–and know that I’m not alone in my indecision. Your post actually inspired me to write my own on the same subject. You can read it here, on my lifestyle blog for women (where I linked back to your site!):