“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…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.”— The Bell Jar
When I finished my second and final master’s degree, I treated myself to a massage. It was a few weeks after I finished the classes, and on the form for first-time clients, it asked benignly, “occupation?” I froze. For years, my automatic response has been student. I was working two part-time jobs, but both of those were temporary. My occupation? I’m not officially anything, I thought to myself, while hastily scribbling student. I could have left it blank. I could have said, “wizard,” but I clung to my identity as a student.
I knew this was coming; the loss associated with an identity I have claimed for my entire adult life. It’s embarrassing for me to admit, however, that so many of my choices have been dictated by the ladder of expectation. You go to college, in my field you get another degree. That’s what you do. Sure, I technically chose to climb the ladder. I could have jumped off at any point! That’s not what you’re supposed to do though. I fancy myself quite the independent, but how independent was I?
Now, with all this freedom sans schoolwork, what if I can’t prove myself? I’m probably not going to end up on the streets of Paris, as I used to quip to those who dared ask, “what are you going to do with that degree?” Yet, I’m applying to jobs every week and I still don’t really have a better answer to that question. What am I going to do? I’m not alone in this mid-twenties-post-graduation-privileged quagmire, but that’s a tremendously small comfort. Sylvia Plath knew what she was on about when she wrote about the fig tree. I’m at the base of the tree, looking up as the figs wink back.
Whereas Plath probably didn’t have the option to choose how to see the proverbial fig tree, I do.
It’s hard, and sometimes impossible, but I have to believe my friends and my family and all those much wiser, much older, much more experienced individuals who tell me: the figs may wrinkle and die, but the fig you choose will turn into it’s own tree and bear even more fruit. Choosing a path isn’t loosing all the freedom, all the opportunity, it’s simply discovering a whole flourishing forest of possibility.
So, for now, I’ll write “wizard.”