In the last few months, I’ve been reading my mother’s journals and trying to figure out some way to condense them into some book since they are a historical journal of woman’s change between the ages of 18 and 64. She began her journals in her first days as a freshman at Indiana University and chronicled her life through her early years as a liberal in Chicago, her move with my father to Indianapolis, her years trying to “fit in” as a plastic surgeons wife, their divorce and through her years of recovery from alcoholism and rediscovering herself through her journey.
When I first found the journals, I was somewhat overwhelmed at the mass writings, notes and newspaper clippings, but a close friend pointed out that it was a gift from my mother being that I could have insight into her life. Interestingly, I have found that her earlier journals are written “Dear child” or “Dear Peter” after I was born, with her speaking directly to me about her feelings about life and the world.
I’m not much of a journal keeper. Quite frankly, the same women who kept these amazing journals taught me at a young age to never write down anything you didn’t want anyone else to read. I learned this lesson after she found a journal/notebook I kept with a friend in high school in which we would write back and forth to each other about our crazy shenanigans. After my mother got to it, the book was underlined with red pen and highlighted in yellow, questions marked in the side circling a reference to drunkeness, “Did I know about this night?”. I chose to not keep journals after that point.
But yesterday, while sifting through her journals, I found several journals of mine from high school that I must have had to keep or a class. The passages are hilarious to read but also show that I haven’t changed much through my years. Some of the same things I felt at 16 I still feel today.
We are supposed to be writing about the Olympics but since I could care less about sports I’m going to write about a book I’ve been reading. The book is The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I’ve always been attracted to desperate souls and she, just like Frances Farmer and Ann Sexton, was definitely a tortured soul. Before I read The Bell Jar, all I knew about her was that she had finally killed herself at the age of 30 after several attempts throughout her life. I knew this couldn’t be all I wanted to know about this profound woman so I had begun reading a biography of her life. It told how she was very educated and deeply intellectual yet very poor being that her father died when she was nine. She won scholarships and was interested in reading and writing, much like myself, and had many opportunities like going to Smith and an internship at Mademoiselle, which made me wonder, why did she want to kill herself?
When I was halfway through the biography, I decided to start The Bell Jar, quickly finding that it was almost entirely autobiographical. It wasn’t really a story because the character Esther was really more like Sylvia than Sylvia was herself. But don’t most of us as writers really write about parts of ourselves? Esther was also a writer, had won many scholarships and her father had died when she was nine as well. The book was almost too autobiographical, not to mention, extremely depressing. Nonetheless, I found that I desperately related to Esther.
I think Sylvia Plath was an interesting woman, but I think the greatest mystery, after having read her biography and her famed book The Bell Jar, is why did she kill herself? I haven’t found any reason why she was so fixated on suicide because her life wasn’t really that bad. It could have been so much worse. Maybe there are just some things that aren’t ours to know.
I received a 5/10 on this journal entry. My teacher, who I don’t remember, wrote “I don’t know either. I’m not she she knew. I agree that the book raises as many questions as it answers. Her deep depression was much different than I would have imagined. In the future, please try to stay on the topic I’ve assigned.”
I still don’t understand suicide, even after years and years of working with suicidal clients and having two close friends suicide. All I know is it makes me very sad. And like my mom always said, we’re on borrowed time as it is.