Wednesday, June 2, 2010

An Evening with Sylvia

"-With me, the present is forever, and forever is always shifting, flowing, melting. This second is life. And when it is gone it is dead. But you can't start over with each new second. You have to judge by what is dead. It's like quicksand... hopeless from the start. A story, a picture, can renew sensation a little, but not enough, not enough. Nothing is real except the present, and already, I feel the weight of centuries smothering me. Some girl a hundred years ago once lived as I do. And she is dead. I am the present, but I know I, too, will pass. The high moment, the burning flash, come and are going, continuous quicksand. And I don't want to die."
-Sylvia Plath, August 1950.

So here's the story. I bought this book, "The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath" a few years ago. I had already begun writing my first journal, and felt the need to look at what her's had said. I became engrossed in the words of this great writer, she was feeling what I had been feeling, and thought what I had thought. Knowing how she later dies, I felt that I needed to put this book down for awhile, I didn't want to end up there. So I shelved the book. When I went back one day to begin again, having distanced myself from the mental similarities as best I could, I couldn't find it. I looked everywhere, car, under the bed, basement, closet. No where. I went back to borders to buy another, and the bookstore was sold out. Why didn't I just order the book online, you ask? I have this thing where I don't order things online unless it's completely necessary. I feel that it takes away from the wanting of things, or the pure joy that you get from actually finding them hidden.
Thus, for the past three years, I've been looking for this book. Every time I enter a bookstore, I dart straight for the P's. I felt that a part of me was waiting.
And then today, gift card in hand, I looked with Paige on her birthday extravaganza (to the Hard Rock, a trip around Detroit) at a large bookstore in Dearborn. Nothing. Furious, because I felt that today was the day that this book, lost for three years, would slowly meander it's way back to me, I went to the Borders by my house just for kicks. Nothing in the Literature P's. Nothing in the Biography section. Then I had the brilliant idea of actually getting someone to help me, and after she rechecks the biography section, she asks me, "Didn't she write a lot of poetry?" Smugly, I answered, "yes." "Well, let's try the Poetry section, I remember seeing this book somewhere." "You have a poetry section?" "Yeah, it's just a shelf, though." "Oh." And low and behold, this freaking book was literally teetering off of the shelf. In plain sight, waiting for me to find it. I was so excited, of course I screamed and hugged the girl. I told her she made my week and walked to the line, clutching this found treasure with the gleaming allure of a dazed expression on my face. I immediately got home, showered, brushed my hair, and sat in bed, reading with a furry I haven't felt in awhile. I started at the beginning.
I have a thing with the first line of a book. If it's not captivating, I will put the book down.
For instance:
Example of good first lines:
  • "He nearly called you again last night. Can you imagine that, after all this time? He can." -Seven Types of Ambiguity, Perlman.
  • "Everyone now knows how to find the meaning of life within himself." -The Sirens of Titan, Vonnegut.
  • "Who is John Galt?" -Atlas Shrugged, Rand.

Basically, you know these are going to be good books, just by these first lines, and they all are, I can assure you. These lines make you want to continue.

Examples of bad first lines:
  • "What's it going to be then, eh?" -A Clockwork Orange, Burgess. ( I know this one is a cult classic, but with a first line like that, who the hell is going to want to read this book? I know I sure didn't, thus I quit after page 2.)
  • "A few minutes past one o'clock in the morning, a hard rain fell without warning. No thunder preceded the deluge, no wind." -The Taking, Koontz. (I'm pretty sure that Koontz should have stopped at those first two sentences, they are all right, but seriously, no one would care what happens next, so what, it's raining? Do you usually get a siren to let people know that rain is about to start? No. Rain falls without warning all the time, this is not novel, Dean.)
And the point of this whole bookshelf-searching list is to provide you with Sylvia Plath's first line of her journals, "I may never be happy, but tonight I am content." Pure, clean, simple, honest. This keeps me wanting to read more. I feel this way most of the time. Tell a simple truth, something that you believe in, and readers will follow. Even if it seems completely insignificant to those around you, to anyone other than yourself, write it. It may mean something to someone else someday.

And backtrack to the quote I put at the top of this long digression. Those words, "Some girl a hundred years ago once lived as I do. And she is dead. I am the present, but I know I, too, will pass" Well, I am no Sylvia Plath, and I will never be able to write one line of good poetry, but I can feel this, I can feel the slow, beating of loneliness she later describes, I've written about it. So many lines I mindlessly highlight because I relate, "I like people too much or not at all. I've got to go down deep, to fall into people, to really know them." So many lines, and I am that girl, a hundred years from now, alive, writing, and reading her work. And one day, hopefully, some girl will read mine and feel the same. Some moment, defiant of space and time, she is sitting at Smith College writing this, thinking that no one, in her wildest dreams, will ever read this. She is completely and utterly naive to the fact that she will later become one of the single greatest female writers of her time, of all time. She's just writing to write. But the greatest thing, she lives on tonight, as I read her words silently to myself. And this is the epitome of what every writer aims for. Legacy, creating something that will outlive them, something that will change or impact in some small way the lives of others, even after they are gone; Relation, the fact that someone, some 50 years later, feels the same, and can actually connect on a mental level with a spirit of the past; and Fame, something she never experienced, yet we all know now when we hear "Plath" we only think of one thing, her work, or as those who never read, her suicide. Which brings me to my next point, the last part of that excerpt, "And I don't want to die." These words were chillingly haunting. I stared, just glaring, finding the little imperfections in the typed ink on the uneven little divots of the paper.

1 comment:

  1. You're welcome :)

    I really do not know anything about Sylvia Plath (until now). Very interesting. I feel like I have had similar thoughts and issues as well and it would probably be best for me to avoid her myself. I will visit Washington Square instead...