In 2014, I saw the biopic Sylvia, starring Gwyneth Paltrow, based on the life of author and poet, Sylvia Plath. I loved the film and consider it a jarring, moving, beautifully- styled work of cinematic art. After seeing the movie, I scoured the internet to research my new muse – feeling an irresistible, strong compulsion to do so – and came across the now-classic, semi-autobiographical The Bell Jar by Plath. I found a free copy of the book online and devoured it, being too impatient to buy a hard copy (even though I dislike reading books electronically), scarcely putting down my device until I had read it from start to finish. And I related to her…related to her struggle as a woman within a society dominated by men, in which she was expected to marry, bear children, cook meals, and be a full-time wife and mother – nothing else. I related to her inner conflict of having a strong maternal instinct and wanting to do these things, but wanting so badly to express herself creatively, share her gifts with the world, and find satisfaction and success in her creative work and professional career.
I was surprised to find the many parallels that existed between us: the lives of two women, separated by decades, wars, revolutions, social change and upheaval, the rise of feminism, civil rights, LGBT rights, the ongoing struggle for socioeconomic equality, and the ever-changing landscape of a nation in a constant state of flux.
I loved this woman, loved her honesty, truth, and sheer vulnerability. She inspired me the way that no writer had before, because I felt I could write my own story, much like she had with Bell Jar, sharing my own struggles to overcome the numerous obstacles I experienced as I entered adulthood and began to encounter challenges I could have never foreseen, given my privileged childhood and adolescence.
And then I found out Plath had published journals. That’s when I remembered I had these diaries, now decades old, that told my story better than I ever could have from memory. I decided to go back and read them; I laughed a lot, I cried, and I was wide-eyed at my own frankness and transparency, confessional style of writing, and vivid attention to detail.
Instantly I knew I had to get them published; I wanted to share them with the world, because there are young women all over the world who are experiencing what I’d experienced, and I want them to feel inspired and empowered, to have confidence that the difficulties will pass, and realize that adolescence is a wonderful, magical time, unlike any other time in our lives. You can take charge of your sexuality (and have high standards and expectations!) and not succumb to peer pressure; you can have an incredible teenage adventure, completely high on life and raging hormones, without abusing drugs or alcohol. You can decide to be a leader, instead of a follower.
If just one young person reads this book and his or her life is changed or impacted in some positive way, then I will be…ecstatic. You are not alone. We all sometimes feel that we are, but we are all connected through these shared, common experiences – the human experience. I promise you, you’re going to make it. I did, and I can look back it all now with such fondness, warmth, nostalgia, and an incredible amount of humor.
Thank you for the inspiration, Sylvia!
And yes, this is an ode to my generation – GENERATION X, STAND UP!
We didn’t have the internet, so email and smartphones (or any type of mobile phone), text messages, online chat, YouTube, Google, social media, Wikipedia, GPS, Facetime…none of this stuff existed for us. We passed notes in class, and exchanged home addresses to write each other letters when we lived in different cities. Yes, boys wrote girls letters, and I have lots of them to prove it! We rode bikes to video stores and rented our favorite movies on VHS tapes, and recorded our favorite programs (including music videos) on VCRs. We weren’t allowed to make calls to our friends in different area codes because they were long-distance calls and showed up on the home phone bill. We were on the precipice of a technological explosion, the likes of which the world had never seen, and we had no real clue about it. I just knew we lived in the Silicon Valley (whatever that meant) and my parents both “worked with computers.” My father had bought us a Commodore 64 home computer; it had a monitor and a black display with bright green font, a keyboard with which we could type in commands, took floppy disks, had no operating system, and no word processing program. We had two games we could play on it, via floppy disk: Radar Rat Race and another I’ve forgotten, and anyway we hardly played it because we were so crazy about Radar Rat Race!