In light of personal tragedy, loss, and trauma, many things are automatically put into perspective, become as insignificant as they really are without their cultural clothes. I used to love birthdays and insist that everyone deserved to be a prince(ss) on their special day, should be spoiled by their loved ones and get to indulge in their favorite hedonistic joys, surrounded by friends and family. The contrast between that vision and the brutal reality of my dad’s absence and the pain I felt because of it, manifested how idiotic my inflated normative image of birthdays really was. In its bare light I’m almost embarrassed by its stupidity. So on this very birthday, I “indulged” in an excessive eight-hour long session of sorting trash from non-trash, cleaning and moving around boxes and furniture in my new flat. I then had dinner and two friends over in my kitchen to end the day. When my birthday was over, I was relieved to have finally got rid of this stupid, stupid day that I couldn’t bare, without my dad being alive. It took me days to recover from the wave of depression I felt since the 48-hour hell of my daddy’s three months anniversary and my birthday.
When one is deeply unhappy, one is strangely unmarried with life. Silvia Plath, the writer I have always identified with the most, once wrote: “I feel very still and empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo. […] To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is a bad dream.” Yesterday I woke up to that bad dream, and the day before, and the day before… I took that jar with me, went to Berlin to visit my dear friends Mascha, John and their baby Jules, and I took it all the way back to my new home in Hamburg. Plath knew that feeling, too: “Because wherever I sat – on the deck of a ship or a street café in Paris or Bangkok – I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.” So I went to bed with it, still feeling empty and way too full in the same time, the thought of daddy becoming a sword that I allowed to push through my dull, sour silence. I tell myself and have been since November last year: Don’t walk away from pain, walk with it, stare directly at it, until it gets bored and pisses off, at least until it jumps at you the next time. And so it was. This morning, finally, I woke up to a better day. Phew. One more set of dark waves down. When the pain is there and the absurdity and the isolation, it is there. I want to face it, feel it, and beat it in full consciousness. Because, as Plath also writes: “I want to taste and glory in each day, and never be afraid to experience pain; and never shut myself up in a numb core of nonfeeling, or stop questioning and criticizing life and take the easy way out. To learn and to think: to think and live; to live and learn: this always, with new insight, new understanding, new love.” I wish she would have listened to her own words and never took the easy way out, which she did, when she killed herself aged 31. But that’s another story, a story much better told by Janet Malcolm’s Plath biography “The silent woman”, or by the great writer Ted Hughes, her husband.
The little story I can tell is that Sylvia Plath loved people so much rarely anyone ever could love her back the same way… she showed them how interested she was in them, wanted to be them, no matter whether they were “a cripple, a dying man, a whore”… She truly met them to just return back to her pen and paper and write her observations down at the end of the day. Plath wrote in her diary: “So many people are shut up tight inside themselves like boxes, yet they would open up, unfolding quite wonderfully, if only you were interested in them.” Inasmuch as she was interested in others as objects of complex truths, she looked at herself curiously, observing herself as an object of feelings and thoughts. Writing released that inner voice in her “that will not be still”, it was therapeutic in that it made her hear her inner voice instead of sitting in that stillness of her own sour silence. Once shared with others, it released her and the people around her, for a moment, out of their strange silent boxes and bell jars. Writing down and sharing my thoughts and feelings, although clumsily and far less precisely and beautifully as Plath was able to, has proven an immensely positive force in my own process of grief. So I carry on, as long as I have this voice of my own that won’t be still. Just like Plath said: “Perhaps some day I’ll crawl back home, beaten, defeated. But not as long as I can make stories out of my heartbreak, beauty out of sorrow.”