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. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was…
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.
Excerpt from The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
I first read The Bell Jar when I was 16. I had recently viewed the film Heathers and was curious as to how the Plath novel operated as a point of reference. I went to the local library and found an old copy of it. I read it, underlining a lot of things. While Esther (the book's protagonist) and I shared a lot of the same interests, unlike her I had selected my figs; I was going to become both a famous lawyer and a famous writer, but not in that John Grisham kind of way.
I reread The Bell Jar a second time while teaching it to a group of first year college students in 2001. 27 years old and armed with a recently attained MFA in Creative Writing, I had commenced life as an independent working woman. I remember pointing out the fig tree scene to my students, pausing to ask them to “name their figs”. At that time in my life I was quite happy with the four I had chosen: my husband (Tibor), our new home, my new career, and my new novel in progress.
When I was 32 my father unexpectedly died of a massive heart attack. While I knew that Life could be cruel and was capable of far worst, I still couldn't stop myself from becoming consumed with anger. My dad did everything he was supposed to do: he raised his family (holding two jobs to do so), he had a 401K plan, he was faithful to my mother and he believed in God. In his free time he stayed home, watching movies. At one time in his life he worked really hard to make money by selling his artwork. An oil painter as well as a pencil sketch artist, his subject matter primarily consisted of portraits, model airplanes, and carousels. In the hospital, the night before he died, he said that all he wanted was to get home to be with his wife and to walk his dog. I asked him if he ever wanted to paint again and his answer was a flat “No”.
While going through his paperwork (trying to figure out what kind of financial situation my mother was going to be in) I came across a sheet of paper, neatly folded and lost in a sea of meaningless forms. The paper, I still have it, was a listing of every single painting he ever made and tried to sell. The list had been crossed out with a big gigantic “X” and in red ink were the words “I GIVE UP”. I knew at that moment that this was what killed my father. My dad’s heart was the raisin in the sun the great poet Langston Hughes spoke of in his poem “Harlem”. To answer your question Mr. Hughes, I believe the dream deferred EXPLODES.
My father’s death was the catalyst for what would be almost 12 years of my own artistic stagnation. His death catapulted me up into the branches of my own fig tree. For a lifetime I thought I knew what I wanted and then suddenly I didn’t. The only secure and stable thing in my life was my marriage, and I was (and still am) grateful for that. However, I wasn't the best version of myself and this made me sad. I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted to be and simply allowed myself to ebb and flow with directives and plans which didn't come from my heart. I made some attempts at writing and even painting (some of my friends and family may remember my "Tomato Girls"), but just as I would gain momentum I stopped or I would become sidetracked and chase some other shiny object down a long winding path to nowhere. I suppose this is what you do when you don't know what to do.
In June 2018 I was 43. Anthony Bourdain had just taken his own life. This saddened and confused me greatly as I was very aware of him and admired the fact that he had a "late" start to his career. I was to be 44 on September 16th and I decided that day in June while reading about his death, to give my artistic ambitions one more try. However, this time I would seek professional help. On September 21, 2018 I began the "Discover Your Dream Business" course with Michelle Ward, the When I Grow Up Coach. The class, the instructor, and my classmates were truly what I needed to figure things out. On March 20, 2019 (a mere 6 months later) I officially launched Angie Curneal Palsak Art and Design. 12 years of abandoned projects and artistic stagnation have finally ended.
It took me a lot longer than it should have, but I have finally climbed down from that fig tree. I am now here to share my art, my blooms, with you. Please enjoy!