I wandered a bit on Sunday, my headphones in as I took in the early spring city air. I ended up at a bookstore, which isn’t too surprising. As if the fates were hearing my call for intellectual stimulation, they sent a gift in the guise of my first love: Sylvia Plath. Elizabeth Winder’s “Pain, Parties, and Work: Sylvia Plath in New York” was exactly what I need to brush off some of the cobwebs of my literary life. Winder’s prose is poetic – a quick google search shows that she’s a poetess by trade – but that makes the reading of the text effortless and often times beautiful. A Saturday night with the book had me feeling as if I was holding hands with Sylvia as the real life inspiration for Esther flashes before her eyes.
An artist is often defined by their art. Sylvia is, in almost the truest sense, bound to that. The Bell Jar was published and served almost as a precursor to her suicide. Winder’s glimpse into that month in The Barbizon Hotel (named The Amazon in TBJ) shows dimension to the writer that I never knew but always felt was there. Sylvia was a typical girl in so many ways – her unquestionable talent and her always ready to please personality seemed to create a complex folie a deux that concluded with her head in an oven – but that glimpse of typical is what makes her art even more extraordinary. And more relatable. As I often pound out words and phrases on this keyboard, I struggle to balance the various aspects of my personality. Am I the artist or the whore? Is my love for the finer things in life (i.e. Expensive) things in love in conflict with my desire to pursue artistic passions? Sylvia was an amazing ambitious and talented writer that dreamed of being able to just relax and enjoy her carefree times and romanticized the energy of the city, the escapes of Europe, and the artistic poetry that exists in a beautiful pair of heels. Winder’s book brings that to life and reintroduces me to a new way of looking at one of my heroes.
I wished that being well-read was an olympic sport. With all the liberal arts education stuck between my ears, I would excel in a world that made time for the written world. Instead, we live in a world that prides itself on the physical and mental scars of a grueling schedule: multi-tasking, manic and maligned menagerie of men and women. New York City, of course, is the epicenter of it all; and I am not immune to the insanity. It’s been a while since I took the time to step back and dive into something slower, something enjoyable and intellectually stimulating. It’s great to see how a quick, leisurely stroll into a book store can help me discover something new that gives me exactly what I was looking for.