We Must Draw Fig Trees

March 5, 2024

Graphic by Binny Bae 

There are so many lives that I want to live.

Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar is a recurring novel in every sad girl’s anthology. When I first read it at sixteen, I was consumed by its moments of trial and tribulation, self-discovery, and loss. It felt like I was reading the transcript of my own mind. One passage continuously reinserts itself into my psyche, jarringly like a bee sting:

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 [the amazing editor], and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions…and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. 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.

In high school, I had to draw my own fig tree for an assignment. I had to draw all of my figs – my realities and my dreams (the secret ones and the heart-aching ones.) I had to draw the wrinkled figs and the ripe figs. It was meditative and a little too intimate. I felt having all of my dreams, ambitions, and compromises drawn out for a teacher to read was too vulnerable. What if she rolls her eyes — worse, what if she laughs at me?

I stared at my blank paper, redrawing the stump of this tree over and over.

        (What does a fig tree even look like?)

And then I drew the leaves.

        (Does a fig tree have leaves?)

And I drew one branch, and then another.

        (I don’t remember what a fig tastes like.)

        (When’s the last time I’ve eaten a fig?)

                I was stalling drawing the figs.

It was as if I was staring at my obliterated potential: dreams I had let pass by and hobbies I hadn’t taken seriously enough. My consciousness was physically in front of me, and I was the one in charge of the lines.

Becoming a teacher is a fig that is ripe , hanging on my tree steadfast and strong. It’s a passion I feel in my soul (the one with such certainty and pulse). Like when you dive into your first pool of the summer — my flesh tingling with eagerness. But, my certainty to grab this fig comes in waves. Some months I’m adamant it’s what I’m destined for, and other years I get greedy. I become hesitant to reach for it because what if I run out of time to pursue everything else? So, this fig hangs high but always looks at me kindly.

Graphic by Binny Bae

Manhattan is a fig. Moving to Vermont and becoming a waitress is a fig. A house in the middle of nowhere in the southeast sector of Utah, with red rocks at every turn, is a fig. Texting girls I want to become friends with is a fig. Santa Cruz is a fig. Writing screenplays is a fig. Opening GarageBand is a fig. Getting a tattoo sleeve is a fig. Wasting away in California for the rest of my life is a fig. Never going back to California is a fig.

Other figs are: San Francisco. Write for a magazine. Go to New Zealand and work at a smoothie shop. Yellowstone National Park. Get really into hiking. Dying my hair pink or blonde or brown. Get headshots. Adopt a black cat. Change my name and work on a ranch. Become good at archery. Have kids. Get married. Elope. Don’t marry at all.

Some never-became-lovers are wrinkled figs that are decomposing into the soil, and some could-become-lovers are hanging a little too high to reach. Doing college radio rotted before I reached it. If saying “I love you” is a fig, choosing not to say “I love you” must also be a fig.

You can make desserts with figs – some I've baked and relished are: a nose piercing, road trips, cowgirl boots, New Orleans, New York with best friends, Austin, working on film sets, and publishing.

When drawing your fig tree, it is nice to draw a compost bin beside it. Moving to Orange County and Seattle are wrinkled and molded figs that have plopped at my feet. At the time I wanted them so dearly, but looking at them years later, I’m so relieved I let them fall.

New York was a ripe fig for me and I was grabbing a ladder to go and reach it, but I tripped and scraped my knee. I toppled off the ladder and had to limp back up to grab this fig or grab a bandaid for my scratch. For the sake of my dignity, in short, I had this dream and it was in the palm of my hand, but I chose to let it go. I had to walk myself with this fig in my hand and place it in the compost bin. And I had to learn to be okay with that. I could come back later and use the compost to help with the future figs that’ll grow on this tree, but in the meantime, I had to let it rot.

I still cry about it sometimes (though not as often). Not because I’m bitter, but because it is sad. I have to stop myself from wondering what my life would’ve been like if I chose to eat that fig — if I had let the juice drip down my wrist and chin, and let pieces get stuck between my teeth. Would I have a new piercing? Would I dress differently? Would I deem myself smarter or dumber than I do now? Would I be more adventurous? Or more shy? Would I be dead?

Graphic by Binny Bae

Whoever I would be wouldn’t be the same as who I am now, and it takes a lot out of me to understand that I won’t ever get to know.

Some figs hesitantly consumed end up being the most delicious. Some figs end up being mistakes and spoiled. I’ve eaten a few. We crumble so sloppily when we are consumed with the fear of making wrong decisions. I keep wanting and I don’t do. There are so many cities and states that I want to move to. There are so many haircuts I want to have.


We must draw fig trees. To realize they can wrinkle – and to accept it’s okay if they do. There is no harm in drawing out your ambitions and having them stare at you in the gut. Draw them so you don’t starve to death — the ones that you’re okay with letting plop at your feet and the ones you devour. ■


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