Burden of the Fig Tree

Lightning talk presented at Square’s College Code Camp, August 2015.

Hello! I am Laura Beth Fulton — mechanical engineering student, code developer, and scientific researcher — and today, like Sylvia Plath, I am grasping at figs.

In her novel, The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath presents her thoughts on the subject of choice:

“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 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 another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, 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.”

Each fig represents a possible future. The figs beyond Plath’s scope of vision show futures that she has not yet imagined. Selecting a fig and choosing a future is painful because Plath has imagined many other possibilites. She sees promise in the figs on the tree and wants to live the option each holds as a reality. However, she has one life to live and only one fig is ultimately attainable.

When staring at the figs on the tree, it seems easy to not choose — this way everything remains possible. Plath stares at the tree; the indecision of choice can become crippling. Perhaps, Plath could piece together chunks from each fig and quench her hunger. Plath sits under the tree and watches as the figs shrivel, turn black, and fall to her feet.

The wrinkled figs prompt Plath to suggest that a choice of one fig on the tree is more meaningful than many shriveled on the ground.

So, how do you know if you are on the right path? Have you made the right choices? Selected your figs wisely?

Do not be afraid — select your fig. Leave the other figs behind and embrace your future. See beyond one branch of the fig tree. Try envisioning the entire tree that your selected fig represents, and explore to prune and develop the options and branches that will grow. Share the joys of your computer science, engineering, and life experiences. A younger child may not realize the fig of computer science exists — help them first see and then begin to reach this fig in their tree. Each fig is ripe with its own flavor and will bring new challenges. Some fig selections yield unexpected results. Each is an experience from which to learn.

Each fig is the right fig! When you choose your figs, pick the ones that you think you will enjoy the most. It is your fig tree, your life. Bite into each fig with passion in an environment you love — sunshine or shade. Share the fig seeds — lessons learned with each experience — with family, friends, mentors, community members and younger generations. Each fig will serve as a guide, branching out as a road in the ultimate navigation of the tree of life.