The Bell Jar


The Bell Jar by Syliva Plath tells the story of Esther as she descends into the depths of mental illness. Esther starts her story during a stint as an intern at a popular woman’s magazine. She is a young and intelligent, but also a little lost. She doesn’t click with any of the women who are part of the intern group, nor does she seem to fit into the accepted boundaries of society in the 1960s. Esther doesn’t buy into the idea of marriage or the so-called “duties” that were expected of women at the time.  The idea of being submissive clashes with her headstrong ideals and she refuses to play the game of accepted male/female roles. Most of her qualms concerning men and relationships has to do with the double standard that exists in terms of purity. The hypocrisy of the fact that men can go out and sleep with whoever with little consequence, while woman are expected to stay “clean” aggravates her.

Esther wants to be a career woman, but she has no idea what career path to follow. Her inability to fit anywhere in the private or public sectors triggers a deep depression that ultimately makes her suicidal. She refers to her mental illness as a “bell jar” that surrounds her and  forces her to breathe in the sour air of her own mind. There is no fresh air or the possibility that things could be different. Interestingly, towards the end of her illness, she uses the bell jar analogy to describe young women everywhere. It’s all too easy for a young woman to find herself stifled by what is expected of her rather than entertain the notion that it’s okay to break out of the mold. In effect, society as a whole is a bell jar. It’s a fitting descriptor for a time period when so many women felt trapped by the societal expectation of marriage, motherhood, and housewife expectations, (there is nothing wrong with these roles, but social norms made the concept of choice in these matters almost non-existent).

Plath chooses to tell Esther’s story in a first person narrative which makes it a very personal and emotional journey for any reader.  The writing is simple and clean, yet poignant and soulful.  Once you know Esther, you will never forget her.


c.b. 2011

I Write Like . . .


Writing can be an arduous process that involves hours of pounding away at a keyboard, planning plots, editing, reading, and fighting the inner critic.  Sometimes you need a little boost to your confidence or just a little chuckle to keep you going.  For just such an occasion I keep a website bookmarked on my toolbar: I Write Like.

The site has a snazzy program that analyzes a written excerpt from a novel, story, blog, etc. and determines which famous author it most resembles. Through statistical analysis, elements such as word choice and sentence structure are compared to the styles of well-known writers.  For example, I copied a segment of my novel draft and pasted it into a box on the site’s homepage.  After a quick click on the analyze button, I found out that I write like Charles Dickens. Yeah, right,  I laughed to myself.  Different pieces of my writing have also been analyzed to be like David Foster Wallace, Margaret Atwood, and Stephanie Meyer.  I’ll admit being compared to Wallace was super exciting as he is an idol of mine, but it’s all relative in the grand scheme of things!

I don’t know how accurate or scientific this whole process is, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t exciting to be compared to Charles Dickens. Though its impossible to pigeonhole artistic expression with statistics, I find “I Write Like” to be a nice distraction when I’m having a difficult writing day.  Of course my goal as a writer is to have a distinct voice that is solely my own, but it’s nice to be “like” a famous author. It gives me a little hope that one day I will taste the sweet victory of publication.

So, who do you write like?

c.b. 2011

Time to Relax!


I’m heading off on a little vacation for a few days, so there might be a slight lapse in posts while I figure out the internet situation.  In between relaxing, avoiding heat stroke, and hanging out with family I’m looking to get some writing done.  Hopefully, the greenery and quiet of my destination will be inspiring.

Special thanks to all my readers.  I know life is busy and time precious, so I truly appreciate every click.  Readers like you give me yet another reason to write!

Stay tuned!  🙂

c.b. 2011

A Cup of Coffee in Muswell Hill


Muswell Hill is beautiful little community in North London that boasts Victorian homes, a small town feel, and a Starbucks.  Being a hardcore addict of hot Café Mochas, I naturally gravitated towards the iconic green mermaid sign on a daily basis during my three week stay.  Not only is Starbucks one of the few locations in the neighborhood that has free Wi-fi, but I was also assured of a good cup of coffee.  Now, I love the Brits, but coffee is not their forte.  I’ve learned my lesson many times over that if you want a good cup of coffee in London you have to go with a brand name.

Within just a few days I found my groove in the one Starbucks that occupies Muswell Hill Broadway, (the main street of the neighborhood).  Isn’t it cute?

Click image for a full-size view

What I noticed immediately was how easily I was accepted into the ranks as a regular.  Not only am I foreigner treading in a non-tourist area, but I am a stranger within a very tight knit community. Instead of becoming an outcast, I was extended a warm invitation to sit down and relax.  The people that live here did not give me  the “Oh my God, another tourist” leer that is common in the city center.

The cafe occupies a building that outdates Starbucks by quite a few decades, which gives the place a lot of charm.  There are two levels of inside seating (upstairs and downstairs) and two outside seating areas.  The upper level is divided into two sections, with the coffee service station in the middle.  The front “lobby” has a window bar and two tables jammed in along the walls.

While the back room is a little more open, the floor slopes towards the middle and causes every table  to tilt at an angle.  It drove me nuts at first, but then I realized most floors in London buildings slope in one direction or the other – older buildings don’t like to follow the rules! Nine tables are crammed into a space that would better accommodate five,  so personal space is nonexistent.  I could literally read the computer screen of the person sitting next to me.  While a tad unnerving, the close quarters actually creates a sort of kinship among strangers. Everyone gathers in this place for the same things – a cup of coffee and a place to sit.

The space downstairs is a little larger, but it feels like a cave because of the low ceiling.  Several tables have soft chairs and the lighting is more subdued, which makes the room feel warm and cozy.  It’s quiet during the day, but by early afternoon it becomes the hangout for teenagers who just got out of school.  Teenagers and caffeine always make for an obnoxious combination!  Some things never change, no matter where you are in the world.

There are two tables on the sidewalk out front.  If its not raining, they are always occupied by moms with strollers or smokers with a cigarette in one hand and a book in the other.  Out back is a patio with tables covered by a large umbrella.  This is where the larger groups congregate, even if its pouring rain.  The patio also plays host to the smokers who want to sit inside, but still need a cigarette break.  The door leading outside is constantly in motion and very often left open by those with no etiquette.

As in the rest of Europe, prices vary depending whether you choose “to stay” or “take away.” Staying in costs a bit more (usually around 10p) than take away, which creates a much slower pace within the cafe.  Those who pay to stay, take full advantage of that extra pence they’ve spent and settle in for a long stay.  Those with laptops are plugged in, others sit with newspapers stacked high, and writers toil away in their journals.

Now that I am home and sitting in my usual coffee cafe, I can’t help but think of my “spot” in Muswell Hill.  I miss how the musty smell of rain fuses with the earthy aroma of coffee, how the air conditioning kicks on even when it’s cold, and the sound of quiet conversations in more languages than I can understand.  Most of all I miss the people – the regulars – who showed up every day at the same time.  There’s the older couple who share sections of two different newspapers, a pair a teenage girls who stop by each day to spill the latest gossip, and a young man who spends hours taking notes from a propped up book.  And I’ll never forget the employees who made my coffee each day.  The most memorable is a girl who has the longest dreads I’ve ever seen. She is one tough cookie that refuses to be pushed around by rude customers.  Then there’s a cute curly haired man who never stops smiling, a shy black haired Czech (I think) boy who barely says a word, and a tiny Asian girl who is still learning the ropes.  Though we barely spoke, I miss them and remain thankful for how quickly they learned I’m the one who always orders a Tall Cafe Mocha, (with cream).

c.b. 2011