In the Era of Man, which compared to geological time is merely a nanosecond, is there any doubt that early humans would have envied each other? Jealousy is as old as time.
Watching an excellently-written film this evening (Doubt), I had my own doubts about my material. I felt mediocre, trite. Who wants to read my dreck when there is quality like this out there? Granted, Doubt was a play, not a novel, but hey. It had to be written first. A friend said my ability to see how to improve my own writing is my ticket to a career. Is it? The truth is, writing is awesome, but moments like this suck. People, you think you want to do this? Think again.
To listen to exquisitely-rendered dialogue gives me something to aspire to. That’s what I keep telling myself. In the meantime, I want to rip out my brand-new flattering haircut, set it on fire and roast weenies over it. Or, failing that, baldly schlep on up to the corner gas station, buy a pack of Doral Menthol Light 100s and smoke ‘em ‘til I puke. Never mind that I’ve been smoke-free for nearly two years. Whaddya think of that, you perverted, fickle Muse? No wonder so many writers, actors and artists are substance abusers. I could shred my book and drown myself in the River of Despair. No one but another creative mind could understand.
Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, how does a person deal with jealousy? In skating, often two skaters at the same rink will end up competing in the same level, sometimes directly against each other. This doesn’t make for congenial relations, I can tell you.
Once two young skaters came separately to me and complained about this very thing. The two skaters were both very talented, but it was apples and oranges. One had a very light and airy presence on the ice, like a butterfly flitting about. The other was as elegant as a lady in a ball gown descending a staircase. Anyone watching one after the other wouldn’t think “Oh, Hortense is better than Agatha.” They were just completely different.
I told them to stop worrying about what the other skater was doing; they had no control over that. I said, “Don’t waste your energy on her. Concentrate on what you yourself need to improve.”
Should I be taking my own advice? Well, yes.
A long time ago, someone told me that envy was when someone had something and you wanted it too. Jealousy was when you wanted it instead. A fine distinction, but an important one. There’s nothing wrong with desire; it can motivate you to create and to better your craft. But wanting to take it away from the one who has it is only destructive. Should you keep it inside and not mention it, swallow your seemingly petty thoughts and remarks for the sake of peace, they will fester inside you.
When I put plastic on my old single-paned windows this year, I made the unpleasant discovery that a piece of glass stop that had been hidden behind the curtain on the front window for most of the year was black with rot. The window is doomed. That’s what happens when you nurture jealousy and resentment. It becomes as black and slimy as the little piece of wood on that window frame. In the dark, in the cold of that inner place where we all store our unpleasant feelings because they’re not polite, the mold eats that little stack of thoughts, leaving nothing but garbage behind.
Someone else told me once that people don’t make you jealous, you make yourself jealous. That’s very true, but what to do when you’re suffused with it and you can’t think of anything else?
For me, if I’m to vanquish any unpleasant or painful feeling, first I must experience it. I can’t thrust it away; it has to run its course. If it doesn’t, it will simply resurface later, that mold creeping up and blackening everything else I try to do. The curtain won’t hide it.
You have to feel it to discharge it. While you’re at it, make note of how you feel. What parts of your body harbor sensation with this feeling? Is your stomach in knots? Is your head aching? Do your teeth clench? Use your own emotions as material. Step outside yourself and clinically study your reaction. Since your feeling is authentic and real, so too will be your description of it. Write it down if you have to, or tuck it away for later. But don’t sit on it, or shove it behind the curtain. Better out than in, as Shrek says.
When you’ve allowed yourself the feeling, let it go. You don’t need it. So someone got what you wanted. You can get it too. If the good-looking person you had your eye on just started dating your fellow nerd in the back of the class, great. Means a good-looking person could fall for you too. Or the new writer who just got a book deal could be you next.
You can’t copy the other person; you have to concentrate on your strengths and your ideas. What is successful today is not what will be tomorrow. Trends change. Focus shifts. What you are working on now may or may not be the next big thing, but it’s certain you’ll be left far behind if you try to jump on someone else’s bandwagon. You might start your own trend if you can focus your energy where it belongs, on your writing.
Did I just lecture myself? I think so. My most pedantic English teacher would be proud.