Oh, that green-eyed monster, envy

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Hello everyone,

If you’re like me, you fervently hope that your work will be recognized by an audience. When you’re making your artistic work you do it partly, yes, for the creative expression; and you also do it partly for having your work recognized by an audience, by having it published/shown/purchased/displayed.

And when one of my friends or colleagues has their work published or selected for an honor, I’m really happy for them. But – sometimes – I’m also feeling a little sad, like I didn’t measure up to the same standard, that I’ll never achieve success, that my work will languish in the darkness of never-read, never-viewed work.

And yet I so often forget about the relative success I have enjoyed! What’s up with that?

What have I done? I’ve achieved an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. I’ve written three novels. I’ve written countless stories. I’ve had my work published in professional-level fiction markets – recently!. Not only that, but I regularly receive compliments on my work in the form of personal rejections from submission editors.  “We like your writing, we just couldn’t use this story.” I have a blog that connects me with other writers and artists who are pursuing their own artistic paths, who share suggestions and encouragement for writing and art processes, and who often take the time to read and respond to my blog posts. All achievements, all successes.

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We are wired to compare ourselves to the next person. Last year I read a helpful article in the New York Times about how to diffuse the intense envy that comes from learning of the success of someone close to you. The research indicates that yes, it does hurt more when the success is for someone you know well, friend or family member; isn’t that interesting? The suggestion to counteract the sting of this personal form of envy was to reflect on your own path and how it has been different from the successful person’s path. So, for instance, if one of my fellow MFA colleagues published a memoir and he seems to be getting rave reviews and large-audience book reading events (as happened recently), following the suggestion in this article I might say to myself, “Yes, that’s great that he’s finally got his book published, hooray! And even better that it isn’t just sinking into oblivion, that’s wonderful . . . and unlike him, remember, you have a Ph.D. in engineering, a successful and happy relationship with spouse, children, and extended family, not to mention the work you’ve been doing recently as a community and neighborhood activist. Making a difference. Along with all that you’re getting somewhere with your own writing!” And indeed that helps me to feel much less like a failure and much more forgiving of my friend’s success.

As an aside, if you’re like me, it’s temping to think that you’re running out of time, that if you don’t achieve X success by Y date, you’ll never make it. Well, I read another article recently about research indicating that the “big discovery” or the “big achievement” in well-known accomplished people’s lives has come at all different points in their career; not necessarily at the outset, not necessarily when they are toward the end of their career, not necessarily in the middle. That Big Success can happen at any time along the way! So, even if like me you’re in a later phase of your artistic career without having won a distinguished award or having seen the success you are hoping for yet, that does not mean you won’t achieve an amazing accomplishment down the road!

And of course, we’re at our most envious when the other person’s achievement hits home, when they have a success that is exactly the kind of success we are hoping for: a published book, the sales record of a best-seller, a particular award or honor that is the same field as our own work. Right? But a good friend always reminds me, “When you’re feeling super-envious, that only points to the thing that is most important to you.”

So, in this early part of the year, perhaps you’ll take a moment, like me, to remember that that “ouch” point of another person’s success is like a compass pointing to the thing we want most. And then, we might take a moment to reflect on what we have already accomplished, and remind ourselves of the successes we have already achieved. And if you’re feeling particularly hopeful, perhaps you’ll take a moment to imagine that “big success” that may still be ahead in your artistic career. Woo hoo!

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I have a friend who tells me he really enjoys the little flash pieces when I post them. This week I did a small flash in my “word improvisations” that I wanted to share. Here’s it is!

When the sea curls its granite lip

The poem found itself gleaning, gleaning, what was in the poet’s mind. Turbulence, seagulls, fortresses. Foundational elements of poetry. Meter and rhyme.

And yet detritus, so much detritus in among the salient bits. Robert Hass’s book is somewhere on my bookshelf, where did I see it last, I would like a clubhouse sandwich for lunch but I’m hungry now. Where did that pen go, I only want to use my good pen, my lucky pen, the pen I used for that last poem that the New Yorker almost took, but that pen seems to have disappeared. Oh, now the dog has come in, she needs a walk but I won’t get anything done if I take her out now, old Mrs. Pendleton waters her lawn at this time of the morning and she stands there with the hose hoping people will walk by and she can corner them and talk to them about the city’s inability to pave the streets properly and hasn’t she been here since 1949 and they should know that there is a law about citizens being served properly by city government since her husband was a city attorney for many years before he died in that awful plane accident and left her a widow with only her schoolteacher’s salary to raise four boys on, and do they ever call her or see how she’s doing? Not a one, those ungrateful boys-turned-men who married women that moved them out of state and for all she knows there are grandchildren now who she’s never put eyes on thanks to those women with their cutting-remark eyes and avaricious tendencies, but she was only a widow who did her best, including doing her best for all the students in her classroom who didn’t follow rules but made her life more difficult, not easier, as a teacher in the schools, where did the discipline go, where did it all go away, once they took away juvenile hall and detention everything went to pot, but now all she has is this house and the unevenly paved streets the city should have taken care of long ago and not only that, there was this cat that hung out, peed in her garden and killed her vegetables, must have belonged to the new neighbors who look like they moved here from out of the country and she’s not saying anything against them but you can tell things have changed since they moved in.

And now the poem is writing itself, all about xenophobia but not in a direct way, the poet using the pen that is not her lucky pen but just her second-choice pen lying next to the desk lamp and the white-white watercolor paper she salvaged from the kids’ art class when they were still in school, no need to let it go to waste, and the poem spools itself out over white textured paper as though it were the watercolor paint spilling, spreading, falling into microscopic crevices prepared for paint.

Ah, the poem thinks, this is the life, this is really the life, spilling and falling like a waterfall, like the enormous waterfall pictured in so-and-so’s blog that the poet viewed yesterday, the poem can feel the fluidity of movement in the words, the vocab the poet is trying out, juxtaposition of words that is a thrill all its own, and then and then and then the final sweeping phrase, the turn at the end that cinches it, the feel of cleverness that is not too cloying, and the poem breathes, breathes, breathes until it is closed and the draft is done and the poet sits back and smiles. Smiles because there is something new that was never there before and it has taken the form of poetry and movement and a waterfall despite there being no water in sight. A good day.

Take care and good writing,

Theresa

21 thoughts on “Oh, that green-eyed monster, envy

      1. “Ever since Perry.” Love that! “PP” Post-Perry. In fact, Pickles has been over-loving me recently – hopping into my lap while I’m writing, leaning on my wrist as I write, so it seems we have another thing in common!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I clicked over and read the article as well. Pretty important to remember that someone else’s success doesn’t take away from your own. I think that is what is going to stick with me the most from this post and that article.
    Cheers, hope you have a creative week. I’m looking at one that looks like it may be more about the everyday logistics of life more so than the creative, but we shall see.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, your comment about not diminishing your own success is a great one. It reminds me that my daughter is transitioning toward a “career of her dreams” in the next few months; she’s been able to get a few very short-term anthropology projects here in the Seattle area, nothing glamorous but it’s what she really wants to do, and she has a similar struggle to mine with writing, can she start getting more assignments in that field (she has some experience on student projects in the field), she’s had people telling her stories of so-and-so, their nephew, who got a degree in Archeology but now sells appliances at Home Depot, etc. 🙂 I keep reminding her that she has her own path and so far it’s looking pretty promising, it just might take time. 🙂
      I did my Sunday night planning last night and thought of you while I was doing it! This week looks relatively open today and after Tuesday, and the trick is taking time today to start going on a project that will keep me engaged. 🙂 Maybe I’ll try channeling your organizational and creative energy, Amy! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s so important really, to try an do work that is of importance and matters to you. Not that working at Home Depot is a bad thing either, but in her case would be more like a job versus a career I would think. Sounds like both an exciting and scary time.
        I got your e-mail and will be responding later this morning 🙂

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      2. Thanks, Amy! Yes, I’m surprised at the success she already has in getting very part time jobs in archaeology, but each job is a small step forward. 🙂 Looking forward to hearing from you soon!

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  2. You have such a beautiful gift Theresa. That “green eyed monster” lurks continually in our world. We battle it’s slimy venom of rejection knowing that even though it, rejection, can be difficult it sure does temper us to persevere because we know in our hearts nothing worthwhile happens without struggle. One never know who is watching and when His hand will carry it to those that need to read or hear it most.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, it does not good to begrudge another their earned “moment in the sun,” even if we wish for a similar success. It just diminishes ourselves, doesn’t it? I can tell you, Tom & Audrey, are always learning, too! I admire that. Thanks for sharing your thought! 🙂

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  3. This post resonated quite a bit with me, Theresa. Sounds like you know what you have achieved – a M.F.A, several books written, good relationships, and more… Yet there is something lacking. I think many of us feel that way as a creative person. While I don’t like comparing myself to others, when someone wins an award or their work gets chosen for publication, I do go why them and not anyone else. Sometimes I like to think it’s a matter of perspective how someone is chosen; they are chosen because their work fits the perspective of someone else and that someone else is looking to publish that kind of work. And that I don’t fit in.

    That study you mentioned is interesting, that we may be more jealous or bothered if we personally knew that person who had some kind of success. Maybe we’re subconsciously afraid that that person will move on to bigger and better successes and forget about us.

    I like your little bit of fiction at the end there. Really like how you put in many visual descriptions, and this time ‘1949’ stuck out to me, and that provides succinct context in regards to the character’s train of thought or situation.

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    1. “Maybe we’re subconsciously afraid that that person will move on to bigger and better successes and forget about us.” Wow. I never thought of it that way, about the loss of the personal relationship being troubling. I like that, Mabel!

      Also: “when someone wins an award or their work gets chosen for publication, I do go why them and not anyone else.” Again, an unusual observation there. I might bring that to mind the next I hear about a writer winning an award that I admire. Just one measure of accomplishment, right? And thinking about how that measure “fits” or “doesn’t fit” with one’s own work is quite good. Thank you!

      Thank you for your kind message about my excerpt; loved hearing that all those details in visual descriptions connected with you. Always helpful to hear! 🙂

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      1. The fact that people we care about will move on, really does strike a chord with me. It’s strange, because in life people come and go in our lives. But there’s nothing like sharing a long understanding bond between two people and a bond you’re comfortable with without question.

        Winning awards has always struck me as strange. I don’t live for competition and awards, but looking at it another way chasing an award is also a means to improve ourselves. That said, awards are categorised and in a way you have to put yourself into a box if you want to win an award.

        Always lovely to read your work, Theresa 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. “That said, awards are categorised and in a way you have to put yourself into a box if you want to win an award.” – I find this very reassuring, Mabel! Was just hearing an interview with poet Mary Oliver, who won the Pulitzer back in the ’80s, which made me feel momentarily like a failure – hah! But, good for her, and her work is definitely interesting and inspiring, the more I learn about it after her recent death. And thank you for the kind message about my work! 🙂 Keeps me going at times of feeling low.

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  4. Absolutely delightful. Starting in reverse, the story that encompasses the rambling nature of our thought processes so effortlessly. Reminds me a bit of Kerouac and his lack of punctuations (which I admire intensely because it expresses a feverish mode of writing). The expression…’life, spilling and falling like a waterfall’ is so poetic and beautiful.
    Now onto the message of your post which touches my innermost thoughts (which creep in almost involuntarily). We must all go through these phases of envy and self-flagellation — people who deal with the creative arts. When I do, I shall have to remind myself of your post. That the roads always diverge, and each of us opt to traverse a different path, so how can there be any comparison. xx

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