February 20, 2012

That Green-eyed Monster

I mentioned on Friday the great piece in Poets & Writers called “Writer Envy” by Maura Kelly. She begins by talking about one particular writer friend whom she calls Nabokov.  He’s a really nice guy and a great writer and, although he and Maura started at basically the same place, he has had a meteoric rise.  At first Maura was so excited and happy for him, but then it devolved into that green-eyed monster, jealousy. 

In general, I’m not a jealous person.  I don’t know why that is.  But of course I have experienced jealousy in my life, and almost invariably it’s been associated with a guy.

I haven’t been jealous because of my husband hardly at all.  Little twinges now and then associated with female colleagues, but never with his many female friends, even the one he calls mi amour.  That’s because it’s way in his past and, more importantly, because I really feel assured of my place in his life.  I never get that feeling where he radiates wishy washy.  You know this one all too well ~ where you have a gut feeling that your friend or partner has something on their mind, something ambivalent about you.  There’s not that many outward signs, but you just know it, and it’s always true, whether you trust your gut or talk yourself out of it. 

There was another time in my life, though, that I was awash in jealousy.  Not just jealousy but all the other feelings that come with a breakup ~ pain, self-pity, anguish, anger, possibly even a bit suicidal.  It was over my last boyfriend before my future husband and I started dating.  This was a man that I fell head over heels for, so deeply I lost myself.  I had a long history of losing myself in men because I gained all my self-worth from that association, but in this particular case, it was the deepest and most desperate of attachments.  (I love my husband deeply too, but it’s different. After this man, I developed a little bit of a thick skin, finally, after all that time. I learned how to protect myself a bit, and it came more slowly. It's much richer ~ and much more healthy.) 

So what happened is that the man came back from a summer away and indicated his ambivalence about our relationship.  I totally understand why he wanted out.  I was a basket case in so many ways. Only he didn’t break up with me ~ out of kindness on his part I’m sure.  It was me who finally broke up with him.  I drove 400 miles to where he had moved and said, “If you don’t come back, we’re over.”  He said, “I don’t take ultimatums well.  You know what you’re saying, right?” I said, “Yep,” and that was it. I drove the 400 miles back home.

But what really got me was that it wasn’t another woman.  It wasn’t any one particular thing.  It was just that he didn’t want me.  I was so jealous I couldn’t see straight, but I had no one thing to pin it on.  This generalized jealousy, combined with all the other things I was feeling, destroyed me.

Maura talks about this, about how her jealousy was both focused on Nabokov and also on all writers in general. Nabokov had gotten a book published and had received all kinds of awards.  What finally helped her was poet Mark Doty at the Whiting Award ceremony.  He said that all writers at all levels are jealous and “I believe the remedy for artistic bitterness is immersion on the present, in the joyful, continuing struggle of making something.  You keep the challenges new, you solve the problems a new way, you do what you don’t know how to do yet, and you’ll stay awake in your spirit, and it won’t matter quite as much what anyone things.”  Maura goes on to talk about how she focused more on her own writing and less on what others were doing and it helped. 

There are a number of great posts on the internet about writerly jealousy.  Here are a few:

·         Miram at Dystel & Goderich
·         The piece Miriam references at Writer’s Relief
·         The great great piece by the wonderful superlative Dear Sugar
·         I talk a bit about jealousy in my 5 days of talking about thankfulness

I love Maura’s tips that helped her overcome her jealousy.  Instead of just working hard, she began working smart ~ she didn’t have a lit degree, so she focused more on reading the greats and applying that.  She also tried to remember what she loved about writing, that passion.  She began keeping a diary, which fed rather than detracted from her other writing.  It all had the effect of actually making her more humble and took the focus away from others. 

The epilogue to the breakup story is that, after I lay weeping on the floor for what seemed like forever, I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and thought, this is ridiculous.  Then I went through a serious I-am-woman-hear-me-roar phase.  I started working out, I started looking forward to confrontation and saying “no” because it meant I was asserting myself, and I even started reading 12-step inspirational daily meditations and journaling furiously.  I’m a much better person for it all, and I have that ex to thank. 

PS The green-eyed monster above is from a great post by the writer Elena Aitken.


sjndestiny said...

Great topic to mull over! I used to experience episodes of jealousy, not so much for what other writers were producing, but for how they managed to arrange their lives and time so they could write. Doing that has been my greatest struggle. Turns out, I wasn't ready to make some of the sacrificial choices that writers need to make. When a fellow writer is successful, we don't always see the tradeoffs s/he had to make to get there. I understand the process better now, and the choices I have to make to be successful with it. Knowing the sacrifices all writers have to make to create their works enables me to better enjoy the sucesses of my writer friends!

Tamara said...

What a great point! We don't see their struggles or the years and years of time they've put in. We only see the outcome, and it looks like it's so easy for them. Like maybe we're working harder than they are and yet they're having this success.

I love that.

Thanks for stopping by!

~ Tamara

Michael Selmer said...

Thanks for the post, Tamara. I hope it can help me focus more on my writing and get by the jealousy I have been feeling recently. I've spent more time than I should trying to figure out how other indie authors have been successful. It seems that it depends less on the quality of the writing and more on a willingness to spend most of one's time doing marketing and social-networking. I've tried to do that, but I don't have a burning drive to market like I do to write. (My marketing/social networking efforts likely reflect that lesser interest) Although it won't help sell books, I need to worry less about the success of my book in relation to others and get on with the joy of writing.

Tamara said...

Promotion is so hard! Especially because it takes you away from the all-engrossing world of writing and makes you focus outward on what others are doing. I advocate the guilt-free promotion ~ do what you can do and don't feel guilty about the rest. Cuz there's always more you can do. "Don't should on yourself," as they say. :-)

It's a crazy world.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Michael.

FYI - Michael's new book is out. Check it out Harvest of the Heart http://michaelselmer.wordpress.com/

~ Tamara

Hugh said...

Great post, Tamara. And if you haven't read Anne Lamott's chapter on jealousy in BIRD BY BIRD, by all means find a copy! That very honest piece made all the difference for me in so many ways, mostly because it acknowledged that we all feel these things and think these thoughts and wonder what we can or should do about it. In the end, I learned that one needn't judge when no judgment was requested or required. By not taking that first step, it was far easier to avoid that trip down Jealousy Lane.

Tamara said...

Oh, gosh, I had forgotten about Bird by Bird! Thank you, Hugh. I'm immediately going to pull out my tattered copy and reread.

I like that - recognize our triggers and avoid wallowing in it.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Hugh!

(FYI Hugh does these wonderfully thoughtful posts over on his blog http://www.hughcoyle.com/)

~ Tamara