Let’s talk about jealousy, professional as opposed to petty jealousy caused by other people’s naturally curly hair-didn’t Anne Of Green Gables suffer from that? We’re focusing on jealousy caused by the success of other writers or artists; or, at least, the apparent success. With Facebook, Twitter and other methods of self-promotion, writers can now broadcast their achievements, awards, book deals, publications, and cover art in a fashion reminiscent of movie coming attractions.
At times it feels as if you’ve already read their book, as the word-of-mouth has been constant for the month before publication. Each time this author proclaims yet another triumph you try to find something nice to say, but inside you are lacking any emotion except jealousy; that gut twisting, sad, humiliating emotion, so you click “like”.
All the writer’s friends are billing and cooing and you feel like telling them to stop sucking up and pretending to be happy for this person’s success.
Jealousy is based in fear, fear that the writer has taken your space; that special chair you had reserved was grabbed and you are left standing. It might be the bestsellers list or Sundance or maybe some teeny, tiny poetry journal that doesn’t pay anything. The point is, you are jealous. But this isn’t that preschool, grab-that-toy, don’t-touch-my- mama emotion. It’s more like grief with a gut wrenching worry that you are stalled; you pulled the short straw, the only one uninvited to the best party in the universe.
The Buddhists knew their stuff when they defined attachment as suffering. Wanting something intensely will probably leave you with a broken heart. This is not to say you shouldn’t want it. Just know it will probably end in tears.
“To cure jealousy is to see it for what it is, a dissatisfaction with self.” Joan Didion
Didion is exactly right. Your friend or enemy could win the National Book Award and if you are sure of your own work, you won’t care. I recall Norman Mailer telling me how hard it was to be him and thinking, how is that possible? You’re Norman Mailer! The truth was he was being absolutely honest about the struggle to do better, write faster, fulfill the fickle taste of the reader, and he was revealing that we are all the same in our passion to be good, to be read, to be true to our gift.