Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Jealousy, envy and their discontents

Recently, I read a novelist friends' second novel. I love this writer--and this person.  She's smart, funny, and I actually first met her because I tracked her down after adoring her first novel.  A brilliant writer, she's read my pages with a toughness I crave, and every time she comes to NYC, we hang out. Her new novel is terrific--and I had the sensation of this sick, yearning jealousy as I was reading because I kept thinking, how could I ever write anything this good?  And because my friend knows I wish her nothing but good things, because we talk about everything, I told her what I was feeling.

We had this great discussion about jealousy, about how it's natural to feel it, and how talking about it dissipates the sting of it. She said she took my feelings as a compliment, and that too often, jealousy and envy are something writers don't discuss. I know where my feelings come from.  A sense that there is not enough to go around. A feeling that there is enough to go around but not for ME.  My own persona psychodrama! But I don't act on those feelings, and if I do, it's in a positive way.  I  heap on more praise (I am a big believer in karma) or I might post a great Amazon review for someone.  I want my friend's novel to succeed brilliantly (and trust me, it is so great, that it will) and I want to help her do everything she can to make it big.  I know that my  jealousy was not that I did not want her to have that great writing, but it was something more turned inward--a fear that I did not have the writing chops that she does, a sick yearning to be that good and a nauseous fear that I never would be.

Of course, there are times when you can't help but feel irritated--like when a book that is slapped together gets front page praise everywhere and a multi-million dollar advance, let's say. But that's more about unfairness.

So, how do any of you handle jealousy and envy? And if you never, ever feel it, can you bottle what you have and send me a case?


Clea Simon said...

I feel it like a great choking fear. I think your observation that it's really about there not being enough for me is apt. The only way I have found to cope is to just dive into work, because no matter what anyone else does, only I can write my books. And only you can write yours, Caroline - and yours are wonderful!!

Caroline said...

A great choking fear is right, Clea. And yup, it is all about me, when I feel it. Some well-adjusted people (obviously not me!) feel that someone else getting something is a good sign, because it means if it can happen to them, it can happen to you!

And you're right, we can only write our own books. Sigh. Wish I could write yours.

Clea Simon said...

And I wish I could write yours! Only I'd end up putting cats in them and making them way too sentimental. No, better to just READ yours!

Katharine Weber said...

We all try to talk about how a rising tide floats all the boats, and we hope it's true. It's necessary but not sufficient to feel that. The only possible use for the fear of failure that is driven to the surface by envy is to use it to bear down on our own work.

Let yourself off the hook and make the distinction between envy and jealousy. You are in fact a very, very generous writing friend, Caroline.

Jeff Lyons said...


Some defined Jealousy and Envy this way:

Jealousy: what you feel when you are afraid there is not enough of something to go around. Eveyone else will get it but not you... because of scarcity.

Envy: what you feel when you are afraid everybody else will get something and you wont, but not because there isn't enough to go around, but because YOU can't have it. It's about you, not scarcity. Because of who you are, you can't have "it." Its about shame of being.

Envy is the worse of the two, because it leads to wishing others who "have" to fall from success (keep looking for their clay feet to pull them down), whereas with jealousy you're just self-pitied all the time about it.

Dr. Jeff