by Savannah J. Foley
Almost a year ago I wrote a post called FictionPress and Jealousy, in which I talked about the negative feelings that sometimes result from comparing yourself to other writers. A few months later, Sarah wrote a post called The Writing Community’s Kryoptonite…AKA Jealousy, in which she talked about how jealousy harms not only the jealousee but the jealouser. (Yeah, you love it when I make up words.) Yesterday Susan Dennard wrote a post about ‘keeping your eyes on your own paper’ when comparing yourself to other writers.
Now, I don’t want you guys to think I’m a big green monster all the time, but jealousy has reared its ugly head for me again here recently, and since it’s the new year I figured it’s time to get it all out there and let it go.
For Christmas I received Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. You’ve probably heard of it; it’s a great memoir/writing instructions book, like Stephen King’s On Writing. Anne devoted a whole chapter to jealousy, including real-life examples, and I think what puzzled me most is her reaction to jealousy (indeed, her reaction to a lot of writing-related problems). Anne recommended removing the person who causes you to be jealous from your life.
Now, in her situation I can understand. Anne had a friend who was already pretty well off who then landed a six-figure book deal. Meanwhile, Anne’s husband was out of a job and she was barely making ends meet, and the friend would call to talk about her book deal and how exciting and scary it was, making statements like, ‘I guess God is just giving me money this year.’ And Anne is right there nodding along and saying ‘yup’ because if she says anything else she’ll just scream or cry.
Anne felt the problem was with her, until she realized that her friend knew that Anne’s family was in financial trouble, and still called to discuss the 6-figures she’d be receiving shortly. Anne didn’t feel the woman was bragging, but it was still really insensitive.
Solution: Distance self from friend.
But is that right? Can you really go through life weeding out people who make you feel bad, especially for something so slippery as their own good fortune?
What about when one of your good friends has something awesome happen to them, and even though you’ve helped them reach their goal, you still find yourself turning green in the face? What about when you see some random person on the internet who’s #1 on the NYT best-sellers list with their first book and they’ve only been writing for a few years? Or you see some stranger’s announcement on Twitter that they signed a 10-book deal and Oprah’s already scheduled a viewing with them?
You can’t just ignore or block out everyone who makes you feel jealous, especially if they’re your friends. Therefore we are back at square one: How do we stop feeling jealous, or, how do we manage our jealousy?
Personal confession time. Recently a friend of mine had something really awesome happen to them. Like, super awesome. My first reaction was shock, followed by a brief spurt of excitement, but then as the details came rolling in of how super-fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime, omg-you-can’t-be-serious this news was, something far more sinister bloomed within me: shaking, raging, can’t-breathe jealousy.
I felt like I’d been leveled with a hammer. One part of me wanted to cry and yell and say really nasty things, and the other part knew this was completely ridiculous and I should be excited for my friend, and why wasn’t I like other people who felt secure in my own good fortune to the point where I didn’t envy anyone else?
To try and get over it, I took my dog for a walk to clear my head. I thought, you know, being out in nature and whatever would calm me down and make me realize that I was awesome enough that I didn’t have to be jealous of anyone. But it didn’t happen.
Instead this acid-pit kept threatening to erupt in me. I couldn’t catch my breath. I hated what I was feeling; I didn’t WANT to be that horrible, jealous friend who couldn’t just be happy for the success of others. How was my friend’s success harming me? How was her happiness detracting from me in any way?
It wasn’t. But my feelings persisted. They persisted for weeks. I tried not to tell anyone because we attach such a stigma to jealousy, but I did share a bit of my disappointment with my boyfriend. Okay, a lot of my disappointment. To the point that when a friend of mine landed her first book deal and I shared the news via IM, his first reaction was, “I’m sorry, Savannah.”
I sat there looking at the screen, horrified. “No, no,” I typed. “This is great! I’m not upset.”
How could I be wanting-to-die jealous of one friend, but excited for another? Why couldn’t I talk myself out of my negative feelings? It made me realize some fundamental facts about jealousy:
Jealousy is not logical. It stems from our own insecurities, which are as varied and changing as we are. I can’t predict when news is going to make me smile in joy or frown in anger. I can only withstand the onslaught.
Jealousy is not easily banished. There’s no quick fix for jealousy. There’s no inspirational quote, yoga pose, chocolate bar, spoken word, reassuring hug or anything that is going to fix it. Only time.
Jealousy does not mean there’s something wrong with you. Despite how I disagreed with Anne about some points and philosophies in her book, I am grateful that she showed me how everyone is jealous at some time. No one is so spiritually secure that they’re never jealous. For some reason I thought that professional writers never get insecure, despite being told that over and over again. For some reason Anne made me ‘get it’.
Jealousy made me scared. I was terrified one of my friends was going to find out, and then I’d be ostracized for daring to feel inadequate. I didn’t want my negative feelings to be a burden on anyone, so I kept them inside. But my feelings were aching to be released. I found myself making passive-aggressive comments, hinting at my unhappiness but not daring to make it fully known. What I really needed to do is have a positive conversation about my negative emotions. I needed to talk with a friend about it, someone I could trust to not let me devolve into gossiping about my friend with the good news. Someone who could say ‘yeah me too, lol, we’re so lame, now let’s move on.’
The thing about jealousy is that you get over it eventually. My jealousy-levels are way lower than they were a few weeks ago. I’m not totally zen about it yet, but I’m hoping that one day I won’t care anymore.
In the meantime, I’m going to go about my business and accept that I don’t have to feel happy and satisfied all the time. I’m going to use my jealousy as inspiration to work harder so I too can be successful.
What about you guys? Anything making you crazy with envy lately? Let’s get it out of our systems and move on already!
Also, just an FYI that the book I’m working on had a name change. Previously known as Woman’s World, then Antebellum, the new title I’m working with is Nameless. You can read a sample chapter here.
Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Nameless (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress. She has written five novels, owns her own freelance writing company, and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Nameless is currently out on submissions. Her website is www.savannahjfoley.com, but she updates more frequently on her livejournal.