” It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock ”
-from Othello, by William Shakespeare
[This is the first iin an intermittent series of pieces I plan to write on topics of professional concern to writers and academics. I’m inspired in this by two blogs, Eggbeater and Waiterrant, which often address issues to do with the food profession. As always, I welcome your comments.]
We were at a reception full of writers and academics. I was handing out postcards for my own booklaunch, two days hence. I ran into X, a fellow-writer I like and admire. We greeted each other warmly, and then I proudly gave him a luscious red postcard, with my book cover on one side and information about the launch on the other. He held it gingerly; held his breath at the same time. Then he bared his teeth, and sharply exhaled
“I am seething with jealousy,” he said.
Turns out no one ever created a postcard for his book. He has, however, received a decent amount of recognition – reviews, awards, residencies. I was taken aback. Half-jokingly, I snatched the postcard away.
But I was intrigued by his frankness.
Good ol’ Wikipedia distinguishes between jealousy and envy. Jealousy, it says is about, “loss, real or imagined, of something or someone you believe is yours, whereas envy concerns what you don’t have and would like to possess”. So really, what X was describing was envy. But envy is harder to admit to. Envy is covetous; perhaps it seems less noble, too.
Professional envy is endemic to the arts. We’re all competing against each other for smaller and smaller pieces of pie.
Have you ever felt envious of someone – a fellow writer or filmmaker or academic or blogger? How did that make you feel? Did you talk about it to anyone? Or was it simply your dirty little secret?
Do people of ever get envious of you, that you know of? Lovers? Friends? Family?
Sometimes, professional envy has prevented me from attending events that I actually wanted to be at. I didn’t think I could bear the toxic, acidic burning sensation of my own envy. I’ve been envious of artists with trust funds, artists with grants, even artists with supportive partners. That envy was a message, telling me, if only unconsciously, about my own deepest needs.
But sometimes envy is a tease, distracting you from acknowledging your own achievements and the privilege you enjoy.
In early Christian teaching, envy is one of the seven deadly sins. It is paired with one of the seven virtues: kindness.
The inequitable distribution of capital, of gigs and recognition creates hospitable conditions for envy. Still, without sounding too flakey, I wonder if there’s anything I or anyone else can do to counter envy’s stinging force. Can kindness heal envy? Kindness to the one’s envious self…or kindness to those who envy?
What do you think?