Envy, or The Green-Eyed Monster


” 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?


  1. There is also mock-envy, which is an awkward expression intended to be complimentary. Mock-envy is a kind of back-handed compliment, and is not always a sincere expression of green-eyed envy.

    Gore Vidal says that whenever a writer/friend of his achieves any sort of success, a part of him dies. That is true envy.

    Who knew writers were the least bit competitive?

    Hey Marusya, congrats great review in the Globe & Mail. Have been enjoying your book. It is actually very funny.

  2. I love the photos you’ve posted with this topic! Wet, lush, green envy. You know what? I think envy is healthy. It means you have an appetite for success, and a lust for life. Of course you envy your peers–but you love them more, and they challenge you to keep doing what you really love. They challenge you to speak with an authentic voice, not a borrowed or
    internalized voice. They challenge you to have the courage and strength to keep working, no matter how little the reward.

    I envy people all the time, but it is always mixed with admiration, and sometimes the green monster’s a good motivator, you know? So I say go big with your envy or go home and be washed away with that green rain. ;) Maybe befriending the monster’s the best way to tame it.

    Be a diva!

  3. George, thank you for clarifying the difference between ‘mock’ and actual envy. I think mock-envy still has its tiny sting, but maybe it’s more like a love-bite than a gouge…Poor Gore Vidal! He must be at least half dead by now!

    Lori. you say some wise and beautiful things as always. Courage and strength to withstand the green-eyed monster, yes.

  4. I’m envious of people, I try not to be but I am. I’m envious of other artists who can get it together and market their work well, because I know I have the talent but so far I’m always lacking in the promoting stuff and believing in myself parts. I wish I could harness my envy into a vehicle I could use to improve myself.

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