Sugar, advice columnist for The Rumpus, fielded a question from a writer who finds herself unable to be happy for a friend’s authorial success. Sugar deals some straight talk about these issues, beginning with the idea that “We are all savages inside. We all want to be the chosen, the beloved, the esteemed. There isn’t a person reading this who hasn’t at one point or another had that why not me? voice pop into the interior mix when something good has happened to someone else.”
Jealousy was a terrible, terrible problem for me for a long time. At Montana emails were sent around congratulating people when they had a publication. All I could feel was a stab in the chest.
Montana (for me) wasn’t a program that pitted writers against one another, which isn’t to say there wasn’t a bit of wrestling with the sharks. Some of this jealousy and competition was good. A little burr in the saddle can work as motivation. If I bombed in workshop it made me work harder. If someone-not-me wrote an amazing story or essay then I was determined to outdo them. If there was a award I wanted it. If there was I contest I was scrambling for the gold medal.
Where jealousy became a problem, was when I couldn’t be glad for my fellow classmates and friends. Just like the woman who wrote Sugar, I wanted to be glad but really I was a hot mess inside. Why not me? Of course, I hid my pettiness the best I could but in truth I felt sorry for myself and lack of success.
A few weeks ago a friend of mine here got in the PhD at Utah with full funding, and what I realized was that I was so genuinely glad for her. I actually squealed in delight. That I was able to feel so happy for someone else’s success felt so, so good. A relief. Something shifted in me. I was like the Grinch whose heart grew two sizes that day.
So what happened? I admit my short story acceptance to The Gettysburg Review was like lancing a giant boil. I knew now that I wasn’t a joke. I also finished my book (more on this later). I haven’t made the NYT best seller list and my publication list remains rather middling, yet something changed where I no longer felt as though I wanted to be a writer, but I was a writer.
I have let go a great deal, too. I can’t control or worry about what other writers are doing. Worrying about that shit will drive you crazy. And the more I get in this writing life, the more that I see that it’s freaking hard even for the people we see as being so successful.
Which isn't to say I'm completely free of the twinge now and again. And as I write this, I’m thinking I miss some of the fiery, pre-Prozac me. I might froth up a little bit of that competitive spirit up again. Because while I am glad to be glad for my friends, it doesn’t hurt to want to kick ass now and again.