I have a history of being jealous. It’s not the sort of thing that’s cool to admit. Because jealousy is really petty and everyone knows it. Also, everyone knows it means you’re insecure. People who are secure do not feel jealous. They feel supportive and happy. Their neighbor wins the $389,000,000 lottery? Good for them! We’re planting a new garden!
That was based on my mom. She is the least jealous person ever, and she loves to garden.
Clearly, I am not very secure. I mean, clearly.
I’m working on it.
For a while, whenever I went to my writing group, I got jealous. We’d all show up, being fabulous and wearing interesting shoes, preening a little. And we’d report on our two weeks apart. Who was pitching where, getting accepted where, who had this amazing new opportunity, who had gotten this crazy gig. Quick, I thought frantically, think of something impressive you’ve done! I was deathly afraid that nothing would come to mind.
And sometimes I am so jealous I feel my smile get stuck on my face and I can hear my own voice, surprisingly squeaky, as though from a great distance, saying, “That’s great! That’s really great!” and in a second I think I might laugh like the laugh track on a bad sitcom. “Oh my god! I’m so happy for you! That’s really great! Oops! I tripped over my feet!” *laughter*
My jealousy is very particular. It’s reserved for people who do what I do, but are more successful at it than me. When I used to play piano competitions, as a kid, I was horribly jealous of whoever won first place. Now it’s writing. So actually, I’d be fine with someone winning the lottery/having wild success of a non-writing variety. But if one of my friends gets published in the magazine I’ve been pitching for a solid year—I might feel like crying the slightest bit. The slightest bit more than the slightest bit.
And I hate myself while I’m almost crying. Or almost not crying. Because this is not the kind of person I want to be. This is a shameful person who needs to get her priorities straight. Who should have priorities like:
1. Being a really good person (including calling one’s grandmother on a regular basis and donating time and money to charities that directly benefit people in need)
2. Laughing a lot, because life is short
3. Steadfastly and unflinchingly pursuing personal goals without comparing oneself to others
4. Remembering to do the laundry before ALL of the underwear is used up
5. Cardio, 45 min at a time, 3 times a week
(Ha! 45 minutes? THREE times a week?)
(Shit. I’m going to die young.)
Jealousy is a waste of time. It gets in the way and it sits there stubbornly, giving you this blank stare. It isn’t subtle. It doesn’t understand.
I am not sure how to handle it. It makes me feel tiny and irrelevant. I am suddenly the smallest knight in the world, staring up at a dragon that is big enough to blot out the sun. I am helpless.
But I am not really helpless. About a month ago, I told the other members of my writing group that I was feeling a little uncomfortable. I didn’t use the word “jealous,” because, well, then I’d sound like a baby. I said it felt competitive.
And everyone agreed. It felt competitive to them, too. It felt uncomfortable.
(Funny what happens when you talk to people about how you’re feeling. I’m not saying it’s always gonna be good—but it’s probably worth a shot.)
I’ve been changing. I can feel it. I’m getting a little bit better at being myself. Just a little. So I can’t brag yet.
And then came the ultimate test. Yesterday, one of my closest friends got amazing news. She had been offered a blogging job at a huge site. And I mean huge. And a bigshot Hollywood agent wanted to represent her and set her up with people who would…wait for this because it is absolutely worth waiting for…MAKE A TV SHOW ABOUT HER LIFE.
A TV show. About her life.
In a TV show.
With actors, playing her and her husband and her friends. Like me, actually. An actor playing me on a TV show about my friend’s life.
Oh, and if she wanted to do a book- then do it! A book that could be made into a movie, of course. Or a different TV show. What did she want to do? Anything she wanted was possible!
We were eating dinner at this sexy new Mexican place in Dumbo. There wasn’t much food, but it was very artistically arranged.
“I wanted to tell you in person,” she said.
“Oh, of course!” I said.
I wished that she hadn’t, because now I had to react in person. I had to somehow react to the news that this girl whose career is so similar to mine, who I met through this blog, was getting a break so unimaginably giant that I had never even thought to dream of something similar. The kind of break that writers might do a totally understandable thing like selling their soul to the devil for.
“That’s great!” I said. “That’s…so amazing!” I stared down at my plate, where a delicate fried egg swam in some unidentifiable green sauce speckled with minced herbs. I stared at the water-beaded corona stuck in my hand. “God. That’s…really amazing.” I looked back up at her.
“It’s overwhelming, that’s what it is,” she said immediately.
Is she downplaying, because of me? I thought.
I thought, probably.
She looked worried, a little awkward. I could tell that she knew that now was the moment when I might smile my tin smile and laugh my canned laugh.
And suddenly I knew how I felt. It wasn’t flawless. I wasn’t not in any way jealous. I would love a break of that magnitude. Of course I would. I’d be terrified to do a TV show, but I’d love to sit in the high floor office of a big-deal agent and listen to him tell me how amazing I am, how I can do anything next. Anything. Of course I want that.
But also, I want that for her.
And it happened to her, not me. Right now, it is happening to her. And we need to celebrate.
We celebrated. We laughed. Like priority number 2.
I went home and waited for something else to kick in. For the darkness to kick in. The creeping sense of failure. Strangely, it didn’t come.
I woke up the next morning, and I waited. But it didn’t come.
I felt happy. For no reason.
Or maybe for a very good one.
It suddenly occurred to me that I do not have to be the one in the front. I do not have to win.
Weird. Why not? I always want to win.
I don’t know. Because it actually doesn’t matter?
And it was strangely liberating that my friend had succeeded so suddenly, at this level. Maybe because she had won, and so I didn’t need to. If that makes any sense.
Maybe because there might be a character on TV based on me someday. And even if it’s a supporting one, that’s still pretty damn cool.
I’m kidding. It’s because of her.
* * *
When’s the last time you were really jealous? Or really surprisingly not jealous? How do you handle jealousy?
Unroast: Today I love the way the tiny hairs just above my wrists catch the light and glow gold.
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