May 16th, 2010

Dark Tower

On Professional Jealousy & Envy

I was writing last night while peeping into the Twitter feed for the Nebula Awards.

Five years ago--when I'd been doing this for a whopping two years--I would have been seething with jealousy, and wouldn't have gotten any writing done. I might've opened a chat window or written a journal entry or something. (Private journal.) Who knows? But SEETHING, on some level, would have happened.

(I admit this. I am a jealous kind of person. I try not to let it affect my life and relationships with other people, but it's been this way for a long time. I've thought about this a lot, and I think it has more to do with living an insecure childhood than being spoiled. Not that I was spoiled, but I was an only child, and there are some myths about only children that still come flying at me unexpectedly to this day. Collapse ))

Disclaimer: the psyche I analyze may just be my own

Anyway, here's the other thing: I see this seethingess in new writers a lot. Not always, not all writers, but I do see it. And when I see it, it perplexes me, because I know I had it, too, and I didn't know why.

When you embark on something, some art, some career, some something where there are qualitative judgments and visceral reactions, and upon those judgments and reactions hinge money, and awards, and incalculable factors like popularity, coolness, and prestige, jealousy is a necessary thing. (For certain personalities, obvs.) You can't get there from here if you don't want that stuff.

And it has to be jealousy, not envy. Envy is wanting what other people have. Jealousy is the envy you get when something is taken from you. And I have a lot of professional envy for many people in my field--for just about everyone who's not me, in point of fact--and that's good, it makes me aware of what's possible, it makes me strive.

But I wouldn't have kept going two years ago if all I'd felt was envy. Envy is a peer-to-peer emotion, in this context.

To really want something, though, enough to go balls to the wall, to risk rejection, to give up time spent on pleasurable pursuits, to disappoint friends and family by parceling out your time, to live in a dirtier-than-average house with an overgrown flower garden--you can't get there from envy. You've got to be jealous. You have to seethe a little. You have to feel ownership over an award you aren't even eligible for, and to feel like you've lost something every time you aren't even nominated.

You have to believe it's yours in order to strive for it. It's a necessary attachment. Otherwise, you absolutely wouldn't bother.

I remember stumbling across a new writer's jealous ranting in a forum or a blog once, and turning away in distaste, wondering why they thought they were even entitled to be this irate about something--anything--at all. But I've literally been thinking about this for a year now, returning to the memory of that rant time and again, and trying to get a handle on it. And it was only last night that I put it all together, that I thoroughly looked at how I felt in 2004, 2005.

So, no, I wasn't jealous last night. (I was jealous of the people who went to the shuttle launch, because I realized I had that opportunity, and let it slip away.) I worked on my book. I checked in on the Twitter feeds. I envied the winners, the nominees. I worked a little harder on my book. But I didn't have to be jealous, because I've gone through that stage of artistic/professional development. I long ago used jealousy as the grappling hook and awards as the medium to embed the hook into, and pulled myself upward.

See, in my mind, the tower (see icon) is a metaphor for the nebulous ball of achievements I want to have by the end of my career. (I suspect it's one of those trick towers, where you don't know you've been inside of it for a long time, but that's another discussion for another day.)

YMMV, and all the usual disclaimers. But I like the notion that jealousy is a valid stepping stone, a visceral reaction that lets you know you are fully engaged with something. It's a helpful indicator for me, to check my path. I am not, for example, particularly jealous of librarians. A little envious at times; never jealous. So, perhaps not a good career path for me, after all (she learns for the ten thousandth time).

Anyway. Thoughts? Boos? Tomatoes?