April 28th, 2011
O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-eyed monster
Iago warns Othello of jealousy. When you are small, you are usually told not be jealous, that envy and jealousy are wrong. But, of course, jealousy and envy are as natural as breathing to most humans.
I know a few people who seem to be free of both. But very few. I am not one of the lucky few.
I am not jealous of other people’s spouses (except Denzel Washington, Pierce Brosnan, Johnny Depp, Will Smith and Clive Owen.)
Not jealous of other people’s houses. I like a lot of other people’s houses, and oddly, I’m not at all fond of my own dwelling, but I don’t want other people’s houses. When the time is right, I will move to another house, but that’s probably years away because of this blasted recession/depression thing we’re having. No, I like visiting other people’s houses but I am okay with mine as a sort of temporary dwelling that I will one day move away from to a very old house—at least one hundred years old, with a pool and huge trees.
Cars—I like looking at other people’s cars, but I don’t really envy cars. Or clothes. I like people’s clothes, but I don’t need to have them.
Most people have their list—what they admire, but don’t actually have to own, possess, enter.
But then there is a the list of what we actually do envy.
Kathryn Chetkovich writes about envy for her famous writer boyfriend who she feels had an unfair amount of success. Now, now, Kathryn, do you really think your boyfriend Jonathan Franzen has had too much success for one writer?
HIS IS A STORY about two writers. A story, in other words, of envy. I met the man at an artists’ colony, and I liked him from the first story I heard him tell. It was about how he’d once been jilted by a blind date, after which he went right out and bought himself some new clothes. He was working on his third book but had no particular interest in talking shop. He read the paper and watched sports on television. He was handsome in a shy, arrogant way, dressed safely but deliberately in his white shirts and black jeans.
He was, I soon learned, struggling.
There may be women out there who do not love this beyond all else in a man, but I’m not one of them.
He played pool after dinner and I would watch him through the window of the phone-booth door as I made my nightly call to my parents inCalifornia. My father, who was 81 and not in good health, had recently fallen. The anticipation of those 10-minute phone calls – during which I did nothing but listen, and even that not very well – dominated my days. The booth was tiny. The air felt pre-breathed and thick with the molecules of other people’s long-distance calls, of their quarrels and appeasements. A small window was positioned at eye level if you were sitting down, and through it, while my parents’ distress poured into my ear, I could see a slice of the man, a helping from his waist to the middle of his thighs, as he played pool. I watched him set his legs, wiggling them into place. As my mother spoke in the tense, coded voice that signalled that my father was in the room with her, I focused on the cue sliding forward and back across his body like a bow. As long as I kept my eye trained on that cue, I told myself, I would not get sucked through the tiny holes of the receiver.
One afternoon I ran into the man and, partly in a bid to keep him talking, told him about my parents and my uncertainty about what I should be doing to help them. His own father had died after a long illness, he told me, so he had some idea what I was going through. Just then a staff member came by and complimented him on one of his novels, neither of which I’d heard of – a fact that helped to equalize the discrepancy between his two published books and my none.
We both watched her walk away again, awkwardness rushing in to fill the space she left behind. He looked back at me. ‘You have to do your work,’ he said. ‘That’s your first responsibility.’
He meant, of course, my writing, and he spoke with a confidence I had never managed to feel about those hours of daydreaming at my desk, stringing together decorative little sentences to describe small, made-up events. Work to me always meant a job you were paid to do, necessary labour that someone else depended on.
He may have been struggling, but he knew what his work was. That was the first thing I envied about him.
So, here is my list of who I have envied:
Writers with easy teaching jobs, especially your endowed chair jobs. Writers who teach fewer than four courses/semester. That’s it, I am envious of people who have the most expensive and important commodity for a writer—time.
I would like time to write. I am fine living in my little house with my car with its nearly 300,000 miles. I am fine with my non-money. I’m fine with my non-money, and I am fine with my non-beauty and my non-fame and my non-boat and non executive status everywhere I go. I wish that I had more time to write. Time, is what writers dream of. Time is elusive, dream like, out of reach, magical, wildly out of reach.