So, your friend got his work published in yet another magazine, did he? How does that make you feel? It can be difficult to enjoy your friends’ successes, no matter how authentic your love for them, if you are not enjoying successes of your own. Most of the time when I am feeling this way, I take an honest look at my efforts. How much/how often have I been writing? How much/how often have I been submitting? The answers to these questions are always the same. Not enough, not nearly enough. And probably a lot less than the friends who are doing better. This actually cheers me up, because I can do something about it. I can write. I can at least try. And now that so many journals are electronic, and the submission processes are electronic, it’s not the time-consuming chore it used to be. Excuses are only that. Sorry, but you’ll have to do the work. Put your behind in the chair. Etc. There, don’t you feel better?
There’s another kind of envy I suffer from that I have never been good at fixing. It’s envy of what other people have, how they live. Given how many people live quite happily on less than we have, and how many people don’t even have food to eat or a decent place to lay their heads at night, this envy has a backhand: I feel like a jerk for feeling it in the first place. This one’s not so easy. We hear all the time stories of people who overcome hardship or live with an illness or have some other large trouble, and they have these amazing positive attitudes. They say things like, “I’m glad to have another day,” and “I have everything I need,” or “I’m praying for the person who did this to me.” And I always think, “Oh, I wish I could be like that”–I wish I could put a positive spin on things and be the kind of smiling, pleasant person that others gravitate toward and for whom good things happen. But I am known, I think, for being someone who speaks her mind, and I can promise you the friends that characteristic wins over are some pretty tough, solid folk, small in number.
So how to appreciate what I have? Reevaluating my situation from time to time, actually thinking, what is it I want that I don’t have, goes a long way. Because except for maybe a house that doesn’t need a new roof, I want stupid things–a piece of clothing, or jewelry, or shoes. And I don’t need any of those. I mean, I have plenty. Another solution is to find work to do that allows me to get to know some people whose lives have less “stuff” in them than mine. This requires that I stop staring at my navel and look outward.
As the Jewish New Year approaches, Jews are encouraged to repent for wrongdoing on their own behalf but also on behalf of the entire community. This is so smart, because it makes us think about other people in a constructive and sensitive way. We are a community, after all, and what one of us does affects the rest. Religious people might add “in the eyes of God,” but even without that caveat, this seems an important idea, and one that could help me stop thinking about me, and what I want and why I don’t have it.
Don’t think I’ve become that Claudia of my dreams, however. I’m pretty pissed off that my beautiful, smart, funny children have been saddled with lifelong problems just because they hit the biological jackpot. I’m angry as hell at the university department that let me go jobless. And when people try to put a positive spin on it for me–“It’s so great that you have a diagnosis” “Lucky that you caught it when you did” “It’s a good time for you to be unemployed”–I get even angrier, even if I’m smiling and acknowledging that yes, these things are true. But new shoes and even a new roof can wait a bit longer.