I try to keep my envy as a pet, sometimes a lapdog and sometimes a brass-clawed basilisk the size of a bendy-bus, but always a snarler. I try to keep it on a leash, but it often tugs me sideways when it catches the spoor of someone else’s success. I find myself hurtling along in its wake, until we both sink panting onto our rumps and concede that it is a futile chase. Better to console each other picking fleas – I am too old, too lazy, too busy, too ordinary anyway to ever catch the tail of that other person’s achievement.
Because it’s all about the other person, isn’t it? Where would envy be without comparisons? There is the shining example of what could be, and there is the brutal judgment of the self by the self. These are outward- and the inward-looking faces of Envy, the gatekeeper god. Not a pet at all, but maybe a guide. Don’t believe me? Ask yourself – whose success do I envy the most? When does it turn into the flaming hulk blocking out the sun? When someone else gets a novel published, or receives a 4-star review, or starts their own imprint? Whatever it is, that is the aim you should be working towards for yourself, that’s the gateway to self-knowledge that Envy is signposting for you.
Note – working towards, not receiving without effort as your due for being alive. Note – for yourself, not for the chance of standing room on the bandwagon. Not sure where your double-headed Envy is really looking? Have you become so habituated to feeling envious that any accomplishment by anybody can rouse a niggle? I wouldn’t blame you – we’re all products of an educational paradigm that quantifies and rewards success in terms of comparison to others.
My lovely best friend Georgina is passionate about educating her children in Steiner schools. One of the reasons for this is that the Steiner pedagogy does not believe in using praise, which is thought to turn children away from their inner authenticity and outwards towards external sources of esteem. Have a quick read of this short link and see if you agree.
Do you think that substituting encouragement for praise may help us transform envy? One of the extraordinary things about taking a show to Edinburgh recently was the plethora of opportunities for feeling envious. We poets were offering them to one another like hoops to poodles – how is your show? How many people, how much money in the bucket, how many reviews, how many stars, how many re-Tweets?
My only stated aim was to survive a week without either forgetting my words or suffering an eczema flare, both of which I managed. But still a week after my return, I watched my disappearance from the Twitter feed with a sinking heart; a month later and I wonder if I should just check to see if someone did review my show unbeknownst to me….oops, is that a tug on the lead? Or a god clearing its throats?