Searchlights & Signal Flares


Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

How Does Jealousy Help Or Hinder You? (05/15/03)



Featured writer: Susan Starbird



Contributors this month:
Dan Coshnear
Elizabeth Hannon
Jennie Orvino
Jordan Rosenfeld
Patricia Harrelson
Susan Bono
Susan Starbird


Susan Starbird



Jealousy: when someone else possesses a finite resource that thereby is unavailable to others. Envy: craving what another has. I am envious of owners of 1971 Porsche 911SEs; I am jealous when I lose a client to a competitor.

By this definition, and in our world of abundance, jealousy is rare, envy rife. Jealousy is hot, red. Envy is green, icy. Glacially, I persevere at possessing the thing I crave. I welcome it into my igloo, make a bed for it, cultivate it, and hope and wait. Slowly, it assumes residence, that thing that was once outside me but now lives uncomfortably within, a transplanted organ inside a wary body.

I envy the otter her agility in water. I invite her in. As the otter dwells in the house of me, she teaches me. Thus we come to co-exist, and slowly we melt and merge into each other. I become the otter; she becomes me, envy expires.

Susan Starbird is an intensely jealous materialist, competitive kayaker, and marketing consultant, who knows envy intimately. She berths her fleet in Sebastopol, California.

See www.starbirdcreative.com/collaboration/blog/krone-why.htm


Dan Coshnear



Jealousy helps to remind me there is acid in my stomach. That's all I think it is good for. It is a cloudy and negative preoccupation with self, with misplaced feelings of entitlement, ancient wounds. Jealousy is the secretion of some vestigial organ. It is a sticky and imprecise fluid. It comes a'squirting when we feel that something is being taken from us and it always comes in excess, whether our suspicions are reasonable or not. Jealousy is nine parts distraction to every one part motivation. But perhaps some distinctions need to be made. Jealousy is a noun which describes a feeling, maybe even a presentiment.

Competition is not a feeling. Competitiveness seems to describe a pattern of behavior, perhaps with concomitant attitudes. I am feeling competitive? Is that reasonable? I feel like competing. I want to play, too, dammit. I find this last expression, and the feelings that lead up to it, sometimes very useful.

Say, for example, I read a fabulous story written by a superstar, a TC Boyle. As I come to the final paragraph, final sentence, final word, my thoughts go something like this: Is he going to pull this off? I can't do that. I can do that. Wow.

How do I get off saying, I can do that? It is not a conclusion I come to empirically, which is to say, I haven't done it, not yet. But I believe I can because I believe that Boyle, Moore, Wallace, Moody, Paley, Wolff, Shakespeare, well, not Shakespeare, and I are operating with the same set of tools: mind, world, pencil. On the other hand, I'm impressed by the way Michael Jordan can jump. I'm impressed by some people's olfactory capabilities, but I don't feel challenged by them. I think no matter how I live my life, I will not be able to slamdunk a basketball, nor will I be able to distinguish a '69 from a '96 Merlot, unless one happens to have fruitflies in it. But with writing, aren't we really talking about the ability to honestly and freshly render an experience? It's more than that, but it's always that, isn't it? I happen to have had more experience of my life than anyone I've ever met. So move over. It's my turn. Or don't move over. You don't have to. It's your turn, too.

Dan Coshnear lives in Guerneville, CA. His short story collection, Jobs and Other Preoccupations, won the Willa Cather Award and the BABRA award for short fiction. Some of us are jealous.

Elizabeth Hannon



Driving too fast today down one boulevard with all the other fast and faster morning minions I thought of how good it would feel to be a lobster. A just cooked lobster, warmed to death, my shell still burning, the open eyes of awe, knowing finally what death feels like. I can only imagine the silence, the absence of sorrow, total enlightenment, no awareness or attachment to achieving a goal, shedding the shameful desire to consider myself better than someone else.

Lobster red. The color of jealousy. Boiled in water, thrown in live and surprised. How heated life becomes, such a small hell, smooth steel sides, a roar in the ear from the deadly undertow taking you, holding you down. Down in the flare of a bitter truth, someone has what you want. Someone even now is writing about you, writing about being so crabby, so hard, so dead. Their words are amazing, lofty, play harpsichords, hold the taste of truffle and command that kind of money to appear on the page. Oh it's hot as hell in the mind of the jealous one. See her now so worried about appearances, how it has come to this, clicking heels together three times, toning "home, home, home" hoping this will get her what the other one has.

It's foolish. It's something Bunn E. Rabbit learned the hard way each week on Captain Kangaroo. Forgiven, loved, tolerated. "Keep trying Bunn E" the furred one always heard, "keep trying."

It's time to crack the shell of jealousy find the tender meat of truth. We only have what we have. My work is my work. Bunn E's trials and tribulations are his. Your remarkable leap of imagination is yours. And what I hold onto, as water rolls to a boil again, is without seeing your dancer step land upon the page this reader would not know anything about being a writer.

Let's eat.

Elizabeth Hannon, Santa Rosa, CA.

Jennie Orvino



You mean jealousy of other writers and their success, not the green fire in my gut when I see (or hear of) my beloved loving someone else, right? There are times when I feel My Sweet Muse is making hay with too many others besides li'l ol' struggling me. If I'm "apprehensive of the loss of the other's affection," maybe I'm just not wooing HER properly. Maybe I need to give more attention, spend more time, make some space. In that case, creative jealousy is a wake-up, a shape-up.

I know it's not helpful to compare myself to other writers, but gee, why is that poet so damn prolific? She's in every anthology in the world. She must stay up nights reading Writer's Market. Why is he such a big literary shot? His poetry is full of cliches! I'd like to have a longer list of pubs, some cash prizes, an invitation to read at the Petaluma Poetry Walk... But what good is brooding or moaning about literary cliques? "Excellent work is the best revenge," my poet ex-husband used to say. That's my whole task, to do it. And to trust my process.

Jealous even of those who will send Searchlights and Signal Flares long, brilliant submissions, all I can think of tonight is to quote Marge Piercy: "...The real writer is one/who really writes. Talent/ is an invention... Work is its own cure. You have to/like it better than being loved."

See Jennie's work on the web at www.soundofpoetry.com and www.cdbaby.com/orvino. Don Emblen's Clamshell Press just released a limited edition, hand-set, hand-sewn chapbook titled Jennie Orvino: A Sampler of Her Poems.

Jordan Rosenfeld



Timing is a funny beastie. Jealousy an even funnier one. The reason I mention both is that timing and jealousy have recently conspired to produce some very tectonic experiences in my writing life.

Until I took myself seriously as a writer nigh on two years ago, jealousy seemed a thing to concern people who longed for celebrity, who keened for some kind of greatness or approval or praise that I didn't really understand. After all I was still at the locked-away-in-my-writing-closet mode, suffering, struggling thank you very much without need of any eyes to peer in and make notes.

Then it happened. I woke from the illusion that I wanted to remain in obscurity, and with this awakening came a secondary one, like some little stinkbug clinging to my collar. I wanted to be recognized! And by jove, so did other writers around me, friends of mine who I enlisted to buoy me up in the melee of "making it" as a writer.

Jealousy turned out to be both motivator AND defeater. What I have learned is that If I am jealous of, say my friend's acceptance of a short story to Playboy when they hadn't accepted a "cold" submission in nine years, that this was a signal pointing me in a direction. I have learned that it's best not to tell those you are jealous of how jealous you are but rather to phrase it in terms of praise. "I am so impressed with your success." Because when I break it down, jealousy is just a little messenger with a sharp stick poking me, prodding me, encouraging me to look for those same opportunities in my own path rather than steaming up the windows of those more successful than I.

Jordan Rosenfeld lives and writes in Petaluma, waits with bated breath for her agent to call with good news of her novels, for her MFA program at Bennington College to start and for The New Yorker to realize her genius. Please visit her website at www.thewritelife.com

Patricia Harrelson



I've always believed I wasn't a particularly jealous person. In fact, I had a rather low tolerance for jealousy in others, particularly when it came to the writing life. I was disgusted when Anne Lamott wrote in Bird by Bird about her gut reaction to friends' writing success. She let her envy ooze all over the page. I couldn't relate. I see myself as encouraging my writing friends. I send them submission announcements and prompt them to send their stuff out. I attend their readings and invite them to open mic public readings at the local Arts Council. I buy and read their books or the magazines in which their writing appears.

I believe that the publishing pie is big enough for everyone to have a piece--that there are lots of different flavored pies for us to taste. Like Virginia Woolf's "Angel in the House," I imagine myself as "utterly unselfish" in sharing with my friends. Earlier this year, for instance, I encouraged everyone in my writing group to submit to the Tiny Lights Contest, and three of us did.

But then something happened. A nauseous worry began swooshing in my belly. Maybe one of them would place as a finalist or even win, and I wouldn't. Supporting my writing buddies felt good, but it felt crummy competing with them, especially competing with them in the genre that I regarded as mine in our group: the personal essay. They are fiction writers and poets, but I considered myself the essayist. I kept reminding myself that contest judges are fickle and unpredictable. Often, the essays which received honorable mention appeal to me much more than the winning essay in a contest. I had on many occasions wondered why I even bother to enter when most contests have only one prize winner, and it was fairly predictable that by entering, I would get another rejection letter to add to my already fat folder. (Tiny Lights, of course, being an exception to this tendency) This time, however, I'd added more discomfort to this dubious attempt at recognition: competing with my best buddies.

So the question of the moment is: "How does jealousy hinder or help?" I think the queasy feeling I had in this instance qualifies as jealousy. Just to be sure, I looked up the word in the dictionary and found that two parts of the entry applied to my ex erience: very watchful or careful in guarding or keeping; resentfully suspicious of a rival. Oh Yuck! It's hard to even type these words. Now I don't feel queasy, I feel hot with embarrassment because I did indeed become more guarded. I quit talking about Tiny Lights. I didn't bring up the contest at all. Watchful? Oh yes! I watched the mail for announcements of finalists and then watched the website for several days before the winners were expected to appear. What's worse is that I was beginning to get defensive in my writing group about how my pieces were being critiqued. I won't burden you with the miserable vagaries of that experience. Suffice it to say that I could no longer hear much in the way of critique--constructive or otherwise. I shut down. I couldn't listen. And finally declaring a perfectly logical excuse (too busy at work), I simply didn't bring any writing to one of our group meetings. The truth is I had stopped writing. Yes, I was busy, but that had never stopped me before. In fact, busy-ness elsewhere in my life had previously stimulated my productivity on the page.

So that's how jealousy most certainly hindered me. Did it help too? It certainly put me in touch with a vulnerable place I didn't know I had. It made me more compassionate with Anne Lamott and anyone else who admits to this flaw. Curiously, I started hearing others in my group allude to their vulnerable places. Their words traveled more empathetic pathways than ever before.

Jealousy related to writing is no longer an intellectual construct for me. It's a gut feeling. I'm writing these thoughts for "Searchlights & Signal Flares," but first I'll give this blurb at my group for critique--which feels scary. Disclosing the truth, "opening a vein on the page," as we like to say in group, is the messy emotional side to writing. Though it's not necessarily the most pleasant aspect, I've read essays and books in which emotional truth is the source of fantastic writing. I'm practicing opening a vein, giving myself permission to expose raw places. Move over Anne Lamott. I'm letting my jealousy ooze onto this page. It smarts but hopefully it's worth the discomfort.

Patricia Harrelson, Jamestown, CA

Coming and Going

  by Susan Bono

I know we're not supposed to talk about jealousy. We're not even supposed to feel it. No, we writers are supposed to have enough self-esteem to slave away in isolation, send our precious creations into the cold, cruel world, and not give a hoot if that world ignores us. On top of that, we're expected to be happy for anyone who manages to break through the fortress of indifference and receive some recognition. "BRAVO! Good for you!" we are supposed to say.

And we do. We are good at smiling and congratulating our fellow writers, if for no other reason than we want to do unto others what we would like to have done unto us when our turn comes.

What I've noticed about my occasional fits of envy-and I'm quick to assure you that I don't get them very often, and that you, of course, would be exempt from any possible ill will on my part should your writing win a handsome prize or find a good agent-is that jealousy hits me hardest when I think there's no real excuse for failure. All it shows me is how small and clenched a troubled heart can get.

Therefore, I attempt to manage my flaring self-doubt by telling myself we're all taking turns in the spotlight. I also refrain from remembering that there are many different spotlights, some of which are brighter and more flattering than others. I work hard at believing we are each given an adequate number of opportunities-even though I worry that I might have already used mine up. Along with the idea of having my turn, I also tell myself that life isn't fair.

Remembering that some people are lucky, or well-connected, or even conniving, helps me deal with those little stomach lurches of jealousy I feel when someone enters the same competition I have and walks off with an award and I get nothing. It helps cool that little burn of irritation when others make more money from their work. "My turn's coming," I say, which keeps me going. "But life isn't fair," I remind myself while I'm waiting. With this system, there's always room for failure. I've got my bets covered either way.

Susan Bono is trying to remain pang-free in Petaluma, CA.

Susan Starbird



Jealousy: when someone else possesses a finite resource that thereby is unavailable to others. Envy: craving what another has. I am envious of owners of 1971 Porsche 911SEs; I am jealous when I lose a client to a competitor.

By this definition, and in our world of abundance, jealousy is rare, envy rife. Jealousy is hot, red. Envy is green, icy. Glacially, I persevere at possessing the thing I crave. I welcome it into my igloo, make a bed for it, cultivate it, and hope and wait. Slowly, it assumes residence, that thing that was once outside me but now lives uncomfortably within, a transplanted organ inside a wary body.

I envy the otter her agility in water. I invite her in. As the otter dwells in the house of me, she teaches me. Thus we come to co-exist, and slowly we melt and merge into each other. I become the otter; she becomes me, envy expires.

Susan Starbird is an intensely jealous materialist, competitive kayaker, and marketing consultant, who knows envy intimately. She berths her fleet in Sebastopol, California.

See www.starbirdcreative.com/collaboration/blog/krone-why.htm


Searchlights Editor:

Susan Bono

Columnists:

Christine Falcone, David Samuel Johnson, Betty Rodgers

Susan Bono is a writing coach, editor and freelance writer whose work appears in newspapers, anthologies and the Internet. She has published Tiny Lights, a journal of personal essay, since 1995, along with its online counterpart here at tiny-lights.com. From 2000ó2005 she helped coordinate the Writer's Sampler series for the Sebastopol Center for the Arts. Her short essays and columns have appeared in various anthologies, magazines, newspapers and on the radio. Her most recent credits include Passager Magazine, Red Hills Review, the St. Petersburg Times, the Petaluma Argus Courier, the Anderson Valley Advertiser and KRCB radio's Word by Word.

Christine Falcone has been writing most of her life. Her work has appeared in print and online, and it has aired on public television and public radio. One of her writing goals for 2008 is to find an agent for her recently completed first novel, "This Is What I Know," which was named as a finalist in the William Faulkner Wisdom Creative Writing Competition out of New Orleans. She is currently in a new writing space, painted purple for inspiration, busily at work on another novel -- this one having to do with the nature of violence.

David Samuel Johnson was reared on a mountain in Arkansas. He lived the bohemian lifestyle in the Ozarks as a hillbilly vagabond, traversing the mountainside shirtless and most of the time shoeless, exploring the sensuality of the aromatic, organic-rich soil of the forest floor or the harsh poetry of greenbriers twined around a devilís-walking-stick. As a kid he wanted to be a writer and own a snake farm when he grew up. His Mama knew she couldn't dissuade him from either goal. When he brought a poisonous copperhead snake home in his pocket, she bought him a book about snakes so heíd know which ones he could bring home and which ones to leave behind. When he wrote his first poem to a girl in kindergarten, she showed him how to use a dictionary so he could spell the word "beautiful." David's goal of a snake farm and the love of his mountain have manifested into a PhD in ecology. Davidís dream of writing has evolved from his first poem in kindergarten to essays in newspapers to interview articles in magazines and columns in this journal. He is living a beautiful dream, some of which you can glimpse below.

David the Writer

David the Scientist

Betty Rodgers and her husband, Ken, live and watch birds in Boise, Idaho. A transplant among transplants, she has chosen to learn the local landscape through the lens of her Pentax K10D. Her writing career began at an early age when she wrote plays and coerced her boy cousins to perform them. She has enjoyed a life-long affair with journalism, writing for the Sacramento Bee, the Cloudcroft Mountain Monthly, the Sebastopol Times and News, and the Boise Weekly. Born in Steinbeck Country, she has also lived in Maine and New Mexico. Betty publishes a bi-monthly online newsletter for Idaho writers, a labor of love inspired by Terry Ehret. In 2006, she published A Mano, a book of poetry by the late Vince Pedroia.

Thanks to all who participated this month. It's good to know you're out there! We're looking forward to hearing from you and those you inspired sometime soon! Check this column each month to see what's new. Return to Searchlights & Signal Flares menu for future topics and guidelines.

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