Friday, June 1, 2012

Making Friends with My Monster

I want to talk about envy.

I will start right off with saying this. Yes, I suffer from envy.  Often. No one gave it to me, forced it upon me or is responsible for it. It’s my monster. So, do not hide your good fortune from me thinking to spare me the pangs of envy. I’m good.

You see, it isn’t necessarily an evil monster. Envy is just an emotion, albeit one that is considered a negative emotion. I admit that most things associated with envy end in tragedy.

But it can be one of those emotions that push one forward.

Sometimes it works that way for me, but often it just demoralizes me as I moan about what a terrible person I must be to feel envy and damn it, why can’t I just not do this ANYMORE?!

Heh. Well, that doesn’t work. I mean, envy is just a very natural emotional state. I think the trick is to not dwell on it or give it more weight than it deserves.

Envy is my monster and I freely admit to suffering from the occasional association with this beast. I’m not sure many people are so open about their envy. At least, I certainly have met few who will come right out and confess to envy.

Sure, the “Girlfriend! I hate how good you look in that dress! I am so envious!

Right, that is not envy. That is…blather. Societal blather.  And it’s a bit fun, but it isn’t serious.

Though sometimes it is, but it’s hiding.

I don’t hide my envy. I have learned that hiding it doesn’t make it go away, it just looms larger and with more menace. And a hell of a lot of extra self-loathing comes with hiding things.

I don’t celebrate my envy. Though when I manage to rise above it, I celebrate and pat myself on the back. Generally because it wasn’t a matter of beating it, it was a matter to facing it eye to eye and acknowledging it was there. There’s a secret there, to acknowledge the presence and strength of envy.

No big deal. I’m human. It’s there.

I have had to remove myself from yahoo groups because the posting of good news brought me to a state of panic. I had no good news to share and that must mean something was wrong with me.

Pathetic, ain’t it?

But, I saw it. I admitted it was there and I knew if I was going to save my energy for writing and doing the things I needed to do, I had to remove myself from opportunities to indulge in envy.

After years of dealing with this, I succumbed to the smarter path. I distance myself from the things that fill me with self-doubt. I hear the voices that say if I were a better person, I would just celebrate their good news and dance around with excitement and…

Nope. I just can’t do it. Just as I can’t pretend chatter about envy.

I believe, and I write characters that believe, in the sanctity of every human emotion, even envy. My current WIP deals with a woman who has spent decades living with an alien species, who brought her back to life after she committed suicide, surrendering to the despair at the path her existence had taken. In returning her to life, they found her emotions disturbing. (And they were, she kept trying to kill herself, still in shock over waking up in a body 40 years younger, surrounded by aliens…but I digress!) In an effort to keep her alive, they ‘programmed’ her to stand remote from emotional out bursts.

They even set a trigger in her so when faced with strong emotions she becomes weary and can’t resist falling asleep until her body chemistry returns to a neutral state. This is her new normal. (The aliens have no idea the psychological time bombs they are setting up.) The book opens with her first human contact in 26 years. And she realizes that she is missing something that makes her human… Sam makes her feel human. But it’s scary and it’s terrifying and what if she finds herself looking at a thousand foot fall again? And wants to jump?

But it’s more important to her, at my present word count of 75k, to relearn how to be human and risk the lack of balance that drove her to jump from that cruise ship in the first place.

I’m not entirely sure where I’m going to end with this book…it’s a romance, so more than likely, Sam will…well, you know! But how I’m going to get there, I’m not sure. (Actually got there, but it’s really rough and gonna take some more work to get it into submission shape. I’ll let it sit a few months.)

If Ria is going to be return to fully human, she has to embrace all the emotions of humanity, not just the pretty ones.

And I guess that is my point of this blog. That envy is human. It might not be pretty, but it’s necessary to the human experience. And suddenly, I feel better for knowing my monster so well.

Have you a favorite, or least favorite, monster out there that you find difficult to claim? To write about? To read about? Does the good news of others make you smile and then, beneath that smile, a tiny little twitch of envy rises? (It’s okay, no judging today.) Let’s be real though. Confession is good for the soul and I bet…I can find a rational and even positive aspect to anything you can toss out here. I’m good at this!


Marnee Bailey said...

I admit it. I get envious sometimes. I think it'd be impossible not to be envious at least sometimes.

I think it's all about recognizing and then not allowing the negative things to rule you. Envy is healthy in moderation. It can be powerfully motivating when tempered. And when I hear good news, I do feel happy for that person. I try to make sure that I focus on that. I don't feel ashamed of being jealous, but I just try not to make that the defining force. I try to stay in the light.

I don't think it's being envious that bothers me. It's those moments when I let my envy grow other things. When I think, "Look at her. I'll never get there." Or, even worse, "I deserve it more than she does. I've worked harder/longer/etc." Luckily, those moments are rare. I'm not usually a spiteful or bitter person. It takes too much energy and is too unproductive. Ultimately, those sort of comparisons aren't healthy and I try to remind myself that everyone walks their own path.

It's human, yes, and it's natural to feel these emotions. But I think it's important to remember that one of the benefits of being human is that we have higher order thinking. We don't have to be ruled or defined by them.

TerriOsburn said...

Well said, Chance and Marn. I think envy is most destructive when we turn it inward. Instead of "She sold her very first manuscript, she must be really good" we think, "She sold her very first manuscript and I'm on my fourth. Clearly I suck."

This is dangerous. Of course, we don't want to turn it outward too much either. No "She sold her first manuscript, I want to smack her." LOL!

Is humiliation an emotion? I think so. That's the one I can't write. I won't humiliate a character. I can't even read a character being truly humiliated. I've been there. It's too painful.

Maureen said...

Marn - True, we don't have to be ruled by them, or defined by them. But I think it is healthy to let them out to smash about now and then. Even the bits about 'should have been me' ... I think those moments are important to recognize and spend some time on.

Analyze it, take it apart and see how much truth is in that statement. See if it's rooted in bitterness or in actual truth.

This is where acknowledging the simple truth that luck plays a big part in success can be empowering. No one did anything wrong, no one did everything right...some people had luck smile on them that day and that's ok. Might smile on me next time!

Maureen said...

I think something can be said for speeding into and out of the ...'they are so successful, I must suck' place. Wallowing in it? No. Examine it, assess it for truth or some truth...then move on.

Humiliation is a tough one for me, too. Terri. But I think it's a biggie. If you can create that place in a MS and really allow it to be a learning opportunity, then you did good. Most often, humiliation is used to motivate dire reaction.

All those teen slaughter movies begin with a pivot point of humiliation.

But if you can really put on paper a scene where the heroine/hero rises from humuliation, wiser and has it's place...

MsHellion said...

I distance myself from the things that fill me with self-doubt.

AMEN! Nothing wrong with this; extremely smart to do!

I'm not sure which emotion I loathe the most. Envy I can usually rationalize back into the light--forgive myself and not blame others. Humiliation, I agree, is not a favorite. I probably try to avoid that one at least second most. Rejection is probably my worst. I'm such a people pleaser type person, that people rejecting me is just so personal--and it's hard not to make it personal. Lots of things I don't do is usually because I don't want to fail or be rejected (fail). I think Failure & Rejection is my monster. :)

Maureen said...

Well, failure inandofitself isn't a problem. Fear of failure is the crux of that thing. Fear of rejection. Trust me, Hels, I know this one well.

And it's a tough one to see in a positive light or make use of. Other than to consider there are little failures and big failures and most are surviveable.

Ah the things we do and the places we'd go if we didn't fear being unwelcome or rejected!

quantum said...

I think the best way to tame these monsters is to push them to extreme limits.

For example I used to feel jealous of the super rich who could fly to work in helicopters and drive Morgan sports cars at weekends.

Then I read a comment by Joanna Lumley to the effect that if she changed her life as she became well known, it just wouldn't be worth living. She would end up being fabulously rich in a room with guards at the door and her diamonds locked away in a bank vault!

No I don't want that. Just give me the Morgan sports and I'll be happy with my lot. LOL

Janga said...

I would be really skeptical about the honesty of a writer who said he or she had never felt envious of another writer's achievement. I read a study once that said only actors and doctors were more prone to envy than writers. I often quote Anne Lamott’s warning in Bird by Bird: “[I]f you continue to write, you are probably going to have to deal with it, because some wonderful, dazzling successes are going to happen for some of the most awful, angry, undeserving writers you know - people who are, in other words, not you....” LOL

I agree that the answer is to use the emotion to challenge ourselves and maybe to reassess what we are doing. I've been forced to admit to myself more than once that one reason some have succeeded when I haven't is because they work harder and more consistently and are willing to take risks that I’m reluctant to attempt. Envy can co-exist with real joy over a friend's achievement. I work at not letting envy crowd out the joy. That way lies misery and madness.

Angry conflict is difficult for me to write. I can do cold conflict or denial and avoidance or rational disagreement, but I’m such a harmony lover that I find the screaming, ranting, in-your-face stuff wrenching. I don’t think I could write physical conflict.

Maureen said...

Q - I like that idea...go so far in the direction that disturbs you that it just overwhelms you. I know I use that when I'm depressed.

I mean, wallow in it, embrace it, stew in it...and you know what? It gets boring.

I know with some issues involving envy I look at the person's life who I'm green about and really examine it...and ususally I realize I wouldn't want to pay what they paid to get where they are...

All things in moderation!

Maureen said...

Janga - Yeah, angry conflict isn't easy. It is so often petty and I know I find petty hard to write without it falling into farce.

Which can be fun...

I've also come to the conclusion that I can celebrate someones accomplisments and still feel envy. They just walk hand in hand...

TerriOsburn said...

I grew up in a very angry household with a lot of yelling. I find writing those fights easier than the quiet ones. They're just more familiar to me.

Sabrina Shields (Scapegoat) said...

Sorry I'm late - a wonderful and honest post Chance.

By golly yes, I'm envious. But as others have said I feel it but don't really dwell on it too much. It's an easy come easy go emotion for me.

And Terri - Oh how I understand about the angry household. I'm right there with you. Writing those is much easier. I'm finding I have trouble with the internal emotions on the page and not as much with the action of the emotions.

The emotion that does get to me too often is the need for acknowledgement/approval/appreciation. Like Hells I'm a people pleaser, but I'm not afraid of the rejection as much as I am left feeling off when no someone doesn't acknowledge my work or effort or help.

And again, honestly, it does easily lead me to the worse emotion...despair.

That's the big one. The one that has me thinking why bother with anything.

I know it all stems back to a feeling of being alone. My husband is awesome and amazing and I love him, but he's not a mother or father or sibling who shares some intrinsic part of you.

I have no family left and it leaves me feeling bereft sometimes. And that is why the acknowledgement thing rears it's head. It at least lets me know I matter to someone - anyone - and am making a difference for them.

It's also why I spend way too much time doing things for others instead of writing!

TerriOsburn said...

Same boat, Sabrina. The inner emotions are so hard for me to get on the page. An angry explosion? Piece of cake.

And you remind me of my heroine in MTB. She has no living family left and is a complete people pleaser. The book was done and in revisions before I realized she's really desperate to become part of a family. She's longing for that kind of connection, something she hasn't had in a long time.

Maureen said...

Despair is a toughie. It is so much centered on lack of hope and that is hard to overcome.

At the same time, the trick with turning despair on its ear? Understanding your need to be at the center of something. It's a very self-centered emotion when taking to it's extreme.

That is the extreme. The simpler answer is the need for connection and finding it wherever it falls.

Sabrina, I think being a people pleaser can turn poison so easily...because it's like that evil word "enough" ... what is enough when such a loss exists? Tricky fill that loss, to knit together that hole from what you have and not what you can't get from others.

Terri did a wonderful job with her people pleaser and the need for a family and you're doing good, Scape. Sis!

Sabrina Shields (Scapegoat) said...

You've hit on it perfectly Chance.