Oh, Envy.

You are such an unwelcome guest at my table, yet it is I who keep inviting you to sit down.

You eat ravenously–scrape my cupboards and my dishes bare—but you are never satisfied.  You always want more.  You have disgusting manners; you gorge and belch, stay too long then leave a mess when you go.  And when I’ve finally cleaned up after you, when I finally get you out of my house and my head, when I get busy and happy and forget you were ever here, you pop back up on my doorstep—in the form of someone else’s blog, or post, or picture.  Hungry, again.  Demanding to be fed.  Again.


And feed you I do.  I can’t seem to help it.  The pushier you are, the more I give in; it’s like co-dependency gone wild.  I know you need my insecurities to survive, parasite that you are.  But I wonder:  do I need you?  Are you simply familiar?  Or even worse, empowering?  On some shameful level, am I motivated by you?  How often do you give me a fleeting sense of power over your victims?  Because when you bring them to me, I find a way to despise, rather than admire, them.  That’s what you do for me, Envy.  You help me dislike good people—or at least bring them down a notch, so they stand a little closer to me.  And I’ve gotten creative in the ways I feed your ravenous appetite:

I usually start with the obvious tactic of insulting the person who sent you to me, followed up by a “boost” to myself.

Example:  “I know she’s pretty, but I try to be kind.  We all have our strengths.”  I mean, obviously the girl can’t be pretty and kind and even if she is kind I, of course, am kinder.  That makes things fair.  To me.  (And envy is all about me.)

When that doesn’t work, I try a nastier method:  leaving myself out of the equation and simply inventing a “weakness” (by my definition) for her.

Example:  “She’s smart, sure, but her house is always a mess.”  This will certainly tip the scales in my favor—which is crucial, because I can only be more if she is less.

I’ve also tried to satisfy you by turning my own “weakness” (again, by my definition) into a sort of moral superiority over those who don’t share it.

Example:  “Her house is beautiful, but I’d rather spend that time on my kids.  I guess we just have different priorities.”  See what I just did there?  She’s a talented decorator—or photographer, or singer, or fashionista, or homemaker or businesswoman or PTA President or marathon runner—but only at the expense of what she really should be doing which is, of course, whatever am doing.  Conclusion?  Her talent is the result of selfishness, my lack of  talent, the result of selflessness.  Works for me!  (And envy is all about me.)

And when insulting the person won’t do, I can always insult the talent.

Example:  “Um, yeah, I guess she’s like, really into dance?  I can’t even imagine being that into dance.”   (Or sewing/golf/scrapbooking/rock climbing/whatevertheheck I’m not good at).  I might then go on to say, “That’s so not interesting to me—all the hair and makeup, jumping around in front of everyone. I am just not a diva like that.  But I guess if she likes it…”  This is usually followed up by a poorly veiled eyeroll.  We’ve all seen it.  (We’ve all done it.)  Now I’ve rendered the talent itself beneath my notice, rather than admitting that I just don’t have the talent.

Or sometimes I’ll just pretend that certain accomplishments make a person unlikeable.  This approach is lazy but satisfying.

Example:  “Yeah, she seems super spiritual and everything, but I don’t know…I just like people who are real.”  As though spiritual maturity (or compassion/intelligence/creativity/great clothes/great hair/whatevertheheck I wish I had more of) somehow makes a person less “real.”  As though it’s up to me to decide what “real” is.  As though “keeping it real” is more admirable than trying to do better.

And finally, dear Envy, if none of the above please your palate, we come to my favorite way to feed you:  good old-fashioned, sink-your-teeth-into-it martyrdom.  This one fits like a comfy old sweater and feels just as good.

Example:  “Sure, she’s a good mother, but I would be to if I had (pick one): a husband who helped more, a husband who interfered less, her privileged upbringing (she had good role models), her impoverished upbringing (she learned responsibility), had gotten married younger/older/to someone else, had more money (opportunities!), less money (priorities!), better kids (I’d thrive!), worse kids (I’d grow!)” and on and on, forever and ever amen.  Martydom is generous in its supply of all the ways I’ve been shortchanged; I could do whatever she is doing (probably better), if I hadn’t been dealt such a raw hand in life.  When praising someone else proves too much for my fragile ego to bear, I just pull on my Martyr Sweater and am instantly soothed.  And you, Envy, are fed.

The problem is that none of these offerings keep you full for long.  You go away for awhile—maybe a week or even a month—and then the doorbell rings and there you are on my front porch again, hand outstretched. My meager scraps have only whet your appetite.

We can’t go on like this.  I’m too old, and tired, and sad.  After all we’ve been through together, I have to say goodbye.

So today, when I open the door and see you there, I will look down at you and shake my head.  I will look down at you and say,

Envy.  Oh, Envy.  Old, familiar friend.

I am sorry, but I will no longer be feeding you.  Because what I give you is never enough, I must stop giving you anything at all.

I have offered you a place at my table, but now I am throwing you out.  You’ve shown me no gratitude, given me nothing except a need to give you more, so it’s time to let someone else feed you.

The kitchen is closed; I will no longer toss scraps of judgment and arrogance onto your plate.  Instead of your fake criticism, I will give real compliments—out loud, even when I have to swallow hard to do it.  Even when they’re for people who don’t (seem to) need them because they (seem to) have everything already.  I will give credit to those who deserve it, not just to those who don’t threaten me.  I will stop hoarding my praise like a miser hoards his money because, unlike money, I can give praise to others without diminishing my own supply.

And I will stop denying that you exist.  Because the first step to solving a problem is admitting that you have one.  So when someone else flies high and I feel that old gnaw in the pit of my stomach, I will recognize you for who you are.  You are Envy.

and pride.

and fear.

and shame.

and loneliness.

and humanness.

and humanness.

and humanness.

And I will tell myself: it’s okay to feel you—for a moment.  Just not to invite you to stay.

It’s okay to feel my humanness.  But it’s not okay when I turn that humanness into meanness; when I exercise my envy on the person who, through no fault of her own, inspired it.

It’ s not okay when I turn my fear into judgment, my shame into anger.

It’ s not okay when I pretend my envy has something to do with anything—with anyone—other than me.  Because envy is all. about. me.

I may never fully purge myself of envy as a feeling, but I have great say in whether I translate that feeling into action.  I have great say in whether I entertain it.  I have great say in whether I feed it.  And therein lies my choice.  Therein lies my maturity.

Therein lies, not my humanness, but my humanity.




My own year of wonders

And if it’s any indicator, 2015 is looking good.

Forget family, fudge, and fa-la-las; the best part about Christmas break is staying up late to read.

And boy did I read—a few good books, in fact—but this is the one that kept me up til 2 am on several happy occasions.  My days may have been spent with a messy house and at-home kids, but my nights were spent with a throng of poor English villagers as we fought bravely against the Great Plague of 1665.

Doesn’t sound like a cozy holiday read?  Just wait, it gets better:  there’s fist-fighting, knife-fighting, evil-spirit-fighting, witch drowning, mining disasters, childbirth disasters, prayers to God, prayers to the Devil, betrayal, abuse, death, disease, poison, and poppies—the hallucinogen of choice for the Dark Ages.  (Plague victims have hard days, too.)

But there’s also compassion, courage, humility and hope.  There’s faith, fortitude, and a host of characters who are enchanting and evil and repulsive and relatable to our 21st century selves.  There’s romance and mother-love and the best of the best of friendships.  There’s ignorance and enlightenment, literacy and lunacy, regret and redemption.

And among all this there’s a housemaid named Anna who should (and will, I think) go down as one of the great heroines of modern literature.  (Did I say heroine?  Shoot: hero.  She’s that good.)

For the pleasure of meeting Anna—and reading this gorgeously gritty book—I am indebted to Ms. Geraldine Brooks, distinguished author and, of course, my future BFF once I meet her at Bella Voce this February.  And should you think, perchance, that my admiration for this book stems only from my anticipation in meeting its author, I invite you to read it yourself and give me a call.  We can then discuss Anna, her rector, his wife, their whole jacked-up situation, and how this book stands, dark and dignified, all on its own.

More importantly, you can tell me what to wear when I meet Geraldine.  It’s important, people.