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.




The last week of December

The last week of December is my favorite week of the year.

Despite—or maybe because of—my flighty nature, I savor the silent march of days that escort out the old year and make space for the new.  This humble piece of time tucked between Christmas and New Years is largely ignored by the social calendar, and I like it that way.

During the last week of December, friends and family seem to operate under a tacit agreement that we dare not verbalize for fear it will shatter:  Don’t call.  Don’t stop by.  I’m sleeping.  I’m cleaning.  I’m thinking.  I want.  to be.  alone.  After the noise and color of Christmas, can you blame us?  Solitude is bliss for the harried parent, grasped in occasional snatches at best.  But the last week of December is benevolent in this regard; parties and shopping are over, kids are content, and the house falls surprisingly still.  We grownups are suddenly, blessedly, left alone.

I love the happysad ritual of looking back over the last twelve months, wondering where they went and how I’ll ever get them back.  With words?  Pictures?  None of it works, so I’m resigned to a soft sigh:  ah, another year gone, slipped out the back door while I was busy in the kitchen.  I look out at the lonely silver sky and soak up the bare-treed bittersweet of it all.

Remember, after your semester finals, when you were the last one to leave the building?  You’d walk down the hall in that gray slant of early afternoon light, accompanied only by the the smell of wet nubby carpet and old textbooks and winter.  You couldn’t wait to get out of there, and yet you found yourself lingering for just a minute more.  There was something intoxicating about inhabiting a once-important space that had, with the turn of the clock, now become useless.  What was noisy and big was now silent and small, and so you stood taller within it.  In that empty hallway you felt changed; stronger, smarter, ready for what was next.  In that small solitude, you were making big plans.

And so the last week of December is for me.  In the quiet collapse of this year, I’m making grand plans to open the next.  I’m standing in that empty hallway, excited and a bit apprehensive, for how will I function without the old familiarity?  What will I choose to become next?

I love the fresh white page and newly-sharpened pencil of it all.  I love scribbling out a future narrative for my life that, though perhaps a bit dreamy and far-fetched, captures the swirling ideas in my head and binds them to words on a page.  Regardless of whether that narrative is ever realized, I think it’s pretty important that we write it.

Don’t you?

It’s not that there’s nothing to write about.

And how do I begin to describe it?

The hurry, the noise, the talking, the people.  So many people to write about:  teenager, father, grandmother, child; how they all topple and spill and swirl into each other.  How time spins like a top, and only by squinting hard and willing myself to focus on just one shape–the blue hexagon, for example–can I almost, almost identify it each time it whips around.  A determined trick of the eye to pull constancy out of chaos; that’s what writing is for me.  And lately, the top has been spinning so hard and so fast, I’ve surrendered to the chaos.  I’ve given up trying to find the blue hexagon, and instead only try to make some sense of the spinning blur.

I could write a lengthy assessment of our recent family life, our busy-busy-busyness of work and school and music and sports and church.  But how would that interest you?  I will not (and cannot) detail the minutiae of those singular events, but I can try to explain what happened above and below and around them.  I can try to explain the blur.

I could tell you how the red leaves and nubby gravel crunched under my wheels as I drove to the outskirts of town for my daughter’s piano lesson, where her shy attempt at Clair de Lune washed over me with such wistfulness, I could almost put a hand on the back of my fifteen-year old self, sitting up straight, punching down nervous keys for a silent, listening teacher.


It is fall.  Why do piano lessons go so well with fall?

Or I could describe how the polyester volleyball jersey draped over my thirteen-year old’s narrow shoulders as she pounded her new overhand serve, and how the squeak of the bleachers and smell of the waxy gym floor mercilessly pulled my junior high days—which were funny and awful and typical—up from the forgotten well in which I’d thrown them down so many years ago.

I could write about yesterday’s twilight bike ride with my boy; how he dared me to coast with my feet off the pedals, how the scent of burning leaves and glimmer of streetlights brought me back to neighborhood gangs and my mom’s spaghetti and pedaling fast to make it home for The A-Team on a warm and cloudy Tuesday night.

It is fall.  Why do memories go so well with fall?

And I could try, I suppose, to write about the three-tiered October sky that met us on the highway as we drove home from that volleyball game:  periwinkle-on-sapphire-on-indigo, stretched before the tawny sagebrush in a soft striped canvas, a pale circle of moon punching through it like a fine pearl earring.  It was a sunset of summer’s end; a sunset slowly losing her heedless blond to that of a richer, darker hue.  I could write about how that sunset, cast like a telling backdrop against our madly spinning lives, made me feel.

But how do I say what I mean?

I can only say that I peered through the windshield to take it all in, but just when I was getting close—just when I thought I had it—I had to grip the wheel and look back down the road; I had to focus on the tasks at hand.  Carpool, dinner, homework, bedtime—the stuff of our days, the stuff of our lives.  The stuff that keeps me blessedly distracted from really understanding that sky, from absorbing the full weight of Change.