Sunday, December 05, 2004


I found a ladybug in the arugula. It must have been in the fridge for at least three days. It was an amazingly stalwart little beetle--as soon as I put it on the china doll, it commenced munching away upon the infestation of prehistoric-looking mites that has plagued my household in recent months. That was three evenings ago, and it is now basking on the underside of a leaf, replete and toasty. I can't tell you what satisfaction this gives me.

PMS has struck with a vengeance. Last night I hit the wall with the painting I have been working on all week; the joy went out of the process like someone had turned on a great spiritual vacuum cleaner. I chewed my nails and blundered around for the whole duration of "Prairie Home Companion," searching for the precise shade of blue-gray to interpolate between the barium-orange sun and the deep purple shadows, and when I finally found it, I didn't even care. I slapped it on in an uninspired manner for another hour and a half, but finally concluded that if *I'm* not feeling the joy while painting, the viewer will not feel it while viewing. So I made corn bread and watched "Muriel's Wedding" instead.

As further proof of the PMS diagnosis, I offer this list of movie moments that have induced actual tears, during the last week:

1) "Music from another room," where Jennifer Tilly, as the blind sister, tells Anna, "Danny's love for you is SO ENORMOUS that it spilled over onto the rest of us," and I had a flashback to my now-ex-boyfriend telling me, "You are scattering sunshine all over everyone," and yet a year later he was so unbelieveably horrible to me that it does not bear belaboring.

2) "Laws of Attraction," despite the fact that the script was every bit as lame as the critics said it was; where Pierce Brosnan, as Daniel Rafferty says, "I'll give you a divorce, because I happen to believe that when you care deeply for someone, you give them what they want." I really enjoyed the fact that the male character was the decent, stable one, and that Julianne Moore was psycho and committment-phobic. Come to think of it, though, Bridget Jones was like this too. Maybe it's Republican backlash propaganda--"Look, WE MEN are noble and decent, and love women even though they are scatty and foolish and deluded about the idea that they need careers." But I don't think I'll pursue that. People who rant about the dangerous social implications of Really Good Stories irritate me. Good stories are always relevant; it's when people put the moral before the story that it all falls to pieces.

3) "A Cinderella Story," the ball scene, in general. I suppose the fact that I'm even watching these movies at all is a dead giveaway.

"Muriel's Wedding" didn't make me cry too terribly much, though I did cackle and whoop during the Abba lip-synching scene. Living alone is NOT making me strange, I have always been this easily manipulated.

Yesterday I biked into Manhattan for breakfast at the Lotus Cafe, which was a disappointment. The whole point of biking across bridges for breakfast is the cozy, tingling feeling you get after braving traffic and freezing temperatures so that you can snuggle down in the window seat with a cup of coffee, bagel and good book; the experience falls to the ground when you cannot ever get warm. Evidently the Lotus Cafe does not make enough money to heat itself properly, or even to serve decent coffee, if it comes to that. After forty-five minutes of still not being able to feel my feet, I re-boarded my steed and raced home to a hot shower and a nap on the couch. This may sound like sloth, but you cannot be too careful during flu season. I stick to the Tea Lounge until spring.

I have been struggling, lately, to articulate my notions about envy. It's nonsense that there are no taboo subjects in our modern, liberated society. Shame is the biggest, and envy is not far behind. I have gotten hate mail for even attempting the subject. The painful and dangerous conclusion I have come to, lately, is that 1) people, close friends even, have gotten envious of me; and 2) this can cause, has caused, serious problems in my life.

It has taken years to arrive at these conclusions. I have had periodic, painful fallings-out with intimate friends at intervals over the last twenty years, and these have always been accompanied by a great deal of soul-searching, minute examination of my own character, as to what fatal flaw might be there that I could correct. It is only after writing reams of exhaustive speculation as to what horrible thing I could possibly have done, what thoughtlessness on my part, what blind spot in my character, motivated this dear person to seduce my lover, befriend my ex's new girlfriend and invite her everywhere, stop returning my phone calls when I've been beaten up in the street and am homeless, forget to introduce me to her art dealer, leave my manuscript unread on the coffee table for a year and a half--that the awful possibility begins to dawn on me. It seems a terrible thing to think of anyone--that they would be JEALOUS? Of ME? WHY? And that they would act with malice and passive-aggressive spite because of this? Surely this could never be. Surely I am an evil person for daring to think so.

And yet, this seems perfectly natural to a large segment of society. I remember back in art school, explaining in shocked bewilderment to my tutorial advisor, how my closest friend had suddenly gone berserk, hauling out every vicious personal insult in the broom closet of her brain, knocking me down and literally clawing my throat, when all I did was mention that some guy had called me up and offered to curate a show for me and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. She replied blandly, "Oh, she's just jealous," as though this excused everything. In later years this particular advisor became "a second mother" in promoting my ex-friend's career, while pointedly avoiding me when I dropped in to say hello.

In fact, even mentioning the topic can be seen as bragging. In theatre circles, "I hate you" is a compliment. All this, and envy too! The icing on the cake! How dare you complain?

THIS IS HORRIBLE. It is horrible when your friends rejoice in your failures and mope at your successes. I actually confronted someone about this, once; about how, when I called to let her know that my boyfriend was cheating, I got evicted from my apartment, or my work had been turned down for the fifth time in a month, a note of unmistakable glee would creep into her cries of commiseration. Whereas when I had some positive news to impart, I had to be careful how I broke it to her, and cringe at the wail of misery it usually provoked. It got so that I was exaggerating my problems and concealing my joys when talking to her, as though I had no right to be happy until every one of my friends was married to Prince Charming and living in a castle in Spain. When I finally brought up the subject, she burst into tears, hung up and did not call again, which was, by then, a great relief.

So I just don't see it. For me, envy is fundamentally an error in perception. I do not believe that life is in any way a competition, or I might have begun this story like this:

"I found a live beetle in the lettuce. I screamed, made my boyfriend come kill it, and threw the lettuce out. I won't be shopping at THAT co-op again! Ugh. There are mites on the houseplants, too. Living in Brooklyn is just so gross. Better get some insecticide at Home Depot this weekend."

Dear reader, of course I know that if you hung out with Valley Girls, you wouldn't be my friend. But it is surprising how not-obvious it is that all facts are relative to the perceiver, not to one another.

After, as I mentioned, a great deal of soul-searching and discussion of the issue with my wise and infinitely trusted sister, we concluded that the only way to cope with envious people is simply to avoid them. Living a life of habitual gratitude helps to ward them off. There are a lot of people, posing as politically correct progressives, who think that if you dared to have a happy childhood, a loving family, and enough money to live on, that you owe them your boyfriend, your apartment, your car, your career and your peace of mind. Can I just point out that this attitude is unloving, illiberal, irrational, and bad karma? Life is not a zero-sum equation. When you dim your light so that another may shine, the whole world gets darker. And so on.


Liz said...

Yes, yes, yes!

I catch myself doing the "beat self up to appear to not be a threat" strategy at times and it's quite strange. I think it's a women-relating-to-each-other problem. It is not an accident that it's hard for women to make supportive artistic communities. I'm also sick of downplaying what I'm doing so that people won't hate me. probably though, what really happens is I fluctuate nuttily between downplaying/belly-exposing, and unattractive boasting. Ideally i'd be in some zen-like centered middle ground of secure joyous bringing-things-forth. Sometimes we're there, I know it!

And yet I think there are good and bad kinds of competition. Perhaps good envy, or envy properly channelled, is a spur pricking you to think "If my friend can do that, I can too." Or to joyously try to outdo each other in outrageous explorations and freedom. "I dare you!" etc. I think that can be good as long as it is *supportive* competition and mutual inspiration.

serena said...

I agree absolutely about "good envy/bad envy." It's not that good people don't HAVE these feelings; it's how they choose to use them. Feelings are like little barometers--if you notice them and say, 'huh, I seem to be feeling jealous of this person--okay, what do *I* need to change about how I am running *my* life in order to not feel this way?' they have done their appropriate job. But I'm sick of fending off the misapplied, pointless sabotage of folks who can't admit to their own negative feelings.

Anonymous said...

(Beck here) I found a ladybug in my house and was charmed. Then I found four dead ones dessicating in my light fixture. Then I read that there is an Asian-ladybug population boom in my state, that they are swarming in people's houses and giving off bad smells and staining clothing, upholstery, and curtains somehow. The county extention agents are distressed, since they, like most other sane people, love ladybugs. Asian ladybugs were imported in the seventies and eighties as a pest control measure, especially on golf courses. Unlike domestic ladybugs, they like to spend their winters indoors.

An extention agent was quoted as warning people not to use insecticide against them - they will die in your walls and make your house stink.

Is this poetic? I can't tell.

I do know, however, that it has nothing to do with envy.

Anonymous said...

i was wondering about this sort of thing recently. and one thing someone pointed out to me that was helpful was that i seem to have a pattern when picking out friends. not everyone is like that but i somehow gravitate towards them. some kind of unconcsious self inflicted punishment. i am trying to be more mindful when i look for friends now.