Which emotion(s) — joy, envy, rage, pity, or something else — do you find to be the hardest to contain?
What an appropriate prompt for today (and tomorrow and probably the next few days as well) as I am, at the moment, having a very difficult time containing ENVY.
Definition of envy – “a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck.”
Especially in theatre. Especially as an actor. Today, I made the horrible mistake of comparing my career to that of another actor who is similar in age to me. Envy is a particularly nasty emotion for me because not only do I feel bitterness and meanness toward the person I am envious of, I also turn that meanness on myself. It makes me want to punch someone, while at the same time, curl up in bed and cry.
I’m not sure it’s possible to avoid envy AND be an artist. Perhaps it’s not possible to avoid envy AND be a human being. In the past, I haven’t always had a difficult time with envy. Often, envy was like a fire, propelling me forward, fueling my drive and ambition. Envy used to be the catalyst to creating, just the right push I needed to leap, to get ahead because if I was at the head of the pack, I wouldn’t have to be envious of anyone; others would envy me. But as I get older, I get lazier and more fearful. Envy no longer spurs me to action; it simply festers and makes me feel mean and powerless.
These days, I have great difficulty containing envy, i.e., not letting it take over my life. I tend to feed it with my thoughts, and it grows and grows and grows. I don’t think it’s about not wanting what I have. I really do like my little life. I have a great marriage, a lovely house that I own, a decent career for a Canadian theatre actor, two awesome dogs, three great chickens, and an adorable foster daughter. I am bloody rich. I think I have difficulty containing my envy because of the things I’ve let go of along the way in order to get what I have today. I once read a book* whose premise was, “You can have anything you want, but you can’t have everything you want.”
Just like most people, I’ve let a few dreams die along the way to creating the life I have now. There is often a price to be paid, and some things (like motherhood, like living in a beautiful but isolated province, like owning a house) can’t happen without sacrifice. However, my envy flares up when I see someone, similar to me, who is living one of the dreams that I let die. And even though I can count my blessings, and appreciate everything I have, part of me long, yearns, aches to fulfill those sacrificed dreams. Envy reminds me of my dead dreams (How’s that for Bleak Thought of the Day? Note to self: NEVER write an inspirational daily calendar).
That said, as I was walking the dogs today, and letting my jealous thoughts stew, I suddenly thought, “What if I could shut off the filter between my mind and my mouth, and just say EXACTLY what I was thinking all the time? How much would people hate me?” Then I thought, “Mmmm, maybe that’s a good idea for a play?”
So maybe envy does still stir my creative juices a little bit. (I thought I should end on something hopeful).
*The book then proceeded to lead me through a bunch of quizzes and exercises to find out what that anything was that I wanted, and I think I ended up writing some bullshit life/art purpose statement like, “I am a joyful creator”, so when I end up working at a shitty office job, studying scenes and monologues by myself late at night, instead of being a full-time actor, I can say that I am still fulfilling my life’s purpose and therefore, I have worth. Self-help at its finest.