The green-eyed monster as giver of direction


Between a nostalgic visit to my old acting class and last week's abysmal (and final) audition, I've been thinking a lot about the lessons I learned from my time in the business.

Or rather, of things that were told to me back then that I didn't necessarily get or believe, but which, many years of processing later, I've finally understood to be true.

Take my faults, please.

Like most people, I'd like to pretend they didn't exist. That I didn't grapple with envy or self-centeredness or apathy. Or at the very least, I'd rather draw your attention to the very lovely and spectacular qualities I'm choosing to showcase, my grace with words, for example, or my sense of humor, or my engagingly earnest nature, that you might overlook the petty, small-minded, grousing, greedy bitch of a slob I share this carcass with.

Take my jealousy, please.

Of all the things I hate in myself, more than anything I hate the streak of schadenfreude that I wear like a skunk stripe along my back. Because it's not enough that I loathe myself, or my inability to achieve the things I want, or to covet the success of others. Oh, no. I have to actively derive a certain soupçon of joy from the misfortune of those who have some measure of the success I'm coveting. Which, you know, makes me a spectacularly gorgeous specimen of humanity.

The thing is, though, it kinda does. No, schadenfreude is not excellent or sexy or anything to aspire to. But it's one possible human feeling to have and therefore, an indicator that I am, in fact, human, and not a robot. To get back to the acting lesson I brought up earlier, one of the chief mistakes most new (or old, but self-conscious) actors make is failing to show their failings. As an audience, we embrace truth, not perfection. A drama with no drama is someone putting the kettle on. A drama with drama is wondering what's going on while that kettle is being put on, and who it's being put on for, and what just happened, and what ever will happen next.

Conflict is drama, and drama is the stuff of life. I may like all the nice traits in Column A, but the stuff in Column B is what's going to get me through the long haul. The stuff in Column B is my combination indicator light and to-do list, if you will. It both tells me when there's engine trouble and gives me something important to work on.

That's important, of course, the working through of things. You don't want to just hunker down with your Column B and say, "Well, that's it! I'm an intolerant sonofabitch who fears change and is tight with a buck, amen," because if you do, your life will probably play out a lot like Ebenezer Scrooge's, minus the happy ending. And trust me, brother, you do not want to be 80 and realize you pissed your life away being slothful or small or rageful, because I've seen a few people in that position and it is a thing so scary I wouldn't even wish it on the people I wish it on. Much.

I'm currently grappling with a few things I never thought I'd have to grapple with. Like my friend, Chris Guillebeau, I was extraordinarily fortunate when it comes to making a living with ease, until I suddenly wasn't; like women everywhere, I'm finally dealing with weight gain that's not easily lost. It's a bitch, baby, and when I don't get enough rest or exercise or self-love, so am I.

The thing I cling to as I grapple with the green-eyed monster and other personal beasties is this: that which I can identify, I can deal with. One of the reasons I'd never go back to being 25 or even 35 is the lack of perspective that was a hallmark of those ages...for me. Not enough spins around the globe to see patterns, not enough hardship to have a sense of proportion. And then, of course, there was the sheer terror of falling completely to pieces if I took any one part of me out to examine closely in the light. GOOD GOD, PUT THE CARD BACK BEFORE THE WHOLE TOWER COLLAPSES!

Now I have books about my problems, and lengthy discussions about them, and, ta da!, this blog about them. I won't lie, it's always a little scary putting some of my ugliness out of the table for us all to look at; on the other hand, there's also always this accompanying sigh of relief that I'm not keeping this HORRIBLE secret to myself.

The other nice thing, of course, is that I get to hear about all the ways in which people who share this particular area of overlap deal with it. And we get to shed a little light on what must seem like baffling behavior to our human friends who don't have this particular indicator light installed.

So how's about it, fellow travelers? What pearls have you to offer about jealousy or (damn your eyes!) the lack thereof?


TIP-EROOSKI: For what it's worth, when I get stuck in some kind of nutty emotion, I like turning to a tiny snack book called The Little Book of Moods, by Jane Eldershaw. Lots of quick insights and how-tos that are surprisingly effective at pulling me out of a crazy spiral.

UPDATE 2/17: A reader sent in this link to an article on this exact topic from the Science section of today's NYT. Great publishing minds, etc.

UPDATE 12/20: I finally wrote a detailed review of The Little Book of Moods on the blog.

Image by rileyroxx via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.