Upon Reading Bird By Bird: The Writing Frame of Mind – Jealousy

“Of all the voices you’ll hear on KFKD, the most difficult to subdue may be that of jealousy.” ~p. 122

Oh, God. Why do I have a feeling like I’m not gonna like this chapter?

“You are going to feel awful beyond words. You are going to have a number of days in a row where you hate everyone and don’t believe in anything.” ~p. 123

And it’s gonna be more than just feeling awful beyond words, if the jealousy is toward your dearest friend, it is said.

I really hate to admit this, but she is right.

A friend of mine once recommended this book to me, called 1 Perempuan 14 Laki-laki (1 Female 14 Males), which is a compilation of short stories by Djenar Maesa Ayu and her friends, about life, and mostly sex, if not love. The title is taken from the process it took to make the short stories–Djenar, which is referred as the “1 Perempuan” in the title, met some of her friends who are all males (14 males in total), and created the short stories together. She’d met them one by one, one story at a time. The thing is, they would write the short stories together, in a way that someone would start the first or the first two sentences and the other would continue with another sentence or two. Then voila! We got 1 Perempuan 14 Laki-laki.

I was damn jealous of her accomplishment.

Especially since I used to have this mindset of the great authors such as C. S. Lewis, J. K. Rowling, and Michel Faber, who I thought spent years and years before they finally able to finish and publish their books. Not to mention C. S. Lewis had to finish seven books to finish his Chronicles of Narnia, mind that!

Like I’ve mentioned in my previous posts, I used to have this thought that those awesome writers must have such a wonderful concept about what they were going to write, as well as the world they wanted to create inside the book before they finally write their stories.

Of course I was wrong.

But I was burnt with jealousy at that time, especially after reading how Djenar described how she and her friends managed to finish the book.

I was like, “Seriously, that’s all it takes?”

Of course she mentioned several problems in completing the stories, such as finding that the next sentence(s) that her friend wrote turned out to be completely different with what she’d expected, hence, she’d need to change the plot she’d created in her head and made a brand new plot to follow her friend’s train of thought.

Been there, done that myself.

When I was in this Star Ocean Club in Junior High, I wrote in the previous post that M and I would write a story and we would take turns in writing the story. Of course we don’t write one sentence at a time. We would usually write scene by scene before we finally take turn. Or sometimes, we would even ask for an ‘extension,’ or some extra space in the book if we have some plan about a specific character. I would usually told M that I had this plan about this character and I would need to finish writing about it first before I could finally give the book to her.

But sometimes, the same problem happened. Sometimes, M would write something that was completely different from what I’d expected, hence, the plot that I already had in mind would be ruined and wouldn’t make any sense if I kept trying to squeeze it in the story. So I’d changed it.

Well, of course, now I write my own story myself. No partner in crime, no.

But still, I was jealous. Were it that easy to create a story, should everybody not publishing their own books now?

I told my friend who recommend this book to me about my jealousy, and she said, “Isn’t the essence of the story is that the readers enjoy reading your story? Why bother?”

That was a massive blow to my ego and my pride. Ouch.

Of course, fine, that’s not the essence of writing a story, but still! I’m still jealous. (I don’t hate Djenar Maesa Ayu, though. Just wanna make that clear.)

I couldn’t imagine my level of jealousy if I ever find a friend that I know publish a book and become a success. Thank God I found none so far.

“But some of the loneliest, most miserable, neurotic, despicable people we know have been the most successful in the world.” ~p. 124

Serve them right.

No, what am I talking about? I should be sorry for them!

Of course, when I first read that, Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe came to mind right away. Then I remembered Nikolai Gogol as well.

Marilyn Monroe

Well, I don’t know them, of course. And I really should be sorry for them.

But sometimes, I can’t help but becoming this evil bitch who feel this guilty pleasure from their misfortunes. Well, they made me jealous with their success, so to know that they experience this misfortune seems worth the pain they caused in me.

God I’m evil.

One time, a friend of mine applied for a scholarship program in Fulbright. When I first heard that, I already felt jealous. The only reason I couldn’t apply for the same program is because I was way beyond the due date, so the only chance for me is to apply next year.

Of course I smiled brightly and tried my best to cheer her up.

But I was actually jealous.

I love my friend and all, but hell, I knew about the scholarship even before anyone ever heard of the word ‘Fulbright’ and know what in the world ‘Fulbright’ is! Then more and more people became to know what it is, and the scholarships they offered, and they began to apply.

On the other hand, I was really glad to share the information, but at the same time, I was screaming, “No! You’re not applying to Fulbright! No way!” inside.

I once applied, of course, for a different program, though. Then I got rejected.

Another friend of mine who got the scholarship told me that many people who got the scholarship are those who have applied for many, many times. They are people who also deal with the same rejection, so I shouldn’t have given up only after the 1st rejection.

But still, just the thought that my beloved friend applied to this program actually tortured me. And I felt terribly awful. Like I’ve transformed into this horrible monster with no goodness nor kindness inside its heart.

I was telling her that she should go for it, that it’s a great opportunity and how great it would be if she actually got accepted in the program. On the other hand, I was wishing and praying so, so badly, “Please, God, please, don’t let her got accepted. Please, please, please don’t do this to me,” because if she ever got accepted, I would feel like a total loser  just because I got rejected and she got accepted.

But the torture didn’t end right there.

When she already thought that she got rejected and finally forgot about the application at all (she faced it very cheerfully, though–completely different from me), she texted me and told me that she got a callback, telling her that she’d have an interview. An interview means that she’d passed the 1st stage and she’s moving on to next step, getting closer to the scholarship program.


Of course I told her how great it was, and I told her to prepare everything very carefully. I told her everything that I could tell her to support her as a good friend.

And I meant what I said. I really did. At the time when she told me about the interview, I was cooling down already, and I didn’t feel so much tortured like I used to when she first told me that she applied for the program.

But this evil voice inside my head, who kept praying and wishing that she wouldn’t go through and that she shouldn’t get accepted, stayed. It never left my head. And I hate it more than anything.

I kept telling myself that she’s a much better person than I am (which is true), and that she’s way more diligent and smarter than me as well (which is also true), and that she deserved it. She really did. I meant it.

Yet I felt jealous.

Then after another several months passed, and she was anxiously waiting for the news, she finally told me that she didn’t got accepted.

The first thing that I felt the moment I heard that was relief. I was relieved that she also got rejected.

I wasn’t thrilled, and I felt sorry that she didn’t get accepted. I also told her that she ought to apply again next year and I was anxious, if not pissed, when she told me that she wouldn’t apply the next year because she said she wanna settle down with her job and everything, but I was relieved she didn’t got accepted.

I knew that I could just tell her about what I actually felt, but it would either pissed her off (which is unlikely, I think) or it would make her feel bad, and would resulted in her being uncomfortable of sharing similar stuffs anymore in the future. I don’t want that.

“Jealousy is one of the occupational hazards of being a writer, and the most degrading.” ~p. 124

Okay, the last example has nothing to do with writing at all, but I was trying to explain how terrible I could be when I feel jealous toward someone. Even at my close friend.

And, true, it’s degrading, indeed! I felt like a villain while I’m supposed to be this Cinderella who never have any ill thought on anyone at all.

Well, who in the world can actually be a Cinderella, right?

I know by heart that it wouldn’t be the last time I feel jealousy or harbor any ill-thought toward anyone.

“My deepest belief is that to live as we’re dying can set us free. Dying people teach you to pay attention and to forgive and not to sweat the small things.” ~p. 125

Yes, of course, how many dying people finally tell others about how many regrets they’re having? Many.

And of course most dying people would forgive everything in an instant. Don’t we all wanna go to heaven and live happily ever after?

That is, if we believe in heaven and hell after all.

The fact that they’re dying actually make them very lucky, I suppose. Some people actually skip the dying part, and never got any chance to actually regret anything, let alone forgive and forget. For example, I’m 22 year-old, and many people (including me) would  think that I’m still so young, and I still got a long journey toward the future, but then, I could just walk out of the house one day and there could be this car, speeding, with a drunken driver, who did not see me, and bam! So long, long journey ahead.

Of course, I wouldn’t pray for that (knock on wood), but that’s one of the possibility, right?

"You better watch out. You better not cry. Black Peter is coming to town!"

Of course, a book, or a novel (most likely children books) would tell us and teach us how to forgive and forget. “Because if you ever feel jealous toward your friend, you’re not a good kid. Then Santa wouldn’t come by and drop you a present.” Of course in my culture (which more or less has adapted the Dutch culture in celebrating Christmas), it’s worse. Not only Santa wouldn’t give you your Christmas present, but his assistant, Black Peter would kidnap you and took you away from your home to be punished for being a bad kid.

Of course, most books (children books, of course) would instead tell you to behave well, obey your parents, never think bad of anyone–except strangers, for they could just snatch you away and then asked your parents to send them a huge amount of money in order to get you back–and be a good princess (for girls, though). To keep it simple: be a Cinderella.

But it’s definitely easier said than done. Like everybody could forgive that easily. If it’s true, then there wouldn’t be any war, divorce, or racism, I believe.

So what? Should all of us got sick and become one of those dying people every time we feel jealous toward someone? Definitely not a solution.

“…another piece of the solution dropped into place when my friend Judy said that the problem was trying to stop the jealousy and competitiveness, and that the main thing was not to let it fuel my self-loathing.” ~p. 128

Okay. Now I’m starting to love this chapter.

Well, first, Lamott’s therapist actually told her to “go ahead and feel the feelings,” and she wrote how it felt like shit. Well, sure. Not just the feeling that feels like shit, I would definitely feel like shit, too. Remember the self-loathing and the guilt before? I’m gonna be the happiest person on earth if I could just skip that step. Probably.

But that last piece of advice is brilliant! Why should we try to be a good kid and try not to think bad toward others? Of course, it’s not a good thing, but at least it’s normal, right? And it’d occasionally happen. The only person who could skip and omit jealousy from his head and heart is probably Jesus, and fine, maybe, as Christians, we might want to set Him as our role model, but who could actually avoid jealousy for the rest of his life anyway?

So… okay. We feel jealous, so what? Just let it flow. Maybe just think of it a part of a normal human life, and that it’s a process toward another stage in life, and eventually everybody feel it, and at the same time, it would eventually go away as well.

Jealousy. Big deal. So what?

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