Managing Creative Envy

While I was writing my blog post about memoirs as therapy, I googled the topic, hoping to find a relevant article I’d recently read. Instead, the first item in the search results was an interview in the Los Angeles Review of Books with an ex-boyfriend of mine, who, unbeknownst to me, had published his memoir in 2016.

My initial anger was so strong and sudden, I slammed my laptop shut. I opened my laptop and closed the browser tab. Then I did the search again to see if the article was still on the internet. It was.

I wasn’t surprised he had written the book. He’d written a beautiful and well-received New Yorker article in 2006 on the topic of he and his wife losing their child. I was envious though. So envious that I could think of nothing other than my envy. I cataloged all the ways it was unfair, even sexist, that he’d been published and I hadn’t.*

I sent a text to my cousin asking for guidance and walked to the art supply store. I bought two red pens and a calligraphy set. She sent me this article, which helped.

I began to feel guilty about my envy. He deserved his success. He’s a good writer with a compelling personal story that will help other people affected by loss. He has plugged away longer than I have at being a writer and took risks I didn’t. I worked hard to turn my envy into admiration and decided (lapsed Catholic that I am) that I needed to do penance for having harbored ill feelings.

I sent him an email congratulating him and told him I looked forward to reading his book. I told him I had finished my memoir and appreciated how hard it must have been to write his. I hit send, certain that he’s hit delete when he saw an email from me. We haven’t been in touch over the past 17 years so what need did he have to hear from me?

Regardless of his response, I felt some balance had returned to the universe. I could move on with my projects, my envy dissipating.

He wrote me a nice note in return, congratulating me on my memoir and he passed along the name of an editor I knew who might be helpful. I’m not a big believer in karma but I did feel like I’d gotten more out of my envy by facing it head on than if I’d let it fester.

* A key reason that he published a book before me was that he wrote one before me, but I wasn’t thinking about it like that.

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