Last week, I suffered a crippling, sickening, attack of envy. For one day, soon after I had awoken and fixed myself my morning cuppa, a missive arrived, confirming for me not just someone else’s spectacular success, but also the darkest assessments I often entertain about my professional and intellectual worth. I tried to put these thoughts aside, immersing myself in the logistical routines that occupy the early part of the day: fixing breakfast, dropping off my daughter at daycare, riding the subway to the library, reading Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje. But my mind was only partially diverted.
I could, if I wanted, wallow further in the envy that had afflicted me; I could go back, again and again, to confirm for myself, the details of my diminution in the face of another’s overwhelming achievements. I hectored myself to not do so, but self-flagellation can sometimes be a hard impulse to resist. So, on arrival at the library, I sat down, logged in, stared at the screens that enabled all manners of unfavorable comparison, and completed the flogging.
Eventually, well aware I was spinning into a spiral of self-loathing, I turned to work. I wrote for most of the morning, slowly sipping on a rapidly cooling cup of coffee; later in the day, I bought myself lunch and ate it at my workstation as I continued a long editing task–whittling down a large body of text into a more manageable chunk that I could then start to rewrite into more readable form. I agonized over which chunks to excise, which sections to toss into the trash, which to retain. Because I was looking at an older piece of writing, I was occasionally brought up short by a passage that seemed particularly clunky; how had that ever gotten past me?
Later in the day, made distracted and anxious by my writing, and assailed again by the same emotions that had got my day off to such a bad start, I allowed myself yet another moment of wallow-in-the-Mire-of-Envy. But that was it. From that point onward, I grew increasingly engrossed in my word-reduction endeavors: I became increasingly ruthless, pruning with ever bolder abandon. Murdering darlings became easier as time went by and what’s more, I was quite starting to enjoy it.
And then, the close of the work day was at hand; I had written a few words; I had deleted many more. I packed up, headed for the subways, and was rewarded by its resident deities with a seat during rush hour. I returned to Divisadero. Then, once at the gym, barbells banished any remnant distractions from my mind; acute muscular exertion tends to concentrate the mind wonderfully. Finally, at home, I bade goodnight to my daughter, ate dinner, finished watching The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, and went to bed.
Nothing had changed in my resume; but somehow, as usual, an absorption in the here and now, in my daily particulars, in the things I enjoy, had managed to divert me from the emotions that had, earlier in the day, figuratively brought me to my knees.
An old lesson learned again, and no doubt, to be learned again in the future.