Sunday, 26 August 2018
Sometimes it’s hard to decide what to write about, and what simply to leave in the dark recesses of my mind. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of the latter. It feels like I have not done much writing at all lately, poetry or otherwise. I always write with an eye on my putative audience, and if I feel that a particular thought or occurrence is of limited interest to anyone but myself, I will shy away from writing it. Writing is often something I have to sit down and force myself to do. Perhaps this means I am not a ‘proper’ writer, in the sense that writing doesn’t tend to come pouring out of me like sap from an especially fecund tree, as seems to be the case with some people. For every reason to write, my mind fabricates several reasons not to.
I am also conscious, when I post on this blog, that among my readers might be people with whom I have done, or hope to do, business in my capacity as a performer and educator. With this in mind, I do not want to write anything that might jeopardise potential business opportunities. It is as though I have a Careers Instructor, or the voices of my parents, constantly lodged in my mind - “are you sure you want to write that? What if so-and-so sees it and decides to offer that commision or gig to someone else?” In part these concerns might be reasonable: a lot of dark thoughts cross my mind all the time, and publicising them might well give the impression that I am more mentally ill than I am. But I am not a robot. When people choose to do business with me they are dealing first and foremost with a fallible person and not a mere CV. Furthermore, if I call myself a writer then it behoves me to attempt to express myself authentically. Sometimes an issue comes up for me that necessitates being both written down and publicised.
I am talking about jealousy. The more I think about it, the more it becomes apparent that in my career as a writer and performer, jealousy seems to be my biggest obstacle. It underpins almost every other difficulty I encounter in my work. I’ve no idea if this is the same for other people; it tends not to be the kind of thing that is discussed very openly. For all I know, admitting to it here may mean that I am depicting myself as some sort of monster, but I hope that is not the case. Even if your tendency towards jealousy is not as pronounced as mine, I hope that what I have to say is of interest, and indeed speaks at least to a part of you. For a part is all it is: in admitting to jealousy I am merely acknowledging an unpleasant aspect of myself; I am not claiming that this aspect represents anything close to the entirety of my being.
How, then, has jealousy been affecting me of late? Firstly, I’ve found that I have been focusing far more on the successes and failures of others, than of myself. Social media is a great help to me in lots of ways, but it is detrimental in the ease with which it allows us to obsess over other people’s lives. Often, the first thing that comes into my mind when I sit down to write is not ‘is this going to be the best that I can do?’ but something along the lines of ‘is this going to be as good as x, y, z?’ There is a very competitive streak within me that uses other people as a benchmark when I should instead be deriving my sense of worth from within. For example, when writing I often judge the success of a piece by how many ‘likes’ or ‘retweets’ it gets. I look at other people and feel jealous of how much apparent approbation they are getting, and how puny I seem in comparison. Sometimes I post the same poem or article several times in one day, in the vague hope of generating more and more publicity around myself. As a sort of challenge, then, I am going to tweet a link to this blog post just once. If people want to share it that is up to them, but I am going to try not to promote it. Little steps.
Jealousy also affects me as a consumer of art. When I was doing my MA, an important piece of advice that Michael Rosen gave to us was to be “porous” with our reading, to consume content as promiscuously and voraciously as possible. My tendency towards jealousy sometimes renders it hard to do this, since not only do I measure my achievement with reference to the success of others, I also have a tendency to inject my ego where it is not needed. For example, it can be hard for me to watch other performers or read other poets as a detached observer, and to refrain from comparing myself with them, either favourably (in which case I think that I should have got the gig instead) or unfavourably (in which case I berate myself for being inferior). In other words, I have a habit of making myself the centre of everything. How many artistic opportunities have I shut myself away from because my ego was too fragile to handle them?
Jealousy can, then, inflate one’s ego, but it can also diminish one’s sense of self too. A particularly pernicious aspect of my jealousy is that it can cause me to completely lose sight of myself as I focus all my attention on someone else. I’m going to illustrate this with a slightly odd example, but perhaps one or two of you may be able to relate to it. Just under a year ago, I was watching Youtube and stumbled across someone named Jordan Peterson. Jordan Peterson has subsequently gone on to become incredibly famous, and this is doubtless in part because he is a blistering orator who talks about some incredibly important issues. I happened upon his videos at a time when I was very anxious about a lot of things that were going on in my life. I developed, for a while, a weird obsession with Jordan Peterson, to the extent that the importance I placed on my own thoughts became secondary to the importance I placed on his. I should say that this was not merely an example of jealousy, but was also closely related to the OCD that I have suffered with for a long time, and was related in particular to the very specific issue of my impending marriage (and not to the myriad other things that Peterson happens to talk about). Bizarre as it sounds, I kept wondering to myself, ‘what would Jordan Peterson say about this?’, and to become intensely jealous not just of him and the apparent clarity of his thought and the cult-like following he was generating, but of everyone who is able to go through life, and transitions, without suffering from OCD.
A crucial aspect of jealousy, something that differentiates it from mere envy, is the desire not just for what someone else has, but the desire (subconscious or otherwise) to see that person harmed in some way. Thus, I became desperate for something, anything, that would knock Peterson off his perch. I revelled in every article that did him down, and there are quite a few. And to bring the issue back to poetry, I have found myself, in my darkest moments, focusing on specific individuals and wishing them harm. I should say at this point that I am not really wishing them harm, with the italicised words taken literally; rather, the jealous part of me is wishing some form of failure upon the successful part of them. As I mentioned earlier, there is much more to me than simply jealousy. It just happens to be the jealous part of myself that I have chosen, with difficulty, to focus on here.
I feel it would not be fair of me to ask you to take these thoughts seriously and for me to do nothing in return, Therefore, in return for you reading the above and hopefully not judging me too harshly, I will make a promise: every time I am tempted to go online and obsess over the successes or failures of someone else, I will instead shut my laptop and do some writing of my own. And every time I am tempted to go online to check how many likes or retweets a piece of my writing has received, I will try to do the same. I will try both to see the inherent value in myself, and to do the same with respect to other people. For as I mentioned above, I do see the value in these things. The jealous part of me is merely one of many parts, along with the parts of me that love, that respect, and that care.