I read Kathryn Chetkovich’s short story, Appetites, (originally published in ZYZZYVA, in 1998, when it was featured in the Best American Short Stories series of that year. I wished so badly to be able to craft a story like that one. Like hers. But mostly what I felt was admiration.
Feeling admiration feels different than feeling envy.
Recently, I had heard, or remembered, or was reminded, that this woman whose story I so deeply admired, was in a relationship (like, long term) with Jonathan Franzen. Then I discovered that she’d written about the internal (and, at times, external) struggle of being in a union when both partners are writers, but only one discovers a certain kind of success and the fame that accompanies their work.
Her piece is called “Envy.” It begins like this:
“This is a story about two writers. A story, in other words, of envy.”
The essay appeared in Granta #82 in 2003. Click here for an excerpt from The Observer, also published that year.
I share the link to that essay (maybe you’ve already seen it?) because her words are powerful and honest. Because her words are inner-writing- journey relevant. And, mostly, because her essay is incredible (in a good way).
In a timeless way.
There might always be a part of me that is obsessed with TV shows where a fix is “revealed” and everything is tidied up nicely—at least on the air. I’m not talking about a story that’s truly lit from within (I love these, but am not obsessed with them—interesting, huh?). I’m referring to when someone who knows everything tells people who supposedly know nothing what they are supposed to know and do and be. These shows are rigged so one person appears superior, the other, quite the opposite.
Exactly what hooks me in.
A few years ago I was hooked by an Oprah show about money and debt. People in massive amounts of financial debt shared the hour with money guru Suze Orman—fixer, all knower. I have nothing against Suze (or Oprah!), but who knew there was such a thing as a money guru—that money deserved a guru. The word implies expertise, inner knowledge, aboveness and the privilege of telling other people what to do. At least in shows like this one.
Suze said: “People first, then money, then things.” Oprah made eye contact with the camera—with me, as though making sure I got it.
Oh, I got it. I don’t remember if the TV guests got it, or what they said upon hearing Orman’s ordinal concept. All I remember was thinking damn, this sucks. I wasn’t in financial debt, nor had (or have) I been; I can’t speak from that place. But I can tell you that the notion of valuing people first messed with my ordinal concepts of reality, though not in the way it sounds.
The humiliated faces of Oprah’s guests reminded me of many a job interview at the exact moment when salary was discussed. There was that higher (better) than/lower (less) than dichotomy. Salaries, quite frankly, have little to do with debt—unless you you’re talking about self-debt—which I am.
As a writer, a freelancer, a former social worker/therapist, and employee, valuing myself when it came to negotiating my rates—money—has sometimes been so unpleasant (in my own head) I’d just take whatever you want to give me. Sure, I can obsess all I want about money (again, in my head)—control it there (ha!)—but say it out loud? Too scary. You might think I’m greedy. You might think I’m taking it away from you. You might think there’s not enough to go around. These are some of the basic tenets of self-debt, along with worrying what you might think.
Money. I’ve lived in fear of having it and of losing it. I’d inherited fears from my family, and morphed up quite a few rich ones of my own (another post, another day).
So yes. People first, then money. When you talk about people, this means me, myself. Which means honor my deepest truth and the rest flows naturally into place. It does not flow, however, if I believe you hold my answers (which would indicate not valuing myself first) and are keeping them from me.
It would be a lie to say that for a split second, sitting there in my living room, I didn’t want Orman to come to my house and tell me how to fix me. Or just fix me herself. A self-debtor is constantly forgetting that the answers are always inside, just like her voice, her creative process, her words. We tend to think these gifts are outside—found in places like TV where a guru is ready to dole out advice.
The more I recover my truth—inside me—the less susceptible I am to falling for the lie that someone else has my answers. You?