I can’t remember where I read it, but I recall that a while back I saw something that struck me as very true. To paraphrase the mystery source, when you feel yourself becoming jealous of something that someone else is doing, it’s very likely because you feel like this is something you yourself should be doing.
Now while I can attest to twitches of jealousy while watching acquaintances enjoy their trust funds, for example, that pales in comparison to the rageful yet prim Jealousy-with-a capital-J who has reared her head to hear a friend is writing in a serious and/or recognized way – like getting published, joining a writing group, finding a literary agent, or having their blogs picked up by online magazines.
Am I not a despicable human? Of course I am.
That is not to say that I am not deeply happy for that person at the same time (but only if they really are a true friend of mine 😉 ), and that I wouldn’t promote the crap out of their book/articles/websites etc., but I don’t get possessed by the same burning, ugly little gnome when a friend has reached success with a band or job or, as happened recently with a friend, in provincial politics.
An Ugly Girl-Child in a Buttoned Up Frock
I have been puzzling a lot over this Jealousy. She is a wheedly, sharply ugly girl-child in a frock buttoned right up to the neck, with an odd twist in her mouth. And I have been trying to get to know her better. How can I soften her, this Jealousy-with-a-capital-J? How do I teach her not to hold herself so brittle-ly? Because she is, quite sadly, carrying a shame at not working hard enough to achieve the desire to finish a novel and attempt to get it published. And it is that which is twisting her mouth and making her think such small, bitter thoughts.
And so, if she can’t bring herself to relent a little, how do I get her to at least ignore those feelings (the shame and the disappointment in herself and the anger towards others), so she can concentrate on her own affairs? I think that I have found a small answer – and a direction for her acid tongue.
An Unprompted Smile from the Prim Little Thing
I’m distracting her more by forcing her to blog again. I’ve fed her stingy little soul by writing again. I’ve allowed her to make a friend who has been providing her with some great research and detail for her story. And I could swear the other day she actually uncrossed her ankles , unfolded her hands from her lap, had a little bit of colour in her cheeks, and maybe even quirked a smile unprompted.
She shows promise, poor thing.
How can I not love her just a little?
A few months ago, a fabulous friend of mine asked me participate in a new podcast she’s working on. The premise? All guests would be allocated a Georgette Heyer (1902-1974) book and we’d discuss it. Given that I was about to spend a month and a bit in a very small, isolated location, I was sure I’d have to wait until back in the city to purchase said book and then arrange the recording. Now Georgette Heyer (pronounced ‘Hair’) is a bit of a mystery, as she was a prolific but very private writer. She was genre-defining (Regency Romance) and by all accounts, a little bit of an oddity. But if you’re a Jane Austen fan, then it’s like being able to discover the same sort of world.
Who Is This E. Gordon?
Anyway, within a few days of arriving, I visited the absolutely wonderful bookstore on the island (oh how I love this place: it has not just a bookstore, but a library AND a huge book-by-donation section at the recycling depot) and wandered the shelves. On impulse, I asked the owner, Liz (yes, I’d already made friends), if she had any GH books. She looked at me a little quizzically and then said, you know, it’s weird but I got a whole stack in about a month ago, and she lead me to the used section in the sunny atrium and showed me a pile of what is almost every single GH book, lovingly marked as being the property of E.Gordon. (Who is this E. Gordon? Why did s/he donate the whole collection? why part with it now, given that most of the books are about 50 years old? Mystery!).
How Could I Say No?
I dutifully carried my assigned book (along with a pile of several others, including these two) home, restraining myself from buying more from the tempting pile. And then I promptly went back to buy the whole collection. On my last day on the island, I of course went back to the bookstore for a final browse. As soon as I walked in, Liz says “I found three more!”.
And so now, I am back in the city, ploughing through every one of about 30 wonderful, rolicking books and enjoying them all.
Thanks E. Gordon!
After a month and a bit of being in my own little world and a paradise of sea, sun, solitude, writing, reading, and thinking, I have to head back to The Real World tomorrow. I have that horrible back to school feeling, like I have to say goodbye to freedom and every thing that’s become familiar and favourite. Even though it’s really just the end of a small chapter, it’s still 1/12th of my year that I’ve spent here, so perhaps not such a small chapter after all?
In that 1/12th, I’ve felt like I’ve become a part of the small community here. I know the neighbours, I’ve developed routines, and I’ve become a familiar figure. I’ve even had some books held for me without asking at the bookstore after becoming That Girl Who Bought All the Georgette Heyer Books (long story – I’ll save that for another post). I’ve created an uneasy alliance with the heron on the dock. I’ve got used to the sounds of the kingfishers and otters. I’ve learned the rhythms of the ferry traffic and the weird hours of all the shops. And I’ve regained a little piece of my soul.
It has been a magical journey and I am loathe to end it. I can only hope I can carry some of this paradise within me. And that I can return soon.
One of the great things about being away in paradise and taking some time off work is that I have had a lot of time to read. Plus, there is the most wonderful bookstore on the island (dangerous but delightful for a bibliophile). Rather coincidentally, considering I am (mostly) on a writing retreat, I happened to pick up two books (fiction) that have books as a central theme. And both were utterly marvellous.
The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler
In this debut novel, Swyler weaves a story of three families across time, connected by a mysterious book, travelling circuses, mermaids, and an out of work librarian. It’s intriguing and well written, with an eerie undercurrent. The novel pulls throughout it a thread of what it means to be connected to people – by blood, habit, mutual need, genetics – and how we’re bound to our family histories and myths. It includes some great characters and imaginative writing, with water a recurring and dangerous force throughout. It’s well worth a read, especially if you believe in the power of story telling and how it can shape who we are.
The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George (original German title: Das Lavendelzimmer)
I loved, loved, loved this book. It was less disturbing than The Book of Speculation, but more deeply moving. And I think I enjoyed it so much because it took me by surprise just how intense its emotional landscape turns out to be and how George acknowledges some of the tropes she is employing. As an obvious book lover, she is able to convey this love, without getting preachy, and while acknowledging the challenges of being a writer, as well as a reader. The book centres around a “book apothecary” and his journey from healing others to healing himself. It is, in many ways, an homage to great books and how they can heal and change people. It has some great characters, humour, emotional depth, and even some recipes. Definite medicine for the soul.