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    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Guest Blogger #3 – Linda Carbone

How are you supposed to behave when a good friend becomes a famous writer? When she invites you to a reading and you feel the urge to rush out the moment she heads back to her seat, but you can’t figure out how to exit? What are you supposed to do, wave at her across the room as you lope outside for air?

I don’t love her stories or novels, mind you, but to be fair I can only read them with one eye open. We’d known each other since college and sent long letters at Christmas for 25 years after that, full of funny, self-deprecating descriptions of our lives. And we always remembered each others’  birthdays. Then she stopped responding to my cards, so I stopped sending them. Was it her rejection or her success that turned my feelings of friendship to schadenfreude?

I seethed in jealousy. I swam in it. I lost hours on the Internet reading fawning praise of her talent, brightening at the occasional blunt criticism.

What, I wonder, has it been like to have the huge advances and the fat royalty checks, the prize money and the invitations to speak at packed auditoriums? Surely her intention wasn’t to torture me and make me feel invisible, but she has managed to do that nonetheless.

She and I shared an apartment in New York for a year after college. For her birthday that year, her parents gave her two tickets to the ballet, and she invited me. We watched an exhilarating performance: the magic of Baryshnikov from fourth-row seats. Leaving Lincoln Center for the subway, we got separated in the throng, and I arrived on the platform just in time to see the subway doors close with my friend inside. We stared at each other for a moment in mute shock, then I watched her move away from me, slowly at first, then faster and farther, until no one would have been able to tell we’d started out together.

How do you manage to nurture, quell, or otherwise live with your envy and schadenfreude when someone you know catapults to literary stardom?

39 Responses

  1. First, I loved reading your blog entry, your fantastic way with words. Then I googled you and discovered that I’ve worked with two of your WIP colleagues, Melanie Kroupa and Michael Wilde–both amazing! For me, the trick to staying sane while other writers I know hit the big time is to make sure the non-writing parts of my life are well nurtured. Going out for lunch with non-writing friends, getting away from the computer, not torturing myself by competing with (and googling) the high achievers. In other words, I don’t define myself by my writing. If I did, I’d be a big disappointment.

  2. Envy’s either an energizing force or it’s one of the seven deadlies, or it could be both, I don’t know. I’ve known some people who were stellar literati, and some other people who’ve had what I would like to think of as literary success, but no Oprah guests, as far as I know. I hardly pay attention to all that, there are so many more important things to concern myself with (rent, food, flossing, etc.).

    And then there is this, which I read just before I came here this evening, and I came here specifically to see if I could find a way to shoehorn this into a comment. It is from an interview of Gary Lutz in the latest issue of Wag’s Revue:

    “I can’t forget that fiction is words, that a story is a serving of palpated verbal material with feelings surging through it, and not just some caboodle of data about fabricated people and their antics. If a reader is asked again and again to travel the distance between a capital letter and a period, every sentence ought to have been routed through the writer’s nervous system and acquired charged particles of language along the way. A sentence ought to be offering a vista of the infinite.”

  3. Know I’m supposed to feel envious and sometimes do. Mostly not, though. And hmm, can’t think of a big literary star I’ve been remotely close to, so there’s that. Guess I think publishing isn’t the most important thing. However I do have a friend who’s an extraordinary writer and should be getting more attention than he has (he’s gotten some). So want to type his name but he’s modest about that stuff so I won’t, this time. He *deserves* to do well as he’s an extremely hard worker, brilliant writer and extremely kind person.

    Was raised to know that there would always be people who are better at things than I am. This seemed pretty routine until I encountered a bunch of people who don’t seem to think this way.

    At the risk of getting shouted down will say what I always do because I believe it’s true: Still think it’s important to be kind than to be successful in the usual ways.

    Would not mind having more company in the literary community of San Francisco. Am no good at schmoozing, though, and have no interest in becoming good at it. I express praise when I’m moved to do so, pretty much. Try to be honest and reasonable, kind, sometimes fail. Had an argument with an editor once but only because I felt she was being very condescending rather than telling it to me straight (re a rejection).

    It’s funny, though, when you meet people and they suspect you of having an angle because *they* have an angle. Tiring too. Please, can we all just breathe and talk and drop the careerism for a bit?

  4. I have to admit I needed to look up the word schadenfreude, and my quickest resource is that wiki thing at top right. I’m not down in any way with sin, or quelling, but that was interesting. God, I love people. I love good thinkers and writers. But, never the less, I say lift your head and chase that bitch down. Talk her into a stupor and then accept her answer.

  5. I don’t know any literary superstars, but my goal in life is to be that person, the one who drops his old crappy friends for shiny new ones.

    That’s the part that makes me most jealous (other than, obviously, the money): imagine getting a sack of letters from people with whom you’ve been sharing the funny and self-deprecating for twenty-five years, and finally discovering the freedom to throw them unopened into the trash. How many books do you need to sell before you can unshackle yourself from your aged and infirm and loving parents?

    However, if–as infinitely more like–it were me on the other end of the equation, I’d handle it like I handle everything else: with wise tolerance and loving patience, and not the slightest hint of shame or rage or scratching myself until I bled.

  6. I have (had?) a friend who used to complain all of the time and throw out ideas for a book at me He was a good poet, but he wanted to become the new Thoreau. One day he asked me what I thought of his idea. It was a great one, really great. We discussed for days. I told him get home and start writing. Everytime he was discouraged he’d talk to me; I encouraged. (Once during this period I showed him the first 3 chapters of my novel and he told me it was shit). Anyway after the book was finished he sent it around to agents and then finally he had the book published and won an award. Not once did he thank me, not even when we were discussing his book way back when it was being born in my kitchen. That hurt. And I always felt well, not jealous, but a little meow!!!

    http://www.elijahrising.com boo—yah

    • I certainly hope he’s past tense Lyn. What an asshole, both for not appreciating or acknowledging your support AND for telling you your work was shit; constructive criticism that is not!

  7. Nice post Linda, made me think like Betsy’s always do.

    It’s a continuum, and the bar you measure yourself against changes depending on where you stand. My agent has a number of clients with various levels of publishing success. There’s me, two novels that she hasn’t been able to sell yet. There’s X, who has a pile of books published (bastard !) but no big breakthrough best seller. And both of us envy Y who just knocked it out of the park a couple of years ago and now has a growing string of HUGE bestsellers. Nice guy, very personable, some (me for example) might call him a bit smug, even smarmy, especially of late, but he still comes to the requisite cocktail parties and is full of helpful advice. And he has his own insecurities and envy issues.

    It’s how most of us are wired. We want more, need more, have to have more … We live at the penultimate point of human existance in terms of wealth, health, security and leisure, yet still we moan and groan about it not being enough. It can never be enough. Deal with it.

  8. fact that she decided to jump when the doors opened rather than wait on the next train and you says to me opportunities for advancement rank higher on her what matters list t than relationships do, so i’m thinking that your negative feelings about her success are fueled by more than envy…that being said, I have friends I pull for unconditionally and friends I secretly pull against, I imagine we all do…

    One of the most interesting aspects of Ann Patchett’s book, “Truth and Beauty” was the competitive subtext at the root of the friendship between her and Lucy Grealy…a battle of discipline versus talent…and there seems to have been a similar dynamic in Franzen’s relationship with DFW…

  9. I have no successful literary friends – let’s face it, I have no friends, period – but if I did, and my friend was receiving “invitations to speak at packed auditoriums,” I think my honest reaction would be, thank God that’s not me. Stage fright doesn’t begin to describe it.

    Success is my own personal bogeyman. Luckily he’s very slow and I am nimble.

  10. i think these situations are what gin is suited. perhaps you should find a cocktail that best describes your envy. i’m thinking that a ‘Dirty Bastard’ would do.

    google Esquire for the recipe.

  11. Accept it. Look it in the face and say, “I am jealous as all get-out, and with good reason.” Then keep doing whatever you were doing.

    But I’d also say don’t go looking for writers to be jealous of. (I know, you already had this person in your life–this is different.) I am always surprised when writers talk about all the latest books that they’ve read. I know myself, and I know that there are some writers that I just can’t read because I will get jealous. It’s small of me, but it’s better to just admit it and not get sidetracked.

    This was especially true when I was younger and not getting anything published at all. The “20 Under 40” list would have flattened me if I let myself pay attention. So my rule, for a long time, was only read authors that were dead–because a) for some reason they didn’t bother me (even if they had been prodigies in their day) and b) they were usually more edifying anyway.

  12. Dear Linda,

    What a universal experience — and you write about it with such wit! It seems that it doesn’t matter what field you’re in, you’ve had this reaction at some time or another to the extraordinary success of someone else, especially a friend.

    I remember reading Anna Quindlen’s columns with pleasure when she wrote about her friends’ lives. They seem to be ordinary people and she obviously respects them and enjoys their company — drawing on them for support and returning the favor. It struck me as a wonderful thing, one that doesn’t happen often enough.

    It takes talent to be such a great friend. I imagine she and her friends are able to talk about stuff like feelings of envy openly, and get past them.

    Wait a minute! She’s a good writer, a Pulitzer Prize winner, great mother, and a good friend? I hate her guts!

  13. Reminds me of those tabloid photos of movie stars vacationing with their “friends” meaning hairdressers and yoga teachers and soothsayers and stylists and yoga teachers……there’s a line drawn around the fame seekers that’s loneliness and usury personified and I hope I’m never faced with that temptation. Writng is lonely enough.

  14. I think it was Gore Vidal who said that, whenever one of his friends is successful, he dies a little inside. Human nature…

    • “Nothing to do with merit.”

      I love that. (But with the blurbs on your website, you should take care. ‘Fearless, riveting, psychologically complex, wonderful … ‘ My most favorable review said, ‘He’s no Clive Cussler.’)

  15. I was friends with the author of Big Fish for a while, but never read the book or had much love for the movie and … we simply elected not to speak about it. I attended his readings when he wrote a new book. I pretended to great enthusiasm, bought the book, got it signed. When I come across the names of friends (winning Pushcarts, editing anthologies of cultural import that go on to get great reviews, coming out with a fifth, six, seventh book of poetry, getting a story in the NYer, etc.) I email them, call them, congratulate them. But I’m not going to lie. I have a hard time feeling that I’m not locked into competition with every living writer. Which may explain why most of my favorites are dead.

  16. The secret is taking part in their success. Think: hey, this is my FRIEND who’s doing so well, not some lame old stranger. Someone who loves the same stuff I do, and loves me, and who I love! I win!

    My spouse, my ex, and several very close pals are all very successful writers. Me, not so much. If I was jealous, I’d have died of it by now. Oh, well. I secretly take credit.

    Anyway, I’d rather be close to success than far, far away.

  17. The real test of a friendship isn’t when someone sticks around while you’re down and out. It’s when you get a new Mercedes for your birthday.

  18. If the good fortune of a friend can create this level of animosity and envy, you were never friends to begin with, only aquaintences. A friend is someone you love anyway.

  19. “We stared at each other for a moment in mute shock, then I watched her move away from me, slowly at first, then faster and farther, until no one would have been able to tell we’d started out together.”

    I love this. (Although of course it would not happen today – cellphones.)

    How do you manage to live with your envy? You just do.

  20. Why is it that an acquaintance or ex-friend is who we envy, much more than all those successful strangers? Perhaps we are more likely to believe that a wildly successful stranger really is smarter/better — but maybe you remember her (or him) from back then and think: She’s no smarter or more creative than I am — so why didn’t I have as much success?

    I agree with the posters who said if she was a “real” friend, someone you loved, you’d be happy for her (with only a tiny bit of envy) and feel like you shared in the success.

    Love the image of the subway pulling away.

  21. Envy can seem like a generic experience, but not when explored by the incisive pen of Linda Carbone. She certainly had both eyes open in her probing of this Deadly Sin, and her piece echoed in my mind long after my reading. I can feel the rush of that subway car leaving her in the dust with her aspirations as She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named races ahead toward her success. The good news for Ms. Carbone is this piece itself, which shows she has some formidable writing chops of her own. The one who’s envious now is me…of her!

  22. I loved your column because it not only represented losing a friend due to jealousy but the feelings you experience when you lose someone who has made you what you are today.

  23. Try listening to Van Morrison sing “Professional Jealousy”. It’s a great take on the subject.

  24. Guest Blogger #3 – Linda Carbone | Betsy Lerner
    roger vivier online http://hotelaidakerala.com/images/vivier.asp

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