On Jealousy and the Writer's Craft
One doesn't like to think of Ernest Hemingway cussing at the publication of a Willa Cather novel, or its winning a Pulitzer. One prefers to think of him as a confident if oft-inebriated fellow, whose view of his own art transcends the petty competitions of his decade or even century. But the idealized view of the artist takes for granted his place in history, something he himself could not be certain of, something he himself struggled towards, in what cannot help but sometimes be a very soul-crushing way.
Such is the reality of any artist, who, though she may be admired by others in a sort of vacuum, nonetheless regards herself in a painfully distorted context, a constant comparison to the success of others.
I attempted to get around this, myself, by many years ago deciding that my goal was to have my name uttered, in 400 years, in this sentence: "Chaucer, Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens, Joyce, Letter..." The sheer heights of aiming frees me from getting jealous when a guy I went to school with gets a 2-book contract and a high-profile review. After all, that's not what I'm going for; I'm going for something better. (And something that, conveniently, won't be judged until long after I'm dead.) Silly perhaps. But one does what one must to maintain one's sanity and keep the creative mind centered on its world, and away from the bean-counting and lumen-rating that tries and tires the writer's soul.
Which is why it has taken me so aback that I am bothered by what should be unmitigated good news: my sister-in-law's novel is being enthusiastically championed by a big NY agency, and its publication now seems a mere matter of when. What about this is bothering me? Well, that one year ago Kristie (who I should mention here I absolutely ADORE -- she is fun and awesome and the best thing that's ever happened to my brother) married my brother and took his last name -- Letter.
A couple of mis-addressed emails over the past year have informed me that there is actually another Amy Letter somewhere in America (New York, it seems). As the possessor of a pretty unusual name, I'd always taken some pride in being "the only one of me." The strange feeling I got upon discovering that there was now (apparently by marriage) "another one of me" is pretty similar to what I'm feeling now: "I'm supposed to be the writer-Letter! I'm the 'Letter' whose name will someday dance in the brain-chip-syllabus of a future college student in line with other great writers in English! Me, me, me!"
Well, I suppose it's time to come up with a new brain-trick with which to inspire a wider net-of-Zen. Or convince her to publish under her maiden name.
I love you Kristie. Congratulations!!
I can't wait to see... your name...!! in print!!