Envy: spoiled grapes

There was a time I collected heroes, like people collect stamps or porcelain figurines or coins or guns.

I collected heroes to shore up a sense of myself as someone attached to someone else, someone who might make up for my shortcomings.

Not that I thought about it like this at the time. At the time, I always imagined that by attaching to this person I might better myself by association.

I went once to hear a talk from a prominent Melbourne psychoanalyst – not one of my heroes, but esteemed by many – who was speaking on the topic of envy. As he spoke, I recognised something in his tone that hinted at contempt for his audience, we the people seated before him on hard backed vinyl chairs in an over air-conditioned room that made us want to huddle our coats closer.

Was it only me who smarted at the sense he was mocking us, not only his audience but more especially the people who went to see him for help, those whom he talked about as case examples?

A woman who had approached him to deal with her anxiety. A woman whom he considered could have helped herself more.

A woman, who wanted him, her analyst, ‘to wipe her bum’.

He said those words through tight teeth as though he thought this woman was not worthy of his time.

‘We only wipe the bottoms of very small children,’ he said. ‘At a certain age you need to start wiping your own.’

How the issue of wiping bums relates to the notion of envy, I cannot recall, but his talk left me cold.

This analyst has since been discredited for sexual boundary violations, and he has moved out of the glare and into the shadows.

This is what happens to some of my heroes.

Others, like Gerald Murnane glow more brightly than ever. And the writer Helen Garner, both are writers whom I have followed, held firm to their almost every written word, admired them from afar, but now as I age, am I falling victim to that most ghastly of sins, the sin of envy?

Now as I become more critical of my heroes, am I simply jealous, or worse still envious?

Envy is worth thinking about because it is insidious. Envy, unlike jealously, cannot acknowledge admiration for another person.

When you’re jealous of someone, you know it. You feel it in your bones.

I wish I could sing like her. I wish I could write like him. I wish I lived in a house like that. I’m jealous of my brother who is ten times wealthier than me.

Even as I tell myself these things do not matter and I’m good enough as I am, I can still feel the purple pain of jealousy.

I try to handle it by acknowledging this feeling, to myself at least.

You’re just jealous and why not? What, he or she has done is marvellous. Anyone would feel a hint of jealousy alongside their own paltry efforts.

But envy, now that’s something else again. When you’re envious of someone or something, you can’t admit to yourself that you wish it was yours or that you admire what someone else has or can do.

When you’re envious of someone, your impulse is to put them down, to belittle them, to decry their value.

When you’re envious you can’t even let yourself know that there’s something that you want.

It’s rather like that fox and those grapes that were out of reach.

The fox saw the lush purple grapes hanging high overhead and he wanted them. He tried again and again to reach them and when finally, out of breath, he realised those grapes were beyond his reach, he told himself they were bitter anyhow.

Beware of envy. It spoils things.

It spoils things for the person envied and for the one doing the envying.

It spoils things for everyone.

Be jealous, by all means. In many ways it’s a compliment to those whom you admire, but be wary of the hidden charge of envy, it can ruin everything.



The thirteenth fairy

In a kingdom far away a king and queen had been trying for
years to have a baby but with no success. 
Still they persevered.  
They did not give up and the day finally arrived when the queen gave
birth to a beautiful baby daughter. 
The royal couple were delighted. 
They wanted to share their pleasure with the entire kingdom.  To this end they sent out their
couriers far and wide to invite every person who ever lived in their lands to a
celebration of the birth of their baby.
was to be invited, from the lowly to the high.  Everyone.  The
party was held in the great hall and those who came all brought some offering,
however small, for the baby.  When
it came time for the fairies to offer their gifts each took it in turn. The
First Fairy waved her wand and wished the baby the gift of beauty; the second
wished her intelligence; the third creativity and so it went on.  Each fairy wished the baby some
attribute to live a good and fulfilled life.  But when the Twelfth Fairy stood to offer her gift there was
a whoosh of wind.  The sky grew
dark overhead and the Thirteenth Fairy appeared out of nowhere.  She was in a rage.
wish this baby dead.’  She waved
her wand and disappeared.
people were aghast, mouths open, hearts beating.  The queen rushed to the cradle and looked down onto her
sleeping baby fearful that the Thirteenth’s Fairy’s power had already taken
effect. But the baby slept on.  Her
cheeks moved in rhythm with each breath. 
cannot undo the power of the Thirteenth Fairy,’ the Twelfth Fairy said. ‘My
power is not so great, but I can soften it.’
And so the story continues, the familiar story, the one
you already know.  ‘The child will
live a good life until she is sixteen years old and then she will prick her
finger on a spindle and sleep for one hundred years, only to be awakened by a
What a cow that Thirteenth Fairy.  She was angry you know because she had
not been invited to the party.  She
had felt left out and excluded. 
But she was not invited because no one could find her.  The couriers knew of her
existence.  They knew she lived in
some dank cave somewhere on the other side of the mountain but they could not
be sure in which dark cave she lived, because she moved caves regularly in
order to avoid detection. 
would have invited her.  The king
and queen told their couriers as much. 
They were so full of the spirit of good will with the birth of their
baby they had invited the local drunk, the street urchins, the paupers, the
prostitutes, even the ones with leprosy, but the Thirteenth Fairy hid away,
bitter and resentful.
she thought.  They didn’t include
me.  I’ll show them.