I’m in my shrink’s office in Lowell, MA talking about parental jealousy. Lowell is an old factory town north of Boston, full of smoke stacks and abandoned brick mills with the windows blown out. Over the past decade it has seen in influx of Asian immigrants. What this translates to are gangs of hip-hop teens on the sidewalk as I maneuver my way to my shrink’s office, and a plethora of shops selling loose T-shirts, looser jeans, and backwards baseball caps. I worked with some of the teens painting murals this past summer — and I pass one as I walk, wildly painted boards of dancing, morphing figures wired to a mesh fence.
Gordon works in a mental health office aimed at the down and out. He is one of the few therapists who will accept my insurance. When I came for my first session, I sat in a stained office chair between a former crack addict with over bleached hair talking about getting her kids back, and a wiry grisly tattooed guy, muscular arms crossed hard over his chest, repeating: “No, no, no.”
I kept saying to myself, what the hell are you doing here? I’d just come from a year in Europe and prior to that a very cushy life in Seattle — including a counselors office full of soft music, wispy incense, verdant overgrown plants and a particularly comfortable green lazy boy. As I get up to leave, some otherworldly voice says: “No, wait. Just wait.”
Gordon turns the corner a few minutes later. A short 55-year-old with a fresh face and curly hair, he wears impossibly ironed clothes. Over the months, I don’t think I’ve seen a single wrinkle in any of his button-up shirts or trousers. He has open blue eyes, and I know I can trust him. He has become my angel. My diamond in the rough.
At any rate, jealousy. Jealousy. Jealousy.
Since I got an agent for my novel, I seem to be faced with an impossible level of jealousy. How do I know it’s jealousy, and I’m not projecting? Because I dated a writer once, and I have my own experience of intense, uncontrollable jealousy, and I know firsthand what it looks like, and sister it’s ugly. (If said former boyfriend ever reads this, he can take it as an official apology. Man, was I an asshole.)
At any rate, jealousy. Jealousy. Jealousy. Jealousy.
I’m having a terrible time dealing with it. It’s interesting in the session with Gordon, that parental jealousy comes up. I want to discuss it in this blog to see if it might not help others who have jealousy or are dealing with others’ jealousy.
Because our parents lived in a different paradigm, many of them did not get to follow their bliss — to say the least. They were expected to work endless hours with few vacations just to scrape by. Some of them grew so enraged they became abusive, drank to drown their sorrows, ended up institutionalized. For this generation, doing art was a sign of laziness at best, and at worst represented a life of devastating poverty. Is it any wonder they didn’t cultivate the fiction writer in many of us?
Gordon has me put two chairs facing each other. We are going to work on self-esteem so that I can handle the increasing jealousy. I am meant to have a conversation with my imaginary father in the other chair.
What comes up is jealousy. Jealousy. Jealousy. Jealousy.
As a child I was a wacky artist — very abstract and eccentric. I won lots of awards. My father was the kind of guy who got up at 4 AM to go hunt or fish our food, then went to work for 12 hours laying floors. Still, there was this other side, the side that watched blood red sun rises reflected on deep and winding Missouri rivers. The side that collected found forest objects. In one corner of the basement, he kept a collection of railway ties, electricity breakers, a broken banjo, arrowheads. Things he found in the woods when he was hunting.
He had no nurturing as a boy, and because of that he did not exactly glory in his abstract, wacky little daughter. I was too much like him. Let’s just put it this way, he was brutal.
I question him on his bad behavior. From the chair, imaginary father responds: “If I cannot do what I love, if I cannot be the artist I truly am, if I have to work endlessly to feed and house nine people, how dare you have the freedom to do what you love?”
Oh, I dare. Try me, old man. I dare. I dare. I dare.
When we are unconscious, jealousy can make us act very ugly. Once I heard a passionate artist type who was a bit stuck say she had no jealousy. I didn’t believe her for a moment. Liar. Liar. Pants on fire.
I think experiencing rabid jealousy firsthand and seeing the ugly jealousy in myself have helped me immensely. I’ve come to a profound understanding that what would really save the planet, what would really bring worldwide peace, is if everyone could find, explore, and nurture their authentic selves. I profoundly understand how wounded we all are in this area. The rage this denial of self engenders is monstrous, and global. A psychotherapist/writer from the early 1980s, Alice Miller, deals with this well in many of her books.
Still for me to go the distance in my own life, I need to be able to handle the unconscious jealousy being flung at me. I need support. How?
I think when we get to a certain level with our work as writers, we must find other people who got to that level themselves. Only they can really understand what we’re going through. I think it’s too much to expect friends or family who’ve not been on the path, or not been on it very long, to give us the support we need. I believe there are rare creatures out there who can be loving and supportive even when they are still struggling — I know a few — but perhaps it’s best to leave off expecting so much from the others. That’s all I know right now. Still, the words I just typed rankle me. I need more support, damn it! Hear me universe!
Meanwhile, back at Gordon’s office, imaginary father says: “I felt like a dog. Tied up. Like a mangy dog.”
We had a dog named Buck, chained to a doghouse his whole life, his world a circle of dry paced Missouri dirt. I start sobbing in Gordon’s office, for Buck, for dad.
I sob for all of us, made to feel like chained up dogs when all we really want to do is love this blessed earth.
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