The Creative Double Life of One Book Store Manager
Posted October 12, 2009on:
Many creative people lead double lives. We lead the life that is about driving to work, worrying about 401Ks, paying the bills and making sure we leave the house with clean underwear. We also lead the lives of joy professionals, lost in our creative musings and dreaming the impossible. I was recently reminded how wonderful it can be to find another person who is creative, who is no longer leading the split double life, but one where the creative life has burst out onto the open.
For seven years, I have gone to the campus book store to order my books for classes and research. One of the managers on staff has always been professional, witty and particularly helpful. I relish my interactions with her. She’s an unassuming woman with gray hair, brown eyes and a crooked smile. Recently, while reading the campus newspaper, I discovered that this same manager had just published her first novel and was having book reading. Now, if I’m honest, I’m not always so excited about someone else’s writing success. My ego tends to immediately get stalled into tap-dancing comparison mode and my self-talk sounds like the voice of Faye Dunaway (playing Joan Crawford) from the film Mommie Dearest. Maybe this is not true for you and you have trained your ego, when feeling competitive or inadequate, to run along and do laps in your mental nicey-nicey pool and leave you alone. Lucky you. In the last year though, I’ve been trying to make a friend, or at least an acquaintance with how my ego handles being confronted with someone else’s good writing fortune.
A close friend of mine once explained her definition of envy and jealousy. Envy is when someone has something that you desire, and you want it for yourself, but you’re OK that they have it; you still wish them the best. Jealousy, is different, in that you want what they have and feel like that they don’t deserve it and you definitely don’t want them to have it. Envy and jealousy provide important emotions for creative people to consciously explore (as opposed to being tyrannized by).
Anyway, while reading about her success, I didn’t start breaking out in a panic or become flooded with feelings of envy or jealousy. Instead, another feeling came over me—gratitude. I was totally thrilled for this woman. I was grateful that she had broken through the solitude of the writing life and was on the other side-a published writer. I also was delighted by the fact that she lived a double life—book manger by day and writer by night (or weekend). The creative side of her double life was now out into the open. Unfortunately, I was teaching class when she was giving her reading and was bummed that I couldn’t attend. I had to find out more.
Last week, I made sure to go to the book store, buy her autographed book and speak with her. She was very gracious and humble (my ego liked that) and said she was just amazed at the reception of the book. She had gotten rave reviews and a well known writer had written a superb blub for her novel. I told her what a thrill it was to know someone who was living a double life. I asked if I could take her out for tea to celebrate her success and talk about the process of writing. While talking to her, I was also monitoring my interior voice. I looked around for signs of my ego’s insincerity and jealousy. It was still suspiciously quiet. I was truly happy for her.
As we chatted, and talked about making time for the writing life she said, “Oh you should see my house. I used to think if people saw my untidy house, they’d take my kids away!” We laughed at what sacrifices sometimes need to be made to get our work done. I love people who reveal their foibles to a stranger! She had wondered if she would feel ‘ho-hum’ about her own book coming out since she worked in a bookstore and is always surrounded by amazing books. She told me that once she held her book in her hand, she wasn’t ho-hum – she thought it was great, cool and exhilarating! I can’t wait to find out more of her story …
I’m reminded of how powerful it is to be up close to someone who is pursuing their passion. My feelings of gratitude increased enormously, because I think I finally feel at a gut level that we, creative people, are all in it together. When one person makes it real, I do believe that our collective creative spirit is fortified. Someone’s success also has the power to remind us that the journey is as much fun as the destination. Since we never know when success or recognition is coming, we might as well have a good time in the immediate moment to moment process of creating. I regret that I spent so much of my late twenties and early thirties being flooded with fears of inadequacy and jealousy at the success of others. What a waste! The good news is that I (we) can choose differently. Instead of envy and jealousy, maybe we can open up to a reminder that many people yearn to make manifest a creative life. Maybe, it’s’ worth our time to ask the people that we see everyday—what creative project are you working on? They are probably having the same ups and downs and joys and struggles that we are. They are probably carrying big, wonderful, crazy creative dreams.
This week, I encourage you to get up close and personal with someone who has accomplished something that you admire or want to achieve creatively for yourself. Tell them what their success means to you. Look into their eyes and tell them how happy you are that they have made their work visible.
If your ego starts preparing for a comparison parade, take a deep breath and remind yourself that the ego’s function is to point out what it thinks is missing in the present moment. Your job is to remind yourself that nothing is truly missing in this moment.