Saturday, July 2, 2011

We Hate it When Our Friends Become Successful

My boyfriend is sleeping. At least, I hope he is. I’m lying in bed next to him with the light on so I could read. I finished the book I was reading and thought about turning off the light and trying to sleep, to be a better girlfriend (the light usually keeps him up), but I just don’t feel like closing my eyes. So, I’m telling myself he’s already asleep.

I’m dating a 23 year old and that means that sometimes I get to feel like (pretend) I’m 23 again- which is a feeling somewhere between empowering and heartbreaking. I’m 30 but I wish I could be 23 so that living in my parent’s basement without ever having come close to realizing any of my childhood dreams wouldn’t be such a big deal. “I’m only 23,” I could say. “There’s still so much life stretched out before me just waiting to be lived!” 23. Everything is just starting and all these mistakes you’re making everyday? They’re learning experiences, character builders, amusing anecdotes to tell your friends when you’re 30 and successful.

Successful is a relative term. I have a pretty decent job that gives me health insurance. I have a rocking credit score and I actually seem to be maintaining a serious romantic relationship. So, yay me. Still, I’m looking down at the copy of my friend’s book in my hands wondering where it all went wrong. Okay, well, not so much wondering where I went wrong as wishing that I hadn’t.

Some awkward children grow up to be fierce, interesting people who get tattoos and cultivate a sense of self so strong that whatever they do think, drink, say or wear is by default cooler than anything you could ever pull off. The other awkward children grow up to be awkward adults masquerading as respectable citizens the best they can all the while plagued by the knowledge that somewhere along the line they slept through some seminal coming of age moment that would have transformed their awkward into awesome. Instead they go about their adult lives slouching in their cubicles, scrolling through facebook, and filling the rest of their hours with TV shows and other people’s stories. I am one of the latter awkwards; Cassie J Sneider belongs to the former.

Cassie and I worked together for a while at one of those large chain bookstores that used to be a pretty fantastic place to work with other interesting weirdos you could have intelligent conversations with and then race through the store on tiny precariously balanced book carts. Then people began to realize that they could get their Nora Roberts fix half price at Costco or Amazon and slowly the place went to shit. Most of us went our separate ways. I jumped ship to fold sweaters at dressbarn and then sell insurance at a call center. Cassie continued to live her life in her awkward adventurous way, compiling her tales in her new book Fine Fine Music which is available on Amazon.

When I picked up my copy, from the bookstore we used to work at, my first impulse was to tear it in two, though I probably would have done more damage to my hands than to the book if I had attempted it. Still, I was pissed. She had done it. She wrote a book. Someone published it and there were real life people out there buying it. My next impulse was to stomp my feet and howl. I didn’t do either. Instead, I sulked. Sulking, while still unattractive is slightly less repellent than a temper tantrum. Cassie had published a book and was driving around the country giving readings at hip independent bookstores where adoring oddballs and intellectuals were lining up for autographs and I… I have this blog that I sometimes write in even though I only have 3 friends who actually read the thing. Jealousy is a nine year old sticking her tongue out at you.

It was probably a week before I was able to open the book past the message she left with her signature on the title page. I read a story and put it down again, disgusted. Not because it was bad but because it was good. It is easier to deal with other people’s successes if you can tell yourself it’s not really a success. If her stories had been vapid or banal or the writing had been crap I could have written her success off as more evidence that the publishing world is catering to mindless drones with a 5th grade reading level *cough*twilight*cough* and I could have padded my ego with some righteous indignation. Unfortunately for my ego, I’m going to have to find something else to be indignant about.

Cassie is a talented writer with an interesting view of the world, a strong voice, and she has done a thing or two worth writing about. Have I mentioned that pisses me off? Writing this now I’m thinking about lighting the pages on fire just to watch them burn. But then I’d have to go on Amazon and get another copy and that one wouldn’t be signed. Also infuriating? Knowing that I can type her name in an amazon search and receive a result that is actually her.

I was published once (and I’m talking real world here, not junior high lit mags. The fact that those were flooded with our poetry doesn’t count). An extremely short story I wrote made its way into an online lit mag for flash fiction. It’s not much of a portfolio. Cassie has taken the dream and fueled it with diner coffee, karaoke highs and cross country road trips. I took the dream and shoved it under my pillow somehow hoping to achieve it through osmosis. It doesn’t seem to be working. Maybe it’s because I forgot to add water. Or maybe it’s because I stopped living in stories.

Instead of writing for hours I watch TV or sleep in. I phone it all in waiting for something to happen, waiting for a story to happen to me instead of creating one. Nothing much happens when you’re stuck in a cubicle. And I’m the one who put myself there. I don’t just mean work either.

I stayed awkward. But maybe it’s not too late for me. Thirty is supposed to be the new 20, right? I can still conquer the world! ……Well, at least I’m not dead. I have a couple of good years left in me and if I ever get my ass off this couch I might be able to make something of myself. Something that looks more like who I thought I was going to be. Pull that dream out from under my pillow and make it fucking happen.

In the mean time, read Cassie’s book, it’s really good.

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