Two things happened these past several weeks. Someone I know very slightly was yet again nominated for a literary award, an individual who’s been nominated – and won – over and over. They’re a good writer, but not, in my opinion, so talented that it warrants continual offerings of prizes and adoration. As so often happens, it annoyed me. I sometimes feel this person is living my life, the life I want to have, and I feel frustrated. So I sulked for maybe a day and a half, excoriating myself for not being as good as this person apparently is. It seems like this person is always in the spotlight and I don’t know, maybe they’ve earned it. But, I kept saying to myself, I’ve earned it too. Where are my awards? Where’s my adoration? Why does this person get all the gravy?
I can’t answer that question, except to say that when I was in elementary school, there was a girl in my class who won all the prizes and awards, who got all the adoration. If there was a poster contest for Education Week (remember that? I don’t know if they still have that or not) she won it. If there was a school play, she got the lead role. She was the pet of all the teachers, including our grade two teacher, who liked to show her exercise book around the classroom, asking all of us, “Isn’t her handwriting good? It’s better than yours.”
Needless to say, I couldn’t stand her. Forty years later, I still can’t. Is that petty of me? Probably. Do I care if people think I’m petty? Not really.
You might insist you have never in your life been jealous of another artist. If so, you’re probably deluded, lying, full of shit, or all three. Everybody has been jealous of someone else at some point, especially if that particular someone wins all the prizes, gets all the artist residencies, is on the faculty of such-and-such a university, is the featured author whenever there’s a literary festival, yadda yadda yadda.
So yeah, you’re jealous. That’s all right. And maybe right now you expect me to say ‘if you work really hard and apply yourself, you too can enjoy that level of success’ but I’m not going to say that because it’s bullshit. So often success depends on who you know and who you blow, how good you look in a bikini, if you are kittenish and sexy, if you hobnob with all the knobs you could ever hope to hob with. Maybe that sounds harsh, but it’s often the truth.
You work really hard and apply yourself, and you will create something that’s really, really good and also uniquely yours and nobody else’s. You will do good work. When you look at that work, you will know it’s good, and you made it. Even if nobody else likes your work, even if you never get any of the gravy, you did the work and the work is good. Is that enough? I don’t know. Maybe you will work really hard and become a huge success. Your work will be lauded all over the globe. Millions will fall at your feet. Or maybe you will work really hard and the work will be absolutely brilliant, and no one will recognize it but you.
Maybe what you’re making is ahead of its time and people just don’t understand it, or society isn’t in a place where it can embrace your work. Maybe you’re making something so different, so unique and revolutionary that nobody knows what to do with it or what to say about it. Maybe you’re creating for the future, and a hundred or two hundred years after you’re dead some academic will discover your work and go, ‘Holy shit, this is brilliant’ and you are forever lionized. Which is a comforting possibility, even if it does occur the other side of the grave.
The other thing that happened was that my novels were placed in the public libraries of this province. Every public library. There’s a lot of them, something like 94. And my books are in every single one of them. So I’m bragging about it. Maybe a hundred or two hundred years after I’m dead, some academic will find something I wrote. Maybe they’ll find something you wrote. Maybe it will make a difference to someone, somewhere.