When I was writing and posting about it, an uncle reached out to say he was sorry I was going through this period—and in the way we all feel when people we love are going through tough times, I could tell he wished that he could help me get out of it. But even in it, in that moment, I didn't want to get out of it. I could feel that it was working something in me that needed to be worked, turning over the loam to unearth fertile ground. The period wasn't fun, per se, but it was rich with meaning.
It reminded me of what Alain de Botton has written and said about envy—although he's also written eloquently about melancholy, I find his words about envy particularly fitting here. I first came across his thoughts in his books, but this short video captures the heart of it, and the essence of what I took with me through my melancholy:
The bits that stood out for me were:
Envy, like jealousy, exists for some good reason: it's there to help us know what we want. It's a call to action that should be heeded, containing garbled but important messages about what we should be doing with the rest of our lives.
We often forget that the things we admire don't just belong to one very specific, attractive life. They can be pursued in lesser, weaker, but still very real doses in countless other places, opening up the possibility of creating many smaller, more manageable, and more realistic versions of the lives we are drawn to. Let's...become diligent and careful students of our most persistent envious feelings. They're trying to tell us something, and we should listen.
When I was going through this period, I was also holding myself up to the example of a friend who is living a very different life: he's single; he's employed in a creative field; he gets to stay up drinking as much and as late as he wants, he takes regular road trips for the fun of it, etc. You know, a life that is everything the opposite of mine.
I knew that it wasn't that I wanted to leave this life and enter his; in time I learned that what I wanted was to get more of what he had back into my own life. More poetry, more literature, more creativity, more spontaneity; things that I had in spades in my previous iterations, especially back in Los Angeles.
Which brings me to the point of this post: looking deeply at my melancholy, at the envy I had for him (which I can only now recognize and name as envy), led me to the parts of self that were painfully, sorely missing. Led me to "creating many smaller, more manageable, and more realistic versions of the lives [I was] drawn to." Led me back to poetry (oh, Jack Gilbert, Mary Oliver, Brian Doyle!); led me to literature (this tome, the first novel I've read in years!); led me to the watercolor supplies I've been amassing—but hardly using—for years.
Now, let me be clear: I have no talent or facility for visual arts. NO. TALENT. My children laugh when I try to draw something, and I laugh along with them because the situation is so pathetic. I try to draw an owl and it looks like an overturned garbage dumpster (don't ask how this is possible). But I love color and light, and I love the journey, and I found an excellent website called Let's Make Art with tutorials on how to paint—and I am *loving* it.
Once or twice a week after the kids go to bed I pull out my supplies, find a project I'm interested in, and just follow the instructions. My first attempt, which was supposed to be this mountain scene, can only be interpreted as a mountain if you turn it 90 degrees and imagine you're an elevation-drunk asphyxiating snowboarder who's been alone on a mountainside for a week and have stopped seeing the world as concrete objects but rather as abstractions of abstractions of snow, but still: I loved it! I had fun! I came back for more!
Every week since then I've painted something, with nary a care for the end result and with pure pleasure in the act of doing. Being. Articulating into the world something of what I feel engaging and inspiring. I'll paint the project and then I'll use the paint remaining on my palette to do brushstrokes or abstract trees or squiggles and triangles. I love watching the way the paint moves on the paper, the way water carries it, the way it dries with the thinnest outline holding the whole thing together.
If I hadn't gone through the melancholy, I doubt I would have painted. I wouldn't have invested in so many volumes of literature, or had so many deeply honest conversations with so many friends.
So here's your challenge, friends: what's the difficult emotion you are moving through right now, and what is it pointing you toward? That person or thing you're jealous of: how can you shape that jealousy to create more of what you want in your life? How can it bring you closer to yourself and to the people you love or admire?
Photos by me. Obviously, right?