There is Enough
Tuesday night a friend and I went to a panel on writing. We were wrapped in scarves, and had just finished eating soup and sandwiches. The evening felt so collegiate, as we carried our trays in the bright lighting of a cafeteria-like restaurant and ventured out into the cool night in our tweed blazers to attend a lecture. We were in good moods.
A writing teacher of mine was speaking on the panel, and the evening was organized by a woman my teacher thought I ought next to take a class with. The room was packed, and to complete that fall feeling of being at the big game, we sat on bleachers in the back of the college bookstore. The writer in charge was a high-octane, fast-talking, take-no-prisoners MC, unapologetically cutting off authors who droned on a little long. “We’ve got a lot to cover, so I’ll just summarize your points,” she interjected.
As each author talked––about stalking agents in bars or soliciting quotes from Ian Frazier––I found myself growing more and more antsy and irritated. I was hugely annoyed by everyone earnestly taking notes about how to publish a bestseller. When the question and answer period was over and people started queuing up for coffee and cookies, I just wanted to flee to the nearest bar.
My friend is a writer, too. She may not realize that I consider her my spiritual guru. (“You’re more spiritually evolved,” I said, “cause you’ve had more lives.” “More lives, like, reincarnation?” “Yeah. You’re, like, of the air,” I explained, “and I’m still of the earth.” This is what I sound like, by the by, after half a Brooklyn lager.) But despite being on a higher plane, she shared my post-panel insecurity. To succeed, it seemed, we had to press the pedal to the metal: be out networking, sending out query letters, pitching stories, tirelessly taking workshops, going for it, full-throttle, determined and unshakable. It all made me want to pull the covers over my head. Besides, how could we elbow our way in, I thought, when there are so many people out there doing it already? The world doesn’t need another Mary Cantwell or M.F.K. Fisher. There’s no room for us.
And then my friend told me about her dad. How for many years he felt competitive with a colleague who was, for all intents and purposes, a genius. He spoke a billion languages and could play any instrument he picked up, and my friend’s father was always trying to keep up. And then one day watching this guy be all geniusy, my friend’s dad was struck with a bolt of enlightenment, and he just started laughing. He suddenly felt the relief of letting his colleague reap the spoils of his success without feeling personally threatened. And so, when my friend one day was feeling insecure about something herself––someone at school, let’s say––her dad gave her a talk. “Someone will always be smarter than you. And that’s okay. There’s space for you, too.”
It reminded me of the advice I grew up with. Someone will always have more than you: more beauty, more money, more talent, more smarts. But someone will always have less.
The and that’s okay part was what I needed to hear. There’s room for all of us. There’s enough success, money, and love to go around. There is no scarcity, really, unless we choose to look at life through that lens. One person’s success doesn’t take away from our own; someone else’s triumph doesn’t mean less triumph for us. There’s enough for everybody.
I like the way Natalie Goldberg puts it in Writing Down the Bones:
Don’t be jealous, especially secretly. That’s the worst kind. If someone writes something great, it’s just more clarity in the world for all of us. Don’t make writers, “other,” different from you: “They are good and I am bad.” Don’t create that dichotomy. It makes it hard to become good if you create that duality. The opposite, of course, is also true: if you say, “I am great and they aren’t,” then you become proud, unable to grow as a writer or hear criticism of your work. Just: “They are good and I am good.” That statement gives a lot of space. “They have been at it longer, and I can walk their path for a while and learn from them.”
In yogic philosophy, there’s the concept of mudita: “a sympathetic or vicarious joy, the pleasure that comes from delighting in other people’s well-being rather than begrudging it.” More is more, and I can stand to hear it again: “If someone writes something great, it’s just more clarity in the world for all of us.”
I’ve always been afraid of running out of money, things to say, or ideas to write about. But writing a daily column for Yahoo! has taught me an important lesson about scarcity. There is no shortage of ideas. In fact, the practice of continually making yourself open to inspiration, ushers in only more. Creativity begets more creativity, love begets more love. And perhaps the same is true: success for some begets success for others. There is enough, for all of us.
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