Envy. It's something I'm good at.
I'm pretty good at schadenfreude - taking pleasure in someone else's misfortunes. (That is, if I already dislike them.) But I'm even better at making misery out of others' good fortune. For example, a friend gets a new computer, and I think, Why can't I have a new computer??
I know, you all thought I was actually older than six, right? I just have an excellent vocabulary for a six-year-old.
No, sadly, I'm just very good at envy. I have wasted way too much energy throughout my life wishing that I had things that other people have.
Sometimes these are concrete things like a computer (although this is usually only if I'm feeling particularly deprived on that score - if my computer is old and beat up and due to be replaced, new computers can throw me into envious fits, but if my computer is fine or better, I don't really care).
More often, however, these things are unattainable. I wish I had my friend A's hair (blond, soft, gorgeous level of curl). That's concrete, but not something I can really go out and buy - well, I can spend a lot of money at the hairdresser's, but it wouldn't be A's actual hair. I wish I had acquaintance G's figure. Yes, I could in theory exercise and watch what I eat (no! surely not!) but given genetics, I still won't have this woman's figure. I really wish I had colleague M's clothes, although that would also require having colleague M's figure (which is pretty similar to acquaintance G's figure... you get the picture). Less about physical vanity, I wish I had friend K's ability to walk into a room and make everyone laugh, her energy and dynamism. I wish I had friend J's positive outlook on life. I wish I had friend D's work ethic. I wish I had colleague T's book or friend R's teaching evaluations.
And so on.
Now, obviously this is all counter-productive, because first, it never inspires me to do anything to acquire said characteristics (like work harder, diet and exercise, etc.) - I just feel bad about not having them to begin with. Second, it blinds me completely to the wealth of consumer crap that I already own, to the good characteristics I actually do possess (there are a few, I promise), and to the successes I've actually achieved. And finally, it does others a grave injustice by judging their success or happiness only according to the things I want, and not according to what they want or need (Friend A has struggled with really severe depression, severe enough that she's undergone electroshock therapy. Somehow I don't think her lovely hair means squat in coping with her illness. Friend D's incredible work ethic probably doesn't make up for the fact that he lives in a state he really doesn't like, doing a job that was never quite what he intended to do. Mind you, I think friend D is very happy 90% of the time, but just because he has a great work ethic that I envy doesn't mean he has no unhappinesses.)
The wise mother of a friend of mine once said, "Don't ever wish to be someone else, because you can never know what problems they have until you're in their shoes." And I remind myself of this, but it doesn't always work.
I've worked on suppressing this part of my personality, but like a zit that won't really go away, it keeps popping up again in times of stress. (Sorry, ugly analogy.)
Right now, my envy is focused on houses.
I want a house.
I envy my friends who have houses, houses with central air and real kitchens and private green space.
Who have been able to buy some furniture and art over the years and put it together to create a space that is uniquely theirs.
Who can actually choose their own color schemes for their living space.
Who don't have half their possessions in boxes because there's nowhere to put them.
Who don't have neighbors overhead who walk across their wood floors in high heels all day and vacuum loudly at ten o'clock at night. (Actually, I don't care about the noise - it's just the reminder that there's someone else there.)
Who have actual mailboxes rather than a bank of slots in a wall, and driveways, and garages (garages!).
Who have their own washer and dryers.
Who have homes.
Because really, people, what I want is a home, one that I can arrange to my liking rather than squeeze myself into the only way that I will fit - one that is settled, and stable.
What particularly feeds my envy is feeling like I've regressed. In Rural Utopia, we had a lovely, comfortable 3-BR house. We did stuff to that house to make it ours: we carpeted the half-story upstairs and painted the walls periwinkle and white, creating a calm and serene master bedroom space that soothed us at the end of the day. We put in raspberry bushes (okay, (no longer LD)H put in raspberry bushes. And a bed of greenery). We stocked the semi-finished basement with a TV and exercise equipment. We painted the living room "toasted wheat" (we thought we were really original) and bought chairs, a sofa, a coffee table. We even painted the half-bath upstairs bright creamsicle orange (it was kind of a private joke). We were adults, dammit.
But of course, we left Rural Utopia. And then in Former College City, we had an apartment again - a 1 BR, and though quite a large one, not big enough to hold all the stuff we'd brought from Rural Utopia. We hung on to a bunch of that stuff in the thought that we might buy a house there, but for various reasons (and actually not because of getting terminated, although that didn't help) home-owning didn't work out. It was a pretty grown-up apartment, even if not quite as adult - stable, settled, ours - as the house was.
The apartment here is smaller still. The kitchen has almost no storage space so the oven, for instance, is full of baking pans, making using the it less attractive. I don't think we're going to have a lot of control over the temperature (no thermostat, and radiators). The bathroom is tiny, so small we keep our necessities in plastic handled baskets, kind of like in college when you shared a bathroom with your dorm.
And that's really what feeds my envy of real houses and homes - the feeling that instead of moving up the expected middle-class professional ladder to adulthood, materially, we're falling back down. It's like we're grad students all over again - with more money, thank God, but living with limited control over our environment. So far, we rarely cook in this kitchen because of lack of space to store staples, let alone actually undertake prep, and while there are a few things we can do to improve on this, the kitchen here is never going to be especially functional. The constant purchase of ready-made food makes me feel like I'm traveling, or maybe camping out - not actually occupying my own space. Who knew that adulthood depended so much on owning stuff?
I would really, really, really like to feel at home in a living space that is mine. And when I hear people talking about their houses, what they've done to them to turn them into homes, what they're going to do to them, just what they're like - well, I get really envious.
I know this envy is ugly, all the more so because it derives from a ridiculous and unfounded sense of entitlement. What law is there that by the time you're 38 you can expect to have a house and be settled somewhere? There isn't one. It's an expectation in my head, but there's nothing in the rules-book of the universe that says this. If I feel sorry for myself because I don't have a home at nearly forty, well, that's my problem, not the world's. No one deserves a house just because they want one. I'm damned lucky to live with my husband, have a (perfectly nice, if small) roof over my head, and live in a cool neighborhood. Hell, I'm lucky to have enough food to eat and plenty of clothes to wear (even if I hanker after other ones. I'm not going to go cold in the winter because I don't have a winter coat. I'm not going to have to worry about whether I can apply for a certain kind of job because I don't know if I'll be able to afford appropriate clothes). Because I feel entitled to a house has nothing to do with whether I have one or not, and the honest truth of the matter is that we've made a bunch of choices that privileged other things (going to school, relocating for career) over home-owning, and I can't expect to have my
house cake and have a good job in my field eat it too.
But I still feel too old to be living the way that we're living. And I still envy other people their living spaces.
ETA: On a much less self-pitying note, if you haven't checked out the comments to the post below on teaching intro courses, make sure you do so - they're really interesting and helpful!