“Odyous of olde been comparisons, And of comparisons engendyrd is haterede.”
(John Lydgate, written in 1440.)
I deserved that promotion he got.
Look at her! She’s my age. Must be Botox or a lift.
Sheesh! Look at that. He has a line of people at his table waiting to have him sign his novel and there’s no one here at mine. I feel like crawling under the table.
Old John Lydgate had it right. We humans are often plagued by comparisons. Even little bitty kids do it. “Why can’t I have a (doll, video game, train set . . . ) like hers?”
Is there any way to escape this depressing tendency to look at all kinds of happenings and make comparisons between ourselves and those we may see as rivals? In my own field–writing–comparisons are common, and often lead to unhappiness or a feeling of inferiority. So, is there any way to escape this grief?
It’s hard, because so much of a writer’s success seems to depend on what he or she creates personally and promotes successfully. But–shouldn’t others’ success only make us stiffen our spines and march on, glad to see it can happen to others, and determined to write and edit better, learn more, share more?
My “glories” as a writer seem small if compared to biggies in our field, or with many of my fellow mid-list and independent press authors. (It’s a huge surprise when I find out other authors envy my “success.” Whoa!)
Some time back, while cracking my face smiling at the woman who was accepting an award I had also been nominated for, I noticed what she was wearing. Oooo, a light bulb moment! How would I look in the colors and styles she sported? She’s at least 5’10” and model-thin. I’m 5’2″ and no sylph. Should I be wearing her flame red, skin-tight swirled silk tank and tube skirt? (Those of you who know me can answer that one.) I realized then that the only writer I could productively compare myself to was . . . me.
That’s when Radine did some in-depth thinking. If I could never be anyone but me, the only hope I had was to be the best me I could. I vowed to wade out boldly among others in my profession, make myself learn to share their triumphs and joys without jealousy, and be ready to congratulate or encourage them when that was called for. Above all, I’d be grateful for what I was learning from fellow authors — all those how-to’s we share with each other by teaching and example.
It works. Today I compare my work with what I accomplished before. I read others’ work and honestly enjoy and praise. I walk among other authors, sharing the ups and downs of our careers without without embarrassment or apology, and also without jealousy. I am grateful for success any one of us enjoys because, as a writer, I can fully appreciate the work it took to gain it and what it means to the recipient.
Comparisons? Lydgate nailed it in 1440. Cervantes, Christopher Marlowe, and John Donne repeated it during the 16th century. “Comparisons are odious.” But I think Shakespeare said it best when he satirized the line in “Much Ado About Nothing” in 1600: “Comparisons are odorous.”
I don’t want to be stinky.