Permission and Envy
Odd how envy can point the way to true desire.
Have you ever felt envious of someone for something they have or something they do, only to find out later that it is something you long for? Something you dream of being or doing, but you haven’t given yourself permission?
At 8, I love books more than anything.
In the tiny Ohio town, summer at my grandma’s house includes the freedom to wander.
With the porch door slapping at my heels, I run through backyards of roses and apple trees. Past rusting cars. Over the metal tang of railroad lines.
Hot asphalt sticks to my sandals as I skip through the church parking lot and fling myself into the town library’s cool, dim interior.
Here, I fall in love with queer feminist icon Nancy Drew, leaving the dull Hardy boys to collect dust on the shelf.
It is this library where words catch my heart and never let go.
I find a book called “Bittersweet.”
With the complexity of one word, the world of poetry cracks the cave door and bids me to enter.
Rummaging the shelves, I land on a disintegrating copy of James Whitcomb Riley’s “The Old Swimming Hole.” I check it out.
Sitting in my treehouse, I read his gentle poems until the pages crumble, smudged with Chips Ahoy dust.
Along with snacks, I feed myself new words and images. I devour bucolic descriptions of farming life.
Most importantly, I discover a new feeling: longing.
Back at school, I memorize the call number 811, the poetry shelf in the school library.
Here I print my name in chunky pencil letters on the library call slips of Rod McKuen and Robert Frost.
No one comments on the strangeness of a third-grade child immersed in slim volumes with vague pastel covers.
That year, several poems litter our language arts textbook.
While my classmates crack up at Shel Silverstein, I prefer the quiet humanity of Lucille Clifton and the deep play of e.e. cummings.
Poems pour out of my kid fingers onto the pages of my denim-covered Gnome Notebook.
Roused by Riley’s poetic descriptions of light, many of my poems contain references to the “golden hour of eternity.” Also, dolphins, snowflakes, and memory.
To anyone who asks what I want to be when I grow up, I say, “a poet.”
One day my dad tells me that poets are a dime a dozen.
I stop saying that.
Her LinkedIn profile headline reads one word: “Author.”
Book after book pours out of her. She writes for a few well-known blogs.
The writing is okay, but it doesn’t move me the way great writing does.
Let me say that this woman is perfectly lovely. In every encounter I’ve had with her, she has been nothing but respectful and supportive.
But I hate her.
It is years before I can name the real feeling: envy.
I am envious of her.
Why does she get to write books for a living?
Why does she get published and get to dedicate her career to writing?
I’m embarrassed to say how long it takes me to admit that I want what she has.
I want to be a writer.
In fact, it is what I have always wanted.
Even as I type those words, the doubt comes in.
Writers are a dime a dozen. Writers don’t make money. Writers blah blah blah….
This, my friend, is a question of permission.
Have you ever wanted something so badly but not been able to let yourself have it?
Is there a longing deep inside you that you have buried forever?
You are in good company.
So how do we do it?
How do we allow ourselves to be our longing?
This is what I have been praying over, grieving for, and ritualizing the past two months.
Do I get to be a writer?
Do you get to ______?
When I tell my friend Jenny who’s known me since I was 15, I want to take a stab at writing, she says, “It’s always been writing.”
When my career coach gently asks, “What’s the worst that could happen if you try?” I burst into tears, terrified that I could live my whole life and not try.
Permission comes in drips and drops.
I don't have many answers about how, but I do know permission is a process.
Perhaps one day, my bio will read “Writer.” But until then, find me typing in the library.
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