Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The "Pulley System" and Writer's Envy

I've been reading Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie along with other members of the Third Day Book Club, and I've had a case of writer's envy. Here's somebody a quarter century younger than I am, and she's writing better than I ever will. Worse than that, she's writing in a genre that I would most love to write well in: historical fiction.

The feeling reminded me of a Sydney J. Harris column in which he talks about the "pulley system" of evaluating people:

"On the pulley system, when we go up, someone else goes down, and we go down when somene else goes up. We have no inner stability, because our emotional position keeps shifting in relation to the outside world.

"If I meet a man who writes better than I do, this does not diminish my talents. I still have exactly what I had before, no more and no less. His own gifts do not devalue mine, nor do mine devalue somebody else's."

In our capitalistic world, it's hard not to evaluate ourselves and others accoring to the pulley system. But Harris is right. And I need to be reminded of that when I feel envious.

9 comments:

Patry Francis said...

Some writer's envy going on over here, too. She's not only young and brilliant, she's gorgeous,too!

Peter said...

Your post gives the right image to the tendency of my thought last night immediately after my daughter and I discussed how effective one of her teachers is. The teacher is one of my fellow ninth grade English teachers and a model I am fortunate enough to have on my staff. Still. . .

robin andrea said...

I have no ambition, which really helps me to not feel envious. If I start to feel pangs of envy, or if not envy, but just simple disappointment in my own writing, I remember that I write for my own simple pleasures. Usually that is enough.

steve said...

Patry: She is gorgeous. I imagine Olanna looking something like her.

Peter: As Harris says, she doesn't make you a worse teacher. Unfortunately, the American system of "grading on the curve" makes the pulley system a reality, and that tends to affect our own perceptions.

Robin: A very mature attitude. P.S. I still think of you as Rexroth's Daughter.

Sustenance Scout said...

Patry, Peter, Robin Andrea and Slow Train Steve...what wonderful company to find gathered together. Steve, I have to stop by more often because every time I start to read your recent posts I get lost for a long while. The pulley system is so accurate and applies to parenting as well as writing and I'm sure many other areas of perceived expertise.

rdl said...

Great post!! will be back to read more.

robin andrea said...

Steve--When I hear Greg Brown sing "Rexroth's Daughter" I miss my old nom de blog as well.

Patry Francis said...

Funny you should mention Olanna looking like her creator, because that was exactly how I saw her. I also felt--whether accurately or not--that Adichie put a lot of her own character
into Olanna's.

gerry rosser said...

Looking forward to your review of the book. Mine is up.
I used to listen to wonderful fingerstyle guitar music and despair of playing "that good." What I forget sometimes is that it is just possible that if that person heard my guitar music, they might think the same. Reading good writing, listening to good music--that just illustrates what is possible . . .