Penning Envy

I’m not a jealous guy by nature, at least when it comes to material things. Very little coveting of my neighbor’s wife or goods (though when I see beautiful AV systems, with surround sound and HD screens as big as a bed sheet, then look at my 13-year-old 27-inch Panasonic feeding two puny bookcase speakers…OK, I get a little envious).

But when it comes to artistic talent — well, that’s another story.

A bit of seeing green

A bit of seeing green

Most times, I see or hear that talent and I let it inspire me; I wade in the beauty of the notes or the composition of the shapes and colors on the canvas. I could not create the same thing, I realize, but that’s OK. Just knowing there are others who possess that combination of craft and intelligence and emotional depth, and can share it in a meaningful way — that is complete aesthetic satisfaction.

I am a wee bit less gracious with other writers. Especially writers who do other things well.

See, as I think I’ve explained here before, I made the discovery decades ago that I have no skill that sets me apart from others — leaving aside fucking up royally in many endeavors, and that won’t pay the bills — except for writing. I do it better than many people, maybe even marginally better than other real writers. And I’ve been able to parlay that modicum of skill and the need to write, to express myself and perhaps educate and occasionally entertain, into a career that does pay the bills (playwriting aside, of course).

So, yes, when it comes to seeing writing talent in others — and it’s pretty easy to spot, after all these years — and realizing I would struggle to reach, if ever, the same level, I get a little green. Or if not outright jealous, than at least frustrated with my halfass accomplishments.

My friend is in good company.

My friend is in good company.

What’s really pathetic to say, is that these thoughts were spurred by my reading the poetry of a good friend,  a talented man in so many fields, and a guy who uses his words as therapy for dealing with a degenerative neurological illness. (I’ve mentioned him before here at C?WC?)

Sheesh, so can’t I cut the guy a little slack?

Yes, I can, I can. It’s just that…well, he was a talented musician, before all this. And a self-taught internet marketing whiz. And did I mention a skilled woodworker? And he’s self-published a book about these rock sculptures he does, see, as another part of this self-therapy for dealing with Parkinson’s disease. Which is a lot more productive a self-therapy than the extra-heavy duty whining I would unleash here at the Crisis if I were in his shoes. So I see all that and I think, “Oh great, another person with many talents who also writes better than I do.”

Andy, my talented friend, respects my opinion on writing. He gave me his latest batch of poems. They were beautiful. Heartfelt. Evidence of deepening skill as he develops his craft and reads more poetry — and perhaps feels a swelling urgency as the marathon wrestling match with his nemesis Parkinson drags on. And matching the skill is intelligence and insight and honesty too few people show in any part of their lives.

I truly love all that shit.

I’ve become more familiar with Parkinson’s as Andy and his loved ones have tried to grapple with its effects. I have seen the physical deterioration, with the spasms and tightening muscles and fatigue. I’ve seen less of the emotional metamorphosis, the mood swings that I guess are a combination of the drugs and the changes in the brain chemistry the illness brings. But I have seen the scar across his head, the reminder of the hidden implant now trying to restore some normalcy to his neurons, slow down the ticking of the clock that means a few more cells are lost forever.

So I read the poems, and I nod, and I smile, and then feel the pang of envy. And then I think, “You asshole, he has Parkinson’s! He’s coping with it better than you could cope with a hangnail. There is, as of now, no fucking cure. It’s not about you.”

All true. But as I step back a bit, I see the part of this reaction that is, for good or ill, about me. The sense of not dedicating myself to my craft the way I could. The inability to get out of my own head and observe the world, natural and manmade, and interact with others – traits reflected in the best of Andy’s work. And I realize that my own illness so long ago, the treatable testicular cancer that I can’t fail to remember whenever I unzip my fly and see that empty sac, led to no great changes in my life. It was, as they say during the broadcasts of Red Sox games, a squander. All the cancer did was feed my fears about mortality and loss of control. Instead, I could have written poetry that touches others. If I had really tried.

There was some poetry before the surgery. Pretty banal, usually, with only the occasional pleasing placement of the right words in the right rhythm. I gave up too easily, as I am wont to do. Even with the playwriting; I have accepted a certain level of mediocrity. Maybe it is truly the best I can do. Maybe not. I need to keep exploring it. Find the motivation.

Maybe I’ve found some in Andy’s words. In his attitude these past few difficult years. In his deepening zest for living, to wring out every experience and emotion he can, while he can. He has squandered nothing. And I love him for it.

Now let’s see what I can do.


~ by mburgan on September 11, 2009.

4 Responses to “Penning Envy”

  1. It’s early and I just woke. Well, not just this moment. First I rolled over and swallowed a couple of pills, waited a bit for them to kick in, then shuffled to the kitchen and made myself a cup of coffee. But before I did that, I woke early and I remember you mentioning on Block that you posted about me. I had not checked in for a while and being the egomaniacal person I am, I just had to see what my best friend had to say about me. Me, me, me.

    I’m drying tears now. Thanks for the kind words Yet. I have always looked up to your humility, intelligence, honesty and wit.

    As I have said before, all things are relative. You may not have PD and I am not a cancer survivor, but we all have our battles. A coworker told me of excruciating hemorrhoids he was suffering. Why? I don’t know. And as he was going on all I could think of is there is someone, somewhere, suffering hemorrhoids and PD. And I was grateful.

    Thanks again.

  2. Well, Wax, back at you on the humility, wit, honesty, intelligence, though you might have overstated it a bit for me. You are an inspiration, man. Looking forward to more good times together now that we are back in CT.

  3. Mike,
    Anne sent me the link to your blog “Penning Envy”. I read it several times. First let me say that your writing kept me reading , not always the case with me. Because you were writing about Andrew I was totally focussed; also not always the case with me. I have shed many tears since Andrew’s diagnosis with PD. I cried again reading “Penning Envy”.
    The piece was a beautiful description of your rare friendship with Andrew. Although I have been aware of your relationship, your writing made it real and gave it the quiet strength it has had since you were both in high school.
    Your life long friendship is a special gift. Your writing is a special gift. Few people have both. Thank you for writing about Andrew. He is a unique man. You are too.
    My best to you,
    Jackie…Andy’s mother

  4. Jackie,

    Thank you for the kind words, and glad I could keep you reading. All any writer can ever hope for. I got a little teary-eyed myself reading your comment; maybe it was the part about the rare friendship. Since I live it, with him, I don’t have a scale to gauge just how rare it might be. I just know we have shared a lot together, been there for each during tough times, and respect each other as people. Isn’t that what all friendships/relationships are supposed to be? Though I know that’s easier said than done, whether it’s a relationship between blood relatives, spouses/partners, or “mere” friends. Thanks again.

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