Write of Way by Mary Lou Sanelli

Wednesday, January 06, 2016 4:19 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)


Crustaceans in a Bucket

It’s Sunday, and I’m in my office, which is really just a little nook in my living room that doesn’t do justice to the word office. But it’s enough space for me.

My famous-writer-friend calls my office “cute.” And when she phones to ask if I’ll look in on her cat while she’s teaching at a writer’s conference in Prague, something I ordinarily would have felt perfectly justified hanging up on her for, I am happy to do it. My husband is on a business trip and I’m a cat person.

“Sure,” I say, trying hard to keep the jealousy out of my voice. “I could use the company.”

I slip into a silent funk. In a word, I am green.

But I like her. I’ve always liked her. When I think about her, I’m glad we’re friends, and as the years go by, I am more and more certain we will remain so. On the subject of friendship, it’s a pretty simple question I ask myself lately: Does the thought of her bring a genuine smile to my face or a wince?

A smile!

Unless I think of her in Prague.

Or her trust fund status.

Then, dang, it can feel as though the envy is never going to turn around.

But it does. Eventually. It seems I have this large capacity for spending half of my emotional energy in a state of self-doubt, and the other half in a burst of confidence, with a dancer’s flexibility for balancing between the two. Until I wonder what on earth I was so jealous of until I want to kick myself.

Have you ever seen sand crabs in a bucket? I’ll never forget the time I was walking the beach by the ferry terminal in Kingston and I came across a fisherman who stuck his hand into a white 5-gallon bucket full of crabs he said he used for bait. “Why don’t they escape?” I asked.

“They’re crabs,” he said. “They ain’t too smart.”

I watched as they scratched and scratched against the plastic, clawing over each other to get to the top, then as soon as one almost made it over the lip, the others pulled it back down.

If they were smarter, I thought, they’d work together to make a kind of crustacean chain, like actors leaving stage hand-in-hand. Claw-to-claw, they’d file up and out over the rim until the last remaining crab is safely on the other side.

I know why those crabs popped into mind just now. I’ve been caught in the scum of that bucket. I don’t want to spend one more minute feeling jealous of my friend. I’m glad there is no mirror in my nook. I would have hated to see myself scratching like that.

And sure, I’ve written before about how jealousy can work as a beacon, too, steering us toward something we desire. But, like gossip, a little of it is fine, but too much and you’re one schlep away from embitterment.

After a good long talking with myself, I gain control over my envies. The writer Daniel Gilbert calls this “babysitting our own happiness.” I just had to remind myself of the golden rule of a satisfied life, or “Comparing Leads to Unhappiness,” words that, ever since they flashed across my screen in the film, “Hector and the Search for Happiness,” I try to apply whenever I feel the sides of the bucket closing in.

Like my friend’s cat, I just like it better when the woman who babysits me is happy.

Plus, my friend always takes the time to write a real thank you note. With a stamp and an envelope! And you know how much I love that.

Mary Lou Sanelli

Mary Lou Sanelli’s newest book is A Woman Writing: A Memoir in Essays, What writing about writing taught me about determination, persistence, and the ups and downs of choosing a writing life. For more information and her author reading schedule, visit www.marylousanelli.com.

   

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