I have a friend. She wrote a book. I've been putting off reading her book for months. I finally did, but it wasn't without some trepidation.
I've had friends write books before, and I've gobbled them down eagerly. But this book and this friend were somehow different.
I've known this woman for quite a long time. We've seen each other through a lot, we've laughed, cried, even yelled at each other. Sometimes I feel like she's my mentor, sometimes I feel like hers. She is the kind of woman I admire if for no other reason than she possesses the kind of confidence that I wish I consistently carried within myself.
I think I mean it when I say I've never been jealous of her. I've marveled at her ability to unabashedly chase after what she wants no matter what other people think or say about her, and I've longed for the kind cool headedness that she portrays in public.
While we don't talk weekly or daily like I do with some of my closer friends, a message or Skype session from her is alway a bright spot in my day. We've ranted about the "bastard people!" who cause us pain, we've literally jumped for joy over each other's successes.
Ours is a friendship built on respect not only for the other's abilities, but because I think we recognize in each other an impatience to drain every little drop of experience out of this world. And while our friendship is not perfect — she can be shockingly blunt, I can be insensitive to what most humans consider "embarrassing" — it's OK. Over time, we've learned to forgive, even enjoy each other's challenging personalities.
So then why did it take me so long to read her book? The book that when she told me was going to be published, I spilled my coffee all over myself, burned my thigh, and continued to lose my shit over. The book that she spent almost two years working on. The book that was her passion project, her baby for so long.
Why was it so hard for me to even get past the title page?
As with most things like this, it had everything to do with my own issues, and almost nothing to do with her.
I thought about jealousy for a long time. Was jealousy of her achievement stopping me from reading her words? Was I jealous that she had somehow "gotten ahead of me" in some imaginary "writers race"?
The thought of this turned my stomach and made me loathe myself a bit. I feared that I was in fact the kind of friend I'd always pitied. The friend who can't be happy for the good things in other peoples' lives because it shines a light on their own shortcomings (actual or imagined). WAS THAT ME?
Every time I pulled my friend's book from my bookshelf, my head and heart knotted up wondering, "Am I an asshole? I keep telling myself I'm happy for her, and I believe I am, but am I? Am I lying to myself? Am I lying to her? Is this how it's going to be? Am I going to live the rest of my life a bitter old asshole who can't deal her own self-esteem issues, and therefore can't have good people in her life? Because I'm not good people? Am I good people? Good? People? Asshole? Me? AAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!" And then I'd shut the book and look for something fried.
Obviously this was a very productive time in my life.
But after a lot of thinking, and a lot of questioning of myself, I think I can confidently call myself a mostly "non-asshole". I was, and am, genuinely happy for my friend — I can say that without reservation. It fills me with such glee to tell people about her book, hear that they've read it, hear them rave about how awesome it is.
The good things happening to my friend don't make me want to be her, or take away the good things from her so that she has to be a troll with me, and live under a troll-bridge, and steal peasant's hams when they dare to cross my troll-bridge. No, I want her to have those good things (and a ham too, if she wants it).
What I realized was bugging me, and causing me to inflate my friend's book to THE BOOK, was the fear that I'd read it and with every turn of the page, with every smart or funny observation she made, I'd think, "Well I can't do this. I'm out of my league."
Yes, it's always been a dream of mine to write my book, publish my book. And while I'm still muddling through how exactly to do that, that dream is closer than ever right now.
But the closer it gets, the scarier it gets.
My fear was that THE BOOK would be the tangible embodiment of all of my doubts about myself and my abilities. That it would show me exactly what I cannot do. I was honestly afraid to read my friend's book.
Afraid that in reading THE BOOK that I'd discover some proof (page 37, third paragraph, second sentence, "Everyone should write a book EXCEPT Louise Hung because look at her!") that my thoughts, words, experiences were somehow inadequate.
I was comparing myself to the absolute worst person I could compare myself to: my hypothetical self. Even more than that, the hypothetical self that my anxiety/depression-addled brain had conjured up.
Always lurking somewhere in the corners of my mind, waiting to pounce when I'm feeling low, this is the worst version of Louise that I fear might be the real me. The lazy, stupid, undeserving imposter who talks a big game but has none of the talent to back it up. I try to gag her, blind her, tie her up, but somehow she always comes free.
I felt like that Louise was just waiting for me in my friend's book. Waiting for me to laugh or really lose myself in her words, then jump out and say, "Ah-ha! Isn't this fun? Well, enjoy the ride, because you'll always only be a passenger."
Am I that Louise? Am I more like her than I'd care to admit? Or am I better?
My saving grace is that while I have many fears, I am also drawn to fear. It may take me a lot of rationalizing and haggling with myself, but the only way I know how to kill my fears is to face them head on — win big or fail big, either is better than wondering, "What if?"
So, with sweaty hands, and a racing heart, I opened my friend's book and read it cover to cover.
Guess what? I didn't die. In fact, her book brought me some peace.
Not only was there no Evil Louise lurking in its pages, but I was surprised to actually find myself inspired. I'd be lying if there weren't moments where I fretted, "Can I do this?" but the thoughts didn't linger, the fear didn't take hold. I lost myself in just sitting with my friend for a while.
Now that I've read her book, I don't hate myself for not doing what my friend has done. I don't doubt myself more, in fact I doubt myself less. As much as I loved her book, I don't want what she has.
I want my own.
In many ways I have my friend to thank for that. Without even knowing it, she showed me a way out of my fear.
It was not some act of the the Great Kitten in the Sky that got my friend's book written. There was no magic. She just summoned the courage and wrote her book, word by word, sentence by sentence. There was no monster, only the work.
I can do that.
I didn't have any big, personal epiphanies when reading her book. I didn't have a "HUZZAH! I can do it!" moment that made me feel invincible. Rather it was the quiet realization that comparison to some dreamed up version of myself was stopping me in my tracks. I don't want that hypothetical Louise to be greater than me.
After all, I have a habit of turning things into monsters. The last thing I need is to turn myself into one.