ON BITTERNESS & HOW TO LIVE
This article about hipster darling Greta Gerwig made me think about the unfortunate and sometimes very talented actors and actresses I know who look very much like other breakout stars. I went to school with an actress who looks like Greta Gerwig. I wonder if Greta Gerwig’s success helps or hurts this other actress. Probably the latter. The guy who I’d consider the best actor I ever saw in Yale drama bears a strong resemblance to Johnny Depp. He used to enjoy the comparison, I think, but not so much now, although he’s a working actor in L.A. (Skeet Ulrich managed to get roles looking just like Depp. There’s worse people you could resemble.) …And then that guy used to date Zoe Kazan, a suddenly ubiquitous actress who I think was a year or two behind me in school but who I didn’t know at all. And I briefly dated an actress a few years behind Kazan who strongly resembles her (same looks, same education, no Hollywood royalty background–that kinda sucks) and (an older version of) Dakota Fanning. I’d find that kind of vexing if I were in her situation.
But I guess I have been. I’ve definitely seen books sold for a lot of money and/or published to great acclaim/attention by people whose “profiles” were very similar to mine. When I was eighteen and Twelve was published, I remember being depressed and jealous. (FWIW, I met Nick McDonell years later, know him now, and can report he’s pretty amazing. This is a guy who could easily live a life of indolence, glamour, and coked-up sex with models. Instead he spends his time writing novels and doing war reporting in Iraq and Afghanistan.) But eighteen is an age when jealousy comes naturally.
A while back, I. Fontana told me some advice a writer friend gave him: You’ll do okay if you don’t get bitter. That’s what happens to too many writers with talent… the world doesn’t fete them and they burn out on bitterness.
I try to live in certain ways. According to certain rules. There are a lot of them and I don’t always obey them. But a few are:
- Extinguish jealousy. It’s not a productive or nourishing way to live. And contrary to what you might believe, it doesn’t fuel ambition. You can be ambitious without being jealous. Ambition is good as long as it’s not limited to or purely in the service of acquisition.
- Mostly don’t give a fuck whether people like you or not. In Burning the Days, James Salter wrote, “There is your life as you know it and also as others know it, perhaps incorrectly, but to which some importance must be attached. It is difficult to realize that you are observed from a number of points and the sum of them has validity.” It’s true. But Schopenhauer said there are three major things that contribute to a person’s happiness: Name (your reputation among your fellow humans), Wealth (all material possessions and outward physical things/circumstances that affect you), Personality (predisposition to happiness or unhappiness). Of the three, Personality, he said, was the most important, Name the least. If you’re worried about bothering people by promoting your book, don’t be. Nobody gives a fuck about your book. Really, they don’t. It’s on you, and in some cases only you, to make people give a fuck about your book.
- Don’t spend too much time reading blogs or masturbating. This is not a “joke” 3rd item on the list. Think of all the hours you have wasted.