I remember the first time I saw Wicked. My girls were out of town, and I was sitting at home on a Friday afternoon trying to put together some sort of Wonderful Night Out for Jack and me. At that time, I didn’t fully comprehend his lack of interest in all things performing arts (or maybe I did, and I was feeling selfish), so I dropped $120 on last-minute tickets, and off we went.
Long story short: At some point during Act One, I realized Jack was sleeping. I, on the other hand, was sitting rigid in my chair and had tears streaming down my face—and not from happiness. No, I was pissed. Not at Jack for falling asleep and certainly not because of the story line. Nope. I was absolutely livid at the performers for having the audacity to be so ridiculously talented. It’s not fair, I thought. Over and over again.
It’s okay: It doesn’t make any sense to me, either. But sensical or not, it happens every time I see a live theater performance: West Side Story at The Muny, Movin’ Out at The Fox, Assassins at the Ivory Theater, the Modern American Dance Company at The Touhill, the freaking St. Louis Symphony at Powell Hall. I get so angry.
I have this theory that anger is only a manifestation of a deeper, underlying emotion. It doesn’t take three, $120 sessions on a couch to figure out what my deal is: It’s envy. Of course it is. It’s Obsessive Comparison Disorder (I stole that; I’m not that clever), and it goes something like this:
“I’ll never be able to do that. I could’ve, if I’d been disciplined, but now it’s too late. And I probably wouldn’t have actually made it anyway, because I really wasn’t all that great. Certainly not as good as those jerks on stage. And even if I had made it, I would’ve ended up in opera, anyway, not Stomp, so it doesn’t matter, but it matters so much and it’s just not fair that some people have all this talent and they get to do that for a living. Not me, though. Nope, I’m just watching someone do something I’ve always wanted to do. And oh my gosh her voice is so crystal clear and controlled I just want to choke her.”
(The part about choking goes away quickly because violence is wrong.)
And you know what’s absurd? (Because up to this point, it hasn’t been?) I didn’t really even want to go into the performing arts. I don’t regret not going off to New York to try to make it. I really can’t fathom performing the same show over and over and over again. But it doesn’t matter if I want to. The point is I can’t, and I don’t like that word even a little bit.
Oh, but it gets better, friends. It extends beyond performing arts and into things like, ooooh, biomedical engineering. I watched this video this morning and cried because of its wonderfulness, yes, but mostly cried because I’m so mad at that kid for being so smart and so generous and grrr he’s using more than his fair share of intelligence and creativity and it’s just.not.right.
Yes, you guys, I realize this is the dumbest thing ever, ever, ever.
It may make more sense that this happens to me when I’m reading. John Irving infuriates me. Those Canadian women? Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood? Hate them. (Love them.) Hate them. Ann Patchett. Jhumpha Lahiri. Dave Eggers. Anne Lammott. Nearly anyone who’s ever been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories. And, for the love of all that’s good and right, don’t come within 100 yards of me if I’m just finished reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Light is Like Water” (the most beautiful short fiction piece I’ve ever experienced), or you will see angst like you never knew existed.
Talent should inspire me, shouldn’t it? Shouldn’t I have unicorns leaping over rainbows in my right hemisphere, pooping out turns of phrase and brilliant metaphors? Well, that’s not what happens. Instead, gargoyles emerge from my amygdala, flatten the unicorns, and grab me by the elbow: “Run, Kelley. You’ll never be that good. There’s no point fighting for it.”
Stupid talented people. I can’t stand them.
I love them.