I’ve been thinking about the nature of competitiveness. Specifically, as it concerns me and my work, among other artists and writers. This is a naked matter, one perhaps best hashed out in privacy. But the feelings that arise are powerful, and worth noting in some way or another.
Sometimes when you hear (or read, or watch) the work of a gifted artist, tears of joy fill your eyes. The heart soars. It’s pure beauty.
Other times are not so comfortable and comforting. You’re threatened. You’re petty. You criticize inwardly, sometimes contemptuously. These days I think the word is snarky. You don’t like yourself for that. You squirm and look away, ashamed.
The other night at the Artists without Walls salon, I was second last to read, from a newer short story, THE LEMON TREE. I was to be followed by a writer who leaves me breathless and enthralled every time I hear him read; he’s described as “a blend of Tarantino and Joyce.” We had a brief exchange prior to going up, joking about the hazards of reading back-to-back: the gist was “Jeez, you better not upstage me!”
I was humbled. Uncomfortably so. There was no inner Snark Voice, but the trance of unworthiness came a-knocking. It took about 24 hours for the voice to be driven forth from me, straight back to hell from whence it comes.
And the realization came: There is a GOOD sort of competitiveness. In my knowledge of the other writer’s gifts, I overcame my own natural shyness for a shining eight minutes. I did my own work justice. I read so strongly that I no longer dwelt inside myself, but had sent myself to someplace Other. I was grateful for the power that was born out of respect — and even awe — for another’s work. It trumped fear. And now I have a useful new tool. Competition.