I’ve never made a New Years resolution. My aversion to them stems from my awareness that I’ve never stuck to a goal like “read more!” before, and that I’m not starting now. Following a call from my doctor about my triglyceride levels this January, I finally agreed to eat vegetables and engage in the dreaded activity called cardio. But other than that, I’ve attacked 2018 the same way that I’ve approached each prior year.
That is, with ambitious dreams that I break down into exactly zero actionable steps and then abandon.
It’s not my fault. According to 16personalities.com, I am an ENFP personality type and as such have “poor practical skills” and “find it difficult to focus.”
Still, I’m turning 22 this June and trying to act like the post-college adults portrayed in sitcoms and movies. I made a habit tracker and signed up for a budgeting website. I deleted hundreds of half-baked tweets about Air Bud and the Food Network. I opened my LinkedIn for the third time since creating it. And I started to think about the role that envy plays in my life.
Besides being a full-time student and a part-time worker, I also moonlight as an emo singer-songwriter. Actually, “moonlight” implies that I make money. So I’ll just say that I play music, mostly for myself and occasionally for other people.
In a vacuum, it’s an ideal creative outlet. For the most part I like the songs I write. Having an artistic practice, if an admittedly sporadic one, counterbalances Cornell’s high-stress culture. I uploaded an album to Bandcamp last February and my friends said very kind things about it. Some even bought it. It’s a charmed life.
There’s one problem: I don’t live in a vacuum. I live in a city with an active DIY community and a bunch of friends who make amazing music. Every journalist who writes about DIY scenes is legally obligated — I deduce — to include at least one paragraph about how scenes thrive when artists boost each other. In other words, you should go to your friend’s basement set on a Friday night even though you would rather be in bed playing computer games.
But I’m fallible and self-conscious (I told you I’m an emo artist), and a negative feeling sinks in when I hit “going” to my friends’ shows on Facebook or stream their albums: envy.
When I say, “I’ll for sure go to your show,” a petty, little part of my mind says, “I wish I had a show coming up.” When I see someone get a stellar review, that same voice whispers, “I wish I was getting written up.” It’s trivial, it’s immature, it’s probably inextricably human.
Thankfully, I’m usually adept at beating back those thoughts. When they flare up, I remember Jon, played by Domhnall Gleeson, from the movie Frank. Jon wants to be a famous musician but channels his energy into managing the band Soronprfbs, fronted by the eponymous Frank (Michael Fassbender). After alienating the entire band save for Frank, Jon finally gets to play one of his songs in front of a massive SXSW crowd.
They hate it. It’s a terrible song. Jon gets what he’s always envied Soronprfbs for — adoring crowds, a huge stage — but his musical skills just aren’t there. Jon wasted all of his effort envying Frank’s success instead of working to be a better artist.
“Oh God,” I thought when I first watched Frank, “I’m not Frank, I’m Jon.”
For a while, I thought that if I got a big break — if I was able to sell lots of music and play huge shows — all of my envy and insecurity would go away. Yet, Tad Friend’s profile of Ben Stiller in the New Yorker shows how much insecurity can plague the extremely successful. In the article, Stiller’s wife Christine Taylor explains that Stiller thinks, “Do my peers respect me? I don’t get nominated for awards…. And it would feel good to get the call from this director, or that one.” Envy, it seems, has more to do with how you think than external success, or lack thereof.
Relief came in the form of the realization that there is another way to create. Many ways, actually. At the end of break, I took the Metro-North down to the city to visit my grandmother, Renee. Renee has been creating for her entire life, and her apartment alone is evidence of her practice. Artworks of many media adorn all of the walls: collage, paintings, mixed media works, drawings. Decorated bottles of various shapes cover a long counter in the living room. Every time I visit, she insists that I take something — if she has her way, a bunch of things — back home with me.
This isn’t to say that she hasn’t been successful in a public sense, too. She has shown her work in many shows throughout the years, and worked as an instructor at the Fashion Institute of Technology for much of her life.
Still, I’ve always admired Renee for the way in which she shares her art: not for profit, not for fame, not for admiration, but because she finds something beautiful and she thinks you will too. So here it is, a non-resolution for a new year: to envy less, share more and just play some damn music without worrying so much.
Shay Collins is a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences. Morning Bowl of Surreal will appear alternate Mondays this semester. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org