Thursday, January 31, 2008



Easton's 1897 Bible Dictionary defines jealousy as:

"Suspicion of a wife’s purity, one of the strongest passions (Num. 5:14; Prov. 6:34; Cant. 8:6); also an intense interest for another’s honour or prosperity (Ps. 79:5; 1 Cor. 10:22; Zech. 1:14)."

Incidentally, the same dictionary defines the waters of jealousy as:

"Water which the suspected wife was required to drink, so that the result might prove her guilt or innocence (Num. 5:12-17, 27). We have no record of this form of trial having been actually resorted to."

No record? Of course. Why use water when "the result" could be more quickly obtained with blood. But what, I wonder, was "the result"? Easton's doesn't tell us and I for one am glad. This absence inspires me. I envision levitation, vomiting, cursing.


Nowadays I think we have a more reasonable (at least less gender specific, and clearly less misogynist) view of jealously. Wikipedia says simply:

"Jealousy typically refers to the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that occur when a person believes a valued relationship is being threatened by a rival."

I prefer this modern, friend-focused version of jealousy and all that it implies: backstabbing, fist-fights, hot tears!

Both definitions, though, have one thing in common: betrayal.

The jealousy you're talking about, I think, really, is a jealousy over yourself. You're jealous of that young kid, back there, full or promise, so happy with the accomplishments of others, so un-disgusted with himself. He's betrayed you. You write:

"Of the many things I wish I could tell my younger self, the danger of jealousy is one of the most difficult to part with. I am sure there was a time when I felt that I was who I was - there must have been a time like that...But now I feel like there's no way out of certain things: self-disgust, for example; also shame, a sense of failed promise. Does this mean that I'm growing up finally?"

Perhaps your younger self, the one who betrayed you, wishes too that he could tell you many things, such as: Is that you there, sitting on the sidelines, scratching your elbows? Are you still doing that? No wonder you're disgusted! I thought growing up means growing out too...

Of course, growing up probably doesn't mean that. From what I know of growing up--which is, admittedly, not much--growing up probably means growing down, growing in--learning, somehow, to feel comfortable in your own skin, your own soul.


I had a Korean friend named, let's say J. After high-school we grew distant. Then one day, out of the blue, I wrote him an e-mail:

"I've known you for a long time and have been your friend for a long time, but I have always felt that you were never really "open" with me or anyone about how you were feeling. For example, you always used to seem to downplay the fact that you're Korean; even when we asked you to speak Korean you never did. Back then, and still to this day, I feel like a lot of the time when we speak you try to impress me with certain things, like your salary for example. It seems to me that you were always having a hard time finding your place, especially as the only Korean in the group, and perhaps you did these things to compensate for what you felt you were lacking, which in reality, WAS NOTHING.

You have always been kind, intelligent, and fun to hang out with, and I have always considered you a friend, but NOW, as we grow into adulthood I would like to be friends with you, without the added bullshit. I want to understand every part of you. Hell, I don't even care if I have to learn Korean! I always have wanted to know that part of you. But you never gave it up."

Of course, this e-mail came to J. as a shock. He wrote back a long, intense e-mail (probably the longest thing he had ever written or ever will write) basically laying it out on the line, speaking of an illuminating trip to Korea, and how, back in the states he would go to Korean bars and feel incredibly out of place, how he was now trying, trying, trying, to figure out who he was, but it was hard, so very hard. And he told me he was a bit jealous--jealous of the ease with which I walked through life, my white guy in America-ease, my popular-guy ease.


It's strange then, to me, that you write about your jealousy over Asians who were younger, smarter, and better at what you do best. Of course, most of the Asians I've known (in school mostly) have been younger, smarter, and better at what I want to do best. (I remember, specifically, two Korean girls in my ceramics class: there disturbing, exquisite talent created the most beautiful ceramics figures I have ever seen, all the more beautiful when placed near my blobs. Ceramics: one of two classes I've failed. The other one: gym.) But I can't help but think of Asians in America divorced from my impression of J. and his struggles: feeling a bit alienated, unsure of his culture, perhaps even embarrassed.

But who am I to question J. really? Who am I to demand: show yourself!

This is an easy demand, perhaps, when you speak from my viewpoint: White guy in America.

Am I so thickheaded?


Is it so easy for me though? Probably, yes. But I'm certainly not dominant. Just because I'm the majority doesn't mean I feel major. Often, I feel very minor, a tiny universe to my own, utterly different, so idiosyncratic, so in need of my strange rules, my necessities: my insulin, my three-square meals, my Noni-juice.

I don't always like to show this odd part of myself, but who am I supposed to be, if not this weirdo?

I think what we share, something that's basic, is how much the sense of betrayal really influences us. We don't feel right when we don't feel like ourselves. We feel like we've betrayed something essential and were jealous for what we could be.

For J. the situation, living in America, divorced from his heritage, only accentuates the struggle: Who the fuck am I?

But the question itself might be ridiculous. How do you answer that question, after all? Probably, you just live. I think this is what I mean by "growing in" instead of out. It seems like it has to be easy, but sometimes it's hard. I think it's hard, maybe, because we spend so much time thinking about growing into something, becoming something--a good husband, an adult. But maybe it's as easy as Not Thinking--instead of becoming, maybe just being.

But what do I know: I flunked ceramics.

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