A spoken-word presentation
to a group of people
who were in a big room
listening to me prattle on.
It started when I began
"To my favorite 17 year old high school girl
By Billy Collins
Do you realize that if you had started
building the Parthenon on the day you were born
you would be all done in only two more years?
Of course, you would have needed lots of help,
so never mind, you’re fine just as you are.
You are loved for simply being yourself.
But did you know at your age Judy Garland
was pulling down $150,000 a picture,
Joan of Arc was leading the French army to victory,
and Blaise Pascal had cleaned up his room?
No, wait, I mean he had invented the calculator.
Of course, there will be time for all that later in your life
after you come out of your room
and begin to blossom, at least pick up all your socks.
For some reason, I keep remembering that Lady Jane Grey
was Queen of England when she was only fifteen
but then she was beheaded, so never mind her as a role model.
A few centuries later, when he was your age,
Franz Schubert was doing the dishes for his family,
but that did not keep him from composing two symphonies,
four operas, and two complete Masses, as a youngster.
But of course that was in Austria at the height
of romantic lyricism, not here in the suburbs of Cleveland.
Frankly, who cares if Annie Oakley was a crack shot at 15
or if Maria Callas (call us) debuted as Tosca at 17?
We think you are special by just being you,
playing with your food and staring into space.
By the way, I lied about Schubert doing the dishes,
but that doesn’t mean he never helped out around the house."
One of my favorite musicians is a woman named Karin Bergquist.
She and her husband are musicians, poets, artists.
When I go to see her,
when I sit in the seat of a darkened theatre,
everyone around me disappears, and
my imagination goes into overdrive
And I leave the darkened theatre, and step out into the
and I get to thinking;
what would have happened if I would have chosen that life,
Instead of that of wife, mother, writer, librarian?
I try it on in my head, like Walter Mitty,
Imagine getting a tattoo just like hers,
wearing clothes like hers,
holding a microphone like she does,
and captivating an audience.
When I try it on in my head, I can see myself being a rock star,
And the next thing I know,
I'm singing in the car,
belting it out--
"I’m on a Roll, oh, I’m on a roll, oh-oh-oh"--
I sing loudly
and with feeling
Just knowing someone will notice,
and that someone will think,
“Wow! What an amazing singer she is!”
Usually, though, the car behind me
to let me know the light is green,
and so I drive.
But when I leave my daydream (though I rarely stop singing),
I still remember Karin's tattoo
The one on her left arm
that says "comparison is the thief of joy."
Comparison is the thief of joy.
Now I’m not talking here about mentoring,
which is admiring someone
allowing someone--welcoming someone-- to help you find your own best path,
Or about being inspired, which is seeing the good in someone
And wanting to bring out your good in you, too.
I’m talking about doing to ourselves what we do when we shop for appliances
On the Best Buy site--
Putting two refrigerators or stoves or blue ray players in your shopping cart
And analyzing them
Side by side
Scrutinizing and making mental notes
To see which one has better features
Which one is sexier
Which one works harder
Which one is prettier.
Comparison is something I’ve struggled with
for most of my life.
At least the part since after I was born
into this house of skin.
As a student, I would be jealous of the kids who,
At the end of the year,
Were awarded perfect attendance,
or were in the most clubs,
or were voted "most likely to."
As a daughter--not successful enough, not doting enough, not worthy enough.
As a wife--that other women were prettier,
Taller--definitely, always taller
Kept cleaner laundry rooms
Made better food
As a writer,
that another one was published,
Or landed an agent,
or made the front page of the paper,
Or just had the most amazing way with words.
Just last night, I was reading a collection
of short stories by a woman around my age
who is well-known for writing short stories,
which is what I do, too.
Instead of celebrating her success with her,
I grew envious.
I decided to check out her "credentials."
She has a wikipedia page.
I don't have a wikipedia page.
She has a master's degree.
I don't have a master's degree.
She has an MFA.
I don't have an MFA.
She has had fellowships (impressive ones)
Has won awards (lots of them)
and I started to hate her
(this woman I don't even know)
Instead of learn from her
And enjoy her work
And draw inspiration from her success.
Comparison is the thief of joy
for a parent.
The parent thing is a tough one.
I still struggle with it, like,
When my kids were born, I wanted them to be the best.
(I KNEW they would be the best)
Not just for them, but for me.
To show what a perfect parent I could be.
That I could be the poster child
of perfect parenting.
That I could create and produce
a Judy Garland
or Joan of Arc
or Franz Schubert.
Or at least the star soccer player
on their high school soccer team.
It wasn’t until I was knee-deep
that a verse knocked me in the head
And told me to stop it with the comparison thing.
Amplified Bible (AMP)
6 Train up a child
in the way that child should go
[and in keeping with her or his individual gift or bent],
and when the child is old
she or he will not depart from it.
(Gender adjustments mine)
Have you heard it?
But have you REALLY heard it?
I love the Amplified version
because of how it lays it all out.
Train up a child in the way THAT CHILD should go.
Not in the way that other child over there should go.
Not in the way Franz Shubert or Judy Garland or Joan of Arc went.
But to guide them according to THEIR individual bent and gift.
Which meant they each of my children had one...
An individual bent and gift, that is.
Which meant I had--have--one.
Which means, of course, that you have one, too.
Not to flaunt,
Or to put out there for comparison,
But to be the best "you" you can be,
That you’ve been called to be.
Whether it’s a hair stylist,
Or a mom,
Or a dad,
Or a plumber,
Or an electrician,
Or a photographer,
Or a trash collector,
Or a concert pianist,
Or a carpenter,
Or a grocer,
Or an artist,
Or a teacher,
Or a CPA,
Or Franz Schubert.
Comparison is the thief of joy
Comparison is probably what’s causing your misery
Your relationship problems
Joy makes you strong!
Joy makes you beautiful!
Joy makes you beam and glow and shine
Rejoice when you fail
Rejoice for the opportunity to attempt something new.
Rejoice when you lose something
for the opening it creates,
the freedom it affords.
Rejoice when someone succeeds,
Or what you perceive
Rejoice with them.
Rejoice as if it’s your own accomplishment
Your own celebration.
Because, while you might not know it now,
both comparison and joy eventually
etch lines into your face--
the first with downward creases at mouth-corners
and furrows between brows,
the second with bright rays at the eyes’ edges.
And because while comparison
is the thief of joy,
thief of joy,
is the suffocating death
Art print above by Denilchan available here.
Copyright 2013 by Denice Rovira Hazlett
Please ask for permission before reprinting in any form.