One City

Jealousy strikes us all in different ways. Sympathetic joy, (mudita for those of you pali/sanskrit geeks) refers to a  a series of  guided meditations offered by the Buddhist tradition to overcome the insidious human poison of envy. I have found the practice to be quite helpful, as I find all Buddhist practice to be helpful, but there is one group of people who incites the need for the practice in me more than any other sentient beings, and I’m not sure why. My “jealousy gang” consists of young male writers who are sometimes younger than I am and have a tremendous amount of success. And the group that gets me going has a brand new leader for me to visualize in the space in front of my body. Move over Dave Eggers (you were minor league), get outta here Jonathan Safran Foer (you were cute and harmless anyway), Reif Larsen is here.


Reif Larsen received a $1 Million advance for The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet, an illustrated novel about a 12 year-old cartographer.

I know what you are going to say. You’ll say “Ethan, you’re doing great! You’re first book was published when you were 29. You do good work. You write for a great blog. You’re working on rewriting a novel you are very proud of. If all goes well, it has a good shot of getting published by a small publisher. You’re book has been translated into German and Dutch (btw, I have two copies of One City in each language I have no idea what to do with). By all measures, you are a success. So chill out, homie, and don’t ponder others.”

But it doesn’t matter what you say. Because I will tell you, from Mara’s mouth to your ears, that you are right. I got plenty. But it ain’t about what I got. It’s about what I ain’t got. Reif (is that really your real name, man?) got an advance 150 times the size of mine (for real). Reif went to the same college as I did, and is two years younger (that strikes a bit close to home). Reif’s in Vanity Fair! And you know what else, turns out Reif’s all into…wait for it…Zen Buddhism! That was the dagger. Dude’s Buddhist! Why can’t he be an alcoholic nihilist like other writers and leave the dharma niche to me? If you start a blog about Zen and mapmaking, Reif, I’m gonna lose my shit!

Jealousy has nothing to do with what we have; it always operates as a relative comparison of lack. Because what we have is not solid, and our experience moves ungraspably onward toward an inevitable anti-climax, leaving us to wonder if someone else figured out the key to contentment. Don’t worry, they didn’t.

Nobody here but us fools, saddled with our lack, raging against the intricacies of day-by-day boredom. And it turns out, when you meditate on mudita, the only thing that fills the lack is the production of spontaneous joy, which has no solidity either. Go figure.

So here’s to you, Reif Larsen. You look like a nice guy (way cooler than Dave Eggers). I’ll buy your book. And I’d even like to interview you for our podcast to ask you about Zen and your creative process. I’ll buy you a drink at the Brooklyn bar of your choice (like you need me to!).

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