on creative envy

I went to a book fair with my sister recently! We go every year and make a day of it: We leave at ten and get there at eleven, have lunch and browse the selection of the nearby mall, then head to the hall the book fair is held in. This year she had an event with one of the booths, so we went our separate ways for a few hours and reunited later to do one last run before leaving.

One thing about me is that there is no place I am more of a hater in than in a bookstore. Something about being a person of very strong likes and dislikes in a place with a wide selection activates bitch mode. This is fun with other people – my siblings and I will often wander into a section and make gleeful comments on the titles and covers – and I'm at least not trying to justify my bitchiness with some moral uppity reason, but sometimes I exhaust even my own self with my pettiness.

So at the book fair, I tried to rein in my instinct to criticize books or comics I find trite or annoying. I was mostly successful! And I felt a lot better myself looking through the selection with less judgment than I usually would carry.

I know the root of that critical eye is really a combination of envy and pride. The "I could do better" of it all – but with nothing to show to prove that. The work I criticize is better by simply existing, and I yearn for the focus and belief in myself to get something finished and share it with the world.

(Not that I haven't finished and shared things ever before, but there's a level of unhinged I haven't reached, for whatever reason: fear of the public eye, love of privacy, the knowledge that the themes I want to explore are niche and unpalatable to the sort of person who might like my work. But that's something to ponder in a different post.)

I've been trying to sit with that feeling and peel away the layers of bitterness and entitlement. At its core, I've found, is admiration. I admire the people who've had their work published, who fought their impostor syndrome and creative demons to create something, no matter if it's to my taste or not. They wanted to do something and they did it, and now a part of them is out in the world and bringing people joy. It's a way of being I hope to replicate, and maybe something as small as catching myself when I'm being unreasonable is a step towards that.

While at the book fair, I also ran into a professor I had once when I took Korean classes at a nearby school back in 2020. Our classes were all online then of course, so it was hard for her to recall who I was, but when she did, she warmly asked how I was doing. She asked if I used Korean at my current job, and when I said no, she said I'd been keeping the language up well for someone who didn't get regular use out of it.

That made me very happy! At some point I'd like to go back to studying it semi-seriously, or go live in Korea again, even if for a little while. I wouldn't work in a corporate setting, but I'd love to teach or do a short course of study. I should probably take the TOPIK at some point, too.

my book haul

  • Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino: Always love a book about complicated Asian women, by Asian women! I've realized lately I love books about Girls Going Through Shit, written in a very reflective, subdued way, often with an undertone of sadness or insidiousness or nostalgia.
  • 4Town 4Real by Dirchansky and Kalfee: Disney had a one-volume manga produced about the fictional boy band from the movie Turning Red. I loved Turning Red (my siblings and I joke that the main character in that movie named Mei is just me) and 4*Town's songs, so I got it.
  • Murder Your Employer by Rupert Holmes: These days I'm trying to read fewer books by white men, but I allow myself some exceptions. The cover for this book is beautiful and the writing style seems like fun.
  • Until I Love Myself by Poppy Pesuyama: The first volume of a manga series about a non-binary Japanese mangaka. I read this the day I bought it. The style is really expressive, and it wasn't difficult at all to get immersed. Reminds me a bit of Nagata Kabi's work.