Puberty was hard enough without strangers telling me that I look like Napoleon Dynamite.
And I’m not talking innocent jokes, like, “Haha, Jacob, one minuscule feature of your entire outward appearance resembles Napoleon Dynamite, but you’re still really cute!”
No – I’m talking more like, “Haha, you are Napoleon Dynamite,” followed by a wide grin, as if it was some kind of compliment.
Just a few weeks ago, I met a guy – probably mid-30s – named Leif. Leif asked if I was Napoleon Dynamite for Halloween. I could have asked Leif if he was a tree for Halloween, but that would be lame – just like his lame question.
I was fine for a while. But with the start of middle school – jealousy ensued.
Suddenly, I became obsessive of my peers’ not-red, curly hair. It was like Adam and Eve recognizing the shame in their nudity after eating the forbidden fruit, except I didn’t get to see anyone naked.
And like all bouts of jealousy, I did everything I could to fix it.
I asked for a hair straightener for Christmas.
I wore hats.
I even went to an expensive barber: “I’d like it cut very short, please.”
“Sure,” he responded. “But you’re going to look like a q-tip.”
It was that moment that I learned that jealousy is all about taming your q-tip.
Everyone has a q-tip, sometimes several q-tips.
Q-tips are the uncharacteristic thoughts or actions triggered by jealousy. They can take several forms – gossip, self-loathing, $70 haircuts.
We use them each morning, trying to swab out all the perceived filth. Then we’re right back at it the next day.
We’re inherently jealous, which, before the q-tips, I think is a good thing.
We recognize the talents and qualities in peers that we hope to emulate: it could be something as simple as being more patient, or something as grandiose as finding love.
But then the q-tips appear – the stuff that turns the admiration into disdain – and that’s when jealousy goes haywire.
Finding Your Q-Tip
Think about the last time you were jealous.
What caused it? A friend’s promotion? A selfie on Instagram? Seeing one of the world’s 3,477,829,638 males with not-red, curly hair?
At first, you may have thought to yourself, “Dang, that’s really dope. I’d love to accomplish something like that.” The good kind of jealousy.
But rewind to that moment. What thoughts or actions followed?
Maybe you wished for the friend’s success to be short-lived. Maybe you maliciously unfollowed the selfie-taker. Maybe you straightened your hair (but just once, Dad).
Those are your q-tips.
Find them, see how they feel in your ear.
Because one day, when things go haywire, you’ll need to find the strength to tame them.
Taming Your Q-Tip
When I find my q-tips, I always retreat to Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, where she describes taming her own q-tip: Radio Station KFKD.
“KFKD will play in your head twenty-four hours a day, nonstop, in stereo. Out of the right speaker in your inner ear will come the endless stream of self-aggrandizement, the recitation of one’s specialness… Out of the left speaker will be the rap songs of self-loathing, the lists of all the things [you] don’t do well…”
Anne later explains that while there’s numerous ways to tame her q-tip – extensive therapy, Prozac, lobotomy – only one solution works:
Noticing the station is on, then changing the dial.
You’re going to get jealous.
You’re a human who wants to get better – it’s inevitable.
But as the jealousy sets, and you recognize the q-tips appearing, remember:
All you have to do is turn the dial.