Schadenfreude and Other Tongue-Twisters

The term schadenfreude literally means damage-joy. When one enjoys the news that a rival is encountering trouble, one is experiencing a sense of schadenfreude. Most of us have experienced this feeling at some point in our lives, but most of us also have been jerks at some point in our lives, and the two sometimes come at the same time.

There is no real-world term for its opposite, so some people have begun to use a made-up word, freudenschade, to describe the distress one feels when a friend or rival is doing well or has had a success.

And then there are some people, I am thinking of the late Gore Vidal here, who appear to take pleasure at others’ distress at one’s success. Vidal confessed to feelings of schadenfreude over other writers’ freudenschade. (That is as hard to type as it is to say.)

One friend recently told me about feeling jealous when she heard that I was publishing this blog right here. “Why does he get to do that?” the friend said that she was asking others about my writing and self-publishing. Now, this friend also has had the time to spend on a similar project if she wants to, but was not. Is not. “Jealous” was the word that was used. Of what?

This project does not deserve anyone’s schadenfreude, and I do not have any feelings freudenschade over it.

But I get it, I do. Most of the time, for most if not all of my friends, success has come as a response to hard work. I have friends who are enjoying careers in the performing arts, and once upon a time, whenever I saw the face of a friend or acquaintance I knew on the television or movie screen, I was guaranteed a difficult week of moping. Correction: Anyone in my vicinity was guaranteed a difficult week of me moping. I did not spend a happy week or so of feeling and expressing pride in my friends’ achievements. As I wrote, sometimes I have been a jerk.

I was jealous of my friends’ success/hard work and saw their success as an indictment of my lack of success, which was really a lack of hard work.

I personally know only one lottery winner, and she and her partner do not seem to live like the win was a hard-fought victory over desperate enemies; they live a life in which the win was a happy event that they could put to good use: it had an effect on the quality of their life and not the type of people they are.

For a brief time, I worked as a publicist at an independent bookseller. One year, we concentrated on hosting author readings, which is a difficult machine to construct from scratch if the bookseller has no history hosting such events. (When one sets up a website, attracting views and visits by anyone not sharing one’s last name is a similar challenge. The online world has created many more publicists than there were two decades ago. Almost everyone reading this right now could put “Social Media Consultant” on your résumé, if you have not already. I have.) After explaining to publisher rep after publisher rep what we could do and predicting book sales that we both could enjoy and having publisher rep after publisher rep decline, not reply, return mail unanswered, go out of business, we had a few say yes.

One successful event led to another. And then I was given an event to oversee all the way from glimmer in the eye to reality: the author of “A Beautiful Mind” was willing to give a reading and have an autograph session at our store.

Although the author, Sylvia Nasar, was a New York Times journalist, this was her first book. The movie was not yet even a rumor; it had not been announced and neither the director nor the cast had been publicly named. The name of its subject, John Nash, was, as all of you know, not a household one, and his story was not popularly known.

I worked on attracting attention but I have no idea if I worked hard enough or not hard enough. The publisher was not super-supportive: the event was scheduled for us on a Monday night, which is not a great night for an event to be held in a small town 90 miles from New York City with a not-yet-famous author and a just-published book.

Two people turned up: a mother and her daughter. The chairs that I had us rent and arranged around the store remained just as cold as when I unfolded them. The two customers, the author, and I stood around the cash register counter. It was a lovely four-way conversation and I was mortified. Is it possible for “lovely” and “mortified” to coexist? Yes. Yes, it is.

The book, through no help from me, became a bestseller, of course, and the movie deal that Ms. Nasar informed us about that very night did indeed become a movie, and that movie won every award movies can win. Whatever the opposite of success is—oh, that’s right, “failure”—I fear that in the history of this great book it is possible that that night remains for Ms. Nasar her left-hand gesture when she gesticulates the vast range of experiences publishing that book brought her. Winning awards and attending the Oscars might be her simultaneous right-hand gesture.

I could not watch that movie for years after. I could not watch the Oscars that year. I suffered for years from something that I guess could be called freudenschadenschadenfreude. Or vice-versa. Life is much simpler for me now.

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  1. livingonchi · April 7, 2015

    How sad you couldn’t get a better crowd. I remember going into a book store and there was this guy sitting all by himself with a pile of books on the table in front of him, looking at people coming and going. He turned out to be the actor who played the older version of Richard Dreyfus’ son in Mr. Holland’s Opus. Not as sad as your story, but I did feel a little badly for him that no one recognized or cared about him sitting there willing to autograph copies of his book.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. poetdabbler · April 7, 2015

    Thanks for inspiring my response on my blog today and for dropping “freudenschade” into my orbit.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious | the poetry dabbler
  4. lifelessons · April 7, 2015

    Randy Newman gave a concert in Santa Cruz Ca–huge auditorium with barely anyone there. He bitched for awhile. I wanted to shout up, “Well, we all came because we think you are great–we aren’t the ones to be disappointed in!’ He went on to give a great concert. There’s no accounting for taste…I guess he just wasn’t in style with the S.C. crowd.I still love the guy. You just had foreknowledge and foretaste, Mark. Don’t be embarrassed for being ahead of your time.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. loisajay · April 9, 2015

    I saved this post to read because I knew it would be a good one. It was. “I was jealous of my friends’ success/hard work and saw their success as an indictment of my lack of success, which was really a lack of hard work.” This is exactly why your friend was jealous about you and your blog. Oh, boy. That makes so not sense at all. I never knew this F-word, but I love it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. rogershipp · April 11, 2015

    Schadenfreude… what a great word. I hate it when that feeling is so real.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Fear of Success | The Gad About Town

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