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Last month, I went to a book release party for my friend Billy Merrell.

His new book is called “Vanilla.” Through poetry, it tells the story of a gay high school couple going through the complications of sex, love and self-identity. I’ve read the book three times since that night, again and again, making sure I’ve read every single word, making sure every word has made its mark on me.

Billy’s husband was at the party—he sat behind me, hearing selections he’d probably heard a million times, and read a million times more.

Listening to Billy read, I started to panic. Jealousy, mixed with anxiety, overcame me as Billy went on. I wanted to be the one up there, reading from my published book, my husband listening intently from the second row. I wanted it to be me so bad it hurt.

“All they have to say is ‘love’
and I swoon, a cut flower
going limp in water. Dammit.”

Jealousy has always been a problem of mine: I’ve never dated writers for that very reason. I know that I’d feel way too competitive, and that energy would build a wall between us. When one of my close friends, GF, told me that a short play he’d written was going to be published and performed, I was instinctively upset that he had something new published and I didn’t. And I don’t even write plays! Just like I don’t write poetry.

“I don’t want anyone anymore
to sing me to sleep, to guess my wishes,
to kiss my ring finger.”

It’s hard, sometimes, not to feel inadequate. I moved to New York five years ago to write—and sure, I’m writing. If I wasn’t, you wouldn’t be reading this column, not to mention a dozen odd writing-related jobs in between. But I moved here to publish books, and nobody can publish something that I haven’t written. In five years, I haven’t finished a single first draft of a manuscript. Not to mention I live in a city amongst some of the best writers out there—many of them my friends.

“How can you do that to a person,
fill them so up with love that they’re full.
And then let them go?”

As Billy finished, he smiled wider than I’ve ever seen him smile, and my eyes welled with tears. Yes, I was jealous of him, but beyond that, I was so proud of him. Now that I’ve read the book (a couple of times), I’m not just proud because he published a book; I’m proud because it’s damn good.

I do my best to turn my jealousy into motivation. I want to smile like I saw him smile that night.

“Sometimes I picture Vanilla alone, smiling, shy, waiting to be found.”

All quotes from “Vanilla” by Billy Merrell (Push Publishing)

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