Please welcome Samantha Wilde, author of I’ll Take What She Has, as she talks about envy, women and motherhood!
Monsters, Dragons, Castles, And Other Things I Don’t (Really) Write About
by Samantha Wilde
I challenge you to think of one novel that doesn’t have a theme of envy skirting around the edges of the plot. It was Shakespeare (in Othello) who first wrote about the green-eyed monster, now a classic topical-feast for literature, inspiring, as it does, all kinds of fascinating plot-twists. It can ruin marriages, break apart families, change the course of wars, drive women insane, and cripple men emotionally. Amazing, isn’t it, that so much great fiction can come out of one little thought: I want what she has?
But then art, as they say, imitates life. Quick, think of someone you envy. I don’t mean the ripping your hair out with agony kind of envy, just the garden variety, the person you know who seems to have the greener grass. Since writing my new novel, I’ll Take What She Has, about envy and friendship, people often ask me, “How did you come up with the topic?” I joke and say “I had to do a lot of research.” Truthfully, I don’t know a woman who hasn’t experienced envy. But while everyone endures it, not everyone talks about it. Sure, the dramatic kind that motivates characters on Downton Abbey gets some press, and it’s easy enough in fiction to make a pauper envy a princess or a spinster envy a bride, but I am compelled by the ordinary experiences of women’s lives, the emotional reality of people, essentially, just like me. (I don’t live in a castle. I don’t know anyone who does. And I’m only a princess when my children dress me up as one.)
A taboo still exists about discussing certain forms of envy, baby-envy for one thing: the envy you feel when you can’t conceive and a friend does. And then there is mother-envy: the envy one mother feels about another mother who she perceives does mothering better than her. Perhaps we don’t talk as much about these “little” envies since they hit so close to home. So many mothers I know live day to day with a feeling of “not good enough” and compare themselves, almost accidentally, with one another with unhappy results. The truth of our lives reveals itself in the subtleties. I wanted to write a novel about a shift in the inner landscape of two women who—almost against their wills–find themselves dissatisfied with their (mostly) satisfying lives on account of that green-eyed monster. How do any of us reconcile ourselves to the actualities of our lives, the fact that they may not be exactly what we dreamed they would be?
A driving question for me in writing the story came out this way: what happens when you get to that time in your life that you used to refer to as “what will I be when I grow up” and you aren’t who you thought you would be? We can lose ourselves in resentment about others who succeeded where we have failed, in feelings of inferiority or a more neutral, but still dangerous, kind of complacency (I don’t deserve more, I’ll just have to live with it, I guess I wasn’t meant to have that dream). Or we can make some peace with adulthood and learn to tame our green-eyed monsters. That’s what I wanted to see my ordinary characters do, find a happy ending without getting a castle–slay the (inner) dragon of envy and win. Happily, life can imitate art! Ordinary women and mothers do (and can), every day, exchange the green-eyed monster for the green grass below their feet.
Samantha Wilde, the mother of three small children, is the author of I’ll Take What She Has and This Little Mommy Stayed Home. She’s a graduate of Smith College and Yale Divinity School, a yoga teacher and an ordained minister. She uses nap-times to write.