The Envy Monster (by Nancy Ohlin)

Last Wednesday marked eleven years since my mom’s passing.  Two days before that was my twelfth wedding anniversary.  When my mom died, from a sudden illness, I thought she’d deliberately picked that day so my wedding anniversary would be sad and heavy forever.  Because that’s how powerful she was in my head—she could will herself to die in a manner most suited to cast a shadow on the living.  Center stage forever.

Magical thinking is a thing.  Wikipedia defines it as “the attribution of causal relationships between actions and events which seemingly cannot be justified by reason and observation.” Children engage in it often, and some adults, too (*raises hand*).  Sometimes, it’s about wish fulfillment. Other times, it’s about conjuring monsters out of psychic table scraps.

In life, my mom was a huge and complicated presence.  One of the most striking things about her was her envy.  She was so envious of other people—people with more money, better husbands, nicer houses, younger-looking skin—that she boiled with rage whenever she spoke about them.

Her envy was such that I wrote a novel about her in which she was Snow White’s stepmother, except even darker and creepier.  Like my mom, that character was an envy monster who wanted to destroy the objects of her envy.  In my most magical-thinking moments, I told myself that my mom might destroy me, too, if I became prettier or happier than her.  Even after her death, whenever something bad happened in my life, I was convinced that she was responsible—reaching out from the other side, making sure I didn’t become too content or too successful.

These days, when these crazy thoughts flit through my head, I tell myself that that’s all they are: crazy thoughts.  Writing a novel (or two or three) about her was also highly therapeutic.  But if I have to be honest, I think I’ve inherited more than a little bit of that envy thing, especially professional envy.  He got a seven-figure advance … she scored a movie deal … really, it’s so easy to start fantasizing about poisoned apples.

I won’t go there, though.  I may kill off some characters in future novels—oh, no, that super-famous author plummeted to his death!—but I promise to keep my envy monster in check.

(Cue evil laughter here.)


  1. That's fascinating about "magical thinking."

    1. I know! The subject is also a great gateway into fledgling young characters' minds and voices. There are tons of books and articles about it, including this one:


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