Bette Davis. Tallulah Bankhead. Anne Bancroft. Elizabeth Taylor. Stockard Channing.
Well, at one time or another in our lives, we all played the same role on stage: Regina in The Little Foxes.
Regina is a part that’s been coveted by many women for decades.
Regina is what I would call a sink-your-teeth-into-it part.
Because, oh my, how she wants.
Not only does Regina want it all, but she’s mad as hell that she’s not getting it. She stamps her feet and demands to know: when will it be my turn?
To live in the in the big city?
To hob nob with the rich and famous?
To wear fancy clothes and eat at the very best restaurants?
But the thing is, in order to get what she wants Regina has to resort to some pretty despicable acts.
In case you don’t know the end of the story, Horace doesn’t make it. Regina prevails. She gets everything she wants.
Well, sort of.
If you don’t count the fact that her daughter deserts her. Her husband is dead. (In the bedroom next to hers.) She’s alone. In a big, dark house.
With a bunch of money to cuddle up to.
Sometimes, years after I’ve played a part, a particular line remains lodged in my memory. At times I can hear, as clear as a bell, Regina’s declaration: I want more. I want a bigger share.
I hear it mostly when I’m tuned in to the drumbeat of wanting going on around us all the time. It’s propelled, in part, by human nature, but also by so many other things: mass marketing, social media, upbringing, peer pressure, and social constructs about what constitutes a good life.
And hoo boy, is it confusing. Just ask my clients. (It’s a topic of frequent conversation).
Perhaps you even feel it, and you think that what you really must do is want a bigger share, like Regina. And when you’re in that place, you feel the urgency. It’s like there’s a percussion instrument deep inside of you.
Beating. Beating. Beating out a path.
But the feeling doesn’t last, so you need more. You keep chasing the next fix, because it’s easy to get addicted and want another hit.
Like Regina, it’s easy to get hooked on what seems like the good stuff.
I want more. I want a bigger share.
Or worse yet, you begin to think that there’s something wrong with you because you don’t have what they have.
Then the door is opened and in comes the self-judgment, the doubt, the questioning. Within moments you might feel the spiraling down, without even knowing exactly why.
When Regina’s refrain starts playing in my head, I know it’s both a warning and a reminder.
A warning about how easy it is to get pulled into the dark corners of desire and the promise of another fix. A reminder that this is not how I choose to live my life, in a state of perpetual wanting.
Of course, I also know we live in a time where the underlying philosophy is often about wanting big, immediate gratification, the sky’s the limit. There’s a frantic quality to it and I’m not immune. So I hold tight to the sides of my little boat and try to point it toward calmer waters.
And please understand: I don’t think wanting is bad.
When it’s coupled with true, heartfelt desire (which I’m writing about tomorrow), it’s often wondrous, positive, life-affirming. In fact, if you’re coming out of a time when your desire has been disabled, those tiny inklings of wanting are often the first sign of hope and healing.
But there is a dark side to it.
A place where it can possess you. And while Regina’s cold and heartless behavior is far from normal, I like to think that Lillian Hellman (who certainly had some dark corners of her own) painted this character with broad strokes for good reason. Because when you’re in the trance of wanting, isn’t it wise to step back and ask:
- Does this wanting fly in the face of what I know from my own history and experience?
- Does this wanting require me to act in ways that are out of sync with my heart and soul?
- Do I always need to silence the obstacles to my wanting (like Regina silenced Horace) or are they sometimes there to teach me what I don’t know yet?
- And finally, will this wanting require me to give up something very, very precious?
C’mon, admit it. Isn’t there a little bit of Regina in all of us?
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