Amelia Morris doesn't care about your stroller
The author of Wildcat on the "meat of motherhood," female friendships, and trying to mother when you feel unmothered
Author Amelia Morris and I first became acquainted via Twitter when Amelia send me a message about her novel, Wildcat, saying she thought I might “dig it.” I quickly looked Wildcat up, and saw that its themes include (but are not limited to): female friendships, social performance, influencer culture, and new motherhood. Check, check, check, check in terms of being a perfect fit for yours truly. And then I read this passage about Wildcat from a Kirkus review:
Regina is no doubt a snob and a phony, but Leanne, too, has traits that add to the negative potential of their relationship—envy, ambition, and a dangerously complete mastery of social media. When she discovers that on top of everything else Regina is an anti-vaxxer, she declares war via Instagram, incidentally offering the reader a complete guide to trolling.
“A dangerously complete mastery of social media.” Anti-vaxxers! Declaring “war via Instagram!” I mean.
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I DMed Amelia back after reading this review, saying, “no clue how this slipped past my radar reading about it now and SO UP MY ALLEY.” Because obviously.
Wildcat is a perfect blend of searing social commentary, of-the-moment humor, and thoughtful, earnest explorations into the institution of ideal motherhood, and how we search for mothers everywhere; online, in our friendships, and within ourselves.
Here’s my interview with Amelia - I hope you enjoy!
I wanna talk about Instagram lurking. Your protagonist, Leanne, does her fair share of Instagram lurking. Have you ever found yourself lurking on a momfluencer’s account (versus actively commenting or engaging with their content)?
Yes, definitely. I think my biggest moment of that spurred the whole anti-vax plotline of Wildcat. I was doing this podcast, Mom Rage, for a couple years, and we were constantly looking for guests and like, trying to get out of our own bubble. And so I had found someone that seemed interesting, and we reached out to interview her. And she was kinda evasive. And so I did a little bit more of a deep dive on her Instagram, and saw a bunch of anti-vax stuff, and I was like, oh fuck. Just the fact that we almost unwittingly gave a platform to this woman espousing problematic, untrue beliefs. I was really surprised because she had a pretty big following and she had been profiled in a few big places.
She was sort of preaching to eat all whole foods, and like, as long as you’re healthy, you don’t need vaccines. So that was my big jumping off point for making the character of Regina an anti-vaxxer.
I’m always startled by how insidiously anti-vaxxers can creep into mainstream conversations, you know? Especially when you think of the aesthetics and assumed morality of motherhood. I think a lot about how the moral valence of motherhood can be a shield for really problematic belief systems.
Totally. And especially being in Los Angeles, you often see the Goop aesthetic sometimes covering up anti-vax stuff. It’s interesting.
Yeah, the intersection between woo-woo white lady wellness and anti-vax rhetoric is endlessly fascinating (and troubling!)
And I mean, growing up, both of my parents were doctors [Wildcat’s protagonist also has a doctor mother], but I totally love a lot of stuff that wellness culture is throwing at me, so I felt really well-positioned to comment on this specific world.
This passage killed me. It’s when Regina (the protagonists’s best friend/frenemy) is hosting a party that’s being profiled by a cool hipster magazine.
“Leanne could already see the feature coming together: ‘West Meets South (America).’ There would be photos of all of these pretty women in their off-white linen shirts and balloonish pants eating ribs, gnawing on bones. Leanne hated that she still wanted to be one of them. It reminded her of being thirteen and flipping through Teen magazine’s Great Model Search, of warning to badly be one of the teens in the running to be the next Great Model. When would she stop wanting things were so clearly not meant for her?”
The balloonish pants! You just nailed the aesthetic. Can you riff on the aesthetic power of momfluencer culture?
I mean I have balloonish pants. I have a lot of jumpsuits. And even my partner in Mom Rage used to kind of rib on me for my outfits, you know? She’d be like, You’re doing it. You’re doing the thing. I'm gonna psychoanalyze for a minute, but I think that being a human is vulnerable and none of us want to be vulnerable. And being a mom is vulnerable. And I feel like, if you dress a certain way, you look a certain way, you kind of get a pass on certain stuff, you know?
So I'm a deeply vulnerable person, and I want to get into the meat of motherhood with like, every mom I meet. I don’t want to talk about which pack n’ play you’re using, or which stroller you’re using. I want to talk about the deep stuff. But I think at the same time, I understand how culture works. And I do feel that to be taken seriously to some extent, it's just easier to blend in.
I completely relate. I too have balloonish pants! So I love balloonish pants, but I also love making fun of the balloonish pant aesthetic. I think there’s also something about pursuing a personal aesthetic as a mom that feels almost defiant. Motherhood can so easily suck away your individuality, so aesthetics feel like a way to deliberately hold onto one’s identity.
It’s like, I’m already so vulnerable. I can’t handle being any more vulnerable! I’m doing this thing (motherhood) and it’s so hard. So in some ways, aesthetics are a way to just have this one thing that doesn’t feel vulnerable. Because I’m already an open wound.
Here’s a related anecdote. So we sent our kids to our local public school, a school a lot of parents overlooked. And I’ve had these weird conversations as my kids left preschool, where parents would ask, like, Where are you going for school? And when I would tell them, they’d give me this sort of look, like, Oh, and it’s like, I can look exactly like you but make totally different choices, you know?
Yes! Ok, switching gears because we need to discuss the glorious friendship dynamics in Wildcat. I never tire of consuming media about female friendships!
Here’s a quote about Leanne (the protagonist) and Regina (problematic best friend).
“Leanne hadn’t foreseen Regina’s stickiness—the way Regina always had an event that she presumed Leanne would attend. Neither had she foreseen her own desire to adhere. She didn’t yet understand the ways she was willing to make herself small so that a female figure might love her. And so the friendship had survived through the years. Then, eventually, it grew.”
I mean, holy shit. I relate so hard to this and I just would love you to talk about this “desire to adhere” specifically as it relates to female friendship, and when you first started thinking about that phenomenon.
So my mom and I had a really bad relationship. And it took me a long time to realize how that relationship has affected my life. Wait, have you seen Couples Therapy?
I haven't seen yet but everybody says I should!
It's so good. And I keep quoting her. She's talking to this couple, and the woman has been through some traumatic stuff, and she hasn’t yet realized the way her trauma is “painting” her current relationship. So the therapist is like, This circumstance we’re discussing currently is a neutral thing and you're painting it with all of your trauma. I keep thinking about that. And you know, Leanne and I have a lot in common, and I had fun with some of the autofiction elements of the book. I let her kinda go off in a way that I don’t in my real life, you know? So there’s that. And Leanne is very unmothered and she’s trying to mother, and I think that’s very hard to do - to mother someone when you’re not being mothered. There’s a line I can’t remember exactly from Women Who Run From the Wolves that references this.
I know the line you're talking about! I interviewed Chloe Caldwell and she referenced it too.
Oh, nice. So Leanne wants that female closeness; she wants to feel mothered. She wants the type of relationship where you can have a tantrum and still be loved. And Leanne has hidden all of her rough edges from Regina because Regina is the alpha, so when Leanne finally reveals her edges, Regina is just like, Whoaaaa this is not part of our dynamic.
I mean, I'm obviously projecting my own shit, but I do think this desire to adhere can start really early for young girls, as a way to define yourself against someone else. And I think it’s just such a vulnerable experience, to try so desperately to be seen and loved for yourself. And when you “unstick” from a person you’ve attempted that intimacy with, the pain is just so intense.
The Atlantic published an article about this – it’s so good. It’s about a fallout between female friends, and these fallouts are so weird, because there’s no public Instagram post about it, right? Like, there’s no, We broke up but I wish her the best, etc. These heartbreaks instead live in a weird space where no one really talks about it and if you do talk about it, you might sound petty. I mean, I don’t recommend this, but I’ve read some of the comments about Wildcat on Goodreads, and some of the criticisms are just like, This is petty. This is a petty story.
That is WILD [I say this because “petty” is the last word I would use to describe Wildcat!]
And of course, I'm defensive. But I’m just like, It’s more than that. You’re not seeing it, you know?
Oh my gosh, I firmly believe that platonic romance between women is some of the most dramatic shit in the universe. Like, it's the opposite of petty.
Yeah, it’s a really unexamined part of our culture.
We also don’t have the framework to prioritize friendship in the way that we're supposed to prioritize other relationships in our lives, you know? Like we have framework for how to prioritize our romantic partners, our parents, our kids, but not our friends. And I think that’s bad!
Yeah, totally. So I made an appearance at a book club thing – they were reading Wildcat – and one of the women was just not a fan, and was like, Your protagonist’s relationship with her husband was barely there.
And I was like, I intentionally wanted this to be a woman's world. I wanted it to be all about women.
This reminds me of getting feedback about a book project of mine that didn’t sell – it was an essay collection about feminist motherhood. And one woman was like, I feel like you’re missing the beautiful, happy, joyous bits of motherhood. And it’s just like, I'm not particularly interested in writing about that.
I mean, as a culture, we’re already focused on those sides of motherhood, right? But there’s a shadow side of motherhood we’re not as culturally interested in.
I want to talk about the character of Maxine now. I was getting such strong Sheila Heti vibes! I loved it. I so appreciate how the friendship between Leanne and Maxine really represented two women nourishing each other, and not at all in the “desire to adhere” type of way. You know?
Right – Leanne has learned some boundaries maybe. Had some therapy. Ha.
Totally. What are your thoughts about that type of friendship - one that’s really soulful but doesn’t subsume you?
This is the beauty of fiction. I really wanted to use fiction to give myself everything I wish I’d had when I was a young mom. And with fiction, the writer is in all the characters, right? So with Maxine, I just sort of poured all the wisdom I’ve gained since becoming a young mom into her, and then Leanne gets to actively learn from Maxine that there are better options and different ways of being.
I adored their epistolary relationship – one of Leanne’s letters about pursuing motherhood (or not) really resonated with me.
“I’ve realized how much my decision to have a baby wasn’t a decision at all. I can’t ever remember giving the alternate option (not having one) any consideration, which is kind of crazy. I might just be writing you at a low point, but it’s been making me think. I mean, in certain socioeconomic brackets, babies can almost be like a well-designed house or a carefully put together outfit—they can be just another way of expressing ourselves, another way of asserting our point of view. I don’t know.”
Can you talk about that passage? Especially now, given the prevalence and power of momfluencer culture, motherhood is often seen as an identity one can shop for, an identity that will automatically fulfill you by mean of the right accessories.
Totally. In many ways, I think it’s a case of living an examined life or living an unexamined life. It’s really hard and painful sometimes to live an examined life, but I feel so fortunate that I’ve done so much self-work around this (and therapy). Because, like, I want my kids to be independent. I want them to choose their own adventures. I don’t want any specific identities placed upon them, right?
And in our culture, the mom is supposed in charge of everything. If your kids fail at something, you’re presumed to be a failed mother, right? It takes a lot of work to do the best you can while also recognizing that your kids don’t belong to you. My kids are mine but they don’t belong to me.
I went into motherhood completely blind and never even considered NOT having kids. And obviously I’ve done a lot of reflecting about that since becoming a mother, but I think people who are socialized as female still face this presumed eventual identity, and it’s not great.
I was the exact same way. From a very early age, I knew I wanted a family. And my own family was so shitty, that I also wanted my own family so I could do it better, you know? And the good news is that it is so much butter, but I’ve also had to go through some shit. Just reckoning with the fact that I never even thought about not being a mom. That’s something I spend a lot of time with. Because you’re sold this idea that motherhood is going to be cozy, cozy, cozy, and so lovely. And it is, but also, families hate each other. Like, that's where all the pain comes from.
100%. I think there’s also an allure to the notion of going all in on maternal identity. Like in ceding your autonomy to the role of Mother. I underlined this passage.
“If she [Leanne] took care of Hank full-time—however—this self flagellation evaporated. Her purpose, her function, and her worth became clear‚ no longer tangled up in numbers or worse: art. Maybe it was bigger than that, though. Maybe it was because at home, she was a mother. It meant something. In the real world, it didn’t.”
Yessss. So, this was definitely one of the impetuses of the book. When I had my first kid, all the hormones were working. I was like, This is the best thing that's ever happened to me. I was just, like, the happiest I'd ever been. And then you're also expected to like, do all the other stuff in your life; make money, etc. Do all these things while grappling with this transcendent experience which apparently no one else cares about. I felt like the most powerful woman alive! And I just couldn’t believe that I wasn’t like, being carted around town in a chariot, you know? It’s so messed up!
Totally! I definitely went through some existential career/identity crisis shit after my first kid was born. And it was really tempting to just commit to motherhood-as-identity fully, like, to go all in. And I think (for me) this was tempting because it also meant I wouldn’t risk failing at something else.
For me, I’ve always needed writing. It’s how I cope, and I’ve always needed to make space for writing simply because I don’t know how else to thrive.
Another section I loved is when Maxine is talking about writing a character in her new book and she says, “sometimes I think there's a way to be a mother without actually becoming pregnant and sometimes it feels completely inaccessible.” And Leanne says, “sometimes it feels inaccessible to me too. Not being Hank’s mother, but this universal ‘mother,’ I can't be that.” I think I was, at a point in my life, trying to be that universal mother. And that’s a doomed endeavor.
Yes, yes. But the expectation is always there. Like, at every moment, pursuing that archetypal motherhood is always presented as kind of an option.
Right? In a way that’s different for fathers.
Oh, for sure. For sure. That's yet another thing that I've learned along the way! Ha. I have a friend – her husband does all the pick-ups and drop-offs at school, and like, he gets endlessly applauded for it. It’s a huge attaboy every time.
Right! The idealization of the universal mother is why momfluencers are a thing and dadfluencers are not a thing. At least, not in the same way. Here’s a quote from Wildcat that speaks to this gendered difference.
“She knew that fatherhood had changed James too. The difference was that fatherhood, the institution, expected him to work. Outside the house, Motherhood expected her to love, endlessly, endlessly. What was scary was that Leanne had expected this too. She’d bought in, without even realizing it, What other psychic transactions had she unknowingly made?”
And again, it comes down to living an examined versus an unexamined life. And I feel bad (and I don’t feel bad) for people who aren’t looking more closely at culture, and all the things happening around and to us. Because on the one hand, you know, sometimes I’m like, Can I just be half a person and fall asleep without thinking about this shit right now? But on the other hand, I want my eyes to be wide open.
I loved that you wrote into everyone’s deepest and darkest fantasy and let one of your characters break into another character’s Instagram.
Yeah, it was fun. Like, let me just vicariously, through my character, make some bad choices. And using social media as a deliberate plot point also allowed me to show who my characters were in fun ways.
This is my last thing and totally unrelated to the book, but I want to talk about it. I hate Instagram on most days, but I LOVE watching your gymnastics videos. I can’t even explain why, but watching you do gymnastics really fills me up in a unique way.
I wrote about it a little bit for Romper, but I did gymnastics as a kid, and then once I became a mother, I really found myself craving a way to exert myself and feel strong. So I went to an adult class, and it was instantaneous. Like, I immediately became totally obsessed. It’s an amazing outlet.
Thank you Amelia!
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