Main Characters / Supporting Actresses.

By: Jen Shoop

In 2020, I attended a commemoration of Mary Oliver’s life at the 92nd Street Y with my sister. The entire program was deeply moving, with celebrities, politicians, and writers reciting her poems and sharing a bit about how and why Oliver had changed their lives, and a recording of Mary Oliver reading “Wild Geese” that left the auditorium pin-drop-silent. But one moment that unexpectedly grabbed me by the heart was when the emcee for the evening recognized Oliver’s late-life caregiver, who stood reluctantly in the third row to a standing ovation. How beautiful to have a room full of poetry-lovers celebrating not only Oliver but the woman who had stood quietly at her bedside, and bathed and fed and clothed her, when Oliver could not. How rare to celebrate the people that stand behind the curtain.

I shared that memory on Instagram a few weeks ago and one Magpie responded:

“Main character energy is such a buzz word and is used with such positive connotation. But as a shy observer type, I think the supporting actress role really makes the movie.”

I loved this perspective, and I’ve been chewing on its since. On the one hand, as I wrote recently, I don’t want anyone to feel as if she is sitting in the nose bleeds for her own life. This is my one wild and precious life — let me live it, not visit it! (Not that the Magpie was suggesting this, exactly — but just setting some table stakes.) On the other hand, I think a true woman of substance “can give herself to others without self-diminishment or self-projection. She can listen without interjecting her own story; she can marvel without battling jealousy; she can endure unkindnesses without questioning herself. She does not need the last word, the biggest laugh, the adulation, the apology: she is full without the feedback. She stands still in her center.” Which is to say, she can also take the back seat, or the supporting role, when life requests it of her. There have absolutely been phases of my life as well as personal and professional dynamics that have called me to ride in the passenger seat. I’ve learned a lot from those situations, and they have enabled me to empower people I love and/or admire to do great things. This might mean moving where your spouse finds a job, saying no to an opportunity because it will not accommodate your children’s schedules, or showing up to support a friend’s small business time after time, or serving as the peacemaker in the family — to name a few examples. I know for a fact that I have been the beneficiary of people playing “supporting actor / actress” for me. I am thinking especially of Mr. Magpie, who carried the financial burden for our family for many years so that I could write full-time. I am thinking also of my mother, who set aside her love of being a Montessori school teacher to work inside the home caring for my four siblings and I, and of each of my siblings, for that matter, who have repeatedly, in matters small and large, said: “It’s OK, Jen, you can have it.”

Perhaps true humility is knowing when to cede the leading actress role: when to take center stage and when to stand waiting in the wings. Maybe life is finding this balance, and what feels balanced for one may not feel balanced for another.

What do you think, Magpies? Do you find yourself shifting between roles, or do you see yourself more permanently as a supporting actress?


+On losing my best friend from high school. I’ve written a lot about her over the years, most recently here. I miss her.

+Sometimes a little tenderness is the best that I can do.

+More on main character energy.

Shopping Break.

This post may contain affiliate linksIf you make a purchase through the links below, I may receive compensation.

+Cutest La Ligne-inspired sweater. Perfection for Valentine’s Day.

+I have heard such good things about these water-resistant Chelsea boots. SO chic and can be worn in rain/slush/sludge/snow! On my wishlist. Look for less here. I saw a mom at my children’s school wearing these (99% sure this exact pair) and they looked SO good!

+My friend Nan also recommended this suede spray for preserving other suede pieces that might encounter a stray splash/sludge moments.

+SWOONING over this gown.

+Fun patterned sweats (two for $21!) for our littles.

+These ponte pants look amazing.

+Selling fast, but there are still some gems to be found in Rylee and Cru’s sale section (40% off!), like this dress, this diaper set, this bubble, and this puffer.

+For my bow-loving friends: this pouch (on sale!) and these ballet flats. And speaking of LSF: their collab with State Bags is back!

+My children have spent SO much time in the snow this week. I am planning to buy them Smartwool base layers next season (on the rec of my skiing expert girlfriend, who has been taking her kids skiing for years) and making do with less expensive thermals right now — just saw these sets are $13!

+This brow gel has been garnering major hype. Still obsessed with Kosas’ AirBrow but tempted to try…

+For Christmas, one of my girlfriends gave us a big tin of chocolate-covered peanuts and they were such a great post-meal bite.

+Wish I’d had one of these waiting in the wings during our snow week. Speaking of snow week: this would have been the perfect book to download last week!

+Gorgeous marbleized papers for scrapbooking or wrapping little gifts.

+Chic woven footed bowl for fruit / decor.

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7 thoughts on “Main Characters / Supporting Actresses.

  1. I think two things can be true at once and it’s all a matter of perspective. I don’t think having supporting actress energy ever diminishes the fact that we all star in our own lives. The spotlight comes from inside us. Like, I can set the most beautiful table in the world, even though the dinner party isn’t in my honor. I think main character energy (the way it is often used) implies that you take up all the attention and air in the room, when really it only matters that you are the star of your own life.

    The other important point about the energy you bring, is that it depends on your aperture. The main character depends completely on her audience. It may be that the audience you care about is your nuclear family only. It could be that you care about a slightly bigger circle of family plus close friends. It may be that you want all eyes that ever existed on you in order to feel like the main character. I’m certainly not the latter but I do let myself take center stage for the people I care about. Part of supporting actress energy is knowing that if you don’t ever take center stage you deprive the people you love from the opportunity to lift you up and let you shine. So, we adjust the magnification on our own lives as needed.

    1. Such great insights and perspectives – thank you for sharing these! I agree that it’s a lot about perspective, and about know when to let other people have their moments.


  2. can attest – those amazon chelsea boots are GREAT. i had low expectations but have found myself reaching for them constantly. i appreciate that i don’t have to feel too precious with them, given the price point.

  3. What an interesting perspective. I’ve been noticing within myself I’ve probably been the supporting actress most of my own life and am slowly embracing main character energy. Yet I still am needing to accommodate others. I tend to see myself and others through/as literary characters…Scarlett O’Hara and Melanie Wilkes for example. The world seems to want more Melanie’s yet I’ve always been a Scarlett. I guess it isn’t until the end of the book and film Scarlett sees her own beauty and stops seeking it in men. And being raised Catholic and still semi-Catholic, there’s the tension between Mary the Virgin Mother and Mary Magdalene/Evev- the women who aren’t Virgin’s. As someone who is very liberal on lots of things I found and still find it
    restrictive/suffocating, the corset women were forced to wear. Bringing it back to fashion, as women’s dresses across history have been stifling and feminine all at once. I’m loving the bows and the hot pinks and and the dresses again. And wearing heels for the first time in 4 years again (me)! So my question Jen, how can a lady show up as Main Character and Supporting in a way that lets her be her and
    also within the roles she plays? (Drawing upon my capstone from uni, looking at the terms WIFE | WOMAN | MOTHER…

    Would love to know your thoughts!

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