Musings + Essays

A Shift in Ballast.

By: Jen Shoop

I felt as though I was waiting for life to happen to me for much of my teens and early twenties — angling for even the slightest brush with drama, or good fortune, or fiasco. I recall moodily listening to songs whose words of heartache or enterprise did not match my own circumstances, desperately willing them to ferry something other than phantoms borne of my own imagination. Would you believe that a young and desperate fifteen-year-old Jen drove down Connecticut Avenue with her provisional license in hand, blasting (my God, this admission both dates and humiliates me) REM’s “Everybody Hurts” followed by Puff Daddy’s “I’ll Be Missing You,” aping heartbreak to which I laid no claim? I compulsively read books whose piquant narratives were unimaginably different from my own and simultaneously interpreted my own life as pathetically devoid of intrigue. I manufactured dramas, like the time I slammed my clutch on the ground, sprinting away from Mr. Magpie at the wedding festivities of some of our friends, because I felt I was owed a proposal that was at that time, unbeknownst to me, in the works.

Oh, of all the things — to have had Mr. Magpie’s heart but still insisted on seeing what I did not have? I was writhing toward the future, or at least toward an emotional spark — or better yet, to my naive and excitable sensibilities, fireworks. I was desperate for the shape of something substantial. And, of course, largely and unforgivably blind to the prodigious gifts I had.

I can’t remember when I stopped thinking that way. Was it a moment? An incident? One of the many losses or challenges or even beautiful happenings of the past many years? Or was it a gradual slackening, a loosening of my grip on the notion that life had not yet begun for me? Was it the way that we learn to cling to our own blessings as we observe and occasionally shoulder the burdens of others? Or perhaps simply the slow, inexorable maturation of self that happens as we make our way through myriad decisions and uncertainties and tears and laughters?

I don’t know. I do know that it has occurred to me at various fraught junctures of that past few years, that perhaps too much life is happening to me. Can we just slow down now? I think. I want for nothing. And I mean that in every sense of the phrase, even the selfish one: that is, I want nothing more to happen to any of my loved ones, even if my imagined moratorium forecloses on possible future boon. I want everyone freeze-framed in good health and happiness, in various permutations of ascent and success. I would of course prefer for us to all be beyond this pandemic but please, please — nothing more. I am satisfied here at this perch. I recognize this entreaty to be just as foolish as my youthful desire to fast forward to my future self, and that part of maturity is surely facing the unknown with — if not acceptance, then grit, seasoned with healthy and learned-the-hard-way circumspection.

At my wedding, my Dad read, in a voice uncharacteristically choked with emotion, with eyes unexpectedly rimmed with tears, the beautiful words of “The Exhortation Before Marriage,” a relic of pre-Vatican Catholicism I’ve lauded elsewhere:

“This union, then, is most serious, because it will bind you together for life in a relationship so close and so intimate, that it will profoundly influence your whole future.

That future, with its hopes and disappointments, its successes and its failures, its pleasures and its pains, its joys and its sorrows, is hidden from your eyes.”

At the time, I heard only the rhythm of the prayer and its solemnity of form and expression, and I reacted strongly to the import of it being read, tearfully, by my beloved father. It was moving because it was moving to my dad. Beyond that, on that hazy August evening, I felt nothing but anointed in life.

Now I sit here and read those words and realize that I did not take seriously enough the threat and joy of things hidden. And I feel moved in a different way.

I think, in short, that at some point in the last decade, there has been a shift in ballast, and it all hangs on the tenor of my apprehension of “that future, with its hopes and disappointments, its successes and its failures, its pleasures and its pains, its joys and its sorrows.” At 36, I find myself planted firmly on the other side of something — some eidolon I was busy constructing for a large swathe of my younger years — and the achievement of this view is accompanied by a renegotiation with optimism, or perhaps, because I do not consider myself a pessimist, an accommodation of reality.


And now for our daily dose of the delightful and frivolous…

+I do not need another pair of velvet slippers, I do not need another pair of velvet slippers, I do not need another pair of velvet slippers

+This $100 draped velvet top is SO major! Love the unusual dusty color, the fit, and the pricepoint!

+This ivory peplum sweater!!!

+Still not over the Gucci Deva flat, especially in this new wool plaid situation. Santa, are you out there?

+Truly, if I were going to make an investment this winter, I would splurge on a Max Mara camel wool coat. The Madame is iconic but I also love this elegant style from their diffusion label, Weekend Max Mara, for one third the price. I also really love Reiss’ Leah style — perfect length.

+Though I typically alternate between Mad Hippie’s Vitamin C serum and Vintner’s Daughter, I recently read a few raving reviews about Vichy’s formula (and then, as of the time of writing this, found it was $4 off on Amazon) so I’m giving it a try. TBH, I find that most topical Vitamin C products work great. I also loved the one I tried from Ole Henriksen — it was my first serum and I was stunned at the results. I’ve liked every Vitamin C product I’ve tried since. But I’ll report back on Vichy — if it’s as good as the rest, why overspend? We can save our money for Westman Atelier.

+Eyeing this ear warmer for cold mornings. Not sure if it’d be great for running given material, but looks so amazing for walks through the park. Speaking of running, I had to publish a caveat on my post raving about Lululemon Aligns — an employee of Lululemon commented that Aligns are not made for running and that they will pill more quickly when used as such. Just a heads up! I don’t want to lead you to an early Lulu demise by drawing you to my wanton ways — ha. I personally will continue to run in them because they just feel great, don’t slide down at the waistband, etc., and will gladly replace when needed.

+Speaking of fitness gear, one Magpie commented that she’s been wearing 90s-vibe cotton basics (oversized college tees, etc) while exercising lately and I can’t unsee it. Do I need these $31 Lacoste tennis shorts to follow suit?! (I see you, Katherine — style icon!)

+While we’re at Lacoste, note that they are running a great sale on their iconic polos for little ones (also available in a style with scalloped edges) — even in the best basic colors, like white and navy. Just stocked up for both children for next summer. I am also drawn to this neoprene gray sweatshirt for myself

+Such a fun statement mirror!

+My children would LOVE this magnetic face set. Kind of like an artsier Mr. Potato Head.

+Two chic decorative books I’m eyeing to add to my coffee table / bookshelf vignettes: this and this.

+Also in the vein of pretty decor finds: this domino set — pretty enough to keep out!

+If 2020 were a pair of pants

+Are we all getting tired of headbands? I thought I was towards the middle of summer but then I came back around. Now I have convinced myself I need this style for the holidays.

+If you’re still shopping for that person you don’t know that well but who you must give a gift to — why not a pretty ornament? They are both impersonal and personal in the best ways.

+Les best gift for guys.

+Musings on artistic integrity and David Chang.

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20 thoughts on “A Shift in Ballast.

  1. I love this post and, as usual, can relate to it quite a bit. You are routinely able to eloquently voice things I also feel, and this is one reason I love to read your writings!

    Also, can we take a moment to recognize and admire your use of the word ‘eidolon’? I’ve always appreciated this word and one rarely runs across it, especially in the blog world!!

    That velvet puff-sleeve top from COS is SO GORGEOUS … wishing I could wear it for my holiday celebrations this week!

    P.S. as you can see, I’m weeks behind on reading your posts, so you may have already addressed this … but would love your take on the Vichy serum once you’ve tested it! (And apologies if you’ve already written about it and I haven’t seen it … I’ll get there eventually!)


    1. Thank you so much, MK! I’ve wanted to use the word eidolon for ages – thanks for noticing 🙂 Hehe.

      Have been using the Vichy serum for about two weeks. They say you need to use it for nearly a month to fully realize the results, so will wait for full review! One aspect of it I don’t like compared to other Vitamin C products is that it is a true liquid and therefore trickier to apply, as I have learned to apply these products directly from dropper to skin so you don’t waste product on your hands, and it’s hard to achieve the coverage when it’s a liquid. That said, results seem encouraging. Will write a full review in January!


    2. Oooh, thank you for the preview! Will be interested to read the full review when you publish it. And: thank you for teaching me that serums should be dropped right onto your skin! I had no idea [insert mind-blown emoji here]


  2. Oh, wow.

    I turned 24 this year which feels so, so, so old compared to where I am (and where most of my friends are) in life. But this year, before it became the sh*tshow that is 2020, began with the feeling that I had finally arrived at the beginning of real adulthood and was entering a period of stasis. And boy has this been a year of stasis in the extreme: it is hard to date, hard to try new things, and impossible to go on fun trips. But, I too feel myself clinging to what is right now because if this year has taught us anything it’s that life can be so incredibly fragile for everyone all at once.

    In some ways it feels like all change that is good has been halted and the only change, big change, has been, in not so many words, bad. Or at least, both joyful and sorrowful. I know that the only thing promised in the future is moments of both joy and sorrow and so with that I’m ready for life to keep going; not to hurry up but to begin again.

    PS – every time you reference the pre-vatican II marriage rites I read them and tear up.

    1. Hi Molly – Such an interesting point about the forced stasis of this year! I hadn’t thought about how that might be playing into my thinking at the moment. You are so right, too, that “if this year has taught us anything, it’s that life can be so incredibly fragile.” Yes.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts here.


  3. Ooh Jen, I loved this post. I turned 25 this year in the midst of a series of titanic life changes in addition to all the mandatory adjustments to life in 2020. I think back to myself in January, angling for more and want to smack myself. More?!?? I am barely soldiering through and still have days where I find myself desperately clinging to any remaining familiarities (my Dad’s voice, the cup of tea I start each morning with, an old college sweatshirt) while praying please, please nothing else change. I feel freshly cognizant of how consequential, how full and varied and fleeting and firm, how *real* my life is after this year. On my birthday I wrote, “turning 25 feels like I’ve been handed a black pen after 24 years of pencil.” And I’m sure at 36 I’ll be looking back at 25 and thinking oh, if only you knew!!

    And YES you need the Lacoste shorts!! I think I need them too. I just re-watched the Friends Thanksgiving episode where they all play football in the park—remember that one?? I was already leaning hard into the 90s-sport-chic look when I saw it and now it’s spurned a full-on obsession. I can’t get Rachel’s look out of my head! The backwards hat, the sweats, the layered tees. Exactly the casual “it’s just a neighborhood jog!” look I’m going for.

    1. Yes, right?! “It’s just a neighborhood jog” — love that tagline.

      I totally understand what you mean about writing in pen vs. pencil — it feels like decisions take on more significance as you age. A career choice feels so much more permanent in your late 30s than it did in your early 20s, for example. Thanks for sharing and for your readership. I love the way you are clinging to “normalcies” in your life. That’s the way I do it, too, my friend.


  4. Wow. Arrested by your examination and annunciation of these sentiments, both beautifully and honestly. I too, played with trying on dramatic emotion via songs in cars (although I mainly stuck to aggressively-volumed Brand New tracks) and so identify with that desire for grand gesture, grand circumstance, ANYTHING to happen.

    This stopped me in my tracks: “I want everyone freeze-framed in good health and happiness, in various permutations of ascent and success.” Yes. Yes. Co-sign emphatically for those in my orbit. As we age, we begin to realize all that *can* go wrong, so as someone largely insulated from great grief or loss (both personally and for those close to me), I worry that it’s on the horizon, inevitably – that my time will come. Not in a morbid way, but in a “wow I’m so lucky and with every day that passes, truly realize it” way.

    1. Oh Erica, you’re getting to the heart of the matter — to the bit that’s “red at the bone” to borrow from Jacqueline Woodson. This fear of great grief or loss is exactly it.

      Thanks for writing in to commiserate!


  5. Agree that this was really beautifully expressed. It could be due to a page that turns after 35 – do I feel like I started to have these similar thoughts as I turned 36. Ten years later, it is even more acute. But, I’ve learned to rest in it bit more? Yes, rest.

    And thanks for the sale snack yesterday – I grabbed a Lacoste polo dress I had been eyeing forever!

    1. Hi April! So fascinating. Your and Amy’s comments make me wonder about the mid-30s and specifically 35/36 which, for me, has felt like a huge personal turning point for any number of reasons. I aspire to follow your lead and “rest more” in the next decade. Thank you so much for the compliment and for writing in! Glad you got that Lacoste dress on sale!


  6. This is such an interesting and beautifully written perspective of your teen years. It is drastically different than my own: I often felt almost nothing when I should have been feeling everything (due in part to the lack of family and parenting I experienced as a child while my parents were deep in their own personal issues). It all hit me when I went to college and I spent the better part of my 20s recovering. I currently find myself at the exact same place you are and I’m now wondering if this is just life on the other side of 35?

    1. Hi Amy – Thank you for the kind words! Maybe mid-30s really is just one of those transition points in life, the same with puberty? Like, a lot comes to a head or resolves itself around now? I’m not sure, but your comment and April’s, too, makes me wonder if there isn’t some set of forces that coalesce around your mid 30s that leads a lot of us to this similar place of “ok, ok, deep breath, let’s pause here.” I do think, after writing this piece, it occurred to me that part of this sentiment stems from the fact that I am on the other side of having babies. I don’t think we’ll have more and so that feels like a dramatic line in the middle of the sand in some ways? Maybe that’s part of it, too, for some of us? Or maybe a lot of us have gotten to a place of security or seniority in career? Or are watching our parents age? Hm. A lot happens around here that makes me want to put my foot on the brakes.

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience here. Hope you’re having a good week, friend!


    2. Ooo yes, that baby thing seems like a turning point for me too. I’m not ready to think about that one just yet — so overwhelming to know the next babies will be my grandchildren!

      1. I hear you – I also am not ready. I cannot bring myself to get rid of the bassinet. I can’t do it! So it’s inconveniently sitting in our bedroom, still. I am hoping we at some point can pass it along to a family member or have space to store it…? It’s a mental block at the moment. Haha!

  7. You like the Mad Hippie vitamin C? I’ve tried so many and many are much more expensive. Would love an alternative that’s less expensive!

    1. Yes! I have found it a bit tackier than other formulas (though some Magpies have reported they did not have this experience with their bottles — I’ve tried two, one bought at Whole Foods and one from Amazon, and both feel just the tiniest bit tacky after application to me) but the results are in my opinion very similar to those of much more expensive serums.


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