Essays
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Barnacles and Joy.

By: Jen Shoop

*Image via.

There is a lyric in Olivia Rodrigro’s teen anthem, “brutal,” in which she says:

Аll І dіd wаѕ trу mу bеѕt
Тhіѕ thе kіnd оf thаnkѕ І gеt
І’m rеlеntlеѕѕlу uрѕеt
Тhеу ѕау thеѕе аrе thе gоldеn уеаrѕ
Вut І wіѕh І соuld dіѕарреаr
Еgо сruѕh іѕ ѕо ѕеvеrе
Gоd, іt’ѕ brutаl оut hеrе

It captures teendom so well, the anchorless yet persistent feeling of angst alongside the tender-heartedness. Everything nettles, nothing fits. We are struggling into new bodies, or drowning in them. We are painfully self-aware. Over time, we settle into ourselves. We learn what we like, and what we don’t. We earn scars and broken hearts and speeding tickets that teach us things. We tilt our head this way and that in the mirrors of department store dressing rooms, sizing ourselves up. We learn what feels right on our bodies, and we cultivate parallel discernment in relationships, in professional settings, in spiritual matters, in what we watch and eat and do in the sparing pools of unclaimed time. We begin to notice the inexorable pull of gravity. The way our skin sags in certain places it used not to. The hunching over at the computer. The absolute terror and imminent bodily harm of trying to do a cartwheel when you are 38. John Mayer sang “gravity is working against me / and gravity wants to bring me down,” and while that song is ostensibly about depression, I think, too, it reads crisply about aging, only why, I wonder, do we fight against it? I love my husband’s salt-and-pepper hair, and the smile lines at the corners of his eyes. It’s more difficult to see the beauty of 38 years on this earth in myself, in part because I am a woman and have been feasting on a steady diet of “anti-aging” marketing matter that has told me to hide my age for years now. As if we might run from death by applying the right creams. I have work to do there, making peace with the wrinkles and sagging, but I am more at peace with my age in a philosophical sense. I am…relieved to be here, on the other side of a long string of years that asked rather than answered. I’d rather be here, scarred and often circumspect, than be 20, or 25, at the very beginning of things. One thing that has surprised me about my late 30s is that I am better able to experience joy on a daily basis, and I think it’s because I have earned the perspective to know what matters and what does not. (And, as it turns out, what matters is usually small and tender and often unfolding in the few thousand feet in which I live on a daily basis: as I wrote elsewhere, my entire universe can fit on my couch.) Mary Oliver has a spectacular poem about humpback whales that Rainn Wilson (yes, from The Office, but also a determined conservationist and Mary Oliver fan) once read through tears. I share in his farklemptness, because in it, she writes:

Off Stellwagen
off the Cape,
the humpbacks rise. Carrying their tonnage
of barnacles and joy
they leap through the water, they nuzzle back under it
like children
at play.

They sing, too.
And not for any reason
you can't imagine.

I find these couplets profoundly moving, and hopeful. The way we still leap, almost instinctually, in spite of the “tonnage / of barnacles” we carry with us.

I often find myself ruminative on the eves of my birthdays. (I turn 39 a week from today.) Have I done enough? Am I enough? What have I learned this year? And so you can see my mind at work today on this most recent rotation around the sun, during which I thought a lot about writing and where I hope to go with it. “They sing, too / and not for any reason / you can’t imagine.” I know well the reasons, the animal need to sing.

Post-Scripts.

+I’ve never seen a humpback whale before but it’s a major bucket list item for me. Even just watching videos of people seeing them makes me emotional!

+On happiness.

+Writing, fly-fishing, and the Roaring Fork.

+More lessons in Colorado.

+How to get started with writing.

Shopping Break.

+Love the print on this bathing suit.

+Currently in my cart: this Vuori crewneck. I love the fit and slightly heathered/vintage look. Also has UPF30?!

+I LOVE Alice Walk tees (the silkiest, stretchiest material and in the most flattering cuts) and they are currently 20% off when you buy two or more using code TEESPLEASE20.

+This $34 striped dress would look so fun with sandals like these.

+Just ordered my children some of this mineral sunscreen FOAM. What a clever application idea! So much easier to apply than spray or traditional cream?

+FUN and funky little $99 bag.

+This Mango crochet dress is selling fast.

+Just bought some cute paper napkins for various festivities this summer, and couldn’t resist these cheerful stripes! I keep them in this little napkin holder on our bar.

+The happiest caftan!!! Obsessed! Much less expensive and equally happy: this Zara steal.

+Cute $50 French market basket.

+OK, these are so clever: reusable water balloons. Landon and I hate all the plastic waste and overall mess of water balloons in our yard!

+Speaking of outdoors: love these tumblers. More outdoor dining gear here.

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3 thoughts on “Barnacles and Joy.

  1. Pls report back on the sunscreen foam! I’m loyal to baby bum at the moment but always curious about better options. Did you try that sunscreen applicator you linked to recently? I checked it out and decided the novelty might not be worth it, plus it would soak up and waste precious sunscreen. But maybe if my kids were still toddlers…

    1. OK, foam arrived. It has a lot of potential and I might try another brand that offers foam, but the can I received wasn’t well aerosolized so it kind of came out in a splatter? Made a mess / defeated purpose! Also, my kids didn’t like the smell. Womp womp. Would try a foam from another brand — will report back!

      xx

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