Book Club

Real Pipe Dreams.

By: Jen Shoop

I realize the title of this post is oxymoronic, but then again, I’m reading Chuck Klosterman’s But What If We’re Wrong?, and I’m no longer quite sure what’s north and what’s south, or if those cardinal directions even exist. (Cognitive dissonance, wut wut.)  What I mean to say is that I reflected on a recurring dream I had as a child a few weeks ago under the title “Pipe Dreams,” and have come to regret that editorial decision, as I’ve since found myself reflecting on some of the true, secret, potentially embarrassing aspirations I hold in the quiet of my heart: the real pipe dreams I take to as I lay myself down to sleep.  And, despite my tepid reception ofJill Santopolo’s The Light We Lost (see: turbothot — also, do we think she knowingly opted for a title so similar to All the Light We Cannot See?  For the life of me, I can never use the right title for either one of these books now that both have been published.), I will admit that the characters’ frequent referencing of their own bucket lists led me to reflect a little more intentionally on the ambitions not-yet-ticked on my own.

Though marrying a man I love and becoming a mother have been at the very top of this list for my entire life, I will set those aside for the moment to share another item on my bucket list that I can barely work up the courage to admit to myself:

I would like to write fiction.

When I was very young, my grandfather–Granddad, as my cousins and I called him–took me on a series of lunch dates at Chevy Chase Club.  Granddad had self-published several non-fiction books, was a voracious reader, and was himself the great-grand-son of the founder of The Baltimore Sun.  In short, he was very much a man of letters and a trusted source for all things literary.  I remember his gray Cadillac (license plate: PATSY, the loving nickname he had for my grandmother) turning up our driveway in Northwest D.C., and I would be waiting by one of the windows on the north-facing side of our home, wearing “a party dress” and “party socks” (remember those?) while my mother briskly brushed my hair into “a half-up, half-down” with a coordinating bow.

Granddad was elegant.  He wasn’t the type to idle in the car, waiting for me to run out to him.  He would put the car in park and emerge in an impeccably cut gray suit, just to fetch me.  He would hold the door open for me and wait until my seatbelt was buckled to close the door–gently–behind me.  Such attentions tickled me, even as a child: I was used to being “just one of the kids” in a large family, accustomed to running upstairs or out to the car after being beckoned with a sharp: “Jennifer!!!!”

I wish I could remember more of the substance of our subsequent dates at the Club, but everything but the following seems lost to a childhood memory fog:

  1.  I wasn’t permitted to eat Caesar salad (which seems an odd thing for a child to request anyhow, come to think of it), as “your grandmother would never let me hear the end of it; it has raw egg in it.”  I understood, implicitly, what he meant, though I had no clue why a raw egg was verboten: you did not want to be on my grandmother’s bad side.  (Years later, when I was in high school and weighed about 85 lbs and subsisted off of Diet Coke, she looked up at me sternly while we both washed our hands in the restroom of Columbia Country Club and said: “You are too.thin.  The next time I see you, you’re ordering a proper meal.”  Her icy blue stare cut right to the quick.  The next time around, I ordered a full roast chicken and nervously ate the majority of it in show.)
  2.  We were never in a rush.  Lunch could languor over the course of two hours–an eternity, for a six-year-old!–for all he cared.  And I was at the very center of his attention.  This, despite the fact that I was one of his 18 grandchildren.
  3.  I was allowed to order dessert, and always requested a peppermint ice cream, served up in a coupe with a piroutte cookie adorning the top.
  4. He knew everyone by name–the servers, the hostess, the caddies on the golf course, everyone!–and treated them all with humble kindness.  Years later, when he passed away, the attendant from his nearby gas station attended the funeral.  He was that kind of a man.
  5. Most relevant to the topic at hand: noting that I was an avid reader and budding writer, between bites of tunafish salad, he taught me about various and sundry literary conventions, including, most memorably, iambic pentameter.  He tapped each of his ten fingers while quoting a Shakespearean sonnet, helping me understand how to measure poetic meter: “For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings // That then I scorn to change my state with kings.”  BaBOOM, baBOOM, baBOOM…

In large part owing to these kindnesses, I began to fashion myself as a writer.  I wrote stories and poems on construction paper and stapled them together into booklets, gifting them to my parents and grandparents on various holidays.  The poems were typically tributaries, extolling the virtues of a loved one in banal, forced rhyme, while the short stories were always mysteries I’d cribbed from a book I’d read recently.  I recall writing a short story curiously similar to one of the Bobbsey Twin books and insisting I’d divined it on my own.  Consuming the Nancy Drew series in large gulps, I dreamed of having my own Ned Nickerson and often included a Ned-like romantic hero in my fictional forays.  My best friend Ellie and I tapped out a mystery novella on an ancient typewriter we dug out from the basement.  We modeled it on Harriet the Spy after spending several fruitless afternoons stationed in a row of boxwoods that overlooked Linnean Avenue, composition books in hand, taking notes on the passersby as we sought the latest juicy crime in my neighborhood.  Over dinner one evening towards the end of my short-lived career in espionage, I insisted I had seen multiple strange cars drive into and out of the embassy across the street from us, and that some sort of international subterfuge was at hand.  My parents exchanged looks.  “Why don’t you write about it?” my mother offered, generously.

Shortly thereafter, she started enrolling me in writing camps and enthusiastically nurtured me in my literary ambitions, though I do recall her lukewarm reaction to an overly-long, overly-flowery story that bore an unmistakeable resemblance to Sense and Sensibility, which had just come out as a major motion picture.  I cringingly remember a particularly lavish section including the sure-to-fetch-me-a-Pulitzer line: “you are the frosting to my cake.”

Around the age of 12 or 13, my extremely well-read uncle caught wind of my burgeoning interests in the art of writing and encouraged me in my pursuits via hand-written letter.  “Keep writing!” he wrote, enclosing a copy of J.D. Salinger’s “For Esme, with Love and Squalor.”  I remember straining to understand what the story could mean, willing myself to come up with just one passably interesting observation to offer in my response.  But what it elicited most of all was a desire to write something less in the realm of critical thought and more in the realm of my own fiction.

Looking back across this pastiche of memories, I’m reminded of two things: first, my incredible good fortune in having so many family members charitably serve as artistic patrons to a very green writer, and second, the unmistakable call-and-response pattern of my early reading and writing activity.  I’d read something and parrot it in my own hand.  I’d pluck characters right out of books, fully-formed, appropriated as my own.  I’d lift plot lines, names, titles.  This plagiaristic impulse persisted for years and years–even into my early 20s, when I would, on very rare occasion, sit down to a blank computer screen and write and write and write until it was 3 a.m. and I felt thoroughly depleted.  I have started and stalled on dozens of projects, collecting fictional flotsam and jetsam in Word documents I rarely re-open and then lose when my computer inevitably crashes or I upgrade to a new device and lazily slink away from the responsibility of transferring files.

When I started this blog seven years ago, I felt I’d finally found my medium: an open space for beautiful things, curated and annotated by yours truly, without the onus of narrative intactness or the fear of criticism, as blogging holds itself to literary criteria wholly distinct from those that attend fiction.

Slowly, though, over the past year, I have found myself returning to a longer form of writing on this blog — a medium that seems to fall between the genres of blogging and memoir, and that nestles up next to fiction, curling up cat-like into its traditions.  In many ways, after all, memoir is a special type of fiction: we cast ourselves as we wish ourselves cast in a way we never could in real life, Instagram and filters be damned.

So, here we are.  Here I am; there you are.  Curiously finding myself in conversation with you in a space not so very different from the landscape of a pipe dream I’ve nurtured for the better part of three decades.  Thank you for this gift, for listening in, for giving me the latitude to explore whatever this blog has become and whatever it will become.  I continue to ponder the possibility of dipping a toe into the more formal world of fiction at some point — I have the arcs of a few different narratives floating around in my mind and so many details I’ve collected and polished from my own life that will need to make their way into whatever I write, if I write it, and I wonder from time to time whether I couldn’t just write little excerpts here and there to see how they sit — but for today, for the right-here-and-now, I am lucky to have the space to share the foregoing and sit it right up against the following, flightier fare: today’s 10 picks.

Pick No. 1: The Bow-Shouldered Top.

H+M continues with the hitz: this bow-shouldered poplin blouse is sure to sell out ($40) in the way this uber-popular and uber-chic top of theirs did.  (BTW, I did end up wearing the dress version of that top ($99) to minimagpie’s Baptism, and it was perfection.)

The Fashion Magpie Bow Cold Shouldered Poplin Blouse


Pick No. 2: The Bow Clutch.

Speaking of bows, have you heard of Leslie Dasch’s cocktail clutches ($198)?!?  How darling??  Tons of mix-and-match possibilities.  The perfect little piece to take on vacation.

The Fashion Magpie Bow Clutch Gold The Fashion Magpie Bow Clutch

The Fashion Magpie Bow Clutch Pink

Pick No. 3: The Lucite Sunglasses.

I know, I know — JUST in time for the end of summer, I’m coming up with all these must-have shades.  First it was the Le Specs Air Hearts.  Now it’s these lucite shades from Westward Leaning, on sale for $109 at Club Monaco, which I believe are a variation on the ones Olivia Palermo is wearing in the picture at the top of this post.  Incidentally, Club Monaco has a bunch of great items on sale.  For some reason I rarely shop at Club Monaco — I feel as though the prices are typically a little steep for the quality? — but love this pale lavender lace dress (very Self-Portrait-y, on sale for $199) and dig this sweater dress for fall (on sale for $169).  The button detailing is epic.  It looks much more expensive than it is!

The Fashion Magpie Westward Leaning Sunglasses

Pick No. 4: The Ruffle Wrap Dress.

I mentioned this in the midst of a bunch of things I love right now, but I have been on the hunt for a wrap ruffle dress for the past few weeks — something timeless but chic about it, especially when paired, unexpectedly, with a pair of Superga sneaks, and preferably in navy, as I noted here.  I need to add this pretty toile print style ($90!) to the list of contenders.  #Swoon.

The Fashion Magpie Blue Toile Wrap Dress

Pick No. 5: The Willa Heart Foo Dog Pillow.

How fab are these foo dog pillows ($113+) from artist Willa Heart?!  Dying.  They’re HAND-PAINTED on linen, and you can add custom trims and tassels.  So fun.  She also has some adorable prints, like these happy greyhounds (Bernice + Clarice — HAHA, love their names), which would be incredible mixed into a gallery wall!

The Fashion Magpie Willa Heart Blue Pillow

The Fashion Magpie Willa Heart Blue Pillow 2

The Fashion Magpie Willa Heart Blue Pillow 3

Pick No. 6: The Modern Desk Lamp.

What a CHIC desk lamp — and only $39!  In love.

The Fashion Magpie Target Audrey Desk Lamp

Pick No. 7: The Loop Earrings.

Love these everyday rose gold earrings ($89).  Their loopy shape adds a little something special.

The Fashion Magpie Bronzallure Earrings

Pick No. 8: The Tweed Mules.

These tweedy mules look Chanel-esque, but ring in at $140.  I can just see myself in them with some skinny jeans and an oversized white top for fall…basically with any of the classics.

The Fashion Magpie Sam Edelman Ansley 1 The Fashion Magpie Sam Edelman Ansley 2

Pick No. 9: The Scarf-Tie Blouse.

Love love love this scarf-tie blouse ($69).

The Fashion Magpie Scarf Print Blouse The Fashion Magpie Scarf Tie Blouse

Pick No. 9: The Bead Trim Keepsake Dress.

I love the beaded trim on this Keepsake dress, on sale for $165.  The cutouts add just the right amount of sexy.  It reminds me of a Zimmermann piece (ahem), but for far less.  Also very Zimmermann for a fraction of the price?  This floral blouse.

The Fashion Magpie Keepsake Dress

The Fashion Magpie Keepsake Dress

Pick No. 10: The Striped Ruffle-Print Wrap Dress.

Sorry/not sorry this post is so dress-heavy, but I’m also loving this striped, ruffle-trim wrap dress ($89)!  A perfect transition-to-fall piece.  The blouson sleeves are very au courant, and that easy wrap style is timeless.  I like the idea of wearing them with my Hermes Oran sandals (or these more affordable Everlane lookalikes) for now, and then pairing them with some pointed-toe loafers for fall (I like these and these).

The Fashion Magpie Loft Ruffle Dress 2

The Fashion Magpie Loft Ruffle Dress

P.S.  BONUS ITEM: I have been using — and loving — this shampoo for the last week or so.  Leaves hair SO soft and pliable!


Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *.

6 thoughts on “Real Pipe Dreams.

  1. Writing was my first career aspiration, too 🙂 I had a subscription to Writer’s Digest and when I was about 10 I had a sleepover with my best friend where we started working on our autobiographies ( we assumed we would be asked eventually and wanted to get a jump start – so funny, right?).

    I do some writing in my professional life and I find myself seeking out ways to do more, but over the past few weeks I’ve had a feeling that I have some kind of book in me. If you have an inner voice that is telling you to write, you should listen!

    1. LOL — “we assumed we would eventually be asked to write our autobiographies.” Too good. Love the blind ambition of youth. You’ll have to keep me posted on your writing, too — maybe we can mastermind together. xo

  2. This post really hit home for me — I, too, once aspired to write works of fiction, though I think I’ve shifted towards memoir-type writing as well (if only in journal form now!) I love your touching anecdotes about your granddad, and the part about your aspirations as a neighborhood spy had me smiling and nodding — I started a spy journal at age 7 that my mother preserved and recently gave me … it has all manner of observations about neighborhood goings-on, including the requisite “suspicious white van” that drove down our street twice in one day! Horrors!

    I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to read anything you write, published or not. Thank you for being one of my very favorite reads, no matter if you’re reflecting on weighty manners or just giving us a forum where we can discuss adorning ourselves with the most interesting new items.

    And speaking of adornment — I love that ruffled minidress, and need to get a pair of pointed-toe loafers for the fall. I have had great success with Everlane’s shoes in the past, so may go that route — thanks for the reminder!

    1. LOL “the suspicious white van.” I feel like we are sisters from another mister! Such similar childhood experiences…thanks, too, from the bottom of my heart, for the vote of confidence on writing. We shall see where things lead!!!

  3. Your blog is one of my favorites, and it stands out for your thoughtful, sophisticated writing style. I don’t read many longer blog posts, but I am captivated by yours! Keep up the great work and maybe the world will be blessed to see a published work of fiction from you one day 🙂

Previous Article

Next Article