Musings + Essays


By: Jen Shoop

*Image via DC City Girl.

Driving down Tilden Street since moving back to the D.C. area has occasionally left me knee-buckled with memories. That particular corridor carries thousands of individual inflections for me, everything from trick or treating to accelerating wildly up the hill with my freshly minted learner’s permit in hand to feeling as though I was being pulled into a warm cocoon as I turned up my parents’ drive as an adrift college student. Since returning last summer, I have principally used that route in order to park my car at Peirce (sic) Mill and run through Rock Creek Park. On one such excursion, I caught unexpected sight of my father running towards me, on his own morning constitutional. I will now never round that bend without looking for him. And so I find myself in the midst of new emotional cartographies as I trace my steps through areas as familiar to me as the back of my hand.

How and under what conditions do overwrite the old maps? I know, for example, that a narrow neighborhood street in Mohican Hills will forever bear the recent marking of death: I was idling in my car there when I heard a colleague had died in a freak skiing accident. When I pass that street on my way to my nail salon, my stomach cinches in, reflexively. Sometimes this is because I am thinking of Nate with languid intention. Other times, it is an automatic flash-then-gone sensation, my heart telling me: “Avoid this place — something wicked this way comes” without my mind keeping pace of or dwelling on the signal. For my entire life, I have driven that stretch of Mass Ave with vacancy, or perhaps it is better to say the mildness of distant memories, as I was baptized at Little Flower and my childhood pediatrician was out that way, but now, suddenly: a treacly emotional heat lives there, waiting for me. It has scrawled over the rest.

Other parts of D.C. feel more nuanced, as though I have laid forty different maps on top of one another, and my mind toggles between and occasionally superimposes the layers upon one another. Navigating this pastiche, I will occasionally find the Cleveland Park Blockbuster Video we went to every Friday during the entirety of my childhood living alongside memories of dating Mr. Magpie, and I know they do not belong chronologically with one another, but they co-locate there, as though the paper’s worn thin between those particular feuilles.

Memory is a slippery thing. I do not know that I trust it. I resent the absence of so many of Elizabeth’s details, for example. Perhaps this is why I write so much: to staunch the inevitable erosion. I wish I had taken the time to write her down, to fasten her in language. I am, though, encouraged by the new dimensions this old geography has opened me up to: I drive down Macomb Street and remember the summer I nannied there, taking my charge to the now-rebuilt playground just above Reno. It was a cicada summer when I nannied, and it was a cicada summer when we moved back this year, and the symmetry cheers my poetic-mindedness. Now we have good friends that live on that street, and there are new memories that mingle with the old in a pleasant way: it is now my children I push on the swing there, and there is a sense of intactness in this full circuitry. So, too, when I drive down 35th and see the girls in their green kilts and Elizabeth is with me more fully than she’s been in years.

I am grateful for these returns, even as I find the smudges of new cartographies underway.


+D.C. and the parochial wild.

+Aren’t we lucky to be children?

+On our decision to move from Manhattan to D.C.

+Imprints of a new (suburban) lifestyle.

+These are the days that must happen to you.

+I do still love and miss New York.

Shopping Break.

+Speaking of maps, this Etsy shop creates the most gorgeous letterpress maps.

+My new Doen dress is fairly sheer, so need to use these and a half-slip!

+This polka dot maxi is just stunning.

+Ordered mini these $20 pajamas. Absolutely adorable floral prints!

+While away for the weekend in Charleston, I packed a sample size of this body lotion from Molton Brown and OMG. I’m in love. I ordered the full size on the spot. I have been a longtime devotee of Fresh’s body lotion (which I still love and will for sure return to at some point) but I’m in heaven!

+Speaking of lotion, my friend Grace raved about this inexpensive foot cream and I ordered immediately. You may recall my devastation when LRP stopped making its magical foot cream — I’ve been on the hunt for two years now for anything that compares remotely. Will report back!

+I saw a chic young mom wearing this sweater to Church two weekends ago and haven’t stopped thinking about it. So fun and unexpected and I loved its slightly slouchy fit paired with cropped flare denim (as this gal wore them!)

+Speaking of Staud, I cannot stop thinking about this tunic. I think I must have it.

+This undated planning pad is fantastic for mapping out particularly busy weeks when you have a lot going on — for example, in the lead-up to a birthday party or celebration of some kind where you want to spread out the activities/errands carefully across a week!

+Boho chic heaven.

+This personalized sunnies are beyond adorable.

+If you are a golfer, I love the unexpectedly chic patterned skirts from Byrdie!

+These shoes are down for a good time.

+Shorts for all!

+I ended up ordering this dress and these shoes for mini’s Easter outfit look.

+Still time to order adorable goodies for Easter baskets!

+More Easter finds here.

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6 thoughts on “Cartographies.

  1. Oh I love this! You’ve put into words perfectly that feeling of place-based memories (which are so often not complete). I don’t know DC well at all; I have had two short breaks there, the most recent nearly ten years ago, but I have some of those very strong place-based memory-feelings associated with it that return whenever I think of it, or am somewhere that evokes a sense of DC in me (not often in NZ, it’s quite different here!)

    Do you feel like you’ve found ‘your place’ being back there?

    1. Hi Hayley – So interesting! I wonder if some places are just particularly rich/evocative to us for reasons beyond our ken, no matter how long we’ve lived or not lived in a place. DC is steeped in so much history.

      I do feel that this is my home. It feels so comfortable to me.


  2. I’m from Alexandria, VA, and my husband and I recently moved to a big city (as I know you did for a while)! All of which is to say — your writing on DC brings me joy. I miss it!

  3. I LOVE this and I love that you think about this too. I wrote about this exact thought recently when I found myself walking past the Plaza. Not only is it the site of so many personal memories (visiting with my mother, who oversaw the renovations in the 80s, and stopping by to say hi to her friends as a child; afternoon tea; etc.) but also the memories of the hotel memorialized in film (including her designs, which you can see in Home Alone 2!) For me, something that seems so particular to an individual–like this specific thought–feels like a much weightier connection when someone else shares it. Thank you, Jen!!

    1. I love this so much! What stories you and your family have about that spot in New York. Thank you for sharing.


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