Drawn to the Winch.

By: Jen Shoop

Sorting through a shoebox of memorabilia earlier this week, I found a photo of myself on the dais at a poetry reading when I was twelve, and behind it, a snapshot of two gift certificates to Crown Books (RIP) — the reward for winning a short story contest I entered the same year. My seventh grade English teacher, Mr. Paul Caulfield (are you out there somewhere?), had encouraged me to apply to both, as had my Uncle Jim, who photocopied short stories by J.D. Salinger and mailed them to me stuffed in thick envelopes, along with notes in blocky all-caps: KEEP WRITING!

I sat in my writing studio and looked at the long, thin line between those photographs and myself. I found each picture a gift from Mnemosyne — and something else, from a fuller pantheon:

Twelve year old me could scarcely believe she deserved a place let alone a ribbon in either of those competitions, and would be astonished to know that, 30 years later, she would be supporting herself as a writer. The $75 in bookstore credit had shocked me: the first time I’d earned money for my words, and it was an embarrassment of riches. (I probably bought a dozen Nancy Drews with it.) But it was Mr. Caulfield standing in the back row of a crowded community center on a Saturday morning, and my mother beside him, on a folding chair, listening to me shakily read my couplets into a microphone, a snow drop with helmet bowed, and my Uncle asking me, “Are you still writing?”, that laid the track.

Will I ever have the goodness of these men?

They set this top spinning. There is no doubt that I sit here at my desk, the squat pen resting between my finger and my thumb, which is to say doing what I love and making a living from it, because of those two voices saying, “Keep going,” and “Why not you?”

Seamus Heaney wrote: “As a child, they could not keep me from wells,” but these men drew me to the winch, and showed me the water beneath, so that now, thirty years later, I draft from Hippocrene.


+All this to say: cultivating someone’s interests, or talents, is powerful. Even the smallest act of noticing — “why did you put that color there?” and “I wondered about the character’s motivations here” and “how did you learn to do that move on ice?” and “I saw you out there on the field and couldn’t take my eyes off you!” — can transform. Challenging myself to pay this forward.

+On pursuing English as a major.

+Shaking hands with a blank page.

+The funny thing about writing is that you are never really successful at it. By that I mean, my job is to put something out into the world and your job is to evaluate its merits, but the two are only in the loosest of conversations with one another, really. Some adjacent thoughts here.

Shopping Break.

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

+URGENT: Alice Walk is running a warehouse sale, and I bought this tee and this sweatshirt. I also had this weekender sweater and this half zip in my cart, but I have both in multiples already…still, they are among my most-worn everyday knits! Do not miss this gauze shirtdress either — somehow only $85 now. I have been wearing mine in the evenings lately! A great post-shower, pre-bed-time piece.

+The definition of quiet luxury. So chic.

+Last minute addition to my daughter’s birthday gifts: a Stanley water bottle (couldn’t do the enormous one that I’ve seen other girls her age carry — just did this little 14 oz guy) that I’m personalizing with these vinyl letters. I bought an “E” page, an “H” page (for my son), and an “S” page (last name) so that I can customize other items — hockey sticks, helmets, etc. But I might go back and buy a full alphabet sheet and start giving out those Stanley water bottles with a personalizing initial on it as a standard gift for my daughter’s little friends. I 100% stole this idea from Sarah Tucker!

+My daughter has also been begging me for flared leggings she’s seen on her little friends. I bought her these from Athleta, along with some shorts and a sweatshirt from the same brand. This is how she wants to dress!! How did we get here?!

+Just your quarterly reminder to get rid of the crappy oven mitts you have and replace with these. They last forever and actually insulate your hand from the hot pan. I throw them in the wash when dirty and air dry with the lining pulled inside out. I just checked and we bought our pair in 2017 — still holding strong and looking good as new seven years later. That being said, Michael Ruhlman (who has an excellent Substack) wrote a whole blurb about how much he hates oven mitts and how he will only ever use a chef’s “side towels” when handling hot pots and pans. (Spoken like a true chef.) I therefore bought Mr. Magpie his own set of Ruhlman-recommended side towels, and of course he loves them and looks very cheffy with them, too. The shipping is a small fortune (they hail from a real restaurant supply shop, so I’m imagining restaurants buy these in immense quantities that amortize the shipping fee), so I bought a pack from my brother, also a devoted home cook, to give to him when I see him this summer, to make myself feel less guilty about the $20 shipping. He’ll appreciate the detail!

+This reminds me: kitchen items we love that you may not have, and gear to amp up your cooking game.

+I own several dresses from Marea and absolutely adore them all — they are airy, happy, light, easy to throw on and forget about. This one is the latest candidate for election into my closet. Each of the pieces makes me want to put on Bob Marley, mix up a marg, and dance around in bare feet. I wore this one into the ground last year. (Also love the top version of the aforementioned dress — so easy to tuck into white jeans for lowkey polish!)

+A great detail for a dinner party: these cheeky place cards. You could build an entire evening around them!

+The socks I swear by for my son. Have a cute length and mama mia do boys need the grippies on the bottom.

+Two fun and under-$110 pair of sneaks for spring: Golas and Tretorns! Such great color options.

+The kind of dress no one else will have.

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4 thoughts on “Drawn to the Winch.

  1. How GREAT is Ruhlman’s sub stack?? I love everything about it, especially what a doting husband he is! I’m so glad you’re enjoying it. Btw I 100% clicked on the link to those towels, but didn’t pull the trigger… can’t wait to hear what Landon thinks! XO

    1. Oh Jessica! He is obsessed. He has now cleared out the drawer by the stove so they only hold his side towels. Honestly, I don’t think there’s anything magic about the brand Ruhlman rec’d, but it is a heavier weight cloth than your average kitchen towel, which probably means you’re less likely to burn yourself.


  2. How wonderful to have had that experience as a budding writer, Jen! And how amazing to be able to connect the dots from your 12 year old self to now.

    Your story reminds me of this quote I read somewhere (paraphrasing) about how the words we use towards children become the internal voice they carry. I think about it often.

    The references to Greek mythology are *chef’s kiss*.

    On another note — I must say I am baffled by the Stanley cup trend. I read an article in the news not too long ago about how girls in middle school are being bullied (!!!) for not having a Stanley cup or for having a less expensive “dupe” for a Stanley cup. I look back and think about those “trends” that I experienced growing up, and on some level it’s not that different, but it also is very different in the sense that the things that were trendy back then probably cost a couple of dollars, if that. No judgment at all towards your mini for wanting a Stanley cup or you for getting her one — my thoughts are more around the idea of wanting to prolong this “ignorance is bliss” stage that my kindergarten age daughter is in (as she is currently unaware of such things) and somewhat dreading having to navigate this as she gets older. Ahhh, parenthood!

    1. Yikes – that Stanley cup anecdote is horrifying! Truly scary to think about as we head into the mean tween years…

      I loved this so much, Mia, and have been thinking about it since I first read your comment on Friday (I read all the comments as they roll in but then often sit down to answer in batches, after I’ve had time to reflect!): “The words we use towards children become the internal voice they carry.” What a responsibility, and also opportunity…


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