Musings + Essays

Finding a Tranquil Frame of Mind.

By: Jen Shoop

*Image above via Est Living.

I have been reading a gorgeous book by potter Frances Palmer called Life in the Studio. Some of her reflections have spun into my recent writings on creativity, as though filaments of sugar drawn into cotton candy.

She writes:

“Learning to center the clay is the first step of throwing a pot and exemplifies my mantra ‘begin as you mean to go on.’…I love the calmness that centering requires. I need to approach the wheel in a tranquil frame of mind. The minute I experience stress or confusion, the clay senses it. The walls of the pot will come up unevenly, or the ball of clay might even swerve off the wheel.”

She then quotes from potter and essayist M.C. Richards, who remarked that centering a pot “bears the future within it” and is “a space for ongoing development and differentiation.” Palmer in turn observes: “This extends beyond the wheel — for Richards, centering clay is a clear metaphor for finding purpose and self-understanding. Fundamentally, this is what I also experience when I begin to center the clay. It seems as though I am simply making a pot, yet the practice suggests a larger contemplation.”

I thought first, as I did last week, that I might do well to spend more time finding “a tranquil frame of mind” before writing. I have many writings, published and not, with uneven walls and evidence that the clay swerved off the wheel. Perhaps rising early to write roundly before my children wake is not too astringent a tonic. Then again, I know with absolute conviction that some of my best writing has emerged, apparition-like, amidst uncongenial conditions on a random Tuesday, sandwiched between drop-offs and phone calls. I felt a catharsis writing — or, as was the case, re-writing — the experience of my daughter’s birth the other day. I had not been actively contemplating her birth, or dwelling on photos of her as a squishy newborn as I am wont to do when I cannot sleep. I had not been planning to write about Mr. Magpie, and was frankly preoccupied that morning by the frothily insignificant details of my daughter’s fifth birthday party. I had twenty two tabs open in my browser and was listening to Haim. And then, the physical memory of lacing my fingers through the iron design on the back of the stool in our Chicago kitchen knocked me off my feet, and the words came quick and the emotions behind them quicker.

I wonder about that moment. Had I been carrying that bouquet of sensations around for nearly five years without knowing it? Without seeing the arrangement? Mr. Magpie’s feet overhead that morning nothing but vapor? Threading my fingers just an idle memory I’d occasionally dot over, like stones skipping water? It took a congested and distracted Tuesday to draw the stems together.

So, I don’t know —

Maybe it was a kismet ordering of different thoughts that morning, or maybe I needed five years of space to process the perspective, or maybe it doesn’t matter. I do know this: when I started to write, I had to turn off the music. I didn’t even have the time to properly pause the music from the application; I muted from my keyboard. I instinctively opened a new browser window. It was a technical throat-clearing and it had to happen. So perhaps I have devised slipshod shortcuts to “a tranquil frame of mind” after all.

But mainly I am curious today about Palmer’s observation that elements of the creative process “suggest a larger contemplation.” What does this mean for a writer? It is easier to imagine the application in the physical and visual arts. Writing, on the other hand, can be so — on the nose, so exacting, especially in the personal essay medium. My writing is my contemplation; there is nothing beyond. When I create, there is no displacement of energy into a physical object that can in turn be observed as an artifact. When I create, the writing is an extension of me. Yes, it is on paper, but it is also very much alive and liquid.

These are abstractions; I hope you will forgive them. My point is not to get lost in a reconnoiter of the stakes and conditions for art but to air some helpful prompts as you head creatively into this Friday in February. We’ve established previously that whether you identify with the label or not, you are creative. So today let’s think about the optimal conditions for an artful day, whether you are sitting down to a day of Zoom calls, preparing yourself for a day looking after young children, or heading into a studio:

How do you cultivate a tranquil frame of mind? What small, specific gestures help? Clearing your desk? Closing all the tabs in your browser? Turning off or on the music? Dimming or brightening the lights? Getting fully dressed? Kneeling in prayer at your bedside? Spending a minute outdoors?

May we be intentional in finding whatever routine is necessary to make the most of the day.



+The first job each morning.

+Writing, fishing, and the Roaring Fork River.

+Imprints of a new lifestyle.

+On finding my calling.

+How do you start your day?

Shopping Break.

+When I was expecting mini, a reader wrote to recommend Bvlgari’s Petits et Mamans scent. She said sometimes just before heading out, she’d dab a little on her daughter and herself and compliments would follow wherever they went — “you two smell amazing!” I followed suit and truly the scent is impossibly nostalgic. It reminds me of when she was itty bitty and I was heading out of the house with just one baby.

+A Magpie reader recently shared this machine-washable and punchy tote, which comes in fantastic colors! Great summer everyday adventure bag, especially as a mom.

+This utility popover dress is $40, comes in four fantastic colors, and would be a great everyday outfit paired with favorite sandals or sneakers.

+Summer birthday party vibes. YES. (Also love this.). Pair with these fabulous earrings.

+This dress also came to party.

+Converse has the cutest sneakers out for little ones ATM — I think mini needs these ladybug ones, but I also love these seahorses!

+Cashmere tees in a rainbow of colors — perfect transitional top.

+This might be my top pick for an Easter dress this year. Also comes in a more yellow-centric colorway. I know some are having smocked dress fatigue but I also straight up love the pattern and cut of this LSF. This style of dress just WORKS for my body — highlights my best features, wears like a dream — and so I think I’ll keep rocking it!

+I just mentioned Crate and Barrel beds earlier this week and discovered they’d released a really chic new big boy bed in a great color.

+Super expensive but this is, to me, a perfect mother of the bride dress for a spring garden wedding.

+This $105 pearl-and-straw clutch is the perfect reasonably priced accessory for all your spring/summer affairs.

+Just the cheeriest rainbow sweater for a toddler.

+Adore this Liberty-inspired stationery for a little one. More darling children’s stationery here.

+How cute are these lego-themed birthday cake candles? I have found so many adorable Lego party themed finds recently — tucking away for a future birthday! (And ICYMI, how cute are these lego name letters for a bookshelf?!)

+Easter basket tags — would also be cute if giving away Easter gifts to loved ones/friends, or as placecards.

+I have been on the prowl for a great, festive dress for my sister’s deferred, then deferred-again wedding celebration later this spring. Current top contenders: anything from De Loreta. Super love this and this in particular.

+How fabulous is this moody late spring floral shirtdress?!

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4 thoughts on “Finding a Tranquil Frame of Mind.

  1. Exercise first thing after waking, preferably outdoors. When I don’t do this, I find myself out of sorts all day long. I think of it like tuning my instrument, even though I spend most days at my computer and not doing physical labor.

  2. I set my daily tranquility on my morning run. It’s at least 5xweek and/or yoga. It is my time to think, reflect and sort my mind. I can then tackle the day whatever it may be. Thank you for your blog and ability to help your readers probe themselves. 🙂

    1. Hi Maria – I love this. I also feel ultra-productive (in the right frame of mind, and mood!) when I run or cycle in the morning. It just gets me off in the right direction! Thanks for the kind words and for your readership, my friend!


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