Musings + Essays

I’m 36.

By: Jen Shoop

I don’t have anything profound to say about turning 36. There is too much happening in 2020 to pause and think about how it feels to turn a year older. And on that point, I feel chastened after recently reading a piece in The American Scholar, where David Gessner wrote:

“I am wary of anyone who offers “lessons” from a moment of crisis. September 11 should have taught us that most of these immediate insights are disposable.”

In short: there is not yet enough distance to make out the shapes that matter, or — more to the heart-breaking point — the ones that remain. Maybe my flimsy, fumbling attempts at writing about coronavirus and even aspects of the Black Lives Matter movement were ill-advised, and I should have taken a page out of my post answering the question of whether it is more difficult to go from 0-1 children or 1-2:

“I couldn’t possibly tell you which has been harder because I’m too close up. I need time, perspective, space to process it all.”

And yet I know myself well enough to say with unflinching certainty that I will continue to write about our times — with varying degrees of obliqueness — because my writing has always prioritized process over product. That is, I write to know what I think.

Sometimes I will play the Pollyanna, sometimes I will distract with beautiful things, sometimes I will delicately play with the hemline of a difficult-to-broach subject. I will often make mistakes. I will occasionally entertain. And, rarely, when I am as brave as a 36-year-old woman should be, I will stare something right in the eye and write directly at it rather than around it.

But, not today.

Today, I turn 36, and you can bet that I am overdressed for the quarantine-induced constraints upon the occasion. Not quite wearing yards of mint green tulle like the chic pea above, but not far off.

Today, I intend to put down my phone, cuddle with my children on the floor, have a glass of champagne with lunch, read my book, and wait for my four siblings and two parents to call me and wish me many happy returns in their own individualized yet predictable ways.

Today, I plan to put on bright lipstick, eat french fries, kiss my husband, and go to bed in freshly-laundered sheets with my hair still wet from a late-night shower — this last bedtime vignette one of the strangest and most satisfying luxuries I know. (To hell with my crimped bed head the next morning!)

Today, I want to shelve my usual regimen-and-routine-oriented habits and instead remember all day long how lucky I am to be healthy, loved, and surrounded by blessings.

P.S. Thoughts on turning 33, 34, and 35.

P.P.S. Dresses fit for a birthday, blue and white forever, and one of my all-time favorite poems.

P.P.P.S. I should have included these beauties in my roundup of great summer sandals. They’re in my cart, along with…this floral everyday dress, glowscreen, and this easy-to-wear white dress. Is there any chance I can legimitize this?!

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29 thoughts on “I’m 36.

  1. Jen,

    Happiest of birthdays to you, again!

    I see your point about “lessons”, but I also think it’s so important to document the perceived lessons of the time. George Saunders put it so well in conversation with Cheryl Strayed on her new podcast “Sugar Calling” ( a fantastic NYT podcast where she calls famous writers and asks them for advice!):

    “Are you keeping records of the emails and texts you’re getting, the thoughts you’re having, the way your hearts and minds are reacting to this strange new way of living? It’s all important. 50 years from now, people the age you are now won’t believe this ever happened or will do the sort of eye roll we all do when someone tells us about something crazy that happened in 1960. What will convince that future kid is what you are able to write about this. And what you’re able to write about it will depend on how much sharp attention you’re paying now and what records you keep, also, I think with how open you can keep your heart. ” (Reminds me of your post “This is How it Happens”.)

    Hope you continue your birthday party well into Sunday brunch 🙂 I think I speak for everyone when I say, we’re all so lucky to have you around for another trip around the sun.

    1. Hi Veronica – Wow! I love that quote, too — especially “And what you’re able to write about it will depend on…how open you can keep your heart.” Very inspiring. Thank you for sharing that!

      And thank you for the birthday wishes!! I feel so spoiled with attention and well wishing!


  2. Yes, I did write that, but then I went on to offer ten pages of lessons. Ah, hypocrisy! Happy birthday.

    1. Hi David! Wow! I have to say I was bowled over when I saw a comment from you here. I loved your piece — my father circulated it to all five of his children and our spouses and it spurred incited a lot of conversation and reflection. Thank you!

      And, I also went on to sermonize here and elsewhere despite your wise words, so it sounds like we’re even.


  3. Happy birthday Jen! Hope your day was wonderful and I wish you only happy things in the year to come xoxo

  4. Happiest of birthdays to you, Jen! I hope your day is filled with love, “golden moments”, delicious food, and your dream dress/shoes/accessories 😉 Best wishes for the year ahead!

  5. Happiest birthday, Jen! Wishing you all the love you share every day comes back to you a thousand times!

  6. Happy, happy birthday, fellow June baby! Hope you have a delightful day and a year ahead filled with many blessings.

    I love those Nicholas Kirkwood pearl-detailed sandals … perfect for a June birthday girl! Love the nod to Marchesa Casati in the name as well 🙂


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