Musings + Essays


By: Jen Shoop

I mentioned in passing that Mr. Magpie has been using the Calm app, which promotes better sleep and a quieter mind. One thing he observed after only a few days of use was that he found it close to impossible to get through a single ten-minute meditation session during the daytime without interruption. This sparked a wide-ranging conversation on how much noise and interruption all of us contend with on a daily basis. Even when we are dialed in on our laptops for work, there are all kinds of chimes, pop-ups, and tones that remind us of the meeting in five minutes, or the message from a colleague, or the arrival of a new email. These alerts can be disabled, but do we do it? Not always. Even the presence of multiple tabs in a browser can occasionally feel like “noise” — the “other things” vying for your attention while you are attempting to just respond to this singular email. And all of that is only within the frame of your computer screen. Then we also have our smartphones, with their infinite notifications (news! emails! social media! wellness apps! reminders! phone calls!) and the technologies and appliances in our homes that beep and ding and, well, just make noise by virtue of functioning (a washing machine, the clang of radiator, the tick of a clock). And on top of that we have street noise (as I type this at 10:02 a.m. on Friday, I hear the lurch of a bus, wheels on wet pavement, someone shouting something) and of course the constant commotion of the loved ones we live with during this pandemic, when so many of us are at home together more often than not.

These sounds are not invariably “bad.” They are audible reminders of the very full and fortunate life that we have willingly built together and the technologies we have opted into. And I am still-astounded by the incredible conveniences that modern innovation has afforded us. I often tell Mr. Magpie that it feels like we are living out The Jetsons fantasy world — I basically have “robots” living in my home thanks to modern technology: “Siri, read me the news” and “Siri, call my mom” and “Siri, what’s the temperature outside?” I can run out of bananas and diapers, more or less press a button, and have them appear on my doorstep in two hours. It is unbelievable. And to have been one of the last generations with one leg on each side of the digital divide allows for peculiar wonderment: much to my daughter’s eventual chagrin, I will one day say: “I can remember the day my dad first brought a computer to our home, and it was about the size of an oven, and we shared it breathlessly, and it didn’t have Internet on it.” (“What on earth did it do then?!” Haha.)

But our conversation also touched on COVID-19, and how living through this pandemic and of necessity passing much more time together in a small space has intensified the noise and density of interruptions. There are always small feet padding around, more deliveries at the door, the echo of a voice on a business call, the clanging around of pots in the kitchen — it is a busy soundtrack and it is difficult to pass more than a minute in total silence.

And quiet is, I think, inherently healthful for us. (Do we all agree on that?) So what do we do in the case of a deficiency in it?

I think many of us have either cultivated tactics for tuning out or turning down “noise” or have adapted to its omnipresence with varying degrees of begrudgement. For example, I love using the “do not disturb” function on my laptop while focused on writing, and I have my phone automatically set to “do not disturb” mode from 10 PM to 7 AM every night. I try my absolute best to use the “one screen at a time” tech detox, though I admit I am horrible about it in the hour just before bed. On the flipside, I am so inured to them, I find myself virtually unbothered by certain types of notifications on my phone. I feel like they don’t even register half the time! So, too, with street noise unless it’s something truly jarring — it’s all just part of the fabric of my day-to-day life in Manhattan.

But I had to ask — how do you deal with interruptions in your life? How do you carve out quiet space for yourself?


+Paper Cape has some darling prints out at the moment. I love these bow jammies!

+Dying over these adorable blue bow earrings.

+Cute Etsy finds.

+These printed Spalding basketballs are such a cute gift for an older child. (More ideas here.)

+These brush pots are such a chic way to organize pens on a desktop. I also love the eclectic small boutique (House of Cardoon!) that stocks them — this shop was founded by a fellow UVA grad and female entrepreneur. (Thanks, C., for the intro.) Thinking I might gift one of these with a rainbow of Le Pens to a fellow writer as a gift for the holidays.

+These Barbour gloves are so smart.

+M. Gemi is running an amazing sale right now — these Tods-like loafers are marked down to $125!

+This pretty pointelle sweater and these coveted Loeffler Randall sneakers were just marked down.

+This tunic sweater is just the ticket for Black Friday shopping on the couch while watching a round of Christmas movies.

+Elegant upholstered bench at a great price.

+Last-minute Thanskgiving order for the children. I think I might send these in for mini’s Thanksgiving party at school. $3 for 10!

+Love scalloped details!

+My favorite quarantine cocktail.

+Contemplating pre-ordering this plum oil, which keeps selling out! Chrissy Teigen recently raved about it on Instastories and I have to say I’m intrigued…

+I haven’t yet ordered holiday cards…! Have you? This is gorgeous and so are these.

+After my comment about needing a new office chair in a recent post, a reader wrote in to say an interior designer had recommended this style. Chic and well-priced!

+There is still time to order a Thanksgiving day look!

+I love hearing Helena stories.

+Clever meal planning pad. (You can tear off the strip on the right to take with you to the grocery!)

+Which reminds me — how do you meal plan?

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14 thoughts on “Interruptions.

  1. Oh, lots to think about here… agree with your descriptions and thoughts on life with technology. While it has made life easier in so many ways (imagine if COVID happened in the 80’s?!), there is a constant barrage of information and a pressure (whether externally imposed or self-imposed) to be connected 24/7. I pretty much always have my phone set to vibrate on silent too (as Molly above has also shared) because I realized a while back that I have this startle response to a phone call! (I read that this can be common among introverts?). I use the “do not disturb” feature on my phone at night too. I think the most helpful thing for me was taking off the IG app from my phone — as much as I love it, I think I sometimes love it too much, haha. The quality of my sleep has become significantly better since then.

    What Sarah has shared too about how women also need “protected time” (I LOVE that term) — that really resonates with me. My daughter is SO used to me being home so much and getting a lot of attention that I have to be intentional about carving out this protected time and communicating these needs to my husband.

    Somewhat relatedly it also makes me think about how children now are digital natives, and how as a parent I will need to manage all this input/information for our daughter in the beginning and then help her learn how to manage it as she gets older. I listened to an NPR interview a long time ago and the guest defined technology as “anything that was invented after you were born” — which makes a lot of sense that it is all relative. This is the world they are born into, and it is not “technology” for them, it just IS. I still believe in free/unstructured time and just allowing them to get bored, or as Annie says above to “lazily follow an idea from one place to the next.” (Love that!). I remember growing up and playing with the kids in the neighborhood and how we had such a rich imaginary life. I want to protect that piece of childhood for my daughter.

    On an unrelated note, Aesop hand soap and hand balm are marked down again at Nordstrom!

    1. Mia! As usual, so much of what you have written resonates with me here, but I was especially drawn to the notion of protecting free/unstructured time and permitting children to get bored. Ahh! When I think back on my youth, I mainly remember spending long afternoons in our basement or backyard, playing with my siblings. My parents really didn’t play with us — they supervised and occasionally chipped in here and there but they weren’t on their hands and knees playing Barbies or Indiana Jones (one of our favorite “games”) with us. We just tumbled into our little imaginary worlds and entertained ourselves. I want this so badly for my children! A reader sent around/shared an article with some ideas on promoting this kind of independent, imaginative, screen-free play awhile ago, and one thing that truly resonated with me was “setting up scenes that invite play.” So, for example, arranging all of mini’s Maileg mice in a scene on a little tray, or sorting all of the Duplos/magnatiles into colored piles in the middle of the floor, or setting up a new pad of drawing paper and a tray full of crayons. It makes complete sense but I don’t think it “clicked” until I read that description and it has proven SO helpful. Mini can’t help but be drawn into play. She will still often beg me to play with her / color with her, but sometimes all she needs is the visual cue and she’s off to the races on her own.

      A little bit of a stray thought there but had to pass it on — it was really helpful for me.


    2. It sounds like we grew up similarly, Jen! I imagine it’s the same for many in our generation. With 3 siblings plus the neighborhood kids, there was so much opportunity for play. Our parents were more hands-off too when it came to play (although we spent quality time in other ways).
      I like how you phrased it: “setting up scenes to invite play.” Yes! I love that. We can definitely be intentional about arranging the environment to entice them to play creatively or in an open-ended way, and often it’s with those very simple toys, too.

      1. Yes!! Exactly. Writing this comment actually spurred me to do this quite a bit this weekend and successfully occupied mini for about two hours yesterday morning, when she couldn’t HELP but sit down at the table and play with her Maileg after I set them all up in a little scene there. (They are usually in her bedroom — I think the change of scenery was exciting to her.)


  2. Love your thinking here. I also think because of the constant alerts and chirps and distractions, many people have grown uncomfortable with silence or single-tasking. Because of our devices, we have entertainment at our fingertips 24/7. I often catch myself checking an instagram story on my walk up the stairs or going to switch on a podcast when I take the dog out. If we’re constantly digesting multiple inputs and never stopping for a breather, how do we have time to lazily follow an idea from one place to another?

    1. This is spot-on! I find myself doing the same thing, Annie. I am having to train myself to remember that it’s OK — good! — to be unstimulated for a minute, to just sit in quiet and receptivity. This is a major tenet of Mr. Magpie’s recent meditations, too. That sometimes we even need to remind ourselves not to be cluttered with thought! Just to sit, empty, for a minute.


  3. I live very close to the House of Cardoon located in Carmel-by-the- Sea, Ca. I love it, exploding with color with very cute and fun gifts. Is there only one boutique? I know the founders name but not sure if itโ€™s the same person you know.

    1. !!! I’ve only ever seen pictures of the shop online but it looks gorgeous. I am thinking of Nora — I did not know her at UVA but she was friends with some of my friends!


  4. This makes me think of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. The pandemic made me realize how many people in my life (coworkers, family) who are accustomed to having designated office space and time to work are just now realizing the full cacophony of life at home. I think they always realized that a lot takes place at home during the day, but hadn’t personally been responsible for accomplishing work amidst the noise. I suppose that’s why Woolf noted that women in particular need a room of one’s own to write – traditionally, men have had the protected time and space during the day (and in modern life, many women, too, including me). I am all the more impressed with all the men and women who work from home without a physical or metaphorical room of their own, and yet still create and still get things done.

    1. Yes — completely see how this conversation resonates with Woolf’s essay, and how much these circumstances lend themselves towards engendering empathy for the situations (noise-related and otherwise) that others have lived with for so long. xx

  5. Ooooo I think about this a lot. I will say that I think a huge difference is not having children; they are the world’s best interrupters and you cannot switch them to do not disturb! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Many years ago I streamlined my phone so that the only notifications I get are texts, calls, bank alerts and my password manager. I switched my personal email account to notifications when looking for a new job but switched it back off once I started my current one. Work emails and NYT notifications deliver “quietly” (I looove that feature) so I can see them in my notification center but I don’t get an alert and they don’t appear on my lock screen. I also turned “vibrate on silent” off of my text messages so that I can leave my phone on silent without being berated by the vibrations of a group thread.

    My roommate/best friend and I were joking though that when we hear each other’s work laptops chime with the instant message notification – our companies both use Microsoft Teams – we have a moment of panic or distress thinking we’re missing something from our own computer. It’s a Pavlovian response!

    All this to say … I’ve tried to cut out as many digital interruptions as I can and yet I still, often, yearn for a silent retreat where I can be completely uninterrupted for 48 hours.

    1. Um, Molly, is it embarrassing to admit I was not even aware of half of the features you have availed yourself of?! Brilliant! Immediately looking into this “quiet delivery” of notifications. I am so susceptible to the “visual noise” of seeing a cluster of alerts on my locked screen. I feel similarly about email — MUST.BE.AT.INBOX.ZERO.AT.ALL.TIMES.

      Thanks for sharing these tips!


  6. Oh, my goodness…yes… On the one hand, I acknowledge and take great pride in the fact that I have built my life around being available to people — my family, my friends, the kids with whom I work, colleagues, volunteer organizations. I increasingly value my quiet moments, perhaps because they are so few and far between. One of the reasons I took up running several years ago, after a lifetime of convincing myself I loathed it, was because it gave me time and space to be unavailable and quiet. I would listen to music or a book or a podcast, but there were no other interruptions. It’s also the reason I started waking up before dawn. As much as I revel in the coziness of my bed, the psychic coziness of being alone (or curled up with my dog) on the couch with nothing but my coffee and the stillness was irresistible. With so much extra time spent at home, those moments of quiet are harder to preserve but so much more important. Perhaps the modified (limited) holiday season will give us all a chance to prioritize that calm. I certainly hope so. We need it. Your post also reminds me I have been neglecting my Calm app — I do set the sleep stories nightly, but a little morning meditation time would be good to reestablish.

    1. Hi Susan! So much sagacity here — I was especially struck by your comment about running ‘giving you time and space to be unavailable and quiet.” Unavailable. I think that word really caught me off guard, in a good way. Like you, I feel I make myself amply available (and must — I am a mother to two small children!!) and it is just now dawning on me thanks to you that part of my return to running has been carving out this period of “unavailability.” I mean, yes, if my husband calls, I will answer, but beyond that, I am running and so I am not able to check messages, take calls. And physically I am (at the apex of the run) a good twenty minutes away from my door, in the middle of Central Park, and also unavailable in that way. It really is a dramatically needed gulp of fresh air and solitude and it is doing such a great job of filling my cup these days.

      Anyway, thanks for sharing this, and especially your care with words here!


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