Musings + Essays

Invisible Strings.

By: Jen Shoop

Time, curious time
Gave me no compasses, gave me no signs
Were there clues I didn’t see?
And isn’t it just so pretty to think
All along there was some
Invisible string
Tying you to me?

Bad was the blood of the song in the cab
On your first trip to LA
You ate at my favorite spot for dinner
Bold was the waitress on our three year trip
Getting lunch down by the lakes
She said I looked like an American singer

Time, mystical time
Cuttin’ me open, then healin’ me fine
Were there clues I didn’t see?
And isn’t it just so pretty to think
All along there was some
Invisible string
Tying you to me?

Say what you will about Taylor Swift — and I know she has vocal detractors (Mr. Magpie among that camp) — but I find her to be one of the most compelling lyricists in present-day pop music, and I especially love her album folklore. Swift super fans have delighted in all of the (obscure to direct) personal references in the album, including in “Invisible String,” quoted above, which many believe is about her relationship with Joe Jonas* (ed. note: a reader has written in to note that the song is actually suspected to be about Joe Alwyn!), who apparently worked at a frozen yogurt shop referenced earlier in the song and was expecting a baby at the time the song was published, which she refers to as well later on. I’m not as interested in the autobiographical bent, but I find the thoughts she captures in several of the tracks on this album refreshingly vulnerable and vividly-caught, too. Who hasn’t at some point grasped for the invisible strings that have led us toward people or experiences? At one time or another, hasn’t everyone dismissed the concept of “invisible strings” (i.e., fate) as “just so pretty” — that is, superficially winning though immaterial? (As an aside, stylistically I appreciate the syntactical inversions in this song, which reinforce the feeling of piecing things together out of order, i.e., “bold was the waitress on our three year trip” instead of “The waitress was bold.”)

I feel as though the amount of time I have dedicated to parsing out how much autonomy I have in my own life versus the measure owed to fate or Providence rivals the amount of time I have spent thinking about any given subject matter in my entire life. I do believe that everything happens for a reason, and that God laughs when we make plans, and that — to borrow from Swift — time “cuts us open and heals us fine.” I can’t imagine living any other way. In fact, the discomfort of living any other way facilitated the leap of faith my outlook requires. But still — some days, and some life phases, I wake up wondering. I particularly agonized over this notion when I tripped and split my forehead open a few years ago. Do some things just happen? Does everything come with an elaborate message we must divine? Do we directly control anything at all? Or are some things so small as to be beneath God’s notice? I know these are enormous, over-dense questions to grapple with on a Tuesday morning, but I find myself circling back to that fall with a dogged recursiveness, as though a bruise I cannot keep myself from touching. Was it random clumsiness or a reminder to slow down? Was there any marionette string being pulled, or was I just a hungry, imbalanced pregnant woman scurrying toward pizza? And how does my outlook here mesh with my general proclivity towards blaming myself, and taking responsibility for things not in my control?

I had something of a breakthrough along these lines earlier this year when I stumbled across a completely random Instagram post by a woman who had contracted COVID. The caption was livid, rife with anger that she had caught the virus, furious at her fellow New Yorkers for (from her perspective) not complying with mask-wearing mandates. I do not think ill of her for having those thoughts. It was traumatic to have COVID at the beginning of it all, back when death rates were much higher, hospital systems were overloaded, and it felt like we were finding something new and generally horrifying about the virus with each passing day. And she is entitled to feel the way she feels, full stop. Anger neighbors on grief. But her tone precipitated the most intense evening of introspection. I had not previously registered anger as an emotion that was even possible in a conversation about catching COVID. I instead felt guilty and ashamed. I felt I had compromised the health of my family, and neighbors, and New York in general. I went over and over the possible ways I could have contracted it, chastising myself for not taking greater precaution even though I have since come to a catharsis on that point: I did everything I could. I would never knowingly put my loved ones at risk. Still, I even felt guilty for the amount of worry I put my husband and parents through. When I saw that post, though, something changed — forever — for me. It was as though COVID was a rorschach test. The delta between my reaction and that Instagram stranger’s incited powerful self-awareness, and I now find myself capable of stepping back for a minute to recognize that not all that weighs me down is mine to carry. I actively remind myself that I am not personally responsible for everything that happens in my life, and especially not the way other people act or react. It is difficult, though, to find a perch where these varying insights and beliefs hang together seamlessly. What is mine to carry, after all? Though God may be drawing the invisible strings, aren’t I responsible for following the breadcrumb trail with purpose and mindfulness?

Where do you land on this?

Just some light thoughts to ease you into your Tuesday. Ha!

Shopping Break.

+Extra 25% off this gorgeous eyelet blouse (discount automatically applies at checkout).

+I should have included this in my Amazon post last week, but these are just the absolute best oven mitts on the planet. I used to have to replace our Williams-Sonoma ones all the time, or they would brown/burn in spots. These Amazon ones are INCREDIBLE. Super thick — you never burn your hands and can’t even feel the warmth while holding a hot pan — and I like the silicon tips, as you can wipe/rinse them clean without any issue. You will never need to replace them! We’ve had a set that’s lasted at least four years now!

+I forgot to pack an evening clutch when we went to the Hamptons and so I used this little monogram applique pouch instead. I have it in a pretty dusty blue with darker blue letters, and it actually looked perfect with my Jonathan Simkhai dress, which I also wore to family portraits, and which was recently restocked in most sizes here and here!

+Speaking of great blue dresses: j’adore.

+APL sneakers are a part of Prime Day madness!

+So is this fun LWD.

+Chic white blouse. For something more ornate (and in a different silhouette), this Farm Rio is a gem.

+More great statement blouses for summer. If you’re after a bold print, check this Shoshanna out! So into that green color! I have been surprised by how much I’ve worn a green floral print Hill House dress I bought a few launches back. I always get compliments on the color! Their currently available “Emerald Space Floral” has the same green background.

+This dress looks like SEA for a fraction of the price.

+Ahh! Just discovered this under-$100 woven clutch in Barbie pink or chic black! Tis the summer of the woven bag

+Darling rattan novelty shop. I mean, this pooch!

+I just ordered a bunch of new jammies for the littles from Ellifox’s sale section: these and these for mini (both blue because, as she never fails to remind us, “blue is my favorite color”), and these and these for micro.

+Cute sleepwear for us women.

+Love this little striped dress for throwing on over a suit or just running around on a hot summer day. I have a Mi Golondrina short dress that accomplishes something similar that I wore in a photo I posted on Instastories while at the beach last weekend and I received a number of questions about it. Having a short dress like that is SO easy on vacation when going from the water to the lunch table!

+More cover-ups that take you from pool/beach to cocktails here.

+Major drool.

+Our friends in East Hampton shared their “craziest COVID purchase”: these expensive floating chairs for their pool. They were delightful, and our friends had done a ton of research to decide on these, but we all had a good laugh about the weird things COVID brought to us this past year.

+J. Crew has some fun backyard/entertaining items from Sunnylife at the moment that would make great gifts for family friends. Love these dominoes, these “dive buddies” for budding divers (would have loved this when I was around eight!), and this giant Jenga.

+Although I do have to say these bunches of balloons were yet again a huge hit among children and adults alike…I dare you to find an adult male whose mind is not blown by how quickly these balloons fill with water and how magical it is that they self-seal.

+OK, this cabana stripe one-piece from J. Crew is darling, and I’m major lusting after one from Maygel Coronel!

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10 thoughts on “Invisible Strings.

  1. Clicked over here from this morning’s post, curious to see what song you’d referenced — and I love this one too. Like you, I’m taken with the unique syntax of the lines, and it’s funny, because it drives my husband nuts. I appreciate how you’ve close read the structure!

    The song casts invisible strings in retrospect — making sense of a tumultuous dating journey. I appreciate that your post reflects on invisible strings as an approach to the present and even future — comfort in knowing that we *can* make sense of things, by following the breadcrumbs with self-awareness. <3

    1. Yes, exactly! Comfort in the faith that we will find meaning out of the seeming chaos/randomness after the fact!


  2. Totally unrelated to Taylor Swift, but the title of your post made me think of this book that my 3 year old daughter loves: The Invisible String by Patrice Karst. It’s beautifully illustrated (I particularly appreciated the reverse of gender stereotypes with how they portrayed the little boy and little girl), with a touching message about what connects us all. It was especially helpful too in preparing her for the separation that comes with starting school, after being together all day everyday during a pandemic year — in case other readers out there are or will be in that situation!

    1. Hi Mia! I’ve been curious about that book because I know parents have also used it to help broach the topic of grief/death. Sounds like a lovely book. Thanks for sharing it!


  3. As a huge fan of Taylor’s, I listen to her constantly and know her songs like the back of my hand. She has so many beautiful love songs but I truly think this is one of her best, if not THE best love song she’s written. So simple but such an incredible way of marveling at fate bringing two people together.

    A tiny correction since I am such a big fan and can’t help myself: Invisible String is about Joe Alwyn, not Joe Jonas! Joe Alwyn is her current partner, they’ve been together for a few years now. She briefly dated Joe Jonas as a teenager back in 2008 and has written multiple breakup songs about him on her earlier albums. An easy mix-up with the names but two very different people/relationships. Taylor & Joe Alwyn have seemed to have such a beautiful relationship over the past few years – I’m so glad they found each other. And Invisible String is the perfect exhibit of Taylor feeling like they were meant to be!

    Wonderful post – I love getting lost in lyrics and themes found in music and letting them prompt thoughts about life.

    1. Hi! Ooh, thanks for the correction! Will make the update! I agree that this is one of her greatest pieces. Just LOVE this song. Must have listened to it twenty times just writing this post. Thanks for jumping in here, friend!


  4. Kirkland quoted the very same passage that struck me — you’re definitely on to something there. I grapple with this concept frequently, and I also agree with both of your assertions that life tends to gradually increase the feeling of responsibility with age — or at least, it has for me! I guess that’s a natural progression, though. And I think acting with “purpose and mindfulness” is of highest importance!


  5. “I actively remind myself that I am not personally responsible for everything that happens in my life, and especially not the way other people act or react. It is difficult, though, to find a perch where these varying insights and beliefs hang together seamlessly. What is mine to carry, after all? Though God may be drawing the invisible strings, aren’t I responsible for following the breadcrumb trail with purpose and mindfulness?”

    This couldn’t resonate more. I think these feelings are compounded with being a mother and a spouse, too. As such, we have extra people for whom we’re actually responsible for, which heightens the sense of responsibility for everything and everyone else in our life. And by “in our life,” I mean those strangers on the internet, too. And I am a total Swifty.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing this! I hadn’t thought about it but I agree that marriage and motherhood (and probably managing a team, hiring people for my own company, etc in my past career moves) has compounded the feeling of responsibility. A lot to think about here.


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