Life Rearranges Itself.

By: Jen Shoop
"No matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully." -Hanya Yanagihara

For years, I have avoided Hanya Yanagihara because what little I know about her award-winning novel, A Little Life, is distressing enough to disquiet me from afar. I don’t think I could handle it. My sister, who knows my triggers and worries well, has insisted it is not for me, and I take her word for it. That said, I have encountered pieces of the writing from this book here and there, and I marvel over her work, even decontextualized. I have had this quote of hers saved in a journal for awhile:

“Things get broken, and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realize that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully.”

The language here releases me in twenty different directions. First, I think of loss and the way life slowly “takes root around the perimeter,” rearranging itself around new contours and dips and sinkholes. Areas that used to be packed sturdy now run tender but we learn how to accommodate those soft spots, or we feel newly grateful for terra firma. People come out of the woodwork, new doors open, we see the corners of our worlds in fresh — sometimes painfully fresh — ways. I have experienced this rearrangement so many times, and not even for life’s heavier moments. Sometimes I am caught up in a trivial stress and I step outside and find myself newly happy for the simplicity of suburban life, as though the cardinals and bunnies and dew are apology notes. I felt that way, too, in New York City. Our good friends (longtime Manhattanites) insisted when we moved there that “New York always makes it up to you.” I didn’t know what they meant until I realized that for every instance of missed subway stops, disgusting city detritus, “no more tables available,” stranger-making-an-uncomfortable-scene, fussy lines and long waits, there were also “the pinch mes”: 85th street blanketed in snow, Jackie O. in the spring, the way you almost can’t believe the shock of the cityscape against a night sky, the bald drama of it all. The way the staff at Barney Greengrass make you feel like you’re doing something wrong while ordering, and you never know where to stand there or what the protocols for lox and accoutrements are, but you’re still part of it, and it feels magical and slightly staged, as if the entire city is an elaborate performance of itself, and you are — against all odds — among the cast. New York bustles, and sometimes it is a grind and other times you move with its electricity, as though an extension of its tentacle. Anyhow, these are fibrous examples, but I read those words from Yanagihara and I see a kind of philosophy of life that has played out so frequently in my own: the way life bends and bounces back, resilient. The way we lose so much as we live — opportunities, friendships, loved ones, rhythms, places — but we are never empty-pocketed. Life continues to replenish us. Sometimes not with what we think we want or need, but I tend to believe that often these compensations are unexpectedly wonderful.

My sister-in-law gave my son a beautiful book while in town, Mem Fox’s Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge. In it, a young boy befriends the elderly of the assisted living facility next door to his home, and one of his friends has been losing her memory. The boy asks all of the other inhabitants what “memory” means and receives a range of illustrative answers. He interprets these answers literally, and collects items in his home that map to the descriptions. He ends up bringing the woman a seashell, an egg, a medal, and other assorted household items with the intention of “giving her her memory back,” and when he places them in her hands, she is able to remember whispers of her past, jarred into recollection by the physicality of the medal, the egg, and so on. I was so moved by the story, by the way this aging woman, on her own and often muddled, is able to access things lost by virtue of a new and anticipated friendship. Of course she would likely prefer to be with the loved ones, her memory clear and crisp, in her own home, but instead life has compensated her for these losses by delivering her a young man curious and kind enough to search his home for what she might have lost.

Thinking today of how snugly this philosophy nestles alongside the practice of gratitude and surrender. The counting of good things in my life, the acceptance that I can’t control what comes next, the openness to being compensated in unexpected ways.


+In praise of a normal day.

+It’s just that–!! (Life is so short!)

+A humble thing.

+What does happiness look like?

Shopping Break.

+Margaux is running an archive sale — I know many of you are big fans, especially of their Chanel-esque ballet flats, which are included in the promo. I feel like the silver are really fresh-feeling. So chic with a long shirtdress or white jeans or anything at all, really. But I am really dialed in on their lace-up sandals. I’ve been wanting a pair this summer. They’ve sold out of my size in the brown suede but those are SO fabulous. Imagine with a floaty white dress…!

+This has sold out a few times before but I think this is SUCH a fantastic wedding guest dress for under $200.

+Another great affordable wedding guest dress option — this one under $70. I feel like I would have tried this while pregnant, just sized up and seen if I could wear around the bump.

+I am OBSESSED with this double sided blush-and-illuminating stick — I love the blush as lipstick and the illuminator is so easy to apply in stick format (no fingers or brush needed). It is 25% off with code SPARKLE.

+New Balances in a fun new color combo.

+Love the vision of this top with white jeans.

+Love the silhouette/details of these shorts. Such good colors, too!

+These seashell shaped bowls are SO cute for coffee table decor / fruit / bananas / etc.

+Neely and Chloe’s new packing cubes come in the cutest prints! Remind me of D. Porthault patterns!

+This baby tee is in my cart.

+Chic crochet skirt, under $50.

+A bit spendy, but I love the bubble bath from the brand California Baby. Smells great and really amps up the bubbles.

+This citrus print J. Crew dress reminds me of something Alemais would release.

+FUN earrings.

+Seriously cute bag. Reminds me of Johanna Ortiz.

+These cups are clever — they graduate with your toddler and can be converted so your child can drink with a covered top and straw, a covered top and spout, or sans top.

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8 thoughts on “Life Rearranges Itself.

  1. Hanya was my boss’s boss while I was interning at Traveler—a meticulous, inventive figure (i recall an astonishingly intricate story-map of the Amazon, some of which would make its way into her first novel). She did not cut corners. Anyways, re A Little Life—read the first third, if not the rest, which is as agonizing and gruesome as has been mentioned. The first third is young New York magic.

    1. Wow – so cool to have this insider’s view of her! Thank you for sharing. She seems to me absolutely brilliant and that’s without having read the book.


  2. That book is hunting and, while beautiful in some ways, bordering on misery porn in others. Definitely not a must read. Beyond that, I loved your reflection today. It rings very true and is a reality that I think we don’t often recognize, especially in the day to day of busy life. I have never liked the oft-used saying, “Everything happens for a reason”, have felt it to be lazy and almost callous. But the part that feels accurate is that often unwanted things happen and shake up our world, and the way it resettles is not what we expected but it may be wonderful in its own way. Emptiness can be filled in more than one way and that is a comfort.

    1. So many great insights here, and I can completely empathize with your reaction to “Everything happens for a reason.” It does often feel shrugging, callous when other people say it. I like this view — that life may not unfold as planned but that it does continue to unfold and sometimes in unexpectedly wonderful ways. Thank you for sharing these thoughts.


  3. Okay I’m new here- but I read A Little Life and felt compelled to comment. Hanya Yanagihara is a genius and writes so beautifully – that being said about one third of the way in it definitely got rough for me and I was a bit traumatized after finishing. I’m not questioning her genius but it’s not for everyone!
    Thank you for the quality content- I enjoy checking in here!

    1. So glad you’re enjoying Magpie, Priscilla! Also, based on your comment and that of a few others, will continue to avoid A Little Life! Don’t need that!


  4. Ugh, A Little Life…the best worst book, or maybe the worst best book? To quote one reviewer, “To begin to read A Little Life means that soon you will ask again why we read at all.” So yea, I think you can skip it!

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