Living Instead of Visiting.

By: Jen Shoop
"When it's over, I want to say all my life // I was a bride married to amazement." - Mary Oliver

I listened to a How’d She Do That interview with fine artist Eleanor Scott Davis last week, and, in it, she comments that “Living and listening makes you a good writer, not a degree.” It will come as no surprise that I agree with this statement. Though I have found many elements of my degrees in literature useful — the heft of hundreds of hours of “practice” writing, the way poetic scansion tuned my antenna to the multivalence of language and syntax, the grounding in the centuries-long conversations around form and character – it is listening that sends us to the summit of Mount Helicon.

I have been pawing at the principle of “receptivity” across many of my musings lately. I have been cocking my head, sizing it up, in my essay on signs, in my engagement with the book Enchantment (which posits that opening oneself up to the rhythms of the natural world, which which we are too often disconnected, yields deep and transcendent thought), and in errant rivulets of thought on what it means to create. It’s the listening piece that echoes. Over the course of my life, whether because of my inborn personality (a predisposition to stand on the sidelines and watch before plunging in), the curious sequence of professional and artistic undertakings that have conditioned me to live this way by necessity, or my reckonings with grief (mainly over the loss of one of my best friends when I was in my 20s)– I have found myself consciously nurturing receptivity to the inlaid designs of the world around me and those nether-worlds beyond.

This is not to say I am a good writer, but to say that I am a working writer, and I find the practice indispensable to my craft. This is also not to say that I have reached enlightenment, or communed with the dead, but to say that I have willingly held out my shaking palms and occasionally been met with the tingling sensation of reply, and I find that practice indispensable to living.

Which is a good segue into the living part of the equation Davis highlights. Joan Didion famously wrote:

“I’m not telling you to make the world better, because I don’t think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment. And if you ask me why you should bother to do that, I could tell you that the grave’s a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace. Nor do they sing there, or write, or argue, or see the tidal bore on the Amazon, or touch their children. And that’s what there is to do and get it while you can and good luck at it.”


Oh — can you feel it, Magpies?

I do not agree with everything she says here. Specifically, I refuse to see the grave as a dead end. But —

Oh, I hear these words, and I think how desperately short life is, and I want to taste and feel everything, and it comes down to the kind of hunger Mary Oliver captures so well in so many of her poems, but especially here:

When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular,
and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world

mary oliver

Let’s stretch out our arms today, take up space, feel our feet on the floor and the prickle of early spring chill on our bare arms and the particular optimism of the morning sun, the way it winks at the daffodils “fresh-faced and fair,” and invites the familiar outlines of bedside lamps and sleeping dogs to take shape around us.

Let’s live today instead of visiting it.



+I express similar sentiments in this post, which concludes: “I am not living an alternity, or a rehearsal, or a dressing room. I am living, to quote HRH Mary Oliver, “my one wild and precious life.””

+Every morning, a million miracles are born.

+What is the hardest part of your day?

+On gardening for yourself.

Shopping Break.

+I used this Paravel tote ALL last summer in the large size, and it’s currently 25% off with code SPRINGBREAK. It was perfect for trips to the pool — not that it’s waterproof, just the ideal size for toting all my children’s clothing and necessaries (sunscreen, goggles, shampoo/brush for post-swim shower, snacks, etc), but I also found it handy for day trips/car trips and travel. I love the look. I had mine monogrammed!

+Blockprint pareos in fabulous colors for under $25! I have similar ones from Julia Amory that I love to pair as cover-ups at the pool, but I also use it almost as an oversized scarf to wear with simple/monochromatic outfits, like white tee and jeans, utility jumpsuit (<<Madewell makes the best ones), etc.

+Summer living essential — love a linen pull-on pant! I’m eyeing these in the army green. Would look so fabulous with simple leather sandals and a blockprint blouse, tee, etc.

+A truly versatile and stylish navy dress. Dress up or down!

+This caftan is a dream. The ric rac! The embroidery!

+These children’s helmets come in the best matte pastel colors.

+This lilac sundress is spectacular. Love the corded belt tie. I have this dress (or a variation of it) from Antik Batik in a yellow pattern with the same corded belt tie that is SO happy.

+This $80 bucket bag is giving Celine vibes.

+Obsessed with these sandals from The Row. I love that they combine a fierce minimalism with the tiniest bit of playful femininity thanks to the bow — like, a grown up sandal with a smirk on its face.

+Zara has some great new arrivals — this patchwork midi dress and this poplin tank dress in a fetching apricot color turned my head! The latter reminds me of this Staud dress!

+You all loved this reasonably priced blockprint tablecloth so much — wanted to share scalloped, block-print placemats at a similarly appealing pricepoint (2 for $20; 4 for $36).

+Westman just released its fabulous highlighter in a new color: “glassy oyster pearl.” I am fairly stringent with my one-in-one-out policy on many beauty products, e.g., I force myself to use foundation, concealer, tinted moisturizer, cleansers, mascaras until the tube is finished or I’ve determined I don’t like it for some reason, in which case I will get rid of them for something new, but I can NOT have enough highlighters. I just love this product category so much.

+The chicest scalloped cocktail napkins I ever did see.

+This slipper chair is beyond fabulous.

+Gorgeous sun hat.

+Pretty spring floral blouse from J. Crew.

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8 thoughts on “Living Instead of Visiting.

  1. I love this call to action. To noticing. To going and staying where it’s a little sticky. I recently shifted my perspective from feeling stuck/rushing (why can we never leave for school on time, bedtime must end at some point so i can start to work, organize, prep for the next day, eat dinner!) to lingering a little more in the stickiness. This morning, we left later than desired for school, of course. But it’s because my kids were begging for us to read a story over breakfast and then they had dozens of questions about the book. Some mornings i’d see this as being stuck at breakfast, but this morning, being stuck was also the sweetest part of my day thus far. i love when you post these reminders and quotes to encourage further reflection of how to fully participate in my own life.

    1. Elizabeth! What a beautiful note. I love the concept of “sticky” parts of the day, and seeing them as a component of / enabler of real living rather than something to rush through / compress / “just get through.” I hadn’t thought in those terms but recently I have been having the worst heartache over the moments of my day where my children come into my office and disrupt my work flow when they are home from school. Sometimes I am so impatient! But I just know that they need me at those times, and that I’ll look back and regret not welcoming the pause. They need my words, my arms, just the sight of me after being at school all day. I have been trying to “bake those visitations into my day” versus view them as interruptions.

      Thanks for the encouragement.


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