Musings + Essays

Onward, Still —

By: Jen Shoop

Mr. Magpie and I “cut the cable cord” years ago and have, for the most part, never looked back. The only show I’ve continuously grieved in the breakup is “The Office,” which, a few years ago, was marooned on NBC’s Peacock island, a subscription service we refuse to consider. After years of my complaints about its absence from our “comfort show” repertoire, Mr. Magpie bought me the entire run of nine seasons on Apple TV over the holiday and I have been joyfully rewatching it in its entirety. Much has been written and made of this show since its initial airing nearly 20 years ago (can you even believe?) in 2005, but there is something that has hit different on this viewing, in a pandemic context. For starters, there is the shock of recognizing that the show’s namesake, its setting — a physical office, with all of the discomforts and awkwardnesses it presents — is nearly unrecognizable in today’s “remote work” world. There is something vaguely post-apocalyptic about watching all of these unmasked people gather together each day and endure the inconveniences of working in close physical proximity with one another while using now-obsolete relics of work years past. I mean, there is actual white out being used on paper in the intro scenes! Faxes, pagers, and landlines play heavily into the logistics of various episodes. Even when the show aired, there were gestures to the near-antediluvian nature of the business: here were unsatisfied employees slinging paper, an industry dying in the face of the digital world and likely to collapse thanks to the presence of enormous conglomerates like Office Depot besides. Earlier viewings, in pre-pandemic contexts, led me to read this situational friction as ironic in various ways. It indicated Michael Scott’s cluelessness (i.e., how could someone be so passionate and chipper about a defunct business?) and seemed to converse with the then-burgeoning millennial obsession with finding meaning and passion in one’s work (i.e., the show gestured to the pointlessness of its characters’ careers, thereby mildly encouraging the opposite). I have been thinking a lot about the latter since a conversation with a girlfriend a week ago in which she said, “My job is fine. It doesn’t define me or feel particularly challenging. But that’s OK. It’s what I need right now with young children at home.” I found her candor refreshing, laudable. Life is seasonal, isn’t it? Maybe what we needed when we were in our 20s is not what we need when we’re in our 30s and perhaps that evolves again and again and again as we age.

Anyhow, this most recent viewing has drawn me to an entirely different headspace. Instead of reading those dissonances as comedy, I see instead heart. The mordancy has dulled with age, particularly in the context of a global pandemic. Because here is a cast of idiosyncratic characters who are living the greater measure of their lives in the confines of an office they do not want to work for and yet finding meaning, love, empathy, courage, awareness. They begrudge the situation but they also laugh, cry, fight, console, cheer, support, provoke. In other words: each character is living her one wild and precious life not in spite of the circumstances but because of the circumstances. The narrative reads an awful lot like some of the conclusions we drew earlier in this pandemic. Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote:

“…I have grappled with an unarticulated impression that we are living an alternity right now, an otherness that is “getting in the way of” or somehow distinct from “real life.” How often do I say: “when things get back to normal…” or “whenever this is done…” or “post-COVID…”? And yet, spring has given way to summer, summer to fall, fall to winter, and winter, soon, to spring again. My children sprout with new abilities and awarenesses….That is to say – I continue to live my life. The pandemic has constricted its latitude in various ways, but not, as it turns out, in one of the ways that matters most: I still move through my days capable of the same wide spray of emotions.”

I trace a similar thread in “The Office,” where the workplace presents itself in some ways as an unpleasant alternity, and yet it is where Pam and Jim fall in love, and Michael finds meaning, and the site of countless other moments of growth and awareness in its characters. I am moved and left hopeful in contemplating the parallels, as I must say I felt rather depleted the other day when micro’s teacher asked me to send in more spare masks, and I found myself hunting around online for new ones only to wander on a fool’s errand for thirty minutes. The ones he likes (Roller Rabbit) are no longer being produced; the ones I like (Busy Bees) I have determined to be too expensive for him as he is far more likely to lose masks than mini ever has been; the ones recommended by a recent article (Evolve Together) are currently out of stock.

“We are here, still?”

I was, in fact, angry for a minute, outraged by the complications and protractedness of this situation. I have tried where possible to take it all on the chin but my God. There are moments like these, where you pop your head up over the precipice and take stock of how long we have lived like this, and the effort knocks the wind right out of you.

“The Office” presents as good medicine, not only because it has always been a comfort, but because it is a reminder that life happens in the narrowest of straits. Keep going — keep swimming — as we say:



+On surviving some tough days of pandemic life: it begins with a prayer.

+On the courage of starting something new.

+How do you start your day?

+The first job each morning.

+More great TV shows — the recs in the comments are fabulous!

Shopping Break.

+J. Crew has some fantastic new arrivals, and I’m obsessed with everything in their new “faded pistachio” colorway, including this coat, this Loewe-esque bag (!), and this Ulla-esque top.

+Neely and Chloe is offering 25% off everything, including sale, with code FRESHSTART. Loving this little bucket bag, this tasseled key ring, and this sweet floral crossbody.

+If you’re going skiing (a know many of my friends are/have been in the last few weeks!), I hear good things about Bogner and Cordova for base layers.

+I know many of you have purchased Helly Henson ski jackets for yourself and your littles (get very good reviews, plus well-priced compared to other brands), but did want to mention I’ve also been hearing really good things about Reima’s bibs, snowsuits, other gear. They are nearly sold out for the season (especially in the colors I’d want) but I have signed up for emails with the intent to buy some gear for next year, when we hope to introduce our children to the slopes.

+Meanwhile, had to mention that H&M has some rain pants (also come in a great pink color) and snow bibs that look a LOT like the Polarn O. Pyrets I have purchased my children for years. Of course, I doubt they will have the same quality as P.O.P. but in case you’re looking for an inexpensive pair to tide you through the season or that will only be used sparingly, I LOVE the style! (Have also heard good things about the quality of this $30 pair from a few moms.) The rain pants in particular are interesting to me if your children walk to school. I used to dress mini in her snowbibs if it was rainy or slushy in the winter because we walked and took the subway every single morning and afternoon and it was freezing and disgusting! At the end of our tenure in Manhattan, I remember telling Mr. Magpie I needed to buy her rain pants for rainy warmer weather days because it was always SO gross to show up sopping wet at school. There’s only so much an umbrella can do for a toddler…

+Speaking of umbrellas, I am in the market for one for micro at the moment. Umbrellas are SUCH a good gift for a child his age. They LOVE them. I love these color-changing ones from Flock and Ross — this space one is fun. Also love this robot one!

+Cutest mini dress.

+Mulberry has some great bags out in fabulous matte pastels, including this pink and this blue.

+Another great striped sweater, this one under $30. More fab striped finds here.

+A perfect bodysuit. Perfect with a high-waisted skirt like this or this or (GASP) this. Speaking of hearts — what to wear to Valentine’s Day!

+I bought Mr. Magpie a few things from Alo to support his new cycling regimen (including these shirts and these shorts), and just noticed that some of the tees I bought him are currently on sale here.

+I also bought him one of these sports water bottles so he wouldn’t have to screw off the top of his while cycling (his old one was a screw top). The one I picked is, according to the Wirecutter, the best on the market.

+Cute personalized mask chain for a little.

+Aspen vibes.

+This sweatshirt comes in such great colors. Love the neck.

+If lucky, you can snag one of the last pairs of these adorable Roller Rabbit jammies on sale for $31 (almost 50% off).

+Ecru overalls! So cute and fresh for spring! Layer with something unexpected like this beneath.

+I have a set of these that I have reused countless times at parties, NYE, etc. They’re so fun to just spray across a table for a little texture and sparkle, or to bunch together in a little bouquet next to candles, or whatever.

+This market cart for children is SO cute. Imagine setting up a birthday party situation with this (serve up little treats on top, goodie bags, etc) and then they can play with it in a play room after.

+This sculpted sweater is so chic. Looks very Khaite, but a fraction of the price.

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14 thoughts on “Onward, Still —

  1. I call it Career Thermidor. Thermidor was the point in the French Revolution where the revolutionaries were sort of like, “ehhh, let’s chill out a bit, do we really need to work so hard?”

  2. The Office is mine and my husband’s comfort show as well! I was so frustrated when it migrated to Peacock. Since you love The Office, I recommend the book Welcome to Dunder Mifflin by Brian Baumgartner. I’m halfway through – its an oral history of the making of The Office. I’m loving it so far! It really feels like such a special show behind the scenes too.

    Thank you, thank you for the baby girl bathing suit recs!! I so appreciate it! Time to do some shopping!

  3. This ! First, because my husband is an Office fanatic (probably watched it 10 times all the way through) and he’s yet to convince me to watch it. Maybe this will be the push. Second, I have actually said (or muttered more like it) the exact words you quoted about my job being “fine.” I am actually in a job right now I currently love and that is challenging, but I haven’t always been and I finally got to the point where I had to be like maybe this is it? Maybe I’m not called to a “career” but a “job.” And is that OK when the world tells me it isn’t? Also I am always thinking about the future and I feel guilty about my job aspirations. I want to do my job and do it well, but I do not want to be the boss or the CEO or what have you. There is nothing wrong with that, but why do I feel bad about NOT wanting that? That the only way to move forward is up? I have to constantly remind myself that my identity is not in my job and I don’t want it to be. So whether I’m a manager, STAHM, boss lady, etc. I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. And sometimes that’s in a job I love and is fulfilling and sometimes it’s fine and pays the bills.

    1. Hi! This is so fascinating and I am so appreciating all the vulnerable and thoughtful comments along these lines today. I was taken by this: “There is nothing wrong with that, but why do I feel bad about NOT wanting that?” Yes! I need to think on this entire thread. Thanks for continuing the conversation. xx

  4. Being “fine” with my job, is something a girlfriend and I also recently spoke about and something I’ve really been struggling with internally for a while. Considering if I should change roles at work, for no other real reason other than that I’ve been in my current role for several years and can sometimes feel stagnant. Am I not “growing” in my career right now? Even though my role allows me to have a really good work/life balance – which has been essential for me with very young children in the Covid area (constant daycare closures and kids having to stay home sick for a runny nose).

    My friend (who also has a young child) mentioned that she was in a similar boat and had been asked to take on a managerial role but declined. We both realized, for the time being, we’re happy where we’re at – we want to do our jobs well and our current roles allow us to grow in other areas, besides our careers. Would I really be happier in a role that put more work on my plate, where I had to work early/late/on the weekends, just to move up?

    As my friend said, “who’s to say you can’t grow in other parts of your life… my job is paying for the way I live my life and things I want to do in my life”. Her saying that really spoke to me and validated some of the feelings I was having about staying in my job.

    Some might criticize that I’m not “leaning in” and I do think there can be a pressure to keep climbing and climbing, which is great for some if that’s truly what you want.
    In my 20s and early 30s, I was very concerned about my title and constantly moving up but less so right now. I’m not sure if this is a result of Covid or the season I’m at in my life with young kids, but I’ve come to realize that even if my current job is just “fine” if it allows me to grow in other areas and be with my kids more, isn’t that ok too? (All of which I recognize is a TREMENDOUS privilege – one I don’t take lightly)

    1. Hi Katie! So good to hear from you! This thread is so interesting, and I completely understand the tugs in different directions. I remember early into working on Magpie full-time, I told a friend that I felt guilty about it for various reasons. It seemed…wrong? to have such a flexible schedule, to not be grinding away the usual 9-5, to sometimes take mornings or afternoons off to take my daughter to a class or get a manicure or whatever the case might have been. I felt insecure in my conversations with friends, imagining that they thought I was somehow “taking an easy way out” or “no longer in the workforce” or “lolling around doing nothing.” (All criticisms I imagined and that were never actually leveled at me.) This isn’t exactly your situation but adjacent to it in that I was living out a career path that was running way far afield from the one I’d subconsciously imagined for myself, which, like you, had involved the vision of long hours, promotions, recognition in the work place. My friend insisted (I can still see where we were sitting in a small midtown restaurant!) that I not feel this way. She reminded me I was supporting my family, taking time to be with my children, pursuing an interest, trying something new. She told me not to forget that nothing is final. This might be for now, not for always. It was so helpful to me; it helped me take a lot of the pressure off and to mute the self-criticism. It also made me realize that no one cared/judged what I was doing — everyone else was too busy getting their own, figuring it out for themselves, etc. So when you wrote: “Some might criticize that I’m not ‘leaning in’…”, I had the strongest flashback to my own thoughts back then and to the way her remark made me realize that actually no one is really criticizing me but myself. We put so much pressure on ourselves! (I mean, sure, there might be some judgmental people out there that will throw some barbs, but most of the time, people are just trying to figure things out themselves!). Anyway, maybe the situation you have right now is “for now, not for always.” And it’s serving your needs well and enabling you to have flexibility at home during this heavy-on-the-vine season of life. I hope you can lean into THAT!


    2. I couldn’t agree with you more! I also think it’s fine to want – yes, want – a smallish life. I don’t want to change the world or work every minute of the day so I can get every possible promotion. I like sitting on the couch with my husband and a glass of wine. I really enjoy a walk to the bakery for breakfast on a weekend. I don’t aspire to be dashing around, always pursuing the next thing. I think this is something that needs to be normalized a bit. I also don’t mind that my job is a job? It’s work and I have pressures and deadlines sure, but it’s not who I am or how I like to define myself. I hear a lot of questions among my mom friends lately of ‘do i need a more fulfilling job’ and i just agree so wholeheartedly with you that maybe a fulfilling life is the pursuit, and the job is just one piece of that.

      1. Thank you for chiming in here — I am so interested in this topic. I think there is a big upside to viewing “a job as a job” and that is — a greater ability to set boundaries and to leave work stress at work (for the most part). I have worked in several different environments, with varying degrees of passion and interest. It was thrilling to be involved with organizations that DID feel as though they shaped my identity and lit something inside. But it was also awesome to have a job that financed my lifestyle and that I could sort of “shut down from” more easily. Different seasons!

        Last, delicately, I would argue that you don’t have a “smallish life.” Your life is enormous and you are living it, right now, to the fullest extent you can.


  5. I just ordered another pack of KN95s for myself and had the exact same feeling…every time I buy masks I hope/think it’ll be the last time and every time I’ve been wrong. BTW I get my KN95 masks from WellBefore, and they do both kids and adults in all sorts of great colors besides white and black. So far I’ve gotten navy and they also carry a chic burgundy and a hunter green.

    1. Solidarity on this front! I think I am in denial that I need to order more…thanks for the note about WellBefore. Just ordered myself! You solved that riddle for me right quick. Ha!

  6. Just a minor note, but The Office started in 2005. Mainly because I would watch it post-college and don’t want to age myself another decade that fast!

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