Musings + Essays

Or Perhaps, It Is a Thanatopsis.

By: Jen Shoop
What does it mean, to answer for yourself?

At one of the events leading up to my brother’s wedding, I arrived at cocktail hour dressed to the nines and one of the wives of my brother’s friends looked me up and down, squintingly, and said: “Why are you so dressed up?” Distaste dripped from her like honey. I laughed, or something. My sister squeezed my arm and whispered under her breath, “Why are you so dressed down?”

I pay regular visits to this memory, not because I would go back and change my response, and not because it was a particularly injurious barb, but because, for a split-second, I doubted myself. The world went wide and then thin. I found myself itching to adjust my collar, my hem, my hair. And then, just as quickly, I snapped back into myself with a kind of reassurance that insisted: “No response required.” (My sister’s firm grip on my arm — and the situation — helped.)

I think about that exchange when I need to galvanize myself. When I need to remember what is core and what is periphery. When I find myself adrift in my (inevitably skewed) interpretations of how other people perceive me. People will say things. Some of the time, they mean nothing by them. Most of the time, they are coping by way of projection. Very occasionally, they intend to hurt.

None of that is my business.

I am not for everyone; that is OK.

I can only answer for myself.

What does it mean, to answer for yourself? I write those words and find it impossible not to imagine a Judgment Day scene. I imagine a babel of voices, a commotion of hands and arms, each straining to be seen and heard. Regardless of the movements of the crowd, when my name is called, I will need to stand up and speak clearly. I will need to own myself, the parcel of thoughts and words and actions that have together defined me during these wild and precious days. There will be no diversions, no vaguenesses, no explanations, no do-overs. I will be lit up clear as day.

What do I want myself to look like?

These are big, scary provocations, edge-gilded in finality. But this is no thanatopsis*. I don’t write to alarm or menace. I write to remind myself that today is another opportunity to seek alignment between my movements, my choices, the way I structure my day and time and home, and the version of myself I want to be. I write them to remember to let everything else slide right off my back, right out of my home.


*Or, perhaps, this is it’s own kind of thanatopsis. W.C. Byrant:

“So live, that when thy summons comes to join

The innumerable caravan, which moves

To that mysterious realm, where each shall take

His chamber in the silent halls of death,

Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,

Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed

By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave

Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch

About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.”


+Wild geese.

+Gardening for yourself.

+Imprints of a new lifestyle.

Shopping Break.

+Oh my goodness — Doen’s holiday dresses are spectacular. I literally gasped at this dress and this one. Of course I LOVE the NYC backdrop in this campaign!!

+We need this plaid turtleneck, Magpies. Imagine with high-waisted velvet trousers. Yep.

+This is my favorite holiday candle. I burned it all last season!

+A well-priced half-zip for little boys.

+This pearl knit from Zara is 10/10.

+Well priced linen napkins!

+I just discovered the brand Material Kitchen and love the idea of these $25 mini cutting boards (dishwasher-safe, too). We have a few of these small cutting boards from Epicurean that we use multiple times a day, whether preparing a sandwich, dicing up a piece of fruit for the children, cutting lemons or limes, etc., but they aren’t dishwasher safe. Wondering if the boards would be a good stocking stuffer for Mr. Magpie!

+They also have sets of colored juice glasses that are reasonably priced — $50 for a set of 4. Fun for a holiday table!

+J. Crew has some really fun fair isle cardigans — of course I love this embellished one, but this long-line one is intriguing — the dimensions are interesting — and I feel like this navy one would be perfect over my plaid dresses.

+You all sold out those faux-diamond huggies I featured last week, but these are similar and around the same price!

+Ordered my children these Grinch MagnaTiles for holiday season.

+Of course I swooned over this velvet smocked dress for a little one.

+These jeweled or pearled ear muffs are SO fun.

+Love this gold cocktail dress.

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12 thoughts on “Or Perhaps, It Is a Thanatopsis.

  1. This is all so true, and also so hard for me to internalize. I tend to take things personally and it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve started to realize that when someone says something snide, it’s more of a reflection of them than of me, and that it’s okay if someone doesn’t like me. I still have trouble with it though, and even writing out that previous sentence made me feel tense! I think it’s because I feel like I’m the onus is on me to make sure everyone likes me all the time, and to act or think otherwise means I’m not fulfilling my responsibilities. But I’m working on that! And keeping in mind that it can take a long time to unlearn something.

    Also, I just wanted to say that one of many reasons I love reading your blog is because I always learn new words from you, like Thanatopsis! Keep up the good work 🙂

    1. I totally get it – it is also difficult for me to feel unliked. Some core instinct in me wants to say: “Oh yes I am overdressed – ha ha!” to put the other person at ease? I am learning that the awkwardness/pang I feel by not saying something to agree/put someone else at ease is fleeting and I’m always happy I’ve said nothing at all.

      Thanatopsis!! So much more elegant than “musings on death.” Ha. Glad you appreciate!


  2. I always think that when someone says/does something inappropriate, unkind, hurtful, etc… it says more about them then it does about you! I feel like this applies to so many different situations — whether it’s an insensitive comment, or someone cutting you off on the road, or whatever.

    PS: Epicurean boards are dishwasher safe! That was the main reason I switched from wooden boards to Epicurean. I’ve had mine in a few different sizes for a number of years now and have always put them in the dishwasher, and they are still fine 🙂

    1. I agree with you — an insult says a lot about the issuer. Sometimes easy to forget in the moment when you feel like the dagger is pointed at you.

      I did NOT know this about Epicureans! We had thought ours were getting dried out and have not put them in the washing machine for years now!!! Thank you!


      1. Re: Epicurean boards in the dishwasher — I will say that over time running it through the dishwasher affects the finish (but not the function!) of the board. Since you hand wash yours, your boards probably still look relatively new(ish?). However, given that they are such workhorses in my kitchen everyday, the convenience wins! I have one nicer wooden board for cheese boards, entertaining, etc.

        1. Good to know! Just glad I have it as an option when, for example, mincing garlic or something else that leaves a lot of essence behind!


  3. I had a similar experience once when I showed up to a high-end restaurant with some friends dressed for the occasion and the wife of a friend immediately made a disparaging comment about how dressed up I was. Which I later realized was an insecurity response because she was wildly underdressed!

  4. Oh my! I had a very similar experience when I was dressed and leaving for my sons very elegant rehearsal dinner (that we were hosting!) One of the bridesmaids came up to me and said, “Oh my you look like you’re going to a black tie event”. I was so offended and tartly responded with “Oh but I am”. The nerve of a guest of ours saying this to me really upset me. Then I realized, maybe I should take that as a compliment that I am dressed well! My mother always said it was better to be overdressed than under dressed and I live by that matre.

    1. That would have upset me, too! I think usually those types of comments stem from insecurity about the speaker’s chosen attire, e.g., “oops, am I under-dressed? Let me make someone else feel less comfortable by suggesting that they are TOO well-dressed.” I don’t know? It’s weird someone would even say something along these lines. Like, what possible good or helpful thing could come out of a comment like that?

      Anyway, the experience was ultimately a good one for me because — frivolous as that particular example is — it really did remind me that I am only in control of myself, that I need to just let things slide off my back and ignore.


    1. Thank you, Laura! A really powerful (galvanizing!) message to instill in your children early on. I actually found myself communicating this sentiment to my five year old daughter recently. We had spent some time with another child who had used some bad language / said some mean things and we had a long chat about how we can recognize that something was not nice and say as much and then turn away — we still have the choice to use kinder language, we can control ourselves and our choices, etc. I think she really internalized that.


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