Musings + Essays

Portraits of a Heart.

By: Jen Shoop

I have been listening to Dave Grohl’s self-narrated memoir, which reads like a series of exclamations. He is passionate and jumpy and early into the text, he extols the virtues of living life head-on, turned-up, full-throttle. He explains that, as a young boy, his affections were spurned by a childhood sweetheart. His takeaway then, and whenever he greeted disappointment thereafter, was paradoxically positive: even while wet-behind-the-ears in the denouement of his first romantic entanglement, he observed that “heartbreak has proven to me that I can feel.”

I have felt for much of my life that I am too sentimental. I am quick to cry and easily moved by even the quotidian. I recently visited with a friend who had just lost a parent, and thought to myself, in the days prior, how poorly suited I was to the task. I anticipated crying more than consoling. I coached myself: this is about her, not you. I googled what to say. I did my best. We cried together, we hugged one another, and I tried my hardest to just sit there and listen. I hope I gave her something, if only a reminder that I care about her. But afterwards, I wondered whether this was a situation where I should have sent another girlfriend in my stead — one a bit less prone to crying? Or whether it was OK for me to just be there and be myself, tears streaming down my face and all. I don’t know: grief is a tender-then-taut thing, and while in many avenues of life, “being my truest self” is the right tack, I would never want to worsen or exaggerate an already intense time. Primum non nocere, etc. This was a moment not at all about me. I wanted to give her myself, not my tears.

Ellen Niven, the widow of a 9/11 victim, wrote this: “Grief culls you from the trusting joyous herd. A tenacious and liquid emotion, it finds any crevice in our hearts and souls and seeps in there, just waiting to burst through at the slightest provocation. A smell. A sound. Familiar handwriting on an old card. A duffel bag in the attic. And a crisp September morning shared by strangers, each with their own story to tell. Then suddenly, driving on the highway or checking out groceries, that grief bursts into any empty space. Strange that it doesn’t glow florescent like hot spots on a body scan.” At the end, she adds: “I am a private person, but share openly today as 9/11 is a collective loss; we all felt something that day, and are reminded in this fragile world that when we feel great sadness together, we are human.”

Grohl, and Niven, and a girlfriend who told me, while I was weepy over my son’s matriculation to school earlier this year: “You should let yourself feel all the feels. It just shows how much you love your role as a mom,” have made me think differently about my emotiveness. It is intense to move through life with an open heart, accepting what comes our way plainly, without rehearsal or recoil. We might react to that intensity differently, but there is nothing shameful or minatory about those authentic responses. When we cry, wring our hands, fret, feel the pang of regret or remorse, bow our heads, laugh at inopportune moments, stutter because we cannot say what we wish, find ourselves uncomfortably rocked by emotion, strain to discern the right thing to do, stumble over our words — we are doing so because we care. These are the Picasso-like portraits of a heart: misshapen here, exaggerated there, fractured in strange and contorted dimensions from this angle or that. There may be inelegance. But make no mistake: they are heart all the same.


+Similar sentiments in this post: “I realized that instead of using this transition as an occasion to browbeat over moments I have missed or blindly marched through in my son’s baby years, and instead of mourning his babyhood, I could welcome this moment to just sit with the awareness that I love him so much I don’t want anything about him to change. And to see that there is nothing dark or rueful or terminal afoot: it is all borne by the same love that carried him into this world. He is mine, and he is not mine, and my emotions around these truths are just permutations of love.”

+On my daughter: “She does not negotiate: / Everything must happen on her own terms, in her own time, / A tortoise who cannot be provoked out of her shell, / Who prefers warming in the sun on her own anyhow. / But when she is ready, she turns sylphid, radiant and confident as she skips across the trampoline with untrammeled joy.” Full essay here.

+On creative habits.

+On apologies.

Shopping Break.

+Cute midi dress for under $30.

+Cateye shades are trending this summer — love this loud hot pink pair, drool over Celine, or you can get this $59 pair in black, this under-$70 tortoise pair, or this under-$15 pair (!) if you don’t want to invest to heavily in the trend.

+All the cool girls wear Toteme.

+Tis the season for Elin Hilderband’s newest novel.

+In the market for a chic bodysuit to pair with midi skirts — has anyone tried Skims?

+Love the colors of these NBs.

+An absolutely adorable outfit for a little girl. Perfect for FOJ and beyond.

+More FOJ outfit ideas for children and women here, to which I must add this gorgeous navy and white number!

+Such a great and versatile sweater — comes in tons of colors. Love the buttons at the cuff.

+Sturdy cosmetics organizer.

+Utility-chic shirtdress.

+Adore this botanical midi skirt.

+This linen-blend shorts set for a little one is so cute!

+THE perfect summer clutch.

+Cute $10 striped tee for a little.

+I dream of one day owning a La Vie Stylehouse caftan!

+Lorna Murray’s pleated hats have been all over my Instagram, styled by loads of chic peas…are you pro or con this splashy trend?

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6 thoughts on “Portraits of a Heart.

  1. I’ve always felt that the ability to show emotion is much more of a strength than a weakness. I unabashedly wear my heart on my sleeve and have come to admire that about myself, as (I think) it can be seen as a sign of emotional intelligence and empathy. I have always appreciated friends who have cried with me in my darkest moments, too. Much, much better than bottling it up or repressing it!


  2. Loved reading this today. It hit home for me as I too, wear my emotions on my sleeve, but I sort of think that is the best way. Xo

    1. You are not alone! Thanks for sharing. I received so many lovely notes and DMs from women saying that they in fact appreciated friends who cried with them during difficult times — one women said it gave her license to cry openly in a way she hadn’t before.


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