Musings + Essays

The Magpie Diary: July 7, 2024.

By: Jen Shoop

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For a long time now, when someone asks “how are you?”, I’ve responded: “Oh good. In a good groove.” At first, this was a considered refusal of the standard: “Oh, busy, busy” I’d adopted in the previous years. But over time, it became true: I am in a good groove. No big moves on the horizon. Settled. Centered, still in a way I’ve never been before. But the past few years have represented such a rich amount of self-work and self-reflection that I feel in some ways like a different person entirely? But this is life, right? A constant remaking, refining.

I have been thinking carefully and intensively about a few themes over the past few years. The first is the impact my friend Elizabeth’s death had on me. I sit here and want to write: “I never appropriately grieved her death.” But we know there is no appropriate way to grieve. I will simply say that I was working with a very shoddy set of tools when she passed. I remember feeling as if I did not have permission to grieve? Like, that belonged to her family, and to a few other friends of ours who had been at her bedside in the days leading up to her death. It took me years to realize that I was doing something horrible to myself with that self-denial. Avoiding it, and punishing myself for not being there when she passed away. Writing about her over the past few years has helped. I’ve permitted myself to grieve her in a more straight-forward way, without the absurd padding and sideways glancing I had previously negotiated. I have no clarity on her death, but I feel I’ve looked my grief straight in the eye. The end point is always this, though, which makes my heart sink: I miss her. There is nothing else to say about it.

As I’ve thought about her, and that grief, I’ve realized that her death explains so many of my present-day fears and worries. For one thing, it does not take a genius to draw the line between her diagnosis and death and my ongoing medical anxieties. At 25, I learned you can die, and you can die young and beautiful and full of promise. One of the most haunting stories about her diagnosis: when her mother came to the hospital after she’d collapsed the first time, she saw that E was on the seventh floor — the cancer ward — and she collapsed herself. I can’t unthink that moment. Now I see cancer and I want to collapse, too. At some point in recent memory, a friend told me that if you haven’t been diagnosed by 40, you are probably not going to succumb to a genetic condition. Of course, you can always get sick by any number of ways (environmental, etc) but when I turned 40 last week, I would be lying if I didn’t say “whew, passed that hurdle.” Yikes, Jen! I can understand the connection between all these things, the way they are logical but not, but I can’t quite climb outside the reflex to worry at them.

Elizabeth was also the first friend I lost. I would soon after lose one of my very best friends to…I’m not sure what? A sudden closing-up I still cannot parse, a wound that still won’t close. And then I slowly lost the circle of friends I’d shared with Elizabeth. She had been the glue that held us together. I wonder, routinely, whether we would still be close if she were alive. Later, I also experienced the very natural and non-acrimonious growing-apart with friends from different eras of my life, different cities in which I’d lived. I know these separations are a part of life. If you are lucky, you can visit with those friends and enjoy their company in smaller doses every few years, and it feels beautiful in its own way. But sometimes I find myself navel-gazing and wondering if there isn’t something about me that means I cannot hang onto friends forever. And so I have this pesky, intermittent insecurity around friendship that I converse with every now and then.

On the positive side, though, her passing and my clumsy grief afterward have taught me countless invaluable lessons that have shaped me for the better. First, on how to be there for other people grieving, especially children witnessing death for the first time. When Tilly died, I felt ready. Elizabeth had given me everything I needed to help them through. Second, on how to not take friendships for granted. How to call out their graciousness and wonder. How to be active in them. How to be flat out grateful. I am still routinely surprised and delighted by how loving my friends are. Who, me?! This old girl?! God, I’m lucky! Lucky to have friends that flew and drove down to Charlottesville to celebrate me last week. Lucky to have friends who at the last minute had to cancel because of a medical emergency and who were clearly devastated not to be there. I was moved by their agony over their absence!

Anyhow, I’ve been excavating these themes and I feel I’ve made a lot of progress. In some ways it feels that my 20s were a heady, careless blur in which I didn’t even have the wherewithal or perhaps enough distance in the rear view mirror to make heads or tails of her death or any of these latent worries. Life was happening to me? I was processing it as best I could, I guess? It sort of feels like I was blankly absorbing the phenomena, although perhaps that’s not giving myself enough credit. Then came my early to mid 30s: moving, switching jobs, entrepreneurship, having babies, COVID. Life was coming fast and furious. I was aware of my rich inner emotional life (“that’s interesting I’m so worried about this appointment…”), but I didn’t have the bandwidth to really dig into any of it. When you are going on day 44 of no sleep, you are not in a position to interrogate your irrational worries about getting sick. Lazlo’s hierarchy and all. But then in the downslope of my 30s, I found I finally had the time, the tools, the emotional stamina to look carefully at these tender spots. To lay the cards on the table, and to play them as they laid. I can’t tell you how helpful this has been. To really take the time to look inside. For one thing, it’s given me the smallest and most meaningful amount of purchase when I’m worried. I can point at the worry and remind myself “this is just that thing again. Breathe; this too will pass. It always does.” And for a second I’m floating above the worry, pointing at it as though it’s passing weather. This self-study has also helped me realize that life is not about feeling nothing. It is scary to look straight in the mirror at yourself, but you survive. You might be inspired to change what you don’t like, or to work on what feels off, or to remind yourself to go easy on yourself in the areas where you see that you are, at the end of the day, just an open heart missing her friend. And it might suck temporarily. But the stakes are not as high as I thought. It’s just me on the other end. No one shaking her finger, no one saying “I told you so!” Just me, helping myself out.

And so when I say “I’m in a good groove,” I really mean it. On a bone deep level. I’m grooving along a smoothed-out path, scar stories and all, reminding myself and anyone who will listen: “Go easy!”

Whew. Katharos.


I don’t have a slew of pictures to share this week, but I will close by saying I love the denim shirtdress I’m wearing above. Frank & Eileen sent it to me as a part of a sponsored project I did with them on Instagram, and it, along with everything else they sent, is absolutely incredible. I am thrilled — ecstatic? — to have them in my closet. The dress is loose but flatteringly column-like, and the kind of thing I will throw on at home and on the weekends with some of my favorite accessories at the moment. I put it on and thought: “Wait, is this my Ina Garten uniform?” (You know how she always wears a denim shirt?) It evokes a strong sense of lifestyle for me: I put it on and think of myself as an artist in a pottery studio on a gorgeous Hamptons property. It is SO good. Soft, lived-in, easy-breezy, unfussy but elegant in its own way. And then there’s the linen set I already yapped about yesterday. I truly am speaking in exclamation points about these pieces. I also have and love a few of their sweat sets, but these two items — the denim dress, the linen duo — are wardrobe staples for me.

I wore above with my Sunshine Tienda hat, March Hare watch, Dolce Vita raffia fisherman sandals, and Dans La Main tote.

P.S. Great summer dresses.

P.P.S. Always updating my Shopbop hearts.

P.P.P.S. More on Elizabeth here, here, here.

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2 thoughts on “The Magpie Diary: July 7, 2024.

  1. Jen, I’ve had this feeling in my heart and body the shape of these words for the last six years,. It started as I stared down my 30th birthday and realised that I was scared to celebrate it because it felt like even if I invited people, it was unlikely that anyone would be able to come: the myriad factors that make up our changing life landscape as we take up residence in the land of real adulthood.
    A loneliness joined me then that I’ve had ever since and this past week I’ve finally started to talk to some of my oldest girlfriends about it. I relate so much to what you’ve described above though, of course, a chunk of the terrain is unique to me, just as yours is unique to you. I can only imagine the grief of losing a friend, as you lost your Elizabeth, and my heart aches for you. Those losses change the fabric of everything. I see you in this and your writing about this has given me new language for how to support and be present for people experiencing loss. Thank you.

    I was talking to my husband about it in bed last night (those other precious kinds of pillow talk). I was saying to him that I am — newly — accepting now that maybe friendships and connections falter because this may be part of what happens when we’re in our integrity. I don’t have the energy to divide myself into all different versions of myself, remaking and adopting moulds depending on the people. I want that “baggy life” you’ve written of that goes with me everywhere and that practically meshes who I actually am with how I am being and doing in all things. It hurts when there isn’t that value resonance for friendships and networks and connections to keep blooming. It hurts when things can’t stay equitably nurtured or that the currents of life cause a continental drift. It hurts when nothing has gone “wrong” but the friendship isn’t really alive anymore. Grief in that is its own specific heartbreak.
    Up until the last few days I’ve felt so much shame and self-blame that I wanted to attribute to my own failings. Loneliness and loss are hard to bear though I think that it’s ok to commit to our path, tending the groove of it, and to live with that purpose of integrity, of our values, in action. All of this to say: these words of yours fit what I feel and are giving further illumination to parsing, processing, and transforming xx

    1. Aoife – Thank you so much for this vulnerable and encouraging response. I am completely on your same wavelength and I love the shape of the pillowtalk you shared “This may e part of what happens when we’re in our integrity.” Wow! Thanks for sharing this. Thank you for being a sister-in-arms on this!


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