Musings + Essays

The Magpie Diary: Mar. 23, 2024.

By: Jen Shoop

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Two-Headed Calf

Tomorrow when the farm boys find this
freak of nature, they will wrap his body
in newspaper and carry him to the museum.

But tonight he is alive and in the north
field with his mother. It is a perfect
summer evening: the moon rising over
the orchard, the wind in the grass. And
as he stares into the sky, there are
twice as many stars as usual.

-Laura Gilpin

The crux of being different, of seeing the world differently: its ostracism (or worse) alongside its instrinsic reward. Here is this differently-abled, differently-shaped being who sees twice as many stars as any other soul — ! (Who is the richer in this scenario?) The scene’s poignancy also depends on the calf’s lack of self-awareness. He knows nothing of tomorrow, or the farm boys it will bring: only that he has a mother who loves him and stands next to him in the field.

The poem jumped out at me this week for several reasons. First, I am often thinking about normalizing “the different” with my children, an impulse shaped by my daughter’s eye condition and the fact that my sister was bullied terribly in elementary school, and for no ostensible reason beside her own genius and special way of being. To a much less painful degree, I considered myself an outsider in my tween and early teen years, too. Perhaps most of us feel that way at that cruel and ungainly age, but I remember, with sharpness, the first day of high school, the way I longed to be one of the girls who had an older sister who’d shown her how to wear her uniform and her hair. (I’d mismanaged both.) The pain was acute, and I felt its biting presence in countless other interactions, or as was more often the case, non-interactions: not being invited places, not having a date to the dance, not knowing what to wear on free dress days, not having anyone to carpool with, not having a permanent lunch group. It took weeks before I settled into a friend group, and even then, I was not sure I’d found my home. For all of these reasons, I find myself rushing to correct my children, the television, the books we are reading, myself when “othering” tones emerge. We talk a lot at home about how different people do things differently. How it’s OK if X family has Y rule while we have Z, how A friend does B activity while we do C. My husband recently said “wouldn’t it be boring if everyone was the same?” This seemed to resonate with my seven year old. (There’s a great book by Sesame Street on difference that chimes a similar chord and was a bedtime staple for years for both of my children.) Still, I see us chugging along towards the cliquey years of girlhood with my daughter with a sense of dread.

I was also receptive to the sentiments because I fell down a Substack hole on Tuesday afternoon and discovered the beautiful words of Hanif Kureishi, a writer who collapsed in Rome in 2021 and permanently injured his spine and neck. He has been publishing introspections on his blog with the help of his son, as he is no longer able to use his own hands. There is a poetry to this arrangement: the way we translate for our children when they are too young to speak, and here is a child returning the favor for his parent. I am moved by their implied intimacy. There is something about the early stages of writing, of manipulating words and deleting lines and stringing them back together, that feels terribly vulnerable — something I would find challenging to do with an audience, even of closest kin. All good writing starts with bad drafts. It is lumpy, misshapen, barely there. How humbling to perform those initial, often-off-key strummings in front of a loved one. But — life finds a way, art finds a way. To wit, Bertolt Brecht’s short poem, “Motto”: “In the dark times, Will there also be singing? Yes, there will also be singing. About the dark times.” The creative impulse heeds no traffic signs: it moves according to its own prerogative for self-expression.

Kureishi writes boldly about the changes his injury and disability have brought upon his life, and one of his posts moved me to tears:

“When I went to the gym this afternoon and saw all the patients with their broken or malformed bodies being manipulated and caressed by the physiotherapists, something in me changed.

I thought, if you only watch the news and tv shows, you would have the impression that the world is only a harsh place, inhabited by money-grubbing and narcissistic individuals. When you see the mutual work done in the gym, it is a place of beauty, collaboration and respect.

Many of the patients I have spoken to are aware that those on the outside world are appalled, if not afraid, of those with disabilities. It is as if having a disability were contagious, which it is.

Most of us at some time in our lives will suffer from a catastrophic health crisis which will make us feel isolated and afraid. But it is as if we want to believe that we live in a world of many healthy and well-functioning people. We do not.”

He writes later on:

“The Hungarian psychoanalyst Sándor Ferenczi wrote, I have heard, a paper about remarkable children who have been traumatized. The trauma, according to him, produces an incredibly rapid growth spurt because the child has to develop fast in order to comprehend and organise himself around the new horror.

I am aware of this in my own life; as a teenager I was so traumatised by racism and the unpleasantness of the school I was attending at the time that I began to read and write at a remarkable rate.

I was far more developed than my peers. Trauma saved me and made me into a writer. Something similar is happening here, I am finding a way to cope with the horror of my recent accident.”

I thought, of course, of the two-headed calf poem, about the way life’s cruelties can also transform our vision. Life can put such tremendous pressure on us, and yet we can emerge gem-like, spectacularly transfigured.

The poem, alongside the Kureishi’s words and the context from which he writes them, feel as though they do not belong to me, but isn’t one of the most powerful agencies of art the way it invites us to bear witness? I feel today my heart stretched wide.

What else from this week, friends?

Goody bags of various types: the Veronica Beard (the bag is actually named “The Goody”), a grocery bag of Trader Joe treats (they have some really cute small sized packages of treats perfect for Easter baskets), and a little bundle of beauty favorites I sent off to a Magpie last week. I had written on Instagram how much joy I find in discovering and testing new beauty products (many recommended but you all), and how I’d come across several recently thanks to your sharing your “Everything Shower” routines, and I wanted to pay it forward, so I randomly selected an Instagram follower to send a little bundle of beauty surprises to. You’ll notice the package included Goop Beauty (my favorite Goop products here) and UBeauty (20% off with JENSHOOP). This lip plasma set is such a great, splurgey gift for a girlfriend/mother who is also beauty obsessed.

Also this week: began getting my Easter tabletop sorted. In the Roundhouse sent me a suite of beautiful pieces in pink and green that will be the centerpoint — nearly all of which are currently 25% off with code EASTER25, through today only. The discount makes the shipping more palatable! (The company is based in Australia.). The tulip platter is my favorite, but I also love the bold striped plates, the cutlery, the glasses…! All so eye-catching and punchy. Of course the old Amazon moss bunnies vie for their place in the sun, too. (There’s still time to order outfits and decor for Easter!)

Also wanted to mention that everything from In the Roundhouse arrives beautifully boxed — any of these would make spectacular gifts. The presentation is perfect! You could just tie the box with a satin ribbon, (no wrapping paper needed), and it would be gorgeous. I love companies that pay attention to that sort of thing. I ordered some coasters from The Roundhouse as a hostess gift for a girlfriend hosting a games and cocktails night this weekend. I’d strongly rec throwing a set or two into your order so you have them on hand! (If you’re stateside, you can also buy them from Shopbop and get free, fast shipping.)

Final note on RoundHouse: I couldn’t resist plating one of our Jeni’s ice cream sandwiches on the striped plate. How perfect a match?! Also a reminder that desserts don’t always need to be fancy, homemade, etc — how charmed would you be if your hostess emerged from the kitchen with a tray of Jeni’s ice cream sandwiches for dessert?! The wrapper alone…!

Not from Roundhouse, but how beyond cute and fun are these superlative place cards from paperie Dear Annabelle? Seeing this spread of colorful tabletop finds and these cards makes me want to throw an intimate spring dinner for a few girlfriends…also: Dear Annabelle is offering us 15% off with code JEN15.

A few other snapshots from the week: 1) a gorgeous new dress from Australian label Maggie, which is beginning to expand its reach into America. I cannot wait to style it (and several other warm weather dresses on my rack, including this Mille and this Few Moda!) but it has been cold here this week, and I couldn’t bring myself to try it on, even inside, with the heat blasting. On Thursday, it was 23 degrees when we woke up, and I begrudgingly fished my boots out of the closet and layered myself appropriately — you can see what I wore in the photo at the very top of this post. 2) New nude/blush sandals to wear everywhere. How gorgeous is the leather ankle wrap? I loved the neutral color, too. I didn’t have anything like these in my closet and I feel like they’ll be another great “dress up or dress down” option. 3) Another shoe I loved from this week, but did not bring home with me: a perfect Chanel spring tweed ballet flat, spotted at Saks. 4) Nori’s ironing-board-free steam iron! I had been intrigued by this contraption for a long time and was delighted when the brand reached out and offered me one. It really is an ordeal to get the ironing board out — I use my handheld Rowenta steamer 90% of the time, unless it’s something that really needs a good press. (I’ll be honest, I prefer to iron my beloved Soldout NYC Everything shirt — hope that isn’t disincentivizing to anyone!) I have been contemplating upgrading my steamer to a professional grade one — I still think I might. The Nori press works really well on cuffs, collars, tie belts/sashes, pants (!), and the part of the top sheet you have folded out and showing. Harder to use on bigger swaths of fabric / dresses / etc. I will definitely be folding this into the rotation! 5) The sleepwear brand HA Designs sent me the most gorgeous surprise in the mail — monogrammed pajamas! They are ultra soft, almost a ribbed cotton material. Would be gorgeous for a bride!

Lastly, my limited-time promo code for Anthropologie’s bedding, bath, and pillows expires on Tuesday (3/26) — use JEN20 for 20% off. Great opportunity to snag these pretty towels on sale.

P.S. New Shopbop hearts.

P.P.S. Organized all my recent Amazon finds and orders here. At the last minute, we decided to go away for part of my children’s spring break, and I am racing to get organized for pool days! We need new dive toys, goggles, all the things. You can see a few of my finds in this roundup. My daughter loves her Bling20 goggles but I have to say, these Speedo ones are infinitely better. The thin elastic strap in the back is SO much easier to get on and off heads, and doesn’t snag hair as easily. Lots of great color combos and new patterns, too!

P.P.P.S. Sometimes we learn in leaps. A good reminder for everyone, at all ages.

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2 thoughts on “The Magpie Diary: Mar. 23, 2024.

  1. I have been doing self-work, deep diving into the enneagram (using it as a tool of compassion), and evaluating my worldview compared to some of my loved ones. Thank you for sharing Kureishi’s words and your parallels as I plunge deeper.

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