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I did not like the pace of my life during the first half of this week. I battle constantly against what I’ve elsewhere called “the ersatz glamor of busyness,” instead making a point of seeking rest, but this week, I found my margins ultra-thin, and I moved through my days with militaristic precision and speed, every second accounted for, and every undertaking carefully plotted. I found myself “timeboxing,” almost instinctually — a generative practice from my product days, where we believed that constraints were a good thing in design, and that setting an abritrary limit on the amount of time we had to generate new solutions was useful. (The two corollaries being: necessity is the mother of invention and trust your instinct / the first answer is often the right answer.) Only I was applying this to my life: “OK, Jen, you have until 11 a.m. to get this down on paper. Go.” and “You may have 20 minutes in the grocery. Run.” To hell with whatever landed in the offing.
By happy circumstance, Leslie Stephens wrote about this concept this week, arguing for the importance of slowing down, not just because it’s healthful for us, but because it’s a key ingredient in living an empathetic life. Here, she quotes Simon Weil: “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” A lump formed in my throat as I recalled the afternoon this week I’d attempted to take some photographs for an upcoming brand project, and my children had interrupted my every move, asking for water, more paper, reassurance, attention–or physically finding their way into the frame (as seen above). It had been a flukey day: my children were home from school, Mr. Magpie was out of town, our nanny left midday to take care of a family emergency (everything OK, thank God!), and yet I needed to take the photos as I was heading out of town the next morning. And so I’d attempted to get it done during the pocket of time I’d designated despite the fact that my children were clamoring for my attention. My son followed me around, shadow-like, carrying a sticker book around like a briefcase and flopping right down by feet wherever I moved, peppering me with questions all the while. I tried to exercise grace. I permitted their interruptions; I fetched the paper; I carried on distracted conversation; I broke up their fights. But I was not giving them my full attention — not even half of it.
I struggle with the mathematics here. I had a commitment to a brand, and I was taking it seriously. I also cannot give my children all of my attention all of the time — even when I am not attempting to complete my work, for reasons both practical and philosophical. There are chores to do, and responsibilities to meet, and I want them to see me focused, productive, committed. It is OK — good — for my children to learn that they need to wait, to be patient, etc. And this project called for maybe thirty or forty minutes of my time. (Of course, the minute I packed up the gear, they scattered, needing me no longer.) I had also spent a lot of dedicated time with them the day prior. I know attention and love aren’t governed by economics — e.g., just because we’d spent a lot of QT the day prior didn’t mean they didn’t need it again the morning after! — but this was not a situation where I’d been preoccupied or unavailable to them for a sustained period. At the same time — should I have punted the project back? The phrase “You’re where you need to be” floated in front of me like a mirage. Was I not where I should have been? Should I have thrown in the towel when my son wandered in front of the camera for the third, or fifth, or seventeenth time?
I’m not asking you to actually answer that, because what this week taught me was that there is never going to be one perfect, consistent answer, and sometimes the right thing is powering through to get the project done and other times the right thing is turning everything off and flopping onto the ground with my children. The situation also reminded me of how much we hold as mothers — how much we hold together the worlds of our children. I emerged from that 45 minute session feeling a strange mix of emotions: touched by how much my children need me and want to be in my company, flustered by how demanding the session had been, and also, frankly, moved to laughter by the absurdity of it all. It had been a comedy of errors. My new goal, however, is to strain to ensure that I have more give in my schedule to meet the unexpected so that I have more latitude in which to make a choice.
In her essay, Leslie Stephens comments: “Most days, I go through the world like a bulldozer on a time-sensitive mission. Part of the issue is that I have to. My commitments to school, this newsletter, my book, friends, and personal to-dos leave little wiggle room for unplanned, slow time. For example, the moment I wrap up with clinic, I practically exit the building in a jog to grab Toast from daycare, squeeze in a workout, grab my CSA, take an evening meeting, prepare dinner, then finally sit down to the day’s email and work to-dos. How else can I get it all done, if not at rapid speed?“
I was grateful for this dose of reality. It grounded some of my misgivings from the week, reminding me that though I can continue to look for ways to trim the fat and say no to things that are inessential, I can also accept that some weeks are going to require me to move at rapid speed. And that I can forgive myself for those weeks, too.
The second half of this week materialized as an antidote to the first: I spent it slowly while on vacation with Mr. Magpie in Calistoga, CA — the northernmost city in the Napa Valley area. I’ll write a full post on the trip because it was divine and I am just buzzing with recommendations and thoughts, but I am emerging restored and relaxed. We drank wine, we spent a morning at the spa (known for its mineral and mud baths), we explored the adorable town, we read our Kindles. It was divine. I’ll share lots more this week, but had to mention that I wore this Sezane cardigan (seen in second photo below, over a floral J. Crew tissue turtleneck from last season — how fun is this new pattern?) a lot while out there. It’s a great, heavyweight top layer that almost acted like a coat (it was chilly!) Sezane launched their new winter collection this morning and I already have a few items I’m eyeing for the holiday season. I’m so obsessed with this brand! (I will say that a lot of their materials are a tad itchy. FYI.)
Mr. Magpie flew out to CA earlier than I did for business, so I had the children to myself for a few days. I had such a great time with them on Sunday. We went to the park and then out to dinner, the three of us, and I let them have dessert and everything. It felt like a major “fun mom” itinerary for a slow Sunday, and I felt so close to them. Without the counterweight of Mr. Magpie at the dinner table, they dominated and led the conversation. Below, some of my all-time favorite photos I’ve ever captured of my littles from that afternoon.
Fall-toholiday wardrobe rounding out nicely. Below, some of my all-stars: my Saloni bow dress, my tartan nap dress mini (sold out, similar here), my Sezane coatigan, the Doen dress I wore here, my new Mother jeans (full review here), and my favorite pop of pink.
Wrote about this earlier this week, but I love (!!) this new Clarins face mask. Leaves skin glossy/glassy and has a refreshing cooling effect. This is also available at Sephora, which just launched its tiered sale a day or two ago — Rouge members get 20% off now; VIBs get 15% off and Beauty Insiders get 10% off starting 10/31. I’ll be using the promo to buy this Westman mascara! Not included on Sephora, but while talking beauty, I absolutely love these eye masks. I put them on after the long flight from DC to SFO and they brightened/hydrated so well.
+A few fun shopping finds from the week: these slick (pun intended) Toteme rainboots, these polka dot tights (need them for holiday!), this metallic knit holiday dress, this striped sweater, this moody tablecloth, everything from Sunhouse’s new holiday launch (this bubble is darling!)
P.S. “Let yourself just be / even in the uncertainty.” Love those lines from Morgan Harper Nichols, and wrote about them here.
P.P.S. Another poem I love.
P.P.P.S. Sweet Amazon finds for little ladies.