Musings + Essays

The Sacrosanct + The Silly.

By: Jen Shoop

I wore a green kilt rolled up at the waist to an indecent length, a deliberately faded polo, a ribbon in my hair, and not a stitch of makeup — it was cooler to look unkempt and unconcerned with appearances, at least in those circumscribed ways, facing the audience of my 103 classmates at Georgetown Visitation.

I was hushed and awed at Mass and in the presence of the handful of non-cloistered nuns who still ran homeroom, or held administrative roles, or crossed the Quad on errand in their black habits: their goodness hallowed and invulnerable to even the snarkiest of teenager.

I used ProActiv and wore a retainer and had learned through elaborate trial and error how to blow-dry my hair stick-straight like Jennifer Love Hewitt.

I wanted desperately to have a boyfriend, but routinely snubbed the handful of boys who did call — one in particular, a lanky and offbeat intellect who ended up going Ivy and — though I haven’t kept up with him — I am certain is somewhere happily married doing something important in some corner of the world. He burned me mix CDs (#2 on one of his mixes was “You Sexy Thing” by Hot Chocolate and I blanched with embarrassment and skipped it immediately) and asked to take me out and I only begrudgingly agreed after clarifying that we would go as friends for lunch one Saturday, an excursion I soiled by politely but impassively sipping Diet Coke and pushing greens around my plate while sitting across from him at Pho 14 in Cleveland Park. “But you have to try the pho!” he had pleaded, his eyes earnest and encouraging. “It’s the whole reason I brought you here!” I shruggingly declined, and even in my naive and churlish state, understood that I was being absolutely terrible to him: I could see the careful design of this date, could see he was attempting to communicate his interests and sophistication, could see the outline of his sixteen-year-old pride slump in the face of my disinterest.

I kept the CD, though–an artifact of something I wanted in general, but not in the specifics presented.

My friend Nicole drove a brand-new, hunter green Ford Explorer, and it was A Big Deal. She listened to Jay-Z and DMX, and because of this, I strained my way into listening to rap and hip-hop on my own, on the enormous Aiwa speaker set I’d begged my parents for one Christmas.

Nicole would blast Nelly’s “Country Grammar” or DMX’s “Good Girls, Bad Guys” or Jay Z’s “I Just Wanna Love U” as we’d barrel out of the gates of our high school, flush with adrenaline and posture and promise.

There was a girl at our school who dated an older boy who drove an open-top Jeep Wrangler, and on the occasions he’d sit in his car waiting out front, I’d peacock with self-awareness in our loud, bass-driven exit from the school, even though he never gave us the time of day.

I idolized my brother — more cerebral than I was, despite my near-flawless academic record, in that he was capable of throwaway references to a broad and unwieldy canon and might invoke Bartleby the Scrivener with a kind of laidback naturalness that was impossible to emulate —

And also, in spite of or perhaps because of this encyclopediac referentiality, he was much cooler than I was. His friends smoked cigarettes, and threw parties with hard liquor, and were merciless with their wise-cracking and incessant commentary of disparagement and bluster.

But still, but still — those boys had gone on a mysterious religious retreat called Kairos that had been mandated by their Jesuit high school and they had returned sober and wide-eyed —

And though they appeared to take nothing seriously, Kairos loomed sacrosanct, virtually unbroachable —

And one of them had yanked me by the arm so I would not step on the school seal on the floor of Dooley Hall —

“You can’t step on the seal!” he had barked before nodding graciously, as though he’d done me an enormous favor —

“Why –?” had been on the tip of my tongue but I was too shy and also understood by osmosis that it must have been of those weird boy school traditions, a superstition kept afloat by insidership rather than incident,

And this was maybe why I tended to do well on tests at school:

I was self-diminishingly vigilant and obsequious to others, and

Academics was one way to shine brightly while observing silence and harming no one. It was an aggressive sport with no obvious victim, and I was viciously competitive in its play.

My brother was also cool because he seriously dated a strikingly beautiful, breathy girl who attended a school that rivaled my own, and my sisters and I fawned over her.

She smoked cigarettes, too, and left lip gloss in my brother’s car, and stray articles of her clothing — all current-season J. Crew, including flannel-lined khakis and wood-soled clogs and platform flip-flops — lingered around our house. She appeared to live with a kind of bewitching carelessness I longed for myself — but I could not disguise or dilute my hawk-eyed, obedient ways.

Her mother’s name would appear on our caller ID frequently, and I never understood what she and my brother talked about at such length, only that it seemed also serious and sacrosanct, and my own concerns felt correspondingly flimsy and ill-gotten in the sense that they were largely fabricated.

Among these wisps of memory, which individually mean virtually nothing,

I see the sloping formation of the bearings of my adult self,

Those joists that still, some twenty years later, remain:

The sloping search for the approval of others has slackened in the time intervening, but

The centricity of love and Church burns inviolate.


+Things that mattered to me at 18.

+When I got my driver’s license.

+I was just desperate for life to happen to me back then…

+A toast to my beloved brother.

+Memories with one of my best college girlfriends.

+Another foray with another gentleman caller.

+And the beginning of my relationship with Mr. Magpie.

+Dying over this coat. I LOVE everything about it. And ultra dying (?) over this Miu Miu tartan coat. WOW WOW WOW.

+This skirted ottoman — LOVE.

+A good price for cashmere joggers, and this pair comes in fantastic colors.

+This sweatshirt is straight-up cool.

+OooOOOOO this $159 dress is so unexpected and sophisticated!

+Cashmere turtleneck sweater dress…looks like heaven.

+I already own this in one color, but that blue-sage color is fetching….

+In love with everything from this children’s decor/toy brand!

+Gorgeous footwear for little ladies.

+Meanwhile, these $25 old-school-styled high tops are unbelievable! The blue! And more cute recent children’s finds here.

+Another source for scalloped placemats for a little less than they’re going everywhere else.

+Jojomommy (a children’s boutique) always has a great sale section. Right now, it has some gorgeous traditional dresses with smocking, some of those darling Little English playsuits, Petite Plume pajamas, and my favorite brand of shorts for mini at a serious discount.

+I haven’t done my nails once since the start of quarantine in March. Not once! This has been very odd since, prior to this break, I have not gone without a manicure for longer than two weeks since I was about twenty. Desperate to do things up for the holiday, I ordered Rock the Runway (one of my favorite reds!) and gave myself a passable manicure.

+Cute gift for a new mom. I live by pouches. (Proof here and here.)

+Sweet block train set for a little one — doubles as darling decor!

+Love an easy dress like this for hanging out at home.

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4 thoughts on “The Sacrosanct + The Silly.

  1. I’m catching up on your blog posts and just wanted to say that I love your posts like this. Going to Catholic high school around the same time as you, and feeling like we were pretty similar in high school based on your descriptions, these posts take me right back at all of the good times and teenage angst. This describes me to a tee, “I was self-diminishingly vigilant and obsequious to others, and Academics was one way to shine brightly while observing silence and harming no one. It was an aggressive sport with no obvious victim, and I was viciously competitive in its play.”

    1. Thank you so much, Sarah! This time period has been so lush and evocative for me to explore in writing. It was such an intense period of self-formation and socialization for me! Second only to my study abroad in college. Whew. Big moments of evolution.

      Thanks for letting me know this resonated — it means the world to me. xx

  2. Not stepping on the seal on the floor must be a Catholic school thing…ha! We had one in the main hall of our all-girls’ high school and the seniors used to terrorize freshmen by telling them you couldn’t step on the shield because nuns were buried underneath. I laughed so hard at myself one day once I got to college because I noticed as I was leaving the library in a study-induced daze one night that I had inadvertently walked around the seal on the floor, even though I went to a public university and there was no deeper meaning to it. Old habits die hard!

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