Musings + Essays

The Very Busy Spider.

By: Jen Shoop

Trigger warning: This post touches on the topic of disordered eating.

This morning, I was running my regular route and realized I have been near-subconsciously mapping and anticipating its challenges. I found myself saying, “Only two ascents left, Jen — let’s go,” on the return, having divvied the route up into “flat roads,” “ascents” (mild inclines), “climbs” (steep inclines), and “recoveries” (downhills). I don’t know when I started to do this — I can’t recall using this language before this year — or how, exactly, I came by its parsing. But as I cruised down one of the steepest hills in my circuit, I was struck by the fact that I was “bucking up” for the ascents to come rather than appreciating the present, downhill recovery.

Sometimes I think it is harder to unlearn things than to learn them.

I consider myself proficient at fly-swatting when I see even a hint of the kind of thinking that used to support the disordered eating of my teens, when I would deprive my body and then “reward” myself with something pedestrian, like a roll with dinner, or a piece of pizza with friends. That version of myself feels so distant, I barely even recognize her, and yet — sometimes I find faint echoes of the same kind of self-discipline that undergirded my erstwhile unhealthy habits. Why was I fashioning my circuit into a pattern of “pain” and “recovery”? Why it that I was so focused on the ascents to come that I obfuscated the temporary pleasantness of running downhill, in shade, on one of my favorite stretches of the route?

This year, I stopped tracking my runs — no Garmin watch, no iPhone map. There was a time in my life where I was so intense about my pace and distance that if my watch was not charged or if it died halfway through a run, I’d talk myself out of running altogether or “scrap” it from my mental record: if it’s not logged, it doesn’t count. (“If a Jen runs through the woods and no technology is around to track it…”) I have been on a determined fitness kick in 2024, but I am doing it for feel, and by feel. I don’t care how fast or far I run. I have a loose sense for mileage because I’m often running the same routes I used to methodically track, and I generally know how fast I run (within a reasonable window), but I am done with celebrating or chastising myself based on stats. I have optimization fatigue. I don’t need to run 1% better than I did yesterday — I just want to get out there, feel my feet pounding the pavement, and move my body. I told a friend recently this switch initially “ran against my religion” but that I’ve been deeply happy with how it feels to exercise without the numbers. I turn 40 next week, and I am working out for the mental health benefits, to keep my heart healthy, and to feel strong and capable as I head toward middle age. “Giving up the numbers” brings me closer to those values and further from the occasionally unhealthy “discipline” of my younger years. And it just feels better, gentler, to run on the binary. (Did I run, or did I not?)

It is all a balance, of course. Sometimes we “keep our eyes on the prize” to motivate, to persist through challenging stretches. And despite my lifelong commitment to it, I don’t love the experience of running — it is hard, and most of the time, I feel like stopping and sitting down. Sometimes I need to do mental gymnastics (during steep inclines, I’ll count to ten over and over again or identify a mid-way mark like a tree branch or a driveway as an anchoring milestone) or seek outside encouragement (music! new clothes!) to get myself through. Charting my most-common route by its ascents falls into a similar category: a way of marking my progress, and easing myself through the tougher bits.

But will my busy mind ever quiet? Can’t I just run and accommodate the inclines and dips as they surface? Why am I forever the very busy spider?

In some ways, I love this about myself, and don’t want to change. I look closely at life’s interruptions and routines, and find they invariably become creative grist. Sometimes this means seeking asterisms among life’s unlikelihoods, and writing about it. Other times, this means reflexively reconnoitering my running route. It is all of a cloth.

But in other ways, I would like to unhook myself from the instinct to categorize and parse. I want to stand still and open in the middle. Accept the climbs, languish in the rests. I don’t want my mind to be skittering off like stones across water all the time. Right now, I crave a deep, cold plunge into the present.


+Reading, elasticity, and the greater than / lesser than equation.

+Life is a lot of middles.

+If you’re on the eve of doing something new: you’re going to love it. (Encouragement from my amazing Dad.)

+Dear Dad: you were right.

Shopping Break.

This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through the links below, I may receive compensation. 

+Julia Amory just released her toiletry kits in new colors. These are a must-have — I use them any time I travel. The best sizes and I love that you can toss them in the wash when dirty (just air-dry inside out).

+People are raving about this inexpensive drugstore shampoo/conditioner. Apparently Cameron Wimberley (of great hair, and “Southern Charm,” fame) swears by it. I might buy it for my daughter and test it on myself, too…

+For my corporate Magpies: these flats are a polished way to jump in on the netting/mesh footwear trend. For non-corporate applications: I keep coming back to these. (More sizes/colors here and here, but nearly sold out everywhere.) I think I’m going to order. (Upgrade pick: Loro Piana, here and here.)

+I keep thinking about pairing netting flats (like the ones above) with a full white skirt like this.

+A gorgeous white dress that’s business in the front and party in the back. I wish I had this in my closet right now because I’m going to an outdoor concert this evening and it is going to be HOT. That open back!

+OK, Quince sent me a few of their activewear and let me tell you — this sports bra is indistinguishable from my favorite Beyond Yoga one, but 1/2 the price. I love it love it love it. I hope they release more fun colors! My other favorite activewear piece of theirs: this flowknit tank top, which is ultra-similar to my favorite one from Vuori.

+I wear a pendant with the constellation for “Cancer” (my Zodiac sign) on it frequently — this one is similar and currently on sale for under $100. A really cute birthday gift or gift to self.

+A seriously fun bag for under $40. I’d remove the gold chain – I think that part looks cheap. But the bag as a clutch is a 10/10!

+Another great gingham dress for summer. Love love love.

+Peak Nancy Meyers movie vibes.

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2 thoughts on “The Very Busy Spider.

  1. This post was such a breath of fresh air. I am also feeling very resistant to over-optimization these days. No Oura rings! No Whoop bands! No sleep trackers! Get that away from me! Our bodies are not computers! Anyway… the running you’re describing here is the best kind of flow. After a year-long surgery recovery process in which I had to be really, really careful and specific about exactly how much walking (and later running) I was doing so that I wouldn’t accidentally overdo it and set back my recovery timeline, I’m finally at a point where I once again have the freedom to flow and it feels so good.

    1. Wow – what a huge milestone for you. Cheering you on from afar! I know you’ve written in about this surgery and its intense recovery a few times and I think of you when I’m feeling begrudging of my body / its limits / etc. You are so right – “our bodies are not computers.” And, we are not projects! We are people!!!


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