Musings + Essays

Things I Know for Certain.

By: Jen Shoop

When I turned 34, I wrote that “In my 20s, I didn’t quite know who I was, but I believed I could do or be anything; I was amorphous, evolving — but the world around me felt crisp, knowable, navigable.  In my 30s, I know who I am with a kind of true blue certainty, but feel less convinced of my agency, less confident in my grasp on the world.  It’s as if I went from being far-sighted to near-sighted; I didn’t know what I didn’t know in my 20s, and now I know what I don’t know — and so my conviction in the shape of things has shifted, shrunk, concentrated in on only the small world around me, the narrow sphere in which I know that 1+1=2.  The mathematics beyond skew.”

I am now 38, and the lens is only a little clearer. I think that anyone who has lived through the last decade of politics, war, pandemic, and social unrest has felt this way at one time or another — perhaps for the duration. I am reminded of Corinthians: man only “sees through a glass, darkly.” And so I have set my shoulder against the wheel these past many years, seeking if not the improbable panorama of enlightenment, then at least the rays by which I may draw joy and insight and small pools of meaning in my days.

And yet.

Not to hitch myself to his wagon too many times (as I already referenced his work last weekend), writer Jedediah Jenkins wrote recently about the concept of “an ethical will.” He notes: “For most people, the last statement you will ever really make is your will. You write out what material thing goes to what heir…as if life comes down to what we collected. The ethical will brings soul into the equation. Brings you. The idea is that you write your values, your beliefs, what you know to be true, to be passed on to your loved ones when you’re gone.”

This is a ponderous task. Even as a conditioned writer, I am not prepared for the strenuousness required of fitting it in the space of this one blog post. But I sit here knowing in a nearly physical way that I am capable of this, and this certainty makes me realize perhaps I have collected more truths than I think.

So, perhaps, a humble five-point start:

Five Things I Know for Certain.

There is a God.*

True love bears all things. This blog is many things but one of its principal shapes is a very long love letter to my husband, who has taught me at every turn that there is nothing stronger, flintier, more unflagging than love. Charles Bukowski, whose poetics are close to anathema to me (but still I love this line, so forgive the piracy) wrote: “What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.” I think of that phrase on occasion and always startle to realize that I am never imagining myself alone on that fire trail, but there, even in the direst of circumstances, stands my husband alongside me, helping me shoulder the way through. His companionship, his love — the man he is — have not only supported but defined my life. Reflecting on my various closest relationships, I have also learned that true love lets things go. True love forgives. True love accommodates the movement of others and does not qualify. I write this both as a tool for assessing the nature of a relationship (e.g., what is love vs affection? love vs friendship? love vs companionship?) and as a reminder to let the people you love breathe. Let them grow, let them be.

La famiglia e tutto. An inheritance from my Italian grandmother: family is everything. My Dad says “a la famiglia” before we clink glasses, and it is always a chiming reminder of what is core (family) and what is periphery (all else).

There is no substitute for hard work. Inspiration, fortuitous timing, good connections come and go, so you must learn to be disciplined. My career has been one long lesson in self-reliance. I do not believe that people are intrinsically malicious, but I do believe most of us are doing what is best for ourselves. You are your best (and only) advocate, and the surest way to get what you want is to do it yourself. The only consistently trustworthy tack has been keeping my nose to the grindstone.

Discomfort is where growth happens. Life is about taking measured risk. It is good, especially when you are young, to try a lot of different things. You have less responsibility and a long tether. It is OK — normal, expected! — that you don’t have it all figured out. Let things be awkward, bunched up, uncomfortable. There should be periods of your life during which you wake up in a panicked twist of sheets. Which would you rather: the pain of being stuck or the pain of growth? Most of the best things in my life started in discomfort: pursuing an advanced degree, becoming a parent, starting a business, writing publicly, not getting into my first choice college, forging meaningful relationships.

*I wrote a very long sub-essay for this first bullet point, and then realized I needed a lot more time and space to do justice — and that keeping it short and sweet says it all anyway.

There is so much more to say that I haven’t yet touched upon — the importance of reading, the intrinsic creativity of every human being, the power of remaining open-minded — but I will stop there, at the first five things that sprang to mind as truths in my lifetime.

Your turn. What comes to mind first when contemplating what you believe to be true?


+On risk.

+On pursuing a degree in English.

+Approaches to self-compassion.

Shopping Break.

+Molton Brown is my favorite brand for hand soap and body wash (elegant, unisex-friendly scents!) and they are currently running a great sale — managed to snag this body wash and this hand wash for $20/pop! These make great hostess gifts.

+The Nordstrom Sale opens up to us plebeians (ha) today! All my picks here. These white jeans aren’t part of the sale but are discounted owing to their price matching quality — I’ve heard such good things about them!

+These chic collarless blouses are currently on sale for $20. Reminds me of Doen’s Jane blouse!

+This blockprint sundress is $120 and adorable.

+This $6 coin purse is an Internet sensation. People love it for travel/just carrying around spare cash and a few cards.

+These popular J. Crew summer pants are on sale for $40! Mini has a few of these solid-colored sweatshirts — love the color options and the lack of graphic designs — and they’re currently only $12!

+This French pharmacy body oil has a cult following. I’m intrigued by the brand’s balm and rose toning mist. All of these products are 25% off with code SALE.

+Could not live without these during sundress season.

+How cute are these artfolios for kids? (This pattern also available!). On sale for only $15. Would be great to buy a few to keep in your closet for gifts!

+There is a hidden trove of fabulous pieces by up and coming designer De Loreta on sale at Red Dress. I snagged this dress (somehow only $100?!), and these pants are SO fun!

+Fun woven flush mount!

+This $50 dress looks like Mille! And this $16 diaper set for a little girl looks like it’s Mille, too!

+These outdoor hanging lamps are fab.

+Just ordered a few Colorforms sets for the car!

+This chic mini!!!

+Can’t stop thinking about this adorable Gucci beauty case.

+Barbour for a little girl 50% off!

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *.

8 thoughts on “Things I Know for Certain.

  1. I love what you’ve written here, Jen! I identify with so much of what you’ve written, especially about family and love. I also loved reading what others have contributed to the discussion (Joyce, your quotes/mantras really speak to me, especially those from Buddhist tradition and Gospel of St. Thomas!)

    In terms of what I would contribute, I would like to look to my “quote journals” that I kept from high school through college (currently residing in a trunk in our storage space!) The biggest force throughout my life has been the power of unconditional love — both the love I’ve received from my parents, siblings, and extended family since birth, and also the love I’ve cultivated for/with my fiancé and stepchildren. I definitely believe in the presence of God, although I tend to define it in a different way than the God I was raised to revere as a child. For me, God exists as more of an amorphous spiritual being/feeling that connects all living creatures. What else? True friendship is life-sustaining — it can be connected to my thoughts on love, but for me it’s also interesting to think about the ways that friendship is separate from familial love, but just as nourishing and important (when it’s reached its highest ideal, maybe!)

    So much to think about! Thank you for this prompt!


  2. This was so on point and a much needed view this Sunday morning. I read it aloud to my husband (not his favorite thing, but he tolerates it). I felt compelled to repeat the words outside of my mind. Will ponder these thoughts and suggestions as the idea of an ethical will speaks to me.
    You have a gift. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    1. Thank you so much, Jan – I’m so glad this resonated. I found the prompt deeply stirring!


  3. I love the concept of a spiritual will. What springs to mind for me:

    From the Buddhist philosophy: Life contains suffering. Just because you’re suffering, doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. When the Buddha became enlightened under the Bodhi tree, of all the topics in the world he could teach on, he started with suffering.

    From Rilke: “No feeling is final.”

    From Rumi: “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

    From James Baldwin: “The American sense of reality is dictated by what Americans are trying to avoid, and if you’re trying to avoid reality, how can you face it?”

    From the Gospel of St. Thomas: “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

    1. These are beautiful, Joyce – I love the Rilke in particular. Remind myself of that often. And the Buddhist philosophy one spoke to me as a “rule follower” — when people tell me what I’m going through is normal / not because I’ve done anything wrong, I feel as though a weight has been lifted.


  4. This hit home – what a beautiful reflection with which to start the day! My fiancé and I have been drafting our vows this week, which has been an opportunity to reflect on our core values as a couple and how we hope they’ll shape our relationship in the years to come. My first promise to him is to embrace change in him! The steadfast support we’ve given each other has empowered us to take risks and grow together, and I know there’s much more growth ahead.

    1. Thank you so much for the note, and for sharing this! I can imagine that vow-writing would run along similar grooves. I love what you’ve said about your fiance here. Early congratulations!


Previous Article

Next Article