Musings + Essays

What Did You Learn in 2019?

By: Jen Shoop

Sometimes I find it more instructive to ask myself what I’ve learned in the year prior than to set out to define a suite of new year’s resolutions — though I have those, too, with the bleary optimism I tend to muster at this time of year. The point, regardless, is to sit down and take stock.

And that I have done, at the hands of a very good writer.

There is a line in Rachel Cusk’s Outline where the narrator states: “As it happened, I was no longer interested in literature as a form of snobbery or even of self-definition — I had no desire to prove that one book was better than other: in fact, if I read something I admired I found myself increasingly disinclined to mention it at all. What I knew personally to be true had come to seem unrelated to the process of persuading others. I did not, any longer, want to persuade anyone of anything.”

When I first read this, I felt something click into place. Cusk had given shape to a phantom emotion I’d assigned to semi-permanent peripherality. This is how it feels to be thirty-five: wedged midway between the compulsion to persuade and the decision to not, leaning more and more aggressively into the latter. I read this line and sat back in a kind of shocked bemusement, realizing that I had spent such a vast reserve of energy in my 20s and early 30s convincing others of things — of my taste, of my skill, of my intellectual acuity, of my religiosity (or not), of my style, of my authenticity. Some of these coercions were unavoidable in the sense that I was debuting my talents for employers and in-laws and of course one very lovely future husband and how can one not assiduously makes one’s own case when the stakes are so high?

And yet, now. That I am married (for nearly ten years!), with well-established relationships with a cast of beautiful people I can only assume and hope will be the major players in my life, with no intention of returning to a job interview situation (how bizarre to type that out…), I sit here and think, “Yes. It is a blessing not to want or need to persuade anyone of anything.”

Cusk’s intent seems to rise from a kind of world-weariness to which I (blissfully) lay no claim. I am jaded thanks to a rough brush with entrepreneurship and the usual school of hard knocks that life presents us as adults, but not emotionally torpid in the way of her narrator.

But still. This seems to be a big message from 2019: go your own way; let others go theirs. There have been growing pains at the hands of this revelation: dwindling friendships, a kind of mounting insularity in the way Mr. Magpie and I conduct our social lives, the occasional way I feel that I am rude in the company of acquaintances when there is something distasteful happening in front of me. (For example, and let me preface this by asserting that I am no saint and I pass judgement just as much as the next woman, but I will never be party to a mom-shaming conversation. I avail myself of a kind of ashy sangfroid in such circumstances, which have regrettably arisen multiple times in the past year, and I tend to say something embarrassingly haughty that I then repeat to myself in a weird mixture of embarrassment and self-assurance for days after. But I cannot abide.)

Yes. 2019 has taught me that I am old enough not to need to worry about persuading others of who I am or what I like. I am who I am; I like what I like.

I think I learned much of this from Mr. Magpie — so damned self-assured, so comfortable in his own skin. And maybe (ha!) the intensity of bringing two children into the world and caring for them even when I feel so exhausted and overwhelmed that I cannot give a name to my emotions. This, too — this aspect of motherhood has worn thin the veneer I used to so carefully varnish. It has, against all odds, borne to me a kind of deep self-assuredness that I am who I am; let others go their own way. I think this is because so much of my experience with mothering my children has been instinctual and, for better or worse, unrehearsed. I find words dropping out of my mouth straight from my own mother. And I find other phrases and interactions materializing out of the ether. Why do I call my boy “Mr. Man?” Why do I use a certain sing-song voice? Why do I know just by the sound of his cry across the monitor whether he is hungry or jammed up against the edge of the crib, his arm or leg stuck through a slat? More to the point, though, with two small children, there is not enough time to preface a reaction to yogurt smeared on a wall or the mind-blowingly routine abnegation of using the toilet or getting dressed with thought. I am nearly always swinging from vine to vine with a kind of breathlessness I don’t particularly enjoy but that has revealed to me who I am. Impatient, imperfect, but loving and forbearing and determined. I raise my voice more than I care to these days (“It’s time to put on your pants. Your pants. Emory, your pants. Your pants! Emory, let’s put on your pants, ladybug. Emory. Really. Your pants. It’s not time to play. Just put…your pants…just….EMORY, PUT YOUR PANTS ON!”) but I have also seen in myself a kind of gritty resilience. I find that when things truly go haywire (dog is barking, Hill is screaming for milk, chicken is burning on the stove, mother-in-law calling, and Emory toddles in to let me know she’s peed her pants), a kind of bizarre calm takes over and I am one way or another able to make it through to the finish line, in no small part encouraged by the scale of the story I will be able to tell Mr. Magpie when he gets home.

At any rate. This year, I think, my tailbone outsized my wishbone. I spent more time doing than dreaming, and certainly less energy worrying about persuading others of my own worth than I have in years past.

What was your big lesson in 2019?

Post Scripts.

+Potentially a good way to get into the reflective mode in 2020.

+If the above is not your speed, maybe invest in a Smythson notebook to store thoughts and plans and goals? Writing things down helps me tremendously…

+Nordstrom sale happening! Love this dress for a little girl and I think I’ll wear these slides all summer long, and with everything from maxi dresses to white jeans. I also have this set in my bag — I love love LOVE this product and use it close to daily. (More beauty obsessions here.)

+Loveeee your responses to this post. Keep ’em coming.

+I predict we will continue to channel Little Women in fashions this year. Enter Brock Collection and Emilia Wickstead and HHH nap dresses.

+Separately, I’m pretty sure Judy Garland wore this dress in Meet Me in St. Louis, one of my all-time favorite movies. Funny that I would also wear that dress in 2020 and feel 100% comfortable. What comes around goes around.

+Similarly, this feels very Julie Andrews as a governess in Sound of Music. In the best way possible. Like, I think I need it.

+This floor-length linen maxi is the stuff of dreams. I feel like I could go on a Safari in 1930 wearing this. Need for 2020.

+This is fun.

+My favorite purchases of 2019.

+Sale at Caitlin Wilson! Eyeing these pillows and this duvet for mini’s big girl room.

+Musings on turning 35. Next door to musings on turning 34.

+If your toddler does not yet have a set of these — do it. Mini plays with these for long, long periods of time, as she does with her Maileg mice. This is a great starter gift for the latter!

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8 thoughts on “What Did You Learn in 2019?

  1. Agree with some of the other comments here — your writing regularly blows me away! This piece is no exception. I want to bump Outline up my to-read list!

    Lessons from 2019 … hmm. I deeply relate to yours, being the same age, but I would also have to say that 2019 taught me to lay bare my feelings & needs and make sure they’re met. Seems simple, no? I didn’t truly put it into practice until last year.

    On a totally different note, speaking of your Little Women-esque fashion finds, I hope puff sleeves are still in this spring/summer! Haha. I recently found 2 wonderful springtime tops on deep sale (one Dôen and one Lisa Says Gah) and they both feature puffed sleeves. I know I’ll wear them regardless, though. Haha! xx

    1. Thank you!!!

      Sounds like enormous self-revelations this year for you…bravo.

      I feel like the puff sleeve will be in for at least another year or two! If Nellie Diamond is still wearing them now, we’re good for a few years…!


  2. I want to be you when I grow up 🙂 Read Outline for a book club shortly after my first son’s birth and the idea of summarizing getting in the way of the text itself really stuck with me; i like your inversion of it. Also found the narrator a strikingly different sort of mother—floating in and out of apparent detachment. Glad to know it’s made such an impression on you, too.
    Agree on the mom-shaming, and consider myself lucky to not have witnessed much of it IRL. I get that it’s born of insecurity, but I have little patience for it.
    Happy new decade to you and your brood!

    1. Ooh. Such interesting takes, per usual. I know exactly what you meant about her motherhood. It’s a startlingly different picture of the mother than I am used to in literature, which I think is important and in some ways groundbreaking. I’m pathetically slow in getting through books these days, but will report back when done. (I’m sixty percent through and WILL be done by Thursday, as I am meeting up with friends to discuss it then!)



  3. Wow! How eloquently you stated this past year through your eyes. Your writing leaves me in awe some (most) days and today is for sure one of them! (I also love your reader comments and find your followers very smart, educated and knowledgeable too). Kudos! Pat on the back to you! ‘Atta girl!
    Still attempting to digest and dissect 2019. “Grateful” is the first word that comes to my mind. My son found the woman of his dreams, married and I am so happy for them and to have her in our lives! Such a blessing!
    Hello, 2020!

    1. Oh man — thank you so much for the kind words, as always. So incredibly humbling to read comments like these. They make me feel incredible and inspire me to write even more and even better. Thank you.

      WOW big year for your family and especially your son! YAY!


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