Author Archives: pryan

January Round Up

It’s mid February! Impossible yet true. Six weeks into sabbatical and I can confirm that shoulders feel much better in their rightful place below the neck, as opposed to hunched up to the ears.

My fears about feeling restless and disoriented by the radical change in schedule have not come to pass. It’s taken some time to get sorted, but I feel good about how this year is shaping up. Perhaps it is a function of better planning, a wider (and hopefully more generous) perspective on things and more realistic goals. My part-time studies at the Toronto School of Theology have helped too, and I’ve found deep learning and joy in my courses and in the communities that I have found here. One of the best parts about seminary is that there are a lot of second career students. Many in my cohort have had already had long and well-established careers, and a good number have given up quite a bit to take this strange path. I think this makes a big difference to the learning environment, and there’s a generosity and openness among students that I find quite moving. Although there is still some jockeying and competition among the MDiv cohort, especially with those who are hoping to be considered for postulancy, the vibe has been a nice change from the culture of competition and scarcity that characterizes much of academia. I encounter less of this in my role as a librarian, but it’s still in the water.

January went by very quickly, but I did manage to do some good thinking about the research design for my major project, and am currently putting together my ethics review application. I also caught up with a number of friends over lunches and teas, and have been stretching my edges leading new things in my church community. I also made good progress on my #100Branches project! Here’s a round up of my January visits.

[George Locke] (
Date: 14 January 2023 (Saturday)
Arrival Time: 12:27 pm
Checked out: Paul: a biography by N.T. Wright

Recently re-opened from a renovation, this one floor branch reading room is spacious and bright, and even on a Saturday, it was very quiet. The adult fiction and non-fiction shelves were immaculate, and every shelf has a single face out display title at the end of each row, which is a nice touch. The children’s area was spacious and bright but completely empty, which I chalk up to it being very close to nap time.

I snagged one of the best seats alone at the round table next to a large semi-circular window overlooking Yonge street. The view was spectacular. It helped that it was a near perfect winter day, just a few degrees below zero with the bright sun high in the sky and the morning snow still crisp and fresh. I sat there undisturbed for about an hour, people watching and flipping through cookbooks. (I have been storing herbs incorrectly all my life, it seems).

On the way out, I noticed a lovely metal sculpture hung high on the west wall, right above the fiction section. It’s dedicated to Louise Birch, first head of the Locke branch. I don’t know anything about Louise but it made me happy to see it, and to think that maybe her family or friends come in once awhile to take a look at it and remember her.

Date: 18 January 2023
Arrival Time: 4:45 pm
Checked out: Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole by Susan Cain

I walked over from the Crow’s Theatre after seeing a wonderful production of André Alexis’ Fifteen Dogs with my sister. Approaching on foot from the east, Riverdale has an imposing entrance.  I walked around to get my bearings, then settled in one of the bright orange arm chairs facing east on Broadview. The branch was moderately crowded but quiet, save the gentle buzz of headphones from the man sitting next to me.  The building is showing its age but has some nice features: a good sized children and teens area, and a large programming room.  It also has comfortable looking study rooms, all of which were empty. The English fiction collection is small but well curated, but the Chinese and Vietnamese collections are the real stars of the show at this branch. I also noticed a small reference collection that was almost entirely comprised of Grade 11 and 12 math textbooks.

Parliament St
Date: 18 January 2023
Arrival Time: 6:20 pm
Checked out: Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy by Anne Lamott

I hadn’t planned on this visit, but stumbled on this branch on my walk back to Yonge Street from Riverdale. It’s a large, bright bustling branch and with at least 35 people on the main floor, it was the most crowded one I had visited to date. All the public computers were in use, and it was tricky to find a spot at one of the large study tables. The bookshelves in the main reading area are half-sized (3 shelves high), which makes for nice sight lines. The branch has a very impressive collection of Indigenous-authored titles along with fairly large Chinese and Adult Literacy collections. It was surprisingly quiet given the number of people on site. I checked out some of the displays on the way out, which were nicely curated. I decided to pass on checking out the Youth Hub on the 3rd floor, figuring I wasn’t quite the target demographic.

Northern District
Date: 30 January 2023
Arrival Time: 4:05 pm
Checked out: Canadian Whisky, 2nd Edition. The New Portable Expert by Davin de Kergommeaux.

Northern District is my home branch, and I’m very fond of it. It has been a more or less a bi-weekly destination for my whole family for over fifteen years, and it’s been neat to see my kids starting to head there occasionally after school to hang out friends and pretend to do homework. I was having one of those low energy Mondays where nothing was coming together, so late in the afternoon I hauled out my thermal layers and ventured out the cold, damp wind to walk over.

After discretely checking for any sign of the aforementioned kids, I settled into a table at the front near the Best Bets display. I watched what I assume was a mom introduce a shy teenager to a new tutor, and then pretended not eavesdrop as the tutor grilled him on his study habits and interests. After a while, I wandered over to the teen section, which was completely full and shockingly loud. Miraculously, there appeared to be homework being done at least a few tables. In the programming room, a handful of parents and preschoolers were assembled to learn about (and likely destroy) Snap Circuit sets , and I felt a small pang of nostalgia for those bittersweet days. I quickly snapped out of it, and spent the rest of the visit reading about Canadian whisky from a book that was oddly included in a “Make a New Year’s Start” display.

Lillian H. Smith #100Branches

Lillian H. Smith
Date of visit: 10 January 2023
Arrival Time: 1:32 pm
Checked out: Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng

I had to get some books for my course at Knox College from Victoria’s Emmanuel College Library so after climbing the twisty wooden staircase for my books, I spent the morning there catching up with my readings. The shelves were pristine, and the you could hear a pin drop. It’s a bit of a departure from the library where I work, which isn’t a slag, just an observation about funding and class and how it pretty much rules everything and anything.

Afterwards, I wandered down St. George street, bobbing in and out of UofT students lining up for poutine and dumplings. I made my way to College Street and to the Lillian H Smith branch. I stood outside for a minute to admire the eagles flanking the front door and and the bike share racks on the east side of the branch. If I can ever summon my nerve to bike downtown again, this might be a great option for getting around to branches when the weather improves.

The Lillian H. Smith branch is well known for its children’s collection, both circulating and rare. The main floor children’s area is large and brightly lit, if a little dated (perhaps a smidge above “moderately dingy”). There’s a lot of neat art work on the walls and a good size area reserved for families with reading tables that could double as climbers. It was empty, save one very earnest adult who was attempting to read a picture book to a toddler. He in turn was in turn, singularly engrossed in ripping up a large envelope. I nodded silently in sympathy — at that age, my daughter’s favourite part of visiting the library was pressing the water fountain button.  I suspect that may still be true.

I made my way upstairs and after a few laps of the collection, I decided on the best seat, which I determined to be at one of the three large group tables overlooking College St. It was all pretty quiet, except for a man at the next table snoring irregularly, but very loudly. I sat for awhile, making notes and taking in the view, then did another lap around the 2nd floor to check things out. By my count, 5 of the 22 people on the second floor were using a print title, while the rest stared quietly at laptops and phones.  Seems about right these days.

I took the elevator to the 4th floor to check out the Osbourne Collection. I spent a good while wandering through the current exhibit on Fairies, which was great fun. An impressive collection, and a great branch to begin my #100Branches project.


It took two days of fussing and enough cursing to make a truck driver blush, but I’ve managed to get iA Writer to publish automatically to my blog. It should have been very simple, but like most things, it wasn’t for a bunch of silly reasons that were my fault. Still, Huzzah! Here we are.

I purchased iA Writer last year but couldn’t find the time to use it, which ironic as my goal was to limit distractions to find more time to write.  Now that I am less distracted, I am enjoying it a lot!

100 Branches.

On January 1st, 2023, I began a one year sabbatical. It comes at a very good time. I just completed a four and a half year term as the Director of the Content Development & Analysis Department at York University Libraries. It was a rewarding role in many respects, but the combination of a large scale library restructuring in 2018 and a global pandemic made for a more intense management experience than I expected. It left me pretty tired and if I’m honest, a bit unsure of where to go next. I am very grateful for the chance to catch up with research projects that I had to defer or outright abandon during the Director gig, but I’m even more grateful for the time and space to think more deeply about things that interest me. It’s particularly nice to not be checking email all the time.

I have a number of projects and plans for this year, and my hope is to use this neglected space to document my progress on some of them. One fun thing I hope to do this year is to visit all 100 branches of the Toronto Public Library. This idea has been kicking around in my head for years,. and this year feels like a good time to try it.

I’ve set up a few criteria to make things interesting: I must spend at least 30 minutes and check out a single title in each branch and, wherever possible, use public transit to get there. It’s an ambitious goal, but with careful planning, I think it’s doable. It’s a way to add some structure to my weeks and get to know my city again on foot, but I think it will also be great fun. My very first job was as a student page at TPL (the York Woods branch) and given all the good things that came out that, it feels like the right project. A professional pilgrimage of sorts. At the very least, it will be something to write about.

Picture of a handmade mug.

The Mug

Last week at the cottage, I spotted this handmade mug at a wonderful gift shop we visited on the way into town. I did what I always do when debating the merits of a “just because” purchase: I picked it up, admired it for a few minutes, and then launched into a silent but heated conversation in my head about whether or not I needed a new mug. It was a futile argument, since no one ever really needs a new mug, much like no one ever needs a new notebook. Or a new fountain pen.

After the requisite amount of internal fussing, I walked out of the shop empty handed. But as we made our way through the rest of our errands, I couldn’t stop thinking about the mug. It’s not just that it was beautiful to look at, or that its weight and size seemed particularly well equipped to contain the boldness of my morning dark roast. It wasn’t just that it was made in Canada by a woman artist, or that drinking from it each day would serve as a lovely reminder of this year’s cottage trip, which was especially good. While all of these things kept me thinking about the mug as I meandered through the aisles of the Bancroft Foodland, I also couldn’t help but feel that the image on it was whispering something to me about the shape of my own life and the ways I understand it as I prepared to turn the corner on a half century. Needless to say, we stopped into the shop on the way back home and bought the mug.

Back at the cottage, I stared at it for a good long while. For obvious reasons, I saw a cross at the centre, but as my daughter pointed out, it could just as easily be a tree. I love the way the four points are pulled together gently by connecting strokes that twist and turn into each other, like a Celtic knot. I noticed that the connecting lines aren’t solid — the artist has put in breaks at the points where the strokes loop back into each other in unexpected directions. When you take a step back and look again, the breaks become less noticeable, and a coherence emerges from the lines as they slope gently towards the centre. What you can’t see in the picture is that top rim is slightly askew, forcing me to do a double take as I set it down on the table. The imperfection only adds to its charm, reminding me that this is a thing made by human hands. All of the features seem at once intentional and accidental, which is a lot like how understand the design of my life.

As crazy as it sounds, buying this mug has helped to shift something internally. Like many others, I have struggled during the waves of the continuing pandemic to maintain the necessary connections to myself and others that give rise to creativity and wholeness. Unlike those who managed to figure out how to flourish creatively amidst repeated lockdowns, I more or less lost the ability, and the desire, to write my way through the difficult and the beautiful. And I don’t mean just on this blog, which has been remarkably good-natured about the chronic neglect it has suffered. My internal landscape has been noticeably dulled by the isolation and uncertainty of the last two years. And although I seemed to have moved beyond languishing, I find I still can’t quite summon up the required energy or discipline to regularly translate my feelings into coherent sentences, much less ones that I think might appeal to my faithful readership of five. It has felt easier, perhaps even safer, to move through these the long days and weeks and months by keeping my focus squarely on day to day tasks, checking my work email a thousand times a day, and sticking within the structured and imposed demands of essays and assignments. Save the occasional experiment with preparing intercessions for Sunday services, my proverbial inkwell has been pretty damn dry. But, staring at this mug for the last week has somehow made it possible, indeed even essential, to at least try to make sense of the world in my own words again, and has made me want to recommit to making time and space to attend to the messy contours of my mind. Hell, maybe even attend to this blog.

As I sip my morning coffee from my new mug on the start of my 50th birthday, I’m aware of a whole host of things on my heart, but some feelings are clearer than others. Amidst the predictable fears and concerns of middle age and hovering just slightly above the chronic worry and existential angst that has always defined me (and likely always will), I find myself resting comfortably in a deep and abiding sense of gratitude. Gratitude for all that has been, and all that is to come. I am acutely aware of how this might read like an annoying hashtag #blessed sentiment, but I will have to risk the eye rolls and judgment of my peers because I honestly don’t have a better word for it. It’s not just a garden variety kind of gratitude, though. It’s the kind that you feel deep in the marrow of your bones, the kind that makes you quite sure you have a soul. It’s a gratitude that stems from knowing that no matter what lies ahead, you have already had the chance to touch the sky more than a few times, and you know what it feels like to be loved and to love freely, even when that love ends painfully by chance or by choice. It’s a gratitude that comes from realizing that even though your body doesn’t look or feel like quite like you hoped, it’s the same strong and capable body that has been faithfully carrying you towards the centre for fifty years, towards communion with yourself and with others. It’s the kind of gratitude that can help offset the effects of a global pandemic that has robbed us all of too much for too long, and the kind that can steady you against the onslaught of human brokenness that passes as morning news. It’s a gratitude that makes you want to send work emails that say “Hey, thanks for being in my life” rather than “How’s that project coming?” It’s the very kind that makes you want to shout and sing and cry at the thought of everything and everyone that has brought you to this moment without shame or embarrassment, and that compels you invite a ridiculous amount of people to an Argos game to share in the full catastrophe that is your life. Mostly, it’s the kind of gratitude that helps you look past the disastrous state of your living room to see, with fresh eyes, the holy splendidness of your one wild and precious life, and the staggering beauty of those who have helped to shape its imperfectly perfect design. It’s the gratitude of knowing you are loved, just as you are, by a creator whose grace and mercy is boundless, and that you too have the capacity to love that way, even if you fail spectacularly at it on most days.

And even if this feeling of gratitude only lasts until you finish the last drop of coffee and you look up to find that it’s well past noon and the kids still haven’t had breakfast, it’s still enough. Maybe even more than enough.

I’m very glad I bought the mug. Here’s to the next fifty.

Image of a filled syringe.

Jab 2.

It’s been ten months since my last post. I wish I could say that the Muse has kept up her end of the bargain, showing up each morning with an expansive smile just as the sparrows enter the fourth movement of their treetop symphony. I wish I could say that I have a string of unpublished drafts waiting to be wrangled into prime time, or that thoughts have been pre-boiling in my fiery caldron of creative energy. I wish I could say–as I might have said last spring–that I’ve been far too busy for luxuries like writing and am using my free time to take up my employer’s Certified Wellness Wednesday Strategies for Self-Care in a Pandemic [barf].

But of course, none of this is true.

The reality of the last ten months has been a lot more meh. My morning routine has generally been the same. I wake at an ungodly hour in full throttle curse at the aforementioned sparrows, tossing and turning hard enough to regularly launch my back-up pair of glasses from my nightstand. I eventually give up the fight for more sleep and stumble down to flip on the coffee. As the pot gurgles away in the darkness, I quietly renew my determination to use this time to read or write or think or pray about things that have absolutely nothing to do with work, virtual schooling, or COVID-19. I pour my coffee and settle into my favourite chair, and then proceed to spend the next three hours on things relating to work, virtual schooling or COVID-19. What can I say? The road to meh is paved with good intentions.

Given my early morning routine, it’s not surprising that on most days, I feel spent by noon. The combination of back to back Zoom meetings and fitful sleeps (yay midlife hormones!) has given way to a chronic low-level tired that while not debilitating, has not exactly been fertile ground for creativity. Lunchtime walks and late afternoon power naps (along with some small but potentially life-changing steps in a new direction which I will eventually hope to the courage to write more about) have been enough to keep me feeling more or less okay. But despite my daily attempts at gratitude for the many layers of privilege that have helped me withstand the ravages of the pandemic better than most, the persistent meh has been my constant emotional soundtrack — a bit like COVID-themed muzak.  It’s as if both my imagination and my affect—the very things that my introverted self needs to keep solidly connected to the world and the people around me– have been in a deep freeze: technically alive, but largely inaccessible. Thanks to the New York Times, I now know that the clinical term for this particular brand of meh is languishing, and while it’s been comforting to know that I’m in good company, the diagnosis has brought little in the way of actual relief.

But this week feels different. Noticeably different. I had my second jab three days ago and even in my AZderna induced fatigue, I am starting to see the rich colours of my imagination returning. Yesterday, for the first time in ten months, I did not immediately delete the “poem a day” in my inbox. And this morning, after two full cups of coffee and the requisite amount of futzting about aimlessly on social media, I mustered up the courage to see if I could remember how to log into this damn blog. (Praise Jesus for password managers). Two hours and six clunky but recognizable paragraphs later, I am still here plunking away on my keyboard, (and uncharacteristically late for my first meeting of the day). I don’t know exactly what this it all means or it would survive a fourth wave, but I do know that after ten months of dull gray whetever and six billion episodes of  “What the Fuck am I Watching” on Netflix, it feels very, very good.

Sometimes we find hope in the conviction of things not seen (hat tip to St. Paul)  but other times, is is delivered directly into our left arm. I am not complaining.

School Supplies.

“How about lined paper?” he said. “They’ll probably need some of that, right?”

I nodded sympathetically as we backed out of the driveway. “Sure,” I said, “might as well pick some up.”  We drove in silence for a while before he blurted out, “And pencils. Mechanical pencils. Everyone needs those.”

I resisted the urge to point out that we had at least two unopened packs in the craft bin and that my strong hunch was that neither of our kids would need much more than a keyboard and monitor until at least December. Instead, I just nodded again.  “Yup, better get some of those too.  You never know.”

I could completely relate to his irrational urgency to buy school supplies, even if almost none will be needed this year. I could relate because my own love of back to school shopping has been known to verge on the obsessive. I mean honestly, what’s not to love? Row upon row of neatly stacked piles of paper standing sentry, ready for duty. Pens and markers of every conceivable colour nestled cozily in their plastic spheres, waiting patiently for just the right hands to pluck them from obscurity.  Bright neon post its and highlighters battling it out for attention on the shelf, while the staplers maintain the quiet dignity that comes from knowing your purpose. Bin after bin of push pins, rulers, glue sticks, paper clips, sharpeners, erasers. For nerdy types like me, it’s better than the buffet at the Mandarin. Well, almost. And then there’s the notebooks. So many beautifully fresh notebooks.  Honestly. I can’t even.

As we walked into the store and slowly followed the floor arrows to the back to school aisle, it struck me that the whole exercise was just our way of hanging on to a little bit of normal this fall. It was a way to remind ourselves that we will someday return to these time honoured rituals of return without the layers of dread and anxiety that have been our constant companion these last few weeks.

Like all parents, we wrestled with the back to school decision all summer. We went back and forth and back again, trying our best to follow the science and our guts, even if neither are particularly reliable right now.  After the requisite amount of agonizing we settled on the virtual school option, but it could have easily went the other way, and still might. Our kids aren’t thrilled about it, but a few long talks about the need to make imperfect decisions with imperfect information has helped a little. If this year has taught my kids anything, it’s that there’s isn’t aways a right answer to everything. Sometimes all you can do is summon your courage and make the decision that feels the most right for your family, then commit to living as well as you can with the consequences. I wish it didn’t take a global pandemic to make this point, but it’s not an unimportant lesson. I’m so proud of the way our kids have accepted our imperfect decision-making with grace and ease, and I am grateful for their willingness to roll right along with the gong show that has been 2020.

As we gear up for whatever this fall will bring, it strikes me that we may need a different set of school supplies this year. Instead of the fancy lunch container, we might all be better off with a family size pack of patience and stamina. Instead of the three hole punch, we might want to pre-order a pound or two of resilience and an extra large sense of humour. This might be the year to skip the three pack of binders, and maybe even the notebooks (oh, the horror!) and start sharing our stories with each other. Maybe instead of another device, we invest more in trying to mirror back to one another the kind of love, acceptance and tolerance that we all are all craving in this stupid, difficult, relentless year.

Maybe this September, we can fill those shiny new backpacks with more awareness of how every single one of us is carrying around a story of the last few months, and some are a hell of a lot heavier than others. It might be also be a very good time to try to shift our gaze even a little beyond our own discomfort and fear and look for ways to move through this season of uncertainty with more compassion, more openness, and more joy.  Our kids need it. Our teachers need it. Our neighbourhoods need it. The alternative is just so damn bleak, and I think this year has served up quite enough of that nonsense.

No matter what decision your family has made for this fall, know that it was exactly the right one. There is no right way to go back to school this year. So, grab that basket and fill it up as best you can with what you need, then line up the people you love who can help you carry it when the shit hits the fan, which it inevitably will. We’re all gonna need a little more kindness this year, so you might as well stock up now.

Oh, and don’t forget the pencils. Mechanical pencils. Because you just never know.

Permission Slip.

For anyone who needs this today.

You have permission.

You have permission to serve them a bowl of popcorn and a lime bubly for lunch. Three days in a row.

You have permission to pretend that you are unaware that they’ve been holed up comfortably in their bedroom fort for five hours watching back to back seasons of Heartland instead of tackling their french homework.

You have permission to admit that you spent an obscene amount of money on art supplies in Week Three of quarantine that have been touched exactly once since landing on your porch (to remove them from their packaging).

You have permission to admit that the pre-sleep routines you’ve carefully cultivated over the years to help your still reluctant sleeper settle each night have been abandoned by the single phrase: “Can I sleep in your bed tonight?”  You have permission to admit that it is actually you who is comforted by her slow and steady breathing beside you in the night, even when her elbow is in your ear and her knees are wedged painfully into the small of your back.

You have permission to run the wash cycle three times because you can’t remember if the clothes inside are clean. And while you’re at it, you have permission to rescue your purple yoga pants from the dirty clothes hamper a final time because you can’t summon the energy to convince the twelve year old to carry it downstairs.

You have permission to define quality family time as nightly group viewings of RuPaul’s Drag Race. (Note: you will not regret this).

You have permission to remove the battery from the bathroom scale, and toss that fucker in the trash.  Then toss the scale in with it.

You have permission to show up to every morning department meeting and say, over and over, “I honestly don’t know.”

You have permission to say “no thanks” to the standing Zoom date you set up with your besties because some nights, you’d rather sink into a steaming hot bath and stare at the shadows on the wall until your kids have finally gone to bed (even if it’s your bed).

You have permission to toss aside the Booker Prize novels you ordered in Week Two and go right now and renew your online subscription to People magazine. You also have permission to spend an entire evening carefully combing through every instagram picture that Dan Levy and Reese Witherspoon have ever posted.

You have permission to make Ottolenghi’s mustard cheesy cauliflower six times in the last month because every bite makes you feel like might you just might make it.

You have permission to give up entirely on homeschooling and outsource that shit to the experts. Trust me on this one.

You have permission to acknowledge that exactly nothing about the last three months has been anything close to normal, and you have permission to stop pretending that anything is even remotely close to normal.

You have permission to do some other things, too.

You have permission to decide what it might look like for you and your family to re-engage with the world, however slowly. You have permission to feel as though you are not even remotely close to being ready to do that.  Or, you have permission to feel like you are ready to picnic naked in Trinity Bellwoods Park (but please don’t do that).

You have permission to feel that despite the tragedies of the last few months, a part of you has been grateful for more stillness. For more time to read and think, to play and to pray. You have permission to acknowledge that you realize that you are only now beginning to get to know the wonder of your family and that you are not all that anxious to get back to rushed meals squeezed in before Scout nights, swim lessons and church meetings.

You have permission to use this not-at-all-normal time to sit still long enough to finally listen to your own voice, and understand your own needs a bit better.

You have permission to use this time to finally acknowledge things you’ve been afraid to confront. You have permission to admit you might very well be in the wrong job, the wrong city, or in the wrong relationship. You have permission to stand up to the people and the things that continue to hurt you, and to entertain a world beyond what you’ve always been taught is possible for you. You have permission to finally answer the calls you’ve been terrified to answer.

You also have permission to change absolutely nothing at all.

You have permission to silently grieve the many losses of the last few months, or to find a community of like-minded souls to help you carry them. You have permission to sit and cry most nights, or to move constantly and energetically towards a different light. You have permission to let this awful year change you. You have permission to let this awful year change everything.  

You have permission to do all of this, and so much more.

And, you have permission to ask for some of that damn popcorn.

Field notes.

“You should write about this ,” I tell them. “You’ll want to tell this story someday.”

They nod politely but vaguely in my direction, barely lifting their eyes from their devices. I suppress the impulse to deliver a lecture about the relationship between screen time and deviant behaviour and head to the basement to clean up the remnants of yesterday’s mega-fort. I glance at the untouched craft corner I so carefully set up during Week Two, back when I was determined that we were all going to Make the Most of It.

In many ways, we have made the most of it.

We’ve settled clunkily into a Maslow-approved daily routine. We eat, we work, we learn, we play, we walk, we snooze, we fight, we laugh, and we pray. We wash our hands. Then we wash them again. Sometimes we even clean our rooms.

There have been unexpected sources of joy and much-needed normalcy. The light pouring into our pop up art studio in the kitchen, the campground set up in the backyard (complete with a clothes line and portable dish tub), and the slow and steady rediscovery of classic toys and board games long since orphaned by iPads and Galaxies. Virtual dinners with beloved friends. Sunday Bingo with extended family. Rediscovering Terry Pratchett. Watching The Girl nail a near perfect round-off and tik-tok in her impressively designed makeshift gymnastics studio. Trusted friendships that have made the leap through retina screens to deeper and more vulnerable places.

All of these moments are somehow calmly co-existing with a near constant layer of unspeakable grief. With simmering rage at who and what has been left ignored in this mess, and with workplace cultures that refuse to adapt to the contours of a new normal. With fitful sleeps and violent dreams that remind us that everything has changed. With leadership that harms and hurts. With an at times paralyzing fear about what lies ahead.

Yet these moments of joy keep showing up. They arrive as awkward but welcome hugs from a twelve year old when a morning newscast leaves us undone, sobbing quietly over our buttered toast. They burst through our tense jaws and clenched fists in “hey how’s it going” texts. They show up in emails from kind sisters who remind us that there are still gardens to be tended, books to be read, and movies to be watched. They pop up in our otherwise inane and depressing social media feeds to remind us that the communities and the people we love are patiently waiting for us. They speak loudly to us through music, through art, and through carefully crafted sermons that remind us of how much we are loved. Sometimes, they are sitting right next to us on the couch, laughing maniacally at a favourite episode of The Office while hogging the blanket AND the chip bowl.

They show up to remind us that while nothing is normal now, there is joy. And there is hope. And it’s perfectly ok, maybe even healthy and adaptive, to cling to these things while we navigate the endless waves of grief and sadness.

When these moments show up, we should pay attention. We should even write about them. Because someday we’ll want to tell that story too.

Cat bums, cute kids, and other unexpected delights.

Work has been so busy that yesterday was the first day I had a moment to process anything about the last two weeks.  And although it was a messy, difficult day that ended with a crash landing in my bed at 8:30 (where I proceeded to sleep for a glorious 12 hours in a row), it helped to push me through an odd auto-pilot phase to a place that at least feels like a beginning of some reckoning with a new normal.

I’ll have more to say in time (I hope), but here’s what I know today. Of the many, many challenges of the last few weeks, there have been some unexpected moments of joy and comfort in places I never expected to find them.

An example. I thought virtual meetings were going to be limiting and awkward. Yet in the short span of ten days of working at home, my daily departmental Zoom meetings have become the most stabilizing part of my workday.  The new “windows” they offer into one another’s lives have been quietly but extraordinarily powerful.  The cute kids peeking into the corners of screens, the indifferent cats sticking their bums in the camera, and the sounds of real life humming along in the background — all of it has had the effect of humanizing us all in ways I don’t think can really happen at the office.  Yet the virtual format still also gives us all the flexibility to decide what we want to share. Don’t feel like showing your unwashed hair or your kid’s disastrous bedroom (the same one that you’ve set up shop in order to escape the incessant bickering from the living room)?  No problem. Just click “stop video.” Or better yet, insert a virtual backdrop with pictures from your most recent vacation.  It’s all good, and it all works.

I’ve been honestly touched by the experience of watching folks come together to just dig in, get shit done, and work together to make sense of what is really needed and what is really just noise.

And then there’s the laughter.  So. much. laughter. Small but important mercies in this giant mess.

I am grateful for it.