Back to the Blog, Take 2

It has been exactly one year and 12 days since my last blog post. I feel like that last post was just a blink ago. So much has changed since that time. Big things and small things. Thinking back to that period makes me realize how much I took for granted, and how much I am grateful for.

I thought it was about time to reflect on where the time has gone, and take an inventory (even if only for my own edification). Here are some highlights:

A Retreat

I spent some time in September 2019 on a silent (solo) retreat at an Anglican convent. I am not an Anglican, and it may sound like a strange thing to enter a convent right after getting married(!). But I found myself approaching the end of 2019 — after months of planning, and still attempting to make a dent on my academic work — in need of a serious period of recharge. The community of kind sisters at St. John the Divine (in Willowdale, Ontario) allow guests to customize their own retreats, and I thought the idea of spending some time in nature and silence would be restorative. I ended up spending a little over a week with them in solitude, reflection, and the green quiet of their grounds. Even meals were taken in silence. The stay was the perfect time & place to rest and recover. They had a medium-sized stone labyrinth that gave me many happy moments of walking meditation. If you have not tried a labyrinth, I recommend it.

After years of late-night work sessions and an irregular grad student schedule, I found the bell-timed rhythms of convent life very regulating and calming. The sisters, I discovered to my delight, also produced some truly beautiful lacework. No surprise that the contemplative life gives time to yield beautiful things (and finish puzzles, it seems).

I found myself leaving the retreat feeling much more centered.

A new job and a Defense under lockdown

This rest prepared me to start a new job in October, and eased my transition to part-time teaching again after 6 years of research and writing. Maybe it was the effect of the verdant surrounds with the sisters, but something in me felt green and open-hearted, ready to instruct and mentor students. It took some time and patience to make the shift to teaching after being in writing mode for so long, but I truly enjoyed this work.

Come January, I decided that 2020 would be the year that I finally earned my degree. My time in my Ph.D. program had dragged on into well over a decade (12 years!), and the resources spent were beginning to take a toll, in several senses. I was determined to graduate. I spent the subsequent months writing what was left to write (an Introduction and a Conclusion) while allowing myself to focus on only the most-needed revisions.

In the midst of that final push, our state’s COVID “shelter in place” order began; it started in March and lasted for 3 months, until the end of June. The good news, for me: classes were taught (online), students mentored, the thesis was done and submitted, and the degree was received. But my inadvertent switch to passive voice points to the stress and strangeness of the past 7 months — the ways in which, while ticking the TO DO boxes of life, I also felt somewhat dissociated and at a remove from things.

My Zoom thesis Defense happened in the living room, in front of two screens, some written notes, a cup of tea, and a picture of mom and dad back home.


These days…coping with multiple-scales and sorts of stressors has become the norm; I know that I am very much not alone in this. This period is acquainting me with anxiety all around — viral, professional, political, existential, relational (and on and on) as the bonds in my and others’ lives become even more tenuous. The relief of zoning out into everyday tasks — laundry, a trip to the grocery store — alternates with moments of gut-squeezing immediacy and realness. From my position as a person with Asian & African American heritage in particular, I feel ongoing grief at the current political and social situation — at witnessing systems of rhetoric, policing, and viral threat collude to harm and bring about the loss of precious lives. I dare to believe that a more just world is possible than what we have created, and want to align my energies towards that world.

These days, I am healing by making space for hope. Blogging will be part of that hopeful space. I’m opening myself to discovering different ways to serve, be present, amplify voices for justice, and steward recovery, within my capacity (even if small). I stay afloat by reading all of the wonderful books I wasn’t able to in past years, and am drawing strength from heroes, old and new.

I’m doing research and diving deep into my history, heritage(s), and identity, endowing this knowledge with value, sharing it with family and others, and holding it up as a shining gem; in doing this, I counter the words and actions of those who don’t yet see the value of the lives and legacies I hold dear. During tougher moments, I remind myself, simply, to take care of myself.

I hope that you are all staying as well as can be in the midst of these times. I hope that you’re finding a sense of safety and support from your near-and-dears, and I hope that, whatever your hands are working on, making is helping you to create spaces of peace, rest, relief, and love.

Speaking of makes, there are projects to discuss. I promise lighter reading on future posts! Things have been made, and they will be written about! Until next time. โค๏ธ

10 thoughts on “Back to the Blog, Take 2

  1. So, so, so wonderful to hear from you and about your time this past year. CONGRATULATIONS on finishing your degree–HUGE! And I know it all may seem strange now, but what an accomplishment! I’m looking forward to stopping by and reading about your making and crafting, even as I also want to know what you’re thinking about all of the politics and your experiences with everything going on in the US ATM. Sending all good thoughts your way

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Melissa, for the kind words. So wonderful to reconnect with you! I’m coming down from the busy year, and am so glad that there’s time to write and craft again. I hope your semester/quarter is off to a very smooth start!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Welcome back! I loved hearing about your retreat. It sounds wonderful. Now I want to build a labyrinth in my backyard. ๐Ÿ™‚ I have a bunch of rocks Iโ€™ve been wondering what to do with. Each one hand picked from various walks and wanderings. Looking forward to seeing all your craftyness.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Yolanda! Yes, the retreat was ideal and reminded me of the importance of rest. A backyard labyrinth sounds like a great idea, and hand-picked rocks from memorable walks sound like the perfect material for a homemade labyrinth. Go for it! ๐Ÿ˜Š All Best.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Well this feels like a gift because one of my favorite bloggers is back! I nearly audibly squealed in delight when I saw a post from you in my WP Reader.
    Oh that retreat – that sounds divine! I have a friend who did a similar retreat and had a similar experience and she recommended walking meditation too. How wonderful to turn off the external world for a while. The lace is wonderful. Yes I share your struggles with all that is going on in our world. Well I won’t make my comment too long but I look forward to reading your posts and welcome back – the blogging world just got a bit more wonderful now that you are back ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Tierney! ๐Ÿ˜Š It’s nice to have the mindspace, time, and ability to write and craft again! (and likewise, your blog is one of my faves as well!). And it was a lovely retreat. I am not used to not talking, so that was a challenge, but after the week was done, I did end up feeling more clear and calmer. I look forward to catching up with your recent projects, and am truly inspired — you have been so productive!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Yaaaaay! Welcome back, Shirley! It’s been so nice to catch up on your past year, which has certainly been eventful. Congratulations on graduating – do we get to call you Dr Shirley now? I also loved reading about the retreat… During our lockdown here, I appreciated the slowdown of pace and the cutting out of a lot of the noise in my life, so I can only imagine how refreshing a complete withdrawal must have been. And wow, that lacework!
    Anyway, good to have you back with us and I’m looking forward to seeing all your makes!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Helen! It’s wonderful to catch up with the Beastie crew; they have been keeping busy! And it seems the Dr. title is officially claimable now — but the only doctor-y activities I foresee actually doing in the coming time are seaming up knits and catching dropped stitches. ๐Ÿ˜‚
      I’m glad that the Dublin lockdown provided some space and time to slowdown and cut out the noise — what a difference it can make. Looking forward to catching up with the Beastie pals!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Hannah! Yes, who knows where the time goes? I was surprised, myself. I hope that you are doing well in the midst of all of the strangeness, and I am looking forward to catching up with your makes. I admire your productivity!


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