The analog algorithm of life keeps feeding me Sisyphus

Tonight our house was mostly quiet and I decided to spend some time preparing for part of our church gathering I’m tasked to lead on Sunday. I leafed through a few books that are my go-to resources for words to borrow, blessings to read, and truths to sit with. One of my go-to resources is John O’Donohue’s Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom. I have not read this book front to back, or completely. I read sections selected with equal influence of the index and intuition. Tonight, for the first time, I noticed there was a section about Sisyphus, likely because I was thinking about the Myth of Sisyphus just a few hours earlier. If you’re not familiar with it, here is a short summary and analysis.

I temporarily abandoned the task for church to read the section about Sisyphus, in which John O’Donohue discusses weariness in relationship to work. A story within that section smacked me on the head. Here’s the excerpt:

There is a lovely story of a man exploring Africa. He was in a desperate hurry on a journey through the jungle. He had three or four Africans helping him carry his equipment. They raced onward for about three days. At the end of the third day, the Africans sat down and would not move. He urged them to get up, telling them of the pressure he was under to reach his destination before a certain date. They refused to move. He could not understand this; after much persuasion, they still refused to move. Finally, he got one of them to admit the reason. This native said, “We have moved too quickly to reach here; now we need to wait to give our spirits a chance to catch up with us.” Many people who are secretly weary of work have never given themselves time, or taken time out or away from work, to allow their spirits to catch up. Giving yourself plenty of time is a simple but vital reflective exercise: Leave all agendas behind you. Let the neglected presence of your soul come to meet and engage you again. It can be a lovely reacquaintance with your forgotten mystery.

John O’Donohue, Anam Cara, pp. 151-152

And isn’t that just about the loveliest smack on the head? The contrast between the belabored, relentless, never-ending work of Sisyphus and the Africans who sat down and refused to move is striking and beautiful. I’m so thankful for the opportunity I have in this season to let my spirit catch up.

As a bonus, please enjoy this Sisyphus cartoon I also spotted today thanks to, well, the algorithm.


What I do in my sleep

Yesterday I had coffee with a friend who has more confidence in me than I have in myself (I hope you have one or more of those friends). We were talking about a band I want to see that is playing nearby this summer. I mentioned having to miss the concert because I already accepted an invitation to speak at an event that same day. My friend, knowing the topic of the talk, said, “you could give that talk in your sleep.”

Of course the intent of this phrase is to suggest that someone has done something so many times or has such a deep understanding that doing it requires very little effort. (Check out this NPR article if you want to know what people can actually do in their sleep). My friend intended this comment – and I received it – as a compliment.

The reality, though, is that the things that may appear to require so little effort I could do them in my sleep are the very things I have lost sleep over. I’ve either sacrificed sleep and gained skill (like every teenager who gets up early every day of summer vacation for swim team practice or stays up too late playing a favorite game or jamming with friends) or I’ve mulled the idea, topic, or situations over in my head late into or during the middle of the night (how could I present this idea more persuasively?).

Whether and how well I do things is the result of intention and practice that ironically has cost me sleep in nights gone by. What I do in my sleep, when I can get it, is sleep. And gosh, I love sleep.

This is an Important Moment!

This week, I was lucky enough to witness an adoption hearing. The hearing was necessarily formal, extremely short, and joy-filled. When the hearing ended, emotions overwhelmed the space. People were cheering, crying, and hugging as we quickly assembled for a photo with the family in front of the judge’s bench. I caught something out of the corner of my eye as I made my way forward: the family’s attorney pulled the child aside, opened a folio of paperwork, and said, “Kaleb, here is your adoption certificate!”

This day felt significant and was marked as such by everything from the official, legal certificate of adoption to an adoption playlist at the reception.

As I walked around the city that afternoon, I thought about how we celebrate significant moments. I realized that there are so many significant (mostly unanticipated) moments in life that do not have this type of ceremony or reification. What if an unseen narrator in an audible voice would say, “This is an important moment! Grab a witness! Write this down or take a photo!”

I am sure each of us has moments that are only significant in retrospect. We hold those moments differently, don’t we? I revisit them in my mind, sometimes turning them over again and again. Some of these moments pass me right by and I don’t even remember them because how would I know this person who just said hello would become my very best friend? Some moments – like one a friend recently described as “the beginning of the end” of her marriage – aren’t as joyful. But these certificate-less moments matter too, don’t they?

Some of the significant moments in my own life I’ve processed later by writing, making art, or talking about them with a therapist or close friend. In some ways, these processes generate a metaphorical certificate of authenticity: this was an important moment! I mark it as such even if days, years, or decades later. Having friends who share these moments with me and listen to my moments is one of the most sacred things I experience. We stand witness to moments from our pasts that perhaps had no initial witness and certainly no certificates.

I suppose witnessing is a ministry of presence that we can offer both in real time and retrospectively to all sorts of moments. I’d like to keep showing up for this sort of work.

3 Week Check In: Delights, Lessons, and an Invitation

I am three weeks into (c)leave. So far, I am succeeding at using delight to self-medicate. Really, delight is a good treatment option because it doesn’t have any side effects, unlike every other medicine I’ve been on in the last 6 months. Good news: I’m down to one medication these days!


Delight abounds when your full time job is to notice it and seek it out. Here are five high(de)lights:

  • On Wednesday around 1 PM, a drag queen looked me straight in the eye over a clothing rack at a thrift store and said, “Girl, no one in this world should have to go without clothes. And we work so hard for them. My hand hurts just from moving these hangers.”
  • Beth Barr’s book The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth was poignant, disruptive, and scholarly. I finished listening to it this week. The way she deconstructs (and calls out) the contemporary evangelical Christian belief that patriarchy is God’s design with rigorous historical research is for sure a delight.
  • So much art: We took the kids to see the Matisse show at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I saw Hiroshima’s Great Wave of Kanagawa and met contemporary artist Helen Zughaib at the Susquehanna Museum of Art. This week I got to see the Carnegie International. Dia al-Azzawi’s Ruins of Two Cities: Mosul and Aleppo (this post’s header image) did me in at the beginning; I just sat there on the floor staring at it. To have that type of unhurried alone time in a museum is a gift.
  • One of my daughters recently declined looking through a book about changing bodies, stating, “Mom, you’ve already answered all my questions about penises.”
  • Curio’s Sketchbook Club. Making art with other folks – even if they are strangers – has really slowed me down in good ways. I love showing up to a new still life and thinking, “well, shoot” and giving it a go anyway. I leave with a drawing and a bit of reassurance I am not a fraud.
    • Delight 5b: this list isn’t in parallel structure and I don’t care!


I’ve learned that chasing delight is also kinda expensive. I realized that it was worth it to invest in reciprocal memberships, passes, or subscriptions. Here are the delight investments I made up front:

  • I bought the Keystone Philadelphia Museum of Art Membership. This was not cheap ($250). But, it gets me and three other adults plus kids into major museums across the country, goes to support a museum I love, and will pay for itself this year. It would have cost my family ~$60 for admission and parking to the Matisse show on its own. I used the reciprocal membership to get into the Carnegie International this week.
  • I bought a ten ride Amtrak pass. This will get me to and from Philadelphia museum for cheaper (~$15 a ride) than I can get individual tickets, and it’s cheaper than driving and paying the tolls if I’m traveling solo.
  • I bought a family membership to a local museum (The Susquehanna Museum of Art) for $125. The museum is a member of the North American Reciprocal Museum Association and gives me access to 1,000 additional museums (not all art). The extensive list of all of the museums you can access is available on the NARM website.
  • For Christmas, we received a gift card to Longwood Gardens. Longwood allows you to apply gift cards to membership, so I paid $45 out of pocket for an annual membership that allows me and one guest into the gardens all year and a few other benefits.

Yes, this cost me almost $600 in memberships, which I recognize isn’t nothing. There are some important unadvertised benefits of this:

  • I can visit places without continued cost or concern about how long I should stay to make it “worth it.”
  • I can share the delight. I can take family or friends along with me to these places and their cost is nothing or very minimal. I love to travel by myself but sometimes company is nice too 🙂 In this case, I carry the title delight usher, and here is my DU headshot taken by my friend Kelly on our recent trip to Longwood Gardens. Leslie Gates, Ph.D., DU.
  • I can stack delights. For instance, I’m going to NYC at the end of the month to hear a concert and between my two reciprocal museum memberships have free access to about 25 museums in NYC. So, I’ll be going to the met for the first time since 1999!
  • I feel obligated to use the benefits. It’s that simple. If I’ve paid to go, I am more likely to go than to not.

The Invitation

Having collected and posted delights for days on end, I realize that there are three themes to my delights: the arts, nature, and relationships. I love this quote:

One of the delights of life is eating with friends; second to that is talking about eating. And, for an unsurpassed double whammy, there is talking about eating while you are eating with friends.

Laurie Colwin

I wonder if you’ve ever thought about what brings you joy and delight, and whether you’ve thought about stacking them for a double whammy. Try it and let me know what happens. I’ll write more about double whammy delights soon.

I am on (c)leave

I was awarded a sabbatical from my institution for the Spring 2023 semester. In late December, I requested and was granted a a medical leave for that same semester. As a result, I turned down the sabbatical. This was obviously not my original plan. As this news has spread, lots of folks have reached out because they care about me and were genuinely concerned. The first student who found out asked me with wide eyes if I was dying.

The good news is I don’t have a condition that is life threatening – other than being human – and I’m not planning to die this semester, which I hope is okay with all of you. Since I’m not planning to die soon, I thought I’d write a bit about this choice I made. I once took a workshop with Selena Carrera, who said, “If you don’t tell your story, someone else will, and you don’t know how they will edit it.” So, here is the story, according to me, in general enough terms I am willing to publish them online.

Cleave is a word with two homographs, each with a distinct origin. Cleave means to adhere firmly and loyally and to divide or split. My medical leave is actually me cleaving, in both of these ways.

Cleave: to divide or split

In July of 2022, I left a graduate class I was teaching to take the only available appointment time my doctor had that day. I was in so much pain and wasn’t sleeping. I have some chronic issue with my stomach that had last flared up in 2019. This time, it was more severe, and the flare up lasted months. I taught the fall semester like nothing was wrong, and I could do that because I didn’t look sick. The doctors (I now had a team!) ordered many tests and procedures, but I have small kids, was working full time, hosting the state art education conference, and teaching an extra class. Getting to the doctor, the pharmacy, and the specialist was really hard. I turned down the appointments they offered because it was Evelyn’s birthday, because it was the first day of the state conference, and because there is no great short term plan to have someone cover your classes when you’re the only art education professor at the university where you work.

If I wanted to attend to this issue and stop testing my resolve to love baked potatoes for another day, I had to divide or split from some of the responsibilities that were keeping me from doing so.

Cleave: to adhere firmly and loyally

The intensity of the fall semester and my health issues was magnified by what I now understand to be layers of grief.

Layer – I had COVID in February of 2021 and two years later, my sense of smell and taste still isn’t 100%. (Please don’t send me advice or studies about this – my own research supplemented by my children’s mounting “expertise” from YouTube influencers has been plenty sufficient in making me feel worse about this and not better).

Layer – In addition to not being able to taste/smell everything, my stomach issues meant there were many foods I couldn’t eat. I have a few friends who saw me eat an unreasonable amount of caesar salads because it was the only safe bet on the menu for months. Not only was I sad about the sudden influx of dietary limitations, I started to avoid some social interactions because looking at a menu and choosing the caesar salad again resulted in me tearing up more than once. The restricted diet or inevitable pain was a loss over and over, often in situations where I was supposed to be happy and enjoying myself.

Layer – There was meaningful work I loved that I lost the opportunity to do this year. On top of mourning the biggest professional loss I have experienced, I found out that folks were being dishonest about me and that work. The devastation, grief, and eroded trust has been profound and sticks around like a thick fog.

I don’t know at what point the layering of these things became too much, but it became too much. There were days I would drive my car to work and sit in the parking lot and cry. There were many self-imposed time outs in restaurant bathrooms to breathe, or to cry, or to pray. Every time I had more blood drawn, I wondered if they could detect the decreasing levels of joy in each subsequent vial. Would the hematologist call to tell me I might be depressed? Wouldn’t that be something? I mean, it was that obvious.

I began to realize that I had to adhere firmly and loyally…to myself…in ways that I had not, ever. I had to find health in more ways that one, and the medical leave became as important for healing my (metaphorical) heart as it was for my stomach.


So, I’m cleaving. I’m breaking up with work for an extended time in order to be more present with myself so I can heal. Those of you who know me and my work know this was not an easy decision and we all know this break will be as hard as it is good for me. I apologize ahead of time for what you will likely see in the coming months on my social media: sheer indulgence in the form of concerts, museums, gardens, hiking, time with friends, making art, and the like. I’ll try to keep it under control, but as I’ve already experienced, when you re-discover delight, it’s hard to keep that quiet.

2022 Happies and Crappies

I recently listened to Kate Bowler’s podcast in which she and Kelly Corrigan debriefed 2022 using the framework “Happies and Crappies.” While I have done some extensive reflection on the year using Emily P. Freeman’s 10 Questions for Reflection and Discernment, I’ll frame this public reflection using Kate and Kelly’s simple “Happies and Crappies” framework. As a bonus, I’ll end with a short exercise I am borrowing from Emily. 🙂


I don’t think I need to write much about the happies, so I’ll present them as captions to these photos from the year. Celebrate with me that there were some really sweet moments this year.


There are lots of things that didn’t go so well this year. The edited list of things that I am willing to tell strangers on the internet is:

  1. Our family really struggles to eat dinner together regularly, for a host of reasons including competing schedules, a variety of food preferences/needs, and our general lack of commitment to doing so. This drives me nuts and I want us to do this more often in 2023. (I know that’s not a SMART goal; don’t @ me, educator friends).
  2. I really don’t like multi-modal meetings. I don’t like attending them and I really don’t like leading them.
  3. This year I’ve faced some significant health challenges that were a major contributing factor to me needing to take my mental health more seriously. I’m thankful for good insurance, faithful friends, and family who stepped in when it was just too much.
  4. The confluence of puberty and a neurodivergent child made parenting more challenging than ever this year. We’re gathering some new supports and reaffirming our desire to love each other well in 2023.

Emily Freeman suggests that after you reflect and before you move into a new season, you name four things. I’ve named them and illustrated them because I am an insecure overachiever (thanks to Adam Grant for that phrase).

A progress I’m celebrating: In my last post, I talked about how hard it is to answer the question “What do I want?” or “What do I need?” I have made quite a bit of progress on that this year. I’m taking the time to really sit with the truths of who I am, how I’d like grow, and what I might need to move forward.

A pivotal decision I’ve made: Based on the progress I just mentioned, I decided to take an extended medical leave for the Spring 2023 semester. I have never had 15 weeks disengaged from work. This is already pivotal in some ways, but I’m sure throughout that time it will be pivotal in ways I did not anticipate.

A question I’m still carrying: How do I let things go or put things down when I am overwhelmed, frustrated, and/or outraged at something related to work?

What I want most: To know in my mind and heart that my worth as a person is not defined by my productivity or the way I care for others. In general, these are some of my superpowers but I need to disconnect them from how I feel about myself.

Wishing you a 2023 in which you embrace both the happies and the crappies, surrounded by an inner circle of folks who love you through it all.

All I Want for Christmas is…

This woman in mom jeans sitting on Santa’s lap is one of my favorite instagram posts of all time. I imagine her exasperated confession is not embarrassment or shame at her lack of an answer; it’s because she is overwhelmed with the thought of having one more thing to consider in this season.

A 40-ish year old’s attempt to answer this question for herself should come without consideration of any constraints. Dream big, heart! To complete the conceptual exercise this post invites, I channeled my children’s unrelenting hopefulness and imaginary powers that lead them to believe they might find iPhone 14s under our Christmas tree despite the fact they have not demonstrated the ability to put two socks in a hamper on a regular basis.

I write today with the news that I have come up with an answer to Santa’s* question! What do I want?

Each Wednesday morning, trash cans and recycle bins line my street. Usually by the time we finish breakfast, the garbage and recycle trucks have taken the trash away, and the empty receptacles are ready to be returned to our garage until the following week.

What do I want? A garbage truck that comes to pick up emotional garbage. The folks who come to collect my emotional garbage would be wearing t-shirts that said things like “Good vibes only is a lie” and “Vulnerability is my jam.” They would take turns driving and overseeing the large arm-like extension from the truck that would suck the garbage right off my curb and into the truck. One of them would put a dog treat in my mailbox and wave to Wilbur in the window.

When I got home from work on Wednesday, the emotional garbage wouldn’t be on the curb. That lie I believed that was based in my own insecurity and no part of reality? Gone. That thing I said but didn’t mean and apologized for but still haunts me? Also gone. All that’s left behind is a treat for my dog, and me, feeling free.

*Santa is actually my therapist.


I get a notification on my laptop you are writing in our shared note.

I can see you typing in real time.

Every so often, you delete a word

                        Then the cursor

            moves backwards

                        then forward again,

                                    not because you were unsure of

                                    what you wanted to say,

                                    but because a new word says it

                                    with more precision. 

Like a laser, trying to cauterize the heart using words 

to stop the bleeding, 

to start the healing.

             There is so much to heal;

             there is so much to write.

Welcome, November

The vibrant leaves fall.
In just a few days, they will be an indistinguishable brown
And so dry
That their veins become like bones.

When the neighborhood kids
Ride their bikes through the piles
of once-vibrant leaves,
I hear the crunching of bones
As the kids scream for joy.

Bandaids and Joy

When we get a minor cut, we might apply some antibiotic ointment and put on a bandaid. We care for the wound by replacing the band aid and checking for infection. Those are reasonable actions that help us heal. Once the cut heals, it’s reasonable to take off the band aid.

Have you ever been tempted to leave the band aid on once the cut fully heals? No? I mean, the band aid could serve as a layer of protection just in case you cut yourself in that spot again, right? So why not? I guess we only proactively guard ourselves with things like helmets, seat belts, knee pads, or safety gloves when we feel like the risk of getting hurt meets a certain threshold. In other words, we armor up when we feel vulnerable (thanks Brené).

If I continued to wear bandaids in every place I had ever cut myself, not only would I look atrocious, it would affect the sensitivity of what I could feel. Every one of my fingers would be wrapped. Playing piano would be difficult, and petting a dog wouldn’t feel the same. Yes, it would be safer, but at some point, muted joy is its own danger.