It’s been quite a week, hasn’t it? We came back from a great weekend away, with plenty of ice cream and friendship time, only to confront long days (and nights) at work, topped off by the surreal spectacle of the Queen’s passing.
(On that—I don’t have much to say! It’s simultaneously a huge event and a non-event—particularly nowadays. I’ve revelled in nerdy constitutional and procedural tidbits, but I’ll spare you those. I’ll share instead a thread from the ever amusing “depths of wikipedia” Twitter account, tracking the flurry of Wikipedia edits around the announcement. I love internet culture!)
But enough of this week. Let’s ponder a slightly longer horizon. With major apologies in advance for the self-indulgent reflection that follows!
Five years ago (ish—this is five years by the calendar, though issue 260 would’ve been if counting a year as 52 weeks—math with time is hard), I started writing and sending this newsletter.
The first issue, “Earthworming”, was long. It was—also quite personal? And I used headings!? Anyway, it was great. (I also had a dateline, as “location bylines” are apparently called, for the first five issues. Why’d I get rid of it!? I’m writing this from my perch in the Byward Market, for those keeping track.)
It was to update friends and family on what I was doing, reading, and thinking. I chose the title “Hit and Miss” not to describe the newsletter’s variety of topics, but for my anticipated schedule: I never expected to sustain a weekly rhythm. 262 weeks later, here we are. I’ve been counselled recently to give myself more credit, celebrating wins—hoorah for that one, then!
There has been an enormous variety of topics in that time, too. Because I can’t help but analyse data—particularly text data!—I did some high-level analysis on the newsletter’s links and words, for a bit of a quantitative perspective. (120,575 words in five years, whew!) For a qualitative angle, I scrolled the backlist (though I admit that I don’t consciously remember much of it) for ones that stood out:
- “Ugh, algorithms” was a fun mini-essay exploring Spotify Wrapped as a microcosm of what I called “one of the least interesting timelines, as far as consumer algorithms go”. It remains a favourite attempt at thinking in public for me.
- In early 2019, I was thinking a lot about communicating, with a mini series on language, the ideas in which I still consider often: “Words I avoid”, “I, you, we (maybe?)”, and “Communicating depth”.
- Work has been a regular theme. Around the start of May in recent years, I’ve reflected upon my anniversary starting at CDS: in 2018, when I started, reflecting on office work in general (ha!); in 2021, collecting a few of the things I was proud to have worked on; and in 2022, collecting thoughts on public service. A few times, I’ve used this space to unpack broader thoughts on public administration—on, for example, state capacity and the role of consultants.
- At times, this has been a much more personal space. In May 2020, I took a moment to reflect on and commemorate a family friend who had just passed away.
- 2020 onward, of course, had the pandemic always lurking as a potential topic. “Staring down the barrel, at least the memes are good” from December 2021 captures well the approach I’ve tried to take: steering toward trusted sources, gently nudging about the virus’s significant (and ongoing!) seriousness, and pointing out always the real role for government in public health (and lamenting how that’s played out, time and again).
- Earlier this year saw me grappling, in real-time, with the sound of deep discontent outside my window. Aside from the event itself—which is imprinted on my psyche in ways I’m still coming to understand—this was a dive into some of my favourite thoughts from one of my favourite public intellectuals, Ursula Franklin, on silence and democratic discourse.
- I’ve also, at times, tried to share how I live, both as a reminder for myself and as a prompt for others. This included a saucy write-up of how I make tomato sauce. Last year, I shared some tips for “Surviving November”—though that post is perhaps most notable for being the first, if oblique, reference to T (“a nourishing weekend of housework, walking, and friends (new and old alike). I’m leaving October on a high.”), who has since become a constant and deeply loved presence in my life—with occasional appearances in this newsletter! And, for my last link from the archives, in issue 100, I jotted down some “Living principles”, which I continue to endorse wholeheartedly.
This newsletter has been a place to test new ideas, to vent or to process my thoughts (a complement to therapy!), and, perhaps at its best, to earnestly share ideas I encounter that seem to hold some piece of a better present or a better future—to hope aloud, in other words. In countless ways, most of them too small to note, this writing practice changes me—and I hope that reading it changes you, too, small though those changes may be.
Most touching to me is that you read along. Without you, I wouldn’t keep this up. By reading, by being my imagined and real audience, you’ve helped shape this newsletter, and thus helped to shape me. I’m deeply, deeply grateful to you all. Thank you.
All the best for the week ahead—here’s to so many more, together.