BC Talks: Finding Joy in the Doldrums of a Pandemic

After 2020—an indisputably tumultuous year filled with the COVID-19 pandemic, mass unemployment, virtual school, and a nationwide reckoning on race and policing—I think it’s safe to say that people went into 2021 wishing that this year would be better than the last. And for six blissful days, we began 2021 chaos-free. Those hopes were dashed, however, after a mob of Trump supporters invaded the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C., a violent action that essentially amounted to an insurrection. 

Within the halls of Berkeley Carroll (or rather, the Zoom rooms), we entered the New Year looking forward to turning over a new leaf. I, along with other students, were hoping to begin 2021 on a high note and vanquish the burn-out which had begun to take hold in the final days of December. To this end, the first Friday of the New Year was a BC Talks, devoted to finding joy even in the most uncertain of times. 

On January 8th, 2021, a mere two days after one of the most historic days any of us has ever witnessed, the members of Berkeley Carroll’s Upper School gathered in school-wide assemblies and smaller workshops to explore how we can access joy. The day began with an address from Ross Gay, the best-selling American poet, who recently penned a series of essays called “The Book of Delights.” In the book, Gay challenged himself to write an essay every day for a year about anything that brought him happiness on that particular day. His essays range from detailing pleasant interactions on the streets of Italy to recounting the joys of having a tomato plant. In other words, there is no better expert on how to find glee and contentment even in the most seemingly mundane things. 

After hearing from Ross Gay, students divided into smaller workshops. Options for workshops included everything from drawing to walking in nature to playing chess to improv acting. Following two workshops of our own choice, we observed (and participated in) Ayana Evans’ performance art. Evans is a distinguished performance artist, as well as serving as an adjunct professor at Brown University and the editor-at-large for Cultbytes Magazine. She talked about her own works of art, with which she strives to create “human interconnectedness” and explore the repercussions and intersections of racism, misogyny, and class. She elaborated on her “Operation Catsuit” persona and the many solo and participatory actions that she has engaged in. 

What was the community reaction to this BC Talks? For many, it was a nice reprieve from social media doom scrolling, the non-stop news cycle, and an intense first week back at school. “The Joy BCTalks included many firsts, like making bagels and writing poetry with other people,” said Lucy J. ‘21, “and Ross Gay and Ayana Evans’ presentations encouraged me to make space for little moments of happiness to grow and be spontaneous, a little crazy, and completely myself.” 

Charlotte H. ‘21 shared these same sentiments, writing in an email that the BC Talks “reminded me that joy doesn’t have to come from some momentous event or a big change, but can be found everywhere in small bits and pieces.” Regarding the smaller workshops, Charlotte added: “I took part in the nature/beauty walk workshop where we went on a walk and sent photos of beautiful things in our surroundings to a group text thread. Spending time looking at beautiful details was a good way to take my mind off of larger problems that seemed to be hovering over my life at that time. It can be hard for me to create time for myself where I am able to relax, and I think that this workshop reminded me why it is important to do simple things like getting fresh air and looking at what is around you.” Specifically, Charlotte enjoyed the messages and images that other members of the group were sending of their own walks, as she felt that it fostered human connections. 

That being said, there was also a general feeling that the Joy BC Talks was redundant. “I couldn’t help feeling like I had so many of these skills already, and they had been renewed and refined throughout this now year-long pandemic we’re (still) in. I’ve adopted a positive mindset and try to do one thing a day that makes me feel like me—dressing up to go nowhere, painting all my nails different colors, making art, journaling, reading, or even just doing my face care routine,” elaborated Lucy. “Given that this is what I’ve been doing for the past 11 months, the Joy BCTalks felt more like a nice (and needed) break from the usual school routine rather than introducing something new.”