Grieving, Writing, Thinking

A book is open on a desk so the pages fold in to form a heart.
Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

A few weeks ago, I pondered on Twitter the value of undertaking a wee experiment this #AcWriMo (Academic Writing Month, the month of November, a piggyback of the wildly popular #NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month): what if instead of undertaking my usual #AcWriMo project of moving one big project along, I committed instead to blogging every day?

The benefits of this, it seems to me, would be many. I love a creative constraint and I love a goal. I have felt my thinking stagnate over the past few years, as the pandemic sameness of my still-cloistered life takes its toll. I would like to think a little bit about a bunch of stuff and see what gets me excited — lately, the idea of penning a conference proposal gives me hives, which is partly because I can’t imagine attending an in-person conference in a pandemic and everyone is rushing back to in-person, and partly because my thinking is so slow. The agility of my previous writerly self is gone and I wonder what will come next.

Anyway, it all seemed like an awfully good idea, and then, on October 19th, my dad died suddenly.

I am unmoored.

I’ll share here an excerpt of the obituary I wrote for my dad — how is that even a real thing I had to do? — because sharing who he is — was, but also is — helps.

Robert Gray of Merrickville passed suddenly at home on 19 October 2022.

Bob, as he was best known to his friends, was a true and eclectic autodidact — equally comfortable plumbing and wiring a heritage home, discussing the great theorists of psychology, or tinkering with and reviving any Apple product. His knowledge was far-ranging and he delighted in opportunities to share it with people he in turn could learn from, ideally while also sharing a laugh. Bob was known for his quick and sardonic wit that outshone his sometimes curmudgeonly first impression. He loved supporting music as much as he loved listening to it, whether at the pub or dragging gear across Eastern Ontario, roads he knew so well from years spent rallying with Gill as his navigator. He was most in his element before a classroom of undergraduates; ankle-deep in the cold waters of Bay of Fundy; on the race tracks of Mosport, St. Jovite, and NASCAR; or puttering in his garden with his constant companion, Kushie.

He leaves an absence that will be felt most acutely on Formula One racing Sundays; his favourite holiday, Groundhog Day; or anytime politics and life are being discussed.

You would have enjoyed him.

Anyway, the idea of picking up the writing plan seemed impossible. It still does, honestly. I feel like I am moving through molasses all the time.


My dad was the number one supporter of my public scholarship. He also loved old-school blogging. I remember that the website he ran off a server in his office for all of the 1990s and most of the 2000s was called “autodidactics in action.” He provided me with my first access to computers in 1988 and my first email address in the early 90s. He signed me up for computer camps as a tween. When I got my first paid blogging gig at the launch of Book Riot in 2011, he read every word (even the ones he vehemently disagreed with). When I put my tenure portfolio on the open web pre-adjudication, no one was prouder — I know, because I know how hard he tried to explain it to people who had no idea what tenure or the open web meant.

Writing this post is impossible — tears streaming down my face as I do it — because the idea of writing words that Dad will never read feels impossible. Like writing his obituary, it is something that should be happening to someone else.

And yet at the same time, I know how if he was here and I launched this mini-project, he would read every single post — and subscribe to the RSS feed, and wade into the comments, and chat with other people there, and enjoy the participatory web as he always did. And that’s why I’m going to try to follow through.

The reality too is that Twitter is less usable every day under the new leadership, and recommitting to blogging feels like an empowered act. Dad would have liked that, too. Own your hosting; own your platform. That was his ethos before it was a movement.

I miss my dad. I also really miss writing. I can only have one, as it turns out, because this shit just is not fair. But I know he would like this project.

See you tomorrow?


  • I’m so grateful to have read this. It does feel like the option that hasn’t been considered in the rush to the exit, and this has given me hope: not “where do we all go next?” but “where is my home place?” I’m thinking now about unshuttering my blog, that will take a moment.

    When my mum died unexpectedly (at an expected age, but with enough surprise that I really felt the weight of “unmoored”) I couldn’t quite believe I would do things she didn’t know about. That still shocks me. It never stops, but I think after a bit I recognised it as how she is always closely involved in our lives.

    Thank you for doing this. It’s a gift.

    • Oh Kate. How lovely of you to say this. I hope we can still find our community in these other spaces — more like being invited over for a tea and a biscuit than meeting at the coffee shop, maybe. I would be delighted if you unshuttered, so put my vote in that column. I even downloaded a shiny new RSS reader to play with this morning!

  • Oh Brenna, I cried too when reading your words – both about your dad, and your fight to continue persisting in his absence. As sad as this entry is, I hear so much strength. I’ve been pretending like everything is okay, and reading your words today feels like I have permission to say that it’s not. But that I will keep going.

    I’m coming back, every day. And I am so mad that I’m going to lose the community I have loved so much, due to a jerk bazillionaire.

    Hang in there <3

    • Agreed about the bazillionaire. And thank you for seeing strength where I feel only absence. And thank you for sharing this space of not-okay-but-still-here-ness with me.

  • This is lovely Brenna. I also lost my dad, named Bob, suddenly. (The similarities end there, as it was some years ago not recently, and he was as tech averse as your dad was savvy). I look forward to following along in your month of writing!

  • And now I’m crying.

    I know this molasses and slowness and hopefully we can all work our way back from it. Long-form writing has to be the way back too; not 280 chars at a time.

    The no longer being able to share feelings will be there for a while yet. For me, I hope always, because then they’re still there, just out of hearing.

    Thank you and please keep writing. I’ll be checking in tomorrow…

  • Hi Brenna, I enjoy reading your tweets altho don’t post or comment much myself so want to say I’m so sorry for your loss and especially that it was sudden. I had a similar experience in being close friends with my own dad and writing his obit but was blessed in having time to say goodbye. I love your blogging plan,maybe better for your deep thoughts than Twitter anyway. And you’re inspiring me to blog again too. 💗

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