Credit: Watercolor painting by Julia Terbrock

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This moment in time is weighing upon us. We must cope with a global pandemic. We must reckon with the racism and violence buried deep in this country’s bones. I wanted to know what people were thinking at this moment, what’s been on their minds lately. I wanted to know what was getting them through hardships, what joys they were finding. So, I asked locals—some who have contributed to City Paper or been featured in its pages and online, and some who I had never met or worked with—to tell me what little joys they’ve been finding these days, the things we experience that may seem small in the grand scheme of the universe but are, in fact, very meaningful. I imposed no limitations; I wanted total individual expression of what those words meant to them. Some chose to write their joys like stories, scenes playing out. Some chose to list their joys. There is joy with an old dog, and joy with a new puppy. There is joy in the stars, and joy in a frog pond. There is joy in nature, and joy right at home, joy in concepts, in objects, and each other. Whether wistful or wonderful, I felt the joy while reading, and I hope you do, too. —Kayla Randall

We’re on the rugged side of the creek, the side that’s unpaved and frequented by deer. My girl, a boxer-pit mix, is lost in her world of smells and sounds I can’t hear, her leash extending ahead of me. Then I pass her as she scrutinizes a particular clump of grass. Above, the birds are noisy, warning each other of some danger in the woods. It’s not me or my girl. The fuss is for a hawk that cries out high above the trees. I watch it swoop and disappear behind thick leaves. Farther up the trail, stock-still in the middle of the creek, is a heron. Too busy sniffing, my girl ignores the bird. I stand motionless, barely breathing as the heron takes a slow step forward, its eye on a fish, perhaps. My girl moves and I look at her for a moment. When I turn back, the heron is gliding down the waterway, and I marvel at its wingspan. I inhale the cool, early morning air as we wander along, lost in the natural beauty all around. For a time, I’ve escaped the painful and chaotic headlines. For a time, I’m completely free. Melanie Hatter, Silver Spring

Recently, I returned to my summer job as a gardener at a local cemetery. While my job is well-suited to a socially distant work environment—I spend hours pulling weeds alone, hardly interacting with others—the implications of working at a cemetery during a pandemic are difficult to avoid. I watched as the first burial plans labeled “COVID Positive” appeared on the bulletin board. But I seldom feel surrounded by death, because the cemetery is bursting with flora and fauna. The roses I helped plant last year are in full bloom, as are the pesky weeds that inevitably materialize around them. Even the mushrooms are sprouting up in vivid color. I’ve seen deer come traipsing through the graveyard to snack on leaves, and I suspect a fox, a frequent cemetery visitor, has been digging up the flowerbeds. Watching a masked funeral service while weeding someone’s grave, it’s hard not to contemplate my own mortality. But whenever I bump my lawnmower into a cherry blossom tree and get showered with petals, or pick up my spade and find an especially cool-looking slug, I can’t help but feel giddy to be, for the moment, a living instrument in the cacophony of nature. —Rose Shafer, Arlington

As parents in this time of lockdown and social reckoning, stepping outside the bubble of our home comes with an emotional toll of anxiety and despair. But seen through our toddler’s eyes, this ugly world of grown-ups is transformed into a boundless universe of adventure and awe. We recently moved to a part of D.C. where rowhouse gardens replace Michelin-starred restaurants. Here, the city bursts with colors and a creative energy that emerges from the ground up. From one week to another, we find a new flower in bloom or venture down an undiscovered street to come upon a miniature wonderland on a neighbor’s front lawn. We delight in teaching our daughter the different plants and hearing her repeat their names, always flattened into one or two syllables. Her curiosity compels us to both stop and smell, to compare the shapes of leaves, to wonder at acrobatic squirrels, to appreciate the tireless bees. Our little walks are planting in our toddler a lifelong desire to explore and to cherish the world in its smallest details. And as we slow down and see the beauty cultivated by our fellow humanity, these walks have become our antidote. Carlos Carmonamedina and Jordanna Matlon, Petworth

A few weeks ago, I felt so overwhelmed by news about the protests and pandemic that I just stopped looking at it. No news, no social media, nothing. Instead, I turned to plants. Thankfully, it wasn’t a total departure from my regular life. Last year, I joined an urban farm. This year, I started getting more involved with it. And I’d already been buying new plants from a local garden center when my state locked down. Since March, I’ve bought a jasmine sambac, jade pothos, dieffenbachia camille, and a couple of tomato seedlings. It’s been a great way to stay busy, because taking care of them has been a full-time job. I’ve had to read more blogs and magazines about gardening to nurture a green thumb, as well as check in on all the plants on a daily basis. Most of the plants died, but the work still calmed me, and I’ve kept these habits up. I’ve drastically reduced my social media intake and replaced it with time outdoors or tending to my plants. Nowadays, I feel calmer than I’ve felt in a long time—even before quarantine. Sometimes the simple things are all you need. Kaila Philo, Baltimore

At the onset of COVID-19, I quickly surmised that this would be an unusually long hiatus from our usually hyper-engaged everyday existence. As a freelance journalist, I knew that it would be simple to meet the challenge of the moment by staying glued to my computer and writing for 100 days straight. But right now, the fact that once commonplace notions have become incredible feats has inspired me. I decided, on March 13, that by the end of the summer, I’d get myself in shape to run a marathon. For me, this goal isn’t a fanciful dream that smacks of a couch-to-5K gone wrong: I’ve been running 500 to 1,000 miles a year for the past decade. Running is my tool for mental clarity. Plus, in 2020, safely completing a grueling and humid 10-plus-mile run, amid a lethal global pandemic and uprisings against racism, would be quite the accomplishment. Running in these trying times is defiance in the face of failure. I can happily report that 16 consecutive triumphant weeks of running have improved my stamina. By September, I’ll be ready for 26.2 miles. When I run, I feel like I’ve conquered the universe. And conquering the universe is my favorite activity to do before eating dinner. Marcus K. Dowling, Spring Valley

Lately, I’ve been reconsidering everything. Life seemed so set in stone and stagnant, and as much as I live to disrupt the norm, there were some things I just couldn’t imagine would change. I’ve been thinking about how to make real, long-term change, and where to begin. So I’ve started with myself and my mental space. I’ve never been as present as I am currently, and I truly find joy in not living on a timeline. I take walks now, for no reason, just to visit the flowers and get some sun. I’m enjoying the flowers so much that when I get groceries, I bring home a new bouquet and consider them my guests for the week. It’s sort of become a new medium for me. I’ve also found time to experiment with painting, and feel inspired like I did when I first began years ago. I’m even trying to train my cats, and though futile, it’s brought us closer. It’s been refreshing to find beauty in the everyday, and while I have a lot to be upset about, I’m staying positive and doing what I can to make a difference. Tenbeete Solomon, Edgewood

For all the obvious reasons, I’ll suggest that while there’s never a bad time to get a puppy, some times are better than others: being mostly housebound for an extended—and apparently indefinite—period of social distancing, for instance. My wife and I could not have known, when we decided to add a third dog to our family, that this spring would end up being the ideal time to experience the myriad joys and occasional, inevitable aggravations of training a cheery, indefatigable, sometimes obdurate four-legged friend. For one thing, a furry companion who only knows how to live in the moment is a welcome distraction from the heavy thoughts that accompany a pandemic. For another, you cannot spend an unhealthy amount of time on the couch or in front of the computer if you’re obliged to chase after a little pup who needs to go outside to pee and poop, steals shoes, and defies the obstacles of a puppy-proofed house like it’s his job. That kind of joy is irresistible. And laughter really is the best medicine, particularly in times when not enough of us know if we’ll need medicine or if it’ll be available. Having a puppy is a necessary reminder of how imperfect we can be, which is just about the most perfect gift we can give ourselves in times like these. Sean Murphy, Winchester

I recently visited my home in rural Pennsylvania to say goodbye to Cooper, my childhood dog. He was old and time was running out. I never look forward to home, and these circumstances made me all the more apprehensive. It was also the first time I’d see my mom’s new house, which she recently bought with her fiance. I was surprised to find that, rather than counting the sleeps until I returned to D.C., I felt content. My mom and I sat with Cooper on the porch steps, and it felt good to look at the stars with nowhere else to be. I caught my mom smiling to herself. She gave me a tour of her new home, giddy at every light fixture. I hadn’t seen her this happy in a long time. After an 18-year-long unsuccessful marriage, she finally rebuilt her life with someone who loves her. Cooper knew she no longer needed him. The night before I left, we watched Cooper sleep on the living room floor and joked that he was the only loyal man we’ve ever known. I kissed him on the head and thanked him for the 14 years of joy he’s given us. For being my mom’s constant through everything she endured. And for bringing us together when we needed it most. Jordan Reabold, Capitol Hill

During quarantine, I’ve learned to try new things and embrace the smaller moments that I usually take for granted. One thing I really enjoy is playing baseball, which I play all year long—for both high school and travel teams. Stuck at home, I was wondering what I could do indoors with limited space. My coaches stressed the importance of simply getting out to throw the baseball with my brother, which is challenging in the city, where it’s easy to damage cars. After walking around the neighborhood, we were able to find a good spot that had just enough space to throw without damaging people’s property. Being with family is another thing that is helping time pass quicker. Finding new trails to go on walks together has created many memories for us, which makes quarantine much more enjoyable. I also finally tried something a lot of people were suggesting, but I didn’t expect to like: anime. I’ve enjoyed anime so much that I finished watching three whole series: Naruto, Hunter x Hunter, and Fullmetal Alchemist. Quarantine has really forced us to slow down. There’s no competing in favorite sports or going to places like Sky Zone with friends. However, I can now cherish the smaller things: exploring a new genre of TV shows, finding the perfect place to throw a baseball in the neighborhood, and discovering a new appreciation for family time. —Julian McPherson, Fort Dupont

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, a system of racism and ableism has kept folks like myself, Black and disabled, fighting for liberation and justice. I watched how other Black disabled advocates and allies struggled to practice joy as a form of resistance, as they feared it would be overshadowed and misunderstood. As footage of the protests against racism around the world began to flood my social media feeds, I felt my joy being compromised by the weight of seeing Black disabled bodies discarded. But my 7-year-old autistic son Knox is the definition of unbridled Black autistic joy. His joy is infinite, existing as its own revolution, and he doesn’t need anyone’s permission to show it. His joy becomes my joy, and we have a bond rooted in self advocacy, dance parties, and hugs. Ableist and racist social constructs continue to steal so much joy, and erase our humanity and existence. 

I realized that in this time of uprising, my joy could be found by reclaiming the visual narrative, holding space for my art to shift into a practice of restorative justice. Now, my joy has taken up permanent residence, fueling me to create protest art to amplify my Black disability community. Watching the world use my art in solidarity and in protest for five weeks, uplifting the message that we can unite to save Black disabled lives, has shown me that my joy, if I let it, can bring about social change. Jennifer White-Johnson, Baltimore

I don’t know about you, but one thing I’ve missed most while being inside quarantining and social distancing has been my coffee routine at my favorite coffee shops. Whether it was a late morning coffee run to Compass when I was at the office, or an early morning work session at Vigilante, coffee and tea have been, and still are, my love languages. I’ve been working from home since the third week of March, and my barista skills have improved exponentially with each successive week. I post my morning coffee/tea routine almost every day on Instagram, with a new song or coffee hack I’ve discovered to go along with it. The therapeutic expression of flavor and calm in these routines has made many dull mornings less of a dread. Between my go-to milk frother from Target and my minimalist teapot and kettle combo from Tealyra, each morning I look forward to a new aroma to start off my day. Living through a pandemic is hard. Dealing with police brutality and systemic racism is even harder, and the days keep getting weirder. Though my coffee routine doesn’t resolve any of this, it does give me a little boost to tackle my art and work each day. A pour of my coffee from my French press and my freshly steeped tea with frothed milk have been the cups of joy I didn’t know I needed. Lindsay Adams, Fort Washington

I find joy in being comfortable in my own skin. I don’t have weekend plans. I don’t wear fancy shoes to virtual meetings. (They’re lucky if I wear fancy pants!) So I am more attuned to the subtle things. I cherish the heart text message sent by a friend on a hard day. And I find joy in knowing that I have friends whose company, just as it is, I truly treasure. I especially value those friendships that have lasted for years and survived moves to faraway places. We’ve stayed connected even if we’re not physically together, so quarantine hasn’t changed much with those friends. With the world so quiet, it’s easier for me to feel their presence. It’s made me even more grateful that they’ve stuck with me for so long, back when the world was full of life and we could have easily lost each other in the chaos of it all. Someday, when we all re-enter the world with uneven haircuts, I hope that we remember these subtle things. Our weekend plans will come and go. Our fancy shoes will wear out. But the stuff beneath it all—that will stay. Jennifer Anne Mitchell, Petworth

I recently finished rewatching Mad Men, and there are striking parallels between that show and our current moment in American life. The 1960s were a period of intense uncertainty and upheaval, but Matthew Weiner’s drama was a reminder that during the protests, uprisings, assassinations, and war, the vast majority of Americans still had to live through it all, experiencing personal and professional triumphs and defeats. That is how I feel right now: like a witness to history, with an unearned sense that maybe we’ll come out better on the other side. Until then, I find pleasures in the little things. While staring out the window, I love to watch recently adopted puppies, most of which are French bulldogs, go on walks they can barely handle. I often sit on my front patio and have a drink with my wife. I do my best to recreate the restaurant experience on Friday nights (Italian food makes for some of the best takeout). But more often than not, I am finding pleasure through a genuine sense of community. And community comes from all the joy that we share. Alan Zilberman, Shaw

STAFF JOYS

I find joy looking at the moon and the stars. I’ve known people who were afraid of the vastness of space—it’s too big, they said, too unknowable and frightening. But I find solace there. I love looking up at the night sky and seeing celestial bodies that force me to understand my place in the universe. A full moon brings perspective. Twinkling stars make me chuckle with delight at how tiny and impermanent we are compared to them. The stress of this chapter in time haunts me. But one night this spring, on a walk around my neighborhood, I looked up at the night sky and I saw the planet Venus. That night, if just for that moment, stress left me. —Kayla Randall

When I heard there was an Animal Crossing game released for the Nintendo Switch, I ordered it online immediately. I didn’t even have a Switch, but my boyfriend was kind enough to lend me his. The timing was serendipitous: The game released in March, around the start of quarantine. In Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the worry of a global pandemic does not exist. On my thriving island 7 Wonders, I can design and redesign rooms in my pink house all day, meet up with friends and family to take NookPhone photos of our best looks, and harvest the endless natural resources to pay off my extreme debts to in-game capitalist operator Tom Nook. In the game, currency is called bells. With the real world moving at a fast pace, Animal Crossing allows me to explore my creativity at my own leisurely rate; I can collect non-native fruit for fast cash then mindlessly meander to plant more flowers on the island, and rearrange my furniture again and again. As a creative, I get joy out of the many expressive outlets in the game, like coordinating outfits with friends, making island landscapes, and curating items for the museum. Animal Crossing is a break from the stressors of the real world—but I still have bells to pay. —Julia Terbrock

A quick glimpse at my recommendations page on YouTube reveals the joys I’ve been able to find during these troubling times. There are clips from ESPN’s Michael Jordan documentary The Last Dance. Deleted scenes from The Office also make an appearance. In the past week or so, I’ve subscribed to not one, but three users who upload videos of themselves playing tennis. And when I step away from the screen, I’ve found myself in the real-life version of those videos, playing tennis—hand sanitizer in tow and adhering to the proper safety measures—with those closest to me: my parents and my friends. —Kelyn Soong

With gyms closed and calories to burn, I’ve spent the pandemic on foot, exploring the twists and turns of the wooded Takoma Park neighborhood. Amidst the quirky bungalows and colorful Victorian homes is Spring Park. My moment of zen is checking out the shallow pond within the park where frogs are known to hide between the reeds. Sometimes kids are there to help me find them: “Hey lady, look over here!” A sign instructs passersby not to harm or remove the frogs. I’ve become superstitious about it. If I see a frog, it means better times are ahead. —Laura Hayes

I like to buy cookbooks when I travel. I say they’re souvenirs—ways to remember places—but really I just like the pretty pictures and good food. I could have never guessed how well this habit would serve me this year. Now, when all I want is to be out in the world with other people, I take out my cookbooks and step through them, into the world of memories, recreating a small piece of past journeys in my kitchen. But there’s something else powerful and transportive about cookbooks. A recipe gives you a series of steps to follow and a promised destination. And if you follow them carefully, you usually arrive. What a rare, beautiful thing. —Will Warren